Sunday, November 13, 2011

Possibly dead, possibly alive cats, or why I did well in Geometry

Have I mentioned how the ipad is cutting into my reading time? I'm still reading, but it takes me much longer to get through a book these days, and a certain slim piece of technology in a cute red leather cover is largely to blame. So maybe it was an attempt to make my ipad time less brain-melting that led me to one of my new favorite things: One-Minute Physics on youtube. I've always wanted to understand physics, and these little mini-lessons are short and simplified enough for my mostly unscientific mind to grasp.

So the other day I stumbled across this one:

Now, I had heard of Schrödinger's cat before, of course. I did attend a small liberal arts college, after all, and what else would they have been teaching us in such a place? But it either never made much of an impression on me, or I forgot about it, or something. The whole problem is interesting to me because it seems like a philosophy thing and not a physics thing, and I can't decide if I am right and physicists have their heads too far up their own asses, or if I am just not smart enough to understand that part of it. Possibly both of those options are true.

See what I just did there?

So at first, I was kind of stymied by this, and it seemed like one of those things where any religious person would be able to just shrug and say that of course [insert deity of choice] was the observer collapsing our reality to just one choice and shake their heads at those silly scientists. I mentioned it to Andria and she said "I know, it makes my stomach hurt to think about it." I could have looked up what other people have written about it, but I kind of liked having such a novel problem to mull over, so I tucked it away in the back of my mind and took it out to play with from time to time over the next few days. Here is what I decided:

This problem is based on the flawed idea that possibility=reality. Our observation of the cat has no real effect on the cat's status. Just as the cat seeing the powder keg explode or not seeing it explode really has no bearing on whether it did or didn't. Before we open the bunker and see the cat, it is already alive or dead. Just like before a baby is born, it is already a male or a female, whether or not the parents have chosen to find out the sex. It does not exist in a state of being either/or just because the parents haven't seen the goods yet. The whole thing actually reminds me of the kind of magical thinking that leads people to say that, for example, their prayers caused a suspicious lump to turn out not to be cancer. The lump is or is not cancer before it is ever detected or biopsied, and our observation of the test results, just like our thoughts and prayers while we wait for them, is incidental.


Thinking through this in such a logical, orderly way made me feel very happy with my little brain until, in an unrelated philosophical aside, I read about Saul Kripke. Oh well.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Between the A and the T (or where I'm at)

I don't really want to write about my progress with the whole 40 under 40 thing, I want to write about Schrödinger's cat, but I am going to save that for my next post because, let's face it, I don't seem to be overflowing with ideas here. Although that is not technically true--I have a lot of ideas for blog posts, but not so much time/motivation/wherewithal to actually write about them. So consider this a teaser: stay tuned for a fascinating discussion of Schrödinger's cat!

Meanwhile, on the subject of my large and aging tukas, it is of course still aging, but it is just a little less large. I have lost five pounds in the two weeks since I started my little 40 by 40 campaign, and I am quite pleased with myself about that. I'm even more pleased that five pounds apparently translates into three inches off my waist, which translates into my big girl pants being 85% less like a device that was designed by sadists to cut me in half at the waist. I am even a little sad about the fact that my size 14 black Ann Taylor Loft cords will soon be too big for me. But just a little. I'm also somewhat embarassed and mortified to realize just how much my size 14 pants in general have been way too tight in the waist even though they do fit fine everywhere else. It's the gut, you see. I am an apple, not a pear. But soon I shall be a legume! My fondest daydream right now invlolves being able to wear jeans with a regular straight, semi-fitted shirt without looking like I am smuggling tire tubes into the country. No belly-concealing pleat, no baby-doll swing tops, just a plain old tee. Think of it!

Here is a fun observation about telling people you've lost five pounds in two weeks: they first look like you are about to reveal the secret of the universe as they ask you how you are doing it, and then they look very disappointed when you say "counting calories." Like, they are really hoping to hear "I am eating a box of donuts every morning and then taking this magical pill that has the side effect of making your skin radiate from within." I say that to head off any possibility of that very disappointment striking you, right now, as I tell you that what I'm doing is eating less and exercising more. Who knew? I'm using the fatsecret app on my ipad to track every single thing that I eat, which is not that hard since I am pretty much a three squares a day kind of girl, and to log any exercise I get during the day, including, some days, "standing" and "sitting," and then it tells me that I have a beautiful calorie deficit for the day of 743 calories or whatever (that is about my average) and I gain tremendous satisfaction from seeing all those little down arrows stacked up on top of each other for the week. When I weigh in on Sundays, it plots my weight loss in a clever little downward sloping green line. My other high tech, super-secret strategy involves setting my fork down and taking a drink of water between bites of food at dinner, since 14 years of mothering have trained me to eat dinner like it might be the last chance I will ever have to ingest food.

The only exercise I'm doing so far is walking, and last week I didn't even do that. I'm tempetd to say it was because I'm just so busy with the four kids and the working and the masters classes because you sweet schmucks will totally buy that, but in fact I spend a good amount of time playing on my ipad and reading books because I am essentially a lazy sack. So yesterday I weighed and was just very slightly disappointed that I only lost 2.2 pounds and not 3, so I put on my bootylicious new yoga pants and strapped my Phone onto my arm with a Florence + The Machine station playing on Pandora and walked 3.5 miles. My goal was just to do 2, but I was enjoying the music and the gorgeous fall weather so much that I went off the grid and just kept walking. I discovered that I prefer not to have a route mapped out in advance, which of course makes perfect sense if you know me, and I tackled every hill I came to and generally had myself a little adventure. It was nice, kicking up leaves and singing embarrasingly loud as I trucked along, thinking about Schrödinger's cat.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

40 by 40

Last Thursday was my thirty-ninth birthday. I celebrated it with family and spent the day periodically checking in to facebook to find sweet birthday wishes from friends and loved ones. I felt incredibly lucky and happy and thankful.

But of course, thirty-nine means that the big 4-0 is next. Forty! Forty years old! Don't get me wrong; I'm not upset about it. Maybe a little stunned, but not upset. After all, as they say, it sure beats the alternative. But approaching my fortieth birthday has made me contemplative about some things.

I can remember thinking as a teenager that 40 sounded somehow better than 30. I still feel that way. I turned 30 about a month after having my third child--in four years. The first three years of that personal decade are a blur for me. About the time I started to recover, I had another baby. (She is making sure I don't recover from her.) What I suspected way back then has turned out to be true for me: the thirties are a very domestic decade. You have babies and take care of them. You work to keep track of your marriage. You struggle with varying levels of success to piece together some kind of social life. You work a lot. At least, that is how it has been for me. It's not all bad by any means, but it's exhausting and decidedly mom-ish.

But 40 is somehow more glamorous. Your kids have gotten older and at least partially independent. You have more time for yourself and your marriage. If you're lucky, you've found your groove with work and are challenged but not beaten down by it. Maybe you start writing again. You are fabulous. At least, that's how I hope and expect it will be for me.

The thing is, I don't feel so fabulous these days. Maybe some days, in some ways, but not truly deeply. And I almost hate to tell you this, because I know what you're going to say, but a lot of that lack of fabulosity has to do with my weight health. The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be. I am about 40 pounds overweight, and in the past year I've been placed on both blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. Not sexy. I'm not going to beat myself up over it (anymore), but I need to change it. So I'm going to.

I am letting you know, in the most public way available to me, that I am going to lose 40 pounds by my 40th birthday. I know, I know, that's a big goal, it won't be easy, baby steps, yada yada whatever. I'm telling you, this is what I am doing. This is happening.

Losing 40 pounds in one year means that I will need to lose three to four pounds a month. I plan to do this by exercising at least five days a week (as opposed to my current schedule of no days a week), cut down on portion sizes, cut back on red meat (what, I shouldn't eat it every day?), eat a lot more fruits and veggies, and most painfully, give up my one real vice. I will trade my giant morning iced (sugary) chai for a small hot tea with a tablespoon of agave nectar and a splash of milk, and then, in the spring, give up morning tea entirely. Probably. We'll see how things are going in the spring.

I thought about starting a new blog for this, but let's face it, it's not like I was doing anything else over here. I've been thinking a lot about blogging again anyway. There's a lot going on in the world and my life and I've got some things to say about all of that. So maybe sometimes I'll post about the progress I'm making or the struggles I'm facing with the whole 40 by 40 thing, and sometimes I'll post about why everyone else is so dumb. You know, like the good old days, only more fabulous.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happy Birthday to You

The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age. ~Lucille Ball

Happy birthday, beautiful girl.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Five Alive

Happy fifth birthday, Genevieve. We made it.

I kissed the ground when you turned four, but it turns out that was a bit premature. My last baby, you seem determined to stretch out your babyhood for as long as possible.

For five years you have been my constant companion. Part merciless dictator, part goofball, you can make me pull my hair out or giggle with delight. Even as I write this post, you are trying to force me to come color with you. You just flung your body across a chair in a dramatic gesture of impatience. That seems about right.

There was a time when I couldn't imagine having you, number four, and then I had to imagine not having you, and I then knew that you were meant to be my baby.

In the past five years I have threatened more than once to sell you to the gypsies, or else run away with them myself. I'm still considering it, to be honest. But I probably won't. It helps that whenever you are upset or tired or overwrought, all you really want is to curl up against my chest and breathe in the smell of your mama. I guess I'll keep you.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Planned activities for Somerset's Brownies sleep-over tomorrow night:

1. painting nails (S: "I'm not doing pink. I only want black or blue." I bought a bottle of 99 cent silver glitter in clear as a hopeful compromise.)
2. a hair train (S: "I hope I get somewhere in the middle.")
3. talent show (S: "That doesn't mean I have to do something in it, right?")
4. karaoke

Friday, April 29, 2011

It seemed like a good idea at the time

Dear dad with "Dirty Soul" tattooed on either side of your neck in turquoise ink:

I appreciate the fact that as you dressed to come to your kid's school carnival, you matched your polo shirt to your prison tats and threw in the madras shorts to further establish yourself as an entirely different type of D-bag from the kind you used to be, yet recognized that adding a backwards baseball cap to the ensemble would be gilding the lily.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Your kid should read this book

Recently, I noticed that my middle son Joshua posted enthusiastically on facebook about how he liked The Phantom Tollbooth so much that he was reading it again. He'd read it for his enrichment class at school, and it's not that unusual for my kids to read on their own, so I didn't think too much of it. Then BD sent me this link in which Michael Chabon, author of one of the most stunning books of the past decade, talks about how much he loved The Phantom Tollbooth as a kid. So now I really want to read it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Dear" Lamar Alexander

You said:

"Dear Mr. Alley:

Thanks for letting me know what's on your mind regarding Federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

On Thursday, April 14th, I voted for an amendment to prevent Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its local affiliates from receiving Federal funding for Fiscal Year 2011.

I am grateful you took the time to let me know where you stand on this important issue. I will be sure to keep your comments in mind as these issues are discussed and debated in Washington and in Tennessee."

I said:

"I hope you also voted to set aside some funding for orphanages, potters' fields, and STD clinics, since 97% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood include routine preventative health care like cervical cancer screenings, breast exams, birth control, and counseling for women who will not otherwise have access to those services. Contrary to what your preferred "news" source might have told you, Walgreens doesn't perform pap smears or talk to the scared teenage daughters of people like you about their options.

Also, I don't know any Misters named Kristy. Thank you for taking the time to send a condescending and completely insincere form email."

And then his evil website crashed my browser. Damn you, Lamar Alexander. Damn you.

Friday, April 08, 2011

I just have to say...

For the record, I think Ewan McGregor is so repulsive that I only realized fairly recently that people think he is attractive. Like, I thought looking like a baby bird from alternate-England-on-another-planet was kind of his bit.

I don't have anything against him as a person. I'm just saying.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

All This and She Cooks Too

Check out my guest post over at Half-Assed Kitchen!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What Not to Care (about)

I have an ongoing debate with a few friends of mine about where Stacy London falls on the good-evil spectrum. My position is generally that whenever I watch the show, I spend at least half of it hoping that the makeover subject will punch her in the face. She just seems to represent so much of what is wrong with our society. She's shallow, superficial, snotty, and she thinks it's reasonable to expect the average person to pay over $100 for a single article of clothing. And yet, I will watch the show if it happens to be on and I happen to be in the room.

The truth is that I feel very conflicted over the whole idea of caring about how we look. Sure, appearance counts, but how much? Where is the line between wanting to look put together and professional for work and thinking I can't go to the grocery store without makeup on? The What Not to Wear paradox came up most recently after I mentioned to one of the SLDs (Stacy London Defenders) that a mutual acquaintance seems so sweet and smart and great, but she does herself a disservice with her clothes. The SLD immediately said yes, this person would be the perfect candidate for WNtW because (and I paraphrase) she just needs to get her swagger back after some major life changes. And I can see that, I can.

I can see that most of the people on the show seem to feel much more confident and happy after they stop wearing their deceased grandmother's castoff double-knit pants using a rope for a belt or whatever. But what happens after the show? Where are they three, six, twelve months down the road? Do they become obsessed with their clothes, hair, and makeup? Do they ditch the boyfriends and husbands who inevitably wear hideous, almost-too-small sweaters while shown conspiring to get their frump-with-a-heart-of-gold girlfriends made over?

As a fairly vain woman whose appearance long ago began the inevitable deterioration we all face sooner or later, I struggle not to care. I once explained to a naturally pretty, fresh-faced young friend and colleague that while she could roll out of bed ten minutes before leaving the house and throw her hair up in a knot and put on clothes off the floor and still look cute, if I did that it would just make me the sad mom who had given up. I do care how I look, and I try to wear clothes that look reasonably put together while camouflaging my ever-thickening waistline (ugh!), but I also have conversations in my head at the bathroom mirror about whether or not one needs to put on eyeliner when all she is planning to do that day is sit around the house or take the kids to the park or yes, go grocery shopping. I give myself stern lectures about how I do not have to be pretty and that should not be something that matters to me.

But true to form, I mostly don't listen. I put on the eyeliner mainly so I can go through the day without having to sigh the twenty times I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror (I've had four babies, okay? Looks aren't the only thing that deteriorate). I cry and throw tantrums when I see pictures of myself. I care too much. I long for the anti-Stacy to get a show that will teach me the rules for letting go.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Hell Has Frozen Over, or How I Became a Soccer Mom

I guess it was inevitable. Four kids and thirteen years into motherhood, one of them has expressed the desire to play a sport. Specifically, Somerset was asked by a friend to join the soccer team for which several of her classmates from both her old school and her new school play. I know what you're thinking: that sentence was way too grammatically correct to have been written by a soccer mom. Am I right?

So, I'm not a sports person, we know that, no need to get all into that and have you irritated with me about what a snotty curmudgeon I am when it comes to these things. That wasn't even my point!

I have never played a sport, of any kind, ever. Wait, that's not true! I just remembered that I played on a community center basketball team one time. I had completely forgotten about that. I think the coach felt sorry for me and put me in for the last minute of the last losing game. I remember being on the court and thinking "I have not the slightest idea what I am doing, where I am supposed to go, or what I should do if I happen to end up there." But I also remember how much I liked going to practice and having the coach take the time to show me how to hold my hands when I attempted a shot.

And that's the thing, I know. Even though I really have no affinity for sports culture (ahem, see how nicely I said that?) at all, (okay, sorry, moving on), I know that participating in sports can be good for kids. It doesn't have to be all crazy competitive with the yelling beer-gutted dads and the pushy moms. That's what I keep telling myself, at least. It's all going to be fine. Right?

When I was a freshman in high school, I really didn't know who I was (duh). And when the track coach talked to my gym class about running track, I thought I'd like to do it. I went home excited about it, and my parents said no. I was bewildered. My grandmother came up from Mississippi the next day, and I tried to enlist her in my cause. No dice. None of them could really tell me why I should not run track, except to weakly imply that my grades would suffer, even though I exclaimed repeatedly that bad grades would get me kicked off the team. I knew they were wrong then just like I know it now, but I didn't understand exactly why they were wrong any more than they understood why I was right.

My parents didn't come from the kind of privileged background that involved youth league sports. Their parents didn't have the luxury of spending either time or money on such things, and honestly they had probably never even heard of such things. They spent their time trying to keep a roof over their family's heads and food on the table, not thinking about their children's self esteem and social adjustment. They couldn't see, and neither could I, that a simple thing like running track for the school team could shape my identity as a young woman. We didn't know that playing sports makes girls less likely to get pregnant in their teens, or to stay in an abusive relationship, or use drugs. But I know it now.

So today we went to a sporting goods store and bought things that seem as foreign and exotic to me as...stuff that's really foreign and exotic. Cleats. Shin guards! Really tall socks. Somerset came home, put it all on, and went outside to kick the ball around with Joshua. And now he wants to play. Great. I mean...great! Right?

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Magical World

I've been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman lately, both his short fiction and novels. I'm currently about three-fourths of the way through American Gods, which is based on the premise (no spoilers, don't worry) that the gods of every culture that ever came to America were carried here in the hearts of the travelers and then gradually forgotten and left to fend for themselves in the modern world. It's a fascinating idea, and, like any story that deals with the mystical, oddly stirring.

I wonder if these kinds of stories have the same effect on other people as they have on me. I tend to believe that the Harry Potter books, for example, are so beloved because they take place in a world that we wish existed. I think that as children, we all experience the world as a magical place, even if it isn't the good kind of magic. We believe we are at the mercy of the universe, that anything could happen at any time. Gaiman is especially adept at portraying the terrifying potential of such a universe, but it's not all the dark side with him. In fact, one of the things I find so appealing about a lot of his work is that it almost completely ignores the boring dichotomy of good vs. evil, focusing instead on the unfathomable complexity of life and human nature. The universe is a huge and complicated place that only fools claim to understand absolutely. I don't know about you, but that's something I need to be reminded of from time to time.

I think the reason that writers like Gaiman or J.K. Rowling get such a passionate fan response is because their work hints at the possibility of more. Gaiman especially cultivates the pleasing suspicion that he isn't merely making things up, but that he knows something. It's a tantalizing idea, that there is in fact something to know, something beyond the common sense of what is real and accessible.

Sometime in my early twenties, I bought and began reading a single volume that contained three of Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan stories. By the time I got to the third one, Tales of Power, my perception of reality was feeling so fragile that I had to stop reading before the end. The edges of my vision seemed to shimmer and shake with the unseen and I felt, in a very disconcerting way, that anything could indeed happen. Looking back, I wonder what I was afraid of, but I do remember being somewhat afraid. That fear surprised me then, as it still does, because that stirring quality I mentioned earlier feels a lot like wistfulness; it's a longing for the possibility of magic. I remember, as a child, feeling that the world was a magical place, and I miss that feeling. But the Castanada experience showed me that my adult mind is also very attached to the feeling of control, to reality as I know it. I guess most people take that self-knowledge for granted, but it's a little hard for me to accept.

I try to maintain a sense of the wonder and beauty of life and the physical world, and sometimes I'm good at it, and sometimes I'm not. The other day I was at a park with the kids, walking with Genevieve on a paved path around a small, man-made pond. She ran ahead of me, pigtails flying, and I became aware of the whole scene: sunlight glinting off rippling water, scarves of blackbirds twisting and streaming across an oddly blue sky, a beautiful and perfectly innocent child on a path bordered on the other side by tall old trees.

"Stone speaks to tree, tree speaks to sky," I thought as I walked along behind her, wanting to believe it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Open Letter to Bobby Franklin, GA

I am a mother of four who has also suffered two miscarriages. I feel compelled to comment on your proposed law that would require the investigation of all miscarriages. I can't help but wonder what makes you think, even for a moment, that you have that kind of power and control over any woman in this country. My body, my loss, my private pain; none of these things is any of your business. You clearly believe that all women are suspect, that we are evil and cannot be trusted. You assume dominion over us. You wish to write your disdain for the female sex into law in order to legitimize it. Do not pretend that this is about babies. Such pretense is insulting and absurd. You are afraid of women because you are a small, pathetic little man, and you will not win.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Country, 'Tis of Thee

I interrupt this blogging famine to say that, in case you haven't heard, President Obama, in a major legal policy shift, has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act — the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages — against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional.

It's about time. Thank you, Mr. President.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On the other hand

"Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I felt like I should follow up my last post by disagreeing with myself. It's that balance masquerading as contrariness thing.

That is to say, I am leaning toward voting to dissolve the MCS charter for the purpose of forcing consolidation. I still have misgivings. I still want someone to tell me how this is going to benefit my kids, and by "my" I mean the 164 that I currently teach, the 1800 at my school, and the six who live under my roof. I want to know that this is not about city vs. county, rich vs. poor, black vs. white, or us vs. them, but that it is about these children who are the future of this city, whether David Pickler wants to think they affect his life or not.

Speaking of the devil, I will say this: so many people who disgust me are against this happening that it must be right. I don't just mean Pickler, either. There is fierce opposition coming from both sides of the lines, and at the forefront on both sides are people who make me sick with their ignorance, small-mindedness, and plain old stupidity. Whatever they are for, I'm going to have to be against.

So, as Rooster Cogburn so elegantly put it, I always go backward when I'm backin' up. I don't know what's going to happen, but I am unwilling to believe that the entire metro area would sit back and watch a few spiteful morons rob the children of Memphis of their rightful education just to prove a point.

I am not much of a rule follower, but if there is one rule I try to follow in life it's this: never make important decisions based on fear. This consolidation has been too long in coming, and I think it would be a mistake to let this opportunity pass because we're scared of the unknown. Or of the likes of David Pickler.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Out of House and Home

Foods made and consumed by the nine of us here on this glorious snow day:

-1 bagel with cream cheese
-4 cinnamon toaster strudels
-1 bowl of cereal, probably Cinnamon Swirls
-4 multi-grain toaster waffles with peanut butter and a sprinkling of chocolate chips (2 half-eaten because bellies too full of hot chocolate)
-double batch homemade hot chocolate (involving 8 cups of milk and quantities of sugar and cocoa powder)
-salami, provolone, whole wheat Ritz, and pepperoncini snack plate
-one salami, ham, and two-cheese sandwich
-1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich
-multiple Ritz crackers topped with *sprayable cheese applied in the shape of hearts and people's initials
-1 giant bowl snowcream
-15 roasted chicken legs and three leg quarters, with optional Buffalo wing sauce
-2 boxes macaroni and cheese
-steamed broccoli, because clearly we care about eating healthfully
-1 homemade chocolate pie with graham cracker crust and Cool Whip

*brought to Somerset by Santa at her request, not a normal household staple
** edited to add: one pot of coffee (BD is the only coffee drinker in the house), three cups of hot tea

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The C Word

I'm talking about consolidation, what did you think I meant? Although, if you live in Memphis or especially Shelby County, that word may seem as dirty to you as...whatever else you thought I meant.

For those who live outside Memphis, (or under a rock), here's my brief and succinct synopsis of the required background knowledge: Memphis is contained within Shelby county, but is surrounded by unincorporated suburbs heading East to somewhere near Jerusalem. Memphis City Schools (MCS) administers all schools inside a certain line, and Shelby County Schools (SCS) has the outfield. They are two completely separate school districts, with separate superintendents, teachers, student bodies, etc. To understand how angry this fact makes some people, you'd have to know more about the peculiar and special dynamic that defines the Memphis metro area, and frankly, we don't have that kind of time. In addition, I am firmly in the Memphis city camp, so I'm not the one to offer an objective view of the issues involved, and I want to be very clear that I'm not claiming any such thing. I will say that I, like most Memphians, know people who will readily proclaim that every criminal from killers to carjackers to small-time grifters is just crouched at the city/county boundary, waiting for another chunk of the suburbs to be annexed into the city so they can wreak havoc on a fresh group of victims who were safe in the arms of the county just the day before. I've heard of mothers who simply will not bring their children inside Memphis proper. Of course this is absurd, to put it mildly. On the other hand, many of us who live in the city view the suburbs as somewhat like a prissy cousin who thinks she is far too pure and perfect to associate with the likes of us, when we don't even like her anyway!

Moving on, my purpose here is to talk specifically about the current situation with the schools. The county decided to engage us (I said I'm not objective, didn't I?) in a game of chicken by announcing its intention of applying for special school district status, which would effectively freeze the city/county boundary and prevent the future absorption of any more SCS schools into the MCS system. That's what normally happens when a part of the unincorporated area is annexed by the city. (See fairly recently: Cordova.) In response to this announcement, the MCS board voted to dissolve its charter. What that means is that, upon voter approval, MCS will cease to exist, and all schools contained anywhere within Shelby county, whether inside or outside city lines, will be Shelby County Schools. Needless to say, this was a bold move that has drawn both support and criticism from both sides of the line. MCS, as an administrative body, has long been plagued by incompetence, corruption, Sartre-esque levels of bureaucracy and red tape, and periodic flareups of scandal. In addition, MCS is charged with educating kids from some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods not only in the state and region, but in the country. However, it also has some jewels in its crown, not to mention hidden gems where learning is happening every day in every way. I firmly believe and know that inside every single MCS building, on any given day, miracles take place. I also know that it is a fantasy and a mistake to believe that we can measure the worth and effectiveness of a school based solely on measurable and visible markers such as test scores and elaborate displays of student work. And finally, I know that for many citizens of the Memphis metro area, none of that even matters because any school "tainted" with the MCS label is automatically, in their mind, a "bad" school. And while I'm out here, I might as well say it: to many of those same people, any school that serves a predominantly African-American student body, as is the case in most MCS schools, is a "bad" school. In Memphis, the term "good" school is too often a euphemism for a white school.

I know, I said I was going to talk about consolidation, and I am, I swear! I just feel like the context is crucial to understanding this issue, and more specifically, to our ability to step back and look at it objectively. As a life-long Memphian, a teacher in MCS for a combined total of about fourteen years, and the mother of three children who attend MCS schools and a fourth who will enter kindergarten in the fall, this issue is very important to me. The personal is political, as they say. And as someone who grew up in a now-annexed suburb and attended then-SCS schools, then chose to move to the city proper and stay in it, I have at least some insight into both sides of the issue. I also consider myself a liberal Democrat, which is where the call for consolidation of the two systems has typically come from over the years. I have believed in consolidation for a long time; I've argued for it, rolled my eyes over it, been outraged over the slowness of it, right along with my compatriots. But y'all, I'm here to say that I have a very bad feeling about this.

This is not how it was supposed to happen. We are delivering ourselves into the hands of the people who sought legislation just to keep us away. They hate us! Why are we so happy about putting them in charge? Are we cutting off our nose to spite our face? Believe me, I did a little gloating in the beginning over the poetic justice of it all. You asked for it, I thought. That will teach you to make threats. But the more I thought about it, the more my thoughts went more along the lines of oh crap, what have we done? As a teacher, I do not trust SCS to care about my school or my students. I also know first hand that MCS knows how to do certain things right, no matter what anyone says. For example, we are masters of compliance. Many MCS schools receive special funding based on the number of disadvantaged students enrolled, and this involves a whole lot of documentation and proof that we are using that money the way it is meant to be used. In my experience, SCS sucks at this kind of thing, because they have very little experience with it. Another thing MCS excels at is providing services for exceptional students on both ends of the spectrum. The gifted program in MCS starts in pre-K. In SCS? Third grade is my understanding. I was enrolled in the gifted program in a Shelby County School as a child. We met once a week, and as often as not, we sat out in a portable, forgotten. There wasn't even a teacher for us. All three of my school-aged kids are in CLUE and they go anywhere from twice a week (pre-K-5) to every day (7-9) to a dedicated, qualified teacher of gifted students. They have IEPs that we have input into each year. The same is true for students with learning disabilities. MCS knows only too well that failure to provide services means they pay for private school for that child.

SCS simply does not have any experience with the student population that MCS serves. They do not have an Optional (magnet) program; we do. They do not offer choice transfers; we do. They do not fund athletics or, in some schools, art and music classes; we do. Their students don't wear uniforms; ours do. An article in yesterday's Commercial Appeal stated that the current SCS board members would serve out their existing terms, and that "SCS board policy would trump MCS policies. That includes issues such as dress code and discipline." The same article quotes "attorney Chuck Cagle, who has had a major role in at least five school consolidations in Tennessee," as saying that "Consolidation does not lead to tax savings. Funding bodies find other ways to use the money." I understand that jobs are replicated in the two systems, but really, when you triple the size of a school system, can you still expect one person to do all the work his/her job previously entailed for the new district?

I am having a hard time coming up with any likely benefits of this merger happening in this way. How is it going to be good for my kids--the ones I teach or the ones I live with? I've never wanted my kids to go to County schools. How is it going to benefit, or at least not hinder, me as a teacher? I have never wanted to work for SCS. (Not that I love everything about MCS at an HR level, but still, how is SCS any better?) How is it going to benefit the city? How?