Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, RIP

Madeleine L'Engles's publisher announced that she died yesterday. I loved her books and look forward to reading them with our kids. It's strange how sad I feel, given that I didn't even know she was still alive.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The next in my series of free advice

When you finally open up your new, lovely, sparkling computer and decide to make the switch to a new email program, I recommend taking extra time with new messages to ensure that you're sending messages to the intended recipient. I've spent years typing "DT" to get DT's email address, but apparently now, the first name that pops up is an old friend from college who is also named DT. I count myself lucky that we're still vaguely in touch, so he probably won't think its too weird that I'm asking him about what flights to book for a Thanksgiving trip and giving him an update on Rocco's potty-training.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What a difference a year makes

Last night was Back to School night at WonderGirl's school, which I suddenly have a vague memory of chronicling last year... oh yes, here. Last year I remember being almost overwhelmed with the newness of it all; I was itching to be acclimated, or assimilated, or at least told which restroom adults were supposed to use. This year, WonderGirl is in the same classroom with the same teachers as last year and she's moved from being chronologically in the middle of her multi-age class to being the second-oldest by a margin of three days. (She is disappointed by these three days, and I want to remind her that if she'd had the decency to be born even in the same week she was due, she would be the oldest. I don't remind her, because I am Nice.) We're one of four families (out of the 18 in the class) who are returnees from last year. WonderGirl is apparently relishing her leadership position (if leadership equals telling other kids not to pretend to play with guns), and I suppose I thought we'd be able to fill a similar niche with the new families. I wanted to smooth their integration process a little, reassure them that it was okay to come visit the room whenever they wanted, give them a heads-up (or multiple headses-up? heads-ups?) about how field trips work, or classroom volunteering. All the things that I wish I'd had someone telling me last year.

Turns out I'm not like the new parents. It would be fair to say they project confidence. I'll leave it there -- again, because I'm Nice. I don't pretend to play with guns.

Two other things happened, one that depresses me and one that reminds me why we are so grateful to be involved with the school:

First, when I made my nametag, I wrote, "WonderGirl" instead of "Ruth." I didn't even notice until another parent asked if we were supposed to do that. I could understand this as a cheap-and-easy characterization in a bad short story, but as a moment in my life, it doesn't rank highly.

Second, one of the parents asked the teachers how they were going to adjust their styles and curriculum to reflect the fact that 13 of the 18 students are boys, since apparently all classrooms are naturally geared toward girls, girls don't like physical play, boys are typically left out and girls take over. My blood pressure shot up. It was yet another example of people wanting to throw labels at individuals and then act as if the labels are meaningful. (Because you're a parent, you must want XYZ from our church. Because you're a boy, you must need XYZ in a classroom environment.) The teachers responded beautifully, and I couldn't believe how quickly my vital signs returned to stability. They immediately pointed out that boys are on a spectrum and girls are on a spectrum, and they focus on what each individual child needs. To my mind, the most unenlightened classroom is one in which everyone is assumed to learn the same way. To change that classroom to an environment in which boys are assumed to learn one way and girls another might be progress, but only barely. I'm truly baffled as to why this is such a popular view in our otherwise progressive local environment. Why would any parent want anything other than an acceptance that all kids have different preferred learning styles, and you can't figure out what works simply by checking out the kid's genitalia? Why wouldn't we all start with that desire, instead of screaming, "Please stereotype my child!"

One final note: I believe I have used up my quota of times when I can hear other parents describe their children as "bright" or "active" without sticking my fingers in my ears and signing the Smurf theme song.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Willpower, noun

Definition: I am sitting about 25 feet from my new MacBook, oven-fresh, still in the box, while I try to work on revisions of my latest paper on my cranky old Dell with the nonfunctional touchpad buttons and moody keyboard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not what I hoped for

The NY Times headline reads, "Big Decline in US Poverty Rate." I have to admit, as I clicked over, I hoped it would be something more dramatic than a drop from 12.6% to 12.3% of Americans living in poverty. 36.5 million people in poverty. 47 million without health insurance. Egads.

From the article:

''The poor are politically mute,'' said Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. ''What rational politician would listen to the poor? They don't vote, they don't write checks, why care?''

This seems to fit with DT's observation that, in his almost-entirely Medicaid-funded patient population, he's seeing more kids now with two working parents in the family.

I'm back

I was wrong. I miss this blog and the space it gave me. So, I'm back for now, at least.

I'm feeling overwhelmed by me-too-ism lately, and I don't know where to look for a solution. Last weekend, I was at a Religious Education teacher training for our congregation (which was inspirational and fun, a nice break for me) and our new minister was asking what brought us to teach RE. One woman, whose children are grown, said that when she was a parent, she felt a bit resentful that RE was left as the province of the parents only. No one else in the congregation volunteered. Now that she doesn't have kids in RE anymore, she came back out of guilt initially. She didn't want to be one of those uninvolved non-parents. Now she stays for several reasons, one of which is that she values the intergenerational dynamic and views it as worthwhile to help nurture the next generation of kids. Our assistant minister was present, and her response to the idea that older folks could give to the kids? A very quick hand up to be recognized and an emphatic, "The kids should be giving to the older folks, too." Very true, but also a definite "ME TOO!" moment.

PeaceBang wrote a post last week about the challenges single people face in a congregation and the assumptions and actions that make many congregations unwelcoming to people who aren't partnered or don't have children. My reaction upon reading it was twofold: first, I have no idea if the things she describes happen in my congregation, because I never get to do anything at church that's not RE-focused, and there aren't single people in our congregation who volunteer for RE. It would be fair to call me completely ignorant in that sphere. Second, her view of what it is like to be partnered or a parent in a UU congregation sounded romantic and completely unfamiliar to me. I didn't comment on her post because I couldn't speak to her original point. I made the mistake of commenting on Chutney's blog, though, when he posted a followup about PB's ideas, and was quickly chided for not getting it. It's put my day off to an awful start, because anyone who knows me in real life knows that one of my biggest goals is not to offend other people. I can stand behind what I wrote, but the fact is, it was a "ME TOO!" moment for me. She was talking about what singles need, and it made me think about what I need instead.

This phenomenon is so often present in DT's and my relationship, also, and it's never helpful. I'm (much much much) more likely than DT to speak up when I have a problem or when I need him to treat me differently than he currently is. Often, when I start a conversation like that, he'll have a "ME TOO!" moment and tell me that I also do whatever it is I'm asking him to stop. I'm left feeling conflicted. I don't want to hurt him, I don't want to be hurt, I want to be listened to, and I want to know that he will tell me these things when they happen instead of waiting for me to bring something up.

As with so many things, it all comes back to listening, I think. If we all have a space in which we feel listened to, we don't have to crowd others' space, looking for understanding. Our assistant minister obviously feels that children and youth have responsibilities that they're not acknowledging, and she had no place to make that point, so she honed in on someone else's space. I don't feel like anyone knows or cares that my congregation doesn't actually support parents of young kids, and I don't feel like anyone in my congregation wants to hear that, so I honed in on PeaceBang's space. DT doesn't like to tell me when I'm screwing up, so he goes along for the ride when I'm trying to express myself. End result in all three cases is that people on all sides of the conversation are/feel misunderstood and neglected.

If you have a solution, feel free.

If I'm posting again, you can look forward to exciting updates from the dissertation that refuses to age into adolescence! the committee that cannot exist together in the same room at the same time! the job search that is both too big and too small at the same time! the kid that is excited about potty training right up to the part where he might have to stop peeing in his underwear! the friend of a friend who appears to have a healthy pregnancy after a heartbreaking second trimester loss!

Actually, I think I just summed up a frightening amount of my last two months and used up my exclamation mark quota, to boot. Depressing. Off for coffee.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Assessing the future

Well, I was aware that I haven't been blogging, but until now, didn't realize it had been a month since I posted. Time flies when it's summer and you're juggling vacations, day camps, sick kids, extra work and your own expectation that summer should be, well, lazy.

I've been taking some time to think about why I've written this blog and what I want to do with it in the future. When I began, I thought I'd write about the odd intersection of being a grad student and being a parent, with a dose of perspective that comes from fertility issues and appropriate dashes of my own brand of what I like to call humor but which is, sadly, probably just poor grammar. I wanted to be a voice for people JUST LIKE ME and I wanted to practice writing again without using any Greek letters. I wanted to do this without telling anyone who I really was, though. I don't know if I've ever made this overtly clear, but Ruth is not my real first name (although my children truly are named WonderGirl and Rocco). I have a fear of being Googleicious, especially since I will (knock on a redwood forest) be looking for a job in the next bit of time. However, the anonymity is starting to feel confining and, let's face it, there isn't exactly a niche out there in the blogosphere that will go sadly empty if I don't soldier on.

Apparently, what I want is a journal, not a blog. I want to be able to write clearly about my work and clearly about my kids. I want to post pictures. I want a space to keep the small daily memories that doesn't require finding a (functional) pen in this house, and that space should, ideally, not be something I can lose if I ever decide to clean said house.

So, I think I'm starting a new blog that will be entirely narcissistic. I'm going to password-protect it (you can do that, right?) and I'm going to be open about everything. I'll probably send our family the link. I may still write here when I need to be snarky or political, or I may just take that part of myself over to Begging to Differ permanently. I know there are a few people who read this blog, and if you'd like the new link when it exists, either leave a comment here or email me through the sidebar link. Although I will deny the existence of this blog if asked, I would like to keep up the relationships that I have been lucky enough to develop through my half-assed posting here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Stinking red blood cells

Starting to write is always the hardest part. I'm well-versed in writer's block at that lovely moment of, "Okay, I've got the outline, I know where's I'm going, I just have to get there." Right now, I'm enjoying the feeling of having sent my nearly-scooped paper off to the co-authors for (hopeful) approval by Monday (hah!), which means I'm supposed to be working on my dissertation proposal. (Which, if you're keeping track, I meant to write last fall. Again, hah!)

So, I've got my outline, kind of, and I've even got little phrases scattered throughout my text file for what I want to say in my introduction. All I have to do now is outline (in sentences. whole sentences.) a basic understanding of genetics. For math people.

So, my first bit is just to introduce the concept of humans as diploid organisms. I can't do it. I can't start my first sentence, because those damn red blood cells with no nuclei and no DNA keep messing up my sentence structure. I feel like I shouldn't start my proposal with the phrase, "Except for red blood cells..." and I really don't want a parenthetical in my first couple of sentences (although regular readers will know I adore them generally) and as a result, I'm stuck. I have no less than five alternate sentences written right now, they all suck, and therefore, I'm never going to write this proposal and I'll never graduate and I'll probably quit this program and start some other marginally-related grad program when I'm 43 in yet another pursuit of a PhD and everyone will say, "Wow! You've really done well to get this far with two preteens and a broken hip!" and I'll say, "Fucking red blood cells."