Monday, April 30, 2007

Shut Up, You’re Making Me Hate You

Man, raising kids is hard. When they’re babies, and all they can do is blow bubbles, cry and excrete copiously, they are physically demanding little snots despite their extreme overloads of cuteness. Then they turn into toddlers who run all the time and need potty training, and they start talking a little.

As they get older they talk more, sometimes so much, and about such horribly uninteresting things, (uninteresting at least to the parent who has taken a hiatus from frequent adult interactions in order to raise his or her own spawn) that parents get that glazed fake smile thing going on. I’ve worn it myself – my eyes look like I’m one consumer complaint away from going postal and beating swans to death with a frying pan, but I’m smiling even though it looks like it hurts. Small bits of sarcasm will squirt out amongst my nurturing mom speak.

“Yes, dear, of course the Play-doh is changing color. That’s because you didn’t wash your grimy little hands before you started playing with it.” Then the maternal guilt gear switches on… “Let’s go wash our hands with the nice ducky soap Grandma gave you for Christmas and see if we can wash our way down to the prize inside!” And, silently, I’m thinking, “It’s a stupid whistle all clogged up with soap. I know this because these are the leftover duck soaps that I didn’t use when I was a kid, they all had the same damned useless whistle in them, and my mother never threw out anything. We’ll be lucky if we can work up a single soapsud with this damned Jurassic soap.”

Then they get older and go off to school and come home with special new words they learned on the bus, which I’d find out about over some holiday dinner. “Damn f*ckers!” said my five-year-old in response to not getting the sweet potatoes fast enough, “Summa bits!” He grinned, waiting cluelessly for the food to be passed his way as every single adult at the table stopped stock still in shock and horror, then collectively, in one grand, accusatory motion, their heads turned towards me, and they glared. There I was, holding a bowl of dressing in one hand, a spoon in the other, sweaty and distracted from cooking all day, and 14 of the people I’d grown up respecting, loving, and hoping to impress were staring at me, the world’s worst parent. And, being me, the only response that immediately came to mind, and which slipped unwittingly past my lips was, “Holy crap,” thereby confirming everyone’s implied criticism that the five-year-old had indeed learned his expletives at home.

The years have rolled on, teen years hit, and between home and school a modicum of socialization occurred, and my oldest kid learned to confine his obscene language to situations involving only other teenagers or a recently slammed door from behind which I frequently heard long, eloquent, unrestrained, sometimes very creative, emotional, offensive soliloquies. I chose not to fight that battle, as so many more presented themselves directly everyday. I have a cartoon on my refrigerator which has been there for a decade now and which is still applicable. It shows duos of one teen and one parent entering through a movieplex turnstile. On the theater wall is a huge poster declaring, “Bring a Moody Teenager and Get In FREE!”

And then we arrived at the late teen years. By this time my kid has more of a clue about what words are socially acceptable and which aren’t, and he does a better job of keeping the good ones more active than the obscene ones. I’d hoped, somewhere back in my optimistic head, that we’d be getting along better now, that we could start the journey towards being adult relatives who love each other and can be friends. I forgot that he’s still fighting the separation battle all on his own. I’m perfectly happy for him to take full charge of himself, but he’s still fighting his way out of his life as a dependent as if it were an arena filled with powerful trolls and evil magicians, and he’s armed only with a sharp wit and an even sharper knowledge of which of my buttons to push to make me cede the power he thinks I still have.

This morning after everyone else had left to start their days elsewhere, I was sitting at the table, knitting a little on my sock yarn afghan during my morning break that I take between the frenzy of hustling them all off to their destinations and before I start chores. Spawn meandered by on his way towards college for the day, and I asked him if he had put a lot of extra dishes in the sink last night, since they weren’t there last night and they certainly were this morning. He said, “No, I don’t do that. I’m not the kind of person who does that. I know who did, or at least I suspect who did, but you don’t want to hear that from me, so I’m not going to say another word.”

I’d have been happy if he’d stopped at “No,” but Button No. 1 had been pushed, so I said, “All I asked was if you did it. I didn’t ask for any speculation. You didn’t, I can figure out who it probably was by myself, thanks. And, stop pretending you can read my mind, I think that’s really annoying.” To which he replied, “I’m not pretending to read your mind, I just know that the last 1800 times I’ve told you who does that stuff, you haven’t wanted to hear it.” Button No. 2 elicited my responding with, “You’re doing it again. Go to school.”

He replied, “I’m going to COLLEGE now because I already know I’m right.” He wandered off, then wandered back and squirted the following through the doorway, “You just proved my point, you know.” I tried very hard not to bite a chunk out of my coffee cup. I waited until I heard the door slam behind him, because teenaged boys do not close doors, they slam them, then watched to make sure his car drove off down the street and let out a huge breath and said, “DAMNIT!” and “for the love of God!”

I don’t understand how or when I became the enemy who needed vanquishing on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. I am heartily sick of it, though, and I wonder if his constant assaults on me as a person, as a parent, and as an adult are really necessary. I wonder if I’m still being too nice, dawdling along indecisively in an unhelpful way.

If we were birds, I’d have shoved him out of the nest long ago with no remorse or regrets. If we were badgers, he’d still have the scar on his back from my biting him ferociously when he sassed me on his way out the door of the family den for the final time.

I’m feeling a little crushed, an ongoing condition of parenting, I think, but different from all the other variations once again. I wonder how I’m supposed to go about teaching him to stop being an asshole to me without hurting him, myself, or our relationship in the process. I’m tired, down in my heart, of explaining things, of being patient, of setting my feelings aside in order to be a good parent who looks first for what my child needs rather than prioritizing my own needs.

And, while I really, really, really, in my reptilian brain, have a huge desire to say to him, “Shut up, asshole, you’re making me hate you,” I know I won’t. I wish I knew what to say instead, though.

Oddball Word of the Day

matripotestal (MA-tree-poh-TES-tl) adj. of or relating to authority wielded by a mother or a mother's side of a family

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Five Things About Getting Into College

1. Your High School Has a Reputation: Yep, and the colleges in your state know it. Possibly, if a lot of the graduates go to a particular out of state college, that college knows it, too. Your high school may be known as being horrible about inflating grades, grading fairly, being outstanding in science and math, or having really well-trained students in foreign languages who need math remediation. Some of the teachers in your high school also have reputations at college – as being outstanding in preparing students, or as being burnouts who hand out A’s and lard transcripts with false information like so many scared hookers needing to meet a pimp-enforced quota. You might want to see if you can find a loose-lipped or just open and truthful admissions office employee in a nearby college to see what your high school’s rep is.

2. Grade Point Averages/Class Rank: These don’t count as much as you might think, particularly if your high school has a funky system of adding points depending on how they rank the difficulty of the class. Once the colleges know, and that happens pretty quickly after the fact, that your high school is grading AP classes on a 6 point scale and honors classes on a 5 point scale, with regular classes at 4 points for an A, the GPA and class ranking stats are either disregarded or looked at very differently. This kind of thing is excused by high school administration as a way of preventing students from gaming the system by taking all slacker classes and getting straight As to beat out someone who took challenging courses and got a GPA lower than 4.0. It may matter for the high school, but once this enters the data stream, it diminishes the whole class rank/GPA importance at the admissions level. Often, colleges will ignore the high school GPA and recalculate yours on a strict 4 point scale, only checking on course names/attributes if the GPA is unusually low. Also, class size matters. Being #5 out of 2000 is different than being #1 of 200.

3. Standardized Tests: The ACT and the SAT tests are important because they are the only uniform, objective measure of student achievement and aptitude available to the college. As GPAs and transcripts become infested with all kinds of manipulations, these tests become more and more important in the admissions process. Really outstanding scores can open doors on their own – admissions departments will look at those and, regardless of grades, see a gifted student looking for somewhere to call home, and most colleges would dearly love to enroll and enthrall as many gifted students as possible. The better the supporting grades, especially if they were in challenging courses, the faster the acceptance letter goes out. Even average or barely above-average grades can be excused under the “bored gifted student” theory, if the scores are high enough. When you get into the middle regions on the test scores, that’s when transcripts and high school GPAs are examined more closely for support or explanation. Conversely, a straight A transcript with a mediocre test score will signal that there's a high likelihood of grade inflation.

4. AP Classes: AP classes are not as highly regarded on campuses as you might think. At this point, most Ivy League colleges are only accepting scores of 5 on the AP exam as being sufficient for the student to skip an introductory level class. Some of them are no longer allowing students to skip introductory classes at all and don’t accept AP scores in lieu thereof. Other colleges may accept a 3 but require an additional placement test to confirm knowledge, however, they’ll let 4’s and 5’s skip the intro classes. There has been a debate raging for years over the validity of the AP class structure and curriculum as opposed to honors level classes and how each of these aligns with college expectations. I personally do not recommend AP classes for my kids or for others UNLESS the student has already taken every other available class in that discipline and has a true interest and desire to take the AP class. There is much more to be learned and experienced in the college classroom of comparable level that cannot be duplicated in a high school setting, and in the race for grades, GPAs and class standings, students who take an AP class just for the “status” or points may be missing out on far more valuable lessons in a good honors class, or in the college class they’d like to skip.

5. You don’t have to graduate from the first college you attend: I think the estimate, last time I saw it, was that about 3/5 of all colleges students who graduate do not do so from the college they first entered as freshmen. Since the 70’s, college students have become more nomadic, life stresses have changed, and families themselves move several times, bringing college students with them sometimes.

It’s not a bad idea to consider getting those first couple of years of credits from a cheaper college whose credits will transfer to your student’s eventual college of choice. The costs of attending a 4-year university are rising frighteningly every year already, anyway. It may be that your student doesn’t have the scores or grades to get into their preferred college – better to go to somewhere cheaper and prove themselves by doing well in college level courses and then transferring to the desired location. This also gives students a chance to accustom themselves to college level work, save a little extra money so any student loans won’t be outrageous, and to figure out if they really want to stick with their first choice as a major, or if something else is a better fit, which might also change their minds about what college they want to finish up at.

Most colleges require that you take 60 hours through their school in order to get a degree from them. That’s the last 2 years, at 15 hours per semester. Transfer information is available on their websites, and that information shows what colleges and which courses from the current college have been comped out to classes on the desired college campus.

OK, that’s it for me for the week. Have a great weekend!

Oddball Word of the Day

oystered (OI-sterd): adj. (of furniture) veneered with designs made up of concentric rings

(from the MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

German Idiom for Friday

in alles seine Nase hineinstecken: to poke one's nose into everything

zB: Es aergert mich, wie er seine Nase in alles hineinsteckt. Wieviel Geld ich verdiene, geht ihn einfach nichts an.

auf Englisch: It annoys me how he pokes his nose into everything. How much money I earn is just no business of his.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chix Pix

Here are the pictures I was trying to upload last week of projects underway in our wee little local knitting group.

This one is a baby sweater, done in Shadows (I think) yarn from Patons. It's very soft, and the color variations are lovely. Dig those fancy stitch holders! I can't help thinking of hard plastic curlers that we used to use when I was a young sprout, but these look to be holding stitches even better than those curlers held hair!

And here's a baby blanket, crocheted, but who cares. It looks great -- not sure about the yarn, but this gal has done a great job blending the colors.

And, here, being held by our doyienne, our maven, our Goddess of Fancy Schmancy Stitches, is a pair of fabulous socks in a soft natural yarn with the most beautiful and subtle variations in color that I think I've ever seen. I think these twin gorgeousities are from a Maggie's Rags pattern, but I was too busy drooling in envy to pay that much attention.
I, meanwhile, am plugging along on the Charlotte's Web shawl which looks exactly the same as before only more so. I'd be bored with it if the group conversation weren't so distractingly interesting that I wind up having to undo rows because I've gone off count.
And, as I promised, here's the latest Sock Afghan in progress. I've had to add in some Moda Dea which is really a sport weight, but some of the sock yarns are the heavier weight anyway, so there was always going to be some variation in density anyway. Why not use up my oddballs of lightweight yarns? It's being fun.
Keep 'em clickin'!

Oddball Word of the Day

proem (PROH-eem) n. a preface; an introduction

(from the MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Midwestern Medley

Well, last night I went out to visit a friend at her workplace, and we spent about an hour hashing over the recent school board elections and debating intelligent design. It was an interesting discussion. This morning, just as I was loading a pan of biscuits in the oven, another good friend called, a retired high school math teacher, and we worked over the problems with schools today (mission creep, low teacher standards, and general cussedness all around), and talked about a declining yarn shop.

I could probably hold forth about any one of these things at great and vigorous length, but then your eyes would probably glaze over, and to paraphrase Dave Barry, your brains would sneak out of the auditorium of your skull and go off to play Frisbee in the park. Besides, between Wikipedia’s entries on any one or all of those topics and various authoritative and credible websites, I’d just be duplicating existing electrons in the cyber spume hanging over the Midwest anyway.

So, I think I’ll talk about my refrigerator instead. Well, not actually my refrigerator, more like what’s in it. Or, even more accurately, what’s not in it. I have thrown out the honey mustard. I know that probably doesn’t make drums beat, horns tootle and pennons flutter for you, but it’s a big step for me.

I’m generally pretty good about combing through leftovers once a week or more to add to meals in the making or just to get them out of there before they become unidentifiable. I’m not so good at doing the same for the door of my frig, which is where all the useful and hopeful condiments hang out. All the popular condiments hang out on the top rack – the mayonnaise, ketchup, yellow mustard, Miracle Whip and sweet pickle relish. If there’s a skosh more room, a plastic lime might be there, too, for the few times hubs or I want to have a drink and squirt a little citrus into it.

The second shelf holds our second string, backup type condiments – Worcestershire sauce, a bottle of lemon juice, teriyaki and/or soy sauce, jams and jellies. The third shelf has the hopeful items on it, things I’ve bought for a particular recipe I tried once and not enough people liked it for me to make it again before the ingredients became forgotten. That’s where capers, the pickles with the missing label, olives of uncertain birth date, and the horseradish stay.

The third shelf also has odd mustards that only I like, and things in jars we get as gifts. After a certain age, I think lots of us get things in jars for gifts. Hot pepper jelly, mint jelly, some kind of marmalade with a peculiar spice in it, or organic apple butter that wasn’t quite right the first time you tried it, but you couldn’t stand to throw it out just in case someone else might like it better. I think the third shelf in my frig door should be called the “just in case” shelf. So that’s where the honey mustard was.

The bottom shelf has salad dressing on it. The only reason it’s been sent to the equivalent of refrigerator purgatory instead of being located higher up is that that’s the shelf with enough room for the bottles to stand upright. We keep fairly up to date on our dressings.

So anyway, back to the “just in case” shelf and honey mustard. I don’t keep track of freshness dates on the “just in case” condiments, even though I know I should. Most of the time what goes through my mind is either, “It’s PICKLED, how can it go bad?” or “How can you tell if horseradish has gone bad anyway?” As a result, the third shelf gets crowded, stuff is stacked on top of other stuff until something falls to the floor once too often when I open the frig, and I decide to cull the condiment herd. Unless someone else is next to me, making their wishes known, I tend to throw out stuff I don’t like and leave stuff I think I might like behind.

That’s not as successful as it could be, since I have very eclectic tastes in food and a very hopeful, optimistic approach to using up even the strangest of pickled or preserved things in jars. “I can put it in a stir fry/batch of cranberry sauce/pasta salad,” I think to myself. Then the capers grow more tired looking as I keep forgetting to put them in something, and I still don’t know if those are dill or sweet pickles lollygagging on my third shelf.

Today, as I was making myself a sandwich out of Things The Children Won’t Eat, like cappicola, some Christmas cheese with a creepily fake name, like Edamster du Nord, I thought I’d put some honey mustard on the sandwich for a little tangy taste treat. We got this mustard in a gift box along with the creepy cheese and a couple of those sausages with no particular flavor but an estimated shelf-life in the range of Lincoln’s four-score reference. I think we had previously put it on Townhouse crackers and added real pepperoni.

Anyway, as I opened the jar and attempted to stir the honey mustard around to homogenize it, I remembered why we had never finished it in the first place. It’s got too much honey and not enough mustard, and it tastes like honey with a little accidental mustard in it. I used it anyway because my parents’ leftover Depression era bull-headed frugality pops up frequently when I’m in the kitchen, trying to not waste food. The sandwich would have been better, by a long shot, without the honey mustard.

As I sat at the table, chewing manfully through a sandwich made nasty by inappropriate frugality, I decided I had had enough. No one was going to come racing up behind me and push me to my death over chucking mustard no one will eat. We were not going to have to tell our children we couldn’t send them to college because I had thrown out a jar of gift mustard and thereby whimsically squandered their college funds on some replacement Grey Poupon. So, I chucked it. I felt so triumphant that I threw out the olives, too, and then the capers.

I’m still working up to the horseradish and the mystery pickles. No need to get carried away.

Oddball Word of the Day

mugwump (MUG-wump) n. 1. one who acts independently of political parties or affects superiority in political or other issues, 2. one who cannot decide his views or who takes a neutral view in political or other issues

(from the MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Plans for Life

Bunny is preparing for her ACT exam to be held in the middle of this week. This weekend she was telling me how she would not normally be stressed out over it, but the school administrators and her peers are strung tighter than a lot of guitar strings over it, which is, in turn, very wearing and wearying for her.

I’m pretty sure that part of the reason the administrators are wired is because the ACT results at the high school have been dropping over the last few years, and, while the drop is not huge, it is a matter of concern in the big picture. It makes them look bad (and for good reason, I think), so they’ve been recommending $80 preparation sessions for students, even going so far as to send promotional flyers home to parents with lots of exclamation points and holding assemblies during school hours to try to convince the students to enroll in these sessions.

I remember a few years ago when a very bright cousin called me up and said her brilliant son was worried about not doing well on the SATs, and she asked me if I, since I used to tutor for ACT/SAT prep, would talk to him. He got on the phone, and I said, “Did you go to school for the last 11 years?” He snorted and said he had. I asked, “Did you pay attention?” He said that of course he had. I asked, “Were your grades good?” He said they were. “Did you take challenging courses,” I asked. He recited a list including mainly honors courses, calculus, and other highly regarded classes. I said, “You’ll do fine. Get a good night’s sleep, and eat a nice breakfast. Take extra pencils.” He laughed and handed the phone back to his mom. She chuckled as he repeated our conversation in the background. “Thank you” she said, “he was so worried that there was something more he was supposed to have done. I know he’ll do well, and he looks much calmer now.” He did extremely well and was offered quite a few scholarships.

I repeated the gist of this conversation to Bunny as we talked. She relaxed, too. I pointed out to her that the review classes are mainly for kids who have not done well in their challenging courses or who have not taken difficult classes. They won’t have the familiarity with upper level mathematics that she has, nor will they have challenged themselves with learning their mother tongue to the extent she has.

She laughed and told me about her English class, where, for the last 6 weeks, the teacher has been handing out vocabulary lists for the students to study and get tested on. She said, “Mom, every time we get one of these lists, I look down it, and I already know most of the words. You use them around us all the time, and if we ask what they mean, you either tell us or make us look them up ourselves. It’s kind of funny.” We grinned at each other and recited my humorous vocabulary mantra, “nexus, frangible, apoplexy,” and giggled some more because for the last few years, I’ve been prodding the kids to learn some unusual words by using those three in conversation and NOT telling them what they mean. Instead, I wink and tell them they’re going to find all three of those words on at least one standardized exam, and they should learn to use them in their writing, too.

Bunny then segued into what’s really bugging her – the career tests they’ve been given lately and her concerns that there must be something wrong with her because she doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life yet. I told her I’d be very surprised if many people really knew what they wanted to do with their lives at age 17, that my experience told me that teenagers usually have, at best, an idealized view of what they’d like to do, but that most of them have no clue and feel very panicky about being told they should know, unequivocally, what they want to major in and then do until they leave this mortal coil. She and I talked about how many people don’t work in the field they majored in, not directly, and not for their entire lives, that they change jobs over the course of a lifetime.

And, we talked again about how the first two years of a college education are usually general studies years anyway, where you get to take a lot of different courses and find out what hits your hot button, what you’re good at, what you find that you truly enjoy doing. She looked a little skeptical, so I told her about my own experience.

I had entered college with the pigheaded teen notion that only a degree in Chemistry would do for me. It was not a positive time in the history of women in America for women to major in the sciences, particularly not the “hard” sciences. Women were more often found in Biology or Horticulture, but seldom in Physics or Chemistry. There were times I was the only female in a given Chemistry class. I took a roster of various classes, did well in them, but found myself becoming disenchanted with Chemistry while becoming more engrossed in my business classes and finding real joy in studying German. I stayed pigheaded for a number of years, feeling that I would somehow be letting myself down if I didn’t doggedly pursue that Chemistry degree and ignoring what my innate talents told me was a better course of study for me. That pigheadedness was one of the reasons it took me so long to get the degrees that I finally did get at age 40-ish.

I pointed out to Bunny that my wish for her was not that she would know what she wanted to learn before she went to college, but that she would be lucky enough to take a class that would be interesting, motivating, challenging, and fulfilling, and that I really didn’t care what it is, what matters to me is that SHE finds it worthy of pursuing further. She nodded and mentioned again how much pressure the teachers and staff at the high school are putting on the kids to decide now what they’re going to major in in college.

I told her to ignore them, that the best preparation for doing well in college in any major is to do exactly what she’s been doing so far – taking challenging courses, doing her best, and making sure to try to learn something valuable in each one. She still looked worried, so I asked her how she felt about the upcoming ACTs.

Bunny said she felt pretty well prepared for the English segments, but she was a little worried about the math portion. So, I gave her a tip – she has already learned all the math she’s going to before the test, what she needs to do in order to feel more confident is remind herself of the math she hasn’t been using lately, and that’s easy enough to do – just flip backwards through her current text and the ones we have around the house, and write important formulas on one side of a flash card, the definition on the other side, and mentally review how to do each one of them. Remembering the vast number of formulas, particularly for geometry, can be a real sticky point during the math segment.

Her mouth fell open, and she said, “Oh, my God. I never thought of using flash cards, even though you taught me to do them for French, and they work PERFECTLY all the time. I’m going to do that!” She hugged me, and I smiled at her, happy to have relieved some of her stress.

Later, she was working on some homework for English and picked out a bunch of words from Poe’s “The Raven” that she wasn’t sure of. She asked me about them, and I answered, although one had me stymied at first. I asked her to spell it out for me, and I made a guess – sublunary – sub – beneath or lesser, lun – moon, ary – characterized by being…, so I said that all out loud and guessed that it might mean something beneath the moon. She looked it up, and that’s the first definition. She smiled at me again and said, “Good work piecing that out, Mom, thanks.” And, I know she wasn’t thanking me for knowing the word, she was thanking me for reminding her that she knows how to do that, too.

I don’t have the answers for what other people, not even my children, should be doing with their lives. I don’t even know what I should be doing with mine, truth be told. I do have some tools I can share with them to help them find their own stars and learn how to trust themselves along the way, and I hope I can get those across to them.

Guess I’d better go do my own “homework” now, too.

Oddball Word of the Day

thews (THYOOZ): n. pl. sinew; muscle; muscular strength

(from the MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Five Things To Do For My Head Cold

I hate head colds. With a stuffy nose I sound stupid and comical and pathetic all at the same time, my nose gets red, and I’m cranky. As a mom, and many, many moms can relate, unless I make a specific conscious effort to treat myself as well as I would a sick kid, I could have this durned cold for the rest of the month. So,

1. Put the warm, ugly robe back on: I’m not going anywhere, so there’s no reason to be all dressed and harnessed up like I’m going to be called on to be the emergency chairmom for a PTO meeting. I think many women have favorite ugly robes. My sister used to have one made out of a pink chenille bedspread. It had been washed so many times it was more of a mauve-gray color, and it was big enough to cover her and two shy Druids.

My stepmom had a blue, quilted “sick day” robe that zipped up the front and had big cabbage roses on it, along with handy side pockets for holding tissues. Mine is a green velour robe with a zipper, and one good pocket. It used to have two good pockets, but I left a dog cookie in one when Hoover was a puppy, and he got the cookie by chewing through the pocket. I guess that’s one example of doggedness. Anyway, my green horror has been so well loved that I’ve completely worn away the nap on the elbows and was left only with the underlying mesh until I patched over those with some spare blue sweatshirt material. The hems are frayed, too. It’s a perfect sick day robe.

2. Lie on the couch without guilt, all day: Normally I feel pretty guilty about lying around on the couch unless it’s late and I’m watching TV with the kids or the hubby. The last time I lay down on the couch during the day for an extended period of time, I had just broken a big toe and needed to elevate it and let the aspirin kick in. That was in 2003 or so.

3. Take vitamins and slurp them down with Orange Juliuses: I always tell the kids to take vitamins when they’ve got colds, and I guess I’ll line up the OTC bottles and have at them myself today. I figure Orange Juliuses are good medicine – half orange juice and half 7-Up – nutritious and soothing to a potentially cranky stomach!

4. Let someone else fix dinner: We swap off making dinner, and the kids have gotten really good at it over the years. This would normally be one of my nights to cook, but it’s kind of icky to think of sick people cooking the food. Since I’m the sickie, I will excuse myself from cookery and nominate whoever the heck else feels up to it. All the kids know how to make chicken soup from scratch, y’know, if anyone was looking for hints and ideas.

5. Put down the needles and wallow in stuff I’ve already knit and read until I doze off: It’s just cool enough today to need an afghan and some nice hand knit socks. Hey, lucky me, I have plenty of each! I’ve also been on a series reading kick and am working on Charlotte MacLeod’s Sarah Kelling/Max Bittersohn books. I’m up to The Convivial Codfish, one of my favorites. It doesn’t take a lot of brainpower, but it is amusing and sweet.

Have a great weekend, and take good care of yourselves, too!

Oddball Word of the Day

aleatory (AY-lee-eh-toh-ree) adj. depending on a contingent event; uncertain; dependent on luck

(...and, in case anyone has forgotten why I abbreviate it so outrageously, this is from The New York Times Everyday Reader's Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, Mispronounced Words edited by Laurence Urdang) !

German Idiom for Friday

Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat. : Time will tell (prov.)

zB: Soll ich sie heiraten oder nicht? Die Entscheidung faellt mir schwer, aber kommt Zeit, kommt Rat.

auf Englisch: Should I marry her or not? It's a difficult decision, but time will tell.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Laughter is Good for Everyone

Well, I tried to get myself set up to post a video directly to my blog, and it looks like I’ll have to wait until YouTube catches up to the new, improved Blogger. Anyway, here a link to a laughing baby that made me smile and laugh, too.

And, since I promised to keep you updated on the progress of the mitered square sock yarn afghan, I’ve gotten almost another full row of 9 squares done and tried to upload a picture. Blogger is refusing to acknowledge it, so I’m going to take my technologically cursed self out and do something low-tech today!

Have a great Thursday!

Oddball Word of the Day

titivate (TIT-eh-vate) v. todress up; to make smart; to adorn

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Inspired Total Dorkhood

Sometimes I have these ideas that I know are funny in a ha-ha way, but then I get an urge to try them out in real life. When I mention them to my family with lots of enthusiasm for actually carrying them out, they look at me like the total dork I occasionally am.

My usual ideas, if we’re counting by number of recommendations, include classroom activism. I keep urging my kids to ask for homework if they haven’t been assigned any, to ask for more homework if they’ve only been given busywork, or to ask to have some lame coloring project changed to a term paper or research paper. I feel very enthusiastic about this! They are convinced I am dangerously hyperacademic. I also suggested that my daughter motivate all her friends in French 4 to march to and fro in front of the principal’s office class during the lunch period, campaigning for French 5 or a Conversation class. She gave me the look. Hey, the teacher said she’d teach either one if the administration would approve it!

Then there are resurrection ideas – where I try to resurrect something that used to be popular either in my youth or in someone else’s long before my time, but that sound interesting. My neighbors think the idea of a progressive dinner party is the strangest thing they’ve ever heard of. Actually, that works out OK for me because I probably couldn’t afford the maid service hours it would take to turn our house, which looks more like a large college dorm co-op on the inside, into a suitable destination even for just the nuts course. I’m still trying to sell Sock Hops to the teenagers I encounter.

I have to hold myself back from holding forth in the Voice of the People letters to the editor column in the newspaper about once a month. It’s not that I’m looking to rouse rabble, it’s that we have a really lame paper, and I’d like to take them to task for doing less investigation of the facts in their own stories than George Bush did on his college term papers. I could get all worked up about protesting pretty much anything our current government has done, too, but that all seems to involve riding on buses to distant places or sitting in a tent with no indoor plumbing, and I have a weak bladder.

So, my latest dorky idea combines several elements. First of all, I support charities – not single-handedly (har!), but there are certainly a number of very worthy charities around and I like to support them to a reasonable extent. Usually, that involves either writing a check or knitting something, since I’m not very likely to give a batch of perfectly good brownies to anyone, not with three teenagers in my own house. I read in the local paper that the police department is sponsoring a Trivia Night with the proceeds going to Special Olympics. I actually volunteered with Special Olympics in my misspent youth, and they really do a good job making the participants feel good about themselves and promoting healthy activity. The Trivia Night will accept pre-determined teams of 8 or you can pay at the door and join any open table.

My first thought was to get my entire family together and get the three kids to bring a friend each and we’d be our own table. They nixed it. Then I suggested to hubs that he find a friend or two, and I’d find a friend or two, and then, with our kids, we’d be a table. He nixed it. I thought about asking my local sub-chapter of Mensa to get a team together, but the last time I did anything of the sort, it wound up being me and the coordinator, who was late and had to leave early, so that was pretty much of an automatic nixing, since I have no interest in expending as much energy as it would take to find 7 local M’s and then whip them into a participatory mood.

I may have mentioned here before that I live in the “meanest town in Illinois”, as more than one visitor from another country has dubbed it. Lots of newcomers feel the same way, and I have plenty of episodes of my own I could relate, but I would bore myself as well as you by recounting them. Suffice it to say that like most small towns, this one has its fair share of xenophobes and they are vocally so. So, newcomers can be here decades and still feel like they’re not part of the town.

I’ve recently had occasion to encounter a few such newcomers-of-decades, and we enjoy one another’s company, and not just for the purpose of trashing the xenophobes and their –ia, as it were. We converse, we dine, we laugh, and we discuss a wide variety of things. So, now I’m thinking of getting a group of newcomers together as a team for the Trivia Night. At first, in a small moment of nastiness, I thought of designating such a group the “NFM Club”, or Not From Mxxxx Club. But that would be mean and backfire, and we have spouses who work here who would not appreciate any potential slurs.

So, now I’m thinking, hey, why not just go forward in a way that would accomplish the goal without being snarky– making new friends, making newcomers feel welcome, and contributing to a good cause, and offer ID badges that just identify us as “FRIENDLY” for anyone who wants to join a table at Trivia Night. We could fill in our first names underneath, and it wouldn’t matter if you were from town or new or a long-term newcomer, being FRIENDLY is a good thing.

Except, I think I might be being a total dork again. But I’m still THINKING about it!

Oddball Word of the Day

luteous (LOO-tea-us) adj. of a greenish yellow color

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Spawn Abroad

Spawn went on his first solo trip out of state this past weekend. I suppose he wasn’t really solo, seeing as his girlfriend went with him. They wanted to visit a mutual friend from high school who got married a few months ago and moved to somewhere outside of Indianapolis.

We loaded him up with gasoline, proof of insurance, an emergency road service number, my obnoxious Garmin navigator, an emergency-only credit card, and more good advice than any teenaged boy wants. He and his girlfriend headed off mid-afternoon, and, as they left, I hugged him, told him I trusted him to be safe, hoped he had a great time, and not to worry about calling until he was on his way back on Sunday. He was so thrilled.

When he first proposed the idea, my gut said, “NO! ACK! Road dangers!” and then I remembered that I’m supposed to be showing him trust and letting him grow up. My husband let his gut talk for him, especially once he heard about the girlfriend going along, but at least he said all the parent things to me, not Spawn. I told him that I understood and then pointed out that he and I had not only been taking road trips together for quite some time when I was 19, but that we also went to Michigan on a motorcycle, too. He looked like he wished my memory weren’t quite so good, but he also gave a wry grin and said, “OK, I see what you mean.”

I was glad I didn’t have to argue too much in favor of letting Spawn scamper across state lines; I’d have felt horrible if anything had happened and I had been an unwitting party to unfortunate events. We made a team decision and told Spawn that we were fine with him going, that we just had a few ordinary, commonsense restrictions that we felt obliged to say aloud, and he was truly delighted that we had OK’d the trip. I think he expected more of a fight.

Well, Spawn arrived home last night happy and healthy and clearly pleased beyond compare to have made a big road trip without a parent. I have no doubt that he worried a little, silently, in bits, since this was his first such trip. I’m also quite sure that he made sure to be sensible and prudent without sacrificing his fun time. He was full of road stories, which was cute – the main road there was closed for a section and they had to detour down a spooky road, and Garmin made sure they were able to find their way back to the main drag. They encountered new traffic patterns, got some experience on interstate highways, learned how to travel as a couple, and laughed and talked.

Then Spawn said something that made me realize that behind the goatee and the earrings that same smart kid is still chewing things over. He said, “You know, I understand now why road trips are such a part of American culture. You’d think it would be the big things that made road trips interesting, but it’s not. It’s the little things that you see or talk about along the way, and how people can relate to each other differently on a road trip. We didn’t do anything particularly different or huge, but I feel different now that I’ve done a road trip.” And then he started eating up all my cheese again.

It’s different from this side, too. It was nice that it turned out well, and I feel good about it myself. I’m glad to see him building confidence in himself and taking risks and trying new things. I’m happy to see him maintaining distant friendships and evaluating other people’s choices without making judgments. I’m glad he and his girlfriend got away from their family stressors and related with each other and peers for a few days.

And breathing and sleeping were a little easier last night and today, too.

Oddball Word of the Day

turpitude (TUR-pih-tood): n. wickedness of character; a wicked or depraved act

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Five Favorite Stuffed Toys

I didn’t have many stuffed animals or dolls as a kid – I had a koala bear instead of a teddy bear, and back then stuffed things were usually stuffed with an abominable sawdust mixture and made of heinous plastic fibers, which made them mostly uncuddly and very unwashable, so the koala was Not My Favorite. I also had some hand-me-down toys from my sister, and, sibling rivalry having been ramped up to the nuclear level between us, you can imagine how little I cared about the hand-me-downs. A few months ago, I decided to quit stealing my kids’ stuffed toys and get some for myself, just because. So, I have:

1. A stuffed emperor penguin with chick: I love this one, it’s soft, soft, and I like penguins. The chick is attached, sitting right between Dad’s feet, cute as can be. This one rides in my car with me, and the kids borrow it for cuddling when we’re going somewhere.

2. A Raggedy Ann and Andy: I count them as one because it seems wrong to have one twin without the other. When I was in elementary school, there were a lot of kids’ books about the Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. They ate a lot of candy, in fact, they ate candy exclusively. I thought that was a little yucky, but I liked the whole fantasy aspect of their stories when I was a kid. Also, I can wash them, and I like that they are plain, modest, and friendly looking.

3. Paddington Bear: Oh, Paddington. If I could have traded lives with anyone or anything or a fictional character in my childhood, it would have been Paddington. I envied him his life with the Brown family. No matter how sticky he got, how often he got lost, how many times he dug up the wrong plant, let the tub run over, or made a mess of the kitchen, they loved him nonetheless. What a lucky bear! I envied his duffel coat and his rain hat, and I wished I were him. So, I have a Paddington Bear, and he sits in my knitting basket next to my usual chair. Sometimes I just look and him and smile, and other times I pick him up and straighten his coat and give him a hug. A Paddington Bear is a good thing.

4. Not Got A Sock Monkey Yet. I can’t decide whether I want to knit one for myself or buy a pre-made sock monkey on line. When I was little, you couldn’t buy sock monkeys, someone had to make one for you. My friend Sarah had one, and all the way up until 6th grade, she slept with her sock monkey. It looked rode hard and put away wet and was all lopsided because she liked to sleep on it in one particular way. Lucky monkey, to be so loved! So, I’m still dithering over the monkey.

5. Fifi, sort of. She’s a black poodle wearing blue pajamas and white bunny slippers. I tried to give her to my daughter, but my daughter has her tiny teddy, Theodora, who rules the Pink Bedroom with a worn Iron Paw. Bunny doesn’t play with Fifi much, and every time I’m in her room, I pick up Fifi and snuggle with her. I went to one of those stores where you pick out a stuffed animal and add any noisemakers to it, if you want, before they fluff in the stuffing for you. Then you pick out clothing and pay a large wad of cash, and they create a nice cardboard cradle or pet crate, and you have to name the critter before you leave. Fifi was my first. I later had a pig stuffed and dressed him in a silver tracksuit and gave him to Spawn. His name was Kevin Bacon. Yeah, well, I probably needed an aspirin.

Anyway, I’m thinking of filing formal adoption papers to have Fifi become mine officially, and if that causes a lot of horrified expressions on Bunny’s face, followed by a great teenaged slamming of doors, then I’ll go make one up for myself.

Man, now I feel like I need a nap. With a stuffed critter!

Oddball Word of the Day

antipathy (an-TIP-uh-thee): n. a settled aversion; a basic repugnance

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

German Idiom for Friday

sich ins Zeug legen: to work flat out, to go hammer and tongs at something

zB: Wenn du die vielen Briefe heute noch fertigschreiben willst, musst du dich ins Zeug legen.

auf Englisch: If you want to get all those letters written by today you'll have to work flat out.

Origin: Here "Zeug" refers to the harness of the draught animal.

(from the guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another Sock Yarn Project

Well, it’s been a while, but I haven’t been doing much because the weather has been pretty warm. It snowed yesterday, so I started another project. I have lots and lots of leftover bits of sock yarn, so I’m doing mitered squares. It will probably wind up being a blanket of sorts, but I’m not sure yet if I’m going to join strips diagonally, thus making the miters point upwards, or if I like the look of them being kind of sideways, like some optical illusion.

For this project, I’m using size 4 needles, and casting on 40 stitches. I then slip one stitch for a tighter edge and knit one row plain, then knit to the two stitches before the middle (K18) then K2tog, (insert maker) then sl 1, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over, and knitting the remaining 18 stitches. The next row is sl 1, knit plain (38 sts). On the next row and every OTHER row thereafter, I knit to the last two sts before the marker and miter as noted above. When I’m down to only 4 sts remaining, I k2 tog, sl 1, k 1, psso, then turn and knit the last two sts together. I leave that stitch on the needle and pick up 19 more stitches down one side of the square for 20 stitches, insert a marker and cast on 20 more. Knit one row plain and continue as before. Also, I put a safety pin on what I decide is the right side of the work so I don’t forget.

I’ll keep you posted as this evolves.

Keep ‘em clickin’!

Oddball Word of the Day

ventose (VEN-tohs) adj. windy; given to empty talking

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How Was My Easter? IN-LAWS! ‘Nuff Said.

Well, probably not, or I wouldn’t be writing a blog entry about it! I should also, for flavor, introduce the cast of characters – my family was there, of course, which included hubs, Spawn, Bunny, Doodle, and me. Hubs has Issues with his siblings. His entire family has problems with clocks – one time they showed up 4 hours late for a housewarming. What makes that particularly relevant is that it was ours. Spawn had to go to work in the afternoon, so we all agreed that we would make sure to leave in time.

My mother-in-law, widowed last year, her husband of almost 60 years having died of CJD, was there, of course. I admire the way she is bouncing back, at 82 years of age, from such a tremendous loss. She’s involved with her remaining friends and has survived with aplomb (or perhaps senility) the passing of a dear friend in the interim. She stays active in her community and is working on learning to fend for herself. She has moved out of the family homestead – a 50 year old tract home in the south suburbs and into a small townhouse which was specifically designed for older people who may be having mobility issues – wheelchair wide doorways, grip bars in strategic locations, easy access all around. She and I had a difficult few years, but since her mild stroke at her 50th anniversary party, and my subsequent bulldozing of pretty much everyone to get her to the hospital, we’ve found a new appreciation and accord for and with one another. She’s pretty deaf and sometimes forgets her hearing aids, and she’s kind of a mumbler.

Then there was my brother-in-law, a confirmed bachelor, aged 50-ish, who is, in my opinion, so completely unable to comfortably relate to others on a one-to-one basis that he invites everyone to everything – every family gathering has to be a party, so that he can plan to be a perfect host rather than learning about other people and letting them learn about him. His late father also described him as being one of those people on a perpetual quest to jam 10 lbs of sand into a 5 lb bag on a regular basis because he plans to do way more than is ever actually possible or sensible. He’s also kind of manipulative, and I generally find him shallow and annoying. I am not alone in those feelings.

Also present were my sister-in-law and her new husband, who happens to be her third husband. I like the new husband – he’s in his early sixties, a medical professional, easy-going, mellow, interesting to talk to, and he has a wide-range of interests. He’s also very wealthy, which explains to a considerable extent why my sister-in-law married him. She’s a 55 year old drama queen, a diva, who has run her own life into the ditch so many times that none of her immediate family will discuss her past because it’s too embarrassing. She has one son, who was not there, who’s in his early thirties, and they have issues that would make Dr. Phil run for his Prozac stash in a big Texas hurry. Just picture growing up in the shadow of your single mother’s perpetual, self-absorbed emotion storm, and I’ll leave your imagination to fill in the blanks there. I try very hard to stay in the moment when I’m in her company. I am sometimes successful. Ahem.

And then there was the only other person my brother-in-law could rope into joining us at the last moment for Easter lunch, my ex-Aunt-in-law-sorta. She used to be married to a distant cousin of my mother-in-law, divorced him 20 years ago, and we haven’t stopped hearing about it since. She’s also a diva, although a more objective one than my sister-in-law, if that’s possible, and she gets notions. Being a stone-cold diva, her most significant notion is that we are all fascinated to pieces over whatever is going on with her. The good part of her diva-hood is that if we are not in favor with her (i.e. we haven’t been slobbering all over ourselves to pay her the attention she feels she deserves), she cold shoulders us and doesn’t waste much of our time blathering ceaselessly into our ears. I actually think she’s kind of funny, and sometimes she means to be. She can be very charming if you have something she wants. She was 45 minutes late, and her entry involved a lot of waving scarves and a deep-throated, “OH, don’t EVEN ASK! Oh!”

Anyway, we headed off to meet at an Olive Garden close to mother-in-law, hubs in an evil mood because he really wasn’t looking forward to being part of the audience for his brother’s party demeanor and the inevitable simultaneous two-diva emote-off. I was busy strategizing.

I realized that over the many years of our marriage, I’ve let his family drive events, partially out of respect for his parents, and partially from wanting to be a people-pleaser to some extent. With Spawn, my own offspring, needing to leave by a very specific time, I also realized I couldn’t allow that to happen this time. Since they are notorious dawdlers with no respect for other people’s time, I was going to have to trust my own generally reliable clock and just take charge of getting things moving along. The first order of business would be making sure we were seated and ordering right on time, regardless of whether the rest of them were there or not.

So, I did. I got us seated, and, wonder of wonders, the rest of them showed up within a few minutes (except for Auntie Diva), and I had already ordered a couple of hors d’oeuvres for the table. I made sure to tell my mother-in-law that we had to leave at a specific time, why we had to leave and to get her agreement that that was perfectly OK. Amazing how well that worked out in the end. When Auntie Diva didn’t show, didn’t answer her cell or home phones, my sister-in-law started her worry routine, and I put a big, deliberately obtuse foot on it to stamp it out and said, “She’s probably on her way, and it’s against the law to talk on a cell phone when you’re driving in this state. We need to order because we need to be gone by 3 o’clock, and I’m sure the staff will make certain to serve Auntie Diva promptly when she does arrive.” Sister-in-law began to pout until mother-in-law said, very pleasantly, “Of course, that makes perfect sense.” Victory!

And, in general, things went pretty swimmingly as long as I stayed on top of making things move right along time-wise. There were a few moments of excessive quirkiness, though. As the restaurant filled up, we had to yell louder and louder at my mother-in-law, and she got mumblier and mumblier. Eventually, this resulted in a lot of people with perfectly good hearing yelling, “WHAT?” at the deaf lady. It’s a good thing I enjoy irony.

Then there was the moment when my sister-in-law’s divahood overcame my pledge to be obliviously swell at all times. We’d been talking about Spawn’s tastefully masculine earrings and how that didn’t bother me, that I just tell the kids no facial piercings or tattoos while they’re living at home, and I’m not paying for any of that anyway. The sis-in-law decided to share one her Great Moments in Parenting with us. (Breathe deeply; you’ll be glad you did.) She regaled us with the time her grown son, who hasn’t lived with her since he was 15 years old, returned from serving in the military during the current war and came to visit her. He was wearing a tank top and had a tattoo of a yin-yang symbol on his upper arm, which caused her to, in her own words, “burst into tears. I was just weeping and weeping.”

My mouth hung open in shock, and I stupidly asked, ”Why?” She replied, “Because he’s my BABY!” That flipped all my social behavior meters into overload, they shorted out, and the next thing out of my mouth was, “Oh my God, it’s not like he’s Jewish and can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery now!” The look of utter and complete shock on HER face, that I would think she was making a mountain out of a molehill and that I was thinking about HIM rather than her emotions, was probably worth whatever price I’ll wind up having to pay. My mother-in-law chuckled at my wit, my husband snorted into his salad, and my daughter nearly choked on an olive.

My social behavior meters hadn’t charged back up yet, so I made it worse by blurting out, “I wouldn’t care about that, I’d just be glad to see him.” Heads bobbed in agreement, and then I finally realized what I was doing and rammed a truckload of lettuce into my own face to shut myself up. Fortunately, the conversation moved on to dentistry, and sis-in-law could take that opportunity to save up her flusterment at my hands until she gets the chance to trash talk me behind my back.

I’m about half embarrassed and half glad that I said it. She provides a lot of her interpretations of Great Moments in Parenting which make me want to either puke at her self-absorption or just leave the room before I puke, and that winds up with me venting later, which hubs doesn’t need either since he is usually there, too. At least this time, I haven’t needed to vent, having gotten it all out on the spot.

Aside from that, things were OK until it came time to pay the bill. The dithering began. “I want to pay at least part of it,” insisted my mother-in-law. “I think we should all pay for our own groups,” said my husband. My brother-in-law offered, “Why don’t I just see what each person’s...” before he was interrupted by Auntie Diva barking out, “What? Are we paying? I only got here a little while ago!” As they argued, I grabbed the bill folder, shoved my credit card into it, and returned it to the waitress, who scampered off to run it through the machine.

My husband looked at me with his eyebrows raised. “We can just let the others send us checks or whatever,” I said, “it’s 20 minutes before 3, which leaves us just enough time to pay, make a pit stop, and get back on the road.” He nodded and then proceeded to yell that explanation at his mother, who agreed and smiled at me. The rest of them were still dithering, except for my new brother-in-law, who, in a very gentlemanly fashion, quietly got some cash out of his wallet and on his way to the bathroom, slipped it to hubs. He was quite generous, and I think he was glad that for once someone else picked up the tab before his new wife could get theatrically extravagant with his money.

On the trip home, my husband was in a much better mood. He glanced over at me and whispered, “Jewish cemetery?” and grinned. If I could have slammed my head onto the dashboard, I would have. I just said, “Oops” and smiled back. He patted my hand and smiled some more.

So, I suppose all in all, it really worked out much better than our usual gatherings with his clan. They weren’t late and we weren’t either; dithering and dawdling was reduced to a minimum, my mother-in-law and I were in perfect amity about the need to keep on schedule and paying the bill sensibly and quickly, and, of all of them, she’s the only one I really give a hangnail about (except for my kids, and they were VERY happy about not being late and hanging around with loud family beyond their endurance level). It makes me think that maybe joining them for other gatherings might not be so bad from here on out, as long as I stand firm on our needs as a family unit. And I hope sis-in-law will keep her Great Moments in Parenting to herself from now on, too.

Oddball Word of the Day

desultory (DEHS ul-tuh-ree): adj. disconnected; casual; unmethodical

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Directionally Impaired

I’ve been busy shuffling family members from one place to another, mostly doctors’ offices lately, and this week is shaping up the same way. I can find my way around my own town reasonably well, but I get lost easily when I leave town. I used to make sure and conscientiously get Mapquest directions, then I’d highlight them to make the important turns more obvious, and I’d even trim off excess paper for easier in-car handling. Sometimes I still got lost either from reading something wrong or because the roads had changed since they were charted by Mapquest.

I get lost less often these days, but it has nothing to do with Mapquest. Last Christmas, my husband got me a Garmin GPS Navigator and stuck it to my windshield. Hubs is one of those guys who, even if I give him color choices and catalog numbers, will go shopping for me at Ace Hardware because that’s where he feels comfortable, and it’s got stuff he feels comfortable buying. He has bought me something wonderfully feminine (a purse with beads) exactly once in our marriage – otherwise it’s appliances, electronic doo-dads, or other things that whirr or clank.

Well, the Garmin looked like a pretty good compromise – something I would probably actually use, plus, even though it doesn’t whirr, it does require a power supply, which fits his criteria. He was very excited and drove my car all over town, plugging locations into “My Favorites” for which I don’t need directions, since I already know how to get to all of them. I thanked him nicely and didn’t use it for a month.

One day I got a little curious, so I turned it on and thought, “OK, let’s see if you know how to get to the middle school.” A female voice advised me on how to properly leave my driveway and what to do once I did. I got a slightly eerie feeling creeping up my neck, but I ignored it. I followed Garmin’s directions, which were perfectly accurate, up until I was ½ block away from the middle school. Garmin advised me to “TURN LEFT.” I replied, “I can’t, that would put me in the middle of a baseball field. Damned high tech crap!” Garmin shrieked that I must immediately “TURN LEFT, TURN LEFT!”

I didn’t turn left. Garmin sulked. After I had turned into the parking lot for the middle school, Garmin announced that it was “RECALCULATING,” and I swear I could hear it making noises of disgust and impatience. The now distinctly creepy female voice advised me to drive a half a block back east and TURN RIGHT. I cut off its power supply instead.

I used Garmin another couple of times that same week when I went out of town on errands. Inevitably, the navigator has been dubbed not only female, but shrewish as well. In all fairness, though, she managed to get me to and from my locations with no detours through sports fields or children’s parks. Another month went by before I powered Garmin back up again.

This time, I wanted to see what she’d do if I put a destination in and then ran other errands first. She didn’t like it much at all – she shrieked, “TURN LEFT! TURN RIGHT!” and then repeatedly mumbled and spat about how I was forcing her to begin “RECALCULATING”. I could hear the “DAMMIT” under her digital voice. I was reminded of the Star Trek episode where some bright spark gives the ship’s computer a personality and it then either flirts, pouts or refuses to do as asked. I wondered if I was pushing Garmin to her limits, too. She tried to send me down the right street the wrong way, and I’d have been unable to park from that direction, and she wasn’t happy with me. I felt I’d gotten the upper hand, just a little, on my home turf. It wasn’t much of a victory, but I felt triumphant nonetheless.

So, last week Garmin snoozed while I trundled Doodle to the dentist, Bunny to a friend’s house, myself to the hospital, and ran a thousand ordinary errands. I woke her up on Wednesday and told her that we were going to be taking some very important cargo into Joliet – my Dad had an appointment with his cardiologist. As I poked her buttons, I reminded her that this would not be a good time to play any pranks involving streets under either construction or water, and that I really needed her help this time. I always get lost either coming or going because of the one-way streets. I apologized for muting her voice; I didn’t want it to startle or confuse my Dad, who, with his Alzheimer’s taking a circuitous route through his brain, startles easily at some things and becomes extremely perplexed and eventually upset over other things.

Garmin didn’t let me down. The route in was a little different from my former Mapquest routes, and the route out was a little different, too. I don’t care; I got there and back in good time, confidently, and with Dad in good humor and spirits. I can forgive Garmin for being kind of a stress monkey from time to time, and for being occasionally inaccurately programmed (by yards rather than miles), as long as I can get my Dad and other loved ones where they want or ought to be.

So, if you see me, or some other person, arguing vociferously with an empty car, and you see a little black circle on the windshield, it’s not Rush Limbaugh who’s set us off, it’s probably Garmin. And, we will get where we’re going, especially after all the “RECALCULATING!”

Oddball Word of the Day

napiform (NAY-peh-form): adj. having the shape of a turnip

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, April 02, 2007

THE Talk

I’ve now had to have The Talk with my two oldest children. I knew when I became a parent that someday I’d need to have the talk with them. I naively thought The Talk would be about sex and figured that I was pretty much done when we had that one at the onset of puberty for each child.

With my oldest one, and I do pity firstborns because things are usually awkward and untried with them, so they have to cope with experimental parenting as well as their own issues, I tried to be fairly clinical. I managed to avoid using charts or illustrations, and, eventually, I handed off to my husband. Being a man of few words, he raised one finger in the air wisely, opened his mouth, stalled while thinking for a minute or so, and then blurted out, “Let me know if you need any condoms.” Spawn’s brains caught fire and he had to smother the flames by putting a pillow over his head and squeaking a lot. Maybe he was laughing; I know I was. Hubs looked sheepish, shrugged, and left the room, figuring he’d done his fatherly duty. I suppose, if one is of a pithy type, he had.

Anyway, The Talk is not That talk. The Talk goes more like this:

Me: I need to talk with you about your performance in school.

Subject Juvenile (hereinafter SJ): You mean my grades, don’t you?

Me: Yes and no.

SJ: That means ‘yes’.

Me: Don’t distract me. I’m concerned that you are not working at your best level of performance.

SJ: Because I got a B? Geez, you always want me to be perfect.

Me: No, not because you got a B. I don’t care about Bs. What I care about is that I see you doing a lot of self-sabotaging and not turning in your best work, and that concerns me.

SJ: Because you want me to be perfect and have straight A’s and not have a life!

Me: No, those are not my standards, nor are they requirements. Grades are A reflection of performance, but they are not the only gauge of performance. What I’m worried about is that you are not developing academic diligence, and that is going to bite you on the behind in college. I am also concerned that you don’t want to put in your best effort just for the sake of doing so.

SJ: Why should I if I can get A’s from doing papers the night before or even if I don’t study, or if the teachers keep putting the due dates back? Why should I stress out over stuff like that if I can get good grades without working hard?

Me: Because this is not about grades, it’s about the pursuit of excellence for its own sake and for your sake in understanding what you can do when you really put your mind and effort into it, and for you to understand what you need in order to really do your best work. The end result of doing that, at this point in your life, MIGHT be a good grade and probably would be, but you know from past experience with me that if I see you putting in the time and putting in the thought and paying attention to what you are doing, I really don’t care what kind of a grade you get. Excellence has been diligently pursued, and that’s the point. If I think your teacher is being unfair or arbitrary, I’ll talk to them, but if I’m happy with your behavior, I have made a point to say so when that happens, and you know that.

SJ: So, if I work really hard on this term paper, and it “shows” to you, but I still get a B or a C on it, you don’t care.

Me: Mostly, no. If I think your teacher was grading improperly, I’ll say something and you can decide to take it up with the teacher or to have me do so if you wish. If you get a C, my first thought would be that, given you worked to your best ability, something went missing – maybe the teacher thought they specified something and didn’t, or maybe you forgot to do a specific something. But neither one of those things is going to make me think you did a slapdash job or sloughed off.

SJ: And, even if I can get A's without studying, you still think I should study?

Me: Yep. As you progress through school and into college and from there into the working world, you are going to, increasingly, need to develop your OWN standards which are as high or higher than those of your teachers, professors, and bosses. Those standards may be in different areas, with different goals, or they might be the same, but I think you need the practice in a) setting high standards for yourself, b) working diligently towards those standards, and c) understanding what it means to reach them or how to handle not reaching them as well. There will also be times when you may need to set your standards a little lower because you have other things that are more demanding that take precedence. All of that requires practice and awareness.

SJ: So, you’re saying that it’s OK to lower my standards sometimes?

Me: Yes, judiciously. Look, everyone has some point in time where their load is too heavy or too demanding and they really cannot put all their best effort towards everything – there aren’t enough hours in the day, their health is bad, they are having real trouble in some other area and need to put more attention towards fixing that – stuff like that. It’s called “prioritizing”.

SJ: Why should I “prioritize” schoolwork? Maybe I’m “prioritizing” my friendships.

Me: We both know that’s code for “I don’t wanna do it.”


Me: Straight out, my experience with you and your work is that you have little experience in pursuing excellence for its own sake or for the sake of learning your own needs in achieving excellent results, you have minimal experience in understanding your time requirements, and you don’t really understand how to maximize your resources to your best advantage to achieve an outstanding result that YOU can be proud of. I’ve watched you put forth minimal to moderate effort in school for years now, and get praise and good grades for working far beneath your abilities. I’ve seen you look smug and disappointed at the same time, and I’ve seen what it’s done and is doing to your character. It is one of the things that has truly angered me about your schooling – that your teachers and peers reward you for putting so little effort into your work.

You are now hitting the wall in terms of not being able to achieve the results you are accustomed to with the same minimal effort, and you are getting angry and resentful and loud and difficult to live with, and that has to stop. And all of that is happening because you know that you are capable of doing better and you are disappointed in yourself for not doing better, right?

SJ: Yeah.

Me: So, rather than standing by, as I have been doing, biting my tongue, I’m stepping in now and telling you that things need to change, that you need to start learning academic rigor, self-discipline, set high standards for yourself, and learn the skills you need to achieve those results; that you need to learn how to pursue excellence so that you can be proud of what you create and achieve instead of resentful that it isn’t as easy as it used to be.

SJ: OK, I get it. … Are you mad at me?

Me: Not really. You haven’t been challenged to be your best outside of this house before this, so you have no experience in dealing with such a challenge. It’s very hard for me to tell someone who’s getting straight A's that they’re not working hard enough because how much harder can you work? Where are the rewards for doing so? I understand that. Things are different this year, and I’ve stood back to see how you’d react and given you time to learn on your own.

I still expect you to learn on your own – I’m just telling you that I see this problem and I expect you to handle it. It’s a tough call for a parent to make – if I speak up, am I interfering or am I doing the right thing. I’m not even sure myself. I just know that I can’t continue to sit by and listen to your anger and let you be hard to live with because you are frustrated – that’s hard on me and the other family members. You need to fix it, and this is my perspective on what’s going on.

SJ: It’s really not about the grades, is it?

Me: Remember “Skills for Adolescence”? Did I ride you like a donkey to excel in that class, or did I agree that it was a waste of your time and set some minimum grade standards?

SJ: Yeah, OK, I remember that.

Me: If you need to ask me for resource material or websites or advice, you can, but I’ve said my piece.

SJ: OK. Thanks. I think I understand better now what you’ve been telling me all these years, I just didn’t get it before because… I guess I didn’t see the reason for it before.

Me: OK. You do know that one way or the other, whether you decide to make changes or not, I love you just the same, right?

SJ: Yeah, I know.

I still don’t know if speaking up is the right choice, and I don’t know if I’ve done it well or really remarkably badly. I am seeing some changes, mostly for the positive now, but that could be short term. I don’t know. I want my kids to be happy in their adult lives; I want them to understand how well they can do when they try, how to prioritize, how to forgive themselves when they don’t do well, and how to keep trying. I want them to be proud of themselves, knowing they’ve done a good job, even if no one else ever acknowledges it, regardless of whether it’s a business plan, a doghouse, or a dinner for four. I want them to believe in themselves, to test themselves, and to learn to succeed to their own standards. And I don’t know if I’ve pushed them forward or under the damned Mommy bus. (sigh)

Meanwhile, it’s time to go tutor and do laundry and reassure the dog that the thunder is not going to come inside the house and eat him up. And if I’ve really screwed things up, maybe I at least managed to teach them to forgive their mom.

Oddball Word of the Day

puissance (PYOU-i-sens): n. great power, might, or influence

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)