Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

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Brave New World

Some role changes in life are dramatic, expected, and planned for. Many people work an entire year on a wedding – and hopefully even longer getting to know themselves and/or their partner – before actually claiming the title of “spouse.” People get 9 months – or longer, if adoption is involved – before becoming parents. Those are the Big Changes. But most times in my life, I move from one stage to another without even realizing it’s happened except in retrospect.

We finally got the opportunity to see the new Disney/Pixar movie “Brave” today. Being a big Disney fan, I’d been reading online critiques enough to make me curious but not enough to spoil the plot. “Finally, a strong female lead character” read one review “but a disappointing, one-sided stereotypical mother role and a missed opportunity to more deeply explore the oft contentious mother-daughter bond” said another.  Despite the fact that I don’t watch TV, I’d seen the promotional posters and even read an entire article in Wired magazine about how Princess Merida’s (MARE-da) wild red locks were animated. I’d seen various friends’ 140 character reactions, which were, without exception, positive. So I had a few expectations going in: I expected to be entertained, I expected to like the movie, I expected to cry (when do I *not* cry at a Disney movie?), I expected to dislike the mother character, and I expected to identify with and root for the red-headed princess. What I did NOT expect was to look into a giant, movie-screened size mirror and see the villain wearing my face.

[Warning: I will try not to give too much of the plot away here, but if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want ANY spoilers, please come back to this post later.]

The movie started innocently enough – on Princess Merida’s birthday. She was a young child, obviously rambunctious, and was hiding from her mother, Queen Elinor, who just as obviously knew right where she was but made a game of searching. When Elinor caught Merida in a bear hug, Elinor pretended to eat her daughter up like a tasty dessert and the giggles of the animated child on the screen were mirrored by giggles in the seats next to me and brought back happy memories of my own wee one’s babyhood not-so-long past, yet seemingly so far away. She was FUN, this queen and mother, and playfully enjoying her daughter.

Dad was doltish but loving, handing the young child a kid-sized bow and teaching her how to shoot arrows. Elinor looked worried for her daughter’s safety, but my oldest and I shared a wink and a nod since I am a certified archery instructor and my fresh new TEENAGER of less than two weeks (um….when did THAT happen!?) asked for and got her own archery set this past Christmas.

But onscreen as in life, things quickly changed. Merida grew up and the queen started teaching her things – important things – like manners and poise and history. Queen Elinor proved herself to be a classy, poised, educated, and firm woman. She took her duty as a mom and teacher seriously and *gulp* I really liked her. She had rules, as all good parents do. And she was consistent with them, as all good parents must be.  And Merida…well…with typical teen-aged swagger, she was sure she knew better.

I kept waiting for the unreasonable Elinor to appear, the one I wouldn’t like, the one who was stereotypical and flat and one-sided, but all I saw…was me. And it wasn’t in my imagination either. My youngest leaned over at one point and whispered, “She’s just like you, mom!”

But this is Disney. And I’m supposed to identify with the PRINCESS. This is NOT how the story is supposed to go!

The story progressed and there was mother-daughter conflict. There was yelling and anger, actions that couldn’t be undone and words that couldn’t be unsaid – all unsettlingly true to life. Then there was a big change in the plot, which in case you are reading and still haven’t seen the movie, I will NOT reveal. But the smart, poised queen ended up…out of her element, shall we say.

I’d better stop here to confess that the more I identified with Queen Elinor, the more I expected to map the princess to my oldest, who has long, wild, unruly (but non-red) hair and a fervent love of both horses and archery. It was clear this was to be a growing up story, and of COURSE this princess would remind me of my own new teenager, right? Except all of a sudden, as the queen was learning new life skills from her daughter, I realized that this wasn’t a movie about me and my oldest, but me and my very non-traditional, goes-against-the-grain youngest. And I realized that as much as we clash, she has things to teach me.

Later in the movie, more becomes clear. It’s clear that the lessons Elinor was teaching to Merida were valuable to Merida after all, not a waste as Merida thought. And it’s equally clear that Merida HAD learned those lessons, well, even as it looked like they weren’t sticking. Elinor was proud of her daughter and loved her, despite the frustrations – and it was a mutual feeling. And in the end, as ALWAYS happens, the child changed the parent as much as the parent changed the child. At least, thank GOD and Walt Disney, it was a happy ending.

Last school year I focused on preparing myself to be a better parent to a budding teenager. I am so thankful that, for now, our relationship is solid and she is going in the right direction for her (also a direction with which I can live).  But this upcoming school year will, I think, be one of focus on how I can be a better parent to the child who is simultaneously most like and most unlike me. It won’t be easy, but I have confidence that there is a happy ending in our future. Because, as the movie reminds us at the very end, our destiny is something we CAN change, if we are BRAVE.

Owning It

“I could never, EVER home-school.”

“I don’t home-school; I school at home.”

“I’m not the teacher, I’m the learning coach.”

I am embarrassed to admit that all of those statements have come out of my mouth in the past 12 months. They are also untrue.

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One of the aspects of online public school that reinforced by folks associated with it is the need to NOT refer to it as “home-schooling.” Because you see, the state of Ohio will pay for online public school, but NOT for home-schooling. I was totally cool with that because *I* could never home-school. I was not “that kind” of parent. I am NOT a teacher and among my entire family of formally trained educators, I am certainly no expert on education.

Early on in our online public school experiment, Zac Chase (a teacher formerly employed at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy) insisted that I was, in fact, my child’s teacher. He suggested – almost insisted – that I own that particular role. I resisted – vehemently at times, arm outstretched and hand up – but no more.

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I AM a teacher! (There – I said it! Whew!) The state might not recognize me as one professionally, but that doesn’t negate my role. More importantly, it doesn’t even mean I am inexperienced or bad at what I do. In the same way, being certified by the state to teach doesn’t mean someone is experienced or good at that profession.

What is a teacher? We all know the stereotype: a matronly woman with a bun and a prim skirt, glasses perched on her nose, lecturing with little emotion to bored students. Sadly, we’ve probably all experienced some version of that hell less-than-optimal learning situation. But by-God if the state says that woman is certified, then she must be a teacher, right?

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Think of the best teacher you’ve ever had.

I hope you’ve had many. I know I have. Among them Mr. Leigh and Mr. Shumaker jump to mind (probably because they’ve both passed away in the last year). What made them true teachers in every sense, these men who were state certified in their respective areas of expertise?

First, they had a true passion for their subjects. Mr. Leigh truly LOVED math! Most sane high school kids do NOT love math, but we all took notice and were even fascinated by his obsession with it. Mr. Leigh could get worked up about the importance of a decimal point or the beauty of an algebraic equation to such a degree that we students would laugh at him. Mr. Shumaker, on the other hand, LOVED English. He was so passionate that he would jump up on top of a desk to make a point – literally. No matter your feelings on English, you did not – could not – fall asleep in Harvey’s class.

These exemplary teachers also cared about their students as people. They cared so much that they refused to accept failure. They pushed us, as individuals, further than we could even imagine being pushed – and they knew we could do it even when we doubted it ourselves. They respected us as the young adults we weren’t but yearned to be, looked with skeptical eye – oh, that arched eyebrow – on our immature excuses for not working to our potential, and gave us the grades we earned instead of the grades we wanted.

This leads to the third characteristics the best teachers shared: we were afraid of them and sometimes, yes, we even hated them. Oh yes, we did. I hated both those teachers with a passion when I had them. They made me struggle. They made me cry in frustration over homework, papers. They made me wish I were anywhere but in their classes at times. When I emerged bruised, battered, and better I didn’t realize the extent of their gifts to me. That revelation would take years to manifest.

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My daughter’s composition “teacher” at the online public school we are trying this year went half of this school year without ever seeing one example of her writing. “How,” my husband asked, “can she possibly assess Emily’s ability without ever ONCE seeing how she actually writes?” When we raised the question at the parent-teacher conference, we were invited to submit writing samples via email each week. Emily was excited – someone new to give her feedback on her work! But the comments took at least a week to come back and they were paltry. “Good job.” “Nice work.” In the whole batch there was only one single constructive comment. One.

Meanwhile, I would insist on writing, revising, re-writing, and re-revising. *My* teacher comments were more along the lines of “can you use stronger verb choices to paint a more descriptive picture here?” and “Can you employ more words of emotion to connect your audience to what you were FEELING in this personal narrative?” Emily enjoyed the compliments from her OHVA teacher, but even she quickly saw that they weren’t going to improve her writing like my constructive criticisms were.

I love the challenge of writing, even though I don’t do it professionally. I have a passion for grammar, word choice, and sometimes (thanks to Mr. Shumaker) the avoidance of passive verbs. My daughter writes better than most 7th graders, but that doesn’t mean she has no progress to make in her writing. I care enough to push her to excel and some days, she HATES it! I don’t know if she’ll look back on me as a good teacher, but I do hope that someday she’ll be grateful that I don’t let her slack. I have too much respect for her abilities to let that happen.

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This past Monday, I was working hard to get some good-weather-dependent work done outside and in our sunroom. When Emily had a question about genetics, I inwardly groaned. That had NOT been my best subject in high school biology. Instead of really digging into the material, I told her – for the first time all year – to just go call her teacher. (OHVA is a public online school, so she actually has four state certified teachers who do online synchronous classes and are available for questions). Later that afternoon, we got an email saying that genetics was an 8th grade topic, so Emily should come to the science tutoring session the following evening where there would be an 8th grade teacher who could help her. What? If it’s in the 7th grade science course, which we are required by law to complete at 90%, shouldn’t the 7th grade science teacher be able to help? And aren’t 7th grade science teachers certified by the state to teach either 7th or 8th grade science?

I was still too lazy to reacquaint myself with Mr. Mandel and his peas, so we BOTH attended the session, which ended up being a synchronous one-on-one. The 8th grade science teacher admitted pretty quickly that she was not familiar with the specific lesson we were doing. (Um…ok.) In reading through some text on the screen which we could all see, she read the word “dominant” as “dormant.” I raised an eyebrow, but figured it was an honest mistake…until she did it again. I may be rusty on my biology, but even *I* know that dormant has to do with seeds and dominant with genetic traits.

In the end, Emily’s question was really one of mathematics and experimentation procedure more than genetics. Participating in the help session did nothing for Emily, but did force *me* to sit down and work out just where Emily’s problem was and how I could help her understand the material. Isn’t that one of the roles of a teacher? Just who WAS the teacher in this scenario – and in the composition scenario above?

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It seems appropriate that this year, Mothers’ Day comes at the end of Teacher Appreciation week. Save for the obligatory public hat-tip today, I’m not likely to get any recognition outside my family for either role. Nonetheless, each role was carefully and deliberately chosen. I own them both and hope I can live up to the bar set in both cases by those who came before me.

A Whole New World

Seventeen years ago today was one of the very best of my entire life so far. Seventeen years ago today, October 22, 1994, I declared before God and family the commitment I’d already made in my heart on New Year’s Eve 1992. Seventeen years ago today, I married my very best friend.

When he asked me to be his wife, it was unplanned and completely from the heart. When I said yes, it was a rare triumph of heart over head for me. I clearly and distinctly remember my brain processing the question and thinking, “What?! Not time! Too soon! Not planned! What if…?!” and my heart interrupting with just one word, the only word, the right word which, when spoken, instantly shocked and silenced my head: YES. It hung in the air and left both our heads and hearts alike breathless and wondering what had just happened, what had just been said, what had just been agreed. Yet we both knew it was right and forever. We kept it secret for 10 months from all but our single best friends. It had been sudden, yet 2 years and 9.5 months in the making. And even the f0llowing fall when he made it socially official with the traditional ring, some were shocked, surprised, and thinking it was too soon. But we knew, he and I, and we couldn’t wait!

We wrote our own vows because it just seemed right to do that. Sadly, the envelope with the original vows written in our own hand was lost in the whirlwind of the day. Years later, I listened closely, over and over again, to the wedding video and painstakingly transcribed those vows into our wedding album so we’d be able to read them and remember them always. They are as true today as they were then. I’m still working on fulfilling mine in the way he deserves, even though I fall short in so many ways. He has fulfilled his and continues to make them true every day.

Our wedding day was AWESOME! We thought about so many details to make the day meaningful for us and fun for our guests. We planned and planned – together – and it went off with only few smalls glitches, like a dropped and broken unity candle (apparently NOT some kind of bad omen). My only real regret that day was the damn fake flowers in hideously unnatural rainbow hues, but hey – everyone needs something to go wrong so there’s a good wedding horror story to tell in later years.

Although it was expensive and I had to fight to make it happen, I am so very glad we have professional video from the entire day, from getting ready with my bridesmaids at home to getting to the church to taking pictures to the reception. Although the videography seems amateurish now with transitional effects that make me cringe, I still watch it every year. I cry at the sight of people in attendance who are no longer with us, I laugh at the me I used to be, and I giggle at the sheer silliness. I never imagined watching it with my own kids, but I do and they love it as much as I do. Mostly, I love the LOVE and fun of it all. And I still dearly love that man he was and is now.

Some people think marriage doesn’t matter, that it’s at best an unnecessary social formality and at worse a misogynistic patriarchal artifact. But words DO have power; traditions DO have meaning; public declarations of commitment in front of those we love, toward whom we feel a sense of respect and admiration and responsibility, creates a new kind of bond and cements the foundation that under-girds a very vibrant and ever-changing relationship.

We’re not exchanging gifts today. Some years we do and some years we don’t. For our 15 year anniversary we went on a cruise to the Bahamas that he reluctantly agreed to on our 14th anniversary. I told him that it was such an amazingly fun trip that it could even count for this year’s anniversary (pretty good return on investment, getting credit for 4 anniversaries from a single three day cruise, donchya think?). But really, what gift could ever compare to the one he gave me 14 years ago: the gift of his heart, soul, and love?

When he went to Africa for 6 weeks in 2009, I knew I’d miss him, but I never EVER expected it to be as hard as it was to live without his physical presence every day. We’d not been apart for more than a week before he left and I told him afterward that never again would we be apart that long. He’s just too much a part of my very self, more than I ever realized, for me to feel whole for long without him.

Three days ago, I read about a couple who was married for 72 years. She was 90 and he was 94 and sadly, they were together in a car with him driving when he pulled out in front of another car at an intersection and were hit. They were rushed to the hospital and put in the ICU together, basically non-responsive, but yet holding hands. They died an hour apart – to the minute – still holding hands. Their children said that’s how their parents would have wanted to die – together – because one wouldn’t have wanted to live without the other. I completely understand.

So happy 17th wedding anniversary to my best friend, my soul-mate, my sweetie, my children’s father, my lover, my husband, my delight. To John. Here’s to a lifetime more memories together because after 17 years, we are just getting started!

The Appliance Love Curve

There are lots of lofty, intellectual topics on which to post today, but I’m not addressing any of them.  Instead, I want to talk about my appliances (HOUSEHOLD appliances, before you get too excited out there!).

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We got a new range and fridge last week.  Yea!  They both replaced 26 year old appliances, one of which (the oven) had stopped operating correctly years ago.  I finally got tired of food being half raw and burned on the bottom.  It was WELL past time to upgrade.

Let me say that I love – LOVE! – my side-by-side fridge/freezer WITH ICE AND WATER IN THE DOOR!  (Yes, I am easy to please!).  I was worried about space, but it is about 40% larger than our old unit.  Who knew?  And the new self-cleaning ceramic topped range with DOUBLE OVEN, delayed start, true convection, hidden electric element, and turbo boil burner makes me drool.  I am in love with both of them!

Is it just because those appliances are new?  Nope – here’s an older one I love:  our coffee maker that grinds the beans just before brewing, which can be pre-programmed with a built-in timer.  (You can barely see it up there to the right of the range).  I don’t even drink coffee, but I can “make” John’s coffee just in time for him to walk out the door in the morning with a completely fresh cup without ME having to wake up at the crack of the middle of the night when he gets up.  That appliance is almost 2 years old and I still love it.

My laptop is also two years old, and I still love it, too.  Many of you may not consider a laptop a home appliance, but mine is stationed in the kitchen and gets as much, if not more use, than any appliance in my house except maybe the fridge!  So to me, my laptop is DEFINITELY an appliance and one I love dearly.

But my dishwasher is about 5 and a half years old, and I am pretty indifferent to it.  Yea, it gets the job done.  And when it broke a few weeks back, I missed it sorely until it was fixed.  But it is starting to show signs of wear on the racks and I really don’t think it’s worth $200 to replace those racks yet!  The clothes dryer is about 7 years old, I think.  And the washing machine was new when we bought the house, so it’s 12 years old.  I’m pretty indifferent to them, too.

But it can’t be ALL about age.  My trusty Honda Odyssey is 7 years old and I still love it!  Of course, it helps that it got all new interior throw rugs this summer AND a portable GPS unit last Christmas.  Maybe it feels new again and that’s why I love it still?

So how about you?  What is your favorite household appliance and why – and how old is it?!

Do Not Call

CNN reported last week that the first people who registered their phone numbers on the national “Do Not Call” list will need to re-register in the summer of 2006 to keep their names off the list. This is due to a five-year expiration on requests established when the program started.

There is a legislative effort to make registration permanent and re-registration unnecessary, but until those efforts wind their way through the system, you might want to go to www.donotcall.gov to verify the status of your phone number. It literally takes 30 seconds to enter a phone number and an email, and maybe another minute or two for the information to get to you via email.

The creation of this list did wonders to significantly reduce the number of solicitation calls we received. Now if the government could only create similarly effective “Do Not Mail” and “Do Not Email” lists…

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