Saturday, January 13, 2018

1. Shut your shit-hole and 2. Working towards character-building

Part I: Shut Your Shithole

The president is a toxic person. I would like to tell him to shut his shit-hole, that not every thought that dashes through his head is correct or relevant or worth giving air to. I don't think he's a genius. I think that what you see is what you get.

There is a part of me that would like certain politicians to say out loud what all of us know to be true, that the president is a dick, but I understand why they do not.

I have worked with assholes. They are simply assholes, and even if you called them out on it, they would still be assholes, and perhaps even bigger assholes than they were to begin with. Everyone who works with them knows they are assholes.

When I taught full-time, there was a teacher in my department who was one of these "honest" speakers (as the president is considered to be). I never told her off, even though I thought she was crass and annoying and bitchy. She made people feel small, and she was intimidating. She wasn't warm and fuzzy or welcoming or even nice.

I never called her out on her crassness or bitchiness because it really didn't matter. That is what and who she was. I felt sorry for her in many ways. Perhaps she lived in a bubble and didn't know or suspect what people thought of her, but I suspect she knew and either 1. didn't care or 2. did care but convinced herself that she didn't care and couldn't really change her personality anyway.

I suspect that everyone in Washington who works in any capacity with the president does what my former colleagues and I did with this teacher. We knew what we were up against, we did what we had to do to get through the day, and we rolled our eyes at each other behind her back, knowing full well that we wished she would shut her shit-hole.

Some people are simply assholes. It is unfortunate that one of them is in such a respected seat of responsibility and power.

Part 2: Working towards character-building

John Wooden's quote, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching," is certainly true, but there are some who would argue that it is also what you do when everyone is watching. Character is who you are, and character is tested no matter how old you get.

I had a situation this past week in which my character was tested.

My Girl Scout troop met at our local school for one of our bi-monthly meetings. In the past, when it gets close to cookie booth time, I have used some of the tools in the teacher's workroom to help make letters for our booth poster. I know how to use these machines, and I have instructed my girls in how to use them. I bring my own paper so I'm not using school resources.

This past week, the girls accidentally cracked two of the plastic pieces that are used with the machines. These pieces aren't expensive, and they are certainly well-worn. Perhaps they would have cracked no matter who used them. But I felt terrible about it.

I could have just let it go. There are lots of people, including parent volunteers, who use these plastic pieces. Anyone could have cracked them, and no one would have been the wiser.

But I could not do that and, to be honest, I could not do that out of fear.

If I didn't acknowledge that our troop had done it, I wondered all the "what ifs." What if the custodian who saw us in the room overhead someone talking about it and "told" on us? I would much, much rather take my knocks and face whatever consequences than be "found out." How mortifying would that be? Much more mortifying than admitting that we'd cracked a piece of plastic.

It reminded me of a similar situation that happened to me in the 7th grade.

I cheated on a religion test (there is some irony there, eh?).

And some people in class saw that I cheated and told me they saw me.
They never told on me because before they did, I told on myself.
I could not abide the idea of knowing I did something wrong, hiding it, and then being found out. That was worse than just taking my consequences and getting a zero.

How funny that I haven't changed that much since the 7th grade.

I was scared to send that email to the principal. Scared because I don't know how much the pieces cost. I didn't think they would be that much, but Girl Scouts troops generally aren't rolling in piles of money. Scared because I didn't want her to think badly of me for not supervising the girls as closely as I should have.

But I was willing to have her think whatever she thinks and for us to pay whatever we have to pay in order not to feel bad about myself. In order for me to feel at peace on the inside, even in the midst of feeling fear.

And I like to think that even if the person is disappointed in me, they know that I don't lie or hide. They know that I try to have a solid character even when I could have done otherwise.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Part A: Thinking the worst first / Part B: Goals or lack thereof

Part A:

I don't know what I did, but I have apparently reinjured my knee. When I was around 36 or 37, I did a burpee. It was the first and last time I did a burpee because I blew out my left knee. It took months for the pain and then the discomfort to subside. I think this injury was my introduction to meloxicam.

Anyway, today I was in the basement cleaning up Christmas stuff and decluttering. I have recently returned to more regular exercise after my autumn of not doing anything but trying to survive work and class. That may not have been a good idea.

Even though I am much improved with my anxiety most of the time, my go-to feeling whenever I am sick is that whatever I'm feeling is never, ever, ever going to improve.

When I had a stomach bug last month, I was temporarily convinced that I would spend the rest of my life running to the bathroom constantly. (I do have a genetic predisposition for irritable bowel disorders/colitis, so this fear is not totally without merit.) But I knew I had an actual stomach bug that had gotten my system off-line. I knew chances were pretty good that I would improve. But if this bleeds through with high doses of medication, I cannot imagine what a ball of trembling I would be without it.

Today, with the knee thing, I have already jumped towards knee replacement next year, even though the problem isn't likely bone rubbing on bone but a pulled muscle. I have already had a mental consultation with an orthopedist who has told me that my allergies make it likely that my body will reject a knee replacement. (I did actually have special studs made for a pair of earrings and whatever metal that is--niobium perhaps?---bothers me.) And I will die or be in terrible pain for the remainder of my life due to my knee. (Also, my minister had hip replacement yesterday, so I could possibly have created this injury with the power of my own mind.)

Part B:

I used to have goals a long time ago.

I used to think about getting a Ph.D.

I'm not sure I have goals anymore. Not professional ones, anyway.

I recently contacted another local magazine about possibly doing some occasional freelance work, but the only reason I did that is because someone I know emailed me about how to get into freelance work. Nothing like the possibility of a little healthy competition to motivate me. The one good thing to come of chatting with this other magazine is I realize that the pay I get from my other freelance jobs is not half bad. I'm not gonna get rich, or even middle class, through freelancing.

Not that I want to.

A friend of mine asked me recently if I would want to write full-time, and I don't think I would. But at this point, I don't want to teach full-time.

Being a stay-at-home mom has spoiled me in having a lot of flexibility, and this is why I do it. I don't make much money in any of these pursuits. I just sorta totaled it all up--what I made this year assuming I work five days a month subbing---and it ain't much. Of course, I do get June and July off from subbing and the cottage school, and half of August. (And the cottage school job is only 28 weeks for the year, so I have the entire month of December off, AND it is only 1 day a week.) I do write for the magazines during the summer months when they ask me to write stuff but there isn't any rhyme or reason to what I write or when.

Each of these snippets of jobs allows me time to do the other snippets of jobs.
And my time has value.
Sometimes I spend too much of that valuable time on Facebook, Twitter, or getting suck into an Alice in Wonderland hole of interwebs.

I try to look at this stage of my life as a networking opportunity....many years of developing relationships---principals seeing me in their halls, teachers seeing me as responsible and not completely inept with kids, editors seeing me as eager to write and turning in quality work. So that when I do decide to have less flexibility in my life, I can say, "Hey....who wants me?" and hopefully I'll have people calling or putting in a good word for me or letting me know of jobs.

When N complains that everyone wants her to know in 8th grade what she wants to be when she grows up, I say, "Yeah, I KNOW. I don't know what I want to be either."

Sunday, January 7, 2018

How I catch myself not raising an adult (and also how I lie to myself) Or maybe not??

Today I was able to listen to a little snippet of this Hidden Brain podcast, which got me thinking about how people lie to themselves.

I like to think that because of my exceptional ability to I do not have a problem with lying to myself, but maybe that isn't really the case.

Today I saw someone I've known since our kids were preschoolers. We were discussing N's application to EHS, which she received in the mail yesterday.

While discussing the application packet and process, I think I actually said, "We're applying." I did catch myself and correct my statement, but it bothered me that these words came out of my mouth.

In one sense, it is just how I speak.
When I am out to dinner with anyone and the server asks, "Are you doing ok?," I always respond with, "We're fine," even though the truth may be that I am fine, but my dinner buddy is not fine and needs cocktail sauce STAT.

This Freudian slip of the tongue made me wonder whether I talk a good game but am totally guilty of being the helicopter parent I don't want to be.

Based on my recent reading of How to Raise an Adult, I decided to put it to N that I could either help her 1. not at all or 2. just a smidge (and by a smidge, I meant getting her envelopes for the teacher recommendation sheets).

I had no intention of filling anything out for her, but as a writer, it is hard for me to not to want to edit someone to within an inch of their lives. About a week or so ago, I had her write down her "accomplishments and activities" of the past three years so she wouldn't forget anything when she began completing the application. She used this yesterday to complete the information sheet.

She wrote, and I sat next to her reading a book, answering questions she had, like "Should I put field hockey in 6th-8th grades or put the years?"

As I sat there, I wondered if this was too much "assisting?"

If she writes her one-page essay and asks me for feedback do I give her real feedback to actually help her improve her essay or do I just say, "I'm sure it is fine," and have her send it off without looking at it?

To be honest, the latter option seems a bit irresponsible, especially since I'm a professional writer and know full well that nothing very good (including this blog) happens when someone hasn't had someone else proofread their stuff.

It is a slippery slope balancing act, this raising a child. Because they don't just require a parent to say something once, and then they'd got it.
You've got to say the same shit over and over and over and over.
This, to me, seems like it is the essential act of parenting---saying the same junk ad nauseam until the kid finally, at like age 25, has it inside his/her head.
Is that helicoptering? 
Or is the problem really doing it FOR the child? Saving the child FROM every mistake he or she makes? Pulling the child out of school so she can avoid the class guitar recital she doesn't want to do because she hates the class?
(She asked, and I responded, "That is not gonna happen. You suck it up and get through it."

Maybe I'm not lying to myself because of the simple fact that I was aware enough of my speech to catch myself and to reflect on what I'm thinking and doing regarding this whole high school application.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

I took a survey about substitute teaching....

and I laughed and laughed.

Now, I don't hate substitute teaching but that is only because I was a teacher before.
I'm not sure how or why anyone who hasn't been a teacher does it.
Summers off are nice, but I'm not sure it is nice enough to warrant subbing.

I don't think I'm an especially good sub unless you compare with me some of the other subs I've seen with my own two eyes.
I am not on a walker.
I do not use a cane.
These two things aren't problems unless the people who use them are subbing at a middle school, in which case I cannot help but think of an injured gazelle and a pride of hungry lions.
I swear I know of one sub who might be a very good sub, but she uses a cane and has a gimpy arm (maybe from a stroke?).
I just hope that if I ever have a cane and a stroke-paralyzed arm, I do not have to resort to subbing to generate income.
There has to be an easier job.

I do a couple of things well:
1. I show up.
2. I dress appropriately.

The questions on the survey were general ranking-type questions---1 being never and 5 being always.

The question that made me absolutely cackle was about being escorted by staff to the room where I'm subbing.
As in "Are you escorted by school staff to the room where you will sub?"
I asked my computer, "Is that an actual expectation that the district has for school staff?"
Because that has never, ever happened.
Most of the time I have to specifically ask what room I'll be in and "Could you please point me in the direction of the room."
In schools where I regularly sub, I give directions to other subs wandering around the building.
(I'm not dissing anyone about this; office staff has their hands full in the morning. I just wondered if this was an actual policy by some wonk who never sets foot in an actual school building.)

On the comment part of the survey, I said that I outright laughed at question # whatever it was about being escorted. "I laughed out loud at question #4," is what I wrote.

I said that I wish teachers wouldn't leave just busy work, although I understand why they do.

Some of the best subbing days I have had is when the teachers 1. knew me and 2. left actual work in their week's lineup because they know that I will actually get through the lesson or as much as humanly possible. The kids took it seriously, and I could actually teach them something rather than just being a breathing adult in the room.

I said I wish the district would hire part-time permanent subs so that I could be at one school three days a week rather than bopping all over. That is probably the thing I hate the most about subbing---the lack of regular routine.
I'd feel like I could make more of a difference and develop relationships with kids.

I said I was glad the new sub system has a "no telephone" option because my husband was about ready to rip our phone out of the wall, and what is the point of having an online system if you still have to get phone calls?

Of course, as I write this and lament that I don't make a difference with kids, I think about the kindergarteners I subbed for in December who made a ring around me during recess and thought I was the funniest thing ever when I tried to escape the ring (which wasn't actually me being funny; I wanted to be left alone, but they thought I was hilarious).

And I think about those occasional students who, for whatever reason, take a liking to me and treat me with more respect than they do some of their "real" teachers.

And I think about the students who start out like shits in a class but then figure out that I'm really actually wanting to help them and then allow me to help them and quit acting like shits in the course of 50 minutes.

I guess there are worse jobs than subbing.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Trying to raise adults

I am nearly finished reading a book that has been on my radar for a while: How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims.

It has made me look at what we (D and I) are doing to raise our kids.
I saw "we," but the truth is that I am, in most ways, the captain of this child-rearing ship.
Partly, this responsibility lands on me because I am more of a control freak than D.
Also, he hates conflict more than anything, and conflict is part of raising children.
Conflict comes from saying to your children, "No, you cannot do whatever you want" or "No, I'm not giving you whatever you want."
Conflict may also come in the very real need for children to assert independence from their parents: "No, I do not believe whatever it is you believe."
Partly, the fact that I was a stay-at-home mom for many years means I had the bulk of child-rearing decisions and input. He deferred to me then and still does.
Also, I think he thinks I know stuff about kids because of teaching.

One of my great fears is that I will die before our kids are grown, and D will be left to parent alone. I worry that his desire to avoid conflict would mean he does more for our children than he should just to avoid listening to them whine, bitch, and moan.
I don't mind conflict, and I especially don't mind conflict when I am the mom and the risk of me not engaging in conflict is having children who grow up thinking they can walk over others, do whatever they want, not work hard, and so on.

When I was a kid, I always had a distinct feeling that my parents didn't like me very much.
I now realize that my parents loved me very much but did not indulge me. They didn't think I was all that and a bag of chips to the point where I knew they thought I was all that and a bag of chips.

I seem to have that same ability to know that my kids are pretty great but keep it under wraps fairly well. My kids probably sometimes think I think they are "meh."
I hate it when my kids are disappointed, but I do not ask for special favors or try to pull strings or anything like that.

Based on this book, I think we're mostly doing ok with our kids.
Not perfect, but we're trying to teach them responsibility and empathy.
We're not trying to make everything wonderful all the time, to remove any obstacles in their way.  We are trying to help them become resilient and be able to apply grit to their lives.

I have been wondering whether I'm completely screwing up M lately because of piano class.

He has been in this class for 4 years; G has been in it with us for 3 years.
It is an amazing program to help children learn to read music, play piano, play recorder and play a little guitar. (It has helped me learn all these things as well, so really it is a 3-for-2 deal.)

With that being said, we are all ready to be done with it. We need a break, but we are in our last 2 months of class. The boys have their recital at the end of February, and it is like a lifetime until the end of February because M hates.hates.hates practicing.
G, on the other hand, just sits down and practices without tears or fighting or fidgeting.
I have been making M do it, and he complains.
I finally reached my breaking point and said he didn't have to perform in the recital, but he did have to go and watch G perform in the recital.
He complained about that, too.
I finally just said to him, "If I tell you to practice, you throw a fit. If I tell you you don't have to practice and will play in the recital unprepared, you throw a fit. If I tell you you don't have to perform in the recital at all, you throw a fit. I can't win."
After this, he decided to practice on his own without too much trouble, so we'll see how the next few weeks go.

(G "gets" music better than M does. I just don't think M has any natural ability or interest the way N and G do. I'm not even going to bother M with taking an instrument in middle school. I really just don't care anymore and don't feel like fighting him over it. I'm not sure what M's niche is, but I don't think it is music.)

I have told M he never, ever, ever, ever has to take another music lesson for the rest of his life after the recital, and then he cried because I said that, and he says he wants to take guitar one day.

Wall. Meet My Head.

There is a part of me that wonders why I'm doing this to him and me, but I knew when we started in late August that we were on the final stretch, and I think there is something to making your kid stick out something relatively short-lived just to finish it up.
Of course, short-lived to 40-something me is very different than to an 8-year-old child.

But there is another part of me that thinks I'm a complete idiot for making him follow through because he is just really done.

So am I helping him develop grit and stick-to-it-ness?
Or am I being a ruthless, short-sighted Tiger Mom?
The fact that I gave him an out to not even be in the recital but he opted to practice on his own and had a better attitude about it makes me think maybe it's a power struggle and when I gave up power, he was ok again.
Of course, we haven't practiced today so he may lose his damn mind this evening.

I don't always always don't know what I'm doing to raise these kids, but I'm glad there are books like the one I'm reading that help me feel good about the things I'm doing well and give me ideas for how to handle the stuff I'm uncertain about.
This book, in particular, is a reminder that I could do everything "right" (whatever that is), and my kids are their own people who have designs for their lives that may not be anything like what I envision. There is a whole lot I cannot control.
All I can know is that I tried my best and turned to experts to guide me. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas letter to let everyone know how we are, 2017

Dear family and friends,

Here it is--the 23rd of December, and I am really hoping that I won't have to run to Kroger again until the 26th. Somehow, even though I have fixed a savory egg dish for Christmas morning for nearly 14 years, I somehow managed to forget that I needed ingredients for it. I did manage to order the donuts only two days ago.

I'm not sure my three part-time jobs are supposed to equal a full-time. I mean, in terms of salary, they absolutely do not. When I think about what I end up making per year, it really sometimes doesn't feel like it's worth it. All in the name of "flexibility," I guess.

I'm busy enough to forget all sorts of crap, though.

Of course, I'm gonna blame that stomach bug on December 12th that, technically only lasted three hours, but undid my colon for an additional three days. I had planned to do a whole bunch of stuff that Thursday and Friday of that week but didn't have the energy for it.

I took a graduate class this past fall that added just enough busyness to my life to make me develop a sinus infection and be even bitchier than I normally am. D got really good at fixing frozen pizzas on Thursday nights when I had class.

D and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in November. We had visited Quebec in May, which we worried would doom us to a divorce before actually hitting our official anniversary date. It was a close call when I mixed cauliflower in with my mashed potatoes a couple days before. You never know what tests a marriage, but according to D, that was it.

D is still driving his 17-year-old Nissan, which has 75,000 miles on it and will dry-rot before it actually hits 100,000 miles. Then there is my car, which we affectionately call, "The Money Pit." She's at 164,000 miles. This year alone the air conditioning and heater died. And did you know cars have more than one catalytic converter?  We learned that the hard way.

D has been at his job for 17 years and vacillates between feeling overwhelmed with work/stress and feeling bored and like he doesn't earn his paycheck. That pretty much sums up how I feel as a mom, except I deserve such a big honking paycheck for what I do, they can't afford me.

We're waiting on both the furnace to blow up and the water heater to die. I'd like to buy some indoor shutters since some of our roman shades no longer raise/lower, but I can't justify the expense right now.

The kids are fine.

N has applied to a high school that will mean more schlepping her around for another few years rather than being able to stick her on a bus. She is playing lacrosse--we're not sure why, but we're glad she's getting exercise. If she would ever practice anything with any regularity, she could probably be really exceptional. But she doesn't, so she isn't.

The boys will have their piano recital in February. M practices piano at least an hour every time he practices, which sounds great except that 50 minutes of it is whining about playing the piano or just sitting at the piano not playing. I am never, ever, ever making that child play another instrument for the rest of his life, which I thought he'd like to hear, except when I say it he cries because he wants to play guitar.

G says the word "dick" too much, and he isn't talking about people named Richard either. He is at that stage where he really needs to start wearing deodorant but mostly doesn't remember. I've taught him to wash his pits in a pinch, which is good advice since I'm doing pretty well to remember to make them shower once a week.

Our cats--Slippers and Skits--are fine. Skits remains skittish. She is the good girl who leaves the Christmas tree alone. Slippers is f*cking psychotic and climbs both trees, squooshing all the limbs down with her fat cat ass.  If her colon doesn't get cinched in ornament ribbon, I'll be shocked. She has nibbled so many ornaments off the trees, it's ridiculous.

I'm finding more and more gray hairs on my head, and my mid-section is starting to develop that menopausal pooch.

I'm sure Christmas and New Years will not live up to the hype that society gives them. The 4th of July continues to be my favorite holiday. Wishing your family.....heck, I don't know what I wish your family. That you get through whatever it is you gotta get through without losing your mind or being insufferable.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Uppity school

If there is one thing I despise, it is uppity-assedness.
Those people who and institutions that act like they are above everyone and everything else.

I am not above it myself.
I have my moments when I feel all judgy, like my master's degree should endow me with a crown and scepter.
But I also know where I come from, and there is a whole lot of working class that has contributed to who I am and where I am.
I know full well that in a zombie apocalypse, the people like me with our liberal arts degrees are straight up useless-as-hell.
I can't make anything.
I can't fix anything.
I can't kill anything.
I can't do anything of any measurable value with my skillset.
I could write a poem about how useless I am in the midst of the apocalypse.

I have never needed a poem or an essay or a song, but I sure as heck have needed a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, and a mechanic.

Some people have jobs that help us meet our needs, and some people have jobs that help us meet our wants, and I fall in that second category of skill.
There is incredible value in BOTH of those, but if you fail to recognize this, I tend to think you might be afflicted with uppity-assedness.
And depending on the world around you, one type of skill may be more necessary than another.
In a zombie apocalypse world, poetry and music might be, at least temporarily, pretty unnecessary.

I don't need another reason to get my panties in a twist about high school choices, but here I am...panties twisted.

Since my Girl Scout girls are approaching high school, I asked them if they'd like to use our meetings to start exploring career paths. We've visited a vet before, so I thought I'd ask what others careers they might be interested in learning about. They said psychology, cosmetology, and culinary. I thought I might also throw in dental hygiene and assisting, too.

I set up for them to visit a local hair school today, and I think they learned a lot, even if they decide not to pursue it as a career (I know I did). Plus, they got their hair fixed and a goodie bag.

The lady who acts as admissions director asked the girls about what schools they now attend and where they hope to go for high school. When the girls mentioned their high school choice, she informed us that the high school that N is applying to won't allow this vocational school to come to career day. Apparently, the principal of this high school prefers that 4-year college careers only be represented.

To which I'd like to ask the principal: Who in the hay-hay do you think you are? And do you think that you might possibly have some students in your school who might WANT careers in cosmetology and what in the hell is wrong with that? What reason do you have to exclude a vocational school that would like to provide information to students?

Of course, I have not heard the principal's side of this (but you better believe if I ever get the opportunity, I'll ask about it).
If there is evidence that this hair school is mismanaged or stiffs students, then that is a different matter.

All the lawyers and doctors and engineers and other 4-year-degree operatives in the world have to have someone to cut and style their hair.
The impression that only certain jobs are worthy enough for a high school job fair is ridiculous.