Monday, October 26, 2009

As long as I'm living my baby you'll be

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School, if done right, is equal measures education and inspiration. Case in point, one of the courses I'm taking right now called Reading and Writing about Nature and the Environment. We're reading Thoreau and Emerson, Rachel Carson and Annie Dillard—some of the very best writing ever done on the subject. As I read, I can actually feel the authors tugging at my shirttail, pulling me outside. Even in class, I find myself drawn to the seat nearest the window. It seems almost cruel to be stuck indoors talking about the ocean and woods and sky while thick slabs of glass and concrete (and Louisiana) obstruct our access to it.

This weekend, the shackles were dropped. We crammed the back of the station wagon with all the essentials—tent and lantern, logs and blankets, marshmallows and wine—and didn't stop driving till we hit a mountaintop. Curiously, we also brought along a bag containing enough size 5 boys clothes to wardrobe an entire Cub Scout troop. This proved a bit gratuitous, as my six-year-old returned home on Sunday night still wearing the same outfit he put on Friday morning. I think. It was hard to tell under the thick layer of mountain he smuggled out on his body. Hygiene goes the way of vanity in the woods. It's natural, after all, to drop the pretense of polite society when far removed from it. Which, when you're six, is about as good as it gets.

My child has splashed in the waves of the Atlantic and the Pacific, ridden horses at a ranch and roller coasters at Disneyland, fished in a New York lake and returned six months later to build a snowman in the same spot. His happiness is not in short supply. But I don't think anything will ever top camping.

In the woods, he is utterly happy. Complete. Aside from fire, sticks, and marshmallows, he doesn't need one thing.

Not even . . . me.

When you're camping, you can count on raccoons, maybe even a bear, but I never expected to be ambushed by independence. Right before my eyes, my little boy grew up. Hours stretched to days and he didn't need me once. He was inches away, yet I found myself missing him. Or maybe just missing being needed by him.

The temperature dropped below 40º at night. You might think sleeping in a tent in conditions like that would be unpleasant. But bedtime was my favorite part—snuggling close under the blankets for body heat. For a few hours, my little boy needed me. Even if he didn't know it.

Anybody buys him a sleeping bag for Christmas is dead meat.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Time to Love and a Time to Hate

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And so it begins—indoor recess season. Help me Baby Jesus.

In Pre-K, the children must have two thirty minute gross motor periods a day. They need it. And really, don't we all? If I ran the world, every single person would get outdoor recess every day, rain or shine. CEOs and CPAs would hang the closed sign on their office door, skip outside and climb on a jungle gym for twenty minutes. Then they'd have some animal crackers and a tiny carton of milk, topped off by a bedtime story and a nice little nap. Now wouldn't that be lovely? I speak from experience when I tell you—yes, it is lovely indeed. In fact, next to 2:35, recess is my favorite part of the day—having actual conversations with other teachers on the playground, breathing in some fresh air, getting a dose of Vitamin D, saying hey to Mother Nature.

Two teachers at my school at the start of recess.

The same two teachers, thirty minutes later.

And I'm dead serious when I say I think they need it every single day. I'd take them out to dance in the rain if I didn't think I'd lose my license. Come on, kids, grab yer galoshes; we're gonna make mud pies! That, would be awesome. But of course, that's crazy talk. Last year I got stopped mere inches from the door, by the school nurse of all people. Behind me stood an excited queue of kids, bundled up to experience the first snowfall of the season. But this is Arkansas, and there are laws in place down here protecting children from the menace of Nature. Southern children, as well documented by science, cannot endure temperatures below forty degrees and will die sudden and painful deaths upon impact with precipitation. So we were sent back to our room, me properly chastised and them thoroughly crushed. What was I thinking, taking kids out to play in the snow?! What kind of reckless monster am I? So indoor recess it is, if it rains, snows or is deemed too cold to go out—too cold being a ridiculously subjective term which I shall not discuss further for fear of angering the school district gods. While I thoroughly enjoy being outdoors, I'd rather not end up living there.

I'm sure there are a thousand perfectly peachy ways to handle indoor recess, but for the life of me, I can't seem to find a one. How does one manage allowing twenty four-year-olds to be physically active for thirty minutes in a confined area while still maintaining even the illusion of control? Yes, I admit it, I am a card carrying Control Freak and I cannot allow my classroom to turn into a mosh pit. Not unless they're willing to lighten up a bit on their Victorian attitudes about alcohol on school grounds. Seriously, just a little nip would smooth a lot of rough edges on a rainy Friday.

It's tempting just to let them watch a little TV—educational TV, of course. They'd be happy, and more importantly, they'd be still. But again, that pesky drive to remain employed clears its throat and shakes its self-righteous little head at me. Bitch. Okay, okay . . . gross motor it is—active, yet controlled. Go when I say go; stop when I say stop. I've got it! Musical chairs! Perfect.

Or not. I don't know what sadist invented this horrible little game, but I'm guessing it was Darwin. As it turns out, the whole object is to make every child in the room lose, one by miserable one, until they are all dejected and crying. In order to accomplish this goal, players must aggressively muscle their way into whatever chair they can wrench away from their weaker, slower and more polite friends. The eventual winner holds no special talent or athletic ability, aside from being the meanest badass kid in the room. Yay for you! You're gonna make us so proud in juvie! Or Washington.

Damn it's gonna be a long winter.
. .

Friday, October 16, 2009

Café au Lait

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Well let me just be the first to commend New Orleans Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell. Bravo, sir! In this day and age of outsourcing, shoddy workmanship, and work ethics about as strong as a wet sheet of Charmin it is heartening indeed to finally find a man with the courage of his convictions! I praise you Justice Bardwell, and thank you for standing bravely on the lonely island of reason. Or . . . sitting.

In case you missed the story, thanks to Justice Bardwell's finely honed IQ, which is reportedly well into the single digits, another batch of "mixed race" children has been spared the difficulties of living. Whew! According to Bardwell, "There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage. I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it." But instead of thanking him for his laser-like foresight, some reckless interracial couple is actually selfish enough to be upset that he refused to marry them. Of course this thoughtless couple should not be allowed to marry and produce offspring! Any reasonable person knows how insanely risky that would be. I mean, really, they barely stand a 50/50 chance of staying together! Who would take those odds?

I'm sure Justice Bardwell has researched this topic extensively, deriving empirical data from his "piles and piles of black friends." Did you know he even lets them use his bathroom! Just like they were regular people! Gosh, if only more people were so evolved. Imagine the world we could live in! One where the children of interracial couples actually might be accepted.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"If you read someone else's diary, you get what you deserve." David Sedaris

Once upon a time, a grown man pulled on "green velvet knickers, a yellow turtleneck, a forest-green velvet smock, and a perky stocking cap decorated with spangles" and began the process of transforming himself into Crumpet the Elf. What he couldn't have known at the time was that he was also beginning the process of transforming himself from talented unknown to literary superstar. Day after humiliating day, David Sedaris endured the indignities of working as an elf at Macy's, suffering miserable children and even worse adults. He let the experiences percolate in the twisted coils of his mind, then pressed them through his exquisitely sardonic filter. What poured out was an extraordinarily entertaining diary. One night, in a Chicago club, he read it to an appreciative audience, including, serendipitously, radio host Ira Glass. Glass mined the gold, showcasing Sedaris on his local show The Wild Room. And what happened next was NPR's Christmas gift to the world—in December 1992, Sedaris read his SantaLand Diaries on NPR's Morning Edition. It was love at first listen; he was an instant celebrity, earning a two-book deal and regular appearances in Esquire and The New Yorker. To this day, when he's not busy writing or reading from one of his many best-sellers, he can be heard on Ira Glass's nationally broadcast This American Life.

My husband gave me tickets to Sedaris's recent reading as a gift, and to be honest, I was skeptical. A hundred bucks to listen to someone read a book? The frugal part of my brain was giving the gracious part some serious lip. But as you probably guessed already, he was right. As always. Sedaris may be the most brilliantly funny writer alive, and he's an even better reader. To understand how much better his stories are read in his own voice, ask your partner to rub your back. Then pay the sixty bucks and let an actual massage therapist have at it for an hour. Yeah, that.

I won't sully his words by trying to retell one of his stories, especially not the one about the strawberries and the case of condoms. Instead, I'll just encourage you to treat yourself to an amazing evening if you ever get the chance. In the meantime, a bedtime story for you. Enjoy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Getting a Woody

Last week my husband sent me a link to his University classified ads. Usually, these links take me where I want to go—nice places like community garage sales or cheap iPods. My man knows the way to my heart. But not this time. This time, just a few seconds before clicking send, he apparently took up crack smoking. What other explanation can there be for the link he sent? A link that, inexplicably, took me to some nice lady who found some nice doggie who needs a nice home. I'm sorry; have we met? Because if we had, you might remember that I'm really not so much an animal lover. Remember, I'm the one who wouldn't even clean the fish bowl until it turned to paella. A dog? Really, honey? Really?

But then, ruthless manipulator that he is, he pulled out those three little words he knew I couldn't refute: Isn't he cute?

Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I guess he was sort of cute. But not near as cute as my couch, and its eight hundred dollars worth of fancy Cynthia East upholstery. So the topic was dropped, my husband entered rehab, and the doggie was forgotten. For about five minutes. And then he was ours.

My husband is right an impossibly, infuriatingly large percentage of the time. It may well be his worst flaw. This time was no different. Woody is a perfect fit for our family. I'm not even sure why, but I loved him instantly. And every day, I love him a little more. Weird, right?

Thank you, honey, for ignoring me and doing what you knew was right. Sometimes you know what I need before I do. I love you for it, almost as much as I love Woody.