Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I have a review up on The Shelf Life Blog. It's a review of Her Fearful Symmetry, the new book by Audrey Niffeneger. She wrote The Time Traveler's Wife, which I loved, but unfortunately I did not love this book. I loved things about it, but then it turned on me.

Right now I'm about 150 pages into an 864 page book, Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. So far I'm enjoying it. It doesn't move too fast, but I guess if you've got 864 pages in which to tell your tale, you can afford to take your time with it.

In my senior English classes we're reading a few of The Canterbury Tales, which the students always enjoy. They love "The Pardoner's Tale" especially. In eleventh grade, we're reading The Crucible, which I love and haven't been able to teach since my student teaching, because that was the last time I taught American lit. The kids like it too. There's nothing like having a student read out Abigail's lines "...Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring you a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it..." and hearing the rest of the class draw in breath and go "Oooh!" Everyone loves a bad girl.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What does it say about me...

That there is a part of me that would totally wear this coat.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Since today is my birthday and I'm now 37 whole entire years old*, it seems like I should write something about that. You know, reflect, reminisce, that sort of thing.

But sometimes it's hard to talk about all this senseless beauty without feeling like you are over there making sarcastic gagging motions, you know? Because my life, it is beautiful, and I've told you as much many times. The litany: amazing husband, incredible romantic marriage, love, love, love, beautiful, healthy kids, smart-funny-great friends, work I care about, my fortunate health. A superstitious person would say I was jinxing myself, but I am defiantly optimistic.

That's not to say I can't do better. Not in the life I have, but in the way I live it and appreciate it. I haven't been taking great care of myself. This morning as I showered, I told myself that I will lose 20 pounds before I turn 38. It's not just about the jeans I can't snap or the extra chins, either. This is the only body I have, and if it's going to take me all the way to 100, as I intend, then I need to get it into better shape and keep it there. I don't need to be a size 2 or even a 4 or 6, but I need to be strong. Time to start using that gym membership that has been languishing since the pool closed for the season. There are other things I need to work on--all that usual staying in the moment, not wishing time away kind of stuff. I'm trying. The three-ness of my youngest child is just about to kill me, but I am trying. Instead of wishing to go into a coma for the next ten or so years until they're all old enough to want nothing to do with me, I'm down to just wishing to fast forward the next six months until Genevieve is four. That's progress, right?

So happy birthday to me. I already got to enjoy a great birthday date that involved a babysitter, Indian food that made me hum and do the happy food dance in my seat, pool playing, and beer, and tonight I get to enjoy the household tradition of choosing my birthday dinner. BD is grilling me steak. Rare.

*I was thinking I was going to be 38, but then I remembered that BD is 39 and he's never just one digit older than I am. That's what happens when you get old--you forget your own age!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

License to Breed

The other day during an in-service training at work, one of the administrators was demonstrating different classroom activities meant to help us move away from lecturing and whole-group instruction and toward differentiated and small-group instruction. One of the activities involved putting up signs in four different areas of the room that said "Agree," "Strongly Agree," "Disagree," and "Strongly Disagree." The idea is that the instructor makes a statement relevant to some part of the lesson, and the students move to stand near one of those signs. Then you mix up the groups and have them try to convince each other.

The statement that we had to agree or disagree with was "Parenting classes should be required for anyone planning to have a child." I know that's something people joke about and throw out after stories of particularly bad or stupid parenting. And I think most people kept their thinking about it at that level, because every single faculty member moved to either "Agree" or "Strongly Agree," except for me and one other guy. He's new this year, and I'm pretty sure single and childless as well. As I walked over to "Disagree," he was sort of waffling between staying there and going to join the crowd, but as I stood firm he said "I think I'm going to stay here."

We were running short on time, so we didn't do the part where we switch groups and try to change each other's minds, but I imagined incredulous questions being hurled at me, and what I would say. Things like "Who would teach those classes and set the standards for 'good parenting'?" To which I imagined replies like "Well, it would just be basic things. Things that anyone with sense would agree on." But I could list several debatable things that some people might include in that "common sense" category, like that all babies should be born in hospitals, or that every child should be vaccinated with every new vaccine that comes along, as early as possible. That spanking works. That there could possibly be one way of parenting that works for every child and every family.

Maybe it's because of the way I feel so micromanaged at work lately, but I've been thinking a lot about what a travesty it is when everyone gets treated like the weakest link. The one-size-fits-all standardized approach to education, work, parenting,'s a myth and it's hurting us. Where is the rugged individualism? Where is the American belief in individual freedom and choice, even if that means some people make bad choices?

There's a church down the street from my house with a sign that says "Every home is a school. What do you teach?" When I saw all those teachers standing over next to "Agree," I thought about how our whole society is a parenting class. As a society we have an incredibly strong tendency to censure certain choices. What sitcom doesn't have an episode about kids who breastfeed for too long, moms who live vicariously through their daughters, dads who get too worked up over their sons' sports, spinster aunts whose mothers ruined them and grown men who can't cut the apron strings? Every legal drama shows us children killed by their loving but deluded parent's wacky belief in faith healing or natural medicine or fear of vaccines or experimental child-rearing techniques. We get plenty of messages about what is expected of us as parents, what is and is not acceptable.

The idea of requiring parenting classes is no different from any other band-aid approach to a social problem. Giving away our power to instituions is not the answer. I like to believe that in a real conversation, there would have been far fewer people agreeing to that idea. Because if we're all taught some faceless entity's idea of good parenting/teaching/whatevering, and we're all held to a single standard, maybe there will be fewer people falling below the bar, but there will also be fewer rising above it.