The “Jesus was an American” Assembly

 

I haven’t written about Darcy’s new preschool yet. And because she really loves her teacher and the school is such a sweet place I’ve stayed away from writing anything that—while I would mean it as humorous cultural commentary—would come off as hurtful. Truly, it’s a lovely little school.

Let me just set the scene though. I’m a solidly Northeastern girl who grew up Catholic, went to Catholic high school, and then onto Catholic university. Despite attending Methodist church for the past few years, Catholicism is really the dominant religious tradition in my mind. So the “bible” churches or nondenominational churches in Texas are a whole new world for me. While I love my faith and the faithful people around me, this is culture shock…big league culture shock.

Just as someone who went to church/school in Texas would likely feel if they walked into a Catholic school on the Feast of St. Blaise. Why are they blessing throats? What’s with the candles to the throat? How does one get to be a throat blesser? If you grew up Catholic, this feast makes perfect sense…especially if it’s school musical season. Get your throat blessed by St. Blaise! It really helps! But if you didn’t grow up in this culture, I can imagine it would be jarring.

So Darcy’s school is Christian. Just Christian. No denominations. I have elevated this school to “Super Christian,” like “Super Tuscan” wines or “supermodels.” Most of the time I really love her school. But there’s a small percentage of the time where I do a double take and say, “Yep, file that under Super Christian.”

Like when Darcy corrected Jackson for stating (correctly) that J is for Jackson.

“No, J is only for Jesus!!!” she yelled. Calm down evangelical TV pastor. We know J is for Jesus.

Or like when Darcy came home and randomly blurted out, “Baaaaddd decisions against God.” Turns out, the class was reading a story about sheep who didn’t obey God. But I felt the need to clarify something, “Wait, were you saying that to a kid in the class that misbehaved?” She didn’t. But for a second I was all Calm down, handmaiden.

Yesterday morning was the Veteran’s Day assembly, a ripe mixture of patriotic and religious narratives that simply cannot be ignored. It was an excellently produced pageant I have since dubbed “Jesus was an American.”

We began with the preschool singing some patriotic songs. I knew none except for “My Country Tis of Thee,” a song whose lyrics I still insist should be “of the icing.” Because icing is part of cake and cake is awesome and so is America.

My daughter’s class was downright adorable. When they finished, the classes were ushered off the stage as quick as their little legs could carry them. Darcy held up an index finger to my parents and I as if to say “#1.”

Maybe it was America is #1. Yes.

Jesus is #1. Agreed. Number one in my book.

Darcy is #1. Nailed it.

I saw that chubby finger and smiled at how she’s my little Texan baby.

Then came the pledges. You read that right. Plural. As in four pledges. Here’s what I pledged:

The Pledge to the Bible. Didn’t know this one.

The Pledge to the Christian Flag. Yes, there is indeed a Christian flag. It may be the same as the Crusades flag. My recollection of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves fails me here.

The Pledge to the Texas flag. This one is so redundant in its wording and yet I can’t seem to get it. At least I’m not just moving my lips and awkwardly looking around to see who notices that I have no idea what I’m saying. I was doing that for a LONG time.

Then, finally, the American Flag Pledge. Yes! One I know. Now I don’t feel like a terrorist. She doesn’t know the pledges! Take her down!

At this point we have been pledging for like 8 minutes. At least now, I understand while Darcy prays by saying the end of the Pledge of Allegiance. She’s conflated praying to God the father with pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes. But with four pledges and only four years of life, who could blame the confusion?

I stood between my parents. My mother didn’t know there were four pledges and false-started the Pledge of Allegiance three times.

“Not yet,” I kept whispering snidely.

My dad was on the other side of me, all basking in the red state glow, “You would never see this in New York.”

And then mom was all like, “A Veteran’s Day assembly? We had one every year. It was in Newsday.”

So while Mom was indignantly reminding everyone about Davison Ave School’s amazing Veteran’s Day assembly and Dad was all Making Jesus Great Again, I was in the middle figuring out how we could scoot from this event early. Darcy had, after all, finished her part of the performance.

I know I sound awful with my wanting to skedaddle. Here’s the deal though. I taught high school for seven years. I sat through countless assemblies—Veteran’s Day, 9/11 Assembly, Honor Society Assembly, Leadership Assembly, Graduation, Baccalaureate Liturgy. I don’t do assemblies and I don’t do lunch duty anymore. I go to an assembly if my kids are in it and then I have to fight every fiber of my being that wants to leave or play Candy Crush.

And I was hungry. I wanted pancakes. Mom and Dad promised to take me to The Original Pancake house for breakfast. This celebration of the American military stood in between me and pumpkin spice pancakes.

But my daughter’s class was seated right behind us. Drats! So I had to console myself with deep thoughts about America and how great it is to be American and how free I am to sit here and think about pancakes when I’m supposed to be thinking about America.

And then came the keynote. A 16-year Navy SEAL veteran whose title was “Master Chief.” He was there all the way from Tennessee to share his story about his commitment to God and military. And my first thought was “Yes, this guy has been ‘in the shit.’” I immediately imagined him yelling at his battalion or squad or whatever and saying things like “Stay frosty!” and “Get some!”

The children sat on the stage as he addressed them. It reminded me of a part of the Methodist worship service where the pastor calls all the children up to the front for a mini-sermon wherein he/she makes the scripture relatable to their age and stage. Do you like animals, children? Oh, ducks, you like ducks? Well, God created the whole world and everything in it. That means God made ducks.

Master Chief had lots of good reflections and stories. But I was surprised that he broke from the Veteran’s Day façade of “Thank you for your service. As far as the whole our-taxes-pay-you-to-murder-death-kill-our-enemies…Let’s not go there. But thank you for your service.”

Well, Master Chief was going there. He told a story about how his squad was taking fire and how it all happens in slow motion when you think you might die. But his faith carried him through and he stood up with his machine gun and started firing back. This Rambo move was the reason his squad was able to get out of the firefight.*

I only caught some of his story because I was using the restroom for the second time. But I filled in the gaps in my mind with Master Chief killed Bin Laden and Master Chief killed all of ISIS and Master Chief was Quinn from Homeland.

My dad wondered aloud if this ultimate sacrifice/price of war was a bit much for elementary school kids.

“Dad, everything here is a ‘bit much.’” I whispered back. Hello? Did he miss the four pledges?

Also, did he miss the music teacher conducting the audience through the Star Spangled Banner? That happened, by the way. The music teacher conducted the audience instead of the choir during sing-alongs. She wore a lovely sparkly wrap from Chico’s that fell off her shoulders as she waved her quivering forearms at us. And while no one is a better choir conductor than Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, this lady is a close second place.

And you know who didn’t think Master Chief’s Rambo-ISIS story was too much? The lady in the last row. She wore an American flag dress jacket with sequins all over it. I imagined her admonishing the dry cleaner about how to properly clean such a garment. She looked like she was about to coach the 1980 US Women’s Gymnastics team in Lake Placid. It’s the height of the Cold War. The only way to stop the Commies is with sequins and sticking the effin’ landing.

*At no point did Master Chief refer to himself as Rambo. Because when you’re a frickin’ Navy SEAL Rambo, you don’t have to use weak ass Hollywood references.

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My high school box

Sophomore Homeroom in the Art Room. Lots of doodles during announcements and a big win for the Christmas Decorating Contest that year.

I love titling my blog posts.

So my parents live here now and with them came many boxes from their attic back in Malverne, NY. My dad dropped off said boxes the other day.

One was of books from college. Boring. Straight to Good Will.

One was filled with American Girl Dolls. More on this another day.

One was my wedding dress.

And one was a box of memorabilia from sophomore and junior year of high school. Bingo!

I suppose I could write a sappy post about showing my children my wedding dress and veil. After all today is our 13th wedding anniversary. And I could write about how I choked up thinking about that beautiful day and how it led to my beautiful children. And how Darcy will wear my veil one day at her wedding.

But that would both be a bunch of lies and lame. Let’s talk about some of the stupid stuff that was in my high school box. Like the bottle cap and meticulously saved label from a bottle of Olde English. For those of you who don’t know, Olde English, or O.E.,  is malt liquor that comes in 40 oz servings. You can get it at the 7/11 on Franklin Avenue if you ask the derelict guy who hangs out in the parking lot to buy it for you. That is, if there are no Malverne PD getting coffee. Those guys are VERY attentive to teens at 7/11. #thankyouforyourservice, our heroine hash-tagged begrudgingly.

Darcy was with me as I sifted through trinkets and notes I had once held so dear. All of a sudden, Darcy hands me something. She’d been chewing on it. It was a red candy-colored condom. She held the wrapper in her other hand. I know what you’re thinking. Whoa, Kristin was getting laid in Sophomore year. But no, perv. And if you’re my parents reading this, you should know that I have never known the touch of a man and both my kids were immaculately conceived.

Muno from Yo Gabba Gabba.

Seriously, I actually have NO IDEA why I saved a red candy-colored condom. I can only assume this condom was a gag gift of some kind. Probably from one of my demented best friends. (Hello Laura! Hello Terry!)

Either way, Darcy handed it to me and said, “this is gross. It’s not candy.”

“No, it’s not candy. Give it here,” I took it and promptly threw it in the garbage bag.

“No! It’s a balloon! You blow it,” Darcy whined.

^^Not even going there.^^

It reads “O.K. girls, circle theorem #161 on the board.” and “Barry Darling” and “Math class 201.” Mr. Dickson is Poseidon on this card.

No, I would not be blowing up a condom for my 3yo to frolic through the garage with. I did, however, think that it would be awesome to dig up  her Muno figurine and put this condom on him #raincoat (Note: I didn’t actually do this).

Speaking of inappropriate things I don’t remember at all, let’s talk Barry Dickson. (I didn’t plan that his last name would be so ripe with meaning right after I talked about condoms but it worked so I’m going with it.) I found a birthday card from my friend Jen that was entirely about Barry Dickson. The card was an Ode to Barry and I had no idea who this man was.  After leafing through my sophomore yearbook, I discovered that Mr. Dickson was our math teacher. Maybe Jen had a crush on him and I indulged her with dirty jokes and double entendres involving math words like “protractor.”

But it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to have a crush on Barry Dickson. As any hetero girl who attended an all-girls high school can attest, when there’s no boys to pine for, the male teachers take over that space in your head. Barry is what passes for hot when there are no boys your age, lots of hormones, and pressure from Sacred Heart Academy to get into a good college–all shrouded in Catholic traditions.

 And Mr. Dickson was Jewish which makes him downright tropical in hotness. Because while it was never stated explicitly by any authority figure in my life, when you go Sacred Heart and all the dances/cotillions/proms which constitute your interactions with the opposite sex are with Chaminade boys, anyone other than Catholic reads as  FORBODEN and therefore extra sexy.

Mr. Dickson could eat meat on Friday. So exotic. He may as well have been a public school boy.

There was one teacher I remember thinking was cute. It’s Mr. Pierre-Louis. And he sealed the deal when the Hofstra University Jazz Band came to perform with him. And then he broke out into Scat singing. He was awesome. This was two years after Swing Kids. So bringing your college jazz band (college boys!) and then scat singing with them (WTF! He’s the band teacher! I didn’t know he could sing too!) and combining all that with Swing Kids (Christian Bale! Dancing! WWII Germany!)?

Basically Mr. Pierre-Louis was fighting Nazi oppression with his raspy voice.

The experience of opening up a box of your memories and having no recollection or reference point for some of them was dizzying. Like a coma patient waking for the first time, looking at her husband and uttering, “Are you the doctor?”

Okay, it’s not that serious at all. And, upon further recollection, at 37 years old, I suppose memories of my sophomore math teacher have faded into the background in favor of memories of Jackson walking for the first time or Darcy sleeping through the night for the first time. The latter is not a memory but a fantasy.

And who has room for high school memories when Lake Highlands Soccer Association keeps changing the damn schedule?! Off to 3yo soccer!

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A Brave New Pug

Thatcher had surgery yesterday. She had a small skin cancer tumor on her chest. The vet, who I really like, used phrases like “mastic cells” and “clean surgical margins” And I used phrases like “cost” and “bill.”

Go ahead and judge. But yes, with an 11-year-old pug, I have some concerns about spending good money to remove skin cancer that seems not to bother the dog at all. It wasn’t all about the money though.

I have concerns about putting my 11 year old pug under anesthesia too. Her face is pushed in. I bought her like that. It’s a “feature of the breed.” But with great beauty comes breathing problems. If a spec of dust gets up in that short nose, she walks around snorting and having an asthma attack until I cover her nostrils and she remembers she can breathe through her mouth. Now add general anesthesia to this and you’re living on the edge with my sweet puppy’s life.

This is not hyperbole. When I had Thatcher spayed, I signed a document saying I wouldn’t sue the vet for pug’s untimely death by anesthesia.

Aunt Voula from My Big Fat Greek Wedding

But I was brave and pug was brave too. She knew that whether this was big “C” or just her twin (a la My Big Fat Greek Wedding), it needed to come off. C.K. and I prefer the narrative that the tumor was her twin. C.K. thinks it adds to the drama of pug’s life. First we take away her ability to have children. Then we take her twin.

When we got to the vet yesterday morning, pug knew the game. Little claws tried in vain to grip the tile floor and scramble to the exit. No breakfast and now this.

Not. happy.

The vet tech–we’ll call her Brenda–came out to explain the procedure and tell me when I could expect to pick my dog up. Thatcher is sweet and Brenda petted her and told me so. Brenda then said sadly, “I had a pug. He was fifteen when I put him down a few months ago.”

Thatcher and I exchanged a knowing, conspiratorial glance, “Is this Brenda for realz?” Brenda, why would you mention the pug’s mortality at this juncture?

I fumble the response (surprise!), “I’m sorry to hear that. She’s eleven. I’m hoping to get fifteen years out of her too.”

Thatcher is absolutely flabberghasted at my response. Ears cocked to the side, her eyes bulged and she looked at me as if to say, “What am I? A car? A good coat?”

Brenda adds that her pug was fat. My pug, always happy to participate in fat shaming, looks proud and self-righteous now. I’m skinny. I will live forever. You will have to remove twelve of my twins before I’m through, mom.

Beware the cyclops pug!

“He was so food aggressive,” Brenda continues. “It’s how he lost an eye.”

What the? Why does the office always turn left in the most brilliant ways? This conversation goes from awkward to “pay attention so you can blog about this!!”

I contort my mouth to hide my smile, “Oh! What happened?”

“The wolf. He got into a fight with the wolf.”

A Lisa-Frank-esque Wolf. Brenda would approve.

Let that set in.

Here’s where my first-person-investigative-journalism skills failed. I got so uncomfortable that I just abruptly said my goodbyes and left. I know I should have stayed. I’ve deprived everyone of what was probably a great story.

You have a wolf? An actual wolf or a dog that looks wolf-like? Is that legal in Texas? Where do you live? What do your neighbors think? Do you let the wolf out to hunt? Does the wolf have emotional issues because he’s a lone wolf?

When I picked Thatcher up, she looked thoroughly exhausted but happy to see me. “Thank you for coming to get me from the place where rapey things happen in the name of science,” she grumbles.

Brenda raved about  how great Thatcher did. She gave me the pain pills. “I split them in half for you,” Brenda beamed. You’re a saint Brenda, owner of wolves and fine motor skills genius.

Then Brenda presented Thatcher  with her “Certificate of Bravery.” This is real thing. It is full color with a picture of Thatcher and printed on card stock. I provided a picture in case you didn’t believe me. Basically it’s a surgery diploma.

As you can see, it even has black pugs on it. The office created it just for her. C.K. and I joked about how they must have been sifting through Google images for cartoon pugs. “Who screwed with my Clip Art? I can’t find the black pug pictures anywhere!” Since black pugs are rarer than the usual fawn with black muzzle, I appreciated this effort.

This certificate, while sweet, is wholly unnecessary. This next statement should be obvious but Thatcher is dog and therefore she is illiterate. She also probably can’t grasp the concept of bravery.  Thatcher is also NOT a Millennial.* She has no need of this worthless parchment.

But because I AM a millennial (an old one by some definitions), I hung the certificate on the fridge after I made Thatcher take a picture with it for my Insta.

*Dear Millennials,

I can make jokes about Millennials and trophies because I am a Millennial. The oldest  Millennial in fact. The Original Gangster Millennial. The Gandalf of our generation. Did you think you were the first child to be terrible at organized sports and still get a shiny trophy?

You’re not. I am. Welcome to the 80s. 

Love, 

Me.

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Filed under family, health, pets, texas, Uncategorized

My dentist, book clubs, and Jump Rope for the Heart

I’ll be honest. This post is just one big lead up to how much I dislike Jump Rope for the Heart.

I went to the dentist yesterday. I love the office but they are a chatty bunch. The dentist, Dr. Rooster-in-the-hen-house, is a friendly, older man with a sanguine face and a deep abiding respect for people who floss. He sets the tone for the hospitable atmosphere.

These toothbrushes are pregnant. They’ve been “impregnanted.” So much to say. So little time.

The hygienists and assistants were particularly loquacious yesterday because they’d all attended conference. The office staff took a team building seminar–a class that seems wholly unnecessary for this group. And my hygienist was all “We took a team building seminar and talked about our personalities, but we never took a personality test!”

So she’d taken it upon herself to send a personality test via group text. (Of course they have a group text. Try to keep up.) She cleaned my teeth whilst interrogating everyone about their results. To my surprise once again, most people had not only taken the test, but were willing to share their results and comment on the test’s accuracy.

“Have you taken that personality test? The Myers-Briggs?,” she asked me.

My mouth is open and there’s a hook scraping the inside of my lower jaw. I was only paying attention to their conversation to take my mind off the scraping sound echoing through my cranium. And I was trying make sure my mind didn’t go to that dark musical place: Steve Martin singing “I’m Your Dentist” from Little Shop of Horrors. This song is an ear worm. I didn’t want it in my head for the rest of the day.

Too late.

So I grunted an affirmation. Yes, I have taken the Myers-Briggs. Then I think how absurd it is that some countries don’t even have access to running water and Americans are worried about what four letters correspond to their unique snowflake selves.

Then came the air suction thingie and the tiny water gun. What happened to filling the little dixie cup and letting the patient sit up for a hot second? When I finally did sit up, the hygienist commented that since I closed my eyes, I got to relax. I think this is something that people with adult children say to people with younger children.

“Must have been nice. Getting to close your eyes for awhile. Not think about anything.”

Completely aghast, I said nothing.

Are you crazy? I’m happy you’re stewarding my dental health but that wasn’t a massage. And it certainly wasn’t a nap. I closed my eyes because the light you shine in my mouth rivals the sun in brightness. Even with the fake Oakley sunglasses you give me. 

And I’m always thinking, always worrying. It’s kind of the hallmark of having anxiety. Here’s where my mind went yesterday morning: Jackson’s book club and Jump Rope for the Heart and how I’m failing at both. All interrupted by show tunes.

Anyway, while plaque was getting scraped off my molars, I thought about Jackson’s second grade book club. When we were rifling through his backpack this morning, I saw a rather thick chapter book.

“Have you read this one yet? It’s long.”

His eyes dart around, “Uh, no.”

“Okay, well you have time, but start reading it.”

He won’t. I thought of how Jackson may not have read any of the Book Club selections this year. After all, the librarian didn’t assign Captain Underpants or another graphic novel that employs toilet jokes as its main source of humor. So Jackson is basically treating his kid book club the way all adults treat adult book club. Maybe the librarian should just give up on the discussion. Just serve some some small bites from Trader Joe’s and let the kids gossip and drink Chardonnay with ice in it.

(NB: That’s a joke. I’m not actually suggesting the elementary school librarian serve alcohol. And she is a responsible person and wouldn’t even joke about kids getting loaded.  She a fine teacher and an even better person. Her Myer-Briggs letters are better than mine.)

My spa appointment/teeth cleaning was also interrupted by Jackson’s last words as I dropped him off at school. They are the same last words everyday for over a week.

“Have you done the Jump Rope for the Heart yet?”

Don’t. even. get. me. started.

Jump Rope for the Heart is one of those programs where the participant gets money donated and then promises to do an exercise on a given day. Like on Facebook…when you see your FB friend’s Go Fund Me page and it reads like this:

“Hey, I’m going to do a marathon in Santa Monica. I’m training so hard. Donate to Muscular Dystrophy so I can go run this marathon.”

And you’re like, “Is my money going to research for Muscular Dystrophy or am I funding your vacation to Santa Monica?”(Notice how it’s never the Big Mud Run of East Bumble.) Either way, is this tax deductible? I hate to be that person but unless it’s one of my charitable causes or a really good friend, the tax deduction is the only thing that’s going to get me involved.

So replace Muscular Dystrophy with Heart Disease. Replace marathon with kids trying to jump rope. And finally replace trip to SoCal with worthless trinkets from Oriental Trading Company. Will Jackson actually jump rope for sick hearts? I don’t think so. Therefore, Jump Rope for the Heart is my homework.

And now that he’s in second grade with all his second-grade-sass, Jackson told me that I don’t care about saving lives. And this past weekend, he reminded me that my father had open heart surgery.

So far, I’ve been a good mom and responded with deep, cleansing breaths and then ignoring him. But soon, I might lay it on. No, I don’t care about lining the pockets of the AHA’s Board and CEO just so you can “collect ’em all.” And PopPop’s heart disease is hereditary–he’s German and can’t resist Boars Head cold cuts.

Furthermore, Jump Rope for the Heart is a constant reminder that I still don’t have my double unders in CrossFit. That’s it. Double whammy.

Love you, Dad.

 

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You, Sir, are kicked out of “The Menagerie”

“He just blowed for you,” Darcy said from the back seat, eyes wide and still confusing her prepositions. Were we in trouble? He doesn’t look happy. Well, I pissed off the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school this morning. He’s a man in his 60s with a handheld stop sign and a whistle he’s not a afraid to blow with wild abandon. I treat him with distance and respect.

But I was tired this morning. And I was waving at a friend on the corner.

I didn’t notice him signaling me to turn right and so I got not one, not two, but three blows. The last blow was exasperated. It felt like a higher pitch although I’m not sure that’s possible.  It was the sound the whistle makes then the blower smokes too much and thinks everyone is an idiot.

This is basically the face I got this morning.

We made eye contact and his eyes were filled with contempt. Neon clad fingers pointed at me forcefully then directed me to turn right. The disdain was palpable. I wasn’t looking at my phone, I promise. I wasn’t about to hit a stroller.

But there is NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES AT DROP OFF!!!

Therefore, I must declare publicly that the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school is officially kicked out of The Menagerie.

I suppose I should explain what The Menagerie is. First you should know this: a writer’s mind is a vivid honeycomb of anecdotes, fantasies, dialogue, and clouded memories. And this massive cellular structure is all dripping in the honey of self-doubt and sarcasm.

Back to The Menagerie…

(Also, I know there are some of you who are confusing the word “menagerie” with “menage a trios.” Not the same. You have a dirty gutter mind.)

Simply put, The Menagerie is a group of people who I enjoy interacting with but would never really be friends with. I’m pretty fascinated by people even if I don’t always like them. The characters in The Menagerie have interesting stories. They are usually older people and therefore their stories a gilded by a veneer of fiction I find endearing. Their stories, their quips, and their motivations all provide fodder for my creative work. Write what you know, the adage goes.

Other current residents of the menagerie include my amazing landscaper who told me that he used to eat the squirrels he hunted in my area before they “put in all these goddamed houses” and the ex-CEO of Aeropostale who sat across from me in the adult education watercolor class at Bronxville HS. She wore Chanel shoes and Hermes scarves but borrowed my watercolors.

“Have you painted much before?,” I asked.

“No, but I have some experience in design. I just retired.”

“Oh, really? What did you do?”

“I worked in retail. At Aeropostale.”

My face must have looked confused as I tried to square a classy lady like herself folding $8 shirts at Aeropostale. So she clarified, “I was the CEO.”

“Oh?” I said. Duh, I am sitting in a school in Bronxville. 

“Can I borrow your cerulean?”

Can I borrow your fucking Birkin bag? <– I didn’t say that.

Anyway, I thought the new crossing guard would be perfect for my mind curio cabinet. He drives a red scooter that he parks in the fire lane and surrounds with small orange cones from Dick’s Sporting Goods. That’s so idiots like me don’t hit the scooter. Or the idiots who drive the fire truck make sure to steer clear when they are pulling their emergency vehicle close to the school to save our children from burning flames or from ISIS.

Also, he wears one of those Sons of Anarchy helmets. The small black skull caps that look like they will do NOTHING if you get into an accident. That kind. And attached to the back of his helmet are three foxtails.

I am not kidding.

He also plants his pop-up chair in a neighbor’s yard. Not on school property but quite literally in the middle of someone’s lawn. There is shade here. I shall have it.

And one time, I saw him put his own body in front of a turning car. I think he even slapped the hood of the car so the driver would stop. Apparently, this driver decided she would turn right while he was crossing another party. He walked to the car and hollered at the driver. I can’t remember what he said but I’m pretty sure he muttered curses as he trudged back into the crosswalk. In my mind now, the crossing guard yelled the drill sergeant’s lines from Full Metal Jacket.  Something to the effect of… I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!

The point is…that four way intersection belongs to him…on school days…between 7:15 & 8:15am and then again between 2:30 & 3:30.

I don’t know much more about this guy. And after this morning, I will never find out. He’s the type who never forgets a face. I am now in the idiot category.

If you’d like to read about another group in my menagerie, check out my story of The Sippin’ Sisters.

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Grandma Pug, her physical, and my healthy distrust of cats

“Be right back,” the vet tech says smiling as he closes the exam room door. No, you won’t be right back. Just tell me about how long I’ll be waiting on you. You have no intentions of being right back. The lies begin.

And with that, Doug leaves me and Thatcher in the sixty degree exam room with it’s distinct funk and cat posters. I look around. We got a cat room. Now I have to deal with this anxiety-ridden pug in a cat room.

(I hate cats. I have nothing against “cat people” but I do not trust cats. A cat scratched me right underneath the eye when I was little. Granted, I was trying to pick it up. But I don’t think aggravated assault was an appropriate reaction. That cat tried to blind me. Ever since them, I’ve despised them. They are small demons here to do the dark work of Satan.)

Now I can focus only on my irritation with this cat breeds poster (aka Demon’s Notebook). Th pug can focus only on the impeding indignities of an annual exam. The butt probe. The shots. The bright lights to the eye. The new vaccine that gets squirted in her nose.

She knows what’s coming. She’s sweating. I pick her up and notice the wet under her little pug arms. I put her down. Gross. The smell of urine covered by the smell of ammonia (thanks for using a component of urine to clean urine, vet office!!) has hints of dog body odor.

And I forgot my phone. Surprising because my phone is literally attached to my hand.

I look at the magazine rack. Only a Better Homes issue from September 2014 and a book of pithy cat quotes called Cataclysms.

Hard pass.

Still waiting. I attempt to give Thatcher a treat. She looks at me with utter disgust. I’m complicit in the rapey things that will happen to her when the vet tech comes back. She looks down at the treat then up at me. You eat it. It’s probably paleo and you love that shit, she seems to quip.

I swipe two lollipops for the kids from the same area of the desk. (I would swipe more human pops  after the tech shows me the price for the “senior dog” annual exam.)

Doug finally returns. He explains the pricing for the physical. “It’s more than last year’s $140 because she’s a senior now.” We prefer “pug of a certain age,” I think to myself.

Doug has questions about Thatcher. Eating, pooping, drinking, sleeping. Yes to all. Heartguard medicine. “Yes, from Sam’s club,” I lie. The actual answer is that I bought the three month supply last year and didn’t follow up. She’s a healthy weight though. I congratulate myself on being an awesome dog parent.

Doug picks up Thatcher . He winces when he feels the sweat in her armpits. Yes, Doug. She’s afraid. The tail is down. The sweat is up.  I ponder if I should have dabbed some essential oil on Thatcher before coming.

I tell Thatcher it will all be okay. Another lie. She looks back at me forlornly. She’s no Fulbright scholar but  knows why we are here. The only way to tell if you are healthy is to stick long doctor’s office q-tips in you. I’m sorry.

So I wait. And I wait. Just me, this cold room, and this cat poster. Now I’m sweating too. I blame the cats on the poster. Kill Doug, the Bombay with the golden eyes seems to say. And now I’m casting out demons.

The pug comes back. She is happy it’s over. Doug says she did great and I just shake my head. I’ll never actually know what goes on when the tech leaves the room with my dog. Maybe Doug took Thatcher to be hypnotized by some cat demon underboss. And now she’s under a spell. Thatcher circles the legs of the chair so excitedly that she strangles herself and starts coughing. The cat poster snickers. A spell indeed.

An overweight pug. Not quite a fur balloon just yet though.

Finally, the doctor comes in. I like her. She sits on the floor with the dog instead of making Thatcher scramble on the metal table. She comments that Thatcher is a healthy weight and looks more like 8 or 9 years old rather than 11. These, Thatcher knows, are the best compliments any female can get. Thin and young-looking.

The doctor even comments that most pugs  look like ottomans by 11 years old. A pug ottoman is such a delightful image that I am momentarily distracted from the evil cat poster.

The rest of the appointment goes well. We look at Thatcher’s gross skin tags. Harmless but I’m still convinced they could be her twins (a la My Big Fat Greek Wedding).

Then I check out. I write them a big fat check for the rapey things they did to my supermodel pug. And we both leave feeling icky.

 

 

 

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Second Grade

Jackson holds a chalkboard apple on his first day of second grade.

On Monday, Jackson started second grade. Actually, since he is the first-born, we all started second grade together. I fussed over the chalkboard apple and my subpar font. And his outfit. And his hair. And what do you put in the school bag? At least I had his lunch is down pat. Uncrustables & Capri Suns since day one of kinder. Lunch, consider yourself, phoned in. Judge all you want, readers.

Darcy spent the morning pissed that it wasn’t her first day of school. She is generally resentful of being the youngest and so she is always finding ways to commit family treason on special mornings like this one. Sidenote: Yesterday Darcy helped me start Jackson’s laundry. After diligently putting all his clothes in the machine, as instructed, she poured bleach on them and started it. While I applaud her self-direction here, she could have stopped after she completed her task and chosen NOT to be treasonous whilst my back was turned.

Anyway, we took Jackson in the classroom, did the requisite pictures, seat finding, etc. He seemed happy but a little tentative. We then made our the PTA coffee, said hellos, caught up with some friends, and fed Darcy a kolache. NB: A kolache is basically a large pig-in-a-blanket. Texans heart kolaches big time.

Darcy parked herself at the food table, grabbed a kolache (like a good native-born Texan), popped the breakfast sausage out of the pastry, took a bite, then popped it back in.

I was clearly the wrong person to get C.K. and I coffee since doing so took about twenty minutes. So much chit-chat. It’s a life skill. I have mad chit-chat skillz.  And I forgot my car keys on Jackson’s desk so I had to travel back for those. His teacher met me halfway, keys jingling in the air, a knowing look on her face that spoke, “You are the mom who will ask what I want from Starbucks and then completely forget or get my order wrong.” At least now she knows I am an overly apologetic hot mess. Better than me overachieving in these first weeks of school only to find out that it’s all downhill from Halloween.

Monday night I got to thinking about my time in the second grade. I sent a note to my future second grade teacher when I was still in first grade. I wonder if it was before or after I got in trouble for drawing privates in a marble notebook during recess. There were two other depraved kids there but I can’t remember their names or faces. So maybe I imagined them. And it was just depraved little me, sitting on the playground, doing some risque sketches.

Whether Ms. Triola knew of my first grade transgressions, I can’t say. But clearly what I wrote in that note I hand delivered to her classroom was enough. I wrote a letter. And I got what I wanted. The note told Ms. Triola that she was the prettiest teacher in the school. And that I loved her high heels. (She legit had pumps in every color.)

The high heels remained a point of fascination even after I’d gained access to the best second grade class Dutch Broadway had to offer. I remember walking up the stairs behind her and Ms. Triola wouldn’t put her whole foot on the step in front of her. So the sole of her impractically-high-for-a-teacher-heel would be on the step but the four inch heel would balance off the edge. It was a weirdly marvelous thing–and something I copied when I became a teacher years later. I soon learned that high heels were ridiculous to wear when you stood for most of your  work day.

This is THE Porsche!

And I didn’t care. Just like Ms. Triola taught me.

She drove a Porsche. And even though it was an ugly 1980s Porsche, I could tell this vehicle was better than the Pontiacs and Datsuns that populated the rest of the faculty lot. A vehicle for someone who wore Porsche-like footwear.

I even heard my mother tell our across the street neighbor Rhonda that Ms. Triola’s “sugar daddy” bought it for her. I remember thinking that maybe my father would buy me a red sports car one day. And I would punch the gas over each speed bump in the school lot and completely ignore the school zone speed limits, just like Ms. Triola did.

At least I think she did. The car was red and therefore appeared capable of mildly illegal behavior.

Ms. Triola got married later that year–presumably to said Sugar Daddy–but I don’t remember her married name. It’s a law in elementary school that all teacher’s names are whatever they are when you first meet them. I can’t learn a whole new surname because of your life milestone. I’m seven.

 

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Helping Your Middle School Student with his/her failing grades [FULL TEXT]

Originally published on March 30, 2017 in On Parenting, the Lifestyle section of the Washington Post. It needed trimming for WaPo but I wanted to put the full text on my site. It was really well received and even tweeted by the National Council for Teachers of English & Dad 2.0 Summit. 

Treat your middle schooler like a rattlesnake.

So it’s the end of March and your middle schooler’s grades are still unstable. And, to make matters worse, poor performance at school is eroding your child’s self-esteem. I know a few students who feel like their academic life is happening to them. Furthermore, parenting a middle school student is complicated. Questions about when you are helping or when you are helicoptering loom large.

But there’s still last quarter/trimester and that means there’s still time for improvement. I’ve taught English at secondary level, tutored middle school students in writing, and I’m a parent myself. Below I offer practical suggestions for helping your child become more self-directed and advocating for him in a way that’s not *gasp* helicoptering.

First, gather as much information as possible. There is so much lost in translation between the classroom and the home. Here’s what you need to know:

What are my child’s grades in each class? What are the consequences of failing a class?  How can I monitor those grades in between progress reports and report card distribution? Many schools use an online grade book where teachers, students, and parents have access to scores. This makes for fewer surprises when report cards are distributed. Find out what the consequences of academic failure are. Most schools address failing grades by removing students from extra-curricular activities. This policy is usually explicitly stated in the school handbook. If your child is highly invested in the musical or soccer team, this policy can be an effective motivator to improve those grades.

In each class, how is the final grade for a marking period computed? Not all grades count equally. A quiz usually counts for far less than a test, project, or research paper. This information was probably outlined at the beginning of the school year. And while it’s likely that each department calculates grades differently, it’s unlikely that your child will remember how the grading in each class works.

What units will the teacher cover last quarter/trimester? What are the big assignments? Many teachers already know due dates for projects or can approximate dates for tests. Teachers plot out each marking period with learning objectives and assessments.

 Does the teacher have his/her own website where students and parents can access information? When I taught English, I had a simple website powered by Google sites. I uploaded PDFs of short stories, assignments, graphic organizers, and informational handouts. I updated my site regularly with homework assignments or “housekeeping” items (i.e. field trip money due). Browsing teacher websites is a good way to keep yourself informed about what’s going on in the classroom without having to email the teacher multiple times and wait for replies. Moreover, you can synthesize the information on the websites along with your child. This makes for teachable moments about web literacy at home.

Where does my kid lose the most points? Is she crumbling on tests? Does he hand in essays late? As a teacher and tutor, I can usually identify the defining factor in a student’s failing performance. For some it is time management. For others it is lack of study skills. Some come alive when we read aloud in class but have problems reading at home. If you want a full picture here, this conversation with your child’s teacher is best done over the phone or in person. Email works perfectly when your questions require concrete answers. But when a situation is emotionally charged (like one about your child failing at school), email fails because it requires too much nuance.

Second, make a plan with your child. I realize this is easier said than done and will require an unremitting amount patience and energy.

Choose what to focus on. If you get answers to the questions above, you can use them to help your child budget her time. If your child knows what big assignments are coming up, he can focus on tackling one task at a time.

Get extra help. You don’t have to hire a tutor or pay tuition at a learning center (i.e. Mathnasium). Those are viable options, sure, but many teachers offer extra help. Encourage your son to ask when and where extra help takes place. It’s usually after school but sometimes teachers give extra help during unscheduled periods. And extra help is typically a smaller group. There’s more opportunity for your child to build rapport with her teacher and get questions answered.

Incentivize good grades. From sticker charts for chores to promotions with larger salaries at work, reward systems work regardless of age and stage. The key is identifying the right incentive. Set some challenging but doable goals with your middle schooler. Then establish something worthwhile to motivate your child. Be explicit in your conversations about both the goals and the rewards.

Invest in a planner. Transitioning from one teacher in elementary school to 6-7 teachers in middle school is jarring to students. Moreover, assignments have longer lead times. When I taught freshmen, I spent some time at the beginning of the year going over the school’s planner (a combo handbook, calendar, weekly organizer). Most adults keep some form of calendar. But maintaining an organized planner is not intuitive to most adolescents.

Teach your child how to email his teacher(s). Speaking of skills that are not intuitive, your child might be well-versed in new apps, but in sixth grade, she probably doesn’t know how to compose a good email. Writing polite, focused emails is necessary for success today. A few weeks ago, as my tutee Owen and I discussed his current English project, I realized he didn’t know enough about his teacher’s timeline or expectations. Instead of aimlessly circling the issue, we spent part of our session that night sending an email to his teacher. Owen asked questions about email etiquette like why does it need a subject or how do I write the salutation and closing. He was amazed at how quickly his teacher replied and how easy it was to get clarification. He’s a confident and capable adolescent. Knowing how to write an email is going to give Owen more agency in his academic life.

Third, work the plan. Consistent and clear dialogue is key as you move forward. I’m willing to bet that once you have the necessary information and a plan, you and your child will feel less anxious. Less anxiety will make conversations with your child go more smoothly. I’m a believer in frontloading: invest a good amount of time in the beginning and you’ll be able to pull away the scaffolding as your child builds his/her own study skills. Good luck!

 

 

 

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The 90s Nostalgia Writer Position at Bustle Mag

 

Hey Mariah! Go back like babies and pacifiers.

There’s a part-time position open in the Lifestyle vertical at Bustle. One of the questions on the application is “Give us sample pitches” that pertain to this vertical. I thought it would be fun to share my possible articles for Bustle.

Headline: How Mariah Carey saved 90s music.
Vision of Love was released in 1990 and since then, the ubiquitous diva has proved she’s not going away. Like her or not, she outlasted the one-hit wonders and released the greatest holiday album of all time. And you know you’ve tried to hit those high notes.

Headline: The Teacher Took It: An Index of Confiscated Artifacts from the 90s Classroom
Don’t get caught adjusting your snap bracelet over and over. Don’t get caught feeding your Tamagotchi. And definitely don’t get caught passing a note.

Headline: The Best Literature of the 90s (No, this list doesn’t include Oh, the Places You’ll Go)
You think you know 90s literature because you read Harry Potter when it first came out? You don’t. Expand your mind and have snobby books to namedrop in conversations with these titles: The Things They Carried, Infinite Jest, Underworld, and The Love of a Good Woman.

Headline: My Pager: An Essay about Life before the Tyranny of Smart Phones

(I forgot to write the first few lines for this one. I blame my kids. Insert anxious emoji here.)

Headline: Sh*t We Were Scared of in the 90s (and the sh*t we should’ve been concerned about):
Y2K? Clinton’s taxes causing a massive market crash and recession? No.
Climate Change? Apparently scientists in the 90s didn’t think it was an issue.

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Lieselotte Landgrebe, 1932-2016

lieselotte-landgrebe08112016My grandmother died last month. Below is the eulogy that I wrote for her and read at her funeral…

Oma wasn’t your typical grandma/nana type. No smells of baked goods wafting from a kitchen window or overly saccharine compliments.

She was German-American, a child of the Great Depression, and she survived many hardships. Her way of loving was influenced by that.

But, make no mistake, it was a way of loving—of loving fiercely and steadfastly. You saw her love in her successful marriage, in her commitment to her children—one of whom was a special needs child. You saw the love in her attachment to her grandchildren and her delight in her great-grandchildren.

So this morning, let’s talk about her way of loving.

Oma was a character. She had spunk and fire and she was fun to be around. A quality of hers I’ll miss most is her sense of humor. Oma had this brilliantly irreverent sense of humor. And she had no qualms about employing shock value. No filter. That was her. If Oma had been born a bit later in the 20th century, I’m certain would have had her own Bravo TV show.

011_8aWhen a person has such a sense of humor, there’s a treasure trove of stories and memories to share. Unfortunately, not many of these stories are appropriate to share with a Pastor present.

But I’ll tell one.

At a holiday gathering a few years ago, we sat together and chatted about a new show on HBO—Rome. (This chat, of course, happened after I received the ritual $20 from her shirt. “Here. For gas. Or nails,” she’d say.)

We agreed that Rome was a great show—a little violent but a riveting political drama. But then we got to what Oma really wanted to discuss. Anyone who watches HBO knows the network is not shy about actors baring it all. Oma wanted to talk about James Purefoy—a particularly “talented” actor. My cousin Laura, who was maybe in middle school at the time, came over and tried to sit with us. I thought I would dodge this part of the conversation. But before Laura even sat down in the chair, my Oma promptly dismissed Laura with, “we’re discussingsomething private.” I’m unsure if she intended the double meaning there, but it wasn’t lost on me.

img_8997I giggled so many times when I talked with her. And because my grandmother was so candid and never prim or phony, you could talk to her about anything. She was real. She never tried to put on a façade. And I’ve learned a lot from her in this way.

Oma also grand-parented with a steady hand and a strict eye. If we did something wrong, we knew it. She held us accountable. Like when I was in elementary school and she’d lend me some of her coveted Disney VHS tapes. I believe she delighted in having a movie I’d love to watch and borrow but Oma would also threaten to charge a late fee if I didn’t return it in a timely fashion.

Or there’s the time when she and Opa babysat for Mags and I when my parents went to Jamaica. I cut Driver’s Ed one day and she made me vacuum the same room for like three days in a row. Of course as 15 year old, I felt this punishment was like I was in a chain gang.

img_8100And then there’s the time, I cut rips in my jeans for a cooler look. She took them from me. I thought oh, no. What would she think that I ruined a good pair of pants? And I got some classic Oma side-eye for this. But a week later, I got the jeans back with perfect rips up and down the legs. My grandmother had painstakingly cut and pulled each thread so they looked like they were straight from a designer store. I didn’t realize it at the time but this task must have taken so long and been so tedious. This illustrates the kind of grandmother she was. Sometimes a bit rough in the delivery, but underneath that roughness was a gem of a woman and mother—a gem with diamond strength and clarity in her devotion to her family. Oma held us accountable. Because Oma was never failing in her accountability to her family. And she was unfaltering her accountability to me, to her other grandchildren, to her children and she was unfaltering in her dedication to my grandfather throughout their 63 years of marriage.

I’ve just started a book called Present over Perfect—it’s a bible study written by a mother in her thirties for women at my age and stage. It invites mothers to be present and not strive to be perfect—something mothers often try to be. It says to live with intention and soulfulness. The feeling of love and connection with family and friends will come from that intention, that presence. Oma did this. And she didn’t need a Wednesday evening Bible study to remind her to do it. She was always present. She was always there at her home on Norfeld Blvd until she passed in her bedroom on Monday. When I called to chat, she was there. But of course, after about ten minutes, you’d get “Okay, I’ll let you go.”

birthday-party-pictures-14Well, now it’s up to us to let her go. We will revel in a memory of a woman who was devoted and fun and anything but cliché. She set an example as a grandmother and as a mother and as a wife. Her marriage to my grandfather is an example to me and my husband everyday—a lesson in devotion, in accountability, in faithful love. And I know I can move forward today knowing that I am a better woman for having known and loved my Oma.

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