Sunday, July 15, 2018

the officer in charge

We said goodbye to OC yesterday. I knew him for sixteen of his seventeen years, which is longer than I’ve known anyone else in this house. He lived with me in three places prior to this one. He was the last of the pets who knew my mom.


Once, we assigned jobs to our cats. Ferdinand was a DJ and Temecula was getting her PhD in neuroscience; her dissertation was titled Why Do Some Cats Talk So Much? OC was Some Cats. His job was town crier.

OC had a lot to say, and he believed that all human hands should be petting him at all times. B and I met him when, in a cage full of cats at a rescue event, he wriggled his orange nose under our extended hands. He was persistent to the point of being annoying, and endearing in his lack of guile. I could learn a thing or two from him.

He was always beta to Ferdinand’s alpha, although Ferd backed off once OC got sick; I think cats know. But he was strong as a chimpanzee, as I learned the one time I tried to give him a bath, and up until a week or so before he died, even when he was just bones wearing a fur coat, he was scaling fences.



I could never pet him as much as he wanted, but he never held it against me. When Dash came along, he was the only one of our three cats not to cut and run when he saw a small human ball of energy and hands and mouth hurling toward him.

Dash adored OC and, as in any sibling relationship, was sometimes heart-meltingly sweet and sometimes hit him for no apparent reason. Since learning OC was sick way back in the fall—kidney failure, which the vet later re-diagnosed as possible lymphoma; I resisted diagnostic rabbit holes, which is a thing I’m not strong enough to do for myself and the humans in my life—I’ve wondered how to talk to Dash about OC’s death.

Dash knows my sister’s cat died, and that my mom died before he could meet her. He’s confused about whether my mom died at the vet, and whether that’s where everyone dies. After many, many conversations, he now understands that DYING is different from DIVING, because dying is when your body stops working and diving is when you jump in the water. I just hope we never know anyone who leaves this world via diving accident. You know, for multiple reasons.


We talked about how OC was very old and very sick and would probably die soon. And also about how some cats/people are old and healthy, and a lot of cats/people get sick and then better. I asked Dash how we could show OC we loved him.

 “Maybe a video?” he said, but it was a little unclear whether he wanted to make one or watch one.

I thought of a bunch of rituals we could do, but in the end time got away from us, as it does. In the end, I gave OC some tuna and sat with him on the kitchen floor and petted him and cried while Dash told us “Don’t be sad!” and AK and I told him it was okay to be sad, that we could be sad for a little while and still take care of Dash. He ran around the house and I made a video by myself, of OC licking my breakfast bowl, until my phone ran out of storage.

That’s how it goes. You do your thing until you run out of storage.

There were still many hours before our appointment at the vet, and I took Dash to the Summer Train Festival at Union Station. The specter of 2:30 pm hovered over all of it, and the crowded train station and Dash’s delight at all the miniature landscapes with model trains was extra fun and poignant.


I recently read a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank, in which she writes about how her mother always finds solace in the fact that they’re not on the “trains heading east.” Anne observes that this doesn’t seem like a good place to fix one’s hope, because what if you’re on the train heading east? She prefers instead to look at the immovable sky.

It’s brilliant and true, but I know I am Anne’s mom in this story, appreciating my life especially in the wake of death and sadness.

We were waiting for the Gold Line when Dash announced he had to go potty, so we trekked back to the bathroom. Then he wanted to look at the fish tank and the fountain, and I stopped delighting and started resenting him for taking time away from my last hours with OC, which was unfair, because how many times had I thrown OC off the bed just because I didn’t want him sitting on my hair? I’d had my time.

I hate the feeling of not having space for things; I hate how frequently both happiness and sadness get squeezed out of my days to make room for obligations of all varieties.

Before T-Mec died, we scheduled a vet who did euthanasia house calls. Physical space is so important to cats; it seemed like one last kind thing we could do. But with OC, we hauled him into the car and drove to Lincoln Heights. Because it was the easiest thing. I cut so many corners these days. I’m sorry, OC.

Dr. Bandele was as kind as he’s always been, to OC and to us. Once he asked if OC stood for Officer in Charge (I’m not sure where Dr. B is from; I decided Nigeria at some point based loosely on his accent and the fact that I like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I also like Dr. B). The first time he saw OC step out of his carrier he said, “Oh, a blond!” Today he said, “It’s hard when they’re still eating.”


And I wondered again if it really was the right time. I don’t believe in killing an animal too soon, just to prevent my own suffering in watching them suffer. But also he had a torn cornea that Dr. B thought was causing him pain, and he seemed to get a little more tired every day, searching fruitlessly for the thing that might make him feel better. Standing in the dishwasher? No. Sitting in the cupboard where we keep the dishtowels? No.

It felt like a shrug of a decision. Why this day? Why not this day? Sometimes I feel like life is one big shrug. We love hard and we hurt each other. Things are beautiful and frustrating and terrible and dumb and silly. And then we call it. Now or later. And then we go on to whatever’s next. I think something is next, although I’m not telling that to Dash, because the concept of an afterlife is pretty confusing for someone who regularly asks if he can invite Moana to his house.

Holly, Joel, and Wendell stopped by with little succulent a beautiful, simple book about death that doesn’t assume any particular religious beliefs. Dash was a jerk about sharing his fire truck. They left and we watched The Incredibles and I put out just two bowls of cat food.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

nerding out with a hundred beautiful nerds

This week I’m at 826’s national Staff Development Conference, a welcome breath after many days of worky work. It’s been a pleasant roller coaster ride of inspiring speeches, helpful workshops, information overwhelm, and good chats with universally awesome coworkers. Topped with a sprinkling of my own white fragility because I like to swing between wild fear that the government is coming for my little queer family and unproductive worry that I Am The Problem. Blah blah blah. But I know this: 826 is the right place for me. That’s a good feeling.

Anyway, one of my favorite parts was when poet Nate Marshall asked us to write a variation on Idris Goodwin’s “A Preface.” I riffed on my one true identity.

Nerd on consent.
My parents were nerds
which is to say they studied hard and delayed
gratification
or their gratification was in sacrifice
but also knowledge.
They are not to be confused
with academics,
because they went to state schools.
They are not to be confused
with tech geeks,
because it was the ‘50s.
My dad’s eventual career
with lasers didn’t exist
when he started college.
He wanted to be rich
and maybe today he’d invent an app
but in the ‘80s he invested
in real estate which in the ‘80s was
a thing a middle class person could do.
They weren’t fan-kid nerds
because they were lonely.
I’m a nerd
which is to say in middle school
I made lists of ways to become popular
and failed.
I have never been quiet, although
I will always be shy
and clouded with doubt.
I wear glasses. I am a striver.
I will leave you with this moment
from The Last Days of Disco:
Josh: I love the idea that there’d be all these great places
for people to go dancing
after the terrible social wasteland of our college years.
Tom: You’ve been to a lot of discos?
Josh: No. In fact, practically none.
For me, law school wasn’t easy
and I haven’t had much of a social life
since coming to the City, either.
But, I still consider myself a loyal adherent
to the disco movement.

Friday, June 22, 2018

trigger warning for anyone not wearing an "i really don't care" jacket

All week, I've had a tightness in my chest and stomach. I tried to breathe like that chiropractor taught me in 2011, a year that was essentially a slow-motion panic attack. I thought it was about work, which has been a little bit intense. I felt frustrated with myself for letting something so banal--something that on balance is a positive in my life--get to me on such a visceral level.

Then, yesterday, I had a great day at work, chatting with our spirited new intern and leading a writing prompt for our Summer Writers' Workshop. During my nightly plummet into social media, I soaked per usual in the day's headlines and outrage, and my stomach clenched again. It finally dawned on me.


On Tuesday night, Dash woke up around 3 am, and I dragged him into bed with AK and me. He promptly fell back asleep while I tossed and turned and chased the blue light of my phone for hours. I kept thinking about what everyone not wearing a jacket announcing their lack of empathy is thinking about. Then I fell asleep and dreamed I was driving to the border to do...what? I didn't know. On my dream-drive, I fell asleep at the wheel and woke up on the 5 South, terrified and guilty and amazed I'd only caused a traffic backup and not a crash.

So yeah, I think that situation is causing me some anxiety. Poor me! I'm so anxious about a thing that is mostly theoretical to me! But hey, this is my blog and it's where I work my shit out, so here goes.


My friend Wendy is a writer on Bob's Burgers who is in the process of fost-adopting two little boys. She raised a shitload of money for childhood cancer research and wrote this piece a couple of years before #MeToo, and she regularly trolls our troll of a president on Twitter in ways that are cutting and sincere and hilarious. Clearly I want to be her when I grow up. She tweeted:

My husband & I have cared for a child old enough to know when he was separated by DCFS but too young to talk. When he first arrived, he’d scream all night. One of the only ways to calm him was to take him outside to look at the moon. These poor babies have no one to hold them.


Baron Vaughn tweeted:

Creating a large population of children traumatized by a country dividing them from their parents couldn’t possibly backfire.

If you've spent five seconds in DCFS circles or reentry circles or you've talked to your therapist about attachment and trauma, you know where this is going. You know that American greed is creating, among other things, a massive public health crisis. Gang membership numbers peaked in the '90s and have dipped since, but mark my words, we're going to see a spike for a number of reasons in another ten years.


But this isn't about public health or my under-informed predictions.

Here's what I posted in the small adoption FB group I'm part of. (In the fall, I quit the one I was in for years after a fallout with two MAGA moms over, guess what, immigration.)

Like most people with a heart, I've been having nightmares about family separation at the border. But do any of you feel like being an adoptive parent brings an extra layer of...something? I just keep thinking of what a huge trigger these headlines must be for birth parents. I know there's a difference - all the difference - between voluntarily and lovingly placing a child and having your kid kidnapped by ICE, but....

If I and every parent I know, including bio moms who never miscarried or pined for a child, feel gut-busting panic about the possibility of being separated from our children--if we feel like the things that are most true in our lives are subject to review at any moment--how do people who've actually been separated from their children, for any reason, feel?


The replies to my post helped me clarify my fear/outrage and its corollaries. One mom noted that lots of adoption boards are overflowing with comments about "How do we foster or adopt these babies?" As my friend Sarah said, "You don't! They have families who desperately want to be with them!"

I flashed on the days when I wanted a child so bad I had kidnapping fantasies. I even wrote a short story about it, because writing is a healthy alternative to kidnapping. (Try it, ICE!) I admit--and it brings me deep shame to do so--that the feeling of "Hey cute kid, I wish I could take you home with me" was stronger when I saw babies and small children of color. As if they were somehow more available for the taking.


The taking of children of color, and the erasure of their parents, is nothing new in America. That thought I had was the legacy of slavery, end stop. Even in relatively politically neutral circles of Head Start, etc., the stuff we can all more or less agree on, I sometimes sense an undercurrent of "Kids are okay because they haven't yet embodied the fallout of all the shit that society has piled upon them. But grownups with their messy problems and cultural differences, ugh."

I think there's some of that going on right now. We want parents to be with their kids, but I want us to want it not just for the kids--but for the parents. The ones who did something right and necessary by getting their families out of shitty, colonialism-generated situations in their home countries, but who maybe also make mistakes or snap at their children or smoke cigarettes. All of that stuff is okay too. You don't have to be blameless to deserve basic human rights. There's a billboard around L.A. urging people to become foster parents, and it says: You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent. It speaks to me because for a long time I thought I did, and filling out a thousand forms to prove I was worthy didn't help matters.


I know this post is a fucking mess. I'm a bit of a fucking mess right now. Because I had a busy week at work and am thinking about some stuff I went through in 2011. Can you imagine what I'd be like if someone stole my kid this week?

Saturday, June 09, 2018

death of the author

1. PGSD

I spent the last couple of weeks preparing for 826LA’s big gala. My coworker Shawn—a woman whose superpower is asking people to do hard things in the most graceful, inspiring way, a skill I wish more powerful men would watch and learn—led the charge, but I was second in command. It was all sales and numbers and making multiple donor management databases talk to each other, none of which is my jam. Toward the end, I was working 12-hour days. Also not my jam. My eating habits tanked. My parenting was meh. I relied on AK for a lot and didn’t give much in return.

The night of the event, I worked registration in the role of “trouble shooter.” At Homeboy’s gala, if a name wasn’t on the list, I just sent that person down the line to the Lady With The Laptop. Now I was the Lady With The Laptop, which was mildly terrifying. I went in feeling rather proud of my meticulously devised and revised seating chart, and I finished in tears.

Being the Lady With The Laptop at a gala event is like carefully packing a U-Haul—everything is boxed and labeled, and maybe the last couple of boxes are sort of wonky, containing a spatula, a skirt, and some mail you grabbed on your way out.

Then you have to parallel park the U-Haul.

Then a giant flock of wealthy chickens descends upon you and begins to peck you in the face.

Don't mind me. Definitely not judging you. (Pic by Jehu Christian on Unsplash)
You realize that the two boxes you forgot to pack contain all your family heirlooms. The chickens are nice, but they have been sitting in traffic and would like to get a cocktail. You don’t want to parallel park this thing, and they don’t want to watch you. The door of the U-Haul falls open. You want to run away, but there is a U-Haul to repack. You throw random shoes and plates and hope for the best, feeling very conscious of the underpaid people who have to clean up your mess.

(This is a metaphor I’ve been honing over the past several days of reckoning with PGSD, or Post Gala Stress Disorder.)

I believe in miracles. (Pic by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash.)
But then something miraculous happened. Everyone went into the old downtown cathedral that was our event space. They ate and drank and listened to our students talk about the sacrifices their immigrant grandmothers made so they could go to Berkeley and Stanford. They gave generously, because wine and grandmothers. The room became more than the sum of its parts—more than my flawed databases, more than a celebrity’s name stamped on our invitations, more than the 400 chapbooks our beleaguered designer had to assemble the weekend before the event.

Miracles are made of the mundane. To me that doesn’t dull their luster; it enhances it. It’s humbling and comforting to see how we’re all just cogs in a machine, but if you’re fortunate enough to find the right machine, your grandson will go to college and your event will shimmer like a Los Angeles sunset.

2. sherlock holmes and roland barthes

Slate’s Decoder Ring had an amazing episode about Sherlock Holmes as historical epicenter of fan fiction. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the creators of the BBC’s Sherlock have felt both sharp edges of popularity’s sword, as fans create and demand alternate outcomes to their stories.

Although most of my books’ Amazon reviews are written by people I know, I still feel those guys. I love writing because it’s the one space where I have complete control. But I also know that control is a myth—not just because, to paraphrase the wise Michael Cunningham, I’ll never be able to successfully translate the ball of fire and passion in my head into words, but because readers project their own experiences and ideas onto whatever I write.

(Roland Barthes wrote all about this phenomenon in The Death of the Author, but podcasts about Sherlock Holmes are where I’m at these days.)

But what readers and viewers bring to a thing is also its magic—the other edge of the other edge of the sword. I used to love the moment in writing workshops when my classmates debated what one my characters might do, as if that person was real. I’d stitched a scarecrow, but they were making it dance. It was magic, alchemy, a glittering night in a cathedral.

3. reality, projection, and projection as reality

I never read anything by Anthony Bourdain; I knew him vaguely as a food guy who liked meat? I liked Kate Spade’s designs but couldn’t have told you that she sold her company ten years ago. But watching people in my feed react to their suicides has been touching and fascinating.

I don't know when that handbag is from, but I can tell you that's a 1957 Thunderbird. Thanks, Dad. (Credit: Patrick Jasin.)
Some people saw it as an opportunity to post suicide hotline numbers and remind friends they weren’t alone. (I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve been to places dark enough that I would definitely read those lovely posts and think: Yeah, but you don’t mean me. You mean your real friends. You’re probably cuddling your baby in one hand and writing your best-selling novel with the other, so of course you can be charitable toward me as I spiral into the abyss.)

Others have said, more or less: It’s not about mental health, it’s about a fast-paced, fragmented society that is rampant with cruelty.

Even in their deaths, these creators became projection screens.

My own projections were most in keeping with those of Molly, a writer who maintains a brutally, beautifully honest blog about living with stage IV breast cancer. Her diagnosis makes certain questions more immediate, but we’ll all face them eventually: What will I leave behind? Does what I leave behind matter more than what I do while I’m here? Is there a point in process without product? Is there a point in product if you don’t enjoy the process?

Who said Only connect? Because yeah, that. But I still want to publish another book before I die. I still want to be famous, even as I see how hollow fame is.

I’m spending most of the weekend at my dad’s house, trying to catch my breath from a fast-paced, fragmented life (albeit one rampant with kindness). I’m going to try—again—to dive back into the memoir that I believe in and don’t, which I enjoy writing and avoid writing. This post has been my warm-up. This has, too, been the real thing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

our night selves

Artist Minna Dubin started making #MomLists as a way to continue her artistic practice when time was fragmented but her parenting experience called out for documentation. She encourages others to make them too. 

Photo by Nong Vang / Unsplash
1. Our routine is already haphazard. You ate peanut butter crackers and a cookie for dinner. Can I even call it a routine? Or dinner?
2. Neither of us is good at this—the pivot from semi-solidity into liquid night.
3. Your other mom works late. We Facetime with her and you cry into the camera.
4. You shift again. We sing “The Scientist” (the Glee version). Your voice is sweet and I marvel that you already carry a tune better than I do.
5. Your bedtime babble: a pastiche of airplanes, police dogs, your school friends’ catch phrases.
6. The negotiation phase: You run to the living room for “one toy!” I eat the quesadilla you abandoned next to the bed.
7. Yes, we eat in bed.
8. You are distraught. It was your favorite “taco.” I make another one, but the tortilla crumbles like my will, and you want yellow cheese, not white.
9. Neither of us is good at this. You kick and howl and hit me in the face.
10. I text Mama: I’m a jerk who does not know how to put a child to bed. I shouldn’t have eaten that tortilla. She says: He’s three. I say: Am I one of those parents who, if my kid came out as gay in 1975, would sob “WHERE DID I GO WRONG?” like a martyr/narcissist?
11. When I was a kid I would stop my mom in the doorway after she kissed me goodnight. I lobbed the big questions like a slap: Am I normal? She always said yes; I always suspected appeasement.

Photo by Larm Rmah / Unsplash

12. Sleep comes. It is heavy, graceful, fickle.
13. My night self is an addict: for the blue light of my phone, the dopamine rush of its games, the thumb-flick of scrolling.
14. For handfuls of Goldfish crackers and time alone, off the clock for the first time since 6 am.
15. You half wake, angry about a handful of toy cars I put away. 
16. Our night selves suspect we are powerless—to the control of parents, the creep of disease, the threat of apocalypse. To dream demons.
17. Our night selves are not wrong.
18. Daylight always comes, but so does nightfall. I suppose it’s good that nature can find a rhythm, even as we fight it.
19. “The sun is up?” you say. During the night, you landed in our bed. My hand covers most of your chest.
20. We peer between the curtains. We see roofline and palm trees and sun.

Photo by Devin Avery / Unsplash


Friday, May 18, 2018

the girls i grew up with and the women of the year(s)

My predecessor at work just had a baby; this morning I did the math and realized that she must have been in her first trimester when she left to start a freelance career. Inexplicably (or totally explicably, if you have access to my therapist’s notes from the last eight years) this revelation filled me with rage, despite the fact that she has been nothing but generous to me, and I almost never see her.

When she departed, she left a 20-page, impeccably organized legacy document with links to relevant spreadsheets. When I spoke with her on the phone the day before her due date, she said she’d had her hospital bag packed since her second trimester. She’s that kind of person, the kind who makes a brilliant plan and sticks to it. My boss often gets wistful about the good old days of her, and that doesn’t help my feelings of inadequacy.

According to my messed-up brain, my predecessor is living a better version of my life, and I’m slopping along behind, splashing in the rainwater in her footprints. Therefore she is my new arch nemesis. (Sorry, Hillary Toomey.) Never mind the fact that, if my life had gone according to plan, I never would have met AK, let alone Dash. 

*

In one of the best storylines, New Becky plays a woman living a posh version of Old Becky's life.
I’ve been watching the new Roseanne. There, I said it. All of Emily Nussbaum’s beefs with theshow and its dog-whistle politics are dead-on. I do think there have been smart episodes about intergenerational childrearing debates, but I also know the real reason I am into it is because of Becky and Darlene. I grew up with them; the episode where Darlene got her period hit so close to home—I worried that having my period would make me bad at gymnastics and push me toward a sexuality I didn’t want to deal with—that I literally ran into the kitchen because I couldn’t handle the white hot shame of its truth.

Fewer Beckys, more scrunchies.
I—and maybe most people? But not everyone; not AK—have a deep need to See How People Turned Out. It’s not quite nostalgia, but it’s not unrelated to nostalgia, either. It’s the appeal of Fuller House, of which I also watched a couple of episodes. I know.

The new Roseanne killed off Mark, Becky’s high school boyfriend/husband, and Fuller House killed off DJ’s husband, leaving her available to rekindle a flirtation with her boring high school boyfriend Steve. Maybe it’s telling of the shows’ differences—in social class and commitment to reality—that the tragedy in Becky’s life has left her with commitment issues and a dead-end job, whereas DJ is left with three cute kids, a career as a veterinarian, and the opportunity to rejoin an idyllic home life. Even though, in both cases, I’m pretty sure the writers killed off the husbands for casting reasons.

Fuller House has also added one character of color; you can tell because she periodically points out that the Tanners are white. That is what POC do on TV--tell white characters they're white.
But in real life, spouses do die. And on some level, life has not gone as planned for Becky, Darlene, DJ, or Stephanie. Because if you look at twenty or thirty years of almost anyone’s life, things don’t go as planned. That’s the nature of life and plans; they are at odds with each other. But I happened to grow up during a long run in my parents’ lives where things went mostly according to plan, or at least they created a successful fa├žade of stability and meritocracy, even when my dad was lying awake at night worrying about money. So I am surprised over and over again.

*

I walked home from high school most days with Karen Hallett, a fellow JV cheerleader who was working on a novel in creative writing class about four high school friends who grow up together and then one of them gets AIDS. I never read her draft, but—no offense to Karen Hallett—I have my suspicions about its quality.

Still, there was something about this plotline that lodged in my brain, and even now, when I’m daydreaming story premises (which I don’t do as much as I used to because adulthood/bad phone habits/ugh), I tend to come up with stories about A Group Of High School Friends And How They All Turned Out—a mix of romance and tragedy, babies and alcoholism. These are not good novels. They are not my life’s work. But they are my default, and they have a sitcom quality that pulls in threads of both Full House and Roseanne.

Michelle is like, Get me out of this scrunchy-loving backwater.
The sitcom formula is to throw disparate personalities together and have them wildly insult each other with no real threat of change to the status quo. Twenty or thirty years later, the reboots admit that the status quo has changed, even as they try to recreate the feeling that it won’t. The originals are the plans we measure ourselves against; the reboots question—ever so mildly—whether that’s a good idea.

*

A few weeks ago, AK and I went to a luncheon celebrating Congresswoman Judy Chu’s Women of the Year, of whom our very own Suzie Abajian was one. There were plaques and photo ops and okay pastries. There were folding chairs and apologetic whispers from Suzie: “It’s like a graduation,” she said. “Really important and wonderful, but really long.”

It wasn’t, though. The Women of the Year had not only done vital and largely unsung things for their communities. They’d also all lived interesting and winding lives, from the Chinese immigrant housewife who became an advocate for children with disabilities after her daughter was born with Down Syndrome, to the woman who siphoned food from her job as a nutritionist to feed civil rights workers in the segregated South.

Suzie, an Armenian who came to the U.S. from Syria as a tween, has a PhD in education and regularly speaks truth to power in the friendliest way possible, which helped get her elected to the South Pasadena school board. She used her time on stage to speak out against the bombing of Syria, and in favor of education.

Collectively, they were a beautiful lesson in rolling with the punches and punching back in unexpected ways. They exemplified what happens when you allow that life is not a sitcom, but you don’t let it break you.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

someone needs to make my kid sit in a circle

Yesterday my friend Holly took a tour of Dash's preschool; she got a new job recently and needs to make a childcare change. She liked a lot of the same things that I like about the school, namely that teachers encourage play, meet kids where they're at developmentally, and take a constructive approach to discipline. But ultimately (and with more apology than was necessary) she said that it wasn't for them.

I had these as a kid. I remember chewing on Cookie Monster's eyeball.
Approximately 3% of me was like What?! It's a great school! Another 12% was like Uh-oh, maybe it's not a great school and I've been fooled for three years! But one of the factors on the "meh" side of Holly's pros and cons list was that the school has a fair amount of structured learning, i.e. lining up, sitting in a circle, and doing specific activities at specific times.

This might seem ironic, because I think of Holly and her husband Joel's parenting style as pretty structured. They cook at home and eat dinner together almost every night. They have a solid bedtime routine, after which W goes to sleep by himself in a dark room, usually no later than 7:30.

Last night was typically atypical at our house, meaning that Dash ate handfuls of grapes and goldfish crackers for "dinner" while he and I did a weird toddler exercise video from the '90s.

Maybe W needs a school where he can be a Wild Thing as a counterpoint to his orderly home life. And while there a few routines I would like to cement more firmly into our home life, I also kind of love the low-grade chaos of our household. If school for Dash is less like a cutting-edge fun-splosion of project-based forest learning and more like, well, school, then I can rest assured that someone in his life is teaching him to sit in a circle.

Circle time! White kids!
I texted Holly as much; I think we were both trying extra hard to value each other's parenting choices even when making different ones.

I am thinking right now about my senior year of high school, when I saw a row of four freshman girls walking down the hall and noticed that they all wore the same baggy corduroy pants and white V-neck T-shirts (because 1994). I was only a couple of years older than them, but I had friends who dressed like skater girls and friends who veered hip-hop. I was proud that we were mature enough to be friends despite listening to different radio stations.

This is not a revelation, but the older and more confident in my decisions I become, the less I need other people to mirror and validate them.

(That said, there's a particular brand of over-achieving helicopter parent who pushes my buttons, as do most upwardly mobile, unblemished specimens of humanity who have never had a nervous breakdown. They are not my people. Maybe someday I'll be mature enough to let them back in, but I'm not there yet.)

Rotary: not just a club that gives scholarships!
School is such a necessary supplement to home life. I know that parents decide to homeschool for all kinds of reasons--some excellent, some disturbing, IMO--but a through-line seems to be a desire to control the influences in their children's lives. I get the appeal--my default settings are to control everything--but I am so grateful that I have opted out of control on that front. It is nothing short of awesome that Dash's school is teaching him things I can't, things I'm too lazy to, and things it would never occur to me to teach him. If the price to pay is that they occasionally teach him something I dislike, well, I'll fight speech with speech, I suppose.

That is one part of Teacher Appreciation. The other part is the teachers themselves. I want to give a retroactive shout-out to Teacher Kelly, the lead teacher in the Infant Room when Dash was a baby. Fr. Greg always talked about the importance of receiving people, which I didn't understand for a long time. Like, just say a friendly hello? Isn't that kind of shallow? But for people who are still developing (or in the case of homies, rebuilding) attachment styles, there's no substitute for communicating You're important. I want you to be here. Kelly receives people like no one else I know, except maybe Fr. Greg. Her whole being exudes peace and warmth. She talks clearly and respectfully to each kid and lets them know she sees them. My friend Sawyer is sharing his Play-Doh with my friend Ari! 


Basically a Vespa for babies.
In a different universe, as many articles would be written about Kelly as about Fr. Greg. One day I heard Kelly chatting with another teacher; she mentioned something about expecting to braid someone's hair until midnight, despite working an opening shift the next day. "You know I go to work after work," Kelly told her coworker. She wasn't grouchy about it, but she probably should have been. In a different universe, we would pay preschool teachers a living wage.

I can't say that the other teachers at Dash's school have Kelly's beatific vibe, but they have qualities that make them Enough for Dash in the same way that I am (because lord knows I don't have anything beatific going on either). Yesenia taught babies to be independent with the calmest kind of sternness, while gossiping happily with parents (she's the main reason AK and I ever knew what was going on at the school).

The good old days when toys were made of tin and painted with lead.
His current teachers, Belva and Alfredo, are an enjoyable odd couple--an older East Coaster who gripes lovingly at the kids, and a chill Texas Millennial who told AK that he was going to redecorate the classroom to make it more bangin'.

I'm glad they're in Dash's life. I appreciate them truly; we pay them more than we can afford and much less than they need and deserve. I want to live in a different economic universe, but they help make our existing universe pretty bangin'.


P.S. I've been blogging a bit less here because I've been writing a monthly column for MUTHA. But I'll still blog here, my six loyal readers!