Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Emergency Contact

If neither parent can be reached in case of an emergency, please call:

This is the portion of our school registration form most often left blank. Because we live in an area supported by a rather large, unnamed software company, our population is in flux throughout the school year. We have many families who come to us only days after landing in the US for the first time, dazed and confused and desperate to know if we have a spot in our school for their child.

"Can I fill this in later? We don't know anyone here yet."

When we aren't presented with this response, we might get the names and phone numbers of grandparents or relatives with far-away area codes and questions about how often we actually have to contact these people because the time zone is quite different.

By the second year, as I am re-registering these children and doing the mindless data entry, checking for address and phone number changes within the past year, updating sibling ages and newly discovered food allergies, I am always pleased to see that the information is complete. Almost without exception, the East Indian children have emergency contacts with names like Shruthi* and Rohan* and Adithi*. They have found their community. The Eastern European families want us to call Andrzej* and Sonja* Vostek* and the Chinese children are entrusted to Qian* and Ling*. Somehow, between the time they landed in this strange country, having been presented only with a job and a few leads on where to find housing and schools, these families have located something far more valuable. People like them. People who speak their language, understand and celebrate their customs, and volunteer to pick their children up from school in an emergency. They have located their 'village.'

I am always so pleased to know that there are islands of people that support each other within our larger community. I love the diversity of our area, no matter its artificial creation, and revel in the education my girls have gotten with respect to cultural traditions and skin color. I love that they both ate a traditional Chinese tea cake before they were five and learned to pronounce their classmates' names that carry the weight of so many consonants without blinking an eye. But somehow it gives me great comfort to know that in case of emergency, the children in our school will be cared for by familiar people who truly understand where they are coming from.

Having said that, I love it just as much (if not more) when, by the third year, I'm entering the name Sally Johnson* on Abhishek's* emergency contacts and the Jewish family in their class wants us to call Abhi's* mom if we need help.
*all names are fabricated for the purposes of this blog post.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

From My Family Room to Yours...

Upon being asked to get ready for bed last night (which means jammies on, teeth brushed, glass of water ready on the nightstand), both girls dashed upstairs as quickly as they could.

The eldest returned first, pink polka-dots top to bottom, ready for a snuggle and a debrief of the day's events.

Ninety seconds later, the whirling dervish appeared before us, pajama shirt on backwards and shouted,

"If I was on Survivor, my butt would be fuzzed out right now!"

as she did an about-face and shook her nekked booty at us.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How (Not) to Prune Trees

  • Pruning trees in the fall in most parts of the US is not a good idea. The exposed stumps are ripe for the winter weather and could permanently damage the tree. Therefore, if you get a burst of "spring fever" in the fall and head outside, saw or pruners in hand, remember this advice, turn around, go back inside and get yourself two ibuprofen or a shot of whisky or get amorous with your husband until the feeling passes.

  • Toward the end of winter when that spring fever returns, get yourself a Stanley JetCut saw that cuts as it moves forward and backward for the job.

  • Basic rule of thumb, a plant only has so much energy to spare, so make sure you cut off the little tiny new limbs that are heading for the center of the plant/tree or crossing over other major limbs. You could use pruning shears but I prefer the saw for two reasons: I only have to carry one tool and I can blaze right through those puny little branches like a hot knife through butter - yeehaw!

  • Carrying one tool means that after 15 minutes when my pruning spurt has transformed itself from fun to work, I only have one thing to put away.

  • Which brings me to the next point: prune when your husband is away so that you don't have to clean up all your clippings when you're done. You can save it for another day when you have another absurd impulse to go outside and work in the yard instead of sitting in a sunny window with a good book.

  • Be aware, if you have a dog, that these pruned branches on the ground are terribly inviting. If you don't want to follow your pet around the house for the next 24 hours cleaning up regurgitated wood bits and bunny poo, keep him/her inside until you've cleaned up your clippings.

  • Further, if you are a dog owner, watch for undesirable deposits beneath bushy trees or plants you could step in. Smelly deposits that you don't want on your shoes.

  • Don't wait seven years after you move into your house to prune the trees in your yard for the first time. The fifteen minutes of energy you want to invest in this project will not nearly be enough.

  • That said, if some of the branches are already dead because of the pitiful way you've neglected your yard, these will be far easier to saw off the tree than the green branches and will give you a terrific sense of accomplishment when they crack off the tree and fall to the ground.

  • If you are averse to large stores of sawdust in your bra and nostrils, don't position yourself directly beneath the branch you are sawing.

  • Finally, pruning trees in the sunshine while you are mildly sick (as opposed to feverishly ill) will result in sweat and muscle quivering sooner than when you are perfectly healthy and leave you feeling as though you did a great deal more work than you did, thus giving you the right to put your feet up for the rest of the evening and order pizza for dinner instead of cooking for the children.
ADDENDUM: If you are not prone to fits of pruning and happen to have a slipped disc in your neck, this activity will most certainly result in painful tossing and turning from 2:30-4:30am, large doses of anti-inflammatories, and Ben Gay for your shoulders. You will most likely not repeat this activity for another seven years and the clippings are not likely to be cleaned up any time soon.
Happy Pruning!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Idle Speculation

Everyone has a story and we all like to hear them. I love to eavesdrop and people watch and speculate, what's the story there? what has she lost? how was he hurt?

As children we compare ourselves to each other, trying to measure up.
As adolescents we struggle to assimilate and secretly believe that everyone else's life is better than ours. We find our inner green monster and suffer jealous fits with every success our peers enjoy.

As adults we come to realize that everyone has suffered losses, worked to overcome painful doubts, and hidden our secret failures. We eventually find therapists and support groups to bring us together with others who have lost. We come together in our pain.

What if we came together in a different way? What if we came together more regularly to celebrate our successes? Spending time with friends and acquaintances to prop each other up and encourage each other instead of quietly fuming about someone else's "dumb luck" or penchant for bragging. What if we were allowed to pat ourselves on the back for our hard work without sounding as though we thought we were better than everyone else? What if we were genuinely able to revel in the positive accomplishments (or terrific dumb luck) of those who surround us? Would becoming part of a circle of happiness and achievement spur us to even better, more positive acts?

Just a thought....

Sunday, February 08, 2009

None of Your Beeswax!

"Mind your own business."

I say it a dozen times a day, interrupting as one of my girls runs to tell me that the other one isn't doing her chores, isn't turning her light off at 8:00, had more than her share of crackers this afternoon.

"Let me be the mom."

I am constantly reminding them that fair doesn't mean equal. They are unique individuals and will be treated according to their needs and behaviors, not off of some arbitrary checklist where each gets 14 peas and three stalks of asparagus on their plate at dinner. I try to be patient as I point out that Lola doesn't get milk with dinner because she won't eat as much, but Eve has to have milk with dinner because it's the only time she'll drink it. Doesn't mean I love one more than the other, and I don't want to justify my beverage choices for them every night - just,

"Trust me, okay? I have a reason for doing what I'm doing."

They watch each other like cats stalking prey, waiting for the other one to falter or hesitate so they can pounce and offer advice, correct the other one, stick their fingers in this pie. Explosions of drama occur hourly. I know! Leave me alone! I can do it myself! I just forgot, okay?

"Mind your own business."
"Ask if she wants your help before you reach in there."

I might as well be talking to myself. I spent my childhood looking out for others, hypervigilant and ready to solve any problem that might rear its ugly head. I can fix it. I can make it all okay. I am ready and willing to be the mommy.

Stepping back and offering only love and compassion is the hardest lesson I have to learn. Letting people I love make mistakes without jumping in to prevent it gives me stomach pains. Watching others get screwed over without crying foul and coming to their rescue makes me grind my teeth. Knowing that someone is hurting and not being able to soothe it away wrecks me.

Who knew that being the mommy would mean minding my own business? Somehow, offering love and compassion doesn't seem like nearly enough, not tangible proof of my affection. I want instant gratification. I want to right the wrong, fix the error, make it all better. Maybe I am talking to myself when I remind my girls that they have enough on their own plates without worrying about anyone else's.

Point taken.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Telephone Game

You remember playing it. You know you do. Just not like this.

Over the Christmas holiday we visited relatives. Relatives with babies - newborn twins. At one point, I believe my sister-in-law, referring to her bodaciously milk-swollen breasts, muttered that she felt like, "Big-boobed Betty." Or something similar to that.

The first telephone line led to my eight-year-old nephew who took that phrase and ran with it. And repeated it to my girls who just happen to be fascinated with everything mammary right now.

Add a little late-night sugar, the acoustics of the shower and an off-center six year old and this is what you get:

"Mommy! Please come dry my hair! I can't put on my jammies because my hair is wet and dripping down my back and it makes me crazy. Pleeeeeeeeeeze?"

Standing behind her, hairbrush in hand, facing the mirror, I flip the switch on the hair dryer. A split second later, my nearly nude daughter starts twisting her hips, pursing her lips, and shimmying her shoulders. Out comes an original song, "Well I'm Big-boobed Betty got a mind of my own. Big-boobed Betty got a mind of my own. I rule the world and got a mind of my own..."

There is more. At least one more verse, but I'm struck dumb at the spectacle. She's got moves, thumps her hips to the beat and thrusts her hands into the air, scrutinizing her every move in the mirror. She is in the zone.

"Can I videotape this? I'm pretty amazed that you came up with this on the fly, girl."

"Okay, Mommy, but let me put my jammies on first. I don't want the world to see what my underwear looks like."

Yeah, sure. I'd be worried about the underwear, too.

Amazing what the slightest comment can inspire.

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