Friday, September 19, 2008

BonBons and Toenail Polish

When I was teaching, there were some hum-drum days that came and went with no remarkable events. There were others that just plain stank, and I repeated to myself and my minions ad nauseum, "Tomorrow is a whole, brand new day." Then, there were the days where I slammed it right outta the park. The lesson was spot on, I'd have a breakthrough with one of my more intense kids, a principal or two would be overheard singing my praises...

Mothering is exactly that, only the pluses and minuses (meandering thought- why not minusii? Hmmm...) happen to your own flesh and blood. There's no paycheck to work for, but there is the carriage of your genetic material onward to a surviving new generation, so it behooves Mommy not to screw up. So some days go on in one giant blur of diapers-food-naps-dog shenanegins-diapers-bedtime and before you know it, you're thinking, "It's Friday? Really?" Others, you're practically sprouting demure heels and buffed pearls from your feet and neck, respectively. You've had time to (get this) floss your teeth, and use the diffuser that came with the hair dryer. Developmentally appropriate activities are going well with the bambina, local and organic home-cooked four square meals grace the clean table, and the dog is behaving as though she's just stepped off the faux-turf of the Westminster Dog Show.

Rarer still, fortunately, are the days where everything comically goes "all circus" on you. Mommy has to morph into an X-Men-type creature known as "Umbrella" when the gadget-oriented bambina decides to crank the shower all the way hot, and sheild the baby from the resulting lava flow while cranking it back (with shampoo in her eyes, no less.) The day is perfect for a walk, but Mommy's hairdo ends up looking less Angelina Jolie and very much more like "Doll From The Bottom Of The Toy Bin," and two blocks (or what I suspect was two blocks... these are the rural 'burbs here) into the walk discovers that Post-Partum Butt is no longer holding up Grey Pants the way they used to (where'd it go? I'd like it back now!) so every few steps is an adjustment to either pants, or former ideals of modesty and class.

These days, of course, are also days where the bambina decides that a 15 minute power nap is all she needs all day, so that by the time the usual "witching hour*" rolls around, she's turning into a gremlin and alternately laughing hysterically as she plays "Give Mommy a black eye with my forehead" and whining, falling over her own feet. PMS leaves you teary-eyed over the fact that you missed "Signing Time" on PBS, and pissy that the washable brown crayon with which you let the bambina tag the kitchen walls is just not as washable as advertised. Dinner semi-scorches, and the well water leaves manganese stains on the sink. You wonder why you used a tablespoon to measure out the cookie dough, and not an ice cream scoop. You wonder how chamonile tea would taste with a healthy jigger of Southern Comfort.

As always, with time and patience, grace prevails and sustains, and before you know it, the day is over, and you've learned that yet again, tomorrow is a brand new day.

* The Witching Hour, in small children, refers to the time period approximately between 3-5 PM, where they can become quite irritable, whiny, hyper, or just plain annoying. It has much more to do with circadian rhythms and blood sugar, I believe, than parenting or disposition, and only has to be endured with the understanding that a little dinner and a soothing bedtime ritual away is peace and quiet.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Babies, Babies, everywhere!

A beautiful baby boy was born to a friend of mine on Sunday. All of her prolonged, off-again, on-again labor helped make it a short delivery. I can't believe that someone who gave birth around the time Gianna was born is actually having her second baby already! Congrats, Colette!

Also, in YAY HOME BIRTH news: Stephanie at Adventures in Babywearing welcomed her little Ivy into the world, in her very own bedroom this morning. Happy babymoon, you strong, home birthing mama!

Each story of home birthed babies makes me stronger. Soon, I'll be able to rip tall trees out of the ground, fly over buildings, and stop evil-doers with one crazy stare.

And, to birth my next baby at home. Empowering for me, frighteningly amazing for Mr. Clarateaches, educational for Gianna, and "knock-me-over-with-a-feather," "what-is-all-this," and "TOO MANY PUPPIES!" for Lola.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The sign of the times:

Today I drove down a tree-lined street. It was garbage day, so the garbage truck was stopping, and a garbage man (or what used to be called garbage men- what is it now? Environmental Elf? Waste Management Intern?) was hopping out, grabbing cans, and loading them into the lift that dumped it into the big container.

As I got closer, I saw that he was lifting the cans with one hand, and emptying them, and then tossing them very skillfully back to where they belonged. For a moment, I thought- "Is he showing off? Is he exercising his "garbage can" arm?

Finally I passed him. He was on a cell phone, talking while holding it up to his ear. There are just no words for that kind of skill.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Rident Stolidi Latina

So says my chocolate chip cookie recipe. My nine year old niece was giving me a reminder of what exactly to tell the naysayers when it comes up that Mr. Clarateaches and I are planning on using a Latin-Based Curriculum when we homeschool Gianna and subsequent bambinos. Now when I pull out my crusty, trusty notebook of recipes and see this (unintentionally) partial phrase, I can feel very smug and self-satisfied, until the occasion actually arises that someone does question our choice, and I completely forget what I was planning on saying, and I accidentally tell them, " Nauta precor procul mare." I need to pull out the Prima Latina and actually learn the mother tongue myself, one of these days.

She meant, "Rident stolidi verba latina," of course. "Only fools laugh at Latin." While this has so far only happened to us once, it does seem that as "terrible" and "failing" as public schools are perceived to be in the minds of many of the general public, the act of schooling one's child at home is seen as slightly insane by some ("What! You do realize you'll have your children underfoot all day long, right?") and as practically criminal by others ("By keeping your child out of public schools, the schools receive less money and therefore are not working as well for the other children, you selfish prig.")

I was sent an article by the eagle-eyed and bitingly witty Michael at Open All Night that both moves and troubles my soul. The article opens by saying:
NORTHFIELD, Ill. - More than 1,000 Chicago public school students skipped the first day of classes Tuesday to protest unequal education funding, a boycott organizers said would continue through the week with help from retired teachers who will turn office lobbies into impromptu classrooms.
I'm moved because the masses are actually coagulating and working as one, from the bottom up. This is always necessary, especially in a school system, as the changes are excruciatingly difficult to do from within. If the parents of my students ever had an issue with the school that they took up with me, I would heavily encourage them (in other words, I would carry them in a fireman's hold all the way to the office and inject them with sodium pentathol) to tell the office, and the school district administrators, as parents can get more fires started than teachers. I'm troubled, because as usual, the solution (as always) seems to be to toss more and more money at the problems, rather than to take a good hard look at where the money is all currently headed.

More and more and more money. And then what? More money still. Mitchell, in The Graves of Academe, argues that the perception of public schools failing is misleading. He argues that any institution that persistently does a shoddy job and continues to have money tossed at it is thriving well. I tend to agree- from the inside, a school is always searching, seeking, and finding (and going back to searching) for more money. When austerity budgets were instilled, the first things to go were usually the so-called "fluff" of the programs- art supplies, music, and finally sports. Yet administrators typically (and this is only my experience, which so far, including student teaching and substitute teaching as well as working as a certified teacher, is composed of six different public districts) do not initially option for pay cuts for themselves. These are people who are making six figures a year. The bulk of the "filling in" lands on the parents of students and then teachers themselves, pooling together for supplies.

Back to these students in Chicago, who are symbolically signing themselves up for enrollment in a "better" district (more highly taxed, wealthier, that probably without looking has a higher retention and graduation rate than the Chicago Public School District). Back also to the adults who are with them picketing and working hard to do what they think is the very best for their children or grandchildren. I have to wonder- if the adults with them so strongly want better, and are able to hold days-long protests, what is stopping them from schooling their children at home? Are they on leave from jobs that are waiting for them to come back from demonstrating? Are they under the impression that homeschooling is expensive and only to be done by those who are "certified?" Do they feel that the omission of their children will leave the remaining children in even worse shape?

These students, as the article points out, already realize that what they are doing is largely symbolic. They can't reasonably expect to commute 30+ miles to a better district, while also paying out-of-district tuition. Michigan schools actually have a halfway decent idea, with parents having the option to bring their children to the best available school within their county as a part of the "School of Choice" initiative, which makes districts competitive.

We are choosing, as many others are doing in droves, to go one step further and go back to the way some of the most brilliant minds of the onset of this country were schooled. Gianna will have slightly more than a slate and a Bible with which to learn how to read, write, and "cipher," but it will be without the several useless administrative positions and without the state-stamped "approved material" and without the general mindless dance of the drones that accompanies the typical public school experience of all but the very best districts. Don't misunderstand- this is not without a great deal of thinking and guilt and consternation on my part. What about the others? What about the single moms working long hours who cannot homeschool and are not near a decent alternative? What about the hard-working teachers who do their level best, under the worst of circumstances (and I know from personal experience and deep personal expense what goes into this)? What about the special needs children who need the services that are only offered in a public school setting? Change, I tell myself, is never easy. Transitions are difficult for adults, too. If there is to be an actual "change" in the current public school system, the agents of change need to be those who remove themselves from the cycle completely. The rest will have to fall into place, or fall away.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Customer Service

In accordance to Clarateaches Law, "Everything Dealing With The Car Has To Be The Hard Way." Aside from various and motley other little snafus with our new car, the dealership accidentally gave us the wrong interest rate, and had to find us a new car loan. They kindly did just this (and now I'm waiting for them to tell us that they accidentally sold us a car that was already sold) and so now we're dealing with a new bank. I called the bank to inquire about our new car's account. Ages passed, of voice-activated choices, repeatedly hitting "0" only to discover that the maze of options did not include the typical instant access to a human being, and lots of errors in the choices due to trying to get a sleek and shiny Dogasus out of my hair (Me: "Lola, NO! Sit!" Voice Activated Service: " 4...0...6... Is this correct? Press or say 1 if correct...")

I finally reached a human being around the time that Gianna found her indoor rock. Gianna has switched majors from dental hygienist certification to geology, and has to have a rock near her at all times. When we recently went to the zoo, she carefully pointed out "Ock! Ock!" at each exhibit. "Look, Gianna, there's a tiger!" I would say, pointing to a tiger lying on the ground, suffering extreme heat stroke. Gianna would be fixated on the false granite cave instead. "Up, up, UP!" she would demand, trying to climb into the tiger exhibit. "Ock!"

At any rate, Mr. Clarateaches found a rock that was large enough that it wasn't a choking hazard, and small enough so that it wasn't a broken toe hazard, and Gianna honed in on it right away.

She waddled over to me just as I was giving my account information to the Real Live Human on the other end. "Ock!" she said proudly, and banged it on my knee to drive the point home. I directed her towards the dog, who looked nervous as usual (but as yet can still outrun the baby, so I'm not terribly concerned) and the Real Live Human gaily asked, "How old is your baby?" I responded, "Thirteen months," and Real Live Human said, "Oh, I have one of those at home. Only, he's nine."

Okay... thirteen months is kind of like nine, I guess. At any rate, I was interested in getting information and getting off the phone. I don't call banks to chat. In the interest of classification, Gianna performed a vigorous Moh's Hardness Test on the rock using the glass kitchen door. I herded my little genius away from the glass and gave her a plastic bowl to repeatedly play "place and empty the rock," and Real Live Human asked, "What toy is THAT?!?"

I told her that Gianna was practicing her .22 with some clay pigeons and I just really needed to understand a few points about the car loan. She was able to give me this information in less than 30 seconds, and just as I was about to sigh a big old sigh of relief and check this task off my list, she started pestering me about signing up for a credit card. Fortunately, Gianna had started to try to force-feed Lola a spatula, so I was able to flee. Real Live Human huffed her way through a good-bye that I'm sure was not a part of her script.

Check. Ahhh.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Journey Begins With One Small Tush

Cloth diapering seemed fairly normal. I had the privilege of being the daughter of a mother who cloth diapered my youngest brother towards his potty-training years, and so I remember the eighties version- pins, prefolds, and plastic pants.

Trying to decide what I would use was a bit more daunting. Every cloth diapering mama, it seems, has come up with her own design and tricks and is marketing it to ecologically and economically friendly mothers everywhere. All have cutie-pie names that sometimes start to blur together: Bum Genius, Bummis, Fuzzi Bunz, Motherease, and Kissaluvs are just a handful of the more popular ones. On most mothering boards where cloth diaper use is prevalent, the alphabet soup of acronyms is just flying, as discussions of "BG's vs FB's" and "ME's with or without covers" go on and on and on.

I knew I would use pre-folds, whatever else I landed on. Prefolds are the typical cotton rectangle that most people think of when visualizing cloth diapers. Plastic pants are a crinkly, scratchy thing of the past, with the advent of wool covers (stay tuned for a mid-fall intro to my Etsy line of "Shorties;" a flashback to the good old days when Pa knew a new bun was in the oven when Ma started click-clacking away on the knitting needles, chugging out tiny wool shorts. That, or the massive morning sickness over the daily mucking of the cow stalls. Ahhh, the good old days...) or PUL covers (PUL stands for polyurethane laminate, a waterproof but soft fabric). Pins are even a thing of the past, as many (but not all) prefold users now snag the diaper into place with Snappis.

Aside from the "PFs," I was on the prowl. What marvelous, washable, soft and cozy item would catch my baby's excretions? The posh, but way too expensive Blueberry Minkies? Perhaps someday, when I find the buried treasure I've been searching for since third grade. As cute as they are, $42 is just too much for one single diaper.

Motherease was next on my list. Organic cotton, lovingly hand-picked by pixies by the light of the full moon*, woven into a comfy, yet moderately priced diaper that works from newborn on up to toddlerhood, thanks to a series of snaps that changes the size completely. Their Air Flow covers were also my main cover choice, as I wanted a breathable, "bubble cover" that would fit a range of thigh to waist ratios.

Bum Genius 2.0's were out when Gianna was born, and they upgraded to 3.0 by the time she was 6 months old. These also were "one size," and worked without a cover, as they were an "all in one" diaper. The only downside is that the fabric that contacts the baby's skin is synthetic, and for the summer, I've noticed that Gianna just does not tolerate the microsuede on hot and humid days.

After a full year of trying out different diapers, and stepping into the Wacky, Wild and Wonderful World of Wool, I've decided that, as in many things, simplicity is perfection. My typical set-up is a prefold, Snappi'ed shut, with a wool cover or a Motherease Air Flow. She's happy, comfortable, and rash-free, and I am only washing diapers every other day (or sometimes every third day, unless it's humid). The Motherease One Size with an insert snapped in, is what gets her through the night.

Any of my readers doing cloth? Any thoughts to share?

*Okay, I exaggerated a bit. I think the pixies machine-pick the cotton, and it's probably during the day. Every day.