Friday, August 30, 2013

The heart of a writer

The news of Seamus Heaney's death has finally spurred me to write a post about a topic I've been mulling over for awhile.

I met Heaney 20 years ago when I studied in England/Ireland/Wales with fellow college students, although I admit to having read little to nothing of his poetry since that time.  It's not that I dislike his work; I'm just more into novels.  

In my efforts to keep this blog up or do freelance work (and receive responses as a result of people reading my writing), I sometimes wonder if I am a bit of an attention whore, and it makes me feel badly.  Am I so deprived of attention, am I so emotionally needy that I require the feedback from others?  Why can't my writing just be for me?  

As I've been stewing on this, including at a Bruno Mars concert a few weeks back, that the need to have others read what I write is entirely appropriate and natural.  (I wonder what other people think about during Bruno Mars concerts?)

If a person is a dancer or a singer or a musician or a comedian or a puppeteer or a writer, he or she not only loves the act of dancing, singing, playing music, telling jokes, orchestrating puppets and writing, but he/she loves the response of the audience.  Sure, there is joy in the simple act of doing these things alone for one's own love of them, but that love is magnified when other people enjoy it as well.  The whisper of internalized joy becomes a ROAR when it is shared.

I am a little dinky fish in a vast pool of talented people, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't share the writing that comes from deep within or feel like an attention-hungry freak for wanting to share it.  (Take that, stupid voice inside my head that tells me untruths!)

The desire to do it and to share it go together (unless one is Emily Dickinson, although even she shared it on a much, much smaller, more intimate level).

I think that is how you know you have the heart of a writer.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

1 week to go

One week from tomorrow I will be, ahem, teaching again.

When I first accepted the position I freaked out a bit, worrying that my students will be smarter than me (since most of the home-schooled children I've met are very, very bright).  I had to remember that I do have 23+ years of experience and maturity on them and 2 college degrees, so hopefully I will have something to impart.

Since May I have re-read the following novels (which has been fun but has really put a cramp in my book club attendance):
Fever 1793
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Odyssey
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

I just started my re-read of The Count of Monte Cristo last night and have to re-read Medea, but the students' daily assignments for everything else are planned.   I will post their assignments online on Friday evenings/Saturday mornings, they will do the work by Thursday evening, and we will meet to discuss, explore, explain, review, on Friday mornings/early afternoons.

While I am excited about this experience and have been putting a lot of effort into researching projects, activities and assignments, perhaps the best thing is knowing that I don't HAVE to do it.  It is for my own enjoyment and professional fulfillment, really.  I think this cuts through the anxiety of "Will I do well?" and "Will I be hired for the following year?"  (Although if I enjoy myself, I certainly do hope to be invited back.)

My middle school class will run from 10-11:15, and then my high school class will run from 12:30-1:30, leaving me a break in the middle to plan or read or conference with students when they are working on their writing pieces.  Or eat.  I need to remember to do that too.

Week 1 down

N and G have completed 8 days of school, and I have to say that things have been great for them.  I think they are really glad to be back in a routine of learning and having their minds occupied on a near-constant basis.  G even said yesterday that he likes kindergarten better than preschool because there are no toys.  That boy is a weirdo, I tell you.

On Tuesday, he brought home a Super Tiger award from his P.E. teacher, which nearly dropped me to the floor for a couple reasons.  First, G is the most uncoordinated kid in this family, if not the world.  Second, it is one thing for G's teacher to say he is a great kid in school (because it can always be denied later on), but it is an entirely different ball of wax when there is written documentation stating, "your child is a model student."

He and I have been getting along much better since school began, which I think has to do with that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" phenomenon.  Being with peers and learning the behaviors of all-day school also seems to be helping him be a little less tantrumy.  Thus far, we haven't seen the world-class meltdowns that N went through when she began kindergarten.

So color me surprised across the board.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In the "little tiny" cancer club

I have had a spot on my right arm for years and years.

The first time I had it looked at was after N was born when I was in the early stages of my mental decline (although I didn't realize it at the time).  I saw a dermatologist who said it was a porokeratosis.

I was convinced it was cancer, and I was going to die and leave my baby.
{Insert nervous breakdown here}

After M was born, maybe in 2011, I had my general practitioner look at it. He said the same thing as the dermatologist in '04.

Sometime between those two doctor visits I noticed it would get really red if I was out in the sun and didn't slather it with sunscreen.  It would also get crusty at the edges.

This spring, with my 40th birthday coming this fall, I decided I really needed to start seeing a dermatologist every year for a skin screening.  My mom and dad have had basal and squamous cell cancers removed more times than I can count.  My dad had melanoma in 2007.  Better to be safe.

I saw the dermatologist on Aug 16th.  She said she really wasn't sure what it was so she wanted to biopsy it.

Today she called and said it is basal cell cancer, the best kind of skin cancer you can get (if you have to have any kind of skin cancer at all).  There are 3 treatment options, and I chose the quicker one that will leave a scar.  If it was on my face, I'd be visiting a plastic surgeon, but I don't care about scarring on my arm.

Strangely, I'm not worried or freaked out or anything by this which could be because 1. my medication really works great and/or 2. I've seen my parents go through this so many times it is just

Welcome to middle age.

Maybe I need to lay off FB this time of year? (and during March Madness)

I have been thoroughly enjoying my quiet afternoons this week while M naps and N and G are at school.

In preparation for teaching in the fall, I finished my re-read of The Odyssey this afternoon and began planning my lessons and projects.  My goal is to have the entire year's reading /  plans complete by the end of September.  Dragonwings is almost done; Medea and The Count of Monte Cristo are yet to be re-read and planned.  But with downtime midday and early bedtimes, I think it is do-able.

Ah, the glory of school's resumption.

Except for one little thing:
the poo-poohing of our district that occurs without fail this time of year on Facebook by folks who have very little (if any) experience with the district.

And it bothers me a lot.  Probably more than it should.  I need to just  But that is hard.
I worked in the district.  I have many, many friends who work in the district.  My kids attend school in the district.  For all these reasons, I support the district.

I don't always and in every way support every single solitary thing the district does, but I also think (and I'll say it again for the 11 millionth time) that education policy, be it at the federal, state, or local level, cannot undo the cycle of poverty and really crappy parenting.  Even though it tries mightily.

I guess I feel about the district the way some people would feel about their religion or church if I made comments about what a disjointed, wasteful, poorly run vat of idiocy it is.  I suspect they would be insulted because they attend that church or believe in that religion.  Because they know people who work for the church, attend the church, etc.

When I read negative comments, I guess I think about all the administrators I know, all the teachers I know, who spend countless hours planning and preparing and doing everything in their power to ensure that children learn and enjoy school and feel safe.

It is easy to pooh-pooh the "nebulous and anonymous" district.  I wish they would be a little more cognizant of how many kind, talented, helpful individuals they are slamming in the process.

I really hate it that it hurts my feelings.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why I like keeping it real

Lately there has been a post floating around FB that I dislike immensely.

I'm not sure why I dislike it.  It is well-written and the general gist of the essay (to slow life down a bit and not be so over-scheduled and/or distracted) is one we can probably all stand to hear once in a while (especially those mamas who have their iPhones glued to their lashes instead of watching their kids at the playground.  I'm talking to you, lady).  

Maybe it is the title which I've also seen as, "The Two Words I'll Never Say to My Daughter Again."  I can't help but think, "Really???  You will NEVER.EVER say 'hurry up' to your child ever again?"

What I dislike is sentimentality, and there is something a little too sentimental about this post.  (Or maybe it is too late in the summer and too close to my period?)
Like this:
"Suddenly a look of worry came across her face. 'Do I have to rush, Mama?' I could have cried. Perhaps the scars of a hurried life don't ever completely disappear, I thought sadly."

I guess I read this and see her going from one extreme to another, from crazy, distracted busy to lolly-gaggin' around, letting her kid look at toadstools all day.  
Kids have zero concept of time, and the past months of trying to get my kids out the door to do fun things that they will enjoy reminds me of this fact.  I've never tried herding cats, but I suspect it is easier.
Children need to understand that the world does not wait for them.  Sure, there should be times when kids are allowed to lolly-gag, to notice and putz and do those things that kids do naturally well.  But most of the time, I think kids need to understand that if they 1. want to do fun things and 2. say they will meet someone, they need to be on time (or as close to on time as possible).  They need to understand that there are penalties for being late (the movie starts, the friends leave, the doctor charges a fee).
Sometimes I think we get a little too wrapped up in making everything all doey-eyed, goopy sentimental, isn't childhood just soooo wonderful and shouldn't we treasure every.single.moment?
I like posts like this.  The ones that acknowledge what a damn hard row this motherhood thing is.  The ones that understand that probably 90% is survival and bumbling through.  The ones that seem to understand that it's only a recent blip in the history of man where we are so worried about our children that we turn our lives upside down to make them happy and carefree.  
I like the posts that make me feel like I'm doing ok (and that letting my boys play video games while I type this blog is not going to ruin their lives).  
Not the ones that make me feel like I could always and forever be doing it better.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

If you give a stay-at-home momma too many days of summer break (a blog in 2 poems)

If you give a stay-at-home momma too many days of summer break (coupled with cool, cloudy weather that precludes going to the pool), she'll look for things for the kids to do.

If she looks for things for the kids to do, she'll probably end up suggesting crafts.

If she ends up suggesting crafts, hers kids will be gung-ho at first.

If her kids are gung-ho at first, they will soon begin whining.

If they soon begin whining, the momma will probably end up doing the project all by herself.

The cabinet for American Doll/Our Generation Doll accessories I did mostly by myself

Clay accessories made by N

If you give a stay-at-home momma too many days of summer break (coupled with cool, cloudy weather that precludes going to the pool), she'll look for things for the kids to do.

If she looks for things for the kids to do, she'll probably end up scrounging around in her craft bin.

If she scrounges in the craft bin, she'll find some old crayons.

If she finds some old crayons, she'll probably break out her mostly unused embossing tool in an attempt to be all pinterest-y.

If she gets out her embossing tool, her 5-year-old will be entranced for hours.

If the 5-year-old is happily entranced, she will continue to cut off crayon wrappers with an exacto blade.

If she continues to cut crayon wrappers off with an exacto blade, she will probably cut her fingers.

If she cuts her fingers, she will say, "I'LL BE SO DAMN GLAD WHEN SCHOOL STARTS!"

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cheapo bathroom redo

This is what the kids' bathroom used to look like:

The problem with doing any kind of permanent "art" on the wall is that if you get tired of it (as I did), you have to repaint to remove it.  I wonder about folks who spends thousands of dollars on a wall mural and whether they get tired of it after a few years.  I was so darned sick of looking at fish.

This summer I completed my transformation of the bathroom to a "pirate" theme, since all 3 of the kids think pirates are way cool.  But as is my way, I did it as frugally as possible and did it so that if I tire of this "theme" in a few years I don't have to repaint everything but can just change out some wall hangings.

(I had painted the walls using the grey I bought for the garage when I redid that last fall.  So I don't count that cost since technically it was just leftovers from another project.)

The striped shower curtain was about $20.  The rug in front of the cabinet was about $25.  Those were my most expensive purchases.

The big pirate canvas by the towels I got at Goodwill for $7.  The glass container for shells was also a Goodwill find ($3).

I bought 3 $5 canvases from Michaels and 2 bottles of $1 paint.  I took shells from this summer's beach vacation and hot glued them onto the canvases.  I eye-balled an anchor photo from Google images and painted that.

The "Where there be seas, there be pirates" picture was fun to make.  I took an old map from the basement and Mod-Podged it onto the canvas.  Then I printed out a pirate-like font on paper, soaked it in tea and after it had dried I burned it in places to make it look weathered.

The wooden pirate sign and black mermaid I bought on our vacation (under $15 total).  The pirate ship on a saw-blade was painted and given to me by my Uncle B many years ago.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Body image at "this close to" 40

In May I joined a gym with child-care.  I love my trainer and my bootcamp friends, but for a couple reasons, I have not been able to attend regularly this summer.  I have been trying to get to the gym two times a week, but I know my solo workouts don't challenge me in the way my trainer does.  It is better than doing nothing (something I try to remind myself when I'm feeling particularly lazy and unmotivated).

I made the mistake of taking advantage of a new gym "service," which is having body fat assessed.  Now I've had this done before, numerous times, but not 6 months post-end of breastfeeding and post-vacation when I ate junk food like a boss.  At 5'7" and 144 lbs, my body fat is 25% according to the hand-held monitor.  Depending on the chart you read, this is either considered "very good" or "average."  The chart they used at the new gym when they provided this service said "average."

I've never been one who is "ok" with the notion of being average in any respect, although I've dialed it down a lot over the years.  With this milestone birthday looming, I'm having a difficult time with the whole idea of aging (and how my body is adapting to that phenomenon).  There is no getting around the fact that I have the mid-section of a woman who gestated three children.

It seems petulant for me to "complain" about my body fat percentage, and I don't expect a whole lot of any sympathy, especially when others look at me and think, "What body fat?"

I jokingly remarked on FB that I could workout like mad to be in the "very good" by age 40 or I could just wait until my 40th birthday and automatically be "very good" just by being bumped into the older age category.  One of my bootcamp buddies said I could workout a ton and be in the "awesome" category by age 40, and a part of me likes the challenge of doing this.  A part of me would like to look washboard ab awesome at 40.

But the more realistic part of me, the part that continues to be a mother to 3 kids on a full-time basis for another two weeks until school resumes, the part that must clean her own house and shop for groceries, the part that is still trying to plan her curriculum for the part-time teaching job this coming school year---that part of me is working tirelessly to remind the insecure, almost 40 part that I am doing the best I can given my circumstances and that having more toned abs can happen, just maybe not right now at this particular moment of my life.

I wish boosting my self-image counted as strength-training.

What kind of example am I setting?

Sometimes, especially in the thick of the post-vacation, "Gee, we're all terribly bored" rut, I wonder what kind of example I'm setting for my children, especially when I can't help but almost constantly think and often remark, "I'll be so glad when school starts."

What gets to me over the span of 2+ months of summer break is being without a routine, a structure for the day, and being with the same 3 humans all day long.  It's not anything specific about the kids that begins to wear on my nerves; I'd be sick and tired of being with my best friend or my husband or Jesus Christ if I had to be in their company constantly for weeks-long stretches.  The reverse of "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," would have to be "Togetherness makes the heart grow hostile."

I worry that I'm damaging the kids' psyches by my sometimes disgruntled stay-at-home mothering, but they will probably only remember 1 or 2 occasions when I was sub-par.  My own mother stayed at home with me and my brother for years until she began working part-time at our elementary school, and I only remember one occasion when dad walked in and she walked out to find some peace in the car or on a walk or wherever it was she went.

For all of our sakes, I hope their memories are as flawed as my own.

Recently in the car, N was talking about how many kids she wanted to have and what she wanted to name them.  Somehow the conversation turned to whether she wanted to stay at home in the future.  As much as I am glad I have been able to stay at home with my children, I understand in a way I didn't some 9 years ago how important it is to have outlets, either creative or professional (or in a perfect world---both without breaking the bank).

I took this opportunity with N to tell her that probably most moms would like a balance of being with their children and still being able to work part-time.  Though I've had volunteer involvement and freelance writing, it hasn't always been enough to sustain my soul adequately.

One of the things I am learning in this gig of motherhood is that I'm in the business of many things---nose- and butt-wiping, snack-retrieving, clothes cleaning---and the artful teaching of soul sustainment to my wards.