Friday, September 30, 2011

Katie 1, Germs 0

Katie has a fever today. I jinxed it a few days ago when I mentioned to my friend at work that Katie had only had two fevers in five years. But three is still pretty amazing. She's got her daddy's good genes. I hope when she's grown up she gets his good jeans too because he has a really nice ass, oh that's gross to wish a nice ass upon my daughter. Let's just say I hope she doesn't inherit my jeans.

Katie doesn't remember the last time she had a fever, Halloween 2009, when she was three. I remember this because the poor thing has ignorant parents who stupidly asked her if she wanted to go trick or treating anyway not realizing a three year old is incapable of saying no to fun, no matter how they feel. Half way around the block and the poor sick girl asked to go home.

Katie doesn't remember any of that, at least not now. Twenty years from now when she's talking to her shrink she might, but I'm off the hook for now.

So this morning when she woke up and her temperature was 101F, she asked me, "Why my body is so hot?"

"Because your body is trying to kill the germs that are making you sick."

Katie's sickly half-slit eyes glistened a little at the thought. "How does my body kill those bad guy germs?"

The listless girl who laid there a minute ago was gone, so I played along even though I have no idea and tend to make stuff up when I'm asked science or math questions.

"Well," I sat at the edge of the couch, next to her feet, tucking the cover under her chin. "Your body heats itself up so that the germs burn up and die."

Katie's face looked like I was telling her the story of the "Three Little Pigs," that schadenfreudish feeling you naturally get when a person who has been behaving badly gets what you momentarily think s/he deserves.

"The germs are the bad guys?" She wanted to make sure she had it straight.

"Well...not all germs are bad guys...just the ones that make you sick...there are some beneficial germs in your body..."

I lost her. She turned and closed her eyes and willingly went to sleep. Yes she's sick. But she's also sick of my shit. My five year old wants everything to be rule and order, black and white, good guy and bad guy. She can't abide a mother who insists on ambiguity. It's too hard for a child to understand. Unfortunately we have a lot of childlike adults in this country.

So later I overheard her washing her hands. She was speaking sternly to the germs, "You germs get off of my hands."

I poked my head into the bathroom, smiled, and asked Katie what she was doing.

Still in stern voice mode and without looking at me, Katie continued to frown at her hands as she scrubbed them with lots of soap. "I'm giving these germs a cough to make them sick and then they will die and not make me sick anymore!"

It's hard to argue against survival of the fittest.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In Spite of My Voice

I sang at my brother's wake last July. In front of people. Just me and Will. And I wasn't even drunk, although admittedly I had clonazepam coursing through my bloodstream.

I hadn't sung in public since the summer of 1984 at my sister's wedding. I was thirteen. My parent's didn't own a video camera. No one in the audience held up a smartphone to record us because the idea you could record someone on your phone had only been realized in such shows as "Get Smart" or in "James Bond" movies. So I have no footage of my aunt and me singing the duet. Thank God.

Here's Paul Stookey's version of the song:

Yes, the Paul Stookey of the singing trio Peter, Paul and Mary. The ones who did "Puff the Magic Dragon."

I didn't see much of my brother when I was a kid. When I was six my dad moved half of our family sixty miles south so he wouldn't have such a long commute to work. Pat was in the half that got left up north. He had just turned fifteen a couple months earlier. He moved in with our mom's dad, who taught Pat all he knew about building things and fixing things. Our grandfather also taught Pat how to smoke Camel non-filters and do as he pleased.

He soon dropped out of school and hit the road. He hitchhiked all over the country, hopping trains, catching rides with truckers who often hurriedly pulled over to give Pat a lift, seeing his long hair from behind. Sometimes once they'd see Pat's scruffy-bearded face they'd pull away immediately. Other times Pat said they'd laugh and say, "Come on, buddy, where you headin?"

There weren't many times Pat visited us after he hit the road. So I vividly recall his visits since their infrequency made them a big deal. Once when I was probably seven and he was probably seventeen he took me with him to the record store at the mall. He had to flee his last residence before he was able to get in and get his stuff, so he needed reinforcements. He said I could pick out any album I wanted. He wandered around the store looking for his own favorite bands while I was left to pick out what I wanted.

I had never owned an album. I had a blue twisty container I kept my 45s in when I wasn't playing them on my suitcase record player. I mostly had my siblings discarded records, The Jackson Five, Sonny and Cher, something called "The Popcorn Song" as I recall. Was it by the band Hot Butter? I loved that song and played it over and over again in my bedroom.

So I searched the mall record store for my first album. I had no idea what to get. I didn't see any album covers with popcorn or butter on them. I contemplated getting Helen Reddy's "Greatest Hits" since it had what had been my favorite song when I was about two or three, "Delta Dawn" but then I couldn't remember if my mom already had it on 8 track tape. I decided to look for something new.

When Pat came back to check on me, he looked at the album I held in my hand and said, "Ooooh, yes! Get that one."

"Does it have 'Puff the Magic Dragon' on it?" I flipped it over so he could read the song list for me.

"Oh yeah. It does. That's a good one, Beck. Let's go home and listen to these." He pointed to a stack of albums he had picked out too.

I have always loved singing. But by the time I was thirteen, at my sister's wedding, I was more concerned with the zits on my face, my frizzy hair, and my doofy braces than I was with paying attention to the transcendent moment of singing "The Wedding Song" at my sister's wedding. My sister was always supportive of my voice, whether through singing or writing. But it was the last performance I could manage without becoming chronically nauseous. I stopped singing, even to myself.

I never stopped listening though. Pat fed me a steady diet of music during his short visits while I was growing up. He's the one who gave me the cassette tape to Joni Mitchell's "Blue," one of my all time favorite albums. As I grew older, Pat and I talked about our mutual interest in bands like R.E.M., Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and of course, Joni Mitchell.

By the time we found out Pat was dying of liver failure at age forty-nine, we each had an extensive record collection. But there was only one song he wanted to listen to over and over. His fiancée Sharon had passed away about a month before Pat was diagnosed with liver failure. All he wanted to listen to, over and over again, "turn it up so we can hear it out on the front porch," was his and Sharon's song, "In Spite of Ourselves" by John Prine and Iris DeMent.

It's an awesome song. And it completely fits them as a couple:

We had Pat's wake at a local bar on what would have been his fiftieth birthday. If only he could be there, right? He would have had a blast. Before Pat died, I asked my father-in-law and mother-in-law to come to Pat's house to play "In Spite of Ourselves" for him. It brought tears to about ten pairs of eyes in the room. They were unavailable to make the wake, so, the night before the wake, I asked Will if he would sing it with me. It takes a lot to surprise Will, but my question made him cock his eyebrow and smile. "Really? You're going to sing in front of all those people? Good for you!"

"It's my brother's wake for godsake!"

"Ok, then, let's learn it." Will pulled out his acoustic guitar. We watched the John Prine/Iris Dement version on YouTube a few times. We practiced singing the song together just three times, drove north to the wake, butted ourselves behind the microphone and sang “their” song for Sharon and Pat, my brother, my musical mentor.

It felt good to have my voice back. Life is too short spent unsung.

Flatterers Flatter

Does the fact that I am secretly happy about these two things that happened today mean that I am more insecure about my body and my age than I tell myself I am?

1) My child, trying to describe another person said, "She's medium sized, like you," as she patted her belly.


2) A patron today asked me if I started working for the library when I was three when I mentioned I've worked there for over 18 years.

I act all "Oh, I'm happy with my body the way it is," and "I'm forty and I've never felt better," but when someone says I'm not fat and not old I'm all weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Why does what other people think of me matter so much?

I want to beg you to leave a comment so I know what you think of me. Yep. Sadly, there was no irony oozing from my fingertips as I typed that last sentence.

God, I love to write. I feel so alive. Like I've got my shit together. Like I actually know what I'm talking about. I'm confident. Like someone running through the woods, oblivious to others watching.

But when I finish, I feel like I've been running track in a stadium packed full of people and suddenly my side hurts and I realize how out of breath I am.

When I finish writing, there's no applause. I'm no actor. There's no grade. I'm no student. There's no income. I'm no professional. So I start second-guessing my writing. Maybe I'm delusional? Maybe it sucks and my friends and my mom and my siblings and my husband are just being supportive like I would be if one of them baked me an angel food cake. I'd take a bite and say, "Mmm. This is so good. Thank you!" Even though I've never understood what that dry tasteless crap has anything to do with angels. I'd flatter them because I love them and it was sweet of them to create something they wanted me to appreciate.

Ugh. I had no idea I was such a fake until I wrote that. No wonder I'm so insecure. It's like those tests they make you take when you apply for crappy minimum wage jobs to make sure you don't fit the profile of someone who participates in employee theft. They ask you questions like, "What would you do if your cash register was over $1.00?" And then they give you the option of answering c) take it, what the hell, everyone else would do the same thing, thinking that if you answer "c" you have a negative image of human beings and therefore must be a thief too. Only my test question would be, "What would you do if a friend had a booger in her nose and her date just rang the door bell?" And my response would be c) instead of telling her or handing her a tissue, I'd say, "Wow, you look so beautiful tonight. Have a great date!"

You know how cheaters cheat? Fake flatterers flatter, making the flatterer aware that such fake flattery could also be aimed at her.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Clear Desk, Clear Mind

While excavating my desk at home I discovered the twenty-nine page essay I wrote after my brother Pat died of liver failure last January. I have since expanded upon the essay and turned it into an autobiographical novel about the cycle of mental illness within an individual as well as within the generations of one family. I decided to create the story as a work of autobiographical fiction and not a memoir because another key theme is that heroes and villians exist only in fiction, which I thought would be more interesting to explore using fiction. So it's like you never really know what's true, what's made up, who's the good guy, who's the bad guy. Moral ambiguity, baby!

It took me not quite three months to finish the novel, all 75,274 words. I felt pretty satisfied with it. Then my boss at the library agreed to allow me to work 24 hours a week instead of 40 hours a week. I figured those extra 16 hours a week would help me wrap up the book and present it to a literary agent. I had no idea that for the next five months I would be accosted by such anxiety.

I finished writing a query letter, something someone even as ignorant as I knows is a requirement of the publishing industry. So I emailed it to some friends for input. One friend who has actually published a book, is the editor of an academic journal, and has a PhD in English commented that the next step was to write a book proposal.

A what schmerposal?

Holy shit, not only had I no idea what such a thing was, when I found out I had to summarize my 75,274 word story into about three pages I almost cried. I shut down much of my work on the novel for several months. Started this blog as a way to keep my writing muscle in shape as I procrastinated writing the book proposal for days, then weeks, then months.

WTF? Can't the literary agent just read the damn manuscript to see if s/he wants to sell my book for me? Isn't it the agent's job to market my book? Why do I have to brag and bullshit and write all snazzy just to get some literary agent's attention so they can turn around and brag and bullshit and write all snazzy just to get some publisher's attention?

I consulted friends, blogs, literary agent websites FAQ's. I checked out the literary bible, The Writer's Market, hoping I'd get some tips. Oh, I got some tips. Contradictory tips from each source I checked it seemed.

But today when I saw the essay I wrote back in January, I realized it's kind of a summary of the novel. Sure, it's twenty-nine pages, but that seems less overwhelming to whittle down to three pages than to try to pack the whole damn manuscript into three pages.

Here's the first couple of lines, and damn, I think I'll just use them in my book proposal:

"I like to brag that I'm the only one of Mom's five children who was born after she received electroshock therapy. I don't know if it had any effect on me, but it's something unique I like to cling to in a family of unusually smart, funny, creative, and compassionate people who have done all the interesting things long before my turn comes around."

Instincts. "Sound like yourself." Remember what Kurt Vonnegut said.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I saw Katie holding hands with her boyfriend. I volunteer once a week as a reading helper in her classroom. I was working with another child at the back of the room when Katie's teacher asked everyone else to get up from their tables and put their assignments inside their cubbies. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it: Katie and a boy holding hands, talking. I couldn't hear what they were saying. But I saw the boy, Alden, tapping her chest with his pointer finger. She later told me, when I asked, that he was pointing to the heart on her tie-dyed dress and telling her how much he liked it.

Will recently revealed to me that the reason he loves it when I wear my wedding dress, also a tie-dyed dress with a heart in the center of the chest, is because I remind him of Tenderheart Bear. I'm glad Katie is similarly attracting sweet souls.

Katie had told me about Alden two days before I caught them holding hands. They're both half-day kindergartners, so I'd seen him getting picked up by his mom several times. But this time when Katie and he said goodbye to each other, he grabbed her and hugged her and kinda tried to kiss her cheek but got a clump of her hair in his mouth, turned suddenly and ran toward his mom. I had seen Katie's best friend Ava hug and kiss her many times, but this was the first time I had seen a boy other than her cousin show such affection toward her.

I don't know why, perhaps because I myself am a fag hag, but my immediate assumption was that Alden is a little gay boy and Katie is his best girl friend. It didn't even occur to me that it was anything other than platonic until Katie and I started walking home and I asked her, "Who was that hugging you back there?"

"My boyfriend." She said nonchallantly.


I didn't have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, in kindergarten. The first boyfriend I had was in fourth grade, a boy named Jason. Jason did not know he was my boyfriend. The next boyfriend I had wasn't until I was in high school, a boy named Reuben. Reuben also did not know he was my boyfriend.

I had crushes on fictional characters growing up. The first was Cubby on the Mickey Mouse Club. I was very young, maybe two or three. I didn't understand that at the time, in the early seventies, I was watching a rerun of the fifties-era TV show and that by that time the actor who played Cubby was no longer a cute little boy but probably a middle aged man. Next I moved on to Radar O'Reilly on MASH, a middle aged man who looked and behaved like a child. I remember my sisters and brothers teasing me about my crush on Radar and I didn't know why. I thought he was adorable.

Then I kinda had a crush on Shaun Cassidy, but really only because my girl friends did and I wanted to fit in. But who I really liked, in fact the subject of my first semi-sexual dream, was Han Solo. Mmmm. I still kinda have a crush on him. I remember waking up one morning in third grade feeling like I had to pee really bad because I felt so tingly "down there." I later realized the tingly feeling had more to do with how sexy Han Solo was in my dream than how much urine I had in my bladder.

By junior high and high school I'd moved on to fictional relationships with celebrities: Roger Taylor of Duran Duran, then Morrissey of the Smiths, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. By my late teens it was k.d. lang. Honestly it's still k.d. lang. Yum.

I went through a short obsession with Tobey Maguire's character Jake Rodell in the movie "Ride with the Devil." I saw that movie seven times in the theater, by myself. Then it was Health Ledger's character Ennis del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain." Something about gruff cowboy slightly girly types does it for me.

I was eighteen before I had my first real girlfriend, then a real boyfriend, then a real girlfriend, girlfriend, boyfriend, girlfriend, and finally boyfriend who turned into husband one month before I turned thirty-four. I guess I'm a late bloomer.

I didn't go to preschool, but my mom took me to storytime at three different branches of our public library system each week. My favorite storytime was at the old Carnegie branch downtown. That's where Auntie Bea was the children's librarian. I LOVED her. Well, not that way, but the way you love someone you admire.

What I did not like about that branch's storytime was the boy who always chased me in the stacks before storytime started. I don't remember his name, but I remember he had very greasy hair and he seemed kind of smelly. I was never a very dainty girl - I played in the dirt and in the creek with the best of them. So for me to think this kid was kinda unclean is really saying something. He was also very big and had no social skills. I thought he was weird. Later, when I read one of my favorite books, Dinner at the Home Sick Restaurant I was reminded of this boy who used to chase me when the sister follows the weird boy home and discovers that this weird boy is some doting mother's son. I immediately felt a little sad that I had not bothered to befriend my weird boy, just as the girl in the book did not befriend her weird boy. I sure hope my weird boy finally found a sweet girl who let him catch her. They're probably married now with a bunch of weird kids chasing other kids around the library stacks.

I think because I was such a romantic late bloomer, it caught me off guard to discover Katie Bug is already beginning to buzz around love's full bloom. She informed me that "the more time I spend with Alden, the more I feel like he's my family. That's why I love him and we're going to get married when we're grownups."

I should have paid attention to the signs my girl was getting twitterpated at an early age. She howls with laughter each time she sees that scene in "Bambi" when the grumpy owl explains to a teenage Bambi, Thumper and Flower that if they don't watch out some pretty girl is gonna get them all twitterpated. I always thought that scene was pretty dumb until I watched it as an adult with Katie. I finally got it, something my five year old understood immediately.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Whatcha Reading For? Bill Hicks Was Once a Kindergartner

I was a fan of reading long before I'd ever heard of Bill Hicks. But now whenever anyone talks about reading, which, considering I'm a part time librarian is a lot, I hear this clip inside my head:

Waffle waitresses and truckers, please understand I think, at least I hope, Hicks is referring to these particular waffle waitresses and truckers that he's encountered and he doesn't think all people in those careers are idiots. Just sayin. I know plenty of blue collar readers.

I like this clip because of his statement about a pervading anti-intellectualism in our country. Who decided reading isn't fun? I don't get it.

I had the most amazing morning. Today was my first day volunteering at Katie's school as a reading helper. Each day the kindergartners bring home a small book, about 8 pages, with sight words most of them know. They are instructed to read the book at home to a parent or other adult and return it when they feel comfortable reading it. When the book is returned, I sit with them individually and have them read it to me. If they read more than 90% of the words in the book, they are sent home with a higher reading level book. If they read less than 90% of the words, they are sent home with a book on the same reading level.

So today I got to meet all of Katie's classmates and I got to work with half of them individually. Another mom who had done this last year was there showing me what to do. Next time I'll be by myself, so I'll get to work with all the children in Katie's class. I'm so excited. It blows my mind to think that these kids are learning how these odd shapes and symbols form words and words form ideas and ideas inspire people to think and act and live and love. And write really funny jokes about stupid people.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mockingbird Acid Test

I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in ninth grade. It has been my favorite book ever since. I'm a little freakishly loyal to it. If I read another book I really dig, I start feeling a little like a cheater. To Kill a Mockingbird is the epitome of literature to me. It broke my literary cherry when I was fourteen and henseforth my love for it will never cease.

Now the thing is, I work at a library. I don't just work at a library. I recommend books to readers at a library. It's my job to understand that reading tastes are subjective and deeply personal. So professionally, I don't judge someone for thinking TKaM is say, not action-packed enough or too realistic. But when my own husband says it, them's fightin' words. The little whirling dervish that is Scout inside of me wants to punch him right in the gut.

But before you go calling the authorities on me for domestic violence, remember, I don't hit. I write.

So yeah, Will doesn't like TKaM. Can you believe it? I simply can't wrap my head around that one. Even though I don't like to tinker on motorized vehicles, I understand why he likes to have his head under the hood of his old pickup. Even though I love oatmeal in my chocolate chip cookies, I understand he likes them better without. And I understand how he's too tired to bother to throw his dirty socks down the laundry shoot just as I know he understands I'm too tired to wash the dishes after I finish cooking dinner.

But I simply can't abide my own husband, the person who is supposed to get me better than anyone else on the planet, the person I most enjoy spending my time with, the person who knows me better than I know myself, not believing that To Kill a Mockingbird is the best novel written in human history.

Until he asked me to read his favorite book, The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.

Seriously? I mean, I get it. It's good. But the best book you've ever read? And you HAVE read To Kill a Mockingbird? Huh? Sorry, it just doesn't do it for me. Perhaps it's because I have never tripped on LSD and so it's difficult for me to get through the passages that are written through the perspective of someone with an altered state of reality. I understand it's a classic. I understand it's well written. If it had been written as a straight piece of narrative nonfiction from the perspective of the journalist author, I probably would have been fascinated by all the hippies and freethinkers of the time. But no. I couldn't even finish reading it. I got about half through and I felt like I was seeing chasers. It was giving me a contact high.

So yeah, I get it now. Will feels the same about socio-historical bildungsroman Southern Gothics that deal with issues of racisim, social problems and mental illness. The stuff that fills me with life and makes me feel feisty.

So the other night when I picked a fight with Will, I was forgetting that he's not me. I was forgetting that just because he understands me doesn't mean he understands all my interests. As do I of his.

I had suspected Will hadn't been reading my blog, but I felt too insecure to confront him about it. I had posted the first draft of my autobiographical novel, Mental Wellness, on my other blog and it took much prodding on my part to get him to read it.

Will said he doesn't like to read blogs, only printed manuscripts. So I printed the manuscript for him. The second draft, even, which is better than what's on my blog. And it sat there. He had recently gotten back into reading R. A. Salvatore and was flying through one of his series. He'd take Katie to her school skills class and wait for the hour long session. As they'd leave, I'd notice he held his Salvatore book under his arm as my manuscript sat lying where I put it the day I brought it home from the printer. He'd go to the coffee shop and wait for Katie's class to end, reading about fantasy heroes fighting fantasy villians somewhere along the time-space continum. But he had no interest in reading my work of realistic fiction about how heroes and villians exist only in fiction.

But I'd kiss him goodbye and half smile, knowing I'd do the same if it were me, only I'd have a Barbara Kingsolver novel under my arm while Feynman: The Graphic Novel would be laying there on the table where Will had left it for me to read.

When I picked a fight the other night, I accused Will of not supporting me by his apparant disinterest in my writing.

Which is ridiculous now that I think about it. I quit working full time so I could have more time to write and take care of our daughter. So Will is the breadwinner now, and willingly so. He seems to enjoy taking care of us, making sure we have a roof over our head and a car that starts. He does the dishes and cooks and sweeps and mops and takes Katie roller skating and to the zoo and to get ice cream so I have time to write. And realize, Will is an ISTJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. So extraneous compliments are not his style. And yet he's told me innumerable times how he thinks I'm such a great writer.

So yeah, of course my husband is supportive of my writing. Yawning at it is a reflex from his personal taste and not a critique of how it's written. Being bored by themes doesn't mean he's bored with me. He'd just prefer to rip through some fun space operas and altered-state mind expansion paperbacks while I click away on my laptop Midwestern Gothic manuscript and my blog rants about the current state of our nation and the state of my mind.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

God Loves the Foo Fighters!

Brilliant! I dig the juxtaposition of testosterone-infused rock n roll and satiric social commentary.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


As I sit at my desk and stare at the flashing cursor on my computer screen, in anxious procrastination, I start blaming my parents for my lack of discipline. Why couldn't they have made me do things I don't like to do so I'd learn how to do things in life I have to do that I don't like to do? It's all their fault I can't manage to write this damn book proposal.

So I got up from my chair to get a drink of water. I passed Katie lying on the love seat, her back on the cushions, her feet hanging and bouncing on the armrest, her head turned sideways so she could see the TV screen. Alice in Wonderland is playing. On video tape. In 2011. Did I mention we're frugal?

So I walked by my child and turned a little bit more into my mother. Most mothers would say something like, "After the movie I want you to turn off the video and do your homework." My mother used to come and knock on my bedroom door where I'd be sitting on my bed doing my homework and say, "Becky, you have to come out here and see this show. Put that down. Come watch TV." I, getting my eccentric mothering ways from my own mom, said to Katie, "You want to do your homework now?" Like any child would take such a question seriously? In the middle of a movie.

Without moving her head, Katie rolled her eyes my general direction and said, "No."

"Well, then, after this movie. I'll help you!" I stood facing her, but Katie kept her eyes on the TV screen.

"Don't get so excited." Katie stated plainly without even bothering to roll her eyes at me this time.

"What?" I honestly had no idea what she meant. I thought maybe she was talking to the TV. I hadn't been paying attention to what was going on.

"Don't get so excited about my homework." Katie's voice was monotone and quiet, like she was so bored with this conversation she could barely speak.

I sat in the chair across from her. "Why can't I get excited about your homework?"

Katie sat up on the couch and looked at me. "Because it's booooooring."

She's right. I thought so too when I was a kid. But for some reason I thought if I acted enthusiastic about it, Katie would be somehow symbiotically enthused. Or is it osmosis? I probably didn't do my homework when we studied what I'm trying to think of for that metaphor.

She's heard me argue with Will that it doesn't matter how she holds a pencil or if her writing doesn't strictly conform to the assignment's specifications. Look at that stem and leaf she drew under that funny looking e that looks more like a flower.

It's hard to raise a kid who doesn't want to do her homework when I wasn't a kid who wanted to do mine. I've learned far more about life and myself since I quit school and began studying on my own. Working at the library helps. I have access to all kinds of information. But I think also just getting away from the whole, "You must learn what I want you to learn when I want you to learn it" and being allowed to explore what I'm interested in as I'm interested in it has expanded my thinking tremendously.

What is the goal of a good education? To encourage curious minds or to encourage conformity? Do I want to raise a child who does what she's told or who thinks for herself?

Then I looked toward my desk, at the flashing cursor on the screen and the empty space below it. Ok, maybe it's not my parent's fault I'm undisciplined. Now that I'm in their role, I realize how impossible it is to make someone do something they don't want to do.

So I tried out the honest route. When she said homework is boring, instead of saying something like, "No it's not! It's fun! We can work on it together!" like I had be overdoing it these last few days, I said, "Yeah, I bet it's boring for you to go over what you already did in school this morning. But when I go over it with you, it helps me get to see what you're learning about in class. And that makes me happy."

She didn't respond, so that's a good sign. She didn't flat out say no.

But she went back to watching Alice in Wonderland and I went back to staring at the flashing cursor on my screen. Will can get her to do it like he did the other three nights this week.

But isn't that a little too "wait til your father gets home." I don't want to shirk my parenting responsibilities. I'm fully capable of getting my daughter to understand the importance of doing homework, right? I just have to figure it out myself.

I stared at the flashing cursor so long I could almost feel my heartbeat in it.

I got up and made dinner. Katie finished the movie. We ate.

Then it was time. I whipped out the homework, set it in front of her on the table and said, "Homework time!" I forgot I wasn't supposed to act enthused.

Katie layed her head on the table dramatically and mumbled, "But it's so boring!"

I sat down next to her. I didn't know what to say. My parents didn't push me to do homework. I never had homework in kindergarten, geesh. But at the same time, it would be nice to help Katie figure out why it's important to sometimes do things we don't want to do. I don't want this to turn into a "you can't [insert fun activity] until you finish your homework." That always made homework seem like a punishment to me. If homework is to be done, instead of making it busy work, it should be an actual learning experience. And I had to learn how to make it one.

She repeated, "It's sooooo boring!"

I didn't know what to say. I had no guidebook or magic hat from which to pull out the right answer. I had no Disney animators on my side. No stomach to use fear or power to manipulate her into doing it, "because I said so." So I resorted to my old trick empathy. I told her old stories about myself when I was learning how to write.

"Oh, I remember tracing letters like this, over and over and over and over..." I rolled my eyes into the back of my head, stuck out my tongue and rolled my head around like it was rolling down a hill. Katie started giggling. Her eyes always sparkle when I tell her stories about what it was like when I was her age. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's just nice to be reminded that your mom is human too. She understands.

It took much prodding, much reminding her we needed to finish the assignment and no, I don't want to pretend we're dogs and have you lick my cheek. But she did it. She finished her homework with me by her side.

Then she went over to her art table and brought her art supply case to the table by me. "Now we can work on my book."

"Your book?" What is she talking about now?

From the bottom of her art supply case, she pulled out a white hardbound book with empty pages except for the first three. She had written her name next to "Written and Illustrated By" and she had written a "5" next to "age". I looked at her. She was beaming, like she was happy to finally share her secret.

"Has Daddy been helping you make this book?"

"No. I do it myself." She rubbed her hands over it.

"No one helped you with this? How did you know to write a '5' there?" I pointed to the age line.

"I knowed because it says, 'put down how many years you have been alive.'" She traced the word age with her finger.

"You knew because it says 'age' there?" I smiled.

"Yes! Age. It says 'age' there." She pointed to the word, then turned the page, "See I maked a beach." Then the next page. "See, I maked a birthday party." The next page. "See I maked a campout."

Under the birthday party page were some squiggly lines. I asked her what they were.

"That's the story. I'm working on a book." She looked at my computer screen and once again I was reminded that I'm her example.

Now I need to take Katie's example and get to work on my own book.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Until recently, Katie couldn't pronounce "fr" so the children she'd meet and play with came to be known as her "sriends". She had sriends everywhere she went, as long as they were around her age. Our child changes from shy around grownups she doesn't know to gregarious and huggy around children whether she knows them or not.

I'm the same way. Kids are just so much easier to feel at ease around. They can say things that would normally be humiliating, but with no judgment, just pure observation, so it doesn't hurt like it would if a more world-weary person said the same thing: "Aunt Becky, why do you always have chicken pox?" asked my young niece about my cystic acne when I was a teenager. Or, "I can't pick you up, Mama, because your buns are too fat!" My daughter informed me just the other day.

Sriends are a big deal to most anyone, but especially kids without siblings their own age. My brothers and sisters are all between fifteen and eight years older than I am. So even though they played with me, it wasn't the same as getting to play with sriends my own age.

Will and I have made a point to take Katie places where she has access to kids her own age--the neighborhood playgrounds, the indoor explorer room at our local community center, even the indoor play areas at McDonald's and the mall, places that would normally make me gag at their blatant display of captialism. What hardships suburban hippie parents of only children must face to socialize their progeny.

Now that Katie is in school, she's got sriends galore. She's had the same best sriend since day one. I'll call the little girl Elena to protect her identity. As soon as Elena strode into the classroom, took her seat next to Katie and announced, "Hi, I'm Elena. Wanna be my friend?" it was a done deal. Elena has since been moved to another table and Katie has new sriends, but she invariably inserts the word "best" before the word sriend when she talks about Elena.

Today as Katie and I approached the school, hand in hand, Elena's car drove past us walking along the sidewalk. Elena stuck her head out the back window and shouted, "Hi, Katie!" Katie immediately picked up her pace and let go of my hand to wave back, calling out to the passing car, "Hi, Elena!"

By the time we got to where her dad had stopped at the curb, Elena was on the sidewalk waiting for Katie. They immediately grabbed each other's hands. I didn't feel like a third wheel. More like a training wheel. After I held the straps for Elena so she could put on her backpack, I had to butt my face in between them to steal a kiss from Katie. Both girls said goodbye to me, then turned to walk each other to class. I heard Katie say to Elena, "Hi Friend! Fancy bumping into you here!" Without warning, her "sriend" turned into a "friend." I couldn't help but smile.

I watched them for a bit, in a daze, blocking pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. I must have looked like a goon to all the parents, but I'm sure the kids all around understood how I felt.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Today Katie, while writing her name on a "love letter" she made me, mentioned that her teacher and her best friend are lefties too. I suspect she's fibbing, just wanting it to be true. What are the odds? But I played along. I hope her teacher and best friend are lefties too.

The other day, while getting ready to make chocolate chip banana bread, Katie, standing on her stool but getting ready to jump off, then on, then off and on again, asked me, "Remember that place we goed to that has the indoor swimming pool with the turddle slide?"

I was loading the dishwasher. I've heard that some people wash the dishes after they bake. Weird. It's like the under/over question of how do you like your toilet paper roll. "Matt Ross Community Center?" I asked.

Katie said, "Yes!" mid-air, with a hint of breathlessness.

"Do you want to go there."

"No. I mean yes. But not now. But when we goed there when I was a little kid, like when I was one or two when we goed there, was that day care?"

I paused, mid-upper rack loading, and looked up toward the ceiling and to the right. I know I did this because when I looked down at Katie, she was mimicking me. "Yeah, that was day care. They took care of you while I worked out."

Katie said, "Yes!" and jumped half-way across our kitchen floor.

I asked her why she was so excited. She explained that her teacher had asked everyone in her class who had been to day care to raise their hands.

"And you were the only one who didn't raise her hand?" I asked as tenderly as possible.

"I think so." Katie stopped jumping around and looked at the floor.

"Did you feel left out?" I dried my hands on a dish towel and grabbed her hand. We walked together to the cushiony rocking chair in our living room.

"Yes." Katie let me hold her and rock.

"You felt left out because you got to spend your days with Daddy, Grandpa and me and not with strangers at day care?" I wanted to say, but I didn't. I could tell this was a serious matter to her, even though I thought it was ironically laughable.

So I rocked her. And I thought about it. How it would feel to sit on those little chairs, at those little tables, in the big room with twenty other kids, all of their hands raised high so you feel like you're hiding under blades of grass, not wanting anyone to catch you not knowing what to do.

God Bless Us All

I wasn't going to write about 9/11 on this tenth anniversary because what more can be said? Mass murder in God's name. I can think of few things more reprehensible. It's hard to put to words such chaotic emotions.

But this morning as I reflected upon this day ten years ago, instead of the fire and the smoke and the terror, I immediately thought of this: the moment of unity among our members of Congress while spontaneously singing "God Bless America." At the time, it brought me to joyful, hopeful tears.

Today I watched the video on YouTube, thinking it would summon similar tears, but I just felt sad. I wanted to cry but my eyes were dry.

I'm currently reading Quaker Pastor Philip Gulley's latest book, "The Evolution of Faith" so my mind has been swimming in streams of religious discourse. All I can think now when I watch this song of unity is that God is not on our side. God is not on "their" side. No matter how united we feel, as a people whose normal day involves arguing about how we should run our country, unity is only useful if it's for a good cause. The young men who signed up to fly airplanes into their enemies' greed towers and war buildings were united in thought that God was on their side. These Congressmen and Congresswomen, feeling inspired to sing in harmony about God blessing our nation, they must have felt that God was on their side. So who is right? Can anyone see God up in heaven holding up a sign? Does the USA get a 10.0? Chant: USA! USA! USA! What about Saudi Arabia? Iran? Al Qaeda? What's their score?

I just don't buy it that God is counting. I am proud to live where I live. I love God. I also love people who live in other areas of the earth. And I think they love God too. I just don't get it. This Us vs. Them mentality. All I see is it leading to endless battles and enemy building.

I have a radical idea. Let's quit fighting and see what happens. I bet it would be miraculous. The Onion has made it hilarious.

Peace, my earthly brothers and sisters. God bless us all.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kindergarten Homework: Fireman and Policewoman

So yesterday I got home from work and Will had helped Katie with her homework. She was to cut out square pictures of items that go with either a fireman or a policewoman and paste them under their pictures.

I smiled and said, "Look, Sweetie, a policeWOMAN. See, girls can be police officers if they want."

Katie, hopping around in circles on one foot, exclaimed, "Yes!"

Batman and Spiderman

For those of you who read my post about my reaction to Katie telling me she'd be a police officer when she grows up if she were a boy, here's a continuation of that story.

The next day, I stopped by "Once Upon a Child" to pick up some more girls pants at the request of my late-blooming-fashionista daughter. As I was sifting through the available items, I heard a mom come through the door with her twin sons. They looked about two or three. They walked straight over to the aisle in front of me to look at the Halloween costumes.

One of the boys said, "I wanna be a ladybug!" But his mother grabbed his hand, saying, "No, Ernie, that's a girl's costume," and led him to the boys' costumes. "Do you want to be Thomas the Train?"

The more the mom recommended an outfit to this one boy, the more he fought her. "No, I wanna be a chicken!" "A chicken? How about a cowboy?" "No, I wanna be a bumble bee!" "A bumble bee? How about Spiderman?!" "No, I wanna be a punkin!" "A pumpkin? Ernie, look here. How about a devil?!"

The mother sounded so thrilled she had found her innocent little boy a devil's costume in a size 3T. You could almost hear her thoughts out loud, "This one won't make him look so gay."

The other boy never said anything so the mom never called him by name. So no, I don't know if his name is Bert. The mom finally picked out two costumes without consulting either son. They were going to be Batman and Spiderman this year.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lot's Wife

Why does brutality in God's name seem even crueler than just plain ol' brutality? Store this clip in my "Rwandan Genocide Videos" file of depressing things I can't stand to turn away from. Does that somehow make me Lot's wife or something? It's been a long time since my mom read me Bible stories.

I am currently reading the new Philip Gulley book The Evolution of Faith so this kind of thing is on my mind. I loved his Home to Harmony series set in small-town Indiana about a Quaker pastor and all the quirky folks he simultaneously shepherds and pokes fun of. This is the first nonfiction book I've tried of Gulley's and it's pretty deep.

Ok. My thoughts on God: Love. That's it, friends. That's what God is. It's not that difficult. Treat people in a loving way. What would Jesus do? Love. As simple as that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pink Feminists, or "Can I Get That Police Officer's Uniform in Pink?"

This morning Katie informed me that she'd wear the olive green hoodie I dug out from her dresser on this surprisingly chilly morning, but she'd like to get another one that has her favorite colors on it. She didn't have to tell me why. The other day when I pulled out some pants for her to wear while playing in the back yard, she nixed both the brown cargo pants and the green corduroys.

"Those are boys' pants." She stated as if giving me a lesson in reality.

I turned the pants in all directions, looking for a clue. "How can you tell?"

"Because they're brown and green. Those are boys colors."

I'm nearly always amazed by the things that come out of Katie's mouth, so it's not uncommon for me to ask her, "Who told you that?"

"I just figured it out myself." Is usually her answer, as it was this time. I'm usually proud of my child's observation skills, but this time I was sad.

I worried when Katie started kindergarten she'd catch all kinds of bugs from her peers, breaking her incredible health streak. This kid has only had two fevers in five years. We started sending her to a one-hour a week "school skills" class last January, but other than that, she's never had much regular contact with kids her age. I was certain once she began going to school regularly she'd lose her immunity to her school mate's contagions.

I haven't witnessed any sneezing or coughing yet, but something much more dire has begun to rub off on Katie: our social mores. Girls wear pink and boys wear blue. That kind of crap.

I guess I assumed Katie would inherit my feminism just as she's evidently inherited her father's amazing immune system. I'd read that it's a common developmental phase for children her age to recognize gender roles and begin to incorporate them into their own personalities, but I thought having me for a mother could somehow inoculate her against such rigidity. I was wrong.

When I was pregnant with Katie, I decided I'd only dress her in gender-neutral colors. That lasted about a week when reason struck me and I realized most of the stuff that was given to us by friends and family was pink and that as much as a newborn blows through onesies, having lots of extra clothes, even pink clothes, was practical.

I can't fault my friends and family for giving us a bunch of pink gear from the start when that's about all that's available in the girls' department. I'm not a big shopper. I prefer to take hand-me downs or at the most shop at second-hand stores for clothes. Yes, I tell myself it's because I'm so green, but really I'm just cheap. We're lucky that my step-niece has a daughter a year older than Katie, and Will has several cousins with children that give us their goods. So I've only bought Katie a handful of clothes during her five years.

The few times I have shopped for my daughter, I've been disappointed. In order to find jeans that didn't fit tightly and draw attention to my young girl's ass, I had to shuffle over to the boys' department where there were lots of baggy jeans. Once when Katie was three, I compared a pair of size 3T jeans I'd found in the girls' department to a size 3T I'd found in the boys' department. Not only did the girls' jeans have much more bling on them, they were cut so much tighter than the boys' jeans they looked about two sizes smaller. Perhaps children's clothing manufacturers design girls' clothes tighter because it's assumed girls in general are smaller than boys, but I've seen no evidence of such sexual dimorphism at the playground. The only difference I can see is that our culture puts more importance on flaunting girls' bodies than boys'.

So despite the regular dose of children's book propaganda I feed Katie about how all people are equal and anyone can do anything they set their mind to, my little girl is starting to smell the bullshit in my stories. The other day, a couple days before she informed me that she wouldn't wear the brown cargos or the green corduroys because they're for boys, as we were walking to her school, Katie saw a police car drive past us and said, "If I was a boy, when I growed up I would be a police ossifer."

I used to think it was funny when Katie would tell me she wants to be a police ossifer. Funny in the way my friend likes to tease me that she'll end up an Alex P. Keaton since her parents are such free-thinking hippies. I could just imagine a grown up Katie, coming over to her parents' house for Sunday dinner, wearing her uniform. I'd ask her to leave her gun in the car. No guns in my house. And there we'd sit at the table, our rule and order daughter and her iconoclast parents, passing the edamame and refilling our glasses of soymilk.

It always seemed an unlikely dream, not because she's a girl, but because she's MY girl. My vicarious notions led me to hope Katie would grow up to join the Peace Corp, not carry a gun and throw people in jail. But if she grew up and really did want to be a police officer, I'd be the old lady with Bride of Frankenstein gray hair showing off pictures of my daughter to strangers at the park. "She fights crime," I'd boast, because I knew my daughter would be an honest cop and not a pig.

"Girls can be police officers too," I stated simply as we walked along the sidewalk, hand-in-hand.

Katie, wearing her pink My Little Pony backpack over a ruffly top, tight capri pants and glittery bright pink shoe laces, looked at me wearing a green T-shirt, navy sweatpants and my brown Birkenstocks, and smiled like she'd heard this one before.

My daughter is not me. Every day that she goes to school and spends more and more time away from me, she'll find her influences elsewhere. I must not worry. I tell myself that I grew up in our society too, in even more conservative times, and I managed to find my way. I'm a feminist raised in an uber anti-feminist community, aren't I? I'm open-minded, aren't I?

I looked back at my daughter, smiling brightly in her cute outfit. It dawned on me that I'm not as open-minded as I like to think. Who says girls can't wear pink AND be feminists? Isn't that what the fight is all about - allowing people to be anything they want to be?

I squeezed Katie's hand and smiled, knowing it's all I can do.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Vinegar & Me = L.O.V.E.

One thing I've learned since becoming a housewife: vinegar is my friend. I always knew vinegar and I were friends the way I'm friends with the people I chat with on Facebook. But I had NO IDEA. Now that I get to spend more one-on-one, inter-persinegar time with my friend, I am discovering more and more things I love about vinegar.

Trust me. I f*uck up a lot as a housewife. I forget to put the mop head in a position where it can air dry and so it gets mold-stinky. Guess what? Soak it in vinegar!

And this has to be the most brilliant idea ever: "Easily clean your mini blinds by wearing [a] pair of white cotton gloves. Dip gloved fingers into a solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm tap water, and run your fingers across both sides of each blind."

Or this one:

"Discourage ants by spraying undiluted white distilled vinegar outside doorways and windowsills, around appliances and wherever you find the pests coming in."

For those of you who have read my ant rant, you'll understand why I must now get off the computer and go spray some glorious, natural acidic solution around my kitchen window.

Forty Feels Tweenish

I'm lucky I had such an awful adolescence. It prepared me well for what forty feels like. Middle Age is Tween Age's sister transitioning phase. Middle Age and Tween Age exchange fountains or statues or some such symbols of appreciation for their connection.

Just as I stepped foot at the entrance of the tween years, I began menstruating. I may or may not be about to stick a toe at the ride's exit now that I'm forty. I haven't had a period in over seven weeks. I'm either pregnant or going through menopause. Excuse me while I go apply some acne cream and some anti-wrinkle cream to my face.

I was ten when I started and I may be forty when I stop. Both ages seem so young. Too young. When I was ten I was so physically mature I started getting hit on by men. Awkward! Possibly going through menopause at age forty seems similarly unfair. Like my body is racing ahead at a pace which my emotional compass can't compete. I wish my body could handle another baby. So many of my friends had an "Ooops!" baby. Not that they don't love their children. But they were surprised by their existence. I find myself surprised by my children's nonexistence. Katie is a wonderment. But I always dreamed I'd have more than one child.

When I was ten I wanted ten children. My friend and I would draw our future families over and over. Each time I was married to a grownup version of the boy I had a crush on in fourth grade. Our children lined up beside us in order by age, their names written carefully above their heads. I had on a "Little House on the Prairie" looking outfit, with an apron. My hair tied up. My husband had a beard and overalls. It was plain to see we lived in harmony with the earth and our children. Yes, I was late to the Hippie party given I wasn't born until 1970, but at least I still arrived.

At forty, I no longer want ten children. I mean I kind of secretly do, but no. No WAY. But I'd like a chance at one more. If it doesn't happen, we still have our Katie. But wouldn't a Katie-brother or Katie-sister be even more wondrous?

At ten I started getting acne. At forty I have rosacea. At ten my body was changing, developing curves in strategic areas I had up til then been unfamiliar were that big a deal. At forty, I've noticed my clothes fit differently. I have to unbutton the top button of my pants after a good meal much more often than I did at age twenty five, fifteen years ago, fifteen years after I began developing a waist. At the top of my hourglass hour.

I go to the doctor Wednesday to find out if I'm knocked up or drying up. I'm trying to still myself, to quit thinking of baby names, to quit pretending I'm prepping the room for an eventual nursery while cleaning and redecorating the guest room. But I know it's doubtful I'm pregnant, and that my body is just transitioning yet again, what with my history of sub-fertility, probably caused by PCOS, possibly caused by who knows what all--plastics leeching into our food and water, the DES medication my mother was prescribed during her pregnancy, too much soy in my diet--we don't know.

It's the not knowing that makes me fidget and overshare on my blog. I do not abide not knowing.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Recommended Reading of the Day - "It's Only Water in a Stranger's Tears: Or, We Do Not Take Care of One Another"

My friend read my recent post, Jesus and Politics; Or, I Don't Have Time to Volunteer and Therefore I Am Not a Libertarian and shared a post he recently wrote along the same theme: It's Only Water in a Stranger's Tears: Or, We Do Not Take Care of One Another

See, we share wealth, we share ideas. It's good stuff.

Focus on The Moment: Thank You For Letting Me Share

Have you ever caught yourself smiling? Here I was reading a Wikipedia article about "tribadism among female bonobos" instead of writing my book proposal, (once you take Physical Anthropology you can never go back) when I noticed I had a huge smile on my face. So of course I hopped on here and had to blog about it.

When I first noticed the smile on my face, I stopped and focused on the moment, something I learned through a combination of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the teachings of The Dalai Lama, stories my mom told me about Jesus when I was a kid, John Lennon's music, and watching my five year old daughter exist.

As I focused on the moment, I realized how calm I felt. How relaxed. How satiated.

In January my brother died of liver failure. Before he died, I was helping to care for him. I've had a long history of mental illness, undiagnosed at age four and first diagnosed at age eleven when I had anorexia nervosa. Anyhoo, my brother's terminal condition would have been difficult for anyone to handle. How do you watch someone you love who is in pain spend four months dying? So for me, with my sensitive nature (if you ask non-psychobabblers) and my Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (if you ask psychobabblers), it was as if I'd run out of whatever hormone it is that kicks in when you're under stress. I was out of gas.

So I went to the doctor and she gave me pills, of course, but she also told me to go back into therapy, cut back on work, and spend more time doing things I enjoy. It was like I was getting permission from God to enjoy life. "Here you go, my child. It is a gift from me. Appreciate it." It was like my mother saying, "I don't care what you do for a living. I just want you to be happy," when I dropped out of college. It was like having my head in my husband's lap and his telling me "We're in this together."

So I took the pills and began unwinding. The first layer I peeled off was work: I cut back from forty to twenty-four hours at work. Next came therapy, an actual program of once weekly individual and group therapy sessions at a mental health center. That lead to my writing a novel based on my experiences and history of mental health treatment and how ultimately sharing my story with others has helped me heal more than anything. So then came this blog.

So thank you for letting me share it with you. You are helping me heal.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Safety Seat

Katie had to sit in the "safety seat" yesterday in kindergarten. The safety seat is a designated seat at the front of the room where a child who is misbehaving according to the school's rules is forced to sit. Basically a "time out" but you get to sit there and watch your classmates behave while you feel like a jerk. That's my interpretation. That was not what the teacher wrote on her Back to School Night handout. The child is supposed to think about what he or she did that got him or herself into the seat.

When I was five, if I were put in a chair in front of the whole class and told to think of what I did, I can't imagine I'd actually think of what I did. I would have just cried and thought, "Why is my mean teacher making me look like a bad girl in front of the whole class?" But, I know, I'm a weanie. My first grade teacher wrote on my report card that I cry too easily and if everyone would just quit giving in to my every outburst I would learn how to tell my problems instead of crying.

So we have her to blame for my tendency to ramble. But rambling on my blog is better than me posting a video of myself sobbing, right? I'd take a ramble over a sob any day.

Have I told you guys this before? I'm obviously bitter about it because although I vividly remember my mom's face when she read the comment on my report card, (the same face as when Dad would yell at one of her kids) I can't ever remember who already knows this story because I tell basically everyone I encounter. "My first grade teacher was so mean. Why would you want to teach children if you obviously don't like them?..."

The lesson you'd think I'd learn after being Katie's mama for five years is that she really is not me. Sure I see certain aspects of myself in her looks, her inquisitiveness, her moodiness, her sense of humor. But she is far more resilient than I ever was. Or still am.

Today Will and I were standing outside the front door of Katie's school, waiting for her to come out with the other kindergartners. We were chatting with one of Katie's classmate's dads, standing in the shade, enjoying the breeze. By the time Katie made her way to us, most of the other parents and grandparents and caregivers were buckling their kids into their booster seats. Since we walk (and talk) we often leave her school last. Except for this one boy whose mother is always about five minutes late to pick him up. I imagine if I hadn't decided to cut back to part time at work I would be her.

So it was just us and the teacher and Boy-Whose-Mom-Is-Always-Late. We started to walk toward home when the math/art teacher stopped me and said, "Oh, you're Katie's mom? Hey, if she brings it up, it's no big deal, but if she brings it up, you might want to talk to her about it. Because today she had to sit in the safety seat, but it was no big deal, and I swear, I honestly think she had no idea that sticking your tongue out at someone is inappropriate behavior."

Math/Art Teacher had a giant smile on her face as she was telling me this information. She looked like a teeth bleaching commercial actress. When she said she didn't think Katie knew you're not supposed to stick your tongue out at people she seemed clearly amazed.

"Yeah, I guess we forgot to teach her that one." I said with a smile as I looked up toward Will standing next to me. Katie and Boy-Whose-Mom-Is-Always-Late were taking turns jumping over a leaf.

Will was pretty adamant when Katie was first born. No preschool. He wanted to teach her how to behave. I wanted to teach her how to read. So I agreed. Neither of us had preschool so she could do the autodidact Pre-K thing too.

We caved finally eight months ago when we decided to enroll Katie in a one hour a week skill schools class. She was getting bored at home, asking why her friends got to go to preschool but she didn't. We could only take her to the local playgrounds and indoor play areas to "socialize" her for so long. She's not a dog. She's a human being. A human being who likes to be around kids her own age on a regular basis, just like most people I know.

I always told myself I would never have an only child. I also told myself I'd never give her formula or let her wear disposable diapers or avert my eyes when her grandpa gives her cans of orange pop.

I guess I need to quit telling myself things.

Katie didn't mention the "safety seat" incident until we got home and had lunch. We were clearing the table when seemingly out of nowhere Katie turned into something entirely not herself. She started babbling incoherently in a combination of a whine/baby talk/speaking in tongues type of language. I was unaware of anyone around performing a religious ceremony, so my second thought was, "Oh, she's having a fit."

I grabbed her in my arms, her arms flailing, and carried her into my bedroom. I plopped the both of us onto our bed, turned her face toward mine and said, "You wanna talk about how you feel?"

She immediately came back to herself and said, in her own voice, "I got put in the safety seat today and it was the first time ever in my whole life I got a time out and I feel bad about that."

"I would feel bad about that too. I used to make mistakes and be corrected by my teacher when I was in kindergarten." I rubbed her back and she used my waist as an armrest.

"You did?" She smiles. She loves hearing stories about the grownups in her life when they were her age. "So you're not gonna stop loving me?"

That one bout stopped my heart. "What?!" I almost yelled it but at the last second pulled back a bit so Katie wouldn't misinterpret my noise level for anger. I wasn't angry. I was shocked. How could she think I would ever stop loving her? I've read Alfie Kohn's book, goddammit! I've read Dr. Sears' website. I'm the parent who tells her child, "You can tell me anything." I'm the parent who picks up my five year old when she's throwing a temper tantrum and holds her in my arms and talks to her until she calms down. "I will NEVER stop loving you, Katie. Mommy and Daddy both. We will ALWAYS love you no matter what you do. You could sit in the safety seat every day for the rest of your life and we'll still love you. Ok?"

I must have raised my eyebrows because she raised hers and had a stern look on her face which I suspected was a reflection of my own expression. "Ok," she said softly. Then she grabbed the back of my neck and squeezed me and kissed me on my jawbone so hard it almost hurt.

After our squeezefest, I said, "Now Daddy and I don't want you to sit in the safety seat. We don't want you to, like, TRY to get yourself into the safety seat. The point of the safety seat is for you to learn not to make the mistake that got you into the seat. You might have to sit in it a few times before you remember, "Oh, yeah, I'm not supposed to stick my tongue out at people."

"You know about that?" Katie interrupted me. She looked at me like she just discovered I had omniscient powers.

"Yes, your art teacher told me after school when we were standing there talking. And she's not mad at you. She just wants you to learn that sticking your tongue out at someone is not correct behavior. It's not nice. Why'd you stick your tongue out at the boy, anyway?"

"Because he had a sad face. He looked like this." Katie contorted her face so she looked a combination of scared, angry and like someone who misses his mommy or daddy.

"Oh. Well, if you had a face like that, if you felt the way he felt, would you want someone to stick out their tongue at you, or would you want them to say something like, "Are you ok?"

"Are you ok." Katie said, immediately as if she were telling me her favorite knock knock joke:

Knock knock
Who's there?
Interrupting Cow
Interrupting Co--

So here's the kicker. Later in the day we were talking about our favorites. I told her my favorite class when I was in grade school was gym.

She blurted out, "My favorite class is art class!"

"Oh yeah, why do you like art class?" I asked.

"Because we get to look at COLORS!" She raised her arms to the sky and twirled around.

"Isn't your art teacher the one who put in you in safety seat today?" I reminded her.

"Yes, but I still like her!" She said, arms still raised, still spinning.

Jesus and Politics; Or, I Don't Have Time to Volunteer and Therefore I Am Not a Libertarian

I am not a Christian but I really dig Jesus. What a kind soul. I pretty much follow his advice like I follow my PCOS low glycemic index diet, in other words, about 80% of the time. But I don't think a person has to join a church or subscribe to any certain religious dogma in order to be a kind soul.

One of my favorite quotes is from Jesus in Matthew 25:40 - "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." That is empathy. That is kindness. That is what I'm aiming for. I miss the mark, just as every human does, but I doubt if God, or Universe, or Nothingness, or Everything, or An Energy Field that Connects All Life is keeping score.

Plus, I'm not in it to win it. I love paying taxes to help impoverished children go to all day kindergarten, not because I think Jesus is up in Heaven making a check mark on my soul's score card, but because I love helping my fellow humans, especially the least of these. It makes me feel good. It's an altruism high. I like knowing that people need me, that I have something to give, to contribute, to make this world a better place. Just as I also like knowing I have a safety net to catch me when I fall.

Some of my Libertarian friends say, "We don't need the government deciding how my money is spent to help people. We can volunteer to help people ourselves."

But who has time for that, seriously? Plus, how can I help people who need it if I don't know them or if they live far from me? Or if I'm just caretakered out and want someone else to worry about it - here, have my damn money and you figure it out - I'm too exhausted taking care of my senior parents and young children to go read to illiterate children.

I've often said I would be a Libertarian if human beings would just take care of each other. But in reality, people don't. All kinds of people have babies that they can't take care of - sometimes because of their own mistakes, for example, in the heat of the moment not bothering to put on a condom. But I don't want their child to be uncared for because the parents were driven by their hormones to copulate and made a stupid mistake. We all make stupid mistakes. We're human.

But often it's much more complex than just "Oops, we forgot to wear a condom, great, now how are we going to support this kid on our minimum wage jobs?" Sometimes there are larger sociological and psychological reasons why people get pregnant and can't care for their kids well enough. Some sexual abuse survivors, some mentally ill people, and other people who have had traumatic experiences often put themselves into positions where they "give" their body to someone else and end up getting pregnant not because they want to but because they don't know how to take care of themselves, or they don't care enough about themselves to even care to.

Sometimes it's just bad luck. The parents make a decent wage, but their baby is born with a congenital heart disease which demands many costly operations that are unaffordable for one family to manage. It's not those parent's fault their kid has a bum heart. So we should help them pay for their baby's medical needs.

If we lived in a more tribal or communal society, we wouldn't have to give the government our money to pay to help these kids. We would just help them personally, in the way we see fit. And that's awesome. I wish that was reality. But it's not.

I've lived in my house for nearly six years and I just found out the name of the boy across the street from us yesterday when I was walking my kid to school. I have never spoken to my next door neighbor. I have no idea what his name is, what he does for a living, whatever. And this isn't because I'm a hermit or unfriendly. I've tried to make eye contact and wave at my neighbor, but he's always in a rush to get out of the isolation of his house and into his car, I assume to go to work. The kid whose name I just found out has apparently been taught about stranger danger because whenever I'd say hi to him he'd frown at me and ride his bike in the other direction. I guess yesterday when I saw him and said, "Hey neighbor, what's your name?" he figured after six years I'm probably not going to kidnap him. :)

My point, sorry, I'm a rambler, is that we don't know each other well enough to take care of each other. We shut ourselves inside our homes, no longer sit on the front porch and chat with our neighbors, and ignore everyone but our friends and family.

And trust me, sometimes family even ignores each other. I got kicked out of the house when I was eighteen. I struggled, but I survived. I'm at an advantage though. I'm smart and kind and have many kind friends, so I got by ok. And I was dating a woman at the time, so I didn't have to worry about birth control. Just drama.

But let's say I was dating a man. I somehow still managed to get myself to Planned Parenthood (which is government funded) and get birth control even though I only made $4.25 (in the early 90s) an hour, but then I got an infection and the public health department doctor gave me some antibiotics to take and she's so rushed with other patients she forgot to tell me that antibiotics make birth control pills ineffective. So when I get knocked up, the guy who knocks me up takes off. I only make minimum wage, so it's difficult for me to find an apartment, feed my child and myself, pay for daycare, etc. And I can't rely on my family because I was kicked out of the house. And I don't know our neighbors.

You know what I think Jesus would have done? Not Fred Phelps' Jesus, but my Jesus? I think Jesus would pass a basket around town, asking everyone to pitch in and help someone in need. What a socialist. Jesus would treat me like he treated the prostitute he saved from being stoned to death. Not by wearing a superhero's cape, although I love the mental image of that, but by challenging the would-be stone-throwers to "cast the first stone" if they were "without sin."

I'm not into sin. As a concept. I think people are basically apes with vocal chords and that humans don't have the copyright on God or morality. I think it's wrong to murder someone. Not because Moses told someone who told someone who told someone who told me that murder is a sin. I think it's wrong to murder someone because, I don't know, uh, I guess because I would never want to be murdered.

I don't cheat on Will, not because another human who has been ordained by the Church tells me I will burn in Hell if I do, but because I don't want to hurt my husband's feelings, and I don't want him to cheat on me.

So when people f*ck up, I don't label it a sin. I know some people do, and that's cool as long as you don't call me a sinner. I just think everyone makes mistakes sometimes, sometimes minor, sometimes major, and it's our responsibility as kind humans to try to find a way to stop making these mistakes, to make amends with whomever we've hurt, including ourselves, and to learn from the experience.

I don't think frightening people into believing they're going to burn for eternity in Hell encourages people to live morally. It might scare them away. Or it might narrow their mind so they think everyone should live according to their personal beliefs. But I don't see how it can help someone learn why it's important not to make the mistake they made so they learn not to do it again.

But since Jesus is not physically around to help me, although one could argue that Jesus resides inside anyone who digs kindness, if I were that knocked up young woman, you know what I would have done? I would have walked my ass to SRS and applied for food stamps and section 8 housing and free lunches for my kid at school and medicaid so my kid can stay healthy. Not because I'm a lazy slob living off of other's hard work. Because I'm a caring mother who wants a good life for my child. Because, damn, what else can I do in this imperfect society run by imperfect humans living in an imperfect world?

So we have this imperfect system of pooling our money together for social services simply to make sure it gets done. It's both practical and humane.

Trust me. I wish I could be a Libertarian. I'd love it if we all lived in closely-knit communities where we could help each other in the ways we see fit instead of being dictated to by people who don't know us. But we don't. That's why I'm a socialist democrat. In our country, it's the least objectionable way to make sure "the least of these brothers and sisters of mine" are getting the same blessings of a good life as I am.