All Summer in a Day

It’s funny that when you’ve waited long for something and it finally arrives, time slows to a crawl.  It’s there, right on your doorstep but not quite ready to enter because it’s not quite time.  I’m not the only one affected by this because I can hear my son in his room next door not doing much of anything.  Yet again, checking the insistent tone in my voice, I’ve had to tell him that he needs to pick up his room.  That I do not want to be left after we’ve dropped him off at school to come back home and see what’s left of his teenaged boyness strewn around the floor and on every surface, forcing me to acknowledge for the thousandth time how fast time passes.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was suspicious that I had plans for his room in his absence.  Plans like, ridding our house of all evidence of his having inhabited the space for nearly a decade and putting up ruffled curtains, or painting it pink.

I’m sitting here instead of forcing things to move along more quickly in the day, but it’s conditioned response.  My reasonably gentle prodding requires being within earshot of him to make sure he’s doing what he needs to do to get ready.  It takes more time in the long run, but it’s good for me on the patience practicing front, and it’s good for him because let’s face it:  he’ll be doing all of it on his own after tomorrow without the up close and personal variety of  insistent prodding or reminders.  They’ll be relegated to email and Skype instead.

Have you washed your hair?  Done your laundry?  How are your classes?  Is your roommate a nice guy?  Are you brushing your teeth, flossing your teeth, staying on top of your organization?

The contents of his day-to-day existence have steadily begun to fill my office —  stacks of jeans, shorts, and tee shirts lining up against the bookcases.  We stand looking at them as if they were something remarkable.

Me:  Are three pair of jeans enough?

Him:  I probably need a couple more.

Me:  (holding up a dingy yellow tee) This one’s seen better days.  If it’s a favorite, leave it here, otherwise, throw it in the discard pile.

Him:  What’s wrong with it?

And then another laundry lesson begins about light colors being separated from dark when the weekly wash is completed.  He’s been doing his laundry for a couple of years now, but I have to make sure, telling him something he knows already.

Economy sized bottle of detergent.  Check. Even larger economy sized toilet paper package.  Check. Body wash, shaving cream, toothpaste, dental floss…check.  I wandered through the book section at Target last week after sending him off to get his personal supplies, the image a doting mother leading her 18-year-old son around to choose his deodorant not appealing to me even though I know he wouldn’t mind.

The sounds of hustle bustle next door have stopped again and a quick look around me reveals a few more items lying in wait– guitar, art supplies, a few of his favorite books — but I can tell he’s once again parked in front of his computer.  The computer that’s staying here.  The new laptop arrives today, just in time to be experimented with and the Wacom tablet hooked up to make sure everything works.  Are 24 hours really enough for a day like this?

It’s 10am and things are finally going into the soft duffle bag with rollers we purchased a few years ago with this very moment in mind.  Thankfully, there’s a second for the bits of this and that he’ll need — things that feel semi-familiar.

Will you have your own desk?  Is there a lamp?  Are there hangers in the closet? I’ve asked all these questions before and have been patiently told, yes.  Yes, they’re all there.  But what about something for your desk?  Something to keep pencils in, or folders for important papers? He and the MoH were there on a dorm tour recently, so I’ve been assured that everything is just fine.  But no mini fridges, no microwaves, and no used furniture is allowed.  And definitely no pets, which is sad for Lizzie who clearly loves him more than anyone else here.  He’s had to push her aside more than once as he filled the large duffle bag, trying to keep her out of it.  For now, she’s content to make a nest on the clothes he’s put aside to wear tomorrow,  her paws kneading the worn fleece before settling down to bathe, confirming that he’ll have cat hair on his clothes when he leaves just like any other day.

By this time tomorrow, we will have dropped him off at his dorm and helped him carry everything to his room.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get to meet his roommate, but I’ve been told he thinks he can handle making his bed himself.  Of course this is something I’ve always known, but he’s yet to make his bed once in his life, so the experience should be interesting.  Bear in mind I’ve not made his bed many times, either, but I can think of many things I’d rather do than to make up a bunk bed.  I wonder if he’ll have the top bunk or the bottom?

He’s semi-packed now and in the shower.  We’re off to get his bi-annual haircut, pick up some new earphones and maybe assemble a junkfood stash for his dorm.  It would be perfect to be able to put him in my car so he could take care of these last minute things himself, leaving me to fuss over the details, but after all the hassle of getting his driving permit, lessons, practice, and a last second driver’s test, he doesn’t like driving.   Go figure.  At least he’ll have some ID, right?

I wonder how he’ll feel about being in a big city away from just about everything he’s always known and depended upon?

Oh, my.

Sex Ed and Politics

Yesterday morning after I returned from dropping the MoH off at work, I had the dubious pleasure of listening to NPR report on local attitudes about sex education for 5th graders.  Obviously, there’s been quite a bit of talk on the subject since McCain was forced by the GOP bigdogs to chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

In the sound byte, a woman squealed in a key that would rival that of a soprano, that her son was “toooooooooooooooooooooo young for that!”

That.

“That” would be learning about his body.  Learning to understand how it works and feels and how not to feel strange or guilty over any of it.

I believe that parents should talk to their kids about hormonally charged bodily functions, puberty, and sex — preferrably before a teacher does.  In today’s world, that means before the age of 12 in many schools. But I know absolutely that many parents don’t.

It doesn’t seem to be a conscientious decision on their part not to as much as one influenced by discomfort, although those quoted on the radio had definite opinions about it:

  • 5th graders are too young to hear about “that stuff”
  • “it” will make them uncomfortable about their bodies
  • “it” will make them wonder about it, thereby increasing the likelihood that they’ll become sexually active sooner than they may have had they not heard about it.
  • blah, blah, blah
  • yadda, yadda, yadda

Give me a break.  I’m thinking that digging a hole in the backyard just big enough for one’s head may help with ignorance of this magnitude.

Then there’s the other side:  if you don’t speak to your kids about sex, they’ll hear about it elsewhere.

Okay, so unfortunately, there is some truth to that.  I used to be amazed by what kids brought to school.  Whether it was from their parents, older brothers and sisters, observation, watching television, movies, or surfing the Internet, they knew about “it.”

When the time for “SEX ED” rolled around each year, I winced and groused about why the P.E. or Science teachers weren’t given the responsibility of teaching the subject matter instead of myself, an English teacher.  After all, I’d have looked forward to eating glass more than yet again having to instruct a room full of snickering adolescents from a giant penis displayed from the overhead projector.

Kids would peer through the window first thing each morning to see what topic was on the agenda for the day, just waiting to sit down and write their private questions to be put in the box and drawn out to be addressed during open discussion.  I had to censor a few from time to time because I was surprised about what some of my 11-year-olds already knew, and there were distinct limits to what the coursework entailed:  physiology, function, reproduction, and disease.  Absolutely nothing about birth control and definitely nothing about sex.

At our house, the RTR  learned about the birds and the bees first through informal questions and natural curiousity.  Then, when he was in the 4th grade, he learned what the school described as “human physiology” and was required to give a comprehensive report to the MoH and myself to get credit for his learning.

The philosophy for why the kids were taught so young was because they wouldn’t deal with the information in a way that was goofy, or silly.  That because they hadn’t reached puberty yet, they wouldn’t be squirmy about the information and would handle it like all the other information they were learning.

I thought at the time, fine.  And the RTR did stand in front of the two of us with composure and confidence while the two of us squirmed a bit with discomfort about our then 9-year-old talking about penises and breasts, testicles, and vaginas complete with labeled diagrams all tucked nicely in his project folder.

But I also know that kids can behave in a particular way depending on how something is handled at home.  If something isn’t discussed, or treated as if it’s inappropriate to think about, or worse, joked about, then guess what?  That’s how they often act when it comes up at school.   Big surprise, right?

When it comes right down to it, even if kids are taught the ins and outs of sex (sorry, I couldn’t resist…)by their parents, at school, or from the now questionable sources I was subjected to when I was fourteen, they’ll do what they want when the time comes — and it won’t have anything to do with any politician that I can think of.

In fact, I know a lot of adults who behave in the same fashion, and it’s the direct result of NOT thinking with one’s brain.

Sarah Palin is trying to seduce independent voters. But she comes across like a whip-wielding mistress who wants to discipline a naughty America.
"Sarah Palin is trying to seduce independent voters. But she comes across like a whip-wielding mistress who wants to discipline a naughty America" (Slate)

School Underway and All Systems Go…so far.

With the first week of school under our belt, life should settle into a comfortable, but relentless pace.  Sounds dramatic, even if it isn’t wholly accurate.  Suffice it to say it should be relentless for the RTR and I, who are most comfortable in our house potato state.

We prefer to characterize ourselves as easily entertained.  Simply entertained?  Okay, how about low maintenance in the entertainment department.

The junior year in high school blew in for my youngest this past week, and with it the expectations of a cool 150 pages of U.S. History and exam each week, and a studio art class that will, by the end of the year, allow him to produce a portfolio that is quite the humdinger.  There’s a project due every Friday and with the supplies and studio fee, the MoH’s plastic is about $375 heavier.  Unbelievable.

The decision to take Statistics instead of Calculus seems to be working — sure there’s homework every night, too, but it’s the “easy” class and he gets that done first.  Physics fits in here somewhere, but I haven’t figured that out yet.  The English teacher seems to be nowhere in sight.  AGAIN.  I know that this recurring theme is some perverse punishment meant solely for me — dedicated English teacher and passionate writing teacher that I once was.

The English teacher is the only one of his teachers that didn’t send home a syllabus.  I’ve never figured out how that’s even ethical…  Okay, so, here’s my kid for a year.  Teach him, but I don’t need to know anything about any of your plans because I’m just supposed to trust that you’re a professional, because you know, all teachers are professionals and have the exact same practices, right?  And that when my kid begins to show signs of faltering, and he will, trust me, that we will have absolutely nothing to go on to pitch in and support him like we know you expect us to, or we’ll be forever known as slacker parents, which wouldn’t be true, but you’d think it anyways.

You can tell I’m pretty much over school right?

Between my own education, my career, my boys education…I dunno.  I think I gave at the office.  But I think I’m going to enjoy my job as Chief Buttress in the History and Art departments this year.

Ah, yep.

Back to School: Ho Hum

The long Labor Day weekend always marks the official end of summer here, with people heading to the beach one last time.  And just like that, it’s over.

The three days yawned on for what seemed like five with the three of us taking it easy.  Other than spending Saturday at the horse races with the RTR and a cousin (who decided that picking horses is a lot more challenging than playing Texas Hold’em), we made like house potatoes.  I put off the perfunctory school shopping until yesterday when we hit the sales Macy’s advertises so well, and then doubt if we actually picked up anything on sale.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?  The total time to choose and try on four shirts and three pairs of shorts was less than waiting in line to pay for those school clothes.  Nice.  Well, the wait time — not so much the price tag.

Yes, summer is definitely over.

There’s more traffic in the morning going past our house and with us in it, the school carpool started up again.  Same kids, new clothes, different school year.  Talk of how it feels on the first day, the first class, and how by the second day, it’s all old news.  By the time we pulled up to the curb, they were talking about when the first three-day weekend would be, then the week off for Thanksgiving.  Then the Christmas break.

It was pretty funny, actually, because I know that some teachers were most likely feeling the same way.  In fact, during my second student teaching assignment, on the first day of school, I overheard a teacher in the bathroom stall next to mine, talking to a colleague about how many days were left until Veteran’s Day.

So in celebration of the first day of school, I’ll pass along to you something I was sent in an email yesterday.  Although when I read it, I knew there could be no way it was true (see this at Snopes), I know from experience that the feeling behind it can, for some who work in schools, definitely be true.  Seriously.  Let’s face it — kids have to go to school, kids have parents, and those parents aren’t always delightful humans to work with. Although I have some interesting stories of my own about working with parents, the stories I have about working with teachers are just as interesting.

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…

SCHOOL ANSWERING MACHINE

This is hilarious – no wonder some people were offended! This is the message that the Pacific Palisades High School California staff voted unanimously to record on their school telephone answering machine.

This is the actual answering machine message for the school. This came about because they implemented a policy requiring students and parents to be responsible for their children’s absences and missing homework.

The school and teachers are being sued by parents who want their children’s failing grades changed to passing grades – even though those children were absent 15-30 times during the semester and did not complete enough school work to pass their classes.

The outgoing message:

Hello! You have reached the automated answering service of your school. In order to assist you in connecting to the right staff member, please listen to all the options before making a selection:

To lie about why your child is absent – Press 1

To make excuses for why your child did not do his work -Press 2

To complain about what we do – Press 3

To swear at staff members – Press 4

To ask why you didn’t get information that was already enclosed in your newsletter and several flyers mailed to you – Press 5

If you want us to raise your child – Press 6

If you want to reach out and touch, slap or hit someone – Press 7

To request another teacher, for the third time this year – Press 8

To complain about bus transportation – Press 9

To complain about school lunches – Press 0

If you realize this is the real world and your child must be accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior, class work, homework and that it’s not the teachers’ fault for your child’s lack of effort: Hang up and have a nice day!

If you want this in Spanish, move to a country that speaks it.

(The last line wasn’t in the piece I linked from Snopes, so someone must have added it as it made its way through the email highway.  I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t get political today, so I’ll just leave it there like an elephant in the livingroom.)

Ah, yes.  Happy Back to School.

That Summer Feeling

Pelicans

It’s the last day of school and because 99.9% of us have spent time in a seat in a classroom counting the days and minutes and seconds until we could say, “It’s the last day of school!” we know it’s a special day.

And then there’s another portion of us who stood in that classroom in front of those kids, and later, in front of those teachers, and thought the very same thing. This particular experience gave new meaning to the phrase, barely contain my glee…

Okay, so for some — those of us who still have children at home — this day conjures conflicting emotions:

A. You’re ecstatic that you no longer have to get up at 6:30 (or even 6:57) for your 7am car pool responsibilities.

B. You’re in a quandry because your almost 16-year-old son will be home every single day for 10 weeks (too old for camp, not able to attend summer school to make up crappy grades in Spanish and Algebra II because his perfectly delightful and generous but most likely too indulgent parents are taking him to Italy) attempting to put a pet rock to shame with inactivity and behaving quite charmingly the entire time. Lifeguard Tower

A. You’re seriously glad that you no longer have even more children — little ones — at home who now need you to be the summer tour director, organize appropriate television viewing time, snack time, nap time, play group time, reading time, craft time, and errand-running-time with said children in tow which was always so much fun.

B. There’s no B on this one. Trust me. Ice Cream Stand

A. You no longer have to ask (prod, cajole, encourage, motivate, hold a mirror under his nose to see if he’s breathing…) aforementioned teenager if he has homework to do, classwork to finish, quizzes or tests to study for, papers to sign, grades to keep an eye on, or projects to complete, and compose yourself long enough to stimulate chronic eye twitching.

B. You no longer have time to do all of the above because it’s the last day of school and all of the above didn’t exactly work, so you’ve resorted to Plan Z in preparation for the next school year. Already.

A. Even though you’re a million years older than you once were when you couldn’t wait for the Last Day of School, you still remember that the Day After the Last Day of School was a very special day that meant you’d lay in bed as long as you possibly could waiting to feel that feeling you’d waited for all year. You know. The, “IT’S SUMMER AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL!” feeling. The one where your days stretch in front of you, yawning with possibility. Evening Boardwalk

B. Since The Day After the Last Day of School is Tuesday this year, and that’s normally a car pool morning for me, see the first “A” above.

A. You’ll finally, finally get to see your wannabe artist son’s art portfolio knowing it will make you smile, appreciating his ability even though the world wants to browbeat artists, guilting them into thinking that begging on a street corner spouting formulas and quadratic equations in Spanish will gain them more handouts than painting or playing a violin. Okay, so an electric guitar maybe?

B. I’ll finally get to maybe think about possibly considering looking in his backpack, hoping against hope that there are no apples in the bottom, left to ferment for weeks. But if there are apples, I’ll be reminded that sometimes apples do fall far from the tree, and that is fortunate.

Happy Last Day of School!

Friday in my world.

Welcome to my Friday Follies. I figured it was a great way to cover what competes for attention in my brain. You know. In case anyone is actually interested. And since Friday is only so long, I can’t exactly include my entire list.

Question of the Day/Week/Month/Lifetime: Would any of the unthinkably serious crap that is taking place in the world right now be happening if women ruled? Seriously. Clearly, I’m not opposed to men in general. I’m quite fond of four of my own, all of whom are quite pleasant humans. But I will never, ever understand what possesses some to be so consumed with a desire for power, that they destroy what and whomever lies in their path. It makes absolutely no sense.  I would say, “Nuke ’em ’till they glow,” but Greenpeace would revoke my membership and I’d have to take my sticker off my Mac.

Now I’ve heard everything: BBC News is reporting today that we can now blame the obese for the planet’s energy woes. I can officially expect the BBC to pick up some of the crap I write since they have decided to bring attention to this illustrious study and call it news.

For the shopper who has everything and can’t resist yet another… um…thing: The ultimate cake server. My VBF handed it to me unopened the other day on our morning walk saying she didn’t want it. I think it was something she received at a dinner party? Lo and behold, a wonder of design revealed itself after I was done fighting with the packaging. Just chuck the magnetized heel, and you’ve got a swanky brushed stainless cake server that may or may not fit in your utensil drawer. My VBF is sooooo getting this back.

For summer travel plans: Consider Paradise your destination. Palm trees, fish tacos, an excellent ball park with a less than stellar ball team, and no more spine-wrenching plunges into bathtub-sized potholes! An end to days of signs warning of sewage spills at the bay? Standard & Poor has finally given our fair city an acceptable bond rating again. We will now get to use plastic to pay for street repairs, faulty sewer lines and broken water mains. Party on! Maybe they can also do something about our pump prices?

My gentle menfolk: I am willing to act like I’m somewhat interested in anyone who can convince me that a person interested in the arts needs to take advanced mathematics. But I think I’ve heard it all before. The RTR will be bypassing pre-calculus for statistics as a junior next year since it’s the lesser of two evils and he has to take a third year of math. The MoH has concocted a bribe — monetary — if the RTR can squeak by with a “C” in Algebra II and Spanish. He does have an “A” in PE, however, which is huge when one considers that actually moving his now more than 6′-tall lankiness is not something he enjoys. And that he has a swim coach who makes the entire class do 45 laps — yes, that would be 45 — to compensate for kids caught sneaking into the locker room early. Maybe the RTR needs to swim with me this summer. And pigs will fly.

My Tiny Paradise:

I saw this guy early this morning when I should have been sleeping in. My VBF had an early appointment so I didn’t have to stumble out of bed at dawn’s crack to walk. Do you think I could actually sleep? Um. No. So of course I got up and thought…Hell. I can take macro snail shots while enjoying my coffee! He looked so cute, I couldn’t bring myself to chuck him over the wall into the early morning traffic. Which probably saved me a law suit now that I think of it. Gawd forbid that I hit someone’s Maserati with snail guts.

On the menu? Feh. I never have a menu. But my friend Gina always does. *sigh* In my next life, I’ll be as organized. Our meals are all mushed around in my head with all this other crap I think about. But I have finally edited the photos from our latest dinner party featuring Rick Bayless’s Mexican cuisine and will be getting around to doing that mammoth post today. And I’m thinking next week is going to be Indian…Tiki Masala, anyone?

Me & my mom: Things are great! We’ve only had 3 arguments, 5 disagreements, uttered 49 sighs of exasperation, clucked our tongues 89 times, and been disgusted with one another once or twice. Don’t get me wrong — that’s all normal — at least it has been since I was In High School. We have our laughs and snorts, too. We’ve been on a few field trips, (Wally World, Target…) have drunk umpteen gazillion pots of coffee, analyzed the state of the human condition at least 14 times, moved my bedroom around, and jeered each other’s candidates with gusto. Her cat finally ventured down the stairs by herself today to be greeted by my hissing pretentious attack cat, and the doggo has stopped following my mom up and down the stairs, realizing her favorite person isn’t going anywhere. Her hips thank her. The dog’s. Not my mom’s.

I’d say that’s enough folly for a Friday.

Don’t you?

I feel so much better now.

Wild Mustard & Spanish Tests

Ahhh…the delightfulness of a Friday yawning ahead of me with nary a plan in sight. My favorite sort of day.

I should have known that it might not be so when I forced my self to get up at a minute before eight because at least I could have bragging rights to it. Not that there would be anyone who cared, of course. Most people I know would have lounged in bed after getting up at 5am for the past three mornings to walk a few miles before starting the day. My feet hurt. My ankles hurt. My back hurts in a place I didn’t even know existed. It is so true about what they say about using it or losing it. I’d like to lose it, because at least then it wouldn’t hurt.

I valiantly edged out from underneath the rising garage door to retrieve the paper, averting my eyes from anyone on the block who might see me in my tacky sleepwear of wrinkly lime green tee and wadded up brown and pink polka dot bottoms. What might they think?

That I’m a blogger? Feh.

I was determined to straighten up the kitchen, and then relax with my coffee, reading the local paper which hasn’t been removed from its bag in quite some time, building up in the garage after being kicked in each day to collide with the others in a move one might execute in a lawn game involving colorful balls.

I did get the kitchen cleaned, but I never made it to the paper.

And somehow it was suddenly 11:40. And then it was 1:55. How does that happen? I knew I had to pick up the RTR at school and drive him to spend the weekend with his cousin who is also sort of like an only child. They have quite a bit of fun together laughing about things I can barely understand. It’s fun to watch them and it’s important that they spend time together.

But the RTR had a Spanish test today, and I made the grave error of asking him about it after we were involved in the kind of talk we both enjoy while on the way to his cousin’s house. Like smacking each other when we see a Prius and yelling, “LunchBox!”

I know. But we think it’s hilarious. If we see a red one, it’s worth three. I’ll get around to explaining how it came to be some day when I’m not wallowing yet again in self loathing.

At some point, after I’ve explained my frustration with his chosen inability to learn enough Spanish vocabulary to understand the questions he’s expected to answer on exams, when he can memorize entire lines of dialogue and recite them ad nauseum, he does direct my attention to the hills that edge the freeway.

They’re ablaze with wild mustard. You know it’s spring in Paradise when the wild mustard blooms alongside the golden poppies, and it is quite beautiful when you take the time to notice.

mustard04.jpg

He is doing more than trying to change the subject.

He’s trying to make me feel better because he knows I love pleasant distractions. He also knows that I am so tired of anything that has to do with school I can’t see straight. I have spent only four years of my entire life without being involved in school at some level and those years were the first four of my life.

I’m so fried, I’m crispy around the edges. Done.

I dropped him off, telling him to apologize for me about not going in to say hello to my sister-in-law. After removing his bag, guitar, and box of models, he shut the car door and bent over to look through the window at me. Smiling.

Nice kid. Really.

Too bad his mom’s a pain in the ass. And my state only deteriorated after dealing with Friday traffic in Paradise which isn’t nearly as bad as that of L.A., but bad enough. The trip took nearly three hours. Three.

And so I’m sitting here sifting through the remnants of this day, looking at a card I found shoved in a drawer I was looking for batteries in earlier today. My mouse finally died, and when I pushed through the clutter, I found the card. It was given to me by two people whom I once knew. The inside message was hand-written and I think it’s appropo:

I am still determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may be in, for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our misery or happiness depends upon our own disposition and not on our circumstances.

— Tehmina Qureshi

So true. So very true.

Good to think about on a Friday.