Monday, November 27, 2006

Daniel Boone

I was completely vegged out in Taos, New Mexico. To be vegged out in Taos, New Mexico, one must aspire to heights of laziness and laid-back-ness that transcend normal human levels of do-nothing-ness. My wife and I were unable to get out of bed and do all the hard work required to attend to society's minimum levels of expectations for public appearances, so we didn't even get maid service in the motel a couple of days.

By Sunday evening I was doing some school work, which meant lesson plans and grading papers, and I was listening to my wife express frustration at the Notre Dame football team's lousy performance against a superior USC team. I was poring over a lot of writing that my students had turned in lately, and one of the stories had some quotes worth mentioning. They were from Thomas' "Daniel Boone" story. The assignment? If you could go back in a time machine and meet a famous person in history, who would it be? What questions would you ask them? What would you, a person from the future, want to tell them that would be of interest to them? Here are some highlights from Thomas' "Daniel Boone" report. These are exact quotes. Thomas is a good speller; there are no misspelled words or punctuation errors.

"I would want to find out what life was like when Daniel Boone was adopted by Native Americans..............I would ask him how he made it through the gauntlet and what it was like running the gauntlet........... I would tell him that in the future we have a very different military. I would show him some ground beef and some ice cream."

Hmmm. Kit Carson is a local Taos hero, and the town has a museum honoring his life and accomplishments. I wonder if Kit Carson would be interested in ground beef and ice cream. I wonder if he had to run the gauntlet?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Profoundly Understanding "Appreciating What You Have", While Living in Boca

Jake and I started Thanksgiving morning with a few quiet minutes alone. In between icing a cake, and preparing to start cooking The Bird, we snuck off to Starbucks. He and I don't find it easy to get time with "just us", and sometimes that's hard for both of us. Especially considering the fact that for many years it was twenty-four/seven "just us".

We had a soulful discussion on this beautiful, non-materialistic holiday. He shared his feelings on having a wonderful family and what joy that gave him. We confabulated, with great sincerity, on how hard it must be to be born opressed, or in poverty. With less than a half-hour of communicating, I could see that my son's priorities were in check, despite the influences of Boca Raton or brief exposures to friends' copies of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City.

As we walked back out to the car, arm in arm, he added a last bit of wisdom to our discussion. I had my hot espresso, he a cold apple juice.

"You know what would be great, Mom?" he asked me.

World peace? Health for all our friends and family?

"If we had refrigerated cupholders in the car."

Just Give Me a Chance to Wake Up, Will Ya?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Because Ultimately Everything Is Used Against Me

Simon The Wheaten is thirty-five pounds of fluffy puissance that barrels through our home like a tornado. Olivia--armed with an ankle-breaking walker--and he race through the house, all monstrous eighteen-hundred square feet of it, so I end up most of the day hollering, "OUT!" as he races into forbidden zones like my bedroom.

I often wonder what it is like for Olivia to grow up with such a large fireball of a pet. I longed for a dog my whole childhood, and I am happy that she is fortunate enough to be able to take it for granted that he's around. And as much as he can be a nuisance (i.e.: almost every one of Olivia's toys has the head chewed off), I like to think that he's an addition to the family that teaches the children wonderful life lessons.

He does. Olivia and I were in her room playing, and she picked up one of her ususal tidbits from the floor (dirt, thread, paperclip) and slyly attempted to put it into her mouth. I, due to months of training, was too quick for her and swept it away with a firm No.

She looked right at me and pointed to the door: "OUT."

Friday, November 17, 2006

But What's Important Is That I Had a Fun Time

The entire house is keeping me up. And it has made me irritable. Eric has dreams so strong that he wakes me up at night thinking I am, in fact, the intruder/ghost/Jake/boss/barmaid. If he doesn't, then Olivia wails at 2:00 a.m., and if they both require sleeping straight through, they tag Jake to stumble in to me. Going back to sleep immediately seems to be a bargain I had with my youth. I guess as I am getting older my clock is aware that the time left is on the less side, so any sleep disturbance tells me to get up by god you could be watching Erik Estrada sell property and in a few years you won't be able to.

Yesterday I awoke feeling so tired. But I refused to succumb to the desire to put her in the playpen, crawl in there as well, and try to nap while she bangs blocks into my head. I ambitiously showered, got dressed, and met my friend for coffee and shopping with my credit card poised in my fist with that hey, I deserve it passion.

And that kind of resolve pays off, my friends. I had fun. We laughed, and successfully shopped for clothing that requires I not eat until next Tuesday, and Olivia--who has lately despised the stroller--was enough of an angel to inspire us to grab some sushi before heading home to wait for our children. Olivia slept through the first half of the meal and woke with a pleasant, demure smile. I was armed with her favorite babyfoods. Life was good.

As I talked with my friend, I felt like I had done something wrong. I looked down quizzically; I felt that something was askew. A texture had felt different, a routine move incorrect. And just as I looked over at Olivia, I realized that I had spooned a mouthful of wasabi from my plate into her mouth.

Here's where the sleep deprivation showed itself. I was of zero help to my own daughter. In my panic I grabbed my coke and tried to coax her to drink some, out of the straw she has not yet learned to master. In my frenzy to look around for help--a doctor, the sushi chef, someone to raise this baby other than me--it was my friend Shirli who put her hand on my arm and urged me to relax, wait, it was okay.

Olivia's face was beet red and she had tears from the wasabi. Her breathing was comprised of short little gasps to cool her mouth, and she had clenched fists. But no crying. She had swallowed the wasabi like a champ. She looked at me through her watery eyes uncritically and kindly. And then, politely, she opened her mouth for the next bite.

When I print off these pages and hand them to her in lieu of a beautifully crafted baby book, I think I will neglect to print this page. So, please, don't tell her.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lost In Marriage

My wife came up with another zinger again. Lately Peggy has been nagging me to help her more around the house (for about twenty-seven years). She has made some good points about the percentage of my time and effort spent on housework type of stuff compared to other, more frivolous endeavors, and after twenty-seven years of marriage, I am thinking, “You know, actually, come to think of it, when it gets right down to it, upon reflection, and in all due honesty, it would be possible to admit that maybe I could do more around here.”

So I’m at the television watching a really good movie, and on a spur of the moment thing, kind of out of the clear blue sky, on a lark, and without any notification of my intentions, I mosey into the bedroom where I find my love pedaling away on her exercise bike. I can tell she didn’t just get on the thing, for she is slumped over on the handlebars, breathing hard through her mouth, and her otherwise lovely hair all sweaty and stuck to her face. Her appearance says, “My butt is sore as hell from this seat being shoved way up in there, and both legs are really burning like they’re on fire, and I’m almost done in.” I am thinking that her day is about to change for the better, so with a cheerful tone in my voice in order to perk up her day, to make this a radiant moment, I ask my sweetheart, “Peggy, is there anything I can do for you? Is there anything I can bring you? Can you think of any chores for me to do around the house or anything I can do to help out in any way?” She bolts upright in her seat and says, “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?”

Friday, November 10, 2006

Top Ten List of Free Advice for Kids

Here are the top ten pieces of free advice I have for today's kids. Be forewarned. This list will contain no pipe dreams like "World Peace." Pipe dreams are unachievable. Fear never qualifies an attainable, desirable goal as a pipe dream.

1. All computers should work. Don't expect them to do a thousand frickin' things. Just expect them to do a few things reliably. If they are at a public school system, they have to work, period, or somebody should go to jail. No one should ever have to say, "The server is down." If you can't get the computers to work, put the mechanics in charge of the computers and the computer geeks in charge of the cars, but be ready. Within ten or twenty years the computers will be simplified, operator friendly, and reliable, but nobody will be able to go anywhere because the cars will be down.

2. If you have to vote, don't expect to stand in a long line. Don't experience history by reenacting what it feels like to be a Soviet Russian in Leningrad during the 1960's, just a-standin' there waitin' your turn to buy stale groceries.

3. The President should act like a normal person and mingle with real people. If he can't for security reasons, then there is too much insecurity. He needs to be forced to be brave and take his chances like all the rest of you.

4. Take control of your neighborhoods. When and where can kids just play? I'd say at this time, it's limited to recess at the schools, and there are schools that are eliminating recess.

5. Quit judging people by their looks. Oops! Now this is a real pipe dream.

5. Nobody is being left behind who is in school. People with no school, now that's being left behind. Study to help yourself. Then help those who have no school.

6. Let older kids continue to mutilate themselves with ear piercings, baggy clothes, and tattoes. Then sit back and wait to see what YOUR generation will consider fashionable. It's going to be difficult to top that one in its sheer ability to achieve a 10 out of 10 on the Masochist Scale.

7. Don't try to top the previous generation's sins, and don't think you've done it. Every generation has its own sins, yet each generation assumes their sins are the worst the world has ever seen. Don't rate your sins so high that a few religious nutcases are going to be able to convince some of your screwballs that Armageddon Is Coming (see Hal Lindsey). Armegeddon ain't coming because your generation is the worst the world has ever seen.

8. Quit eating! Get in shape! I am definitely overweight, out of shape, and 58 years old, but I can still, with a little warm-up, outrun nineteen of the twenty-two fifth graders in my class.

9. Stop and smell the roses. It's a lost art. Recapture it.

10. Quit religious fanatacism, including some American versions of it, and start worshipping our Almighty Creator. So it's a pipe dream. It's my list.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My New Best Friend, Thy Name is Cake

Jake has always been such an easy eater with a fun and relatively healthy relationship with food. He will try almost any dish (excluding some of the more stomach-wrenching ones he witnessed Anthony Bourdain try on his food/travel series). At just ten years of age he has gulleted raw oysters, sushi, and shows a preference at any meal for mussels. His favorite foods are not common for this MacDonald's generation: baby lamb chops, oysters on the grill, lobster, veal chops, artichokes. So when his eleventh birthday rolled around on Tuesday, he requested--with the same deliberance one would choose a last meal--Weinerschnitzel, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and cake for dessert.

I grilled him hard about dessert. He is not a sweets consumer, but he is a sweets procurer. Halloween night, like with every other child, was spent rifling through his bounty. The difference was that he had a trashcan by the bed, into which he tossed unfortunate tootsie rolls and dum-dums. Valentine's Day has to include chocolate, but I'll be throwing away the uneaten portion by mid-March. "Are you sure you want a birthday cake?" I pushed him. "You really love strawberry shortcake." He was adamant. He wanted the presentation that a grand cake provides.

I set to work Tuesday morning after dropping him off. I thought a three-layer caramel cake might interest him, since previous coconut and Italian creme cakes have left him unimpressed. I put turtles on the outside edge, and caramalized pecans on top. And he did love the look of the cake when he arrived home from school, probably as much as he loved the pile of presents on the table. His patience, in both dessert devouring and present opening, is so much better than mine. I have been known to pester my birthday gift givers to the point of their feeling complete hatred of the entire month of May, but Jake walked by the dining room table without a finger in the icing, nary a poke of a package.

He adored dinner, entirely appreciated the presents, and contemplated his all-important birthday wish until the candles had almost burned themselves out. And as Eric and I consumed the cake with numerous sighs and eye rolling, Jake ate a bite and said, "I'm just not a cake person." I wish I weren't. There's a pair of leggings in my closet I am petrified to wear because the cakes are so darn good.

Meanwhile, I have told you how often I scoop things out of Olivia's mouth, namely every little thing that is on the floor. She has helped me relax a little, since her little tastebuds have begun to rely on my startled, fearful No! when she dexteriously pincers a delectable tidbit like a paper shred or a staple. Unfortunately on Tuesday night, however, a crumb of caramel cake apparently hit the floor, surely from Jake's portion. And my Wednesday morning No! did not come until after it had hit her tongue, and her look at me was heartwrenching. In that moment, her eyes told me, she learned the truth about the gastronomic floor wonders I had been been denying her. So now she is back at it again, scouring the floor, shoving unknown items into her mouth with the same fervor as a second-time heroine user, searching for that amazing caramel cake high that changed her life forever.

My days are once again spent frantically vacuuming while she naps, chasing her every step and wiping her hands off. And it will be a long time before she trusts that, maternally, my every goal is not to keep her from experiencing pleasure. Oh, wait a minute--yes it is.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

What Is He Thinking?

Laura's last blog, the one just below, reminded me of an ongoing tough time I am having with a boy in my fifth grade class. I am glad she wrote that blog. It has me reflecting on all that has transpired lately concerning the boy, and I want to share it with you.

Last year I took this boy into my fourth grade class from another teacher's class on his mother's premise that he needed a male teacher because his father had recently died. I'm not so sure that the boy needed a father figure as much as he needed reassurance from his mother that all would be well, but, hey, she obviously had her mind made up so the school administration abided by her strong wishes. All seemed to go well last year.

As my readers may know, I "looped" with this class, which means I am teaching the same group of students who are now fifth graders. This year started off reasonably well, but by September I saw a tendency on this boy's part to argue with me. By October he started displaying anger towards his classmates. His arguing and anger increased, so I called his mother. I tried on several occasions to talk to her on the phone, but she was always asleep and did not return my calls. Alarm bells went off inside my head, and sure enough, he came to school a week later and informed me that his mother was going into rehab for a month. I asked him why, and he told me it was for drinking. I asked him who he would be staying with, and he replied that he would be living with his aunt and uncle until his mother's return.

Then, three days later, all hell broke loose. He was arguing with me relentlessly, almost suicidally. Worst of all, he was losing his friends. If he had been given a BB gun, I am sure he would have tried to shoot both eyes out.

I promptly sent him to the principal for a strong conversation, and to our wonderful school counselor for emotional healing. Moving the problem up to the administration and to a professional counselor raised the stakes, and I saw immediate results.

I am hoping and praying for this boy. I am also doing all that I can to help him, including but not limited to avoiding confrontation. That may mean sidestepping a desire on his part to "rumble" with his teacher. I'll also hope that his mother's rehabilitation includes the ability to let him be a little boy rather than a spousal substitute, which I felt at times may have been taking place.

I could go into all kinds of heavy duty, professional reflection, and thought provoking gobbledy-gook about this boy, but to tell you the truth, I am not sure I know what in the hell is going on. I find myself mystified and amazed at human beings. I don't consider myself an expert on them, and I am one, for cryin' out loud.

I know that progress reports (report cards) are coming up, yet this boy's grades are of little importance in his life compared to other priorities at this time.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Because That's What Marriage Is, Dammit

Sometimes a child begins a long, downward cycle of repetitious, improper behavior, and the child drags an adult into their circle of negativity by not responding to criticism or punishment.
Mr. Holland

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Albert Einstein

And yet, in a brief misguided but hopeful moment of solidarity I turn to Eric and ask him, "What do you think of my new purse?"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What Halloween Really Means To Retailers

is that mothers all over the country are doing everything they can to walk past this siren's call while their children are at school and in valiant efforts to do so will run away from the house to the mall and drop over three hundred dollars at places like Victoria's Secret.