Sunday, August 30, 2009

Spicing it up, mildly

Every five years or so, I get antsy and decide to buy something to make myself feel less vanilla.

When I was a teenager, I was awed by my ex-boyfriend's new apartment: his bedroom walls were painted red. RED! And he had some kind of Japanese-style seating area on the floor, which was totally exotic to me. I went home and stared at my cream-colored walls adorned with an old-lady floral border and, sickened by what it said about me, I stayed up all night rearranging my plain ol' stuff to look somehow less plain ol.'

When I went back to school at Rhode Island College, married and pregnant with Annabelle, I was awed by all of the 18-year-olds sitting around me with their guitar cases, American Spirit cigarettes, and literary journals. I hopped the bus to the new mall downtown and bought some sweaters and a giant over-the-shoulder messenger bag to beef up my cool co-ed quotient.

When I started this blog, I was awed by myself - I'm a writer now! - so I needed some style to make me feel the part. I've already mentioned the scarves, (man, does Jason HATE the scarves) but I've also added a few other exciting new articles...

It all happened rather unexpectedly. I was at Target, drenched and shivering from walking through a cats-and-dogs pour without a rain coat (see how cool and rebellious I can be?). I was there to buy a couple of gift cards for the birthday parties the girls were invited to this weekend. It was supposed to be an annoying errand, an in-and-out-$40-lighter kind of thing. No big whoop. But something made me walk through the store toward the women's clothing after I'd grabbed the festive gift cards. Possibly Fate, or maybe just dread of getting drenched in the parking lot again. Anyway, once I turned the corner, I saw some jeans and stopped in my tracks, mouth agape. You see, I have been on a quest for some cool jeans that fit just the right way, wide at the bottom instead of skinny, without all of that weird stretch, that don't show half of my ass when I sit down. I've had jeans like this in the past, and I wore them every day until they literally fell apart. And since they did, I have been on an epic search to find their replacement. I've looked in all of the department stores, and even some foofy boutiquey stores because money is no object - I would happily shell out $200 for the right pair. So imagine my surprise when I found Target...for $29.99.

And, get this: I wasn't sure of the size, so I grabbed two different sizes to try. And the smaller ones fit. Well, you know I snatched up all three pair that they had in my size. Had there been ten of 'em on the rack, I would have bought them all.

So, now that I'd found The Jeans, I strolled up toward the registers, drunk with my success.

And then I saw The Watch.

Since I was a kid, I've always wanted a big, silver man-watch, but for some reason, I've just never bought one. Until now! 'Cause I'm a writer now! So there! It's nothing fancy, just a Timex Expedition for like forty bucks, but it is exactly what I needed. I had the lady remove as many links as she possibly could so that this huge man-watch would fit my little bitty wrist, and then when I tried it on I swear I heard angels singing. It is perfect.

Now you know that it took the lady quite a few minutes to trick my watch out for me, so I started looking around the jewelry counter. I was getting cocky now. And wouldn't you know it, I found some more flair for myself. I've always liked the idea of layering a couple of small necklaces (probably because someone on 90210 or Friends did it), and so I added a couple of silver necklaces to my haul. One has a little charm that represents a Successories-style motivational message: Believe! And the other has a couple of little circle charms that, circles.

And then I really got crazy and bought a couple of pairs of small silver hoop earrings. This may sound boring to you, but let me share an embarrassing secret: I have been wearing the same pair of earrings since I got my ears pierced at age 19. For real. Microscopic "diamond" studs. So wearing these dangly silver hoops feels roughly the same as getting a tattoo on my face. Baby steps, people.

Annabelle stared at me hard when I picked her up from the birthday party, decked out in all of my new bling, new jeans, and new Anne Taylor Loft sweater (sounds farty, but I swear it's not). "You look younger!" she exclaimed. "Like, 21 or something."

Now that's retail therapy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Support, man-style

So I've started this blog, and I'm feeling pretty excited about it. I love talking to people without actually people. And I've told (well, emailed and Facebooked on account of the whole not being good at actually talking to people thing) a bunch of friends about the blog, and they're checking it out, and all's going well.

One morning earlier this week, Jason's looking over my shoulder as he gets dressed for work.

"You should change the format - it looks too cluttered, and it's hard to read."

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, I get an email from my husband at work, the content of which was: They offer analytics that you could use on your website.

I'm intensely flattered to see that at work, with all that he has to do, he has thought of me and my little website.

When he gets home, I am pasting in the HTML code to add the Sitemeter counter to the bottom of my page. (All by myself!) I mention proudly that I got two comments on that morning's post.

"I tried to post, too, but they wanted to me to have one of those accounts and I just gave up. I was going to say, 'You ARE a douche.' "

Later, I make some reference to not knowing someone's name at early intervention playgroup, and he says,

"Yeah, I read about that on your blog. I read all of 'em."

My eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

"You really gotta change the 'About Me' page to make it more personal. It's like, if you got into a car accident, that's what it would say in the newspaper."

I get all defensive, mumbling about how I haven't had time, and I don't know what I would say about myself, and it DOES say SOME stuff about me on there! He waves his hand at my objections.

"Nobody cares about what books you like. You need to write a narrative about yourself so that people can connect with you. Right now, it's a dud."

Now I've got my back turned to him, bottom lip out in a full-on pout.

"Oh, and that picture is terrible! You need to get a better picture. You've got a pretty face - you should show it."

I'm a little stung about all of this. It says in the manual that he is supposed to tell me that I am perfect. (Although the "pretty face" comment was alright.)

But I am Taking This Blog Seriously, so I start checking out expert tips on how to make a successful blog. And wouldn't you know it? Everything Jason said is on there.

So I fixed the format. I'm drafting an About Me bio. And Jason's going to stalk me with a camera all weekend until we get a halfway decent photo of me.

The next day I ask him, is there anything you like about my blog? And he says,

"I like that you changed the format."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Breaking up is hard to do

Dude. I am having a tough couple of days.


The girls have been going to this special, but public, elementary school here in town, and we've been preparing to complete our big summer learning projects, buy the new backpacks, and wait for the school bus to stop at our house next Wednesday morning and bring them back there.

Only they're not going back there. I just made the decision to send them to our neighborhood school instead, a school that I know very little about. Because it's just not making sense to send the girls to their fantastic, nurturing, special school anymore.

The Alternative School has been around for 30 years or so, but for some reason nobody in our town knows much about it. Those who have even heard of it have a lot of wonky ideas about what it is:

"That's the one with the small classrooms, right?" (Actually, no. The classes must be the same size as all the other schools in town.)

"That's the one where you can send 'em to full-day kindergarten without paying for it, right?" (Nope - one must pay for full-day kindy at all of the schools in town, including this one.)

And this one usually preceeds an eyeroll: "That's the one where they sit around singing kumbaya in a circle all day, and do, like, hippie hemp-braiding and stuff, right?" (Not exactly - that's only Fridays.)

The school was created to be an alternative to the typical schools with their twenty-six desks lined in neat rows, where collaboration was frowned upon rather than embraced. The learning approach at the Alternative School is different, with teachers acting more like Sprit Guides seen through a campfire than like ruler-thumping school marms of yore. There is music, yes, but also reading, writing, and 'rithmetic as prescribed by The Powers That Be. The curriculum is exactly the same as it is at the other schools in town; it is the way that kids are encouraged to learn it all that is different.

When We Met...
When Jason came home from the Alternative School's informational coffee hour a few years ago, I scoffed at the idea of sending Annabelle to "that foofy school" for kindergarten. What's wrong with regular-old school down the block? But he was so damn starry-eyed after his encounter that I agreed to go check it out so that I could at least be more informed in my mocking of that weird place. Of course, you know how this all played out: I went in, all cranky and pre-hate-y, and 45 minutes later I left IN LOVE WITH THAT SCHOOL. We just had to get in. We just had to!

Lottery day came around and we were picked, and I felt like I'd won PowerBall. How lucky were we to be able to send our daughter - for free - to a private-school-esque learning environment right here in our little town? And it was fabulous. We loved being a part of the school's community and volunteering with other parents to make it all work.

Trouble In Paradise...
The following year, Annabelle entered first grade and Madeleine became an Alt Schooler, too, by starting kindergarten. And things got weird. I became increasingly aware that there were some pretty powerful forces in town who did not like the school. (To put it mildly.) Suddenly, I was no longer an elementary school parent, fretting over what to pack for lunch or trying to find that permission slip I was supposed to have sent in last week. I was now an Alt School Warrior. I had to stay informed of what was coming up on the School Committee agenda because "you gotta watch out for those guys!" and I had to go to a lot of meetings where parents and teachers clashed with administration. I watched as budget cuts forced the school to eliminate its (only) 5th grade classroom, imagining all the while The Administration sitting in some back room, twirling their evildoer mustaches and letting loose with belly laugh after cruel belly laugh. But we beat 'em on that one: rather than shutting our doors for lack of a 5th grade, we created some multi-grade classrooms. Hah! Take that, Mustachioed Admins!

But it didn't end there. There has been constant intrigue and double-speak, and I'm not talking about the story problems that I pretended were totally easy when the girls brought them home for homework. The Administration announced out of the blue one day that the Alternative School was actually not a school at all, but rather a "program." And although this was heavily protested, and all involved agreed to hold off and discuss it further, I found reference to our school as our program every week in our town newspaper. (Hey, adminstrators, George Orwell called - he wants his newspeak back!)

The End...
To make a really long story less really long, elementary school was giving us all agita. And I hated the idea that under the new multi-grade classroom model, my girls would be in the same classroom with each other, twice. They each need to be their own dog. And I really hated the idea that the school...I mean program...was under constant threat of closing. Like, daily.

So I bailed, one week before school starts. Even though just days before doing so I was making plans for our future together. And now everyone over there thinks I'm a total douche.

Yup, sounds like every other breakup I've had.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"I love rock and roll ..."

"... so put another dime in the juice box, ba-bay."

This is how my son sings along to Joan Jett (and the Blackhearts - can't forget those poor Blackhearts!) while Annabelle, Jason, and I are playing Guitar Hero.

It's funny that because he had never heard the word "jukebox" before, he heard it as a different, familiar word instead. It made me think about the way we all hear things based on our own perspective. Not in a make-up-your-own-vocals way, like Nathan did - no, I'm talking about the way that we hear people's words and attribute meaning to them based on our own feelings and experiences.

Jason and I hear things differently all the time. We'll hang out with a friend, and afterward he'll say, "She seems to be doing well," and I choke and gasp and roll around on the floor in disbelief because she is clearly NOT doing well at all. I'm like, "Didn't you hear what she was telling us?" and he's defensive: "Yeah! She said work's been busy." And I roll my eyes as far back as I can in my head as I sloooowly spell out for him all of the words that I heard in between the lines. "'Work's busy?' Didn't you notice that she didn't mention anything about how it's going with the new boyfriend?? Clearly there's trouble in paradise there, she just doesn't want to talk about it."


Okay, so maybe sometimes I hear a little more than what is actually there. But I guess that's my point. Don't we all add our own spin to the lyrics?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I'm so glad you shared ... now, what's your name again?

On Thursday mornings I bring Nathan to an Early Intervention playgroup so that he can practice social skills and learn how to interact with other kids in a group setting. While he and the other 1-2-year-olds are in their classrooms, we parents sit in a pseudo-living room for two hours chatting in Parent Group. It's quite an eclectic bunch, most of us having children who have a developmental delay of some sort, but with little else in common ... or so you'd think.

The group is mostly women, but there is one dad who dutifully comes with his wife each week because he loves to see the joy on his namesake's face when he emerges from the classroom at 10:45. Some of us are working-class, barely getting by from paycheck to paycheck, while others are highly-educated professionals with nannies and cleaning ladies who handle all of the messy stuff. Some of us have older children and have a "been there, done that" attitude as the first-timers wonder about potty training and retiring binkies.

But what we all have in common is that we are there, in this time and space each week, for our children. And, since we have to sit together, looking at each other over the veneer coffee table for a couple of hours, we figure we might as well say something to each other.

So we talk. The late-shift supermarket cashier and the ICU nurse and the stay-at-home mom and the museum curator and the PR rep ... all talking to each other, sharing our thoughts and fears, and asking questions of each other. It's a warm and wonderful Twilight Zone.

Some topics that we have discussed: poop (our kids' and, yes, our own ... insert that catchy "Activia" jingle here), periods, paychecks, pregnancy. We share things with each other that are intensely personal, and it isn't uncommon to see someone getting teary-eyed or fired up about some recent frustration. Words like, "IUD," "seedy diarrhea," "nipples," "antidepressants," and "vasectomy" are frequently heard by passersby in the hallway. Parent Group is a place where we can leave our diverse backgrounds and come together to meet and share and be close to one another. And yet ...

The other day, as I sat down next to the sweet couple who always sits on the loveseat to my right, they announced to me that they are expecting their second child. I was really happy for them because I could see that they were thrilled. I leaned over to the mom-to-be and said warmly, "Oh, congratulations, ... you guys!"

I couldn't remember her name. If I ever knew it to begin with.

And it struck me at that moment that I didn't know most of these people's names, although some of them have been in group with me for over a year now. I know their kids' names, of course, and how many words they can say, which Thomas train is their favorite, and when they last took a dump, but the parents' names? Nope.

One woman in the group brought up the idea of starting up a regular meeting outside of Early Intervention, where we'd gather in a coffee shop to talk more with each other, the way we do in Parent Group, only outside and on our own. She's actually mentioned it a few times now, and she even printed up a cute little poster to hang on the bulletin board at Group - and people nod and smile when she brings it up. We're all, "Yeah, that'd be nice. Sure, I'd do that!" But no one has actually emailed her, as the poster directs us to, to get started. Maybe all of this anonymity, combined with "Hey, I'm stuck here for 2 hours while my kid plays," might be just what makes Parent Group such a success.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kiss Me ... Like This ... On the Mouth!

Nathan has some pretty serious ideas about how things should be. In the morning, he'll give me a rushed pity kiss before demanding, "What are we gonna have?" as in, "Feed me NOW." When it's time to get in the van, he insists on "helping" me open the door, and then he insists on putting his own arms through the straps of his car seat. (If I do it for him, he will take the arms back out, all in a huff, and then do it all over again, himself.) I've grown pretty accustomed to following the whims of my little dictator, but he's added a new step to his bedtime routine that's got me feeling a little ... cheap.

It started a few weeks ago when I was trying - in a rare moment - to be silly with Nathy while tucking him in. Instead of giving him the usual little peck, I gave him a really exaggerated smooch on the mouth, with head tilting back and forth and a big mmmwah! noise for the finale. He giggled, and I giggled, and then I closed the door and headed off to a place called My Time.

I didn't think anything of this until the next night when I was tucking him in. I gave him my customary hug and then a little peck, and instead of settling in, he gave me his disappointed face and whined, "No, Mommy, kiss me ... like this ... on the mouth!"

And so now every night I give my son a huge Broadway smooch, so big that people in the cheap seats can see that we are kissing. Even when I'm just not in the mood or I have a headache. (Hopefully you see this as me Being A Loving Mom and aren't calling Detectives Benson and Stabler right now...)