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Archive for November, 2007

Of Hawks and Bulldozers

When my husband takes the boys out without me, they go wild. Literally. Never a store, rarely a playground–they explore the woods and creeks and fields, returning with photographs of every creature and flower and leaf they discover.

A creature-adventure to remember came the day they discovered a red-tailed hawk eating a squirrel. “He was so close,” they said, “we almost could have touched him.” They watched, perfectly still, as minutes ticked by. They returned to the scene of that adventure last week, and I asked Martin if he saw any more red-tailed hawks. He said, “No, just bulldozers.”

The wild wooded area, blocked in by neighborhoods on all sides, was being sacrificed to the latest development.

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I have nothing profound or unique or controversial to say about suburban sprawl and destroying wild spaces; I have just a boy looking for hawks and finding bulldozers.

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Blinking in the Light

I’m slowly crawling out of my Thanksgiving daze. I returned home, went twenty minutes without eating pie, and drank something with no caffeine or alcohol in it. It’s very, very quiet . . . no parents, siblings . . . even my children and husband are off somewhere. We all spent the last four days reading and laughing and baking and watching football and running around in the backyard. Nobody working or knowing the time. When the two-year-old woke up at 11:00 pm and sang and laughed as if it were morning, I got him up, and he ran cars all over my brother’s legs and ate honeydew melon.

Already, though, it’s a world away as I check the calendar for the week and start a load of laundry . . . and then read a post on blue milk about a little boy who seems utterly alone in the world. To think: He was standing, somewhere far away from us, whimpering by a gas station, abandoned in the darkness for a time by a drunk father . . . while my children were being embraced, no one ever wanting to let them go, by family and more family.

This seems impossible.

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A friend asked me for my dinner recipes the other day. If you do not find this at once hilarious and repulsive, it is because you have never seen me cook. Or rather, you’ve never seen me put some things in a pot and forget about it until it’s on fire. I don’t really like to use the oven because that’s where I keep dirty dishes, and those, too, will catch on fire sometimes if you turn the oven on. And if you find this to be an exaggeration, ask the local fire department before we finally unhooked the automatically-call-the-fire-department feature on the smoke alarms. Now we have lots of fire extinguishers so we can just take care of my meals ourselves.

I have always detested cooking, but I never really needed to. And another bonus to meeting this guy that I married is that he loves to cook. Problem solved, with the advantage of screwing with traditional gender roles, which is always fun. No expectations from either one of us that “the wife” would ever, ever cook. He would be more strenuously against it than I, I would venture to say. He makes fantastic food–his desserts are sometimes on fire. Purposefully on fire. Not like my scrambled eggs, which are accidentally on fire.

Leaving my job changed nothing–at first. Perhaps I breastfed with such reckless abandon because, subconsciously, the thought of preparing even a bottle was too much like preparing a meal? Then it was onto jars of baby food. (I considered homemade when my mom gave me a little machine thing to help, but I forgot to try.)

Then I ran into a problem. The baby food stage only lasted for so long. Then the little guy wanted people food, and he needed to eat it all day long, and I couldn’t hold him off until 6:00 when my husband got home. And what might be good enough for me was not good enough for him. I wanted to control every ingredient that went into him. I learned to do a couple of Crock Pot things and other easy dinners. They’re not bad, actually, when I pay attention to things.

But I felt weird all of a sudden . . . cooking dinner, waiting for my husband to come home, children playing at my feet . . . waaaaay too housewifey. But Bianca Bean‘s comment rattles around in my head when I feel like turning up my nose at this image of myself: “Feminist families gotta eat, too.”

So, now I have recipes. I seem to be unable to form a traditional list of ingredients and steps in my recipe-writing, so when I am done with the long narratives for my friend of how precisely I make pasta sauce (hint: I use a jar of already-made pasta sauce!), I think I will add photographs, and perhaps even post them on the internet. This chance will likely not come again.

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Preschool Hell

Martin may go to preschool next year. I’m not sure yet. I’ve set up a few tours, though. There are 58 million preschools in my area, and they seem to fit into one of three categories: 1. church-run, 2. big-business-run, 3. college tuition-expensive ($10,000?!), but cool. Maybe this is just how preschool is–I went to one run by the town high school, and since this is my first foray into preschool-land since then, I am out of the loop. And not sure I want to be in it.

In a local magazine, area residents voted on their favorite preschools, so I decided to start there. One of them, after last week’s visit, will hereby be known as Preschool Hell.

I have, however, retained enough of my critical thinking skills, even after this visit, to realize that this place did seem like a safe, clean, fairly caring, and somewhat stimulating environment for children. A thirty minute tour and a meeting with someone who seemed to know how to push every one of my get-pissed-off-right-away buttons does not a fair and complete analysis of a preschool make. I have deliberately censored myself in casual conversations with people while discussing this place–but I don’t have to here. (And if they ask my honest opinion, they will get it.)

Fine. So why is it Preschool Hell?

Highlights of the tour by the owner-manager-corporate-hack-whatever-she-was:

1. She said “corporate” more times than should ever be said in a preschool. Corporate lesson plans, corporate standardized testing, corporate oversight, corporate offices, corporate menus, corporate brain implanted into her head . .

2. The bragging about some kind of crazy standardized testing that they do so that I can compare my child to all of their other students nationwide. Standardized testing, implemented how it is in the schools that I have taught at, makes me ill. I don’t intend to start with it in pre-kindergarten–especially when she pretended it was for me, but my husband suspects that it is for them.

3. The same ol’ “boys are such trouble” thing. “And you have these two boys–and we know how boys are.” Oh, no, she didn’t. “They have so much trouble staying focused and just want to run all day, so we counter that with lots of structure.” And have princess tiaras and Bratz doll requirements for the girls?

4. A constant refrain of educational buzzwords, with an air of trying to impress? intimidate? I didn’t say: “Look, baby, if you want to get into educational theory and educational jargon and standardized testing with me, I’ll make you wish you didn’t get out of bed this morning.” Oh, that’s right–I coulda been the snottiest, snobbiest edu-bully that that preschool fraud had ever seen at 9 am. And toting two tots as I did it. But, really, my opponent was not worthy. She was a preschool-hell robot, and had been programmed by the corporate offices. I think that those corporate-made lesson plans probably printed right out of her stomach somewhere. It was somewhat fascinating to watch.

Ugh. That’s enough. There’s more–like the claim of ten kids per teacher, but not seeing it in most of the rooms, the price for what seemed mostly to be babysitting (with extra fees everywhere I looked), and the impression that there were no actual teachers in the place, but I would rather think and write about sewage and mayonnaise than pre-school these days. I need a break.

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Thank you, Bianca Bean and Unfit Mother, for tagging me to write about seven weird, random things about me. I really didn’t feel like writing all weekend, and this jump-started me. And it was fun.

1. In junior high school, a friend and I ducked into our science teacher’s classroom to hide behind a row of desks instead of taking part in a walkout that the school was doing in protest of a racially motivated fight at the town fair. We did it not because we support racially motivated fighting, but because we didn’t want to have to sit out of softball practice. My friend is now a singer and musician in California, and I am sorely tempted to link to her right now, but I need to ask her permission first. We kept this as our deepest, darkest secret for many years. She may not be ready to be revealed.

2. As a participant in the Bay State Games for field hockey, I once ran around the field before a Red Sox game at Fenway Park carrying the Bay State Games banner—all the way around the warning track, and it was very heavy. This was very random, but as a lifelong Massachusetts resident, very surreal and exciting.

3. The bottoms of my d!rty fe@t have had 150 views on Flickr. (I hope that’s clear with the edited words–I have been getting some super-weird Googling leading to those two words.)

4. I sang “Happy Birthday” to Desmond Tutu in my neighbor’s kitchen when I was in high school. I just read this to my husband, and he said, “Look, I’m singing Happy Birthday to Desmond Tutu right now,”–and he began to sing. So, I hasten to add that Desmond Tutu was in fact sitting in the kitchen as well, in a chair in front of his birthday cake. Four of us sang, warbling out the song, and stammering over the part where you say, “deeeeear Archbishop Desmond Tutuuuuu . . . ” Town police officers were outside to provide security, but did not do a very good job, because my mother and another neighbor were hiding behind a compost area to peek in the window.

5. I read and post on college football message boards. My father and brother coach college sports.

6. When I was seven months pregnant with Martin, I got in a fight with a guy wearing a pink Izod shirt with the collar up at a football game because he was yelling rude things to the players and coaches and I told him to shut up. It ended with him saying, “Eat me!” and then I started laughing because of how weird that was, and how it didn’t even make sense.

7. From kindergarten to second grade, I was involved in research done by professors at the nearby university on how kids learn to write. In graduate school, my professor used that specific research to teach me to teach kids how to write. Photocopies of my stories and interviews with my second grade self took up its own chapter in the book that the professors wrote about their research–and that was now my textbook.

I don’t want to give anyone anything extra to do unless you want to. So, if you want to… I will not be offended if you don’t …

Up Popped a Fox

single mom with tiny tot

team effort

So Sioux Me

muppinstuff

One Fish, Two Kids

Oleoptene

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Storytime at the library: a group of three to five year olds, most are quiet and focused on the story of the mouse and his house, at least for the moment. Some parents sit on the floor among the children; others sit in chairs in the back of the room, many have babies or toddlers in their laps, every so often a baby shrieks or cries.

Then, a late arrival: a mother and child close the door quietly behind them; the mother sits in the back, the child walks to the front and sits. But only for a second. He gets up and stands in front of the children, facing them, and begins to jump in place. The mother scrambles to her feet–she hurries over to the side of the room, trying to get his attention and get him to sit down. The children and parents barely notice–they are a group of small children and parents of small children utterly unperturbed by a small child acting like one. Until–

The Librarian: Stops reading. Stares at Jumping Child. Seconds tick by . . . it’s an eternity. The boy jumps and jumps. She glares.

Now everyone watches him jump in silence, and his mother gestures to him frantically.

Me (in my head): Oh, dear god, please keep reading. . .

Librarian to Child: “Eyes front, please.”

Child: Ignores her. Continues to jump.

Librarian (with rosy cheeks, but severe eyes): “Eyes front, please.” Pause–a very long one. “Eyes front, please.” Pause, even longer.

The Mother: Starts to pick her way through the seated mass of children to the front; she has an embarrassed smile and murmurs, “Oh, sorry, oh, sorry . . .”

Everyone watches her awkwardly step over toes and fingers to get to her child.

Me (still in my head): Why, oh, why aren’t you reading? No one cares about this dear boy’s jumping. His mother is taking care of it. Give her a chance. Read, read, read!

Librarian (like a stuck tape recorder): “Eyes front, please. Sit down.” The children are more quiet and attentive now than ever–this is a tense showdown between the Librarian and the Jumping Child.

The Mother: Gets to the front of the room. She’s right next to her boy, about to lead him away . . . when he falls to the floor, flat on his back, grinning at her. You can almost hear him: Checkmate, Mummy. She kneels in front of him, her posture deflates, her head cocks to the side, her forehead wrinkles. You can almost hear her: Oh, please, please, don’t do this to me.

Librarian, and so everyone else: Still silent, still staring.

Me (still in my head, but yelling so loudly that I’m afraid it might slip out): Read, woman, READ! For the love of all that’s holy, READ! I’m nearly ready to nudge Martin and ask him to do something three-year-old-ish because the pain I’m feeling for this mother is getting to be too much.

Librarian: “Maybe you should take him out.” And maybe I will glare at you in silence until you do, refusing to read so that everyone in the room has nothing else to do but watch you.

Mother and Child leave.

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Foxnews.com “reports” on a sickening author and cleric who was broadcast on Saudi and Kuwaiti television giving advice to men on how and when to physically abuse their wives; he references how to assault a child as well.

The first sentence of the article reads: “Move over, Dr. Phil, there’s a new relationship expert in town.”

Then the segment is described. An example: “‘Woman, it has gone too far. I can’t bear it anymore,’ he tells the men to tell their wives. ‘If he beats her, the beatings must be light and must not make her face ugly.'”

The article’s last sentence: “Take that, Match.com!”

I don’t even know where to start with this–this man and his repugnant advice, or the news outlet who sees a flippancy to this story. Hideous all around.

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