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.