Sunday, December 16, 2012

This is a drill

Door locked, windows covered, lights off, students behind heavy desks.  This is only a drill, but it is hard not to think about the what-ifs at a time like this.  What if I couldn't get to the door in time?  What if the room next door was breached, leaving only the unlockable interior door?  What if the shooter took aim at the flimsy walls of our portable classroom?  What it...?

Many of the students are giggling, their seventh-grade hormones reacting to the forced proximity of other students.  They whisper, boredom growing as the drill drags on.  But afterwards, it's clear that some of them were thinking about the implications of a lockdown drill.  Do you think this will ever happen for real?  How would we know to go into lockdown?  How would we know when it's safe to come out again?

The image from the Newtown, CT, shootings that most sticks in my mind is of a line of students being shepherded through the parking lot by their teachers.  Fear and anguish are manifest on the children's faces; this is something no child should have to experience ever, let alone in a place dedicated to their nurturing.  But what I look at more is their teachers' expressions: set, determined, unwavering.  They are focused on the students and their safety.

I recognize this, although my experience did not end with the sudden absence of colleagues and children.  But I remember September 11th and the drive to make sure the students in my charge were ok and taken care of and kept safe.  I try to imagine maintaining the same presence with the sound of gunfire and the more immediate fear of mortality.  I can only hope that this will remain a drill and only a drill.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Mom by any other name

It’s been ages since I posted here, but I can’t pass up a Blogging for LGBT Families Day.

“Can I ask you a question?” started the secretary at my school one day.  We’re on friendly terms and have a shared interest in languages, so I expected it to be in that realm.  “It’s personal,” she continued, “and I’ll understand if you don’t want to.”

Huh, I thought, but I tend to be open with people, so she proceeded.

“What do your kids call you and A.?”

I relaxed and smiled.  For me, that’s neither prying nor too personal.  People who have the opportunity to spend time around my kids with me will hear the answer plainly enough.

A. and I worried about this initially and decided to go with Mama and Mommy, figuring that E. would pick up on this and follow our lead.  The problem was that we had trouble remembering which name we’d assigned each other.  In fact, I have no memory of whether I was Mama or Mommy.

That didn’t seem to faze E., who came up with his own solution.  Initially, I was mamamamamama.  Or, more accurately, that was how he requested a nursing session.  As he added words, this evolved and we soon noticed a consistent pattern in how he referred to each of us.  A. was Mama, I Mimi.  We say that he took the name Mommy, divided it into its two syllables and doubled them.  Those names have stuck and become part of the family vocabulary.

When J. came along, the assumption was that he would simply follow the pattern E. established.  And to some extent that’s true.  “Do you want Mama or Mimi?” we’ll ask and he tells us who should bathe him or put him down for a nap.  But, as is his way, he has added his own personal touch and shortened our names.  A. is MAWM and I am MEEM (after a period of mum-mum, when I was synonymous with my breasts).  Yes, the caps are necessary, as he tends to yell for us while running full tilt through the house.

I remember going through an evolution in what I called my own parents.  Mommy-->Mom, Daddy-->Dad.  My youngest sister would pull out the classic Mu-u-ther.  The exact term didn't matter (though the tone of that last one did); the meaning was always clear.  And so it goes in our house.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years later

"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
“No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
“Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered.  "They're trying to kill everyone."
“And what difference does that make?"
                                                                                    Catch-22, Joseph Heller

I started reading Catch-22 in September 2001.  If I took our copy off the shelf tonight, I expect I would find a bookmark about halfway through the novel, marking the spot I reached before bed on September 10, 2001.  I mentioned to one of my students a few weeks later that I hadn’t been able to pick the novel back up.  “But it’s so good,” he protested.  “That’s the problem,” I replied.

For a long time, airplanes didn’t fly over Washington, DC.  The airspace was eerily quiet.  An occasional military aircraft would come along, and everybody would stop and stare, confirming that it had a right to be there, that it wasn’t happening again.  A. and I still stop and watch after any airplane that seems to be too low, out of place, unexpected.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks, came the anthrax scare, and we wondered about the consequences of bringing in the mail.  Then tornadoes swept through the area, hitting a college campus near us; although clearly a phenomenon connected solely to the weather, it felt like Nature was joining in against us.  A year later, random sniper attacks had us wondering if we had found a new normal of life with fear and anxiety.

A few years later, I informed a class that I would be moving to Toronto “because it’s a safer place for my family.”  A student interpolated in a calm voice, “To avoid dirty bombs and terrorist attacks?”  In fact, the decision was based on Canada’s greater acceptance of same-sex families and the trend (at the time) of states moving in the opposite direction, but his reasoning made complete sense to his classmates.

A lot has already been said about this particular anniversary and even more will fill pages and airwaves tomorrow.  Most days I can think about political implications and how our world has changed.  But for now, this is more about gut emotion and sense memories.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

We are family, but we already knew that

It's June 1st again, which makes it "Blogging for LGBT Families" Day.  

As of last month, we are a family of four, at least in the eyes of our state.  A. is officially J.'s mother and we have the paperwork to prove it.  To be fair to our state, we were allowed to register J.'s birth with A.'s name as "Parent 2."  And we were up front about what we were doing.  Crossed out father on the state forms.  Attached a copy of our Canadian marriage license.  Had our attorney send a letter to the appropriate bureau.  Nonetheless, there's lots of advice floating around about having some sort of court decree to back up the birth certificate outside of the state that issued the birth certificate (e.g., this pdf at NCLR--it's for California, but the advice in the "Parenting" section applies generally).

Since we're in a different state than the one in which we completed E.'s adoption, there were differences in the procedure.  We waited a year so that we'd be able to follow the steps for a step-parent adoption (our state has a rule about the child living with the step-parent for at least a year first), instead of a more expensive and extremely invasive "stranger" adoption.  Even with all that, I had to meet with a social worker to present evidence that I understood that allowing A. to adopt J. creates a permanent relationship.  Something the judge reiterated.  I was good and simply responded, "I understand," instead of "That's kind of the point, isn't it?"

My in-laws were able to attend our hearing.  They were excited and a bit nervous, just like A. and me.  We knew this was supposed to be pro forma, but we couldn't help worrying something would go awry at the last minute.  After the fact, my mother-in-law made note of the anti-climax: "It doesn't change anything about the last fifteen months."  A. was not suddenly more of J.'s mother.  And as we noted to my in-laws, our main reason for going through this is to take care of the "what ifs"--those life-changing events we hope to avoid until the kids are adults with their own families and we've had many years of being doting grandparents.

I'm sure I've said this before--A. and I are thankful that we have the opportunity to provide a legal safety net for our family.  We understand the system enough to pursue this, we have enough money (or the ability to prioritize spending) to afford it, we are comfortable enough in our relationship to have the uncomfortable discussions about future possibilities.  But not everybody is in a position to do this, and their families shouldn't have to worry that an unfortunate event will further rip their family apart.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grad school blues, redux

Most of my reasons for wanting the PhD are superficial.  I've put so much time in.  I'm almost ABD and then "all" I'd have left is my dissertation.  I want to prove I'm smart enough to add those letters to my CV, compounded by the fact that there are so many PhDs in our town.

Then there are the reasons that carry a little more weight.  I would earn more as a teacher.  Not a lot more each year, but it would add up over the time I intend to spend in this profession.  And the one with the most heft--my dissertation idea continues to form and mature, and sometimes I wonder if its insistence on existing will ever let me go until it's written down.

But I should listen to my body too, right?  My back and shoulders are one giant knot of tension.  My left trapezius is in perpetual spasm.  I'm hunched over far too much.  And I can't deny that when I think of leaving this degree behind, an immediate sense of relief washes over me.  I think of the things I would do with this time--reading for pleasure, giving the dog more attention, turning my attention from the computer to my kids, doing more bookbinding, taming the accumulation of books and papers I don't particularly care for--and I'm happy.

I'm staring at a new set of revisions.  My initial impulse is to chuck it all, instead of another week or two of killing myself to get this all done so I can stay on track for my current set of deadlines.  It doesn't help that J. is fighting his second ear and sinus infection since getting ear-tubes and that the sleep deprivation continues unabated.  How different would all of this be if I'd had a decent night's sleep in the past two years?  I'm tempted to say that I should wait to make my decision on pushing ahead or throwing in the towel until I'm better rested, but when will that be?  Certainly not before I hit the next deadlines.  So I'm stuck making the call--dogged pursuit of knowledge for another year or take the time for myself now--with what limited cognitive functioning I currently have available.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Happy Birthday, J.

J. is turning one.  One year old.  It's been a year.

Say it however you want, it just sounds wrong.

My baby is one.  He's quickly leaving babyhood behind and working hard on becoming a toddler.

That he is his own person, not a little clone of me or E., has been made abundantly clear in the past twelve months.  Where E. was cautious, J. barrels ahead.  He has already chipped a tooth and is currently sporting an abraded chin, courtesy of a recent tumble.  While he is not yet walking without support, he does not display the same tentativeness that E. did.

We didn't babyproof a lot for E.  Sure, we started, but once we ran out of steam, we figured that we would just be attentive and then secure the areas to which E. was drawn.  And we waited.  He just didn't seem to think of getting into drawers and cabinets if their contents were not obvious.

We haven't babyproofed any significant amount in this house, but mostly because we're tired.  J. takes every opportunity to crawl into the kitchen, open drawers, pull up and try to reach things.  He wants to go head first down the single step between our living room and sun room.  He goes after my computer, coffee, recycling.  Kleenex are the coolest thing, and he will desperately try to grab one and stuff it in his mouth before I can get it away.

He continues to be a poor sleeper, waking every hour or two.  On good nights, the periods sleep stretch just a bit longer.  But his pediatrician has suggested that he may just not need a lot of sleep and, even if we can get him to sleep through the night, it is not likely to be as long as we would want.  I pretend she could be wrong, but I know she's got him figured out.

But then, when he's had the sleep he wants, he wakes up in the most glorious mood, smiling and giggling, reaching for us, pointing to where he wants to go.

And the pointing.  I have these moments when I say, "Oh, this is what is meant about pointing and joint attention."  J. still does not have any words that I would record as definitively his first, but he is a pretty clear communicator.  He points at what he wants and where to go.  He says a number of syllables that seem, in context, to have meaning.  Dis (this), dat (that), dug (duck or dog, depending on what's in front of him), mum-mum (me), mama (A.), da (yeah--apparently he's Russian).

J. gets super-excited every time he sees a microwave and something coming out of it.  He will try everything we put in front of him.  I believe that there's only one thing I'm seen him turn down completely after just one bite--lima beans.  (That's my boy!)  After E.'s picky palette, it's amazing to be able to pick a few things from my own meal and offer them to J., knowing he'll be happy to give it a try.  He may not be much of a sleeper, but I definitely got my good eater.

*   *   *   *   *

This afternoon, J. and I waited for E. to finish school.  He sat on my hip, supported by the sling.  He grabbed his jacket from me and covered his face.  "Where's J.?" I asked.  He dropped his hands, revealing his face and the biggest grin.

Happy Birthday, J.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two by two and three by three

E. is in the middle of another testing cycle at school.  There are three or four in a year.  I'm going to try to stay off the broader issue of standardized testing in our schools today.  Let's just say that as both an educator and a parent, I feel like there is WAY too much emphasis on test-taking.

Standardized testing does not "count" for E. until third grade.  Nonetheless, he began taking a version of the tests in kindergarten.  My impression is that they do this in part to provide teachers with a relative measure of students' achievement, but largely in order to get them acclimated to the testing process.

Much different than my experience in the days of yore, very few of these tests are done with pencil and paper.  For E. this is a good thing.  His motor skills are such that he might actually miss a number of questions based entirely on inaccurate filling of bubbles.  Instead, he just has to move the mouse and click his answer.  As a child of the computer generation, that is well within his ability.

When the standardized tests are completed on the computer, they tend to be adaptive, meaning that they difficulty of the questions is adjusted to your performance.  Get questions right, and the difficulty increases little by little; miss several and you go the other direction.

E. came home the other day and told us that there had been multiplication on his test.  3 x 100 was the first question.  And so he figured out how to multiply.  As far as I can tell, he surveyed the available answers, considered how one might figure out the question, and moved on from there.  He now knows how to multiply, figured several random facts I gave him--more of the basic-facts variety, but still requiring an understanding of the underlying concept.

I can't say I'm surprised by this.  I remember doing some math problems with him in a year or two ago when it was clear that he was close to using multiplication to figure out answers.  He just didn't realize that was what he was doing, didn't know the term 'multiplication' or its symbols.

Math is a second language for me.  It gives shape to my thoughts.  I love its order and do figures for fun.  When E. would come home last year, complaining about math, saying he hated it, I had to steel myself not to take it personally.  This year has been so much better for him in many ways, helped a lot by the fact that his current teacher is a math-science kind of person.  Even when E. has struggled with the occasional concept, he is much less resistant to working with me and, dare I say, we end up having fun and connecting over the lessons.  And when he tells me that he's figured out an advanced concept on his own, just because it was there in front of him, I can't help but say, "That's my son!"