Saturday, September 18, 2010

Some day I will

I got up early this morning, earlier than usual, for my regular Saturday shift at the club. I work there part time and for my situation - stay-at-home mom trying to write a novel - it's about as perfect as it gets. No wonder so many people - school acquaintances, parents' of my daughters' friends, members at the club - ask me routinely if they're hiring.

I relish the early hour. It feels as though it's a whole world just to myself - quiet, uninterrupted, peaceful. The cool morning air that will eventually turn hot in the September sun, the drive-in along country roads, the breezy air and rustling trees as I walk through the empty parking lot.

Best of all, though, is the pool deck where I find myself after opening all of the necessary doors and turning on all of the necessary lights.

It is breezy, still, and the wind makes ripples along the clear water. The sun is only half up, lighting part of the concrete, warming my skin. There is a view, open sky, and the air smells of the beach. If I close my eyes, I can imagine myself there, salt water sulphuric humidity enveloping me.


Today, I will embark on a two day camping trip with my family. And I'm not talking about sissy camping with a trailer and all that - I'm talking tent.

The girls have never been to the mountains before and I thought it was about time we go. Much as I would love to go to the beach, much as I really wanted to go to Florida this September, finances don't ever seem to allow, and really, it's about time we did something different.

Living in the Raleigh area is convenient in that way - we are lucky. We have an enormous shoreline to the east, and the Blue Ridge Parkway is to the west, and all are within three hours time frame away, give or take.

So we've borrowed a tent and equipment from various friends, done a trial run with said tent to make sure we can actually put it together once we're there, packed everything we can think of that we might need, and arranged for the dog to be watched by neighbors. And I have entered anxious mode, as I always do when I'm ready to leave my house for a few days. (I hate that - I wish I was a bit freer of spirit in this matter). We are ready to take to the open road!

We are headed to the Linville Falls area, in between Asheville and Grandfather Mountain areas. There are supposed to be beautiful waterfalls there, and pretty scenery. Hopefully the girls will be able to sufficiently hang for the hiking. I think they will - we've done plenty of day hikes around our area. We may also go apple picking somewhere up there. If nothing else comes from the weekend, it will be the welcome relief from this never-ending, ridiculous, Triangle heat that has enveloped us all since late May. While temperatures here continue to broil in the '90's, it will be a refreshing 80 degrees up there.

Anyway, wish us luck. Deep breath. Here we go.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Christianity, Judaism, and the Five-Year-Old

G was having trouble sleeping a few nights ago. The usual stuff - she was afraid of something in the dark, something outside her window, something. I don't know - it was late and I was frustrated.

Anyway, I attempted to talk her through her fears by hitting on a subject near and dear to her heart - Jesus. She inexplicably has taken a great liking to the Sunday school and the catechesis program at her Catholic preschool, and we were convinced for a while that she would grow up to be a nun. I say inexplicable because her father and I are not devout Catholics by any stretch.

Since we've been having some issues with G lately in terms of sleeping, anxiety, etc., I figured it was the appropriate time to bring out these big guns. But alas, my attempts to reassure her - telling her that angels were watching over her and Jesus was always there with her, too - did nothing to calm her fears. She told me, quite seriously, that she just didn't believe that Jesus was in her heart. I asked her to please explain, since she'd always been a big fan of J, and this new turn of events was a surprise to me.

She donned an air of extreme sincerity and seriousness, pulling me down close to her so I could hear her whispered voice. "I don't believe Jesus is in my heart, because I guess I must be Jewish."

Ha! News to me and I give her a 10 for creativity. My ultra Catholic mother-in-law must have been doing somersaults in her grave upon hearing that one. I, on the other hand, laughed hysterically, told her to go to sleep, and walked out the door where I found my husband in tears on the landing. L'Chaim!

Back to School ...

The first full week of having both of my kids at school has gone fairly well, except that I have developed a wicked summer cold, which is putting a bit of a cramp in my plans for uber productivity.

I will admit to feeling very anxious over the last several weeks as this time approached. I knew G would do great in kindergarten. I've been more anxious, really, about how I was going to handle this change.

A month or so ago several female acquaintances, all of whom work full time, asked if I would be returning to work once both kids were in school. I felt weird and guilty telling them no. My husband and I had accepted it as a foregone conclusion that I would stay home, at least for a while. He wanted to give me the opportunity to finally do some serious writing and the plan still is that I will do just that. Too, we both still believe very strongly in the benefit of being available to our kids as they grow up, something that doesn't end just because they're in school all day.

But it got me to thinking that it is a hard thing, in this day and age, to justify. With the economy in the dumps, and us getting along fine financially (not great, but fine), does it make sense for me to be at home all day living a life of leisure?

Okay, so I'm not really going to be living a life of leisure - I'm not the sort of person to sit around on the sofa eating bon bons all day. I have a long list of home projects that have been just waiting for a child-free block of time to get completed, along with the daily task of taking care of the family's needs, trying to pick up some writing jobs, working on a novel, and oh, there's my part-time job at the fitness club, and PTA responsibilities, too.

And though my husband totally supports me, I started to get a little nervous about the whole thing. How do I organize the day so that I can build in time for projects, writing, and overseeing the house, and do it all effectively so that I don't have to justify myself to anyone? How do I not feel guilty if I want to actually take an hour here and there for myself, since I have nothing but time for myself overall? More importantly, what happens when/if I finish all of those projects and the writing is taking up some of my time but not all of it, and I am faced with stretches of empty time?

This is all at once a luxury, a burden, and a responsibility, that presents just as many questions as any other life choice. Thus the anxiety and the conclusion that I will just take it day by day and see how it unfolds.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Second Child

I am convinced that God is a cruel jokester sometimes. I am fond of saying that He gives us an incredibly wonderful, easy baby the first time, so as to sucker us into having more.

Our first daughter was the easiest baby in the world. We patted our own backs on so many occasions for our obvious parenting prowess, for we had a baby who slept through the night within a month of being born, who was always happy, who rarely cried, who still, at six-years-old, is as easygoing and sweet as it gets. And then came G.

G, born a mere 16 months after her sister, started in on us right away by steadfastly refusing to poop at the hospital, sentencing us to two extra days with a crazy and somewhat demented nurse, while we waited, hoped, and prayed for some movement. From the very beginning, she let us know she was determined to call the shots. She was ruddy and fat and loud, with no sign of the sweet "Aah Laah" cooing we'd been accustomed to with our first. She took forever and a day to sleep through the night, walked at nine months, talked conversationally at 18 months, and has been arguing with us ever since. I love her dearly, but boy she gives us a run for our money.

She starts kindergarten tomorrow. If ever a kid needed it more, I'd like to know. I will nominate her teachers for sainthood at the end of the year.

In the meantime, I continue to balance my admiration and frustration with her. Today, while buying school supplies at Target, she cheerfuly read from the school supply list provided by her teacher. Admiration.

We approached the composition notebook display. I picked up a black one. She wanted pink. I could have explained that the books go into a big pile for all of the kids to use and so color was really irrelevant, but I have also learned to pick my battles, and told her to go for it. At some point, she added a butterfly-covered spiral-bound notebook that she wanted for herself. At 50 cents, I agreed.

When I returned home, I couldn't find the composition book and alarm bells went off in my head. I asked her what she'd done with that pink book and she cheerfully explained that she'd decided she'd put it back and gotten the butterfly notebook instead, not in addition to, as I'd mistakenly assumed. As usual, at five-years-old, she thought she knew better than me and now I have to go back to Target. Frustration.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My oldest daughter had a very small stuffed rabbit with very long ears. She loved him very, very much, chewed occasionally on his ears, and took him everywhere. I can't remember where he came from, and I don't know why she became so attached to him, but he was certainly an important fixture in her life.

At some point, the rabbit got lost and though we looked high and low for him, he simply could not be found. M dealt with this fact bravely, but it was clear he was always there in the back of her mind. She might be getting ready for bed, and suddenly start crying because she was thinking of him, or stop whatever she was doing and proclaim, out of the blue, that she missed him and worried about him, wherever he might be. We tried to reassure her, suggesting that perhaps he'd finally become real, as the Velveteen Rabbit had, from being loved so much. Months went by, and numerous searches, for none of us were quite ready to fully give him up. But the truth was, that rabbit was simply gone.

Recently, M and G were on a walk with their dad, and M picked up a dandelion and blew it, scattering its seeds into the wind. Her father asked her if she'd made a wish. She had, she said, but didn't want to tell what it was, because she really, really wanted it to come true. G asked her if she'd wished for her rabbit, and M burst into tears. Clearly he would forever remain on her mind.

But here's the really weird thing. This morning, while the girls were playing in G's room, their dad wandered upstairs and there, in the middle of the bedroom floor, was a very small rabbit. He brought it to her, still foggy from sleep and certainly confused, and asked her if it was her beloved friend. She looked up and burst into tears.

Where in God's name had it come from?

Obviously, our first inclination was to ask G if she'd found the rabbit and brought it to M, because M had no idea how it had come to be on her bedroom floor. It's a conclusion that makes perfect sense to any parent, I guarantee you. But G insists she knew nothing about it. Now I'm not naive, and G has been known to try out a half-truth or two, but she always caves within minutes and admits her guilt. And in this matter, she wouldn't -not to me, or to her dad. She has so certainly and steadfastly proclaimed her innocence that it is problematic for us to press the issue any further.

If G didn't do it, where the heck did that rabbit come from? And where on earth had he been? I don't know the answer, and quite frankly, it's freaking us out a little.

M has an occasional habit of sleepwalking. Perhaps he'd been on her mind, she'd had a dream that reminded her of where it had been lost all those months ago, and she simply got up in the middle of the night and retrieved it. Perhaps we have a ghost in our house, or a stranger living in our attic. Perhaps I have an overactive imagination and G will admit a week from now that it was her all along (though that would really concern me on other levels). Or perhaps, as M is perfectly certain, a fairy heard her wish, came into her room, and brought him to her.

I don't have the answer, but I'd really like to know. Or on second thought, maybe I wouldn't. Of all the things we tell our kids are so, but have such trouble believing in ourselves, what a funny thing it is to have a little mystery like this come upon us. Why should it so impossible to believe after all, that a little girl who really, really wanted something so desperately, did see her wish come true? It's certainly a nice thing, once in a while, to have a little faith.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

School Board Issues and Diversity

I can't go on without posting something about the current goings on in the Wake County Public School System. I will attempt to summarize:

A new school board majority took office this past fall. For the first time in years, a majority of members were in place who were opposed to the board's attempts at achieving diversity. For those of you not familiar with WCPSS, diversity here means attempting to keep all school populations at a mix of 40% free and reduced lunch students, 60% non free and reduced lunch. To achieve this, the board has redistricted, on an annual basis, shifting students around to try to keep that 40% f&r number steady. To parents, this meant never knowing where their kid would be attending school. To schools, it meant weak PTA's because the student body changed from year to year, never allowing for a strong PTA to be put into place.

All of this, with no viable proof that the diversity efforts had accomplished the system's goal of improving achievement among minorities, and a school board and superintendent who steadfastly stuck to their guns regardless, and who routinely ignored the voices of the parents who were directly affected by the board's decisions.

Imagine, as a parent, having a child attend three or more different schools from kindergarten through fifth grade. This is what was happening. A school board so intent on looking out for the kids was curiously deaf to the potential adverse affects caused by this routine lack of stability. How do you foster school pride, social development, or a strong PTA, when your school changes every single year?

As you can imagine, the new board, who immediately set about with voicing their desire to end the diversity policy along with their intent to try a different means to improve student achievement, has met with a great deal of hand-wringing among groups who are appalled that the school system may be abandoning its most at-risk students.

And major newspapers, like the New York Times, are following the issue closely, since Wake County is supposedly a national model for success. A shame that no one is looking closely at the issue - they'd see that there are a lot of smoke and mirrors in place when it comes to measuring that supposed success.

Recently, Del Burns, the long-time superintendent of the system and staunch supporter of diversity efforts, announced quite abruptly his intent to leave his post over his dissatisfaction over the changes. There's some debate currently going on about whether he should be asked to leave immediately, or whether he should be given until the end of June, when his contract is set to end.

Everyone is up in arms over this, since he's got so much raw experience under his belt, even while he really is acting like a spoiled teenager who's pissed because he's not getting what he wants.

It will be interesting to see how the board moves forward, in regard to Del Burns, as well as to eventual move back to neighborhood schools. I'll try to post an update here and there about it, but I will say, as one who believes that something new needs to be tried, I'm not sorry to see some changes put into place.

The Never-Ending Winter

Oh my gosh, will this winter never end??? I have been down south for eleven years, and I'm accustomed to enjoying pleasantly warm days and early blooming flowers at this point in the season.

Not this year! This is truly the coldest, longest winter I can remember. I remember posting a link on Facebook last fall, one that indicated that the Farmer's Almanac was calling for an unusually cold, wet winter for the Northeast with lots of snow. I found it amusing, and I admit to rubbing it in a bit for my northern family and friends.

Well here I sit, during the last week of February, looking outside at yet another cold, damp day, wondering if the weather forecast is correct and we will see a snow dusting tonight. Even my kids, enticed as they may be by the tease of snow on the ground, are ready for warmer weather. M has been having trouble sleeping lately - too much on her mind, she says. When asked what could possibly be bothering a six-year-old so, she tells me she can't stop thinking about the beach. God love her.

Truly, it is enough to send us to the nearest airport. Or at least send me to the hardware store for some grow lights that I could sit myself under so I won't be S.A.D. I can't imagine what my northern counterparts are feeling like right now - they're expecting a foot of snow in Maryland, on top of record snowfalls this year. That state has actually agreed to forgo up to five make-up days since most counties are already beyond their alloted snow days for the year and otherwise may have ended up being in school into July!

Ah well, the forecast for the weekend is calling for sun and temperatures in the 50's. I suppose I should be happy about that, but it was 60 degrees last Sunday, a terrible tease! No. I don't think I will be happy until the weather is solidly in the 70's, with no chance of a slip back into cold weather, when I can sit outside at night with my husband and stare at the stars as a warm breeze stirs the leaves of the trees above. I guess I really just ought to buy that house in the islands instead! Think I'll go check my lottery tickets one more time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Birthday Parties

So G's birthday was nearly a month ago and given tight finances that always seem to occur at this time of the year, we have not yet planned a party for her.

Actually, I was hoping she'd forget about it, but possessing a highly tenacious sort of personality, she has not. I have, therefore, been searching for some sort of option that isn't completely and utterly ridiculous in terms of price. Now some more frugally minded people may ask, "why not just have it at your house?" and I would nicely reply, "been there, done that, NO WAY!!!" Ever deal with ten preschoolers running wildly around your house while their moms stand chatting, oblivious to their kids sugar-crazed behavior? Not doing that again.

But oh how I hate the whole birthday party thing. You have the grandparents, silently wondering if our generation has all gone crazy for the making these celebrations into all-out, overdone events. You have the parents of our generation, getting completely sucked into the madness because everyone else is doing it to the point that it is a foregone conclusion. It becomes not, "are you?" but "where are you?"

You have the agony of the guest list - do you invite the whole class, thus upping the cost and the attendance numbers to a ridiculous level? Or do you only invite a few kids, risking hurt feelings by the excluded kids and, more often, their parents? If you do only invite a few kids, how do you keep the invited kids from chatting about it? And how do you avoid the ire of the teachers, who have to deal with shushing that chatter?

And then there's the question of, where does it stop? I told my girls that after age six, that's it for the parties. They could have a few friends over for a slumber party after that point, or I would pay for one or two friends to go skating. But I know plenty of parents who are perfectly happy to continue on with these massive celebrations every single year until their kids are 18. Really, when is enough enough?

And finally, there's the cost. For example, G wanted to have her party at Monkey Joe's, after attending a friend's party there. All fine and good, but the minimum weekday cost was something like $160. Though I know her friend's mother had a coupon, I could find no such offers to help us alleviate the financial burden. Really? $160 for a party room, cake, appearance by a huge monkey that reminded me too much of Peanut, one of the deranged puppets in comedian Jeff Dunham's show, and play time for what will likely amount to about six kids? I'm sorry, but I haven't completely lost touch with reality yet, and so I gently discouraged the idea. Gently meaning, sorry G, it just isn't going to happen, unless you happen to have a very full piggy bank sitting up in your room.

Most of the venues in our area run in the same price range, though, and so it becomes a $200+ endeavor once you figure in food, cake, and gift bags. It's ridiculous. And we're supposed to buy them presents on top of this cost? I can understand why my parents' generation thinks we're all nuts.

For G, I think we've finally settled on a pool party. Yes, it's February, but the fitness club we belong to and which I, conveniently, work at, has a huge indoor pool area, the cost is very reasonable, and I get a discount on top of it since I'm an employee. Since all of the kids we'll be inviting are strong swimmers, this is the best, and only, option. Since M had her birthday party at the outdoor pool in September, it was an easy sell to G, so I think we'll choose a date and get on with it. And hopefully, end this madness once and for all.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rain, Snow and the Beach

Baltimore is expecting two feet of snow this weekend. Now, we've had an unusually wet, cold winter here in North Carolina but usually we're blessed with sunny, mild winter days. So even though we had our own little snow event last weekend and today is raw and rainy, I am damn glad I'm here and not there!

On the other hand, where I'd really like to be is two states farther south - Georgia or Florida would be just fine thanks. At the coast, of course. Because when we move from here, (and it will be soon), the only place we'll be going is to the beach.

It's becoming harder and harder to wait. It used to be that I could count on my monthly dose of Coastal Living to help keep the dream alive. Pages of sea green and blue and tan photographs, images of beachside bonfires, cedar shake shingled houses softened by tan and green seagrass around the perimeter left me longing but inspired.

But then they went and changed the entire format of the magazine into some cheesy retro attempt to be cool that speaks nothing of the beach, so that now it totally sucks, and I am spinning into an abyss of despair.

I had hoped that painting our landlocked Wake Forest house in white and tan and infusing it with navy blue and ochre decor and a smattering of seashells would help me weather the time. But it just looks like some crazy person in denial lives here.

I just want to pack up the entire family and drive to Sanibel, on the gulf coast of Florida. But we don't have any money at the moment, which puts a certain kink in the plan.

We have to leave. We don't belong here. We don't care about what cars we drive, or how our house compares to everyone else's, or the school system, or climbing a corporate ladder. Our hearts are buried somewhere in the middle of a sand dune. Our windows belong open, with salt-infused breezes whipping through the house. Our girls should be perennially barefoot and tanned, surfboards under their arms as they run to the waves. Time to go, time to go, it is more than past time to go.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fish the Magish

Since neither G nor M had school today, (M due to this third snow day, and G because she doesn't have school on Wednesdays) we decided to make our way down to G's preschool. In honor of Catholic School's week, they were sponsoring a performance by Fish the Magish, a local entertainer for kids who's really a lot of fun.

Many parents in Raleigh have probably seen Fish the Magish perform at one time or another. He's been to the girls' preschool each year, though this is the first time I'd had the opportunity to see him.

In business for fifteen years or so, Mike Fisher is a middle-aged southerner who presents his 30 minute shows to preschool through junior high audiences, tailoring his act to specific, age-appropriate themes. He incorporates lessons in character education into his preschool shows, and curriculum based standards of learning in his elementary aged shows.

For G's preschool, he emphasized self-control and appropriate behavior, made the kids laugh at his silly mistakes, and wowed them with some pretty neat magic tricks. He was engaging, funny, and kid-friendly. Both the kids and the adults loved it.

For information on upcoming performances, check out the calendar pages of Carolina Parent, or email him at

Snow Days

It is Wednesday, five days after the big snow. School is still out, but that's par for the course here in our area of North Carolina.

Raleigh just doesn't usually get much bad weather. They can't justify the cost of massive amounts of snow-removal equipment or salt, and so in most cases, they try to salt in advance, they plow a little, and they wait for it all to melt. As frustrated as I want to get with this, I guess I can't blame them.

The problem I have is with the lack of common sense that goes along with the emergency management efforts. For example, part of the reason schools are closed on this sunny, 50 degree day is because the school parking lots are still full of snow and ice, as are the parking lots where the buses are stored. The roads are all clear. So are our neighborhoods.

So couldn't the principals have just planned in advance to pay someone 20 bucks to plow their school parking lot? Heck, for the amount of money the administrators make, they could even foot the bill, or take it out of the PTA funds, or something. They've had four days to figure something out. I know there are people out there willing to run a personal plow through for next to nothing, especially in this economy. I know, I know. Liability issues and all that junk. But our kids have lost three days of school that half-day Saturdays aren't going to come close to making up for.

Yeah, emergency management - that's an issue I'd love to see our new school board tackle.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Snow and Other Things

It is Sunday, the day after the big snow and we are all settled in nicely. It's good that the sun is shining brightly today, making tiny glittering crystals in every direction. I am not much of a cold-weather person. Okay, I'm not at all a cold weather person, and the only thing worse than being snowed in is being snowed in with gray, gloomy, ominous, overcast skies. That pretty much describes all of the Maryland winters from my childhood - in my memory, it was gray from November through the end of March. So if the sun is shining brightly, and the snow is pretty, and melting a bit, I can get through it.

M had her first sleepover (at our house) on Friday night. The snow made it all the more fun. Take three girls under the age of seven and throw snow into the mix and you get a lot of screaming, a lot of wet boots and cold hands, and a good time had by all. Her friend left yesterday afternoon, we spent some more time outdoors traipsing through knee-high drifts, and were all quite tired last night. And today is a new day.

Everything is still closed or cancelled, including the fitness club where I work, and so I'm losing seven hours of pay, but gaining a day with my family. I wouldn't be surprised if school is two hours late tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Which means G won't have preschool at all, and I won't be having a roaring start to my 9-week fitness challenge that's set to begin tomorrow.

That's the catch-22. In Maryland, it was gray, but you could get out pretty much right after the storm ended, so prepared are they with plows and such. In NC, it snows, and you are stuck. Indefinitely. They don't plow, because they only have maybe two for the whole city. Add to that the fact that our neighborhood sits neither in city limits nor town limits, and so does not get pre-brined, or plowed, or anything. We are left to our own devices, which means waiting for the snow to melt on its own.

Oh well. I will sit from time to time at my kitchen table, a cup of coffee in hand, and watch the flurry of brightly colored birds congregate around our feeder. It is not a bad thing to witness - bright white snow reflecting the warm sun, while brilliant red cardinals battle for space among the brown wrens (or are they finches?) and the black, white, and red woodpeckers. A little girl, or two, puffy in too-big snowsuits, running across the scene and scaring them all away. I will dream of warmer days to eventually come, and I will enjoy a moment's peace in this busy, busy world.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Drive, stop, write. Drive, stop, write. Horns honk, because I cannot write, and watch the light!


I've been noticing lately that my usual cup of Starbucks - a tall mocha - is not being fully filled with coffee by the baristas. It's happened at several of my usual Starbucks locations - Spring Forest and Falls of Neuse, and Triangle Town Center Barnes & Noble.

I've registered complaints with both Barnes & Noble and Starbucks corporate and will post back if I hear anything from them.

Could this be just another company following the popular but deceptive trend of offering less product in their packaging, without reducing the price?

Rice A Roni, Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, Charmin Bath tissue (same number of sheets per roll, but the width of the sheets is noticeably smaller), and nearly all of the major potato chip / snack food manufactureres are guilty of this. I can understand, in this economy, trying different things to reduce costs, but deceptive marketing such as this is a dangerous game. Manufacturers risk long-standing customer loyalty, and degradation of the brand name due to customer mistrust.

I will be interested to see if I do hear back from Starbucks. For now, I won't be buying coffee from them. Depending on their response, it will be a permanent decision.

Of note - Target gets an A+ in my book for customer relations. A complaint to them about their new Up & Up brand, which is of a lesser quality at a higher price (in my opinion) net a personalized email, a $3 store coupon, and a promise to talk to their buyers regarding the issues I had.

Lowes Hardware, on the other hand, gets a solid D for customer relations. When I had a problem with a pendant light fixture bought from them that resulted in having to reinstall three lights on various occasions due to cheap quality and manufacturing that was later addressed in a new design, I got a basic shrug of the shoulders. Not only did I have to re-wire three lights due to their poor product, a hassle to say the least, they could offer me no apology, no promise of fixing the issue, and no sor of coupon or other offer to make amends.