Saturday, June 30, 2007

I think I have a handle on this

I keep floundering around in the despair of recounting and remembering everything that has happened this year to my son. I was working on a chronology of who said what when, who slammed him to the floor, who tried to force compliance on him, when he started running away from school, and when he decided it was safe enough to stay.

(I think I may have given myself sinusitis last week while crying. Now I have a bronchial cough. Gah.)

I keep going to meetings and saying, "We need to Do Something about this. Something needs to change." Surprisingly, I've had a really hard time articulating What It Is that needs to change. ("Stop being so fucking stupid" isn't really a workable policy title.)

I found it.

I figured out what the District can do.

(First we need more education for the General Ed teachers about Special Ed requirements, et cetera, et cetera. But that doesn't seem to address the heart of the issue: what would cause an adult to think that it's a Good Idea to drag a child down a hallway, kicking a screaming, to take him to his Safe Place? Or to tackle him?)

It's bullying. Duh.

We address peer-on-peer bullying all the time. This is teacher-on-student bullying. Duh. Why didn't I see that?

No wonder our kids report feeling unsafe at school, even when they themselves have experienced no bullying from other students. It's in the water. It's in the culture of the place.

Now, that's not to say that every school site is rampant with out of control teachers. That's not true. But, what is true is that some bullies have taken hold in the system, and the bystanders are not empowered to act when they see bullying. The administrators have almost no ability to take action against a staff member, whether they are bullying students or other employees, because there isn't back-up from above and there are no policies in place to delineate expected behavior and repercussions.

Hey. I see a problem, and I can fix it.

In fact, since I've been right out in front talking about the dangers of bullying to student mental health, I've already laid the groundwork for a district wide analysis of our Anti-bullying programs, mental health programs, and drug use education programs. How can all this be districtwide if employees are excluded, right?

And this approach, focusing on bullying rather than on "treating the special ed child with respect for its individual issues", is so much easier to communicate. And it gives me a deeper, broader, and meatier method of addressing the problem. We have a true leg to stand on here. What a relief to get this out from under what MY kid is going through and how the District is treating MY kid. That approach is doomed before you start, because then you're just a Board member rolling through a district with a personal agenda.

By George, I think she's got it!

PS: Felt the need to add in here that of course I will continue to advocate for MY kid and HIS needs and rights because I'm his mother. However, knowing that I've got this tool to help other kids in the District because I'm a Board member, and not knowing how exactly to wield that tool has been Really Frustrating. Every meeting I go to I find other admins who flounder around with me in the topic of "What do we DO?" Now I know. Ha!

PPS: Reading this paragraph of this article is what helped me make the connection. (Yes, Kate, your post pointed me in the right direction. Good thing you've got that blog.) I couldn't quite work it in above, but it's great stuff.
....Robert Coles, in The Moral Intelligence of Children (1998), points out that character and morality are really learned in the quiet spaces where conversations take place, in the gray areas between clear right and wrong, in the shadows of connections between young people and adults. He cautions us against being pedantic, hectoring, self-righteous in the way we present moral issues to youngsters. Coles feels that we do, however, have to keep "wading in, over and over...with a willingness to sail on, tacking and tacking again, helped by those we aim to help, guided by our moral yearnings on behalf of others, on behalf of ourselves: a commitment to others, to oneself as linked to others, that won't avoid squalls and periods of seeming drift, but that will become the heart of the journey itself...." Alfie Kohn, in What to Look for in a Classroom (1998), says we need a "well-developed program of pro-social instruction to include training in cooperative conflict resolution and in methods of achieving one's goals that do not require the use of force or manipulation."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Paris the Redeemed.

Larry King interviewed Paris Hilton last night. Normally I wouldn't care about looking over the transcript, but I heard on the news about how she was really changed by all the reading she did in prison. Really? Huh. I wonder what she read.

HILTON: The beginning was really hard, really hard for me.

It's kind of a blur. It was so, you know, traumatic. But after being there a while, I had to accept that I could either make the best of it or make the worst of it. So I just went with the motto don't serve the time, let the time serve you. And I did that and that really helped.

KING: Did you read a lot?

HILTON: A lot. I read a lot of books. I received fan mail from all around the world, so many letters. I would literally sit in bed like crying, reading these letters. And it just -- it really got me through it.

Suisan -- Wait. You read fan mail? Huh. I wonder what the titles of the books were.
Later in the interview....

KING: You kept a daily journal?

HILTON: Yes, I did. OK.

This is one of the notes that I wrote: "They say when you reach a crossroad or a turning point in life, it really doesn't matter how we got there, but what we do next after we got there. Usually we arrive there by adversity, and then it is then, and only then, that we find out who we truly are and what we're truly made of. It's a process, a gift and a journey. And if we can travel it alone, although the road may be rough at the beginning, you find an ability to walk it, a way to start fresh again. It's neither a downfall nor a failure, but a new beginning."

And I also felt like this was a new beginning for me, just being in jail -- and I just used it as a journey to figure out myself and who I am and what I want to do. And there's -- there's just so much more to me than what people think.

Suisan -- Adversity, that's a big word. Maybe you were reading self-help books? The Secret?

And later....

KING: Are you a religious person?

HILTON: I've always been religious. I went to Catholic school as a child. And I've always had a sense of spirituality, but even more so now after being in jail.

KING: Did you read the Bible in jail?


And at the end of the interview....

HILTON: That's something I was actually thinking a lot about in jail. I feel like, you know, being in the spotlight, I have a platform where I can raise awareness for so many great causes and just do so much with this, instead of, you know, superficial things like going out. I want to help raise money for kids and for breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and...

KING: You want to get involved in all of it.


KING: What's your favorite Bible passage?

HILTON: I don't have a favorite, but...

KING: You read it every day?

HILTON: In jail, I read a lot.

KING: Going to go to mass?


KING: All right. We're going to see a new Paris Hilton.

Oh yeah, Larry. Definitely. Because fan mail will lift you up and give you a whole new focus on life. Nothing like adoration to make you re-examine your life, walk humbly in the face of God, and dedicate yourself to making the world a better place by working towards peace and compassion by the fruits of your labor.

(By the way, I'm not sure we all have to have a favorite bible passage memorized so that we can whip it out to prove our faith, like a little business card, but I'm of the opinion that maybe, just maybe, our dear Paris did not actually READ the bible. It's actually a little hard to read if you're out of practice at such things.
And by the way, if her faith has transformed her, if she has been changed by reading the bible, why does she talk about walking through adversity alone, all by herself? Isn't that one of the central tenents of Christianity that GOD will help you through adversity if you believe in him and pray to him for assistance? Good reading comprehension there, dear. But I am convinced that she is using the bible as a tool, a media tool, to show people how very, very different she is. Ha! Wouldn't it be great if she never ever gave another interview?)

Monday, June 25, 2007

That Karma's A Bitch.

Just to illustrate the theory that you cannot get five horse people into a room without a fight breaking out, I have been taking part in a particularly STOOPID email spat over the past few days. Oh, but now it's turned into such a beautifully ironic and nasty muck that I can barely stand it. I've hurt myself sitting on my hands, stuffing all my fingers up into my jaw, preventing myself from saying something particularly delicious by way of an "I told you so."

Let me bring you up to date.

At the beginning of the week, a hue and cry arose on a Preservation Horse Breeders email list, which I mostly ignored, about the desperate need to send money to go get one particular horse who was about to go to auction. Oh yeah, there were a few others too, but this one, he is so cute! These requests flare up from time to time, but mostly the people who are interested in that bloodline get the information, either buy the horse, or find someone else who will take him, and everyone moves on.

Well, someone got all passionate about this horse, excuse me, this "Rescue." Man, I hate that word. We were asked for donations to cover gas for the person who was going to get him. No wait, what we should really do is set up a Rescue Fund so that anytime a horse of our bloodlines needs rescuing then the money will be available, right? A respected leader amongst the breeders said, "You know, we've talked about this from time to time but could never make all the details work out. Let's talk about it. Everyone's opinions are welcome."

Immediately, breeders from all over the country start saying, "Well, I dunno about Rescue. I mean, I'll give money to help with transportation, but I'm not busting in on someone's farm to 'rescue the herd'. Seen that gone all wrong waaaay too many times." And others are saying, "If we solicit donations, shouldn't we be a charitable organization? How would we figure out who to give the money to?" and on and on.

Off list I privately emailed the person who was the most agitated about rescuing this one horse. I essentially said, "You are going to have to think long and hard about your generic fund idea, especially if all you are going to do is transport the horse from one home into another temporary home. That's not a rescue, and it's unclear who owns the horse, what the foster person is supposed to do with the horse, and you know what, I had to disperse my aunt's 73 horses off her property after she died, and I hurt a lot of people's feelings when I insisted that they take their very own horses back. People on this list. I saw it all go down after my aunt died, and you had better be very careful about what you are starting."

And then I ended the letter with : "Good luck to you on this. I won't talk about this on the open list. Please do not forward this email. "

Yesterday morning I find in my inbox a reply to my letter, in which she rather self-righteously points out that all horses can benefit from being trained and promoted if they are to be placed. (Duh.) The reply includes excerpts from the letter. The reply is also sent to the entire Open List. (Wait a minute...) The reply ends with this gem:
I won't talk about this on the open list.
What open list?
Jesus Christ, lord in heaven. Are you that stupid?

So I send an email to the Open List, paraphrasing most of what I had written, leaving out the parts about the hurt feelings, and pointing out that it wasn't a communication meant for the open list, and pointing out that I had asked this person to keep it private.

Without ever apologizing, Ardent Rescuer writes to the list:
It was a mistake, but if you didn't want the rest of the group involved in the information within the email, maybe you shouldn't have sent the email period.
Oh thank you, goody two shoes. Are we REALLY back to the kindergarten argument of if you can't say anything nice? A dear friend wrote this hilarious rejoinder:
Well, I'll definitely make a note to myself to never tell you anything
I wouldn't want broadcast.
Thanks for the heads-up.
Too bad you didn't warn Suisan.
OK, so that made me laugh hard enough so that I dropped it. (Although I couldn't help myself from doing a google search on Arabians and her name. She don't have a website that I could find. Great promotion there, hun. OK, that was bad of me.)

Today I checked the almighty inbox to find three consecutive posts from Ardent Rescuer, the first two responding to posts very early on in the week. In the first she points out that if someone (not me, another list member) were to have an opinion on rescue such as that one, then her head must be up her ass and she must have a "brain the size of a pea", and the second goes on to point out that this person she suddenly hates isn't nearly as rational and easy to work with as either Jane or Mary.

And then the third is a contrite statement that the prior two were meant as private communications, not meant for the list at all, and she can only apologize for the public awfulness, and that it's important to know that those opinions only reflected her "feelings about rescue", not about that particular person at all, since she has never actually met that person.

Oh. My. God.

This is killing me. As I said above, my fingers are jammed so far inside my mouth to prevent typing out a reply that I think I hurt myself.

I have about a million options of various snarky things I can write to the list at this point. (Private seems useless.)

How's about:
Dear List.

In this time of email communication, it is important that we all understand how email actually works. See that line on top of the email? It says "TO:" Whatever address is IN that line is the address to which this email will be delivered. Then there is the ever confusing "CC:" line. Those people get the email too. I know. This is very confusing. We'll work on it together.
Or maybe:
Gee, Ardent Rescuer. How come she gets an apology but I don't?
Or the ever popular:
Boy, that karma's a bitch, huh?
Or perhaps:
As you once so righteously informed me and this very list, "If you didn't want the rest of the group involved in the information within the email, maybe you shouldn't have sent the email period." Good point.
Or perhaps:
Maybe it's your FEEEELINGs which have landed you in this hot water, eh? After all, I thought all opinions were welcomed, or at least that's what the leader of the breed organization said. Apparently not those you disagree with. Those belong to the pea-brained among us, right? Good to know.
(Man, this IS cathartic. Better than writing the emails to the lists, come to think of it.)

Here's another:
Ardent Rescuer, while driving around the country rescuing horses in whom NO ONE has expressed interest, it might behoove you to check your medication. Something seems amiss and I wouldn't want you to drive unsafely.
Remind me never to put you in charge of any committee or fund. Your professionalism is a wonder.
Those emails tonight made me Laugh! Ooo damn, you are a funny bitch. Thanks for lightening up on all the drama about "lost bloodlines" and "emergency auctions." Real kneeslappers there! Got any cute pictures of your horsies?
Aaaah. Now I can finally go to sleep. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Can you stop a whiner?

In this post I plan to whine about someone else who is whining. And how I wish they would just stop.

Sue me. (a la Cindy)

Neo's got this great opportunity to go to Washington DC in early July to meet up with other Middle Schoolers and participate in a conference. Neo usually goes to NYC to visit Dear Butcher's parents in the summer, all by herself.

This year we are sending her to visit my parents in Boston. (She'll fly "unaccompanied minor".) At the end of the week, they will take her to UMUC Conference Center and register her and drop her off. At the end of her conference, Dear Butcher's mom, Grandma E, is to pick her up and bring her to NYC for their regular visit.

I'm so glad, Suisan, that you planned that all out so nicely so that each set of grandparents gets time with her. And she'll have a responsible adult to drop her off and pick her up, so she doesn't have to fly in to BWI airport all by herself wearing the approved nametag and hoping that the chaperones will meet her plane. Set this up in theory months ago. Made all the plane reservations a few weeks ago.

And now all the adults are whining.

"I want to take Neo to Jamestown, and there's not enough time to do that before we have to take her to the conference."

"She wants to visit BOSTON. See the sites in BOSTON. See her cousins in BOSTON."

And then my dad chimes in, "I'll get her at the airport, but can't the airline give me two gate passes? Your mother doesn't want to wait at security."

"Dad, go ahead. You call the airline. Maybe they'll tell you something different."

But all this is nothing compared to Grandma E. If I didn't like her so much, I'd hit her.

She's annoyed that there's a window of pick up from 10:30 am to 11:00 am at the hotel. She's researched which airport is closest to the hotel, but has discovered that flights from JFK are too expensive. Oh good lord, let the whining begin. She has set up some strange arrangement wherein her daughter-in-law's sister will pick up Neo at the hotel, take her to the airport, and pop her on a plane to NYC unacompanied minor.

"Oh, I forgot," she starts in again. "She'll have all those bags. She can't fly with all those bags."

Wha? I think. How is it you think she's getting to Boston? But instead I say, "If you've got Rachel taking her to the airport, she can take her to any one of three airports in the DC area. You fly down and meet them at whatever airport you want."

"Oh, I can't make Rachel do that."

But you are already having Rachel pick up a kid for you!! Ahem. Yes.

Somewhere in this silly merry-go-round, I make frustrated hand gestures to Dear Butcher and said, "Talk to your MOTHER. I need to tell the conference WHO is picking her up and when." So he did. He tried. I have to give him credit for it.

He pointed out that train from NYC to DC was cheap and quick. "Take a train! Go to the conference, pick her up, and then fly home if you want."

"But then I'll have to get from the train to the conference."

OH MY GOD. This is where we both completely lost it. You can't figure this step out? How old are you? How long have you lived IN FUCKING MANHATTAN!! Sing with me, "Big yellow taxi, took away my old man..." Jeez, this isn't that hard.

At this point Dear Butcher pointed out that not only would she have a taxi at her disposal once she stepped off the train (Look. Ticket's only $67), but if she really wanted to, she could walk outside her apartment door, and take a cab all the way to Washington DC. It's not unheard of.

She wrote down addresses, phone numbers, email contacts, fares, dates, and refused to make a decision. That was five days ago.

Last night she and Dear Butcher were on the phone, and she started whining again about how difficult this all was. He told me that he lost it.

"We set this up with you months ago. Are you picking her up or no?"


"OK then. Do it. It's not that hard. You travel all over Manhattan; you can make it to Washington and back. Hell, you've traveled all over the country too. What! Is! The! Problem!?"

"I don't know. It just seems so difficult."

Ugh. I could just shake her. That's my kid she's futzing around with.

Or, I could, I suppose, get Rachel's phone number from her myself and set up the whole blessed thing for her.

Did I mention that I don't know exactly WHEN Neo is coming home from Manhattan to California, because Grandma E hasn't yet figured out what day of the week is best to come home on?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Making my current low mood plummet some more...

After reading this, "Pumpkin Man" porn teacher released from prison, I find that I'm right back to this post from November of 2005: A Proustian Bargain. (You'll need to go read it if you have any hope of understanding the rest of this.)

I hate that he's now known as "the porn teacher," and he so deserves the title. So brilliant and so evil and so damaged and somehow still captivating. He was one of a small number of people at school who made up my strong substantive memories of Andover. He's a unique, integral, and essential part of those memories, which makes his actual person and his actual deeds genuinely horrifying.

(And I can't help thinking of a certain other dustup which just happened, about pardoning the sins of those who are behind bars simply because they are capable of engendering love. That theory doesn't wash with me.)

I'll admit though to feeling tempted by my recent viewing of Capote. I have an evil curiosity to find out where he lands. Just for my own purposes, not to reengage with him in any manner. I want to discover what he does with his brilliant intellect. To find out if his wife will take him back. To find out if his daughter.... Oh hell. Look at that: "tempted by Capote" and "his daughter." I swear I didn't mean to put those in the same paragraph, and here they are. It's an infection. You're a bruise. It's as if you are latent there in my subconscious. Capote. New York. Your daughter. Damn you, Mr. Cobb.

Mr. Cobb once told us, in what may have been an exaggerated dream of his own history and personal experiences, that he worked for the government (in some secret agency, he broadly hinted) dissecting speeches of foreign leaders looking for frequencies of word choices. By examining the frequencies of various phrases, grammatical patterns, and word choices, one could determine authorship. His lovely girlfriend worked as an interpreter for the UN, and they would meet for lunch in Manhattan. Just outside a world renowned landmark.

Their only daughter's name was Tiffany, as a memento of that romance.

They met at Tiffany's, just like in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and you told us the story when you commented on the three most mellifluous words in the English Language: Tiffany, diarrhea, and, what was the third? Nonetheless, you've infected my mind. You've infected my writing, Mr. Cobb. I place adjectives and clauses in an attempt to please you in my rough drafts. Mr. Cobb, what have you done to my memories of your brilliance? And of your charisma? I can see your hands shake as you stand in front of the class, see your tremor as you lift your hair, so dark, off your forehead. I can't hear Prince's "Purple Rain" without thinking of you on that motorcycle. Your costumes, your masks. I feel bound to you in some odd dream where you turn onto the road towards Thebes, and I can see the cart ahead and Laius himself.

I know it all ends in death and destruction, but there's an attraction to Oedipus as he walks into his fate which is awful to behold.

Were you never smart enough to save yourself?

It is an evil thing to have known you at all.

For you are an evil thing. A Lucifer.

Cover Art

I don't usually do more than simply laugh at bad cover art. I do love the Smart Bitches and Bam on these topics, that's for sure.

But I have to say here, if a twelve year old can come up with this sketch at three in the morning, one which would make an AWESOME book cover, then what the heck is going on in the various art departments? I'm so proud of her.

I've got a link to her blog up there. Play nice if you go visit, says the Mom

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Happy UnBirthday to Me!

Today's my first full day of being forty.

Can't say that I feel any more aged, mature, decrepit, or engaging than yesterday.

But supposedly it's a big birthday. 33 was a big birthday for me, and I predict that 45 is going to be difficult, or feel like a milestone.

HT to Mrs. Plumeria for the cake picture.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Neo's done it again

Neo worked a very long time on this. When my parents were out visiting they bought her a pen pad which came with a copy of Photoshop Elements. This is her first completed artwork using those tools.

She started her own blog, posted this, and said about it:
I got Photoshop Elements and a tablet (a penpad that connects to the computer) about a month ago, but only now can I show the picture I've been working on. That's it up there, if you haven't already figured it out. No I did not trace or copy ANYTHING!!!! I don't know why people always think that. Why am I not allowed to just be a talented 12 year old? Is that so hard? That's my pose, my coloring, my backgrounds, my outlining, my 6-8 hours of work.
I think she needs a bit more rest this summer....she still seems pretty stressed in that comment, if you ask me. (And for the record, it was more than 8 hours of work, more like 14 or 20.)

I'm hoping that she'll enjoy her "Computers in Art" class this summer. I hope it's going to be complex enough for her. Please, oh please.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Water for Elephants, a review

I can't seem to stay away from circus books. I want to read one which captures the pain of the place, the fear and the beauty, but I'm always slightly disappointed when I read one.

They always seem to focus on the wrong thing: the show. The best analogy I can come up with is how San Franciscans experience the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is undeniably an international landmark for the Bay Area and San Francisco. However, unless you live in a very swank area of SF, you can't ever SEE the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. You sort of know it's there, and you can usually wave your arm in its general direction no matter where you are in The City for the benefit of lost tourists, but it almost belongs to the tourists and to the guys from Marin County more than it does to lots of San Franciscans.

If you turn your back on the water and look up, you'll find Sutro Tower, which rides the top of Twin Peaks. This Page explains it well.

For me, lots of circus books feel like the Golden Gate, when I'm looking to read about Sutro.

I've owned Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen for a while, but was very nervous about reading it. Got lots of good reviews, which could mean that I'd hate it. Then there's the fact that it focuses on an elephant, which can also be a dangerous thing. (Too romantic, don't you know.)

Anyway, I put all my trepidations aside and finally cracked the cover yesterday. I finished it late last night. In tears, well, just sniffles, but still. (I'm such a watering pot sometimes.) Sara Gruen obviously did her research, and this novel completely captures my fascination with circuses, my horror of the cruelties there, and the longing I still have to just pack up everything and hitch a ride one more time.

The story centers on a 93 year-old man, Jacob, who is languishing in a nursing home, slowly losing his ability to walk, to feed himself, or to remember what day or year it is. He's angry at his body, he's lonely, and he's waiting to die. Just outside the nursing home, a circus tent starts going up, which causes the residents to become very excited by the prospect of going to the show. For Jacob, the tent brings back memories of when he was a young man in his twenties, during the Great Depression, when he ran off to join a train circus. No one at the nursing home knows of his secret life, and the novel alternates chapters between his experiences as an old man, and his memories of his vigorous and exciting youth.

Jacob jumped onto a train owned by not the greatest show on earth, but not the sleaziest either. It's a show run by Uncle Al, who skips around America by rail, trying to buy off parts of other shows which have gone bankrupt. If they can stick to their route, the advance man can build up anticipation for their arrival, there can be a nice circus parade, and then everyone can get paid. But every time Uncle Al goes on a buying spree, there are no ticket sales, sometimes the big top doesn't even go up, and everyone goes without pay. Well, except the performers. They always get paid. Which further separates them from the roustabouts in the circus hierarchy.

Jacob straddles both worlds in that he comes on as a veterinarian to the show. He has to scrape out train cars full of manure, and he has to slop the big cats their buckets of maggot infested meat, but he's not just a roustabout. He sleeps in a hidden compartment of a train car with a dwarf clown (a performer), and he eats with Marlena and Auguste in the performers' section of the cookhouse tent. Marlena is the equestrienne and Auguste, her husband, is in charge of all the animals on the show. Jacob is completely infatuated with Marlena, and she seems attracted to him as well.

Circuses don't travel by train much anymore, but Gruen completely nailed this part. There are abundant stories in the backlot of modern circuses about the ways in which the train circuses used to subdivide the cars, segregate the cars, and cram every last bit of material, animals, and manflesh into those cars. In Water for Elephants, there are doors, partitions, hidden trunks, people sleeping under bunk beds, rats in the horse blankets, rotten meat in buckets, rage, violence, sex, intrigue and people getting "redlighted" from the moving train. ("Redlighting" is when you toss someone off a moving train if you don't want them on the show anymore. It's a term I heard frequently from the performers on the show I worked. Somehow I thought it had to do with brake lights on a truck speeding down the highway as you sit by the side of the road. Guess it's older than that.)

Auguste is pure circus. Charming, intelligent, charismatic, and talented. And then when he's frustrated, just as violent and cruel as can be. He's tight with Uncle Al, who needs him on the show to look after, train, and perform with the animals. So what Auguste wants, Auguste gets. He felt just right until Gruen tried to explain his behavior by showing him flipping from one personality to another. Right after this, a character describes him as being a paranoid schizophrenic. I wonder if this explanation was a later editorial addition to explain his motivation. It seemed unnecessary; is it not possible for someone to simply be violent and dangerous and compelling without psychoanalyzing him?

At one stop Uncle Al buys Rosie, the only elephant in the circus, and a car for her to travel in. However, Rosie cannot perform. Jacob can see that she's intelligent by the way she entertains visitors to the menagerie, but she knows no commands and is essentially useless. Uncle Al has to make his money back, so he starts advertising her as a performer, and pressures Auguste to make up an act for her. Auguste goes about this in the only way he knows, by beating her into submission.

Jacob discovers more entanglements in the circus, like the roustabout who has been paralyzed by illegal liquor, due to be redlighted, so Jacob starts hiding him in his cramped quarters. He also discovers that Rosie is just as intelligent and talented as he thought, although she doesn't understand English commands. Along with his love for Marlena, it becomes more and more impossible for him to imagine leaving. Gruen develops suspense well. Can Jacob continue to hide paralyzed Camel from Uncle Al? Can he get Marlena out? What can he do about Rosie? When will Auguste discover their plot?

The secondary characters in the novel are elegantly drawn. The circus characters, who could have easily become caricatures, have a refreshing depth to their descriptions and motivations. And the nursing home staff and residents aren't simply cardboard either.

At the end of the novel, elderly Jacob awaits his family on Sunday, the last day of the circus show. He can visit, see the show, and reminisce about his great adventure. He finally has something to look forward too. There's a possibility of escape from the drudgery.

Because there's something just as cruel about circuses as there is poignant, Jacob's family forgets. They forget about him, and they forget about what was important to him. No one visits, they've made other plans, and he's left stranded in the lobby of the nursing home, hearing the music starting but being completely unable to get into the big top.

The ending of the novel, what Jacob does next, is perfect.

Part of separating yourself from normalcy, from taxes and mortgages and office jobs, when you hop on that train, is keeping the memory of that place within you as an escape. You can never go home again, but somehow you do. We all walk through our childhood kitchens in our minds eye. I can still see the blue carpet and the white metal cabinetry, although they were torn out thirty years ago or more. I still want to go back to my aunt's farm, my grandmother's house, not just to see the place again, but to stumble across the people who must surely be hiding there still.

This is the problem with circuses. When they come through town, you see the posters and the black paper arrows stapled to lamp posts directing the trucks to the lot in the middle of the night, a secret code that you can read from your minivan with the car seats and the school books, and just for an instant you think that maybe you can go back. It's a place. But is it a memory too? If you visit the place, can you walk back into your memory? Or does the memory grow with time, parallel to your experiences?

I think that Jacob may have gone back into the circus at the end of the book, or he may have stayed at the nursing home and imagined it all in his senility, or he may have died and gone to his own heaven where he is respected and valuable. Any one of those endings work, and somehow all three may have happened. I'm still not sure. But, like watching clowns juggle soap bubbles, it's unexpectedly beautiful.

A pirate's life for me!

A Pirate festival is coming to town near me.

Like a RenFest, but centered on pirates.

I guess I know what I'll be doing on Saturday. (Lord, it's going to be hot.)

(I can almost go in costume. I have a costume I made for when I volunteered at Colonial days. Big skirt, blousey chemise. Don't think the mobcap will work though. I could wrap ascarf around my hair -- maybe some mardi gras beads. Unfortunately, Neo wouldn't be caught dead with me in public dressed like a pirate. Damn.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

House hunting

Doug was reminiscing about his strangest house hunting experience. I started to chime in, but then got too wordy, so here's a trip through the weirdest floor plan I ever encountered while looking for a home.

We were looking for a two or three bedroom house and kept stumbling into fixer uppers in our price range. One day though, we found one that had been "flipped" by enterprising contractors. Contractors who had apparently never lived in this house, or perhaps any other house, in light of the way they moved doors, walls, and even entire rooms.

From the front, the 3-bedroom house was fairly non-descript, typical of the many types of California bungalows, built in the twenties, that pepper the Bay Area. The house in question was raised a bit farther from the ground and didn't have hedges obscuring the view to the garage.

Walk up the steps to the front door, walk in the door to a typical "craftsman" living room. Fireplace on the right with built in bookshelves all around, windows to the street over the couch, entrance to the kitchen to the left. Cute. Typical. Fine.

This was the last bit of sanity we were to experience.

Walk into the kitchen. Whoa! Blue! Contractor likes blue! Mexican glazed blue tiles on the floor. Uneven tiles. Granite countertops. Hee hee. Look at that, they've staged the kitchen with bright blue Le Creuset pots on the induction cooktop. And they haven't taken the price tags off. OK, enough giggling about the staging. Let's look at the kitchen. Loooong. Really long. Why so long and so big and no place to eat? Wait a minute, where do you eat in this house? That little teeny table set for tea I passed in the living room? I though that was just decoration. That's IT? Seats two at the most.

OK, go through the back door of the kitchen -- table must be back here.

Huh? Mud room? Washing machine and dryer. Oh my god, these were in the back yard or in the garage before because I can't quite squeeze past them. (Note to self. Put them back in the garage hookup if you buy the house.

So. Eh. Wait. Bedrooms? Did I miss something here? Oh. OK, if you go through the mud room (with all the pegboard for the tools and the closet for the vacuum cleaner, and squeeze past the HUGE washing machine), you get to the master bedroom.

And what a bedroom it is. White. No molding on the window. A wall of closets. Wall to wall carpets with no baseboards. And white. Huh. There's a smallish master bath to the left. That's it. Wait. Where's the other bedroom?

This is where the insanity really kicked in. The seller's agent toddled in just then as we were walking in circles in the isolation chamber. Why, it's right over here. Just open this closet door and walk on through.

Wait. Through the CLOSET?

Dear Butcher and I stumble through, and no, it's not a door disguised like a closet door, it's a passageway through a closet. As in: step into closet, open door cut into back closet wall, step out of closet. The second bedroom has original architecture, the right moldings, hardwood floors, although it is quite small. The wall on the right looks strange though. Too big. No broken up space.

Then it hits me. There used to be an entrance to the front living room here. This was probably the dining room, but with the living room being so small, they took away a door. That's why they could get more furniture in the living room. Ah hah! (Still don't understand the closet theory. Crack?)

Our buyer's agent is squirming mightily at this point, and she wants to leave. But I want to see more! This place is insane! We come back through the closet (Alice in Wonderland? The Secret Garden? The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe!) to find the still grinning seller's agent in the white bedroom.

"Where's the third bedroom?"

"Come with me!"

At this point, Dear Butcher mutters under his breath that they must have it hidden in the washing machine. I'm voting for the kitchen cabinetry.

Out we go through the side door, down a new set of wooden porch stairs to an outside patio. Mind you, the stairs are on the outside of the house. As is the patio. The patio under the stairs features tumbled brick set into the ground in a herringbone pattern. Nice, except the bricks are all popping up. No one bothered to prepare the ground, or compact sand. They just laid out bricks in a herringbone pattern on the ground. (Next time guys? Don't spend the money on the Le Crueset pots, OK? Actually BUILD the patio first.)

We reenter the house at the bottom level and discover that the garage has been renovated into a modern efficiency apartment. Camel walls, beige Berber carpet, overstuffed armchairs, and, uh, a kitchen too. (At this time I was pregnant with Saul and Neo was three. Sure, she can cook her own breakfast. No problem. Here honey. Let mommy teach you how to use the microwave.) But even here, the weirdness abounded. No shower or bathtub. No room for a table. Wait a minute. No OUTLETS? OK, there's one. But eh, don't you sort of need them all over?

(We discovered the no outlets issue when we noticed that one of the lamps was trailing its cord along the wall like a lost snake. Perhaps the stagers shouldn't have pointed that out to us?)

Anyway, it was an interesting experience, that house. Should have been marketed as a one bedroom with an in-law apt, but it wasn't. Some nights as I'm sending the kids to bed, I still giggle about the staircase to the bedroom which was outside of the house. (Time for bed! Don't get wet!)

Glad I'm not house hunting any more.

Monday, June 11, 2007

June Bug

We used to have big Japanese Beetle problems when I was a kid. They loved my mother's roses. At night you could sit in the living room and listen to them pinging off the windows. That sounds gross, actually, now that I type it out, but the rhythm of them hitting was familiar and comfortable. Lemonade, sweat, heat, and June Bugs; that's summer.

Friday was the last day of school. So I guess it's summer.

Saturday I mostly puttered. (And talked again to my parents about money. This is giving me an ulcer, I swear.)

Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 am, took a shower, woke my youngest up, and left the house at about quarter to six. We drove to the airport, where we flew to NYC. I dropped her off with her grandparents, walked across the street, went back through security, and hung out in the terminal for about four hours, before flying back home. With an hour wait on the tarmac before taking off, another six hour flight, and a drive home, I got back here at ten minutes to two this morning. Twenty plus hours of travel. Dude.

The positive thing is that I don't seem to have jet lag. On the other hand, I'm totally confused as to what day it is. Monday?

While traveling I read Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation. I've known for some time about Dr. Grandin's work in designing humane slaughter houses, and I've read about her in Oliver Sacks' book, An Anthropologist on Mars. It was just as engaging as I thought it would be. I wish more people would set aside their own notions of what an animal "should be" or "should react" and would just observe what they are actually doing.

While traveling I also watched many hours of Mythbusters. I do love those guys. If I were ever to find myself on the Actor's Studio, being forced to answer "The Questionnaire", I would have to say that the profession I would most like to try would be model builder for the movies, or a member of the Mythbusting team. Geeks with a sense of humor. Heaven. Sign me up. (Or I'd like to go work for the James Randi Educational Foundation. (Recently I have spent many hours on Stop Sylvia Browne and on this thread at JREF. waste of time? Yes, but also completely absorbing. I have such a crush on James Randi's mind. And on Robert Lancaster's mien.)

On Friday, the last day of school, I had yet another set back in my son's special education travails. This happened on the Last Day of school, AFTER school got out. It just never ends.

A teacher at his school asked his case worker if her child could go to a summer camp and if the District would pay for it. The case worker sort of looked at her sideways and said, "That's an issue for an IEP." Then the teacher asked, "Is SAUL going to this camp, and is the District paying for it?"

The case manager replied that she was not going to discuss any other child's accommodations and that if the teacher were making a request, then it would have to go through an IEP. Then she called the Director of Special Services and asked for advice. The Director said, "School's over. Get your stuff packed and get the hell out of there."

(As a note here, the camp that my son's going to IS part of an IEP, but it's for patients of a psychologist. You have to be a patient to attend. And yes, I requested it. Because the District has been unable to find my son an appropriate placement for the summer, and he needs a structured program to carry him over the summer. Ten weeks away from school will make his transition back into school that much harder. The director of special ed attended his last IEP, which took place on Tuesday, and cautioned everyone in the room to recognize that everything was confidential, and that it was the District's intent to provide for this child as he needed accommodations, not because his mom was a school board member. It took a grand total of three days for that confidentiality to be breached.)

I don't have proof, but of course I've been racking my brains trying to figure out who knew what when. Originally I thought it was the Business Office, as they would have had to process a purchase order for the camp fees, but now I'm pretty sure it was the school psychologist who told the third grade teacher about Saul's placement. She's already proven herself to have a big mouth.

But I'm putting that one behind me. Sort of. I think. Because I want to focus on summer.


While I was typing up this post, I got a phone call from a person in the District who's upset and who is probably on the way to resigning. Fuck. This is bad. Very bad. Spent a long time on the phone with this person. This one goes, and the District is fucked. Truly. On the other hand, considering the story I just heard, I support this person no matter what they decide.

Makes my re-election campaign interesting. How many MORE issues can we throw in the pot, Hmmmm?

Remind me NEVER to go into higher office, OK? Because this is just too much.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch.

Oh, I am in such a mood.

My nostrils are flaring, I'm breathing heavily, and my neck's all hot. And that's just when I'm sitting down at the computer. When I start walking around the house papers get tossed, pots get slammed, and toys get kicked out of my way.

One part of me knows that I should find a way to calm down and be adult.

The other part of me is just riding the adrenaline wave, burning holes in target with my imaginary laser beam eyes. Sucks to be angry, but you have to admit that it is energizing.

I lost a political battle last night, and I'm just so pissed.

This town has half-day kindergarten, which is simply ridiculous. The state curriculum is built for a full-day. Our teachers are great, and they manage to cram as much stuff as they can into those little kids, but still. Come on.

70% of American households have all adults working. That means that most kids have seen daycare before they hit kindergarten. Most kids who go to kindergarten GO TO DAYCARE for the other half of the day.

I'm a stay-at-home mom. I pick up my kid from kindergarten at 11:40 every day. I think it's stupid. She's bright -- she could be learning more in school. My son, who had a lot of difficulty in kindergarten, would have ALSO benefitted from going longer. Longer day, fewer transitions, happier kid.

But we got letters from the whiney stay-at-homes who complained that their kids need to be home. (Fine. Then don't send them to K. It's not a mandated grade in California. Just be sure that they're ready to start at the end-of-K benchmark before you enroll them in Grade 1. OK?)

And the Board caved. Totally caved.

Piss me off.

There's more to the story. Stuff about negotiations too. (I sat in on negotiations until I told the lead negotiatior I was going to crawl over the table in order to throttle the lead Teacher's negotiatior if she didn't shut up about how "Those Kids" [Identitifed Special Education Students] were making life harder for her teachers. And the UNION wanted a say on which class each child would be placed in, what monies would be spent on them, and where resources should be allocated. Uh huh. The union. Come over here, dear. I have a fist you need to be introduced to.) Stuff about how we now don't have enough money to pay for librarians, computer technicians, psychological services, and anti-drug education services, because we just gave the teachers another big raise. At an amount that I voted against. Which made me unpopular with the board.

Hey, but at least the employees have a raise. Which is a good thing. I like handing out raises.

But don't ask me to be happy that we just fiddled away 4 million dollars on bigger paychecks while refusing to plan to for rush of autistic students that are headed our way, according to County statistics. Or that there will be MORE interventions needed for First Grade students because they didn't learn how to read with comprehension during Kindergarten. Interventions cost money, people.

So very, very pissed.

And, as always happens during these personal tirades, all I can come up with is that I should have fought harder to get my point across. Damn.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I miss Barry

Mailyn reminded me, in the last post, of Grandma. Barry Lubin, who is Grandma, was just the sweetest and most down to earth guy I can remember.

And funny.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Circus Days

Oh help.

The circus is in town.

OK, so it's not the circus I worked for, and it's not the one where I met Dear Butcher, but it is a one ring show setting up on school property. (Complaints are already flwoing in. "The trucks came at 2 in the morning, and they banged a lot." "I thought it was just going to be a little kiddie circus, not a real circus with trucks and everything." Just wait until the 7:30 pm shows start.)

Went down there this morning to watch them set the tent -- not much was going on.

Lots of memories, but I have to say, this one doesn't smell right. The diesels weren't idling, and there was no smell of either horses or elephants. Once the rancid popcorn oil gets warm, it will probably smell more like it should.

This is so weird, to be forty, looking through a chain link fence at my grubby yet exciting self at twenty-three.

Weirder still perhaps is that Dear Butcher went down to spectate wearing a button down shirt and a tie.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Not much to say today. I seem to have said all I needed to say on the phone. Day of five uncomfortable conversations, all back to back. (Number four delivered at high volume as person on other end had a wonky cell phone. Damn, I love yelling about my personal travails while strolling through the house and discovering that all the windows are open.) By the time number five clicked in, I was already teary.

Let's just say that wine is a good thing.

But then I worry when I depend upon wine. Except that it's only one glass. Surely that's not dependence? One glass twice a week? But then I'm using the wine to calm me down? Oh shut the fuck up already.

Especially as I notice that I still need to make up my bed, and I still need to make the pie crusts, and, oh look, I'm supposed to bring a "beach-themed" snack to my daughter's kindergarten tomorrow, and I still need to make the plum and peach pie for Neo's History teacher that I was going to make yesterday.

What the hell is a beach-themed snack? Raw fish dusted in sand? Salt water? Raw hot dogs? (I actually have some of those.)


For tomorrow's IEP meeting regarding my son, I started working on a timeline of everything that's happened this year. How fucking depressing is that? And I realize that I have causes for lawsuits for at least four different incidents this year. Jesus.

Had a long talk (at volume) with the Board member to whom I speak least. ("with whom I speak least"? "speak to least"? Fucking wine.) Interesting that he considers me a friend outside of the board, but somehow I've not been picking up the phone and talking to him. Weird.

We've had this ongoing crap regarding negotiations. Some Board members want to give as hefty a raise as we can to the teachers (and then to the rest of the staff). Although I sit on the negotiation team, I actually voted against our last offer, because I feel as if it's too high. Oh, now there's a popular position.

But then the administrators brought forward the programs that they feel are necessary for the district, and guess what? We can't afford both. AND I still have issues in Special Education that I want addressed which will cost additional monies. (Things like training for Gen Ed teachers and recruiting TRAINED aides instead of mommies.)

My Board member on the phone tonight agreed with me that the teachers are being a touch greedy here, especially in light of the fact that they won't accept any of our language proposals (non-monetary, things like extending the Staff Meeting times). So he says, "We should just start pulling stuff off. OK, you don't want 6? OK, now it's 5, and so on until they settle."

"Yeah. Good idea, except that you can't do that."

"Yes you can. Take it or leave it. Settle now or watch the offer go down. They should be kissing your butt that you're in that room wasting all your time with them."

"It's called regressive bargaining. There's a law against it in Collective Bargaining Agreements. Once it's on the table, it stays on the table. We can't pull anything off; either we stand where we are and go to impasse, or we offer them more."

"Damn. Well they should just settle then."

Head desk. Head desk. Head desk.

"Care to join me in the room and convince them of that? Cause our team ain't getting nowhere. And by the way, there's no way on God's Green Earth that we are EVER going to be able to pay these guys enough for everything that they do. Never. But not everything that makes their lives easier is about salary. Suppose you have a kid in your class who's got bad behavior.

"Suppose that kid qualifies for Special Ed. Suppose that kid ends up with a Special Purpose Aide, someone who shadows him so that there's another adult available in case his behavior gets out of line. Do you, as a teacher, want that kid working with a part-time employee who gets no benefits and who gets minimum wage? Do you want that kid to go through three or four people in a year? Or at the Secondary level, get a different aide depending on what period it is or what day of the week it is? That aide is the one adult who is going to make your life easier for teaching the rest of the class. You want to rely on someone who got rejected by McDonald's? Maybe the District should pay those aides more so that the TEACHERS can have a calmer classroom. That's got nothing to do with their salary, and it's not an issue that the Board will even discuss, let alone take action on."

"Whoa. I'm surprised that more parents don't offer to pay these aides under the table to double their salary or something." (Which is where I choked on my water, because at one point we did offer one aide "that we'd keep him in meat" if he'd decide against quitting.)

So, essentially, I think I convinced him that we can't increase our offer to the teachers, and he offered to push forward a proposal to start a Special Education task force. (Good idea, that.) His point is that there should be pressure coming from the district to assess gen ed teachers on how well they work with IEPs, modifications, etc. If they have problems implementing those ideas, then perhaps this is not the district for them. Not to fire them, but to create pressure on the entire system to get *every one's* head out of the sand. This guy's good, I have to give him that.

But I'm sorta done with talking on the phone. Gotta go make pie crusts.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Classical humor

Hat tip to James Randi's Swift newsletter on the James Randi Educational Foundation's website.

Rachmaninov had big hands

Mozart Bond

Igudesman and Joo are tremendously funny. I wanna see them in the States! Why are they only touring Europe? I thought WE were the center of the universe!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

More Tales from School

On the one hand, gossip makes me crazy, but on the other hand, I do love it. It's a very bad weakness of mine.

I was in a meeting last week with my erstwhile principal. (There are OTHER principals in this District, but I swear, *my* Principal shows up at practically every meeting I go to. She's a really hard worker.) I went to a negotiations meeting with the teachers and was told that if I just hung around, they were about to settle, and there should be a signature page for me to sign. While I'm waiting, the principal gets a call on her cell phone.

"Uh. This is bad. It's the school, and it's an hour after school gets out. Hold on." She turns her attention to the phone, and we hear, "You're kidding. On ice cream day?...Really?...In front of the whole school?...Well, did you call the police?" Then she looks up from her phone to see two administrators and two Board members looking at her with slackened jaws. "Um. I have to go outside to take this call. It's a doozie."

Yeah. Police? Ice cream sales? Wha? I must know. (Our school's PTA sells dollar ice creams after school every Thursday, so of course there's a zoo out front with kids and parents and cars trying to pick up kids, kids who aren't paying attention to the cars because they're trying to bum a buck off their friend. Crazy. But...police?)

Principal comes back into the room giggling. "Ok. Almost thirty years in education, and this is a first. Parents...PARENTS, mind you!...Two parents got into a fist-fight in front of the school today. In front of the kids."

The other board member, a retired fifth grade teacher, says, "What grade are the kids in? I mean, I assume this is about their kids, right?"

"Second grade!"

"Whoa. What's the deal? Was it about sports?"

"NO! It was the Moms. Two second grade moms started calling each other names, started questioning each other's parenting skills. Because the kids wanted to play together."

"Let me guess," says the retired teacher. "The kids used to fight, and are now best friends, and the parents can't get over it."

"Exactly. The acting principal had to drag them into the office by force, threatening to call 911 on them, and now, goodie, they are both meeting with me tomorrow afternoon. Apparently I need to explain to them that this is not the way we behave in Elementary School."

"Geez. Make sure there's a policeman in the office when you're meeting with them."

And just as a reminder here folks, I live in white suburbia. The school this happened at has an ethnicity profile of 72% White, 9% Hispanic, 7% Filipino, 5% Asian, 5% Black, and we have a grand total of 4 students (!) who qualify for "Free and Reduced Lunch." Basically we're middle-class/wealthy and white. These ain't no ghetto girls -- these are bleached blond ladies with Prada handbags. Fighting. Over playdates.

This is a very weird town.