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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Filed under pets, Uncategorized

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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Filed under entertainment, freelance writing, work

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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Filed under family, long island, motherhood

Morning snuggles…sort of

People enjoy me on social media too.

People enjoy me on social media too.

Earlier this week, in an effort combat the longer summer days and make sure my kids sleep in (purely for my own sake), I taped cardboard on their window behind the blackout curtains. See the screenshot from Facebook. Judging by the emojis, other moms are in the same boat or were when their respective children were small ameba-humans like mine.

The results have been inconclusive. Darcy is coming down with a cold so who knows what’s going on in her little dragon brain all night. Or who knows why she got up at 5:13 this morning after a long day of pool play time yesterday.

Here’s my morning inner monologue for your entertainment…

(Hold on. It’s 8:16 am and we’ve already had breakfast and danced in the kitchen to The Village People. But my writing is interrupted by the sounds of rage from the play room. And indeed when I walk in, they are locked like two rams, heads butted against each other, over a new set of Legos. I’m not kidding. The image you have in your head should be of two kids on all fours, legos on the floor between them, tops of their heads touching. I marvel at how strong both of their noggins must be and see veins popping from reddened necks. Then I intervene.)

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

5:13am: I look at the clock but it’s still pitch black outside. I lie to Darcy who is standing eerily silent at my door. “It’s still night-night,” I say and change her diaper. Then I put her back in her crib.

5:38am: I hear a soft thump. No doubt this is Darcy getting out of her crib. Her ninja skills are good until the landing. The monitor shows the empty crib and closed door. She’s up in her brother’s bed tryin’a get comfy. She must be stopped. Jackson can sleep through an atom bomb but not in the early morning hours. I grab her and she is mercifully silent. “Want to lay with mommy?” “Okay,” a tiny nasally voice in the dark.

5:39 am: She lays facing me, eyes closed and smiling. To the victor goes the spoils. She looks cute in the early morning light peeking through the sides of my blackout curtains.

5:42 am: She moves away, now perpendicular to me. And the toe digging in my side begins. I’m reminded to cut her toenails. They feel like small razors. And her feet are surprisingly strong. It’s the worst shiatsu massage ever. Between this borderline torture and her ability to deprive me of sleep, she has a career in the CIA ahead of her.

5:50 am: Sitting up. Playing with both of her lovies.

Lounging like a boss at 10am.

Lounging like a boss at 10am.

5:51 am: I pretend to sleep and Darcy notices. I must needs the lovies. In an expertly executed role reversal, she puts the lovies on my forehead and gives me her blanket. “Night-night, Mommy,” she whispers coyly. Her chance at escape. I clutch the lovies while I decide whether or not to care. The lovies are surprisingly comforting. I spend the next few minutes working through a business plan for adult lovies, ignoring the toddler altogether.

5:56 am: She is at my door fussing with the childlock. No CIA yet for you. Foiled by a piece of plastic around a doorknob.

5:57am: I weakly attempt discipline and then, research be damned,”Want your iPad?”

5:59 am: I doze to the horrifying sounds of children’s programming. My half-dreams while the Yo Gabbas sing are the closest I will ever get to an acid trip, I believe.

6:25 am: Jackson slams the door open. Take that, childproofing! I’m six! He rubs his eyes. “I went potty, Mommy. I slept later too. See, I tried to help.”

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The pitfalls of pop music and littles

They don't actually want to work.

They don’t actually want to work.

The opening chords of Fifth Harmony’s “Work from Home” trigger a hysterical reaction in both of my children. Darcy closes her eyes (a classic Darcy dance move) and begins conducting an invisible orchestra of synthesizers. And Jackson hides behind a “curtain,” or whatever piece of furniture will hide him adequately so he can make a big entrance during the refrain. As the girl group repeats “work work work” over and over, my 6yo parades around the coffee table doing spastic karate moves.

They both love the song so much that I decided to show them local choreographer Michelle Key’s piece. It was a minor instagram sensation and it’s awesome choreo. Then we moved on to the official video. I don’t usually show my children music videos (even the PG ones) because they are too rich with sexual images or naughty dance moves. But I relented and pulled “Work from Home” up on youtube. What a mistake. But it was a hilarious mistake so I’m not too regretful. Jackson usually misinterprets most pop song lyrics. Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” is about a dad telling his son to engage in the kind of self-love that propels one to live out one’s dreams, for example. I don’t correct him. Before seeing the video, “Work from Home” was basically “Whistle While You Work” in Jackson’s kindergarten mind.  He explained the lyrics to his 2yo sister one day, “It’s about working hard. And working hard is a good thing.”

But with the new information the music video provides, Jackson can no longer stand the dissonance between his original interpretation and the visual representation of the song’s lyrics. “These girls don’t want to work!,” he exclaimed in partial disgust. “They just want to dance.”

He went on, “The guys want to work but the girls want them to hang out and dance. They are trying to distract the guys!” I agreed hoping he’d stop there. Thankfully he didn’t pick up on any of the immaturely illustrated sexual innuendoes that any video with five hot girls in construction outfits was bound to present.

Today, Jackson was clearly still mulling over the video. On our way home from school, he blurted randomly, “And they are building a house! How is anyone supposed to work from home if they need to be on a construction site?!”

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Adrienne Rich dies at 82

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

I’m profoundly sad about Adrienne Rich’s death. I’m also profoundly grateful for her life and work. Don’t expect anything insightful from me. Nothing I can say will pay adequate homage. Just bookmarking this event on my blog for posterity, I guess.

I enjoy everything about her poetry, her politics, and the intersection of the two.  I enjoyed learning about her in Gale Swiontkowski’s Six American Poets class at Fordham. (The other poets were Plath, Sexton, Hughes, Heaney, and Lowell. Sharon Olds served as a bonus seventh.)

I enjoyed reading her poems. Here’s a bit from “Diving Into the Wreck:” 

I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

I leaf through my anthology from time to time, stopping and reflecting on the ones from Diving into the Wreck (still the best name for any book of poems…ever) and musing over the short section of juvenilia at the back.

And I enjoyed teaching her poems. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” was always a class favorite–at once accessible and deep. “Rape” was less popular because of the subject matter but the students always felt like they were discussing something important instead of just feeding me back answers. Discussion so rarely becomes real dialogue in any classroom and I have Adrienne Rich to thank for some of the best lessons on poetry I ever taught.

But I can’t for the life of me remember my favorite poem. It was a tiny jewel, seldom taught which is why the interwebz have been no help. It was economic in it’s language yet emotive. Maybe that’s part of my sadness today. It’s been a long time since my days were filled with reading and discussing good poems. I need to pick up that anthology again.

Here’s Rich reading “Diving Into the Wreck.”

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When your kids are quiet…

The way to get into the good parties is to have big boobs.

The way to get into the good parties is to have big boobs.

They are probably doing something wrong. I’ve walked in on shampoo painted on the bathroom walls, evidence of cave baby in her natural habitat. I’ve walked in on my son stuffing a scarf in my daughter’s shirt and proclaiming she now has boobs. “Now she can go to parties,” he smiled brightly. Let’s not even touch on how at 4, Jackson understood the intersection between breasts and access to cool parties.

The point is that when you’re kids are quiet, they are most likely doing something messy or questionable or criminal. And that’s why this morning when I dozed off and woke twenty minutes later to absolute blissful quiet, my first thought was Jackson and Darcy are making a huge mess, my pets are in jeopardy, or both kids have left the house in search of Box-Car Chidren adventures.

Thankfully two seconds later my son came bouncing down the hallway looking for his iPhone.  (Disclosure: Jackson has C.K.’s old iPhone with all his apps on it. I assure you, they are all educational apps. wink.)

Here’s the conversation with my six-year-old that ensued…

JACKSON: Mommy, where’s my phone?

ME: It’s on the dresser. I think.

He starts to leave.

ME: Wait! Wait! Where is your sister?

Jackson taps into his inner male model.

Jackson taps into his inner male model.

JACKSON: She’s in the livingroom. I put a video on her iPad. She’s watching Barney Counting 1,2,3s.

I’m taken aback. Not only did he make sure his little sister was set up with something to do, he even knows the details about what’s she’s actually doing. And this is spacey Jackson we’re talking about. When did he get straight up nanny skillz?

ME: You’re hired.

My head plops back on the pillow and I stretch. I’m going to get out of bed, I swear.

JACKSON: Oh, and I fed her breakfast. We split a package of M&Ms. But only half each. Too much sugar.

And there it is.

NB: When I say “this morning” above, I’m referring to Friday March 11. C.K. was in Austin at SXSW and I was flying solo. Just sayin’.

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