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The Second Grade Essay

I started this blog post with the last writing prompt and never finished it. I blame the writing prompts. Ha. Anyway, we are on our last writing prompt now and I thought I’d throw it up on the blog…

So, my second-grader has been assigned the first of many, many writing assignments he will complete in the course of his K-12 education. They are called simply the “writing prompt” and as of this week, we are on the third one. The assignment, which takes students through the writing process, is sent home on Wednesday and due the following week.

I love these assignments…in theory. The high school teacher in me is impressed and grateful. I mean, a mini-version of the writing process at eight-years-old? Awesome. Thank you, second grade teachers! By the time the students get to ninth grade, they won’t go cross-eyed when I suggest that maybe—just maybe—their first draft shouldn’t be their final draft. And the writer in me is loving it. #blessed.

No, not #blessed. The whole ‘getting to share my love of the written word’ with Jackson, my adorable, dyslexic, ADHD son? Not so much. This past week, when we sat down to work, I pointed out that I tutor kids in writing (and I’m good at it).

Me: I’m a writing teacher. You’re lucky because your mom is a writing teacher.

Jackson: You’re a high school teacher. Not second-grade. And you’re not my writing teacher. You’re just my helper.

Well, I guess it’s good that our relationship is clearly defined. That way, Jackson won’t have to pay me my rate per hour. Just a helper. This isn’t a tutoring sesh, mom. Really? Cause it sure feels like work to me, kiddo.

Jackson doesn’t need my help (according to Jackson). He will just model his stories off his favorite author Dav Pilkey and the Captain Underpants series. And this technique might be okay if Jackson were writing a graphic novel and not prose.

An example. For the first writing prompt, Jackson chose to write about spring break. Below is an exact line from his draft…

Then back in the hot tub…whaaaaaa????? Darcy What are you…whaaaaaa????

Apparently, Jackson and Darcy were playing in the hot tub at my mom’s house and Darcy jumped in and splashed him.

Me: Jackson, who is saying this?

Jackson: Me, I’m talking to the reader. And then Darcy is interrupting me.

Me: But you need punctuation here.

The ‘special snowflake parent’ in me wants to commend Jackson for breaking the fourth wall. But the sensible writer in me knows that we need some clarification if the reader is going to have ANY IDEA what the heck is going on.

For the second prompt, I wised up and got C.K. involved.  Jackson wrote about plants. Well, the question was to explain what plants need to survive and showcase his knowledge about the life cycle. Jackson decided to write about buying me a lemon verbena for my birthday because I love the smell.

(Aside: Jackson is the best. I’m love my lemon verbena because now he will stop stealing the leaves from an enormous plant on the school farm. The leaves are sweaty and crumpled and he watches me like a hawk until I put them in my tea.)

So, after Jackson spends the entire first paragraph describing the ride to Calloways with C.K. (no mention of plant knowledge but plenty about my birthday, the gift, the party, etc), he knocks the transition out of the park with “Okay, so you probably know what this paragraph is about.”

The above sentence is what happens when I loosen the reins and let my husband do homework with Jackson. I thought I was being smart. I was saving myself the stress of doing the writing homework with Jackson for the evening and C.K. would get to see Jackson’s brilliant but bouncy mind in action. C.K. would appreciate my efforts. Jackson would spend quality time with his father. I have awesome ideas, right?

No! That is hardly what happened. The one (ONE!) paragraph they worked on together was a hot mess. The rest of the paragraph talked about the various parts of a plant. Jackson wrote something like this…

Okay, so you probably know what this paragraph is about.

Oh sooooo cute…. leaves + stem + roots + flowers

No flowers = still perfect

When I called this paragraph to the attention of my hubs and asked, “H ey, did you read this?” I asked him with NO ATTITUDE WHATSOEVER because I NEVER HAVE AN ATTITUDE and I’m the PERFECT SPOUSE.

C.K., who has not one but two advanced degrees in English, looked at me incredulously as if to say, “It’s a rough draft.” Yeah, rough. Like Jackson wrote this on a dang cocktail napkin.

The third prompt is about Earth Day. Dare I say, things are going smoother. Or the plying him with leftover Easter candy after each sentence is making it bearable.  Or we’ve gotten used to the torturous 45-minutes a day we spend “writing” together. See, by the afternoon, Jackson’s meds have worn off. So, he spends a lot of time fidgeting. And talking. And walking around the chair twenty times. Today, Jackson took three whole minutes writing the sentence “Earth day is coming.” I know it was three minutes because I used the hyperlapse app (video compression) to record it.

While Jackson wanted to write about Earth Day, he doesn’t like thinking about what would happen if we didn’t take care of the earth.

Me: Okay so, you’ve you got ‘If we didn’t take care of the earth,…’ then what? What do you want to say?

Jackson: If we didn’t take care of the earth, we would die.

Me: Okay, write that.

Jackson [starts to write]: I can’t write that. I can’t start out so violent. I can’t go dark so quickly.

Me [sighs]: Well, it’s true. If we didn’t care for the earth, we wouldn’t be able to live here anymore. Maybe say that animals could go extinct instead.

Jackson: That’s even worse. I don’t want to think about animals dying.

We decided on “If we didn’t take care of the Earth, we couldn’t live here anymore.” This produced a lengthy tangent on how cool it would be to live on the moon or Mars. And how the guy who made the electric car Daddy wants is going to set up a colony in outer space.

Throughout this paragraph, since Jackson had to describe what would happen if the earth continued to be destroyed, we used the word “would” a lot. That is, until Jackson announced, “Calm down with the ‘woulds’ already. I’m not writing it anymore.”

I debated attempting to explain future conditional verb tense. Instead I resorted to this: “You have two more sentences. Just write it two more times and then we’re done. And I’ll give more M&Ms.”

This was acceptable.

[UPDATE: We just finished the rough draft of his last writing prompt. It was a letter to next year’s second grades explaining the pros and cons of writing prompts. Jackson’s conclusion read like this: “You shouldn’t have to do writing prompts because they take forever. But good luck.” #nailedit ]

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Walt the Crossing Guard isn’t there…and I’m beside myself

We’ve arrived at a sad hiatus in our tales from the school drop-off/pick-up carpool lanes.

I’ve written about him before—our beloved crossing guard at Jackson’s elementary school, the Godfather of School Intersections. Actually, my first post about Walt was largely satirical. He had reprimanded me, wielding his whistle like a whip. But I wrote it in the beginning of the year. I was hurt. I follow traffic laws. I go slow in school zones. I was just waving to a friend. I was going to turn. Sheesh.

Since my initial post, Walt has become the subject of adoration and fascination. On rainy days, he wears full body slickers, a neon raincoat, and an umbrella hat. Yes, an umbrella hat. And he makes it look downright sensible.

 

During the week before Christmas break, he wore a different head piece each day (antlers, Santa hats) and tiny holiday lights around his neck. Walt hung a small speaker from his chair and played Christmas music everyday. The music was a nice touch; it certainly added to the yuletide spirit. It was a small speaker too. And his chair sits close to some ornamental shrubberies. So you walk to the corner with your kid and hear a faint “Hark, the herald angels sing” and you think  Are the bushes singing about the Lord’s birth?

And you feel like a 21st century Moses.

He planned that.

Then we found out that Walt paid the cafeteria debts for all the kids in arrears right before Christmas. I mean, where is Charles Dickens or whoever wrote Polar Express when you need them? We need a new children’s holiday book!

Remember those Rankin Bass holiday movies? The ones with stop-motion animation, like Santa Claus is Coming to Town?  And the animated Frosty one? We need a Rankin Bass holiday movie about Walt.

Remember the guy directing traffic during the musical break in Frosty the Snowman? Walt is NOTHING like that fool.

The children don’t stop for the traffic. The traffic stops for the children. The traffic definitely stops for the children when said children are being led a by a magical snowman who thinks it’s his birthday.

Then there was the time someone (someone!) called the district on Walt. His crime? Moving cars through the intersection efficiently. Getting kids to school on time. Making parents less stressed out.

Wow! Someone call the cops. This guy is making drop off easier.

How did Walt the Crossing Guard respond? With 400 traffic cones. If he can’t direct the traffic, he is gonna make sure parents don’t park where they will clog the intersection…or a solid quarter mile radius in every direction around the intersection. And I bet Walt has the cones in his garage. He’s been putting like fifteen around his VW bug everyday since August. (Or his scooter…the one with the foxtails hanging off of it)

Walt’s cone placement has got to be the most thorough placement of cones I have ever witnessed. We’re talking like one cone every two feet. He should rent out his services for Coachella. Millennials need a crap-ton of cones. It will remind them of youth soccer and then they will know where to go.

And now this. I can’t take it. I’m barely recovered from the sugar crash of Easter candy, the post-friends-departure melancholy, and the shame at the number on the scale after I ate all the aforementioned candy, and Walt is nowhere to be found.

The kindergarten teacher has been there all week, waving a flag with the gusto of the World Cup lineman. But does the wave mean “Stop”? Does it mean “Go”? I think it means “Pay attention! There are children in the crosswalk!” While I like this teacher (and she looked fierce in her cold shoulder tunic the other day), she is not Walt. Furthermore, teachers should not have to do extras like direct traffic. It’s downright magnanimous of this teacher to volunteer to be crossing guard. Who would ever want to deal with beastly people like me anymore than they actually have to? And at 7:30am! I can’t even stomach myself at that hour.

Anyway, we come to find out the sad news. Sorry in advance but the levity of the post is about to take a left turn. Walt is taking time for himself. He’s had deaths in his family. I won’t go into detail but suffice to say, no one should suffer that much loss. My heart absolutely breaks for him. We all miss him already.

I was really down the other day because Walt isn’t there anymore. I had to ask why.  I myself only exchanged niceties with him. Perhaps that for those thirty feet in the crosswalk, our children are safe if he is there? Is it because I see him twice a day? Or maybe it’s the weird cocktail of sympathy plus relief (the glad-it’s-not-me kind) that accompanies tragic news. That combo can make you feel pretty shitty.

Or maybe it’s Walt’s authenticity that we will all miss. A person who is so unabashedly himself, like Walt is, refreshes us in a world of Instagram filters, Facebook updates, and Pinterest boards.

Walt is a character. He is who he is. Take or leave it. (Let’s see how many more clichés I can fit in here.)  Walt is like that little elf in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer who wants to be a dentist.  I mean, I wish I had the stones to put fifty cones around the perimeter of my cul de sac and wear an umbrella hat and blow my whistle at cars when they drive into the cul de sac to turn around.

I think I’m going to try and be more like Walt. Not the cones in the cul de sac. Just the whole authentic thing.  I mean, people would think I was nuts if I directed traffic in a cul de sac.

So until the return of the Walt, I’m going to keep him in my prayers.

 

 

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The Yahoo Mom Group…you know what I’m talking ’bout.

I’ve written a short story version of this and submitted it to McSweeney’s. If I get published, we will all be famous.

Stop. Collaborate. And listen.

These words, spoken by lyricist and philosopher and house renovator Vanilla Ice, are basically the main tenants of any good Yahoo or Facebook group for moms.

We help each other find and vet services and contractors and landscapers.

We support each other when someone writes the classic vulnerable mom post.

 I lost it today in the Chick-Fil-A parking lot.

 We all did, sister. Mommin’ ain’t easy.

 We forgive each other when someone asks who the HVAC guy in the neighborhood is…for the hundredth time.

But every once in awhile, there’s a post that evolves into a lively discussion but eventually goes semi-rotten. A dialogue so intense and laden with passive aggression that the post begets so many other threads and side conversations via text and snarky asides at school dismissal.

That conversation happened in the last 48 hours on my beloved mom Yahoo group. It was about children. It was about safety. It was about what moms everywhere know…this is how things should really work, dammit.

Because if moms know one thing, it’s that moms are always right.

[Names changed to protect the innocent.]

It all started with Debra. She decided that she would create a list of suggestions (read: rules) on how carpool at our elementary school should work. Debra doesn’t work for the school. But she knows what we all know. The drop off and pick up carpool lines are a shit show.

This shit show was mitigated for a brief but peaceful period by our crossing guard. I wrote about him earlier this year. But I have since changed my opinion and he is now directing traffic in the menagerie. (I can’t go into this right now so read the other blog post here.) I call this time of efficiency and tranquility the Golden Age.

We’ll get back to the crossing guard in a hot minute.

Debra’s initial “suggestions” post was followed by the expected “murmurs of agreement.” A few bipartisan, concerned mothers cosigned Debra’s list of rules. A resounding yes to what we all already know. Carpool is a dang shit show, y’all. Someone’s gonna get hurt.

The murmurs of agreement, however, quickly gave way to more complaining and add-ons to the original list. And because we’re really lucky, the accusations began.

You know who’s to blame for this? The dads!

 Totally. They are always in a rush.

This accusation holds some water. I’ll admit that the times when some expletives have left mouth during carpool, it has been because a dad cut in front of me. Ford Tough! Outta my way. Wife’ll kill me if these kids are late.

(sings) Jesus, take the wheel…take it from that dad.

After the group impugns a faceless group of fathers, there is the juicy gossip part of the thread. This time, someone (a dirty whore someone) told on our beloved crossing guard for directing traffic. He’s not to direct traffic. He’s ONLY to cross the children safely. And if he does it again, he’s going to be fired. The Golden Age has officially given way to the Dark Ages.

What? The crossing guard? He’s the God of drop off!

It’s the first time I’ve felt safe in my own neighborhood in years.

I bet an old person called.

Be vigilant. The traitor is among us.

In the small world of mom social media groups, if there’s anything worse than a dad who doesn’t read the damn school emails, it’s the old people. They sit there in their houses, watching The Price is Right, drinking that Hate-or-ade. They hate us because we are young (cough middle-aged) and beautiful (cough access to botox).

After the group slanders the old people—the people who are surely not on a Yahoo group because they are too old—people start with the proposals. But proposals come from people who have absolutely NO INTENTION of following through. Someone (never the author, no) should call “the city” or “the district” about getting a “sign.” The author of these emails is the person who wants to delegate. She acts like she calls “the city” all the time. Just call “the city.” They will handle it. So easy. Like ordering from Pizza Hut. I just used my “the city” app and ordered new street signs last Tuesday. Duh. If only one of your morons would listen to my brills idea!

Well, when I call “the city” tomorrow, it will be to erect a bronze statue for you, fellow mom. I’m sure they already have one in the works. Or they don’t. Because you’ve never called “the city” in your life. If you had to deal with the death by minutiae that is calling “the city,” you would never suggest it on a mom email thread. Sit down!

Yesterday, we enjoyed an added bonus to the “call the city” reply. This one came from someone who styled herself as Ms. Husband’s First and Last Name. We’ll call her Nancy. Nancy works at another school and thinks we moms should have our principal call their principal because their carpool line is far better than ours.

Sit down, Nancy! A cattle drive is more streamlined than our carpool. We know other schools probably have better carpool lines. Also, the school mentioned has like double the students. Logic would dictate that they probably have a decent system. With almost 1,000 elementary children going to and fro each day, that’s not a carpool anymore. That’s straight up crowd control. I’m surprised they haven’t hired the Hells Angels to keep order over there.

The best part about Nancy is that she actually called her response a “quick fix” and a way to stop all the emails. I repeat, sit down, Nancy!

Then comes the climax…where conversations like this always go. And my personal favorite. Like I get the popcorn out after this reply is sent. A working mom invariably gets all fired up about her clogged inbox. We’ll call her Janice. Janice sent the “everybody stop hitting reply all email.”

This response was followed by some #shade. And I read the replies to Janice while shoving popcorn in my mouth. Same as when I watched Get Out. Shit just got real. Southern-style real.

I mean, come on, Janice. If we can’t see the “reply all” button, maybe you should look a little harder for the “delete” button. Also, if you are emailing everyone, aren’t you part of the problem? Sit down, Janice!

Then the emails come full circle. Debra, seeing the mess she’s made, emails again. Like Victor Frankenstein looking at his mottled monster in horror, she must email again. She must reiterate the main point of her original email: safety, cars, children.

But maybe Debra hasn’t read Frankenstein. Spoiler alert: The monster has children and joins a yahoo group. So sit down, Debra!

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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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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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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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