Thursday, April 30, 2015

FTSF: #Blessed

Since this seems to be the week in which I am exploring my prejudices and that which makes me feel superior (now I know you want to read on), let's tackle blessed.

This word used to aggravate me beyond measure. I'm not entirely sure why, or I wouldn't be able to put my finger on just one reason. It's overused, and overused by a certain subset of one religious population in these here United States. It's also feels saccharine and not fully genuine to me. 

There's this guy's argument that I won't summarize here because the article's worth reading if you haven't already.

And I associate it with motherly kvelling, a Yiddish word I learned recently in an post by someone on his/her blog that I can't recall at this moment (sorry). And since it was handed out to me by God or fate or chance that I would have children with special needs, I don't have quite as many opportunities to kvell or proclaim how blessed I am that my child can read at the age of four or is a future track superstar, and it therefore calls up those vestiges of bitterness and envy that still linger. (Now, I can and will kvell along with the best of them regarding my children's more atypical accomplishments as anyone who reads this blog knows.)

But I think I may have become more open-minded to this word. This blogging business has broadened my horizons. I can identify at least one user of this word in the blogosphere that I can admire. And I see it how often it is used to describe what I would genuinely agree are blessings: familial love, kindness and compassion towards others, true friendship. Not material possessions, but that which is unseen, gifts from God or the universe or whatever source you choose to cite.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I love the word, but I think I might have used it once or twice with only a twinge of irony.

And, in fact, I will end by writing that I am blessed to have met such truly wonderful souls as my blog tribe encompasses. See? And I only threw up a little in my mouth.

with hosts Kristi, Allison, and Kelly

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Cult of Fluffy Tarts

I have eyelash adhesive stuck to my upper lids: small, mascara-coated blobs in my sight periphery at all times. When I try to pull one off, it stretches out like rubber cement until a tiny bit disconnects and the rest pops right back into place.

And why was I so tarted up? I participated in a regional chorus competition last weekend. My thoughts on this weekend are interfering with my focus as that damn adhesive is interfering with my vision. All my doubts and discomforts and enjoyment of the weekend are mixed up and I can't quite sort out how I feel.

It's funny how the people you know online can pop into your thoughts. This weekend brought Clark and Yvonne to mind. I think Clark would have been in his observational element, but I don't believe he would have been very comfortable. Yvonne's writings on cult-like thinking were also present in my mind.

And I think that's where my discomfort lies. Can I be a part of this chorus in spite of all this pageantry and all this GroupThink once a year? Can I come along for the music but pass on the Kool-Aid?

The vermilion lipstick, the shimmery eyeshadow, the matching costumes, the teased hair, the emoting on stage and the choreography--it all kinda makes me squirm. (Well, OK, I like the red sequins.) And it's funny because it once was. May I remind you?

But I was in high school them, and I so desperately wanted to fit in. Twenty years later, I have a better idea of who I am (thanks in part to that drill team experience).

Now all this get-up and all these rules about how we must present our bodies seems contrived and claustrophobic and...fluffy. It feels like a celebration of an archaic philosophy of womanly beauty or a limited view of womanly goals and purpose. For much of the weekend, I held myself apart thinking, "Why am I here? I am not superficial and empty-headed like these others. I am superior."

I posted the top picture above on Facebook because I thought it was so funny and unlike me. One response stood out because it made me realize that the commenter has this image of me: she has pigeonholed me into that category of women that I was holding myself above: non-thinkers, overly focused on outward appearance, the ones who need to identify with the group. My picture was not a funny juxtaposition of who I am in real life; it was an illustration.

That hurt.

And then I got to talking to some of the sweet, kind, old ladies in my chorus who quilt and garden. And it turns out one of them was a rocket scientist who worked for the federal government during the Cold War. Another was a women's rights advocate in the 1970s along with the women who started NOW. In addition to that, our chorus can boast of a Marine, a sign language expert, several lawyers, multiple political advocates, researchers, engineers, scientists, and a Motocross racer. These women are not fluffy after all.

Some of my chorus members love the trappings. They love the make-up and the hairspray, and they want us to sing and dance. Some love the music and the shared motivation to improve but find the trappings of contest weekend distasteful enough that they sit that weekend out.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in between.

We don't belong to this chorus to define ourselves. We belong because we've found one common element and we're willing to celebrate it. This feels like a deep and important discovery even if it doesn't fully settle all this dissonance I feel. Democrats do not all think one way; Christians are not all conservative; barbershop singers are not all empty-headed, attention-seeking, rule-loving performers.

For now, I'm in. Next year for contest weekend, I may avoid the woman with the teasing comb and the one with the blush brush as much as possible, but I'll let my inner Scott and Roger shine for the performance while hiding my Clark under a bushel. I'll come to sing with this varied group of smart, driven, accomplished women. That dress up like tarts one weekend of the year.

Friday, April 24, 2015

TToT75: Anticipation and Restoration

I tried to write an FTSF this week for I wonder..., but nothing was coming out right. My wonderings sounded whiny and egotistical to me so sometime late last night, I deleted all my draftings and gave up the ghost.

On to the next blog hop. I'm publishing early because I am off this weekend, sans kids, sans husband, on an adventure such as I have never experienced before. I think there may be some blog fodder in it, but if nothing else, I am content to see it as fascinating subcultural experience.

But this week...this week provided one of those experiences that restores some of your faith in the good.

Our front yard is one of the bus stops for our neighborhood. I love this for a variety of reasons, with being able to put my daughter on the bus while still wearing my pajamas, at the top. And barefoot, Clark, barefoot.

This week, while none of the parents were looking, some of the kids broke a window in our garage by swinging too closely and too wildly in the hammock. I didn't happen to be outside that morning so I only found out when three of the parents knocked on our door after the bus had departed. They offered to pass the hat since they hadn't gotten any confessions.

And then, that evening, we found a note on our door. One of the fifth grade boys couldn't live with the guilt and had tearily confessed to his mother. In further emails, she told me she had explained that she wasn't angry, but that he needed to apologize, and they would take responsibility by paying for our window repair. When he said two other boys were involved, she told him that did not mean he shouldn't take responsibility for his own actions.

I really don't think there could be a more perfect parent reaction. Kindness and responsibility in action.

I keep meaning to take this child aside and express to him how maturely I think he acted. In the meantime, I contented myself with a brief homily to the bus stop kids on taking care of others' property and not letting one person take the blame for your own actions. I understand why the mother of one of the children doesn't want to get involved, but I don't mind encouraging confessions for their sake. We'll see if my moralizing has any effect. $183 is a lot of money.

Now, off on my adventure!

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Friday, April 17, 2015

TToT73: Oh, The Things You Can Learn on the Facebook!

I went to the dentist this week. The whole family did. So that's done for another six months. Plus, no one commented on my #8 for a change (it died mysteriously several years ago; no, I don't remember bumping it).

I happened in to Unique Thrift on 25% off day. Hooaaa! My total came to $33.33. This delights me.

I taught Lizzi the expression "in her cups." Not that she was. That was Lisa

I occasionally take a Facebook quiz if I have time for it to slow everything else down on my computer. I get a kick out of being told I must be a 20-something male from New York. I also like sites that Facebook introduces me to like the hipster business name generator. See? In real life, I am a young man in suspenders and Martin Scorsese glasses, opening a microbrewery in Brooklyn (The Mouse & Cabbage).

No, in real life I'm the same Sarah (not Amy) you've grown to know and love (or did already) who never posts without at least one picture of her little darlings. And to catch one of them in the act of rubbing a chunk of honeydew all over his tummy? Priceless.

The best thing I learned from Facebook this week was that punkster was added to the OED the year of my birth. I then looked up Brian's: nip and tuck. You know what? Go look up yours and add it in the comments. I want to know. Here's a link. Did you know foodie was added in 1980? That surprised me.

Speaking (metaphorically) of Facebook and vocabulary, I asked my friends if the b in clamber is silent or not (I thought it was). Not one of my blog friends who responded assumed I'd mixed up clamber and clamor. Nope those were my IRL friends who had serious doubts about my vocabulary and general knowledge. Thank you so much, bloggy friends, for your respect. And FYI, either pronunciation is acceptable so I will continue to pronounce clamber as a homophone of clamor. Actually, that's the best thing I learned from Facebook this week.

And now will clamber up this enormous pile of boulders to escape the wild dogs and the clamor they are making.

And you? Are you thankful?

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

FTSF: On My Last Day

On my last day, I want to dig in the earth until my fingernails are black.

I want to see the earthworms wriggle back into the darkness.

I want to see sprouts show their shiny, fresh faces. And golden buds their shy petals.

I want my muscles to stretch and strengthen and work until they they tremble.

I want to see dirt on my knees and bruises on my legs and scratches on my arms and know I did good, hard work.

I want to shiver and sweat and then drink a beer at the end of the day in a cool breeze.

I want to remember that nature's first green is gold. Even if it can't stay.

with hosts Kristi, Nicki, and Jena

At least today. Ask me again in summer...or fall...or winter.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Musings on Power and Those Who Wield (or Yield) It

It is said that if you work in an elementary school, the two most important people to make friends with are the administrative assistant and the custodian.

I've always gotten along better with the custodians.

It has been my experience that developing a beneficial relationship with the administrative assistant often requires a level of obsequiousness that makes my insides squirm into rebellion. When I was fresh new teacher, I couldn't do it at all. I was still solid in the moral absolute that says any demonstration of signs of friendship you don't truly feel is a lie to avoid at all costs. I mean, I was perfectly polite. I just wasn't...political.

Then I grew up.

I've known administrative assistants that are purely professional, unruffleable women; some I'd swear are truly good people that turn b--chy when stressed; and one that is a truly horrible person who, through experience or plain inherent personality is downright cruel and shouldn't be allowed to work around children (but that's another story that I've already told).

But I've seen almost all I've ever worked with punish and reward teachers in an attempt to claim power in the relationship. For instance, at my last school we provided planning binders for our students. At the beginning of one year, the employee who previously ordered some of the necessary supplies for said binders had left the school the year before, and no one had thought to take up this ordering task. And all the teachers were left hanging. We all knew the administrative assistant had extras from the years before.

I happened into the office right behind another teacher who asked the administrative assistant if she had any extra supplies. She was sharply turned away. But because I had used my time to break down boxes and then made a friendly advance, I was told, "You know, I think I have some extra supplies from last year under my desk. You should take a look."

I had learned to finesse.

Disclaimer time: Of course there are thousands of lovely people who are administrative assistants at elementary schools in this world. My brush is wide, so wide. I apologize to you if you are one of these lovely people. But if you are, you know of the others so I hope you'll allow me my say.

I believe a certain type of person is attracted to the role of administrative assistant: someone who is inherently organized and appreciative of rules and order. Then this person is constantly bombarded by people who are not organized, not as appreciative of rules and order as she (or he). And this makes the administrative assistant crazy. Especially at the beginning and end of the school year. And the some really iffy power-struggling can appear (as above).

You know who else I lump in this rule-loving, power-grasping category? Flight attendants and other airline personnel. I just flew four straight hours to TX with a six- and three-year-old and then four straight hours back. My children were easier than the airline personnel.

On the way there:
Flight attendant: Is that a lap child? No? He needs to be buckled in; the plane is moving. (The plane was not moving.)
Me: I was hoping I could wait until the plane pulls away from the jetway. He's only three, and he'll have to be buckled in for four hours. 
Flight attendant: He must be buckled in now. The plane is moving. (The plane was not moving.)

On the way home:
Me: Hi! I need to get a tag for our stroller.
Airline employee puts on a sticky baggage tag, not the kind with the elastic band.
Me: Oh! I'm used to a different tag. Does this mean we'll pick this up at baggage claim instead of on the jetway?
Airline employee: This is the tag everyone always uses.
Me: Hmmm...I've never seen it used on a stroller before. Will we need to pick it up at baggage claim instead of on the jetway?
Airline employee (impatient): No. You will pick it up on the jetway after your flight. If you've never seen this before, everyone's been doing it wrong.

***Clearly, I've been helped by no one but cheerful incompetents for the last six years.

Later, boarding:
Airline employee: We'll let you board this time, but families are supposed to board between Boarding Sets A and B.
Me: But I have a boarding position of A41 here on my boarding pass.
Airline employee: Families board between A and B. (This had never been announced and I had been allowed to have get an earlier boarding position.)

***By the way, if Southwest think for a minute that I'll board later in the future because I have small children and they want me farther back on the plane, they've got another think coming. I'll board with my given boarding position, and they'll like it.

Flight attendant (from her position of making and delivering drinks): You should not have taken your child to the restroom right now; it's dangerous.
Me: Well, we had an emergency.
Flight attendant: It is not safe for you to leave your seat.
Me: Well, when given a choice between a child who pees her pants and bumpy walk, I choose the latter.

You know, I get the necessity of rules for air travel. It's dangerous. And there has to be some underlying structure for managing all the people in an airport. You know what else? I'm well-organized; my chosen profession is to teach bright, creative children who don't get the structure of language how to read and write. That's because I get rules and structure. I understand their role and their importance.

But come on, there's more gray in this world than there is black and white. Yes, you can count on or making a consistent sound most of the time; tch is almost always the correct spelling for /ch/ after a single, short vowel*; and if you're totally stumped and not yet a prolific writer, just start your topic sentence with There are... and you'll probably come up with something that gets the idea across.

But we're talking about human relationships here. Can't there be a little more of an assumption of the good in others? That people aren't asking questions just to get your goat, that mothers who don't buckle immediately or who weigh slight turbulence below the strong possibility of holding and comforting a urine-soaked six-year-old for three more flight hours still have some valid motherly impulses?

Yeah, I'm grumpy. I need a night's sleep.

* Don't throw such, which, and much at me. There are always exceptions!

TToT72: Spring Break In Photos

It's not springtime in TX without several hundred bluebonnet photos.

We're not skeered of Listeria!

I snapped this from the driver's seat. I never knew this sight was odd until I brought Brian to TX.

Another common highway sight. And with my cell phone, no less!

On the last day he summoned the guts to approach the friendly, singing dinosaur.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

FTSF: When Big Hair and Big Mums Were It

Fourteen hit smack in the middle of my awkward, notsureofwhoIam years.

When I was fourteen, I let my friends do my hair before my eighth grade school picture.

When I was fourteen, my Spindletop Swimming sweatshirt (that I still own and wear and you've probably seen in pics) was brand new and very red. And my grandparents gave me 42nd Street for my birthday.

When I was fourteen, my mother ran for mayor of my hometown and won!

When I was fourteen, my family vacationed in Italy for our Christmas (as it was called) Break.
Here I am in Verona.

When I was fourteen and a freshman in high school, I attended my one and only Homecoming with a date. It may have been an exercise in peer pressure, but at least I got my very own of one of the fabulous TX corsages. (Yellow) Jacket Pride!

As notsureofwhoIwas as I was in 1990, I can see a whole lot of who I am today in these experiences (or through the lessons I learned through them). Thanks to FTSF for providing me the opportunity to dig through my parents' photo albums once again!

with hosts Kristi, Kerri, and Dana

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

TToT71: Oh, Nostalgia

I got to rummaging about the basement boxes on Wednesday so I could illustrate my FTSF post, and as it goes, you know, I found all kinds of treasures. And I thought, well, since I'm traveling across the country with a six-year-old and a three-year-old on Friday and won't have much time to write my TToT post, let these items suffice. And because it might be kind of fun (not because I'm lazy), I'll post sans captions or explanations. If you're interested, ask, and I promise to answer.

I am thankful for happy memories. How about you?

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

FTSF: To Sarah For Courage

I was afflicted with allergies from an early age. I grew up in a humid, coastal area where molds thrived and so did my allergies. Sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes--like the commercial says, I muddled through allergy season. All year long.

When it came to my allergy prick test, I threw all restraint to the winds and hollered. I made such a racket that our family doctor, returning to his office from the nearby hospital, heard me and came rushing into his office building to find what kind of torture his nurses were inflicting.

My memory gets a little fuzzy regarding the weekly shots. I remember keeping up the screaming; my mother remembers stubbornness and resistance. Any way you slice it, I was not a model patient. And every week we had to go through it all over again.

Around this time, I made a comment to my mother about the number of trophies my older brother possessed compared the number I did (none). My brother had several successful Little League seasons under his belt at that point, and I only had one miserable season of tee ball in which I closed my eyes before swinging at the ball each and every time.

My mother, clever and sympathetic woman that she is, saw her opportunity. She told me I could earn a trophy if I could shape up for my allergy shot for ten weeks in a row.

Willpower and motivation, I tell ya.

The thing is, when you take that much trouble to tell your timid, extremely sensitive, overly emotional child she's courageous, she believes it. She holds on to that trophy and certainty for thirty years, and when she thinks to dig it out of the bottom box in the farthest corner back behind the water heater in the basement, she thinks, Huh, this is worth displaying, and sets in the mantel.

with hosts Kristi and Allison and Allison