Did I ever tell you the story

Thursday, March 31, 2011

of this or that?

Story story story, I frame everything in my mind as stories.  A story about Terrance, a story about Emily or Loki or Me.  Sometimes the stories fall over themselves trying to get out and sometimes I can't shake them out for the life of me.

Even if I see them peeking at me over the boulders of Inconsistency in my brain, and offer scones and peppermint tea, they will not come.

Othertimes, I have merely to linger on the doorstep while they race over my body in their effort to get out, be told, be known.

And sometimes I get so sick, so fucking sick of the part I have written for myself that I turn my back on them and refuse to engage because it just isn't fair, god dammit.  Just not fair.

Today is one of those days. I see them peeking. I see frolicking. I hear giggles and laughter from inside.

But I am sick to death of myself and my brain and the stories that demand my attention, or rather the stories that - if I attended to them, would take me away and out of this body to nicer places. Places where I was funny and charming and happy.  Places where I sit on terrasses with wine and sunshine and love.

Instead, I lay in my bed on cold spring days waiting for an epiphany that never comes.

Jeebus, Help Me!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

There are times when I waver in my certainty about ever Not having another baby. Yes, Yes, I KNOW my husband has a vasectomy and this means I would either have to have some kind of husband coup take place OR convince him to have it reversed ( which has about much chance of happening as Dick Cheney embracing his inner hippie and giving back all of his ill gained money)... 

It is at these times when I am immensely grateful that I wrote all of this DOWN in 2005. It helps to kill that urge a little bit. Not entirely, but a little bit.


My husband is in New York. This means that I am a single parent. This means, more specifically, that I am in charge of dinner, packing snack, getting homework done and back in the folder, making sure library book is being returned on library day, medications ( me and her), getting us both showered and dressed and out the door, with the hope that I am going to get to work on time.

Let's take a look at how I have done so far:
Dinner yesterday

I arrive home at 5:15 and walk over to the neighbor's to pick Em up. We walk home. I am thankful that the man my husband called to look at the furnace seems to have fixed it, as there is now heat in the house.
Em asks "Can I have dessert?"
Me: "Talk to me after dinner"

Me ( a few minutes later) "Hey, you want me to bake this chicken pot pie?"

** Don't get impressed - we now buy a weeks worth of meals from a personal chef and put them in our freezer. Best damn money we ever spent.**

Em: "No, I want salami." Pause "Can I have salami?"
Me: "How about some meatloaf? and potatoes?"
Em: "How about some salami......and cheese."

I am now at the very limit of my motherly meal offerings. My temper is beginning to wane.

Me: "Well how about some salami and potatoes and a vegetable?"
Em: "How about salami and corn?"
SOLD. I fix my daughter a plate of salami and corn.
Em: "Can I have dessert when I am done?"
Me: "I don't know yet - talk to me later."

I eat the rest of the meatloaf.

We get homework done, and she asks to watch TV. It is before 7 p.m. so, OK, you can watch a little tv.

With my husband out of the house, my daughter attempts to crawl into my colon. I can't shake her. She stands outside of the bathroom as I pee. I walk to the kitchen to get some water, I turn , she's standing right there. I walk to the living room to to turn off a light, she shadows me.

Me: "Stop following me!"
Em: Shooting me a very baleful look indeed, walks back to the bedroom.

I get to the bedroom. I turn on the computer.
Em: "Can I have desert? Mama? Can I ? Can I have dessert Mama?"

I don't know what child's terrorist training camp she picked up this little tactic from, but it grates on me terribly. She repeats my name over and over, asking the same questions. I could rent her to the military. The Guantanamo guys have nothing on my kid.

Me: "Emily, if you ask me one more time - that's it. You get nothing."
Em: Silence
Six minutes pass. Yes, I counted. Six damn minutes.

Em: "Mama, I am not asking you the thing. But can I Mama?"

I am at the very edge of my patience. Like the "about to flip out" edge. I turn, and look at her. She is carefully not looking at me.

Me: "I told you, you asked again. No dessert. Now please - leave me alone. Mama is begging you."

The crying starts. No, let me re-phrase - the banshee wailing starts. I am now forced to say:
"If you don't stop that noise, you are going to bed AND I won't let you be Addy in the American Girl Fashion show"

Ooooooooo. That is an effective threat. The noise stops immediately.

She settles, we read. I get her ready for bed. Ahhhh, blessed aloneness is coming. I can taste it.

Me: "good night honey - you can come in my bed when you wake up"
Em: "Ok, night Mama. Oh, and Mama? Can I have dessert tomorrow?"

An American in her Consulate - Part One

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My current level of annoyance? Mild to Mid level.

Earlier today? Try Dawn GLARING at the staff behind their bulletproof ( and apparently soundproof) glass. I was so angry I had Stopped Talking.

See, Emily's passport is coming up for renewal. And Since we live in Canada, we have to use a different procedure to secure her passport. This involves making an appointment. Now normally appointments make my American heart SING. I LOVE appointments. Especially since I have moved to the land of "first come, first served". A land in which I can attain very, very few appointments.  Certainly no appointments for medical care - that is a total "show up at 7:30 a.m. and just wait until you are seen, which usually means that you will be seen between noon and 2 p.m." grab bag situation.

No, we had an appointment. With the American Consulate. Hurrah! Americans! Running American Appointments!

Prior to the appointment, Terrance reminded us that we could not bring our cell phones into the consulate. Um, Ok?  That seemed a little strange. I mean, I've taken my cell phone onto PLANES after having them scanned.  But Hey, Ok. Terrance caressed his phone gently and may have whispered "I'll be back soon" to it before closing the trunk, but lock them away we did.  He also adds that we can not take liquids into the building. Or food.  What this means is that I have been gotten up early, and then denied any food or coffee.

I am almost willing to forgive this since we have an APPOINTMENT and that means ON TIME SERVICE.

We approach and state our business. We are assessed by the guards. One was ready to wave me through until I stopped and stated that I was with THEM. The Non-White members of my family.

Oh. Why were we there? Were we American citizens?  Did we have an appointment?  The first gauntlet passed, we entered the lobby. We denuded ourselves of anything in our pockets, and I put my purse on the scanner.

The guy behind the scanner yells out ( in what I believe was an unnecessarily loud voice) - "WE'VE GOT A CAMERA IN THE PURSE!"

Terrance shoots me a death ray look. I look back at him, and shrug. I forgot about my camera in my purse. I just carry it around all the time, and I forget.  Geesh.

So they confiscate my camera. It can not go with me into the upstairs. I get a ticket to re-claim it and go to the stairwell.

"Didn't I tell you...", Terrance begins with a furious whisper. "I forgot, Terrance. The camera just sits in my purse and I didn't give it a second thought. I just forgot."

We enter a very large, very deserted room. It is filled with chairs. And a Photo Machine. But no people.  Our instructions we to go down the stairs. Go to the elevator and press the Button.

Because there is only ONE button in this elevator. One.

As I press the one and only available button, Terrance says ( and I shit you not) "Did you press the right button?" He wasn't being funny. He simply had not looked at the available options and so was double checking me, as he does, constantly. Since I have never, ever perpetrated a "Buddy the Elf" elevator button pressing rampage, I am not sure why he continually does this. I stare back at him. I point to the available button.

"Um, Yeah. I am sure I did".

It is now 10 a.m. We are in the secret building that can not be photographed.  We are in the one way elevator with its lone button.

We depart the elevator and state our business to the receptionist who waves us over to the "American Citizen" section of the room. This makes my heart happy. After living in Montreal and being the obvious American, I finally have a designated section in which to sit. BECAUSE we are Americans.

We approach the window and speak with the female behind the Glass. We tell her we have an appointment.

She seems unimpressed. "You are American?", she asks. I pause and look at her.

What I want to say is "Are you stupid? Did we not just tell you that we were here to renew our daughters passport? Do I NOT look like and American to you, because I have lived here since 2006 and there has never been ONE person who didn't seem to know my country of origin."   But I don't.

THEN - and this is where I start to really get annoyed - she looks at Terrance and says:

"Are you with Her?", while looking back at me.

Bitch?! Did you NOT just here me say that WE were here to renew OUR DAUGHTERS passport? US! The TWO OF US, both American Citizens produced this here child, also an American citizen.

My eyes get big. My lips purse into a rosebud of anger. Terrance is calm. He is always calm in these situations. As a Black man in America, he has grown accustomed to being asked stupid questions over and over. To get angry and loud is to get arrested. Same at the border when he is questioned about every blade of leftover hay in the trunk ( which must be marijuana ), or pairs of his daughters underwear which fell into his luggage, or the pills with the 12 on them.

Me? I am not used to it. I am a White Woman who, despite her 15 years of marriage and 20 years of togetherness with an American Black Man, still is shocked - SHOCKED - when she gets glimpses of the double standard. I get angry. I get Loud.

I whip around and stare at this woman behind the glass. Before I can answer with the stream of cursing her out that is flooding my brain, Terrance simply says "Yes, I am."

I look at him, Hard. My lips are still pursed as I slide Emily's passport under the ferret hole in the counter.

Now, Emily got her passport when she was Eight.  She, being a pretty typical eight year old, was overjoyed to sign her name on the dotted line asking for her signature.

This female, whom I now have branded in my head with my mother in law's voice saying "Heifer"...this heifer looks at Emily's passport and begins to give ME a lecture about how my daughter shouldn't have signed the signature line FIVE YEARS AGO.

My eyebrows raise. My lips remain in their pursed position.  My shoulders start to go back as I rock back to get my full height on the heels I am wearing.

"Because she really shouldn't have signed this because she isn't 16 and she really should not have signed this here on the line then." She taps the line on the passport with her finger.

I consider my options. Nine of the ten scenarios I consider ends with me being escorted from my consulate by security. All of them involve the opening of my mouth and a stream of words coming forth which would call into question, at the very least, her intelligence and suitability for the job.

Crazy D Land

Monday, March 21, 2011

I knew she was angry. I knew she was angry when she pulled up to the house, late, to pick me up.

I knew she was angry when she threw my bags of clothes into the car. I knew she was angry and that there would be a price for me to pay at some point. Maybe not on the drive home. Maybe not for the next week. But it would come, usually when I least expected it and that it would hurt.

My crime? Not wanting to come home. In my mothers eyes, my choices to visit other people or stay away during vacation times were viewed as betrayals. Of Her.

The reason did not matter. I was punished if I asked her for 50 dollars to go to New York City and build housing with Habitat for Humanity. She had said no to that request so I lost my place in the group. That Spring Break I'd refused to come home and stayed, alone, in my dorm room.

It was the end of the semester of that same school year and I had no other choice but to come home. I had decided to stay a few extra days past the end of the semester to visit with my room mate's Aunt and Uncle.

My college room mate was a revelation in many ways. She was from New York. Italian. Her family was, well, kind of normal. Her Mom occasionally sent us boxes of food. Her Aunt and Uncle, who lived a couple of towns over from our University, would have us over for dinner a couple of times a week. Being juniors in college, who were we to refuse an actual home cooked meal?  And Free Laundry! And a computer with a printer!

(cough cough - this WAS 1990, folks. Computer labs were rare - even on campus, so the ability to go to their house and use their computer and print our work was Amazing. They may have been the very first people I knew who had a Home Computer. Of course, he DID work for IBM, so it does make sense.)

My room mate, Linda, had a family who welcomed me.

Coming from a family so closed and insular, it was unthinkable that people just Lived like this. I mean, I wasn't related to these people, and yet - I might as well have been their niece too.  "The Girls", they called us.
"Are you girls coming for dinner tonight?" "Do you girls want to stay over tonight, it's getting late."

I settled into this normalcy. Adults who acted like adults. Who cooked dinner, or made sure we had food and clean laundry and all of those things that we forget we need in our cocoon of the transition into adulthood.

Until the end of the semester when it was time to go home.

When my mother pulled up at the house, she was already in a froth. She had clearly been sputtering and spewing her way to Burlington, nearly two full hours of cursing and anger building. In these days before cell phones, there was no receiving end to this venom.

It was all saved for me.

My mother barely greeted my adopted Aunt. She snarled at her, in fact.

One part of me wanted to apologize for my mothers rudeness, the other part - the one steeped in 20 years of dedicated self preservation? That part knew better. "SHUT UP", that part screamed at me, "BAD THINGS ARE COMING."

I smiled, wanly, at Linda's Aunt as we drove away.  Goodbye Normalcy.  Goodbye adults who acted like adults. I was back in Crazy D land.

Since I never knew from what angle my mother would launch her attack, I stayed mentally nimble. I didn't mention what had just happened. That would have been an opening, you see.  My life long pattern of dodging and weaving around my mothers stories, accusations and conspiracy theories had made me extremely careful of my words. With my mother, anything you said Could and Would be held against you....Forever.

Content and Context didn't matter. Shit, if it had happened or Not didn't matter. It was going to be held against you. The question became When.

About 45 minutes into the drive home, she began screaming at me.

"You are a WHORE. A SLUT! I raised a SLUT and A WHORE."

This attack was somewhat new. I actually started to laugh, which was wholly the wrong reaction. Of course, the reason I was laughing was because my boyfriend of 5 years and I had broken up about 10 months before and I wasn't having sex with ANYBODY so the attack that I was sexually promiscuous was one that truly was unexpected.

"What?!", I said.

"You are a WHORE!", she yelled at me again.

OK, I thought, but at least give me some evidence. My vagina had seen NO action in nearly a year so I wasn't sure from where this accusation was based.

"What are you talking about?", I said again.

"You said you were going downtown to buy your step father a birthday gift and when you got back your hair was WET and I know that you just ran off to have SEX with your boyfriend. Your hair was wet because you took a shower before you came home. I can't believe that I have such a WHORE for a daughter! And don't tell me you weren't sneaking off to fuck him because we all saw your wet hair!"

I had to start scanning my memory banks. When I finally located the date in question, I had to go back nearly two years.

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen. TWO YEARS.

"First of all", I started, "I am not exactly sure how having sex with your boyfriend of 5 years makes anyone a whore or a slut. Second, the day you are talking about? It was raining. We walked back from downtown and it was raining - since it was the end of February, it was one of those snowy/rain days and Yes, we were pretty wet when we got back. But as to having sex that day? No, we didn't. Not that it is any of your business."

I stopped. There was really nothing more to say. She screamed at me for a while longer - how slutty I was, how ungrateful I was, how I was a selfish bitch,  what a whore she had raised, you know the usual things.

There was really no counter argument. In her fantasy land, I was all of those things and much, much more. A year later, I would be the Selfish Whore who ran off with a black guy and  who "Didn't care what the neighbors would think of HER!" as she told me to get out of her house while throwing objects at me. I would go on to be one of the ungrateful, selfish, traitor children who abandoned her to suffer her encroaching old age.  

She tried to friend me on facebook a couple of weeks ago. I haven't spoken with her since my sisters suicide attempt in 2009, and that was after nearly a year embargo imposed by me after my sisters first suicide attempt that my mother flatly refused to acknowledge. She threw me out of her house then too.

After my initial panic and a check in with my sister ( who told me that mom said she was tied of "family grudges" and had decided to "friend" me), I stick with my decision to maintain radio silence.

Her need is not My need, nor can I offer her what she is looking for - reassurance that she is a Good Mother, that she is Right, that the stories that she has made up in her head to explain why people in her life have left her are true.

In Crazy D land, there are no rules except that Crazy D is Queen and her law must be obeyed.

At nearly 41 years of age, I can't paint her roses red.

Sugaring Sunday

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Having grown up in New England, I forget that the sight of the sugaring buckets are unusual for some people. For me, when I see them emerge at this time of year, they confirm that winter has indeed come to an end. Winter may not be completely done - but it's close....

There are hundreds of these buckets around my house. People ask neighbors if they can tap their trees in exchange for a share of the syrup. My daughter has never had anything But real maple syrup and I am oddly grateful that she can still see the vestiges of an older time.

This is a VERY old tree. With five buckets on one side and five more on the other, this tree must be a couple hundred years old.

A close up of a bucket - I prefer the old style metal buckets, but you see more and more tappers using plastic containers. They don't blow off and spill the sap like these kind.

I lifted the top so you can see the sap in the bucket. Today is a great sugaring day - the sap was really flowing out - drip, drip, dripping into the bucket. See the tap at the top of the bucket?

These are the reasons that I so love New England. This old mixture of old and new living side by side stirs something in my soul. And the smell of a sugar house when they sugar off? Luscious.

Here are some new pictures from a cabane a sucre here in Quebec.

I mean  Honestly. Can you get more picture perfect that that? Emily wasn't terribly impressed since she has been looking at this stuff all her life. When her father asked her if she knew how maple syrup was made, she fixed him with a very baleful look indeed.

"Dad. I started helping Colin's Dad at his sugar house when I was 4, and then again every year until I left Hopkinton. I KNOW how it is made..."

We try, us ignorant parents. But she is just utterly nonplussed at every thing we trot out.

Spring is coming. It can not be held back or denied.

Racists in the Crib

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Babies are hard wired to notice difference.

Millennia ago, Difference Mattered.  A Lot.

Difference could mean "Hey, you aren't part of my tribe and therefore, you are dangerous and possibly fatal to me, if nothing else you are competing for the food/shelter/reproductive rights that I am trying to preserve!"

We still see residuals of this hard wiring in our infants today. Stranger Anxiety? Yep. Part of that response system. Babies remain hard wired to know who their caregivers are and to be resistant to new faces as part of that system. It is a wholly natural ( and useful) tool in the bonding of infant to adult.

From Difference rose lots of wonderful things. Our species ability to conquer environments,  problem solve, and keep a genetic pool that is at once so different and so similar has been key to our success in evolving and changing with our planet. From Difference came categories - Male/Female, Black/White/Asian/Hispanic/ Pacific Islander/Inuit, Jew/Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Agnostic/Atheist, and so on. Categories gave us a lightening quick way to look at another human and do a rough assessment of how we should act, socially.

We are, after all, social animals.

In my dissertation, I am putting forward the idea that we do NOTHING that is not socially motivated.  Even things which were previously accepted as being a wholly individual act - That of a child talking out loud to themselves in "private speech" - is really a social act. Bakhtin has written that every utterance is produced for an audience, and as such even talking to oneself is speech produced with the external in mind....but I digress.

From those categories came stereotypes. Those thumbnail sketches of assessment became informal "rules". So, if I know you are Jewish...and I know people who are Jewish don't eat pork, then I should not offer you  a ham sandwich.

Of course stereotypes serve other,  and far less altruistic purposes. At their worst, stereotypes serve to further divide us into categories and then brick us up behind them.

Do All people of Asian descent often use Rice as part of their meal? Possibly in some places.  But not everywhere. Do African Americans All Play basketball? Possibly some do. Do all White people Dance poorly? Well, I don't dance well, but there are some who Do.

Part of becoming an Adult who is sensitized to issues of race and culture is being able to recognize stereotypes, and then deconstruct them. We recognize that we hold these stereotypes, but that they do not fit every situation or every person.We recognize our own part in holding these stereotypes, but we refuse to allow them to do the work of getting to know someone for us.

Now, the most unsavory part of stereotypes plays into the Monster in the Room - Racism.

Let's go back to that baby I talked about before. If that baby ferments the differences she/he notices inside a cauldron of fear and dislike that he/she receives directly from the adults in his/her life?  It is, I think, a recipe for disaster.

The internet has been abuzz with a video of a young white American woman who stupidly posted her Anti-Asian rant on You Tube.  She has since apologized, removed the video, and her university, UCLA, is promising to look into it to see if she has violated and "university codes of conduct". One article even asked  "Do Colleges need Mandatory Diversity Classes?" to which I say "Sure - but all the Colleges and Universities I have attended starting in 1992 DID and by then it is almost too late."

See, White People in America generally KNOW it is not cool to start foaming at the mouth and saying some of the crap they may be holding in their brain. Especially when it comes to Racism. Oh, they may THINK it...but the vast majority of them wont say it until they feel safe.  I know this because I have heard it. I know this because I have seen it in my own mother, and her friends.

"Well, you know all these trashy white women having babies with any black guy they meet and then you have a bunch of these kids who don't know WHAT they are running around." ( and here you can insert your own variations on the themes - Gay, Asian, Muslim, Jewish...you name it.)

*cough, cough. That would be Me you are referring to there, family friend who has know me since 1972.

But I am "different" you know - I am MARRIED to the "black guy" in question.  And he's "nice".

Code words, code words, code words. What she meant to say was "Oh Shit, I forgot you were married to a black guy and that little tidbit of racism that just erupted from my mouth should be disregarded because you 1. Caught me and 2. Know Me."

She also knows now to be more careful around me. That, however, doesn't stamp out that ugliness. Just subverts it deeper. I know it is still being thought, being said, being felt - but that I am no longer included in that conversation.

Perhaps this foolish young woman  forgot that she now lives in an age where information moves with unparalleled speed. Perhaps she, like many of her age, have grown so comfortable with technology that they have forgotten that it does not "know them" and so will forgive the lapses of polite white society when indulging her racist rant.

The root of the problem remains. I don't think this is the first time she has said it, or the first time she has heard the hateful things she repeated. I don't think that she is going to reform her ideas, despite any mandatory diversity class she takes at the university level. I do, however, think she will look around and check before saying anything like this in front of people who may not be "SAFE".

We do not, despite anything which gets said over and over on certain media outlets, live in a Post-Racial society.  Electing President Obama did not erase the root of the problem of racism in America. If anything, it allowed deeply racist people to point at the election, throw up an elaborate smokescreen and declare the work to be Done! Voila! See! Not Racist! Move On Here! Nothing to See!

The work of digging out the tangled roots of racism must be done when children are young. It must start in Child Care and Early Learning Centre's where children can test out their ideas with adults who are well educated in doing the  hard work of Anti-Bias Curriculum.

By the time a child gets to University, they write essay's in their multi-cultural society classes about how oppressed THEY are, as Privileged White Students...or how culturally astute they are because of their Filipino nanny/housekeeper.

I know, because I have read and graded those essay's in those classes at University.

If we truly want to start to significantly end racism in America, then more classes at University isn't going to help. We need to meet the Racists, in the crib, and start from there.

A lie is a lie is a lie

Monday, March 14, 2011

There is an oft repeated lie floating in the ether that Union members make 42% MORE than non-union "private sector" workers.


This isn't true.

What makes this 42% number?

Partially, it reflects the cost of Paid time off. You know those sick days and vacation days and paid holiday days?  Because getting paid time off is SO WRONG. Only Socialists want paid time off to care for their sick child! Or to stay Home and Not infect the rest of their colleagues with Bronchitis!

Partially, it reflects the cost of providing your workers Health Insurance. You know, so they can have those pesky Pap Smears, or have their Heart Disease Treated.  Also, the Prescription Drug Benefit so they can buy their insulin...or anti-depressants, or thyroid medication, or antibiotics for their children's ear infections! Only Socialists want health care and medication.

And Dental and Vision Benefits - Because only Socialists want to see correctly, or chew their food with the real teeth!

Most business do, indeed, calculate the cost of the full benefit package at about 42% - that includes all health benefits, time off and any other thing they provide as an option for their employees. That does not mean that union members earn 42% more in ACTUAL TAKE HOME SALARY, simply that the cost of the negotiated benefits is estimated as a portion of a Larger total.

And, just for giggles, let's multiply a crazy salary of say...$8.00 per hour!

Which is, after all WAY over minimum wage.

42% More (which is the lie perpetrated by those wanting to strip people of their Right to negotiate) is a whopping $11.36 per hour.

Break out the caviar and champagne!

We must strike back at the lie with an examination of the Why, and the facts that are being used against workers in every industry. It is disingenuous to claim that Wall Street Bankers who absolutely MUST have their Million dollar bonus deserve More than your average teacher, police officer, industry worker, nurse, or any other unionized work member.

Now who is the Thug?

Pride Goeth before my Fall

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Emily started to tell this story in the middle of mother daughter book club last night. Thank GOD I wrote everything down before she could seriously start ratting me out.

And now, in the dead of winter, I give you a summer story.

We live on a lake. A lovely, pristine lake. One of the reasons I have stayed here in this small cottage for eleven years has been for the love of this lake.

Long before we had a child, I adored laying about in the lake. I would go out, tether my inner tube to a rock and lay there reading trashy novels. I am soothed by water.

My husband, a child of inner city Detroit, does not hold the same affection for the water. He views the lake as a "workout" opportunity. He swims, when he deigns to come to the water, with purpose. He does not relax in the water.

When pregnant, I swam twice a week. I was wildly proud of my swimming class. Truth be told, we were a bunch of heavily pregnant women floating in 85 degree water and doing very low impact activity. The joy in this activity was in the weightlessness of my belly. Emily would grow very still and quiet when I swam. I suspect she was a bit startled that I was flipping and flopping around at such unusual angles. I swam the day before I gave birth.

I was eager to get Emily into the water after she was born. Having a May birthday, I thought this gave me a lovely opportunity to introduce her to the lake when the warmth of July hit us full force. My plan, however, was not Emily's plan during the first year. She screamed like a banshee every time I touched her foot to the water.

This has changed. She is a water baby and an incredible swimmer. At seven, she is confident and comfortable in the water. I float on my noodles and she flips around me like a playful otter.

This August, I decided to show her a few of Mom's water abilities. In my day, I had some skillz.

I started with the underwater handstand. Hands down, legs up, legs straight and together and down.


Emily and the neighbor boy were duly impressed. "Do it again, Mom" said Emily, with a voice full of impressed awe.

I did. I added variations to the additional accolades of the neighbor boy and Emily.

I was feeling good. I was 35 and still able to pull off some water acrobatics.

There was a split second when I searched my mind for any other impressive water tricks I could pull out for this admiring audience. Ahhh, I thought, I 've got one.

Me: "Wanna see my back flip?"

Fatal words, friends, fatal words.

With the admiring stares of these two children, I prepared myself for my piece de resistance.

I raised my arms, and made a big show of centering myself. Then I pushed off and flung myself backwards.

A split second before my face hit the sand, I realized that this was a critical oversight on my part. I was dealing with a whole different body mass than the last documented time I had performed this particular stunt. I had sizable developments in the breast area with which to contend.

Time slowed as my face grated through the sand and my brain connected with the searing pain coursing through my face.

I emerged from the lake bottom, to the stunned faces of my previously enthusiastic audience.

Sand had parted my hair. I was bleeding from one side of my nose. The other side was completely impacted with sand. I had sand in my mouth, that I was sputtering out as I came up.

But the crowning glory of this scene was my bathing suit top. It had completely FILLED with sand and was hanging down to my belly, exposing about 96% of my sand covered bosom to the crowd.

It took me a few seconds to realize that I was showing the neighbor boy far more than he had bargained on seeing. I then dropped to my neck in the water, began dancing around trying to stuff the "girls" back into their LL Bean top, shake out the accumulated sand from my suit and blow the core of sand that had developed in my left nostril.

The two children were completely silent. My boobs had rendered them speechless, and not in a good way.

A few minutes later, the boy says, "It's a little shallow here to do that, don't you think?"

Yes sir, thanks for the heads up. Now I will retreat to my Meme coverup and go sit on the side of the water like people my age should. Lesson learned. There is a time to retire the backflip.

My life as a Public Servant

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"I call and call and I never get through to a real person..."

During my years at the Child Development Bureau, I heard that complaint more times than I care to count. We were, you see, the people that you called in the State of New Hampshire when you either received child care assistance as a Parent through the state OR received child care payments as a Provider of child care for those parents.

We were generally not popular. We got yelled at A LOT. Occasionally threatened. Seriously Threatened. By people with backgrounds that indicated they were not afraid to carry out their threats.

Receiving assistance in the State of New Hampshire ( or ANY state)  can be like a complicated dance. There is paperwork to be filled out - correctly, or it is returned and benefits can be denied. There are verifications that have to be provided, by employers, by banks, by agencies outside of the individual - within the time limits, or the benefits can be denied. There are re-determinations visits which must be made and kept - Or benefits will be denied. As difficult as it can be to obtain benefits such as food stamps and child care assistance, it can be lost with the missing of one appointment.

Outside of my feelings regarding the inherent punitive nature of many social assistance programs ( and boy, I could go on and on...) the topic on my mind this evening is the people who answer those phones. The "overpaid" Unionized Public workers, of which I was one for nearly 5 years.

In my department, which during the years that I was with the State oversaw 24 million dollars  in child care assistance, we had three staff. Yes, we also had an Administrator. And a Financial Person who managed the money for our department within our division and also oversaw the bidding and contracts processes. We had two people, subcontracted through the training division, who were responsible for the Early Childhood Credential for the entire State ( and was part time)....And a Trainer who arranged and managed all the training for Child Care Professionals in the State.

No bloat there, I assure you. 6.5 positions for a 24 million dollar budget. But wait, there is more.

The three of us who answered phones took, on average, about 1500 phone calls per month.  We know because we logged every call, every return call, and every resolution or answer we gave parents, child care providers or anyone else we talked to day to day. We did this because the easiest complaint to make was "they never return my call" or "I can never get a real person when I call".

One phone call is not a simple yes or no answer either. Often, one phone call would kick off a flurry of emails to district office staff, coordination with the Data Management folks who were processing billing, more calls to parents or providers to clarify information or eligibility, and consultation with each other so we all knew what was going on in these cases - Just in case one of us took the next phone call we would be prepared and up to date. We did have clients who liked to play the "Well, DAWN said that I was eligible..." game and our excellent documentation was the best way to make sure that our message was consistant.

In addition, we each also had individual areas of specialty.

I handled the @1200 license-exempt child care providers. I got them enrolled, linked with clients, processed their criminal background and central registry checks for themselves and anyone over the age of 13 living in their house. If they, or other household member, failed the background check, I had to inform them of this and give them their appeal information. I had to inform the parent that their selected provider did not meet the standards for child care.

I worked with the foster care division to certify some child care providers for care for foster children. I did a lot of persuading of providers to open a space for a foster child. I promised them that their billing would go through and then I would work to make sure that the authorization was in place ( with the person who did that) so that the child care provider could receive payment. Of course, payment is much lower than the going market rate....so there was a lot of persuading.

For three years, I also helped manage the central registry for Child Abuse and Neglect. I entered names into that registry, as well as reviewed the case files to verify the appropriate people were linked in the case and the final documents were in order. I then filed those documents by finding date so we could access them in case someone applied to be a child care provider who was ON the registry. I mean, we wouldn't want people who were abusing their own children to be paid for child care by the State, would we?

I also removed people who had been on the registry for the prescribed seven years and shredded the records, per public law.

Let's just say that the amount of phone calls I have had which would shake you to the core are innumerable. People with long term, hard core drug issues, people convicted of felonies, serious domestic abuse issues, not to mention the abuse and neglect cases. Try explaining to someone who can not understand why you won't allow her to provide child care....when her own children were removed from her care and her parental rights terminated.

I did not lose my temper. I was never rude. I often had to remind clients that I would not be spoken to with such disrespect, because I was trying to help them.  Not liking my answer was not reason to scream at me. I was tolerant because I understood what stress these individuals were often living under - from paycheck to paycheck. I was not condescending or rude. I was, however, firm. I took my responsibility seriously.

My workload was not unusual, for my counterparts all had their own pieces and parts assigned to them. One worked on the web billing module with the designers to reduce the amount of paper and expedite payment. The other had assigned roles in advocacy and the revision of our rules, which had to be approved through a legislative body.

The most senior of us earned about 40,000. Of course, we also got excellent health care benefit, sick leave,  and vacation time of about one week (5 days)  for every three years we served. Most of us ended up losing time at the end of the year because we didn't take it all off. We got a pension too after a prescribed number of years of public service.

Most of us had Master's Degrees in our field.

Now, were there people in public service who were really awful at their jobs? Of course. However, no more so than what I have experienced anywhere else.  I have had some pretty terrible customer service in the private sector from people who are far more than neophytes at their job but there are assholes every where.

Did I believe that I was "safe" because I was in a Union? No, I just knew that there were rules that governed the "Hows and whys" of my job. I knew that if I ended up with a supervisor who did not personally like me that he/she could not simply dismiss me. I knew that if I got Ill with a chronic illness, then my employment was not able to be terminated at will.  I knew that if I screwed up and did something that was out of bounds that there was a procedure to follow for my discipline.

This idea that Teachers - of which I am fundamentally one - and other public servants are living some kind of  Enron-esque high life thumbing our collective noses at the Private sector is ludicrous. Most departments, and school districts, are cut to the absolute bare bones. This is why we have family case workers with caseloads of 300-400 families. This is why we have one teacher in a classroom with 30 children. This is why 5 people might be the child care licensing staff for 1200 facilities and homes.  This is why three people in my department took 1500 phone calls from parents and providers Per Month.

And, I can assure you, No teacher I have ever known...No public worker has EVER gotten a million dollar bonus at the end of the year...after they have gutted the infrastructure of the country.

Villainizing the people who are working their asses off to make sure your children are safe and educated is despicable. And I, for one, will not stand for it.

Day of reckoning

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Yesterday after I picked Emily up from school, she launched one of her "never quite expected" questions:

"Mom, what's a condom?"

First, I congratulate myself for not driving into a snow bank, or unbuckling and throwing myself from the car to avoid answering.

"Um...Well, it is a type of plastic that goes over a mans penis to keep the sperm from getting into the vagina during sex."

I get the whole sentence out without breaking into sobs or shoving a plastic fast food spork into my jugular.

"oh.", she says.

Silence falls in the car.

"I think I've seen one....", she trails off.

I am tensed for the follow up, because I know exactly where this is headed and I am both horrified and irritated and embarrassed.

"In the toilet at home", she ends.

Oh.      No.                                            It               is                    happening.

She is piecing it together.                                                                Me.                   Her Father.

"Which means that condom must have been Daddy's."

 Oh. Please. Don't ask the follow up question.  Please. I will give anything to not hear the follow up question.

"So Why is Daddy using a condom?......"

I stare ahead at the road. She has now turned and looked at me.  Her eyebrows are knitted together.

At the stop sign, I turn and give her a half sheepish, half horrified smile. I start to open my mouth.

She stops me.

"Actually, I don't think I want to know", she concludes.


This morning, I punch Terrance repeated in the arm as I recount this story. He needs to suffer too, albeit after the fact.

"I TOLD (punch) you  to NOT (punch) put your CONDOMS (punch) in the toilet!"

Then I left him curled up on the couch in shock.

Your kid is not that special: School Parking edition

Monday, March 07, 2011

I took this picture today, March 8, 2011. Yes, both these cars are Parked and the parent is Gone. Yes, this is a one way street.

Parents who pick their children up from school fall into two distinct categories.

SERIOUS assholes and those of us who have to suffer at the hands of the aforementioned serious assholes with their unmitigated assholery.

Today, in the midst of a massive snowstorm, Terrance (and the school buses) had to wait 20 minutes while a mother who had double parked her van took her time meandering out of the school with her precious, precious progeny.

Seeing as this child has the ability to:
1. Walk of their own volition.
2. Talk and communicate with other human beings
3. Dress themselves

There is no earthly reason why this child needs to be escorted from school TO car by the parent.  Now, perhaps this child, unbeknownst by me, has an alarming tendency to chew on other peoples faces ala Hannibal Lector if left unescorted by an adult. Perhaps this child is the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama, and this has not yet been announced. I do not know all of the facts.

I would, of course, of course argue that if the child is either THAT dangerous or THAT important that Public School is Not the place for them.

If you are picking up your child from school, there are two options. Park in a legal, designated parking spot. I do not care if this spot is deemed by you to be "inconvenient", or "too far away". I do not care if you have a well documented by psychiatric professionals fear of "walking". I DO NOT CARE. Casts on both legs? I DON'T CARE.


It is true that I, in past incidences, have called other parents stupid fucking bitches as well as threatened to beat their asses if they didn't move their fucking Escalade right fucking now. It is true that the other parent in question avoided eye contact with me for two years after that incident even though her child as in the same class of my child.

The only acceptable other option in my book is if you and you child have perfected the art of the "drive by pick up". This is a skill that Emily and I have down to a science. She knows I will not stop my car for more than about four heartbeats.  When she and I have made eye contact, I pull up, she whips the door open and throws her backpack in, jumps in and Buckles up while closing the door.

She is not to continue to talk to her friends with an open door. She is not to fool around. Get In the Car and we are gone. I, for my part, am not trying to chit chat with other parents from an open window.  I have a phone. I have email. If I want to arrange dinner/car pool with you, I can do it at other times by other means.

Your Kid is not the only Child in this school and You are not the only parent who is trying to pick their child up at this Time of Day. Lets keep Assholery to a bare minimum, shall we?


Friday, March 04, 2011

I suppose the root could be traced back to my father. In his own little Skinner experiment, a toddler Dawn was sat in front of the medicine cabinet, door open to reveal all the restricted wonders within.

He would encourage me to take what I wanted. I would reach out. He would smack my hand. I would retreat, hand stinging and confused.

After a pause, he would encourage me to take what I wanted.  I would tentatively reach out for what ever color had looked appealing, only to have my hand smacked back. Over and Over we repeated this pattern until, he later told me, I would refuse to reach out to the cabinet.

In this way I was taught to not reach for things that were restricted or did not belong to me.

In massage therapy this week, the therapist focused in on my lower back. "The energy here is heavy", she said. "So incredibly heavy."

Laying there, I wondered what she was talking about. Heavy?  She said it in a way that indicated that she thought it wasn't a good thing, this heavy energy.  I lay there thinking.

"What you call heavy, I call grounded", I finally offered.

"When I am not grounded, I lose myself. I start thinking about things that don't belong to me, or wishing for things that I can not have. It is no good when I am not grounded."

She works on my back, quietly. I have learned to just listen to what floats through my brain during these sessions. I stay in my body and simply react.

"You have a wall around your heart chakra, Dawn - relationships. There is a tight band that lay across the middle of your back - try to release this."

She works diligently. In this thing, my body is not ready to acquiesce. Finally, I say to her:

"I don't think it is meant for me. Any of it. Love, Passion, Emotion. I am not built for it.  When I reach for it, I get smacked back down so why should I bother? It will only upset the balance I work so hard to achieve. It will make me crazy and erratic. Make me forget my work, what I should be doing, and the recovery is so costly. No. I don't think I was built for any of it. It simply isn't meant for me."

I am not crying.. I am not upset. It is simply what it is.

She tries to tell me what she knows of emotions, of passion. Tries to convince me that there is a different way.

Yet, there is nothing to tell me. The medicine cabinet door has been opened and I have finally learned my lesson.

An Ode to Winter, in Pictures

Thursday, March 03, 2011

As it is Winter Break, we decide to head to THE sledding hill - in Parc Mont Royal. The "Mountain" as we refer to it in Montreal.

I prepare for the first sledding run of the afternoon. And Yes, it is as cold as you think it is.

I prepare for my epic solo flight.

See that blur, with the snow flying behind? Me.  The snow is now blinding my glasses and I am about to spin around and slide down the rest of the hill backwards. But...I did not fall off.

After my hike back UP the hill, Em prepares for her Solo Flight.

She readies herself. Note the already assumed "bailing out" position.

She doesn't even make it all the way down before ditching. I secretly suspect it is because she didn't want to walk ALL the way up again.

Lac du Castor - the Skating pond.

At the last run, Em exclaims that she is "dead". Also that she can not feel her lips anymore so it is time to go home. Fair enough, I say.  But don't ever say that you lived in Montreal and never got to go sledding at the Mountain.

Small, funny things

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The cat shits every time I take a shower or bath.

I do not understand why he feels the need to visit his litterbox every time I bathe. Perhaps it makes him nervous to see me disappear behind the translucent curtain. A feline version of the great and powerful Oz and as such he pays tribute to me with his feces.

The first time I noticed this habit, I thought it was a fluke. My bad luck. After all, these types of things happen to me constantly. The empty roll of toilet paper. The 1/4th inch of creamer in the carton. Being constantly covered by rabbit and cat fur. All things which I think are left to the mothers and wives of the world. To restore the balance by throwing out the carton, by refilling the toilet paper, by using the last threadbare clean towel that has been left for us by our family.

I would dutifully step out of the shower, dripping wet, to clean the litterbox. Because showering with the humid aroma of cat shit is about as wonderful as an ingrown toenail. As in Not very. After flushing the toilet....and waiting the requisite amount of time before being able to step back into the shower since our pipes are old and the flush of the toilet has rendered the shower indescribably hot, I return to my ablutions.

This morning I thought I had outsmarted him. I waited until he USED the litterbox. I cleaned it out and then began to run my shower.

HAHAHAHAHA, I thought as I stood under the hot water. I outwitted you! I WIN!!!

And then I heard the tell tale signs of him getting into his litterbox. I peek out of the curtain. Where Loki, the trickster, stares back at me.
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