Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today at Vassar

Today Vassar College was picketed by Westboro Baptist Church. A few weeks ago, someone in the extended Vassar community found out that WBC was planning this protest, and wheels went into motion.

I graduated from Vassar in 1996 and I have to say that I am really proud to be a part of the Vassar community today.

Instead of confronting WBC, Vassar decided to work even harder at being a place where everyone feels included. Instead of denouncing WBC, Vassar decided to work even harder at being a place that WBC would hate. Instead of fighting against hate disguised as religion, Vassar embraced inclusiveness and rationality.

You may not know that when Vassar was founded in 1861, it was not widely believed that women could handle a regimen of physical exercise combined with intellectual learning, or even that women should have higher education at all. Matthew Vassar created a women's college that became an elite institution, respected for educational rigor throughout the country and around the world. Although he was criticized (if women studied and exercised at the same time, their ovaries would shrivel) Matthew Vassar enabled generations of women to receive a higher education.

In the 1960's, Vassar became known as a liberal institution. In the 70's and 80's after going co-ed, Vassar became a haven for gays and lesbians and a place known for embracing the individuality of students who might not fit into the mainstream. When I took a tour of Vassar, I was told that Vassar students' unofficial motto was, "We will not tolerate intolerance." When I was there, it was more like, "Everyone at Vassar is a freak."

And that made it an amazing place to live. In high school I got away with being different by becoming a Drama Freak. So when I wore purple overalls and was too dramatic and carried a moose hat hanging from my purse, it was just part of my persona. But at Vassar, I could wear a coat made from fake fur with a panda print on it and just be me. And most importantly, I could be smart. At Vassar, being smart isn't weird. Wanting to do your homework doesn't make you a dork. And you can always find people who want to discuss the book you're reading, or the paper you're writing, or the news, or whether or not money should exist.

So I owe a great deal of who I am to the time I spent at Vassar, and the friends I met there. And I am really proud to be a part of the Vassar community, today and every day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Rapture Has Started

Two of my co-workers disappeared today.

We were supposed to have a meeting at 12:30. Everyone else was there waiting, but we couldn't find two people. Maria tried calling them, but we found their cell phones and jackets near their desks. They hadn't said anything when they left their office, which they share with a third co-worker who was at the meeting.

For a while, I was convinced that the Rapture had started. Really, there was no other logical explanation.

Until they came back with sandwiches.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What if Teachers had the money to do anything they wanted?

Over the past two weeks, This American Life has been airing one of the most moving stories I've ever heard on that show. And that's saying something. I strongly encourage you to listen to Harper High School, Part 1 and Harper High School, Part 2 if you haven't already.

The stories from Harper High School are about gangs, guns, and being a teenager, but what moved me to write today is a piece at the end of the second hour in which the Principal of Harper High talks about what she would do if she won the lottery. She talks for four and a half minutes about things she would buy for the kids at the school--little things, like coats for kids who don't have them, and bigger things, like support staff for the school or houses where homeless kids could stay and be safe.

And this got me thinking: what if, instead of putting all our effort into getting rid of bad Teachers and bribing them with merit pay, we just give the money to the good Teachers? What if we said to the best Teacher in each school, "Here's $10,000. Do whatever you want with it." What would happen then?

Of course, people would get all touchy about unregulated government funds, but couldn't we make a Teacher Committee out of, say, five of the best Teachers in a school, and give the money that would have been used for Merit Pay to them to spend in the school? Or have Teachers write grant applications for things they want to do in the school?

When I think about a school like Harper, where some kids don't get home to shower, change and eat before coming to school, I wonder what would happen to test scores if every Teacher had a fridge with milk and a box of cereal in her classroom. What if kids could get a shower and a clean uniform if they got to school 30 minutes early? Or just if they needed it?

And most painfully, next year Harper High will only be able to afford a part-time Social Worker next year. That's what Chicago Teachers were striking about, if you recall. Most of the kids in the school have witnessed at least one shooting, and the city thinks they can get by with ONE PART-TIME Social Worker? That's insane. How can anyone expect learning to go on in any productive way in a school where hundreds of traumatized kids are trying to co-exist and there's nobody with the professional expertise to help them? What does a kid do if his best friend is killed on a day when the Social Worker isn't there?

Those are just the things someone who hasn't taught in a city school would think of. I taught in a New York City school for a year and a half. If someone had given me $10k back then, the first things I would have bought were paper and a working copier. The school provided me with two reams of paper for the year. After that, I had to buy my own or rely on donations from parents. No paper, no copies. And everyone was always making copies with only 25 sheets in the copier, so it was always jammed. After that, I would have bought pre-sharpened pencils by the gross because the kids were always losing theirs. And then I would have bought a bed for the student who told me that he wanted a bed for Christmas because he was still sleeping in a toddler bed, even though he was in fourth grade and about 5 feet tall.

I know the hot thing now is the idea that Merit Pay will make all Teachers work harder. But if we've got the money, how about first making sure all the kids are eating, then making sure there are support staff in every school, then getting Teachers the supplies they need. The money that's left over can go to Merit Pay.

Monday, February 25, 2013

If I ran the world

Today after school I took Boo to get some boxes, and then I packed up some books while she did her homework. After that, she really wanted to get some work done on the move, so I told her we could move the contents of the closets.

We worked for a solid hour or more and got all three closets emptied, cleaned and the contents swapped to their new locations.

After that, we had a half hour or so before dinner, so I continued teaching Boo to play cribbage, which we had started last night.

If I ran the world, Boo's homework for this week would be planning and executing the move and learning to play cribbage. She'd be practicing responsibility, organization, hard work, planning, strategic thinking, math and social skills. Output could include a list of ways to make 15 and 31 from the cards in a deck (necessary for scoring in cribbage), written plans for the move, and pictures of the completed rooms.

Oh, and a win/loss chart for the games she played over the week. That would be a way for the teachers to count how much time she spent on her homework, and she'd enjoy it since nine-year-olds are really into winning and losing.

But we can't have kids spending their time that way. How would we write the tests?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Big Plans

I mentioned in this post that Boo wanted to move rooms from the room she has slept in since she was a baby to the room we're currently using as an office. Well, we're getting close to the move date, if Hopper follows through on his plans to pack up the file cabinet this week, and I'm getting excited.

The room we're currently using as an office (we'll call it the white room) is one of the reasons I wanted to buy our house. It's got two closets flanking a window at one end, and two built-ins flanking the window at the other end. If I were a kid, it's the room I would want for myself. Boo's room (we'll call it the pink room) is bigger, closer to our bedroom, and square, which is why it's been a good bedroom for her until now. It has more space to play in than the white room, but that's what will make it a really nice family room.

Now that we have a second TV, we can put it in the pink room and with the futon that's currently in the white room, it will be a nice place to sit and watch if the living room is occupied, or if Boo wants to watch a movie with a friend. We should also have room to put some kind of desk in there which will make it a nice place for Boo to do her homework, or Hopper to do grading when he has a lot of papers he needs to spread out.

Hopefully, next weekend will be the time. And if Hopper doesn't do the file cabinet, I'll be able to shame him on the interwebz. In the spirit of fair-play, I'm also going to publicly commit to picking up a few more boxes tomorrow and finish packing up the brown bookshelves before Saturday.

One more note for those keeping score--I've now exercised four days in a row!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

First World Problems

The phone rings, and it's my mom.

"Would you like a TV for your anniversary?"

Mom's been trying to come up with an anniversary gift since our anniversary a month and a half ago. Every week or so I get an e-mail suggesting something, and I keep forgetting to run the ideas by Hopper, so nothing moves forward. But this time, I promised to ask Hopper as soon as he got home, and I did.

Hopper, being a film buff, was excited about finally having a widescreen TV (our previous TV is eleven years old and looks like a Borg Cube) so I agreed. This afternoon, my parents arrived with a 32" TV, and Hopper set it up, only to find that it didn't have connectors for the DVD player or the Wii.

Well, that would not do. We don't have cable, and we mostly watch Netflix and DVDs, so that TV was more or less useless to us.

Somehow when we went back to the store we came back with a bigger TV.  Because, aspect ratios being what they are, a 32" widescreen would result in us watching Star Trek at a size smaller than we were used to, and that just seemed silly.

So now, just like everyone else, we have a giant flat-screen TV in our living room.

Don't get me wrong--I really appreciate the gift and Hopper has been wanting one for a long time. I do see the appeal of having a beautiful TV. (Okay, I'm starting to love it.) But I was feeling so smug about having an old TV. It made me feel like I was just a little bit better than everyone else who feels compelled to buy new things, or who has two TVs in the house. Here I was, with my one TV and it was eleven years old! I'm not one of those people who gets rid of things just because they're not the latest thing. I keep things as long as they work, and make do.

Shut up about the three laptops in the room. I have a VCR and I use it!

Well, we are planning to keep the old TV--it will go upstairs, either in our room or the new office that we will be setting up because Boo wants to move out of her room and into the old office.  So we're not going to be adding to the landfill. And we did get the most energy-efficient TV we could find.

But it's a bit of an identity shift for me nonetheless.

Who's coming over for movie night?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Day Two

Today I did muscle building exercises on the Wii Fit. I always find that the hardest thing about starting an exercise program, aside from the self-loathing and regret at the reminder that I stopped my last exercise program quite a long time ago and am now dealing with the consequences, is finding the balance between not enough and too much.

The last time I did these exercises, I knew what my body could do, and it was considerably more than my body can do right now. I haven't lost faith--with hard work, I can get my body back to where it was or even stronger than it was--but I have lost muscle mass. I don't know what my body can do right now, and not knowing that leaves me at risk for injury. There's the potential to push too hard and hurt myself, and even a muscle pull at this stage of the game can stop my good intentions in their tracks.

On the other hand, the entire previous paragraph might just be an excuse to go easy on myself, to cut corners and be lazy. It's really easy to fool oneself with exercise. A little bit of work is not going to counter the pizza I had for dinner tonight. Doing a few minutes of work and then lying on the couch for the rest of the day is not going to do anything positive for my heart or my pants size. And fooling yourself can have the opposite effect because we allow ourselves treats when we feel like we've been good.

So I need to find that sweet spot where I've pushed my body as far as it can go today, knowing that next week or next month it will be able to do more, if I keep working. And keeping in mind that sometimes less is more, but something is always better than nothing.

I've taken two steps down the road to a healthier body. I just have to keep on going.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Start

What with all the holidays, my anniversary, Hopper's birthday (three times), Valentine's Day and vacation, I'm growing out of my clothes. Since I hate clothes shopping and giving up chocolate is not an option, I decided a few days ago that I really need to start exercising.

Today, I did it. I was going to walk Wonderdog while Boo was out with a friend, but it's really cold out, so I sent Hopper out into the cold, put my Dancing on Broadway game into the Wii, and did ten dances.

Now I'm sore, but I have that nice feeling inside, like my heart is saying, "Yaay!" And now I can lie on the couch with the cat on my chest without any guilt, because I did about forty-five minutes of aerobic exercise today.

Of course, the trick is to do it again tomorrow. I usually, find, though, that the first week of exercise is pretty rewarding--my body tends to respond by tightening everything up so I see immediate results in the first week. But after that first week, I generally don't see anything change at all until my metabolism shifts, which takes me about three months to accomplish. That third month is a bitch.

But for now, I can enjoy being sore and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Anyway--it's a start.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


We just understood each other. We both liked to go fast. Neither of us was conventional. But we enjoyed each other's company and communicated without words.

The other girls said that Daisy was a dumb name for a pony. They called her a cow. And yeah, she was small and brown and had a wide blaze down her face. 

But she was the fastest pony on the farm, and Royal, who led the herd, liked to follow her around. Royal would be following Daisy, and all the other horses would be following Royal wherever Daisy went. There was something about her.

Because she was small, Daisy could canter behind a larger horse who was trotting, or even walking, so she did. If you let her go on the road, she could beat all the ponies and most of the horses. Royal was probably faster, although I never raced him. He once took off while our counselor was riding him--just took the bit in his mouth and ran--and he was fast. When I wanted her to run, I would rise up into a half-seat and Daisy would GO. 

After the trail, I would take off her saddle and bridle and wash her down with cool water and then we'd walk. We were supposed to walk our horses until they were cool so they wouldn't get sick from drinking water while hot. Most girls walked their horses around in circles near the barn, but Daisy and I preferred to walk down the road. If I walked her to Wheelock's and back she was always cool. I didn't have to hold her lead rope, even. I just slung it over her neck and Daisy walked beside me and I would talk to her or sing to her or think long thoughts as we walked down the road in the New Hampshire summer.

We just understood each other. 

Monday, February 18, 2013


Tonight I saw Harvey Fierstein in a diner in Newtown, CT.

I really can't make up anything better than that.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


When I was in third grade we bought an Afghan Hound puppy. She was adorable--black, little and sweet.

Of course, the grooming of an Afghan Hound is an impossible task, so we always kept ours cut short. And Afghan Hounds are dumb as a box of rocks--it took her three years to learn house training.

I thought they were called Afghan Hounds because they look kind of like blankets. The only afghans I had ever heard of were the ones my grandmother crocheted. So that was the first time I learned about Afghanistan.

But still, whenever I hear someone refer to the people of Afghanistan as "Afghans," I think of blankets.

Could everyone please say, "Afghani?"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day

I'm not good with surprises. Recently I found out that this is because of my temperament. Part of my temperament is something called "Negative First Reaction," which means that when plans change, I don't like it, even if the change is something that otherwise would be good. So I'll say no first. Every time.

I'm not very girly. Never have been. In some ways I am--I like taking care of people and animals, I dance, and (now) I knit. But I don't style my hair or wear makeup and I don't like typically girly gifts like jewelry and flowers. Actually, I hate cut flowers. To me, it's like killing something and then giving it to me so that I can watch it die. I don't mind flowers if they're a gift from a new acquaintance who has come over for dinner, but as a sign of love they're just awful.

I HATE pressure. I can't stand being expected to do something. I always want to do the opposite, and then I feel like I'm only doing the opposite because I was pressured and that's just reacting to pressure which is no better than giving in to pressure. You can imagine what middle school and high school were like for me as a result.

And putting these three facts about me together, you can anticipate how I feel about Valentine's Day.

I've never had a good one. That's not true. In tenth grade I got a pink carnation from the boy I liked and he asked me out. That was pretty awesome, even if it was the start of the most disastrous relationship of my life. But I enjoyed Valentine's Day. But since then: no good ones.

Sometimes I was sad because I was single. There were mitigating circumstances sometimes--once in my twenties I went out to dinner with a bunch of girlfriends and that was fun, but I still felt like a pathetic singleton.

Other times, there was too much pressure. Freshman year of college I spent the day with my boyfriend. I felt like everything had to be perfect--after all, it was Valentine's Day, and we were the perfect couple--and it wasn't and I felt like a failure.

Then there were the times when I was in a less than perfect relationship and Valentine's Day made that abundantly clear.

I spent one Valentine's Day weekend at a funeral.

Finally, I tried ignoring the day completely, but then I felt left out of everything and that made it even worse.

So now, Hopper and I have a deal. He gives me something chocolate that I love (this year it was dark chocolate-covered pretzels) and then we say nothing more about it. It's just the right amount of attention for me: I'm not left out of things, but there's no pressure. And nothing girly.

I did get a pink, heart-covered card this year, but it was from Boo, and it says "Mom is cool" on the back. Boo also told me that she worked hard on it and she's really proud of it. THAT kind of attention I can enjoy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Every month I go to a meeting at Planned Parenthood. It's part of my job. I work on a research project that deals with People Living with HIV/AIDS, and I have to report monthly to the Ryan White Part A Steering Committee, who funds our study. The Committee has its meetings at a Planned Parenthood office because it is centrally located and has a nice meeting room that is big enough.

Today, for the first time, there were abortion protesters outside.

The first time I went to a meeting at Planned Parenthood I wondered whether I would see protesters, but it's been a year and I'd never seen any, so it was a bit surprising. I wasn't scared because there were only a few of them and because of the way the building is situated, they can't come near the door. Mostly, they looked pathetic, standing on the other side of a snow bank holding their signs.

Signs that said, "Choose adoption, not abortion."

That made me mad. I was tempted to approach the protesters and ask them not to protest in my name. But then I started thinking about the birthmothers I've known and I realized how really stupid that sign is.

Anti-choice people like to bring out women who were traumatized by abortion all the time, but they never talk about birthmothers.

In adoption, we speak of the triad. Every adoption consists of three parties: the child, the birthparent(s) and the adoptive parent(s). The general public (adoption protesters included) likes to think of the pretty part of the triad: the happy adoptive parents raising the grateful child. When people do think of the birthparents (which isn't often) they like to think of them as unlucky teens who get a fresh start now that they are absolved of parenting responsibilities. Sometimes we talk about adult adoptees who search for their biological families and face mystery or rejection or bad news, but we don't worry about them too much because after all, they've got parents.

When we were in process with Boo (that's an adoption term: "in process." It means we were going through the process of adoption) I was very active on an online support group for adoption. This support group was for people in all parts of the triad, and although there wasn't a whole lot of mixing, I got to know a few birthmothers. Now, I realize that these were birthmothers who chose to join an online support group, so they aren't a representative sample of all birthmothers, but I'm not trying to generalize. Many women choose adoption and go on to live happy, productive lives. Most probably think about their children from time to time (or every day) and wonder how they are, and where they are, and feel sad as we all do about people who are no longer in our lives, but are able to resolve their feelings and move on in a healthy way.

But some do not. Some birthmothers feel a connection to the children they have placed for adoption that is overwhelming. When I was active on this website, one birthmother killed herself because her child's adoptive parents would not let her see the child even though they had a written agreement that said their adoption would be open and she would have a relationship with the child.

She died. Not from complications during her pregnancy (which can happen) or domestic violence (which happens to pregnant women too) or poverty (which happens all too often.) She died because she chose adoption and she couldn't handle the reality of it. And because the law does not give birth parents any rights. Even with a written adoption agreement, this woman had no legal recourse when her child's parents decided to change the rules.

So when I see people suggesting that adoption is a good alternative to abortion, I think, "Maybe. For some." I don't know if the woman I knew would still be alive if she had chosen abortion. There's no way to know. But every time I think about abortion rights, I imagine myself making my own choice. I can't imagine having an abortion. I can't imagine placing a child for adoption. If raising a child was not an option (as it wasn't say, when I was a teenager) then I would find myself in an impossible place with three terrible options. I would have to choose one of those options, though, and live with that choice.

That's why I can't stand these people blithely suggesting that they know which choice is better. A triad is a complicated place to live, and shouldn't be entered lightly. All three corners can be painful at times. So stay out of women's bodies and women's choices and leave adoption out of your argument.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sexism and Judaism

Today in Jerusalem, ten women were arrested for wearing tallit at the Kotel (prayer shawls at the Western Wall.) I'm not a personal fan of wearing a tallis. It just doesn't work for me. But the notion that there is a god who cares whether or not women wear them offends me anyway.

I feel like the men who made this law and the men who reported these women and the men who arrested these women didn't have parents who said to them, "Worry about yourself!" Because that's how prayer should be. You want to pray at the Wall? Fine. Go ahead. You want to wear a shawl and a hat? Go crazy. But why are you looking at the women on the other side of the divider? That divider is there so you won't be distracted by lustful thoughts while you're praying. Instead, you're looking at the women to make sure they're not praying the same way you are, because if they do that, God will get mad.


How can you believe in a god like that and still feel like life is worth living? If your god cares more about what someone is wearing while they pray than how that person conducts her life, you need to find another god. If your god is offended because women want to observe more laws than they have to, because women are doing the same kind of work you are doing to become closer to the same god you are allegedly worshipping, there is a problem, and it's not the women.

Rules like that--rules that say this person can pray and that person cannot--are proof that your religion was written by people. People have an interest in raising one group over another. Men have benefited from this arrangement, where men get to pray and study and women raise children and earn money to support the family, for centuries.

Behavior like this, that divides one group of Jews from another, just serves to weaken us all. We look worse to the International Community, we look foolish to anyone who can think logically, and you lose support from the millions of progressive Jews who live around the world.

All so you can keep your little corner to yourselves.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A warning to college profs from a high school teacher

From The Answer Sheet:

"In many cases, students would arrive in our high school without having had meaningful social studies instruction, because even in states that tested social studies or science, the tests did not count for “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind. With test scores serving as the primary if not the sole measure of student performance and, increasingly, teacher evaluation, anything not being tested was given short shrift.
Further, most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays. Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure. Thus, students arriving in our high school lacked experience and knowledge about how to do the kinds of writing that are expected at higher levels of education.
Recognizing this, those of us in public schools do what we can to work on those higher-order skills, but we are limited. Remember, high schools also have tests—No Child Left Behind and its progeny (such as Race to the Top) require testing at least once in high school in reading and math. In Maryland, where I taught, those tests were the state’s High School Assessments in tenth-grade English and algebra (which some of our more gifted pupils had taken as early as eighth grade). High schools are also forced to focus on preparing students for tests, and that leads to a narrowing of what we can accomplish in our classrooms."
Go read the whole thing.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


When I was a kid we had a big storm that resulted in a foot or more of snow. My parents were shoveling our front walk and our driveway while my brother and I played in the snow. Mom and Dad had created two huge mounds of snow near the street, and Brother got the idea to tunnel through it to make a shelter we could crawl into. We built a fence in front of it too.

I was terrified to go inside the shelter--afraid that the whole mound of snow (which I remember as being taller than my dad) would collapse on me while I was inside. I can't remember whether I got up the courage to go inside or not.

The tunnel Brother dug was big enough for Dad to go inside--I remember him being in there.

I also stood on top of the mound. I remember the thrill of being up high and looking down at my parents while they worked at their shoveling.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What's wrong with Pavel now?

So our friend Pavel is claiming that adoption is an American plot to take the oil from Siberia. This is not really a surprise--well, the level of crazy is, but not the intent behind it--because Astakhov has been vehemently against intercountry adoption his entire career. But I'm gratified to hear that he may not succeed.

Some of the American families who were in process when the ban was enacted have filed suit in the European Court of Human Rights. I heard a rumor today that the local courts in St. Petersburg have removed all of the children previously referred to American families from the list of children available for adoption. If that is true, and if other regions follow suit, then Pavel's plan to place all of the children with Russian families will at least have to be put on hold.

I really do wonder what the Russian government is hoping to achieve with this law. Perhaps they just feel ashamed that Russia has so many children available for adoption. Maybe they are living with a Cold War mentality, and the idea that Americans can offer a better life to these children just galls them.

Honestly, I hope that there is some explanation that involves corruption or manipulation, because if they really believe the garbage they are spouting, then they are insane.

I never added up the cost of our adoption because I don't want to think about it. As far as I'm concerned, we had the money, it's gone now, and the important thing is that Boo is part of our family. The money we've spent on Boo since her arrival would I'm sure come to an astounding total, were I to add it up. Just from a financial perspective, the notion that we could have adopted Boo for any reason other than parenting her is fundamentally nonsensical. And that's just the financial perspective.

Of course I am insulted by Astakhov's accusations. I'm also afraid that Boo will hear them and have to process that information--no child should hear accusations like that. But mostly I find it shocking that an adult who is in a position of power could spout utter nonsense like that and keep his job.

We're not immune--we have birthers and the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. But for us, that's part of diversity. In the Russian government, being crazy seems to be part of the dictatorship.

Hopefully, the European Court of Human Rights will come to a decision swiftly and Russia will abide by it. At least the local courts seem to be on the side of the children. Hopefully the central government will come around.

My thoughts are with all the families and especially the children who are stuck because of this outrageous law.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

No post today...

I started to write about this article, but it's making me too upset and I'm tired and I can't make sense of it. I'll write more tomorrow.

Goodnight, internet.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The best dialogue from my dream last night

Me: That guy keeps staring at my cleavage.

Friend: Just call him "sir" and ignore him.

Me: Well, I'm sure not going to call him "Mister Speaker!"

[Yes, the "guy" in question was Newt Gingrich, who is properly addressed as "Mr. Gingrich," "Senator Gingrich" or "Senator." There is only one Speaker of the House at a time, and he is not currently it, therefore calling him "Mister Speaker" is technically offensive.]

Even in my dreams, my etiquette is geeky.

And Senator Gingrich is creepy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I may be on to something

I'm working on a big knitting project right now--the biggest I've attempted yet. I've also given myself a short deadline for completion, for reasons. So I have to knit at least 20 rows per day, with 130 stitches on each row.

That doesn't leave a whole lot of time for writing, I'm afraid. But it is rather satisfying to see something so large emerging from my needles. It isn't perfect--I'm using cotton yarn and it's unraveling a bit, and I have at least two little holes where my stitches don't match up--but on the whole, it's starting to look like what it is supposed to be. Some time tomorrow I'll get to change colors, too, and I imagine that will be satisfying, as well.

I have always found a certain sense of satisfaction in repetitive activities, especially those that produce something at the end. The most satisfying are the kind where you have a pile of pieces at the beginning, and a completed project at the end, like stuffing envelopes or folding laundry.

Don't get me wrong--this isn't how I want to spend all of my time--but I do find such tasks satisfying and sometimes it's a kind of satisfaction that I need. It's especially comforting when I'm overwhelmed or frustrated by more complex tasks to do something simple and repetitive with visible results.

So I guess it's not altogether surprising to find that I enjoy knitting, which is the process of turning balls of yarn into useful objects. I've often spent time while watching TV doing something else with my hands--playing solitaire, surfing the internet, playing video games--and knitting is superior to those occupations because in addition to occupying my hands and taking up nervous energy, it produces something. Often something beautiful.

This may go on for a while.

Monday, February 4, 2013

You may be teaching, but they're not learning

People are forever saying that homework teaches kids to be responsible, or to manage responsibility.

Well, yesterday I asked my students what the word "responsibility" means. They said, "Something you need to do." So I asked them to list their responsibilities. Here's what they said:

Taking out the garbage and recycling
Walking the dog
Caring for a pet
Setting the table
Washing the dishes
Brushing your teeth
Cleaning my room
Picking up after myself
Not leaving my things lying around until my mother says she's going to throw it out if I don't put it away

Notice anything missing? I've been teaching this lesson for seven years, and not ONCE has a kid said homework unless I prompted them.

Not. Once.

Clearly my students ARE learning a sense of responsibility. They have heard the word enough to know what it means, and they associate it with real responsibilities that they have. But they don't associate that with homework. They're learning responsibility from chores around the house, from having pets, and from living with other people. They're not learning it from doing worksheets.

Here's my idea of homework that would actually teach something useful. Together, teacher and child set a goal. Then the child has to meet that goal in the allotted time or explain why she didn't. That's it.

So let's say the child sets a goal to knit a scarf. She says she can do it in a week. At the end of the week, she either comes to school with a scarf, or she explains that she worked on her knitting for half an hour each day but she made a lot of mistakes and had to start over a number of times so she wasn't able to complete the scarf. Assuming that her parents can verify the effort, the teacher and child would then set a more reasonable goal for the next week based on the child's skill level.

Or maybe the child sets a different kind of goal: I'm going to ride my bike around the park 100 times. She'd have to figure out how many times she'd have to ride each day, and how to keep track of her laps, and how to document her effort. If it rained all week, then she'd have to figure out how to deal with that setback. Will she ask for an extension? Ride all 100 laps when the sun comes out? Make a different goal for the week?

The goal could also be associated with a learning topic: make a comic book about the Revolutionary War (or a video, or a painting, or a story, or sew a costume.) But that will only work if the child is able to use his strengths when home. The hard, uncomfortable, muscle-flexing work should be done at school where there is a professional to help. If a child needs extra practice, he should get extra practice at school when he has the time and energy to dedicate to learning. Home should be for recharging, for pursuing other interests, and for spending time with family. But if a child's interests can be channeled into teaching responsibility, then a child will feel validated and will learn.

This kind of homework would allow children to learn real world skills about time management, negotiation and problem solving while sharing strengths with their teachers and classmates. It would also help them integrate their interests into school, so that they don't feel like learning stops at the classroom door.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Online Friends

I have plenty of friends that I made the regular way--at school, at work, in the neighborhood, through Hopper, through Boo--but I also have online friends, and I'm old enough that I find this a bit odd.

There are two kinds of online friends. I have a few--readers of this blog, even--whom I've never met in person. That's the strangest, I think--people to whom I feel very close, although I have no real proof that they are who they say they are. But it's not what I want to write about today.

Today I'm writing about my Adoption Friends.

When we were in process (waiting for Boo) I became very active on a popular adoption chat-room that I won't name here because nobody I know likes it anymore. At some point, someone on the Russian Adoption board noticed that almost everyone commenting there was from New Jersey. A meet-up was scheduled, and four brave souls met at a mall (of course) for lunch and became fast friends. I thought that was way too weird, so I didn't go, but then they reported having a great time, and invited us all to another meet-up at Skiboo's house.

So I went.

It was a revelation to meet people involved in the same stressful, life-altering process I was going through. It was so relaxing to be able to talk about adoption without having to explain myself first. These people knew all the terms, how the process worked, and what it was like to have your life's dreams in someone else's hands. Also, I liked them.

And so, I kept going to meet-ups, and the meet-ups became baby showers, and birthday parties, and eventually moms' nights out and First Communions and Bat Mitzvahs. Now, I can't imagine life without these women (and their families) in my life, and somehow these strangers from the internet have become old friends with whom I've shared many of life's ups and downs: adoptions, marriage, deaths, natural disasters, emergencies, joblessness, families growing and shrinking.

These days we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like, but we still keep in touch on the internet, and when we do get together, it's the way old friends do--we pick up where we left off, and catch each other up on the trivial things or personal things that don't make it to Facebook. And then we have fun.

Friday, February 1, 2013


My first year of teaching I taught fourth grade in New York City. That means my kids had to take the big standardized tests (in those days, kids only took them in 4th, 8th and 12th grades.) The day before the test was to start, I found myself with a classroom full of verboten items like spelling words, charts and graphs. I had to cover them all with newspaper so the kids wouldn't have anything in the room that might help them.

Luckily, the teacher from the next room, Anthony, happened to walk by and see how much work I had to do. He came in and helped, and we got the job done quickly. So, being the decent sort, I offered to cook dinner for him and his girlfriend. 

After the tests were over, I suggested we set a date and I'd make them fondue. "But," I said, "we should have a couple more people. Fondue feeds 4-6, and there's no real way to alter the recipe." I figured he'd pick another teacher from our school, and if they had a partner, that would make five people, if they didn't, it would make four. But Anthony had other ideas.

"I'm an elementary school teacher," he said. "I don't meet many guys. How about inviting some guys who aren't teachers?"

Guys who aren't teachers? That was a tough one, but I was going to a friend's birthday party that night, and I had a number of male college friends. I was sure I'd figure out the right one or two that Anthony would like.

To my surprise, one of my friends brought his brother. I'd met the brother a few times before--we even spent a whole party talking to each other a few years before, but he'd never called me, so nothing ever came of it. Both my friend and his brother had girlfriends, so I could invite them to dinner without either of them jumping to uncomfortable conclusions. And although it would be a little bit weird having dinner with three couples, I thought I could handle it. 

So, when my friend and his brother offered to walk me to get a cab, I asked them if they liked fondue.

"Who doesn't like fondue?" They replied. And so it was set.

When I called to make arrangements, I found out that my friend's brother didn't have a girlfriend, and my friend couldn't make it because he had to go to a bachelor party. Okay, four people.

And the guy I had now spent two parties talking to didn't have a girlfriend.


The night of the dinner, I realized I was out of milk. So I called my friend's brother and asked if he'd pick some up for me. He agreed, and arrived early--with flowers.


Anthony called and said he and his girlfriend were running late, which left me making conversation with my friend's brother, whom my mother told me not to date because he had an unstable lifestyle--he worked in film. Having already dated and hated the lifestyle of a very nice musician, I agreed with my mother on this one. Creative people are great as friends, but I need stability in my life, so I wasn't going to date any more of them.

But I asked my friend's brother about his work anyway, because I figured he'd have some good stories. He did, but he didn't tell me any of them that day. Instead, he said, "Actually, I'm thinking of getting out of film. I want my life to be more stable. I think I'd like to be a teacher instead."


Anthony and his girlfriend showed up, and we had a delightful time eating fondue until she accidentally kicked him under the table and he thought it was time to leave. So there I was, alone with my friend's brother, who offered to stay and do the dishes.

My friend's brother's name? I don't like to use names here, so let's call him Hopper.