Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One hymn and a childhood comes rushing back

This weekend, the church that I've been attending for a bit celebrated its 175th anniversary.  Church members had voted on their favorite hymns which would all be sung/played on this special date.  I didn't vote nor stay up to date on the results because church music, as a general rule, isn't my thing.

Now I do have some church-related songs that I especially like, "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace" being two....both of which were sung this weekend.  But just as I connect with the spiritual in classic literature over the Bible, I tend to find spiritual salve in non-religious music.  Religious music is just too religious for my taste.  Maybe it is my too-analytical mind....if it is too easy to spot the spiritual it just isn't fun and a challenge anymore.

I heard a song that I hadn't heard since I was a child, "Here I Am" by Dan Schutte.  I didn't sing aloud but inside my head I remembered and sang every verse of this tune, which brought up all kinds of weird and mostly unpleasant feelings.

What my head and heart seemed to remember is attending church with my classmates every week, and this was a go-to song since it was easy for kids to sing and remember.  Hearing this song this weekend drudged up how much I felt awkward, disliked amongst my peers, made fun of for my "buddy" shoes, not athletic and therefore not popular.

I remember how, as a kid, I would sing the lyrics almost as a plea to God.  "Hey God, here I am!  Um, I'm happy to do whatever you ask but can you please get these kids to stop being jerks to me????"

Being surrounded each week in church by a whole slew of kids who seemingly hated me (and whom I hated back) didn't really make me love church.  I never could feel the peace of God in the midst of feeling like a pariah.

Of course, as I write this I feel childish because I know my perception of my experience was through a child's lens.  I'm sure it wasn't wholly accurate.  I don't know what my peers actually thought of me.  When I think of my Catholic school experience it is largely through a gray lens of terrible, but in truth I think I had plenty of ok experiences that I have forgotten smattered in with some really crappy ones which I remember larger than life.

It is at once interesting to me and bothersome how so many unrelated things can impact one's spiritual health. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A little closer to coming to terms

Yesterday morning, D, N and I attended the convention of schools in our district.  Every middle and high school has a "booth" and can answer questions, provide information, distribute pamphlets.  One-stop shopping, as it were.

Even though I was most definitely not gung-ho about attending, it did help clarify some things that I already knew about my kid.  I had, though, allowed other people's views to muddy my own original thinking.

N is a bright girl.  Creative and sweet.  She has great test scores.  But ultimately, her personality is not the kind that would allow her to thrive in a setting where there is great competition.  She doesn't want to master any one thing but would rather try a lot of different things.  She admittedly wants to be Peter Pan and is not at all prepared to grow up with anything that resembles enthusiasm.

We are having her take the gifted & talented (G&T) test again next week, but even if her score goes up, D and I determined that the G&T program at a downtown school is not for her.  Even if intellectually her brain is capable of G&T stuff, her spirit and her esteem are not.  She is not a competitive person in the least, with herself or with others.  Grit may come to her as she matures, but she struggles with it now.

All of this means that she will be staying close to home.  She wants to apply to an optional program (Cro) only because her BFF is, and we will let her (even though it rubs me the wrong way).

I would be totally happy if she didn't apply and went to our resides school (Car).  Honestly, after talking with the folks from both schools I really didn't see anything substantial enough between them that I think, "OMG!  Cro offers SO MUCH more stuff and should be an obvious choice!"

There is a 3-point difference in these two schools in state test scores which says more about Car than Cro because Car doesn't hand-select a sizable chunk of its students.  It is a resides school and gets what it gets.  It, like Cro, is in the top 10 middle schools in the district.

If N is admitted to Cro there is no bus transportation, which means we will either have to carpool or D and I will have to take and pick-up every day.  For three years.  Even if Cro does have like 2 additional bells/whistles that Car has, I personally would rather have bus service to my front door.

What all this does is make me yearn for a district in which bells & whistles are offered at all schools so there is none of this rigamarole.  Where there is no hype and no grandiose efforts to make a minor benefit seem like or feel like some GREAT BIG HONKING DEAL.

But I am coming at this from a "my kid is AP" place, and a lot of parents are coming at it from a "my kid is not AP" place.  Ultimately, I have two more kids coming up the ranks, and so their experience will be different from N's.  They might not test into AP classes, and so then I will face a different kind of challenge, although I think there is also tremendous fear and hype about having one's child in a comprehensive or honors class.  It's not Rikers Island, for pete's sake.

I will talk myself down from that drama when the time comes, I guess.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Middle school decision is a lot like ice cream

Something happens to me when I go to Kroger and stand in the ice cream section.  I become paralyzed by indecision, mouth agape.  So much to look at; too many choices.  Trying to manage in my head what is on sale while coordinating conversation with my stomach as to what flavor actually sounds appealing.  (This doesn't often work; I once bought blueberry-pomegranate chocolate chip.)

There is also the dilemma of considering what I think D would like.  I'm not making a decision for just one person, I'm making it for two (and possibly 5 since sometimes the kids like to try a flavor that isn't sprinkle-infused).

Sometimes, if my freezer is particularly full, I also have to wonder about size of container.  Will it actually fit once I get it home? Whether I have a coupon for it or not also comes into play.

I hate buying ice cream.

And I hate this damned school selection ordeal.  (And I say that knowing full-well it is a minor ordeal in the grand scheme of things.  Ebola in Liberia=really, truly big deal.)

In my lazy, ornery, "I don't want to play the game" heart, I want to do absolutely nothing.  I want to send N to our resides school and be done.  Allow my antidepressant to cease working overtime or to just work on Ebola-anxiety.

But, like the ice cream section, it gets complicated when one's child did test into the gifted & talented (G&T) pool, has awesome state-test scores and grades.  When one asks the teacher at conferences, "So, do you think we ought to apply for a magnet or optional program for N?" and are met with the statement, "Oh my g*d, yes!"  When other teachers bring it up to me in the hallway, suggesting we try to get N into certain schools.

It makes me think that I might be a bit of an idiot not to apply for a program that could potentially give her a little something extra, especially when the cost of doing so is her writing an essay.  (There is a slight cost to momma in "playing the game," but I need to get beyond that.)

What makes it more complicated is that N is 1-point away from applying to a special downtown G&T program, and though her school gives the G&T re-test in a week, there is no guarantee she will bridge that 1-point margin.  It seems a little too gambly to me to bet on something like this, a little too assumptive, and I'm highly risk-averse.

So we are left with considering the school that she has a really good shot at of getting into; not a magnet, but one that offers a little more than our resides school.  (This middle school is also the one that lots of parents at my kids' elementary school want to get into because they think it is head-and-shoulders better than the resides school, and that is the rub for me.)

This optional school is the one N wants to get into because her best friend is applying there, and though the adult part of me thinks wanting to go where your friends go is dumb, N is 10 years old, and I would be dumb to not recognize that this plays a huge role for her.

So that is where we stand today, 11 days since my last post on middle school decision-making.

I will be glad when rigor mortis sets into this horse.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Contempt, celebrities, and society at large

So I have been thinking about my feelings regarding celebrities since my best friend remarked that I seem to have contempt for them.  I've yet to find a topic that didn't warrant at least a little bit of consideration (since I'd rather engage in analysis than do just about anything), and here is my preliminary determination.

First, the background:

I don't watch television.  I've never seen Downtown Abbey, The Walking Dead or any reality show since the first season of The Real World on Mtv.  The last show I watched religiously and loved was Seinfeld.  I will watch one movie a week, but I am very selective about the ones I watch.  I have never met a celebrity (unless you count one local radio channel personality friend whom I worked out with for 3 years).  I have had my photo taken with one author, Richard Marius, whom I met in college.  I think I got a book signed by Bobbie Ann Mason in college, too.  

I don't watch television news, either.  I rely on D to tell me the weather outlook every day, or I look out my window.  

I do, however, have a great fascination with People.com.  When FB is boring and I've read the couple blogs I check regularly, I usually head over to see the stink about celebrities.  So I sorta stay marginally in-the-know about celebrities.

I think the arts are very important to society.  Obviously, I love literature.  I like music.  I like theater.  I appreciate the thoughtfulness of some movies, and I appreciate (on occasion) the stupidity of movies that get me to laugh and ramp down my anxiety.  Heck, I'm having my juniors/seniors watch two versions of Jane Eyre this week on Netflix so that they can compare them to the novel.  I think there is much to be said for what film can do for our understanding of ourselves and the world.

Ok, now the analysis:

Celebrities, in my opinion, do not live in the real world.  Nor do politicians or athletes or heads of corporations, which might explain my apparent contempt for these people too.  Anyone who makes millions of dollars for their jobs and lives in luxury cannot remain "normal" in the lower- and middle-class senses of the world.  Fame and money and the power that go with those things make it tremendously difficult and, I would argue, impossible. 

I recognize that celebrities, politicians, athletes and heads of corporations are human, have feelings and deserve the same rights as others.  But I think the fame and money and power often give these people the sense that they are deserving of "more" than the rest of us or that they can have their cake and eat it too.

For example, a person who becomes very famous gains the adoration of millions of people, gains millions of dollars per film or episode of television, gains lots of perks (like designer dresses and jewelry and other goodies at awards shows), gains a certain amount of power and prestige.  People listen to them simply because they are famous.  Leonardo DiCaprio is not a climatologist or any kind of expert in the field, but his voice is powerful enough from acting in films that he spoke before the United Nations.  Emma Watson did the same (on feminism).  

But in gaining all of this, they lose their ability to live life like a "normal" human.  They lose their privacy, their ability to blend in and go to the grocery without having their photo taken.  They lose their ability to say whatever they want and have it go unnoticed.  The cost to them of fame/power/money is that they live their lives under a microscope, at least until the height of their popularity/celebrity is over.

This is the way it is, and it galls me when celebrities forget this, when they seem whiney or forget what the fame & fortune contract means.  When they "want it all" (a mentality that I dislike in general since no one in any situation can have it all).

But beyond the celebrities/politicians/athletes, what I have contempt for is the structure of society that gives these folks the money and fame and voice of power when so many people who do much greater things of value for society at large are devalued.  Like the men and women who care for residents of nursing homes and make $30,000 per year (and that is being generous).  Like the people who work in daycare centers and are playing a huge role in the raising of society's children.  Like EMTs and police dispatch workers.  

Society at large makes it possible for celebrities/athletes to live as they do.  We value entertainment above all else, and that is what I have contempt for.  The celebrities and athletes are simply the scapegoats that I blame because they have a voice and a face and their voices/faces are plastered everywhere one looks.  

Their voices and faces everywhere is also a constant reminder to me of my white privilege, of my upper-middle class privilege.  Essentially, celebrities/athletes remind me of the battle I feel every day to strive to be charitable, to be kind, to feel compassion, to not get wrapped up in my luxury (which though not as luxurious as celebrities is far more luxurious than people in other parts of the world.  

I am not bitter that these celebrities/athletes have what they have or do what they do.  I wouldn't trade places with them (and personally working on a movie set and just "hanging around" between takes sounds about as interesting as watching paint peel).  

If they remind me of my battle every day against privilege, I would not want to step in their shoes and feel more guilt.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Maybe I'm not a feminist

I inadvertently opened a sh*t storm of discussion on FB when I posted about Jennifer Lawrence's nude photos and her Vanity Fair interview in which she calls the theft a "sex crime."

My post:  Far be it for me to be a voice of common sense, but perhaps if one wants to avoid having nude photos of oneself leaked, one might reconsider allowing nude photos to be taken in the first place.  hashtagcelebritiesareidiots

Apparently I am not a feminist because I think it is, in general, for man or woman, a bad idea to take nude selfies because one never knows into whose hands such photos might fall.  I thought this was common sense.  

It is not a moral issue with me at all.  I don't think it is slutty or weird or sick or anything of that nature.  I simply think it is the kind of stuff that can too easily get "out there."  If in someone else's hands/computer, it is too easy for the relationship to sour and those photos to come back to haunt someone (ask Stephen Collins, although in his case it was comments, not photos).  If they are in one's own hands/computer, it is too easy for them to be stolen or accidentally texted to one's in-laws (ask Kelly Ripa).  

Maybe I'm missing the point.

Does J-Law have a valid reason to be angry?  Of course.  Her computer was hacked.  Her property was stolen.

Is it a sex crime?  Good lord, no.  
That is what I took issue with initially.  Not the photos, but her reference to her violation being on par with women who have been raped or molested or had photos taken without their permission.  

But what happened on my FB post brought in other issues that I have been reflecting upon which, I guess, is a blessing.  Better than stewing over Ebola and Enterovirus, which is what I'd be doing otherwise.  

So what does it mean to be a feminist?  

I always thought it meant to support women's choices, and I think I generally do.  I think women should have the same opportunities as men and the option to pursue those opportunities if they wish. I think women (and men, for that matter) have to understand, though, that with every choice comes a cost.  Somehow I think women have been fed a line that we can "have it all," and I think that is bunk.  Something, and maybe many somethings, is going to be sacrificed in the attempt to have it all.  Maybe it is free time?  Maybe it is money?  Maybe it is sleep?  Maybe it is building a network of colleagues?  

No person, man or woman, can have everything they want at the exact moment they want it.  

Here is one issue I struggle with regarding feminism:  women (myself included) want to be treated the same as men, but we are not men and due to our bodies we have certain limitations that men have never had to consider and will never have to consider.

I have a daughter and sons, and if they ever wish to be sexually active, I will tell all of them to protect, protect, protect at all times.  My daughter is not to rely on the guy, and my sons are not to rely on the girl.  But my daughter, simply because she is a female, would be way more invested in the outcome of an accidental pregnancy than my sons.  That doesn't mean my sons would or should get a pass.  With power comes responsibility, but that responsibility is hugely different for women and men for no other reason than biology.

So what does that mean for women?  For feminism?

When I read about college girls who go to frat parties, get very drunk and are raped, I don't think to myself that they deserve it.  I think the boys who do such things should be punished to the full extent of the law.  However,  it seems to me that sometimes feminism means I can't acknowledge that perhaps going to a frat party and drinking until one passes out is not a good idea.  That doesn't excuse the crime; nothing does.  But in supporting women do I have to not say what seems like common sense?

If I walked into an Ebola isolation ward without taking any protective measures (gloves, mask, etc) and I got Ebola, does that mean I deserve to get Ebola?  Does it mean I shouldn't receive treatment?  Well of course not.  But would someone be evil and anti-Carrie if they acknowledged that maybe going into such a situation without taking some protective measures might not have been a well-considered plan?

Then there is the issue of women's bodies and feminism.  I thought feminism was the struggle to go beyond objectification, to not just be T&A.  In the J-Law case, she was interviewed by Vanity Fair (and this smacks of irony to me), and in the photos she looks very sensuous.  There is nothing inherently wrong in that.  Some would say because she is choosing to look sensuous that is ok, and women are making progress.  But I have to ask whether her choosing to do this is progress for herself or women as a whole?  If my 10-year-old daughter sees these photos in the magazine, is she learning about the feminist struggle to avoid objectification?

I don't know the answer to these questions.

Reading the article she says she was ashamed, embarrassed to have to talk to her dad about the photos that were hacked.  Am I not a feminist if I think to myself it is generally a good idea to avoid doing things that you would be embarrassed to have your parents find out about?  I would think my daughter and sons would be embarrassed to have to share such information with me.

In the FB showdown, it was suggested that I am bitter towards J-Law and celebrities and don't they have rights too.

I have no bitterness towards J-Law or any beautiful rich celebrities.  Bitterness would suggest I care a tremendous amount about them, and I don't.  I think they are good for my entertainment.  Bread and circuses.  Celebrities and the very, very rich and powerful do not live like regular folk.  As much as they may try to seem "normal," their lives are not normal, and I feel pity for them, really.  I certainly wouldn't want to trade places with any of them.  But, for better or worse, celebrity is what it is, and there is a very fine line between using one's own celebrity and having one's celebrity used for you.

So, where does this leave me?  Am I a feminist or not?  Am I so indoctrinated in the patriarchy that there is no hope for me?

The jury is still out.

Monday, October 6, 2014

I still see a baby (but he is 5)

Dear M,

Tomorrow you turn 5 years old, but whenever I look at you I see a baby.

My rational mind acknowledges that your baby days are long gone whenever I pull into preschool pick-up and see you towering over your classmates in line.  You have zero baby fat on your frame.  You are truly a big boy now.

But I see a baby.

Maybe it is that you are so snuggly still.  Your legs haven't yet sprawled out to the ends of the Earth as your older sister's and brother's have, a gangly length of person that I cannot fully place on my lap.  Maybe it is that you still treasure your pacifier in a way that won't be broken until all-day school ends its appeal for you.  Maybe it is because I know you still harbor a secret love for Baby Einstein and other similar shows that you won't watch when your big brother is around but will readily borrow from the library when it is just you and me together.

I find you immensely interesting from a purely genetic standpoint--the brown-haired, hazel-eyed, right-handed kid who followed the two blonde-haired, blue-eyed, left-handed kids.

I find it interesting that you are so very shy around people who aren't family members.  You hardly say a word to anyone unless it is me, Daddy, N, G, Nana or Mamaw.  You sing all the time at home but won't sing at preschool or participate at our music class.  At your big My Gym party, you nearly slunk completely out of your seat when we started singing "Happy Birthday" and covered your eyes with your hands.

Daddy and I talk all the time about how you have a natural rhythm that neither your brother or sister have.  You know how to groove, and we sometimes speculate on whether you will be the athlete or dancer in the family.

All of us love to listen to you talk because it is so cute.  Today at lunch we were remembering the funny things that you, N and G have said in the past.  You asked, "What did I used to call a cwock?" (clock) and Daddy said, "A cwock."

Your calling all Toyota cars "Tornados" has rubbed off on N and G, and even Daddy said something like "Didn't a Toyota come through this area and destroy a town a few years ago" as we were driving northbound.

You adore Shanks and snuggle on him every chance you get.  Today I caught you trying to put his paws on the music mat that Mamaw gave you for your birthday so that he, too, could make music with you.

I am so thankful every single day for my bonus baby blessing.

I love you M,

Thursday, October 2, 2014

More on the middle school decision-making (pings)

I think life sometimes throws things/people/situations into our spheres to let us know we're on the right (or wrong) track.

Or maybe I'm just reading too much into things, which my high school students would totally accuse me of doing.  One in particular is like, "Is this really a thing?"  And my learned response is "If it keeps popping up again and again, then yes, I think it's a thing."

So here is my latest thing related to middle school decision-making.

I am chair of the Beautification Committee at my kids' elementary school, which basically means I do yard work and pick up trash without pay.  In this capacity, I have been working with the nearby middle school's (CMS) Beta Club students who help me out to earn service hours.  I have been very impressed by these kids (all girls) and their Beta Club chair (a teacher at the school).  He has been excellent about emailing me and replying to my emails.  

CMS is the school I am leaning toward for N to attend for a variety of reasons.  It has AP classes.  It is super close to our house and offers bus transportation which means N won't have to get up uber early, and I won't have to haul her butt to school.  I have friends who teach there.  I know lots of parents whose kids go there.  The counselor at the kids' school says it is small and quiet.

So this positive vibe from working with the Beta Club keeps pinging in my head.

Then I met a kid from VHS, which is all the way on the other side of town.  He was helping me unload my car at a recent consignment sale.  I don't know if he was earning service hours or being paid or what, but he was extremely helpful and nice.  A nice, polite black teenager from VHS, which for some people in my "end of the world" would be absolutely shocking.  Some of these folk couldn't find the area of town in which VHS is located on a map.  It isn't the East End, which basically means it might be a sliver of Hell proper.

Another ping.

The pings were to remind me that all kinds of fantastic kids go to all kinds of schools.  All schools have advantages and disadvantages.  All schools have well-prepared and ill-prepared kids; kind and mean kids; kids from stable homes and kids from dysfunctional homes.

Because sometimes I feel myself getting sucked into the vat of nonsense that is called "Where Are You Sending Your Kid to School?"

I need these pings to remind myself that

*even though I am an upper-middle class white chick who is better off than a huge slice of the world,  I despise uppity-ness.
*I despise cliques and all their nonsense
* I despise the whole notion that going to school with poor kids or kids of different races or nationalities will somehow f*ck my kids up.
*I despise the notion that where my kid attends middle school or high school is going to make or break her or his entire life.  I don't believe that there is a "Holy Grail" school where everyone is perfect and sings Kum-ba-ya, and I am certainly not going to uproot my whole life to move to another county to see if one exists.

The pings also are a way to remind myself that I need to disengage myself from this.  Where I send her to school should not be a political statement, which I have a tendency to want to make it.  I want where I send her to be a giant "F U" to all the parents who think the neighborhood school isn't good enough.  Who actually think test scores mean much of anything.  Who think their children might be scarred for life if they don't get into a certain school.  Who cry and whine if their child gets sent to a non-neighborhood elementary (read: in the ghetto) but want to send them to all the far-away magnet schools for middle and high school (read: in the ghetto but offer dog-and-pony show).

I need to remind myself that the school needs to be a good fit for N, for the girl she is now.  That this isn't a determinant of who she will be in 5 or 10 or 15 years.

This shouldn't be about me.