I ask you

This is my garden:

Or rather, this is the patch of soil that was my garden last summer. It produced millions of tomatoes, dozens of green peppers, a handful of cucumbers, and two puny watermelons.

I do not wish to repeat last summer's vegetable bounty, because most of said bounty went to waste.

Nor, however, do I want this patch of soil to remain brown and bare throughout the summer, because it's unattractive.

So, what do I plant here, in the shrubbery/flowery vein? Keep in mind that I do not have a green thumb. Also, I don't want to spend a lot of money. Also, this area is in full sun most of the day. And it's really hot. And sometimes we get rabbits.

Any advice?

To thank you in advance, I give you these goofy photos of my children and their homemade parfaits (which Mallory persisted in calling "specialinis").


Friday Shorts

Phoebe missed two days of school last week; the day she returned, her teacher gave her some "homework": a coloring sheet with an umbrella (because it was "U" week). According to my father-in-law, Phoebe pulled the sheet out of her bookbag on the drive home, sighed heavily, and said, "I don't know when I'm going to fit this into my schedule."

Mallory is learning about Communion in her religion class. I was prepping her for a test a few weeks ago; the question I asked was, "Why is the priest able to turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ?" She said, "Because God...well because it's...because Jesus...well, because someone has to do it!"

Phoebe fell on the playground on Tuesday; the next day her teacher handed me an "incident report" to sign. Under the section for treatment, instead of checking one of the listed options (bandage, ice pack, antibiotic ointment), her teacher wrote: "Hug."



The kind of leader of the free world she'll be

Mallory wrote this for a President's Day class assignment:

If I were President I would go see a movie at my house. I will have 2 desserts every night because almost everyone will give me yummy treats. I will be in the newspaper. It will be really fun.

Hey, I'd vote for her.


The kind of girl she is

As I may have mentioned, we joined the





What did Mallory do when we came home from swimming the first time? Exactly the kind of thing Mallory loves to do: She made a card. Mallory is forever making cards for people -- teachers, friends, families; she also frequently puts together "gift bags" of things that she "doesn't want anymore anyway, so I don't mind if this person has it instead!" We have had to have talks about when it's appropriate to give someone a gift, and what an appropriate gift is. She still doesn't quite get it when I tell her that she cannot, in fact, give a bag of discarded stuffed animals and some lip gloss to a girl she may have played with one time on the playground. "It's never wrong to give someone a present!" she'll say, and I can't think of a way to explain that, in fact, not every gift is received in the spirit that it's intended. I love that she's so generous, I don't want to squash that out of her, but I want to teach her boundaries too.

Anyway, this card was for, as she put it, "Staff Members of Y." She outlined, cut out, and decorated each of the four letters. The "Y" was designed to look like the climbing wall; the "M" had a girl swimming between its lines; the C was a yoga studio, and the bar of the "A" was a soccer field. It was a very cool card, actually.

She brought it to the Y when we went back on Saturday and presented it to the "staff member" who hands out locker rooms keys. The woman, bless her, must be around children a lot, because she made much of the card and told Mallory how much she loved it. And when we walked by the desk again, on our way out, I nudged Mallory and pointed at the main bulletin board behind the desk. There was her card, in all its glory, right where everyone could see it. Mallory beamed. This gift, at least, was just right.



A few months ago, Phoebe and her classmates were given the opportunity to sign up to "read" a book of their choosing at storytime. I would ask Phoebe periodically if she wanted to sign up, and she kept saying no, which I attributed to her shyness. Then one day she said, "I would sign up to read a book, but I don't know how to read yet!"

"Oh, honey, you don't have to know how to read -- you can just tell the story any way you want!" I said.

"No you can't," she said.

"Of course you can! None of your friends know how to read either -- they're just making up the words."

"Really?" she said.

"Really," I said.

"Wow. Wow! I can do that too!" she said.

"Of course you can!" I said.

So she signed up the very next day. And she chose her favorite book:

I went to watch her, and I don't think anyone in that room besides me realized that she wasn't actually reading. She recited almost every word of that book, even the "fancy" ones like elegant and exquisite and furious and extraordinary. She put in dramatic pauses and flourishes and her audience laughed in all the right places.

She was very proud of herself.

I was proud of her too.


And how are things with you?

1. I fell down the steps yesterday while leaving work. Ouch.

2. Phoebe was sick, slept all day, was not sleepy at bedtime, and got out of bed to watch Yo Gabba Gabba at 11 pm.

3. Mallory woke up, realized her sister was not in bed, and commenced weeping because she's lonely. "I can't sleep by myself!" she whined. And then said: "Also, I'm really really cold and shivering but I also feel really hot."

4. I realized that the fastest way, at that point, to get both children back to sleep was by agreeing to sleep in their room with them.

5. I woke up about every hour because of children coughing, children sneezing, or children getting up to pee.

6. I woke up for good and could barely move, because I was sore from 1. (above) and because wow, is the kids' bed uncomfortable.

7. Neither child went to school today.

8. I was supposed to leave work early to attend a parent-teacher conference for Phoebe. I wasn't able to do so. The school secretary seemed very taken aback and offended when I called to let her know.

9. But none of this isn't getting me down, and do you know why?



I have also decided...

...that hiring two people to reduce my workload has, in fact, only added to my workload.

...that if Mallory really wants to decorate her own shirt for St Patrick's Day, I should let her, even though I'm afraid she'll end up looking goofy.

...that I want one of these for Mother's Day, except not with the names Benjamin and Elizabeth, obviously.

...that I should ask my brother if he got horrible headaches from giving up Diet Coke? Because I have, when I've tried to stop drinking it in the past, but I don't know whether it's from caffeine withdrawal (scary) or aspartame withdrawal (even scarier).

...that instead of me explaining to my Brownies' parents how the girls earned the three badges they'll be getting at our Awards Ceremony tonight, I should make the girls explain it themselves. But also, that I should have cheat sheets just in case none of them have a clue.

...that I need to get Mallory another dress uniform, because washing the single one she has every night is just not every efficient. (They only had one in her size the last time I went to the uniform store, which is on the other side of creation.)

...that four days of eating leftover (homemade) chicken noodle soup for lunch is enough, even though it was very good soup, and even though there are still a couple of servings in the refrigerator that will go to waste if I don't eat them.

...that this is the last post I'll write like this for some time, for which you are all probably grateful.


I have decided

….that I want a pair of red shoes.

….to join the Y with the children. We would all benefit from more physical activity.

….to tell you that I have two really fascinating blog posts in mind, that I’ve been meaning to write for a few weeks now, one about Phoebe and one about Mallory, but I haven’t had the time to put them together.

….to limit my time on the computer to 20 minutes after the kids go to bed. I’m on the computer all day at work. I need to make more of the free time that I have.

….that if someone doesn’t buy my dining room furniture soon I’m just going to put it out on the curb.

….that I need to drink more water and less Diet Coke.

….that I want to take a photography class.

….that based on the number of times Mallory sneezed yesterday afternoon, spring is definitely on its way. And that, despite the allergies, I’ve never been so glad that winter is over.


Work, life, choices, and so on (and on and on)

I read two interesting articles yesterday about education and motherhood and choices and the timetable of life. The first mentioned a proposal in the President’s new education bill:

Take, for example, the National Center on Education and the Economy’s plan to have eight states experiment with allowing public school students to graduate after tenth grade upon finishing clearly stated requirements, and to then go on to community college. . . . One of the most ironically damaging aspects of the GI Bill in the 1940s was the notion, now so deeply entrenched in the American soul as to seem not an opinion at all, that four years of a liberal arts education at a university is a default experience for people after high school, and that to not do this is opt for, or be saddled with, the lowlier fate of “Not Going To College.” In this era when we so often bemoan the plight of uneducated young men, it is high time we returned to championing vocational education as America used to – and once again the Obama Administration is on it, with its plan to put 12 billion dollars into community colleges.

This strikes me as a very good thing. My mother-in-law, who is a nurse, told me once that she was often looked down upon because she “just” went to nursing school and “just” got a nursing degree, instead of going to a four-year-college and then getting a degree. Myself, I fail to see why it should matter, so long as the training is adequate. What’s better, after all – for an 18-year-old to get two years of vocational training and be able to get a job at 20, without much educational debt, or for an 18-year-old to, as a random example, go to a 4-year liberal arts college, get a good degree and the advice that she should go get another degree, and end up at the age of 24 still without job prospects in her chosen field AND a whole lot of educational debt? (Not that I know anyone in that situation.) I think, in fact, that very few 18-year-olds have a firm grasp on what they want to do with their lives anyway; but consider – if someone with a vocational degree changes his or her mind at the age of 30, after 10 years of working, he or she may be a lot more likely to be able to afford retraining that the 30-year-old with only 6 years of work experience who is still paying off a student loan.

And I know that not everyone will fall into those two categories, obviously. Not everyone has to take out student loans. Not everyone dithers around about what they want to be when they grow up. And I think there is something to be said for the intrinsic value of a “liberal arts education,” in the sense that every learning experience is good for the mind, it’s good for the populace to be culturally literate, blah blah. However, considering the current state of things – astronomically high, and ever-increasing, college tuitions; many state university systems in financial crisis (see: California); students graduating with a ridiculous amount of debt before they even get started in life – I think it’s pretty clear that something about the system is broken, and needs to be fixed.

Which brings me to the second article I read. It started with a quote from Hilary Mantel (the author of one of my favorite books of 2009, Wolf Hall):

I think there is this breed of women for whom society’s timetable is completely wrong. We were being educated well into our twenties, an age when some of us wanted to become mothers, probably little bits of all of us. Some, like me… you know, I was perfectly capable of setting up a home when I was 14, and if, say, it had been ordered differently, I might have thought, “Now is the time to have a couple of children, and when I am 30 I will go back and I’ll get my PhD.” But society isn’t yet ordered with that kind of flexibility, and is incredibly hypocritical about teenage sex, teenage mothers and so on.

Mantel was immediately criticized for seemingly advocating for teen pregnancy and so forth, and honestly I don’t think that any 14-year-old girl is capable of “setting up house.” But it is true, I think, that the current, standard approach to life – go to school, go to college, get a job, then get married and have babies – has some obvious drawbacks – to wit, what happens to your job when the babies come? You either have to work (outside the home) while raising the babies, dependant on family or daycare to get you through the first five or so years, or you leave the workforce for five or so years and try to get back into once the kids go to school. Clearly neither of these choices is optimal. (And yes, I know – you can work part-time, you can work from home, you can bring the baby to work. I don’t think those choices are available to the majority of women, however.) It’s a very fragmented and difficult way to organize one’s life.

Now, the obvious problem with doing it the other way – marriage and babies first, then college and a job – is, who is really ready to start a family at 18? I know a few people who have married young and had children young and managed exceedingly well at both (hello, Mom and Aimee!), but I don’t think that’s the norm any more. (And anyway, I wonder what would happen to the women who wanted to get married before college, but had no immediate prospects? Would they just stay at home and hope to meet a man? That’s an old-fashioned, and kind of unpleasant, notion.) I could’ve married the guy I was dating at 18, but I doubt that we would’ve made it two years without splitting up. I also don’t think that I would’ve been a very good mother at 18, honestly. (Although, on the other hand, it’s conventional wisdom that my generation -- “helicopter parents” we are termed -- is raising a bunch of praise-junky wimps with no coping skills or self-sufficiency – is that because we waited too long to have kids, learned too much in the interim, rely too much on the things we’ve read rather than instinct?) But, it’s also the case that it was only after I had my kids that I discovered what field of study, what career path, I should have pursued (child psychology, speech pathology, or the like). So yes, in many ways it would’ve been better for me had I put off college and had the babies in my 20s. Then I could’ve gotten the education I now wish I had gotten in my early 30s and had a more satisfying career at 38 (theoretically). Instead, I went to school in my 20s, had babies in my early 30s, and now am kind of stuck.

(It goes without saying that of course I’m glad I did what I did, because if I hadn’t gone to Trinity then come to UNC I wouldn’t have met Chris and we wouldn’t have gotten married and we wouldn’t have the girls. Still. You know.)

Reading over this, I’m not sure what my point is. I seem to have used “I don’t think” and “but also” and “on the other hand” and “then again” in almost every sentence, so clearly I don’t have much of a point at all. I guess what I want to say is...I’m proud of the fact that although my daughters complain that I have to go to work, they also say that they want to be a mommy AND something else (a vet, a teacher, a rock star) when they grow up. I’d like to believe that in fifteen or twenty years, the choices about what to study and when to have children and whether to work will be clearer, less fraught – but without a massive change in the way society is structured, I don’t see how they can be. So maybe all I can do is hope that I’ll have some wisdom to impart to my daughters once they get there. Well, I guess I’ll also have to hope that they’ll listen to me.