Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Art of Waiting (Babble)

Waiting is an art form.  And there are many varieties.  Waiting with children in tow is its own specialty.  Waiting alone in a strange place uses a different skill set.  Waiting in a crowd and trying to look like you belong is very different from waiting up at night for someone to come home.  Waiting in a confined space like in a car during a traffic jam demands another kind of patience.  I’ve reached a point where I don’t mind waiting very often.  If I pace it right, it can even be pleasant.

Right now I’m waiting in a hospital.  Not to worry–nothing disastrous or horrible going on (we hope), but I’m here in the waiting room at Emergency waiting for my dad.  I wish I didn’t have as much practice waiting in hospitals as I do.

My parents came to visit for a few days in order to overlap with a visit from my brother who had a job interview here in Wisconsin.  (We didn’t get anywhere near enough time with my brother but it was wonderful to see him nonetheless.)  They were all set to head home today, but then dad took an odd turn and needed to get checked out by a doctor to be safe before the long drive.  So I took my parents to Urgent Care who referred us to Emergency, and now I’m waiting.

The most useful thing I’ve learned to grab before going anyplace where I suspect I might have to wait is my laptop.  (Hence the blogging to kill some time.)  Trips with kids to the hospital taught me to always grab my laptop and to keep DVDs in the bag.  I also learned to keep a bag in the car with juice boxes, crackers, drawing supplies, and a book or two.  I’ve also gotten good at using my hands as puppets.

When I have to wait in the car or on a stage I bring Sudoku puzzles.  If I know I’m going somewhere I will have to wait for many hours alone I bring a book.  When I don’t know how long I will have to wait I bring a project of indeterminate length.  Today I brought with me my new address book so I could start copying over from the old one.  That’s a good project that I can stop and start easily.

I think the trickiest place I’ve ever had to wait with children is on an airplane during a delay.  There is only so much you can do in that kind of confinement, and when you’ve been forced to unexpectedly go through your whole bag of tricks before the flight has even started it’s deeply frustrating.

I told my parents as we were driving here that at least the new building we were heading toward was beautiful to wait in.  When I was here with Quinn last year I was impressed with the open feel of the lobby and the view from the windows.  But it turns out the Emergency Room is underneath all of that and this room is tiny and clean but the word beautiful does not spring to mind.

There are four televisions in this small space.  All of them were blaring with different programs when we arrived.  Nobody seemed to be watching any of them.  I shut one off and nobody objected, so then I shut another one off.  Now there is only one playing at the other end of the room near some people who may or may not be watching it, and that’s okay.  But the basketball game and the makeover show and the whatever the other one was doing on top of that was too much.  Especially since everyone seems to bring their own portable entertainment anyway.  Everyone I can see has a phone to play on, and probably doesn’t need the TV noise interfering with that.

Speaking of phones, since I am the last person in the universe apparently who has no interest in owning a smart phone, I was unprepared to deal with my mom’s iPhone while we were at Urgent Care.  We were waiting there when this unusual music started.  Not typical waiting room music.  Then my mom shifted her things and I realized it was coming from her purse.  She has an iPhone that my sister-in-law gave her, and the thing started playing music.  It probably took me a full minute to figure out what to do about it, and I ended up turning the volume all the way down.  It’s probably still playing very quietly in my mom’s purse here in Emergency.

I have a friend who is pregnant, and every time I see her I’m reminded of what a special kind of wait that is.  Some waiting is simply boring because there is no sense of anticipation, like being in line at the DMV where there isn’t anything particularly interesting at the end of the wait.  Anticipation feels different if you are dreading a result or are excited about it.  Pregnancy can be all of those things wrapped up into one.  I remember dreading labor, fearing a little bit of what it would be like to actually have a baby to care for, but being terribly excited about becoming a mother, and also living through stretches where it was dull and I was ready for it to just be over.

Today was not the day I was expecting, but life seldom works that way.  We forget that the run of the mill bits and pieces of day to day life is the closest we get to perfection.  I’m always in a state of waiting to catch up enough that I can really start the things I want to do, but that will never happen.  I remember after Aden was born waiting for the right time to start building violins again, and then it hit me that that perfect day would never come.  There was never going to be a right time because there was always going to be something in the way.  I had to simply do it and stop waiting.

Mona had a phase for a little while when she was smaller where anytime I said it was time to go she would run ahead and say, “What are we waiting for?!”  What are we waiting for indeed.

Hey, here comes my dad!  Time to go.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Ultimate Game (Babble)

My photos of this are not worthy of the awesomeness I’m trying to present, but I figure with enough descriptions to guide people through it’s still worth a post.  Because wow.

The other night Quinn and Mona were absorbed in a game of ‘chess.’  Neither of them knows enough to actually play, so they improvise.  (They do this kind of thing a lot.  At a friend’s house the other day they decided to play checkers using Tootsie Rolls.  When I pointed out that a few moves in they wouldn’t be able to tell which pieces belonged to whom, they moved Quinn’s to the light colored squares.  This of course creates new problems, but they just changed the rules about how to jump, where to move, etc.  The rules were fluid, and as long as no one ends up crying I stay out of it.  But back to the ‘chess’ game….)

They abandoned their game at some point to watch something on TV, and Ian called me into the living room to look at how they left the board.

Now, Ian is an Army Major who understands strategy.  He’s a smart guy who likes a good puzzle.  But he could not decide which player had the upper hand in this game.
On Quinn’s side we have two rooks and two knights, fortified by an army of frogs.  There is also a ring of mystery placed front and center.  This does look daunting.

But, on Mona’s side we have two rooks and two knights, but also a bulldozer being driven by a toy shrimp, and a snake slithered halfway onto the board.

How many frogs does it take to overwhelm a bulldozer?  Or are the frogs merely spectators since most of them are not on the actual board?  Is the bulldozer more or less of a threat when you add the shrimp?  Are the powers of that rook changed with the blue frog on top of it?  How do the Uno cards factor into any of this?  What does that ring DO?

We will never know.  Probably because they never quite knew.  But whatever game that was, I want to try it.  Because again, just…. wow.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fancy Accomplished! (Babble)

I went to the military ball and I did not wear yoga pants.  It took days of shopping and searching but I finally found a dress.

Two, actually.  In the Third Ward area of Milwaukee there are a few cute little dress shops, and in one boutique there was a single dress that fit me, but the pattern on the fabric wasn’t right for the occasion.  I’ve decided to go back and buy it anyway because now that I know just how hard it is for me to find a decent dress that fits I should grab it while I can so that way I will know I have two dresses to choose from in my closet if I need something.

Shopping in the boutiques was funny because my size 12 to 14 self was so big there, looking through the size 4 dresses, but the salesladies were all so sweet.  When I say there was one dress that fit me in that store, I mean it was the only thing labeled ‘large’ and it was of a stretchy, forgiving material that worked on me.  But the salesperson wanted me to have options so she handed me a couple of other cute things to try.  One was labeled a size six, and the other an eight.  I looked at her like she was delusional, and she said, “Oh, just try them anyway, you never know.”  But you know what I know?  I am not a six.  It was like trying to get one of Mona’s outfits on, which was kind of hilarious.  Either that salesgirl was paying me some kind of ‘but you look like you could wear a six!’ compliment, or she really couldn’t fathom a size six was small for some people.  Anyway, I’m going back for the one large dress when I have a minute.

The place where I got the dress I wore to the mil ball was called Lela.  The salesperson found several dresses for me to try, and the one I bought I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, but she thought it would work.  She didn’t even laugh at me when I accidentally put it on backwards the first time so she earned her commission.

Anyway, the dress is nice and simple, and cut in a way that I didn’t feel like I had to suck in my stomach.  The sleeves are comfortable enough that I could play viola in this dress if I ever needed to, and since there are no zippers or buttons up the back or sides it should still fit just fine if I’m able to keep losing weight.  I’m really happy to have found this dress!
(photo before the ball by Carol Kraco)
And doesn’t Ian look handsome in his uniform?  (The dog didn’t think so.  He just kept barking at Ian as if he’d never seen him before.  The dog is cute, but apparently not very bright.  Or maybe we’re missing something since we don’t view everything from ankle height.)

The mil ball itself was fine.  I haven’t been to one probably since Quinn was born, but they are all remarkably similar.  There are lots of people in uniform, dry chicken to eat, the symbolic empty table with a candle and a rose for soldiers who are missing, and speeches.  It was nice to meet the people Ian works with, but the room was very cold.  About a third of the women had put their coats on by the time dessert was served.
The main thing that was different this time was the perspective. 

The first military ball I attended with Ian was in 1991.  He was a cadet and I was the out of place girl on his arm in a recycled prom dress.  We were seated very far from anywhere and we could see the important people at the head table finishing their meals before we even got our salads.

Twenty years later we’re now at the head table, eating first and chatting with a General on one side and a Colonel on the other.  For Ian it’s a measure of his level of accomplishment, but for me it’s not that big a difference even though I appreciated not having to wait to eat.

The guest speaker was General Seward who was very nice and according to the program had a list of military awards and accolades as long as my arm.  (Although he informed me he also plays the bagpipes, but that wasn’t on the list.)  The Army is not my world so I’m not awed by rank and I can talk to anyone.  The General asked me about violin making and I answered the standard questions the way I usually do.  (When Ian and I go to military gatherings I end up talking a great deal because at least what I do is different.  When Ian comes with me to violin maker events, he does much of the talking because he’s the only soldier and people are fascinated.) 

After the General took his obligatory tour of the room he came back to our table and declared me the most interesting person at the event.  I was probably the only person who wasn’t scared to talk to him which would skew his perception, but who knows?  Ian still thinks I’m interesting after more than twenty years together, so maybe I could flatter myself into believing it’s true.

It was nice having a night out with just Ian, and it was good to go out in clothes that didn’t have wood shavings on them for a change.  But I have to say, the best part of the day was a few hours before we left for the ball.  Ian had to sew a couple of things onto his uniform, and I decided to paint all my nails.  So we hung out on the bed together while we attended to our little tasks and watched sitcoms on my laptop.  We tend to divide and conquer in order to get things done because it’s more efficient and there is so much to do, and as a result we seldom really have time to just be together doing not much of anything.  It was nice.  (Because after more than twenty years, a bunch of military balls, and three children later, I know I still find my husband the most interesting person in the room.)
(One more photo by Carol)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fancy (Babble)

I am not a fancy person.  I like certain things to be nice and I appreciate attractive surroundings, but when it comes to my own appearance I have a limited range of sartorial choices that make me comfortable.  I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of person.  I like to have pockets, I like my wrists unencumbered by cuffs or bracelets, I like things that are simple, and I like clothes that don’t inhibit the activities I enjoy like building violins, baking, or getting on the floor to play a game with my kids.

When I try to wear decent clothes I’m self-conscious.  I keep checking and double checking everything if the way the clothes rest on my body doesn’t feel familiar.  I’ve tried to accessorize with a pretty scarf or shawl but I keep moving it or pulling at it or shifting it around and it’s not worth the distraction.

I don’t iron or dry clean.  I don’t wear makeup.  I don’t even have pierced ears.
I admire people who look put together.  I find fashion interesting, and I have opinions and preferences, but most of it stops before it reaches my own personal self.  I’m not elegant.  To pull that off you have to make it seem effortless, or at least natural, and that’s just not me.

Luckily, being a self-employed adult in charge of my own itinerary, I make lifestyle choices where jeans and a t-shirt works most of the time.  I only really need to dress up to play concerts, so I have a collection of black clothes that are comfortable to perform in and look nice enough on stage.

But every once in awhile something comes up and I realize what a hopeless shambles my wardrobe really is.  Between changes in my weight and my indifference to clothes shopping there is nothing decent in my closet if I need to look nice.

And this weekend I’m accompanying Ian to a military ball.  Ha.

Not that anyone there will care how I look as long as I make some vague effort to appear respectable, but I’d like to feel pretty.  I’d like to make Ian proud as he wears his dress blues with his medals pinned on his chest.  I’d like to have one, decent, dare I say elegant, dress to wear.

I imagine shopping for clothes if you have a body that fits into things could be fun.  But I am too big on top for most of what’s out there, and there are few things more demoralizing than trying on one thing after another that won’t zip or that makes your butt look bad or your legs too weird or your whole body just seem wrong.  I spent an entire morning with a patient friend trying on dresses at the mall and by the end of it I felt as if all my efforts to lose weight have been pointless and I should just eat cheesecake, wear sweatpants, and never look in the mirror again.

The last time I needed a fancy dress at a time when nothing fit was for a cousin’s wedding several years ago.  I had just had a miscarriage and I was supposed to play solo viola for the ceremony.  (I was still bleeding during the event, and Aden and Mona were flower girls, and that whole day was a dizzying cacophony of emotions for me.)  I actually wound up sewing myself something a few days before the wedding.  I didn’t use a pattern, I just found some pretty material and made it up.  I have no idea if it looked okay, but I was not in a mental state to completely care.  (I hope I looked okay.  If I’m feeling brave later I may dig through a photo album and see.)

I don’t have the time or energy to try that this time.  I’m at the mercy of what stores have to offer.  My fall back plan will be something from the ever present collection of black things.

Speaking of concert wear, this past weekend my girls had a violin recital.  They did beautifully.  I was nervous for Mona after last year, but she simply got up in front of the room, cranked out Ode To Joy the best she’d ever done it, and smiled sweetly as she took her seat again.  Aden did a lovely job as well, and Quinn was about as good as you could ask a five year old to be at an hour long violin recital.  It was a really good day.

The only hitch was about half an hour before we were supposed to leave and I told Mona it was time to put on something nice.  She balked.

Both of my girls were big into fancy dresses when they were little.  They wore Easter and Christmas dresses all year round, always looking as if it were picture day as they set off for school.  A few years ago Aden started gravitating away from dresses, but still has a few for special occasions, and she had no trouble finding a nice one for the recital.
But not Mona.  Mona had on leggings and a long sleeved shirt and wanted to know why it wasn’t good enough.

I explained that the clothes you choose to wear say something as clearly as if you were holding a sign.  A police uniform means something different from painting clothes means something different from a wedding gown.  I told her by dressing nicely for the recital it was a way of acknowledging all the hard work everyone had done to prepare for it by showing it was special.  If she dressed like it was any other day, it was like saying the recital wasn’t important.  She needed to wear something fancy.

She fussed and she fumed, but she understood my explanation.  She started digging through her closet.  The main thing we discovered is that Mona has grown since the last time she had to wear something dressy, and nothing zipped or buttoned.  She looked stricken as one outfit after another was set aside for Goodwill, but eventually we found something new that had been a gift from a friend but not worn yet, and it was perfect.  Mona looked pleased despite herself.  It was a nice dress, comfortable, with pretty colors.  I let her wear it right over her regular outfit so underneath she would just feel like herself.
As I knelt down on the floor behind her, carefully doing up the buttons, Mona said to me quietly, “I don’t like to be fancy.”

You and me both, sweetheart.  You and me both.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Puppy Love and Angst (Babble)

We’ve had our dog, Chipper, for about three months now.  It’s been quite the learning curve.
(Chipper the day we brought him home)

I had a dog growing up, and we loved our loud, lazy beagle, but she was boring.  That dog snored at the end of my parents’ bed at night, barked at mail carriers, and slept on the couch most of the day.  She was fun to pet, but she wasn’t exactly entertaining.  Just pleasant to have around in the sense that dogs can be nice to have around.

Ian has allergies to cats and many dogs so never had a pet growing up.  Chipper, being a poodle mix, doesn’t make him sneeze (I love that the dog doesn’t shed), and this is Ian’s first real experience living with a dog.

As adults we’ve had rabbits, but rabbits don’t really prepare you for having a dog.  (They prepare you for having kids in the sense that you learn not to get to attached to ‘things’ since everything gets chewed on, but that’s a different post.)  I’ve learned that getting a dog is a lot like choosing to have one more child.  You get what you get and you love it but it is a lot of work and some days are better than others.  And people judge you about your dog about as passionately as they do your parenting style which is hard to get used to.

The most interesting thing to me is how it feels like we’ve always had this dog.  He’s part of our family and he’s all settled in as if this is the only place he’s ever known.  It would seem strange now not to have this little fluffy figure moving about the house all the time and underfoot in the kitchen.  But there are still things we don’t know and things we need to get better at and things yet to figure out.

Here are the best things about Chipper:  He’s playful and cute and has a silly under bite.  He has a lot of energy and he’s great for a game of fetch.  After being walked he gets this crazy burst of adrenaline when we reenter the house and he runs in these frantic circles and it’s hilarious.  When he’s relaxed he’s floppy like a rag doll and you can plop him into any position and he’s good with it.  He’s only thirteen pounds and all fluff and you can scoop him up like a baby.  He lets the kids pick him up any old way and carry him around.  He’s fun to cuddle on the bed in the morning.  When I’m the only one left downstairs working in the evening, Chipper waits for me before he goes upstairs to sleep.  After a bath he’s the softest thing I’ve ever felt.

(Aden and her dog)

When we happened to tell our doctor that we’d gotten a dog at the girls’ last checkup she thought it was wonderful.  She said something about how watching her own children with their dog had impressed her with the therapeutic effects of such a relationship.  That a bad day at school could melt away with some quality petting time.  I’ve even noticed that for myself, how after a stressful day at work it’s nice to go home and have the dog be happy to see me and be able to unwind by petting him or having him chase a ball.  Sometimes when we pet him we call him therapy dog.  He likes to lounge next to us and sigh.

There is something so simple and warm about the love of a dog.  When he just wants to lie in my lap or at my feet while I work, it’s comforting in a way that’s both selfish yet reciprocal.  His needs are uncomplicated most of the time, and easily met with a pat on the head or by just being present.  It reminds me a little of that pleasant feeling of being enough for a small baby.  I remember so well when Aden was tiny and how after she was changed and fed she would fall asleep in my arms and in those moments parenting felt easy.  In that same sense of being able to meet such simple needs, having a dog seems easy.

However….  The tricky thing with Chipper is we rescued him from the pound, which means we don’t know his past.  We don’t even know his age, although the shelter guessed he was about two.  I suspect at some point he had reason to fear men of a particular size and build because he does not like stocky white men with short hair and he gets anxious and barks at them.  I don’t think there was a second floor wherever he came from because the stairs and the noises above seemed very confusing to the dog that first week.
We’ve had to figure out the dog’s diet and schedule.  We’ve had trouble with marking behavior and Chipper trying to assert dominance over Quinn and other small children.  It’s a bit annoying to have to factor so many walks into our day.

Barking is a problem.  We hired a trainer to come to the house and give us some tips, and that’s helped some, but we don’t have as much time available to practice those lessons as we should.  We’re getting better at controlling the dog when people come to the door, but when he gets really keyed up we’re still at a loss.  We found out recently from the babysitter that when we leave, barking at the new person doesn’t stop.  I’m not sure how to train the dog to do something when we’re not around.

And of all the dogs in the world we could have picked, this one barks and howls at violin playing.  When the girls practice each night the dog runs to their feet and barks along.  If I hold him in my lap he ‘sings.’  The trainer showed us ways to distract the dog, and we have had practice sessions where Chipper was busy enough playing fetch that he lost interest in the violin sounds, but it makes me wonder if I can ever teach at home again.  I originally had images in my head of Chipper being a sort of shop dog that I could take with me to the violin store from time to time, but seeing as he barks at the arrival of strangers and howls when people play violin, I don’t think he’d be good for business since that’s all that happens there.

We had one unfortunate incident that made me question if we should keep this dog.  He bit Mona.  He didn’t break the skin, and after investigating the cascade of stupid actions on the part of our kids we decided it was not fair to blame the dog, but it really troubled me.  It still troubles me to some extent, because that seems like one of those zero tolerance moments for a mother: The dog bit my kid, the dog should go.

But the kids did everything wrong and the dog was being a dog.  I was lying in bed upstairs, sick, and Ian had walked down to Target to pick up some cough medicine to help me get through my rehearsal that night.  In that fifteen minutes of the kids being left alone with the dog they messed up.  First of all, Aden was supposed to have fed Chipper and forgot.  So the dog hadn’t eaten anything in twelve hours and was starving.  Then she left an apple on the dining room table when she knew better.  Chipper grabbed it.  So the kids cornered the dog, and Mona began trying to wrestle the food out of his mouth.  This, after all our discussions about how they should never go near a dog while it’s eating, and that you never corner an animal.  So Chipper gave Mona a chomp on the arm.  Kind of hard to blame Chipper, but it still freaks me out.

I came home from rehearsal that night ready to find the dog a new home, and Ian talked me down.  He seemed surprised to be the one defending Chipper.  Adding extra chores to his stay-at-home parent schedule with all the walks and one more mouth to feed had not really won him over to the joys of having a dog.  But at the thought of getting rid of Chipper, Ian was suddenly the one voicing the dog’s virtues and how much he means to the kids.  Going back to life without the dog just doesn’t feel like a desirable option.

It reminded me a little of Mona and her fish a few weeks before.  Mona was getting bored with the fish she got for her birthday, not convinced it was an interesting enough pet to trouble with.  She was considering giving it away, maybe even just to her sister.  Then one evening when she moved the fish to a cup in order to clean the water in the fishbowl, she left it unattended for too long and apparently the fish managed to jump out.  I happened to walk by and notice both the bowl and cup were empty, and just as I called to Mona to ask about it I spotted the fish on the floor.  When Mona walked in and thought her fish was dead she shrieked with an intensity I’ve never heard from her before.  Absolute panic and horror in her voice.  Then I saw the fish flop and managed to get it back into its bowl where he drifted around for a moment before returning to normal.  Mona apologized to her fish as she wept and wept.  There is no more talk about whether Mona wants to keep her fish.  It is now the best tended fish in all of Milwaukee, and when Mona moves the fish to the cup to clean the bowl she has her brother stand guard.

So Ian, the one person in the house reluctant about getting a dog to begin with, came to Chipper’s defense and thus we still have a dog.  The dog, literally, loves Ian best of all, and it’s hard to resist the charms of a creature who just wants to be near you and gaze at you adoringly.

I’m glad we have Chipper.  Despite the fact that dogs can be unbearably gross and now our lives involve picking up poop all the time, it’s worth it.  There is something complete about our family now that we have a dog that I didn’t realize was missing before.  I love watching Quinn laugh as he throws a ball over and over to his dog, and seeing how happy Aden is when Chipper chooses to snuggle on her bed some nights.  I’m proud when Mona, without prompting, gets dressed at the crack of dawn to take the dog out for his morning walk.  I love it when Chipper rests his head on my thigh while I’m trying to type.

We still haven’t worked out all the kinks of owning a dog, and maybe we never will, but it’s okay.  We love our dog.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day of Little Things (Babble)

Today was weird.  Partially because after getting the kids to school I ended up taking an unexpected (but apparently needed) nap and then I had to take the dog to the vet.  (The dog, of course, became a picture of perfect health as soon as I secured the emergency appointment, so we will take that as a good thing even though SERIOUSLY DOG?)

Anyway, Tuesdays my assistant mans the violin store and I’m supposed to get other work done at home.  Things like violin making and writing and practicing.  I got to none of the big projects I was hoping to do, but wound up dedicating the day to small stuff.  The kind of stuff that crosses your mind in one room and forget as soon as you walk into another.

Today I wrote those things down and started ticking them off the list.  So I feel like I was completely unproductive and yet I got all these things done:

I found the invitation to (and called in the RSVP for) the first birthday party Quinn’s been invited to.

I dug up Aden’s permission slip for all her class trips this month.

Bought batteries.

I wrote down what Mona told me she wants to be when she grows up so I won’t forget.  (She’s considering Teacher, Chef, Vet, or Farmer.)

Looked at new dishwashers and finally ordered one to replace the one that broke last week.

Picked up a waste can with a lid on it for the downstairs bathroom (stupid dog being gross digging in the waste can).

Accepted an in invitation to a neighborhood Valentine’s party.

Canceled Aden’s lesson that conflicts with the Valentine’s party.

Got eggs and milk and bread.

Got more paper towels for the violin store.

Called the doctor about Quinn continuing to snore despite having his tonsils and adenoids removed, and refilled his prescription for antibiotics.

Emailed my mom about their plans to visit.

Emailed my brother about our plans for spring break.

Worked on getting Mona’s book club together.

Picked up a violin to lend to a friend.

Remembered to bring toilet paper upstairs before it’s too late.

Got the bags of stuff in the upstairs hall for Goodwill off to the donation center.

Called the insurance agent.

Called the appliance repair guy.

Aaaaaannd then just a bunch of regular stuff like picking up kids from school and walking the dog and helping the girls practice violin, etc.

Among the things that didn’t happen was writing a really great blog post.  But that’s the kind of day it was so this will have to do.

Tomorrow, darn it, I need to tackle something big!  (Although just thinking about that makes me want to take another nap.  Is it bedtime yet?)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Well-Rounded Education (Babble)

My daughters both get homework packets from school.  Mona gets one every Thursday and it is due the following Thursday.  The packet usually contains some reading and some math, and sometimes it’s specifically tailored toward whatever she needs more practice with at a particular moment (extra pages of subtraction work thrown in, for instance).

The nice part about this system is you can spread out the assignments however you like, maybe a little each day or all the reading first, etc.  But Mona is an intense sort of child and she insists on doing all of the homework packet the day she brings it home.  This is often biting off more than she can chew and puts us in the odd position of pleading with our daughter to stop doing homework and please just go play for a while and relax while she grits her teeth clutches her pencil more tightly.  In any case, it’s not hard to get Mona to do her homework, it’s just hard for us not to all get too stressed out as she’s doing it.

Aden, on the other hand, gets a homework packet every Friday.  There are twelve packets in a grading period.  They are due the day before report cards come out.  Ideally she should be doing them a little each day and finishing each packet over the course of a week.  We used to have a system where she had to sit at the kitchen table when she got home from school and finish some homework before she could use her computer or watch TV.  Then several weeks ago she insisted that she was finding time during school hours to work on her packets.  She didn’t need to bring them home.  She’d rather work on them at school with the resources they have there.  Sure.  Ian and I didn’t quite buy that, but we’ve also passed fourth grade already so this is her deal.

Well, strangely (by which I mean unsurprisingly) enough during the four day weekend before all of Aden’s homework packets were due, she pulled five of them out of her backpack and asked for help.  It was a long weekend, and not just because of the banking holidays the public school system had invented on either end of it.

I was sick in bed the whole time, and Aden spent long hours sprawled out on top of my covers scribbling at her lap desk and asking for definitions of words like ‘prescription’ and ‘dictator.’  As silly as it was for her to be cramming in so much work at the end of the grading period, it was fun having Aden on the bed working away.  She’s nice company even when she drives us crazy.

Being sick in bed for me usually involves movie and TV marathons on my laptop.  (I have now seen nearly every episode of Law and Order Criminal Intent, as well as Downton Abbey and some random classic films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)  At one point as Aden was catching up on some math I decided to pull up the recent Star Trek movie.

I am a pretty hopeless Star Trek nerd.  I like to watch things on my computer at work as I rehair bows or clean violins, so over the past several months I re-watched every old episode of Voyager, and am currently into season two of Deep Space Nine (ah the 90’s design aesthetic and stirrup pants!).  I can tell you my favorite Picard episodes, talk about the Q Continuum for too long, and am still bothered that Data’s makeup looked so weird in the movies compared to the television series.  Curling up with my husband to watch anything Star Trek makes me happy.

Aden, of course, asked what I was watching.

“The newest Star Trek movie,” I said.  Then realizing how little our entertainment preferences overlap I asked, “Do you know Star Trek?”

Aden replied, “I know Chewbacca.”


How did I raise a daughter for ten years in my house who doesn’t know the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars?

I’m not pretending this is important information.  I know it’s silly.  But there is such a thing as cultural literacy and it’s good to have a sense of what other people may be interested in out in the world even if it’s not something you pursue yourself.  I don’t care about sports, but I had my grandma explain the rules of football to me when I enrolled at The Ohio State University and I even attended a couple of Buckeye games.  Not my thing, but I still thought it was a good idea to have a sense of what so many other people around me seemed to care so much about.  It helped me to understand those people better.  Now, I’m not saying knowing the difference between a Bajoran and an Andorian will necessarily help my daughter relate to many people, but it will at least help her talk to her own parents.  I had let down my child in her science fiction education!

I told her to put her pencil away and come sit where she could see the screen better.  I explained this one guy was playing a very young Kirk, and that our friend Kirk back in Michigan picked out his name when he moved to this country based on that character.  I showed her which guy was Spock, and explained Vulcans have pointy ears and prize logic.  I told her about how her Uncle Barrett once played Spock in one of our New Year’s Eve events where we all acted out a Star Trek play and Spock got to do a tragic death scene.  I pointed out how expendable people on away missions were usually in red shirts.  (She was worried about the red shirts but I told her lots of people die on Star Trek and the red shirts are people we don’t know and don’t get attached to, which, oddly, she accepted.)  I explained the name of the ship they were on was the Enterprise, and that enough real people who care about space travel love Star Trek that one of the NASA space shuttles was called Enterprise, too.

I warned Aden before scenes that could be too scary and knew when to tell her to shut her eyes.  She thought Scotty was funny.  I explained as many inside jokes as I could, and tried to get her to understand that the time line of this story was in an alternate universe.  That Star Trek was wacky like that, so even though it was sad the planet Vulcan was destroyed it was just fine in a different reality.  She stayed up well past bedtime and watched the whole thing.  Then I pulled up an episode of the original series and showed her William Shatner as Captain Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy has Mr Spock, etc.

Before sending her off to bed I told Aden I will watch any Star Trek with her anytime she likes.  She smiled and said that would be fun.  She was probably just being nice.
It’s so funny the things we assume our children will know just because we do.  My poor father who spent so many years teaching other people’s children to speak French completely forgot to teach it to my brothers and me.  I asked him for some key phrases after I graduated from college and was heading off to Europe with Ian to backpack around for a month, and dad looked perplexed.

“But you speak French!” he said.

“No, I speak Spanish.  Remember when I lived in Mexico?”

My brothers, home from college that summer, happened to be sitting in the dining room and he looked at them and said, “Well, you both speak French, don’t you?”

Arno looked up and said, “No, dad, Japanese.”  Barrett replied, “German.”

I’ve never seen my dad look so dumbfounded.  He’d neglected to teach us French while we were under his roof and we’d grown up and gone off and it was too late!  I suppose in the hectic day to day life of a parent we always figure there will be time tomorrow.  Then a lifetime slips by.

Is it important that my kids learn that Jedis and Klingons don’t mix (other than at Comicon)?  Probably not.  But I’m going to teach them anyway.  Because it’s something I know, and by knowing I know it my kids will know me a bit better.  It means a lot to me that I know my mom loves old black and white horror films, can make her own paper, and cries at certain commercials.  Whenever I see a reference to The Incredible Shrinking Man or Day of the Triffids it makes me nostalgic for the Saturday afternoons growing up when my mom would work on the laundry with Sir Graves Ghastly hosting horror films on TV while my brothers and I played all over the house.  Those details spell home.  I’m not altogether sure what details my own kids are absorbing.

But we haven’t completely failed Aden in her science fiction education.  She knows what a Dalek is and would probably call a British police box a TARDIS if she ever saw one.  And she does know Chewbacca.  There’s still some time before she grows up and leaves us to share with her my favorite books and maybe even teach her how to sharpen a block plane.  I think her dad would like to teach her to ski.  As ridiculous as it sounds, realizing Aden’s lack of Star Trek exposure has me thinking more critically about what are the things I would be sad not to have shared before she’s no longer a regular member of our household anymore.

What do I want her to know about me that I want to be the one to tell her?  We’re starting small, with red shirts and snickerdoodles, but it’s a serious question.  What do I teach before it all slips by?  Where shall we boldly go where no one has gone before?  (And how many infinitives shall we split on the way?)

UPDATE (Oct 2015): I have since been corrected that my brother, Arno, speaks fairly good French, and Barrett knows a bit as well, so it is only I who managed not to pick up any of that language growing up.  (I don't think I'm misremembering that scene, though, but I suspect it my brothers were really teasing.)