Monthly Archives: October 2008

Because I cannot stop global warming

            In the fall of 2001, I taught back-to-back Freshman Comp classes, keeping me pretty much out of contact with the outside world from 8:00 to 11:00 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  As a graduate student, my job was to teach 44 reluctant eighteen-year-olds how to express a few coherent thoughts and perhaps to occasionally make a persuasive argument.

            One Tuesday at 9:25, as one class shuffled out and the next shuffled in, one young man remarked to his classmates, “Did you hear that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center?”  Like so many others that morning, we all pictured a little plane piloted by a flight student with a tragically bad sense of direction.  Students handed forward the papers that were do, and we proceeded with the day’s lesson on paragraphing.

            An hour and forty-five minutes later, I grumbled to myself as I rifled through the department teaching supply cabinet.  “Are you OK?” a fellow grad student asked as she walked past with a professor.

            “I can’t find any chalk around here,” I complained, and they both shot me disgusted looks before moving on.  Then the grad student turned back, suddenly realizing something.

            “Have you heard what happened?” she asked. 

            And that was how I heard.  I ran up three flights of stairs to my office and brought up my email, which was already flooded with messages from friends in New York, all of which said the same basic thing: “I am alive.”

            As the morning lapsed into afternoon, I could only spend so long staring at CNN.com or refreshing my email.  Eventually, I realized I had to occupy my mind with something.  And so I began to grade papers.

            All that evening and the following day, I graded one set of papers.  I did it with passion and a thoroughness no student papers had heretofore seen.  The sky was falling, but I would make all well with the world by making damned sure these kids knew how to write a topic sentence.

            In that spirit, and because I cannot do a damned thing about the fact that the stock market has gotten off its Prozac, retirees may suddenly find they need to return to work, people are losing their homes, and my children are likely to find themselves in a world war over water, I offer the following lesson in apostrophe usage.

            With regular nouns, if you wish to indicate more than one, all you need to do is add an S.  For example: “Many stores are going out of business.”  Stores is plural, not possessive, and does not require an apostrophe.

            If, however, you wish to indicate possession, you will need one of those nifty little doohickies that hang between an S and the rest of the word.  For example: “The woman’s portfolio has lost half of its value.”  As the unfortunate woman owns the portfolio, we indicate ownership with apostrophe + S.  (The lone exception is “its,” which gets an apostrophe only to indicate the contraction of “it is.”)  This formula works with both singular nouns and irregular plurals, such as: “The people’s dismay at discovering that there is such a thing as global warming…”

            Should you wish to indicate both plural and possessive with a regular noun, you will need to move that snazzy little apostrophe to after the S.  For example: “In my sons’ time, we will likely face a global food and water crisis.”  I have two sons, yet I also wish to indicate their time, so the apostrophe goes after the S, showing that the S is doing double-duty.

            Should you have any questions about this relatively simple punctuation mark, please email me instead of making up your own grammar.  Seriously.  I am tired of signs indicating that on Tuesdays the bar has “Two margarita’s for the price of one.”  The sky is falling here, people, and we need to prop it up one apostrophe at a time.

            And while we’re at it, “a lot” is two words.

Back in the saddle

            The email read: “You must keep chattering away….you have quite a nice following now, and writing is your ‘business.’ I imagine you set expectations around that as any working person would, yes?” 

            She had read my posts of last week.  She saw me letting it go, and she emailed me a swift kick in the rear.  The fact is that writing is not just my business.  It is my way of making sense.  It is my mental exercise.  And it is probably essential to my emotional well-being. 

            Sadly, I have not been around other people’s blogs much the last few weeks, and it may be a little longer.  I am sorry, and I will be back as soon as I can.  In the meantime, I am here.  I am writing.  I am doing it one-handed sometimes, and my husband is shouldering a little more on the weekends, but I am doing it.

            After all, the time to cut back on my blogging is probably not when I most need support.  So, stop by this week.  I have something to say.

More sleep deprivation

I did, however, get my legs waxed.

Sleep deprivation

            Yesterday, I started to realize that there was a series of tasks piling up, all of which would require a block of free time without children.  People have been sending baby gifts, and the “thank you” list is getting pretty long.  I have run out of blog posts and was hoping to write a few.  My legs have gotten so hairy that they are themselves now begging to be waxed.  And, I really needed to catch up on some sleep.

            In the afternoon, I got a small chunk of time.  My legs are still hairy.  I have not written any posts.  And you can be damned sure I didn’t write any thank you notes.

            I am, however, a little less tired now.

            So, in lieu of an actual post, I give you this quote from Benjamin, as he ran into the room carrying a Halloween decoration.  “This my skettelin.  Him got bones!”

            If I have time to write today, I might.  Or I might get my legs waxed.

Animal, vegetable, moron

            Liz emailed me awhile back and suggested Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Sucker that I am for book recommendations, I got a copy, and I am reading it as I breastfeed (and then breastfeed some more.  How big is she trying to get?)  And I am reminded that one of my goals upon moving to Southern California was to start growing a bit of our own food.

            There are a few obstacles.  Our yard is not all that big.  A few spots get a lot of sunlight, but most of it is only sunny for a small portion of the afternoon.  And, most importantly, I don’t know squat about farming.

            Well, that’s not entirely true.  I once grew basil, but I think anyone with an IQ of over 7 is capable of making basil thrive.  And I do know how to tie up and sucker tomatoes.

            That’s all I know about horticulture.

            I guess the first step is starting to compost, right?  See, we don’t like smells or rodents, and our yard is not big enough to put the pile somewhere far from the house.  So, I need to get some sort of composting contraption that will allow the compost to do all the breathing and such that it is supposed to do (but that I don’t understand) and will keep it contained.  We’re willing to shell out for it, if anyone can recommend one for us to buy.

            In addition to knowing nothing about composting, I don’t know when to plant or what to plant or where in the yard to plant.  Is there some sort of book called Composting and gardening in Southern California for Complete and Total Morons?  If so, I would like a copy.  If not, I need some advice.  I think I’ll put in some basil in the spring, but when do I start the seeds?  Then, I want to grow either tomatoes or grapes because we consume them in giant quantities.  What kind of sunlight do they need?  When do I start the seeds?  When do I move them outside (after the last frost?)?  We have a lemon tree in the back – is there anything it is not a good idea to plant next to lemons?

            And, what about keeping away bugs?  All I know is marigolds scare away some bugs.  Any other plants or organic tricks you can suggest?  Books to read?  Websites to visit?  Places that explain it all simply, as though I were a two-year-old.

            See, what Kingsolver did not take into account in her little book is that not all of us grew up on a farm.  I need step-by-step instructions here, people.  Some of us grew up in the suburbs, you know, and we don’t know what the hell we are doing.

Living texts

            A year before we had Zachary, friends visited with a wee tyke.  The cringed as she pulled up and cruised around our coffee table.  “You might want to move that book,” they told me.

            “Why?” I replied.  “Books are meant to be used.  She won’t learn to love books if we keep taking them away.”

            This is a policy to which we have adhered, sometimes to our dismay as our sons ask us to read for hours on end.  One of the drawbacks of all that reading is a certain verbal facility that we could sometimes do without.  But, we stick to it.  Books are not sacred objects – they are living, functioning items that cannot enrich our lives if we are so worried about their physical being that we cannot absorb their magic.

            Unless, of course, the book is a sacred text.  You know, the kind of text that you can only touch the underside and outside, and you have to touch the words with a silver pointer because it is too holy for human hands.  Like the kind of text that is so revered that entire congregations stand up every time it is brought out.  Like the kind of text that the truly orthodox don’t let women touch because, hey, they might be menstruating and could defile it.  That kind of a sacred text.

            You know, like the Torah.  Then, I can understand if maybe people don’t want grubby little people getting too close with their snotty noses and their peanut butter residues and their propensity for tearing things.

            Which explains my surprise last week on Yom Kippur.  This was our first High Holy Days at this synagogue, and, due to the tiny new person in our house, we didn’t make it to a lot of the services.  Zachary and I, however, did go to the family service on Yom Kippur, sleeping Lilah in tow.  Near the end of the service, the Rabbi instructed all the families to bring their children to line one of the aisles. 

            What followed was like nothing I have ever seen before in all the Yom Kippur services I have attended.  After stationing proctors along the human tunnel and admonishing parents to keep a close eye on their children, the rabbis, the Cantor, and the preschool director proceeded to unroll the Torah the entire length of the aisle.  Yes, right through the passageway of rambunctious children.

            The children seemed to understand that this was not a moment for impishness or levity.  All their destructive urges had been left behind in their seats.  They stood there, two-year-olds on up to ten-year-olds with serious little faces, palms upraised to support the underside of the sacred scroll.  Not a single child that I saw even considered tearing, wrinkling, or running through, although the Rabbi’s wife did utter a horrified “NO!” at one point, which leads me to wonder if one of his daughters might have tried to touch the forbidden top part where all the words are.

            I am not sure if the children really understood what an extraordinary experience this was.  While this congregation does it every year, I have never heard of any other doing something as audacious as exposing their Torah to hundreds of germ-laden hands.  Their Torahs may be a little better-protected, but you can bet our kids are the ones who will grow up believing the Torah is a text to be inhaled, understood, and lived, not just worshipped from afar.

Next year in Jerusalem

            “Sorry, Mommy,” he offers. 

            “I know, baby, but you have a two-minute time-out.”

            “I’m sorry, Mommy,” he tries again.  But he is not.  He is not sorry the way I am sorry.  If he were sorry like a grown-up, he wouldn’t do it again.  If he meant the word the way I mean the word, he would never again spit or bite or push.

            But, of course, he is two, and two-year-olds only understand that they are sorry they got into trouble.  Hopefully, the word will be followed by the emotion, but it will most likely be years before he feels any real compunction. 

            I, on the other hand, am careful with my apologies.  I only make them if I mean them, if I will try to never again repeat the action.  That is why I never apologized to certain members of my family.  I was sorry they were hurt, but I couldn’t promise that I would never again voice the truth.  I was not sorry like an adult, and I refused to apologize like a two-year-old.

            I think of this now as I write my Yom Kippur post (writing it on Yom Kippur to post next week because I am just a little behind these days).  On Yom Kippur, we are meant to repent our sins, yet this year all I feel is gratitude for how much happier we are this year than last.  We are not in London anymore, we have a new and unplanned member of the family, and I feel like I have begun to hit my stride as a writer (although not as a published writer).  I even feel gratitude for the things that frustrated me last year, such as the chance to live in London for two years.

            But, because I am an obedient Jew, I am trying to muster up some sense of repentance.  I could be a better mother, a better wife, a better friend, I suppose, but that would require a fundamental personality shift, so it’s hard to be too remorseful about those things.  I could give more to my community, for certain, but it isn’t going to happen when I would need to hire childcare just to volunteer.  It will need to wait a year or two. 

            These are not excuses.  A year or two ago, they would have been.  But now I have come to a place where I give as much as I can and then forgive myself the remainder.  In return, I am growing and actually able to give more.  And, so, on this Day of Atonement, I find myself stronger and better than I have ever found myself before.  Instead of Atoning this year, I instead ask myself to keep on growing and learning and appreciating.

            And next year in Jerusalem – next year may all live in peace.