Friday, March 31, 2006

This Is Why I Avoid the Parenting Books

It's the same old story. Your seven-month old baby won't roll over, and someone kindly points out that rolling over is a six-month milestone. You panic. You kill yourself teaching her. She learns at seven-months and one week old, and your blissful easy life at the changing table is suddenly over. And to think that you wasted all that energy googling "infant signs of autism" for two hours.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dodging Blogging-Comment Bullets

I read three blogs everyday and I warn you that the world of weblogs is getting violent. A few of the more interesting posts have caused such furious hate mail to the author that they had to turn off comments. While I don't believe the bloggers should have their lives threatened, I don't think you should do this so that people say you're wonderful and amazing. And that leads me to think really about why I blog. And why I hope you come back. And why I hope you comment.

One of my best friends doesn't enjoy my site at all. She said, "I don't get it. It's like a diary or a journal, but you want me to read it? A journal is private. Why do you write this?"

I understand her view of this. And her not appreciating my desire to share some of my thoughts with you is no different than how she feels about my big blabbing mouth on a daily basis. "Wah, wah, wah," I can see her eyes glaze over sometimes as I tell a story. I know this is what she hears. "Wah, wah, wah, ME, wah wah wha-wha, ME."

I get a letter every Christmas from my dearest, oldest friend, and it is a cherished and anticipated annual newsletter. Her writing informs us of what has happened during the year, how her kids have grown, where she is living. Yes, yes, as I talk to her everyday I already know these events, but I love seeing it on green paper, Times Roman font, poinsettias in the margin. This is the WASP-iest, most eggnog-like thing I receive every December, and it is incredibly fun to read. For a moment, through her eyes, I use "summer" as a verb, and step into her life with a Cigar-King father who actually drove her around visiting colleges when she was 17. My blog is in the less-subtle, daily Jewish version. (And it works best for me because I have not figured out how to send an email to more than one group at a time! ) I love getting comments because that makes the page live (short i pronunciation). You do not have to agree with me or compliment me; I prefer that in-person, regarding my shoes.

I notice that of the blogs I frequent, most do not appreciate it when the reader leaves a comment that is not referencing how wonderful the author is. Then, he/she will write a post on the topic of how much the ugly comments have hurt her, and that if you have a differing opinion you just don't have to read my blog. Then, the loyalist-readers will comment to ignore all those a-holes, they don't matter, you ROCK. And lastly, the author writes yet another post telling her legion of loyalists to please stop slamming the mean commenters, there's room on the web for everybody. (But thank you, faithful and loving readers for all the kind make me want to carry on.) For a final step, the blog author will implore all the fighting to stop, and links you to a site that either a) praises his/her writing or b) insults the offenders more, all the while innocently protesting she wants all this to stop, stop, stop.

Blecchhhh. That gets as boring as if I started droning on and on about how Jake got into the Gifted Program (so didn't), and that Olivia just rolls and rolls and is starting to crawl (not). Much, much better is to just be honest with you all and tell how actually, thank-God-the-baby-spoons-I-buy-have-a-color-sensor-to-detect-

So, my dear friend Donna, though you would much prefer something else, this blog is a little gift to you and everyone else I hold dear. It is the direct result of waking up at 3:00 a.m., wanting to tell you about something cooking in my brain and it's go post this or actually call you. So feel free to comment, to disagree, to understand or not why I do this wierd's okay. The reason I do this is to hopefully make you smile and feel that same wonderful feeling I get every time I get an email from all of you. And I do it because I am waaaayyyy too lazy to make those awesome baby books people have, and I figure I can just print these off and one day hand them to my kids.

(Note: Clearly however, the reason Walter blogs is that he wants you to see how clever his writing is, and that he so could have done this for a living if he hadn't so altruistically decided to save the world, one elementary student at a time!)


I love kids of all ages, including my friend Bo who is 6’3” and weighs 240. However, the curriculum and instruction of kindergarteners just isn’t my calling. I do have a college diploma that says I am an expert in early childhood learning, but I keep thinking about that time I taught my four year old nephew how to use the microwave. I kept waiting to hear that my brother’s cat had been nuked to death, but I guess I got lucky and my nephew forgot how to use the microwave.

I substituted in many a kindergarten classroom, and here is a typical incident that made me want to teach them, though. The teacher had left me instructions to show the children a video. I turned it on and got down on the floor with them.

After a few minutes I noticed one of the girls was watching me. I nodded to the screen and made head and face motions for her to watch the video, but no, every time I looked over at her, she was watching me.

Then I noticed that she started to move ever so slightly closer to me. Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly she advanced. It took ten minutes for her to move half the distance to me. I looked over at her and smiled and she picked up the speed. In only a couple of minutes she was right next to me. Then, slowly, ever so slowly, she took one hand and barely touched me. Then she slowly rested her hand on my knee. Then slowly, very slowly, she wound up with her head on my lap and promptly fell asleep.

Kindergarteners always hugged me goodbye at the end of the day. Kindergarteners.

As Tempting As It Is To Say Yes...

Jake, despite other indications (see every a.m., when he rolls his eyes that clearly I do not know WTF I am talking about), is still young enough to be impressed about my abilities, and to think of my past as a wealth of untapped experiences and possibilities. We were watching a family that races dogsleds. "Wow," he said, "that looks so fun!" After I agreed, he asked, "Have you ever done that, Mom?"

No, Jake, I have never run the Iditerod. But thanks for the optimism.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ick, the Down Side of Enjoying a Good Blog

Walter's post from yesterday really stubbed my emotional toe. That, coupled with a nightmare I had Monday night of leaving Olivia in a hot car, has left me wandering around disjointed, constantly feeling I have forgotten something or shouldn't be happy when a minute of joy creeps into my day. Anything I have to write feels banal, pointless. And once you go down that slippery slope, you might as well just rent "Life is Beautiful", pull covers over your head, and call it a month. Then, Tuesday evening, I retrieved this from the mailbox.

Do NOT read this article if you want to ever drive/vacation/use airconditioning/buy your kid a toy with two-and-a-half hours' worth of twist-tie removal/consume anything ever again. I'm sure the doom is accurate, and I know that everytime I do anything I am ruining the earth and single-handedly melting the key (think Domino Number One) polar ice cap.

My birthday is coming. And I am one who loves presents. But creeping into my mind is the fact that the Louis Vuitton plant probably spews pollution into the air on a per-bag basis; that DeBeers is not good for the people who fatefully live near their mines; that the purchase of anything for myself has an opportunity cost of not even giving to charity .001 percent of what Bill and Melinda Gates manage every year. And thanks to Walter's words of experience, that while I tug on a beautiful ribbon giving way to an object of desire, someone out there is eating some hard, dried macaroni.

The main thing is that I had to wait for him to post again; I didn't have the nerve to follow those kids' plights with some insipid story about me or insensitive pictures of someone blissfully enjoying their oatmeal, like this:


Several years ago my wife thought I was losing my hearing so she sent me to a hearing specialist who ran some tests to see if I was going deaf. The hearing specialist was a young woman who informed me that, sure enough, I had lost some upper range hearing in both ears but not enough to cause the inexplicable decrease in my ability to hear my wife. Boy, did the results of that test cause some trouble around our house. But I digress.

The hearing specialist asked if I had ever been exposed to any excessively loud, brutal noises. I sat up straight and tall and proudly announced that I had attended a Steppenwolf concert and heard them sing “Born to Be Wild,” but I boasted the most about the fact that I was at a Jefferson Airplane concert and actually booed them, and loudly, because Marty Balin and Grace Slick were acting like they were just coming out of surgery and the medications and anesthetics hadn’t worn off yet. I hadn’t paid good money to watch those two hippies stumble all over the stage. Ahhh, the stories I could have told that young hearing specialist. I was sure that my wild rock-n-roll concert days had led me in an inexorable decline to a world of silence. I could see myself as an older gentleman. People would write on a yellow legal pad, “What happened to your hearing, Mr. Geezer? Old age settin’ in?” I would then explain, using my best air guitar techniques, that my hearing loss was not caused age, but by loud, barbaric rock-n-roll. And lots of it! Decade after decade! Stereos! Headphones! Amplifiers! Pre-amps! For heaven’s sake, the Beatles! I lost my hearing listening to Abbey Road turned up too loud!! However, the rock concerts didn’t seem to impress the hearing specialist as much as my career.

“What do you do for a living, Mr. R?”
“I’m an elementary school teacher.”
Her eyes perked up and she eagerly inquired, “Do you ever go into the school cafeteria when the children are eating their lunches?”
“Well……….yeah. Yeah. Of course I do.”
She cocked her left eyebrow. “How often do you……………. do you………..…... go in there?”
I didn’t get the gist of it yet, so I innocently replied, “I’m in there every school day, five days a week. Why?”
Then, excitedly, she nodded and knowingly asked, “How many years have you been exposed to a school cafeter—or rather, how long have you been a school teacher?”
I became suspicious. “About twelve years, I reckon. Why are you asking me these questions?”
She made some check marks on a piece of paper on her clipboard, looked up at me sympathetically, and replied, “Mr. R., the decibel level in an elementary school cafeteria is much louder than any rock concert. I suspect your ears have been damaged by the noise level in your school cafeteria.”
I was stunned. “You mean to tell me the little hornets are louder than AC/DC? No way!”
She flattened her lips, nodded her head in little, short, quick jerks and mouthed, “Way.”
I was incredulous and argued, “You gotta be kidding me! I was in the fifth row when John McKay, Steppenwolf’s lead singer, sang, “#%!!@/* the Pusher Man!”
She seemed to feel sorry for me, and her face was filled with pity! Well I didn’t want her damn pity! I wanted her to tell me that Metallica played on my Pioneer amp blasted away my eardrums, but noooo, she wouldn’t let me have that.
“Mr. R., I can tell you don’t believe me, but I have charts, tables, and graphs giving very soundly researched decibel levels of various environmental noise levels. School cafeterias are noise nightmares. I get elementary school teachers in here all the time with hearing problems. And I am afraid it is not going to get better unless you can avoid the school cafeteria.”
I was shocked! “I have duty…………. teachers have to …………… the kids in……….…...there…… the………. the cafeteria, I mean.”
“Well, Mr. R., I am afraid that as the years go by you will probably notice other problems that I already detect in my tests. Mainly, background noises are going to make it more difficult for you to hear conversations.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you are in a school cafeteria where there is an enormous amount of background noise. Kids scream much louder than any rock-n-roll singers with their little drum sets, those cute speaker towers, and their dinky microphones. Plus, kids in a school cafeteria are able to create sustained, horrendous sounds that are all gibberish, with unparalleled amounts of background fuzz and incoherent, savage noise. When you talk to someone next to you in the school cafeteria, you probably have difficulty already deciphering any conversations. Have you noticed that lately?”

I remembered a conversation I had with Melissa the day before:
Melissa asked, “Mr. R., do you think there were ever unicorns?”
I replied, “You don’t have an ear of corn. You have peas.”
She seemed exasperated, and cupping her hands, she yelled, “I said, ‘Do you think there were ever any unicorns?’ ”
I yelled right back, “What? That sounds crazy! What do you mean by asking me if I remember EverReady cars? They make batteries, not cars!”
Melissa rolled her eyes, looked at Alex who shrugged, and screamed, “NEVER MIND!”

I was told that as a school teacher, I had increased odds of developing bladder problems when I got older. Teachers don’t drink enough water during the day, and they hold in their pee pee too long. I mean, you can’t be leavin’ the little nippers alone in the room all the time. Well I do! I go right ahead and drink my water. Then, when nature calls, and it calls more frequently since my prostate surgery, I pretend to casually stroll out into the hallway to check things out, act like I’m makin’ sure everybody is behaving, that no one is running in the hall, and then I make a mad dash to the bathroom where I pee pee as quickly as possible, and trust me, that’s not quick enough since I had my prostate surgery. But I digress.

Let’s just say that I tried to prevent any physical repercussions as a result of my teaching career. However, I have accepted the fact that my hearing difficulties are not caused by memorable rock concerts but instead are a direct result of children eating. I have decided that this hearing loss will be my Red Badge of Courage, one of the sacrifices that I make in order to teach little children. I have learned to hold my head up high and take pride in my hearing loss.

Think about that the next time you turn up your stereo in your car really loud, and that means you, teenage boy sitting at the red light with the booming bass blasting out rap crap so loud your license plate is coming loose. Just remember you’re an amateur and a minor leaguer in the Big Decibel Contest. I’ll put my elementary school kids up against your puny car stereo any day of the week.

Monday, March 27, 2006


The first seven years I taught was at an elementary school that had all the legendary problems Americans hear about in the news media. Students graduating from the fifth grade were going on to middle school unable to read. The odds of their graduating from high school were less than one out of three. Drug gangs ran the neighborhood, and elementary school children were able to join those gangs. Poverty is what they knew. Crime is what they learned.

I remember Nicole. She came to school one day and I could tell something was the matter. I asked her what she had for breakfast, and she said, “I had macaroni.”
“Did you cook it or did your grandmother?”
“It wasn’t cooked, Mr. R.”
“Was it raw? Did you eat raw macaroni for breakfast?”
“Yes,” she replied, with her head hanging down.
It was Bus Week. Bus Week meant the casinos sent a fancy bus into the neighborhood to give everyone a free ride to the casinos. Not a school bus like the kids rode in, but a “Step up into the High Life” bus with TV screens and plush recliner seats. The casinos knew when to send the bus. It was the day the government subsidy checks arrived in the mail. Nicole’s grandmother had gambled away their bread money. I hate Bus Week!

Brandon couldn’t read. He had a sight vocabulary of about fifty words, but that didn’t serve him well when attempting to read a fifth grade textbook. Brandon didn’t qualify for Special Education services because he was achieving at his potential. His IQ was extremely low, in the low seventies as I recall. It might have had something to do with the fact that his mother and father did drugs, and his mother probably used drugs during his pregnancy. I asked Brandon if he had ever seen an adult use drugs. He casually replied, “My uncle and my dad did heroin on the sofa last weekend.” I remember what he said because it conjured up an image in my mind of the two men on the sofa. I still can see them, but fortunately, only in my mind. Brandon had a front row seat.

Carlos’ teacher before me warned me that Carlos once replied to his comment that if he didn’t change his attitude about authority he would never have a job and make money. Carlos replied, “I won’t have to. I’m gonna sue everybody like my dad does and live on welfare.” Sure enough, his dad tried to sue me but only succeeded in chasing me out of that school.

Jacqulyn wrote an interesting story during writing class about her parents’ party. I was unable to let her read her story to the class because she included explicit details of adults shouting and fighting, and in the morning she went in to get breakfast and found a man and a woman lying naked on the kitchen floor. She poured herself a bowl of cereal and ate it with them lying there, conked out.

Jose was the first student at our school to do well on the required SAT exam for elementary school students. I had an announcement made over the school P.A. system informing everyone of his outstanding performance (97th percentile overall). I saw Jose three years ago enrolling in high school summer school. He spoke of dropping out.

Martin did drop out. I saw him at an oil change shop as I was pouring my oil for recycling in their barrel.
From behind me I heard, “Is that you, Mr. R.?”
I turn around and there’s Martin. “Martin! It’s great to see you. How are you doing?”
“Good. I got a job here, Mr. R.”
“Did you graduate from high school?”
“Nah. I dropped out after a couple of years.”
“What did your parents say to that?”
“My dad didn’t graduate, so they weren’t too upset.”

Monique was a memorable girl. She had a wonderful personality and was very pretty. She padded her training bra on the way to school, and sometimes her “breasts” were shaped like hastily folded Kleenex. I heard that she has had two illegitimate children and is living with her grandmother.

I didn’t teach Manny very much reading, but I do think I got through to him on the importance of not drinking water from puddles on the ground. Manny.

I took Alan to the principal’s office one day during recess for running away from a teacher after hitting another student. On the way there, he was fuming mad and angrily yelled, “One day I’m gonna kill you, Mr. R.”
I asked him, “Alan, do you believe in the hereafter?”
Alan never blinked an eye but said, “Yeah! And I am on the side of the devil.”
I didn’t blink an eye either. I answered, “I am on God’s side, Alan. That means if you kill me here on this earth, you will have to kill me again in the hereafter because I will NEVER give up or give in. I will battle you forever, Alan, until you are willing to learn to respect yourself and others.”
That shut him up, but Alan graduated from elementary school with a horrible chip on his shoulder and a nasty disposition. Of course, it may have been the fact that his mother and father didn’t want Alan, and neither did his grandmother. Most grandmothers in that neighborhood did, but not Alan’s.

Calluses grow on the hands of time.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

And a Great Stereo, Too

Garrett is driving. Much to the chagrin of my Uncle Jack and Aunt Alice, he is actually old enough to possess that plastic card of identity that to him means total, absolute, FREEDOM. To most of us now, that card denotes nothing but "Please-God-don't-let-me-

I remember my first car. It was a hideous, pea-green, Chevrolet Caprice. Actually, they had the audacity to use the word Classic at the end. I am just young enough to not have grown up in a time where you say, "hey, I was just happy to have a car." With my high school group, in the early 80's, what you drove really, really mattered. The Have's drove at best, BMW's and at least, Buick Regals (preferably with faux leather tops); the Have Not's a Caprice or a Gremlin. But, I do remember enjoying the freedom. Driving around (or in most kids' cases, away) anywhere meant possibility, a future in a different spot than you were in now.

I wonder if Garrett feels that way now. Or do kids have so much less from which to run away? I know Garrett's driving experience has one difference that would not have been lost on me. As he dashes off from one event to another, he does not have to endure the snickers that a pea-green car causes...he pulls away in an Audi A8. Way to go, Garrett. (Just be careful with all that horsepower.)

The car isn't freedom when you're my age: it is trips to the grocery store, racing to various sports practices, panicky flights to the pediatrician. It is the feeling that I am pouring gold into the tank during a fill-up, and a constant gnawing sense that I am late somewhere. I want to get in to the car, sixteen years young, and be excited that I am heading off on my own. And in a car that most adults would relish owning.

Enjoy that untethered feeling, Garrett. I'll think of you today, during a trip to the market. I will go by myself, thanks to Eric, and I will roll down the windows and open the sunroof. Maybe I will find some Foreigner on the XM Satellite 80's station. And I will deeply breathe in that feeling of space, of time being my own, and of possibilities.

Friday, March 24, 2006

And Now It's Just Another Sunday

Boca Raton has spoiled Easter for me. I know, I know that I am Jewish, and you are wondering WTF I am talking about; however, I (and Uncle Jack I know for a fact) love the day. Because there is absolutely nothing as thrilling as going shopping the day after with Jake and buying Easter Candy at 50 to 70 percent off.

It's a ritual, and as mandatory as visiting the Container Store the 26th of December to get their ridiculously-priced Christmas wrappings at the less-ridiculously half-price. Jake and I started this tradition together in Miami when he was about three, and it's always been fun for him to pick out all the candy his little hands could carry. (He, not being a sweet-a-holic, never eats much of it; the joy is in the procurement.) So, you can imagine the process: after Easter, Jake and I eagerly hit the Walgreens near our house. The Seasonal aisle is empty; Miami is so strongly Catholic. We leisurely pick the treasured Reese's; malt Robin's Eggs; chocolate bunnies with bonnets; Russel Stover's marshmallow eggs. Deliciously fun, and some pieces are discounted so much you feel you are stealing.

But after last year's move to Boca Raton, it isn't the same. Apparently Jake's and my Jesus-has-risen sojourn is no secret only to us and my uncle in Boston. Here, it appears to be the favorite sometime-in-April Monday excursion for every little old Jewish lady. We were so very disappointed. Last year's trip found us three people deep in the candy aisle. There were no name brand chocolates left. There were no Reese's to be had for those who had not risen with the sun. We left, dejected, clutching only some magenta Peep's.

I gave up the tradition. And this year, I decided to go full price and make Jake a "First Day of Spring" Bowl of Goodies (some eaten, it was not this flimsy upon presentation).

(And yes, that is a statue of the Maccabee's next to the Spring Bowl, I just noticed.)

Full-price dollars for chocolate do not go very far.

And Jake was unimpressed. He said it was too Easter Basket-y, it made him feel funny, like the next step was this. Clearly, unless a move to anywhere along the Bible Belt is to be had, Olivia will never know what she missed.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Crazes Updated: Hot Cheetos and Belching

These may be only New Mexico phenomena, cultural crazes that have captivated children in only this region of the country and thus, you may have been spared hearing about them.

For a little over a year, right here in my home town, playground activities of elementary school children have been profoundly altered. Gone are the boys chasing the girls and vice versa. No longer do most children throw balls, swing on swings as high as they can, or even run. The latest craze is to get a bag of Hot Cheetos, open it as you walk out the hall door and step onto the playground, and walk around surrounded by hungry friends who will follow you across the River Styx to get a handful of one of the most diabolical junk foods ever manufactured by man.

Children are very generous. I steal a glance of their candy bar, and they’ll rip off a big chunk with their little boogery, filthy, grimy hands and hold it up and say, “Do you want some?” Then I’ll say, “Sure!!” (This is part of my overall health strategy: to expose myself to a wide variety of germs, thus diminishing my chances of being killed off by them like the Aztecs were when the Spaniards invaded Mexico.) However, expect no such generosity with Hot Cheetos. I’ve tried staring intently at the bag. No luck. I’ve tried the not interested look, like if they were to offer me some, I’d immediately say, “No thanks. I’m dieting.” Hot Cheetos are a valuable currency with children in my hometown, and I don’t think I could get my hands on a single donated strand if I were to use force and intimidation.

In fact, writing this little piece has given me a brilliant idea. I wonder what influence Hot Cheetos could have as incentives? I’ll go buy a few bags this weekend, take them to class, and if all goes as I plan, they’ll be eating out o’ my hands, so to speak, before the first recess. That’s if I can get them to school without eating them up.

The other craze that is very big with the boys is not for the squeamish or the overly mature. This means you, Mr. and Mrs. Grown Up Adult Boring Person. The latest craze is belching while speaking the phrase, “I believe I can fly.” (It is too late to stop reading; I should have warned you sooner.)

I find this latest craze to be fascinating and only wish I had kept up my high school belching skills. I could really have impressed the fourth grade boys in my class because in high school, I studied under Bobby Williams. He was my teacher, my sensei, my sifu, my mentor. It was during my senior year in high school. I had done so well in school that I qualified for an advanced class, Physics. However, that’s where everything fell apart. You see, I have serious issues with my father. I still do, in fact, and by now I am older and should be more mature than he was when he was really pissing me off. You think by now I would have gotten used to the idea that he is my father. It apparently is going to take a lot more counseling or denial or both. Anyway, I digress.

In high school, Bobby Williams was the King of Belching. No one could hold a candle to Bobby’s juicy wet, ear drum ringing, full toned belches. For one thing, he could perform them at will. And they were performances. Bobby would begin by bobbing his head several times in a most peculiar and characteristic fashion. Then Bobby would deliver a most melodramatic pause as he physically readied himself. Then, to everyone’s amazement and disgust, he would present the most astounding belch the human ear has ever heard.

I had the good fortune of becoming his apprentice, his student, if you will. It happened during that Physics class. Now remember, I had the issues with my father, right? Well, my father happened to have a college degree in…………… now try and predict ……………………….…That’s right, ………. it was ……….…. Physics! And he lorded it over me too. “”I have a degree in Physics” he would say, with his little bottom lip sticking out like Barney Fife when Barney would brag to his cousin Andy about his date with Thelma Lou, but my father was not nearly as endearing. Now somewhere in my little high school brain, I unconsciously decided to not learn Physics. Instead, Bobby Williams and I secluded ourselves off from the others by going to the very back physics lab table, and Bobby began tutoring me. I will now, at this time, reveal some secrets of his mystifying talent. It seems the head bobbing was his efforts to open the glottal in the throat, thus allowing air to be sucked into the stomach rather than the lungs. I will compare this discovery of Bobby’s to the invention of alcohol. Distillation does require more science, namely chemistry, than opening the glottal stop, but nevertheless, achieves the same purpose, and that is to override Mother Nature’s defenses. Slowly, over the period of a year, I learned how to deliver a magnificent belch. I hate to brag, but Bobby referred to one of my belches as “………….really a great one. It had great tone, low yet loud, and it was long and extended, yet increased in dynamics instead of jus’ trailin’ off. That was a beauty!” But I digress.

I’m in the classroom eating lunch with four boys, all fourth grade students of mine. Alex, an otherwise quiet, studious, and mature young boy who likes to read and believes that Pierce Brosnan was the best James Bond, though only slightly better than Sean Connery, is sitting next to me and doggedly trying to belch while saying, “I believe I can fly.” He gets to, “I believe I can….” several times but is unable to deliver the final blow. Suddenly, Connor, the Class President (so appropriate, I think) and also a very fine young boy, pulls off the impossible on his first try. Everyone at the boys’ table literally stands up and gives him a standing ovation.

I have two fears. The first is that since I not only tolerated but actually encouraged the whole belching incident, parents will want me fired. I haven’t heard from any attorneys, at least not yet. And my other fear? I have aged; I have become old. My glottal will not stay open long enough to swallow air. My tummy muscles have degenerated into soft, flabby tissue, unable to deliver the force and control necessary to impress the hell out of the boys in the class. Oh well. Some day they’ll run into a Bobby Williams. Someone who can belch and say, “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky.”

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Oh, It Wasn't THAT Long Ago, Jake

Jake has moved on to a whole new level. Not with his tennis game, that Eric reports is awesome and merits private lessons. And not with Star Wars Battlefront II, which leaves me with daily headaches hearing the reports of his successes on Dantooie (sic). Jake has moved on to...Abercrombie.

Unless you have completely avoided the mall in the last two years or so, you know the store. Music blaring, scantily clad models' (of both genders) enormous photographs gracing the windows. And Old Navy quality polo shirts for $30.00. And two security guards at the door preventing "grab 'n runs", I assume.

Don't think I don't understand. I sooooo do. Having been known for a few years as one of the worst dressers in the class (the popular girls took up a collection to "graciously" buy me a ten-cent spirit ribbon), I am all for Jake having a few articles of clothing that keep you mainstream. It is just that it came quicker than I had anticipated, and it caught me by surprise that any clothes I was picking out weren't cool.

We were in the middle of one of those rare moments of you get with a boy. He was divulging his strategy for joining the current popular group of the fourth grade. I don't get those moments often, and this one presented itself at 6:00 in the evening, with Olivia a bit tired and dinner needing my attention. He admitted that he wore a certain jacket (Hurley, mind you) every single day because his shirts underneath the jacket were uncool. Uncool????? I could have beaten someone with the spatula I was gripping. "Who said that?" I demanded. He wouldn't tell me that, he felt it was unimportant. "Okay," I calmed down. "What is everyone wearing?" And he told me Abercrombie. "Well, we'll get you some," I promised him. He was greatly relieved, and absolutely floored when he saw that I meant NOW, THIS MINUTE. Are you kidding me? When your kid who rarely asks for much, tells you about something he needs to feel more confident, I am willing to get rabid. Like those moms a few years back in search of Cabbage Patch Dolls.

Eric rushed home (apparently also understanding the urgency) to watch Olivia, and we headed out to Boca's mall. And a mere hour and a half later we were toting Abercrombie bags containing a couple of polos, a tee shirt, and a new cap. He promised that just a few pieces were enough; he didn't want to all of the sudden look like he had rushed out and bought Abercrombie. Bonus was the hamburger at the food court, and I knew I had done the right thing as a parent. Because in the car, as we pulled up to the house, he said, "Thanks Mom, for really knowing what I meant."

Do you think this will work on Eric if I tell him all the really cool moms have new Louis Vuittons?

Friday, March 17, 2006

My First, True, Elementary Classroom Anecdote

The first year I taught elementary school, I looked forward to one of those cute moments you hear about that happens in elementary classroom when kids say the darndest things. I have since discovered that many of them that people hear or read about are made up stories, or are jokes turned into alleged elementary classroom reality. My first real one happened the first week of school.

My second grade class was having a “sharing time.” I think that’s an absurd expression I don’t use in front of the kids because I don’t want to denigrate that most wonderful word, sharing. Sharing is giving someone what is yours because hogging it for yourself is just so…………………………………..…selfish. But that’s the expression teachers use nowadays. “Do you have anything you want to ‘share’ with us, Robert?” What this means is that Robert is going to talk about himself until his classmates' faces glaze over and you beg Robert to stop because you can no longer understand what in tarnation he's talking about, and Robert can't tell you either, and everyone listening is long past even caring. How can that be “sharing?” I want him to share his homemade cookies with me. But I digress.
We were in the middle of a “sharing time” in class, and I had chosen one of those special topics that can lead to a real bonding moment when we learn about each other and get used to talking to our new classmates. One of my students, Gabrielle, was called on to tell about her summer vacation.
Gabrielle went to the front of the classroom and cheerfully told everyone, “My sister got married. We had a wonderful time. We rented a hall, and there was dancing, and it was a lot of fun. I got to stay up late and party.”
Jordan, one of the other girls in the class, raised her hand. Gabrielle kept talking. “There was a band and so everybody danced and there was cake and punch.”
Jordan’s hand stayed up, and by now there is obviously a confused look on her face. I was curious, so I said, “Yes, Jordan? Do you have a question for Gabrielle?”
“Yeah, I do. Why was everybody dancing?”
Gabrielle said, “Because there was a band.”
“Oh. Ok. Well, what was the cake for?”
“So everybody could have some cake.”
“Was it like a party?”
By this time I am becoming very curious as to what Jordan is wondering about, so I interrupt their question and answer session. “Jordan, why are you asking these questions?”
“Well, it just seems weird that everybody was dancing.”
“Why would that seem so strange, Jordan?”
“I don’t know. It just seems weird. And the cake. Why was there a cake?”
Well, Jordan, there is usually a cake at a wedding.”
“A wedding?”
“Yes. Gabrielle told us her sister got married.”
Then a look of understanding flooded Jordan’s face. “Oh. Her sister got married.
I thought she said her sister got buried.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Upload Envy

One of my regular email relationships is with someone who provides an interested group of us with various music tracks that he (I assume) hand-selects for our listening pleasure. I am so jealous of this. Oh, I know how to upload an MP3 file; it isn't that. I am envious of his confidence that the music he's sharing with us will be wanted and appreciated. Even when he sends an obscure track--my God, I swear that was nothing but jungle sounds, ewww--he sends it with an unflappable self assurance that we will all appreciate it, load it onto our ipod, and perhaps even share it with others. He's right; a few tracks aside (deleted with guilt), I love what he has sent. Heck, I look for his emails to have that wonderful paper clip next to them.

I want to share some of my music with this group. I want them to know that I appreciate the classical tracks, the old Led Zeppelin, the Chipmunks urging Christmas to hurry. But I also have some new music that I want them to hear: there's some pop that isn't a sin to listen to, some hip hop that isn't unbearable or about killing policemen. However, I secretly believe that they will find my music preferences inferior. So if I forward them a great duet with Zucchero and Sting, and if they like it (if if if if if), then I'll have to admit it's from a Starbucks cd, and they'll be on to just exactly how pedestrian (musically) I am.

This all insinuates that they have never listened to current hits, or that they are less varied in their musical tastes than I; not true. So why don't I just take a deep breath, pick a song, and upload. So, I'm tucking in, my music-download cohorts, you'll be getting a paper-clipped email from me. (After I agonize for hours over what the performance should be, the first one saying so much about you.)

Man, I wish I had his upload.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Awww, Just Dust it Off

I got a mothering jolt yesterday. I was talking to my friend who has a baby just five weeks older than Olivia, so obviously we enjoy trading war stories. She confided that she was really glad that her son would soon be coming on a year of age, and she could finally stop sterilizing things.

Sterilizing? Okay, listen, this is one of those friends that you have to choose whether her advice can apply to you. Not that she isn't truly smart (really is) or genuinely kind (shirt off the back), it is just that she's one of those people married to an incredibly perfect husband, and she herself looks like Elle McPherson. Well, if Elle McPherson were even more attractive. So you don't always feel that she can understand your simple, mortal, non-perfectly-accessorized issues. But on children, take her words to the bank; she was the best pre-K teacher I ever met. And I do remember reading about sterlizing anything that the baby put in their mouth.

Looking back, I remember that I sterilized everything right before Olivia came. And then I got, well, sleepy. I relied on the dishwasher, and providence. And here my more maternally-qualified friend is boiling nipples still. I'm not lazy about the germ thing; I wash my hands diligently. When her pacifier drops on the ground, I still rewash it. But by about 9:15 every morning she has already had her two second french kiss from the dog. (Simon has figured out that after her a.m. oatmeal there are always remnants to be had.)

And it got me thinking about second child syndrome. Do I do everything differently (i.e. less protectively) than I did with Jake? I do remember that with Jake I read about what stage he should be in. I don't even remember now (or care obsessively) when Olivia "should" walk. I only needed for Jake about three working pacifiers at a time; I always knew where they were and what stage of cleanliness they were in. For Olivia, I have to keep a drawer full, because I am always losing them about the house. Am I destined, because of apathy, to let Olivia eat more sugar, dress less meticulously, play on the freeway?

Maybe I will boil a couple of her pacifiers tonight. Or maybe I will, like every night, drop off to sleep at 8:15, cuddling my good intentions. Dang it, I keep messing up my chances for mother of the year.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Who's Your Favorite?

Our family is extremely excited about our summer vacation this year. This July, we are bravely crawling out of our mole hole, blinking from the bright light of the sun, and going out for the first time as a family of four. Yes, I know, it is a vacation and I should be duly grateful. But note that my trepidation is related to the fact that Olivia will be 10 months old in July.

We are flying first to Albuquerque, to visit Uncle Walter and Aunt Peggy and soak up some New Mexico sun. (Wait, we live in Boca for pete's sake, what are we thinking?) After three days there, and just enough time for Olivia to become settled, we then head further west, to California. We have grand delusions of languidly traversing through wine country ("are we there yet, are we there yet"), visiting Giant Trees, relishing dim sum in Chinatown. Sharing in our planning verve, Jake wanted to know which amusement park we would be visiting.

The part of the trip he is most interested in discussing (Disneyland having been nixed) is what Uncle Walter is now like. He has heard countless tales of growing up around three off-the-wall, ridiculously high I.Q.'d guys who were always willing to torture me like a sibling. Knowing we are about to visit one of them prompted him to ask me which uncle I loved the best. I carefully explained how one loves people for different reasons, and that you can't measure who gets the "most". He is a child, however, for whom putting things in order of appreciation is very satisfying. It would also let him know, out of loyalty to me, whom he should love the most as well.

It did make me think about it, I admit. Well, most everyone knows that I think of Jack more as a brother than an uncle, so the immediate reaction might be to name him. But I couldn't just black-and-white the answer like that. So I explained it to him the way he loves most: a ranking. But rather than putting my love for three uncles in order, which I cannot, I gave him a "Best List" of experiences. My uncles will see from this the incredible importance they had in my life. And maybe that too, my children need to experience some of this from them.

Best Torture:
Walter ties with himself. Calling the house the first time I ever stayed by myself at nine, scaring me, thereby forcing me to run out into the alley to wait for my mother to return. And by many other times, by donning that horrific green mask and walking slowly, but relentlessly (like Yul Brynner in Westworld), toward me.

Honorable mention is William; my son says at least once a week, "tickle me like William tickled you." He knows I can't begin to come close to those fingers of steel, but he begs me to try.

Best Sacrifice
Jack, who drove me to New York City and went shopping with me at Bergdorf Goodman. I bet I am the only one (outside of Alice) that he would do that for. It is never forgotten.

Best Ice Cream Cone:
William, when I was around eight or nine. The sweet treat was, I am sure, fine. However the mention is for afterward learning a valuable, life-long lesson of avoiding the law. As we were tooling around Houston, at night, without working headlights, I was required to "act casual" as we drove by a police car. To this day, next to a copper and open champagne bottle between my knees, I can play it cool like nobody's business.

Best Danger
Jack, hands down. In Boston, an irate, insane driver (now that I live in South Florida I see what a wimp that guy was) chased us around for a while, and Jack (pre-racing days, mind you) got away cleanly. The guy recognized him a few months later, and chased him around some more. I am just realizing that it might be because of that experience that he now takes his current behind-the-wheel risks.

Wow, in retrospect that was more fun than Bergdorfs.

Best Surreal Experience
William. First, see Best Ice Cream Cone, above. Then tack that on to the fact that the evening had started out seeing either a Fellini or Wertmuller movie and there you go.

Best Movie
Walter edges out those foreign films and their accompanying permanent scarring by escorting me to a Pink Panther film after much cajoling. No points lost for bargaining that I must then go with him to a Bruce Lee movie.

Best Torture of an Animal
This one--ironically now--goes to William. He taught me how to play Football Kitty. Requires really slick wood floors. Fifty-six, thirty-four...hut, slide feline backwards between legs.

Best Music Appreciation
All my Uncles. To William, whose fantastic piano playing of jazz and boogie woogie made me one of the few people my age whose only Ella Fitzgerald performance is not on a Pottery Barn compilation disk. To Jack, who one year gave me a favorite, used CD for Hanukkah while a replacement one for himself was on backorder. Only to find out I had wrapped for him a favorite, used CD for Hanukkah while a replacement one for myself was on backorder. (Oh, and for sending me Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.) And to Walter, for being so creatively fun at the piano and (what I consider) an undiscovered Billy Joel.

After I finished telling these and other stories to my son, we sat there for a moment: I reminiscing, he imagining. "Mom," he whispered reverently. "How can you choose who to love best?."

Amen, Jake.