Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bah, Humbug: The Sugar Plum Edition

Here’s the thing: my last substantial post was that whole big snippy letter to MG’s Principal, right? And everyone wrote such kind and supportive comments, for which I thank you muchly. And I promised to keep you all posted. So I will. But it’s kind of embarrassing.

I emailed the letter on Monday, and then didn't hear anything, which wasn't surprising considering it was almost Thanksgiving. Then that Wednesday, right before the 4-day weekend, I ran into the principal in the school office after MG’s after-school drama camp performance (in which she gave a stirring performance as one of six horses who didn’t want to help the Little Red Hen, played with splendid self-righteousness by MG’s friend Ginger. Which is a whole other post I didn’t write). I was in kind of a pissy mood anyway because the newsletter always has notices like “You can pick up x and y Important Forms in the office!” and the office is never open when us working parent types are there to pick up our kids at aftercare, and being in the office just reminded me of all that.

So maybe I wasn’t as diplomatic as I could’ve been. I’ve been on the other side of this kind of thing and I know the dread that strikes school personnel at even the prospect of the Pissy Parent. And I think that perhaps (just perhaps) I came off as the Pissy Parent. Though all I did at first was introduce myself and remind her of the letter, really because I wanted to get her okay to ask MG’s teacher if I could come in and do a song and dance about Chanukah.

But she got all defensive somehow and before I knew it she was going on about how wreaths aren’t a Christian symbol, not like a nativity scene or anything, that they’re secular and not tied to any one religion. And I was all, “Well, yes, actually they are. They’re a symbol of Christmas, which is a Christian holiday.” And SHE was all, “Well, really Christmas started as a pagan holiday anyway” which RW and I get into at home a fair bit so it’s a familiar trope to me and maybe I was kind of dismissive of that. Just a titch.

And she ended up backing away slowly with that terrified omigod-help-me-escape-from-this-Pissy-Parent look in her eye and babbling about how you learn something new every day and she hadn’t known that about wreaths and she certainly would look at the links I’d sent her.

I think perhaps it was not a great moment in civil liberties history.

It gets worse!

Because while I have been foaming at the mouth over the clueless principal and a couple of comments on another blog (a blog I love, whose host doesn’t share the commenters’ sentiments) about oversensitive people who want to Take Away Christmas and Santa and need to get over themselves, and generally getting ready to take up the banner of separation of church and state on behalf of all non-Christmas-celebrators everywhere, Renaissance Woman has been living up to her name and her status as PTA Board Member, and has been helping get the school’s Moosic Doscent (misspelled on purpose because I bet all the volunteers are madly Googling to get information about any similar programs anywhere) program. Which we have because the public schools are underfunded and all the arts are taught by parent volunteers.

The Chief Volunteer Moosic Doscent Hoo-Hah has decreed that all MooDo volunteers shall teach one composer each month, and that December is Tchaichovsky Month. (RW, upon being asked to vet the foregoing description: “Did you know he was gay?” Me, a little punchy: “No! Get out! You should teach that to the class!”)

Anyway, leaving aside the issue of sexual orientation, what is Tchaikovsky’s most famous work? All together now:


So, to review:

1. I wrote the principal a pissy letter about laying off the Xmas in school.
2. While hopped up on self-righteousness, I had a pissy conversation with the principal in which I gave her more bad news about more Xmas-related things I didn’t think she should have in school in December.
3. Meanwhile, RW, my spouse, through no fault of her own, will be giving a SPECIAL PRESENTATION to MG’s class, all about THE FRICKING NUTCRACKER SUITE, THE MOST FAMOUS XMAS BALLET EVER!
4. But she did decide not to hand out candy canes afterwards.

But wait! There’s still more!

RW and I have been doing some online shopping in preparation for the abundance of December holidays ahead of us. And MG, at my instigation and thanks to my dad's generosity, is going to see The Nutcracker when we go to New York this winter break. And she loves ballet and loves that book from the 70’s, “A Very Young Dancer,” which those of you of a certain age might recall is all about a 10-year-old girl who gets the lead part in The Nutcracker in New York.

So each of us, independently, ordered “A Very Young Dancer” for her from ABEBooks. Now we have two copies. RW suggested that since the whole fricking school is learning about fricking Tchaikovsky this month and the school library doesn’t have a copy of the book, we should donate it. And since I know the librarian professionally (aside from my new hobby as Pissy Parent) maybe I could email her and ask if she’d like to have it for the collection.

So, to further review:

1) I really need to email MG’s teacher about coming in to talk about Chanukah. Soon!
2) I really need to email MG’s librarian about whether she wants a book about the fricking Nutcracker Suite. Soon!
3) I should also email the principal to alleviate some of the wild-eyed Pissy Parent impression. But what on earth can I say to her, in the face of all the above?
4) I can’t bring myself to do any of it, somehow.

Meanwhile, MG asked me tonight at bedtime how to spell “Nisse,” which are little Danish house elves that come to your house at Christmas and do your housework if you leave them rice pudding. Because RW grew up Danish, we don’t do Santa at our interfaith house; we do nisse. “My teacher wanted to know how to spell it, and I didn’t know,” she said.

“Oh,” I said with elaborate casualness, “Were you talking about Christmas and Chanukah and stuff like that?”

MG, who is no dummy and can spot a loaded question a mile away, looked shifty. “She was talking about…winter. About what happens in winter. And I was the only one who knew about nisse! I bet I’m the only one who knows about Chanukah, too,” she added smugly.


5) As promised, I have to write the proper spelling of “nisse” on a piece of paper and put it in MG’s folder. So her teacher will know how to spell it.

And I will. Right after I impale myself on this handy menorah. Or a candy cane. Whichever’s closest.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Unsung Tech Heroes

Badger's posts about trying to help her father-in-law with his networking woes on 4 or 5 different computers made me think of all the adult children, children-in-law, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews who this very holiday weekend are holed up doing tech support in their relatives' studies, home offices, guest rooms, living rooms, and basements, sweating and gnashing their teeth and crawling under desks and tables to untangle cables, while their families watch TV and play Boggle.

Then, for their trouble, these valiant volunteers get to gently but firmly explain to their uncomprehending and/or indignant relatives why x or y don't and never will work they way they think they should, or why they should do z differently from now on to make sure the problem doesn't recur. Sometimes they even write it down in numbered steps on a piece of paper, which then gets filed away and lost.

My very own spouse and her cousin have done such support for me, and I am exceedingly grateful.

If I had the expertise, I'd make an award and put it right here for anyone to swipe and download who's been drafted for such duty: "FAMILY PRO BONO TECH SUPPORT SURVIVOR." Or maybe "I FIXED MY SISTER-IN-LAW'S WIRELESS, AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS CUTESY BADGE." Or "PROUD MEMBER OF TEH FAMILY TECH SUPPORT BRIGADE."

Hail to you all!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Surrender the Pink

Confidential to The Color Pink: I love you, truly, I do, you’re one of my favorite colors. But, you know, it’s been over two years. Enough is enough. I think it’s best if you see other blogs.

When I was thirteen, I had a Bad Experience at a hair salon. It was my first time getting a haircut at a grownup place, and I was totally intimidated: I didn’t know how to talk to the haircutting guy, how to tell him what I wanted; heck, I didn’t even know what I wanted. So I let them give me a flippy feathered blowdried haircut which had everything to do with the Generic Teenage Girl and nothing to do with me. Then I refused to set foot in a salon for the next five years. My hair got long and wild and sort of like Treat Williams’s in that movie, but it was mine: my long, my wild, my growing flowing overgrown hedge of a head of hair.

A week before I went away to college, I coaxed and convinced and bullied my best friend into cutting my hair short. “But I don’t know anything about cutting hair!” she wailed, as swaths of curly mane dropped into the bathtub. I didn’t care about her haircutting experience. I’d had that bad time at the salon with someone who supposedly knew hair; this time I was trusting my head to someone who knew me.

And that’s how it’s stayed more or less ever since, aside from a few back-and-sides at Astor Place in the Village, and, in the last few years, Rudy’s Barbershop down the street. Really I’m only comfortable when someone who gets me cuts my hair. I’m not a fashion maven and I have no vocabulary for hair, but at the same time it’s the part of my appearance that I have the most control over. When my hair’s overgrown and messy, I look frumpy; when it’s cut well, I look (well, at least somewhat) sleek and cool, and I feel sleek and cool. I don’t want some stranger with a pair of scissors messing with that.

All of which is by way of saying that when my mom kindly gave me a gift certificate for a new blogskin from Pilcrow for my 40th birthday, I was a little scared of going back to the salon. I'm a word person, not a visual person; what did a screen version of the online version of, well, me look like? I had no idea. Or rather, I had lots of ideas, but no way to express them or decide among them.

Which is why, every time Julie sent me a gentle query about what I might want for the new blogskin, she would get…nothing. And then more nothing, for a long time. And then a babbling apologetic email containing a) protestations of anguish over my lack of visual vocabulary, and b) several vague and contradictory notions, and maybe a photo attached. To which she would reply promptly and with great professionalism and acuity. To which I would respond with…nothing. And so on.

Somehow, Julie managed to interpret my procrastinatory verbal thrashings in the waters of design, and come up with the sleek and fancy confection you see before you. And…I feel the way I have the few times I’ve had really dramatic and good haircuts. I look in the mirror and blink, and look again. I grin, so I can make sure it’s really me. And then I look one more time before I saunter off into the world.

So, Mom: Thanks for the present! And Julie: thank you for being the friend in the bathroom and the expert at the salon at the same time.

I might be spending Thanksgiving in my pajamas (and very thankful to be doing so), but my blog is finally all snazzed up and ready to party.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bah Humbug Redux: First Draft

Dear Ms. Principal:

I’m writing to ask about Smartypants Yuppie School’s policies and guidelines regarding December holidays.

At winter break last year Mermaid Girl brought home several Christmas-related items, including a red-and-green wreath-shaped art project and and a reindeer handprint cutout as well as some Santa-and-reindeer themed worksheets. I was uncomfortable with the apparent emphasis on Christmas in her class, but didn’t say anything at the time, in large part because I only knew about it after it was over. This year, however, I would like to find out ahead of time what the school as a whole does to acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and that there are many ways—religious and non-religious--of observing the advent of winter.

I do understand that many, if not most, people think of Christmas as a general holiday of good cheer and not as a specifically religious observance, and that in a public school where most students (including MG, with some of her relatives) celebrate Christmas, it’s unrealistic and stifling to expect there to be no discussion or acknowledgement of the holiday.

But for non-Christians in particular a plethora of Christmas-related symbols at this time of year (reindeer, santas, wreaths, even candy canes) can lead to feelings of exclusion. As a personal matter, I don’t want only one side of MG's family to be acknowledged in the December excitement. I’m also concerned as a member of the SYS community for the other students—be they Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu—whose families don’t celebrate Christmas.

I’m contacting you before writing to Ms. Teacher because I would like to get a sense of the policy of the school as a whole before approaching her with any potential concerns or offers. In particular, though, I would like to ask that Christmas-specific symbols be minimized in homework, art projects, and party themes, whether they’re initiated by teachers or by parent volunteers, and to suggest that general winter symbols such as snowflakes might be more appropriate and help more children feel included.

I’d also like to offer, if it’s appropriate and you approve, to come to MG's class and read a fun book about Chanukah sometime during December. It was hard for me to get a sense from MG about how the holidays were discussed last year, though I know she was asked to bring in a menorah and talk about Chanukah. While I appreciate that her teacher made the effort to introduce some diversity into the holiday celebrations, this year I’d be grateful if any presentation of Chanukah could come from an adult (either me, another parent, or Ms. Teacher) rather than asking my 1st grader to explain the holiday herself.

For more information on this topic, you and the SYS staff and PTA might be interested in these links:

Religious Holidays in the Public Schools,” from Finding Common Ground: a Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools (PDF file)

"Religious Issues in Your Child's Public School: A Guide for Jewish Parents", a publication of the Anti-Defamation League.

I’m happy that our family is part of an inclusive school community that celebrates diversity wherever and whenever it can. I would love to see that inclusivity extend to a sensitive and thoughtful policy about Christmas and other December holidays in all the classrooms as well as the school as a whole.

Many thanks,

Elswhere Booland

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Five Things

Like Iowadrift, I am all too happy to be tagged with a meme. I appear not to have an original thought in my head these days--the floods have washed them all away, maybe. Also, I am tickled that Bihari (I know you changed your handle, Bihari, but the rain has also washed away my memory of the new one, so apologies for that) thought of me. So, thanks! And I will herewith attempt to come up with five things that the Reader might not know about me.

Actually, this is kind of tough, because I've already blabbed all kinds of stuff on this blog. I wrote about how I graduated from college barefoot and I once punched myself in the eye and I was in love with this woman in England a long time ago, not to mention my 7th grade French teacher, and you all already know that I procrastinate like a mad thing. Those are most of my party/staff retreat/icebreaker tricks (well, maybe not the 7th grade French teacher). I'm always mystified when someone says about anyone, with great seriousness and respect, "Well, s/he is a deeply private person." It sounds like such a dignified thing to be. Me, I'm more of a shallowly public person. So I'm not sure if there's very much of interest (aside from the few things that I'm really not willing to blog) that you wouldn't already know about me. But I'll see what I can come up with.

1. I am a pain wimp. This is one reason--though by no means the only one--that Renaissance Woman got to be the designated bio-mom in our family. I mean, if I'd had no choice about it, I would've gone through with pregnancy and labor, and I can see why people might find it a deeply fulfilling experience. But I was more than okay with missing all that and getting to be a parent anyway. Because, well, not so much with the pain.

2. I recently bought a bunch of new clothes and now I look like a grownup professional most work days. Mostly they are rayon. Plus some black velvet/actually-probably-velour pants. It turns out I love rayon.

2a. I am ignoring the care instructions and putting them in the washer and the dryer regularly. We don't coddle our clothes around here. They seem to be doing fine, so far.

3. Since October, I've been learning Torah Trope, which is sort of like Hebrew shape note. I've been meaning to post a whole post about this, but might as well mention it here. It turns out I love Torah Trope, too. Maybe even more than rayon. I never learned to read music, and it feels like I was saving that part of my brain for trope. It also seems to make it easier to read Hebrew--my guess is that it taps into the song-lyric-learning part of my brain, which seems to be exremely well-developed. My plan is to use this new skill to read a very short Torah portion at the Groovy Shul some Saturday morning in the next year or so.

4. My wireless card recently broke, so I'm writing this on RW's computer, which I'm about to have to give up as she's just pulling into the driveway right now, coming home from her singing rehearsal.

5. So, quickly-- ack! One more!--okay: I love maple sugar candy. I crave it. I could do with some right now, in fact.

Now, three people to tag (really fast as RW has to send some email):


..and I'll do what Bihari did, and say: you, too! Write something I don't know about you in comments, okay? Pretty please?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Unofficial Thursday 13

Unofficial because I'm too lazy to link to the great Thursday Thirteen Clearinghouse.

13 things I am happy about this week:

1) You know about this one.

2) Also about this one.

3) This one, too. I'm not even going to link to these three. Because if even someone like me who lives under a rock and gets her news from blogs knows about them, you probably do too.

4) On Tuesday, I got to meet Shannon! And Nat! And even the elusive Cole!

5) They are all really nice in real life, too. Nat is even cuter than she is on Shannon's blog. She is at my favorite age of toddlerness and it was all I could do not to just gobble up her toes. But I refrained because I could see that she is a person of immense Dignity and if I did that she'd probably remember and boy would I be in trouble in 35 years or so when she's President.

6) Despite having just had a big fit wherein she threw a marker at me, by the time we got to the election party where I was to get to meet them, Mermaid Girl was the picture of politeness, and chatted with Shannon about school and ballet etc. and even agreed to pose for a picture with Nat "if we can get Nat to stop moving." Ah, yes. We had the same trouble with you once, young one.

7) Tomorrow! I get to take a train to Portland!

8) To see Big Lilly and her mom! Really she is not very big. But to MG, she is big, since she is 12.

9) MG LOOVES Big Lilly. So much. So much it makes my heart fill up, because I remember when MG wasn't born yet and Big Lilly was the age MG is now, and Lilly and her mom painted Renaissance Woman's stomach (with MG inside it) for the Fremont parade, and gave us our first baby clothes. And now they're like cousins. She's so happy to get to see her that she can barely contain herself.

10) The sun has gotten the political pathetic fallacy memo and has been shining intermittently for the past three days. I needed that.

11) RW got the new Ayelet Waldman mystery from the library and finished it and let me read it and I gobbled it right up and it was gooood.

12) MG is learning to read! She came out of the bathroom and read me most of a story from her Spider magazine that she'd apparently been poring over while she was in there.

And the #1 (well, #13, but really #1) thing that is making me happy right now:

13) The eFBeI sent my fingerprints back with a clear criminal history! Finally! Maybe they read my post from a few days ago and felt bad. You think?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Old Fashioned

RW votes absentee, but I like to go in person; I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart, and still remember my mom taking me to vote at the local elementary school, crowding into the dark booth with her and pulling the curtains closed and watching her clack the levers.

Those curtained booths and levers are no more, apparently. At our polling station today, there was one brand-new electronic machine, and about a dozen of the usual carrel-like stands for filling out paper ballots with ball-point pens. There were over fifteen initiatives to vote on, and many local representatives, so it took a while to fill out the paper ballots. But everyone was lined up, waiting and waiting.

Only a few brave or foolhardy souls used the electronic machine. You could waltz right up to it any time you wanted.

I waited for a paper-ballot stand, shifting my feet and reading over the ballot. As I said, I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart, and apparently I'm not alone. Who knew we were all so retro, here in trendy lefty North Seattle?

Monday, November 06, 2006

8 ways to get a stomach ache, and 2 ways not to

1) I'm not officially doing NaBlo...what's it called again? The one where you post every day? That one.

Nope. Not doing that one. Can't take the pressure. Since I have managed to post on two consecutive days over the weekend, though, I thought I'd see how long this streak can last.

2) In lieu of election angst--have I told you the one about how I was home on Election Day afternoon of 2000 hanging out with Mermaid Baby while RW taught a class, and NPR announced that Gore had won Florida, and I clapped her little hands together, chanting "Gore won Florida! Gore won Florida!" so happy that we'd at least have a Democratic President to see her through her toddler and preschool years? No? Well, best not to mention it tonight, then--anyway, in lieu of anything touching on the elections, here is the update on our plans to move to Vancouver:

3) The Bureau that Investigates things Federally has been sitting on my fingerprints (now, isn't that a lovely image?) for over three months now. I keep sending them emails asking when they'll be mailing me my criminal history so I can send it in with my application for permanent residency, as required, and their flunkies keep sending back apologetic emails explaining that they've been just flooded with requests (imagine that!) and it will be another x weeks. Then, x weeks later, when I haven't seen anything in the mail, I shoot them another email. This has been going for about three rounds now, with no end in sight.

4) The application itself, which I have absolutely no excuse to not be working on in the meantime, has--after an initial burst of effort on my part this summer--been languishing in the file folders I set up, bursting with sticky-note queries about how to answer various questions. I really should be working on it right now. Really, I should.

5) However, I did set up a free phone consultation with an immigration consultant over the border, and she was very encouraging and answered all my questions. So now I really have no excuse. She also said spousal applications have been taking about a year, which means I'll be without Canadian earning capacity probably through next December at least.

6) We're probably going to move over the summer anyway, at least RW and MG are, so MG can start second grade Grade Two at her new school rather than moving her midyear. I will probably temp and couch-surf in Seattle so that I can at least keep some money coming in through the summer and fall.

7) We're leaning towards selling the house when we move (in the summer when they move? In the winter when I move? Don't know. Good question.) and buying an apartment up there immediately. Probably a small apartment we can buy outright, as we won't qualify for a mortgage without jobs to speak of, which we won't have right away. I figure if we think of it as long-term camping in a stationary camper van, rather than as a house that's way too small for us, we can handle it for a year or so.

8) Various aspects of this plan--mostly involving our old nemesis Money and its friends, Mr. Real-Estate Market, Ms. Job Market, and Madame Currency Exchange--make both me and RW hyperventilate. But we've managed to keep planning so far without dissolving into complete quivering wrecks.

So we are focusing on relatively minor areas in which we have more control, namely MG's school and the synagogue situation, both of which are looking pretty good. So, we'll be broke, but MG will have a great time at school with her cousin every day before returning to our overcrowded hovel, and we'll be spiritually fulfilled and also can get something to eat every week at Kiddush.

Furniture is another soothing topic. RW, who has been prone to bursting into tears at the mention of the impending move, was grieving in advance the other day at the prospect of leaving behind her beloved (huge, heavy, impossible to move) wardrobe, and was not consoled by our explanation that most normal bedrooms have closets, so she probably wouldn't need a wardrobe in the new place. Finally I said we could possibly buy her another wardrobe if it was that important to her, and pulled out the Ikea catalog to show her that such a thing was possible. She was immediately FASCINATED and within minutes had also abandoned her tearful loyalty to our old (huge, heavy, impossible to move) sofa and was pointing out several new couches that she'd like better.

It's possible that with enough infusions of new furniture and swedish meatballs we might be able to do this thing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

In Which I Indulge in a Few Literary Links

A long time ago, I found this quiet little book-review blog called Book Buds, specializing in incisive and thoughtful reviews of children's books. It was one of those specialized, under-read, consistently good blogs. Checking in was like being at a great used bookstore where there was hardly ever anyone else around and I could sit in the aisle and read as long as I wanted.

Then, a month or two ago, the proprietor, Anne Boles Levy, launched the Cybils: the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards. And all of a sudden, things are hopping over at both blogs, with readers and commenters galore, including some famous (well, famous to me) children's book folks. Yikes! Well, I can now say I Knew Her When.

Anyway, nominations for the Cybils go on for another week or two, so if you've read some good kids' books lately with 2006 copyrights, go on over and nominate!

Also, I don't think too many people read here who don't read Phantom Scribbler, but in case you don't know, she's hosting an online book club--no, two book clubs!-- two weeks from now. So if you're inclined to read either So B. It, by Sarah Weeks, or The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman, please do, and go on over there on the weekend of 11/17 to discuss.

It's embarrassing to admit this, as a librarian, but the truth is that I'm not much of a book club person; I like my reading private and personal. But this is one book club I'm completely up for. If it's anything like the Wednesday Whining comment threads, it should be great.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Proof that my child is possessed

...and/or that we are truly, truly shockingly lousy housekeepers:

"Mommy? After I have breakfast and get dressed, and after we get back from shul, can I please wash the bathroom sink?"

It's a slight relief that she'd completely forgotten about it, or at least didn't mention it, by the time we came home.