This week on the Baraza, I lament the awkward things people say to me as an English teacher. Chime in and share your professional woes!
In honor of several conversation I have had this week, I present one of my favorite quotes:
Happy Monday, pals and gals!
I’m dancing a happy to jig to begin my second year writing for Ploughshares’ online content. My colleagues there are all wicked writers and I’m all a flutter to be among their numbers.
Post number one for the new contract deals with something central to my writing life: time (or the lack thereof). In “Blitz Writing: Writing When There is No Time,” I talk about my own little method of madness for making time to write, even when it means brushing my teeth while popping out dialogue. Please visit, read, and post your own time saving writing tips in the comments. It will make my day.
Read, Write, and Be Merry,
Last year my daughter got her first boyfriend on Valentine’s Day. But it was a short lived romance. See how Liliana handled the break up and why she’s a rock star in this post from March 2013.
Young love is a fickle thing. Just a few weeks ago my daughter got her first boyfriend. This week, that romance came to cruel ending.
The little boy, who we’ll call S, had a birthday last weekend. Liliana spent the better part of Saturday cutting, pasting, drawing, and folding to make him a birthday card. She even had her Papa print off a special balloon picture to include. When her masterpiece was dry, she tucked it in to her backpack so she wouldn’t forget it Monday morning.
Monday afternoon I came home from work to a heartbroken little girl. When she presented S with the card, he wadded it up, threw it away, and told her he didn’t want her anymore. Although it is not a completely unexpected action from a six-year-old boy, it was still unkind.
But before we just write this off as first heartbreak, here’s how she responded to his dumping her:
“I don’t even care. Girls like me don’t need boys who treat them bad.”
As a mother, I could not be more proud to type that sentence. My colleague called it perhaps the greatest response to a break up ever. Now the truth is, she was hurt, although more that he tore up something she made for him than the whole boyfriend thing. And at home she shared her bruised feelings with us and we tried to soothe them. Her daddy took her on a walk and explained that no matter what friends or boyfriends or girlfriends may come and go, she’d always have our love.
All that considered, I am so blown away by the way she handled it in public. Just looking at myself and my friends, how much better would our lives have been if we stopped and said this to that guy who did treat us badly? Or even better, to ourselves? Because girls like us don’t need boys who treat us bad.
In honor of Liliana, let’s all have a little disco party with Miss Gloria Gaynor who always reminds us that we will survive.
There was drama to be had this week across the board. But as I don’t have the time to share it at the moment, I’ll just send redirect to places where I did write this week.
Over on The Baraza, I talked about my love of figure skating drama.
On The Review Review, I completed my first review for this fabulous publication. If you call yourself a writer, you should get emails from them.
Finally, I reviewed I, Frankenstein for Cinefilles. The movie was a massive suck, but thankfully the after party with a cool cat couple and my hubby was the bee’s knees.
Read, Write, and Be Merry,
I’m just going to say it: some moms need to butt out . They need to stop assuming that because I work I am also a terrible person. They need to stop forcing their own moral identities on my child. They need to stop promoting their own ideas of ‘normal’ or their ‘solutions’ which are just passive aggressive balderdash. They. Need. To. Stop.
I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the room moms who throw the parties and help with lunch and all those other things. I appreciate that they volunteer for things when I cannot, I really do. Thank you. But hand the kid a muffin or help the kids do the craft–don’t make ridiculous statements to my daughter that I have to undo later.
There are at least two women at my daughter’s school who are actively derailing what we are trying to teach her. And I am all funned out on it. So I am calling them out. If you are a Buttinsky Mom, stop it now.
The first run in with the Buttinsky Moms, came last fall. At my daughter’s school, they have morning chapel every day. I have been twice–once when Lili was given an award and once when her class led the program. In my mind, those are fitting times. There are a number of mothers who attend every day. That’s fine–their child, their choice. I am not able to because I am at work. Even if I weren’t, I don’t know that I would go any more than I do. Part of Lili’s school experience is her learning to be her own person.
One day she came home from school and told me she had exciting news.
“Mommy, J’s mom says that you can come to chapel with me every day!”
I reminded her that I couldn’t because of work, but that on her special days I was always happy to come to chapel.
“But J’s mom says you can quit your job and come to chapel just like her! I told J’s mom that you were a teacher and that your students needed you. She said you should just teach at my school so you could be with me all the time.”
That horrid sense of guilt, that I am a failure as a mother, popped up.
“Do you want me to go to chapel with you every day Lili? And be at your school?”
She didn’t even think about it that long.
“I love you, Mommy, but I like time with just us outside of school. But J’s mom says that good moms come to school and chapel for their kids and I didn’t like her saying you aren’t a good mom.”
Bye bye guilt, hello pissed off. I understand why my seven year old doesn’t grasp that a college instructor can’t just bop over and teach elementary school. But a grown up woman has no business offering solutions for problems that don’t exist, especially solutions that aren’t realistic (college and elementary teaching are two very different things). She needed to mind her own business. And she certainly didn’t need to suggest to my daughter that I needed a career change or was a bad mother because my choices are not hers.
Yesterday the Buttinskies struck again. This week is the book fair at my daughter’s school. Now while no one can accuse me of being anti-book, Lili received a number of books for Christmas, we’ve been encouraging her to use our newly renovated public library, and January is a pretty tight month for us budget wise. I personally believe that all of these are valid reasons. The one I explained to Lili was that we really wanted to get books at the library–she reads at a pretty fast rate and it’s a great reward to encourage her reading that is also good for the community.
Her class made a trip to the book fair where some volunteer mom offered to help her fill out a “wish list.” Lili told her that she didn’t need one because she would like to get her books from the new library. Lo and behold, Lili came home with a huge wish list.
“I told M’s mom that we were going to the library, but she said that no one wanted to have to read used books and that if I made the list another mom would probably buy me the books if we couldn’t afford them.”
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
How dare this woman turn her nose up in front of my child about the library. She may love luxuriating in conspicuous consumption, but do not act like we are some backwoods hicks just because we encourage the use of a public library. And the shaming, in front of other kids, the implication that we are in need of some sort of book charity, makes me crazy. Beyond that though, the big thing . . .
THIS IS NOT YOUR CHILD.
If my kids are about to run into the street, if they are hurting another living creature, if they need help opening a Capri Sun–knock yourself out. Interfere your heart out.
Otherwise, BUTT OUT.
This is not your child. Stop making her question the choices our family makes. Judge me as a mother all you want. Talk smack about me to the other mothers. Point and snicker when I pick her up after school. Just don’t say it to my daughter.
To return the favor, I won’t mention to your child that those bedazzled jeans you wear every day are about three sizes too small and that I don’t think the symbol of the Crucifixion was intended to be encrusted in rhinestones on a butt cheek.
A new semester dawned this week, my sixth as a college instructor. In many ways, however, it felt like my first. Chaos and Murphy’s Law were the major themes, reminding me how many of my job woes Tim Gunn’s advice could solve: Make it Work.
Talking to our division’s administrative assistant, I mentioned that I felt off-balance during my first few classes, like I didn’t have my footing. She in her glorious wisdom pointed out that I’ve had to add about five classes to my schedule in the past week. Tuesday, our first official day of class, we discovered that one of the other English instructors had an incorrectly set cap on his class. I took some of those students and added them to the sections of history I had picked up a few days before.
The history I at least suspected was coming. Try as we might after a plethora of interviews, we could not hire a new history instructor last fall. I took a couple for the team so we wouldn’t have to cancel a passel of classes. Tuesday, when I found myself writing out a new syllabus for the class I took to help my English colleague, I thought, “Will the beginning of the semester ever not be crazy?”
Even when things go perfectly, those first few days of a semester are still fraught with nerves. The first day of class sets the tone for the rest of the semester; some students may never come back after that first day. I actually searched for information about first days in college English classes–apparently I’m not alone in my nerves. I saw tons of articles and posts talking about first day jitters, even after decades of teaching.
Why do we still get nervous? I think it’s the mix of anticipation, excitement, and a dash of worry. We want to melt faces and change lives with our teaching. We want to rock like a moose (as one of my high school friends used to say).
Some days we do, some days we don’t. I think that when we lose those first day jitters, maybe we take things too much for granted. There is a superstition in the theater that a bad dress means a good opening night. I’m going to believe that the bad luck leading up to these first days of class will lead to a stellar semester.
Wish me luck.
Read, write, and be merry,
PS. Check out my “Ode to the Mixed Tape” on The Baraza.
Becoming a mother means learning an entirely new vocabulary. It’s like SAT prep all over again. Co-sleeping, Yo Gabba Gabba, and don’t even get me started on all the acronyms. Scoring well on the verbal section of the GRE does not help in this arena.
One such vocabulary lesson for me was play date. When I was a kid, I didn’t have play dates. I just hung out at someone’s house. The conversations were simple: I’d ask to play at that person’s house. If my mom needed to drive me, she would. The friend and I would hang out in her room, maybe have a snack, get into petty fights (“I’m the guest”/”It’s my house”), and my mom would pick me up. The end.
Now play dates have become more complicated than actual grown up dates. My daughter comes home from school with “mommy calling cards”–business cards for SAHM (that’s Stay At Home Mom for you vocab rookies) with the names of the mom, child(ren), and contact information. These are created solely for setting up play dates. Recently I got an email from my daughter’s classmate’s mother. I have no clue how she got my email address.
I’m not opposed to my daughter having friends and playing with those friends. But the few play dates I have taken her to have made it abundantly clear that I am in no way prepared to host one of these bad boys myself. The moms have a schedule of the day–crafts, outside time, free time, snack–and parting gifts. It’s like a mini-party for two little girls. Growing up, my friend’s moms would probably have Kool-Aid in the fridge (or Country Time Pink Lemonade if it was a fancy mom) and crackers, maybe some cheese or apples. And when I left the only things I took with me were the ones I had when I came in.
Not all play dates are this overwhelming. My friend T.J. and I have let our kids play together in a no fuss way. We sat in her kitchen and let the kids play. They were both toddlers at the time, so we did want to keep an eye on them, but we didn’t interfere.
I don’t want to seem unappreciative of those mothers who do put forth so much effort to welcome my daughter. But I am just not the type of mother to do that. I don’t structure play time. If my daughter asks to do a craft project and the timing is appropriate, we’ll do one. Things are just more go with the flow at our house.
My poor kids–I’m an under achieving mom who doesn’t make friends easily. The term play date gives me a block on principle alone. So if your child wants to hang out with one of mine, don’t send me your card, don’t ask to schedule a play date; just ask if they can come over some Saturday. And don’t break yourself planning and buying and cooking. We’re not fancy folk. We’re cool with simple.
Happy New Year! Today on Ploughshares I am happy to add another installment to my fictional writers series. This time I talk journalists, specifically Lois Lane and His Girl Friday’s Hildy Johnson. Thanks for reading!
The end of the year always means an onslaught of Lists and Best Ofs. And because I am a slave to societal norms, I present the Seven Best Books I Read in 2013. Many of these were not published in 2013, but that is when I read them, so their inclusion seems fair. In no particular order:
- The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel (2013). Frankel’s beautifully researched work combines the real history of Cynthia Ann Parker with the making the John Ford classic, The Searchers. History, Hollywood, and research–three of my favorite things. When I felt particularly stuck on my Ploughshares cowboy series, I’d pick this up for inspiration (and a few hours of procrastination).
- Let’s Do by Rebecca Meacham (2004). I’ll admit I ordered this poignant short story collection after I became a fan girl for my fellow Ploughshares blogger, Meacham. Her columns, while insightful, are only a taste of staggering talent. Balanced, thoughtful, and often funny, the collection is one of three amazing contributions to short stories that I read this year.
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2008). The linked collection inspired a new phase in my writing. “The Piano Player” remains my favorite, for its simple elegance.
- MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (2013). Don’t act surprised. Everyone who knows me knows this book would be on the list.
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013). When I first heard about this book, I thought it sounded gimmicky at worst or like postmodernish dirge at best. Instead, it is wise and surprising without ever feeling one note. Like Ground Hog Day for the literati.
- The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (2013). I thought I had outgrown coming of age tales after reading a billion of them in high school. Turns out I was wrong. The title speaks well of the entire work.
- Tenth of December by George Saunders (2013). Saunders has yet to disappoint. He’s one of those writers who if I ever met, I would be left speechless as I am not actually smart enough to talk to him. This book was what pushed me to that conclusion.