Monday, April 30, 2012

Our 1/4 Mile

On Friday night, I got a text from my best friend Robyn. Her program, the Advocate Program at Crisis Services in Buffalo, NY was having a fundraiser and rally to bring awareness to gender relations and sexual violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes was going to be walking past our street on Saturday afternoon. She hooked me when she said the male participants wear heels for the mile.  I knew my girls would be amused. 

All morning, I kept referring to my mental note: Be at the corner at 1:00. We always run time down to fumes on the weekend. At 12:46, Princess Commando stood on the porch and shouted, "They’re already here!" I grabbed The Baby, charging to the corner- a chicken sandwich sloshing around in my stomach. When I saw the police escort- inching up the rear, my heart sank realizing we missed them. 

I am not a runner. My legs are too short, my bladder too weak. But, I wanted to find Robyn and give her a hug. I am so proud of the work that she does.

"Screw it," I said grabbing Princess Commado's hand. "Let's run!"

Princess in her slippery, wornout Crocs and me-in my flimsy, insensible shoes- The Baby's weight a hellfire in my biceps- ran down the sidewalk to see if we could find Robyn.

"There!" I pointed to a man standing head and shoulders above the rest. It was Robyn's husband Ehren with their 4 year old daughter straddling his shoulders. We wove into the crowd to join them.

"Where did you guys come from?" he asked surprised to see us. 

Panting and pointing behind me, "Wanted to cheer you on."

We had only planned on spectating as we had so many times before during events down this main thoroughfare. I felt awkward insinuating myself into the crowd. But, Ehren- along with Robyn's parents- encouraged us. And I was so happy that I did not give into the fear of peeing my pants. The pride at being a part of something greater than herself was evident on Princess Commando's face. She pointed out the handmade signs children her age carried, 'Speak Out,' 'Unite Against Violence,' 'It's time to practice consent.' She knew a little about the nature of Robyn’s work and understood the importance of solidarity. But she was most impressed with the men in heels. Not only were their shoes dazzling but they carried themselves with such grace, breezily gliding across the pavement. Every race, gender, age, sexual orientation moved in unison creating a warm current of awareness and hope down the avenue.

 For me, walking under the shelter of community- of confluence for the common good- refreshed the waters of my psyche. I have been in a jam of cloudy feelings, lost in my own head -figuring out where I want my writing and illustrating to go. In my hunger for answers- I had become self-centered. Despite not feeling grounded and at the same time too anchored to the ground, the fellowship I felt in my neighborhood this weekend inspired thoughtfulness toward others and renewed my faith in mankind.

We are better, we do better, we know better when we participate rather than spectate. Saturday’s impromptu engagement- a special moment shared with my girls, my best friend's family and hundreds of strangers- made me realize that for all of the moments I have been anxious around people, there are also moments of unexpected joy that come from communion with others. We did not Walk a Mile in Her Shoes- just a 1/4 mile. But at the end of it, I was able to wrap my arms around my amazing friend- grateful for those whose life work is to make the world a better place with each step and stride.

Click here for photos from the event taken by The Men's Group. There is a photo of me and the girls on the second page. See if you can spot us. I'm sure you'll recognize The Baby right away.

*From the Crisis Services website: 'Each year, an ever-increasing number of men, women and their families are joining Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®: The International Men's March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a fun opportunity for men to take a stand with women as allies, raise awareness, and rally the community to take action to prevent sexualized violence

Friday, April 27, 2012


This month New York State public school children in grades 3-8 completed high stakes standardized testing in English Language Arts and Math. In preparation for the exams, students are inundated with practice books containing information that is similar to that which will appear on their exams. While teachers are sympathetic to the amount of stress these tests induce, they also know how much weight is put on these single assessments to determine a student's academic fate within the structure of the school and the State of New York as well as the fate of his teacher and his school. And because they know this, teachers emphasize that it is important for students to do their best. These assessments put undue stress and pressure upon our students- the youngest are ages 8-9. They cannot wrap their heads around what it all means. They worry that if they don't soar above benchmark it indicates failure.

 Focus. Read carefully. Go slowly. Focus. Listen Carefully.Focus. Fill in the corresponding bubble on the bubble sheet with the correct answer. Focus, stop thinking about lunch. Make sure you use details from the passage to support your answer. Focus- you'll never make it to high school, little third grader, if you don't make benchmark. Focus. Make sure you explain thoroughly how you arrived at your answers. Focus! Don't make any mistakes! Benchmark is not enough! 

Someone should have told Pearson Education, the company hired by the New York State Department of Education, to Focus! when designing the material for our students' exams. The NY State Department of Education has a $32 million contract with Pearson to produce the New York State tests. So, I find it insane that this company made slipshod errors on the fourth and eighth grade reading and math exams and so far is being left off the hook for it.  One of the passages in the fourth grade reading test- involving a talking yam- had been used in test prep packages in NYC schools- giving those students an unfair advantage. There was also a ridiculous passage involving a talking pineapple (The Hare and the Pineapple) which was revoked from the eighth grade reading exam for its  perplexing questions and a nonsensical moral which read: Pineapples don't have sleeves. The fourth grade math exam had one question with two possible correct answers; while on the 8th grade math exam, one question did not have any right answers.

People make mistakes. Some people just get paid $32 million to do so. Moral: Kiwis don't have leotards.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I am also at Mamalode today. Click here to check it out.

I've lost things- my train of thought, my direction, a cat (who jumped out a bathroom window and ended up on a neighbor's garage roof), my keys (no, that was actually some gremlin's doing). All of it is frustrating- the act of recovering those items is time consuming- with an ending that is often disappointing. But the object which habitually gets lost in this house (due to the carelessness of others) and which causes me the most consternation is The Baby's sippy cup.

 We have 4 cups in rotation. After months of trying to develop a relationship with cups that didn't lie to me or my carpet ("Dang you! You promised that you were spill proof!"), I found a model who keeps its promises and whose aesthetics appeal to my artistic side (whimsical little fish and hummingbirds happily distract me while I am hand washing the dishes). But the stores we frequent do not always stock them- making each one in our possession ever more precious. This is why I have developed the habit of keeping tabs on our inventory after each cup has been loaned out to The Baby.

When I am solely in charge of her- I am attentive to the cup's location- usually within a ten toddler step radius. I know that though she doesn't mean to be- or perhaps she does- she is sneaky with the places that she sets her sippy down. I've found it in a coat pocket in the front hall, under bookshelves, below my desk in the recesses I shudder to explore, hidden in a box of  Kleenex. The urgency of my tracking is dependent on the liquid contents contained within. If it's water, no worry. If it's milk, find it in a hurry. Aside from a few undue moments of panic where I was reduced to forlorn tears- convinced the cup was lost for good- it always resurfaces in time for me to wash it out before it sets to festering.

I made that mistake once before when the boys were young and I was more reckless. I left them to wander the house with a cup. I let the cup out of my sight. I didn't find that cup for over a month. And when I did finally happen upon it-wedged between a wall and a chair, I naively unscrewed the top to discover a horror of puke smelling sludge wrought with fuzzy white and green growth. I vowed, my stomach lurching, to never allow myself to be so unmindful again.

There are times, however, when someone else has given the cup, someone else is 'watching' The Baby. Invariably, that is when a sippy goes missing. I return home and take inventory of my children  followed by an itemization of sippy cups to find that four people were here and not one of them recognized that we were short one sippy.

 I can't really blame them. They do not have maternal instincts which alert them when something is askew- when a cherished one is missing. They just shrug when I inquire about Sippy's whereabouts-mumbling very unhelpful information, 'It was here a minute ago.' My family also does not have a firm grasp on the concept of time. A minute could mean an hour or a few days. Doing my own math and knowing that the first 60 minutes are the most critical for recovery- I launch a search and rescue party.

'Leave no Kleenex box unturned!'  My family also does not know how to find things. They still have not mastered the idea that some times you need to shift one object out of the way to find the thing you are looking for- a pair of soccer socks might actually be in the laundry basket under a t-shirt, the container of lemonade might actually be obscured by a gallon of milk for example.

Realizing that they are not going to be of any use, I break my own rigid rule: never wake a sleeping baby. She is always ready to jump at the opportunity to help. 'Do you know where your sippy cup is, Baby?'

'Sure,' she answers confidently taking me by the hand to her toy basket. 'In there,' she says pointing down. Sure enough it is there hidden underneath her stuffed animals and baby dolls.

"Good one, Baby," I say and we high five.

I examine the cup, swirling it's contents around and I notice that the color is off.  This isn't the cup of milk The Mr. had given her while I was out. This is juice. Juice from 5 days ago! I deflate at the realization that I had let a sippy out of my sight, that The Baby really is that sneaky about the places she chooses to set her  cup down and my maternal instincts are crap.

Friday, April 20, 2012

passing through

Princess Commando bounded into the dining room as I was setting the table for dinner. 
'Mom! The butterflies are so beautiful. There are hundreds of them in the trees!' She had that look upon her face- brush strokes warmly, softly suggesting that she had been illuminated, her spirit bathed in grace.

But, I was too enmeshed in my moment- the dinner boiling over, The Baby demanding 'Green Juice!' (a store bought concoction of green vegetables and fruits), The Dog scratching the paint off the back door to be let inside, the realization that we did not have any clean forks. Her words barely registered and all I could come back with was a thoughtless pin prick to her iridescent bubble, "Butterflies? They were probably moths."

She shrugged, "Well, they are pretty moths then."

The following day I strapped The Baby into her stroller and took her for a walk in our neighborhood. To distract her from trying to escape, I told her that we were on the hunt for animals. 'Let me know if you see any squirrels or cats.' 

'There's a bird,' she announced pointing to a plump robin hopping in the grass. 

'Yes, that is a robin,' I certified. 'See his red belly?'

'A butterfly,' she reported. 'Yes,' I confirmed. 'That is a butterfly.'

A few steps later, 'A butterfly!'

Another few steps, 'Another butterfly! And, there's one! And, another one! So many butterflies'

Princess Commando was right about her discovery the evening before. There they were- in the trees above us. There they were airily dancing on the sidewalk before us- daintily lighting on a blade of grass, a blossom, a tender twig. We could feel the flutter of their wings whisper past as they traced tiny S's around us. Hundreds of butterflies- flashes of red-orange then black. Ethereal bodies coming in and out of focus. The Baby giggled. It was enchanting.

A warm front had blown in these tiny out-of-towners from the South.  Red Admiral butterflies had not been spotted here in over 15 years. And, now, here they were magically transforming the landscape with the delicate rise and fall of their passage. Little beacons of light enlivened places in the garden of my marrow where the weeds had stifled new shoots from efflorescing.

I wished I had paused what I was doing when Princess Commando's spirit had been so clearly moved the night before. I wished I had not put so much weight in my obligations at that moment. It was not just the fragile beat of gossamer wings I was dismissing. It was the radiance of a soul's awakening in a dearest face- that I let slip through my fingers-which reminded me once again of the fragile and beautiful passage of childhood. Dinner can boil over, dirty forks can remain soiled, The Dog can claw the paint off of the door; and, the world will most likely not end. But unexpected moments of breathtaking beauty are ephemeral. Flashes of red-orange, then black evaporating before our eyes.

Monday, April 16, 2012

back to the old routine

It is always difficult to return to school on that first Monday morning after a long recess.

I would like to think that Princess Commando would volunteer to take her little sister's place as tribute if there should ever be a reaping.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

cheetahs sometimes prosper

For more in this series see here and here. And, for the record, Princess Commando wants to make it clear that she could outrun her little sister or a cheetah any day.

Monday, April 2, 2012

hot stick

Language development of two year old humans is truly something to marvel at. Just last month I fretted that The Baby would never reach the point where I could reason with her. And now suddenly she is able to bargain with me- "I not scream at the store if you give me gummy fruit snacks." She is a sponge- absorbing vocabulary and dialogue at a rapid pace and using it in the proper context. She is insatiably curious- wanting to know the proper name for each and every object, place, human that comes into her line of vision- repeating the name out loud, with pride, to make it stick in her memory.

 But, my favorite part of  language acquisition is the words she does not quite process correctly. There are a few that are sweeter or more humorous than others, but by far my favorite came out of a conversation The Baby had with Princess Commando last week. The Baby was looking over Princess Commando's shoulder while she was reading her National Geographic magazine. "What's that?" The Baby asked, pointing to the canine creature on the page. "That's a coyote," Princess Commando answered. "Oh, yeah, COYDOODIE! Yay!" The Baby repeated, dancing in victory at the acquisition of a new word. My immature inclination to giggle at bathroom humor, a gene I inherited from my father and have now passed down to my own children, keeps me from trying too hard to correct her now.

In the back of my mind- I do harbor a little concern as reversing or swapping out one sound for another is an early sign of Central Auditory Processing Disorder. We did not know this when First Born Son consistently mispronounced words- swapping them for a similarly sounding word or phrase. Prior to his diagnosis in 6th grade, it caused undue difficulty in school. But, it also left us with some memorable lines. In 1st grade he announced that he wanted to marry a lovely little girl in his class. When we asked him why, he answered with dreamy eyes, "Because she is a hot stick." He meant, of course, hot chick. It probably should have been more concerning that at 6 years old he knew the term hot chick and that he was already objectifying the female sex- rather than worrying over his swapping sounds to create a new phrase.

We have a few more years before we can know for certain if all of her ear infections and chronic fluid has caused damage to The Baby's auditory nerves. Until then, coyotes will be coydoodies. And we'll still immaturely laugh about it.