Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Little Less Tired of Me

So on Friday I continued to struggle to stay awake, but halfway through the day Baroy called to tell me he officially got this new writing gig that had suddenly come up just a few days earlier, and it's decent-paying and only part time and potentially long term. So that woke me up some. But I was still feeling pretty crabby, which is totally unlike me. Because, you know, money. Real money. From someone other than me.

Then, on Saturday, I went out with my girlfriends to a wine-tasting bar and a grown-ups' restaurant, and we practically closed the place down and nearly killed ourselves laughing about whatever it was the valet could have been doing behind the wheel of my big old fire-engine-red minivan that caused him to spring from the car--one of only a few left in the formerly packed parking lot--when we appeared. So, OK, the wine and huge plate-o'-beef I consumed didn't really wake me up, per se, in the physical sense, but the emotional good more than undid any setback caused by that headache I woke up with this morning. I was much less cranky, if you discount my desire to behead my husband when he made me 45 minutes late for starting the evening. And you do have to discount it, since that was totally justified. I mean, really. Forty-five minutes late. On a girls' night out. Which we get once every, what?, six months maybe? Unh-unh. Not cool.

And then this evening we hosted a housefull of these same friends, along with their hubbies and offspring, and ate and drank and screamed over all the noise and oh, yeah, watched the Oscars, which was supposedly the point, but wasn't, not that there was a point. And I wasn't tired, and I wasn't cranky. At all. And really, I say that it's all because of friends and drink and fun things to do and no more virus. And nothing to do with the fact that...well...let's just say that if perchance the mood and the tiredness were to have had anything to do with PMS, they would be gone now because I am no longer pre. But even though they are gone now, it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with me, triumphing over incipient depression and irritable anxiety. Try to tell me otherwise, and I'll hurt you.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Tired of Me

Monday was the first day that I felt reasonably OK after the Virus from Hell rampaged through our family. Tuesday was my first day back at work since the previous Tuesday. On Wednesday, normally an off day, I went in to work to go to a conference we were putting on, then ran back to get Em from school, took her to Brownies, went to therapy, picked Em up from Brownies, came home and made dinner, worked on the freelance project due on Monday on which I am now behind. I went to bed around midnight.

In the middle of the night, I woke up bathed in sweat from my waist down, and freezing cold from my waist up. I went to the bathroom, where I started shivering so violently that part of my face felt numb. I became convinced I was having a stroke. (Note to self: There's a reason you stopped watching ER. Just because Cynthia Nixon is on doesn't mean the rest of the show is going to be any better...and it also doesn't mean you're not going to be a hypochondriac about it within a week.) I went back to bed and tried to ignore the numbness and shivering. Baroy asked me if I was OK, but I refused to answer, afraid my speech would come out slurred and I'd freak the hell out. (Hey. I know. But I have things. Remember?)

I woke up Thursday with a headache and a tiredness that I could feel in my bones. I felt like I was going to fall asleep as I drove to work with N that morning, the morning of the now-notorious Shoe Incident. I only work until 1:30 on Thursdays, so I managed to drag myself through the morning. Driving back home alone, I really thought I was going to have to pull over. This is ridiculous, I thought. It's the middle of the day. I shouldn't be this tired.

But I was. I got home, waved in Baroy's direction, climbed into bed, and fell asleep. He woke me at 4:30 on his way to pick up N from daycare. I couldn't drag myself out of bed until 5, when I went to get Em from her afterschool care. We went to the supermarket, got some stuff for dinner, came home. I started to unpack the groceries, looked at Baroy and said, "I can't do this," and went upstairs. I hung out on the computer a while, then fell asleep at around 9. I woke up Friday morning at 6:30 when N came into our room, and I was still exhausted.

I'm chalking all of this up to post-Virus-From-Hell syndrome. But it's an accurate reflection of my insides as well. At therapy on Wednesday, I basically sat there and told my therapist that I'm just tired of this--tired of constantly taking my emotional temperature, tired of wondering whether my reactions to one thing or another are reasonable or normal, tired of analyzing myself on a regular basis. And, as usual, this woman, my therapist, who I generally tend to mentally discount as simply benign and nice and easy to talk to--but about whom I am completely wrong--pulled me up straight with her response, which made me both laugh and nod: "Maybe," she said, "maybe it's time to just accept that you're neurotic and anxious and get on with your life."

Hee! That's so right, so freeing, so sad and so limiting all at once. I did leave there resolved to stop worrying about myself so much, however...and promptly broke that promise when I woke up convinced I was stroking out.

Now, I'm worrying that the malaise I'm feeling is a sign of a returning depression, prompted by viral fatigue. I'm worrying about whether my meds are failing. And that makes me feel guilty about not doing a very good job of accepting my neurotic and anxious self for who she is. Which depresses me. Which makes me feel tired.

I am, in so many ways, truly tired of me.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

For Jane, To Prove That She Doesn't Even Know What It MEANS To Be The World's Worst Parent

"I'm going to take my shoes off," N, my 4-year-old, announced in the car this morning.

"No, sweetie. We're almost at school, and we're running late. I don't want to have to put your shoes back on," I said in my best Sweet Mom voice.

"I gonna do it..." he replied, singsongy.

"Don't," I snapped. (Sweet Mom has a short shelf life in me.)

About five minutes later, he announces with obvious glee. "I take my shoes AND my socks off!"

I fume. "Well, that makes me angry," I say.

Two minutes later. "Mommy, let's play policeman." (It's one of the very short, very boring list of pretend games he likes to play as we drive to and from his school/my work. The other is "you be N, I be Mommy." In that one, the Mommy pretends she's going to take N to the zoo instead of going to work, only to laugh triumphantly at the last moment and say, 'No, no, we have to go to school. Sorry!' Clearly, I'm quite the role model.)

"No. I don't play games in the car with children who don't listen to me."


"How 'bout we sing a song together?"

"No, I don't sing with children who don't listen to me."

More silence. We pull into the school parking lot.

"How 'bout I put my shoes on now?" N says as I open his door.

"Nope. You're going to walk barefoot to your classroom and you can put your shoes on when we get there. I told you that I didn't have time for this today, and you didn't listen."

Still making the best of a bad situation, he tiptoes his way to his classroom door, doing little skips and hops. He's so freaking cute I want to scoop him up and hug him until he pops, but I just smile a little.

We get into the classroom, and I hand him his shoes and socks.

"You put these on for me?" he asks.

"No. I can't. You have to put them on yourself while I sign you in."

He sits at my feet, and begins pulling on his socks and shoes. I finish signing him in, turn to one of his teachers, and tell her that he's going to need help with his laces. She nods. I turn back to N, and say, "Can I have my kiss and my hug now?"

He doesn't look up. "I not done putting on my shoes yet."

"I can't wait for you to put your shoes on. I told you. I have to get to work."

Now. Now is when it hits him. He glances up at me, startled, and tears spring to his eyes. He looks back down and continues pulling on his sock, a little panicked. "I need to put my shoes and socks on," he says, tears running down his cheeks.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," I say in a gentle voice. "This is a problem you created. You have to figure out a way out of it yourself. I have to go."

(In the background, I hear a quiet whoop from the teacher, and a 'you go, Mom!' It helps.)

He won't look up. His cheeks are burning red, and he's shoving a shoe onto his unsocked foot.

"Can you give me a hug and kiss?" I say again.

He doesn't reply. More shoving.

I lean down and kiss his head several times. "You know that even when I'm angry with you I still love you, right?" No response. "Even if I'm angry, even if we're angry at each other, I still love you very much." No response. "OK, honey. I love you. Have a good day."

Still nothing. I can hear his breath catching in his throat in little pathetic heartrenching sobs.

I turn around and leave. Even though I really want to turn around and go back in and scoop him up onto my lap and tie his shoes and kiss his neck and make him giggle. I know I shouldn't. I do believe it's important not to engage in power struggles. And I do believe I handled that well, though not perfectly. But I hate this process, sometimes. It feels like the breaking-in of a wild animal, and it's painful. On the other hand, I don't want him to be that kid who never has to think about the consequences of his actions, and who doesn't have to consider any one else when he makes choices. And even if I know he's not ready to truly get these lessons yet, I believe it's time to start teaching them to him anyway. Because they tend to take a long time to sink in.

I believe all of this. So I keep walking. And drive to my assigned parking lot about a half-mile from the daycare. And go up to my office. And turn on my computer. And call the daycare to ask the office assistant to go and check on him, to make sure he's OK.

Because I may be a Mean and Horrible Mom, but at least I know it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Very Very Busy

There are some days when I look out over the landscape of my day, and then the day after it, and then the day after that, and I all I can hear in my head is the lyrics to the Sandra Boynton song off of her most excellent Philadelphia Chickens book and CD. (It's a kids' book, for all you hipsters who are wondering why you've never heard of it. Trust me, I break no musical ground for any age group over 7.)

Here is why you haven't heard from me in a couple of days, and why you won't hear from me for a couple more:

We're very very busy and we've got a lot to do
And we haven't got a minute to explain it all to you
For on Sunday Monday Tuesday there are people we must see
And on Wednesday Thursday Friday we're as busy as can be
With our most important meetings and our most important calls
And we have to do so many things and post them on the walls...

...And we have to do it faster or it never will be done
And we have no time for listening or anything that's fun.

Monday, February 21, 2005

A Sense of Place

My friend Tamar wants to leave LA. A commenter on her blog says that LA is not an easy place for a "thinking person to feel at home." My hackles rise.

It's not the first time, nor will it be the last. I've had countless discussions or arguments with friends and acquaintances over the same thing, the same questioning of sanity or intelligence or what-have-you based on where I've chosen to live.

I don't live in the LA that so many people refer to with derision and scorn and a haughty "I'm better than you because of where I live." For one thing, I'm not in anything even resembling 'entertainment.' And here's a newsflash for ya: the overwhelming majority of the people I know right now are just like me.

Which is not to say that LA isn't full of entertainment folk. We live here because Baroy IS in "the business." Many of the trials and tribulations of our lives revolve around that business, and the way it treats people. But my experience of LA, especially these last nine or so years, when we've moved to places not frequented as much by industry folk, is not about a place that revolves around anything in particular, other than life and living it.

Do not get me wrong. LA is not my dream home. Neither was New York. The only place I've ever felt truly passionate about was Scotland, where I spent a wonderful year-out-of-time. And I'm sure it was that out-of-timeness that created the passion.

There are places I think I'd rather live than here, from an entirely place-driven point of view. I liked Seattle, though I've spent all of three days there in an entire lifetime of days thus far, not to mention that if I really do have a seasonal affective disorder component to my depressions, going to a place where there's more cloud cover than sun might not be the best idea. I used to have this entire fantasy about living in Boulder, Colorado, right there in the foothills of the Rockies, amidst all the liberals and the still-hippies and the people who don't wear makeup and would thus not make me feel like such a freak for not wearing any myself. Except, you know. I hate cold. Might be a problem.

Really, though, the main reason I get so bent out of shape when people diss this place where I live is because I literally can't relate to the ways in which many people become enmeshed in the where of living, especially in terms of intangibles like 'culture' and 'energy' and the like. Which is not to say that I think people who do care about such things are somehow wrong or misguided. Just that those are issues that don't make the cut onto my list of 'what I want from where I live.'

What do I want from where I live? I want a sense of community, people with whom I can get along. And it doesn't have to be a glut of people. Maybe it's true that 9 out of every 10 Angelenos is someone I wouldn't necessarily feel connected to. But I don't care. I don't need that many people in my community. I have a great group of friends. Every now and again, a new person comes into my life, and if we click, it's wonderful. If we don't, well, I don't notice any gaping holes in my life, you know?

I care about the fact that my kids have space to run around, so when we looked to buy this time, we looked for a big backyard, and then lucked upon a deadend street to throw into the bargain, so that not only do they get to run around in the back, but they scampuer up and down the block whenever there's daylight to scamper to. I care that they have other kids to play with. I care that they have good schools to go to. They do. Is that true of much of this city? No. Does that matter to me, since I've found a place where it is true? Of course not.

I don't know why place doesn't matter quite so much to me as it seems to to so many other people. I wonder if its part of the same emotional deficit in me--some vague hole created in some vague way by something in my childhood I suppose--as the way in which people come into and out of my life. This is for sure a different post altogether, but suffice it to say that I am the type of person for whom an ex-boyfriend was never a continuing friendship, and who keeps in only the slightest of touch with people who were absolutely central to my life in its past incarnations.

So it is with place. Could I live elsewhere? Sure, if it met my basic needs. I could live almost anywhere and be happy. And dissatisfied. And unfulfilled. And content.

Just like I am here.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Opportunity Lost

It was the perfect opportunity. Baroy and the kids were going to be gone for at least four, five hours, attending a going-away party for a good friend of ours. I couldn't go, because I've been battling some flu/cold/throat/general-ick combination, and I felt like crap.

I'll admit I wasn't completely devastated. I'll miss my friend, but...a night alone...really alone. That almost never happens. Even during the day. Most of my time off during the week is after Em gets home from school, and during the little that isn't, Baroy is usually here. I get so very little real 'alone' time in my house, and it's something I really crave at times.

So I had a plan. Well, not so much a plan as a list of things I wanted to do. Sit by the fire and do some tatting. Take a long, hot bath while listening to the end of my latest audiobook. (It's Running with Scissors...and while I'm actually really 'enjoying' it, I'm surprised that I can't seem to find anyone else who thinks that huge chunks of it were entirely made up.) Read by the fire. Make myself some fancy-pants dinner full of ingredients my kids--and my husband, probably--would never touch.

I thought about this all afternoon, winnowing the list down. And then they left, and the fire was already roaring, and I just sat there for a few minutes, basking. And then I stood up. And my stomach turned over. OK, cross that fancy-pants dinner off the list. Replace with a can of Campbell's.

Next, upstairs to the bathroom to start my bath. This time, the standing-up stomach flip was accompanied by vertigo, and a slight graying of everything around me. Hmmm. Should I really take a bath in an empty house when I keep feeling like I'm about to faint? Maybe not.

Fine, then. Back downstairs, get the tatting, settle into my chair, turn on the audiobook. Whoa. I need magnifying glasses to be able to see what I'm doing as I create intricate lace, and that isn't doing that vertigo thing any good. Nix that. And I just can't stare into middle space while I listen to an audiobook, or I'll fall asleep in about ten seconds. Turn that off, too.

Take out my book. Nope. Words slithering across the page, out of my eyes' grasp.

So, in the end? Fire and sitting thereby. And one TiVo'ed episode of The West Wing (Jimmy Smits is the only thing keeping me with this series), another of Queer Eye (Dead Head transformed to remarry his ex-wife, who never did move out of their house, and all I can think is that if he doesn't take his other hand out of his pocket and give her a REAL hug, I'm going to reach into the screen and slap him). And then an entire Netflix movie, In America. (So unrealistic. So many dubious and unlikely plot points. And I sobbed...sobbed...at the end. So, overall, thumbs up.)

Not quite the night I'd imagined. Not even close. And no, I'm not going to say I enjoyed it anyway. Frankly, I'd have rather played with my kids. Damn you, influenza virus/rhinovirus/streptococci/whatever the hell is colonizing inside of me. You owe me a bath.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Learning the Language

Twenty years ago--the year I turned 21--I was living in St. Andrews, Scotland, attending university and living in Scottish dorms, all as part of a free ride I'd gotten through a competitive scholarship exchange program.

It wasn't until I'd spent some time there that I truly came to appreciate that when you travel abroad, there's almost always a language barrier--even in countries where you ostensibly speak the same language.

It made for some great fun, and some great stories. One of my all-time favorites was when I had just begun dating a guy, and we had plans to go for an early-morning walk the following day along the famous Chariots of Fire beach. (Very romantic.) As we parted that evening, he said, "Right then. I'll come by at 6 and knock you up."

"You'll do WHAT?" I said, not sure whether I was supposed to laugh or slap him.

"Knock you up," he said, confused. "Um...Rap on the door to wake you up so we can get on with our walk?"

Ah. That was better.

He was equally confused, it seemed, by my continual reference to his pants, which apprently are undergarments in the UK. "Nice pants," I'd say, and he'd flush for a second, then laugh. "Oh, you mean my trousers," he'd reply. My turn to turn red.

And then, of course, there was all the fun to be had with my real name, which is the homophone for what they call a truck--a lorry. On my 21st birthday, my boyfriend--a different one, by then, from the one who wanted to knock me up--and his 'mates' each gave me a card with a lorry on the front. My boyfriend's roommate, Roddy, liked to just call me 'Truck' to annoy me.

By the time I returned home to New York City, after ten months of living amongst those gorgeous Scottish voices, with their rolling and lilting sounds and wonderfully descriptive phrasing, I had taken on a sort of horrendous affectation, a bastardization of both languages, in which I combined my stubborn New Yawk accent with the words and phrases of Scotland. (Of course, there are those--and I'm among them--who would say that a New York accent is already a bastardization of our language, but this just made it worse.) After several weeks of hearing things like, "Yo, mum, whatcha makin for dinna?" and "I dunno. I've gotta suss out what I'm gonna do with all dat cash," my mother was ready to strangle me.

"Could you pick a language and stick with it, please?" she'd say.

Over the past two decades, I've lost most of both of those linguistic idiosyncracies. My New York accent isn't nearly as prevalent as it used to be; there are days when I actually sound like an intelligent person without even having to think about the fact that the word saw doesn't have an r at the end of it. And most of my Britishisms fell by the wayside long ago, along with the boyfriends. I miss them--the Britishisms. Not so much the boyfriends.

As N grows up, I keep thinking about how his language development parallels the experience I had: he's losing all his Noahisms, slowly but surely. He no longer needs "pry-see in the chicken"; he still needs pry-see, but it's in the kitchen, these days. The good news is that he still eats hangaburs with cheese. And while he no longer points out the red "fie ninininininin," but rather the red fire engine, he does still strum the strings on his electric "tictictictictar." Plus, he's almost completely understandable these days; the baby pronunciations of letters are fading, and you can suss out (hee!) what he's trying to say 100% of the time if you have the context...and if he's not talking in the baby gibberish voice of one of his imaginary friends.

The wonderful thing, however, is that he already has an appreciation for those days gone by and their preciousness. For instance, two Decembers ago, he was too young to be able to point out all the beautiful lights on our drive home; instead, he called them "boolyahs." Last December, as we again drove past the displays of color and light and he told me that the light were "byooful," I told him about that story, and how everyone in our family so loved the word boolyah that we'd taken to calling them that along with him all that previous season. Immediately, he decided that that was it--he was going to call them boolyahs forevermore.

"I know how to say byooful lights, Mommy," he informed me. "But I going to call them boolyahs anyway." And he did, giggling each time.

That's N, my boolyah boy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Smacked Down By A Four-Year-Old

Yesterday morning, before the rest of my family got up, I put out plates of special Valentine's Day cookies for Baroy (who's been miserably--and legitimately--sick with the flu for almost a week), Em and N. Each cookie was made out of two homemade chocolate-cookie hearts sandwiched together with pink-tinted homemade icing; the top heart had a second, smaller heart cut out of it, so you could see the little pink heart. They took a ridiculous amount of work into the wee hours of the morning, but they came out adorable.

(Lest you think I've lost my mind, I made them for a bake sale N's preschool was doing. It was still an insane thing to do--I could have just slapped together some chocolate chips, or even bought something for the sale--but I like to think that explanation makes it somewhat less insane. Leave me with my delusion, please.)

Anyway, I let Em and N have them as a 'special' Vday breakfast. Except N, ever the sugar-baby, proceeded to eat them like Oreos, working away to get as much of the icing out as possible, and leaving chocolate-cookie pieces all over the place.

"N," I said, slightly annoyed, "don't just eat the frosting. Eat the whole thing! The cookies are good!"

He looked at me, this tiny guy, and paused, crumbled cookie in midair, finger cocked for another assault on the icing. "They're my cookies," he said calmly and quietly. "They're my special treat. I can do what I want with them."

"You know what?" I replied after a second, during which I had to remind myself that I'm almost ten time his age, and it's not the other way around. "You are absolutely right. Carry on."

And he did. And then I ate the cookies he left behind. Win-win, really.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Lost My Mind

So, yesterday, full of panic symptoms, I went home, popped a Xnax, and went out for a long walk/run. I picked up Em at her after-school care place on my way home. By the time we got home, the pill had kicked in but good, and I asked Em to do her homework and such and let me take a quick nap. I think I may have already passed out before I got up the last step to our loft bedroom.

She woke me at 5:30, as I'd requested, because Baroy and I had a PTA-related function to attend. I literally couldn't keep my eyes open. At 6:00, Baroy stood me up to get me out of bed, I got dressed, we dropped the kids off with a friend/neighbor who'd agreed to watch them, and went to our event. Baroy drove because I was stumbling over my own feet.

It was a lot of fun. We ate, drank some wine, talked. There was a silent auction, and I won a couple of baskets of goodies--a Japanese cooking basket for me, a basket full of art supplies for the kids. I paid for them by check, and we gathered the baskets up and went home...whereupon I realized that I couldn't find our checkbook. Baroy drove back to the restaurant, and they told him that one of the other PTA folk, who lives down the block from us, had picked it up for me after I'd left it on the table after paying for my baskets. (Shit. She's a really nice lady, but one of THOSE moms. Perfect mom, totally selfless, sweet and pious. I can guarantee you she never gets all drugged up for a party, has a few drinks on top of that and then loses her checkbook. Granted, that's a high bar most people could get over, but humor me, OK?)

Then, this morning, on the way to work, I had this sudden realization: Omigod, it's the 11th. My mother's birthday is on the 9th! I can't believe I did this! I can't believe I forgot my mother's birthday! I am the world's worst daughter. My mom is so great to me, she never forgets ANYthing like this, and not only didn't I get her a card, or send her a gift, but I didn't even call. Hell, I didn't even remember until TWO DAYS LATER!

I got into the office, and immediately called my sister to bitch her out for not calling to remind me on Wednesday, but she wasn't at her desk. So I just sucked it up and called home. My stepdad answered, and when I immediately asked to talk to my mom, he said, "Oooh. Sounds serious."

"It is!" I answered. "I can't believe I forgot her birthday!"

Silence. "Um, TC?" he said. "It's February. Her birthday's in March."

And here's the worst part. We're flying to NY next month...ON MY MOTHER'S BIRTHDAY. I knew that. I knew what month it was. Or at least I used to. You know, when I had a brain. When I hadn't completely lost my mind.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I am about to come right out and say something so outlandish, so against the grain of normal thinking, so unbelievable that you are all going to stare at me in disbelief and shock and a touch of condescension, thinking that I am clearly insane. (Well, duh. That's not quite the newsflash you might think it is, Scout.)

I love our public school.

There. I said it. And let me be very clear here. I'm talking about a regular old public school, with no more funding than the next guy, and with the same ridiculous testing issues and bullying problems and lack of gifted education and ridiculous teachers who can't be fired because they have tenure. But still, I love this school.

Why? I can sum it all up by telling you about the stupidly named "developmental assets" program. Apparently, during some staff development day at the district office, someone spoke to the district's teachers and principals about ways in which they can promote the growth of children outside of the standards-based academic program that's in place. Our principal brought these ideas back to the school, sat down with teachers and parents, and came up with some new, very specific goals.

Basically, she decided that she wanted to expand on the school's sense of community. And so she has made it her task to learn the names of every child at the school (it's relatively small; under 500 kids). And she has asked her teachers to do the same, to walk around and chat with children who aren't in their class and find out their names, etc., so that kids in first grade know the people who will be teaching them later on, and so that the kids in the fifth and sixth grades get to reconnect with the teachers they had in the past.

She also instituted a program to get the students to care about the work that the custodians and such do at the school. They call it the golden dustpan award. Each week two classes (one in the upper grades, one in the lower) are awarded a gold-painted dustpan that they get to display on their front door; they earn the award by being the classroom that has done the most to help the custodians have an easier job. One teacher recently reported that her class, during free choice time, got together on their own and decided to wet mop the floor using paper towels. Another said her class has been emptying trash bags and putting their chairs up on their desks without being reminded. All for the 'prize' of a golden dustpan.

To get the kids to give the same sort of help to the 'noon aides' who watch over them during lunch, the principal instituted the 'golden lunchbox' program, which is a bit more complicated. Basically, each class gets an empty golden lunchbox. Every time a noon aide 'catches' a kid doing something good--anything from remembering to throw away their trash to sitting quietly to sharing with their friends--they are given a golden ticket to put into the lunchbox. When a class collects 100 golden tickets, they get a special lunch where they get to sit at a table with a tablecloth, and they get lunch served to them, rather than having to wait in line. And just as hoped, it's turned into a team effort. It doesn't matter whether one kid does all the work and gets all the tickets, or if each kid gets a couple of tickets over a couple of weeks, they all get the reward. So they're working as a team. And they're paying attention to the noon aides, who previously were just furniture to most of the kids.

I'm seeing such a difference, even just from the 'outside.' Em has come home telling me about how one of the sixth-grade teachers stopped to talk to her about her USC sweatshirt. A friend of hers, who is in kindergarten, was telling me the other day about how hard the custodial staff has to work at school with so many classrooms to clean up, and how she really tries to make sure her desk is clean to help them out. And this morning, when I dropped Em off in the drop-off lane in front of school, it was one of the noon aides who opened the door for her.

"Good morning, Em," she said, smiling brightly.

"Hi, Mrs. C," Em replied.

Mrs. C then stuck her head in the open passenger-side window. "She's such a smart girl," she said. "She was trying to get some work done during lunch yesterday, and I offered to help her, but she wanted to do it herself. She did just a great job concentrating and getting it done."

"Thanks," I said, and before I could go further, tell her how much I appreciate what she's doing for our kids, she had moved over to the next car, and I heard her say, "Hi, Esther..."

It makes such a difference to drop your child off at a place where you know everyone knows her name, and where they're all looking out for her. It makes such a difference to drop your child off at a place where you know they are teaching all of her, not just the part of her brain that processes math and language arts. It makes up for a multitude of budget- and bureaucratic-based sins. It makes me feel like there really is a village helping me bring my child up toward adulthood.

It makes me able to say, without prevarication, that I love our public school.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Just Plain Prejudice

I've been trying to write this entry for two days now, ever since I went surfing around on BlogExplosion and found myself staring at a blog that featured a swastika and a rant about how the Jews are destroying "our" society. I've tried to write a calm, reasoned look at the ways we view prejudice, and how differently different people see it, and how hard that is to reconcile.

But I can't do it. I'm too angry, and sickened, and tired. I'm tired of trying to be calm and intellectual and to engage in well-thought-out debate about things I know to be true from simply living in this world: that being a Jew still means dealing with all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle slights and jabs and outright bigotry. You may think I'm wrong. I know I'm not.

I'll accept that some of the issues I deal with could be avoided if I'd just back down, compromise, close my eyes a little. Yeah, maybe I take the whole Santa thing a little personally, but that still doesn't mean it's appropriate to bring him in to meet with kids in a public-school classroom. And maybe we actually could live in Arkansas or Kansas or Idaho and find a community and be accepted, but that doesn't mean that the experience would be easy, or the norm, or that many other Jewish families wouldn't even give it a try because they feel, like me, that we aren't really wanted or welcome in much of this country, that there aren't unlimited choices for us as to where we go, where we live. Maybe the constant pronouncements about how we are a "Christian nation," and the emphasis on "Christian morals" aren't directly translatable into "we're the majority, we rule, and how you feel is irrelevant." But that's what I hear. And maybe all those people who laugh at me and tell me that of course Joe Lieberman wasn't a good part of the reason there was even a question as to whether Al Gore won the 2000 election are actually right, but I doubt it. I know better.

Maybe that blog shouldn't have sickened me so much. After all, I keep saying I've seen so much. Why would it surprise me? Not to mention, again, that my father was born in Germany in 1938, and that my great-grandparents died in years unknown in camps whose names I can't recite, because my grandmother refused to speak of them, considering her failure to convince them of the dangers in their homeland to be the reason for their deaths. A little blog is really nothing compared to that, right?

Except that's not entirely true. Because everything starts somewhere. Everything starts small. And it all starts in hate, and then engenders more of the same. This I know for a fact, because I felt the hate, felt it start small and grow, as I sat staring at that blog. It began dragging me down to its level, that hate. And it's still pulling on me, even now, days later. But now I'm letting it. I'm just too angry, too sickened, too damned tired of this crap, to fight it any more.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Inviting All Interlopers

There’s a reason I keep an online journal, a blog, a whatever-the-hell-you-want-me-to-call-it.

Actually, there are probably dozens of reasons. But the part I’m keying in on here is the ‘online’ part of it all. I keep an online blog because I want people to read it. Many people. As many people as possible.

Not so long ago, I was talking with a close friend of mine, and she complained about all these “strangers” leaving comments on my blog, how it bugs her, how she feels like she’s at home here, and then suddenly there’s someone she doesn’t know, sticking their nose into everything, looking around, trespassing, invading, and it makes her feel violated.

I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember feeling completely bewildered. I love the fact that she and some of my other friends think of my blog as ‘home,’ but at the same time, that’s not why I’m writing here. If I have something deep and introspective to say to my friends, I’ve never had a problem doing so. This is not a way for me to find out what the people in my life have to say about my issues—though invariably, I do find out this way, and it is extremely useful to me. Still, the whole point of this, for me, is to open my life and my mind up to people who are NOT in my life, who I wouldn’t otherwise get feedback from during a phone call, or an online chat, or in private email. I want the strangers. They don’t feel like interlopers to me. They feel like people who might just have the right words for me, who might just say something with a twist I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. And I like the idea that maybe I’m giving something to them, saying something that makes their life easier, or makes them feel less at odds with the world. And I like the fact that I can hawk my book incessantly without feeling like a total and complete whore. (Which is not to say that I'm not BEING a total and complete whore. I just don't FEEL like one.)

In fact, I’ve spent the last few months in search of ever more ‘strangers’ to talk to. And so I joined BlogExplosion, and Blog Clicker, and I’d join any of the dozens of others, too, if I didn’t also have to work and be a parent and eat and breathe sometimes. And I play along with the ‘Hi, Michele Sent Me’ game, which I love doing, and I became almost incontinent with excitement when she tagged me yesterday.

Look, I’m a writer. And I don’t know of many writers who don’t like to be read, who don’t absolutely NEED to be read. Also, I like attention. I don’t like people looking at me, I don’t like to have to speak in front of large groups, but I like—nay, love and crave—knowing that I’m part of others’ thoughts and lives, in whatever minute way. I love the fact that people read about me and my family and stop for a few minutes and think about what we’re going through, and offer words of advice or support or even criticism. It’s what drives me to do this.

I’m sure about all of this. I understand my motives completely. But here’s one thing I don’t understand, not yet. And that’s why I write about what I write about.

Why do I write so often about my depressions, my anxieties, my possible manias or hypomanias, my possible bipolar disorder? I know that at least two people from my office have found this blog, though I don’t know if they read it. I know that at least one of my brothers-in-law have found it as well, though again, I don’t know if he reads. I know that Baroy can read it if he wants—though he says that not only doesn’t he, but he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t want to know. (Which is fine by me. Not that I trash him, really. But I’d still rather not have to filter for him, either.)

Most obtuse of all, I write about my fears and paranoias and concerns about a woman who has stalked us, which of course puts me at risk of her finding this, and gathering all sorts of information from it that I wouldn’t want her to have. The mere idea of her reading this makes me shudder. And yet I choose to write about it, frequently, rather than tell you anecdotes from my day, or funny stories from my past, or provide you with links to issues and topics I think are interesting.

In other words, I know that I’m courting...what? Disaster? Doubtful. But yeah, it could some day come back to bite me in the butt somewhat, this blog. And yet every time I sit down to write, I pick at some not-yet-healed scab on my psyche until the blood runs free. And when I don’t do that, I feel like it’s wasted time, wasted effort.

I’ve always been a sharer, to be honest, so this is not really new. My girlfriends at college used to say that people in our dorm always tried to sit near our table on Sunday mornings, when I would regale everyone with stories of my various exploits—whether they involved chemicals, booze, or boys. (Usually, they involved all three. Hey, it was the early 80s. The Me Decade. Gimme a break here.) And then I would psychoanalyze myself, or my friends, or anybody else who I thought I could dissect. I loved that stuff. Still do.

So sharing is in my blood. But I’m an adult now. I know what sharing can do. I don’t walk around at work talking about my therapy appointments and my latest self-epiphany. I don’t unload my concerns about my marriage or my sanity upon my kids while we’re sitting at a family dinner. So why do I do it here? What makes me think this is any smarter, any safer, than those things would be?

I just don’t know. But trust me, when I figure it out, you all will be the first to hear about it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Sane One

Baroy often brags, half-jokingly, that he's the only sane one in the family. (For what it's worth, in this instance he considers his family to be me, his three brothers, and his mother.) "I'm the only one not on meds," he'll say. "And the only one not in therapy."

"Which is not to say that you don't desperately NEED meds or therapy," I always counter. "It's just to say that you refuse to do anything about being crazy." And then we both laugh.

I'm not laughing so much these days.

In the last two days, two psychiatric health professionals--one an M.D., the other a Ph.D., and both of them mine--have declared Baroy to be suffering from a depression, possibly a full-out major depressive episode. I know what it's about. Heck, Baroy knows what it's about. It's about not having a job, not having any income of his own, not having a creative outlet, after nearly two straight years of not worrying about it, even though those were the first two years in his almost 50 years of life that his career was going so swimingly. And so the other morning, after we'd had a big, stupid, unfinished fight the night before, I woke to find him awake, staring morosely into space, and asked him what was the matter.

"I'm depressed," he said.

"Do you want me to get you a referral to a therapist?" I asked hopefully.

"No," he replied flatly. "A therapist isn't going to be able to get me a job, and that's what I need."

Clearly, he wasn't going to listen to me, so yesterday, my psychiatrist and I talked mostly about how important it is for Baroy to get therapy, and how impossibly stubborn he can be about things like that. (OK, my shrink talked about the former, I was the one who brought up the latter.) This is a man who decided he didn't like pasta or cheese when he was 8 years old, and has refused to eat them ever since. Obviously, he doesn't change his mind easily. Add to that the fact that he tried therapy once in the past, and had a therapist with whom he did not fit at all, and this is not going to be an easy sell.

When I got to my therapist's office today, I pretty much collapsed on her couch and railed about how impossibly annoying he's being, and how difficult it is to get him to be reasonable, and how he's dumping his anxiety and his fears and his angst onto me. And she sighed, commented slyly on how difficult it can be to live with a depressed person (ouch! I resemble that remark!), and told me, in no uncertain terms, to back way the heck off, to realize that his issues aren't about me, they're about him, and that even if I do take them on, it's not going to lighten his load.

And then she talked to me about options, and choices, and what I can or can't do to make things better. (Damn that woman and her non-stop calm rationality. Gets me every time.) We talked about what I want to do (step in, fix it, make him stop being such a butt-head), and what I can do (step back, let him try to fix it himself, stop being a butt-head back to him). And so I'm going to try, but damn it's hard, because I'm a big fat know-it-all, and I know that I know what's best for him, and I know that I know what he can do to make things better, and he just won't let me.

You know, sometimes it's hard being the smartest person in the world when no one will acknoweldge it. Sigh.

[And, um, welcome, Friends o' Michele! Not quite the light-and-airy post I might have planned for your visit, but what the heck. Maybe it's better that I didn't have the chance to get all gussied up and put on airs and try to be something I'm not, like sane or funny or able to say anything succinctly. All the same, I hope you enjoy your stay...and that I get to see you again 'round here one of these days. And hey, Michele, you rock. This is so cool. Seeing all these new faces here has made my previously cranky day.]

I Need a Boy Manual

Yesterday at preschool, N whacked his best friend WeeyumWise across the side of the face with a shovel. Both WeeyumWise and the teacher swear it was an accident. But both also pointed out that N pushed WeeyumWise off of his chair twice that same day, not quite so accidentally, although again, he was supposedly playing. And a few days ago, Weeyum's mom arrived at the preschool to find Weeyum and N taking turns shoving each other onto the ground, as part of yet another game.

All of this physicality is new, and I've been noticing it at home, too. And of course, it's been accompanied by a lot of finger-as-pistol pointing, another behavior I haven't really had to deal with in the past. (When Em flirted with the same behavior, I simply told her that I don't like guns, I'm scared of guns, and if she wanted to play gun games she had to do it out of our house, and she was not to ever point one at a friend, even if it is only made out of plastic. Though I did make a grudging exception for water guns. In any case, she grew bored of that kind of play in about five minutes.)

I'm at a loss about how to handle all of this. I know so little about the care and feeding of these young penis-laden, testosterone-swollen creatures, and I fear going too far in one direction or the other--either allowing him to become some kind of pint-sized bully, or disciplining all the natural exuberance right out of him. I don't want to do either. I want to let N be N, but at the same time, I don't want to let N be Jeffrey Dahmer.

In other words, I could use a gentle nudge in the direction of what you parents out there consider to be either The Book on the subject of raising a boy, or your own favorite piece of boy-dealing advice, wherever it comes from.

On a barely related note, is there anything cuter in the whole world than a 4-year-old boy who talks like an exhausted 41-year-old mother-of-two? I was putting dinner on the table Monday night, and both kids were buzzing around me like particularly persistent gnats. I snapped at them more than a couple of times, of that I'm sure. Nothing new there.

Anyway, we finally sit down to eat, all four of us, and Em reaches over N's plate to get the ketchup, rather than asking politely. All of a sudden, from his infinitely tiny body comes this enormous, long-suffering sigh. "Stop it, Emmy!" he says, pushing her arm away. "You just driving me crazy!"

Of course, the fact that all of us--Em included--burst into hysterical laughter did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for that new phrase, which he then delivered with all sorts of appropriate eye-rolling and hand-gesturing, because he is nothing if not his actor-father's son.

When we finally settled down, Baroy looks over at me and says, "Gee. Can't imagine where he picked up something like that, huh?"

Um, yeah. Me neither. [Insert innocent whistling here.]

And on a final, completely unrelated note, after I got home from work last night, I went out to run a few quick errands. This is what I came home with:

frozen pizza
a desk lamp
a plunger

In some ways, that pretty much sums up my life these days: eclectic and just a little bit bizarre.

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