When I was a kid

Acceptable and unacceptable eye rolls, your own experiences vs. your kid's present and future, and why military bases aren't the always the worst

I will spare us all a blow by blow from last night's school district community meeting about the boundaries because 1) you don't care and 2) nothing new happened. More tone deaf gobbledygook from the district, though I suppose it did reach an impressive new level of condescension, much of which, disappointingly, came from the involved principals. I guess the new thing is that I went from "assuming we've lost and wanting to burn things down" to "whoa, there are a LOT more people pissed off about this now, maybe we still have a chance?" So. 

(What I really want to rant about is the exhortations from the future principal of the "overconcentrated" school to "just believe!" and "think positive!" and "trust us!" as if we are idiot children who think a substandard crappy building will also be full of horrible teachers who will lock up the disadvantaged and underserved children in kennels for six hours a day while they snarf down donuts in the staff room and play Candy Crush. But I already wrote an incredibly bitchy (for me) comment on a local school blog about that and now it's out of my system. Well, not really. But I'm TRYING HERE, OK?)

There is one parent who made the same comment I've heard her make a few times now, and it always makes me think. Her child will be assigned to the substandard school building (mine won't) and she's mainly trying to make peace with it. So she stood up and told the district folks that that neighborhood is exploding in population and what's to say that this tiny neighborhood school won't be instantly overcrowded within a year or two and the boundaries will have to be redrawn all over again? She wants stability, community, and a place where her son will make "lifelong friendships". And I thought: HUH!

Because honestly, the "having to pull a kid out of second grade and send him to another for third grade" is not at all what I find scandalous about this whole situation. And I would bet this parent wouldn't rank it at the top either - she's firmly on the side of This Shouldn't Be Happening. But that's the added consideration for her and, I know, tons of other parents who are facing the redrawn boundaries in all of North Seattle. They are all about not "disrupting" kids and making sure they have "stability". I'm sure a lot of MY unconcern and lack-of-thinking on the topic has to do with the fact that my kids will stay in the same place. But as I thought more about it I also realized how much of my own background has to do with my perspective. How every time I hear a parent talk about "lifelong friendships" I involuntarily (nor do I stop myself) roll my eyes. 

The summer between fourth and fifth grade I moved to a new school in an entirely different country. I did it again between sixth and seventh grades, including the new country part. And again between ninth and tenth grades, to a school in, you guessed it, another new country! (Well, actually, one of the countries I'd already lived in. But the opposite end. Eh.) Andthe  community I was in during those years, that was, like, hardly moving at all. Those military families had been moving every 2 years their whole military lives. My friends had lived in ninety-seven different places before I met them. What stability? 

Which is not to say that I think switching schools and moving and a life that gets turned on end every couple of years is no big. None of those moves were easy ones. And now that I can look back with an adult's eyes, I have more understanding for behavior and attitudes I encountered from my fellow students, especially in high school. I have often thought friendships that began in elementary school would be amazing to have, especially when I was a very lonely college freshman and my roommate had a gang of insta-friends from her high school to do things with. (Of course I thought this was way lame at the time. HIGH SCHOOL. SNORT.) It would be so fun to have peers who knew me way back when, instead of, say, my PE teacher from 2nd grade who stayed friends with my parents all that time. 

But I think there is also a lot to be said for Something New, and I think if capacity issues (which are huge and real in our district) required my kids going to a new school, I don't THINK I'd freak out about it. I probably would freak, but more for my own self (having to get to know a whole new school/principal/teachers/system) than the kids. Last year Molly didn't stay with the cohort of 2nd graders who'd been mostly kept together since kindergarten because the parents (and kids) were so happy and gelled together. She made new friends in her new class and this year she's back with much of that cohort, but also knows all the OTHER kids. Granted this is Molly, the most easy going child on earth, but this would have been good for Jack too. I shared this with a parent friend who is upset with the class her daughter is in this year in hopes of encouraging her. Sometimes change is really good. 

I see, though, that this is me looking back at my experience and thinking, "I turned out okay!" (RIGHT?) I am actually often wowed by the idea that my kids WON'T move, that they'll live HERE and be from HERE and won't be 25 or 30 until they feel like they're FROM somewhere. My kids are going to have a completely different experience! WHOA! (An eye roll here WOULD be appropriate.) 

One thing I DO feel strongly about is the experience of attending diverse and equitable schools. There was ONE school and EVERYONE went to it. We were all different ethnicities and races, and while there were socioeconomic factors, the base commander's kids went to the same school as the lowest NCO's kids and everyone partook of the same resources and offerings. The first time I realized this was my first week on the University of Washington campus. There were tons of white kids, more Asian kids than I'd ever seen in my life, and the handful of black students were all, as far as I could tell, athletes. Were there Hispanics? No idea. I remember calling my dad and babbling incoherently about it. (And then my best friend from high school, a Filipino-Chinese guy who went to Berkeley came up to visit me and and marveled about my "whitey" campus. Which - could there BE more Asian people at a campus? APPARENTLY SO.) 

I don't know that American Department of Defense schools overseas are the model of integrated funded schools (hello, your taxpayer dollars funded many foreign country crazy fun extracurricular trips for me, thank you) but it does give you a certain frame of reference. 

Because I went to those schools I also got to go to very small schools where everyone knew you (it helped, perhaps, that your parents were teachers). And if I got to choose for my kids, they'd go to very small schools. Our school has grown from 250 to 350 and next year the brand new school can fit 660. It's not my ideal, but we live in Seattle where the reality is that there is no space for a whole bunch of small schools and maybe not even enough space and funding to build the giant schools we need. I don't want to live in Small Town, WA so this is the trade off we make. I may have had the opportunity to play sports AND do drama AND be on the student council AND be in the band AND pretty much everything else my high school offered, but I hear the giant local high schools will have way more opportunities and pathways not to mention all different kinds of people than the tiny somewhat stifling 50-person graduating class I had. 

Speaking of high school - moving during high school was probably the Premier Formative Event in my personal history and I probably will do everything I can to make it so my kids don't have to switch high schools because it was so miserable for me. Does this negate everything I said above? Hopefully not - even if my kids had to move high schools, it wouldn't be the same experience I had. It could be worse (but I think because it wouldn't also be in a new country with all new everything and where everyone's dad is off bombing Bosnia a few times a week and a Thick Dark Existential Fog hangs over the community it would be easier... but I digress.) 

ANYWAY. The fact that Seattle Public Schools is, in essence, creating a segregated school FROM SCRATCH remains utterly scandalous, in my opinion, and yes, my own experience colors this and I need to be more understanding and open to the other reasons other people object to it. I need to save all my eye rolling for principals cautioning us to "speak positively" about the decision, even though THEY are the ones creating the negative environment, not ME. FTLOG. 

I don't really know if I made a point, if I was trying to make a point, or if I was exploring my own convoluted thoughts on a convoluted subject AS PER USUAL. I've just noticed this idea has come up in my brain more than a few times and sometimes getting it out on virtual paper at least reminds me that I told myself my thinking should expand. I  have now spent all of preschool time writing this instead of writing the most interesting PTA newsletter on earth, YOU'RE WELCOME. 

 


No school tomorrow

Until I went to college, nearly every adult I knew was either a teacher or in the United States Air Force. All my parents' friends were teachers, and all my friends' parents were in the military. While I think living on military bases overseas exposed me to a great diversity of people, all of those people worked for the same dude: The Government. Systems of promotion and raises and time off were pretty standard across the board. And while I was absolutely certain I did not want to be in the military and fairly certain I did not want to be a teacher, I didn't have a whole lot of ideas about what I COULD be. (Seriously, until I decided to get married, my best guess for my future was teaching English in Europe somewhere - maybe the best of both teaching/military worlds!) 

So it's been PRETTY FREAKING WEIRD to ride shotgun along Phillip's career, a path that's taken us down a mostly Big Time Corporate Tech Dude territory. Unfortunately for him, I was never career-oriented, being mainly concerned with just making enough money to travel. I don't think he was particularly hard core on career until we had Jackson, though, and since I was very happy staying at home, he had the space and also the pressure to actually DO this work thing. And that's when Work became WORK. 

But even before it was WORK, Phillip's perspectives on it were so different than mine. I used to chalk it up to White/Asian stuff, which a lot of it was (and is!), but it's also about what our own parents did and the other adults we knew growing up. My adults were teachers/soldiers. His were white collars on corporate ladders. Before we had kids I would rant about people who couldn't leave work at work, who traveled too much, who answered every email at any time of day, who cared too much about (ugh) money. 

Little did I know that I MARRIED one of those people. HA! And THANK GOD. Want to live in Seattle and have kids and a house and maybe dinner out once in a while? YOU NEED A JOB.

Phillip has spent GOBS of time strategizing his next career move. It's amazing. I STILL come from a place where you want to be a thing and you become that thing and you do that thing and hopefully you're paid enough to do the fun stuff you want to do in your life and that's pretty much it. Phillip thinks that's nuts. Phillip's dad likes to say, "You always have to be thinking about the next job!" Which *I* think is nuts. My husband's crafty strategizing, his willingness to take advantage of opportunities, his annoying work ethic, and his NO FEAR for asking for raises/promotions is amazing. Even if I WERE career-oriented, I'm positive I'd be far behind him, terrified as I am of promoting myself or asking for anything. I do a lot of leaning OUT, people. 

He's now at a company he's wanted to work for for a long time. He's happy there, happy to be part of this big Seattle tech thing that's happening. And I'm happy for him, even if the t-shirts and morale-building emails make me want to barf a little bit. (They don't just make a product, you guys, they make a way of life.) He's a devoted employee AND likes his job, which is mind blowing to me, someone who has NEVER liked an office job. And also, again, THANK GOD.

ANYWAY. My whole point of writing this. I'm getting to it. It's been a brain twist for me, or like a REWORKING of ideas I've always had, that you could go to work for a company and maybe move around within it, doing different jobs. You could RISE. And as you did that, you had frequent conversations about your performance, what you could be doing better, what you're awesome at, and what your compensation should be. You don't just wait around for the next across the board pay raise for your chosen career, you don't just hope things will be different that year, you negotiate it. If you're Phillip, you do a crap ton of research on nine million websites, develop your self sales pitch, and ask for more. Because you CAN. You might GET it. 

And you know what I feel like Seattle teachers are doing? This is their self sales pitch. This is their "Look. We are incredible assets to the company and we have sat around waiting for this company to get its shit together for too long." There is not one thing on the list of things that Seattle teachers are striking for that I disagree with. Or don't want for my own kids. 

There ARE crappy teachers out there. I KNOW. You can't have two teachers for parents and know all the other teachers by their first names and not be aware of some REALLY CRAPPY TEACHERS. But the teachers I know and love are crazy amazing people. The teachers at my kids' school especially. I'm serious. I don't know all of them, but I have a pretty good sense of the camaraderie at that school, the devotion to their students, the heart they have for the work they do, and the extra miles they go out of school. There are several stories I can't share here, but they feature teachers who made school families part of their families when it was most needed. We are not a Catholic school like I hoped to go to, we are not a private school which a lot of people choose since supposedly Seattle schools are so terrible, we are not a gifted kids school, or even an average neighborhood school - my kids' school is over 70% free lunch. There were three and a half white kids in Jack's class (Jack was the half). The kids at our school have names I can't pronounce because they were born in different countries. Our school doesn't even try to have an auction or a carnival because the volunteer base isn't there. Creating community in that school is hard work, but I LOVE my kids' school and that is almost wholly because the teachers have made it a wonderful place to be, for both parents and kids. I 100% support them striking for more recess, less testing, and equity for students of all backgrounds and I 1000% support them for asking their bosses for appropriate compensation for HARD WORK. 

 


When I used to have a job (and dreaded it)

When I was out doing the kindergarten and preschool rounds this morning my old boss from 10-ish years ago popped up on my cell phone. I worked for him 3? 4? years? I should know this. And when I moved on I stayed in the same industry so I saw him often, plus he was, by then, kind of like your crotchety uncle who is secretly a big fat softie inside and gives you a giant check for high school graduation. 

It was just him and me and his dog in our tiny downtown office. He was a lobbyist and flew around and talked on the phone; I did absolutely everything else. He once yelled at me (like my DAD yelling at me, which is TERRIBLE) for getting his flight reservations wrong. Like, I was terrified to go to work the next day. He's been suspicious of Phillip ever since he didn't give me an engagement ring (LONG STORY!), but he went to my wedding, has met all my children, writes to me every Christmas, and takes me out to lunch when he's in town. But I haven't talked to him in forever. And he didn't leave a message. And he called TWICE. eep!

Anyway, when I got home I had an email from him inviting me to an industry lunch we used to go to every year, where I once won a giant television in a raffle (he paid for my raffle tickets). I am at once touched, delighted, and horrified. WHAT? No. I am not going to that lunch. Even as his now mid-thirties all-grown-up-now former assistant who can pay for her own raffle tickets this time, thankyouverymuch. 

There are just SO MANY THINGS I regret from that time, it would just be SO... I don't know! He implied that most of "the old gang" would be there, so a lot of the Important and Not So Important People I used to work with and talk to and I always felt so SUBSERVIENT to them, so insignificant and dumb and unpretty and a total utter failure at the Schmoozing that happens at those events. 

I worked super hard. Especially after I messed up those plane tickets, man. I didn't always have a lot to do there (or at my next job), but I tried my absolute hardest to get everything right the first time, to be the quickest, most efficient, most reliable, on-top-of-everything Girl Friday. And I think I succeeded, for the most part. I knew I was lacking in social graces, I knew I was easily intimidated, I knew my looks didn't exactly recommend me (this was an old boys' club, sigh), and I was just SO AWARE of being BELOW everyone else. (This is long before I knew I was a Three on the Enneagram, obvs. IT EXPLAINS SO MUCH!) So I made myself, in every way I knew how, indispensable. Like, that's what was going to make me valuable.

All of those people were SO kind to me. Some of them wrote me recommendations, some of them got me work other places, many of them gave me advice. The industry, which never interested me, was full of really tremendous, generous (and fun loving) people. When I look back I can see them affirming me, inviting me into their groups, treating me like a grown up, but I don't ever remember thinking I WAS a grown up, equal to them in any way. And to think about seeing all of them again? Errrr...

No, I think I will go. I think I will go because I love my old boss and it'd be a good time and it's a fundraiser for a great organization and because I know that ultimately all my old insecurities were bigger in my head than they were in real life. I'll go because I think it'd be fun to actually see some of those people again and while they may loom large in my memories I most likely occupy negative space in theirs. 

Besides, even if I was a very anxious, uptight, all-business 20 something, I like myself much more as a 30 something. I am more than happy in my job. I am more creative, more productive, more comfortable, more ME than I ever was working with that crowd. I have three kids, I have a sense of humor, I know now that I'm worth getting to know. 

If nothing else, maybe I'll win another TV.


Those weren't the best years

The most interesting thing about today happened when I was sitting in my car waiting for Jack's preschool to get out. Molly and Emma and I had spent the whole morning running around town - delivering food to a new mom, mailing packages, trolling the mall for junk jewelry (priorities!) - and we were a bit early for preschool pick up, but not early enough to go home. So I parked, took Emma out of the car seat to feed her, gave Molly my phone and prepared to just sit for 15 or 20 minutes. 

I'd noticed there were extra traffic cones set up in the parking lot (the morning drop off logistics are sort of nightmarish), but I easily maneuvered around them and I'd parked in an unusual spot for me - right in the middle of everything. So when a class of sixth or seventh graders started spilling out of one of the portables I had an excellent view. 

They were accompanied by a dude I instantly recognized as the PE teacher, on account of him being the only Dude Teacher in the school. He's youngish, maybe my age, and on this cold misty day he was dressed like a True Seattleite, by which I mean he looked like a walking REI ad. He's also kind of cute and I imagine the middle school girls don't particularly mind going to PE. 

Anyway, they all gathered in a spot directly in front of my car (but not so close that they noticed me) and I saw that the teacher had a stop watch. And yes, minutes later, half the group lined up on one of the painted parking lot lines. I heard the teacher say something about "seven times" and "let's DO this thing!" and then he exaggeratedly pressed the stop watch button. 

And WHOOSH! Those kids took off like someone was running after them with a bat. A short skinny boy easily bust out of the pack and was practically done with the first lap by the time I realized they were running the mile. Maybe for that Presidential Fitness Test thing - do they still have that? He was bright red after the first lap, but didn't slow down. He slapped hands with most of the boys standing around in the second group and kept going. 

There were a handful of boys and a few girls in a clump behind him. Then came the stragglers, the boys and girls who looked as though they might rather die, or at least be doing homework. At the very end of the pack was a Big Girl. You know the type. Heavier, taller than everyone else, but this girl was running. Like, actually running. Not shuffling along like some of the slackers in front of her, no, she was moving and huffing and trying. Really trying. 

Pretty soon the short skinny boy lapped her and my heart started to ache. I kept an eye on her, craning my neck around the parking lot to see if she stopped. She didn't - at least not for the first two laps. She was incredibly slow, but she was working. I started to feel oddly proud of her, especially when I noticed the teacher slapping hands with the faster boys and shouting encouragement at them, but always in conversation with one of the kids on the sidelines when a slower kid passed through. 

There was a girl with a clipboard watching the big girl, hollering at her. In a good way- the big girl had at least one cheerleader. The short skinny boy lapped her twice three times. He always held his fingers out when he crossed the starting line so I knew what lap he was on. The big girl was still dead last, but still powering through.

Every time she got close to the kids on the sidelines she started running full speed. I wanted to pull her over and be all, "HEY. Here are the things I've learned about running. Number One: PACE YOURSELF.

The short skinny boy finished his seven laps and threw himself dramatically against the side of the portable, sliding down against it and resting his head on his knees. A few other kids finished and my heart ached even more. I wasn't ever the biggest or most awkward girl in my grade, but I remember being the slowest - or at least feeling that way. The humiliations never end in middle school. IT GETS BETTER, 32-year-old me wanted to shout, the force of true empathy jolting me from my car and into the parking lot.

"Who's that old lady," the kids would ask themselves. "And why is she yelling at us?"

I was tensing up for big girl, prepared to think good thoughts for her position as the last one running in. I was so impressed with her, because she still tried to run where it seemed like a handful of kids had just given up and were strolling around the parking lot track talking to each other. Go big girl, go! I thought to myself...

...when she passed through the starting line and stopped, apparently finished. And I would bet barrels of money and my brand new couch that she wasn't. 

I watched her for a little bit, walking it off, her hands on her hips. I watched the other kids shuffle across the line. I watched the teacher gather them all up, then send the second batch of kids to the line and press the stop watch button again. I passed in between as I went to fetch Jack from his classroom, not one of them paying the least bit of attention to the grown up with the little girl and the little baby and the worried frown.  

 


Even you know how to give good gifts

I have this little Brush With Fame that I'm SURE I've told you about, but I am going to tell you all over again. So! In case you were unaware, I was a Budding Thespian in my youth. For reals! I can't really picture my parents doing this, but when I was five years old they let me try out for the Christmas play at the army base somewhat far away-ish from us. And I got a part! (My mother says this is because I was the most well-behaved child there, although I prefer to think it was because of my Budding Thespianism.) 

The play was an adaptation of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and I was "Juanita", AKA Baby Angel #3. Hello Stardom!

I have many clear memories of this experience, from drinking myself sick on Swiss Miss cocoa backstage, to crawling underneath the lobby Christmas tree and breaking a bunch of ornaments, to watching the mother of Alice Wendleken curl her gorgeous blond hair in her dressing room. For a five-year-old, it was a Blast And A Half.

Somewhat later - maybe that year? Maybe the next? - Barbara Robinson, the woman who wrote this GENIUS Christmas story, visited my elementary school. She was going to read to the sixth graders, but because I was a well-behaved child, not to mention totally utterly spoiled by every teacher and staff person at my elementary school (on account of all of them being on a first name basis with my parents who used to teach at the same school) I was pulled out of class all special-like to sit in on the reading. I remember sitting with a teacher or two, maybe the librarian, away from the sixth graders but with an excellent view of Ms. Robinson, a Real! Live! Author! (I was also, obvs, a Budding Author.) 

Afterwards there was an opportunity to have Ms. Robinson sign our books. I have no idea if I actually owned the book or if someone bought me a copy or what, but growing up I had, on my personal bookshelf, an autographed paperback copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I remember watching her sign it, and feeling a tiny bit foolish when I told her I played "Juanita" and she laughed, since there is no "Juanita" in the book. 

I don't have this book anymore. I SUSPECT I left it at my parents' house when I moved away to college. I don't remember taking many books with me when I moved back to the states, at least. And now that my parents live here I haven't seen it in any of their bookshelves. It's lost, misplaced, given away. It's certainly not the biggest deal in the world, but it DOES bum me out when I think about it, and I DO mention it when I refer to my Budding Thespianism, or any conversation about meeting your favorite authors. 

I was having such a conversation with a friend a few months back. A simple, silly, "ha ha, I was a BABY ANGEL", blah blah blah, "sure wish I still had that book" story that eventually moved on to things like "is there any more wine" and "how do we get our kids to listen to us, FTLOG!" You know, the normal stuff. And then last week I opened my mailbox and there was a small package inside: a used book from a used bookseller, a hardcover copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, with the original illustrations, and autographed by Barbara Robinson. 

My heart, it grew so many sizes. 

This friend knows how to give good gifts. This was not the first good gift I've received from her, not the first gift where she remembered a conversation or something I mentioned admiring or something I longed for. These aren't expensive flashy gifts, they're thoughtful. Gifts that show that you are known - those are the best kind. 

I, on the other hand, am a terrible gift giver. Oh, I have my moments. Sometimes I can come up with some pretty great ideas for other people's gift giving dilemmas. Every once in a while I, too, will remember The Thing that will make the perfect gift. Months before her birthday I made a mental note of the moment my sister said something about wishing she had a "From The Library of Ms. Lastname" stamp for her classroom books. I was RATHER proud of myself. But just as often I buy my mother a sweater than doesn't fit, a friend a random string of jewelry I'm just hoping she likes. Worse yet I don't remember to GIVE gifts. How many new babies have I neglected? Even when their mothers have showered me with out-of-the-blue treats and gifts. And how many just-thinking-of-you packages have I thought of to send, and never got around to it? (SO, SO MANY. Sorry, Internet Friends.) 

I worry, because I know for a lot of people, Presents are how they know they are loved and remembered. But we are not all fabulous gift givers. I have one friend who - I'm just going to say it! - is quite possibly a worse gift giver than me. But you know, she is super fabulous, the best I know, at taking care of you when you're down. Cleaning your messy spaces, feeding you, entertaining you, watching your kids, giving of her time and energy to physically help you out of your funk. It's a HUGE gift, and yet another kind that I am terrible at giving. But it does give me hope that I am giving as well, in my own way. 

I wish I was the aunt who sends silly holiday-themed treats in the mail. I would love to be the friend who spies the perfect Etsy birthday gift. I wish I could MAKE things, I wish I could bring delicious dinners, I wish I was even halfway AWARE of what other people are needing at whatever point in their lives. 

Instead I love - I know how - to write to you, to tell you how much I love and appreciate you, to make sure that you know that I know you, and I feel as much as you wanted me to feel about your gift. I love to write an embarrassingly mushy card, an email that perhaps betrays too much, a line in an instant message conversation that solemnly declares that I love that I know you, that I'm so thankful just for that.


Revenge

Well, I don't know about you but I'm about ready to toss this week in the garbage. There were a handful of bright spots, notably the smashing success that was preschool orientation and Phillip's birthday dinner and, hmm, I think I bought something on Etsy. But other than that it's been one mess of cranky, sassy, food-wasty, grumpypants. With a lot of comfort carb-loading in the evenings because dude, I deserve it. 

These days have been the kind of days where I'm totally doing okay, I really am, I am making dinner and using my pleasant Mommy voice and fulfilling twenty-seventh requests for snacks and drinks and toys and books and help with the potty. And I am doing those things EVEN THOUGH they're doing their whole Selectively Deaf charade and embarrassing me in front of friends and throwing freaky deaky tantrums in the car (MOLLY) and responding to my every instruction with "No! I just BLAH BLAH BLAH" (JACK) and people I should be on my second bottle of wine by 5pm not making dinner. 

BUT I DO. And I haven't been drinking the wine! (Partly because - news flash - the cheapest wine at the grocery store ($3.99!) tastes like pavement!) 

BUT THEN. Then! Each day has contained A Straw. The straws are USUALLY food-related, though not always. Yesterday's straw was when both kids asked for yogurt, then, when said yogurts were placed in front of them, stared at the yogurts as though they had never SEEN yogurt before, what IS this disgusting substance doing anywhere near them, do we need to call hazmat? The day before that had something to do with picking up toys. The day before that? Someone's insistence on "do it myself!" and whatever we were doing taking nine hundred years longer. I'm not - news flash - terribly patient. 

TODAY'S straw was when I attempted to implement the New Dinnertime Policy which I stole directly from the comments, lest anyone accuse me of ignoring the comments or not responding to them or, say, writing them myself under different accounts. AHEM. The New Dinnertime Policy is as follows: You Must Eat At Least One Of Everything On Your Plate. aka You Must Try Everything On Your Plate. aka You Must Have At Least One Bite Of Everything On Your Plate. HOWEVER IT GETS UNDERSTOOD. This satisfies 1) Phillip's compulsion desire that the children eat their vegetables and 2) my desperate prayer desire not to turn every meal into a "Just have one more bite of this!" "One more bite and you can do this!" "Eat this and you can have dessert!" "Let's have just one! more! bite!" AD NAUSEUM. 

So tonight I gave them ravioli, bread, watermelon and peas. Ravioli with RED sauce, I should say. Not as common as white sauce in our house, but I've had fairly good success with filled pasta (we call tortellini doughnut noodles, FYI) and Molly, at least, and if she's in The Right Mood, will eat almost anything. Oh! AND! I let them eat at the little table in front of the TV because 1) Phillip was out and therefore I am Allowed To Be Lazy and 2) they almost always eat better if they're watching TV. SUE ME. 

Molly takes one bite of ravioli, then decides she is no longer a fan, then sucks up the watermelon and peas (which are frozen, the preferred style) and the bread and demands more of each.

Jack sloooooooowly eats his bread. Then he sloooooooowly puts one ravioli on his fork, but the ravioli with the least amount of sauce. He does not touch the watermelon, which I know he at least likes. He does not go anywhere near the peas. Surprise! 

Fine, fine, but after a while I decide it's time to implement the At Least One Of Everything Rule and that means One Pea. ONE PEA. After multiple suggestions, some coaxing, some stern wording and finally a Time Out threat, Jack says, quite like he's referring to Disneyland, "I want to go sit in Time Out!" 

That was THE STRAW. 

Okay, so the end of the story is that I won, he eventually came back to the table and ate, get this, FIVE PEAS, but I had to go get the frozen ones because by this time his peas were "soft". And then at 8pm he ate all the leftover ravioli, but only with butter and cheese because he didn't want "ketchup". 

Which, okay, I hate it, it's so much work, it feels like everyone else's kid eats FOOD why won't my kid eat FOOD. And I look at Molly, who is getting pickier about eating, but in strange and varied ways, like the other night at my in-laws' she ate ONLY broccoli for dinner. And I give them the same food, the same amounts of food, etc. SO WHAT'S UP?

And then today, as I watched my kid eat his plain ravioli, sans ketchup, I thought about how my mother and grandmother would reserve a bowl of plain spaghetti for me before they smothered the rest with tomato sauce, and how I would dress my bowl with melted butter and Parmesan and how I did this until I was in college. How I never ate a tomato. How I was scared to move to Italy because all I knew about Italian food was tomato sauce. How totally grossed out I was when my dad forced us to go to a Chinese restaurant every summer. How salad meant lettuce and Ranch dressing. How much time I spent picking things like peas and carrots and other random green things out of whatever I was served. How I am still pretty picky - carrots, goat cheese, cilantro, onions, slimy seafood, and MOST tomato sauces are on My List - but how now I LOVE Chinese food and CRAVE dim sum and GROW vegetables in my YARD and not just for FUN. 

I remember sitting at the dinner table, age eleven, and my father informing my sisters and me that we would not be allowed to leave the table until we ate a green bean. One. Green. Bean. I believe I eventually swallowed mine with milk. I'm pretty sure one of my sisters sat at that table until it was time to go to bed. 

So I look at my kid and think, maybe I'm not necessarily doing it wrong, maybe there's no Answer. Maybe this is just what my dad meant when he said, in that menacing tone of his, that One Day I'd Have Children Of My Own. 


Have you hugged your best friend today?

I am not the best friend. 

I'm not very good at helping, for one thing. You know those people who bring meals or clean up the dishes or watch kids? They suggest they do these things before you even hope that they'll offer? Yeah, I'm not one of those. I will bring you lasagna, but more like a month or two after you've had your baby, and chances are it won't be very good, because I'm talentless in the kitchen. 

I hardly ever know the right thing to say. I know people who do. They're amazing. When they listen it's like they're tuned into the right station, the one where you are saying exactly what you mean and everyone understands you. They hear what you mean for for them to hear, and the things they say are the things you need. I'm the one who listens, who listens hard, but who can't figure out which of the nine thousand things I'm thinking and feeling is the one that needs to come out. So most of the time I say nothing. Or I murmur sympathetically. I'm pretty good at that.

I'm selfish with my time. Sometimes I'm available, but I don't want to go anywhere. Or talk to anyone. I'm an introvert, albeit a pretty social one (it's possible!), and I'm hardly ever unhappy with my own company. I can find a million things to do on my own and it's a long time before I miss the sound of someone else's voice. I jealously guard my free hours. I'm discerning with my weekends. I love you, but I don't need to hang out with you all the time. 

I'm awkward in groups. I would rather - SO much rather - hang out with Just You, than you and other people. I can't compete with them. I know I'm not the best friend, so I need to maximize my opportunities. That's really all it is, you know. I'm at my best with Just You. I can sit and talk to Just You for hours, honestly. But when there are others around, I get anxious. Sometimes it's really fun, so I keep trying. But sometimes it's exhausting. Sometimes I come home feeling so out of sorts, so disappointed, so confused about how it all worked out. 

I'm a dork, too. Everyone has their dork subjects, I know, but I tend to think mine are dorkier than yours. Practically no one I know blogs, yet I can wax rhapsodic on Blogs, my Blog Friends, my Favorite Reads, and The Latest Blogging Gossip until your ears bleed. I'm sorry. It's awful. Same goes for whatever stupid thing I'm currently hooked on, like the enneagram or that article in the New Yorker or that new thing I learned how to do with CSS or that earthshakingly important revelation I had while packing up my grandmother's china. Sometimes I'm trying to find out if you're a dork too and sometimes you are and that is a happy moment indeed. Other times I just feel like a... dork. 

I am, I know, all sorts of other things I don't even know to name. 

I'm not as unhelpful and silent and withdrawn and awkward and dorky as I used to be. I feel like I know what people mean, now, about getting to know yourself. There's a difference now, there is. I'm no longer afraid to show myself. I can handle it. And I don't worry about that label 'best friend'. I don't have to figure out which friend is my best one. I don't have to figure out which friend thinks I'm her best. Honestly, the last time I had a best friend was three schools ago. 

But I have best friends. I do. I have this group of women who - and I honestly and truly believe this - God was saving up for me way back when I was a lonely unhappy fifteen-year-old kid, with plenty of friends, none of them good, sitting in her bedroom closet praying for a real friend. A best friend.

If only I'd known that on my third day on campus I'd get a knock on my door inviting me to a new student barbecue and twelve years later we'd be driving somewhere and she'd say, "When we're old, we should totally get rooms next to each other in the nursing home." That when my first child is born and my mom is halfway across the world, my dishes get done, my refrigerator gets filled, I'll shower and nap without even noticing how it happened, certainly without having asked for help. That we'll almost miss our flight because we're so busy talking. That when she moves back home I'll feel like my arm is chopped off, and I'll cry like it too. That there will be a wedding I can't even imagine not attending.

These people help. They know the right thing to say. I am not afraid of being the third wheel, because there's no such thing. They bring me out of my awkwardness. They tolerate and even engage the dorkness. They are nicer and better people, more likeable and friendlier and, let's face it, so much better looking than I am. So yeah, I am not a best friend, but I am inexplicably blessed to know people who are. 

I hope you have a few of these in your life too. Bonus points if they are the types to not pass judgment if you spend every hour of your 48-hour girls' weekend away stuffing your face with assorted baked goods.  


I wanted a better story

I've been writing a lot, which is good, since I certainly haven't been doing laundry or vacuuming or working out. I have this whole Anniversary of Hot By Thirty post floating in my head and I do fear it's not going to be as flattering and laudatory of my cumulative efforts as I'd like. But I've been writing and spending a bit more thinking time in my made up world and I tell you that to maybe help explain the rest of this post, to which you will surely respond with loud snorts and giant eye rolls. 

I wasn't going to write about it, but the day sort of demands it, I think. Or tomorrow night, rather, which is the night my First Real Boyfriend will be in town playing a show at some local bar, to which I was invited. VIA FACEBOOK. 

Most of us have First Real Boyfriends, right? And we are all allowed some amount of irrational and semi-ridiculous angst about these first boyfriends, right? I mean, if we HAVE irrational and semi-ridiculous angst. Some of us are above these things, I know, but I will just tell you right now: I AM NOT. 

So First Real Boyfriend was this exceedingly cocky and confident 16-year-old guy and why he wanted to date my exceedingly insecure and naive 14-year-old self remains a mystery. He made me incredibly nervous, but he was persistent and a lot more honest, forthright and in possession of a larger vocabulary than any other guy I knew, so, well, you know. Barf. I know. Right now my mother is reading this and wondering how she raised a daughter who writes about this on the INTERNET. Have I no SHAME?

ANYWAY. I started dating this guy in, like, February or something and as soon as school was out my family was moving. So the whole "relationship" was Fraught With Angst from the get go. I have no idea where my journals are from those years but I bet they are full of excellent material. All sorts of blissful and terrible and ultimately unimportant things happened during those months, and then I moved. CUE THE DRAMA!

Okay! So! It is well documented here that the year we moved was The Worst Year Ever and I'm not PROUD but neither am I ASHAMED to say that was in part because I missed First Real Boyfriend a whole bunch. I think we wrote a letter or two, but other than that, this extremely horribly embarrassingly significant event in my life was KAPUT. 

OH THE WOE.

Now! When you go to school on American military bases overseas, NO ONE GOES HOME AGAIN. Everyone is from everywhere else and everyone's parents move on or move home and when you go home for Christmas break? NO ONE ELSE IS THERE. So I knew the chances of seeing this guy again (and anyone else I hoped to reunite with) were nil. My parents, being teachers and civilians, stayed where I went to high school about ninety-seven times longer than anyone else, and the only people I saw again after graduating were other teachers' kids. Who weren't even really my friends, but BECAME my friends for a week or two every year out of convenience. You just don't see people again. They disappear. You are left with Wondering. 

And I wondered a lot. 

He wasn't the only person I wondered about, but he was one of the big ones, and OH YES I took to Googling when Googling became a thing that you could do. And this is how I found out that First Real Boyfriend LIVED IN SEATTLE OMG. 

AND he was in a band. AND I knew where his band was playing. Which meant (OBVS) I COULD GO SEE HIM. And you KNOW I considered this. Some of these venues were places I'd actually been to. I could just show up. I could pretend to not have any idea he was there! IT COULD HAPPEN!

But it didn't, because even I am not that ridiculous. 

After a while it just became a Thing That I Knew. First Real Boyfriend lived in Seattle, played in a band, blah blah blah. Maybe I would run into him on the street or in a restaurant or whatever, maybe not. I was extremely proud of myself for this grown up behavior, you guys. No more high schoolish pining and daydreaming, not even any for-curiosity's-sake wondering. Honest! And one day I Googled again (do not tell me you do not use Google for nefarious purposes, I won't believe you anyway) and found out he'd moved away. Astoundingly enough, this did not disappoint me in the least. Tra la la!

But then. THEN. 

A few weeks ago. Out of the deep, vast, giant blue. I open up Facebook, which I am trying to use more often (WHY? I DON'T KNOW). I notice I have a friend request and a little part of me dies inside, because lately all my friend requests are from high school and while it's wicked fun to find THEM, I don't really want them to find ME. But this friend request is not just from high school, it's from WAY BACK in high school. It's First Real Boyfriend. 

That's it. Just a friend request. No note. No email. No "Hey, what's up!" No "Great to find you!" Definitely no "I've been wondering what happened to you for fifteen years, I missed you so much after you moved, LIFE WAS NEVER THE SAME!" 

So I just sat there and stared at it for a Good Long While. And then I shut the computer and ignored it for several days. And then I decided to be a Grown Up and hit 'Confirm'. The End. 

Maybe it's just me, but how anti-climactic. How depressing. How absolutely devoid of romance, in every sense of the word. Of all the ways I imagined reconnecting with First Real Boyfriend, freaking FACEBOOK wasn't one of them. I mean, I knew he was on there (EVERYONE IS ON FACEBOOK) but no way was I going to FRIEND him. Well, for one thing, I don't friend anybody (SNOB!) but it's just so... MUNDANE. And you guys, I HATE mundane. 

Perhaps it's just the aspiring YA novelist talking. Perhaps I really AM that ridiculous. Perhaps you are all unsubscribing as I type. 

It's just one of the ways I find Facebook odd and mysterious. I love how I can post pictures and have my mom's friends in Italy see them two seconds later. On that note it's kind of awesome. But what did First Real Boyfriend have to gain by friending me? Sure, he can see my less than riveting updates, but if he can hunt me down on Facebook he can find the blog (I just did this as an experiment, OMG HOLD ME) and surely that's a better way to stalk me AND I wouldn't know. It's not like he's communicated with me since, other than the mass invite to the show. Or is it just me that wants to do all of this anonymously? And other people have less pride/fewer neuroses? That's probably it. 

Here's a potential kicker: 

A few months before I got married I was working downtown and running an errand at a local hotel. On my way out I made eye contact with the valet. I instantly looked away. It couldn't be. I walked faster, my head down. I did look back, just once, but he was looking right at me, which made me even more nervous, and I booked it all the way back to my office. 

It could have been, right? It'd be a much better story than FACEBOOK. 


Old enough to know

WELL. I just spent my evening well and truly delving into My Personal History Via Facebook and now I'm feeling all shmaltzy and drunken-toast-ish. Although I haven't drunk anything and I've never particularly cared to know what these people were doing before tonight and I am weirding my own self out. 

A few months ago I was friended by someone from high school, which I realize is a Non-Event to most of you, but as I made it pretty difficult for anyone from high school to find my profile, it was something of an Event for me. I think I've told you before that I didn't particularly like high school and high school didn't seem to like me, so I'm resistant to being Found. (I say this as if people are looking for me, which: doubtful!) I mentioned this to the girl who found me, who actually WAS my friend, and she said something to the effect of, "But you were so popular!" Oh, the LOLing I did when I read THAT! 

I think there is a difference between being Known and being Popular. I was definitely Known. I mean, it's hard to not be Known when there are 200 people in your entire school, and you happen to be one of five kids with a distinctive last name and get straight As and your teachers love you and you are involved in absolutely everything (without doing any of it particularly well) and everyone has an opinion about where you should go to college and the guidance counselor publicly dresses you down in the hallway that one time you skipped school - with your parents' PERMISSION - not because you weren't supposed to skip school but because all the other kids look up to you, and what have you done and now you have a giant red S on your chest for SKIPPER. (Perhaps I am not over that.) 

Popular, on the other hand: not so much. Show me a popular kid who stays home on Friday nights feeling anxious about the fact that she's staying home on a Friday night. And Saturday nights. And all the other nights that didn't involve a volleyball or basketball game.

I longed, oh how I longed, to LEAVE. Go somewhere else. Be someone else. I had this idea that everything would be better when I was 30. Seriously. Even in my first high school, where I was a heck of a lot more popular than I was in my second high school, I was overwhelmed with a sense of Not Belonging. And since all the grown ups (and even some of the older students, embarrassingly enough) were constantly telling me how MATURE and GROWN UP I was (BARRRRRF) it only made sense that I would Belong, somehow, when I was old. Like, 30. 

I think a lot of us must have felt this way. Even the truly popular kids. 

Our new house is close to the university. A bunch of college boys are renting a house down the street. (I know this because I got to hear their beer-fueled party antics the other night.) When I take the kids for walks I pass students. To get anywhere from my house I have to drive by the campus. I can see the dorms - MY old dorms - from our block. And Phillip is back in school, which means I've spent more time on campus this year than I have since the year when my youngest sister was still living in the dorms. I've taken my kids to all the good running-around places - the quad, the square, the fountain. And I watch college students. I look at what they're wearing, how they do their hair, how they walk, who they're talking to. I remember what it was like to be them. 

They look young. They look SO YOUNG. And suddenly I realize that I am old. Not OLD old, but old enough to know that they are young. Does that make any sense at all? I am feeling that so much this year, and I don't know if it's because I'm 30 or if it's because I'm suddenly surrounded by college students or what. My friend who talked me into all this enneagram stuff told me people shouldn't really try to type themselves until they're older (say, in their 30s) because you just don't know yourself well enough, you haven't had enough experiences. And I'm old enough now where I don't scoff at that, I don't roll my eyes at it, I NOD. Because I THINK IT'S TRUE. 

I am old enough to be older. It's... strange.

I flip through all those Facebook profiles with compassion - for them, and for myself. What a glorious and rotten time it was. How startling to know someone thought I was Popular, when really I was Miserable. How crazy to see that they are now grown ups, just like me. It's with delight and glee and profound relief that I can tell you I was right: at 30 things are better. At 30 I have, most days, found a way to Belong. And the 30-year-old in me can say, with detachment and charity and grace: it looks like they have too.


So I went to this reading and came home with a stomachache

I went to Anne Lamott's reading tonight (at the bookstore down the hill from my house, I walked, not that I'm, you know, BRAGGING or anything). I almost didn't go, though, because I couldn't find anyone to go with me. All the people who'd want to go to that sort of thing were regrettably out of town (how dare you, Friends Of Me) and I couldn't con anyone else into it and I just didn't WANT to go by myself. There's the whole "ooh, I don't know how readings WORK at this bookstore, what if I go to the wrong SECTION, what if I stand there looking STUPID, what if everyone knows what's going on except for ME, how come I SUCK SO MUCH" issue. And then there was the fact that I knew I would be Impacted Somehow and I wouldn't be able to talk about it because no one else would have experienced it and that is just a big fat bummer. 

But then I was all, "Come on Self. Bird By Bird is what made you think you could pull of NaNoWriMo and YOU DID and you also think Anne Lamott says things in ways that no one else says them and you will kick yourself for God knows how long if you stay home because you're feeling lame and loserish. Also, you can WALK THERE. For shame!"

So I went. But not without a lot of, "Are you SURE you're okay with the kids? Because I can TOTALLY stay home." 

Of course none of the lame and loserish things happened, although what I thought was early enough CLEARLY wasn't early enough and I was stuck standing way far in the back. And I knew absolutely nothing about her new book and now I know too much because Anne Lamott stood up there leading a group conversation about destructive teenage behavior, namely drug use and hooking up. 

SHUDDER. 

So part of me was all, "Oh dear God. Hello nightmares!" But then I also felt sort of... I don't know. Privileged somehow. Because I think this woman is terribly gifted in talking about things most people don't talk about with giant groups of strangers, or even faceless swaths of anonymous readers. I wanted so badly to hear her say something about writing, but she didn't, not really. She mostly talked about being a good person. Being the kind of grown up your kids wouldn't mind being themselves one day. Living authentically. Knowing your own truths. A lot of blah blah whateverness that sounds like blah blah whateverness coming from other people, but coming from her it just sounds like what she's meant to tell us. 

When someone asked her about her response to a certain group of people with, shall we say, some rigid thinking and principles, she just sighed. She said that she has a lot of opinions, opinions she knows are RIGHT. She's right about everything! Trust her! But as you get older you realize: no one cares what you think. People are going to believe what they're going to believe. People are ENTITLED to believe what they want to believe. And you can talk about it and argue about it and almost always lose, or you can be happy. And I was all, "Yes! This is why I don't like to write about Controversial Things on my BLAWG! Ooh, I want to know what Anne Lamott thinks about BLAWWWGS!"

Anyway. I walked home, my head full of writerly thoughts, mostly woe about the cartoonish simpleness of MY teenage characters, who are not doing ANY drugs or ANY hooking up and oh no, if that's what I have to write about if I'm writing about teenagers then I am DOOOOOOMED.

By the way, I was not one of those teenagers. I think there must be some of us out there. I mean, some of my friends were total potheads, but I pretended not to know about any of that, I mean, HAVE YOU MET MY PARENTS? and I think this what Anne Lamott meant when she said you can't be friends with your kids. I also finally understand why my dad drove us to (at midnight) and from (three in the morning, usually) the discos, quite possibly his LEAST favorite way to spend a Saturday night, with nary a complaint. Well, not that going to an Anne Lamott reading taught me that, I'm just bringing it up. Oh man, you know this Adjusting To The Move thing is killing me with the kids, but maybe someone could hurry up on that Age Preservation thing so I can have an almost-three-year-old forever and never ever have to think about "pharm parties" OMG.

I need some cake. MEDICINAL cake. Later dudes.