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Posts from January 2009

The Value of a Life

What makes people not value their own lives and at the same time value it so much that they think others can't live without them?

Last week in California a man killed his family (his five children and his wife) and then shot himself after losing his job. In October there was a similar story, also out of California. I’m sure, unfortunately, that there are other cases that I’m not aware of. I guess the thinking that goes on in the minds of these people must be: my family needs me, if I can’t support them, then no one else can support them and they should all die because they need me, and since I can’t support them, then they should die. Um, I’m thinking that this is more narcissism than anything else.

I’m probably not supposed to be angry at people who are so distraught that they murder their families, but I can’t help it. So what, the world revolves around you and if your orbit goes off-kilter you need to take everyone down with you to prove how vital you are? Or are you so claustrophic in your mind that you can’t see a sliver of possibility for your “loved ones” without you being at the center of their universe?

How does a person become so lost that the most important role in his life is one that he violates so dramatically? Is society still too focused on a man’s worth as being reflected in his “being a good provider” that when there is an obstacle in fulfilling that role the man loses his ability to value himself as a person as separate from his paycheck? I know this is a great simplification, but I love to simplify things, after thinking deeply, of course. But if the straw that breaks the camel’s back is losing a job or losing the house, then there is that implicit link between one’s intrinsic worth as a person and one’s extrinsic worth as a provider.

How to rectify that, especially as we continue to ground into this economic morass? Who knows? I don’t write self-help books or sermons. Okay, I’ll take a shot. If you were to think of the things that bring joy to your children’s faces you could find a clue to who you really are and how you are really valued. Maybe it’s the things you buy, in that case, not much help there. But maybe, really, it’s that your children know you are trying to give them what they want—that you want to make them happy. And if you break that down, it could be grounded thus: they are happy when you try to make them happy.

When I get together with friends we often meet in a restaurant or a coffee shop. Not much money is spent, because that is not the key factor, time together is. We get together simply to spend time with someone we enjoy being with, and we tell stories. We tell stories of past meetings, of things we have done since last meeting, and we talk about aches and dreams, and frustrations and joys. The coffee or salmon salad is not the center of attraction, we are. This can be taken as the advice that time spent together is what counts and not what is done. Who needs fancy parks when it brings more angst to get there when the core of the experience is the being together?

Maybe I’m still simplifying too much or am unable to see into the psyche of a man who only values himself by his paycheck and how he provides and what he can give his kids, but you know what, the mind is a gymnast and can change how it views things. There isn’t yes and no, and have and have not, there is part and there is some. Maybe a part of the problem, too, is that people don’t talk to each other. They don’t tell their spouses about the battering that they are taking just trying to survive, or about the relentless thought of failure that accompanies them throughout the day, or about the longing to walk away from the trials placed in one’s path. If only, if only people, especially men, didn’t realize that sharing is not a sign of weakness or failure, but is a sign that you are not an island.

For goodness sakes, don’t people get married and have a family so that they can share their lives with others? Is sharing about controlling it all? I especially detest the notion that a man or woman would not tell his or her family about problems in order to “protect them.” Protect them from acting on concern? Protect them from knowing that your spouse is considering murder and suicide? Protect them from what—their own lives, the reality of their loved ones’ lives? 

While this blog may not be the turn-to source for men contemplating killing themselves and their families, it is my source for thinking about our lives and our society. Trying to be like Atlas holding up the sky so your brood can bask in the sunshine is a pretty tough task even for a Greek God. It seems that the time has really come for the “man as center of the world in his castle” thing to come to an end. Maybe this is sexist, but I can’t help but feeling if these men had just talked to their wives about their FEELINGS they might have come up—together—with a solution that did not involve the end of all their days.

My thoughts go out to all those who are struggling, may they find hope in the future and a place of peace in the present. 

I Am Woman, Watch Me Shovel!

Wednesday was an official snow day, that is a day off without having to take a day off.

In the middle of taking an early morning walk (I couldn't go back to sleep after hearing the words: "school is cancelled today" at five am) I realized that none of the men at the end of my little private road were going to do anything about the snow and ice that covered our road that does not get plowed since it is a private road. Usually the neighbor takes out his snow blower and does his driveway and our driveway and the whole road—up the hill—to the neighborhood road. (The distance must be about the length of two football fields.) And since I have had it waiting for people to do things that might benefit me, I decided to just shovel it myself. I had no intention of having my car being stuck in the garage another day, even if tomorrow ended up being another snow day.

And so, out came the shovel, and out went my non-conditioned body to—over the course of about five hours with significant breaks when I felt I should not risk a heart attack to make a point, take a stand, and do what needs to be done with help from no one—shovel two tracks up the hill for the tires of my car.

I will refrain from repeating the utterance that came to mind when exman drove up the road that I had just cleared after much toil. But after that "comment" I repeated to myself that I had cleared the road for myself and that’s what counts, not that it ended up benefitting him. 

When I finished I drove my car through the beautifully cleared path up the hill and parked it on the side of the neighborhood road that gets far more traffic than my road with its four houses, two at the bottom of the hill, one in the middle with the retired couple for whom I retrieved their paper this morning because it was too slippery for the man of the house to drive his car up to the mailbox, and the couple towards the top who have never so much as shoveled or de-iced a centimeter of common road, even when the part in front of their drive was the iciest part of the road. And exman, once a leech always a leech. I don't know why neighbor man or his son did nothing, but that is not my concern--I am.

It feels good to have been outside, to have one-upped exercise because I moved my body for a purpose, and to have accomplished something that I thought would be too big a task for me to accomplish alone. Give a girl a shovel and I'll show you a clear path.  

Snow Day, Day of Contemplation

It snowed today and rather than drive through the weather for two one-hour meetings on this Teacher Work Day, I decided to take the day off. I didn’t get out of my pajamas until after 7 in the evening when I decided that the dog and I needed a walk in the season’s first snow.

I had two naps today, read half of a book (Three Daughters by Letty Cottin Pogrebin), answered a couple of work-related emails, made mac n’ cheese, and moaned to my mother about the mediator and my home situation, but I held back the tears because I don’t want to cry today. I had planned to pay some bills, but I didn’t even open the envelopes. I also planned to write a couple of blog posts that I have been thinking about, but they didn’t get written. But I did begin mulling over how we bloggers, no, we people who write blogs could get some monetary compensation for the reading of our writing, and how the publishing world needs to change, or really, what I could do to create that change since I was feeling pretty capable today in my flannels. But these are just nascent thoughts, with no light bulbs to accompany them, yet.

Beneath the texture of those external things and thoughts, a current has been running through me like the current in a river that is barely visible but still underlies all. I guess it’s an emotion, since when something is so hard to identify, it’s generally an emotion. Is it sadness? Or is it aloneness? Or is it the emotion of realization, an emotion which probably doesn’t exist but should, because it is what one feels when one realizes that she is who she is and that her life is what it is. Is this a good thing to be feeling, or would it be better to keep glossing over and pretending that I deserve a pair of rose-colored glasses, since I know that I don’t have the rose-colored life (does anyone)?

What does it mean to feel realization? For me, it’s less about the things that occupy my life and more the people, at least “realization” as I have been feeling it today. Maybe it was being forced to stay at home but to have none of the requisite comforts of home that have been needlepointed into our psyche as the proper image of a snow day. You know, to discuss the condition of the roads and that you should stay home and be safe with the person who has been at your side through summer days and snow days, and who will actually go out and shovel while you prepare mugs of hot chocolate for children sledding down slippery hills and men testing their manhood against the snow. Or was the realization of today just another aspect of loneliness that one feels when you don’t want to be alone and do it all on your own without a crutch or shovel holder to lean on. 

Why get out of my pajamas if no one needs me, or even wants me? What’s the point? To feel less essential? This way I can hide behind my own lethargy and not face my solitariness. No work to do. No children who need me except for finding gloves and perusing the contents of the refrigerator, freezer and pantry together for a total of three minutes. No one who needs me to warm him or comfort him, or who needs to be at the giving end of those comforts that he needs to give to feel alive and needed.

Realization, indeed. It’s like the snow, it descends, makes its impact, and then disappears. I hope we won’t have much more snow this year.

Gaza and the Manassas (Battle of Bull Run) National Battlefield Park

The other day I walked around the Manassas National Battlefield Park with a friend. As in, I took a leisurely stroll on a cold, cloudless day through what had been a Civil War battlefield; “today, more than 5,000 acres comprise the battlefield park, allowing the visitor to explore the historic terrain where men fought and died for their beliefs a century ago.” We walked around some of those acres, and we read signs that told of where people died and where people were injured, and we saw cannons where they stood at the time of battle.

According to the park’s website, these are the fatality figures: Battle of First Manassas in July 1861: 4,122 (Union: 2,896; Confederate: 1,226); and the Campaign of Second Manassas, August 27 - September 1, 1862: 23,869 (Union: 14,449; Confederate: 9,420). For a “grand” total of 27,991 men killed “for their beliefs” on those 5,000 acres almost one hundred and fifty years ago.

Yes, I know, the Civil War was an important war to fight and win. And so many wars are important because people are fighting for their beliefs. Most recently in Gaza, the Israelis were fighting for their beliefs and the Palestinians were fighting for their beliefs. And we could place placards along the streets that read: “A rocket landed here,” “A man/fighter/terrorist/son died here,” “A building collapsed here,” “A hope for a peaceful future expired here,” “A dream ended here.”

Yes, fighting for one’s beliefs is important. The only problem is, someone is generally going to have a different belief, one that either denies yours or seeks to eradicate yours. What to do? Pretend that only your side counts? Pretend that you can wipe out all detractors? Pretend that those whose beliefs go counter to yours are less human than you? Pretend that all those who don’t agree with you are stupid or naïve or unworthy of thought?

What to do? Fight for your beliefs so that there will always be battlefields to walk through, as parks or re-creations or as real-life battlefields? Or is there an alternative? Is there a way to look in horror at the loss of life and not say “it had to be,” but to say “they didn’t do enough to prevent the killing field”?

If you die for your beliefs you cannot live to fulfill your beliefs. So what, really, are you fighting for?

Yes, this is surely sacrilegious to say, especially for a Jewish woman, what with our history of fighting and dying for our beliefs. But really, we are in the 21st century now, can’t we somehow progress from fighting and then talking, to talking and then NOT fighting? It’s not as if we don’t know what happens when two sides fight, we know. We know that people die, people get bitterer, people hold onto their positions even tighter to validate that loss of life. Yes, they died for a reason, which is just a circular argument with death itself validating the reason for dying.

If we can transplant hearts and lungs, the very things we need for life, can’t we finally transplant those swords into ploughshares? Hasn’t history presented us with enough battlefields to stroll along? And enough heroes who died for their beliefs to honor and uphold? Isn’t it time to take to heart non-violence, not as an anomaly but as strategy and tactic and way of being? Does human history really need to keep repeating itself?

I’m not sure how this would come to pass, but perhaps a start would be for each person to accept every other person on this earth as being worthy of life and hope. Surely that shouldn’t be so hard for isn’t that, really, the basis of all religions (which seem to be used as the raison d’être for far too many wars, or at least the never-ending ones).

Mediation, or Sitting around a Big Table with Someone You Hate, Part 2

At the end of a short work week [I had off on both Martin Luther King Jr Day and Inauguration Day (this is standard in this county, not just because of Obama but because we teachers and children going to school supposedly create too much traffic for the attendees)], but as all of the Ladies Who Lunch (that would be the English teachers in the workroom) determined yesterday, short weeks just compress the requisite amount of weekly pressure into less time making it a tougher-than-normal week. And so, to top off an intense week I got to sit around that big round table again with mediator man and exman (“man” being a pejorative term for both).

Asking a student why he plagiarized a paper, speaking to a parent whose son cheated, asking another student to stop making sounds that befit a football stadium, parsing “no, that is wrong” in a manner that does not hurt anyone’s tender sensibilities, and worrying about yet another student who is seeping into depression was nothing compared to those 45 minutes. Oh, and having my co-teacher out of the room most of time, "tracking down information on our newest student." Um, shouldn't you do that during your planning period and not during class? Not only was exman in “form” with the insults, the bizarre interpretations of reality, and the demands, but mediator man was in all effect a lump of clay.

Two times exman threatened me, and neither time did mediator man say anything. I don’t know, but if his job is to create an environment conducive to discussion and mutual decision-making, having one client say to the other client “I’ll get you” would seem to be a little red flag for speaking up and scolding said belligerent client. But no, mediator man did nothing. I guess he was intimidated by exman, but have no fear, I have come a long way from being the woman who is called “nothing” with nary a protective word. And in keeping with exman—consensus here—being a sociopath narcissist, his rejoinder to me was, “No, that’s not a threat, that’s a promise.”

It all started with his opening ploy in the waiting room: “Hi, Laura.” Now this man has not uttered my name in years, so I guess he was trying to show that he’s really a decent guy. But that was dispelled quickly, when he told mediator man that we did not get carpet for the house because of my outrageous behavior. Oh yeah, being insulted in Lowes and then sashaying out because of it is outrageous to one who thinks his mouth can say whatever it wants and everyone else will bow before it.

Continue reading "Mediation, or Sitting around a Big Table with Someone You Hate, Part 2" »

Mommy Whine

  • No, I do not want to get a roll of toilet paper for you from the basement.
  • No, I do not want you to take my tee-shirts, my sweatshirts, or my sweaters from my closet.
  • No, I do not want you to take my towel from my room.
  • No, I do not want to make dinner for you and you.
  • No, I do not want to make tea for you, even if you are not feeling well.
  • No, I do not want to get a glass of water, again, for you.
  • No, I do not want to explain to you why it is wrong to call me a “fucking woman.”
  • No, I do not want to stop at the supermarket for you.
  • No, I do not want to not stop at the supermarket so that I can get home faster to give the car to you.
  • No, I do not want to give to you every inch of the blanket we are supposed to be sharing on the couch.
  • No, I do not want to stop at the bookstore so that I can buy three books for you at $200.
  • No, I do not want to turn off the music I am listening to so that you can listen to the music you want.
No, I do not want to be on-duty today.

When’s Mother’s Day?


Day of Service; or Yes, I am a Bag Lady

On Monday morning (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) I took my younger daughter and her BFF to a “Day of Service” activity that Michelle Obama personally invited me to participate in. (“Personally” meaning I got an email from her and since she asked and it did not involve my donating $25 to the election, the inauguration, or saving the banks, I agreed.) Anyway, they—I was expressly told that I was unwelcome—were going to clean up a park alongside the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia (which is opposite Washington, DC, where I did not go to watch the inauguration because it was too cold and the closures of roads and metro stations, and the expected traffic and parking issues was just too daunting to try to overcome).

We got there at about 9:15 (fifteen minutes late because I was stuck behind a sand truck that was dumping sand on the road because there was the barest of indicators of snow flying through the air). By the time we got there the garbage picker-upper sticks had been picked up by other volunteers (my daughter was so disappointed, she was really looking forward to using one). My daughter and her friend picked up the last two garbage bags. Oh, well.

I walked off in the opposite direction that they went so I wouldn’t be publicly chastised for being within a mile of them and thus infringing on their freedom and ability to pretend that they are mature while swinging their pony tails from side to side as they giggle at the silliness of everyone else while cleaning up a park. When I was far enough away from them I looked at the frozen Potomac and the gulls flying and the geese waddling on the ice, and thought of how momentous the inauguration will be: momentous because Bush will be not be able to inflict any more of his pain upon us and the world any more (okay, he will from all of the rules and laws and judges he has put into place, but at least he will finally be stopped from doing more), and momentous because Obama will become the President of the United States—both him as an individual and him as embodying the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King himself.

I wandered back towards the sign-up desk and saw that a few people were heading out to clean up the park with supermarket bags. At that moment I realized that I can save the day, YES! I have a bag of bags in my car, ready to shove into the recycle container at the supermarket at any time (that is if I remember to take it out of the car). I raced off to my car and picked up the bag of bags which now did not look so much like garbage in the back seat of my car, but a way to save the world. Yes, those bags were greeted with enthusiasm by the volunteers. I took a newspaper bag, and wandered off to clean the park, pleased with myself and my saving ways.

And thus we spent about two hours. My daughter and her friend ended up in bottle alley (a part of the park, right along the shore, where there were enough bottles and cans to fill supersize garbage bag upon supersize garbage bag). And I mulled the need to require all smokers to at least ten hours of community service a year to pick up a portion of the cigarette butts that they toss out of their cars and from their hands as if they were as biodegradable as the air we breathe.

People hold onto your bottles and butts until you get to a garbage can. If we all just took responsibility for our own things there would not be a need for thousands of volunteers across the country to pick up trash. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have spent that time improving the park by adding to it, and not getting it to be the way it should be?

Five and 0! Go Girls!

My daughter’s 7th/8th grade basketball team is five and 0 mid-season. Yeah! There are eight girls on the team, with one coach and one assistant coach (two dads, so they need two titles and a hierarchy). One of the girls on the team was a friend of my younger daughter’s, but I did not know anyone else on the team. When I was waiting to pick up my daughter from one of her early practices I talked with the mother of that friend. She told me that there is a girl on the team with some kind of developmental disability but that the coach is playing her like any of the other girls. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.

When looking at the team, at first you don’t realize that there is anyone who is different than anyone else. You need to pay attention, to watch this girl, before you realize that she is different in any way. She runs across the court like the other girls, but when they are playing either offense or defense, she looks kind of lost and distracted, and is physically awkward. But she stands where she needs to be and lifts up her arms when the coach calls out to all of the girls to lift up their arms. And she plays as much as the other girls.

Today, she was the last to make a shot during the pre-game warm-up—and she got the ball in. My daughter high-fived her.  During the game today, which was played four-on-four (it’s a four-day weekend here so I guess some people made the most of it by getting out of town for the inauguration), for the first time today the girls threw the ball to her a few times and each time she threw the ball back to someone on the team. Again, my daughter high-fived her, and I saw my daughter tell her how well she had played.

And that made me think of the classes that I teach which combine kids with special needs and “regular” kids. On the whole, if you observed the classes not knowing which kids had special education and accommodation plans you would have a hard time figuring it out. It’s not that only the “special” kids need help or a dose of a teacher voice to get them to settle down or focus, but so many of them do.

A world that acknowledges differences and doesn’t seek to separate because of them is surely an understanding, and maybe a compassionate, world. Something to consider not just for classrooms, but for life in general, across the globe.

The other day I got two new students in two different classes: one student is autistic; the other dropped out of school a few years ago and is back in the classroom, piercings, tattoos and all. I’m thinking that they both are going to need attention, whether they have the papers to attest to it or not. But I am also thinking that their acceptance by their classmates will be critical for both of them. Maybe I need to bring a basketball into the classroom, or at least a metaphorical one. 

Did I say that my daughter’s team is undefeated?

A Bead of a Day

Yesterday was a bead of a day. It was a day that I could put on one of the necklaces that our lives create; this would be on the necklace of lovely days, lovely in their simplicity and the simple joy felt in living them.

  • A student’s mother told me how much her daughter likes my class.
  • A colleague told me that another colleague told him that I had prepared a wonderful unit plan—that she would be using.
  • A few colleagues and I had discussions that went beyond the aches and pains of teaching, but were more personal discussions, like friends would have.
  • And I spent most of the day emailing back and forth with my co-teacher in an easy banter.
  • And I spent the day emailing a friend who recently got in touch with me.
  • And that contact spurred me to contact a friend with whom that thread of communication had stopped because I was waiting for her to get back to me, but she didn’t. So I emailed her, and she got back to me immediately, and even invited me to come visit her.
  • And I was nice and calm with every one of my students. Even when I cajoled it was to the right level, and then I stepped back and let them decide to do the work or not, making it about them, not about me.

Yes, it was a lovely bead of a day. It even started with the thinnest covering of snow—the first of the season.

It was so lovely that I didn’t even miss (too much) missing my book club meeting  because my daughter needed my car. After all, garish beads don’t fit on the necklace of lovely days. 

I Have Nothing to Wear: Bra Department

May I say with all honesty that I hate bras. Yes, I know that I wanted to start a fancy nursing bra company, but I did not. And I have had a hate/resigned attitude towards bras ever since I realized that I must wear one every time I leave the house. I have tried to wear two tee-shirts (that was long before it was a fashion statement called layering, and an excuse for companies to sell more color-coordinated tee shirts); and camis (with and without shelving); and even to go without any breast support or extra covering. Inevitably I keep going back to the standard breast-imprisonment system.

The moment I walk into the house, it is off. And when I go on long-distance car rides, I eschew the pleasure of having a piece of elastic tightly wrapped around my rib cage rubbing and grating, and at least one strap that always falls below expectations (that being the expectation to stay on the shoulder). I would go without altogether, but there is a noticeable difference from when I wear one to when I do not, and it is about a five inch difference (where people assume breasts should be as opposed to where gravity has decided mine should be).

I have had the pleasure of spending a lot of money at Victoria’s Secret for bras that promise to make me look and feel like an angel, and they are relatively comfortable. And I have gone the way of sports bras that smoosh one’s breasts in the opposite way than a mammogram does. But through it all, I have retained my intense hatred of this restraining device. They're just always uncomfortable. Now I am sure that plenty of women are going to say that they have no problem wearing a bra, that they don’t even notice that it’s there; well, lucky you is all I have to say. I don’t think that the problem is that I haven’t found the bra for me (kind of like I haven’t found the man for me), but rather it’s just not for me.

Compared to the other clothes we wear, this one item stands out as working against nature. Bras are not there to cover or protect us from the elements, no, their sole purpose is to prevent two parts of our body from being free. It is in no way like a sweater that gives a warm, snuggly feeling just by gently touching the skin. Nor is it akin to a pair of pants, even if it is tight and hard to button, because its purpose is not to make you suffer, it’s just that you bought the wrong size or became the wrong size, for this the pants cannot be held accountable. And even the beleaguered turtle neck, which I cannot abide (not to wear and not to see, especially on men) is an optional garment, so there’s no problem there. I will admit that the other restraining device, the girdle or whatever new word we have for similar devices, are just as uncomfortable, but here, it’s generally only required a few times a year—not every day. (You can tell that I don’t go to a lot of parties or on many dates.)

I don’t plan to go back to my free-bouncing days; I am simply presenting myself as a beleaguered woman who has been harmed by society and its norms, and the fashion world for its complete lack of creativity and problem solving. You know the old story, if they can get a man on the moon, then….

I’m writing this at home, in my room, and I am, oh, so comfortable without you know what. I wonder if I think differently when wearing and when not? 

Always on Sunday. There’s Always Something on Sundays.

He’s yelling at my younger daughter now, and I am in my room hearing his muffled raised voice. If I were a very good mother, I would go down there and tell him to stop yelling at her. But I don’t.

And earlier, when he slammed my older daughter’s door in my face (yes, she was in the room at the time) and he bullied his way into taking her to her college interview which she told me she wanted me to take her to (and she specifically told me that she didn’t want him to take her), I did not protest too loudly. I asked her if she wants me to take her as she sat there telling me not to yell when obviously I was her easy target and not her father, who towered over the two of us, who declared “I’ll take her.” And since I had to pick up my other daughter from where I had taken her earlier, and since I took my older daughter to and from her activities on Friday and Saturday, and he does nothing, I just didn’t want to fight over driving her.

It was claustrophobic in there with him so close to me and so menacing. But her, she was so small on her bed, trying to not enrage him and trying, maybe, not to send me off. I didn’t want to have him yell in my face and I didn’t want to see his red face and spittle flying. I just couldn’t be in the room another second with him. So I left, and I didn’t take her.

I’m sitting here thinking that I should apologize to her for not taking her, but that would be presenting to her on a platter how her mother is still letting herself be a victim. Who am I to expect her to stand up to him when I don’t? Yes, I told him to grow-up and stop, although I did accuse him of stealing toilet paper (where else are all the rolls going?).

Maybe I am not doing the right karma thing or repelling his negativity or channeling peacefulness, or maybe I am holding onto this pain for some unknown psychotic reason, or maybe I need to forgive him or understand that he was what I deserved or whatever other insight there is to explain why I am still stuck here (that does not take into consideration economics and the housing market and the physical state of this home), or maybe, just maybe shit happens and we try to deal with it as well as we can. And we fall short of our own expectations, and certainly our children’s.

I just want to go to sleep and let another Sunday end. I have two books that I started reading today, one promises to be a very insightful but deeply depressing book about a woman in Pakistan and the other a sort of romantic comedy where everyone is beautiful and witty and the challenges are the kind that Meg Ryan could solve. I think I’ll read that one.

But first, maybe I’ll talk to my daughter.