In my city there lives a man. And educated man. An educating man. Freshly made principal of the High School just this year. He grew up in this city. My wife remembers sitting behind him in Junior High.He started his career as a math teacher in this very system. About a week ago, this homegrown success story decided he needed to do something special to announce himself to his new charges. Something to connect with the kids. Something cinematic. Something that would reveal his personality. Something really dumb. Dumb on a national level.
Aside from the horrible stupidity of releasing this bit of cinematic brain damage (or brilliant, cogent, ironic, argument against the evils of technology. Luddites, attack!) after Sandy Hook another problem presents itself.
This man, Mr. Naumann (pronouned "Newman, by the way. Nicely butchered by the national press. No one got it.) attempted to "connect with the kids" by parodying a movie that came out well before the senior class was born (Yep oldies, we're old). He might as well have been like, "23 skiddoo, dames and daddy-o's Dig that crazy Battleship Potempkin! "
Even without his apocalypticly bad timing, the anachronistic, desperate, awkwardness of the video had to have led to a serious imbalance in in the respect-to-contempt ratio.
It turns out, he received a 2 day suspension without pay. He was rather contrite, by all accounts. I don't know if that's appropriate or not. He probably should have lost his job not for the action itself, but for the deep, rich, endless expanse of dumbness that it revealed.
To sum up:
Then last week the North Texas father walked calmly up to said elementary school in Celina, Texas, allegedly told the staff member at the front of the building that he had a weapon and was targeting someone inside.
Not to worry! It was just his way of pointing out flaws in the school's security after the Newtown shooting a month before that left 20 grade schoolers and six staffers dead. After Miller talked to the school principal about what he just demonstrated, Miller left the school -- unchallenged.
The streets of Chicago ran argyle today as the teachers of the city took to them to demand soaring salaries and shorter days.
"It's all about da Benjamins, baby!" Screeched 47 year old 9th grade Civics teacher Mary Ellen Bartrow. "Why do you think I went into teaching in the first place?" Continued Ms. Bartrow, "Cash Money mutha fucka! Teaching has always been about making that paper."
Her fellow union members seemed to agree. "I teach algebra, son!" Said Mr. William Levy, of the Lincoln Middle school. "You can't figure for X until you know for sure that Y=$." Said the 26 year veteran teacher.
"Money money money money. Money! " Chanted 8th grade French teacher Larry Guillaume. "Look," Mr. Guillaume expounded, "if it was about the kids, I would've managed a Chuck E Cheese. Or been a politician. In teaching, money talks and merde de taureau walks. C'est la vie."
I figure that I was somewhere over St. Louis when she walked into her kindergarten class for the first time. What're you gonna do. You write about being a parent long enough, you see these posts coming for miles - their first steps, first words, first shit taken on the toilet. This would be my second First Day of Kindergarten post, which axiomatically made the whole thing easier. When I was writing this post in my head on that plane, it occurred to me that I wasn't getting all verklempt over the thought of my little girl starting kindergarten. The Why of this was interesting to me. In many ways, I was more prepared for her to start kindergarten than I was with Lucas - "steeled" is probably the better word. Being on a plane flying from San Diego to New York actually helped - I was passing over thousands of dads who were walking their daughters into those classrooms. I wasn't really alone in this. And yet, something gave me pause.
Perhaps it was because in a sense this wasn't really kindergarten. Her birthday falls on November 1st; she'll be five, and since that's right on the cusp of kindergartenerhood what they do is, they let the young'uns go into Transitional Kindergarten, which sounds like it warrants being in written in bold letters. Transitional Kindergarten is for those kids who aren't quite old enough for regular kindergarten, but are too old to stay in pre-k. It's Post Pre-K. It's a climb down those concrete steps into the shallow end, rather than a leap off of the high dive. Transitional Kindergarten is for those kids who have a modicum of self-possession.
I figured she was ready because of the dollhouse. When she plays alone, she's remarkably composed. "Now, Barbie, you sit here. Here is some tea. Oh, you would like sugar? Well, let me see if we have some. Ah. Yes. Here it is, right next to the flour. You're very welcome, Barbie." There is none of the throwing Barbie into the ceiling fan or running over Barbie with the Barbie Corvette or attempting to get Mick The Giant Monster Dog to chew on Barbie. There is order. Chaos has no place in her life. "Ah. Yes." You learn a lot about a four-year-old when she incorporates those words in those order into her playtime lexicon. The day before I got on that plane, I was in the kitchen making myself a sandwich, watching her play with Barbie in her usual composed, stoic manner. And when she paused, after a five-minute attempt to park the aforementioned Barbie Corvette in the living room of the dollhouse and didn't throw a tantrum, I realized that perhaps she was ready to take that next small but huge step in her life. What gave me pause: when she stood up, calmly brushed back the errant strand of strawberry-blond hair that's constantly falling into her eyes, and in her lilting, sweet voice muttered "stupid fucking dollhouse".
At the beginning of August I once again went to the big, huge, enormous, ladies' blogging conference, over there in New York City, New York, US of A, as did a few of my fellow DadCentricians and some other unaffiliated dudes. It was really, really big, and there were plenty of ladies there. Like around five thousand of them. There were some speakers whose names you might recognize: Katie Couric, Martha Stewart, Soledad O'Brien, Christy Turlington, and Barack Obama (via video feed), to name a few.
It was a nice party. The food was plentiful and mostly good, and mostly free. There were a lot of talks given by a lot of bloggers and other social media types who had a lot of worthwhile ideas about which they were quite passionate. I attended a couple of these talks and, as is usually the case, got briefly excited, and then thought about how the issues discussed pertained to me or the non-parentblogging world. Then I shrugged, and looked for the next cocktail party.
My take-home from the official conference events and ancillary chatter was that if you don't write for one or more of the big parenting websites, and you're not ready to hustle your ass off courting sponsors 24/7, blogging about your life and your family is not going to pay the bills. This was not a revelation that hit me like a ton of bricks as I had gotten that particular cosmic memo a while back, but it did sometimes make me feel like I was participating in a bizarre charade.
That sounds bad, I know. But there were plenty of real moments too, and that made the trip worth taking. And there were also plenty of amazing writers who weren't necessarily chasing dreams of buying groceries with their ad revenue. Some of these writers read their stuff at the Voices of the Year presentation, which, for my money, blew the famous keynoters' doors off.
Of the three nights I spent in New York, it was only on the first, Thursday, that I didn't stay up long enough to see the hazy glimmering of a sweltering sunrise over Manhattan. On Friday, the after-party provoked an impromptu and overly enthusiastic karaoke adventure, and I awoke around 1:00 p.m.. I tried to speak to my roomie, and found that somehow I had swapped larynxes with Harvey Firestein. This condition persisted until at least a week later, but it didn't stop me from repeating the karaoke freakout with an even bigger group the next night.
Blogging conferences are inherently weird because of the interfacing of online and real worlds. But as has been my experience at the other conferences I've attended, talking to my imaginary friends in the flesh was a seamless transition. I met some people whose words I had been reading for ages, and was not disappointed in their fleshly presences. I reconnected with some great people I had met previously. I met some amazing folks that I had never even known existed. And somehow I became the darling of the lesbian momblogging parentblogging community, a distinction I plan on cherishing and nurturing until they tire of me, which has probably already happened.
Secrets. Tiny, twisted, gremlins, gnawing at your conscience. Whispered giggles of surprises yet to come. Nagging itches between your shoulder blades. Kept or sold. Shared or hoarded. Left to fester or dragged into the light of day. We are all formed in part by our secrets.
"Are they sleeping?"
Yes, they're both asleep."
"Ok. I think it's coming. There it is."
"Park over there. What do we do now?
"You go first. See which one you want. Then, I'll go and get it. And don't slam the door."
She gets out of the car, and we add another secret to the pile. Another secret from our children.
She returns. I leave and return. And then we start. And we try to remain quiet. But it's hard.
"MMmmm. Oh my, that's good. Do you like it? I knew you would."
This secret is not a fun one like the whereabouts of their Easter eggs. Or a temporary and necessary one like how you behaved in college. This secret is quiet. Insidious. Like radon in your home.
This . . . is secret ice cream. We've been doing it for about two--two and a half years now. If we're out and about on a long drive, and the kids fall asleep, and we happen to be anywhere near a decent ice cream place--and in New England they are legion--we make a detour and we stop and we indulge. We each get a cone and we trade bites and make quiet yummy noises and if the kids stir, we tell each other "Shhh. Shhh!"
I never felt the least bit guilty about it. Then the other day I mentioned it to a (childless) co-worker and she reacted like we'd been gambling the money from their college fund (which they don't have anyway). I told her that the secret eating of ice cream wasn't the worst part. I told her that the worst part was when they wake up and I breathe in their faces and go "Smell that? That's Mint Chip, Bitches!"
For my wife and me, it's just . . . fun. A special treat just for us. A way to acknowledge each other and our relationship. A way for us to say that we used to like going for ice cream before the kids were here, and we'll still do it when they're gone. A tiny bit of sweet romance for us to share between the demands of the day and the demands of our children.
Maybe someday we'll tell them about it and we'll all have a good laugh. Maybe not. The Peanut takes her ice cream pretty seriously. Then again, it would be pretty cool to have my epitaph read "He was shivved with a waffle cone." Either way, the summer is here. Beach trips abound and the children have the hardest time staying awake in the car after a day spent playing in the sun. But the adults don't find it that difficult. And there are sundaes left to conquer. Quietly.
On my way from the kitchen to the playroom yesterday, I almost didn't notice what might have appeared, to the untrained eye, to be a random assortment of crap piled on the upturned chair we leave on the stairs to keep our incontinent dog out of the carpeted part of the house, but what closer inspection would reveal to be an intricate arrangement of unlikely elements that formed a delicate art installation: a Disney princess hand mirror, a slice of wooden pizza, a rubber ball with a liquid center that when shaken stirs up swirls of glitter, half of a hollow plastic Easter egg, a purple crayon, shredded bits of multicolored Play-Doh, and a 4"x6" flyer for Soak City.
I knew that it was in fact half a morning's work for one of my not-quite-three-year-old twin girls, not only because I had been, while trying to get everything in order for the girls' first day of school, half aware of her chattering away as she busily assembled the masterpiece on the third step; but also because it was one of the best examples of the 3D collage sculpture that has become her milieu. It was balanced without being symmetrical, it had a pleasant mix of textures and densities, and the colors were complimentary without being matchy-matchy.
The other twin is more into drawing. She draws large-scale portraits of "hippos" on the chalk board. If you saw them, you might think "lion" or "pig" or "human." You would be wrong: according to her, they are all hippos. Sometimes they have long hair with bows in it, dozens of legs or cilia or whiskers on the perimeter of their round faces, long skinny arms or puffy sleeves, umbrellas, shoes, dresses, and often expressions of horror.
It went by faster than it seemed it was going while it was happening, which is the way of time travel as I understand it. The only part of it that seemed to be zipping by were the minutes every weekday morning as I rushed to get the kid fed and out the door, a routine which over time made time feel like it was dragging by even though it was slipping right through my fingers. Strange stuff, that time.
Our school year started out about as smooth as the business end of a belt sander, but in the end, it turned out pretty swell. We lucked out getting the kid into a good school in a class with the kind of teacher where you’re just like, holy crap, these big people who teach little people are amazing people. As an added bonus, we got to make friends with some other parents. And best of all, the kid excelled all over the damn place. Watching him demonstrate all his new abilities - reading, writing, art, math - was absolutely like watching a flower burst and bloom. It’s an oft-used metaphor, which is why I turned it into a simile; that and the fact that it’s true.
Hell, he already knows as much Spanish as I do after four years of “studying” it. By the end of the first half of first grade, he’ll totally have surpassed me on that front. Believe me when I say that we feel very fortunate how this whole school thing has worked out so far.
I had been meaning to go have lunch with him at his school all year long, but time being the tricky stuff that it is kept fooling me into thinking I still had plenty of it to waste. Finally, last week, realizing that the close of the school year was barreling down the tracks, I figured I’d better go on and get around to it if I ever wanted it to happen. I halfway expected him to be a bit embarrassed to have his old man show up on his turf like that, even though I’d asked him beforehand if it’d be cool with him if I stopped by. When his class marched out of their room like a line of ducklings, I was pleasantly surprised when his face lit up at the sight of mine. He held my hand all the way to the cafeteria.
“Is that your dad?” some kid asked.
“Nah, I’m just some dude.”
You ever sat down for a meal with a table full of kindergarteners with barely a week until summer vacation? The table, the floor, the whole building quakes with energy.
Yesterday on the last day of the school year, he told me that he wanted to “look good.” He didn’t expand on what he meant by that, but I helped him comb his hair up nice and handsome before we walked out the door. I’ve tried to use the morning drive to school to expand his musical education, so I had London Calling going in the CD player. He was a bit quiet back there in his seat, which wasn’t totally out of character.
When we arrived at school, there was a line of cars at the curb just like every morning. Usually, he waits until I get up closer to the door before unbuckling himself, but on this morning, the morning of the last day of school, he unsnapped it as soon as I came to a stop. His eyes were fixed on something up ahead. He grabbed his bag, hopped out of the car, and ran up the sidewalk without his usual wave, just in time to greet a little girl stepping down out of the truck in front of us. They walked into school together, talking and laughing.
His hair looked great.
We have a little tiny princess at home. A fit in a walnut shell pocket princess. A "princess ballerina" as she puts it. Never a ballerina princess. Who wants to be princess of just ballerinas, I guess.
I fought for a while against this princess crap. But the forces of the universe . . .oh, those forces. Mostly advertising, other little girls whose mothers seem to be all for the princess motif, and family members who either always wanted a little girl or who have Instagrammed their memories of their own girlhoods into hazy yellowed images of themselves as perfect princesses. Beautiful, graceful, loved and admired by all and wanted by every prince in the neighborhood. Precious few of our family members meet these criteria by the way.
These forces conspired against me to create the tiny being whose title suggests her great worth to the kingdom in years to come will be to marry a prince from a kingdom equally as or even more powerful than our own. Thus bringing honor to our house. Also, if you believe most of what you see, she won't be able to do shit for herself when she's in danger or captured or in danger of being captured.
So I went to work. I started telling her new stories. Stories about princesses who faced down witches, defeated dragons, knew martial arts, and worked at steel mills or as firefighters. Stories about princesses who liked dirt and spiders. Stories about a princess who constantly had to ride (or fly or teleport depending on the setting) to the rescue of her younger brother, the prince. There are even times when this terribly young and diminutive princess has to bail out her entirely too trusting and incompetent family.
Sometimes the princess is caught unawares and captured and has to think her way out. Other times it's straight up, mano-a-mano princess on witch magic fisticuffs.
From there we took on real life. Times when she was frightened I would ask if she was a princess. She always says yes. Then we'd talk about how princesses are brave. How bravery means doing the things that scare you. Or we'd talk about how princesses are noble. How they help others who need it and how they never ever bully. It seemed to take, at least with her little brother. He loves to dress up as a princess and he looks great in a dress. Not what I was aiming for originally, but you know, beggars can't be choosers.
I think, or maybe I just hope, that it's taking with her too. At the last parent teacher conference, her teacher told me that a boy in my daughter's class tried to cut another kid in line, and that she told him to cut the shit. Or words to that effect.
When she talks about being a princess she is often a terrible beautiful princess full of bravery and wrath and more than a little nit of bossiness. All will love her, and despair.
We keep working, all the time. We talk about how being a princess means being able to do things for yourself. It means being being independent. It means being compassionate. It means being brave. It means trying new things, speaking up for yourself, and speaking up for others. It means not waiting for someone else to make things better but trying to make things better on your own. A lot of times, it means being a lot like her mother.
We've got a long way to go, I know. We don't even have to deal with potential Prince Charmings yet. I'm hoping when that day comes they'll find that the princess they're chasing is part dragon, part warrior,and all her own person. A king can dream.