Sunday, January 25, 2009


This morning's conversation with my grandmother* (her words in italics):

So what did you think of Michelle Obama's inaugural ball gown?

I liked it!  I thought she looked lovely, the off-the-shoulder bit and all.



I thought it was not a good idea, for a woman with a stomach.  It did her butt some favors, though.  She's a swayback, just like I am.  That's very common among Africans.

Maybe we have some Africa in our blood, gram.


(major pause)

And her hair--did you like her hair?

Yeah, I thought it looked good.

Hmph.  I would have put it up, had a cascade of curls coming down the side.  Maybe a wiglet.

A wiglet?

Yes.  A wiglet.

I think she was trying to go for the more natural look.

I know what she was trying to do.  That doesn't mean she was right.


*[In all these boxes of things she's been sending down was one of my grandma's old wigs.  It only then occurred to me how strange it was that both my grandmother and great-grandmother wore wigs the whole time I was growing up.  Not for dress up, for real.  My great-grandmother wouldn't leave the house without hers, even when it was all flat in the back and showed the netting underneath because she took naps in the thing all the time.

And I thought pantyhose was uncomfortable.]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Away to K We Go

We've been at a couple of get-togethers lately with parents who have kids around our kids' ages.  Which is the only way I learned that I needed to go and get Addie signed up for kindergarten.  And which also baptized me in the time-honored, middle- to upper-class ritual of debating the pros and cons of particular schools, enrolling your kid in multiple schools at once, taking school tours, and essentially projecting out your kid's entire academic life through graduate school.

To say that I feel daunted is a bit of an understatement.

See, we have Addie in this great Montessori that does, in fact, offer kindergarten.  And, from everything we can tell, it's a pretty good kindergarten.  But it's expensive, twice as expensive as the public school across the street.  And, as far as we can tell, the public school across the street is quite good.

But then you have to weigh the merits of putting Addie into a new place when she might not quite be ready for that, given that she's a bit sensitive and spirited.  She's in a preschool class now where she's among the oldest, and seems to be doing well, emotionally, with kids younger than she.

But then you have to weigh the fact that she's pretty resilient, and will probably be just fine at the public school across the street.  Did I mention that it's half the cost?

And then you start thinking about how lucky you are that this is your only dilemma, to choose between two good schools, both of which you really can afford, if you need to.  And you think that Addie's a really smart kid, and pretty flexible, all things considered, and that she'll probably thrive in either environment. 

[There's a whole dialogue to be had about privilege, and justice, and injustice, here.  You get it.  Subtext, subtext.]

And also, you think that you're really not the kind of person to sweat this stuff overly much, that what's most important is that your kid is happy and is interested in learning and all that. 

But then, these other parents, all excellent parents, parents you look up to, are moving their kids around from school to school like pieces on a chessboard, and lobbying for entrance into this and that program, and coming in to teach in their areas of expertise now and then, and crafting detailed individualized learning plans with their kids' teachers.  And these parents know already all about which schools are best, and which programs ensure your five-year-old a good scholarship to a liberal arts college, if not entrance to the ivy league, the big stuff.  And they know about which programs mean a life of average-ness.  They lobby.  They fret.  They intervene.

I'm just not there yet, and neither Eric nor I is sure we want to be.  But are we shortchanging our kids somehow?  Will we look back and think we abdicated our responsibilities, while these other parents are attending their kids' honors' awards ceremonies and ivy league graduations?  Do we need to intervene?

Eric and I are from families where none of this stuff really went on.  We both went to public schools, and though I tested into gifted and talented in elementary school, I don't remember there every being this sort of hand-wringing in the household over programs.  I was basically told, hey, if you want to go to college, start getting ready for scholarships now.  Eric would say, I think, that he was not a good student for a long time, but then he kicked ass in college and nobody would say he isn't successful now.  As my grandpa would say, you both done alright.

Which, I know, is not to say that our kids will.  But it's not to say the won't, either. 

So what to make of all this?  Is it just a different world and I had better get used to it?  Or is it okay to take the less fraught path, and to just believe that everything's going to be okay?  Why do I feel it's all a little distasteful?  Why don't I intervene?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Other than I Am

Okay, so it seemed impossible a few weeks ago, but I'm actually back at work now and enjoying it.  I feel like, for the moment at least, I'm staying on top of deadlines, I have time to read and write, and I'm not feeling overwhelmed by department politics.  I only have one class this semester, and it's one I've taught a number of times, so teaching is more pleasure than pain.

I know, I know.  Talk to me mid-March when I've got two publications due at the same time and a million papers to grade and we're in the middle of doing searches for two new faculty members (for those of you not familiar with the tortured world of academe, "doing searches" for new colleagues is an incredibly long, drawn-out process, something akin to choosing a bride for your son in India and then arranging the marriage.  Across castes.  It's no joke, time-wise, and kind of a big joke otherwise).

But then, in an all-too-familiar tug and pull, I find that as demands have increased at work, at home I've lost patience with my girls.  My parenting watchword for the new year is "gentleness" but I'm having trouble summoning it.  It's like I have just this small little pool of graciousness and patience, and if it gets sapped up at work, tough shit, kids, you get mean-ass mommy!  I look at them and think, how beautiful they are, how vulnerable and strong, and wonderful.  And then out of my mouth come haranguing words worthy of a Dickensian orphanage-meister.

We went to the Western Stock Show with some friends this weekend--saw the Wild West show (lots of trick riding and firing of cap guns and so on) and then went in the expo hall to check out the massive bodies of the show cattle.  It was a lot of walking and noise for a Sunday evening, and by the end of the night we were all a little tired and frazzled.  On the long walk back to the car, I snapped something at Nolie.  "Nolie, you WILL hold my hand in the parking lot!"  I think I barked it, because our friend looked at me and said, man, you are tough!  As in, man, why are you barking at your two-year-old like that, dude?  They weren't being judgmental or anything--I think they were just surprised, more than anything, at the tone and un-gentleness.

It's frustrating to me that my standard operating mode is not one of gentleness and loving, but rather one of snide remarks and unreasonable expectations and impatience.  It's frustrating that I have to work so hard to be other than I am.  But I'm also grateful for the opportunity to practice gentleness and kindess and loving instead--I can't imagine learning to do it from anyone but my kids--and I occasionally feel a softening of the heart that suggests the lessons might be taking here and there.  It just takes so loooooooong, and it's such hard work.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Leaving Las Vegas, As Fast As I Can

I've been trying to post for the past few days but there was some problem with or my "dashboard" or something and I couldn't.  If I had, I might have blogged about... I'm kind of over traveling.  Traveling that isn't super-wicked-sweet, anyway, like a trip to India.  The traveling I'm over is, say, the kind of two-day trip for work that has landed me in Las Vegas (I'm writing this post from McCarran airport, on my way home, thank God).  I should say there were some good things about this trip.  Not staying on the strip, for one.  Meeting some good contacts for work, two.  Picking up a few things at H&M, which absurdly has no store in Denver, three.  Other than that, a waste of metropolitan energies, this city is, if you ask me. 

I must have had the conversation about how wretched this city is about a million times in the last forty-eight hours, with people trying to convince me that it can be "fun," that you can "gamble" here, that it's an "interesting" anthropological/sociological/cultural artifact.  Ooh, the people-watching, they say.

See my heels?  They're dug in.  Vegas sucks, and there's no convincing me otherwise.    I could see how, maybe, if I did acid, or was a stripper, or was eighteen, horny, and single, how it might be kind of sort of appealing.  But I'm not those things.  Not most of them, anyway.

For example.  I walk up to a well-known chain restaurant an hour or two ago here in the airport, get in line behind a big, white-haired suit who is haranguing the Indian guy at the host's desk.  "Well, I see plenty of tables open there, why can't I sit there?" he's complaining.  The Indian guy explains they don't have enough servers on staff so they need to wait a few minutes before old white guy (my brother calls this kind of guy "cheesedick") can have a table.  So Cheesedick sticks his pudgy nub of a finger in Indian guy's face and says,  triumphantly.  "Well, you're clearly telling me you don't want me to be your customer when you say such a thing.  Normally I'd walk away.  But I'm going to fool you, do exactly what you don't want, and stay."  Then he stomps off to sit down and wait for his measly table.  Fucker.  Cheesedick. 

Vegas.  Bah.

...there was also some deep-ish blog post about the value of brokenness, spurred on by my marathon reading of the novel Broken for You, one of these Oprah-book-club-type modern novels, in which the most wretched things happen to people in excruciating detail, and there are often poor child victims, and I end up sobbing and sobbing and writing everything in the style of the author for a few days, including overwrought emails and dramatic text messages.  I feel bad for anyone who happens to be around me after I read one of these.  I'm insufferable.

The post would have been some riff on a line from the book, "We're worth so much more broken," and how it spoke to me about the meaning of meanness and pain and suffering.  But I'm over it now.  Just like I'm over Vegas.

Over it.

...and I think there was a post in there somewhere about how much I miss my kids, and how I want to travel less from here on out or start bringing them with me.  Probably just travel less.  I feel slightly guilty about this.  I've always loved traveling.  Part of me still gets a thrill when the plane takes off.  I know how lucky I am and have been to have traveled so much.  And I'm scared that my desire to stay home means I'm old and complacent and just want the sheltered privilege of my suburban Colorado home.

But so be it.  I like the sound of my kids screeching through the house, my husband twanging away on his guitar.  I like my trees.  I like the burnt orange walls of my bedroom, and the way the rectangles of sun created by our skylights track across the planes of our floors and walls as the day progresses.  I like my cats.  Poor Prudence, who needs that tumor removed.  I like the order and the quiet.  I think it's just about everything I ever wanted, the way life goes there.  That's not nothing.

Anyway, if what's in Vegas is supposed to stay here, that's fine with me.  I think a quarantine is in order.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tonight's Bedtime Story

Addie:  Mama, I don't like breathing.

Me:  Why?

Addie:  Because it makes fleas in my mouth.

Me:  It makes fleas in your mouth?

A:  NO, FREEZE!  It makes freeze in my mouth.

M:  Oh.  Yeah.  I know that feeling.  It might help if you try to breathe through your nose.

Addie tries breathing through her nose, which result in a mellifluous sounding "heeeee."  Ah, sweet nose whistling.  We both laugh.

A:  That's probably from all my booger eating.

M:  Yeah?

A:  Yeah.  I don't know why I love boogers so much.  I just do.

M:  Yeah. 

M:  Gross.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sorely Tempted

Outside my office window is a tall tree, holding a simple birdhouse our neighbor made.  A squirrel has been laid out on top of it for the las thour or so, staying still in one position for so long I thought he was dead.  He shifted a few minutes ago, though, and so I know he is only sleeping, soaking up the sun, occasionally repositioning himself, his round little butt hunched up in the air, his paws curled.  I should be working but instead find myself staring at this little guy, and thinking about my babies, back at school today, and wondering what in the hell.

Usually, I am much more relieved than sad when the kids go back to school.  The long days of entertaining them, and dealing with their squabbles, their refusal to nap, their snacks and lunches and tantrums and boo-boos, all used to seem pretty boring, exasperating, even.  And, I usually like the beginning of semesters--I still get that school-girl thrill on the first day of class. 

But these last few weeks with the kids were actually lovely, and today I am feeling weepy and sad that they are gone and that the house is quiet.  I'm dragging myself through work emails and grant proposals and conference calls and wondering every minute if I'm doing with my life what I really want to be doing.

Not that I don't appreciate how sweet my life is.  I read, write, and teach for a living, and I make okay money doing it, and I get three weeks off in December and a slower working pace in the summer.  I get to work from home frequently.  My schedule is fairly flexible, so that if I have doctors' appointments or my kids are sick, I can generally stay home.  I get to travel (though on Wednesday, it's off to Vegas, worst city in the WORLD).  I have good health insurance.  I'm slowly trudging my way toward where I need to be to get tenure, I think.  I like the people I work with.  I like my students.  The economy sucks, and I've got a lot of security.  Don't think I don't know it.

Still, I wonder if this is it.

Today, it's probably just that I have to transition back into the busy life of the professional, and I'm sleepy and resentful.  I probably shouldn't make any life-changing decisions at the moment.  But I'm tempted, ooh, I'm tempted, to daydream about what a different life might look like.