Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Poe-yay Day


Tuesday is a very exciting day of the week around my household. It is now known as Poe-yay Day (Poe-yay is pronounced with an unnatural pause between the syllables, like an automated voice).



The build-up begins Monday night. By Tuesday morning, Violet repeats her line of inquiry at least three times per hour:


"Poe-yay now? Eat in? Mama, Bapa? Mama's house? Wawound?" (This is two-year old speak for: "Is it time to go to Chipotle? Will we be eating in? Will Grandma and Grandpa be joining us? Will you be dropping us off at their house afterwards and will we be playing at the super cool new playground right next to their home?")

"No, not yet."

"Why?!"

"We have to wait until Daisy's out of school."

"Ah-wight."



The routine started because my parents watch the kids Tuesday nights while I tutor. So I drive the kids over the hill about 30 miles to the larger metropolis area where I work and my parents live. My parents have been generous enough to treat their (mostly) unemployed daughter and grandkids to regular meals out. I owe them big time in their retirement years, if those are still possible.



Chipotle is a corporate chain. I live in a town that actively limits corporate chains and supports independently-owned businesses. I think that's great and I do support the Buy Local movement. But I am drawn like a zombie to the big chains not in my hometown . . . Target, Michael's, Barnes and Noble, DSW, Old Navy. These are exotic places and Chipotle is also in that category.



We started the lunch thing so my mom and I could have a chance to visit and to avoid dropping off hungry, cranky children who can be extremely picky eaters. My small children get three carnitas tacos each. I even let Violet, my sensitive redhead who doesn't do well with dairy, get the cheese and sour cream with the guacamole.



We have our Tuesday routine down, which I'm proud of because routine is not my strongpoint. When we get to the restaurant, the kids go straight to the barstools in front of the windows with a street view. Violet takes the only short stool while Daisy moves from one tall stool to another. As I'm ordering the food and bringing it to them, Daisy tries out different ways she can hang her body off the stool while Violet enthusiastically points out every bus that passes (oh, the excitement and questions when one day - the driver stopped the bus in front of the restaurant and came in to get his lunch).



My parents and I eat at a nearby table and watch the kids gorge themselves on tacos. Daisy holds hers like a cigar and eats out of the side of her mouth. Violet often throws the tortillas to the side like frisbees and eats with a spoon, making regular "mmmm" sounds. But if I ordered her meal without the tortillas, she would be very upset as it isn't part of the routine.



It's exactly the kind of casual dining experience that they can handle at this stage and even so, we are often a spectacle . . . Violet repeatedly screaming NO DAISY, both of them running in circles, me standing up and bellowing, WELL, I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM . . . DOES ANYONE ELSE NEED TO GO? then realizing by my mom's response that I have spoken to the entire restaurant.



It will probably be one of those memories I'll circle around for years . . . Girls, when you were little, we used to go to Chipotle and you loved those tacos. Remember the stools? Remember the busses? I'm sure they will nod, unimpressed . . . lecturing me on the evils of eating meat or introducing me to the perils of the oppresive corporate model, as if I were born yesterday. But no one will be able to take Poe-yay Day away from me.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chelsea_nj/4084162763/

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Good Unemployment Fairy


One of my high school sorority sisters just came for a visit. I haven't seen her in a few years and the economy has certainly changed everything. Last I saw her, she was wearing designer clothes and driving a fancy car, obviously pulling in pretty good money. Now she's on unemployment, renting out a room in her house and housecleaning whenever she can find a client. She grows her own food, bikes everywhere and was in town for a marathon. She's always been resilient and together; now she's the Bionic Woman.



We traded unemployment stories in my messy house over my noisy children and I was feeling a little jealous of her accomplishments, which I will pettily attribute to her not having children (at least partially). I would say that the grass is always greener, except I'm not sure how inviting my life was looking as my children were giving her a complete tour of their worst behavior.



As we were talking, I realized I had completely forgotten about the good unemployment fairy who I encountered at the EDD. She was the opposite of a heartless bureaucrat. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to come across this particular person as the chances must be less than 1%.



I didn't realize that I qualified for unemployment for the first six months after I left my job. A friend told me that I might qualify as my official reason for leaving was to care for my sick child. I looked at the EDD website and sure enough, he was right. However, I got some of the details all wrong. It was a case of me being unnecessarily stubborn because someone did try to warn me.



Anyone who knows anything about unemployment knows that you only qualify for it if you are looking for work. I didn't understand that and was only focusing on my original reason for leaving. I filled out the paperwork in such a way as to disqualify myself. Then the nicest woman ever to work for the EDD called for the follow-up interview.



She interviewed me for a few minutes before telling me I was disqualified. Now she had information that I couldn't rescind without proving myself a liar. My response was to totally lose it on the phone. I became an emotional mess, ranting about my personal situation: "I'VE BEEN WORKING - AND CONTRIBUTING TO THE SYSTEM - SINCE I WAS 16. I HAVE TWO KIDS AND I NEED THE MONEY. JUST TELL ME WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO DO AND I'LL DO IT."



There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. Then she said, "OK, I'm going to explain a few things to you and I want you to listen carefully. When I'm done, I'm going to ask you some questions." She went on to explain what a person in my situation would need to say in order to qualify. She asked me the questions and I answered as instructed. Then, "Well, look at that. You have qualified." A couple minutes after I hung up, the phone rang and it was the good fairy again, "Next time, call first and ask, OK?" Sure.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/migrainechick/3500714534/

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Enjoy Life


I heard yesterday that a student I once knew died in a fire early Saturday morning. He was at his girlfriend's house, which was owned by her parents though they weren't there. He was only 17 years old and had finished his high school credits a couple months ahead of graduation.



The cause of the fire isn't yet known but the girlfriend apparently tried to get him out of the house and couldn't do it. She had to leave him. My sympathy goes out to her and the families and friends. There are no words. Life isn't fair.



When you're younger, it seems you have the idea that if you do what everyone tells you to do, you are guaranteed certain things. You get good grades, you go to college. If you work hard, you'll be successful. At some point, you start to realize there are no guarantees. You've been so concerned with what you SHOULD do and whether you WILL do it or not that you don't realize that life is more unforeseen circumstances and heartrending surprises than ordered systems and predictable outcomes.



This is the third student I know who died suddenly. One boy was thrown out of a rolling car during summer break, and one year, a girl was a passenger in a car driven by another student on Halloween when he lost control. She also died in a fire as the driver and his girlfriend attempted to rescue her. In both accidents - drugs, alcohol, and other cars were not factors. Inexperienced drivers were.



I can still remember my last conversation with the female student. We were celebrating Halloween at school. I was dressed as a witch, and she was trying to take my broom for the weekend. I told her no at least three times, and we were laughing, but she left with a slightly hurt look on her face.



I kept going back to that last interaction while sitting at her three-hour funeral conducted mainly in Spanish. Should I have given her the broom? That probably sounds superficial and self-involved, but I couldn't stop thinking about whether small changes in action could have somehow led to a different outcome. She had decided not to get dressed up that night and was getting a ride home from work instead of going out. If I had given her the broom, would she have decided to dress up, and would she have been in a different car on her way to a party?



One of my old supervising teachers, Mr. Mellow with the kitten posters and free time in class, was the step-dad of the boy who was driving her. Did his we-ask-too-much-of-the-kids philosophy somehow lead to the boy's negligence in driving? One student told me that the car was in need of maintenance . . . did that have anything to do with it? But these are rhetorical questions.



The boy who died in the summer created a page for our yearbook at the end of the school year. I think it was for the poetry section. He had dashed off a quick poem and illustrated it with a drawing of a clock that couldn't have taken him more than 20 seconds. The subject of the poem was how much time do we have left . . . no one really knows, so enjoy life while you can. When I first saw his page, I thought, why didn't he make more of an effort on that? After he died, I saw his rush to enjoy the little time he had left.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/4569242626/

Monday, April 20, 2009

Memories


One more girlfriend post today. Just looked at Craigslist again, and it's stunning how little has changed since last week. What can I really say about that? I'm searching for a positive attitude so I'll talk about the girls.



When we were in college, it seemed like there was always at least one of us who was upset about some guy. There were guys we fought over and guys who were totally wrong for us, who were seriously not worth our time and energy. It's all clear in hindsight, of course.



I have to say that Bindy had some suspect taste in men. I love her husband so it all turned out well in the end but man, I use to worry about her back in the day. (I did steal one of her boyfriends so they weren't all bad.)



Bindy met a guy during her summer home in Southern California. He was older, around 35, and supposedly really smart. Bindy went on and on about how smart he was and in our mean way of talking to each other, we'd say "Then why is he going out with you?"



Bindy IS really smart. She scored in the high 90s on her LSAT and she was at a party the night before where we kept telling her to go on home and get some rest. However, there was something wrong with this older, intellectual guy and I'm not exactly sure what it was.



There was the dictionary. He had given Bindy one of those huge dictionaries for her birthday. I mean, these were still the days of word processors so it wasn't that bad of a gift. It's just that the inscription read something like, "To a girl who should be remembered as long as there are memories." Does that sound like something a really smart person would say? No, it sounds like something a person who was PRETENDING to be smart would say.



I'm not being fair as I never spent any time with the guy so he could have been a genius and I really should just shut up about it. But not before the funny part. Older, intellectual guy comes to visit Bindy at the dorms one evening. The guy has to drive eight hours to see her. There is a growing group of people who are waiting around with Bindy because they are dying to check out Monsieur Intellectual. I, unfortunately, have to leave so I miss the whole thing.



When I return, Bindy and her boyfriend are gone but my friends start shouting and laughing in unison, so I can't understand what anyone is talking about. Finally, I hear what happened. The boyfriend arrives and there's all these friends milling around, waiting to meet him. I'm sure Bindy is nervous and right after she introduces him to everyone, he turns around and walks straight into a pole. Hard.



I'm not sure if anyone even waited for him to leave before teasing Bindy,"I thought you said he was smart!" That poor man. He will be remembered as long as there are memories.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/piki768/4000029254/

Sunday, April 19, 2009

To Sisterhood


Four of my sisters came for a visit this weekend. It sounds a little corny to say sisters but at the same time, college friends doesn't cut it either. We travel from different parts of California to meet as an approximate group something like four times a year. These are lost weekends where real life is sidelined for conversations, interrogations, bickering, eating, games, and more hedonism.



Quinn, who gets along with just about everyone, always arrives with lots of food and drink. Tabitha, who's uncompromising and cranky is one of the few people I know who might ask more questions than me. I know Bindy from high school. She has two daughters as well - one who Daisy idolizes and the other who was born days after Violet. Corina is ultra-feminine and sensual (that description sounds like overkill but it's true).



The only one missing was Daredevil, who brings to mind one of THOSE STORIES. In our twenties, Daredevil became engaged to someone I can only refer to as Dick. Dick is someone she met in her budding career as a lobbyist.


We were invited to the College Friends Engagement Party (the separate engagement party should have been sufficient warning). About a dozen of us drove up to Sacramento to celebrate. I don't know if I speak for everyone but my view on Dick was that he was a little too controlling, cynical and self-involved for Daredevil. However, I usually tend to be overly critical of my friends' significant others, at least initially. I went to the party with good intentions.



Unfortunately, things went awry and the worst of it was my fault. I generously decided to give the first toast, even though I'm not normally one to give a toast at all. There was already tension in the air as a result of Dick not really knowing any of us, and we were all good friends with a long history who were trying to be SUPER NICE to him because he was going to be our NEW GREAT PAL.



So, I began my toast with To Daredevil and Peter, which was met with audible gasps as Peter was Daredevil's ex-boyfriend and not her fiance. One friend sort of diverted some of the initial horror by asking immediately, "Who's taking me home now?" Everyone laughed because I was his driver then nonchalantly moved away from me.



I was just a little nervous when I spoke and had been saying Daredevil and Peter for years. When Peter later heard the story, he told me he would have paid me to do it. It was the first and last toast of the evening. I ended up having a sort of time-out in the backyard as people walked by, shaking their heads in disapproval.



Then friends got a little wild and ended up offending Dick in various ways. We later laughed at how things turned out but not in a mean way. Surely Daredevil, who is tough as nails and has the most obscene sense of humor would have chosen someone who could roll with a few friendly punches.



A couple days later, I called Dick in an attempt to smooth things over. Dick's response was cold and monotone,"At some point, you outgrow your college friends." I responded in a lighthearted tone yet inwardly thought, "Oh no, you didn't."



Of course, the relationship didn't last. They never got married and honestly, Daredevil dodged a bullet for reasons that do not need to be discussed here. More importantly, the sisterhood remains.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nima0021/3193886965/

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Patience


I've said many times that I thought I was a patient person before I had kids. And initially, I was VERY patient with my first daughter, maybe until she was about two. I have a friend whose daughter is several years older than mine, and I used to shake my head at her tone of voice when scolding her daughter. I wondered why she sounded so annoyed at what seemed to be the smallest provocation.




After my second daughter was born, I started losing my temper on a semi-regular basis. I raised my voice, my tone was bad, and I said things that didn't make sense. I started to struggle to keep it together.



We've all seen those moms in stores who act like jackasses. I've given dirty looks to those moms but that was before I was one. Once, I was walking into Longs with both kids in the shopping cart. Daisy was needling me about something and I had just had enough. I stopped the cart, leaned over her and spit something out like, IF YOU DON'T STOP, I'M GOING TO ASK YOU TO LEAVE! As I looked up, I realized I had said that louder than I had intended, and there seemed to be two checkout lines of people glaring at me.



What I now realize is that even though I always thought I was patient like my mom, I'm really more like my dad. My mom loses her temper too, but it's not the same brand of anger as my dad. When we were little, my brothers and I gleefully pushed her over the edge many times, and she threatened us with her wooden spoon, yelling and half laughing. My dad can also be EXTREMELY patient in lots of situations, but when we were little kids - he wouldn't just get mad, he'd get even. I remember toys crashing against the wall on one occasion, and I kept that one on the Wrongs of My Parents list for years. Then, one day I found myself throwing My Little Ponies into my daughter's room with such force that they bounced off the wall. I guess it's my daughters' turn to hold the list.



Let me clarify that I don't excuse that kind of behavior. I just see how easy it is to go there. I always aspire to do better, but I also know what a pressure cooker life is and kids clamp down that lid even harder.



Last weekend, my daughters were to be flower girls in a wedding. My five year old did beautifully but I didn't get to see her because I was walking my screaming two year old as far away as possible, as her cries were echoing throughout the courtyard where the ceremony was to take place. I was upset to miss the big event but I had a firm grip on my patience at that point.



However, I did lose it about an hour before that . . . I arrive with the girls, running late as usual, and rush them to the room where the bride and her bridesmaids are getting ready. On our walk to the room, I realize that Violet has diarrhea halfway up her back and she wants me to carry her but I'm dressed up, so I really don't want to touch her. I encourage her to keep walking for about a third of a mile . . . Come on! You can do it. The girls are waiting for you! I have your fancy dress to put on. Come on. You can do it! When we get there, I am relieved to find that the other two-year-old flower girl has already thrown up in a corner of the room. I find out which corner so I can change Violet's diaper in the same area . . . you know, to contain the nastiness as much as possible.



I get the kids cleaned up and in their fancy white dresses with their white tights and little heels. The four flower girls all start running in circles on the cement. It's one of those situations where you're just waiting for someone to eat it bad, and I gulp down the glass of champagne that someone hands me.



We go outside for pictures and Violet ends up falling forward off a small ledge onto the cement below. She marks up her dress, snags her tights, scuffs her shoes and starts screaming. As I'm calming her down and cleaning her up, I keep telling my five year old to stop running with the bouquet she's to carry in the wedding. I hand my two year old her flowers and she suddenly gets mad because her bouquet is smaller than her sister's. She snaps it in two. I hear my older daughter crying. I turn around to find that she has decapitated the only big red rose in her bouquet. She doesn't want the flowers anymore and throws them in my direction.



I walk over to Daisy and say through gritted teeth, I TOLD you to stop running. This is your bouquet. There isn't another one. YOU HAVE TO CARRY THESE FLOWERS . . . AND STOP RUNNING! Both my daughters are miserable. A minute later, one of the bridesmaids approaches us. She's one of those people who radiates wisdom and goodness.



She says in the nicest tone, "Let me see those flowers. We're going to fix this rose." Then she turns to Daisy, "The only thing we have to worry about today is having fun . . . because we're princesses today." My daughter's face transforms and she takes the bouquet back. I take a deep breath, trying to exorcise the witch within. Yeah, what she said.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/randysonofrobert/515292352/

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

*Another Extension*


It looks like my unemployment is extended again!!!!!!!!!! Another 20 weeks after the four weeks I have left, so I should have another 6 months. I say should have because I always have to read EDD's announcements several times, and then I'm still not 100% sure until the notification comes in the mail. I'm posting the article here because I need to go through it a few more times, but it seems exactly as unclear and noncommital as last time when I got another 20 weeks. The only caveat is that I will have to keep better records of my job searching but NO PROBLEM. I will keep EXCELLENT RECORDS. I feel like all the of the cells in my body just relaxed; I didn't realize how tense I really was.



***

Federal-State Extended Duration Benefits (FED-ED)

On March 27, 2009, the Governor signed legislation that would allow unemployed workers in California to potentially receive up to another 20 weeks of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. This is an additional extended benefit program known as the FED-ED extension.
The Department is currently working on the programming to file and process the FED-ED extensions. It is anticipated this programming will be completed by mid April. When the programming is completed, claimants who have already exhausted all of their regular UI and current federal extension benefits, and are retroactively entitled to a FED-ED extension, will be notified by mail that additional benefits are available. They will be able to file online.
Once programming is complete, those who are nearing the end of their current federal extension claims will automatically receive appropriate claim forms and notification regarding these benefits. They will not have to contact EDD to apply for or re-file for FED-ED benefits.
Federal and State law does not allow payments to be made on a FED-ED extension once you are qualified to file a new regular claim in any state, regardless of the benefit amount on the new regular claim. So if you’ve earned wages that qualify you for a new regular claim in any state, all payments on your FED-ED extension must stop. This means that, if you qualify for a new regular claim, you cannot continue to collect benefits on your FED-ED extension.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR FED-ED
You may be potentially eligible for FED-ED benefits if you meet all of the following criteria:
Are fully or partially unemployed on or after February 22, 2009.
Have exhausted your entitlement to a regular UI claim (up to 26 weeks of benefits).
Have collected all benefits on your first federal extension (up to 20 weeks of benefits).
Have collected all benefits on your second federal extension for weeks ending on or after February 21, 2009 (Up to 13 weeks of benefits).
Are not qualified to file a new regular UI claim.
Meet all eligibility criteria.

HOW TO FILE
Once you have collected all benefits on your first and second federal extensions, you may be eligible to file for FED-ED benefits. If you are eligible to file a FED-ED extension, the Department will automatically file it and send you additional continued claim forms. No action is required on your part as long as you have been continuously collecting benefits.

BENEFIT AMOUNT OF A FED-ED CLAIM
If you are eligible for FED-ED:
Your weekly benefit amount will be the same as your regular UI claim;AND
Your maximum benefit amount will be 80 percent of the maximum benefit amount on your regular UI claim.

SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS
If you are eligible to file a FED-ED extension, you must follow additional eligibility requirements in order to receive your weekly payments. It is required that you:
Look for work every week.
Fill out Section B on the back of the Continued Claim form with your work search information for each week.
Accept any offer for work you are capable of performing if the weekly gross pay would be equal to or greater than the weekly benefit amount on your FED-ED extension. You may be disqualified for benefits if you do not accept the job. For example:
The weekly benefit amount on your FED-ED extension is $450. You are offered a job working 40 hours per week at $11.25 per hour. You must accept that job offer because your total earnings for one week would be equal to the weekly benefit amount on your FED-ED claim ($11.25 x 40 = $450).
The weekly benefit amount on your FED-ED claim is $320. You are offered a job working 20 hours per week at $8 per hour. You do not have to accept that job offer because your total earnings for one week would be less than the weekly benefit amount on your FED-ED claim ($8 x 20 = $160).

DISQUALIFICATIONS
Failure to look for work or accept suitable work will result in a disqualification for benefits. If you are disqualified from receiving FED-ED benefits because you did not look for work or you refused to accept work, the requirements to remove the disqualification are different than the requirements to remove a disqualification from a regular UI claim or other extension claims. If you are disqualified for either refusing work or failing to look for work, you will not be eligible to collect FED-ED benefits. To remove the disqualification you must return to work for a minimum of four weeks and earn four times the weekly benefit amount of your FED-ED extension.
A further requirement of FED-ED is that if you were disqualified for other UI benefits prior to filing a FED-ED claim, because you refused work, or you were fired or quit a job, you will not be eligible to collect FED-ED benefits unless you have worked a specific amount of time and/or earned a specific amount of wages since being disqualified.

FUNDING
FED-ED payments are entirely funded from the Federal General Fund for tax-rated and private non-profit reimbursable employers, which means that these employers will not be charged for any benefits paid to claimants on FED-ED extensions filed with an effective date on or before December 20, 2009.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Countdown




A month. That's all I have left of my unemployment benefits. What should have been six months was extended to 14 months, so I can't complain but I'm not really sure what's going to happen next. At this very moment, I'm calm and ready to deal with the unknown. At other times, my stomach goes to knots and I can concentrate on very few things. I think that's why I've been craving stories.



I just need to find a minimum of 10 weekly hours to add to my 10 hours of tutoring and teaching. If I don't find more work, maybe I'll start one of those blogs about how to be frugal in times like these: how to feed your family on $4 a day, how to make summery skirts by cutting up old t-shirts, how to make Xmas gifts by decoupaging magazine pictures onto recycled jars. (Actually, I might do the last one regardless. I have a fantasy of being an artist who only uses repurposed materials.)



So, I'm widening my job hunting net. Applied to my first $10 per hour jobs last week, a mere quarter of what I used to make. Not even sure if it's worth it after childcare and gas. If I get one of those jobs, I guess I'll still be writing that blog: how to work with a 2-year-old strapped to your back, how to make lip gloss out of canned beets and Vaseline, how to make diapers out of kitchen towels and duct tape.



I'm even listening to other people's suggestions, which isn't really my strongpoint. The number one suggestion? Subbing. Here's the deal on subbing. A lot of teachers are expecting to lose their jobs next year so they are taking fewer days off in fear of making themselves look expendable. There's less demand than ever for subs. However, there are more subs available than ever due to the economy. I still paid the $70 for the FBI clearance and $15 for the TB shot.



Back to job hunting . . .



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonmelsa/3000222387/

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Grabs and Sprees


The breathing treatments continue. In a couple hours, I'll get out of the house for the first time since Tuesday morning. We haven't been this homebound in awhile. I get super productive when I'm in this situation . . . I've done four months of business paperwork in two days as well as 10 loads of laundry and I'm starting to clean out closets. The kids think my cleaning game is boring but I did play squirrel family for a full half-hour yesterday, so they can entertain themselves for awhile.



I spent a good amount of time tending to sick children or sick child and healthy, bouncing-off-the wall child in the first half of 2008. My unemployment has been timely for that reason. However, spending so much time at home inspired me to try some strange things. The strangest one by far is joining the online women in business club, with an acronym similar to WIB.



One of my eBay customers invited me to join the group and framed it as an opportunity to promote my business and network. It's run like a discussion group but with activities. The one required activity is that you purchase from one other member every month. These are called "grabs" as the ladies are really into grabbing their top choices. In other words, each member can only be grabbed once per month, so if you don't get your top choice, you have to settle for your second choice, unless that is also taken and so on. When you're one of the last members to be grabbed, it's kind of like being picked last for the team . . . not that I had that experience or anything.



My product line wasn't very popular with the rest of the ladies. I have since stopped selling the stuff but it was a decent organic bath and beauty line from a southern state. It was a little too expensive and there's just too much competition for mineral make-up, soap and body lotion. However, the bath and beauty line opened up the door to a world I thought only existed in books and movies.



WIB members lived all over the country but the predominant culture of the club was Conservative Christian in the Deep South. Holy Toledo. These ladies sell make-up, jewelry, housewares, candles and baskets with a fierce determination to provide for their families and shop for beautiful things. They would probably say "yummy" things.



I was entranced with their descriptions of lavish home-cooked meals, crafts, scrapbooks, church functions, financial troubles, folk remedies, fervent prayer, celebrity gossip and other trials and tribulations. There was a lot of "god bless you" and "amen." These are women who stand by their man, support drilling in Alaska, question global warming, forgive Bush for everything and condemn Obama for being a liar.



I found it refreshing to hear different ideas than the ones I usually hear. I live in an area of the country that is exactly opposite of the conservative Christian set on the political spectrum. As I read in an article recently, debate just doesn't happen the way it used to in most communities because we are more and more a country divided into politically homogeneous communities (maybe I'm going a little heavy on the caffeine today).



So I was willing to cut the ladies some slack and I did hear some interesting perspectives. For example, one of the members wrote about how sleeping around before marriage isn't in God's plan because once you get a taste for multiple partners, you will never be satisfied with your husband. A woman lamented all the sex she had before marriage but she sure seemed to enjoy describing it.



All of the God talk led me to believe that these were generally upstanding individuals with good character. However, I learned once again that some of the churchiest people (not everybody but some) actually have pretty weak character. Even when I wasn't trying, I seemed to come across as the kook from California, so I never truly connected with anyone in the group and some of them were downright unfriendly. One or two made an effort to respond to my posts. I made an effort to participate in their activities . . . such as sprees. These activities had complicated rules and were conducted illegally using Paypal. They basically involved purchasing into multi-dimensional raffles. I won a few things such as $100 worth of natural dog food.



But then one day, someone made a reference to the difference between people who go to church and those who don't . . . in response to a story about a mother who injured her own child. That sort of stopped me in my tracks. Self-righteousness like that is just unchristian-like, in my humble opinion. Then two scandals erupted in the group. One, there was a plea from the friends of a dying mother to send donations. I didn't send a donation but I had for another similarly desperate situation. I actually cried when I read the email from the dying mother. It turned out to be a hoax. Secondly, several members were caught cheating in the sprees, making sure that only their friends got the good prizes. Is that why I got the dog food? Those bitches.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/a2gemma/429209934/

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lockdown


My youngest daughter, Violet, is really sick again. She's going to be three in less than a month, and for her first couple years, she was sick all the time. We haven't had anything like this since last June. I was hoping that she had outgrown her asthma.



Thankfully, she just fell asleep. Today until now - I've been running around, waiting on the kids, getting them to the doctor, filling the prescriptions, picking up supplies, waiting on the kids, making phone calls, going back and forth between my computer and the kids: canceling my appointments, STOP FIGHTING, helping someone figure out how to sub for my classes, STOP SQUEEZING THE CAT, answering emails that can't wait, HOW CAN YOU BE HUNGRY? YOU JUST ATE, and realizing I forgot to do one more thing . . . STOP HURTING EACH OTHER! YOU NEED TO REST!



Violet's on four different meds - two inhalers, steroids and antibiotics. The steroids transform her normally athletic self into spiderwoman. She climbs up things and hangs there. She jumps off high places. She kicks and screams with zest. She throws things and upends furniture. It's sort of a Spiderwoman - Incredible Hulk hybrid.



My older daughter, Daisy, is automatically EVEN SICKER THAN HER SISTER though her cold symptoms are relatively mild. The more labored and crackly Violet's breathing is and the more medicines she receives, the more eloquent Daisy's argument that she NEEDS HER OWN DOCTOR'S APPOINTMENT. Do you see how she can't BREATHE VERY WELL? She is REALLY, REALLY SICK. And then she gets creative . . . the food she eats leaves bacteria in her body. She has a stomachache. Get her to the doctor immediately. DO I HAVE A DOCTOR'S APPOINTMENT? The constant stream of conversation from the older one overlapping the physical stunts of the younger one make me dizzy.



So, we're on lockdown for the rest of the week. Wish me luck. The combined force of their wills brings to mind an image of water overflowing a dam. The rising water rushes over the edge, spilling out of the cracks in every direction. Yes, I am comparing myself to a cracked dam. I'm too tired to think of a more flattering image.



One of my favorite books about kids is The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. The best part is about how humans go through all the major evolutionary stages in their early lifetimes. My 2-year-old is still in the cavegirl stage . . . she hasn't quite joined the village, if you know what I mean. I could tell that this morning when she pinned her older sister down using a small chair while standing on her face. She is using tools and knows how to defend herself, but she's never shared a civilized meal with anybody.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/3191664147/

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Daredevil


Back in February, I told a select few people I was writing a blog and none of them read it or one of them apparently did, but no one had anything to say about it. One was upfront that he would not be reading it. I was psyched for my one random follower.



So last week I decided to share it with a good friend who I hardly ever talk to anymore, just because we both suck at calling each other and we've never really gotten in the habit of emailing. She's the most successful of my college girlfriends and she's also the most crazy. I will call her Daredevil because that's what she calls herself. Daredevil actually writes stuff that gets published and at one point, was writing a book so I was interested in her response.



So here's the email thread . . .
(WARNING: IF YOU ARE A PERSON OF NORMAL SENSIBILITIES AND DO NOT CARE TO BE GROSSED OUT, DO NOT READ THIS.)


DAREDEVIL: I love this, and can’t stop reading. You’re an “ass” because I have a LOT of work to do today. You need to share it with the girls… NOW.


ME: You're too sweet. What's up with you, sucka? No rush, as I know you are busy.


DAREDEVIL: I read every one of your posts. I was amazed by how well you write. I was also laughing, almost crying.. and just a little sad that we don’t spend enough time together. I am your second “random” follower. Keep em coming.


ME: Thanks for reading every single one and being so encouraging. I miss you too. Now, if you could just find the time to start a blog then we could be total blog buddies . . .unless you already have like four of them that you write while you're working out in between power meetings and diaper changes. Hope to talk to you soon . . . let me know what's going on in your life too!


DAREDEVIL: So, first off, Happy April 1st. I pulled off some of my best work last night. Ralph got a vasectomy about 6 months ago. He never went back and got tested to see if there was change left in the coin purse, if you know what I mean (you can imagine where this one is going). Anyway, for the last week, I have been complaining of nausea and stomach cramps and fatigue. Yesterday, I persuaded my pregnant friend to pee on a stick. I then presented it to him last night. He was in shock.. sweat, eff bombs, and pacing were all symptoms of his reaction. Then, he realized that I wasn’t reacting the same way, sat down and asked, “well, how do YOU feel about it?” I responded with, “I don’t know how I feel, I mean, obviously I am not as excited as when I was pregnant with Josh.” He then said, “no shit. I had a vasectomy because we didn’t want any more children.” He was freaking! I left him sweat for about 10-15 minutes and then yelled, “you dumb shit, you have known me for 6 years and this is the greatest day of the year.” He was dumbfounded and didn’t know how to respond, so he sulked all evening and then finally he stuck his finger in his butthole and put it up my nose. This is an absolute true story. Blog about THAT one.



ME: Hmm, maybe you shouldn't have a blog.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27760134@N03/3404769965/

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chuck


The year of the final phase of my student teaching was one of those years that I could not wait to be over. I was managing the design store, teaching classes at the alternative school as well as working as an instructional aide there. I lived alone for the first time and started a new relationship. He quickly developed resentment for my first love, which was the school. Towards the end of the year, my energies were spread so thin that I started to break down but I was hired on as a full-time teacher for the following year.



Working with the at-risk teenagers was really like nothing else I had ever experienced. Maybe a little like pledging for the high school sorority. Before working at the alternative school, I knew myself to be a mellow person who hardly ever lost her temper. But I would crack like they all do. Once going through it, it became amusing to see all the varieties of untried, do-gooder personalities come into the school with all their hopes and dreams, then descend into the dark sides of their personalities.



The reason the school was so stressful is that we only accepted high school students performing in the bottom 30% from the local school district. In the first few years, we had room for about 50 students. Each of these students had some combination of challenges that affected school performance. We brought these kids together on a university campus for what we described as a prep school education. Supporting students to meet high academic expectations required a high teacher-to-student ratio, counselors, administrators, probation officers, police, court-appointed advocates, child protective services and anyone else who was willing to help.



Having so many dysfunctional students together was a sum that was greater than its parts, yet it was well-known that any one of these students could ruin your day at any given time. The skill that almost all of these students shared was the uncanny ability to locate and press your personal buttons. They were expert observers of human behavior, often because of unpredictable home environments. They learned to read adults carefully as a survival tool.



You could explain this to new teachers . . . part of the process of these kids learning to trust you is that they are going to take you down first. They will send you over the edge and realize you are going to lose it. Just know that we've all been through it, there is a way to be successful, and we're here for you. And although the new teachers might be able to understand the techniques that we offered intellectually, it took a year or longer to implement them. It's sort of like learning how to snowboard. It's a really simple concept to understand but your first attempts will be punished.



My turning point meltdown consisted of two words: blow me. I have no idea where that came from. I was the only female teacher at the time; my male colleagues seemed entertained that I had gone with that phrase over a wide assortment of other expletives. I don't believe I had ever said that before, but I did say that to Chuck in study hall.



Chuck was assigned to my advisory group, and he hated me from the first day we met for good reason. On the first day of school, I was to lead my first advisory meeting. We were doing some cooperative outdoor activities for orientation. The other new teacher that year was an experienced outdoor educator, and he had created the plan.



We found a place for my advisory group to stand on the grassy area, picturesque woods in the background. The scowling teenagers were in stark contrast to the beauty of our surroundings. I commenced with the plan and despite several attempts, could not get students to do anything but stand there and complain. I could see Mr. Outdoor Educator over there in the distance confidently leading his group through the cooperative exercises. Whatever. I didn't realize it at that time, but this was just not my teaching venue. I've had some of my worst student experiences doing outdoorsy things and eventually learned to avoid it.



I finally found an exercise that sparked student interest . . . the scenario was that we found ourselves stranded in the desert. What were we going to do to survive? The answer to that question was that we were going to eat Chuck, which was delivered by several students at once in a spontaneous moment of excellent comedic timing. I am deeply ashamed to admit this but in that initial moment I smiled. The reason why this was particularly bad on my part is that Chuck was The Fat Kid of the school. It was also his first day.



From then on, Chuck had it out for me. He made it his personal mission to take down my classes. When he wasn't being openly defiant, he would sit there with his eyes narrowed, whispering weird little comments that I would catch only once in a while. I don't remember exactly what he said that sent me over the edge, but it probably would lose its impact in translation. It's like any time someone is driving you crazy over time; if you were to describe just one incident, it could never reflect the depth of the annoyance.



I do remember that we were sitting next to each other on one of the study hall couches. Chuck was verbally harassing me, and instead of my usual warning or directive, I used the much more effective "blow me." First, he was stunned, silent, expressionless. Then, he laughed hysterically, "Did my teacher just tell me to blow her? I LOVE THIS SCHOOL. That's great. It doesn't get better than that. I LOVE THIS SCHOOL."



The strange thing was that my meltdown actually improved our relationship. Now, he smiled whenever I saw him and started to confide in me. I guess that's the other thing about working at the alternative school. I never really cared that much about my teachers when I was in high school: I didn't literally love or hate them. But at the alternative school, we provided a consistent structure that made some really hurting people feel safe, and they would literally hate or love us, depending on the day. The intensity of their feelings was too much at times, but eventually, I realized that I had become a co-parent to 50 teenagers.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lancesh/3957919739/

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Student Teaching

Student Teaching, Phase I


Student Teaching, Phase II (the misspelling makes it even better)



I made the gradual switch from retail to education in my mid 20s. I kept the retail job until I finished both phases of student teaching. Student Teaching, Phase I was at a mainstream high school. Technically, I was supposed to be taking over a couple English classes for two weeks after observing for two weeks. During my turn, the teachers were supposed to be there to coach me and provide feedback, but what really happened was that they called out sick. Both teachers observed me for one class meeting then met with me once for feedback.



One teacher was Mr. Mellow. He had those inspirational posters with kittens falling off logs and sleeping puppies plastered all over the walls. It was very quiet in his classes with a lot of reading and answering questions out of textbooks. When it was my turn, I instrumented several activities and required the girls in the back to stop socializing. When the teacher came back, he told me the kids thought I was too strict, then he shared his cornerstone philosophy . . . kids need time to do nothing in class. They are over-scheduled and they should be able to space out (maybe look at the posters?). I nodded politely. NEXT!



The other English teacher was the football coach. It was obvious that football was his first love. He seemed awkward when holding a discussion on The Great Gatsby, like he could hardly wait for it to be over. He directed his comments almost exclusively to his football players. When it was my turn, I crafted a plan to get every single student to participate and it worked. During our feedback meeting, he said he hadn't ever heard some of the students talk in his class. It was March. Then, he proceeded to describe in great detail his son's budding career as a professional skier. NEXT!



You have to understand that the greatest motivator of new teachers is that they are certain that they can do a better job than those who have done it before them, and I was no exception. Instead of seeing experienced teachers who found strategies and compromises that worked for their own personal styles, I saw dinosaurs . . . slow, lumbering dinosaurs. I could barely contain my smug idealism.



I decided to try something different for Student Teaching, Phase II. A friend of mine, at the ripe old age of 26, had recently become principal of an alternative high school for at-risk teenagers, which was located at my undergrad university. I really, really wanted to be placed there but when I submitted the proposal to my credential program, it was rejected. I appealed the decision and several letters later, with the help of one of the staff members from the alternative school, I was eventually approved. However, I had to promise to double my student teaching time from a semester to a year and my master teacher from the credential program could cancel my placement at any time.


The master teacher who was assigned to me by the credential program was one step away from retiring. I would be one of her last student teachers. She was an old-school teacher and seemed like one of many that I had growing up. She always wore skirts and pantyhose. She spoke in a motherly tone and had a pleasant smile. I felt a little bad for getting her involved with my placement.



For these were the wild early days at the alternative school. Students were arriving throughout the day, profanity was allowed, and there weren't even real walls in some classrooms. We were in the process of implementing a structure to corral behavior, and you never knew what your day might involve. You could count on some students being stoned and some being angry but what else . . . heroin at lunch? Masturbation in the corner of the computer lab? Maybe some police action? I shuddered at the thought of my master teacher in this environment.



After her first visit, I was relieved. The kids argued with me throughout the Macbeth lesson plan but it gave me an opportunity to display my mad skills. I held my ground and even though I was exhausted by the end of class and everything took twice as long as it should have, the kids eventually cooperated and had fun; they may have even learned something (gasp!). They walked out of the classroom with their heads held high, complaining with pride about the fucked-up Shakespeare I was making them do. It warmed my heart. My master teacher was very supportive; her only suggestion was that I should plan for more down time to give myself a break (what is up with down time in class?).



Her second visit wasn't as smooth. I thought I lost her. This time, the class took place in the computer lab with all its temptations. On this particular day, a student's dad decided to sit in. In fact, he sat fairly near my master teacher. I started to sweat because I had already gotten acquainted with this family. After I started class, the dad gestured for me to come over. He said, "You should see yourself right now. You are so cute. Damn! My son is lucky." His son glowed to see me so uncomfortable. I couldn't tell if they were oblivious to my situation or if they were messing with me on purpose.



The class continued to go south and I gloomily faced my master teacher after class. It was worse than I thought . . . she told me that in the middle of class, the dad had leaned over and explained that he smoked pot with his son regularly and had been doing so for years. His son was 15 and looked to be about 12. I waited to be told that my placement was going to be canceled but then my master teacher surprised me. She praised me for taking such a difficult path and told me these students needed me. "Continue the good work." She never came back and I was given an A for the year.



What is that saying . . . be careful what you wish for because it might just come true?



Pictures: OK, I can't figure out where I got these but I'm not willing to give them up.