Monthly Archives: June 2009

From Emily, whenever they may find me

I don’t know how many of my family members read my blog.  I tried to sign up for Sitemeter, but it routinely tells me that no one has visited my blog, which is not only insulting but clearly untrue given that comments keep appearing.  It is either an issue between Sitemeter and WordPress or, and this is more likely, a user malfunction due to my complete idiocy.  Regardless, I cannot track where people are reading, so I have no idea if there are relatives out there, silently reading away.

It would take about thirteen seconds into a Google search for them to stumble onto this site, provided they know my married name.  Only half of them do, as I have been careful to never have my maiden name and my married name published together.  I simply do not want to be easily findable for my father, stepmother, and half-brother.  The rest of them, however, do know my married name, and they may well be reading these very words.  That is, if they have cared to Google me.

Make no mistake about it – I make it a regular habit of searching for all of them.  In fact, I paused writing this is order to click over to Facebook and see who I could find.  And then I clicked again, remembering another relative who might be there…

I search for my father and stepmother I think to make sure they are still alive.  I am not ready for them to die, yet.  When they are gone, there will be no one left who ought to feel responsible.  Reviling them is a little part of who I am, and to lose that will shift my identity.  It remains to be seen how much.

I search for my cousins to make sure they are doing well, happy and successful.  They are, as far as I can tell, although their Facebook pictures can only tell so much.  I hope to see a wedding one of these days, but they are either gay (the state they live in is one of the 45), single, cohabitating, or just not into publishing their marriages.  I get that; I did not have a wedding announcement because that would have pretty openly connected my maiden and married names.

My half-brother, however, did have a wedding announcement.  Actually, it was an engagement announcement, but it was published at the time of the marriage, as though they were perhaps afraid of making the event public knowledge in advance.  Did they fear I would show up?  What did they think I would do?

This is a recurring theme with my highly un-Googlable family.  For a group of professionals, there just ain’t much out there on most of them.  Have they done this for the same reason I kept my married and maiden names separate?  Are they thinking of me the same way I am thinking of them?  Are they concerned that I may show up?

Only my two cousins are openly out there, and even they keep their Facebook cards close to the chest, as do I.  Perhaps they are the ones who know I will leave them alone.  They are the most innocent of all, and I will never impose my version of my relationship with my family upon them.  When they want to find me, I am easy to locate, because I am the most Googlable of all my relatives.

What I think it comes down to is that I search for all of them because a part of me wants to think that they are searching for me.  That we are quietly watching one another’s lives, even though we are never likely to openly communicate again.  I vaguely consider us all tied to one another by the web of estrangement, living our lives but every now and then, late at night, crossing paths over the internet as we seek one another out.

This post is for Jen, but I think it might also be a little bit for all of them.

Brain candy

At a recent fifth birthday party, I told Benjamin that he would not be having a piece of candy as a chaser to the giant globs of icing he had just licked off his slice of cake, which were themselves a follow-up to the ice cream he had eaten with his lunch.  Our host, a good friend and a mother of three kids of similar ages to my own, laughed and turned to her mother.  “Oh, God, candy is my savior.  ‘You want some more candy?  Here, take some more candy.’”  She shrugged self-deprecatingly.  “Candy is my babysitter.”

We know each other too well to judge on another at this point and mostly lament our own parenting foibles.  “Of course you need to use candy as a babysitter,” I smiled.  “Your kids don’t watch TV.”

“That’s true.  I’m beginning to think I made the wrong choice.”

I had to concur.  “A TV show lasts a lot longer than a piece of candy.”

In this analogy, then, candy and television are both acknowledged junk, but we indulge our kids because we can only hover over them and prevent their access for so long.  Candy rots the teeth and we all know television rots the brain.

Or does it?

On Monday, I had the privilege of attending a lunch discussion at our local PBS station, one that was conveniently scheduled so I could leave immediately after Lilah’s mid-morning feeding and arrive home ten minutes before her afternoon one.   The nice thing about this event, unlike other things bloggers get invited to, was that it was not about getting me to sell a product but rather about actually discussing how best to help children.

It was a small group of parent bloggers (OK, mothers) and a panel of three women who design children’s programming for PBS.  Joyce Campbell, the VP of Education and Children’s Programming and producer of Sid, the Science Kid, didn’t do a whole lot of talking, as she was clearly there just to hear what we had to say.  The other two women on the panel, however, had some fascinating things to say.

One was Lesli Rotenberg, the Senior VP of Children’s Media and the other was Angela Santomero, the creator and  executive producer of Super Why, which makes her a freakin’ hero in my book.   Super Why is my kids’ new favorite show, and it is the first program they have really loved that I have felt the same way about.  Not that I watch with them, because that would defeat the whole purpose of scheduling TV time right before dinner…  But, I have watched an episode or two, and this show rocks the house.  It is a television show designed to – wait for it – promote reading.  Yes, reading.

Now, here’s a little fun fact about me.  I don’t really watch TV.  I used to watch a little each day, but about a year ago, I realized I was going to have to choose between reading and television, and I decided to stop watching in order to get some reading time.  I went about three months never turning the thing on, but then the presidential conventions turned me into a short-term couch potato.  Nonetheless, my heavy-television weeks involve watching two shows (over the course of the week) and my light ones involve no TV at all.  Come to think of it, other than an episode of Super Why, I haven’t watched TV in at least three weeks, and we never have the TV on during the day.

Yet, I am not against TV.  I am just pro-reading.  So, you can imagine my delight that there is a television program all about these four little kids who, when faced with a problem, go diving into books together to find a solution.

Rock the house.

The subject matter is good, as are the reading skills they teach.  This show happens to be designed to cover Benjamin – who at almost three years old still cannot identify any letter other than “O” and the occasional “S” – and Zachary – who at almost five is sounding out phonics and has probably fifty sight words.  See, there is this pig who is in charge of letters, two girls who are all about reading words, and then a boy who pulls it all together.

OK, you get it – good show, educational, blah, blah, blah.  This is not a review blog and you would probably have stopped reading this post already if you weren’t hoping there would eventually be a point to the whole thing.  There is.

See, apparently, the people over at PBS Kids did not go into their line of work for the fabulous remuneration of public television.  They actually, um, care about providing quality, educational programming to children.  Especially lower-income children.  You know, the kids who may not have Tivo, Cable, and 473 kids’ books.  (I haven’t actually counted, so we may have more.  Those paperbacks are deceptive.)  The kids whose parents may not have the luxury of time to sit down and read with their children every day.  The kids who don’t attend preschools that cost (cough, cough) a year.  They want to reach those children and help them learn to read, love reading, and read well.

Perforce, the folks at PBS Kids have designed a Super Why camp for underprivileged kids, utilizing established camps but bringing in their own curriculum for a week.  They administer a simple “pretest,” and then they use one episode of the show and build five days of reading skills activities around the episode, with each day focusing on the “power” of one of the characters.  At the end of the program, they administered a “post-test”, and saw an 18% increase in letter sounds skills, a 29% increase in reading words, an 84% increase in encoding skills, and a whopping 139% increase in word decoding.

Praise the lord and pass the television.  The fact is, not everyone can afford childcare help.  Some people are working two and three jobs, if they can get them, just to get by.  And, in those families, TV is going to be a cheap alternative to having Super Nanny living in the guest wing.  Those are the kids who most need someone who can spare the time to teach them reading skills.  This show tries to fill the gap.  Is it as good as a parent sitting down for an hour working on reading every afternoon?  No, of course not.  But, that cannot always happen.  And even when it does, there is no earthly reason that media like television can’t be seen as a part of multifaceted approach to getting kids excited about reading.

It turns out there is a do-it-yourself version of this camp.  We were all given a nifty little backpack with activities to do with our kids.  Now, I’ve already screwed up because, although I did the pretest, there was no time to do the next day’s activities and of course the kids wanted to watch the same episode again the next night, in part because Zach was afraid of a different episode called “Thumbelina” for fear the mole might make an appearance.

I am going to be doing all these cool little activities with the kids, similar to some of what the trained professionals do at the camp, although I must say this flies in the face of my “television as a babysitter” technique.  I’ll report back on my family experiment and let you know how it goes, and the good people of PBS Kids will be checking our blogs for feedback.  You can get in on the action, too, because there is a huge trove of activities on the PBS Kids website that can help you use the show to augment your kids’ learning.  They’ll be reading comments and would be happy to hear what people have to say.

Well, slap my thigh and call me “Matilda.”  Who knew television might just have more in common with carrots than with candy?

Afternoon delight

I lie on the bottom bunk with Benjamin.  As reluctant as he is to go down for a nap, he is never in much of a hurry to wake up afterwards, and I like to lie down next to him, taking full advantage of his lethargy to cuddle him in safety.  In a half an hour, he will be bouncing, high on the exuberance of being almost-three, and his affection will turn considerably more hazardous for all those in the path of his running-start hugs.  Right now, however, I am lying on my back with an Ugly Doll behind my head, several stuffed animals under my butt, and a very wet giraffe blankie pressing up against my chest as Benjamin snuggles into what Carrie Bradshaw referred to as “the nook.”

Giraffie is wet because it spends a lot of time in my son’s mouth.  Benjamin doesn’t just suck that thing, he nurses on it, tongue-thrust and all.  Fortunately, we have four of them, so we can wash it daily, but it never stays dry for long.  When given a clean blankie, the child protests, “I want a wet Giraffie,” and then immediately sets to work turning the freshly laundered blankie back into what we fondly term “The Source of All Staph Infections.”

“Honey, Giraffie is getting me all wet,” I whisper, pushing it off my body and burying my nose in Ben’s hair to escape the rotting-carpet smell of his lovey.  Brown waves brush over my face, and I imagine my own mother, looking down at a very similar head of hair thirty-four years ago.  She knew she would be dead soon, but what did I know?  Was there any discomfort in cuddling with her, or was she the same source of love Ben feels with me?  How did she feel looking at my hair when her own was long-gone?

There are my thoughts as I lie with my middle child as my elder son reads books with our au pair in the other room.  I also feel guilty, because I am lying here, enjoying the hedonistic delights of nuzzling with my ever-so-affectionate toddler, when maybe I should be reading with Zachary, instead.  Maybe that’s the harder job, so I should do that one, instead of the pleasurable task of gently waking Benjamin with kisses and back scratches.

“Do you want to get up soon?” I ask him.

Of course, if I were reading with the other son, I’d feel guilty that I was not in the bedroom, waking the littler one, who after all deserves to be awakened by his mother.  Because maybe that’s the harder job, and clearly as the mother I should be doing the most unpleasant tasks.

But, why? I ask myself.  After all, I do plenty of the miserable stuff.  My kids poop in sequence, so I wipe their asses one after the other all morning long.  I wash their dishes and discipline them, which, let’s be honest, is the crappiest part of parenting.  So, why should I necessarily always assume I should do whatever is the “worse” job, instead of simply enjoying the reward.? The best part of parenting is reading to your kid or holding him as he drowses towards alertness, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying it.

Lord knows why these kids want me.  Most of what they see of me is managing their lives – applying sunblock and remembering to pack a snack and spare underpants.  Hell, I would have given up on any meaningful emotional contribution ages ago if I were they.  But, they seem to know it’s there, seem confident in understanding that I adore them, even if I growl way too often.  There is a security in my love that I think they have, a security that totally baffles me.

I lie there pondering the peace of mind that they possess, one I never even knew existed as a child.  They are full in some way I cannot comprehend because they are certain of parental love.  I think back to my own childhood; I had no idea something like that was missing.  Yet, I must have known because I continually sought love, adoration, anything to fill that empty place I did not even know existed.  Is that why I grasped at those who flung any scrap of tenderness in my direction?  My need was huge as a child and adolescent, yet I had absolutely no idea that not everyone feels that aching and destitution.

What finally filled it?  I would like to think it was my husband, but he kinda just filled the normal need for a partner.  I stare out the window at the palm trees and realize that the kids supply the love I once sought.  What I had needed was maternal love, and, since I will never get it, giving it will have to do.

I lie there, and there are things I need to do.  I ought to be getting up and sending those emails, making those calls, because Lilah will wake soon and I need to nurse her and then there will be three kids up and I’ll never get anything done.  And I feel so guilty for thinking that way, because I am supposed to be letting go of the mundane and reveling in the waning moments of Benjamin’s babyhood.

So, I will myself to remember my lesson of last summer: we don’t get to keep the babies.  And I give myself permission to lie there.  He turns, grunting as he aggressively wedges his head into my collarbone, and Giraffie comes dangerously close to my face.  I push the offending object away as best I can, but I don’t want to move for fear we’ll never fit together this well again.

“We can stay here as long as you like,” I tell him, although I know it is not true because he would like to keep me captive on his bed all afternoon, and my breasts will be needed in the next room shortly.  I can already hear the baby stirring.


I have a post up at LA Moms Blog, so please go over and take a look.

I like blogging over there for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it gets me invited to way cool events, like today when Zach and I are going behind the scenes at Super Why.  This is my kids’ new favorite show, and Benjamin walks around telling us, over and over and over, that “Super Why saves the day.”  So, I’m off to my glamorous life as a member of the New Media, but I’ll be back with a more substantive post tomorrow.

Miss Manners

I found your responses to my poll last week rather interesting, and as always I thank you for playing.  Many of you assumed I was the responder to the email about the playdate.  I was, in fact, the inviter, and I specified the date and time, as well as indicating that the child could be dropped off or she could accompany him.  The other mother replied that she could not do that date and time, but she could do Tuesday.  “We could meet at a park,” she suggested.

This has happened to me several times.  I have tried to make a playdate, offering my house but being willing to go to the other child’s as well, and the parent has busted out with, “Let’s meet in the park.”

Now, what the fuck is up with that?  You wouldn’t respond to a dinner party invitation by saying, “We could meet at a restaurant.”

Is my house not suitable in some way? Have we gotten a reputation for somehow hosting lousy playdates?  Perhaps you have confused my house with some den of iniquity and are trying to tactfully avoid having your kid hang out in an opium den?

News flash here, people.  Not every kid wants a playdate in the park.  Zachary, in fact, refuses to meet kids there.  The other kid is often late, which frustrates him.  The kids rarely end up actually playing together.  And, perhaps most importantly, he cannot keep up with the child.

In fact, now that we’re on the topic, he sort of stresses about outdoor play with other kids he knows, even at school.  He has gained a lot of confidence, but historically, the school play yard has been an anxiety-provoking place where the lack of clear structure and rules, as well as lighter teacher oversight, has often led to teasing or exclusion or sometimes just a misunderstanding that he couldn’t get past.  While people run around saying kids need more recess time and less structured classroom time, all I want to reply is, “Maybe that’s what your kid needs.  Don’t generalize to include mine.”

Granted, Benjamin definitely needs frequent run-abouts.  But Zachary?  Much as he has learned to navigate the school yard and much as he loves a playground when there is no pressure to perform in front of a kid he knows, he sure ain’t signing up to do a playdate there. Quite to the contrary: he sees playdates as a chance to interact with the other child in a calmer, more controlled seting, one-on-one.

One more thing – not every kid wants to go to someone else’s house, in unfamiliar territory, and find a pack of children there.  Yet, several times, I have had people invite him to a playdate, only to mention casually at the last minute that they have decided to invite a couple more kids along.

Yeah, that oughta help with the social anxiety.

Please, when you try to schedule a playdate, feel free to mention doing it at the park or with a passel of children, at which point I will honestly tell you that my kid likes your kid a lot but has a very hard time with playground or group playdates.  But, if I have invited your kid over, either explain to me why that arrangement would be hard for you or your child or just graciously accept the damned invitation.

If Zach wanted a playdate at the park or if he wanted you to start inviting other children along, well, that would be what I would suggest from the start.

Um, and one more more thing.  If you do accept the playdate and I arrange the schedules of three children and two adults to ensure that Benjamin is out of the house and Lilah is napping, please do consider writing in down on your calendar or tattooing it on your forehead.  Whatever you think it’ll take to help you to actually show up.

Thanks, dude.

Education dollars at work

            Remember Mr. Holland and his opus?  It’s a pretty schmaltzy movie, but the place it gets real is when the principal informs Richard Dreyfuss that the school is cutting the arts programs because they need the money for fundamentals like long division.  Mr. Holland gets all Mr. Holland-y and tells the dude that “Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”

            Now, I’m not much of a movie-crier, which makes attending movies with my husband rather embarrassing.  I think I’ve mentioned that the end of An Officer and A Gentleman makes him weep every single time…  But, those teacher movies often have their way with me, and Mr. Holland’s Opus is no exception.  I may not have outright shed tears in that final scene, but I definitely got a little choked up.

            J, of course, was sobbing.

            We need to fund arts education.  You want me to give you some reasons?  Sure, I’ll give you some reasons.  How about building self-esteem?  Bringing meaning into kids’ lives?  Providing an outlet for children who might not have the words or the therapist or whathaveyou to let out all the emotion that goes along with growing up?  Building music- and art- and theater-lovers for the next generation so that our world doesn’t become just a web of criss-crossed highways and rising temperatures? 

            Or, maybe I could just give you one reason:

            Yeah, I cried when I watched that one, too. 

            In case you need it, here is the link to their blog.

Me and my big, fat Ph.D.

            I went to graduate school when I was twenty-six.  I wanted to become an English professor, perhaps for all the glory and prestige attached to the job.  I loved the reading and the digging and the thinking.  What I did not like was living in a different state from my significant other.

            We lived apart through our whole engagement and the first year of our marriage.  I finished my coursework a year early due to a sanity-breaking schedule of extra-classes, teaching, masters’ thesis-writing, exams, wedding-planning, and back-roads-of-Virginia-driving, and so I decided to move up to Philadelphia to be with my husband.  I arranged with the department to take my next set of exams from afar, with a great deal of support from the (female, young, mother) chair of the graduate program and my (female, young, mother) dissertation director.  I would write my dissertation from afar, and I would adjunct at Villanova, in my new neighborhood, due to help from a (male, older, father) member of my committee.

            Out one evening with a small group of graduate students and one male professor, I discussed my plans for finishing the program from a distance.  The professor, who heretofore had been very supportive of me, even though I had chosen someone else to be my dissertation director (at his suggestion), dismissed me. 

           “You’ll never finish the program,” he told me.  Damn.  Them’s fightin’ words…   To read the rest, click here.