Friday, February 27, 2009

A Look at Book Club

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be in a book club? Here’s a peek into the one that I belong to in my subdivision:

The book selection for this month was The Ms. Hemple Chronicles. I had not finished reading it, and I was about an hour late to the meeting, but I did get there in time for a glass of wine and some of the Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts that Patty brought. (Those things are great!)

Here is a sampling of the conversation topics:


- Flying Placentas

- The Netty Pot

- Cricut


- Synchronous Clapping

- The Octo Mom

- Ear Candles

As far as I can recall we did not discuss:

- The Economy

- Being in the house where the woman died.

- The book

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Paczki 2009

I was running late getting out of the house to go to work, and when I grabbed for my coffee and started to look for something to eat for my commuter's breakfast, I remembered what day it is.

I skipped the food so I'd be good and hungry for by 3000 calorie once a year treat. I was confident there would be Paczki in the coffee room because there were last year. As I walked into the building I ran into Amber, who is in charge of the coffee activities. I asked if there were treats today, and she said yes, but that if there weren't any more in the coffee room there were some extras set aside in her cubicle, "for the people in our group who start later." I thanked her for that information, and proceeded to my desk.

And there was a nice fatty lump wrapped in a paper towel, right in the place where I plug in my laptop computer. I leaned out into the cubicle aisleway to shout thanks to whatever co-worker had thought to put it there.

"It's raspberry, is that good?" Came the response. "We wanted to make sure that you got one, and had a whole discussion about what flavor to pick. There might be some left if you want to exchange it."

"Raspberry is what I would have picked! Custard is good too. Lemon, not so much. Thanks you guys!"

It made me smile that after a year and a half these people now know me so well. Whether they did it to be nice or just to avoid the potential commotion if I didn't get one doesn't matter. That plus the joy of a frosted gut-busting sugar bomb made for a good start to my Fat Tuesday.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

NO party for YOU

Dear Jeffrey's Teacher:

I seem to have not received or misplaced the last "Fifth Grade Flash" which must have contained the information about the Valentine's Party. Jeffrey is allergic and I would like to bring in some soy-based ice cream so that he can participate. Except that I am unsure of the time for this, is it 2:00?

And now he is telling me that the student teacher has threatened to cancel the party altogether. When did party cancellation become a method of discipline? I was appalled by the handling of the Christmas party, and now Valentines looks to include tears also. Since they are in 5th grade these are the last of the class parties these children will ever have, I think they should be good memories not bad ones.

If Jeffrey's behavior has been a problem I would like to know about it immediately, and not when I show up in the classroom for a celebration. Please contact me if there is an issue with him.


Jeffrey's Mother

I waited until 1:45 for a reply, and then headed over to the school with the "Soy Dream." I ran into Patty and Kendrea on my way in.

"We were just talking about you!" (I seem to get greeted that way far too often.) Patty explained that one of the moms at the bus stop that morning had been describing her daughter's distress over the rumored cancellation of the classroom Valentines party, and they figured out that she was in the same class as Jeff. It happens that we had book club the same day as the fateful Christmas Party of Misery, and they got to experience my therapeutic rant on the subject, so were in the know...

Here's that story: I had gone to the school to deliver the chopped tomatoes that were my assigned contribution to the "International Holiday Feast" which is the school's attempt at a PC Christmas and is an anticipated tradition for the 5th grade. The classroom mommy minions were already there setting up in the hallway. When I presented my bag of tomatoes I was greeted with "Oh, you did bring those! We'll just put them here next to the bowl I brought in case we run out." Humph. I decided to go into the classroom and found that the teacher was not there, but a student teacher was. She was in the middle of a tirade. She berated the students repeatedly about their unacceptable behavior, and told them that they didn't deserve to be a part of the feast. They would have to wait until all of the other classes and helpers had gone through the line, and there probably wouldn't be anything left. I watched in horror as the children began to react. The girls started to cry. The boys started to glare accusingly at each other. I know several of these children very well, from DI or the neighborhood, and I adore them all. Reilley put her head down. Jeff sat there looking glum. I couldn't stand it. I told the kids that there would be plenty of food for them all and went home. I would rather get back to work on my computer than be a witness to that sorry scene.

So now the Valentines party was rumored to be cancelled. I went into the room, and again the regular teacher was nowhere to be seen, but that horrid Student Teacher was sneerily reading off spelling words as the children checked each others papers. She did not acknowledge me as I walked in, said hi to Jeff, and took a seat in the back of the room.

Eventually the classroom mommy minions came in, all abuzz about the tentative status of the party. Then the teacher showed up, hauling grocery bags with tubs of ice cream. She said that she decided to go out and buy some more. "Oh, you could have called on US to do that!" they gushed at her. She looked at me, and I pointed to the Soy Dream.

"I brought some special ice-cream for Jeffrey. Did you get my email?" I asked.

She batted her rather distracting eyelashes at me and said that Jeffrey would not be participating in the party. She explained that there had been some misbehavior incidents while she was out of the room and the Student Teacher was in charge. Rather than cancel the entire party (she shot a quick glance at the minions) she had decided to exclude the ones who had been "bad" as reported by the Student Teacher.

"Jeffrey was on the list." She apologized.

"Just what did he do that warrants this level of punishment, and why wasn't I informed?" I wanted to know.

She explained that there had been some kids up in the front of the room throwing erasers around, and Jeff was out of his seat at that time too. At that, I lifted one of my eyebrows, and she quickly went on to say that she had sent a note home about his behavior just last week. (It was his first and only one ever, and said he was spraying water around the room.) She was talking faster now. "So, as he's a repeat offender, I couldn't have him ruining the party for the kids that aren't bad." The minions nodded their heads in agreement.

I got up and looked for Jeffrey. He had already been ushered out of the room and was in the library with the dozen other boys who were supposed to be writing an essay about their bad behavior. I told Jeffrey that I was "Springing him outta this joint" and we were going home.

Back home, after serving Jeff some of that soy ice cream, we sat down at the kitchen table. I did some more work on my computer, and he got out some paper to write his essay. I tried to help him by suggesting themes such as "Punishment Injustice" and "Shared Responsibility" but he insisted that he already knew exactly what he had to write, or else the teacher would just make him write it again. And then he proceeded to lay out the saddest set of words about how "bad" he and his behavior are, and how he should have known better. Happy Valentine's Day.

This whole incident really bothers me, and it goes beyond my concerns about the teacher leaving the room, the career choices of the child-hating student teacher, the repeat of the clearly ineffective discipline technique of party-cancelling, and the smugness of the mommy minions. It has to do with labeling any children as "good" and "bad."

This isn't just me believing that my sweet Jeffrey is a perfect angel. Of course I adore him, and he is generally a compliant and well-behaved child. But he's got a silly side to him, and enjoys interacting with other kids, and likes to move around a lot. Those traits don't make him "bad" and they are typical of 10 year old boys.

I still remember when Timmy was about this age, and his teachers expressing to me what a perfect student he is. Timmy is shy and quiet, almost to the point of having the ability to make himself disappear. "If only I could have a whole classroom of Timmies, that would be ideal!" She said. But Timmy wasn't perfect. He was convenient. And that shouldn't make him any more or less deserving of a teacher's attention, (or class parties) than a kid more like his brother. Sometimes I worry about Tim more than Jeff, because I know what it takes to get along in the world and sitting quietly by doesn't always get you anywhere.

I happen to think that it is the teacher's responsibility to manage the behavior in their classrooms, and there's just something wrong about singling out some of them and labeling them as BAD and making sure everyone knows it. Because eventually they might start to believe that about themselves. And to identify with the category of behavior they are placed in. This could even be why some kids just end up "lost" and then begin their slide down the slippery slope into a troubled world of gangs, drugs, crime.....smoking cigarettes. I hope it's not too late for my little Jeff.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rude Mood

Kendrea wrote a blog post recently that made me smile. She has a hilarious spot-on way of describing things, and her depiction of the rude lady with the cell phone in China House makes me feel like I was there too. You should go read it, here's the link:

OK, welcome back. Don't you think you have seen that woman somewhere too? Blogs are great for getting it all out there when something like that happens.

The reason that I am mentioning it here is that it reminded me of the time that I was the rude lady. Not like that one. No cell phones were involved, and I didn't have bozo hair or leather boots.

This happened several years ago, when I went to the bakery pick up the cake for Jeffrey's baptism party. I still remember that I was in a frantic state of mind. I was sleep deprived from having an infant in the house, plus a toddler, and my in-laws were in town. I was trying to pull together this event with very little time to do it, and back then I was still hung up on having a sparkly clean house and elegant decorations, but due to the timing of the mass we were catering the sit-down dinner ourselves and had many details to attend to. I don't remember exactly but I might have committed the sin of leaving one or both of my children unattended in the car, or parked in the handicapped spot. I burst through the door into the crowded bakery, stomped up to the counter and told the man my name so he could get me my cake. I remember hastily scrawling my name across the receipt and snatching up the cake (as much as a towering 3 tiered cake can be "snatched") and gazing up as I turned around into the face of a woman who was giving me The Look.

Without speaking her face said "I can't believe how impossibly rude you are." I glanced around and only then noticed that I had rushed past an entire line of people patiently waiting their turn at the bakery counter. I was mortified. There was nothing else to do but continue on my way.

I will never forget the experience of being deservingly on the receiving end of the very same facial expression that I use when someone is inconsiderate to me. I must admit that it was effective in causing me to reflect on my behavior, and vow to try to never let myself get into such a state again. The Look is a powerful tool. It also taught me to sometimes temper my Look with a softer tone of forgiveness and understanding, at least when there are little children involved. I've been there and know how it gets. We can never tell by looking at someone what they might be going through that causes their behavior, so I try to recall that day and assign some similar imaginary circumstances to someone when I see them in a frantic state, and I feel less offended by their actions then.

Not that all rude people are so easily forgivable. The way to tell is by the Bozo hair.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

He forgot he grew up

Around our house these days life seems to have developed a pattern: Tim lopes around listening to music on his Ipod, doing things on the computer, or watching crime reality TV. Jeffrey spends most of his time pestering Tim, complaining about Tim, and whining.

This week Tim has been sick with a cold and the computer was at the shop getting the hard drive replaced after he crashed it when "trying out a new operating system." Today I couldn't stand the TV shows he was watching so I ordered him to find something else to do and he went downstairs to play his drums. Jeffrey tagged along after him and I got to work on the Laundry. After the drum music stopped they stayed down there for quite a while and when I eventually went down to see what they were up to, I found them immersed in play with their GI-Joe sized guys, just like they used to do. I hurried away because I didn't want to disturb them.

Later in the day I was out shopping with Jeffrey and we were talking about setting up some things in the basement for a Destination Imagination meeting tomorrow. I suggested that we gather up some supplies such as scissors when we got home.

"I already did some of that" Jeff said.

"Oh, is that when you were downstairs with Tim?" I asked.

"No, it was before that. Today he was tired so he forgot that he grew up and played guys with me." Jeffrey replied.

I almost didn't catch what he meant, and then it sank in. "So you had fun playing with your brother today?"

"Yeah, it was good."

It was then I realized why Jeffrey has been having such a difficult time lately. I hadn't thought about what it would be like to have your lifetime perfect playmate very suddenly become two feet taller than you, with a whole new different deep voice, and all new interests that don't include you. Jeffrey has been missing the old Timmy and wanting him to come back. And he did that day, if just for a little while.

Sometimes I miss the little boy Timmy too. And the babies and toddlers that they both once were. That is the heartbreak of parenting. Right along with the excitement of watching them go on to each new phase comes the twang of regret of loss for the one they are leaving behind. I cherish the little-boy sweetness of Jeffrey all the more knowing as I do now that those days are numbered as well.

I'm glad that Tim could "forget that he grew up" if just for an afternoon of playing with his little brother. It probably feels good to forget you grew up for just a little while. I think I'd like to try it sometime.

Monday, February 2, 2009

HR Puffnstuff

My sister Becky sent me a link to this.

It is the theme song to the Saturday Morning TV Show H. R. Pufnstuf. According to the Internet, it ran on TV from 1969 to 1972. I was very little then, and I don't remember much at all from my life in those years, yet when I watched that theme song it was like repeating a dream that I'd had before, and forgotten. I also found the first episode online, and watched that too.

Just like a crazy dream, it would sound preposterous if I were to describe it to someone:

"Well there was this big-headed mayor with a dragon tail and cowboy boots, and witch just like in Wizard of Oz, but she was more colorful and funny. All of the trees and buildings and objects could talk, and there was a frog that was just like Judy Garland, and talking cloud heads with John Wayne, and sometimes everyone would just start to sing and dance to music that came from nowhere!"

The psychedelic colors and reference to "puffin" in the name have apparently led to speculation that the whole thing was one big drug reference. After watching the episode I don't think so. It's possible that Sid and Marty Croft were influenced by the times they were in, but to me they were just trying to throw everything into a show that they thought might appeal to a kid and keep them watching.

And we were mesmerized, I remember that much. My parents were probably glad enough to have us occupied with the TV and a bowl of Count Chocula so they could fit in some well-deserved relaxation on Saturday mornings. I think I had a secret crush on that Jimmy with his magic flute, English accent, and wide-collared yellow shirt, who wouldn't?

Looking at the show now, the production quality is truly awful, the jokes are terrible, and clearly political correctness was a concept yet to be invented. And yet it is captivating, not just for the nostalgia but because it is so incredibly bizarre.

Kids shows today are different. They are every bit as targeted and produced as the programming for adults. There is some quirkiness, such as in the brilliant Sponge Bob Square Pants cartoons, and Jeffrey just started watching a new show called Flap Jack that is certainly on the weird side, but the difference is that the weirdness is intentional. I think that the kookyness that found it's way into the old 70's cartoons (and those Rankin-Bass animations) got there because nobody cared very much what went into the children's programming, and they let the hippies do it.

So we have this unique generation of us that were subliminally influenced by the idea of talking houses, sea-monsters for friends, dentist elves, misfit toys and who knows what else. Maybe it made us think more creatively. Or not! I don't know if this stuff had any lasting effect on me, but it sure feels sweet to go back for a moment, like eating a bowl of Sugar Smacks.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Touchdown Crunch

Happy Superbowl Day. It's a National Holiday now, isn't it?

I have never been able to enjoy watching football, but I do like it the idea of special snacks for the Superbowl.

Here's what we had: