Saturday, March 28, 2015

TToT70: Whoosh!

This spring has started to pick up the speed of the Old 97. If I can hold on to the controls through this week, I'm safe in Spencer. Or the TX Hill Country for Spring Break.

So, quick, quick, quick before I run to the next thing:

1. I came up with what has the potential to be a really great gift. If I can pull it off well and in time. That's all I'll say.

2. Fictional characters to love.

3. I've volunteered to go spend the night with a family with a newborn because of various sad and difficult complications in that family. I am so excited to hold a tiny baby in the night. Because it's fun when you know you're leaving in the morning.

4. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is so, so funny. So, so, so funny! Run to Netflix!

5. A ton o' new (to us) clothes (for the price of shipping) for our growing boy. Spring and summer apparel done!

6. The kids' bathing suits from last summer still fit. Well, enough do for now.

7. Maggie, as part of the pre-K/K class, lead Friday night Shabbat services. Oh, the cuteness!

8.  I love getting a winter CSA, but around March it's heavy on potatoes and mealy apples. Leo can put away an impressive amount of applesauce, but I struggle with all the poatoes. Managed to foist a bunch of those off in mashed form at a potluck this week.

9. Major step forward in the 'clean plate club' mission around here this week. Why was I so slow to consider ice cream? I, who love it so?

10. Avocadoes.

Next week in TX!!!!

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

FTSF: I'd rather scrub a toilet than...

I was all set to write a post this morning about my wild and wayward eyebrows bequeathed to me by my father (and his, and his, etc.). I was all flustered and cranky after a marathon sneezing session following some major tweezing work (does tweezing make anyone else sneeze repeatedly?) that still did not make my eyebrows look tame or similar.

But then I got this email from the hubs, and I thought: aha, new most hated chore!

Back when we were new-marrieds, I did more of the irritating service phone calls to businesses. And back then, because we were young and naive, we had cable. And construction nearby. I don't remember all the details, but I kept having to call for service because the cable line got cut or disconnected or some such annoyance (often due to the construction), and if you've ever had any kind of similar dealings with a cable company, you know how it went. Lies and prevarications and empty promises. A different answer every time I called. As the designated caller in our relationship, I faced the brunt of their unapologetic incompetence. And I'm afraid it broke me.

Finally, exhausted and spent, I passed the baton off to my husband who called and found that notes had been recorded in our account: Wife belligerent and overly emotional.*

That's when he became the designated caller. And let me tell you, he is so much better at it. Somehow, he stays cool. He turns on all his charm and catches all kinds of flies with his honey. But in extreme cases, he knows when to pull out the big guns like the BBB and the newspaper. And let me tell you, those magic words can work wonders.

For the eight or ninth time since October, my husband spent hours on the phone with our insurance company this morning. We should be getting reimbursed a portion of the out-of-pocket costs we pay biweekly for one of my daughter's therapies. The place of business where she receives the therapies has sent in the required information (more than once). We have sent in the required information (more than once), and multiple insurance representatives have promised that the process is in the works. Yet, we receive no reimbursement. What my husband discovered today was that, after five months and nearly ten phone calls, none of the paperwork has been processed at all. Why? Because someone, somewhere along the line, did not write Appeals at the top of one of the forms.

This is where I would become belligerent and overly emotional. And this is where Brian coolly brings out the threats.

I still do a few of the insurance phone calls. Usually the pre-therapy, proactive ones. And I've learned some effective techniques:
1. Call as many times as it takes to get two similar answers. Two of the same might actually contain correct information. My record minimum is four phone calls.
2. Write down the date, name, and badge number of the person with whom you are speaking. That way you have evidence if you receive a different answer further down the line.
But I'd still rather scrub a toilet.

How about you, Dear Readers? What's your most hated chore? I bet Ivy's with me.

*OK, vulgar was another of the adjectives used.

 with hosts Kristi and Michelle

Sunday, March 22, 2015

TToT69: ...But Keep the Old

I'm following Dyanne's lead and getting in under the wire this weekend. This has been a particularly busy week, but there has been much GOOD.

The absolute most shining GOOD moment of this week (month?) was my Thursday when I got to spend several hours chatting a mile a minute IN PERSON with an old friend.

I don't think I can adequately express the happiness this brought me. She was recalling when we first met at my job interview at a school in Austin where she was already employed. My memories of her from that time are a woman in a mid-length skirt and a brown bob and a toddler on her hip. She taught me how to identify different oak trees by their leaves and bark, she introduced me to The Big Chill, and she helped me develop my skills at civil disobedience.

I was 24 years old in 2000 when I got that job, and I am still astonished that someone who I perceived as a real grown-up wanted to be friends with me. Now, fifteen years later, I am even more astonished because in my recollection I was so wildly naive and immature. I knew almost nothing about life. She has a memory of me throwing a banana peel at a colleague during those years. See what I mean? Immature. (For the record, I have no memory of this.)

This woman helped fertilize the seeds of environmentalism in me, planted by my parents, and eventual brought into full bloom during my years in Asheville. She inspired me to travel the world and live in another culture. She modeled for me the dangerous and necessary skill of thinking about what your boss asks you do to before you do it. And maybe, just maybe, deciding not to do it, damn the consequences.

She was more likely to encourage me not to follow her lead with straightforward communication of what she would consider her mistakes. But I could read between the lines, and I found much to admire. Several years into her own marriage, she taught me much about how challenging it can be and once said, "When you find someone you want to marry, I'll have him over for dinner, and if he's not good enough, I'll poison his food." Unflinchingly loyal.

How many recycling containers did we fill with beer bottles over those two years? I recall the peaceful feeling of splitting a six-pack of Abita Turbodog in her backyard, sitting in lawnchairs and watching her daughter exhaust herself on the trampoline while we discussed adulthood.

In so many ways, this woman taught me how to be an adult, but not an ordinary one. On Thursday I realized anew how glorious it is to have a friend to whom you can say anything, confess any wild position or preference, any silly peccadillo, and receive full support and/or understanding. There is an absolutely miniscule number of people in my life that fit this description. I think we feel this peace because we share so many thoughts and preferences, but also because neither of us has ever felt like we quite fit the mold, quite knew how to behave in polite society. But together, we can sink into relaxation.

Those two years I lived in Austin we golden years in many ways. At 24, I was just reaching my rebellious years (late developer here), and this woman, among others at our place of work, played a large role and helping me find the person I became. I thank her and love her for it.

So, that's what? Ten, Twenty, Thirty? I think I covered it.

Oh, and the gutter man just dropped by, did his job, got paid, and is gone. Check that one off the list. 

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

#1000Speak: Forgive Your Bullies?

It's been three years, and I haven't forgiven my husband's bullies. I feel no compassion for them. But, my bitterness towards them is softer. I regard them with contempt and disgust, like the "trash" that I called them to their faces, but the attention they take up in my mind is limited. That's progress.

I've been reading Hasty Word's guest posts on bullying this month with interest, and here are the words (from Anonymous) that sent my amygdala into hyperdrive:
What does bullying do to a person?
It kills their spirit.
It makes them afraid all the time.
It makes them angry all the time.
It leaves them scarred and conditioned to be afraid and defensive all the time.
Even as an adult, I find myself either avoiding confrontation altogether, in real life and online — or else seeking them out and rushing in headlong because I am just so angry.
It dehumanizes a person.
For those who are not long-term readers of this blog, my husband was once a teacher in Asheville City Schools (NC). He was well-regarded by his peers and his students. In a small community like Asheville, we knew the gossip. I heard at my daughter's preschool how well he was thought of in the parent community. He received positive feedback from his supervisors. He led professional development sessions on request, he offered afterschool enrichment sessions for free, and he worked incredibly long hours. His students made impressive progress--academic, social, behavioral.

And then, suddenly, in his last year in Asheville City Schools, he could do no right. He was constantly reprimanded. If he turned in a form late, the mistake was inflated into moral laxity; other forms he turned in on time with a witness present went missing; when he produced the witness proof, he was reprimanded for involving others in his own personnel issues. He was no longer allowed to serve on committees; he was no longer allowed to offer his afterschool enrichment sessions for students; he was no longer allowed to head his popular Chess Club. He was watched at every moment for the slightest error. Tiny mistakes were described as major errors; actions were purposely misunderstood; some behaviors were entirely invented with no evidence to back them up. Perhaps the wildest and hardest to imagine limitation was that he was the only employee on campus restricted from drinking caffeinated beverages.

Why did this happen? We have no proof, but know this: my husband was the President of the local teacher's association. He had been awarded at the state level for increasing membership and involvement in the local association, and he had, the summer before his last, difficult year, led an effective movement against the Superintendent's proposal to lengthen of the school day (for those familiar with the debate, research shows a longer school day shows positive academic gains only when the community and the teachers are involved in the decision-making process). In addition, he was working within a deeply divided staff over those who were loyal to the former principal who lost her job the year before, and those who felt she had not...performed her position (never underestimate the political maneuvering in the backrooms of elementary schools).

For eight months, I watched some truly hateful people dismantle my husband's confidence and character. It is not overkill to say they killed his spirit and dehumanized him. Because all I knew to do was to urge him to be better, to be more perfect, I watched our relationship crumble. There was no perfection allowed. As hard as he tried, the farther away they moved the goalpost. He wanted to fight, and I was too scared. I watched their bullying turn a formerly cheerful, upbeat person into one whose mood ranged between anger and depression.

The bravest act of this entire year was my husband showing up for work and facing his bullies day after day after day. As they waited for him at the entrance of the building and outside his classroom door, as they trolled the halls hoping to catch him with a soda. He did it because above all, his job was to serve his students.

In the end, he lost his job, of course. None of our evidence or eloquence mattered because there is not adequate union support in a state like NC. And you know what the ultimate charge was? Bullying. Oh, the irony is deep and evidence worthless.

Three years later, my husband can't start a phone conversation with me in a somber tone without my panic rising. His response to positive professional feedback is to think, "Hey, I am worth something!" A group of people ripped us from a home we loved and jobs in which we could do good and from a sense of security that may never fully return. And not just us. They stole security from children who depended on my husband for it. The effects of bullying are permanent. 

Some of the guest authors on Hasty Word's blog this month have been beautiful, young souls who express compassion for their bullies or who have turned their energies toward becoming advocates. Maybe age makes you cynical. Or tired. All I can manage is to keep spreading the word. Bullying exists in the adult world, too. Some people never develop a moral compass.

And that's where I was going to leave it. But then came Lisa on Facebook, and I thought I'd try for understanding as a first step towards compassion. In honor of the day.

What we could never understand and what was so devastating was how former friends could unite against my husband and take such drastic action. The only explanation that seems believable is that a GroupThink mentality took over in a fractious, unhappy work setting. My husband was outspoken, and he became a lightning rod for others' angry bolts. Some people were inexperienced, naive, and unable to stand up against pressure; maybe some felt their actions would lead to more personal job security. And there was a struggle for power. But in that case I will try to remember those who bully for power often feel powerless themselves.

So maybe someday I will feel some compassion. I see that as a laudable goal. But even if I squint, I can't see it coming quite yet.

Friday, March 13, 2015

TToT68: And Now Let's All Take a Deep Breath

It is Friday night, and I am settling in with my laptop and my armchair and gathering my thoughts from the week. Brian, recovering from minor surgery, is out like a light, and the kids should be, but they earned a sleepover (with each other) and that means wrestling and giggling and my occasional halfhearted shouts of Settle down now! If you spit on your sister, you have to sleep in your own bed! But it's peaceful.

You know what is a great activity to prep for the TToT? Family laundry. All those outfits, stains, and smells bring back the week's activities. Why didn't I wash this stinky, stained garment immediately? When did we dress up? How in the world did my husband get eight Tshirts dirty in one week? This week's contained both snow clothes and lightweight jackets. There are still piles of dirt-flecked snow here and there, but Spring's tiptoeing in.

Brian found these while walking to the bus yesterday.

But speaking of laundry, I think the twenty or so piles of folded laundry in the my basement are worth one or two. Right, SGV? In fact, I'm quite sure I remember something in Article Seven of the BOSR/SBOR about remembering the launderers and their creaky backs. If only someone else would tote them all upstairs for me.

Birthday Week is over, y'all. From March 5 through 10, we celebrate three family birthdays (both kids and my MIL). (If you've been paying any kind of attention to my blog of late, you knew of two of those. Oh, you want to reread the birthday posts? Go here and here.) Time to take a breath, let it out slowly, and be grateful that all that time-bound prep and social pressure won't come again for another year.

I'm giving myself a virtual pat on the back and thumbs up (simultaneously since it's virtual) for pulling off two birthday celebrations that I think were well-tailored to each child's needs and preferences. One small party and one trip to the National Mall carousel (in the sun!), two sets of cupcakes (purple and pink frosting, respectively), streamers and balloons and a sizeable dent in the wrapping supplies.

There are other small items from this week: the gift card (dated 2001) from a student I found at the bottom of a gift bag (too bad I don't live in Austin anymore; that thankful actually belongs to my brother who will be the recipient), the time my daughter told me she was proud of me ('cause that's a way better repetition of something I've said than others I've heard), a belated birthday gift for me, a new plan that is yielding positive behavioral results, and a Frosty (simple pleasures). But I'll stop here. It's been a good week. It's good to be at the end of this week. Crocuses are blooming.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Six Years Old

Mommy is a stinky train, but I love her anyway!

In that one line you sang the other night, I found so much thankfulness: the originality and the unmitigated silliness, the confidence to sing your own words and tune aloud and the sweet message at the end that I never hear often enough.

It's been a hard year for you in many ways, my favorite girl. School is not your favorite thing; you'd much rather stay home. As much as you and Daddy joke about whether you're a lazybones or a hardworkingbones, I know you're a hardworkingbones. You fear much, yet you (almost always) face your fears resolutely. It is clear now that I've bequeathed you my incessant anxiety, and for that I am sorry.

You listen, and you try. You've made extraordinary progress towards conquering your fear of eyes in the dark, of clocks, of screws. You've tackled those fears; you've been brave and strong; you've worked on reasoning yourself out of them. There's nothing lazy in that.

And in the midst of all that psychological turmoil, you're even learning academically. Do you realize what a triumph that is? You excitedly identify sight words, and you're learning to blend sounds. You sort shapes by attributes and count higher than I've heard you count before.

I love hearing about your school days. How many people shared your seat on the bus, or what you sang in music, or what silly thing your principal did. I want to know who you like and who you don't. I want to share in your triumphs and comfort you in your sorrows. I can never hear enough.

On that music topic, your music teachers says she wishes she had a class full of Maggies! She says that you sing along and perform the motions to every song she suggests. You have always been our musical girl, responding to tunes from early on and having pretty good pitch. You know your favorite band (The Beatles), but you also have a soft spot for I Will Wait by Mumford & Sons and Peter and the Wolf. You practice chorus songs with me and love a jazzy beat.

Solving a problem is a definite attraction. You love a jigsaw puzzle. But you're not wholly logical. You worry over the baby leopard in the rainforest puzzle. You think he's lost his mama, and you fret about it.

In fact, you are often empathetic: quick to sense the emotion of situation and quick to share in another's pain. A week or so ago when Leo cut his forehead badly, you were very beside yourself--not because of the the blood, but because he was hurt. You are very sensitive to characters in books who look sad or angry and worry even over the pea crying over his book in LMNOPeas.

Books are still your best friends (aside from your brother whom you adore though he aggravates you beyond measure). By year six, you know so many of them by heart, I hear you quoting them quietly under your breath. In the last few days I've heard, ...there was a slice of bread and a jar of jam... and ...the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain won't have any toys to play with or good food to eat... Sometimes you tack a said Maggie on the ends of your sentences as if you are narrating your own life story.

You are a loyal soul. You may not bond quickly with others, but you're not one to waver. Through those relationships you are motivated to take risks. We see that with relatives you trust and in your weekly gymnastics (PT). How lucky we are to be have those trusted people in your life!

One of the great pleasures of the last few months for me was discovering the fun of mother-daughter dates, which for us, inevitably involve ice cream. Here's to many more. And in the meantime remember:

Mama and Daddy are here; Mama and Daddy will never leave you.

We are proud of you always.

Friday, March 6, 2015

TToT67: Three Years Old

Little Leo,

Today you are three years old. If I were asked to describe you in one word today, it would probably be stubborn. Maybe you are no more stubborn than a typical child at this age, but for us, your behavior has been a bit of shock (your sister did not prepare us). From lying naked at the bottom of an empty tub, crying from the cold and refusing to pick up your bath toys to leaving one bite of food (that you like) on your dinner plate because someone suggested you might earn a treat, your insistence on making your own choices both amuses and aggravates us. You refuse to let the extra heater run in your cold bedroom, even waking up to turn it off. Instead, we find you sleeping on the floor in front of a heating vent. Daddy, in particular, gives me the side-eye at these moments. We both know this is a stubbornness is a trait you've inherited (mostly) from me. And that's why (shhhh), I kinda like it.

You know your own mind, and you're not going to be swayed. Even though this trait leads to some unfortunate choices, I breathe a sigh of relief to see you so sure of yourself. Hold on to that ability to resist what others tell you to do; it will also lead to good choices.

Like many boys your age, you love vehicles. Your current favorite book is Cool Cars, and as we read it, you demand, "Dis!" so I will name everything: wipers, emergency brake, steering wheel, air filter. Then, "Me!" you exclaim, meaning you like them. You call all tractors mowers, and all diggers arms, and you turn all your play vehicles upside down to study how they run. You demand songs about mowers at bedtime, and since I don't know any, I make them up. This satisfies you.


Also, balls, especially netball (basketball). Oh, how you want to make a basket in the tall hoop! But you're mostly satisfied with the one for people your size, tossing a basketball up over your head in the general direction of the tall basket or demanding I do it over and over again. You would love to play on a netball team, but I can't find any for three-year-olds. All balls are interesting, though. We talk about how to score with each of them: which use nets, which is hit with a bat, how to score goals. You like to rehearse, "Hit this one; kick this one."

And it's not just with sports--you want to understand the name and object of everything. Letters, shapes, colors, you even love sorting by attributes with Maggie as she does her Kindergarten math homework. A few months ago, you suddenly shifted your puzzle interests to jigsaws, and you haven't looked back.

You other great interest is art. Crayons, markers, stickers, paint, sequins, and above all, glitter glue can hold your attention for a good hour. The words art project get you running for the stairs to the office, and I think you must have made made twenty Valentines last month.

You're both a mess and a goofball: quick to splash or dig your hands in. But as the year has gone by, you've become rather fastidious about dirty hands. Clearly, they give you the fantods, and you think the dishtowel is the best for cleaning them. I often find it smeared with chocolate or yogurt and laid out on the floor to wipe up spilled milk. 

Mr. Purple Hippo still tops the list of your favorite beings. He goes where you go, and you miss him when he's bathing in the washing machine. He's had some surgery, and he's rather thin, but your affection is not so fickle as to be turned away by these signs of age. Daddy and Mannie (Maggie) come next in your affections, but you and I have a good time together when it's just the two of us. We particularly like to share lunch at Chipotle before a Costco trip (you eat only chips and cheese) or take a trip to the ball 'tore (Dick's Sporting Goods), and I'm still your favorite singer at bedtime, with the exception of Wheels on the Bus, which I am more than happy to relinquish.

We bit the bullet and got you speech therapy when you turned two. Your age equivalent score was ten months on your second birthday. A few weeks ago, you placed out of speech with average and above average language scores. Wow! There's insight into your character in this, I think. You will not do something until you're good and ready to do it. You're also a self-conscious little thing. You don't like to make mistakes, and you don't like to be corrected. At times, you don't even like to be cuddled after a fall--it's too embarrassing.

You are still quite small, only now growing into your 2T clothing, but you are mighty. I've watched you lift and carry rocks that I thought were far too heavy for you. And you are never cowed by your older sister. You hold your own, and unfortunately, know just where her buttons are. Making her scream is disappointingly tempting.

We love you, monkey boy! These last three years have been enriched by your good humor and sense of adventure. Happy Day to You!

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