Monday, December 22, 2008
What have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
I've had that running in my head for most of the day.
Well, that and "Walking in a Winter Wonderland". KOIT radio has been playing non-stop Christmas music since Thanksgiving, which I've actually enjoyed quite a bit. The first time "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" came on, I turned it up and got my kids (even cranky Neo) to sing along. OK, that was fun.
I only listen to KOIT (Light Rock, Less Talk -- when did I become aged?) in the car. So far I have heard "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" seventeen times. More than seventeen times, actually, because I lost count about a week ago. Seventeen. And not all versions are good. Some are surrrrprisinnngly slow and goopy. Come on folks, we're walking. Keep up the beat, you know. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 1, 2, 3, 4.
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
I wish... I wish it weren't Christmas somehow. There's a lot of responsibility for other people's happiness for a mother during Christmas. Generally, we're all just bored now that school's out. Sitting inside watching the rain fall and trying to keep our feet warm. (Mild moment of general annoyance: How the FUCK did I end up with a house where my feet are always cold?!!!? I promised myself when I was a kid that I'd never have a cold kitchen. And look. I have one. Yay me.)
Bored is good though. Last year at this time we were at the height of our terrible, horrible, very bad struggle with Saul, against Saul, and for a shred of sanity. The day we brought home the Christmas tree last year was the day I called the cops on my own child as he pulled my hair and bit me. Two days later he attacked my husband. Wow. That was a long time ago.
A very merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear.
I'm not that interested in setting up the tree this year. I'll just have to take it down again. I'm getting the kids all hyped up for the *true* enjoyment of buying a fake tree on sale for next year's Christmas. Just sort of can't be bothered with the watering and the dragging of it through the garage and all that vacuuming up of needles. But the smell is nice. (And the crappy not-very-happy part of me says, "So? Light a candle, why don't cha?" Shut up, crappy part of me.)
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
Neo's doing OK with homeschooling -- we're sticking with it for the rest of this year. We'll see what happens when she starts High School next year. We may dual enroll her in the Community College to bump up her English and History education. We don't know. But it's been cool having her around. We've started volunteering at the local animal shelter twice a week. (She volunteers. I have to shadow her because she's 13. No one believes it. They all think she's 17 or older. So could I stop shadowing her now? Puh-weese?)
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight.
In mid-November an animal control officer found three guinea pigs in a garbage bag down by the waterfront. I'm the "guinea pig lady" at the shelter -- I bring them hay and lettuce from time to time. They asked me to look at them and I said, "Well, this one's pregnant, which means the other two probably are too." The pregnant piggie ended up having four pups, and I ended up fostering the other two adult females. One was pregnant (two boys 11/24) and one wasn't. I now have the two baby boys (Degas and Rodin) in a cage by my feet and the two adult females (Gopher and Red) in a cage over my shoulder.
They will all go on Petfinder after Christmas -- I hope there are some homes for them somewhere, but with this economy I'm not convinced. The shelter's a no-kill, so I'm not worried about that, but it may be a long stay at the inn. Dear Butcher is Less Than Amused. My three guinea pigs are falling over themselves to demonstrate how very adorable they are -- standing up at the cage bars when I walk past -- I think they're jealous.
A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
My dog has stopped eating. I think he doesn't like the new all-natural senior food I got him. But he's not eating anything. His hips are showing. (Jesus Hobbes, don't be sick.) Good news is that he's decided he'll eat raw meat. Since Dear Butcher is, um, a butcher, we've been investigating a raw food diet for a while for the dog -- it would be more work but MUCH cheaper for us. Except that he won't eat meat that isn't sauteed with just a hint of garlic in a light white wine sauce. Or wouldn't until I got this new expensive (forty freaking pounds of it!) dog food. So now he may be going to a raw food diet after all. Good lord, not only am I aged, listening to Lite Rock stations, but my transformation to a hippie is getting ever more complete. Gotta go find the scratchy wool socks and the Birkenstocks.
The cat however, will NOT eat anything except kibble. I gave him wet cat food, the really stinky stuff, one time to see if I could start transitioning him to a raw food plan. He licked the scummy sauce off the food, turned around, made eye contact, and Meeeee-OWed at me for real food. The crunchy stuff. He won't shut up once he gets going. Bagheera (all black) likes to sit outside the sliding glass door in the evening and meee-OW to come in. All you can see is the small pink rectangle of his mouth opening and closing, appearing and disappearing, about eight inches off the ground. No sound, no eyes, just a pink mouth. HALP. HALP.
Neo and I saw Twilight, The Movie a few weeks back. Oh my good lord. What a disaster.
I'm not sure about Neo, but I'm pretty sure I hurt that tendon in my neck by laughing too hard. Ka-POING! I busted it very early on in the film -- must have been that ridiculous fan *with the mylar ribbons attached to demonstrate that it was ON*. Woosha Woosha Woosha. Oy.
So generally, things are good here in Suisan land. Not great. Not particularly jolly and grinny Santa bellies stuffed with holiday cheer, but not high drama disaster either.
Just sort of. You know. Here.
Waiting for something worth blogging about to happen. I think.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Palin at Thanksgiving
Help me. I'm still laughing.
I especially love the guy in the background. "You sure? Go ahead? Really?! Ok then."
Monday, November 03, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Well, apparently this level of discourse has hit the presidential election. National Review says that the reason we liberal wimmens don't like Sarah Palin is because we, and all of us who agree with us, are "post-abortive". Or suffering from collective guilt from knowing those who are post-abortive. I'm getting dizzy from this line of logic.
I swear, this election is boiling my brain.
I read the original article at National Review a number of times, but I couldn't quite parse the nuttiness. I prefer Wonkette's synopsis ever so much more. Go read more about your collective guilt at Wonkette.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Wow. I'd hate for such a radical idea as smaller schools and increasing school and community involvement to become widespread. What a terrible idea. Sigh.
In fact, the project undertaken in Chicago as part of a high-profile national initiative reflected mainstream thinking among education reformers. The Annenberg Foundation’s $49.2 million grant in the city focused on three priorities: encouraging collaboration among teachers and better professional development; reducing the isolation between schools and between schools and their communities; and reducing school size to improve learning....
And the creation of small schools has continued as a reform strategy nationwide, most recently with major funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Another longer quote, discussing the present day interpretation of the various projects and how off base they are.
Go read the rest of the article. It's very good.
The proposal was backed by letters of support to the Annenberg Foundation from Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, local education school deans, the superintendent of the Chicago public schools, and the heads of local foundations.
“Part of the work was to build a strong community around schools,” said Ms. Hallett, who is now the director of Grow Your Own Illinois, a Chicago-based teacher-recruitment project. “Most of the schools had been isolated for a long time.”
To manage the Annenberg grant and raise the necessary matching funds, the Chicago project was required by the Annenberg Foundation to have a board of directors.
Critics of Sen. Obama assert that Mr. Ayers must have played a role in his selection as the chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote in a Sept. 23 opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal that it was an “unsettled question” how “a former community organizer fresh out of law school could vault to the top of a new foundation.”
Those involved in selecting Mr. Obama, however, say it was precisely that background that attracted them to him.
Mr. Obama, then 33, was an associate at the law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill and Galland and a member of the board of the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation. He also served, as Mr. Ayers later did with him, on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, which had financed the Developing Communities Project, a South Side community-organizing project that Mr. Obama ran from 1985 to 1988 before leaving to attend Harvard Law School.
He brought that organizing perspective with him to the new education project, telling the Chicago Tribune in a June 1995 article about the Chicago Annenberg Challenge: “If we’re really going to change things in this city, it’s going to start at the grassroots level and with our children.”
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
My friend fell in love with this guy, Eldar HD:
The chick with the extravagant hair is the ever-lovely Neo.
Eldar is a young stud colt, as is Latitude who's standing behind him.
Here are some older studs. (Ignore the file name if you click on the picture. I saved it as "Primitivo", but that's entirely incorrect. He's not even in this picture.) Here are Shiraz, in front, and I believe that's Bright Flame walking behind him. Bright Flame* and his full brother (not pictured) have very similar markings and are turned out in the same paddock. Shiraz, Eldar, and Latitude are all Davenports and are therefore very closely related.
My friend in Georgia, whom Neo and I visited a few years ago, has a bunch of horses who are related to Shiraz's father, a lovely horse named Regency. So there's a connection between the two farms and between other horses you've seen me post in the past.
Here's Neo getting mauled by Almohada, a black mare who insists on getting petted. She's practically strangling herself! Almohada is also a Davenport.
And here's Phebe petting a lovely Arabian who is NOT a Davenport! Wow. Considering that the minority of Michael's horses are Davenports, it's amazing how few pictures I have of the non-Davenports. Anyway, this is Crystal Naiah, a lovely mare with old classic California Arabian bloodlines. This group excels in Endurance competitions as well as in all around sport competitions (dressage, hunter over fences, etc.). And they're cute too.
Phebe got pretty bored pretty fast, so I gave her the camera. I therefore have many many pictures of the ground and of people's chins. Not so many of the horses. Oh well. I'll have to go back up and get more.
*Edited to add: It's actually not Bright Flame, as pointed out in the comments by Ambar, but his full brother. So yeah, I goofed on the identification.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
There are so many snarky comments rumbling around in my head, but none of them seem quite up to the stupidity of that phrase. All of them? Really?
So that means that you read my local "Herald", a paper so awful that there are more pages devoted to "Church notices" than there are to news. A paper that prints letters to the editor on a half page on Thursdays, but only if they've been received by Tuesday at noon, and then doesn't print all of them (maybe five on any topic) because they don't have enough room. Yeah, that one. The paper that once quoted me as saying that all Kindergarten parents should help their kids with homework. (NO. Kindergarten parents should help their kids get used to doing homework, if the kid gets some.)
Along with my local "Herald" there's the more reputable local paper, the "Herald". Yes, it's confusing. Then there's the Contra Costa Times, the Examiner, and the Chronicle. Then the smaller independent papers, like the Alameda Sun and the East Bay Express.
I haven't even hit the national papers yet.
What an insanely uneducated comment. All of them.
How many websites do you read? All of them.
How may library books have you read? All of them.
The most frustrating type of ignorance is what I call willful stupidity. I'm proud of the fact that I'm dumber than you, because it proves my genuine down-home truthiness, and I won't bother to learn anything, because that would make me less of a person than I am now.
I ran into willful stupidity, or obstinate ignorance, All The Time in school board meetings. It was deeply shocking the first three or four times I encountered it. Now it just makes the top of my head blow off.
Isn't the whole POINT of public libraries and public schools that people thought that you would become a BETTER person if only you enhanced your innate qualities through education? So much for respecting the Founding Fathers and that whole Age of Enlightenment thingy-ma-bob.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
STUBBORN HORSE.... CHEAP! (san jose east)
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org [?]
Date: 2008-09-28, 1:55AM PDT
Apologies to Fugly: Wow. You say you trained her yourself? And you can fix all those problems yourself if you only had the time? Huh. "Stuck in reverse" is such a testament to your training abilities too. Go figure. And she can't lead. And she's "hoppy" AND you know she's going to be awesome. Yikes.
There's something fairly offensive about putting this ad up for all the world to see. Or embarrassing? Or, I dunno, idiotic?
Sunday, September 28, 2008
I should talk about what's on my mind, but I don't want to seem pushy about it.
Look at meeee.
Or don't. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Lengthy ramblings of a confused person. I'm at sixes and sevens as they say. Sort of all over the place.
I set up a visit for next weekend at a friend's horse farm about an hour away. Someone I've never met, but whom I've talked to on a guinea pig care message board and with whom I've exchanged long emails is meeting me at my friend's farm. This girl was posting on the guinea pig board about her riding lessons, the descriptions of which were appalling, and a group of us told her to "go find a better instructor." Long story short, the owner of the horse farm I'm visiting gave me a suggestion of a horse trainer in the area for this girl I don't really know. My good deed for the month of May. Or was it April?
It's weird that I've invited her to come along -- I'm fairly protective of horse farm visits -- they seem private to me. The farm owner, M, was a dear though. While I was trying to set this up he pointed out that I *could* visit more than once a year. As in, be social. Drop in with or without your friend.
Stuff like that throws me.
Yeah, I know I could. And I know I would be welcome, and all that, but ... I dunno. I worry that I'd be a hanger-on, wearing out my welcome because I can't read the social cues that say, "Now would be a good time to head home." So I never begin. Which is too bad, because I think M could use the company.
Who knows, maybe Leslie will fall in love with one of his horses. Maybe he gets a sale from this? Maybe a new convert to preservation breeding and Arabian sporthorses?
Horses. A few more of my aunt's horses have died since the last time I wrote about them. Hardly surprising, but I'm like the neglectful older cousin who shows up at Thanksgiving -- all the horses I knew are permanently stuck in their first grade school pictures. The ones with the weird stripey shirts and bad glasses. Frozen in weird shy gawkiness. But actually, they're really getting old some of them. The fine old man I wrote about before, the one I visited in Georgia a few years ago recovered from his liver failure, but has had to have an eye removed due to cancer. Or glaucoma? I don't remember exactly. But I'm not going to update my mental image of him -- he's still an iron grey twelve year old in my head. Jeez. She died in 1991. Some days I'm surprised there are any left at all.
Stuff like that throws me too.
Neo's doing well in home school -- I'm making her read and write a ton. So far we've done Ethan Frome, To Kill A Mockingbird, Shane, and now she's working on Lord of the Flies. Her writing's improving, but she's still not in the habit of finding examples in the text. I think she doesn't take notes.
I'm still on the Middle Schools' autodialer list though. Since I've pulled her enrollment, I've been invited to sell cookie dough for the PTA, attend the Back to School Night, and bring my daughter (!) to Muffins for Moms. Neo really wanted to crash the "Muffins for Moms" event just to stir shit up, but no, I'm not gate-crashing an event I never much liked in the first place.
Saul's doing well at school -- we've started him on Prozac. Finally. Of course now is when my mother starts sending me "THE STORY" from the New York Times Magazine about how awful it is to live with a bipolar child. Ugh. Shake it off. I didn't go to her seventieth birthday, nor did I send my brother glowing remarks about her which he was to have read to the assembled masses. Dear Butcher told me just to rewrite the obituary (three pages) she sent me. See if she'd notice. But I didn't bother. She didn't get flowers either. I can't afford them. So I'm officially on a Do Not Call list from my mother. She doesn't call me now, and I'm not gritting my teeth when the phone rings. It's OK. Still feel bad for my Dad though. Poor guy stuck in crazy land.
Dear Butcher's away in NYC with the girls. My nephew had his Bar Mitzvah. Saul and I stayed home. Apparently a good time was had by all. I sort of thought that maybe I'd "get something done" while Dear Butcher was away. But it's been hot and mostly I slept. Today I raked the entire back yard, scraping up the brown straw that stands in for a lawn in my back yard and made an enormous compost pile. Sort of a stupid chore, but one I've been meaning to do. But it's not what I *wanted* to get done while I had time to work on the house, but it's what I chose to do, so it must have been what I wanted to get done at some level.
Anyway, while I was raking, I kept thinking about The Last of The Mohicans (movie) and The Last of the Mohicans (book). I tried reading the book when I heard the movie was coming out -- Daniel Day-Lewis was quite an attraction even in the trailers -- and I realized pretty quickly that the book does live up to every awful thing Mark Twain ever said about it. Yet it's beloved but boring as hell. The movie on the other hand.... ::fans self:: Wow. There's a bit of a story. Good visuals. Good characters. Good romance. How in the WORLD did someone get from Hawkeye (wise-crackin old man) and Alice to Nathaniel (shirtless hunk) and Cora? It's like the difference between The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Anyway. It got stuck in my head, the movie I mean. When I came inside to make dinner for Saul, I discovered (after much scrolling through excessively long menus -- I hate you Comcast) that The Last of the Mohicans was a free movie on On Demand. I love you Comcast!
Ugh. My neighbors are being loud. I want to either throw something at them or go hide somewhere under a blanket. Snarl.
Anyway. Thoughts on the recent viewing. Great romance. Still love that part. Action? I dunno. I think Michael Mann sort of overdid parts of it -- the battle scenes aren't quite as I remembered them I guess. Dialog? Not so much -- sometimes Nathaniel seems folksy and sometimes he seems modern. But what absolutely works one hundred percent is Nathaniel's brooding devotion to Cora. Perfect. Faint-worthy.
But I must be all out of sorts. Or something. Because now it's like a seed in my teeth. I'm disappointed in how much I liked it? Or annoyed that it's not based on a book that I can go linger over? There aren't any scenes at all that I can replay in my head. Nathaniel runs. Right at Cora. Nathaniel runs again. Nathaniel looks at Cora: "What are you looking at?" Long Pause "You." Uh, guys? This isn't working for me.
And don't remind me of the dialog under the waterfall. I'm not going there.
OK, maybe I am.
He's yelling so loud you can't hear what he's saying other than that he's going to leave her so she can die because he might be able to save her if the marauding Indians decide not to kill her outright, even though they've been trying to kill her THE ENTIRE MOVIE specifically targeting her in not one, but TWO battle scenes. Yes, if they decide suddenly not to kill her then, once he's jumped through this waterfall and once his gunpowder has dried (Does jumping THROUGH a waterfall help this?), then he might have a chance to save her which he doesn't have now, so stay alive until I come back, here's a romantic farewell for you -- I'll find a way to find you no matter what.
If I were twenty, I might be melting. I was pretty stupid at twenty. At forty, I sincerely want to stomp on his instep and assuredly grab a hold of him as he thunders past. I prefer to live too, you know. I remember seeing this in the the theater and trying to figure out what scene had been cut because the damn thing made no sense. Still doesn't.
Oh look, now I'm all whipped up over a scene I don't much care for. That's helpful.
Here, what I meant to say when I started this thing about Hawkeye/Nathaniel is that I'm reminded of a rather painful conversation Dear Butcher and I had the other night about early romances. I had this long on-again/off-again relationship with Woody just before I went to the circus and met Dear Butcher on my first night. Dear Butcher started off as a rebound fling after Woody. (Obviously he's not that anymore, but still. That's gotta be some sort of a diss. Isn't it?)
Woody looked A LOT like Daniel Day-Lewis. Even when Daniel Day-Lewis was all twisted up in "My Left Foot" he reminded me of Woody. If you could imagine Daniel Day-Lewis playing Hugh Grant, with the slightly raised single eyebrow, cocked head, and sentences that always end in questions? That would be Woody. Tall. Thin with oddly broad shoulders. High forehead. Long fingers. Nervous mannerisms. Piercing eyes. Lovely hair. And totally unable to commit to moving out of his parent's house, getting out from under the thumb of a ridiculous boss, and really, when it comes down to it, loving me.
But boy did I love him. Wow. Infatuation much? Yikes.
I left for the circus in 1989, came back in 1990. My aunt died in 1991, and by 1993 was living with Dear Butcher in Boston. We married in 1994, moved to CA in 1995 and had Neo in 1995.
The Last of the Mohicans 1992
Age of Innocence 1993
Four Weddings and a Funeral 1994
Sense and Sensibility 1995 (Although Alan Rickman did steal some thunder there. "The air is filled with spices" indeed.)
Each one of these films, I sort of, I dunno, felt like I was cheating on Dear Butcher when I watched them? Kind of? I keep thinking that they must have been made in the late eighties, when I was dating Woody, but no. They weren't. Don't delude yourself. But really, come on now. Liking the looks of a famous actor and enjoying the movies he's in; that's not bad. (Oh wait, there's two actors. Shut up.) Dear Butcher has his crushes too.
Agh. I'm at sixes and sevens.
I meant to talk about this weird conversation. Dear Butcher asked me (brave of him) what it was about earlier relationships that cause me remember them in detail, or with what seems like a higher intensity. I think he even asked if I ever talked about him that way. I replied in a rather off-handed way, "I don't do that sort of love any more." Or something like that -- I don't remember exactly what I said, but I'll bet Dear Butcher does. It was pretty callous. And mean once it was out of my mouth. And then I had to hurriedly explain myself, as what I had said was so awful.
I used to create fantasies about people and let myself get all washed away. I hung around Woody for years, having long (three hour) conversations with him in his car after work. We made out. We went clothes shopping together. We worked the same shift at the same store. And then he announced that he had asked another girl to go out with him, and he hoped that I would be happy for him. I so wanted him to be happy. I told him I was. And still we had three hour conversations. I knew his work schedule -- he had to have been spending more time with me than he was with her. We spent the weekends together going to crafts fairs. He brought me over to her apartment one time to listen to her Billie Holiday records when he found out that I liked Billie Holiday. (Gee. Did I let that slip?) And she wanted him to be happy, so she invited me to sit on the couch next to him while she sat on the chair.
And then she broke up with him and I held his bony shoulders while he cried on my bed. Later that year we made out while my dad was near death in the hospital. My memories of Woody always include being half-undressed on the warm side of an iced-over windshield. And then we broke up again. This went on forever. The man liked Winnie the Pooh for goodness sake. I think he wanted to be Christopher Robin and hide in a tree somewhere. And I would be his ever faithful Maid Marian. Or Rabbit, or some such thing. Just as soon as he noticed me long enough to realize that I was in love with him. But it wasn't love? I think? Maybe it was possessiveness? Or desperation? I think he was too desperate for constant companionship to leave me behind and go get a girlfriend, and he was too scared of possible rejection to commit to me as a lover. I was no better. I let him ooze around in his discomforts because he was so endearing while he was damaged and so euphoric when he told himself he was strong. One day we would be euphoric together. I just knew it.
But finally, ultimately. It was enough. He broke it off with me after I told him that his ex-girlfriend was a jerk for showing up to my house on Valentine's Day when she knew I was cooking him dinner. He said I wasn't supportive enough of his needs. God, that killed me. Now, I'd just laugh in his face or cut him down to size with my quick little tongue. But at the time, I crumpled.
So after the fascination with the abusive guy, and after the sweetest infatuation with the wimpiest guy ever, I don't do that kind of love anymore. Not in real life. Which is too bad for Dear Butcher, because he deserves it. But I can't crack that goo-pot open. Too much. Too much like drowning, I think. Beautiful while you look up at the sky from underneath the water, but deadly.
Somehow, I don't remember how, I explained this to Dear Butcher. It was awkward, but those sorts of conversations are in real life. That I relied on him and I loved him, but I wasn't ever going to wax rhapsodic about him and this was a good thing.
So all this is to say that I'm thinking about fantasies. That fantasy of the guy who stares into your eyes for much longer than is comfortable and is intriguing rather than frightening. The fantasy of the guy who is strong enough to protect you and who proves it by jumping through waterfalls to survive only by the force of his own will. The fantasy of the action that would piss you off or terrify you in real life but which is endearing and romantic in a story. The fantasy of a clean house that never needs cleaning, or having the unerring need to demonstrate your love for someone by keeping the ranch running straight and true. The fantasy of the conversation that sounds poetic and heartfelt in a story but feels harsh and awkward in real life. The fantasy of a slow walk with a good friend through a sunny field filled with warm horses where the wind is gentle and there is no conversation other than the exact one you want to be having at that very moment.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
What the hell. I thought people vetted these candidates. Who the hell is in charge of this McCain campaign anyway? Too weird.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Monday, September 01, 2008
Even though the Middle School sends advanced Math students to the High School to take High School level classes, the same cannot be done for Neo. It doesn't matter that she's in the gifted and talented program (GATE). It doesn't matter that the High School Math department easily incorporates eighth graders into freshman classes. It doesn't matter that NO ONE in the school system can design an independent study program for her in English and History. It can't be done.
(So far, as a GATE student, one who was identified in fifth grade, my daughter has had one field trip to a science museum, one field trip to a paint-your-own pottery studio, one trip to an ice cream store, and a step aerobics class. Sigh. Last year the teachers said they would assign her extra work, and then partway through the year admitted that they didn't know how to. Sigh. Surely there's some other book other than A Christmas Carol you could ask her to read? Right? Beuller? Last year Neo read the references at the back of her World History text book and read, on her own, two classics of Japanese literature, The Pillow Book and The Tale of Genji, both of which are considered to be standard required texts for college level students studying Japanese history. "Isn't that wonderful!" the teachers exclaim. Yet none of them can think of a single book to assign her for extra work in any of her classes. Didn't you all READ anything when you were in college? Sigh.)
So after years of going to one meeting after another, I gave up. No more meetings. Enough.
Neo has been asking to be homeschooled for over a year. I tried to make this work in the system, I really did, but no more. There's a local charter school with a "learning center" here in town which is home-based. You must follow the CA curriculum, and you meet with a credentialed teacher once a month, but the learning goes on at home. Neo will be taking an Algebra I class at the charter "learning center" in a classroom setting, and she will be working with a local artist. Other than that, it's up to her and me.
Of course, now that I've pulled her from school, the district's falling all over itself to try to set up a program for her. I'll still go to meetings on it -- if they can prove to me that it will get done, I'll consider putting her back in school. But I have very little confidence that they'll actually do much for her. The High School is actively blocking her advancement, so nothing will get off the ground.
In the meantime, the charter school adviser would like to advance her into high school. That's fine with me. We'll get a curriculum set this week.
Since she's been home, I gave her a copy of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, which she read with great interest. We talked about persuasive writing, the multiple meanings of the title, and why Colonists might have gravitated to Paine's pamphlet. (American History is an eighth grade subject.) We watched Obama's speech together on Thursday, and she heard Dear Butcher and I say over and over, "What a great speech." In the shower on Friday morning I came up with an assignment.
I pulled a transcript of the speech off the web and printed it out with no paragraph breaks. Then I had her listen to the speech again and mark on the transcript where the paragraph breaks should go. I also had her put the last third into an outline format.
"OK, so WHY is that speech a good speech?"
"And how do you know where the paragraph breaks go?"
"He tells you. He sets out what he's going to talk about, and then when he's done talking about that idea, he goes to a new paragraph."
"So, persuasive writing is the most highly constructed form of writing. And speaking. You can't go off on tangents, and you have to use facts to convince the audience. Right?"
"OK, so talk to me about topic sentences. Why do your teachers always talk about topic sentences?"
"Well, I guess they help with outlining?"
"Sorta. We did this backwards. We looked at a speech and pulled it apart to look at the structure. But can you see how you could build UP to a good speech or a good essay if you worked on your structure a lot first?"
"And do you see why transitions and topic sentences are a good idea?"
"Good. Let's save this stuff you printed for the teacher when we see her."
"You're not going to make me write a forty five minute speech, are you?"
Oh, how the evil wheels of parental punishment do turn when offered that lovely inspiration. "No kid. We're done. I just wanted to make a final point about WHY you should should learn this stuff. That' s all. Now let's go on to reading something fun and writing about that."
She just finished reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I may have her start examining descriptive passages.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
I'm there with someone else, a woman, but I can't tell if she's older or younger than me. I do know that she is much more interested in meeting Cindy than I am. We walk into a large screen porch in the back of the house. The ceiling is vaulted right up to the exposed green-painted rafters. The frames of the screen panels are pale green as well, and the floor is slate. There's a bedroom off the back of the porch, around the corner, where we can hear ladies' voices. The rest of the porch has been decorated in decorator-magazine fashion. Flowering plants in clear ball jars, cane sofas with patterned silk pillows, throw rugs on the diagonal, hardcover books on the end table with a key and a tassel carefully draped over their ever-to-be-unopened edge, potted orchids swaying as we walk past.
We walk into the bedroom (another magazine spread, pink and fluffy now with accents of red) to find Cindy sitting on a large bed. She sits in her carefully tailored suit with her legs tucked to the side. She reminds me of Betty Draper from Mad Men. Cool and elegant, she is pouring coffee into tiny cups laid out on a tray balanced on the bed. Plates of cookies surround her.
She's talking to a friend sitting in an armchair. The woman I came in with walks briskly up the to bedside and starts talking in a breathy way about how exciting this is, and how beautiful the home is, and oh my goodness, thank you so very much for inviting us this afternoon, and would you like some help with that lovely tray?
I can't sit on the bed -- everything will spill -- and there's no other chair. Not knowing quite what to do with myself, but not feeling at all flustered, I nod a "Hello" to Cindy and wander back out into the green porch to sit in the breeze.
There's no one else to talk to, but it's pleasant enough out here, and I'm enjoying the orchid on the low table near me. There's a silvery green-backed bug daintily making its way across a sea grass mat near my foot. And somewhere around the corner I can hear the flapping and twittering of finches. There must be an aviary. It's as if I'm sitting inside a large Portmerion china bowl.
With no sound at all, a large unique bird soars into the room and lands on the arch of the orchid I've been admiring. His body is grey and blue like a dove or a large parakeet, but his beak is large, striped and hooked like a toucan's. He cocks his head at me and I tilt my head back at him.
"I'm glad to see you like our bird! Cindy found him one day in the barn!"
I turn around to see John McCain standing near me, his hand held out in greeting.
"Um. Hello. Yes, he's quite nice." John McCain sits in the chair near mine. "Thank you for having us over."
"Oh, that's Cindy's thing. Glad you're here though. I wonder if there's coffee. Would you like some?"
I'm totally at sea. I don't really like this person; I don't know why he's chosen me to talk to; I don't know what to say. I hear women talking louder now. "Is that John? Oh! Bring him this coffee. He'll want these too. No! On the tray. That's right." And a china platter piled high with large cookies appears in my lap, threatening to tilt and scatter cookies all over me and the floor. A thin porcelain cup of coffee is pressed in my hand (Too hot!) and John McCain and I are alone again.
I thrust the platter of cookies at him (Too fast!) hoping he'll take them, only to watch them slide towards the far edge. He grabs the other side of the heavy platter and the cookies slide back towards my hand. With those two movements, the entire bottom of the platter has been revealed, and I'm startled to notice that it's the same pattern as my grandmother's china.
(True non-dream bit of background: Years ago, my grandmother purchased an *enormous* quantity of Staffordshire blue lustre china at a London antique shop. It has something like 23 place settings, twelve covered vegetable servers and to many platters to count. There was so much that she gave half of it to my aunt Joyce for her to use and to store in her house. When Joyce died, that half of the china service was sold -- no one told my grandmother until it was well and truly gone. She was furious. A few years later, when she moved out of her house into a retirement condo, she shipped her portion of this mythic china service to me. We have an insane amount of china -- Dear Butcher counted it up once. I think we have complete service for 13? It's heavy, it's blue, and after researching the registration marks, I discovered that it was made by Johnson Brothers in England in 1873. Or the forerunner to Johnson Brothers? I can't remember exactly.)
So anyway, there's John McCain holding a piece of my china pattern.
"Where did you GET that? That's amazing! I can't believe you have this same pattern."
I tell Mr. McCain the history of the china, saying only that my grandmother had purchased an enormous amount of the stuff and that it's quite rare to find any of this pattern in the US, leaving out the bit about Joyce's portion. There's a lengthy and confused conversation between John and Cindy about one insignificant plate amongst many, and he comes back to inform me that Cindy bought it a few years ago from the Massey China and Porcelain Museum when it went out of business a few years ago in Boston.
"Really. I've never heard of the Massey China Museum."
"It's quite well known if you're a collector. Cindy is, ha ha. I just follow her about opening my wallet."
Not funny, John.
In the manner of dreams, I'm now walking down the sidewalk in front of their house thinking about the visit. An image flashes in front of me, a black museum exhibit card with white block letters.
Staffordshire dinner collection
On loan from the [my mother's name] collection
A flash of understanding. Funny that John McCain would have pointed the way. Or rather, Cindy.
In my dream, when my grandmother gave me her china my mother had begged and pleaded with me to have some of the china. It wasn't fair that I got the china. She should have some. I don't believe this actually happened, although I remember her being upset in real life that Grandma sent me her silver, as my mother had just had hers stolen, so I should give her my gift of the silver set, even though it had been promised to me since I was ten years old. The gift of the china was a surprise. But in the dream, she had kicked up a fuss, so I had split the china with her and only taken half (a quarter of the original set).
So in the dream, it has come to me that she never used the china at all, but put it out on loan to various museums. I know, in the way you know things in dreams, that when the Massey went under, they sold her china to the public for her on commission. She never used it, only profited from it. And that's how Cindy McCain ended up with Grandma's china.
Odd dream, no?
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I've just come back from escorting my son to New York City and back. Overall, it was a fine trip, including a jaunt to the Natural History Museum, a day at the Met, and a small explosion at Grandma's Gramercy Park apartment which involved a bite on my arm. We visited with family which he enjoyed when he usually doesn't, we went to Chinatown to get some cheap fans (where I spent the day waiting for a blow-up because he hates strong smells yet rotting fish smells wafting up from the gutter bothered him not at all), and we decided not to go to a movie after the ticket counter was determined to "smell like sour soap."
I can't figure out any more what normal is.
I keep getting asked by people, "How's Saul doing?" I'm not trying to be coy or pull people into a long dissertation of recent events, but I quite honestly don't know how to answer that question anymore. Mostly, people don't really care to know, truth be told. They just want to hear that he's dong better, and for the most part, the news is great. So I can honestly say, "He's doing great." Except then people move on from that question to further conversation where it's clear that they think that he's "all better" and the family has no more problems. Uh, not so much.
So I'm left with saying, "What's your definition of normal? Depending on what you think normal is, Saul is doing great. Better than normal." For me, a bite on the arm after one week of being away from home and traipsing through museums with no other explosions or runaways is a pretty good thing. A huge improvement. Yay!
On the other hand, I still really do not like being bitten. It gets me angry and depressed.
I keep bouncing back and forth between these two islands. Things Are Better and This Life Sucks. The worst place is when I'm standing on the bridge between the two thinking, "Things are better and STILL this life sucks."
I had a week of people watching in Manhattan. Weird thoughts kept flitting through my mind: I wonder how many books that man has read. I wonder how long that couple drinking Rob Roys has been married. I wonder how that mother with the Prada bag would react if her son attacked her. I wonder if that young girl is flattered when he stands so close to her in the door of subway, his back to the crowd, or is that annoyance at his presumption I see in that flick of her hair?
I'm doing a bit of people watching on myself, truth be told. I'm not sure how well I'm doing, but on the other hand, what's normal here? I have a friend who was abusing sleeping pills; I spent on weekend a few years ago trying to convince her to check herself into a psychiatric hospital. She kept coming back to her children not doing well, and I kept saying back to her, "That's normal. They're father left them for a younger woman. He got married and he wants them to never be angry at him. Of course they're stressed. They're in a stressful situation. So are you. It's normal to show signs of stress." That conversation keeps coming back to me, now that I'm on the other end of it, so to speak. What's normal here? What's expected?
Saul's therapist asked me a few weeks ago if I was depressed. I answered quickly, "Yup. Been depressed for a while, but I've been much more depressed than this." Last week he privately said that he was amazed that I had said "Yes" so easily to a question which most people stumbled across. "Come on now. Three months ago I was seriously considering putting my son in a psychiatric hospital for observation. I've been fighting this THING, whatever it is, for years. I keep running right into walls in his education. Wouldn't YOU be depressed? Isn't that a normal reaction? What if I had said "No"? Would you have believed me?"
People are constantly looking for any sign of depression. But what if you find it? Is finding it "bad"? Or is it a normal response to some very abnormal situations?
I don't quite know the answers to those yet.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
I can sort of see what she's saying, but it sort of doesn't fit either.
Miss Bennet doesn't like Mr. Darcy because he seems to not like her. She actually likes him until she overhears him reject her as being too rough for his fine person. Of course what she doesn't know is how much he admires her, etc. etc., nor does she understand how very stiff he is in company because he hasn't mastered the art of conversation and idle chatter.
OK, we all know that. But, uh, how does Obama fit into THAT? I don't think her analogy is apt.
Obama has always loved country (Miss Bennet), but she hasn't really been paying too much attention to him until recently. You don't go into local organizing unless you *really* like politics, believe me. Maybe now Miss Bennet sees him as being aloof? Too prideful? But is that really what's going on? Or do we see him now as acting aloof because all the pundits are saying that he's not blue collar enough.
I don't think Austen is going to work for this election.
If you are going to propose Barack Obama as some sort of hero in a well known Victorian book, then I'd go for either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. The brooding hero with Deep Thoughts on his mind which occupy him while all the girls want to do is twitter away somewhere at Thrushcross Grange, discussing table linens and inheritances.
But see, even that doesn't work. I have a hard time seeing Obama thumping across the moors getting his feet all wet in the peat. And pining for ghosts? No. I don't think so.
This is the problem with allegory -- it's hard to get it right. Better just to deal with the person as we have him.
I prefer Jon Stewart's take on the whole "Is he too arrogant and prideful?" meme: Of course he's arrogant. He's running for president of the United States! Presumptive leader of the Free World! Yes! He's arrogant! So's the other guy.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Why does does the cat insist on straddling the keyboard so that I cannot see the monitor, anus in my face?
Why does blowing a sharp gust of air on his ever-so-obvious anus elicit no response whatsoever other than a casual glance over his shoulder and a quick tail flick?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I hope this works without needing registration to view: Calm Down or Else by Benedict Carey.
It all seems quite familiar.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
His last day of school in the regular General Ed program was April 5, 2008. He was identified as a Special Ed student in October of 2006, originally under the designation: ED (Emotionally Disturbed). In February of 2007 we went to UCSF for a pediatric psychiatric diagnosis, as many of his school diagnostic tests were pointing to Asperger's.
In 2004 thru early 2006 he had also been in private therapy, where he had been diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), IE (Intermittent Explosivity), and where we had discussed and ruled out ADHD, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Early-Onset Bi-polar Disorder. (That last one was a bit bogus in terms of a true diagnostic test though -- that psychiatrist spent about twenty minutes with me and no more than ten with him before ruling out Bi-Polar. Whatever.)
UCSF came back with the diagnosis of Anxiety and IE, ruling out Asperger's although they said that he displayed many of the characteristics of the disorder.
The entire time he was in Special Ed at the basic elementary was one horror show after another. The Director of Special Ed, whose brother has Asperger's and who herself has some sort of auditory processing hypersensitivity, saw a lot of autistic traits in Saul. His need for deep pressure. His heightened fight or flight response when faced with a new environment, etc. By April of 2007 I had trotted the UCSF report over to my health insurance HMO to get a prescription for my son for anti-anxiety medication, as recommended in the report.
Well, Kaiser lives in its own bizarre universe, and they didn't see him as being anxious or needing anti-anxiety medication. Instead, he was put on trials of Ritalin and Adderal to control his explosivity. (I had heard the psychiatrist in another venue say that actually no young child really had depression or anxiety -- it was all undiagnosed ADD. This explains his interest in trying the Ritalin before Zoloft. Sigh.) Surprise, surprise, neither of the "impulse control" drugs worked. And he then diagnosed Saul with Asperger's and anxiety, since he could now rule out ADHD (Which every teacher Saul has ever had since 2003 has also ruled out. Sigh.)
With the Kaiser diagnosis of Asperger's on a piece of paper, the Director of Special Ed started to try to train the staff at my son's school how to work with an autistic child. Nope. It wasn't happening. No way, no how.
I had many meetings and IEPs wherein I discussed behavior management techniques (Chunk his day into discrete time blocks. Ask him to set his own goals at the beginning and end of every chunk. Ask him to self-assess his own behavior. Ignore the negative, reduce the shame, and accentuate the positive.) Nope. No way. Favorite quote of the year, by far: "I have seven teaching certificates, but even I am not trained or prepared to do such a thing." Huh? What's rocket science here?
By December of 2007, we started receiving mental health services through the county. Every professional working with him through that office started to say, "We can't tell what is going on until he gets into a different educational program. He's getting worse and worse, and they are contributing to the problem."
I used to get calls from the school every day, sometimes two or three times a day. "He's not doing his work. He's refusing to go to lunch. He's climbing the fence on the playground. We don't know where he is, but he's left campus. He' s not doing his work. Can you come down right away and get him back in class?" Over and over again.
If I got to 10:30 in the morning without a call it was a good day. On those days I could expect a call by 1:30. It was insane. If I did go down, there was often a group of adults hovering over him, shaming him, making everything worse. So even if I left him there, I was running the last thing I saw over and over in my head. I should have said this. I should call another meeting. Dammit, I can't eat lunch now, I don't have time.
During the early Spring, Dear Butcher and I had to assess various programs available to us. And some were quite scary. All had smaller classes and less rigorous academics than he's used to. But the violence of the students he'd be sitting with was scary. One program was dedicated to victims of sexual abuse. Yikes. He's got enough troubles as it is. The schools have padded rooms, for goodness sake. Why can't the local school just put in place some of the things that are scientifically proven to work? Why designate him as Emotionally Disturbed if you are not going to help him through that?
Saul had his last day of school on April 5. Then he was home for a full month until all the paperwork could get signed, so he started school at his new program, Cornerstone, on May 5. During the month of April, he got so out of control, he had to be restrained outside his therapist's office by four adults, face down (on a pad) in the parking lot for almost an hour. We were seconds away from calling in the psychiatric crisis team, when Saul became distracted enough by his father's arrival on scene to snap out of it. It was not a good month.
Cornerstone is a joint program between County Mental Health and the neighboring public school system. (It's designated as a psychiatric day treatment program for emotionally disturbed and abused children.) There's a psychologist on site at all times, and since it's co-run by County Mental Health, his psychologist at school would now be working closely with his present psychiatrist, who could even observe him in a classroom setting if needed. However, since Saul would be receiving educational services through a different public school system, we had to have *another* IEP including personnel from that school district. Basically, it's as if my public school system decided to send him to a private school -- they'll end up paying "tuition" to the other public school system in the form of a transferred enrollment. The County chips in too. OK, fine. Where's the paperwork?
At this meeting we had: Me, the Director of Special Services for my school district (and now my son's case manager), the Principal of Cornerstone, the chief Psychologist at Cornerstone, the lassroom Teacher, and a Supervisor within the Special Services Department in the neighboring school district. It was her signature we needed to get him enrolled. Another three hour meeting. Gah.
Intriguingly, the Special Ed Supervisor from the other district hit on my son's Asperger's diagnosis almost immediately. "I'm concerned about this, because we have had very little success with autistic children in this particular program. Now, we do have another program in our district for elementary-aged autistic children. I'm worried that this is the wrong placement for him." So I went through his various diagnostic tests, and his visit to UCSF, where they ruled OUT Asperger's, while two months later Kaiser ruled it IN.
The Principal said, "You know. What occurs to me in listening to you speak is that this child has never really had *any* sort of intervention. Has he?"
"Well, we've been through a lot, but, um, no. I guess he really hasn't had an intervention yet. That's part of the insanity here. He's had five aides this year and I think he had four last year. As soon as we get a recommendation, we try to act upon it, and then something blocks it. He's had all his blood tests to determine base values before starting him on Seroquel, but even the psychiatrist won't medicate until he has a better idea of what is *normal* behavior for Saul."
"OK then," replied the principal. "I agree with you Carol, that we have not had positive results with autistic children here. However, maybe we can use this placement to either rule in or rule out autism. Our psychologist seems to feel that he can be of use to Saul, and I trust his judgment. I think we should place him here."
And so they did.
He started May 5. He's in a class with nine other kids. There are four adults in the room --it can get a bit crowded-- the teacher, a mental health "technician" and two adult aides. Every day, their first writing assignment is to fill in a worksheet on "How am I Doing Today?" I feel sleepy, hungry, happy, sad, etc., and today my goal is to______. Then they get points. Every day they either move up levels or down levels, depending on their behavior. With every change in level, they get new privileges (The right to use colored pencils rather than crayons. The right to bring one object from home. The right to a McDonald's lunch with a staff member.) Everything is very consistent and very clear. It's basically everything I had been asking his current school to do for him, but at a more intense level.
He's had perfect day after perfect day. He's risen straight up through the levels, earing more and more rewards. He participates in therapy. He's (watch me fall on the floor) Played Softball this summer (with other disabled kids -- two innings, no scores, hugely modified rules, but still. A team sport??). The school doesn't call me. Ever.
He's gone AWOL twice and dropped a level as a consequence. Yes, he gets angry. Yes, he's disappointed in himself and angry at staff for following the rules. But then he's able to say, "I think I can start earning back my level again tomorrow."
You have no idea of the shock on my face when I hear him say stuff like this. I have to shake it off, squeal, and give him a hug rather than just staring at him slackjawed.
Things are not perfect. I've called the police when he walked out of the house. I've had to restrain him. He flipped out at a family party on Memorial Day and I ended up on top of him holding him in four point restraint on their front yard. And then he bit me.
However, we are miles away from where we've been.
We are moving away from restraining him at all. He can control the behavior at school and he's aware that he's controlling it there. Therefore, he should be able to control it at home. With lots of support. And on a much more extended timeline. But *HE'S* got hope that he can control it.
SO. Where are we, really, in terms of figuring out what makes this kid tick?
Well, if all of the rages, self-mutilation, obsessive thoughts, violence, and rigid thought patterns seem to have disappeared from the school setting, then it's probably not Asperger's. (Although everyone agrees that he does have some autistic traits. But not enough to push us over the line into that diagnosis.)
Both ODD and IE are only descriptive -- there's no treatment for them really except for environmental and behavioral controls. Which brings us back around to Anxiety and (ta-da!) Bi-polar. Along with a family system which contributes his flare-ups. (I'll take responsibility for whatever I can here, believe me.)
I do love it though when his various therapists (He has three now?) ask, "Is there any history of mental illness in your family?" ::laughtrack::
I'm really so proud of my son. And I'm fine with the addition and then removal of Asperger's as his main trigger. I got to learn a lot about it, and who knows, it may indeed underly some of this. Who can say? What *still* gets me angry though is discovering that putting him in The Very Environment I Had Been Asking For All Along was instantly beneficial. Why the fuck couldn't his school have set up the damn behavior chart? Why the fuck couldn't the adults there have acted like professionals when he flared up? Why wouldn't they stop talking to him in that fucking sing-song voice which they KNEW sent him over the edge? AGH! I want to go shoot someone. (OK, not really. Not a threat, that would be bad.)
I was in the office of his old school picking up his little sister sometime in late May, when the principal walked in. We both said that we had been meaning to call each other to get an update on Saul. I told her how well he was doing, and after she asked what I thought mainly contributed to his success, I said, "It's completely consistent. The kids know going in what's expected of them, and they are held to that standard. Not one that changes day to day. If something new is going to happen, the are prepped days in advance."
"Oh. Well, that could never happen here."
Why the fuck not? Ugh!! Wouldn't other children benefit from a predictable environment? Educational research says yes, they would!
On the other hand, I've been proven right that the principal is an idiot and that she is running a dysfunctional school with unprofessional staff. I knew I wasn't crazy there.
One day I'll have to write something about watching your child stretched out on a blue wrestling mat in a parking lot on a hot sunny California day, with one adult holding his ankles, one holding his hips, and a third holding his arms to the side as he spits and swears at them all while you consider whether or not hospitalizing him in a psychiatric ward overnight is a good idea. It was completely unfamiliar yet strangely comforting. I could watch and know that he wouldn't be harmed, and I could finally just be his mother.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
I remember living like this all the time. One more phone call. One more dissection of "What did she mean when she said that to him? Why didn't she tell him that other thing when she was saying this thing over here?" You can spend decades parsing one tale and the twelve conversations it sprouted from its twisted trunk. I know. I have.
A few months after I moved away from my family to California I said to Dear Butcher, "I have this weird feeling in my stomach, and I've been trying to figure out what's going on. I finally realized what it must be. It's the absence of a stomachache. I've had one every day for so long that I forgot what it felt like to not have one."
We fall now into the predictable pattern. My mother sends me a terse email with PROOF that she is correct in thinking that her former daughter-in-law is a creep. (And by extension that her son is not really that bad.) Ha! That'll convince you!
Which causes me to send her back an email saying "I love you; I'm not interested in abandoning all ties with you; I'm not trying to hurt you, but cut the crap already. I"m not reading confidential letters between patients and therapists even if they do prove your point. Shame on your son for giving them to you anyway."
Which causes my father to email me back saying that he agrees with me, but really, won't I just be that sympathetic ear my mother needs? You don't need to agree with her, but won't you just listen to her pain? For me? Hmm?
Which causes me to write....No. Wait. Back off. Shut up. Go away. Tell the chamber orchestra playing that ever so familiar waltz in the corner to pack up their instruments. Now is not the time to dance with these wackos.
On different days in different ways this has been going on all week.
I decided finally to try to get the other side of the story by calling my ex-sister-in-law. (I long ago decided to shorten all that crap to just "sister". I'm old enough; I get to choose my relatives.) Well, that was enlightening -- the best part being that she had no idea that DSS had been called, after my mother had been gloating "that now that the social worker has been in touch with Steph the shit will really hit the fan." We kibitzed, we laughed, we agreed that this is a whole truckload of crazy. Then she called back and things started getting weird with her, which I regret.
I sat on my conversation with her for a few hours (that's when I started writing all these posts, to try to process some of this stuff) and then decided that I had to call my Dad. I don't know who is telling the truth, and I can't spend time ferreting out the conflicting details, but I felt as if he deserved to know that in at least two stories that I had heard this week, he was being lied to.
I got him on the phone and told him that. When he tried to find out what I knew and when, I told him I wasn't playing that game. I only called him to warn him to look out, because either my mother or my brother, or both were lying. The sequence of events (whose gory details I won't bore you all with) simply do not add up.
Steph may not be telling the truth in all things, but I absolutely believe her reactions to shocking news. Being asked about a social worker sent her right over the edge. Therefore, she hadn't heard about it before, and either mom was lying to me, or brother was lying to mom when he said that there had been contact and the investigation was well under way.
At which point my mother, in all of her five foot three inches of blue flaming rage, stormed into my dad's office. He's trying to pretend that I'm not on the phone, but all the while trying to tell me what she's saying.
"Give it up Dad. Put me on the extension."
Much yelling and scuffling ensues.
My mother huffs, "What did you DO?"
"What DID YOU DO?!"
"Hey. I'm not going to be spoken to that way. Calm down. I called Dad to say--"
"TELL ME WHAT YOU SAID!"
"To whom? What?"
"TELL ME WHAT YOU SAID!"
"Enough. I'll talk to you when you're calmer." Click.
We went through three rounds of this. "Screech!" Click. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
In a rather sick way, it was a little fun. "Oh, here she is again trying to yell at me." Click. "Ahhh."
Upshot of the whole fiasco is that apparently the social worker HADN'T yet contacted Steph, so my telling Steph that I was sorry to hear that she was having such a difficult time, and then my having to explain to her what I had heard (in very limited detail) was enough, in my mother's eyes, to ruin the entire investigation. "Your brother had DOCTORS lined up." And the role of the DSS is what, exactly? "Now she'll KNOW what to say." Like she wasn't going to know what to say beforehand? The social worker has to SET AN APPOINTMENT with you for the interview. Duh. It's not like the police: "OPEN UP! It's a social worker!!"
All of which left me saying, "You told me in your email that the social worker had already spoken to her. I went off your email."
"Well, that's only what I believed."
"Exactly. Which is why I called Dad to say that somewhere someone is being lied to."
"All I want to know is, why do you hate us so?"
Huge guffaws of laughter. And freedom. Finally. Peace in my chest.
That was last night. Since then. Nothing. No emails. No phone calls. And FINALLY for the first time in a week, I'm not spinning on this crap in my head. I'm not preparing for the next phone call, I'm not trying to figure out where my boundaries are.
Because I'm done. She's too much for me. And I feel no guilt whatsoever. I haven't ever felt this solid regarding her and her insanity.
I admit to feeling a little bad for my Dad. I think I'm hoping that he'll still find a way to, I dunno, think well of me? Respect me? I hope all this drama doesn't give him a heart attack either. But that's all that I've got left for those fruitcakes. Curiosity and a mild concern over their well-being. Sort of like when I walk past that koi fountain in the lobby of the old medical building. "Isn't that an awfully small place for them? Don't they get bored swimming in the same circles?" And the concern passes as I turn to read the directory by the elevators.
I told Dad that I would call Mom, that I wasn't trying to freeze her out, but that I needed some time to calm down and pull myself together. However, I wasn't going to apologize to her for saying things she didn't agree with. I can try to not fight with her again, but I'm not going to pretend to believe something that I don't just to make her feel better. He agreed that I shouldn't, and he also said, "I'm not sure you have to apologize. I'm not asking you to do that. I'm just saying that she needs to hear from you, but I think she's scared to pick up the phone." Fine, no emotional manipulation there, NONE AT ALL.
So ok, I spoke to her again. Told her right out of the gate that I wasn't going to rehash the last conversation, but that I was calling to say that I was concerned that she was going through such a rough time. Immediately she hops back on to her train of proving herself right. Nope. Not playing. If that's all you got, then I have to go.
Then she pulls out of her hat the funniest thing I've heard her say in a long time.
She's going on about how evil she KNOWS her grandson's mother is, "After all, she bought him a LIGHTER for his POT."
"What?! How many teenage boys have lighters?"
"No, no. She bought it for him. She's the one who buys him his pot too. Where else would he get it?"
Bwa-HA-HA!! Huge guffaws of laughter spurt out of my throat with such force that I think pulled a tendon in my neck. (Testing. Yep. It still hurts if I touch my ear to my shoulder.) After I stopped choking and wheezing I said, "Mom, she's in her middle forties. 'A' is in High School. It's a hell of a lot easier for a kid to get pot than an adult. YOU are an IDIOT."
"Well, where would he get the money?"
"You're insane! Have you never heard of dime bag? As in ten bucks? It's sold by the joint, you know."
Much sputtering. Some more handwaving. Some yelling. I hang up the phone again.
"Where else would he get his pot?" Good Lord, I'm still laughing over that one.
In the quiet moments after the phone call, I realized that we really are dealing with a caged animal here. Challenge her convictions and she comes flying at the glass, teeth bared. Somehow over time she lulls me into thinking that she's slowly getting more rational. That one day she'll get her narcissism and mania under control. But this week. Uh uh. Nope. Truth is what you see before you. She's never been calm or sane, only the facade is still.
She is one busy gerbil though.
Part Three is where I get the other side of the story, and finally, calmly, step out myself for good.
Friday, July 11, 2008
I've been meaning to write about this, but then I've been holding off because it all seems so whiny and repetitive somehow. But it's also so amazingly otherwordly -- the turns of the gerbil wheel that is the drama of my family. Again I say, if I read this in a book, I'd never believe that people stay on this track year after year after year. Novels are about change, but not life. Not in my family.
I'll talk about the aftermath in Part Two, which I had to pull off into a separate post because this one got sooooo long. In fact, you may want to brew a cup of tea before settling into this one. I'll wait.
My mother called Monday to tell me how horrible her weekend was. Fuck me, why do you have to do this? Isn't there someone else you can complain to? My brother (now finally divorced) learned that his ex-wife was allowing his eldest son's girlfriend to sleep over and in the same room, so he called the DSS (which is child protective services in MA) to start an investigation on his ex-wife for neglect and contributing to statutory rape (Dramatic much?). My mother was positively gleeful. (I'm not sure I believe the story as presented either. I'll be interested to hear what the DSS investigation turns up.)
After a lengthy pause I said, "Wow. Well, I guess if he goes ahead and proves her unfit this is an opportunity for him to grow up and actually take responsibility for his kids."
"I don't think that will happen really. I don't think either one of them have the skills to take care of their kids." (Wait. Is that honesty I hear? What the hell?) "Of course, you know what that means. I'm going to have to be the one to raise those kids."
"Could be. You know, if you think that's where this is going, you really should just file for partial legal custody so that you'd have some say in what happens."
"I can't do THAT! I'm not going to be taking them into my house. Teenagers. All that loud music. The noise, the food. Fighting about homework. I like my life. I'm not doing that again." (And the honesty lasts for about point three seconds. Start up that gerbil wheel, here we go.)
"So you aren't going to raise them -- I thought you said that you were going to end up with them."
"Not in my house. But if your brother (I love when she does this. When she tries to explain a point, relatives often lose their names. Your aunt, Your brother -- like it's somehow my fault that they're fucked up? What is that?) gets custody of them, I'll be the one paying all the bills, taking them to classes, making sure they get to tutors. That will all fall to me."
"But you do that anyway. How is that him taking responsibility for them? You don't have any control over them or him as it is. What's different?"
"Oh no. If he gets them away from Her (She-who-shall-not-be-named) then he'll listen to me. He will. I'll be all he has."
Whoa. Red light. What?? Think highly of yourself, do you?
"He doesn't listen to you now. He doesn't give a shit what you think or what you want, as long as he's able to head off to his spin class at 5:30 in the morning. Are you going to go get them up for school? Are you going to pack their lunches? Nothing will change if they get taken away from Steph. In fact, it will all be worse. I didn't say take them into your house. I didn't say physical custody. I said legal custody. Get some legal control. Legal. Not physical."
Very huffily, "I'm not going to do THAT. File for custody. Hmn."
"Great. So once again the kids will learn that no one gives a shit about them. Their mother wants their idiot father to have them every weekend so that she can have those free. Their father doesn't want to take care of them on the weekend, nor does he want to pay $200 a week in child support. What is that: groceries? And you can't be bothered to be responsible either. Excellent."
"I am responsible. I take them to the museum. I pay for everything." (The museum. Yeah.)
"Then why does he have a judgment against him for non-payment of child support? They're garnishing his wages. For two hundred bucks. He's never going to get another salaried job again. He knows it will all be sucked up in the DOR judgment. Some responsibility there."
"Oh I know. It's awful. He's so impossible. Do you know that this weekend he came to us saying that he couldn't pay his rent (Oh shit. I know where this one is going.) so we wrote him a check for fifteen hundred, and he deposited it in an account that had been seized? His accounts have been seized! And then when we wrote him another one, he was yelling at us. At us! He's not even grateful. I don't know what to do with him."
Something nasty and vile just fell inside my chest. A hunk of rotten flesh fell from my sternum, a putrid stalactite letting loose, landing in my belly, bursting open on impact. I can feel the maggots wriggle. I'm going to vomit. But then I'd be vomiting worms. Swallow down. Swallow down. Jesus H. Christ. I can't believe I'm listening to this shit. I can't believe I'm here. Swallow down.
"Wait. You spent three thousand dollars on him this weekend? You gave him more money after you KNEW his rent money had been seized?"
"We had to." (Her Shirley Temple Voice. Little Miss Sunshine. On the Goo-oo-od Ship Lollipop.)
"No you didn't. He can't pay his rent. Make him be a man. He's forty six years old. Let him pay his own fucking rent."
"But he can't."
My head explodes.
"Oh my Good God. Cut him off. Stop it. Read a fucking book on co-dependence. Why are you doing this to him? You know what, forget about him. What about his kids? 'The Boys' as you call them. Their father is always going to be like this. Think of The Boys in their thirties. Their forties. When you die, he's going to come around to them, 'Pay for this. Why won't you support me? After all, I'm the one who took you away from your horrible mother. I need money. You need to pay.' No wonder they hate him now. They'll hate him more later. Why would you DO that to your own grandchildren? Every time you bail him out, you are condemning your grandchildren to a horrible adulthood. Can't you see that? Jesus Christ. You are helping him be this way. He's dependent on you. He's damaged. You are co-dependent together. Stop it. Step out of it. Jesus Christ."
There's a lot in here that I don't quite remember, or is too repetitive to transcribe in intimate detail. We went round and round and round. She absolutely doesn't see that she is bailing him out. She has this incredible fear of homelessness, that much is clear. "I can't let him end up on the streets" and" He can't live in a cardboard box" and "He needs clean clothes, not rags from some thrift store." Such a snob. She buys him clothes from Macy's and Brooks Brothers. Brooks Brothers!!
But my favorite line, when I kept harping back on co-dependence ( You think you can control other people's actions and emotions: co-dependent. You are addicted to the drama he brings you: co-dependent. You are made to feel as if you are the center of someone else's universe : co-dependent) was this gem. I'm not sure I can type it so that her inflection is clear.
"So I read a BOOOOK on co-dePENNdence. Then what?"
At some point I realized that this was hopeless, a mind-fuck, and a complete waste of my morning, so I started saying, "I can't listen to this anymore. It's too much. You do what you want, but I can't hear about it." And, "I can't listen to this. I'm warning you, I need to stop." And, "OK, enough. We need to change the subject because I'm not kidding. It is damaging to me to listen to you go on about this."
Said in a nasty whining, snitty tone, "Oh, it's daa-maging to YEW."
At which point, I held the phone out in front of my chest and said into the air, "I'm sorry. I've had it. I can't do this anymore," and hung up the phone.
And cried for about ten minutes. Huge gulping sobs.
I'm better now, but wow. That was a bit more intense than I had expected. What's insane, above all else, is that she's been in therapy with the same psychiatrist (whom she sees once a week and who she calls at home if she's having a crisis) since 1989. Nineteen years of weekly therapy. Nineteen years. Rock of Gibraltar she is.
Or he's a really bad therapist. Or both.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Here is a draft of my obituary. When the time comes you can rewrite it in any way you want, but just don't say that I spent 10 years in jail! Tell me what you think of it. Mom
Ummm. OK. Wonder what prompted this?
So I open the attached document to find a lengthy obituary. Wait. This is really long.
Three pages? Who gets a three-page single-spaced obit?
I settle in to read. She starts off in a regular tone, where she was born, where she lived, who was related to her. Then on to education. (You're listing your elementary? Hmm.) And slowly we start sliding into the beginnings of manic phase:
We now continue on through her legal career, various appointments to various legal committees, on through her retirement, and into her doll collecting career, and various hobby-related committee appointments, and here we are still going strong on page two. Now the fun begins.
...where she majored in classical Greek, (graduating as Durant Scholar), and she received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature in 1969 (the literature of the Classics and the Renaissance) from Harvard University. She was awarded her J.D. from Boston University in 1976. Her Harvard dissertation was published in book form by Garland Press Rutgers University in 1979: “Theatrum Mundi, the history of an idea. Which I've actually read. But it's not a notable best-seller. She also published two scholarly articles on Erasmus in 1971. Only two? She taught Church History (the Reformation) briefly at Andover Newton Theology School and at Boston University School of Theology. Very briefly, as in for one year. Uh oh. This doesn't mean we are going to go year by year, does it?
Here we see the twelve organizations she volunteered for, along with pertinent dates. We continue in this vein for the rest of page two.
And the mania hits.
Right there in the fifth paragraph.
She had a life-long passion for equal rights for all people, and to that end, generously supported the work of Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty, International., OXFAM, and the ACLU, where she served ... a three-year term as vice-president of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union. She also supported the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.Wait. Did she just list her charitable contributions in her obit? Why are you hiding the ACLU presidency in THAT paragraph?
It gets better. Now we move on to her season tickets.
She always gave generously to the arts. She served for several years as an Overseer for the Handel and Hayden Society of Boston, and she also supported the Huntington Theatre, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Baroque, and Boston Ballet, all of whose programs she subscribed to each year. She also supported the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Science in Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City."Support"? "Subscribe"? You're talking about museum memberships. In your obit. Uh huh.
During the 1990's she ... wrote many poems.
We're not close to being done with page three. On we go through her travel experiences and knowledge of secondary languages, to close with:
Above all, she valued the many friendships she made through her involvement with professional, community, and hobby societies, as well as clubs, commissions, and professional and philanthropic organizations She always enjoyed reaching out to help others, and, in return, her friends reached out to her.OK, then. Good to know.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Over the last few days we built the floor of the coop and put up two walls in the blistering heat with very little fighting. I do however have a scorching sunburn on my shoulder. Yes. I know. Wear sunscreen, but geeez once you've gone too long and the burn is there, it's no fun to heal through the pain.
We started work on the third wall and had something of a construction/marital breakdown. I apparently can't explain plans easily to my husband, yet I was sure that he was about to cut the framing timbers for the shed roof at the wrong angle, so I wouldn't let him cut anything and then tried once again to explain where I was sure the angle was wrong with no success. Finally, at the end of the day, we decided to just slap the third wall up there and see how it fit. Yeah, Ok. It doesn't fit. Sigh. It fits lengthwise no problem, but the angle at the top is wrong. Great Big Sigh.
However, after sleeping off the frustration, both Dear Butcher and I looked at it and said, "Oh. Yup. That's where it doesn't fit. Right there at that angle. OK then. We'll climb up and fix it. Ha ha."
And it's been in the high 90's ever since. Not construction weather. Sorry, but I'm not interested in heat stroke on my birthday, thanks so much. We're not getting too far on fixing the mistake, but oddly enough, I'm not that worried. The mistake is totally obvious now, neither one of us is sulking or blaming, and we know we won't repeat it on the fourth wall. As soon as the mercury goes down, the coop will go up.
And to answer Cindy, the chickens are a fancy breed. They are Silver Laced Wyandottes. Standard sized birds which lay brown eggs, very laid back, with elegant feathers. When they are adults they'll look like this: (Hat tip to Mike Wing's page on keeping chickens)
Right now they just look scruffy -- one month old. Half in downy baby feathers, half in adult plumage. Sort of like acne afflicted teenagers wearing jeans which are inches too short in the leg.
At three days:
At one week:
At one month:
The one with all the white on her head who always stares down the camera is "Sequoia". They are all named for trees: Sequoia, Cedar, Sakura, Maple and Willow. I got three thinking that we really only wanted three or four. After hearing how very fragile they were and how likely it was that we were going to lose a baby I got a few extra. Nope. These girls are hardy. If a touch stupid. OK, maybe more than a touch.