Worthy Work

Monday, August 30, 2010

In 1996, the year that I was accepted to Columbia Teachers College to do my Master's Degree, I earned $13,000 Before Taxes.

I worked roughly 49 weeks a year. I worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., five days a week. I cared for 8 children - ages 6 weeks through 18 months in an employer sponsored child care which was located on premises. The company developed standardized tests for elementary children. While I had health insurance, I had to pay $50 per week for my own, single person coverage. Additionally, there were co-pays to be covered when I got sick. I got sick like every other teacher who works with young children gets sick. This is to say - Not as much as my first couple of years teaching, but ear infections, conjunctivitis, bronchial infections and a variety of other odd and exciting diseases appeared in the classroom and I was occasionally infected.

When I took the job as Director of a child care, my salary soared to $27,000 per year. I was in charge of a budget of nearly a million dollars and had roughly 30 employees. I wrote grants, coordinated curriculum, developed and wrote policy, and was responsible for the health and well being of 140 children. As a salaried employee, I often worked 60 hours a week. I covered classrooms, was the cook when she was on vacation, had meetings with parents and teachers and overall led the vision and direction of the center. Because this position was management within a Housing Authority, the health insurance was much better - for myself and for the staff.

Why am I telling you this?

For many years, early childhood professionals have been vague and ashamed of the money the we earn. We say we don't earn much...but we never specify, really. We are a profession of women - and nice women don't talk about how much they earn. No. We just do it cause we LOVE children.


Well - hopefully, Yes. Work with very young children needs incredibly special people. Many of the people working in child care centers are those people. Some are not. One of my longstanding jokes is that you can sort all teachers into two distinct groups of people - Those who love children and are amazing at their jobs...and those who chose the profession because they can dominate people smaller than them and always assert that they are RIGHT.

As a professional, and later a consumer of high quality child care, I worried for the ability of those very talented people to earn a living wage in this profession. Those of us with Bachelors degrees were often driven from the classroom to administrative or other jobs in order to simply sustain a modest living. The best teachers rarely stayed. They couldn't afford it.

Now, I place no blame on the families who use child care services. The reality is that they are often paying the maximum amount that their family budget can allow. When you start to compound 200 ( and often more) dollars a week for care with multiple children, you quickly reach the point of no return. As a person who paid many thousands of dollars for very high quality child care myself, my ideals and knowledge did not make the check I wrote any easier or less painful.

As Director, one of the most amazing things I did was a functional cost analysis. Room by Room. So while I knew, anecdotally, that the infant and toddler wing lost money I never could tell you exactly how much.

What I found floored even me. In my infant room, we had 8 full time available openings. I had two full time staff, and some part time staff who covered lunches and times when ratios remained high, but one of the primary staff needed to go home.

Before I go further...do you all understand what I mean by Ratios? In a nutshell, each age group can have a maximum amount of children. This is dictated by available space and how many qualified adults are present to supervise. The ratio in New Hampshire for infants is 4 infants to 1 adult. Ergo, if there are 5 babies present you need 2 adults. Generally, the ration goes up with age....5:1 for one year olds, 6:1 for two year olds, 8:1 for three year olds, 12:1 for four year olds and 15:1 for five year olds.

If you use purely a business model, you keep the rooms at Maximum capacity in order to break even or even turn a profit. However, from a Quality model, we know that 24 Four year olds in one room is a design for the portal of hell - even with 2 adults.

Since I believed in Quality above profit (and valued the sanity of my teachers), I tended to keep my rooms at a lower ratio. This of course led to budget shortfalls and is one of the many reasons I finally got the boot as Director. I wouldn't stuff the rooms full of children. And I admitted I was depressed and on Prozac.

But I digress.

In the infant room I found that it cost me roughly 375 dollars per week - per infant to simply have the room open and operational. That was staff costs and benefits, light, heat, supplies and equipment.

The parents paid (in 2000) $135 dollars per week.

Are you seeing the gap?

It is what Gwen Morgan of Wheelock College termed the "Trilemia of child care" -

1. Quality demands low child to staff ratio's
2. Staff recruitment, retention and morale require salaries ( and benefits) which allow them to live above the poverty line
3. Affordability to parents calls for reasonable fees


Parents can never full pay what it costs to provide a day of child care. Staff with degrees can't stay because they can't afford to continue to subsidize the gap between what parents can afford and what centers pay, leading to turnover and stress for children and parents. Using a business model for child care demands that a center stuffs it's rooms to maximum ratio in order to avoid losing more money.

And the circle goes round and round.

Until our society comes to grips with what it WANTS for young children, we will continue to chase this tail. Of course, you still have the hard core "Mothers should stay home and raise their own children" people - who are often the same people who feel that "ALL mothers receiving welfare should work 40 hours a week".

Too often the political here overrides the common sense, research based information. We know well educated teachers provide better care. We know that these well trained teachers require salaries of more than 13,000 per year. We know that children and families are unsettled when turnover happens in child care programs. We know that smaller class size means better care and education. We know that the first five years of brain development are vital for a child's educational base. We know that children who are loved and known in their child care programs end up having less social and behavioral issues down the road.

But, so what.

To FUND this knowledge, to set aside our "free market" mentality when it comes to child care doesn't seem to be making any headway. To set aside the puritanical values and morays of what it means to be a woman, a professional woman who may enjoy her job, and "hand over" the care of your child to someone else doesn't seem to be gaining any ground.

No. Mothers must be punished for being poor. Being professional. Being female. The least well paid in our society must then build it's labor on the backs of other women - equally poorly paid.

I don't have an answer. I do know, however, that we can't NOT talk about how much money we don't earn.

My name is Dawn. I have a B.S. in education from the University of Vermont. I have a M.S in Child Development from Wheelock College. I am working on my PhD in early child hood education. I have been published in academic journals. I have spoken at conferences and workshops. I have have been privileged to help raise the babies of many families, and I have hugged mothers returning to work as they cried and handed their six week old infants to me.

In my last year as a teacher, I earned $13,000.

The Turtle Whisperer

Saturday, August 28, 2010

There is no secret that I am a liberal white lady.

Therefore, like the best of my breed, WE CARE. WE CARE ALOT!

We recycle. We buy our kids organic milk so that the bovine growth hormone doesn't make our kids go through early puberty and have some crazy not-yet-discovered cancer. Many of us volunteer at places like libraries, or homeless shelters.

We donate clothes to clothing drives, we help organize fund raisers for causes near and dear to our hearts.  We buy those special "Help a local school out with the purchase of 10 dollars of school supplies" bags at Office Supply stores.

We can't help it.  The polite white people gene in us just WANTS to do good. We WANT to be good neighbors and responsible stewards of the earth. My generation debuted at the beginning of recycling and organic and trying to buy locally while thinking globally. It is our default mode.

Ergo, when I saw the turtle in the dead middle of the exit to our vacation condo, you knew I was going to do something about it.

Terrance will share that I have a disturbing tendency to leap out of vehicles to offer care and comfort during any perceived danger. Roadside accident? I leap out of car with bottled water and instruct people to Stay Put so we can assess for internal bleeding. Guy on Motorcycle gets hit and knocked off bike in front of us? I go into primary first aid response to check him for broken limbs and concussion.

One one hand, I like to think it is my long time career with children that has made me move towards the hysteria in order to direct and calm. I know it isn't motherhood, as I was doing this shit LONG before Emily, much to Terrance's chagrin.  I am unbuckling and grabbing blankets out of the back of the car at every accident scene, usually with him chasing me yelling something like "Jesus Christ! I can smell Gas! Get BACK into the car!"

In the world of the socially conscious white lady, a Turtle in a Florida road is as good as a Human casualty. I instruct Terrance to STOP while I unbuckle and move to offer my assistance to the hapless Terrapin. He is left in the car with two girls who:

1. want donuts
2. want to go to the world of Harry Potter  
3. Would probably trample the turtle to death in their effort to get either of those previous goals accomplished.

Now, I can claim a small amount of turtle expertise, due to the summer I spent in a chi-chi Connecticut town and their nature center. I had to show various animals, including turtles, and elaborate on life cycles and habitat. In that job, handling the owls and hawks constituted the most fearsome work. The turtles were a piece of cake, comparatively. The worst they would do was pee on you. The Hawks and Owls might try to take a chunk of flesh out of your face in front of 35 screaming three year olds as you attempted to explain why we should protect their habitat while stuffing your dangling eye stalk back into your skull.

To this point in the story, we have established these facts:

1. I am a liberal white lady
2. I frequently offer assistance to others
3. I have turtle knowledge as I have worked in a Nature Center in 1992.

I see turtle in Road. I assess that this turtle is going to be crushed by an uncaring motorist. I know that turtles, while not an endangered species, fall prey to vehicles once they are large enough to reproduce and are an important part of our ecosystems.

*lightbulb* MUST HELP TURTLE

What I, and many other nice, well meaning, liberal white ladies both past and present, failed to account for was the desire on the part of the Turtle ( or by extension, ANY group, or animal or cause) to be HELPED.

This was not my concern. I was there to save the turtle.

I approach the turtle with no hesitation. This is a Hella big turtle. I am accustomed to Eastern Forest type turtles and this baby was no Eastern Forest Turtle. It was also no baby.  EASILY 12 to 15 inches in diameter. I was going to have to bend at the knees, get ahold and lift this sucker in order to cart her to safety.

As I stepped over the turtle in order to best assess how to pick her up, I noticed she was one FUGLY turtle.

The weird snout like thing that could only be the nose bobbed in and out as she assessed my threat to her. She pulled her head back as far as she could to pretend as if there was nothing to eat here and I should really just keep on moving.

Oh no, Turtle damsel in distress! I am here to Help You! I leaned down and positioned my hands in the center of her side shell. I wanted my fingers to be safe since I wasn't entirely sure what subspecies she might be, while still having a firm enough grip to carry her back to a protected place.

Hands in place, I bent down and LIFTED.

Two things immediately struck me. The Stench of the turtle. And the Sliminess of the turtle.

All my turtle exploits had been with dry, smallish forest type turtles. This was a culvert dwelling water turtle. A BIG culvert dwelling water turtle.

 My next mistake lay in my assumption in the perceived passiveness of turtles.  I assumed that the turtle would not protest, nor would she struggle in any significant manner. She would accept my help, and then mildly go on her turtle way. Safe. Sound. Whole.

Imagine my surprise as I lifted the turtle in the air to figure out that THIS turtle was having none of it. THIS turtle began to flail about like some toddlers I have known as they do their "dead weight drop" of protest. In my shock, I drop the turtle, who then launches herself even faster towards the oncoming traffic of 192.

In my attempt to save the turtle, I am driving it faster towards its doom.  I recover quickly and race in front of the turtle to herd it back towards the driveway and away from oncoming traffic.

OK, new strategy. Now I know the turtle is Heavy. It is smelly and slimey. It is going to kick like hell when I lift it off the ground. It has extremely sharp nails. And it moves Fast.

I am going to lift it, and then move it over to the grassy area where I can direct it back to the culvert which I assume must be its home.

The turtle also has a new plan of attack. Immediately flail like hell and try to scratch me.

I lift the turtle and begin to turn. As I do, the turtle gets a nail into my forearm and with an amazing vault that would make Mary Lou Retton proud, she flies upward into the air.  During my last moments of  physical contact with the crazed turtle, I lean out and stretch my arms towards the grass.

The turtle lands on her back. I rush towards the turtle to assist.  You would have thought I would have learned to leave the turtle alone, but No. Now there was a large turtle on it's back, and it was my fault and I was going to flip her over and then direct her to the culvert.

It is difficult for me to describe how quickly this turtle turned over.  I was a mere step and a half  coming towards the turtle when it flipped over like something out of the Last Exorcism and began running - yes, running - towards me. Weird little turtle snout all out and aiming at my exposed in sandals feet.

Holy Crap. This turtle has gone wild! I am about to be on the receiving end of some heinous turtle attack that will be featured on one of those Discovery channel about dumbasses who end up being bitten by the Only spider of its kind in the known world and practically die.  The last thing my daughter and her best friend will see is my hand, falling into the fetid water of the culvert as the turtle drags me to its lair.

So I do what all liberal white ladies do. I make a last ditch effort to herd the turtle in the other direction. This mainly consists of  me NOT TOUCHING the turtle, while dancing around it to discourage it from running into traffic.

The turtle, who can not believe my stupidity and anthropomorphizing of her plight, gets disgusted and turns back towards the culvert.

I look up. Several cars have gathered Behind my husband.  They can not get around him, as I have left the passenger side door open.  They have been watching my whole unwitting performance art piece.

I smile. I walk back over to the car and get in. Terrance shakes his head. The girls are laughing.

Emily leans forward, "Mom. I think we should call you the turtle whisperer."

Origins of Mean Girls

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I am kinda a mean girl. No, not with perfect hair or a size 2 body or the prime boyfriend/girlfriend/husband and perfect house and carefully groomed child.

Nope. Those sins of pride are not mine.

But I have others.

I get jealous and resentful that people I knew at the beginning of their blog days seem to have bigger and more successful blogs. Because it isn't the strength of their intellect or writing ability And it sure as hell isn't their sparkling personalities. Some of these people would have stepped on their dying grandmother to promote themselves - and did. They morphed into people I no longer speak to, or read because Meh. They sure as hell don't need me to feed into their cult of personality and I can say nothing nice, so I excuse myself from the room.

My sin is Envy. Frequently arrogance. Pride in my Intelligence.

It is the success that I want and I feel I deserve. The acclaim for being smart and witty and erudite.
My own cult of personality where people love me from afar....not too close, after all. I freak out when the crowd gets too close, when the real starts to edge into my pretend life online.

Also, I hold Grudges. Grudges that make Ju-On look passive and friendly.

Grudges that made one person at BlogHer look more than a little nervous to see me. In fact, she started sputtering about the "issue" as soon as I greeted her before fleeing into the night. She was right. I hadn't forgotten  - nor had I entirely forgiven. Fuck, who am I kidding? There was no forgiveness. In my mind, she had chosen her side and was dead to me. I was simply attempting to appear harmless.

I forget that I never appear harmless.

At the base of all of this bluster and bravado is insecurity.  Longing to be liked when I feel unlikeable. Longing to  be asked when I retreat. I resist hardest when I want something most. If I know I am wrong, I will strike out at you harder.

I want to be the girl everyone wants to sit next to - but I don't want to have to WORK at it. And By that, I mean be Fake about it. I could work at it, but it wouldn't be real. That Dawn is charming, because I have used her on occasion, but she exhausts me. That facade cracks quickly.

When I become the mean girl, I do it from fear. From longing.  From the 12 year old Dawn hyperventilating in her Humanities classroom because she just got passed a note where everyone in the class had written, in detail, why they hated her.  I can still tell you who signed that note.

I do it because weakness was not an option in my life, despite being incredibly emotionally frail.

I do it because if I hurt, you must hurt too. And More. Hurt more than me.

After 40 years on this earth, I still haven't found a solution for this streak in me. The best I can do is to root down to the core feelings and honestly name them. My hope is that in time, being exposed to the light, those wounds will dry and scab over.  It doesn't always work, but I find that it is better than dressing those feelings up in indignation and self righteousness.

Liberal Elite Parental Humor

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

During lunch with Emily (age 12) and Sarah (age 11), I turn to Terrance across the table and say:

"We got Alito and Warren here at lunch and you and I are just O'Connor and Souter,just trying to do our jobs and get home, while they go hand to hand over who has eaten a plantain first."

Oh, the humor of the liberal NPR listening elite. How I love thee.

My Zombie CV

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It should surprise no one that the show I am most looking forward to seeing - in the HISTORY of shows on television -is The Walking Dead.


As in "I have been reading this comic since it came out and it is the most amazing comic ever written"

As in "I might be persuaded to have another baby, if it was with Robert Kirkman (writer of said comic)"

Totally FanGirl. Or FanGurrl. Whichever you prefer.

At Blogher, I spied with my little eye some crazy cool bitches that I was all "I need to get me some of THAT, cause those are MY Peoples".  Yep. It was the MamaPop crew.  I recognize my people and THOSE were my people. 

Do you see where these two worlds are going to collide? Oh hell, yeah. 

So here is where I make my case. I should, by all rights and by-laws of things Zombie, get to be the writer for the MamaPop recaps of the Walking Dead. I don't care if they just dance me out for zombie discussions, then tie me up and toss me back INTO the "too weird even for us" closet.

In bullet form:

  • I know the difference between "Infection" zombies and "Reanimation of the Dead" zombies. Infection zombies, seen most recently in movies such as "The Crazies" or the "28 Days/Weeks Later" movies would not in most instances be considered True Zombies. The Walking Dead has "true" zombies - or people who have died And THEN are reanimated. 
  • The only way to kill a zombie is to cut off it's head/destroy the brain.  I might advocate burning the head too, but I think that you generally don't have enough time for that when escaping the zombie horde.
  • Unlike many "Infection" type zombies who can run, they move slowly. Their strength, however, comes in numbers. They cluster together and overwhelm your ability to cut off heads. They also don't climb very well, which is why people often seek shelter in High Rise buildings.  The danger in that is the slow but steady buildup of zombies moving towards you. Once they figure out where you are, they are like homing pigeons.  Dead, brain hungry homing pigeons.
  • I can cleverly discuss nuances in the zombie storyline. For instance, the recent movie "Pontypool" used a device in which the "zombie infection" was passed via language.  As a Canadian movie, there was an added layer of intrigue in so much that speaking French did not seem to pass the virus. Social commentary on the bilingualism in Canada and the power of language? Hmmmm. 
  • The Walking Dead, like so many of the best Zombie storylines, is more about what the Humans become AFTER the zombies arrive. The Zombies can't be helped. Their nature is to eat brains. But the Humans?  Now therein lies the story. Its the world After zombies which must be de and re-constructed.
  • I have seen zombie films in a variety of languages and cultural backgrounds. Honestly. Japanese, Chinese, Swedish, Haitian,  Norwegian...And once Rammbock comes out, German zombies too.

Do you need more?  For instance, I have trained Emily to know what to do in the case of the zombie apocalypse. With express orders to cut off my head if I get turned. We already know Terrance will go down fast, as his logical mind will be blown by the carnage, making him an uber easy brain canape.

My other ridiculous talents lie in many other graphic novels story lines and plots. Mostly smaller ones like The Luna Brothers, or crazy ones (I love Garth Ennis' "Crossed"). Also, Asian Films...And Non English European Films. 

I am finishing a serious love affair with Norwegian Actor Kristoffer Joner at the moment.  See Naboer or Hidden. And tell me he isn't awesome.  I'll have His baby right after Mr. Kirkman's.

So MamaPop. The choice is yours. You can have me ON your side when the zombies come, or Not. 

But I would want me on your side, cause shit is going to get crazy.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I was magical. I was sparkley. I was invincible.

It was all High, with no hangover. It was all three drink buzz, with no falling down and twisting your ankle.

I stopped eating. I stopped sleeping.

Nothing seemed like a bad idea. Nothing.

Imagine the part of your brain that serves as your superego - the voice of caution and authority - who occasionally steps out for a breather and comes back in to see you on your 6th drink.  Mine had left the building and moved to a different timezone entirely. No cautionary voice in my head. Just the ones who said "SURE!! THAT'S A GREAT IDEA!"

When I landed on that cot in the Student health center, I hadn't slept in two days, and couldn't tell them when I had last eaten.  That was Terrance's job, you see - to make sure I ate. He was in New York on business, so while I could get Emily fed and to and from school, the times in between I wandered. I either lay in bed all day doing Nothing, or wandered through shopping places buying strange things.

On the up side, I got fairly skinny. I also could do ridiculous amounts of yoga, as I tried to wear myself out, or punish  my body to the point where I would be forced to rest.  It also gave me the confidence to stroll out into Montreal, pushing way past my comfort zone. I would sometimes ride the Metro through the different parts of the city and just wander around.  No matter that I didn't speak the language or had no real idea where I was, I could eventually find my way back to home base.

Anything was possible.

And sex? Dear baby Jeebus - I attacked Terrance constantly. My senses were wide open. Montreal was more than happy to fill them - markets, people, noise, food. There was no lack of activity or movement. There was no bottom to my ability to absorb any of it.

I could not focus on anything of importance and was lucky to be able to get through my full class load with no major failures or gaffes. I credit both my previous educational training and my ingrained work ethic for pulling me though. I did 6 full courses in that first year, completing 18 credits instead of the required 12.

Did I know something was wrong? Yeah, Kind of. On one hand, the super charged Dawn was fun. She didn't eat, and didn't sleep and could just go and go with no recharge needed.

On the other hand, the things I found pleasurable - reading, for example - became difficult in unexpected ways. I couldn't sustain focus on themes and ideas. I would flit from one book to another. I would start a quilt or other craft, and abandon it part way to start something else. It was the Starting that was appealing, the adventure of the new.

Even writing about this experience leave me nervous and feeling exposed. The adult in me yells things like "YOU WILL NEVER GET A JOB IF YOU TALK ABOUT THIS" - Or maybe that is just Terrance in the background.

Recently, I was reading a blog of an internet friend who I have known since my first days of blogging. (I actually think I may have left her first comment back in 2005 - that's hardcore in the bloggy world.) She is recovering from her own set of "The crazies" and reading her descriptions and navigations sparked something in me.

There are degrees of crazy, you see.  There is depression - which no longer terrifies me the way it did in my first days,weeks, years of recovery. I can beat THAT, and it can be the only thing I hang onto during the bad times. That I beat it before and will beat it again, I just have to be gentle with myself and nurse Dawn back to health. I don't want Depression to come back, but I know it will.  So I plan for its defeat.

And there is CRAZY.

In conversing with another long time internet friend about BlogHer 10, I told her that I had seen other women we have known since our beginnings in blogging and that one in particular had been distanced by some others. Not cast out, but distanced. Polite squeals were still exchanged and nice things said - but the Distance was obvious to me.

"She had seen the crazy - the real crazy" is how I wrote it to Nancy.  I could see it in her eyes when I hugged her and maintained eye contact. When I simply sat next to her and required no discussion or false promises or  anything but her physical presence next to me. I keep company, and that is enough for me.

But the real crazy? It marks you. I can see it in others who have seen it too.  It is the knowledge that the small demon of depression has bigger and badder relatives who are hiding around the corner. Ones you never dreamed you could survive.

And here is the most terrifying thing about them. They are beautiful. Really Fucking Beautiful.

Of course, they will eat your soul while you smile at them, but the beauty. Ah. The secrets they promise to reveal are lies, but such lies of spectacular silk and gossamer you have never seen.

There is wisdom in delirium, but it's price can be too high. I feel marked in a way depression alone never did.
I never longed for depression to return.  But there are times when I long for Mania to come back.

And That is the most frightening thing of all.


Monday, August 16, 2010

I frequently joke about having a seat on the train to crazy town. While it is, in some ways, a convenient way to excuse some of my quirks, there is more than a grain of truth to it.

I mean, when I tell people my family history - the full on version, I generally get shocked silences. In some ways, because it is what nurtured me and produced THIS Dawn, I forget what it can look like on the outside.

I tend to laugh at my stories. Most other people do not.

It was during my first years in therapy that I started to catch on that my "funny family stories" weren't particularly funny to others. Maybe it was the horrified face of my first therapist that clued me in, or my first real room mate listening wide eyed and stricken to some memory I  recalled.

Let's just say that by 1989, I had figured out through a combination of therapy and interactions with other people outside my family that we were different.

I will spare you the full list of the various diagnosis of my both branches of my family tree. Suffice it to say, we have every major mental illness and/or addiction WELL covered. You name it, we got it. Going back generations even.  We are not a family who "discovered" mental illness in the age of Prozac, oh Hellz no. Genetically, We are the reason pharmaceuticals were invented.

I have had at least 5 major clinical depressions since 1996 not to mention a few minor ones that we pulled me out of with medication and some intensive patching up. One of those lasted nearly three years - the one after Emily was born.

I have had one full blown Manic episode too. I alluded to it back in 2006-2007, but didn't so much name it, as I was still pretty well smack dab in the midst of it.

Does this make me officially a bi-polar? No, I don't think so. In tandem with my doctor, we figured out that a combination of medicines did some really messed up things to my brain. Now, had I been under the care of ONE doctor who I saw every week, I suspect she would have picked up on it much faster. However, because I moved while in the "phase in" period of the second drug...and had yet to find someone here in Montreal to treat me, I was able to happily spin off the rails for a good 8 months before I crash landed in the McGill Health Center, crying on a cot, my throat completely closed by strep in January of 2007. By the summer of that year, I had stabilized and been weaned off the second drug and was doing much better.

Mid 2008, when my medication needed adjusting again, I started to long for the mania. My depression  was creeping back in and anything - ANYTHING- was preferable to the sludge of living inside depression. I had leftover pills from long ago and began to take them - hoping for a jump start out of the sand trap.

And here is where we all say "Dawn. What the fuck? If you KNOW these combination of meds are going to cycle you into a Mania...only to crash BACK down into a worse depression, WHY would you do that?"

Um.... Cause?  It isn't logical. It makes no sense, except to say that I knew something was going wrong and I was trying like hell to fix it before it got worse and that your rational mind just doesn't tune in the way it should when all the chemicals are balanced and the neurons firing in the right way.

I had taken them for about 2 weeks before I confessed to my therapist and we weaned me off of them again, while boosting the dose of my primary medication.  He asked me why too.

I am going to try and explain it the best way I can and maybe it will make more sense to you than I think it did to him.  And I will preface it all by saying maybe no one who hasn't lived through one can understand it.  Maybe people with balanced brains can't fathom what I am about to write. And I get that, because 60% of the time when my brain is balanced I am disturbed by that epoch in my life.

But the other 40%? Misses it terribly.

*Part II - Coaster, up next

Outside looking In

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Being an American in Canada has some definite benefits.

The newspapers and television are not the American media 24/7. Oh sure, I can turn on CNN, or MSNBC, or even Fox if I have the stomach to stand it, but I rarely do so.  The noise that is created by these media outlets bothers me and I can usually only sit through about 45 minutes of the Sunday morning talk shows before my blood pressure rises and I can take it no longer.

That is not to say, however, that we are not politically active and aware. Terrance and I maintain our perfect voting records (Every election since 1988, baby!). When Terrance missed his window to have the absentee ballot sent during the last presidential election, he DROVE back to our town in New Hampshire to cast his ballot on election day. My ballot had been cast in October, so I did not have to do the ten hour marathon drive.

I was in New York City last weekend. Because I now live in Montreal, I look at cities differently. The assortment of faces and skin tones and religious beliefs barely register for me anymore.  At McGill, I have students from every walk of life, every corner of the globe, who practice every variation of every religion in the world. I have female students who wear the traditional head scarf in both Jewish And Muslim religions. I have male students who wear yalmulkes as well as the kufi.  They are no different. They are all undergraduates at McGill. I smile at everyone in New York - a symptom of being in Canada. I can't help but just be polite and maintain eye contact after four years here. I smile and wave at the food vendor on Sunday morning at 7 a.m. as he pours charcoal into his cart to start it up for his noon lunch patron. I am waiting for my shuttle to take me to the airport and he is getting ready for another day.

From my distance, I watch this morning as the press explodes with outrage that President Obama would support a mosque being built in the same neighborhood as the former World Trade Center.

But why wouldn't he? As Americans do we get dictate where people can live, or practice religious beliefs? Are Muslims not part of our American heritage and fabric?

Fear is a terrible thing. Fear being used to manipulate people is a disgusting and reprehensible thing.

I would have hoped that we were beyond the days when we felt we had the right to tell anyone where they could build a mosque, or a church, or a temple. I had hoped we were beyond the days when the cry of "respect for one segment" equaled blatant disrespect of another.  And spare me that "victims of 9/11" bullshit. There were no victims who were Muslims?  No firefighters or police who were Muslims? Please.

Part of the great story of America is religious freedom. Did we not learn that at the knees of our grade school teachers? The Pilgrims? The Huguenots? A place where they we free to practice their religion without fear of persecution....or does that just apply to Christian based religions? I'm pretty sure there is no caveat in the Bill of Rights....no matter how many people want to scream that the founders MEANT Christianity....they didn't.

There is no profile for murderers. People who want to murder other people will do so, whether they fly a plan into buildings, or blow up a building with a truck bomb, or shoot a bunch of people at a pre-wedding dinner, or beat their wife or child to death.  It has nothing to do with someone's religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

Terrorists intend to foster terror. Suspicion and Paranoia. Distrust when there is no basis. My president today said no to those things. He asserted that every American has a right to every piece of this country. There are no limits to where people can live or worship. (And someday, in my lifetime, there will be no limits as to who someone can marry - fingers crossed)

He told the fear-mongers both in America AND Abroad that we, as a Nation, are Bigger than that. That you can knock us down, but in the immortal words of the poets Chumbawumba, "we get up again".  An act of hate should not bring more hate and intolerance. America must prove that we are not who "they" think we are, regardless of what "they" have been taught. The best way I know how to do that is through deed, and not words.

Bosom Buddies

Friday, August 13, 2010

Last Saturday, I was in the midst of getting my Sparklecorn party girl groove on with Kelli when my phone rang.

Now, nine times out of ten I will ignore my phone, if I have even bothered to turn it on. I am not a phone person. I don't want to talk on it. I don't want to look at it. I don't want to tweet or blog from it.  The phone remains fixed in my 1972 definition of phone: "Talk on it only when needed and get the hell off cause every second is costing you huge amounts of money". I mean, I still consider the cost of LONG DISTANCE CALLS, people. I may be the only living  American to still occasionally think "Well, this is long distance, so tell me what you need to tell me and get off".

This, predictably, drives Terrance Bonkers. He is the phone maven. He is on the phone constantly.  I believe if he could have the phone implanted into his hand, he would. He calls me a billion times a day (knowing I have my phone off) to ask "Where are you?" or "Whatcha doing?"

Now while I like to believe I am a super sleuth stealth ninja in my mind, in reality - I am not. I am wildly predictable. I am not prone to sudden fits of disappearing. In truth, there are weeks in which it is difficult to get me to move out of the house into the real world. And I mean beyond driving to second cup to get my coffee and driving back.

Terrance's perpetual phone status updates drive me crazy. I could care less if he is getting in the car, or at the corner of cavendish.  Unless you are being crushed under 1000 tons of concrete and need me to arrange some kind of rescue or pulling some crazy Brian McKnight plane crash video goodbye I am perfectly happy to remain in my Infantile state of suspended disbelief and imperfect object permanence: When you are Here, you are Here. When I can't see you- YOU ARE GONE.

Back to last Saturday.... I had ignored Two phone calls and was headed to the bar to score a free gin and tonic from the bartender I had intentionally overtipped at the beginning of the night when a Text came through:


Oh, shit.

I am now a solid 3 gin and tonics into the evening. My buzz is warm and fuzzy and I am starting to want to dance. And now? CALL HOME NOW is staring at me.  Shit, Shit, Shit.

I walk out to the foyer where it is a little bit quiet. I sit on the floor and call home. I try to sound like I have not had 3 gin and tonics and want to dance. I put on my Wife and Mother voice.

"Yes? You called?", I say.

Terrance starts the conversation with "Your daughter...." For those of you not in the know, this is code for "You need to deal with this shit, cause this is either 1. Your realm of expertise OR 2. I am going to knock her ass out if  you don't get her to stop with this crap."

He gives me the thumbnail sketch. Her breasts hurt. More directly, her left nipple.  He doesn't know what to do and she is crying and carrying on.

"Put her on the phone...", I say. I can see the party from my spot on the ground in the foyer. There is dancing and sparkle and day-glo sticks. Sigh.

Her voice hiccups and starts and stops. She has been crying and it is tough to understand her between the wavering voice and the throb of dance music.  I run through my list of questions - Has she had ibuprofen? Has she tried a cool bath?  Has she made sure she has lotion on her skin? How many ibuprofen has she had and how long ago? Is it just the left nipple or is it both? Would a cold pack help? Maybe her wearing a sports bra?

I calm her down and send her off with my instructions. Terrance comes back on the phone: "I told her all of the same things, but she needed to talk to you..."

"I know, lovey - I'll be home tomorrow


The night I get home from BlogHer, my period starts. It wasn't unexpected, but I don't attend to when it is due the way I did pre-vasectomy. Emily is sitting with me in bed. We continue to discuss her aching nipple.

I point to my own impressive set of breasts. "See these? They started out with the same amount of skin you have now. They had to grow to this size. Your skin is trying to grow, and all those blue veins underneath the skin are building new structures in your breast so if you want to nurse a baby someday you can. Your breasts grow Now and will grow again if you are pregnant someday ... Same process."

Emily looks from her chest to mine. "You started with the Same amount of skin as me?"

Me: "Yep, and my period just started, so you are most likely starting to cycle on my cycle..until your body is ready for you to have your own period."

Emily makes a face. "ugh. I don't want to do this."

I kiss her head. "I know sweetie and when they handed you to me and you attacked my breasts like some kind of crazed warthog, this discussion was the furthest thing from my mind.... BUT...

She laughs. "I did not attack your breasts like a crazed warthog."

"Oh, honey. You did. We called you "Snort" because you were squirming and making this crazy noise. You looked like a pig rooting for truffles. It was terrifying to know that you were looking for my nipple to clamp onto..."

She giggles and pats my breasts. Old friends.

Passing on the torch to new friends.

State of my Union

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Something that struck me at BlogHer this year was the amount of people I have known since the wee days of blogging who are no longer with their partners. Most had been married, and are now divorced or divorcing.

I am, as you know, still married.

I am as surprised as anyone to find myself still married. Had you asked me last spring, when I was actively looking for an apartment and preparing both Emily and myself for a life without Terrance, I would have placed Big money on the fact that I would also be divorced by this time this year.

As I looked at group of long ago "Mommy Bloggers" who evolved into so much more - Writers, Political and Pop Cultural Commentators - I wondered why I was still married. Izzy asked me point blank after we had both had several lovely drinks. I had confided in her in 2007 that I wasn't sure how much longer it was going to last. I was at what I thought was the end of my rope then, and yet here I am, three years later, still married.

So why? Why are we still together?

It would be lovely to think that we have some magical alchemy that has protected us from divorce. It would be lovely to think that Terrance and I remain madly in love and can not think of life without one another. It would be lovely to believe that Terrance and I are each others soul mates.

Alas. None of those things are true.

Initially, it was a financial decision. We didn't have the collective money to have two households. He asked me to wait until the fall, so he could save, and I could save, and we could separate households without damaging either of us too badly. As Emily has always remained our first priority, not disrupting her routine further was of utmost concern. I was looking for an apartment in the neighborhood so she would not have to switch schools, and hopefully could walk between households.

Since we decided to wait for me to move out, we separated bedrooms.  Last April, Terrance moved into the guest bedroom.  We remained respectful of one another. Quiet. The demarcating of physical space between us with the calmed the fighting and we began a holding pattern in our relationship. The tower of our marriage crumbled no further.

Nearly a year an a half later, we still have separate bedrooms. We have both said it may have been what saved our marriage, or at least postponed divorce.

Yes, you read that correctly. After 13 years of marriage and nearly 20 years of being together, my husband and I do not share a bedroom.  My bedroom remains My space. I read until I want, I watch the shows I want on TV, I flop all around the entire space of the bed to my sweaty hearts content, I keep windows wide open.  When I bought my new bed in March, the salesperson had lots of questions about my supposed bed partner. I finally had to break it to him that I didn't share my bed with anyone. Not even my husband.

Does he occasionally come in and "visit"? Slowly,surely, that part of our relationship began to heal as well. When you aren't laying next to someone wishing that their next breath would be their last, fondness can begin to return. When you aren't thinking about how desperately you need to get away from this person - this person you loved so much you once went to bed at the same time so you could just BE with them - you can gain perspective and begin to step away from the edge of the precipice. Putting the physical space between us was an unwitting first step.

Do we still argue? Yes. A few weeks ago I told him to get out of the car, as he was criticizing my driving. As in Stopped the car, turned and said "Get the fuck out of my car". His response was equally expletive laden.  So, um, Yes. We still fight.

Do I love him? Well, Yes. Of course. Father of my child, partner of the last 20 years. Of course I love him. I want nothing bad for him. We are, as I have told him, going to have to see each other for the rest of our lives. We have mingled genetic material. We are tied together through the body and mind of our daughter.

Do I look at him and think "We will be married forever"? No. I don't.

My truth is that I have no idea. I am not a starry eyed newlywed who wants to tell everyone else how I believe marriage should go, and I sure as hell am not so arrogant as to tell anyone that if they just TRIED harder they could stay married. When I read any of that kind of ass-vice, I hear the Southern grandmother voice in my head saying "Bless their Heart" - the voice that has a tinge of sad, pitying resignation of seeing someone attempt to reinvent the wheel.

No. I just don't know.

A year and a half later, the tower of our marriage has crumbled no more and the space we have given each other may be the mortar with which we rebuild, or the recycling piles into which we can deconstruct for new buildings.

Prayer to the God of Basketball

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Please, god of 49 year old men who feel the need to go to their college reunion and play in an alumni basketball tournament, I beseech thee.

Do not let him go in there and rip, tear, sprain or otherwise injure himself in an attempt to make himself feel younger than we all know he is. He will be tempted to do so, for he will be with other men his age who will all have similarly lost their damn minds and encourage him to do things that he KNOWS he should not so.

Hear me, for I will NOT nurse his wounded ass back to health, nor will I tolerate moaning and groaning about his sore muscles.  I'm serious about this, oh god of college basketball reunions. For real.

Paging Dr Freud...

Monday, August 09, 2010

What do you think it means when you have a dream in which your mother is possessed. As in demoniacally possessed and the dream involves you and your step-father (who is no longer married to your mother) are in the process of exorcising her ala scene directly out of The Exorcist?

Yeah, I kinda thought so.

The Best Imitation of Myself

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Having been inspired by Jenn’s attempt at out thinking her daughter, I would like to share some of Dawn’s top “Don’t’s”, in the realm of parenting.

Yes, Yes, we all know now about the dangers of throwing Bitty Baby shoes in your child’s direction. But these are some lesser know, but equally hazardous moments in my parenting career.

At this point I would specifically like to make a professional disclaimer. As an early childhood guru, many of these things I would have never suggested or done with the children in my care. I mean, I was getting PAID to rear these other children. No, these fuck ups were entirely with my own child.

1. When your child is 3 weeks old and can’t possibly roll over, do not try to simulate your body with pillows next to her on the bed. You will do this in an attempt to move away from her, while she is sleeping so you can – I don’t know – Pee without holding her. Perhaps you will even attempt to seek nourishment. You will be sitting on the couch and hear a distant, but distinct noise. You will be chewing a food item. You will think “Hmm, that is an odd sound”, as you chew quickly. You will hear the sound again and think, “No, really, that IS odd”. You will trip over the coffee table as you realize that this is the muffled sound of you baby – screaming. She is muffled, cause she has rolled, face first into the pillow. Cause 3-week-old babies never roll. But yours does.

2.In an attempt to “teach your child who is boss” you will attempt to Ferber her over the course of the week. You will find that your 11 month old has far more will power than you, as she is perfectly happy to scream bloody murder for six hours, without falling to sleep. She can sleep all day. She has nowhere to go at 7 a.m. But you do, you sorry Mo-fo.

As you walk in to her bedroom at the prescribed increasing 5 minutes intervals, your child will look at you with bottomless hatred and disgust. At 5 a.m. on day 4 of this marathon, you will pick her up and pop a boob in her mouth and fall asleep. Cause this Ferber dude must not have slept in the same house with his kids. And he sucks.

3.Because you are the Director of the child care, your child will become a brutal biter, with many, many victims. These victims’ parents will address you – Director- and say things such as “I don’t know what is wrong with that Biter’s parents. I mean, they must not be doing a very good job at parenting”

4.After watching Marie Osmond give advice on some talk show (cause before she went all crazy, she was an Uber mom), you will think it a good idea to snip the ends off of your child’s binkies. Cause Marie says that the baby will lose the pleasure of sucking the binky when the end is nipped. Your baby is 2 and needs to give up her binky…Right? Everyone says so.
So you do this. You present the modified binky to child, who loses her shit and begins to wail “YUCKY MINE! YUCKY MINE!” as she flops on the floor kicking and screaming. This goes on until your frantic husband finds an unmodified binky and says “What the hell did you do that for?” Your child gives the binky up at 4 when she is damn good and ready thank you very much.

5.When the monsters begin to live in the closet and under the bed, you read a Parents magazine that recommends making “Monster spray” by purchasing a small spray bottle and decorating it with glittery stickers. You will then present it to your fearful child and empower them with the knowledge that they can concur their fears by using this “Monster Spray”. Then your child will be able to come to terms with the monsters ( which are only an manifestation of the child’s growing awareness of the dangers of the world – as they seek more and more autonomy), in a self esteem and empowering sort of way. You will buy this shit hook, line and sinker. You will make the bottle. You will present it to your child.

Your child will react by shrieking, “The monsters are going to eat me!” (or a reasonable facsimile with the binky in her mouth) and screaming as she runs in circles. She will then attach herself to your body and attempt to climb up onto your head as she continues to scream about the monsters.
You have unwittingly acknowledged and confirmed the existence of the monsters, that you had heretofore staunchly refused to agree were real. You will have to show your child that you are throwing away the “Monster Spray” so the “monsters” won’t go all postal when they find out she has acquired such a tool.
Thanks Parents magazine. A real life saver there.

Ah, yes. Don’t do these things. If you do, your child will still be sleeping with you at age 7. Learn from my mistakes, people. Do not listen to child development experts like me! Throw away those magazines. You’ll find your way, I promise.

Originally posted February 2006

Day One of BlogHer

Friday, August 06, 2010

Down. I rocked seriously hot pink shoes with a vintage dress.

Tonight - Mad Men dress #2 with the other seriously rocking shoes. I will also attempt bouffant-y pouf. I will make sure someone takes a picture before I drink to much and start making out with lesbians.

I mentioned that I am easily influenced , right?

pre-conference SOC

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

It has taken two years, but I have saved up nearly all my social "uumph" for the upcoming BlogHer. 

This is indicated by my now obsessive desire to get my hair into an actual STYLE. As in "She did her hair". 

The last time my hair was "did"? 1996, for my wedding. And I sure as hell didn't do it. 

Tonights crash course in hairstyling include me trying to learn 40 years of hair styling information which has previously pinged off of my brain as "not my thing". I went and bought Hair spray today. And bobby pins. And some crazy combs and clip things to try to get my hair to do a pouf thing in the back through the magic of back combing. 

4 tries later, I managed to get a bit of a pouf, but I am pretty sure I need to be more ruthless with the teasing and not so timid on the spraying. 

In between, I am emailing my to-be roommates. And because I am giddy and excited and a little bit high on the amount of fumes I have inhaled through the spraying of my hair, I am being kind of silly. I did just disclose my habit of imprinting on people - as in "I have decided we are friends and now, you belong to me for life."

And that I am prepared at all times for the zombie apocalypse.  Which involves making sure I have flats in my bag because 4 inch heels are super hot, but not the footwear needed in the aforementioned apocalyptic scenario.

Oh, and that because I only emerge from my cave every two to three years and speak to other humans, I tend to NOT SHUT UP. I take the dialog that goes on in my head 24/7 and simply broadcast it to whatever poor soul is in hearing distance.

And then there is my goal of speaking with at least 10 people I don't know. And who, after I blast them with my stream of consciousness chatter, may wish to not know me further.

However, I solemnly swear that I will get a photograph of the Hair once it attains appropriate pouf. And my shoes. Because these are some seriously hot shoes which will be making their debut. and maybe of me in the dress(es) - given that I find the right pair of Spanx.

I am excited.

My People

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Danielle's amazing post about why she identifies as a feminist set my mind to whirling....bringing me back to this post about the people who existed before me. My grandparents have all died now. Within the last two years, they all passed away and the Rouse farm sold. I am making hooked rugs of their houses from my memories to pay homage to them, and keep them close to me. So yes. I am a feminist. For my daughter. For my grandmothers, for my mother in laws and sister in laws in Detroit. 

I have never suggested than I have come from anything than very humble beginnings.

I was born in West Virginia. You can all insert the banjo music right now and be done with it. Yes- Wheeling, West Virginia is my birth place.

My father was one of five kids, and my mom was one of four. They were neighbors of a sort, my grandparents, as they lived on farms which were near each other. Maybe a ten or fifteen minute walk. They both still live in those houses in the Ohio Valley.

My mom's family was middle class. My Grandfather, after the world war, became a meat cutter at a local grocery store. My Gramma gave up her brief career as a congressional secretary to raise her family.

My father's family were farmers. Of German heritage, they remained farmers until the kids grew up and moved away. Some of my fondest hot summer memories are of ponies and plum trees, cicadas and garter snakes under cucumber leaves. It was no big deal for the grandchildren to disappear into the woods for the whole day only to reappear to get sleeping stuff and disappear back into the woods surrounding the fallow fields. There was hunting and eating of what was brought back. There is a rather "infamous" story of my mother's attempt to barbecue squirrels my father shot during a rather lean time. Let's just say that even the dogs refused to eat them.

My parents married the October before I made my debut in April 1970. They were eighteen, which was more common in 1969 than it might be today. My father had enlisted in the Marines during the height of the Vietnam war and departed after the wedding and my mother stayed in nursing school despite my father's vehement disapproval. She had to double up on her coursework, squeezing three years into two, as the school made an exception for her stay. Only unmarried, not pregnant ladies were to be educated - and she was now both Married and quite pregnant. The nuns, I am sure, were appalled.

Of the children in my fathers family, there were 18 grandchildren produced. This may be a low number, as I suspect there are a few more floating around the valley and parts unknown who may bear a striking resemblance to my father and uncles. The Rouse's are not known for their lack of fertility. In fact, nearly all of my cousins had their first baby during their teen years. Most dropped out of high school. Some got their GED's. Some did not.

My grandmother Rouse once told me that my brother and I went through high school so "quickly". She was not being ironic. She was of old time valley stock, and still used the word "colored" to describe my now husband. To her, it was a wonder than Donnie and I seemed to go forward without falling into the pitfalls of teen pregnancy and early marriage. My subsequent college career must have seemed other-worldly to them, for both Donnie and I went to and finished undergraduate degrees. To my knowledge, this is something that the other members of my family did not do.

Anyone who has been in the Ohio Valley knows that this is one of the faces of poverty. Deep, generational poverty wrapped in coal mining and the decline of the steel industry. These are people who worked hard for their living - brutally hard, that is if they could find work. My mothers brothers, who came of age in the mid 70's, ended up being caught in a cycle of closing steel mills and foundries. I am not sure than either of them ended up ever finding meaningful long term work.

Work in the foundries was hard. I recall going to pickup my father after a late night shift with my mother. He worked there between enlistments in the Marine Corps and my most pressing memory of the foundry was the front of the building.

It was open to the night air. I always imagined that Hell looked like the inside of the building, as you could see the red hot metal being poured into the molds. The cauldron would tip and the molten metal would pour out. My father would tell stories of men being burned by the metal, or otherwise injured and I worried for him until I would see him emerge ~ Sooty, sweaty and smelling like hot liquid steel.

Work in the coal mines was not much better, and my aunt took a job as one of the only female coal miners in her company. It was not a profession that took kindly to the intrusion of women into what was considered a mans job, but it was by far the best paying job around.

When I began working with families in poverty in New Hampshire, I realized that these people were MY people. The people that I helped straighten out issues in their assistance cases, making sure their child care providers got paid - or that they had the correct information regarding their re-application dates, or what they needed to provide to determine eligibility - They were my family.

I did not feel better than they, nor did I feel that they needed to be punished for being poor. I understood them. I understood the histories, the dramas, the cycle of being caught in something bigger than yourself, for that is the story of my own family. I treated the clients with respect and equity, never allowing them to be abusive or threatening and reminding them that screaming or swearing at me would not get the problems solved. My co-workers would tell me how calm I was on the phone, even on the face of some very difficult phone calls.

Perhaps this is why I have always been attracted to the underdog causes. I mean Early Childhood Education? The year I was accepted to Columbia for my Master's degree I earned a whopping 13,000 for the whole YEAR. That was with a B.S. in education, working 40 plus hours per week.

Perhaps this is why I have often considered myself a translator between two very different worlds that exist in American society, and why I have never been afraid people who are living in poverty.

For I am no different, deep down. I am from the same type of background and family. My life, however, took a different path and I was given a skill set which allows me to navigate the waters of academia and bureaucracies.

So even with a Bachelor's degree, a Master's degree and a PhD in progress, I am no different.

Those people are my people.
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