Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Seventh Circle of Hell

My parents recently moved waaay out almost to Arlington. For those who don't live here, that's a rural area that is being turned into yet another suburb of Memphis in our ever-reaching quest to have the worst suburban sprawl of any city in America. Anyway, it's also past the hellish traffic nightmare that is the Wolfchase area in Cordova. And since I was at my parents' house with the kids Saturday, and since my parents are willing to watch said kids for free, and since I had completed exactly zero percent of my Christmas shopping, I descended into shopping hell.

I am not a shopper. I know that you know this if you've ever seen me wear a black shirt and olive or khaki pants or jeans five days out of the week. If I were thin and rich I might like to shop. Maybe. But as things stand, I hate it. However, I like Christmas enough, and I shop infrequently enough, that I can sometimes enjoy Christmas shopping. Crowds don't really bother me much, I enjoy picking out gifts for the relatively few people I have to buy for, and I like me a slice of mall pizza from time to time.

Unfortunately, Wolfchase Mall ten days before Christmas quickly overcame my feeble attempt to let the Christmas spirit override my shop-a-phobia. So. Many. People. The main problem with that kind of volume is that it makes everything take so horribly long. I walked into Victoria's Secret, saw at least four lines comprised of at least fifteen people each, and walked right back out. It wasn't as bad in Macy's, and I did manage to get started on my Secret Santa present for Stacey there, but I also spent a lot of time wandering around aimlessly looking for things that are allegedly sold at that store, but which no employee had ever seen.

Eventually I gave up on Macy's and went out into the mall proper. One look at the lines in the food court told me that my slice of mall pizza was not to be. I didn't want to leave the kids for an excessively-long time, and I just don't have a lot of patience for lines. I told myself that my waistline would thank me and moved on in search of stripey knee socks for Stacey. This search led me into Hot Topic. This is a store into which no 35-year-old mother of four has ever walked. A boy I would put at about 14 shot me with a laser gun as I walked in he door. When I ignored him, his friends erupted into cries of "Ha! She thinks you're a big dork!" I asked the sales girl with multiple facial piercings if they sold striped or printed knee socks or tights, and she directed me to a display of trashy-looking Merry Widows, garter belts, and bustiers with some stockings, tights, and socks underneath. I picked out two pairs of socks and made my way to the register only to recognize the cashier as a student from the school where I teach. Suffice it to say that I was glad I had limited my selections from that area of the store!

Eventually I made it out to the parking lot with very little to show for the two hours I'd spent inside. After a few minutes of searching for my car (minivan, whatever), I entered the serpentine line of vehicles that snaked in and out of rows and around the entire circumference of the giant mall. As I sat, the Admiral (husband to SAM) and their daughter Miss M walked by and paused to laugh at me for being stuck in the impossible snarl. I offered them a ride to their car, but the Admiral later informed me that even though they were parked a ways away, they left the parking lot before I did.

My adventures then took me across the road to Toys-R-Us, but honestly, I don't think you can handle the full account of that experience. Suffice it to say that I found far less than half of what I was looking for and once abandoned my cart in a huff and headed for the door, but then went back for it when I saw that the lines were relatively short and that I had spent almost four hours shopping with very, very little to show for it.

Next year I'm going to have to try out this interweb shopping that everyone is talking about.

Friday, December 07, 2007

In Other Formats...

My December Lamplighter column is now up. Page four.

Come to think of it, I never posted the link to my November column. It's there in the archives. It's about cocktail hour and I kinda like it, so read it if you have the time. Pretty please.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Now that Genevieve has moved from her babysitter on an island in the middle of the Mississippi to a Montessori school in midtown, my afternoon pickup routine has changed as well. Part of the new arrangement involves a block of open time between 2:30, when I am allowed to leave work, and 3:15, when the older kids are dismissed from school, since the baby is now the last stop instead of the first. That 45 minutes may not seem like much to you, but to me it means time to run an errand or two without four kids in tow. After the holidays I plan to use it to (gasp!) exercise a few times a week.

Yesterday, I used my precious child-free time to get the few groceries I needed for cocktail hour tonight. A few times I've made a mad dash from work to the midtown Schnuck's, which is not far but in the opposite direction from the way I need to go to pick the kids up. And if you've ever met me in person, there's a good chance I managed to slip in a rant about how much I loathe and despise every single thing about that store. Even if we met for, like, five minutes. Because that's how much I hate it. So yesterday it dawned on me that there is a closer grocery store: the Crazy Kroger at Poplar and Cleveland. That's right. Kroghetto.

For those of you not from Memphis, let me give you just a few pieces of information about this Kroger and its location.

1. Prostitutes work Cleveland in the daytime. Ones that should really only be seen at night. Without the benefit of streetlights.

2. A few years ago, my Dad's business contracted to redo the bathrooms in this Kroger. When they pulled out the panels from the dropped ceiling, they were hit with a rain of food wrappers placed there by junkies who steal food and take it into the bathroom of Cleveland Kroger to eat it.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. In the past year or so, I chanced to visit this Kroger a couple of times, with all four kids, to grab lunch supplies for us before heading over to my parents' nearby (temporary) midtown abode. I went with a "get in, get what you need, and get out alive" mentality, but even so, I sensed a realization hovering around the edges of my consciousness. And yesterday, with time to walk the aisles unfettered by bolting toddlers or begging kindergartners, it hit me full on: I like the Crazy Kroger. There, I said it!

As I walked in the front doors, I found myself in a produce section very similar to the one in Poplar Plaza Kroger, which is where I grudgingly spend about $700 a month on food. Except for two things. Wait, three things. It was cleaner, less crowded, and there was the cutest little floor display that comprised three bins. Guess what was in the bins. Go on, guess! You'll never guess. In the first one were little cans of Vienna Sausages. In the middle one were bottles of $.49 Kroger brand hot sauce. And in the third were Ramen Noodles. I can't really explain it, but that display filled me with a sense of comfort. And I don't even like Vienna Sausages! I think it was just the thought that someone who runs that store was in touch enough with the client base to put together a display that could have borne a sign reading "You don't have to starve even if you are broke as hell." It kind of reminded me of shopping at the midtown Pig back in my college apartment days, when $45 was an extravagant amount to spend on a week's worth of groceries.

I continued on through the store with that warm, secure feeling, looking around me and marveling at how truly clean the store really was. And it was so empty of people! The things I hate so much about Schnuck's are that it is tiny, extremely crowded, and organized like blind chimpanzees chose where each item should go. This Kroger was big, clean, well-laid out, and at that hour of the day, devoid of Patty-the-daytime-hookers and junkies and just about anyone else. It was the perfect grocery store!

As I checked myself out at the U-Scan machine, the attendant let another customer know that she did in fact have a little change left on her EBT card after paying for her stuff. "That's alright, " she called out cheerfully, "that's another meal. You could find you something over there for that l'il bit of change." I think I may start doing all my shopping over there. Seriously.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Sharpest Crayon

We just returned home from our mostly-annual Thanksgiving trip to Georgia to see the most immediate portion of BD's enormous Italian maternal family. On the way there, we stopped at our usual McDonald's with the giant playland just this side of Birmingham, Alabama, to let the kids take a break from puking into plastic grocery bags and also stretch their legs and throw away some food.

While waiting in line, we found ourselves behind three honest-to-goodness teenage farm boys. As they talked and joked with each other, I marveled at their almost-unintelligible Alabama drawl. I hear all kinds of Southern accents right here in Memphis, from the ultra-urban to the suburban to the transplanted Louisianans, but this was a whole other, extra-special kind of country accent. And just as I caught myself thinking snide thoughts about how ignorant they sounded, one of the boys flashed his calloused, blackened-though-scrubbed palms, and jokingly said that next time they all worked together, he was going to pretend not to know how to do anything as the others had done. One of his friends turned his equally grubby hands palms-up and protested that he had done his fair share. So, I thought, Miss Smarty Pants, these boys work. They know how to do things. And what do you know?

This thought threaded itself like a ribbon through the remainder of our meal. It was there when I took Somerset to the one-seater family bathroom and watched her sit on the rim of the toilet without noticing that the seat was flipped up, and when she stood in front of the hand dryer with her hands up and wondered aloud "How does it turn on?" in spite of the doorknob-sized, shiny silver button, and when she could not figure out how to open the door, and again back at the table when the box containing her chicken nuggets buckled slightly at the back, making it refuse to stay open and causing her to wail in dismay. It was there when we noticed that Joshua was running around the playland in only one sock, and when he admitted that he'd left the house that way because he couldn't find a matching pair, even though a giant brand-new package of socks was sitting right there in his sock drawer when he got dressed that morning.

All this prompted me to wonder what the hell is wrong with my children. They do well in school; two of them are even in the gifted program! Our house is full of books and art supplies and empty of cable cartoons and video games. I couldn't help compare my supposedly-brainy kids to those supposedly-ignorant farm boys, and wonder who would come out on top in the end. But then I started remembering things about myself as a child. Things like walking upstairs to wash my hands for dinner but brushing my teeth instead because I'd forgotten, in an instant, what I was supposed to be doing. Things like my Mom calling me "the absent-minded professor" and my dad's less patient responses to my mindless goofiness. And I thought, you know, I do OK. I'm not the most organized, together person on the planet, but I'm not the least, either. I hold down a respectable job, keep a reasonable grip on my household (with much pitching in by BD, of course), keep my kids dressed and fed and in school. I function.

Sure, there are things I don't know how to do that I really believe I should. I think it's sheer folly that most Americans have no skills when it comes to growing, making, or building things that meet our most basic needs for survival, and I'm not much better than most. I feel that I should know these things and that I should teach them to my children. So that's something to work on. That's a more constructive way of looking at it, I think, than just shaking my head at the baffling cluelessness of my children, or, worse yet, losing patience with them. They're only little kids, after all. Just like I was once.

Monday, November 19, 2007

One Day At a Time, Baby Steps, and Other Cliches

I have said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't believe there are many experiences, at least in Western culture, more hellish than the first year of parenting the first baby. Yeah, yeah, the baby is precious and cute, and of course you love the baby and would not change your decision to become a parent for anything in the world. Whatever. Most of it still sucks.

Wait, let me narrow that down. What I'm really talking about is the decision to become a mother. I don't know what it's like for the average Dad that first year, but you'd be hard pressed to convince me that it's as hard for them to adjust as it is for mothers. Let me not pretend this is about all parents. It's about mothers, and motherhood, and the impossibility of the whole entire deal.

I know someone who is really struggling with this whole adjustment issue right now. She's struggling with sleep deprivation and information overload and guilt and self-questioning and unsolicited advice and feelings of inadequacy and feelings, I would imagine, of "holy shit, what have I done to my life?" I believe that she feels anxious and possibly depressed and it is impossible for her not to believe, right now, that this is all her fault. That it's not supposed to be this hard. That other women do this every day, and better than she can ever hope to. And she's had a string of bad luck and other circumstances that have just intensified all of those feelings. And we don't know each other that well, so I don't claim to understand everything she's feeling or dealing with, but I think I have an inkling. And like all the other well-meaning, misguided Mothers On The Internet, I want to be able to help, and make her feel better, and offer her some magical solution to all the problems she's facing. But I know I can't do that.

Believing that there is one right way, or that there is a magical solution that will make everything work the way it's "supposed to" is the fastest way to insanity. Every baby is different. Every parent is different. The combinations are infinite, and even within each parent/child combo, time brings variation in the needs of each party. If I had to put my finger on the thing that makes that first hellish year of parenting so hellish indeed, I would tend to put it on the belief that we should not "give in" or surrender to the fact that we are parents now, our lives are never going to be the same, we are never going to be the same, and we have to fight parenthood and the changes it brings tooth and nail. Because parents are boring, aren't they? And maybe we need to believe that our regularly scheduled lives will be back after these messages from the very pissed-off baby. But they won't. They just won't. And for me, at least, accepting that and moving forward with my new life, my life as a mother, was the only thing I could do if I wanted to survive. I can't help but suspect that this is true for everyone. Because that's how that works, right? A little experience goes straight to our heads.

If I were going to speak directly to this struggling friend, here is what I would say: The things you are dealing with are every bit as shitty as they seem to you. They are real. But they are not unique to you. You are not the worst mother ever, nor are you the only mother you know right at this very moment who feels that she does not know what she's doing. We all feel like that. It may be delayed for some of us, that feeling, but it comes to us all sometime in the first year or two. I would say that I understand the temptation to seek out information and hope that the magical answer is out there if only you read one more book or article or website or forum, but you have to stop. Seriously. You can't keep doing that to yourself, and it's not going to help. It's just not. There is no answer that anyone else can give you. I could tell you that sleeping with my baby and sleeping right through feedings worked great for me. Our other friend could tell you that Ferberizing and religiously sticking to the crib worked great for her. It doesn't matter. I'm not you. She's not you. Our babies are not your baby.

Listen to me. You are a good mother. You love your baby and you have done everything that could possibly be expected of you. You would not expect yourself or anyone you know to walk into any other new situation and instinctively know exactly what to do at every given moment in order to achieve the most desirable result. Would you? This thing that you've signed up for? It's really, really hard. It's the hardest thing you've ever done. That's not going to change, probably. The difficulties will take on new shapes as time passes, but they won't really get easier. In fact, they will make you look back at this time, later, and laugh at yourself. What can change, and what has to, is the way you deal with the hard parts. You have to stop beating yourself up. You have to stop believing that everyone else is more qualified to mother your child than you are. You have to find a way to step back a little bit, center yourself as much as you can manage, and just accept that you are doing the best that you can. There is no reason at all for you to believe that if you were doing things differently, things would be different. That logic applies in other situations, but not this one. Love your baby. Love yourself. Get both of you up and dressed and fed every day. Get both of you in bed every night, one way or another, and eke out whatever precious sleep you can manage, and in the morning know that you are one night closer to this part of it being over. Trust me on this one thing: that is all you can do. Really. Accept that this will suck, and then one day, when you've forgotten to think about how much it sucks, you'll realize that it has stopped.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I have a tendency to think about things in a way and to an extent that I think is probably not normal. ("She thinks is probably not normal?" I can hear some of you already. Yeah, yeah.) I can't help but analyze ideas and the words used to express them. Part of that is just my nature, and part of it is because of my attempts at work to find a way to help my students crack open a seemingly incomprehensible text and find meaning. And then, to a certain extent, it's because of my not-normal tendencies, and my attempts to figure out how I actually think and why it's not really like the way a lot of other people think (see how that works?). Don't get me wrong--I'm not trying to make myself out as some misunderstood great mind. I'm mostly acknowledging that yes, I know I'm hard to make sense of and, as a result, hard for some people to get along with. But hey, at least I talk about everything that pops into my head!

But that's not my purpose here. It's actually just that I've been thinking about something for a while, and trying to solidify a particular idea, and I feel like I'm closer to doing that now than I ever have been. So of course, being me, I have to talk about it.

Because I'm not religious, or even spiritual in any recognizable way, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the basis for morality; in general, for everyone, but also my own in particular. And really, at times I have found it very tempting to believe that nothing matters. Not in an angry, rationalizing-my-own-wrong-doings kind of way, but in a coldly rational way, because of course I know that "things fade" and "alternatives exclude." In other words, we have a finite number of options available to us, choosing them limits us even further, and none of the choices we make will lead to anything lasting anyway. I know that's a depressing set of ideas to a lot of people, but not to me, and that's too long a conversation to have here. Nor is it the thing I wanted to say right now, which is this:

I have decided that there are only two real things in the world: human happiness, and human suffering. And that everything we do contributes to one or the other, and sometimes both, though not usually in equal measure. I'm not talking about superficial degrees of happiness and suffering. The best way I can explain it is, not surprisingly, through a parenting-related example. As a parent, when I say I want my children to be happy, that doesn't mean I want them to have every material thing or even every experience that they desire, and likewise, I don't think they really suffer when they don't get everything they want. I hope that my children feel safe and loved and wanted and understood, that their basic needs are met so that they are free to spend time and energy on things like creativity and learning and love. I hope they have a sense of belonging, of place and family, and that their lives will afford them more joy than sorrow. And I think that's all the happiness that any of us can hope for. So then the lack of any or most of those things I just listed is what I mean by suffering; a constant striving to meet the most basic physical and emotional needs.

And if I know that, as I feel, finally, that I do, then that belief has to be the basis for my morality. In each thing that I do, I have to try to create more happiness than suffering, and when possible, to transform the latter into the former. Knowing that is the easy part. The hard part, I think, is always being able to tell the two apart.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Birthday Dance

Seriously, don't I look like a drag queen in this picture? What is up with that?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Life Is Beautiful

Last night we kicked off my official birthday weekend by rounding out our usual Thursday takeout Night with Aunt E and Uncle T (with special guests Stacey and the monkeys in attendance) with chocolate cupcakes and ice cream and a present for moi.

Tomorrow I turn 35. I keep wanting to think "that's halfway to 40," when in fact, it's halfway to 70. And you know what? 70 seems young to me. I laugh to remember myself, on the verge of my 25th birthday, sitting with BD and a friend in old Zinnie's and feeling depressingly old as all the kids from my alma mater started to trickle in just when we were preparing to turn in for the night. For some reason, in my mind 25 marked the end of an era. Even though I had been out of college and married for over three years, I still felt young enough to be considered "college aged," an idea that expired, apparently, at 24 years and 364 days.

Then I found out I was pregnant with Calvin, and I forgot all about that silliness. I had already lost one pregnancy, but that loss was what let us know that we were, surprisingly, ready to have a baby. I knew instantly and unquestionably that the baby would be a boy, and I threw myself into the experience of pregnancy and the process of preparing for him. We bought our house, painted rooms, became parents, and I've never looked back.

Now, on the eve of the big Three Five, I feel amazingly good. I am happier in my life than I ever believed I could be. I know I talk enough about how Big Daddy rocks my world and how wonderful my kids are and how we have such incredible friends. So let me just add to that how much I feel, in a way that is impossible to really convey, like me. Like I get it now. Like I can't wait to see what the next 70 years will be like. Bring it on!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In another country

Recently, Calvin has been spending a lot of time playing with a kid who lives around the corner. Not around the corner in a house like ours, but in the big house. In the neighborhood for which our street was planned as a convenient abode for the domestic help.

The other day as we were driving home from school, he said to me "I think G's friend who lives two doors down is from another country, because he's always playing that game with the stick that has a net on the end."

"Lacrosse?" I asked.

"Yeah, Lacrosse! That's it!" I tried to keep the laughter out of my voice as I said "Baby, that's not because he's from another country. It's because he's rich." Calvin thought about that for a minute and then asked tentatively "Can only rich kids play Lacrosse?"

"No," I replied, beginning to wish I hadn't said anything, "it's just a sport they really only play in private schools." He didn't ask any more questions, and I was left to wonder what he thought about things like money and wealth. Had he not noticed the differences between his friend's house and ours? I know that he must have. But maybe in his mind, those differences were inconsequential, or just proof that they chose to buy a larger house than we did.

When I told this story to Big Daddy, he laughed and said that kid might as well be from another country; the country of money. It was funny, but at the same time I felt a niggling little worry that we were letting bitterness seep in and infect our kids' attitudes about their place in the world. My parents are solidly middle class now, but they both come from poverty and, for good or bad, they passed on some of that poverty mindset to me. Time, experience, and education have remedied most of that, but I'm still aware of how our attitudes about money can spill over into the way we raise our kids.

I would be lying if I said we don't struggle financially. But at the same time, I can honestly say that I believe I live in incredible luxury. If I feel the need to compare what I have to what someone else has, I feel unfairly fortunate. I don't know what it's like to watch my kids go hungry, or to feel helpless when they get sick because I can't get medicine. I don't have to keep them in the house all day because of constant gunfire in the streets. We tuck them into warm beds at night knowing that in the morning we'll send them to a good school where they have every opportunity they need to learn and grow. All of us are happy and healthy and our house is full of love and laughter and warmth. Bursting at the seams, maybe, but in such a good way. And that's what I want my kids to think about as they figure out how all of that works. We might daydream of things we'd like to have, but I can't really think of a single thing we need.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Brave New World

Some of you may find this hard to believe, but last night was the first time we've ever paid a babysitter to keep our kids so we could go out at night. Not the first time in a while, or the first time since Genevieve was born, but the first time. Ever.

Babysitters have always seemed like this mysterious commodity to me, kind of like drugs in junior high; you hear other people talking about using them, but you don't really know where or how to find any and you're not sure how it would all work out if you ever did. My parents live in town, and they will usually watch the kids on the rare occasion that we ask them to. But for various reasons, that means they have to come to our house, and by about 11:00 they are wondering where the hell we are and wanting to go home and get in their own bed. And really, my parents are on the young side, they both still work full time, and I'm just generally uncomfortable with asking them (or anyone) to give up their own free time so that I can have some. Those of you who know me may find this shocking, but I don't like to ask people for favors.

So, last night all the usual suspects were going out for the October birthdays (mine included), and I wanted to be able to stay out past midnight without feeling guilty about someone sitting at my house wondering when I was going to get there. That's the good thing about paying the exorbitant rate that babysitters make these days--the money precludes the guilt. I found a very sweet Bio major through the babysitter list at my alma mater , and she played with the kids and even Genevieve seemed to really like her, so I felt fine about that and didn't spend the night wondering if they missed me. They all did great.

I'm sure there will be other more detailed accounts of how the evening was spent, but just to hit a few of the high points, I had my favorite food for dinner, whipped Stephanie's ass at darts and Andria's at pool (ok, I may have also lost to both of them in equal measure), shared several pitchers of draft beer with friends for the first time in who knows how many years, danced to music from a juke box, showed a mildly scandalous amount of cleavage, and indulged in just a little inappropriate PDA. It was a good night, and worth every penny of the million dollars we paid the sitter.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Education liberation I love you

My column in October's Lamplighter is up on-line (page 16). This month is the education issue, and in addition to expressing my support for public education, I explain the process for obtaining choice and Optional transfers and getting your child into the CLUE program in Memphis City Schools. This is something I get asked about in person all the time, so I hope some of you will find it helpful.

*In case you were never an eight-year-old girl, the title of this post is from a hand-slapping-game song.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mama don't play that

I woke up feeling kind of disoriented this morning. I had crazy, unpleasant dreams all night, or at least during the thirty minutes between my alarm going off at 5:30, and my actual dragging ass out of bed at 6:00. Ish. I'm not sure what's causing my bad dreams, and I don't want to point any fingers, but I'm pretty sure it's because Big Daddy and SAM are forcing me to play email Scrabble.

I may have told you before that I do not like games. When I mentioned this to SAM yesterday after she had put up the "word" BRAWLIER, using all her tiles and covering a red triple-word square for a total of 101 points for that one word, she pointed out that I just don't like games where people sit quietly and plot each other's destruction. Good point. I do love me some Taboo.

I can remember when BD and I were in high school and he taught me how to play chess. I wanted to love chess because it's a smart people's game, and I like to think I'm smart. Alas, I did not love it. Later, in our college days, we went through a period of playing a lot of Pente. That was all right, and I must have enjoyed it at least moderately because we played it all the time for a while there, but in the end I got tired of it.

I'm not sure why I hate games of strategy. It's not because I can't sit still or be quiet or pay attention for a long time. I can do all of those things (and sometimes wonder if I'm not the last American who doesn't claim a short attention span). I think it has more to do with competitiveness, or more specifically, my lack thereof. It's hard to spend all that mental energy on something I don't care about at all, because it's just a game and if I win, so what? I can vaguely remember, back in the days of learning chess, feeling like I wanted to win, but I found the feeling to be unpleasant and so must have banished it from my emotional repertoire. Maybe it's just me, but I'll take a good conversation over a silent contest of strategy any day.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

For the record

About halfway through Friday night cocktail hour(s), I realized that I had inadvertently made my first two vodka-and-gingers with gin. I didn't know that Big Daddy had foregone his usual Hendrick's in the distinctively squat, dark bottle in favor of a cheaper brand in a tall, clear, vodka-like bottle.

About halfway through Saturday, I realized that, apparently, gin makes me act like an asshole. Who knew? And even though my official stance is still that I was not drunk, I'm pretty sure that the gin devil sent me into "people are stupid and I hate most of them" mode. This is unfortunate because, although I do feel that way, I also don't, if you know what I mean. And I'm sure you do know because, while you are people, you are most assuredly not stupid. And that's just what I mean.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Midsouth Fair

My parents and I took the kids on our yearly excursion to The Fair the other day. Joshua couldn't wait to go, and kept saying "We're going to the Midsouth Fair!" and "Nicholas said he went to the Midsouth Fair last weekend." We went right after the daily after-school roundup and stayed for about four hours. Big Daddy does not like rides, fried food, or crowds of freaks, so The Fair really holds no charm for him. Loser.

Since it was wristband day, we (and by we, I mean my parents) shelled out $20 each for wristbands for the three older kids so they could ride an unlimited number of rides, and I bought a handful of tickets for myself so I could ride a few things with them, and the swings (officially called "the yo-yo") which is my favorite ride. It quickly became apparent that Joshua's $20 was wasted, because he refused to ride anything that leaves the ground in any fashion. No kiddie airplanes or hot air balloons, nothing. He rode the motorcycles twice, and the trucks. He and Somerset and Genevieve and I all piled into the interior of a giant honey bear's abdomen to spin around and around while also revolving around the ride's center axis. He slid down the kiddie version of the giant slide a few times, and he and his siblings went through the house of mirrors three times in a row, and that was it for him.

After the first ride, I realized that all of the operators just assumed I had on a wrist band and were not looking for my tickets, at least in the kiddie section. Eventually, though, I took Joshua's wristband off of his arm and bootlegged it onto mine. This done, I rode Calvin's first roller coaster with him. It was called the Crazy Mouse, and consisted of round cars on multiple casters going around a series of hairpin turns and up and down a couple of steepish hills while sometimes turning around backwards. It was bigger than the true kiddie coasters, but smaller than a real one. A few of the turns at the top make you feel like you're about to be flung out into space, and I had to close my eyes and think about how old I am to have become a wus. It was a major milestone for Cal, because he has inherited his father's temperment, not mine, which means that he tends to be anxious and expects the worse to happen at any moment. I'm always trying to help him overcome that without pushing him to do things that are too scary. I was proud of him for riding a few things that were a little outside his comfort zone.

When we got to the Yo-Yo, he was still undecided about whether he would ride it with me or not. He wanted to, but the fact that we couldn't sit in a seat together was holding him back. In the end, he decided to go for it, and settled for sitting right behind me. As we were lifted into the air, I heard him say "this isn't that bad." Then we started to really spin, and the seats started to tilt back and forth and swing out and back, out of line with each other. I worried that he'd be scared, but if I spoke to calm him, he wouldn't hear it. In a few minutes, it was all over and we had our feet firmly on the ground. "That was fun," he told me. Now he says it's one of his favorite rides.

I had a first at The Fair this year, too: I had my first deep-fried Snickers. I always thought it sounded gross, but at Andria's urging (Steph voted for a no-nut candy bar), I tried it. It was so good! It's all about the meltiness factor. I also had at least a bite or two of a smoked turkey leg, a funnel cake, a box of popcorn (the only Fair food Joshua would eat), chicken-on-a-stick (with a few dill pickles threaded in between the chunks of chicken), and two cups of $1 sweet tea from the 4-H booth. I like to support the farm kids, you know.

Just as we were about to leave, the sky opened up and dumped rain on the great unwashed, causing us to skip the petting zoo visit we'd planned on the way out. All in all, it was a satisfactory Fair visit, and possibly the last since The Fair is being either moved or canceled after this year. Assuming the Memphis city government can decide what to do with the Fairgrounds. Yeah, right.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rockin' the 90s

It's homecoming week here at THE high school. That means things like "tacky day" and "sports fan" day have been going on all week. So today is "Decades Day." Each grade level is dressed in a way that they believe represents a different decade; the freshman are 50s, the sophomores are 70s, the juniors are 80s, and the seniors are 90s. How is it possible to have 90s day when the 90s are barely over? Or at least, that's what I like to tell myself. The kids could not figure out exactly what to wear to look "so 90s," either. A lot of things have changed for the worse since that decade, but at least our clothes are not that different.

For most of my childhood, my parents would load us into the car (sans seatbelts, a la the 70s), and drive us over to my grandmother's house for Sunday lunch. She had a crock pot full of chili, the world's tiniest yet somehow bottomless Corningware sweet tea pitcher, and a cabinet coffee table whose innards were packed with old magazines. By the time I was in middle school, the 80s were in full swing, and I would look at those 70s magazines with a mixture of horror, fascination, and pity. I can clearly remember thinking how bad everyone looked, with their flat bangs and their earth-toned makeup. I also thought the people in the pictures looked old for their age, and I nodded smugly to myself when I thought about how much better we looked now. When I saw people in the real world who still had that 70s look, I was baffled about why they wouldn't get with the fashion program. I couldn't understand how someone could get stuck in a decade that had, quite frankly, seen its better days.

Now I tend to see the 90s as a golden era. Everything was good about the 90s: the 80s were over (never underestimate the goodness of the 80s ending), Bill Clinton was president (I drove to Little Rock at midnight with my roommate, Laura, to see and hear Bill Clinton give his acceptance speech), a lot of great music was being made. It was also an amazing time in my life. I spent the first four years of the decade in college, immersed in ideas, tending bar, experiencing life outside the bubble in which I was raised. Sure, there was some painful stuff along the way, but it was growth and for the most part, I reveled in every minute of it. In the mid 90s, I married the love of my life, and I rounded out the decade by having my first baby. It was a good ten years.

I haven't been participating in the dress days this week, but I couldn't resist 90s day. I suspect that my look is still fairly 90s anyway. How could I pass up an excuse to wear jeans and a black tee, my uniform of choice, with my black Dansko clogs and, the piece de resistance, my biggest, most-loved dangly stone-metal-and-bead earrings from the good old days? No the jeans aren't acid washed, and the tee doesn't hit me at mid-thigh, but my outfit is my millennial version of the 90s look. Hopefully, that means my look isn't completely stuck in the decade of my glory days, even if my heart is.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekend Update, sadly not starring Tina Fey

Some things I did this weekend:

-Had friends over for cocktails.
-Baked a birthday cake for my Dad.
-Ate pizza for too many meals in a row.
-Threw a bowling party for Somerset's birthday, a week and a day after the fact.
-Finished The Yiddish Policeman's Union .
-Learned that when Genevieve poops in the bathtub, she wants out. Now.
Watched people more motivated than myself run a 5K past my parents' house.

Things I did not do, but should have:

-Refrain from eating birthday cake, twice.
-Clean my house in any meaningful way.
-Take a nap.
-Anything that remotely resembled running, or exercise of any kind.
-Remember to buy Somerset the ballet slippers she needs while we were in Cordova, where they have stores that sell such things.
-Find the cable that would allow me to upload pictures from the party and post one here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Problem of Evil

Restated: If God is all loving, all knowing, and all powerful, why aren't babies born with all their molars?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Time Flies

As it turns out, time not only travels with a one-way ticket, but it takes the Concord. It seems like just yesterday that I was lamenting the end of summer vacation, and now here we are at the end of the first six-weeks grading period. How is that possible? Once again, in spite of my best intentions, I find myself swamped with papers to grade. And yet, I am oh so easily distracted from that task. Because I don't want to do it.

Not only am I swamped with this week's workload, but I'm already dreading the supremely dreadable Research Paper grading. I figured out last year that if I spent just five minutes grading each paper, I would spend 14 hours on them. And that's optimistic, because I tend to spend ten minutes on each one. Now to make matters worse, the department has decided, in spite of my dissent, that senior papers should be a minimum of seven pages for the regular classes and ten for honors. TEN! That's five pages of reasonably reasonable text, and five pages of slaw. When I discussed this with my students today, they laughingly promised to blend the slaw in rather than stacking it five-on-five. Very reassuring.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Just Like Old Times

There was a time in my early twenties when I became acutely aware of the fact that we only get to lead one life at a time. Maybe it sounds unreasonable to you, but this was a hard fact for me to accept. I'd learned all about opportunity cost in that required semester of high school Economics, but the concept didn't really hit home for me until I had some life experience under my belt. For a while, I became sort of fixated on the wish that I could go back to certain phases of my life simply by going back to the places where I had spent my time. If I went to my old apartment on Madison, I would find people and things just as they had been when I lived there. You get the idea. Imagining that possibility, and having to admit its impossibility, was a way for me to reconcile myself to the cruel reality that time travels only in one direction.

But sometimes, when we are patient, life will indulge our little whims. This past weekend, I got an opportunity to revisit a part of my life that ended about three years ago. For those of you who don't know, I used to own a little store called Mothersville, which is now owned by my friends Andria and Melissa . The store is located just where the Cooper-Young Festival begins, and for various reasons that are better heard from the ladies themselves, they needed a little help this year. Now, I feel compelled to admit here that I am not one of those people who loves to offer up my time to every cause and person that requests it, mostly because I'm just lazy and I like to have a lot of time to sit around my house in my comfy pants and no bra. However, in this case I willingly volunteered to pitch in. I asked my parents to watch the kids, and I went to work at my old store, and did what I used to do six days a week for a little over two years.

When I got to the store, I warned Melissa that it would be hard for me not to dominate the floor, and that she should feel free to rein me in as needed. She told me to stop talking crazy and get out there and sell stuff. So that's what I did. It was fun to be back there demonstrating sling-wearing techniques and explaining how cloth diapers work. For a few hours, it really was like my little fantasy of being able to walk into a place from my past and find everything there waiting for me, just like old times. I even saw several of my old regulars, who stopped by to say hello. But of course, the babies who were waiting to be born then are preschoolers now, and there were lots of new faces and new babies to meet. I really enjoyed myself, and I'm grateful that I was able to be back there, if only for a little while.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Happy Birthday Somerset

Five years and nine months ago, I was just getting used to having two children. I was the mom of two boys, a four year old and a five month old. Big Daddy and I knew we would have at least one more child...some day. I was exclusively breastfeeding and had not seen the dreaded "aunt" in over a year, but somewhere around month six, I got a funny feeling that I might be pregnant. I took a test and, sure enough, two lines. I walked out of the bathroom, looked at BD, and just blew out a big cleansing breath. I think it was two weeks before we even talked about it. We needed a little more time to just be the parents of two boys. But soon enough, the truth sunk in. I remember telling my friend Kimberly as she stood at her kitchen sink washing dishes. Without turning around to look at me, she tossed her head back and just screamed for about a minute. It was outrageous to think that one of us could go from having one child to having three under four in just over a year, but I was about to do it.

The day BD and I went for the ultrasound, I was hoping desperately for a girl, and I think he was too. We could not have loved our boys any more than we did, but both of us wanted at least one daughter, and under the circumstances it seemed likely that the third baby would be the last. I lay on the table with my belly covered in goop, clutching Big Daddy's hand as we both stared at the fuzzy images on the screen. Finally, the tech gave us what we were waiting for: the news that we were having a girl.

That summer we took both boys on the train to New Orleans and then rented a car for the last three hours to Pensacola for BD's little sister's wedding. On the train, we talked about names. I wanted to name the baby Veronica June. Veronica had been my girl name with Joshua before we knew he was a boy, and I was still holding onto it. BD wanted to name her Somerset. I liked the name a lot, but I was still lobbying for Veronica. I was also lobbying for us to move our bedroom into what was then the back den so the baby could have the front room instead of bunking with both boys. So, I made a deal. There on the train, I agreed to name the baby Somerset if he would agree to move rooms, and that was that. Now I can't imagine my Somerset by any other name.

Happy birthday Somerset. You are my beautiful little spitfire. You are the only one of my four children who has my eyes and my bravado. You aren't the baby of the family any more, but you will always, always be my sweet baby girl.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Watch this right now

This is a segment from Al Jazeera television showing Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American psychologist from Los Angeles, making very powerful statements about the true nature of the "culture clash" in the Middle East. I fear for this woman's life, but she is amazing and she deserves to be heard.

Let Us Prey

The other night, Big Daddy and I had the opportunity to attend an open house at our kids' school. Since we have three children now at the same fairly large public school, this involved quite a bit of running around. Joshua's math and science teacher was particularly chatty, which meant we had to stand around and wait while she held mini conferences with several other parents. When it was finally our turn, she wanted to tell us a cute story about something funny Joshua had said. Apparently they start each day with a morning meeting on the rug, at which time they may play a variation of a game that will only be familiar to you if you ever attended an urban elementary school. Basically everyone stands in a circle and claps out a rhythm while one person is in the center. In this case, the group chants "Hey, hey Joshua, what do you like to do? Tell us what you like to do." So my sweet little Joshua, according to his teacher, replied "I like to pray."

At first she thought he must have said "play," but upon asking him she was assured that he had, in fact, said "pray." She thought by telling me this, she was acknowledging that we were a good Christian family who had taught our children well, and that maybe we are raising a future priest or something. Imagine her surprise when, in my surprise, I said "Well, that's really funny because we are in no way a religious household." If you live outside of Memphis, you can't imagine what a shocking statement this is considered to be, but trust me when I say it was not the response she was expecting.

Later that night, I called Joshua into my room and asked him very casually about what he said he liked to do during the game in morning meeting, and he replied "I said I like to pray."

"Ok," I said, "but when do you pray?" After looking confused for a minute, he answered "Somerset." OoooK. "Somerset is a who, not a when, honey. Do you know what 'pray' means?" He nodded. "Can you tell me what it means?"

"It means eat," he said, like duh, mom. "You know, like a lion." Slowly it dawned on me that what Joshua likes to do is not pray, it's prey.

Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The End of the Innocence

My oldest child is almost ten years old. I feel lucky that he has maintained his childhood innocence and wonder to an age that, if the media is to believed, is practically post-puberty for the average American kid. But I'm afraid this is the beginning of the end for some of that wonder.

A few months ago, he started asking me very earnestly "Mom, is the tooth fairy real?" I found myself torn between telling him the brutal truth and letting the magic go on just a little bit longer. It's not that the tooth fairy is such a big deal, but if the tooth fairy's a fake, what's next? How far down the path is it to Santa Claus? Yes, Virginia, he still believes in Santa Claus. At least, he did yesterday. All that may have changed by now.

This morning, Calvin came out of his room on his own, before any of the other kids had woken up. He walked up to me grinning and drawing attention to a newly-formed gap in his smile where a loose molar had recently been. "Oh, you pulled your tooth," I said, smiling back. "Yep," he replied, "yesterday."

It took a minute for that to sink in. I'd been duped! I knew this was something he'd been planning to do, based on veiled comments and his recent revelation that his best friend had lost a tooth the day before, but he had waited to tell me. As if I were possibly in cahoots with all the other parents, making clandestine phone calls at the shocking hour of 10:00 pm to alert them to their children's tooth fairy sting ops.

He didn't seem upset this morning, just satisfied that his plan had worked. He asked me what I did with all the teeth. When I told him not to spoil it for his siblings, he replied "Well, you better give me a dollar then, because they're going to ask to see it."

A little later, he came into the bathroom where I was doing my makeup and asked "The next time I lose a tooth, can I put it under my pillow?"

"You should have thought about that before you got in such a rush to figure everything out. Especially since the dentist said you're about to lose a bunch of teeth!" I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him, though. I also couldn't help but wonder where his thoughts would take him over the course of the day. I know my child, and I know that this is going to be a big deal for him. One thought is going to lead to another. And even though I don't remember a single moment when I stopped believing in Santa Claus, and I know I was never upset about it, it kills me to think of him losing that magical idea. He has been one of the last hold-outs in his class, insisting on believing. And now that's probably over for him. I've always known that growing up is hard to do. I just never knew how hard it was to watch.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Long and Winding Road

A few weeks ago, my mom called and asked if I would be interested in taking the kids to a cabin in Chattanooga over the Labor Day weekend. My sister lives about half an hour from there in Dalton, Georgia, and she was throwing a party for my nephew's second birthday. A friend of my mom's told her about the cabin, and it sounded great, so I agreed. I did so knowing that Big Daddy would most likely have to work, and that I would have to drive all four kids myself for the five hours there and five hours back. And that's exactly what happened.

It went well, for the most part. Genevieve took a decent nap each way, and the older three were pacified as usual by "new" movies from Netflix on the van's DVD player. There were moments when Genevieve was awake and no longer willing to be bribed with french fries or cookies, but we survived. Once we arrived, we were immediately taken with the mountain views. The yard was flanked by two beautiful weeping willows in addition to a huge fig tree loaded down with fruit. The cabin was really more of a small house, which had been remodeled to very nice effect. Huge porches span the house across both the front and back, which looked out on the sloping lawn and the river. Floating on a raft off the back dock, I was completely surrounded by mountains. It was really peaceful and relaxing.

The kids were not so much with the relaxing, but they had a great time swimming and playing on the rope swing.

The place turned out to be twenty minutes up the mountain, which required the passage of a very dark and twisting road to get anywhere. My sister's house turned out to be well over an hour away, and Saturday night found me driving my children and my parents back up said road after 11:00 pm. Even the highway through Chattanooga is winding and dark. I have to say that the white-knuckled drive back made me acutely aware of how dangerous an enterprise driving really is, and how much we have to block out to be able to hurtle ourselves and our loved ones along at break-neck speeds mere inches away from other hunks of metal traveling equally fast in the opposite direction.

So there was a lot of driving, some of it scary, but for the most part we had a really great trip. The kids loved being outside all day, and when we left, Joshua was heard to say "I wish we lived here!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

List redux

100 things about Sassy Molassy. Like all the cool people have on their blogpages.

1. I am a high school English teacher.
2. I'm past halfway between thirty and forty.
3. I procrastinate.
4. Brevity is not my strong suit.
5. I am self-conscious about the fact that I talk too much and am sometimes powerless to stop it, but I can control it better than I used to.
6. I sometimes leave meetings and gatherings fearing that I have just been obnoxious.
7. I used to be obsessed with the book Lolita.
8. I have read at least five books five times or more.
9. I read Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and liked it.
10. I own a signed first edition of my favorite book.
11. I finally read Pride and Prejudice and thought it sucked.
12. I'm reluctantly reconsidering my low opinion of the movie "Lost in Translation."
13. I hate everything about winter except the holidays.
14. I spent a combined total of more than nine years breastfeeding my four kids. If I ever get breast cancer, I will be so pissed.
15. I don't wear black as much as I used to, but I still like to.
16. I think shopping is torturous.
17. I would love to be tall.
18. You will never get me to the second location.
19. I still sometimes feel shocked that I have four kids, and that one of them is 12 years old.
20. In my last pregnancy, my hair turned curly.
21. In my last pregnancy, I had euphoric fantasies about eating sand.
22. I wish I were at the beach every single day of my life.
23. I love to travel but have barely traveled at all.
24. I have never taken a sip of coffee or smoked a single cigarette, because I can't stand the smell of either.
25. I would classify my fear and dislike of certain foods as an actual phobia.
26. I would rather be punched in the face than eat cole slaw or tuna salad.
27. I order the same thing every time I get Chinese takeout.
28. Chicken Tikka Masala makes me hum with joy when I eat it.
29. I would like to take an Indian cooking class.
30. I would one day like to go back to school for a Masters in urban planning, but realistically I'm more likely to go back for an MFA in writing.
31. I won the Allen Tate Poetry Award my senior year at Rhodes College.
32. I have no idea who Allen Tate is or was.
33. I am least likely to like people who see themselves as weak or helpless, but I feel kind of bad about that.
34. I have never been in therapy but that's probably a mistake.
35. I am a poor judge of character when it comes to first impressions.
36. I trust people easily, but I suspect this is because I have low expectations.
37. I have mixed feelings about nihilism as a personal philosophy.
38. I once took meditation lessons from a Buddhist monk who spoke only Vietnamese.
39. As a child I went to a Seventh Day Adventist church with my grandmother.
40. I was raised Baptist.
41. I have been baptized twice.
42. I have a deep-seated aversion to religion and churches.
43. I can quote the Bible chapter and verse.
44. I will probably take my kids to a Unitarian church when they get older. I guess.
45. My husband and I were married by a judge but had an outdoor wedding.
46. I got married two weeks after graduating from college, and in the same location.
47. I married my high school sweetheart and the only man I could ever be married to.
48. I moved every year from the age of 17 to 23.
49. My husband and I dream of living on a boat after our kids leave home. My seasickness may interfere with this plan.
50. I left home at 17 and have never had to move back in with my parents (knock wood).
51. I have two tattoos and want at least one more.
52. I have an unfortunate tendency to want to tell people the entire plot of movies, books, and occasionally my dreams.
53. When I win the lottery, I'm buying a beach compound in Costa Rica.
54. Or the Virgin Islands.
55. I wish I spoke Spanish.
56. I was president of the French Club in high school, much to the French teacher's chagrin.
57. Whenever I make a statement that reflects the image I have of my own personality, my husband laughs derisively. I'm not sure why that is.
58. I love to dance and am good at it.
59. I love to sing, but I'm bad at it.
60. I read the Stephen Mitchell translation of the Tao te Ching every day for a year, and am still affected by it.
61. I wish I were a more patient parent.
62. I am a recovering sweet tea addict.
63. I may never be happy with my weight again.
64. I suffer the unfortunate fate of having liked my body before children.
65. I have hyper-flexible arches. That is a bad thing.
66. I suspect that I will lose the ability to walk in old age.
67. I'm very hot natured, but I can't stand the cold.
68. I have been told that I'm "a bundle of contradictions."
69. Maybe because I'm a Libra; it's actually balance masquerading as contrariness.
70. I find it annoying to be surrounded by people who agree with me about too many things.
71. I always root for the underdog.
72. I'm an optimist.
73. I'm married to a pessimist.
74. That works out well, actually.
75. I used to be a pack rat, but now I love to get rid of things.
76. I'd love to get rid of about half the crap in my house, especially in the kids' rooms.
77. I have successfully rid this house of pets of any kind, but I'd like a cat. In theory.
78. I find it ridiculous when people act like pet ownership is in any way similar to parenthood.
79. I had a lot of animals and a lot of plants before my four kids sucked every last ounce of nurturing from my pores.
80. My first job was building skateboards and selling clothes at Gadzooks.
81. I have worked continuously since I was 16.
82. I used to be a bartender.
83. And a waitress.
84. And a social worker/house arrest officer for juvenile delinquent boys.
85. I have taught at six different Memphis City Schools.
86. My worst job ever was telemarketing to collect money for MADD.
87. I walked out of most of the jobs I had in my teens and early twenties because someone told me to do something I didn't want to do, in a way that I didn't want to hear.
88. You're not the boss of me.
89. I struggle with what to teach my kids about respecting authority.
90. I'm a very open person, but I can keep a secret better than anyone suspects.

The last ten items on my list will be my responses to those actor's studio questions:
91. What is your favorite word? ephemeral
92. What is your least favorite word? slacks
93. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? being out in nature, especially near water
94. What turns you off? the phrase "turns you on" used in a non-sexual context
95. What is your favorite curse word? If you've heard me utter five words in a row, you can figure this one out. (Hint, it starts with "F")
96. What sound or noise do you love? ocean sounds
97. What sound or noise do you hate? my child crying
98. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? urban planning
99. What profession would you not like to do? car sales
100. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? "Remember when you said 'If there is a God who made me, and knows me, and loves me, then I'm pretty sure that God is not going to punish me eternally for a little thing like being wrong about his/her/its existence. I'm willing to bet that the religious authority figures who have emphasized belief over actions throughout history have done so because they were not doing good things and did not want to be questioned.'? That was so right on!"

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Smattering of Things

Yeah, yeah, I know. It's been a while.
I have been writing, though! You can read my August column in The Lamplighter here on page 13.

Some friends of mine recently made a pact to enter the Memphis Magazine short story contest this year. Like the oppositional defiant personality that I am, I declined to write my story, even though I knew what I wanted to write about, until two days after the deadline had passed. I'm actually pretty pleased with the way it turned out. Maybe once I finish tweaking it and polishing it up a bit, I'll look around for some other contest to send it to. I'll let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile, the kids have been back in school for two weeks now. They're adjusting remarkably well to being back in the routine, and Genevieve is doing great back with her sitter from last year. I had a harder time than usual going back to work for some reason, maybe because I had such a great summer. It would all be so much easier if I could wear tank tops and flip flops to work instead of having to look at least semi-professional in the 110 degree heat. So as much as I love summer, I'm finding myself longing for fall.

Other than that, I'm just trying to figure out what happened here at my house Friday night. As near as I can tell, a pack of drunk, evil elves broke in. I'm not sure what their purpose was, but while they were here they seem to have done their best to take every toy in the house and reposition it as far as possible from its proper place. They also played at least one round of Twister, used all the clean pillowcases as sleeping bags, and went exploring under the beds. As far as I can tell, their diet is comprised entirely of different kinds of dips, chips, crackers, and soggy lime wedges. However, this did not stop them from dirtying every dish in the house and then loading the dishwasher according to some bizarre pattern in which the objective is to fill the maximum space with the fewest pieces. This Friday I'm setting up the nanny cam.

Monday, July 30, 2007

My Blue Heaven

So, we went to the beach last week. You might have heard? It was amazing and I didn't want to leave. There was sun and sand and brown little berry babies. There were stars and waves and late-night bonfires followed by skinny dipping (yeah I said it). There was rum. There were jellyfish but we didn't let that scare us away. There were tears, for me, for 15 miles down Fort Morgan road as we drove away from my ideal life, which I feel lucky that I got to live for one whole week, and unlucky not to get to live all the time.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

By the Way

That z you see down there in the word advertize is not a typo or spelling error. I'm no anglophile, but I have to go with the Brits on this one. Z sounds should be spelled with the letter Z.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

As Previously Advertized

Yeah I know, I suck. Now, that's enough of that.

So a while back I mentioned my new column in The Lamplighter. But then I never posted a link, until now. If you click on that link I just so cleverly embedded there, and then click on the July issue, you will see my second column. If you care to go into the archives, you can read my June column, which was, in my opinion, far superior to the July one. I'd love to link you more directly, but alas, this is all that can be done.

Just to briefly update: Genevieve is walking now. This development has prompted me to finally dust off the video camera and get film of her funny little crawl, before it disappears. She remains heartbreakingly adorable and sweet, in spite of her alarming and fairly recent development of breath-holding spells, which scare the crap out of me but are supposedly harmless. The older kids are doing great and enjoying as idyllic a summer as I can provide, with lots of staying up late, sleeping in, swimming, playing, reading, movie viewing, and other assorted things that are good to do in the summer. We're all looking forward to our planned beach trip later this month, and I'm trying not to think about the fact that two weeks after that, it will be time for me to go back to work and our beautiful summer will be at its end. Fortunately, I'm very good at not thinking about unpleasant things, so that's working pretty well for me.

Just a little note: I used to have a feature on the side of this page that showed whatever book I was currently reading, and you may have noticed that it's gone now. The problem is that I read a book every one to five days, and I clearly don't post here that often, so the book was rarely accurate for more than a day or two after I posted it. My new plan is to try to make and then maintain a list of all the books I've read since starting this blog. Very ambitious for the likes of me! Right now I'm reading The Autograph Man, by Zadie Smith.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Big Daddy Day

I just wanted to take a minute to say Happy Father's Day to Big Daddy. Since I neglected to put up an anniversary post on our 13th earlier this month, I feel that I'm overdue for a nice sappy post. I won't get too far into the mush, but I will say that not a day goes by when I don't realize how incredibly lucky I am to have this man as a husband and the father of my children. He's the only one for me, plain and simple.

Thanks for these four beautiful babies, and for making me feel loved and supported every single day of my life. I couldn't ask for anything more. Happy Father's Day, Big Daddy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Alive and Kicking

I'm still here, but for over a week our internet connection wasn't. Thanks to the evil that is Comcast, combined with my summer away from work, I've been cut off from the internet world. After calling to yell at a different Comcast employee in a different city every single day for the past week, I finally got someone to understand that our whole street was off-line, and apparently the problem is finally fixed. At least for now. Knock on wood.

I'm sure most of you have read Big Daddy's account of our crappy week, so I'll skip the recap. Suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time thinking of ways to get four kids out of our hot house during the warmest part of the afternoon. I was thankful for the overcast and slightly cooler weather that coincided with our AC outage, and even more thankful that I stopped the guy who sold us this house from taking out the attic fan (known to you northerners as a "whole house fan") as he was planning to do. It saved us this past week, especially at night, when it actually got quite cool in here.

The trials of the week from hell have also prompted me to reflect on and be thankful for my just-this-side-of-white-trash beginnings. Oddly enough, I've been reminded of a quote I once read by Dolly Parton, in which she said she was never afraid of losing all her money, because she knew how to be poor. I know exactly what she means. I'm not ashamed to say that one afternoon I raided the change jar to take the kids on a Slurpee run. Sure, it was in a late model Mazda minivan and not the back of my Daddy's yellow-primered El Camino (oh no, I am not speaking figuratively here), but it was a cold, cheap treat straight from the pages of my own childhood. Once when my Dad was laid off from the Firestone factory when I was ten years old,
he made up his mind that broke or not, we were going to do something fun, and I swear to Maude we rolled enough coin to take us all to Maywood. It was a stressful time for my family--my little brother was born right before my dad lost his job, and we had only been in our new suburban house for maybe two years. There was a recession on, we were driving a K Car, and things generally sucked, but my Dad realized that we all needed a treat, and he scrapped his way to making it happen. In the same spirit, Big Daddy responded to my general hot-and-crankiness the other night with a spontaneous suggestion that we all go to Baskin-Robbins. On the one hand, I knew we didn't need to be spending money on ice cream, but I also knew that at this point the $7.49 we spent is an insignificant drop in the bucket. And I loved him for it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Scattered Pic-Tures Ofthesmilesweleftbehind

This past weekend was full of momentous occasions for me. In an uncharactaristic show of preparedness and initiative, I charged up the batteries for the camera and actually remembered to take it places. This was partly motivated by my fear that Genevieve will one day hate me because her baby book is empty. Ok technically it's nonexistent at this point, but I'm fixing that. And I would never be able to redeem myself if I didn't take pictures of her first birthday.

Before I get to Genevieve and her birthday, though, I have to talk for just a minute about graduation. As most of you know, this was my first year teaching all seniors at the school that I have been trying to get to since I came back into the system two and a half years ago. I had an incredible year, and I really loved and enjoyed my students, and I'm going to miss them. I realized this year that I'm doing what I want to do, and for the first time in my life, I'm not keeping one eye open for something else or wondering what I will do next. I still love change, but I'm also realizing that my need for change is part of what makes this job perfect for me. The whole cyclical nature of the school year and getting a new batch of students each year really works for me. The hours and vacations allow me to be home when my kids are home, and now that I've found a school where I'm happy, I feel like I am home.

So, the weekend in pictures:

Sunday, my whole family was coming over to celebrate Genevieve's birthday and have lunch together while my sister and her family were here from Georgia. My grandmother, aunt, brother and his family, and parents were coming, the house was a wreck, and Big daddy woke up sick as a dog and unable to get out of bed, much less help me clean. After a lot of freaking out and yelling at the kids to help me, I got things reasonably presentable, and the afternoon turned out to be very nice. Genevieve enjoyed opening a few presents.

and especially reading the cards.

Of course, she had a little help.

She enjoyed being the belle of the ball.

I had to be at the Coliseum at 6:00 for graduation. I hadn't seen my students since their last class a week before, and I enjoyed playing mama one last time as I bobby-pinned hats to heads, negotiated mortarboard swaps for a better fit, and delivered contraband purses to the real mamas out in the crowd, since they couldn't be carried in the procession. I made sure to snap pictures of a few of my favorites, like the captain of the football team.

and his girlfriend

and their friends. Four of the kids in this picture are headed to Vanderbilt, some with full academic scholarships. After all the application essays I edited, I feel kind of proud of that.

Can't forget my class clowns.

The next morning was the baby's actual birthday, and she woke up in such a happy mood, it was almost as if she knew the day was special. We spent the morning relaxing and playing in our PJs before heading out to the Chockley's. She took a walk with big brother

and discussed badminton strategy with Joshua.

But she insisted that all the singing stop immediately.

She was clearly ready to get this party started.

Once we got to the Chockley's, we relaxed while the men made fire and cooked meat.

Stephanie and Chloe were clearly impressed by Big Daddy's skills.

Finally it was time for desert. Genevieve wasn't sure she liked her cupcake, even after I tried to help by wiping off most of the sticky frosting.

Then she was sure she didn't like it. At all.

What she really wanted was a fake cookie, of course

and a mojito

But even Big daddy, who usually prefers "just fruit," couldn't resist Andria's homemade ice cream.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Let's Hear It for the Boy

One of my best friends, Gretchen, was in town from Way Up North this weekend. It's been over two years since I saw her, so we had a lot of fun catching up. Saturday night we had a little too much fun drinking Margaritas on the patio at Cafe' Ole' with some other old friends, then hopped over to the Bayou for a couple of beers. It was just like old times, except that in the morning I had to wake up at 7:00 and deal with four children in spite of my nausea and extreme sleepiness. It was well worth it, though, since I haven't been out childless more than once or twice since Genevieve was born. Big Daddy was a trooper and even gave me the ok to stay out later when I called to check in, in spite of his fear of being alone with the baby without the benefit of mammary glands. (I don't blame him either--I have few infant skills that don't involve the magical boob.)

What I really want to talk about, though, is Sunday. I got up and did what I have to do, because in our house it's understood that if you are fortunate enough to go out with no kids and get drunk, you don't get to lie around and moan about your excesses the next day. But really, it wasn't too bad once I ingested my bacon sandwich with mustard, foregoing the cinnamon rolls after I made the mistake of licking some of their sugary icing off my thumb and almost hurling. It was Big Daddy, though, who really got busy. I have to just take a minute and recognize the fact that on his one day off after a busy week of BBQ Fest business and Volvo (dis)repair, he got up, did laundry and dishes, mopped and scrubbed particularly disgusting parts of the kitchen floor (read: dog bowls), cleaned up the deck and cut the back yard, took all of us to Lowes to get parts to fix the toilet and look at other stuff we might need, came home and worked on the toilet, decided the whole thing needed to be replaced, took the old toilet out and went to get a new one, opened the new one to find that it was broken, did not let the expletives fly as I undoubtedly would have, took the toilet back on his third trip to Lowes, installed the new toilet, and then cleaned up the resulting mess. I should add that his phobia of tile and bathrooms in general makes the whole thing just that much more impressive. He had mentioned earlier that he wanted to grill steaks for dinner, so I went to Kroger and splurged on two really nice pieces of meat. I felt like he deserved it, even if he did have to grill them himself. I did make salad and baked potatoes to go with. Then he read to the kids and put the older three to bed.

I probably don't do enough to let him know it, but I feel lucky every single day that I married this man. Not only does he clean and do laundry, get the kids ready and to school every morning, and read to them every night, he never complains about my cooking or balks when I say we're getting takeout. In fact he never acts as if it's my job to feed us at all, but seems glad that I do. He's smart, funny, and sexier than ever, and he's mine all mine.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Like a Real Writer

Last night I had a meeting with Courtney, the editor of the Cooper-Young newspaper The Lamplighter. Since I've inherited Stacey's monthly "Midtown Mama" column (apparently whether I like it or not), I thought I should find out what it is that I'm supposed to do. Courtney was very nice and we had an enjoyable iced-chai-and-brownie-accompanied chat at Otherlands, which allowed me to escape the house alone on a weeknight for an entire hour. After four days of cleaning up puke and poop in the wake of the evil stomach virus that afflicted us over the weekend, it was almost like a vacation.

Now I just have to think of something to write. That seems to be a theme with me right now. I need to think about things to write in this blog, in my column, and lately, I'm thinking, in a book. Yes, I'm in a "when in the hell am I finally going to write a book" phase. It just seems silly to me that I'm not working on that. Summer is coming and I'll have ten weeks off of work--what better time to start a novel? Sure, I'll have the kids, but couldn't I squeeze in a couple hours a day, at least?

Actually, it's lack of ideas stopping me, not lack of time. Once I know what I want to write about, I know it will happen. I'm just having trouble thinking of a plot and characters--you know, the little things. But I'm thinking, hey, the last Harry Potter book is due out this summer, and then what? People are going to need something new. Why can't I fill that gap? I like to read all this young adult sci-fi/fantasy fic, right? So why can't I write it? Well, because apparently my brain does not want to think up any cool characters with funny names and fantastical habitats. Dammit!.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Girl Trouble

Yesterday when I picked the boys up from school, Calvin was no sooner inside the van than he said "Mom, when we get home, will you call someone for me?" But when I asked him who he needed me to call, he replied crytically "I'll show you when we get home."

It turned out he couldn't wait that long, though. He was the recipient of an anonymous note from a girl, and the note instructed him to call the number written there at a certain time. "I was thinking you could just call and when the person answers you can say 'who is this?'"

I found it thrilling that he would come to me so unabashadly with this request, since my greatest fear at his age was that my parents might suspect that I had any awareness of girl/boy-related things. But at the same time, I wondered if I might need to set him straight a little bit on whose job it was to call girls and ask "Do you like Calvin?"

Not that there was any question about that. There were several little hearts sprinkled throughout and decorating the outside of the note. Apparently all the girls heart Calvin, so there was some question as to the author of this particular missive. "Everyone thinks it's Jessica," he said with complete innocence, "and I think it is but I hope not. But it might not be." His little brother, who has been the recipient of some back seat love advice from Calvin about his unrequited affection for a girl in his class named Ariel, suggested teasingly "I bet it's Mallory. Someone lo-oves Calvin!" "No," he replied cooly, "that's not what her writing looks like."

After explaining that the girl in question had probably been instructed never to tell her name to a stranger on the phone, I suggested that he could call his best friend and have him call the mysterious number. "Yeah!" he said appreciatively, "I'll get John to call!" I drove on with visions of having to get a land-line phone again if Calvin was going to start the phone talking with all his little friends. I know all of those adolescent things have to be coming, and even now, at nine, he is showing signs of the crazy moodiness and misunderstood angst of pre-pubescence. It's not exactly a pleasant prospect, but I'm trying to be optimistic and make sure I respond in a way that assures he will keep coming to me with his girl troubles. At least until the notes start containing things that I'd really rather not know.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Not How It's Going To Go Down

The topic of casual conversation in my classes today has been why thirty people in a classroom would line up against the wall and wait to be shot. News of the Virginia Tech shootings has had its usual effect on me, which is cold terror at the knowledge that I can not protect my children when they are out in the world, and that we still must send our kids out there knowing that anything could happen. I can only imagine what the family and friends of the victims are feeling right now, and they have my deepest sympathies.

I have to say, though, that the general feeling around here is that if someone is going to shoot me, it's going to have to be in the back because I will be running. At least two of my classes have come up with a plan in which we will bumrush our would-be shooter, using desks as shields, knocking him down with the outwardly-turned legs of the desks and then beating the shit out of him. Meanwhile, other students will be throwing our eleven-pound Literature books (literally, they weigh that much) at his head, while still others attempt to break the double-paned, non-opening windows with more desks. In another scenario, should we hear shooting in another part of the building, we will pile all the desks in front of the locked door, then stand against the cinderblock wall in which said door is situated, out of the line of sight or fire, and someone will hold a computer monitor ready to drop on his head should he get through our other defenses. While someone tries to break the double-paned, non-opening windows with a desk. Those windows are a big source of anxiety for my students. Alternatively, someone will lie on the floor in front of the door so that "when dude walks in, he'll trip over me and fall, and then ya'll can spring on him."

These speculations and plans are obviously just a way to make ourselves feel less vulnerable, but they do help. I plan to die at 100, in a hammock on the beach, and anyone who tries to take me sooner is going to get my knife in his eye, or an ink pen in the soft part of the throat, or at least a desk in the face.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

I'm not a person who easily admits admiration. I loathe the current tendency to throw the word "hero" around, not only because overuse cheapens the word itself, but because I have a problem with the notion of putting people on a pedestal and worshiping them. I can't think of many people I would use the word "heroic" to describe, but if I had to have a hero, Kurt Vonnegut would be it. And now he's gone.

I was thinking just a few weeks ago about the fact that Mr. Vonnegut was getting on in years, and that when he inevitably died, it would be tragic. When I re-read Timequake recently, I was struck once again by the singularity of his genius. I felt comforted by his existence in the world. I feel desolate at his absence.

At the basis of my affinity to Vonnegut lie some common beliefs about life. Before I knew what the word humanist meant, I was reading Vonnegut and thinking "Yes! He knows!" As a teenager who found herself completely at odds with the moral and religious beliefs of almost everyone around me, it was amazing to find a kindred spirit in the novels that helped me to mentally escape. In many ways he was my mentor. When I read the opening of Cat's Cradle, where he says "Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either," I had to swallow my pride. I didn't really see how a religion founded on lies could be useful, but I wasn't going to be the one who couldn't understand a Vonnegut novel. That sentence helps me remember to be tolerant of beliefs that are baffling to me. (It also makes me wonder what Vonnegut thought of H.L Mencken. I guess I have some reading to do.) His ability not only to accept, but to find humor in the absurdities of life and the inanity of human nature give me hope, and the fact that millions of people are able to love and appreciate his work makes me feel downright optimistic.

Just now I was flipping through the stack of his books from our shelves, refreshing my memory. I picked up Fates Worse Than Death, which I haven't read completely, and I came across a mass he wrote in response to one by the Pope from the year 1570. He inverts lines from the Papal mass requesting eternal light to shine upon the souls of the dead, asking instead

Rest eternal grant them, O cosmos,
And let not light perpetual
disturb their harmless sleep.

I know that, like me, Mr. Vonnegut dismissed the idea of an afterlife. His published thoughts about what we are doing to the world prove that he knew there would be life after death, just not his life after his death. His words and ideas are what remain, though nothing is left of their brilliant source. I refuse to believe that, like his narrator in Galapagos, he wrote"with air on air," and that nothing will endure. That is the one thought I refuse to entertain. My copies of three of his books are checked out to students as I write this, and I take comfort in knowing that another generation of readers and thinkers will take an interest in his work upon hearing of his passing.

I know that at times he wished for death, and that once he tried and then did his best to be glad he had failed. I know he joked that his ideal death would involve crashing into the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in an airplane, and that he lamented the slowness and indignity of old age. It pains me especially to know that he died of brain injuries sustained in a fall, not only because that is exactly the kind of age-related thing he dreaded, but because his life was in his mind and I hate to think that in the end he might have been robbed of its functioning properly. When I think of my own inevitable but hopefully far-distant end, I hope for two things: a lucid death, but also, and conversely, that my mind will play some fabulous trick in its final moments to create a comforting illusion, or at least a few moments of senseless beauty. So I hope that in the end, his big brain did him one last favor and created an illusion--maybe that he was on a plane, crashing painlessly and with fascination into Mt. Kilimanjaro, but I imagine he could come up with something better.

Rest eternal grant him, O cosmos, and let not light perpetual disturb his harmless sleep.