Friday, August 2, 2019

Evolving Truth

We visited Penn Charter the morning after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. It was late to be applying to school for 3 kids.  I’d had an epiphany that my manic attempts to improve my kids’ school were not going to make a difference on a timeline that made sense for our family. Perhaps the ebullient atmosphere of the entire city gave PC the advantage over its contender, but I maintain that visiting Fitz in the Choral Room clinched it for me. My beloved Aunt Mimi had passed the week before.  She had been my choir director at Andover and had gone on to head the music department at Exeter.  Fitz is a male replica of my Aunt. His response to John Zurcher’s introduction was, “It beats working.”  As we left our tour, the security guard in the parking lot told us that he’d come out of retirement as a Philly cop to put his daughter through PC and that it was the best place on Earth.  He would fit easily into a family photo of my father in law and his 13 siblings.  That security guard won Tim over.

My son is easy to mold, so swaying him towards PC was easy, but the girls had preferred the single-sex-school option. That school laid the charm on thick. My girls had magical days when they visited.  A week later they received hand-written thank-you notes signed in multi-colored markers by all of the girls in their respective classes.  There was a photograph on the back of the cards picturing my thrilled daughters arm-in-arm with the 7 of the beaming 2nd and 4th grade girls who had hosted them. Individualized letters from the admissions office listing the strengths of my children and how these will be nurtured and bloom at that school arrived sheathing shiny, stainless steel, logo-ed water bottles.  I mentioned this to John Zurcher on the phone. I could hear his eyes roll as he asked, “Do you need me to send SWAG???”  I didn’t need swag, but I did go to the PC website and gather a list of Quaker virtues that my girls were not displaying to explain in a comprehensive treatise why we’d chosen a Quaker school.  After a summer of whining and spewing exhaustive lists of all of the bad decisions I’d made in my life, my girls had to embrace the Quaker concept of evolving truth: they were going to PC.

I can be lackadaisical about things like “welcome e-mails” and summer reading lists.  I got whipped into shape by Heather Kaplan, my “welcome mom. “ She laid down the law.  After multiple attempts to reach me, she relayed 5 major points from a rest stop on her vacation:
  1. The fancy dress day comes fast, and your son will NEED A BELT.
  2. Get gym clothes
  3. Get your school supplies; the lists had already gone out
  4. Get a locker lock from the school; don’t get a lock at Home Depot; your kid will forget his/her combination. 
  5. Sync your phone up with the PC calendar.
I’ve thanked Heather in my head multiple times this year for number 5, and who knew it’d be that hard to find a belt for an 82-lb 7th grader? All of the parents I met at summer and fall meet and greets reacted to my blithe announcement that I was moving 3 kids to PC in September with reactions of perplexed surprise or gasps of horror and disbelief.  In hindsight, maybe it was rash to move all three, but I’d do it again.

My first flagrant PC-parenting fail came with my 7th grader before the school year even started.  He’s not an athlete, so he opted to do cross country as his fall sport.  Projecting my independent school athletics experiences onto PC and worrying about JP’s love of inertia and the ensuing effect on his cross country career, I forced him to run 2 miles with me 3 mornings a week during the month of August in preparation for the season. He wept after the first 250 yards, but I kept on him. By the time he was ready to start at PC he’d had enough running.  He quit cross country before he’d even started. (Well done, mom 🙄) He did co-ed water polo instead and loved it, so all is well that ends well.  I’d expected to see a token girl playing with a group of guys.  Instead I saw two, colossal female twins schooling any boy that crossed her path. JP announced with reverence that they “break the sound barrier” when they shoot the ball. I was pleased to see them break gender barriers as well.

I had chosen PC for its academics and its music department.  I’d not noticed that it is actually a super-sporty school.  The first “intramurals” day was a nightmare for JP.  He was put in the goal, let in countless goals, and was completely demoralized.  I was stung when one of my college friends suggested that I (a jock) felt comfortable at PC and wanted my kids there because it would have been perfect for me-not because it was perfect for them. I turned into a WRECK about having made the switch to PC.  By week 2,  I was convinced that JP was being bullied.  There was some sort of skirmish over a specific lunch table that often rendered JP eating alone.  Academically, he’d gleaned that if his math class was called, “advanced math,” then that meant there was a non-advanced option, and he was doing his best to achieve a demotion. I was also flummoxed that he was expected to attend sports but his free ride home would not be an option as he’d miss the bus every day.  However, he was not eligible for a free Septa pass.  (On principal, I marched my case to the school district and got him a Septa pass. I didn’t like the idea that kids who don’t have parents with the freedom to pick them up might miss out on things at. PC.  I still don’t, but I understand that PC’s hands are tied on this one.  A previous, manic-probably not unlike myself, PC mom worked to get the school a hazardous designation that forced the district to provide the yellow school buses, so now the school cannot give out Septa passes) In any event, I was terrified that I’d made a terrible mistake and that PC was class-blind and only good super-motivated jocks.

About a month into the school year, the 7th grade goes on a camping trip.  JP was put in a cabin with some of the feuding lunchroom posse.  It rained most of the week.  They had the cool counsellor, so they stayed up late and played poker all week.  Upon his return, I anxiously asked, “Were those guys in your cabin jerks?”  He responded “Yes!” My heart sank.  “Mom! I’m a jerk too.  All middle school boys are jerks!”  He actually said the words, “Mom, I misjudged those guys.”  He has since told me on multiple occasions that there is NO BULLYING at PC.  He is a tiny, unathletic, hearing-impaired, theater guy with pink hair; if he’s not getting bullied, I actually believe that no one is.  (He has also managed to get a “hiking in the Wissahickon” option with his artsy friends on Intramurals day. 🤓 )
I wept (with joy) multiple times at the MS Back to School night. My mom taught at a private school so my brother and I could go there for free.  Many of the PC teachers reminded me of the incredible teachers I was lucky enough to have.  Sr. Calvo had them listening to Spanish pop music and playing games involving super-heroes. Learning the culture is what makes the drudgery of memorizing the new, foreign words manageable.  (I can still sing Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” by heart because my effusive 7th grade French teacher insisted that we all learn it and eschew our pubescent self-consciousness to sing it out loud like drunks.)  It was clear to me after my 20 minutes of geography with Ms. Bateman that by Christmas JP would have a better handle on the nations/cultures in our world than I do.  (That’s not saying much, but still…) It blew my mind that the QUADs class was using a visual/conceptual art project to explain this year’s “evolving truth” idea. Mr. Skelly reminded us of the accessibility of the story of Romeo and Juliet in his brief, hilarious synopsis; it’s a perfect example of the explosive impulsivity that we are dealing with on a daily basis as we parent our 13 year olds.  The 20 minutes of math reminded me of the creativity involved in solving complex math problems and the satisfaction one can get from that process.  I’d forgotten.  It was such a pleasure to see a young, engaging female science teacher.  Perhaps her charisma will keep our girls from abandoning their interest in science as is still so common in teenage girls.  I have since attended a middle school morning assembly and was once again, blown away by the dearth of eye-rolling and the love, support and humor that these kids experience in middle school. 

My 5th grader was going to be the toughest nut for PC to crack.  She was the most livid that we’d ignored her desire to go to another school.  She was prepared to hate PC to spite me and to prove me wrong.  I’d been asked what would be a good fit for her in a teacher.  I’d responded that a male would be best, so Steel wouldn’t spend most of her energy mentally styling the teacher and giving her a makeover rather than listening to her.  She’d also had a few female teachers in the past that seemed to be closer to BFF’s than teachers; it had been fine, but I was hoping for something different at PC.  She not only got a male teacher; She got a male teacher with a CHINCHILLA.  That ball of fur whipped the spite right out of her.  Steel had felt a lot of “mean girl” stuff during her two days visiting PC.  It was one of the things that had put her off of the school.  The confidence and self-possession that the six new 5th grade girls displayed at the “new 5th grader orientation” assuaged a lot of my fears.  These girls were going to shake things up if they indeed, needed shaking.  I will never know whether the admissions office actively pursued a posse of powerhouse females for that grade, but considering how thoughtful PC is about things, it would not surprise me.

Steel was excited about her first PC writing assignment.  She was going to write about Marlee.  Marlee was her friend who had succumbed to brain cancer on a snow day in the middle of Steel’s 4th grade year.  Steel and her classmates had watched Marlee’s year-long demise.  It was excruciating as a parent to know the probable outcome of Marlee’s rare cancer and to listen to my daughter and her friends’ insistence that, “Marlee was strong, and she was going to fight.”  I hoped that Steel’s enthusiasm to write about Marlee meant that she was processing her death in a healthy way.  She was, but Steel broke down in the middle of a writing class and had to go to “the feelings teacher.”  I’m a potter.  I’d answered the ensuing phone call with dirty hands and a little trepidation.  Doesn’t everyone panic when they see “Penn Charter” on the caller ID?  Ms. Redick explained what had happened.  I was relieved that no one had died and was calmly discussing the situation when she asked me, “How are YOU handling Marlee’s death?”  No one had asked.  I unraveled into a gelatinous pile of parent.  We can be such myopic assessors a child’s strengths upon which to capitalize and weaknesses to surmount. PC embraces my children as individuals but also as members of families and a larger community.  Her question was so refreshing and kind.
The fifth grade at PC (now moving into 6th) is an impressive group of kids.  They are very theatrical; the poetry showcase demonstrated this so well.  It was amazing from the poetry to the beat percussion to the all-black attire and berets. I will probably remember some of those poems when I watch those kids graduate in 7 years.  I’ve volunteered on open house days, and those 5th graders proved to be knowledgable, confident tour guides as well.  With powerful, dramatic personalities comes dramatic situations.  I’ve been impressed with how the 5th grade team handles things.  More important, Steel has been impressed.  She admires the thoughtful and inclusive approaches of her teachers when kids have been profane, challenging or provocative.  The community of the 5th grade parents at PC is strong.  I’ve had candid conversations about some sticky issues.  Yes, there has been some inappropriate flying-off-the-handle to defend a child, but open, problem-solving conversations have been more common.  

My favorite part of Steel’s fifth grade experience is that she’s been challenged.  I know that comparing kids to each other and even thinking in terms of competition is a no-no, but my fifth grade girl is a competitive person; she comes by it honestly.  There is a specific boy who she feels bests her at almost everything.  She rages about it at home.  She was cursing this boy for his math, writing, social studies and athletic skills.  My youngest daughter was jumping on the bandwagon to attack this accomplished kid.  Toby said, “Is he kind of a jerk, too???”  To which Steel replied, “NO!  That’s what’s even MORE annoying!!!!  He’s one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met!”

My third child entered the 3rd grade last September.  When we received the name of her teacher, I did a search for her on Facebook.  She’s a tall Sagittarius who took and posted a TON of pictures at the flower show.  Basically Toby was going to have a version of her own mother as a 3rd grade teacher. That seemed fine with me. Will’s mom, Cindy was my first PC mom interaction.  Will had been a new kid in the 2nd grade.  When he heard that a boy named Toby was going to be coming in 3rd grade, he’d said to his mom, “I’m going to be so nice to Toby.  I know what it’s like to be a new kid.”  The first thing he said to his mom after his first day of school was, “Mom!  Toby is NOT A BOY!!!!!”  Nevertheless, Will has had my little girl’s back.  That incident and others have made me so happy the chose the co-ed option.  I want my kids to have good friends of both sexes before the craziness of hormones kicks in.  

We had our first parent-teacher conference with Ms. Hopkins, and she did prove to be a very similar person to me.  Sagittarius people often say the wrong thing in the name of honesty.  She told us that she’d retired from Green Street Friends School after 22 years, but that she’d been working at PC for 3 on year-long contracts that she’d renewed.  This was definitely going to be her LAST YEAR, though. That is not the thing a teacher should say to new parents who are stressing about paying for school.  The wonderful, energetic 3rd grade teacher at their old school flashed through my brain.  We could have had her for free, and now we were paying dearly for someone who has just told us she’s done with teaching??????  Fast forward to our next conference when Ms. Hopkins told us that she’s had such an amazing time with Toby’s class; she can’t possibly stop teaching.  What does a woman who has been teaching for 25 years have? (Duh! EXPERIENCE.)  Besides the fact that Ms. Hopkins “makes fractions fun” she has created a motley family out of that group of 15 kids.  Toby says they have jokes that are WHOLE CLASS jokes: all of them laugh together about the same thing.  Not only did she create community; she also embraced their individuality.  The wax museum project is such a highlight of 3rd grade at PC.  Toby was Sacajawea as was another girl.  It was so great to hear each Sacajawea give a completely different presentation.  My daughter could not have cared less about Sacajawea’s guiding the explorers out west. She latched onto the fact that Sacajawea was forced to marry and have children at such a young age. Toby was allowed by all of her teachers and librarians to pursue what interested her about her subject.  This seems like an insignificant no-brainer, but it’s not.  It’s the basis of a progressive education, and it works to keep kids motivated and engaged.

Toby’s dad, an architect, and I are trying to squelch the architect gene in our children. (Being an architect is a BRUTAL way to make a living.) PC is not doing us any favors in this architect redirection project. The desire to design and build keeps popping up in Toby, and she was paired with a daughter of TWO architects to design a playground in science out of (among other things) toilet paper rolls. “Motivated and engaged” are understatements;Toby was beside herself in Mr. Ford and Mr. Wade’s science class.  Unfortunately this gene also manifests in a predilection for nice homes and nice stuff.  Toby returned from her first PC playdate literally weeping.  “Why is her home so NICE?  Why is our home so DUMPY?”  Toby enlisted her sister in a group attack against Daddy with these queries.  He responded, “Well, you’re right, what are you guys going to do about it?” They organized kitchen drawers, scoured, and put out flowers. I returned home to a completely different kitchen.  It was fabulous.  This did not stop me from taking advantage of the PC outreach project that weekend.  We helped move homeless families from one church to another.  At the end of that project I asked the girls pointedly how their rooms in our dumpy house looked to them now.
We have some battles ahead.  Obviously screens are going to be a constant worry no matter where they go to school unless we Waldorf it.  Our son will always have trouble ignoring the temptation to ignore his teachers and surf the internet.  The privilege problem will be recurring.  I went to a PC mom pot luck that was far nicer than my own wedding.  There was valet parking, incredible flowers and gorgeous cocktails. I will never be able to match that, but it was lovely and kind.  In the face of this, my plea to the parents of the kids invited to my son’s birthday party was that they lower the bar set by the unbelievably generous Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties.  My daughter is now asking for brand name clothing.  When I asked for that sort of thing, my mom told me that of course she’d let me wear Ralph Lauren’s clothing…as soon as he called up and offered to pay me to be a billboard for him.  I have responded similarly to my fashionista and have gone further to say not only do I not want her to be a free advertisement for Brandy Melville, but also I don’t want her to be a walking endorsement for those vacuous values, in general.  (She is responding, as I did, by becoming an avid 2nd-hand shopper.)

The only upsetting thing about my love of PC is knowing every kid doesn’t have access to something like it.  I wholeheartedly believe that it isn’t the bells and whistles.  Yes, having two kids in the phenomenal all-school musical at the phenomenal Kurtz Center was a treat.  Yes I loved hearing my daughter gush about the satisfaction she felt hitting a field hockey ball squarely as she walked off of the gorgeous fields. Yes PC teachers have their attentions divided by 15 rather than 30, but the crux of the experience is not these things.  It is the community as a whole: students, parents, teachers, administration that creates this thoughtful, supportive and magical environment.  We were a part of the first two PC bike trains.  The organizers reached out to me because I show up for everything sweaty with a helmet on.  My three kids and I met the train of PC cyclists a block from our house and picked up other families on the way.  Now my kids understand why/how I commute by bike.  I am a potter.  I was able to teach a summer camp at PC using old wheels that have been sitting in the Middle School basement.  I had the support of Middle School teachers and the PC summer camps administration to get it going. Everyone from the Upper School Art department to the security guards to the to the maintenance guys who sorted out my electrical issues was inviting and helpful.  It was empowering to share clay with eight screen-obsessed kids and have them fall in love as I did.  The big-picture environment at PC made it easy to propose and do something new.  Education is the only thing that will arm us against the lies and propaganda surrounding climate-change, globalism and race that are so pervasive these days.  I chose PC because it has the most socio-economic diversity of any of the Philly private schools.  My hope is that our well-educated kids can figure out a way to bring this environment to every kid in our country.  

New School

It just shouldn't be that hard to get 3 kids to look at a camera. Now that Steel has her posse of fashionistas, they've all told her that the earrings she wore on the first day of school were "hideous."

I was going to helicopter in and tell JP's advisor that I thought he might be being bullied at Penn Charter.  In reality, JP is adjusting just fine, and I'm starting to wonder whether HE is instigating issues with "the jocks." He likes to see himself as a the main character in a "Diary of a Wimpy kid"-esque film.  In his kind, patient way; Tim told me to back off, and he was right.  Tim has handled this move to a private school much better than I have.  

Instead of running to the school, I wrote the following soliloquy from the point of view of my comedic son and e-mailed it to him one day.  I think it was therapeutic for both of us
So my 7th grade entry into Penn Charter was a little rocky.  First of all, there's the JP/PJ issue; both of us are new kids.  I'm JP. I'm an 80lb not-super-coordinated 7th grader who would rather sculpt with polymer clay or play video games than pretty much anything else.  PJ is a big, handsome athletic 7th grader.  He's been a water polo goalie for 4 years.  How is that possible?  Kids play water polo when they are in 3rd grade????  It turns out Penn Charter is a super jocky school. People have been confusing JP and PJ.  Everyone thinks that I'm PJ.  I think I get it.  JP is a pretty common, acceptable acronym.  PJ is short for pajamas, and I'm, well, short for EVERYTHING.  Pajamas is kind of a "little kid" word.  I don't know of too many adults who wear pajamas.  My parents don't.  I actually wish they would, but that's another story.  I used to have this great pair of Lightening McQueen pajamas; I wore the hell out of those.  I'll bet they'd still fit me now.  Anyway perhaps my classmates look and me and think "pajamas." which makes them think that I'm PJ and he's JP.
At Penn Charter there's this thing called "intramurals."   It's everyone's favorite day because we get out of the classroom and run around doing sports all day.  It's my idea of hell.  So they put ME in the soccer goal.  I lost count after I let in 5 goals. It was demoralizing.  Memo to my fellow 7th graders: On our next "intramurals" day.  Put PJ in the goal and ask JP to do something like fill the water bottles. I'll crush that.
I wonder what PJ stands for.  Is it Patrick?  Why doesn't he just go by Patrick?  My uncle Pat was my favorite when I was a kid because I was obsessed with backhoes, and he drove one.  I actually was put to sleep every night for a few years by my parents singing this song they wrote about my Uncle Pat.  "Uncle Pat gets in the backhoe.  He gets in the backhoe and he turns it on, and he digs digs digs; he digs in the backhoe.  He digs digs digs till the sun is gone."  I can't believe the second line is "and he turns it on."  Couldn't they have come up with something better than that?  One Direction did get away with the line, "The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed," so the bar is low.  Maybe PJ is short for one of those incomprehensible names like "Poppasquash."  Now I'm feeling sorry for PJ.  Those kind of names only really work when you're in your 80's and you've just published a memoir about your conversations with Winston Churchill.  My little sister came home on one of the first days at Penn Charter.  She said, "Guys, there's a kid named Ridgeway in my class!"  Ridgeway sounds like a posh neighborhood in San Diego or a company that makes high end skis.
Poppasquash is actually an island off the coast of Rhode Island where my grandfather summered when he was a little kid.  He, too, was an 80-lb 7th grader.  Maybe there's hope for me. 
Meanwhile, Steel did not want to go to Penn Charter.  She preferred the school that separated the sexes.  She can barely tolerate boys.  We ran into one of her new classmates at the orthodontist.  I could tell he recognized her immediately when he walked in.  I whispered to her that a kid recognized her and was he in her class?  She said, I know he goes to Penn Charter, but I don't think he's in my grade.  There are only 14 kids in her CLASS, and he's one of them.  Boys just don't exist for her.  She was telling me how she hopes that she has a future boyfriend who comes out to her as gay.  Then she can "just be his beard for years and it will be so fun and perfect!"  She was not impressed by the girls at Penn Charter when she visited.  She thought they were mean.  The crazy thing is that she was right to detect some social issues. I'd heard of a mean girl from a few of the girl moms I'd talked to, but when the woman of 3 boys in front of whose home the bus stops said something, I knew it was a problem.  Those boys are the most stoic kids I've ever met.  When my kids wept and wailed for 10 minutes about the lack of air conditioning on the bus, her kids said nothing. On the fancy dress day, they walked out of their house, and it was a living, breathing page from a Land's End catalogue.  Both parents are doctors; all three boys are good looking, good students, polite and athletic, so hearing that one of them burst into tears at the thought of having this girl in his class shocked the hell out of me almost as much as the moment of intimacy required for the mother to divulge that to me.  

Perhaps our previous school had avoided petty mean girl stuff because they had bigger fish to fry. One of Steel's close friends succumbed to DIPG on a snow day in the middle of her 4th grade year.  The only thing I can say about Marlee's death is that I was so glad that I'd impulsively told my kids over the summer that she was probably not going to make it.  Her chances were 1 in 100, and she'd gone on a clinical trial over the summer, and it started out somewhat promising, and it had ended abysmally.  I had the impression that everyone was telling the kids: Marlee is strong. Marlee is a fighter. Marlee is going to beat it.  I didn't want my kids shocked at the outcome.  Moreover I didn't want them to think every time they hear the words, "he/she is strong; he/she is a fighter" that the person was destined to die.  Marlee's odds were terrible; that's not the case for everyone who gets sick. (Although a 39-year-old mother of one of JP's friends had died 3 months before Marlee had, so the Roxborough track record for conquering cancer has not been one of happy endings.)

I had a tough time at Marlee's funeral.  Steel and her friends were inconsolable.  They were also egging each other onto new heights of their histrionic, cinematic impression of what grieving should be.  It felt insincere, overly-dramatic and disruptive.  I, however, was not going to be that mother who shushes her grieving 10 year old at a funeral.  I held her close.  I told her and her friends to come to the studio after the service.  I wasn't going to make them return to school like that.  After a trip to Dunkin' Donuts, the three of them were gleeful little banshees.  I felt played.  The mom who had taken the girls to the viewing, the previous evening, had the same feeling about their weeping and wailing.  She said to me that they didn't know how to grieve, but acting the part was probably helping them process in some way.  That mom is 14 years younger than I am but far wiser.

Seeing the 3 different reactions to Marlee's death was heart-wrenching.  Toby with her hyper-rational mind went straight to question mode.  How old was she?  How could she be nine and die? Where is she now? Steel went straight down the rabbit hole.  "I hate life; it shouldn't have been Marlee."  Jack Peter looked at his weeping sisters and said, "Can we host DandD tomorrow?"  Steel went berserk.  "How can you ask about DandD NOW?"  JP fell apart and whimpered, "I just want to think about something fun!" 

My reaction? I probably went more deeply into whichever escapism method I normally choose: alcohol, gardening or compulsive crafting.  I still find myself bursting into tears over it on my bike ride to work or at some other baffling moment.  

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

My mom had us read Macbeth in her 9th grade English class.  Everyone had to memorize that quote.  I wouldn't call it uplifting, but chanting it as I pedaled helped in some way. Marlee's death is an incomprehensible vacuum looming around the periphery of all of our lives.  

In lieu of more about Toby, I'm putting an extra picture of her with Ava in...

Toby also wanted to go to the single-sex school, but one of her best friends was in her grade at Penn Charter.  Before visiting that other school, she'd longed to "go to Penn Charter with Ava." Whenever she complained I'd just remind her of that.  So Toby gets 2 lines of this blog, and the others get 200.  The 3rd kid really does get the shaft.

 Thank God they have Nanny around to get them new haircuts and new clothes.  If it were up to me, I'd be cutting their hair on the deck, and they'd be rummaging through hand-me-down bags for something to wear.  

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Kensington got too cool

God I loved that bathroom.  I'll miss it!  Check out the reflection of the view; you could see the whole city from the shower.

Kensington was a dump when I moved there in 2004.  I’d regularly find human poop on my stoop. The police were using my roof to surveil drug deals-just like on The Wire.  After the birth of JP, my husband got arrested for attacking a pimp on the street with nunchaku.  Instead of crack, I can now get a kale smoothie anywhere within a 1/4 mile radius.  The pimps/prostitutes have been replaced by Millennials who smell like sandalwood.  Clearly it’s time for me to go.  

Honestly I’m a cranky, sweaty mom after a day of potting and cycling the 14-mile commute.  I’m also terrible at being a landlord, and I hate it. I’ve never been OK with charging people to live in my filthy, old, gorgeous building, probably because I don’t physically do anything for the money.  I also made a bad decision when I got my kiln back in 2005, so I’m getting a new, fancy kiln with my new space. My brother in law bought the building from me. To illustrate my failure as a landlord, he raised the rent of my tenant upstairs by 14% and took away his parking place. I just don’t have that in me unless I’m pre-menstrual.  

I know I’m not supposed to admit that, but my menstrual cycle was my bargaining chip in my real estate negotiations with my brother in law.  He’s a professional haggler.  I’m not kidding.  He works in the marijuana industry making deals.  The guy who hired him wanted him because he’d experienced Mike on the opposite side of the negotiating table and wanted him on his side.  My mother in law and I both thought it unwise for me to sell my building to Mike.  However, Mike lives in the Bay Area; he is the only one of the brothers who isn’t part of the family business in Philly. He’s always wanted to partner with his brothers on something. The brothers are developing the factory floor portion of the building.  I owned the office/locker room portion and 1/7 of the factory floor.  The boys (spearheaded by my husband, Tim) wanted a neighbor to their development that they could control; Mike had the added incentive of needing to complete his 1031 exchange to escape a major tax bill on a sale he made in California.
That flower mural has been painted over by the unbelievably annoying Philadelphia anti-graffiti group.  In the process they've painted over my tenant's lock twice leaving her unable to get into her apartment. 

In week one of the negotiations Mike was physically here and drunk.  Of course he was; he was hanging out with his brothers 3000 miles away from his wife and daughters.  We had a casual conversation about the sale.  He mentioned some improvements that needed to happen before he’d commit, and I told him that it was going to be an “as is” situation.  A couple weeks later Tim came into my studio while I was in my happy place, glazing.  He told me I needed to separate the units from a zoning perspective before the sale. I told him that I was selling the building because I didn’t want to run or pay for any construction projects.  I went back to glazing, and he wandered back into his office muttering that I didn’t understand how these things work, and I was going to need to make some compromises.  Finally Tim showed me an e-mail from Mike referring to me as “The Seller.”  There was a list of things that “The Seller” was going to do in order to make the sale go through.  I responded that “The Seller” wasn’t going to do a Goddamn thing, and if “The Buyer” didn’t want the building, that was fine with “The Seller.”  Tim threw up his hands and said, “You need to call Mike.”  I did call Mike.  My palms were sweating, and my heart was racing, but I re-iterated what The Seller was prepared to do, and he….APOLOGIZED!  I went to bed feeling bad but satisfied for having stuck to my guns.  When it comes to money I usually default to my dad’s advice when I was a kid: “De-ah (Dear) If you’re evah (ever) at a restaurant and people ah (are) bickering ovah (over) the bill, JUST PAY IT!  You don’t want to have to listen to that crap!”  With Mike I’d neither haggled nor picked up the tab.  I got my period the next morning.

So Mike bought the office/residential portion of my building.  The factory part I will sell to my husband and his partners for $1.  They are building me a beautiful studio 3 blocks from my home that they will sell to me for $1.  Let’s hope all of this happens without a divorce and a major family feud.  My new studio is nowhere near finished.  I just got the permits for the kiln room which means I just ordered the kiln, and it will take 3-6 months. We’ve already had a situation with one of the neighbors, and the guy upstairs, my new tenant, isn’t going to be eligible for his subsidized housing for a while. Yes, I know I said I didn’t want to be a landlord, but I’m hoping to make that apartment so nice that I don’t feel bad about taking money for it, and my best case scenario is that my dad moves into it.  Here’s another illustration of my failure as a landlord: after 1.5 months of no rent, I called the tenant of my new building.  He complained to me about stress and poverty, and I told him I was going to give him a SASE, and he could just pay what he felt he could comfortably pay.  The upshot: his rent has gone from $600/month to $250/month because he’s given me $500 for two months so far. All of this is to say I’m going to be writing a lot with my free time to justify not cleaning my house.
old photo of prolific me...I'll get back to it; I promise.
I'm going to miss that massive space as well, but I'm not cool enough to live there anymore.
My new place is the one in the middle. It definitely needs a makeover, but so do I.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Battle ax vs. Mass General

(A sweet image of me and my son before I ruined his life)

I got 11 inches of hair cut off on Sunday.  Brittany at the Hair Cuttery, outdid herself.  My son greeted me with, "You've ruined my life."  Tim pretended he liked it and overdid wondering out loud what JP's problem was.  In the 70's Tim's mom returned from the salon with a perm.  I've heard the traumatized retelling of this atrocity multiple times at family functions by Tim and all three of his brothers.  I reminded Tim of the perm.  He was unable to squelch the tsunami of empathy that welled up towards his son at that moment.  My girls were thrilled with the new doo, but couldn't help throwing in some snide comments about how dire my hair had been.  My brother in law looked at me and said, "Wow! you look really cool!" Without taking a breath, he turned to his wife and said, "Promise me you'll never do that!"

"Moms just can't win for trying" was my chiropractor's reaction to my mom-hair travails. Can't win for trying is a Charles M. Schulz-esque way of putting it, but he's right.  I was often embarrassed by the flamboyance of my beautiful mom.  She was not the understated Yankee mom that my friends had.  She wore Chanel No.5 and mini skirts.  Her lipstick color was an electric Revlon shade called, "Naked Pink." She always matched her eye shadow to her shoes.  I cringed when she laughed loudly and was mortified when she flew into a rage over something I deemed trivial.  My mom recently CRUSHED breast cancer.  It's as if she had a referee's whistle, and she blew it at every step of the process.  This formerly eye-rolling daughter is clear that our health system needs more Susie Kinders.

Mom took a month to tell us.  I'd detected something wasn't right for that month, but I'm a self-absorbed daughter, so I thought I was doing something to annoy her.  I remember musing to my silent, introverted employee that my mom didn't seem to like me anymore.  Perhaps I was going on and on about my life and kids, and I wasn't asking enough about her life?  It was the beginning of December when she told me.  I was trying to pin her down about holiday plans.

Scheduling her surgery had been difficult.  She wanted to get it done in time to see my kids sing the Evensong during Advent, but she'd fired her first doctor.  He made the mistake of telling her she was "really lucky."  My mom did not enjoy hearing how lucky she was to have breast cancer from a man who was essentially congratulating himself for catching it early.  She was also unimpressed to hear he was planning the same butchering she'd gone through in 1989 for a lumpectomy.  Had no progress had been made in 30 years to improve that procedure???

Doctor #2 was female and had a less-invasive method for the lumpectomy.  She assured mom that she would call me after her two procedures were complete.  When my mom arrived with her empty stomach for the early-morning anaesthesia and lumpectomy, she was told that the first part of her surgery would happen in the morning but that her part 2 had been moved to 3 pm.  That left my mother on a gurney, behind a curtain for 6 hours 1. starving 2. nervous and 3. LIVID.   I don't know if she was somewhere in a ball weeping with all of the other people who had dealt with Susie that day, but the surgeon did not call me when she had finished.  All I know is that the hospital's human resources department had to get involved, and Susie's third doctor was young, attractive, male and above all, obsequious.

Mom did make it to Philly to hear my kids sing Evensong.  After her Tuesday surgery, she'd planned to hop into the car and drive from Massachusetts to Philly on Thursday or Friday.  Because I'm a self-absorbed daughter, that seemed AOK to me.  My husband, who is not a self-absorbed daughter, bought me a plane ticket up to mom so I could drive her back to Philly.  I had an enormously pleasant time at the airport. "My mom always tells me how tired I look when I see her in the winter." was my opening line to the woman at the MAC counter after I'd had a few wine tastings.  With multiple brushes, swabs and sponges, and an almost-flight-missing amount of time, I emerged feeling very sticky.  I thought people would be staring at me when I boarded the plane because I looked like some kind of a freak in a mask.  Nothing happened.  As I hopped into my mom's car at Logan Airport, she looked at me and said, "You look nice!"

My mom loved Evensong, but she was pretty grumpy all weekend.  After the service when we were celebrating my birthday, Mom didn't come eat with us. Instead she sat in the dining room, drinking her rum and limeade, playing solitaire on her computer, and shushing my post-singing, euphoric children.  This birthday girl got annoyed and snapped at her mom.  Susie apologized after I'd put the kids down.  She said, "I've not been feeling well.  I've had an awful case of hemorrhoids since the surgery."  Happy Birthday to bratty, insensitive, wretched me.

My mom returned home to an uplifting call from ex-doctor #2 that the lumpectomy had been successful.  After a biopsy the cancer was determined to be gone and have been slow-growing in the first place.  Susie opted to get two weeks of radiation to completely nail down the lid of her cancer coffin.  The day she went in for her radiation run-through, I'd had a challenging morning.  My godson had called me the night before from Nepal to ask that I accompany his 16-year-old sister on a mission to extricate their dad from a bad situation and put him on a bus back to Montana, where he is from.  It was not a fun morning.  I'd treated myself to a second cup of coffee before arriving at my studio.  My shaky self dumped the entire cup on my computer.  It was ruined.  A call to my irate mom was a welcome distraction from my own misery.

Apparently the nurse casually informed my mom that it was time for her tattoo.  Susie responded, "Tattoo?? How long will that last?"  "It's a permanent tattoo." was the concise, unapologetic response.  At that point my mom morphed into a combination of Cruella deVil and the ice princess from Frozen.  I have a clear mental picture of her intense blue eyes narrowing for a second before swirls form in her pupils and silver lightening bolts shoot out and shatter on the walls of the room.  A punk rock virtual version of "Let it go" came on while the woman endured the following tirade: DO YOU THINK I WANT TO LOOK AT MY BREAST FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE AND THINK THAT I HAD CANCER???? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE???? WHY THE HELL CAN'T YOU USE A GODDAMNED SHARPIE????  ARE YOU INSANE, INCOMPETENT OR JUST STUPID??? I got so much pleasure picturing all of this at the expense of this poor nurse who made a futile attempt to proceed with a platitude about "our procedures."  Taking on Susie at that point was as bright as trying to rationalize with a tantrumming toddler or making a preemptive strike on Kim Jong Un.  Never-to-be-fired, obsequious Doctor #3 came sailing in to smooth things over and assure Susie that a Sharpie would suffice.

Kidding aside, I've since talked to multiple breast cancer survivors who despise the black dots tattooed onto their breasts.  Some of them incorporate the dots into a prettier tattoo to celebrate their triumph over cancer.  Many of them wish they'd not numbly agreed to a permanent tattoo on their bodies to help a hospital avoid a lawsuit.  I'm sure that doctor and that nurse will continue to tattoo radiation-bound women.  Perhaps, though, their tones might have a post-Susie, Pavlovian wobble when they deliver this information so a patient will detect some room for discussion.

For the radiation, they'd told Susie to put on a "hospital johnny" as she calls it.  She despises those things and refused, opting instead, for her own front-opening shirt.  Neither the lumpectomy nor the burning radiation had worried her.  The wrenching of her arthritic shoulders was her main concern.  She stopped the radiation and demanded props, padding and pillows to make the process manageable.  Her demands were met with resignation.  She had a conversation with a fellow patient with similar shoulder issues in the waiting room.  My mom told her that she has the right to ask for padding, and the woman looked at her incredulously and said, "You can DO that???"  "Yes you can, and you SHOULD!", said Susie.  (At this point in the mental film I've got going on, my mom, played by Judy Dench, fist bumps the other woman, played by Helen Mirren)

Susie was late to her final day of radiation.  Hurdling down 128 in her Audi probably going 92 mph, She was pulled over. 
"Mrs. Kinder, do you know why I've stopped you today?"
"Yes, of course I know, I was speeding because I'm late to my final day of radiation!"
"Mrs. Kinder, do you know that your license is expired?"
"That's impossible.  I'm sure I renewed it."
"No you didn't."
"Yes I did.  I put it in the mail."
"You know you can do it online with your smart phone, Mrs. Kinder."
"I most certainly can't.  Why don't YOU do it for me???"

It took the officer 3 tries.  Perhaps the Boston-bound traffic zooming by him as he leaned on my mother's car fiddling with her iPhone was distracting.  I know she inadvertently gave him an expired credit card number at one point, so he had to start over.  He sent her off with a warning for the speeding and a renewed driver's license.

I'm sure the teenage daughter version of me would shrink with humiliation at the tumult my mom created.  The life-ruining, short-haired mom version of me is so proud.  The way our healthcare system treats people, especially women, is appalling.  Maybe with a few more Susie Kinders, this will change.  And maybe at my next visit to the Hair Cuttery I won't go quite so Joan Jett in my desire to avoid mom hair.

(To celebrate the 100th day of school, Toby dressed up as a 100 year old.  Who knows who modeled this sweet, meek old lady for her.  It's not based on either of her grandmothers)

UPDATE: My mom had a HORRIBLE hip surgery after her bout with breast cancer.  As she had previously sailed through a double knee surgery and the other hip surgury, I blame her problematic 3rd joint replacement on the fact that she was told to get radiation (which she did not need) and her body was not ready to get a hip replaced 3 months later.  She ended up infecting, and when I say "infecting," I mean that her hip EXPLODED 10 feet-all over her hospital room.  She had 2 subsequent cleaning out surgeries bringing her total to 3 surgeries in a month.  She then had to deal with 9 months of antibiotics that stripped her energy, appetite and will to live.  The phrase, "the beginning of the end" kept floating through my head, and I was ENRAGED.  I still feel that she has a major case against the hospital.  She may be a battle ax, but she is not a litigious one.  I'm frustrated by this, but I'm also extremely proud of her.

And now this....She sent me this e-mail last week.  I was on the edge of my seat reading it.  It's such a testament to our TERRIBLE health care system and to my mom's maintaining her Battle ax status:
About a month ago, I noticed a bony lump on the top of my left shoulder. I thought it was probably a bone spur, but since I wanted to be sure, I made an appointment with someone in the office of my primary care physician, because she was booked up until September. I saw a pleasant male doctor who looked at my shoulder lump, called it a "mass," and told me that I needed to see a surgeon for a biopsy. The office suggested a local general surgeon, whom I had seen last year about my inguinal hernia, and made an appointment with Dr. Jhr (pronounced "Jar"). He too looked at my "mass" and declared that he wouldn't take his knife to it until I had an MRI.  We made an appointment for an MRI at Lahey Danvers, a local institution which does so many MRI's that they have a separate entrance for folks having the test. Three days before the MRI, Dr. Jhr's office called to request that I get blood work done asap because they wanted to do the MRI with and without contrast.  I did so that afternoon at Addison Gilbert, the medical facility in Gloucester where I was having lunch with part of my mystery book group.  The MRI came and went the following Monday, and I waited to hear the results. The 4th of July festivities intervened, so I didn't call Dr. Jhr's office until Monday. He was operating, so I asked that he call me back asap and that his office make a hard copy of both the MRI results and the blood work and drop it in the mail for me.  These arrived in sufficient time for me to make a copy to give to my "crew" Eric, a retired physician, who can decipher these sorts of things. He agreed with me that the radiologist's write up was confusing, since it seemed to be talking about the left shoulder and also the right one, which had not been included in the imaging.  The following day I called Dr. Jhr's office again to discuss the write-up only to find that he was on vacation until the end of July. His assistant tried to decipher the radiologist's write up for me without much success, and we concluded that the doctor really wanted me to see on Orthopedic surgeon about the "mass." I made an appointment with the shoulder specialist who had successfully replaced both shoulder joints for a fellow member of my church choir, Dr. Fehnal, at Sports Medicine North. Yesterday I had that appointment, which consumed about two hours of my time, and learned that my "mass" is a fairly common bone spur which often develops in a shoulder which does not have sufficient cartilage. Dr. Fehnal wanted to know if I was experiencing any pain in the joint and seemed surprised when I reported that I had none.  That's when he showed me a hard copy of a image from the MRI and pointed out the area where I should have cartilage and the space where most of the rotator cuff is missing in my left shoulder. Both he and his Physician's Assistant seemed amazed that when I held my left arm parallel to the floor and was told not to let him push it down, I had quite a bit of strength and no pain.  "Most people with torn rotator cuffs cannot do this," he remarked.  

Dr. Fehnal agreed with my opinion that if it isn't giving me any pain or trouble, we should leave my left shoulder alone for now, and that I can continue using the bone spur to help keep my purse where it belongs on the top of my left shoulder. 

I was so relieved that her story didn't end up in some oncology office.  The word, "mass" had me on tenterhooks.  I can hear her multi-tasking Virgo body talking up the limb it sprouted: "Not only does it help her use her arm; but also it's a handy purse hook!"
Susie recently cut her hair off too.  Although now I'm growing mine out.  It turns out that short hair needs to be maintained.  That's never going to happen for me.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Snoring through 2017

I've jolted myself awake with a snore before, but I'm not a regular yet.  My husband snores about 30% of the time.  66% of those snores can be blamed on alcohol.  A subtle bed shake usually squelches the snore for long enough that I can get back to sleep.  If that doesn't work, I'll resort to shoulder pushing, kicking, or a Richter-scale-worthy mattress wobble. During the 33% of his snoring time that he's actually sick, I don't want to enact any of the nuclear options because I want him to get his sleep, get better, and stop SNIFFLING.  Most wives roll their eyes when their spouses are sick; that self-righteous daytime eye-roll devolves into seething "Why don't I just suffocate him?" fury at 2:32 am.  My sleep-deprived brain thinks, "He's already halfway there; it wouldn't take much."  The eye rolling continues the next morning when he tells me he's exhausted because he didn't sleep AT ALL.

I'm not exempt from over-dramatizing aches and pains.  I pulled a muscle in January on my bike; it was an "old/cold" issue.  I'm too old to go out in the cold on my bike without stretching first. My imagined downhill trajectory was: constant pain, inability to exercise or work, depression, paralysis, obesity, death.  I didn't tell anyone that I was thinking this way.  Tim would have made me go to a "real" doctor. Instead I went to the chiropractor; I took a bike break; I did acupuncture; I did yoga.  I had tennis balls by my bed to massage my ass, hip and thigh (I'm sure that was great for Tim's sleep.) I forgo Ibuprofen for the more-fun remedy of alcohol, but then I feel guilty. I was up at 3 am one night googling "hip gout." Now I have this irrational thought that if I can spread my legs on the floor and put my chest down the way Steel does, I'll pain free for the rest of my life.  (That goal is as attainable as Donald Trump's becoming Ghandi.)

As Ghandi-esque as Trump is, this photo is an apt representation of my kids' happily helping in the kitchen

Normally Tim is right about facts.  He's much better than I am at listening to an NPR story and re-telling it properly. My comprehension is vague.  I'm a pretty good potter; I'm great at knowing the contents of the fridge; my grammar is strong, and I'm pretty good at kid scheduling, but that's it. Saturday before the clocks went forward I told Tim I was looking forward to the light at the end of the day, (because we're boring, and that's what our conversations have come to)  Tim told me I had it wrong.  My friend, Erica, was with us. She's MUCH smarter than I am, and she's a scientist.  She agreed with him, (although in hindsight, she was probably not paying attention to such a boring conversation and nodding to be polite) so I let it go. However, on Sunday morning, I rolled over to Tim and said, "I really am happy that it won't get dark so early anymore.  The sun went down at 5:30 yesterday; today it will go down at 6:30."  He said, "Babe, I think it's so cute that you can't get your head around this!" I told him that was condescending. He responded, "I'm an architect.  I deal with a lot of solar issues.  If there's one thing I know about, it's the sun!"  I replied, "I am from New England, and I had an evening paper route.  If there's one thing I know about, it's Daylight Savings time!"  We decided to stop arguing and wait and see what happened.  I was fine with that.  It didn't stop me from texting quite a few of my friends. Chesley responded, "Tell Tim, I think HE'S cute!" Jen waited until the evening to text him and say, "Aren't you loving the extra hour of DAYLIGHT?????"  It's so rare that I'm right about something concrete.  It's also rare that he's condescending like that. The combination was better than finding a 4-leaf clover.

With all of my marriage griping, you'd think I'd be jumping back into the online dating world. I actually LOVED online dating.  It was so time-economical.  I could make a bunch of cups in my studio then go out and meet someone for a drink.  I'd know in 10 minutes whether or not there would be a second date.  I'd either pay for the drinks, and tell the guy "Good Luck; it was so nice to meet you!" Or I'd stay for another drink. Either way I could be back to the studio in time to put handles on those cups. It was the only time I felt completely comfortable rejecting someone. Nothing had been invested, and no one had to know. Two of my friends just embarked upon the online dating process. One is an artist.  She took artful, tasteful, gorgeous selfies.  She met a guy the first week, and they are still dating.  The only thing that bothered her about the process was that she felt she had to grow her hair longer because "guys only like women with long hair."

The other friend wouldn't let me style her at all.  I furtively followed her around as she gardened, walked the dog, and cooked. It's really hard to take good pictures of someone who won't cooperate at all. I finally got an amazing shot of her making hamburger patties. Her fingers are long, and her nails are perfect and unpolished. Her hair was cascading down in front of half of her face. She thought it was gross and wouldn't let me put it up.  The "guys need long hair" friend said, "Are you KIDDING me????  LONG CASCADING HAIR and HAMBURGER PATTIES?????? That's an internet dating slam dunk!!!!!" Hamburger patty nixer also deleted anyone who only wanted to date younger women. I found that smart, but self-defeating. She was too brutal for internet dating. In the end it's probably just as well nothing happened. I would be so maniacally self-congratulatory if I'd created her relationship from a profile concocted drunk during piano night with 5 kids running around. True love for her wouldn't be worth enduring my insufferable boasting.

Speaking of "insufferable boasting" my mom's pre-Superbowl "You hate us because you AIN'T us" comment has not been forgotten.

Who am I kidding? Kids weren't running around; they were glued to screens. Over the winter we had a major shift in our screen time policy. JP was lying and hiding away with the iPad or a computer constantly. I'd resorted to throwing every electronic into the trunk of the car if I went anywhere.  The lying was the most disturbing. We actually spoke to his teacher and the counselor at school about it. The upshot was that my mother was right.  We needed to turn screen time into our carrot. We'd run out of sticks. My sister in law instigated the CASH program one summer. They had to do something Creative, Active, Smart and Helpful before they could get screens. We've added a lot to the list, but if my kids hustle, they can earn screen time almost every evening. The girls like shows, so I had them watching FAME, the show about the performing arts school in NYC in the 80's. I would watch with them.

Totally destined for the show, "Fame!"

Not much has changed except that since then, small breasts have disappeared, and visible nipples must've become illegal. It took seeing those slim girls in leotards with their headlights on to make me remember that nipples used to be OK. To my daughters' chagrin, I've been liberating my tiny breasts and nipples. Padded bras are fine when it's cold, but I'm over it.

Eagles gear is the new lingerie.

Speaking of lingerie, I was feeding JP and Toby lunch before going to Fern's birthday party in February. As they ate I was going through a box of hand-me-downs for them. I came across a slinky pair of black undies with the tags still on them in MY size. My narration of the contents of the box turned into an all-out Hallelujah Chorus, but instead of singing "Hallelujah," I sang incredulously, "SEXY UNDIES! SEXY UNDIES! SEXYUNDIESSEXYUNDIES..." That pepped up their soggy quesadillas.  After lunch I was organizing the gift bag we were taking to the party. Toby asked what we'd gotten Fern for her birthday, and as I put my hand into the bag, both of them chorused in the exact same moment in soprano voices that would have made Handel proud, "SEXY UNDIES! SEXY UNDIES!"  It slayed me. Those weird Kinder genes bubbled up from the chickeny/cheesy depths of both of their souls at the exact same moment. It was that much more preposterous because Fern is the most innocent, wholesome 9 year old on the planet.

Fern is much more wholesome than my little vixens.

Valentine's day was exciting. JP actually asked a girl to the "Family Dance."  At some point during the dance someone told me that the girl had "dumped" JP in front of all of her friends. I'd been misinformed, but my heart ached for a minute which quickly turned into Hunger Games fantasies involving my expertly shooting all the little twats with my bow and arrow. The house was completely covered in glitter after our Valentine-making session. Because I'm a sham of an artist parent, it was the first year they'd actually made home-made ones instead of using the store-bought ones that Nanny would get them. The uncanny thing was that the kitten only decimated one of the 90 Valentines on the table, and it was the one belonging to the glitter-hating 4th grade teacher. The cat had removed almost every sparkle. We discovered at the end of Valentine's day that JP has achieved his Dork Diaries-inspired goal of being class clown; EVERY single one of the Valentines he received said, Jack Peter, you're so funny.

He is pretty funny, and look at him making a "mom's pottery still life!"

Steel and Toby are much more cagey about their romantic lives. I know Toby fancies a little boy named Harrison, but that's all I've gotten. Steel just likes to orchestrate other people's love lives. She's a liaison and a hammer. She'll set up a couple and then step in and tell her friend to break up with the boy if she deems his behavior inappropriate. She almost axed Lucas on behalf of Margaret because he was flirting with other girls.  She came home and asked, "Is it OK for a boy to flirt with other girls if he has a girlfriend?" I told her that it all depends on the relationship and that some couples like to flirt with other people, but they always come back to each other.  "Well, I'm not going to have a relationship like that." she replied.  No players for Steel!

It always cracked me up when gymnastics parents would ask me which Thundercat was mine.  (the Persian cat?)

That Katness Hunger Games impulse erupted in me at the beach the other day.  (wanting to whip out my bow and arrow to impale obstreperous children) I have my issues with predominately white, upper-class places in general, but this occurred in Manchester-by-the-Sea. When I was growing up there, I felt like a fish out of water, and I'm always on the lookout for the roots of those feelings when I return. Steel was sashaying around and singing while she carefully lay her towel down on the sand. Two little girls about JP's age were in front of us. I watched those spiteful little brats appraising Steel and whispering to each other with disapproving looks on their little, unimaginative faces. Steel was oblivious, but I wanted to scream at them, "You'll never go south of Boston or West of Worcester. You'll probably never leave this town, you small-minded little cunts!" Now I remember why I hated New England! You're not allowed to have fun.

 I'm glad my kids still embrace Halloween; speaking of "wacky and fun"

Tim has been working 24/7 on his current project.  It's a 25-unit 0-energy, passive house project in Northern Liberties. At some point he decided that it would be nice to have my hand-made tiles as backsplashes in all of the units. This meant that my green-haired, millennial employee, Shaina would still have work making tile this summer during the times that I was away with the kids, so I took it on. It was over 15,000 tiles. I had to hire a high-school girl to glaze them all (and I made the kids and various friends come in and help as well) 16-year-old Jasmine was an amazing worker.  She would be there before I showed up.  She never griped about having to clean. She was perfect except that her arriving before I did meant that she would already have turned on the radio. She listened to the Christian radio station...."positive and encouraging radio." All of the breaks in between songs would be people calling in to tell us how Jesus intervened and saved their great Aunt who was riddled with cancer and then survived. All I could think was why the hell is Jesus intervening with some old Christian Aunt and not with 38-year-old-mother-of-2 Rochelle and 9-year-old Marlee in Steel's class? Jesus sucks, and so does positive and encouraging Christian rock.

Shaina comes in at around 12 every day which meant that I was never alone in my studio.  I also had to drive the kids to camp before I went to work, so that meant I could never ride my bike. The combination of no alone time and feeling out-of-shape made for a grumpy me this summer. Tim had it worse.  He was working 14-hour days and not getting to do any of the "fun" summer stuff.  (He hates "fun" summer stuff, but I know he was missing us.) He actually came up to my mom's for 2 nights in August. We went to a play, and he surprised us at the intermission.  It made me cry.

The next day he suggested we "do something DIFFERENT!" We always just hang out in Manchester-by-the-Sea. We hatched a plan to go to Salem to see another part of the North Shore.  I'd just gone running. I said, "Let me take a quick shower, and then we'll go!" Mid-shower he came to the bungee-cord-secured-shower door in my mom's bathroom to inform me that water was pouring into the living room.  The trip to Salem was scrapped for some emergency plumbing. There's a part of me that believes that he was probably happier working on my mom's plumbing that he'd have been wandering around Salem, but it was still sort of sad.

Speaking of sad, I've not published a "throwing and tantrums" blog post in over a year. Since then all of the pictures I had to go with this post have disappeared in the coffee-saturated desktop of my previous computer. This new computer got baptized with a kid spewing gingerale from a straw 3 weeks after I'd bought it.  I will never not invest in the Apple care liquid accident insurance.  I'm also clear that I do not deserve to own anything that costs over $200. I'm also going to start writing again- sticky keyboard or not.