First there was a Man. Then a Woman. Then in quick succession, two cats, a confused dog beast, and two kids. I stay at home with them. I'm the Man

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pumpkins Float, Right?

There is never a time when the sight of my kid, red-eyed, soaked, and coughing, doesn't fill me with delight. Chlorine poisoned, rasp-throated, water slide otter. Sick from the amount of water he swallowed and refusing to come out even though his lips are the color of blueberries. It's the best. His sister is a bit smoother, more competent in the water, but when she gets cold, she comes out. I've seen "help me" written in ice crystals on the boy's tummy, yet when you ask him if he wants to come out he just shakes violently, and stutters "N-no." This is when we take him out, of course. Wrap him up in his towel until the shakes wear off and his lips are no longer a severe indigo.

Often throughout the fall, we visit the ocean. Sometimes impromptu. We always tell both kids to stay out of the water. The Peanut almost manages it. Usually almost manages it. The bottoms of her cuffed jeans get dark, wet, then sandy and crusty with salt.

The boy will shout a hearty "ok" as he runs top speed into the surf and plunges both arms in, and comes up dripping and crowing about the fish he almost caught or waving a new buff colored half clamshell for all to see. He has spent his fair share of car rides home wearing my billowing t-shirt and nothing else. We always tell ourselves we're just going to keep changes of clothes in the car for both kids, but we don't always manage it.

The Peanut is an athlete. There is no doubt. She watched an eight year old boy doing flips into a pool this summer, decided she could do that, and then did. She can do pull-ups, a handstand with little help for balance, and scale our living room door jam. She flows up and over the monkey bars, she's graceful in ballet and confident in gymnastics. It's like owning a spider monkey.

The boy is a little more like me. He's quicker than you might first think, there is a general impression of physical strength despite his meatless frame ("his" frame being the only meatless one here. Mine has extra capicola), but "grace" would not come to mind.  Rock slides, clumsy bear cubs, a drunken Chris Farley, all these things might come to mind, but not grace. If the statues at Easter Island suddenly grew little legs and started running around, smashing into each other and falling and rolling around on the ground giggling, this might be an apt image for myself and, to lesser-in-stature-degree, my son.

But what he does have over me, is his affinity for water. He loves to swim and he has no fear. One time we were at a local boardwalk type area called Salisbury Beach. It was Mother's Day and the place has lots of skeeball. My wife loves skeeball. We didn't plan on going in the water that day, but the kids did.

The surf was pretty rough and the boy did not seem to notice. I shouted multiple, useless warnings about undertow and current. "Okay," he shouted back absently. "I hear you father," his tone said" Now would you please kindly shut the fuck up?"

Then it happened. A big wave came crashing in. He got knocked off his feet and sucked right into the vortex of the wave. He went around like clothes tumbling in the dryer. I ran down and grabbed his upper arm, yanked him out, set him on his feet. He looked up and said, "Well! That never happened to me before!" No fear, just marveling at the power of his salty mistress. The dude is crazy for the sea.

Most scenarios he spouts for when he's grown-up include the water. He's going to "travel all around the world, and I'm gonna know all the ocean animals and I'm gonna help them." Or he's going to live in "Maine, near the Aunties. And I'll fish and sell the fish and have a nice little cute little life."

Grand or humble, his plans include the water. Ocean child. Young Man and The Sea. The Pumpkin Man floats.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yom Kippur, a Report From The Front.

I fasted today. For Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, technically, is supposed to be a very strict fast. Technically. Even pregnant women are supposed to take part with permission from a doctor. No eating or drinking. At the same time, it is Judaism, so I feel like there's always room for discussion. Because the cool thing about Yom Kippur is that Yahweh is supposed to be atoning too. And you know he has a hell of a lot more to atone for than your average Jew. There he is, spending 25 hours not eating any Krispy Kreams or Fried Chicken. Like Americans, this is mostly what God eats. So, because of that necessity for God to atone for the past year's ills, I feel like there is a little room for negotiation. I feel like you could go, "Hey, God, listen . . . You have a cup of coffee, I'll have a cup of coffee (shrug) no big whoop," and he'd be totally cool with it.

I stayed pretty true, mostly. Had to walk the dog a couple of miles last night, so when I got home I had a couple slugs of seltzer, otherwise known as "Jewish Holy Water."

The kids were fascinated by the fasting. I've done it before, but this is the first year they've paid attention. The day started with the Peanut asking, "Daddy, are you hungry? Are you hungry Daddy? Want me to get you some cereal?" Followed by truly evil giggling.

Then I had to take her to her swimming lessons. Always a good idea on a very tiny person's part to poke a hungry Jew before they take you to a pool.

I brought lunch home to everyone because there was no way I was cooking today, and that's when things got tough.

Because I am infused with self-loathing and irony, I brought everyone BLT's. I know, I know. They were cheap, everyone likes them, and if you didn't fast today then please stop judging. I was atoning for the sin as I committed it. I am nothing if not an efficient sinner.

The heavy smell of bacon and the sight of everyone chewing got to me so I high tailed it upstairs to lay down with the blanket over my head until their dirty, sinful, delicious feast was done.

When the kids asked why I did it, I told them because it made me think about being Jewish, about how and what I did during the year behind me and what I was going to do with the year ahead. I told them it leaves me feeling cleaned out and ready to embrace the New Year. While I didn't say this, I also did it for them. So they could see the tradition, realize it was part of their heritage, and then make their own decision about doing it and if so why they're doing it when they get older.  I didn't mention atonement or God, because I don't actually believe in God. I do believe in atonement to some degree, but I don't know if one manages it by skipping a few meals.

And it does sort of clean me out and open me up again. My Wife went out shopping, so I zapped the kids some popcorn (the will it took to not pop one of those, salt, buttery, hot, crunchy morsels into my mouth as I was serving may very well have been atonement, now that I think about it. It certainly felt like it. That has got to make up for some sins. A lot of sins.) and put on the movie Rise Of The Guardians. It involved Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, and the Power of Hope and belief and shit. Not a great movie, not a horrible movie, but enough of a movie to make me weep quietly near the end as the kids watched and everything came out ok. Even worse, later that night, my wife and I watched Parental Guidance, produced by and starring the King Of Schmaltz, Billy Crystal. Multiple tear ups on that one too. And this was after I'd broken my fast. On a bowl of chicken soup, some bread, and yes, the leftovers from lunch. A BLT. Fuck you, my name was written in the Book of Life for the year, and you can't erase that shit. Even with bacon. You could make it greasy as hell trying, but you can't actually erase it.

The Peanut told me how proud she was of me for fasting, seemed very relieved I was eating, and kept asking me if I felt "cleaned out." I told her yes and hugged her and thought how unfortunate it was that the phrase "cleaned out" sounds suspiciously like instead of fasting, I went and had an enema. Maybe next year.


P.S. Spell Check told me to replace Yom Kippur with "Yon Kipper." As always, fucking anti-semetic Spell Check.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What's New

Here's what's new:

The Peanut started first grade in a new school (same school system). Her old school, while the teachers were lovely and the principal was talented, was a mess. It was originally a junior high, so the facilities were not anywhere near appropriate for little ones. The floor where the lower grades reside felt like a basement. The bathrooms had been "retrofitted" by the lowering of old sinks so that you could still see the imprint on the wall where they used to sit.

During recess, all the kids headed out to an empty section of the parking lot where they ran gaily over cracked asphalt and splashed wildly through the dirty puddles that collected between old frost heaves, oohing and ahhing over the oil slick rainbows floating thickly on top. It was a bit of a downer. 

Also, the principal was pregnant/just had her first kid, so one can't totally rely on her heart being all the way in the game for a year or so. Especially since she doesn't live here.

The new school has a green field and an actual fenced-in playground and colors and facilities  befitting the tiniest of scholars. So that's cool. 

Of course, we came to find out that even when the playground is empty, the first graders often spend recess right next to the usually empty playground in the cozy chain-linked confines of the basketball court. School-to-prison pipeline much?  It's one of the first issues I plan on tackling once the Peanut has had a chance to establish a bit of an identity. No one wants to start in a new school known as "that tiny girl with the huge pain in the ass parents." We'll give it a couple of weeks, and then dig in. Meet the PTO prez, get on the school site council, and make some noise. School site council, for those that don't know, is a group made up of parents, teachers, and other members of the community. In Massachusetts, School site council members get a say in budgeting, hiring, and school improvement. It's a great way to be a big pain in the ass.  Google your Department of Ed regs today and you too can be the parent no one likes to see coming. The squeaky asshole gets the grease.

Wait  a second . . . 

Let me say, this is not an adversarial thing, this being a big pain in the ass. Teachers and administrators are constantly squeezed by their bosses, the media, the government, over-crowding, and budget cuts in to making decisions that aren't always in the best interest of students. It's human nature. If you're always being beat down, eventually you act out of self-preservation.*(UPDATE BELOW) The thing is, parents have a lot of power in public education. No administrator or teacher really wants to deal with an angry parent. So, you get on that council and you squeeze'em a little from the other direction so they can have the impetus to do the right thing by the kids. Look in to it. The council rarely meets more than once a month for an hour or less, and you can really affect change through it. 

The Peanut's been stressed. She loves routine, she loves knowing all the rules, and she loves being the best student. In a new school, all that stuff is up for grabs, at least at first. She's had trouble sleeping and she's worried about finding her way around. Plus, with her kidney issues, sometimes the need to go to the bathroom goes from no where to emergency in no seconds flat. We talked to her new teacher and principal about it, so we're hopeful it should be all set.

My wife got a new job! She is now one of two literacy specialists for high schools in her entire school system (in the interest of protecting her anonymity, the city she works in rhymes with Austin).

This basically means that she will rotate between about 6 schools all year, helping the English teachers teach better, or helping non-english teachers (voc, history, science, etc.) be better able to help their students access their textbooks and other written material. She's a teacher's teacher and hot shit.

She's also nervous as hell. Worked at her old school for about 17 years. Wasn't so long ago that her school was operating about as well as it could considering it was a vocational school in a disadvantaged neighborhood filled with at-risk students. Newspeak alert. 

Over the last two or three years especially--and according to plan--, things deteriorated quickly. As more than one person affiliated with the school has put it, the school is "a cancer to work in."

Her school was quickly identified as enemy territory in the War on Education and dealt with accordingly. That is, fucked over on purpose.  Dismantled. It'll probably eventually be closed and then sold to the private university that has been slowly encroaching on the neighborhood for years now. That's the War on education though. Like all our wars of late, it ends up with territories being controlled by factions who probably aren't healthy for the region in the long run.

That phrase the "War on Education" makes me think of a dude in a camo suit with a matching tie going, "Gonna teach you to read, son. Double time! Hold on now, son. Gonna get my (mmph) grenade launcher and stick a literacy grenade in it and shoot you right in your illiterate mother fucking face! (Shunk  . . . . Boom!) You're literate now, son! You hear me? You're li. . . son? You alright? Shit, we lost another one. (Sigh) Goddamn it. Education is Hell."

Best thing to me about that image is that it's kind of accurate.

More testing and more rigorous testing. Test prep classes in lieu of arts education. Longer hours, longer school years, lower pay, smaller budgets. Race to the top. This is the way we run or education system now. We're tough. Tough on education. Education, it ain't for children. Like everything else in the U.S. it's a war. Because war makes money.

Test companies make money. How much money? How about hundreds of billions, Rupert Murdoch, level money? Private consultants also make money. Charter schools are referred to as public schools though unlike public schools, they can raise their own money, make partnerships with corporations, and turn their schools in to test passing factory training grounds for the investors who've given the most cash. It's FUBAR, to borrow a phrase. 

This has little to do (or everything) with my wife (score one each for wine and digression)  personally, however. Although, keeping with the war analogy, she is a lot like educational Black Ops now. She only answers to one person. The various headmasters and principals at the schools she'll visit hold no administrative power over her. She'll get in, teach those teachers how to fucking teach, and get the fuck out. It's pretty cool, all in all.

Also, the PMan starts Pre-K 4 on wednesday. Should be fun. Maybe this year he'll sing Alice Cooper songs at his teacher while he lights the reading rug on fire. The possibilities boggle. 

And that is the deal from Homemaker Central. How're you all doing?

*It occurs to me that this statement is pretty adversarial. If educators had been ever  been interested in self-preservation, they never would have become educators in the first place. 

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