Thursday, December 3, 2015

The "Wahl"flower

On the ride home from my parents' house tonight, Jeffrey and I fell into a deep conversation, or rather, I aired out all my grievances as he patiently listened while every now and then throwing in his two cents. Several times on Facebook this week, I've mentioned or hinted at how these next two weeks are some of my most stressful ones of the year, worse than spring semester even. This is the time where my grading load becomes almost unmanageable, and while ten years of teaching has shown I'll get it all done by the deadline, I never believe that I'll actually get it all done. This is the time where students show up to my office stressed out, begging for a do over, and this is the time where I have to tell them, "No," not because I don't care about them, but because I neither have the time to come up with and grade an extra credit assignment nor do I believe I would help them out in the long run by letting them have extra credit. And then it becomes the time where I feel like a complete asshole for saying "No" because it's Christmas after all, and my heart probably bleeds even redder in the excitement of the season.

That's just my work stress. I can't even go there with the children and Jeffrey's job.

This year, though, this year is particularly special. For the first time since Jeffrey and I got married, come Saturday, he will sport his tuxedo and I will wear one of those dresses that makes those swishing sounds when I walk and attend an event that benefits Jude's  Catholic school. There will be music, good food, libations, silent auctions, and...lots of people I don't know. Sounds exciting, yes, but I can't get past the part where I'm scared. My dress, a rental, (because what woman on a teacher's salary can actually afford to buy a Badgley Mischka gown), will arrive tomorrow along with its back up size, and what am I going to do if either one doesn't fit? For the last few weeks, I've pacified myself the best way I know how: with food. Seriously, every time I think about that dress, my next thought shifts to "I want a cookie." Why is that? I don't think I've ever pondered cookies so deeply as I have since the rental cost of that dress was debited from my bank account.

Then there's the people part. Don't get me wrong; everyone I've met at the school so far--teachers, staff, other parents--have all been perfectly nice. However, I just don't know them. As much as I want to get out on the dance floor and shake a tail feather or two, is that even o.k. in front of people I don't know? Plus, I usually like dancing only when I'm surrounded by my good friends. I'm not good friends with these folks, at least not yet. As far as I know, about the only thing I have in common with these folks is our shared belief in transubstantiation, but I hardly think bringing this up in conversation would earn me many new friends. It may, however, earn Jude the utterance "Explains a lot" whenever he tries to "freeze" someone with his hand or "move" them with his Magneto powers. (The kid inherited my eyes, and unfortunately, my social retardation.) So does this night promise to be full of awkward small talk, toothy smiles, and other wallflower antics? Because all of a sudden, I just want to hurl (but I won't because of what damages to that dress might cost).

There's also the setting up and getting ready for the gala. Tomorrow, Jeffrey and I will help with set up, which has actually gone on all week, though we're coming in at the tail end of it. Neither one of us know what to expect with that, and we both imagine a lot of awkward standing around figuring out how to make ourselves useful, which we agree isn't our ideal Friday night.

To say I've been on edge over this is a big fat understatement, and I imagine many would find a #firstworldproblems appropriately inserted here. The anxiety I have over this event has my emotions in complete overdrive. It's why halfway through a class of essays, tears well up in my eyes. It's why Jude has watched more television after school this week than he probably has  all year. It's why I can't muster the energy to clean up my mess from when I made potato soup last night. It's why I keep forgetting we have a faculty Christmas party at work tomorrow, and even worse, that I have forgotten that I love the faculty Christmas party. It's why I got offended over something my mother did tonight that really wasn't even a big deal. It's why I decided to write this all down because surely someone will read this and can relate.

On the ride home, as Jeffrey and I talked, it dawned on me that I wouldn't go at it alone. Jeffrey doesn't want to wear a tuxedo any more than I want to look like a busted can of biscuits in a designer gown. He would talk to me, about transubstantiation and anything else I brought up. (He will probably  still utter "Explains a lot" whenever Jude does something strange, but then again, that utterance could apply to himself just as well.) Jeffrey may even dance with me that night, though we're both fairly pitiful dancers and likely resemble the Peanuts characters in their dance scenes (though can't we just look like Johnny and Baby just once in our lives). Jeffrey doesn't realize it, but he made me feel better. Eleven and a half years of marriage and I don't just love the man, but I still really, really like him!

The party may be a lot of fun, or it may be this awkward wallflower's nightmare. However, God bestowed on me the gift of making fun of myself, so while I dread the anticipation leading up to the party, I look forward to laughing at myself afterwards.




Wednesday, September 2, 2015

School Days

Jude started school about three weeks ago, just Pre-K, though. Then again, I guess Pre-K is more significant than it appears on the surface. This is Jude's first time in a structured school environment, though he's no stranger to structure itself. I had always marveled over how his baby-sitter had lunches, naps, and play time at the same times every day. Even though Jude took naturally to a solid routine, I still wondered how much a school environment would shake up his world.

For the first time, Jude has to put on a uniform, shirt tucked in. Some days, he even wears a tie.

For the first time, Jude sits in a room with thirteen other children all vying for both teachers' attention.

For the first time, Jude realizes that some children are more likeable than others, but he still loves all of them anyway.

For the first time, Jude sits quietly in daily assembly, keeps hands to himself throughout the day, speaks respectfully to his teachers and classmates or face the consequences of having is clip pulled off the behavior chart.

For the first time, Jude has a behavior chart.

For the first time, Jude eats lunch off a tray in the cafeteria.

For the first time, Jude discovers girls don't quite play the way he thinks they should.

For the first time, a teacher assesses Jude's academic abilities and motor control.

For the first time, Jude can assume titles throughout the school year, such as "Helper of the Day" or "Student of the Week." 

For the first time, Jude receives formal instruction in mathematics, science, social studies, language arts, art, music, P.E., computer, Spanish, and most importantly, his Catholic faith.

For the first time, Jude participates in after-school activities (just more art, music, and athletic stuff).

Three weeks into the school year, Jude has loved every second of all of it. He made that apparent when on the second day of school, he told me and Jeffrey that he would rather walk into the building by himself. Every afternoon when I pick him up, he comes running toward me with a big smile on his face. I know he is in good hands just like I knew he was when I would drop him by his baby-sitter's.

Jude doesn't tell us much about his school days, but his sunny disposition and willingness to go to bed by 8 every night tell me everything I need to know. He is cared for, he is safe, and he is challenged. A folder containing his assignments and behavior report comes home to us every day. He seems to follow directions well, and he's gotten stickers for behavior every day so far. Although, on one of his assignments dealing with shapes and numbers, he pasted two squares instead of four. I simply showed him the assignment without making any reference to the error, and he said, "Oh, that has two squares; I should put three and four on there." 

As far as Jude's academic abilities go, I believe he is right on par with the other children. Some things he does well, and some still need improvement. I'm o.k. with that as long as he tries. I don't send my child to school to be THE best. Instead, he goes to be HIS best. If he ends up at the top of the class as a result, that's an added bonus and an honor belonging all to him.

As far as Jude's athletic abilities go, well, let's just say HIS best probably won't ever be THE best, but as long as he enjoys himself and burns some calories, who cares?

Perhaps my favorite part of the school year so far are the moments when Jude gives me insight about the other kids in his class. He was talking about one child, a little girl, and how he didn't think he liked her. I asked him why, and he said, "I don't know. I just don't." So I asked, "Well, is she nice" to which he responded, "Yeah, she's nice" so I asked, "Is she pretty"..."Oh, she's really pretty." I then asked about other girls in his class and if he liked them and finally asked about one, we'll call her "A", and he immediately perked up, "I like 'A'!" When I asked why, he said, "'A' plays trains and stuff." And there you have it. "A" is the total package.

As it turns out, all these "firsts" for Jude are exciting for him but a little unnerving for me.
 
For the first time, I have truly let go of my child so he may have all of these opportunities.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Mama Taught

Warning: This post is gonna ramble! I've got much on the mind today.

Yesterday, Jude received a letter from his first school teacher welcoming him to the class and informing him of the first day of school and Back to School Day (not night--it's Catholic School. They do Back to School Day immediately following Mass on Sunday. There's a hidden meaning in that letter, too. You better have your butt in a pew before you trek up there to drop off your nap mat. Ok, ok, maybe there's no hidden meaning. That's the curse of the literary personality who reads what's there and isn't there, even in her child's pre-school welcome letter. There ought to be professional help for this.) 

I like that the teacher, a Mrs. Burns (hadn't met her yet but like her already), addressed the letter to Jude. I like how she stated the information with nursery rhyme clarity. I like that she included a fun pirate theme in her letter. I like how when I handed Jude his letter, he immediately said, "I don't like school" yet smiled so big and proud for he could not help himself.

And I like how, God willing, Jude will be a part of this school on up through sixth grade where he'll then go on to its feeder school.

I have no doubt this particular school will prepare Jude for academic success. Will he be the smartest kid in class? Will he end up the valedictorian of his senior class? Honestly, I'm not that concerned about any of that. I mean, sure it would be nice to brag on him, but his daddy and I weren't first in our classes and look how we turned out! (Shit. We're in trouble.)

Of course, as I get ready to send my first born off to a place where he'll continue and eventually conclude his childhood, I can't help but feel somewhat emotional about it. While I believe his school will provide the setting that encourages him, nurtures him, inspires him, and challenges him, I know there are lessons he'll learn that won't get taught, and those are the lessons that will stick with him. I'm not scared of what he'll learn in school; I'm scared of what can't get taught in school.

For instance, bullies...

School bullies exist. Maybe my child won't be one. (Today, at the sitter's, I heard him telling his friend, "Now, remember, we don't hit with our toys, we play with them," so I hold a little hope.)

However, one never escapes bullies. Where school bullies exist, so too do workplace bullies and bullies of other kinds. Those feelings of inadequacy a child may feel at school, well, those feelings will come back later in adulthood, and you can bet that someone will be there to remind you of them every chance he/she gets.

But hopefully, if I've done my job right, Jude will learn to not let the jerks get to him and to keep on keeping on.

Materialism...

I have to admit, sending my child to a private school freaks me out considering that Jude will not have the best of everything.  I don't have the financial means to provide for him all the latest gadgets and wingdings. If he wants that stuff badly, hell, he's getting a Catholic school education that could possibly prepare him for some career that pays better than a teacher's. (Although, I wouldn't oppose him going into education so long as his heart is in it.) Even though I can't get him the latest and greatest of everything and don't really want to, I know he'll see kids in his class with all the cool loot, and he might wonder, "Why can't that be me?" And then I'll go on to tell him about how the stuff doesn't define him, and it's all about his good character. He may even believe that eventually one grows out of wanting to have stuff until he realizes in his thirties that people still try to shove their fancy cars, name brand bags (well, I guess a boy wouldn't notice a bag, at least not a boy walking around with half of Jeffrey Brown's DNA), and other flashy stuff in everyone's faces.

But hopefully if I've done my job right, Jude will just view those people as slightly pathetic, maybe likable still, but pathetic all the same.

Status...

I've never been one of those "who you know" types. I know a lot of people, some of them successful. However, I don't run around any particular social circles. People don't envy me, don't really notice me even. There's actually this formal event the school hosts in December that I'm already freaking out about because I'VE NEVER BEEN TO SOMETHING LIKE THAT BEFORE! To top it off, I'll have to go in a formal dress and totally live out of my comfort zone. Seriously, I love new clothes, but formals are foreign territory for me. I never pick the right one. This upcoming event has me remembering the jr. high dance where I wore this skirt and sweater combo while all the other girls wore these sparkly puffy creations. Someone even told me, "You look like a teacher." Ouch! So, to say I'm a tad socially awkward is an understatement, and I'm afraid I may have passed that trait on to Jude. However, some kid's going to like mine because some kid liked me well enough back in the day even though I've worn the wrong thing a time or two. Jude may not become popular, but he's funny enough that some folks will like him. I'm proof of that. However, he may want to hang up the idea of becoming a status symbol. Between Jeffrey's slight geekiness and my superpower of clamming up when someone new and cool tries to speak to me, that kid's screwed.

But hopefully if I've done my job right, Jude will learn to love who he is, love and accept the friends he has, and won't even care or notice that someone cool is speaking to him.

Bullies, materialism, and status are things Jude will witness in school, but he won't really learn from them until he is older. School will teach him many things, but only I can teach him how to lessen the hold bullies, materialism, and status can have on him. None of these things ever go away, but how we handle them is within our control. That's what my Mama showed me, and that's what I'll pass on to my children.

In a few weeks, I will watch my son get out of the car and walk through the doors of the place where he will begin his academic future. I will cry, hopefully one of those pretty, sweet cries, but I may as well gear up for the snot slingin'. Jeffrey will do his thing where he becomes silent and won't look at anyone (I guess I'll drive that day). At the end of the day, we'll hug Jude tight and ask him what all he did and he'll respond in classic Jude fashion, "Nothing" leaving us to guess. And thus our new normal will begin.






Monday, February 24, 2014

Affordability

Two steps forward...three steps back--life feels like that for me sometimes. Last summer, a stupid deer jumped out in front of my Volkswagen causing $7500 worth of damage--not quite enough to consider the car totaled. Anyway, after several weeks, the good people of Barnett Body Shop restored my car, but unfortunately, the air conditioner didn't work quite right. After another trip to the body shop, they figured out the problem and fixed it.

Fast forward to this past weekend in New Orleans.

Saturday morning, we took Jude to the Audobon Zoo and later planned to make our way to the French Quarter for some vittles. On our way to the Quarter, we got stuck in traffic (one of those perks of driving in the middle of Mardi Gras), and as we waited for a parade to go by, the car began overheating and the air went hot. However, when Jeffrey accelerated, cooler air came through the vents, and the car returned to normal temperature.

We knew our car's malfunction had something to do with that damn deer.

Anyway, Jeffrey told me that maybe I should look into trading in the Volkswagen for another car. I agreed with him that we may be dealing with a pretty big problem. I mean, what car overheats in 70 degree weather? I had decided that I would look up different cars as soon as we returned home, hoping to find another Volkswagen.

Unfortunately, I found nothing. Well, nothing I wanted to pay that much for anyway. I couldn't believe it. Three years ago when I bought my Jetta, I wrote a check in the neighborhood of $15, 000, handed it over, and drove off in an almost brand new car. Now, that same sort of car (a one year old car), costs at least $5,000 more than what I paid for one three years ago! Seriously?!?!?

The thing is this. I like the car I have. I don't want to get rid of it. Why? Probably a pride thing. My Jetta is the second car that Jeffrey and I paid cash for. We like not having car payments. We like putting crap loads of money into savings. Could I cut a check for $18,000? Sure. But why should I pay that much for something I'm not even dying to have?

Then I asked myself this question: "How in the world can people afford this stuff?" As it turns out, $18,000 for a one year old used car is actually nothing compared to other car prices. What I found on autotrader.com was that the average price of the sort of sedan I would want ranges around the $25, 000-$30,000 mark. Don't even get me started on the price of a SUV! Let's just say that I will be bending over strapping two babies in cars seats, and after seeing those prices, I won't even complain about it. Even if I had that sort of money to throw around, yeah, I don't think so. Not as long as deer roam the great roads of Mississippi!

However, I don't think I'm searching for vehicles beyond my means. Most people I know that drive these sort of vehicles make around the same amount of money I do. I guess the difference is that they finance, and I won't. I wonder, though, if most people bought only what they could afford (meaning no financing), would car companies lower the price of their cars? Is the reason cars are so expensive because so many are willing to go into debt for them? Are the consumers to blame for this inflation (at this point, I think one can easily guess that I didn't study much of in the way of Economics).

I'm sorry, but I just can't do that. It's bad enough that I have a mortgage. Granted, we have about nine years left on it, but still. That's nine years we owe someone!

I realize my view on debt is not popular. For the record, I don't have a smart phone, Tori Burch flats (even though I've wanted a pair for YEARS--I visit those flats at Saks every summer), or a lot of other cool stuff, like a $30,000 car. However, as I was feeling sorry for myself over this car issue, it dawned on me that I've always been able to afford the stuff I needed even if I can't always afford what I want. I'm glad I don't operate in reverse as that seems to promise nothing but a life of misery from never being able to keep up. So I may have to buy another car. Hey, at least I can, even if it's not the fanciest thing on the market. However, I'm still holding out hope that my Jetta will get fixed for good and my money can remain where it belongs--in the savings account--just in case an emergency like this arises later.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Little Known Pregnancy Symptom

Every woman experiences several symptoms that let her know that it's time to take a pregnancy test. Things like missed periods, morning sickness, fatigue, etc. are usually dead giveaways that a baby will arrive sometime in the next nine months. I've always kind of marched to my own beat, so none of these symptoms prompted me to take a test. In fact, I just attributed the late period, the nausea, and the tiredness to stress since I did have a lot on my plate in November.

Then, one symptom occurred that I simply could not ignore: Italy. Back when I was pregnant with Jude, Jeffrey and I had paid for a trip to Italy that would leave on June 9. We could not wait to go. That is, until I got pregnant and due to have a baby June 4, five days before we would leave for the trip. Obviously,we did not go because Jude arrived to the world on June 7, and those jerk-tards with the traveling company wouldn't let us get on the plane! (Before anyone freaks out, I cancelled the trip and received a full refund. Always get the trip insurance. Now, had Jude come on his due date, allowing me five days to recover instead of two...) 

Fast forward to this year when an opportunity came a knockin' in the form of another trip to Italy--the perfect trip to commemorate mine and Jeffrey's upcoming ten year anniversary. We had the money in the bank, and all we had to do was sign up. Of course, I became suspicious. It was true that in the weeks prior to considering this romantic getaway that certain foods hadn't looked as appetizing to me and I had started to grow accustomed to falling asleep by 8 p.m. every night. "Wait a minute," I thought, "We've been down this road before." 

Before I could fully commit to getting on an airplane to head half-way across the world, I decided I might take a home pregnancy test just to be sure. Two heart pounding minutes later, there it was--a plus sign and a "Pregnant." (I took a couple of different  Clear Blue Easy tests, and I give Clear Blue Easy brand two very enthusiastic thumbs up (or should I say "two plus signs"? Either way, I am "Pregnant" with enthusiasm for Clear Blue Easy.)

I would like to say that my reaction to this pregnancy equaled my reaction to my first one in excitement, but sadly, the first thought that ran across my mind while staring at the results was, "Shoot. I'll never go to Europe!"

The lesson learned is this: planning a trip to Italy=baby. In fact, Jeffrey's a bit apprehensive about ever trying to go to Italy. I might could try to go another time, but we'll just see how this whole pregnancy/baby raising thing turns out!

I have now welcomed my second baby boy, Malcolm, to the world. He proves a far superior souvenir than anything I could have found in Italy, and yes, that includes a Louis Vuitton bag. Even Baptist Hospital humored me and served spaghetti one of the nights I spent on the post-partum floor. 

A few months after Malcolm's birth, my in-laws invited Jeffrey and me to go with them to Germany the following May. Jeffrey turned to me and asked, "You menopausal yet?"

We did not commit to Germany. For the time being, we will plan on staying in America. However, I'm not so sure I'm ready to give up planning yet another trip to Europe. I kind of want a little girl.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Dear Size 6,

I had wanted to get into you for so long, and come this past September, I finally did! In fact, even Size Smalls would zip up (although, Mediums felt better). In the world of clothing and self-esteem, I have had quite a successful year, and this success could not have come at a better time. In November, I received my biggest career honor to date, and that honor required me to give a presentation on stage to an audience. Many emotions swirled through my body that day--nervousness, excitement, nausea, fatigue, relief--but the one thing I didn't feel was fat. Despite the whirlwind of emotions, I delivered a presentation with a confidence I never knew I had, but I have a feeling that confidence came with the help of a little red dress. Wearing you--that smaller size--just felt good. However, yesterday while shopping, I tried you on, probably for the last time. You see, Size 6, we're going to have to part ways if only for a little while.I've had to return to a diet with carbs. Yes, I still try to incorporate as much protein as I can, but lately, a lot of protein-enriched food I loved during my dieting days now comes across as utterly repulsive. Not only that, but sometimes I just need some crackers or a carbonated beverage in order to spare those around me from catching a glimpse of what I had for breakfast earlier that day. While this new way of eating freaks me out after I had worked so hard for so long to alter my eating habits, I know I must adapt to the change in order to get through each day. For now, Size 6, you still fit. The dress, the tops, and that adorable skirt I tried on yesterday still looked as good on me as they would have in September, so even though the carbs and a few pounds have come back, my body is holding strong for now. I didn't buy you yesterday, though, because I really didn't see the point. I know you're thinking, "So why abandon me? Why go back to eating carbs? Please don't go! Wear me forever!" Well, Size 6, let me tell you. I knew when I began my diet, the side effects would include temptation and some moodiness. I had prepared myself mentally for these side effects to happen and just rolled with it when I experienced them. However, there's a hidden side effect--one I had not anticipated. Pregnancy. Apparently, I just looked too good to my husband, and now here I am craving carbs and trying not to throw up all over the place. Size 6, you have to know that as much as I have enjoyed wearing you, I'm enjoying being pregnant again even more (although I could do without this scorching heartburn). Yes, I will be packing on the pounds in the next few months, but come mid-July, when that nurse places that sweet precious baby in my arms for the first time, I know that weight gain will be more than worth it. And who knows? Maybe it will all come off pretty fast. I have every intention of returning to you, Size 6. I don't know when, but I'll get back to you. Yes, I will miss you each week my body expands, but please know that this pregnancy won't last forever (otherwise, humankind would cease to exist). For now, just find your way to another girl's body, but please don't ever forget or give up on me! Sincerely, Your Biggest Fan

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

And the Award Goes To...

I've known for about a month and a half now, but last week, the president of my college made the official announcement. I am Holmes Community College's Humanities Instructor of the Year. Such an honor entails me having to put on a humanities presentation, topic of my choice (obviously a literary one), and later attending a banquet with other colleges' and universities' winners where we will each receive a cash prize. Stunned did not even cover how I felt when I first found this information out, but now I just feel excited and honored...and nervous, extremely nervous.

I chose the topic of fashion in literature and film and will show how fashion plays an important role in William Faulkner's Sanctuary, Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman, and the film The Devil Wears Prada. Why these selections? Simple. I love these novels and that movie. In fact, re-reading the books and re-watching the film have really opened my eyes to other new aspects about each, even though I've previewed each of these about a hundred times apiece. I love the feeling I get when I discover a thread from one source to another and can use it to draw a connection to something relevant in our time--almost as good as finding that perfect word to depict that certain moment in a story, essay, or poem. If anything, this project has shown me that I have not lost my love for research.

However, I also face pressure. For this presentation to go well, I have to have an audience. Therefore, I've also learned some new aspects in Public Relations that I had never before given any thought. For one thing, I worked with the school's graphic designer on a poster to promote the event. The result? I love it, but I never would have come up with anything to look as good. Certain area newspapers will also publicize the event. Last week, I got my picture taken, which turned into a full-blown photo shoot, and I hate taking pictures.I learned that my smile does not look natural, but really, how can one look natural with a camera pointed towards her face clicking and flashing bright light every couple of seconds? Honestly, the whole experience left me feeling a little hunted. In the upcoming weeks, I will work with a videographer on splicing my video to specific scenes in the film, and my dean has offered to help me put together a highly visual power point to use. I will also have to learn how to use a wireless mic, some sort of clicker to change slides, and probably some other technological crap that I have no idea what does. Because of all these behind-the-scenes actions going on, I worry that no one will come.

Then again, nothing makes me sicker than standing up and speaking in front of a large audience. Yes, I realize that I stand in front of a captive audience of students  texting zombies and talk their ears off for several hours a week, but somehow, standing on a stage wired to a microphone seems a bit intimidating to me. For one, I don't have the best speaking voice, even in the classroom. I have a shrill voice, not unlike that of a per-pubescent boy. When I really think about my audience, my voice shakes. Frankly, I just don't sound pretty when I speak.

Anyway, scared as I am to give this talk, I guess I kind of look forward to it. I mean, I would rather have the opportunity than not.For about forty-five minutes to an hour, I get to talk about things I love while people listen. How bad could that be? Here's hoping people will enjoy the presentation and forgive my shaky squeaky voice.