Saturday, December 31, 2005

I don't know how she does it...

That phrase came and went, I had thought...the novel really killed it so that, at least among women I know, we stopped saying anything like it to or about each other. Even if we didn't, quite, know how we were doing "it," we just shut up and did it rather than get into a long conversation about "it." And of course "it" changes all the time anyway, so however you were doing "it" ceases to work...

But I've been having that thought anyway when I read the frequently-updated blogs on my blogroll. How do they do it? How do they manage to blog when the kids are home from school, relatives are visiting, food needs to be cooked, new toys are being broken, and so on?

All of which is to say that I have in-laws visiting and lots to do. Time alone with a laptop is at a premium. So go check the updated blogs in the blogroll and enjoy.

PS--My mother-in-law, bless her, says "I don't know how you do it" to me at least twice a day. And currently, of course, the answer is, by skipping out on the blog. (I also don't do much house-cleaning, but we'll talk about that another time.)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Nick and Santa

Nick is eight. Do eight-year-olds believe in Santa any more? Nick does, or he wants to, anyway. He writes a letter to Santa every year and I hide it, forwarding the contents to folks in my family who might want to play Santa. And we manage to put gifts in stockings and wrap something from Santa every year. Nick puts out cookies and milk for Santa (and this year oats for the reindeer) and leaves notes, which he expects to be answered. (He does this to the Tooth Fairy, too...) This year he asked Santa to name the reindeer, which Santa did--in handwriting that Nick thought looked like Mark's (despite an attempt to disguise it). He didn't press the similarity for long, though.

Last night as he went to bed after a long happy day, Nick was unaccountably sad. "Unaccountably," to me anyway, because he pretty much raked it in yesterday. No clothes (OK, except a shirt from Grandma that he doesn't love and a punch-buggy t-shirt from Mark that he does), various cool things to do, and even the requested Star Wars lego set from Santa. Wrapped in paper that didn't match any other paper under the tree, except the gift for Mariah from Santa. (Mariah plays along beautifully, by the way.)

I asked him why he was sad and he said it was because last year he had three presents from Santa and this year there was only one. (Last year we had Christmas twice, once here and once at my folks, and Santa made his way to both trees...)

And why couldn't Santa bring more Star Wars lego sets anyway, when he has elves to make them? Why did Santa end up buying stuff? Did he just give money to the elves and send them out shopping?

These are unanswerable questions, and Nick was tired, so I just hugged him and read him a chapter of his book and put him to bed. And he didn't ask again.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

I like the anticipation of Christmas almost as much as the actual event. Yesterday Mark and I wrapped gifts while the kids were both out with friends, and we had a great time choosing wrapping, imagining them opening them, and anticipating the day. It will all be over, probably, by about this time tomorrow.

I still have a couple more things to get, and some baking to do, but today's mostly about cleaning. We bought a new vacuum cleaner yesterday (oh, the excitement of my life!) and I want to test it out. Oh, yeah, and it would be nice to have a clean house for Christmas.

Mariah and I will be singing at the midnight service tonight, but Nick is in the pageant at 5, so that means church twice. Worse things have happened.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

slowing down

I know I haven't been the most faithful of bloggers--some weeks I'm all here, others not so much. This is one of the not so much, and it's going to stay that way for a while. Unlike Dr. B., I'm not done grading yet--and our deadline was extended, setting up the dangerous possibility that I will not finish by Christmas. That would be very, very bad.

On the other hand the freedom that the extended deadline has given me has produced several batches of cookies (OK, Mariah made two, but I made one by myself and Nick helped with one), some spiced nuts, a draft of a column, a finished clapotis (my third, and favorite), and some nice social time with friends. So it's not all bad.

I know I wanted to say more about keeping Christ in Christmas, and ANWAR (yay!), and Ian McEwan's Atonement, which I just finished, but instead I'll just say welcome to Miriam's new baby, born last week. Her name is Amelia, and it sounds as if labor was really really rough, but Miriam and Amelia are both well. So there's some happy holiday news!

I'll try to drop in again before Christmas if the grades are done. (Now, there's some incentive!)

Saturday, December 17, 2005


I love Advent. In normal life I hate to wait. I mean, I really hate to wait: I got married at 10 in the morning so I wouldn't have to wait around all day. But a whole season, four weeks, devoted to waiting, I actually like. I think it's good for me to slow down, to wait, to prepare.

This year Advent has been...not so much. I bought candles and a wreath-form, but the candles didn't fit in it and I never did get it put together. I was busier than usual at work, in meetings almost all the time when I wasn't teaching, and I didn't feel as if I were preparing for anything except the next minute, for days on end. I had a couple of days where I left the house before sunrise and didn't get home until well after sunset, and I was worthless when I got home.

But today felt like Advent. Somehow I actually did manage to do a bunch of shopping over the last few weeks (bit by bit--I really hardly even felt it) and today we wrapped up gifts (Nick helped, and it shows) and put them in boxes and put them in the mail. Whew! And then we went out and bought a gorgeous tree, put it up, and the kids decorated it. There are decorations I've had since I was a kid (including one I made in 1974), decorations the kids have made, things people have brought us from various places (Russia, New Zealand, Japan, England...)--decorations that mean something, in other words. To us, anyway, though to anyone else I'm sure they just look random.

Then Nick and I baked cookies, and we all sat down to dinner together--something we hadn't done too often this week. I still don't have the Advent wreath together, and at this point I don't think I will, but it's a time of preparation, and waiting, nonetheless.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Public School

Thanks to Becca for this link to the National Council of Churches statement on No Child Left Behind. I live in a place where public schooling is a vexed issue. The city here had its boundaries fixed artificially many years ago to prevent it from annexing portions of the wealthier, whiter suburbs (a result themselves of white flight). Thus as the city had grown the tax base has not, and the schools find themselves in trouble.

My kids go to public school. My son attends the elementary school my daughter attended, one of two high achieving schools in the district, the only one that is truly racially integrated (or so anecdotal evidence suggests...I could be wrong). This year he's in a "testing" year. Virginia uses their aptly-acronymed SOL tests (it stands for Standards of Learning, really it does!) to measure progress on NCLB. This year it seems he's taking a test every week, maybe more. There are computerized tests known as Edu-Tests (the kids pronounce it "Edgy Test," which I love). There are reading tests, math tests, spelling tests, social studies tests, practice tests, and tests.

Nick is actually fine with this, though I bridle at each new test, each new announcement that some part of the curriculum will be skipped this week so the kids can take another test. And yet his school has far less anxiety over this--far less riding on it--than most local schools. His school is fully accredited and meets all standards.

But now they have the kindergartners taking "practice tests." There are SOLs for every grade, and they're starting to test them even in the "off" years.

We always said we'd stay in the public system until they drove us out. I fear, of course, that the purpose of NCLB and SOLs is precisely to drive parents with options out, abandon the schools to kids without options, and then declare them failing.

What I don't understand is why anyone thinks closing schools is a good idea. Even if your kids aren't in school, or aren't in public school, aren't you glad that other kids are? That we as a society take seriously the next generation, which--if we leave it under- or un-educated--might make bad decisions about how to govern us? Don't we, at the very least, want these kids safe and off the streets? I don't get it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

It's a Boy...still

The last four babies to enter my world have been boys. Make that five or six. Most of the kids on our block are boys. My two nephews. The last three kids born into my choir. So even though Andi's blog book tour is over I thought I'd say a few more words about It's a Boy, which I just finished reading the other night.

The essays that really struck me have to do with boys growing older, perhaps because we're well out of the toddler years here, perhaps because I'm interested in watching the boys at Mariah's school grow up. Gayle Brandeis has a lovely one about her son and weaponry, for example. There are a couple about the strangeness of living with a teenage boy--something I'm not quite ready for. I thought about it the other day: Nick hugged me and I flashed forward onto his hairy teenage self and I realized how unready I am for that day, and that person. I've got some time, though.

Kate Staples has a lovely piece called "Reading to my Son" that I want to think about more. I have found myself, as I think I've written here, choosing different stories for Nick than for Mariah, and I'm never quite sure if I'm responding to or shaping him as I do so. Staples' piece takes up some of the same issues and resolves them gracefully.

And I was really taken with pieces by both Susan O'Doherty and Catherine Newman about their sons' love of "girlish" things. Again, it's something I've thought about with Nick. When he was in pre-school, he used to insist on spraying some of my perfume on himself and putting on some of my lipstick every morning before I left him at the pre-school. Not only did none of the kids there every tease him about it, several of them used to crowd around me and ask for their own lipstick as well--both boys and girls. It always seemed to me that Nick was trying to keep a piece of me with him when I left, and I never denied him (though I did draw the line at painting other kids' lips chocolate or berry-colored).

What I love about It's a Boy is the diversity of the stories--some of these boys remind me of my own, others not. All the mothers remind me of me, though, in their love for their sons and their ongoing reflections on what it means to raise them. It's a nice kind of reminder.

words fail me

Nick has read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at least twice. Once I may have read it to him, actually--the other time it was his school's "one book" reading project, where all the kids read the same book, and I'm pretty sure he read it to himself that time. He may have read it one other time, now that I think about it. He was working his way through the series not too long ago.

Which is why I was surprised when he came home from seeing the movie today (he went with a friend's birthday party group) and asked me this:

"Mom, in the book, does Aslan get killed?"

Friday, December 09, 2005

this is not why I haven't blogged, I promise!

Choosing to do one task while temporarily putting another on hold is simply setting priorities, which allows people to cross things off their to-do lists one at a time. Procrastination is when one keeps reorganizing that list so that little or nothing on it gets done.

Check out the whole piece on procrastination (which is, I repeat, not my problem!) here.

I'll try to have something more to say soon. But it may take me a few days to dig out from under my end-of-semester obligations, which are multiplying even as I type.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

snow day, take one

Yes, we're having a snow day with less than six inches of snow on the ground, and temps in the 40s predicted for later in the day. When I first moved here I, too, scoffed at the ineptitude of these southerners who couldn't handle snow. I don't scoff anymore; I just welcome the occasional break in routine that winter offers us. Yes, it snows here, and yes, we have snow days every year after relatively light snowfalls, certainly not enough to slow things down in New England or the Midwest. But, because we really don't get much snow, we can't really justify the expense of investing in the plows, personnel, and other equipment that would make it easy to remove the snow and keep going. I think we as a community have chosen, consciously or not, to accept the inconvenience of a few snow days over the expense of investments that would take a long time to pay off. If it's a choice between air-conditioning the schools and paying for snow removal (and I'm not sure it is), I choose air conditioning, which affect many more days out of the year.

So Nick is outside in snowgear, playing with the neighbor kids who are also at home, and Mariah is upstairs strumming her guitar. I stayed home from the office this morning because I don't teach today anyway, and I've been catching up on work from home. I've actually been more productive than I am many Tuesdays, perhaps because things are a little up in the air and my routine's been disrupted. I'll go in later today to keep some appointments and do some prep for tomorrow, but I'll also probably bake something (well, in addition to the muffins I made for breakfast) and try to get a pot of soup going. Tomorrow we'll all be back at work, rested from our unusual mid-week break.

I do recognize that my flexible schedule makes it possible for me to welcome these breaks with pleasure rather than annoyance or--worse--a fear for my job. I don't need the schools to provide child care for me, in other words, while many parents do. I don't know what those parents do on days like today--take a sick day, find a relative to stay with the kids, bring the kids to work? It all comes back to feminism for me, then: feminism needs to create a society in which men and women share these burdens equally, and in which children's and families' needs are central to the design of society. This would mean emergency childcare centers, paid emergency leaves, and, in general, the generous recognition that all lives matter.

These things seem possible when I look outside and see trees glittering in the sun, cars driving by more slowly, and children playing all along the block. Later today when the snow has turned to slush and the kids are tired and crabby, I'll no doubt return to my more cynical self.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Let it snow...

Big fluffy flakes are falling outside my window. I feel as if I'm looking into a snow globe. It's coming down pretty hard and fast now, actually--a snow globe just shaken by a toddler, perhaps? Anyway, this kind of weather makes me nostalgic for New England, where it would mean hot chocolate and cookies after a snowball fight. Or maybe not, maybe it would just mean a little inconvenience on the way home. Here in Virginia it means checking the school closing list every fifteen minutes; both kids went to school today but the district governing Mariah's school just announced it will close an hour early--what does this mean for her bus ride? And will Nick's school close early, too? Will his tae kwon do class meet?

Mind you, the prediction is for about an inch of snow. We're not talking blizzard conditions here. Just regular old snowfall, the kind that happens every year here and that we are, every year, unprepared for.

I love it.

edited to add:
as I pressed "publish" on this the power went out. Luckily my laptop went straight to battery and our campus internet connection didn't go down. But I think school may be letting out early for me today as well...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

one more, then I'm done

Here's a follow-up on Jen's great post about Hirshman. In a weird turn of events, Linda Hirshman commented on Jen's post, but mostly to attack Miriam Peskowitz. Read it all here:Literary Mama Blog: The "Elite" Talk Back: Linda Hirshman and Miriam Peskowitz Respond