My Youngest is 10…

January 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

…and if you’d like to know how I’m feeling about that, please click over to Scary Mommy to read “Double Digits.”  I’m beyond excited to be on that great site by fellow Baltimorean, Jill Smokler.  🙂

Leo bubbles

 

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Not Smarter Than a Fourth-Grader

December 11, 2013 § 17 Comments

This morning on the way to school, my fourth-grader and I had the following conversation.

Him:  Did you know sloths move so slowly that sometimes they mistake their arm for a branch, reach for it, and then fall to their deaths?

Me:  Sloths have arms?

Him:  Yeah!  Of course they do.

Me:  Sloths don’t have arms.

Him:  (disbelievingly) Yes, Mom!  They have REALLY LONG ARMS!

Me:  No, they don’t.

Him:  Yes, they do!

Me:  They do not.

Him:  (patiently) Mom.  I’m talking about SLOTHS.  S-L-O-T-H-S.

Me:  I know what you’re talking about.  Sloths.  Sloths don’t have arms.  Do they?

Him:  (exasperated) YES!  Sloths have arms!!!  S-L-O-T-H-S!

Me:  Stop SPELLING it.  I KNOW what you’re talking about!  Sloths have arms?  I never knew that!

Him:  (disbelievingly) HOW DID YOU NOT KNOW THAT???

Me:  I really think they don’t.  I’ll have to look it up when I get home.  That’s really interesting.

*****

You see, that entire time HE was talking about sloths, he saw this animal in his mind.

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The entire time I was talking about sloths, and insisting he didn’t need to SPELL it out for me, I was seeing this animal in my mind.

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In my defense, they are both very slow-moving animals.

 

My Tattooed Teenager

November 8, 2013 § 16 Comments

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She’d been asking for years.  My firstborn, with the red hair and creamy skin, wanted a tattoo.  For years she’s been asking.

The child who, if she could, would paint her room a different color every other month.  The child who, if her parents could, would ask them to rearrange the furniture in her room every other week.  The child who, as a pre-teen, declared matter-of-factly, “I require constant change.”  The undeniable implication was, “Is that so wrong?  Is that so difficult?  Why is nobody accommodating me???”

« Read the rest of this entry »

Why I’m Cheering for “Popular Science”

October 4, 2013 § 6 Comments

2012/04/12 Tracey

A little over a week ago, Popular Science published an article called “Why We’re Shutting Off Our Comments.”   In it, the magazine announced that, from now on, it would no longer allow comments on stories it publishes online.  An old friend from college posted the article on Facebook, tagging me and a few others asking our opinions on the decision.  My response was this:  “You had me at the title.  I don’t even need the ‘Why’ at the beginning of it.”

I can imagine the protests to come – calling the decision outrageous, violations of the First Amendment, cowardly, etc.  To those accusations I already had my pat reply: that what is really outrageous is the online culture of stupidity and meanness so pervasive in what is attempting to pass for internet discourse.  First Amendment rights do not entitle people to say whatever they please behind the anonymity of their computer screens about whatever they please and be heard by a particular organization’s audience.  Cowardly is more accurately descriptive of spambots, trolls, and first-generation-uprights who take every opportunity to sabotage any semblance of conversation begun by an author’s original piece. « Read the rest of this entry »

Vacation Hangover

August 18, 2013 § 20 Comments

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Well, there was no Captain Steubing, and it was not the Love Boat, but we sure loved the boat that took us on vacation.  Here’s a random re-cap.

1.  No wi-fi and/or texting is a blessing.  The end.

2.  Just kidding!!!  There’s more!  Angel (pronounced “Ahn-HELL”) was our dinner waiter, and Marko was his assistant.  I learned halfway through the trip (and that was too late) that I should not ask Angel his opinion about more than one entree.  This is because he would proceed to bring me each. entree.  Five of us at the table, and we routinely had at least seven entrees on the table at one time.  By the end of the week it had progressed, we never arrived at dinner without at least one appetizer already on the table because he wanted us to have them, and it was not unusual for six or seven desserts to appear by the end.

3.  Related to #2 above, our rooms were on the 2nd deck.  The pool was on the 9th.  In an effort to stem the tide of flab resulting from #2, I did use the stairs almost exclusively.  16 steps to get from one deck to the other.  Yes, I counted.  Thankfully, the nearest bar was on the 4th deck.  But even with that, I managed to log at least 20 flights of those steps every day.  Because ping-pong on the 9th deck, that’s why.

4.  Don’t bother with the “Shopping Talk” before you dock.  It is interminable, and almost exclusively about the jewelry you can buy in port.  As with Angel and entrees, I realized this way too late, and was already committed to hunting down a couple of really cute, but expensive watches. Once in Bermuda, I was on a mission, I tell you.

5.  It’s true what they say.  Unplugging from the internet truly does unclutter your mind.  Think about how much multitasking your brain must do – how many times it must change gears, simply going from one friend’s FB status update to the next.  How many times do you click on a link they post to read about revolution in Egypt (of which I remained blissfully unaware) to the next link of a cat wearing a shark costume riding a roomba?  See?  I’ll bet you just clicked on that link.  And now your brain has to go from being all cuted out by that cat to reading my blatherings about my vacation.  Or maybe you didn’t come back…did you come back?  COME BAAAAAAAACK!!!!  Darn it.

6.  With my uncluttered mind, the only thing I could do between feeding my face and listening to the abundance of live music aboard was to either:

a.  read, or
b.  play Polar Bowler on my phone, since it was the only thing I could do on it that did not require internet.

Fighting the powerful pull of a polar bear shooting down a bowling alley made of ice,  I did manage to squeeze some reading in there.  Of an actual book.  With pages.  NOT on an electronic device.

7.  Here, I’m really letting my geek flag fly by confiding in you that the book I spent time reading was… “George Washington’s War (The Saga of the American Revolution)” by Robert Leckie.  My dad gave it to me with high recommendations, and, well, what the hell, right?  Amazingly written, its sentences have craploads of information in each one, which required me to actually read things more than one time.  If you know me, that is NOT my style – I’m kind of a speedy reader.  But I did read it slowly, and some of it several times over, because the writing was so beautiful and artistic.

It’s also filled with frikkin hilarious descriptions of the people in it.  Here’s how he paints Augusta, mother to (future King) George III.

Although Augusta was not beautiful or gracious, but plain with a long neck and awkward long arms, she was nevertheless well endowed with an amplitude of Germanic charms, both before and behind.

In other words, bag the face, but she had tits and ass.  The book surprised me on a regular basis with stuff like that, and I’m sure I raised a few eyebrows sitting by myself and snorting with laughter.  I only got to page 43 before vacation ended, but I will keep going, as I’ve got a renewed affection for reading a book rather than reading a Huffington Post article or a Buzzfeed list.

8.  Karaoke is hard.  No need to go into the sad, ugly details of that one.

9.  It was fun, fun, FUN having my niece, Katie, and her friend, Danielle onboard the ship with us!  (They had tickets – we didn’t smuggle them.)

10.  Most of the ship’s talent was extremely entertaining and skilled.  For example, one of the show nights had music by the decades, and the duo who sang “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” brought tears to my eyes, literally.  However, some of the ship’s performers lip-synced, which I found distracting and annoying.  And on a show night featuring Broadway music, I wanted to strangle whoever decided it was a good idea to change the time signatures of “A Boy Like That” from West Side Story.  Don’t – DO NOT – mess with Bernstein’s time signatures, is that understood?  Gah.

11.  I break the rules when my kids aren’t around.  One of the days in Bermuda Dave took them snorkeling, and I went to St. George to further geek out on history.  I walked all around by myself, taking in the whipping posts from the 1800s

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and brick-lined streets, and ended up at the Unfinished Church at the top of a hill.  They began building it in 1874, and abandoned it when they ran out of money.  Anywho, there was a flimsy sign that told me not to enter,

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but this other chick found a way in,

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and her cab driver seemed unconcerned,

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so, naturally, when she left I decided I couldn’t go back to the boat without trying to get inside this place, either.  I slunked around the outside of the church, and finding this weak point that would allow entry, I began to climb.

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I got a few scrapes, and landed a little harder than I would have liked, but I got in!  (Through the window behind me in the picture!)

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It was pretty.

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It was harder to get out than to get in, but I managed to climb up that gate a few pictures up and squeeze over the top.  And now I can say I’ve trespassed in a church.  Awwwww, yeah!

12.  Showers can be perplexing.  Picture a triangle 2′ x 2′ x whatever length that makes the 3rd side.  Then picture one of those shower heads at the end of a hose, propped up in a flimsy clip that was just a leeeeeeeettle too big for the hose.  Then picture it without warning popping out of that clip and flying (water on full-blast) all over the shower stall like a balloon with the air just let out of it.  That may have happened to me.  I cracked the code around 5 days into the cruise on how to keep it in the clip, but I still kept turning around to check it so it would know I was keeping my eye on it.  Also, picture, if you will, the act of shaving one’s legs in such a shower.  Somewhat akin to Ralph Maccio in The Karate Kid.  Only with a razor in one hand and a shower head whizzing all around you because it has popped out of its clip.

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(photo courtesy of http://www.myfoggybrain.com)

13.  I am totally going on another cruise.  The family was dreamy, the downtime was downtime, and the water was so, so blue.

 

A White Girl and the “N” Word

July 15, 2013 § 5 Comments

Diverse kids

When I was in elementary school in 1970’s Brooklyn, NY (maybe third grade?) a kid (who was white) told me I had “n*gger lips.”  It felt weird, because I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or not, but I kind of knew something wasn’t right about it.  Honestly, I don’t remember how I responded.  Maybe I looked confused or maybe I tried to be cool about it.  I was seven or eight.  I was also kinda socially awkward and, frankly, just happy to be getting some attention from a peer – that much I do remember.

This led, however, to an exchange with my sister I’ve never forgotten. She’s two years older than I am, and we walked home from school together.  To say I looked up to her is an understatement.  So we’re walking home that day and I tell her, “Guess what?  So-and-so told me today I had n*gger lips!”

She stopped dead in her tracks and looked at me in shock.  Then she narrowed her eyes and said, “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.”  And she kept walking.  (Yes, that is exactly what she said, and yes, she was articulate and mature enough in fifth grade to deliver the line that effectively.)  That’s when I knew it was bad.  Then I knew I’d said something terrible.  And Rachel disapproved.  That was just as bad.  Now I can’t even write the word without substituting an asterisk for the “i.”

Years later, I had my own opportunity to teach someone younger than I about using that word.  When I taught eighth grade civics in Virginia, I had some kids in my class who were black.  One day, before class started, they were joking around with each other, and the “N” word was being bandied about.  They were very clearly using it to refer to themselves and each other without the slightest degree of animosity or insult intended.

They were surprised when their 24-year-old white teacher told them to knock it off and watch their language.  I don’t remember many of the details of this conversation, but in essence, they said it was fine for them to use that term, since they were black.  I responded something to the effect of, “I don’t care what color you are – I’m offended by that word used by anyone, in any context.  As a teacher, it is a racial slur, and not permitted in my classroom.  And for your information, referring to each other using that term makes it easier for racists to justify the term to describe you.”  Or something like that.  They were very good kids and gave me no problem about it whatsoever.  The issue never came up again,  but I’ve often wondered about the complexities of that exchange.

Just like my sister Rachel knew she needed to respond the way she did in fifth grade, I knew I was within my rights, and even obligation, as a teacher to forbid certain language in the classroom.  As a civics teacher especially, I couldn’t resist adding a lesson in social commentary.  Did I overstep in telling them they were sort of providing racists justification (rightly or wrongly) for their use of slurs?  Maybe.  No parents contacted the school in outrage, and the kids seemed to be over the incident as quickly as it happened.

I still sometimes wonder, though, if I did the wrong thing by possibly placing part of the burden of racism on their 13-year-old shoulders by implying they were contributing to it. It involved a critique of my students’ language, but it was an attempt to empower them, regardless.  (Had I heard a white kid using the “N” word, I’d have gone into orbit and they would have been scraping me off the ceiling.)

I guess the reason why the incident still sits with me 20 years later (okay, now you know how old I am) is that I give a lot of thought to the importance of the source in a lesson like that.  Would that statement have had more impact if it came from a black teacher?  From a male teacher?  Did the fact that I was a young white woman delegitimize the criticism?  Probably to a degree.  I certainly don’t agonize over the incident, nor do I think I did much damage, if any, but it stays with me nonetheless – as an exchange in which I’m pretty sure (and I definitely hope) I did the right thing.

This post originally appeared on The Broad Side on June 27, 2013.

Image via iStockphoto/Jani Bryson

 

“Were You Trying?” Well, That Question Certainly Was…

July 1, 2013 § 12 Comments

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We truly are an entitlement-driven culture.

I’m not talking about welfare or tax breaks–I’m talking about people feeling entitled to KNOW things they have no business knowing.  I recently wrote about politicians’ infidelity (and how it is or isn’t relevant) in this post at The Broad Side.  I could blame it on the internet, or too much information, or Facebook for encouraging over-sharing. Truthfully, though, this sort of butting in happened waaaay before the internet age made everyone experts on any number of things, including medicine, politics, and entertainment. My favorite examples, though, involve knowing (and judging) someone else’s childbearing decisions.

I have friends (in real life and online) who share stories of intrusiveness that give me a facial tic. A friend who has one child is routinely told her child needs a sibling. Another friend who is single and childless is reminded by well-meaning friends that thanks to science, dontchyaknow, she doesn’t actually need to be married or in a relationship to have a baby. What’s the hold-up?

That people feel entitled to comment on, let alone challenge, someone else’s child rearing (or any other personal) choices makes me seethe. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of such intrusiveness. I was absolutely floored by the first person who asked me if we were trying when I revealed I was pregnant. I’m sure many regard this as a benign question, and mean no harm. Still, I remained floored, embarrassed, speechless that someone I barely knew felt free to ask me what amounted to questions about the most private aspects of my married life.

My husband and I continued to be amazed through each of my three pregnancies how many people would ask us if we had been “trying.” I had pretty quickly developed a response that involved a cock of my head to the side, furrowed eyebrows, and a, “That’s kind of a personal question, don’t you think???” My husband, normally gentle and patient to a fault, had even less ability to tolerate this question than I did. When some poor, clueless, unfortunate soul asked him this at work about our third pregnancy, he finally lost it. “WHAT makes people THINK they have the RIGHT to ASK that question????”   To which his clueless co-worker responded, “Well, how am I going to find out if I don’t ASK?”  Head, meet desk.

Then there was the colleague who “caught” me eating saltines. Oh, she was a regular Columbo, that one. It was VERY early in my first pregnancy, and she happened upon me while I was alone in my classroom marking papers. “I knew it! I knew it! I knew you were pregnant!” she accused, pointing her finger at me. I hadn’t told anyone yet because we’d wanted to wait for the first trimester to pass uneventfully before coming out with the news. But no–she adopted a very haughty, “You can’t fool ME,” attitude and berated me for keeping the info to myself. The nerve of me! In fact, I had so much nerve, that I told her I was pretty sure it was MY decision when and to whom I revealed my being pregnant and that she needed to mind her own business and keep her mouth shut.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I was raised to NEVER ask a person if he or she had children (or its corollary, if a woman was pregnant) let alone question their reasoning and decisions. This may seem a little extreme to some, but my parents’ reasoning was this:

You never know if the question is going to cause someone pain. You don’t know if the issue is a source of contention between the spouses. Perhaps the person you’re asking has just had a miscarriage. Maybe the woman was raised in a violent household, and has vowed to never have kids of her own. What if a couple has been desperately trying to conceive, and have suffered countless heartbreaks and disappointment in their attempts?

Or maybe you might find yourself in the situation I did. (I am guilty of sometimes not following my own rules.) An old friend found me through Facebook and my writing. He had frequently half-joked in college that he wanted to be a stay-at-home dad and have six kids. I would completely-joke back, “I wish your future wife a lot of luck.” As we were re-acquainting ourselves after 20+ years, he told me he and his lovely wife have five children. “Five? I thought the magic number was six!” I teased light-heartedly.

His response? “We did have six.”

This post appeared in its original form at Kveller.com in November 2012.

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