Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Marathon?

Jacob burst through the door last night. "I'm going to run a marathon, Mom!" A who a what a where? A marathon?

I grabbed the paper that he was waving in my face and sat down to read it. He is, indeed, going to run 26.2 miles. Luckily, he can run 25 of those miles between tomorrow and March 30th. Then he'll run 1.2 miles on April 14th to round out his "marathon." The program is called Read, Right, and Run. It's part of the Spirit of St. Louis Marathon.

I've been saying for some time that Jake is well-suited for track. I suppose now is as good a time as any to start! I am not well-suited for track. But I figure if my 6 year old son can run a mile, then so can I. So ready... set... GO!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Set Apart vs. Elite

After last week's brush with racism, I had a distinctly more uncomfortable encounter with a different -ism. Jacob has been talking about "publics." It took a little while to figure out exactly who these publics are. It took even longer to realize why Jacob thinks publics are worthy of disdain.

Every Friday, Jake's class receives a four page Scholastic magazine. A few weeks ago, the topic of the magazine was Constitution Day. I didn't save the magazine and I cannot seem to view it online, but I do remember a blurb about the separation of church and state. Jake's class talked a bit about the difference between parochial schools and public schools. He spoke about it at home a bit and we reiterated how different people have different beliefs. We also reviewed the reason that the Pilgrims came to America and how that influenced the founding fathers to guarantee freedom of religion. (I realize that it sounds a little far-fetched that Jacob understood all of this at such a tender age, but he went through a period of intense interest in the revolution when he was 5. When you combine that interest with Nick's historical bent and my complete inability to dumb down explanations, you get a kid who knows more about American history in the late 1700s than most adults. I highly recommend the book John, Paul, George, and Ben for fostering such interest. And for a few good belly laughs as well.) After that dinnertime conversation, I promptly forgot about the whole issue.

A frequent topic of adult conversation is the (lack of) quality of St. Louis Public Schools. With the exception of a few charter schools, the system is dismally inadequate. While the decision was easy for us since we'd always planned to send our children to Catholic school, many other parents agonize over the decision. Non-religious private options are few and far between, and are prohibitively expensive anyway.

I'm thinking the equation goes something like this: classroom discussion + overheard fear of public school system + comments from Nick and I about how lucky Jake is to be at his school = Jake's belief that the kids at his school are somehow better than the kids at the public school across the street. Clearly, we have to set the child straight. There is a huge difference between the quality of a school and the quality of children who attend that school. Funnily enough, the gospel from this weekend was about the Pharisee who gave thanks because he was better than his neighbors (Luke 18:9-14). I hope that Jake was listening during the homily because that's where we're going to start our discussion. He needs to understand that choosing to set oneself apart does not translate into being elite.

Friday, October 26, 2007

It takes a long time to change.

I grew up on an overseas Army base. That insular community protected me from a lot of ugliness in the larger world. (There was ugliness of a different sort, of course, but that's a story for another day.) Racism was heavily masked on the base. I simply wasn't aware of prejudice on a personal level. Maybe some of my ignorance was by virtue of being white, but I think a lot of it came from the color blind policies of the military. We watched "Free to be You and Me!" with our friends. My class had kids from all sorts of different backgrounds, and even a few multi-cultural children. I knew that racism existed out in the bigger world but it was foreign to me.

When we came back to the states, I learned a different sort of truth. We moved first to an integrated Army base. Then when my mother was unhappy with the quarters and the school, we moved to a nearby rural town. A nearby lily white rural town, that is. There were only a handful of non-white kids, all the progeny of military personnel, and even they were all Asian or Hispanic. I was shocked. I had no idea that such places still existed. Frankly, I'm still shocked that such places exist.

Now, I live by choice in arguably the most segregated city in the US. It's a hard choice. Most of the time, when I weigh the positives of living here, the balance comes out heavily in favor of St. Louis. There are many, many terrific things about this city. And while prejudice exists, it rarely shows itself in my life. I get lulled into believing that having an open attitude is enough to teach my children acceptance of all people. I can almost convince myself that running across all kinds of people in public is enough to make up for not having a diverse classroom, parish, or team.

The other day, reality slapped me twice. Two women, both around 60 years old, made separate comments to me that illustrated their personal struggle with racism. Both of these women are kind, caring people. Both of these women grew up in St. Louis before and during the civil rights movement. Now, all these years later, they are trying to reconcile the prejudice they were taught as children with their experiences as adults.

My coworker told me that she'd automatically assumed a young black woman at the next gas pump had stolen a shopping bag out of her car when she stepped inside to pay. She realized that probably wasn't the case - that the shopping bag had been misplaced somehow. She was bothered by her visceral reaction and was able to control her reaction to it.

A grandmother of my son's classmate related another story to me that evening. We were talking about Halloween, about how much we dislike purchased costumes. We traded stories about costumes that we manufactured for ourselves as kids. She told me that when she was a child, she and her friends would put on blackface to go trick or treating. Again, as with my coworker, she was bothered by that history but unable to escape it.

I wonder if it's possible for people to escape their childhoods. I know people who were raised as bigots and who rationally rejected those beliefs later in life. But they all deal with a little kernel of that prejudice deep inside. I wonder how many generations it will take for us to get rid of that little kernel for once and for all.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How to Make Clown Pants in 352 Easy Steps

  1. Enjoy a bottle of hard cider.
  2. Rummage around in drawers to find a pair of pants to use as a pattern. It's best to do this when most of the clothing is in the washing machine, leaving you to choose from an outgrown pair of corduroys and another outgrown pair of corduroys.
  3. Swipe some paper from your kids' easel when they aren't looking.
  4. Flatten the pants out with the front facing you, then fold in half. Pull out the funky little crotch divot and smooth everything out.
  5. Trace the pants onto the paper. Put in a little extra room in the top. What the heck - put in a little extra room everywhere.
  6. Contemplate the angle to cut the hem so that the hem will be smooth. Give up and just make straight legs.
  7. Pile up four layers of remnants. Spend a lot of time flipping and turning the fabric so that you'll have one blue front, one green front, one yellow back and one blue back. Pin on the pattern and cut.
  8. Curse a blue streak when you realize that you forgot to allow for a waistband.
  9. Sew one front to one back at the inner and outer seams. Repeat for the other leg.
  10. Curse a blue streak when you realize that you've ended up with two blue backs despite all the flipping earlier. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that no one really knows what you intended to make. Everyone will think you designed it this way.
  11. Flip one leg right side out and insert it into the other leg. Pin together.
  12. Laugh when you realize that you sewed the top shut instead of sewing the crotch seam.
  13. Rip.
  14. Pin again and sew the correct seam.
  15. Turn the entire mess right side out. Contemplate how to fix the waistband issue.
  16. Measure the waist. Measure the child. Say uh-oh a few times. Pray that the child will stop this incredible growth spurt before she grows out of the pants you haven't finished.
  17. Resume waistband contemplation.
  18. Fold a piece of fabric and cut to your measurement + 1" for seam. Sew.
  19. Burst into uncontrollable laughter when you realize that you should have doubled the waistband measurement. You only measured the front of the pants, ergo you should have doubled.
  20. Laugh harder when your husband asks you if you're making a yarmulke. Briefly consider adding a yarmulke to the costume.
  21. Recut the waistband to the correct size. Sew it together, pin it the the pants, and toss it aside until the following day.
To be continued....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Overheard by a fly

Hi, Nick. We got booed tonight. Jake is so excited.
We got booed? Who would do that?
No, it's fun! Like a chain letter but fun. We have to boo two people tomorrow. Jake can't wait.
Let's boo John Paul!
Are you kidding me? You want to drive all the way out there just to boo him?
Sure, why not? Sounds fun.
OK. I'll run by Target some time tomorrow and pick up some treats.
Wait, treats?
Yes, treats. Treats to boo with. You know, like the bag of treats we got?
Somebody gave us a bag of treats? Who did that?
I don't know. That's the point. We were booed. Wait a minute, did you think you were actually going to boo John Paul? Like stand outside his house and yell "Boooooooooooooo" at him?
Well, I was going to bring a lawn chair. And I figured after I yelled, "You suck!" a few times, he'd invite me in for a beer.

For the uninitiated, booing is a Halloween game. You drop a bag of goodies along with a chain letter and a photocopied ghost at someone's door, then knock and run. The letter explains that the recipient is to pay it forward to two other houses. The ghost gets hung in a door or window so that your house doesn't get booed twice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Is there such a thing as fall fever?

The weather finally broke. Surprisingly enough, my spirit seems to have broken with it. Well, that's a little melodramatic and overstated. But I do seem to be having a little spring fever in the fall. I'm Lazy with a capital L and that rhymes with - I'm too lazy to even finish the rhyme.

I have plans. I have things to do. I have plans about things to do. And somehow, I get up in the morning and go to bed at night without having actually followed those plans or finished those things. Work, home, dinner, soccer, homework, work, home, dinner, soccer, homework, ohmygosh it's Wednesday where did Tuesday go?

What I need is a list, I fear.

    The Aforementioned List
  • Socks
  • Halloween Costume
  • RSVPs
  • Pick up medicine
  • Oil
OK, that's doable. Today, I break the funk.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I must be a little thick.

Last night, Claire was "reading" one of her favorite books to me. She has to read it to me because I read it wrong. In spite of the title and the story and the fact that there is a whole series about Tiny, Claire insists that Tiny is not the dog but is, in fact, the little androgynous person instead. Whenever I start to read it, Claire tsks me and snatches the book out of my hands. Clearly, I am not to be trusted with her favorite story what with my penchant for corrupting the story line by actually reading the words on the page.

Last night, I tried once more to convince Claire that Tiny is the dog. She laughed indulgently at me. She pointed to the dog and explained, "He is NOT tiny. He is big." She pointed her chubby little finger at the boy/girl and asked me, "Is that Gavin?" I replied that it was not Gavin. "Is it Dillon? Is it Thomas? Is it Charlie?" Again, I replied that the boy/girl was not any of those people. She chuckled at me again, gave me a condescending smile, and ever so slowly explained, "Then it is Tiny." Oh right. What could I have been thinking?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Believe

I believe that life is its own answer.

I believe that free will means we're free to screw up.

I believe that free will also means that we're free to try again.

I believe trying your best is enough. I also believe that trying your best is incredibly difficult sometimes.

I believe in keeping promises.

I believe in tickles.

I believe that anger has its place. I also believe that anger out of place is destructive and sinful.

I believe that honesty need not be brutal.

I believe in giving heartfelt compliments.

I believe that gracefully receiving kindness is as important as gracefully offering kindness.

I believe in smiling at new parents, especially when their babies are crying.

I believe prayer changes people - sometimes in unexpected ways.

I believe that every person has value, even if it's hard for me to see.

I believe that quality of life is immeasurable.

I believe that satisfaction lasts longer than happiness.

I believe in giving others the benefit of the doubt.

Inspired by this post on a site I discovered after reading a bajillion comments in response to this other post. The Sweet Juniper post and comments really struck a chord with me and it's been spinning around in my brain ever since.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Big Discovery

Friday, October 5, 2007

At last! Oh wait a minute...

Fall is being a sneaky fellow this year. We had a wonderful crisp weekend about a month ago, but since then we've been stuck in endless summer. The trees have been green, the temperatures have been high, and my soul has slowly been leaking out of my pores while I wait, wait, wait.

This morning, however, I realized that things have been ever so slowly shifting into fall. The leaves, while not yellow, orange, or red, are not exactly green either. The air is still warm, but it's gusty and dry. Things are somewhere between the sogginess of summer and the crispness of fall.

I took a deep lungful autumny summer air (or perhaps summery autumn air) when it hit me. It literally hit me - an acorn that is. I ran to the car trying to shelter Claire's delicate head from the barrage of nuts. Midway to the car, I discovered the prickly sweet gum balls had also begun their assault. The sidewalk was mined with ankle-twisting pods. I managed to tuck Claire safely into the car just as a few more acorns BOOMED on the roof of the car.

I'll gladly brave the reproductive assault of the trees if it gets me out of the summer. Perhaps I should put helmets on the children, though.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Picture Day

It's picture day! I bought a new shirt for Jacob. It's dark green with an orange stripe and it will make his green eyes pop. I protected the shirt from him in an epic battle of wills. Jacob is a boy and true to stereotype he manages to soil his clothing quicker than I can say "Don't you dare roll in the grass!"

He had a bath last night, under protest of course. According to Jacob, one must bathe monthly at least and weekly during the summer. I have slightly higher standards. Since his favorite after-school activity these days is shoveling gravel, a bath was in order. He's generally covered in fine gray dust when he comes home at the end of the day.

I was feeling pretty good about the odds of getting a good picture this morning when I got up. He was clean. He had a new, clean shirt. Everything was going to be fine. Then he unrolled himself from his sweaty burrito of fleece blankets. The combination of sweat and turbanesque blankets had slicked down the left side of Jake's hair while biggifying the right side into a faux hawk gone terribly wrong. (As if a faux hawk could ever go terribly right.)

The nail in the coffin came a few moments later when I consulted the school menu. They're having mostaciolli (baked pasta with red sauce) for lunch. I think maybe the school is having a little fun with us parents.

Monday, October 1, 2007

I have got to relax.

In spite of Mary's tongue in cheek advice, I want to talk about Jacob's progress report. The first quarter is half gone and we received a summary of Jacob's grades to date. A's in math and spelling, B's in reading and religion, C's in handwriting and written expression. My internal reaction: "What the heck? We have some work to do! Handwriting, shmandwriting, but the rest of this has got to improve." Nick's reaction: "Wooo! No D's! Great job, Jake!" Clearly, we have differing expectations.

I know very well that I have a stick up my rear about this. That was revealed last week when Jacob got a 93% on a spelling test. I remarked to Nick that we would have to work harder on spelling at home. "It's just memorization! There's no reason to not get a 100%!" As soon as that came out of my mouth, I was horrified. To be completely honest, though, it's how I feel. Anything less than perfect on something so easy as spelling is just completely unimaginable to me. I also know that it's really not a healthy attitude.

All through school, I got all A's in everything except handwriting (Jacob never really had a chance on that front, did he?). Anything less than a perfect score on anything was devastating to me. I don't want Jake to feel like that. I don't want him to cry over a B or lose sleep because he got the extra credit question wrong on a test. It took me until my early twenties and an F in calculus to get over that. Or so I thought, anyway. Clearly, I am not still over it.

What I want for my kids is for them to do their best. And I secretly want that best to be better than everyone else's best. It took every ounce of self-control that I have not to quiz the other parents on progress reports at the soccer game Saturday morning. I'm proud of myself for showing restraint. I wish I could get to the point where restraint isn't necessary. I'm never going to say "Wooo! No D's!" But I would really like to get to the point where a B isn't necessarily a badge of shame.