How do you DO that?

I had a Chemistry teacher in high school who looked me in the eye one afternoon (as I was maybe, possibly serving a detention for talking too much), and simply said, “How do you do that?” When I looked confused, she explained: “You have an A in my class, so you must be able to listen to what I’m saying, but you and everyone at your table talk CONSTANTLY.” In our defense, we were all in drama together, then we went to lunch, and then we went to study hall in the Chem classroom, and THEN we were expected to stop talking and showing off for each other and sit still and learn about Chemistry. But I had an edge there. I like math and science, my dad is a chemical engineer, and I can talk and listen at the same time. These things were not all true of my lab partners, so the teacher asked me to do my part to curb the chatting. It is also notable that compared to the average drama student, I am quiet, reserved and laid-back. A-hem.  The upside: we all passed, some with distinction, Mrs. Lindsey’s Chemistry class. We also all avoided detention thereafter. But we still talked. A lot. Just not during the actual instruction time. Because we should have learned better than that in elementary school.

Now I am the one who constantly wonders “How do you do that?” I can still talk and listen at the same time, though I have learned that other people generally prefer that I just listen when I’m listening and that I talk somewhat less often than I would most prefer. What makes me incredulous are all the things people do in a day. This time of year is rife with stories of all the preparations that people make for the holidays, all the things they buy, all the functions they attend, and all the other little details that get done that I’ve never even thought of. I sit in awe. I was impressed with myself for getting my house clean. And keeping it that way for four whole days so far. And I only turned banshee on my kids once! Other people have cookies baked, trees trimmed, halls decked and presents bought and wrapped. How do they do that? When do they sleep? When do they READ?

*Confessions of an inveterate, irascible, intransigent book addict. Who isn’t even behind on her own Christmas schedule. Because she plans to decorate in December. Which doesn’t even start until tomorrow! And if I made the cookies now, I’d just have to make more later. ‘Cause I’d eat them. Though I might share. A few.

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You know those days…?

It was one of those days when nothing felt quite right. I stayed up too late last night – reading, of course. So this morning I rewarded myself for my very productive first half of the week by allowing myself to read all morning as well. It was fun. I enjoyed it. But the rest of the day suffered. You know those days when you don’t feel like anything you said came out right? And I’m not just talking about the banshee moments when the kids ruin something you’ve been working on while doing something that you already told them not to do, while you are fixing something they broke ten minutes ago when they weren’t exactly misbehaving, but weren’t exactly behaving appropriately for human beings living in a house. Monkeys in a zoo? Sure. So yeah…there was that moment. Or moments. But the hard part about days like today are that I know I’m being ridiculous. I’m worried about stuff I said on Sunday: “Did she understand what I really meant, or did I accidentally offend her?” I’m also irritated at everyone’s positive Facebook status. The snarky ones I’m good with, but the cheerful ones are making me gnash my teeth and snarl. I’m probably not really gnashing my teeth or snarling, but I wanted to use the words. “Smirk” may be over-used, but “snarl” needs more publicity. And anything with a silent g at the beginning is cool. See? Ridiculous. At least digressions about the relative merit of words describing facial expressions aren’t as bad as self-castigations about things that probably never bothered anyone anyway, unwarranted Facebook rage, or banshee moments. But still. It’s been one of those days. And if you are mad at me because of something I said on Sunday (or any other day, for that matter), please forgive me. There was no malice intended, I love and support you all, and yes, I know have a really big mouth that inevitably gets me in trouble. Believe it or not, I’m trying to say less…and go to bed early so as not to repeat today’s errors tomorrow!

Funny how that goes….

One of my personal goals for the school year has been to be more productive. I wasn’t sure how that would look. I’m still not, but there have been encouraging signs along the way. First, I started this blog and some other writing projects. Though I haven’t been on here as much as I first thought I would, I have loved the process of just writing. The other projects are theoretically novels. I say theoretically because I really don’t know where I’m going with them yet, but the beginnings are there and I am still slogging along with them. That has been fun too, in a “there’s something I should be doing, but I don’t quite know how to do it” kind of way. I’ve also picked up a project from over a year ago that had gone into a temporary state of suspended animation. It is still very slow going, but it is moving again and I’m glad of that. What is it? Oh. I’m editing a collection of essays on the topic(s?) of infertility, miscarriage, infant loss, and adoption. It’s a work in progress, so the actual tight topic statement has yet to be, well, tightened. In fact, it is getting more fluid right now. Funny how that goes. Not much funny in the project, though. It is gut-wrenching work to write, read, or edit such sad, sad stories. Slow going seems apropos.

Another sort of productivity became imperative last week as I prepared for, celebrated, and then cleaned up from Thanksgiving. Any holiday about people and food is good with me, so I spent two days cooking the side dishes and desserts that we took to our friends’ house. That is two days of cooking, the cleaning that must happen in order for the cooking to happen, and the cleaning that must follow in order to find the kitchen again. So house-cleaning became my new production. We cleaned this house more thoroughly than we have since we moved in. All books, papers, magazines, newspapers, and other wood-pulp products have been shelved, filed or trashed. Incidentally, my computer desk, bed-side table and dresser actually have wood tops – who knew? I cleaned bathrooms, floors, windows, book shelves, and even bleached all the grout in my kitchen. That one was not fun. It makes cleaning toilets seem delightful. We are now ready to decorate for Christmas. How productive! Of course, the one sort of physical productivity completely removed the desire to accomplish the other, more cerebral, sort. Funny how that goes. I am ready to get to the decorating, the writing and the maintenance cleaning…it has to be easier than the “get a handle on the disaster zone” sort I’ve been doing.

So what more could (or should) a stay-at-home, writing, editing, house-working mom be doing with her hours and hours of free time? Practicing snarky, sarcastic comments and questions? No problem. How ’bout making money? Ah. Money. Does it make the world go around or is it the root of all kinds of evil? Do answers to philosophical questions about it change our need for it? Or greed for it? We have lived comfortably on one salary since…almost always. Now here I sit, my children both in school all day, almost fifteen years since my undergraduate degree, amidst the shambles of my nascent plans for graduate school, and I wonder: Should I get a job waiting tables? It’s a bit…lowering…to tell you the truth. There is nothing wrong with working in the service industry and I like food, people, restaurants and multi-tasking. I make a good waitron unit. I just don’t want to go back to my pre-college job. So another option is applying at the local, independent coffee shop that we frequently patronize. I had decided to do just that this summer, but changed my mind. In fact, I had pretty much decided not to apply for a job right now at all – I’m actually keeping pretty busy and feeling pretty productive (it’s a theme, ya see). We’re still living comfortably on one salary, though we could spend another one in about eight different ways if we were given the chance. So I finally threw the application away during the Great Paper Purge. Last Friday. And then yesterday, Adam texts me from the coffee shop. It turns out the owner asked him if I was interested in working there. He’s hoping to find some “reliable, mature employees.” I’ve decided to be complimented and not offended by the implied characterization. So I have another application to fill out. Funny how that goes. My decisions, no matter how wise or practical they may seem, are very rarely final.

They call this a vacation?!?!

We are approximately 35 seconds into our Thanksgiving Break and I have already broken up two arguments, been hit up for three treats, have one child in tears and the other raking leaves in an attempt to earn money. Okay, so that last one is actually a good thing…all except for the money-grubbing part. You can rest assured that as soon as he completes his self-appointed task (he is never so quick to finish ones that I appoint), he will demand payment in full and a ride to a venue wherein he can spend said payment. When I refuse (the one on the grounds that I currently have no cash, the other because I have no intention of letting him spend it), he too is likely to be in tears. But let us not borrow trouble.

Never mind. No need to borrow. The raker is now angry because I want him to rake ALL the leaves (“They’re scattered EVERYWHERE!”) before he gets out the leaf bag. Ahhhhh the joys of the holiday season….

The child in me still gets excited at the idea of a holiday break from school. I have sixteen years of conditioning that tells me that school breaks are the best thing ever. This deep-seated belief has been challenged regularly for the last 5 years as I watch my own dear children make themselves completely miserable during each and every school vacation. The adult in me therefore sees that occupation is necessary to all of us, no matter what our age. The more exciting the reason for the vacation, i.e. Christmas, the more rigorous the occupation needed, i.e. pyramid building. Unfortunately, the more occupations I dream up, the more resistant the children become, to the extent that my only occupation becomes the wrangling of said children. Which is WAY harder than building a pyramid. So while the child in me rejoices at the idea of the next three days without school (and the adult in me looks forward to turning off the alarm clock tonight), the rest of me is getting ready for the next month or so. Because ’tis the season…for cranky, hopeful, doomed-to-disappoinment children. Because NOTHING can live up to their hopes and expectations. So…. God bless us, everyone.

Does anyone need a pyramid built? Because baseboard cleaning won’t last all the way through December 26th….

Oooooh! Scary!

There are lots of things that other people find frightening that are no big deal to me: speaking in front of a crowd, spending time with teenagers, teaching teenagers, singing in a choir, rescuing my children from spiders – none of these bother me. But today, I am unaccountably nervous about my plans for the hours from noon to 2:30. I will be sitting in my daughter’s second grade class. As the only adult. All by myself with close to 20 of those people. It’s terrifying! I am the exact opposite of all my friends who are elementary school teachers and write at the beginning of every school year at parent orientation time: “I don’t mind standing in front of a classroom of kids all day, but I’m sooooo nervous about talking to grown-ups tonight!” I love talking to grown-ups! I look forward to orientation night so I can meet more of them. All these little people who need to be taught things, but who don’t understand my admittedly long-winded, complicated explanations, however – that gives me hives! Thankfully, my daughter’s teacher is great and will have everything planned and organized for me. It is my sincere hope that my time in the classroom will coincide with PE and movie time, but if not, I’m sure she’ll have plenty of things ready for me that will keep the kids busy. I hope. Please….

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all kids that scare me. It’s that I’ve never been really sure what to do with a large crowd of the little creatures – unless playing outside like lunatics is an option. They do that on their own anyway, and it I take a few minutes to join in, they recognize my lunacy and enjoy it. My own kids then wonder if I’ve been body-snatched and replaced by a look-alike, but fun, alien. But I digress. Again. Here is my problem teaching small children: I like details. This was my major problem in home-schooling. My interest level began about two minutes after my explanation of something went over my target audience’s head. Here’s an example. We participated in a Classical Conversations group last year. My daughter (and I, by association) learned several history sentences as a foundation to understanding US History. When the sentence was about how the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement, I wanted to talk about how long it took for the latter to follow the former. I mean, hello! How can you ignore that? How can you not mention the horrors of segregation and racism, the rise of both the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan, or the beautiful orations on both violent and non-violent responses to the treatment of blacks in America? How? Easy. We were talking to six- to eight-year-olds. We mentioned that blacks were not treated the same as whites. The kids were horrified. (Hooray that the idea of unequal treatment hurts their hearts!) And they learned the song. That’s a great start. Then we moved on. They’ll have this foundational understanding of what happened, and as they grow and develop, they’ll come to understand when, why and how. Ideologically, I know that’s a great system. But the early developmental stages need to be taught by someone else. Someone who doesn’t react to simplification as though it is wrong, because you have to do that at the beginning. It’s like the frictionless surfaces on which everything happens in a high school physics book. Of course there are no frictionless surfaces in real life, and engineers can’t design things based on first year high school physics. But you have to start somewhere. And we don’t start with calculus. We start with 2+2. I just don’t want to be the one to teach that part. Because those small people scare me. At least when they are in packs. But I’m going in. Tomorrow I’ll let you know how it went…if I’m still alive and able to speak (or write) in complete sentences….

Did I mention how glad I am that there are good elementary school teachers? Please do not interpret my irrational fears, or even my preferences, as a shot at those who are gifted where I am not. It is important to be able to distill complicated processes and ideas into their simplest form so that they can be taught to people in developmentally appropriate ways. And I really can’t do that. I know, because my daughter came home from school last week telling me that she learned “clocks.” I was gritting my teeth and managed to refrain from telling her that she and I spent weeks working on telling time on an analog clock last year when I home-schooled her. And I refrained because she didn’t learn clocks last year – we just spent weeks on it. She learned clocks this year. Maybe it’s partially that she’s older…but make no mistake…it’s mostly that I am an abysmal first or second grade teacher. Which is fine. I’d also make a really dreadful NBA player. I can live with both of those truths.

Now the real question is: Can I survive two and a half hours in a room with second graders and make it through whatever plans the teacher left for me without losing my mind or damaging theirs? Of course. Because she is a great teacher, and she needs someone’s help, and I can do that. I’m just a bit nervous. Do you think I can teach the kids synonyms for nervous? Like trepidatious? Or anxious? Apprehensive? Agitated? Too much? Yeah. I was afraid of that….

Kids plus sugar equals crazy

Today was the first day off of school that we’ve had since Labor Day…PRAISE THE LORD! We all enjoyed sleeping in, then we “enjoyed” cleaning up the house a bit, then we got down to the real fun. First, I can assure anyone who is interested that Wreck It Ralph (short |a|, pronounce the |l|) is indeed a movie that does not induce adult brain explosions. Second, I can assure anyone who is foolish enough to do what we did that allowing children to have soda AND candy, then taking them out to dinner does induce adult brain explosions. I love my kids. I even like taking them places and doing fun things with them. I do not enjoy sugar highs. The fact that I’ve had a sinus headache for four days does not make me more patient with children who have gotten lots of fun things and can only remember the things to which I have said no. This lecture happened: No is a really good thing to learn. You’re going to need to know how to handle hearing it for the rest of your life. I do indeed know that it’s not easy to be told no…that is why you have to learn how to take it. If it were easy, no learning would be necessary. Is this what they mean by “teachable moments?” Parenting books make those suckers seem a whole lot more fun that walking around a parking lot with two children who might, just possibly, be characterized as sulky and whiny. Or whinge-y…I love that word. But I digress. Too much sugar is bad. Yeah, yeah – rotten teeth, obesity – those are bad too, but too much sugar makes my kids act like pinballs on speed…and that is clearly the real evil!

Novel

Novel. That is the current title of the word file I have been working on. It currently contains 1380 words and I’m not sure I like any of them. But I refuse to delete them for now. I want to keep something on paper, even virtual paper, to remind myself to keep going. I’m making a concerted effort to participate in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. The idea is to write a 55,000 word novel during the month of November. I’m only having a few problems so far: 1. I’m not sure I like my characters and I don’t have enough of them. 2. I have no real plot to speak of. 3. What I have so far is a bunch of really pretentious dialogue with no real long-term goals. I’m good other than that…. I know I should outline, but don’t I have to have some idea of what I want to have happen before that becomes useful? Maybe not. I am very afraid that I’m going to just end up with a category romance novel. Those don’t have much plot in many cases: Conflict: She loves him; will he discover he is in love with her too? Rising action: They fight about ridiculous things for about 50 pages. Climax: The conflict gets to be too much and they kiss in a mad fit of passion. It’s the best kiss ever. Falling action: All her myriad problems are solved because he is so rich and powerful. Denouement: They get married, have 2 perfect children and live happily ever after. (This is a very tame romance novel.) I’ve read that kind of book. They are a quick trip to beach on a cold and rainy afternoon. The characters are often fun, the settings are suitably foreign and the happily ever afters are sweet and make my heart get all melty. For about a minute. Then I get up, do what I have to do and promptly forget the whole things. Because it’s literary cotton candy. I read those sometimes…but I don’t want to write them. If I put my name on something, I want it to be at least as likeable (to me) as books I would quote and talk about individually. I don’t want to be example 87,954,211B of a common romantic theme. (The theme in question would be “best friends discovering that they’ve been in love with each other all along,” for anyone who might care about that kind of thing.) That kind of plotting is all I have so far. I want more. I don’t know if I want mystery or action or urban fantasy or what, but I know I haven’t stumbled on it yet. But please don’t feel the need to tell me what my plot should be. I need to find it. At least this first time, I need it to be my idea. I don’t exactly have writers block – the words are coming just fine – I have thinkers block, and I have to get over it or this novel won’t really be mine, and that is precisely what the experiment is about. I need something to be mine. It may end up an initial failure. I may decide this isn’t for me, and I can handle that. I’m not worried, yet, that no one else will like my novel. I want to like it. I want to think it’s worth reading. If I don’t, no one else will even get a chance to read it. So for now, I’m just going to write and think and see what happens. Bug me about it so I don’t give up….