Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Battered and Bleeding and Slightly Sleep-Deprived

Here I sit, bleeding and sore and slightly on edge.  Were first day classes so terrible, you ask?  No, I just live with a ten week old kitten.

When Kiddo was a toddler, I carefully avoided terms like "Terrible Twos" when referring to the challenges of parenting/disciplining a small, strong-willed person.  Kids are what you tell them they are, I said.  Don't label them, I said.  Well, you know what? When it comes to cats, I say, label away, because if there is a kitten version of the Terrible Twos," Margot is the poster child, er, kitten.  Much like a kid who will nuzzle into your neck and say, "I wuv you," only to hold their breath and scream minutes later, Margot, or Kitten Murderface, (as she will henceforth be known) has brief moments of cuddles and purrs and closed eyes and adoring licks surrounded by a full day (and night!) of insanity. I have been stalked, bitten, clawed, attacked, and climbed.  At this exact moment, I am sitting in front of my laptop covered in a thick, doubled over blanket to protect my legs and mid-section from her claws.  (She attempted earlier to climb onto the chair/desk using only my flesh for purchase.)  I know that much like with children this stage shall pass, but meanwhile my extremities are starting to look like a crowded road atlas, and I'm considering purchasing stock in Band-Aids and Neosporin.  Good times.

On a less painful note, the first day of classes was terrific! Well, mostly.  Any of the parts that weren't were my mostly own fault at least.  The week got off to a rocky start, though.  On Thursday last week, my husband was rear-ended on his way home from work, and we realized that we would need a rental car this week when our brake lights suddenly stopped working.  So of course, Sunday night, K.M. (short for Kitten Murderface, of course) decided to get her wild on from about midnight on, and when we shut her out of the bedroom, she aired her grievances by rattling the door and howling ALL NIGHT LONG.  Because nothing improves a long, stressful day quite like having endured a night of no sleep.  So yesterday morning found me, chauffeuring both Kiddo and Hubby and trying desperately to maintain consciousness.

So you know what wakes you up and gets you moving on a morning like that?  Hash browns.  It's true! Hash browns and caffeine-laced tea from my favorite fast food chain.  Really, it's a little known scientific fact that grease and salt and sugar and caffeine mix together perfectly in those flaky, little briquettes to make the ideal formula for alertness and clarity.  Or at least that was my excuse.  My delicious excuse.

Fast forward to my first class, Freshman Comp!  It was a full-house of ladies on their very first day of college.  They were sweet and nervous and over-confident in turn, but mostly charming and engaged. I held their collective hands, and the endured their sleep-deprived instructor.

For when we go over the grading portion of the syllabus.

The hours in between classes were filled with a desperate search for a spray bottle.  Our household spray bottle of nearly twenty years (a real family heirloom), spritzer of misbehaving cats and little girl bedhead alike broke under suspicious circumstances over the weekend, and who knew finding a replacement for our old friend would be so challenging.  Seriously,  I went from one end of town to the other and back again (it's not a very big town, at least) before finding what I needed (three spray bottles, so I can spray KM in every room in the house.)

By the time I returned to school for my other class the loss of sleep was starting to catch up with me.  Also, this was the new class, the one I'd never taught before.  So, very uncharacteristically for me, I was a little jittery, dare I say, nervous.  My slight edginess was not improved by the appearance of two adult students (one of whom was much older than I.)  No idea why that rattled me, but it did.  The good/awesome/excellent/so-cool news is that I have two students from my Young Writers' Workshop days!  I had no idea that these two ladies had decided to attend my school, and it was so lovely and rewarding to see them as mature sophomores ready to work hard.  Unfortunately, this was the class where I struggled a bit.  I felt scattered and unfocused, and I'm pretty sure half the stuff I said didn't make sense.  Everybody nodded when I made eye-contact, though, so we're going to pretend that they weren't just humoring me.  But I'm pretty sure they were humoring me.

Of course, the best part of my day (aside from all the extra-podcast listening time I got with so much driving) was coming home to dinner, made and ready to eat courtesy of SuperDad/Husband.  It was Taco Night, despite not being a Tuesday, and I scarfed everything down in between grunts of gratitude.  Best of all, SuperHusband sensed that what I really needed after Kiddo was down was to hide alone in our room with my book, tv, and smartphone.  It was a good way to end the day.  Last night there was more sleeping and less kitten mayhem.  Fingers crossed that it happens again tonight, and that tomorrow I will be able to speak in complete sentences during creative writing.

So that was first day of Fall 2015 (for me).  Kiddo is a full-on pro at the whole kindergarten thing now, and I plan to follow her example of nonchalance.  (Like when I nonchalantly tried to walk into the wrong classroom on my way back from the bathroom.  I totally meant to do that.)  On an unrelated note, I'm telling myself that I scored cool-points with a creative writing student because I knew about Wattpad.  Never heard of it?  Well, you can't all be as cool and smooth as me.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Kindergarten, Blessed Kindergarten

We are nearly through the first week of kindergarten.  One more early morning until I can tell my alarm clock where it can stick that beep.  And no, six thirty won't ever get any easier.  I worked for years at a job that required me to be up between 5:45 and six, and it NEVER was anything less than a soul-sucking drag.  But I digress.

On Tuesday morning, we embarked on that new journey of kindergarten (and new for me, public school kindergarten.)  After five and a half years of being at Kiddo's constant beck and call, I am a free woman every weekday between 7:30 and 2:45.  And it is glorious.  Next week, my school starts back, and I'll be teaching three days a week, but that'll be great, too.  I can still eat my lunch in peace and quiet, and nobody will ask me why my shoes are that color red or whether or not they will be allowed to watch TV next Thursday at 4:15.  (Admittedly, freshmen questions aren't always a vast improvement, but at least they won't be touching me while they ask.)  It's a grand time to be alive.

Now before you write me off as the worst parent ever, no wait, just go ahead and write me off because if you don't get this, then you either don't have kids, or we are very different people who may never completely understand one another.  (That's okay.  Just don't touch me.)  Back to my K-5 narrative...

Kiddo was so massively excited about Tuesday, that I've been considering sedation for the past two weeks (for one of us, not saying which.)  So Tuesday morning dawned bright and bouncy and with new clothes and shoes.  We managed to get out the door with everything (including Kiddo) and made it to the madhouse that is first day at an elementary school.  EVERYONE was walking their kids inside, and the halls were like a VR simulation of a salmon swimming upstream.  The thought of my petite five year old finding her way through that madness every morning gave me the vapors, and I pushed the thought to the back of my mind.

In the classroom, the parentals instantly ceased to exist as Kiddo marched in and up to her teacher like a boss.  I don't think she acknowledged us once after she crossed the classroom threshold.  She's awesome like that.  We hightailed it (well, a squeeze between a million people version of hightailing it) out of there and on with our days.  There were no tears on anyone's part, and I got so much done on my first day of school that I should probably get some kind of award or something.  Maybe a statue on the front lawn.  Or a song.  Yeah, write me a song and make it sound like Billy Joel.

After navigating the carline, I managed to pick-up my newly-minted kindergartener and head to Barnes & Noble for her post-first-day-of-school treat.  Sometime between eight o'clock and the moment when she lugged her new tote bag to the car, Kiddo had morphed into this kindergarten old-hand who spoke of her day's activities with a jaded nonchalance.  She has started using terms like "first bell" and lamenting too-short recess breaks.  Dinner conversations will never be the same.

This morning was a bit different than Tuesday morning.  Yes, I still had everything out and ready to go the night before (this is a necessity for non-morning people like me.)  But Kiddo dragged and dallied, and I nearly lost my mind.  (I didn't even manage to get a picture of her in her adorable new school dress.) But you know what?  She and her daddy still walked out that door at 7:22, and I was alone with my Earl Grey and laptop from that point on.  Ah the life of the introverted mom of a school-aged child.  (And no one is touching me till at least 2:45!)

All joking and rejoicing aside, however, this hasn't been a simple journey/decision.  I never attended public school, and in fact, didn't even attend a kind of brick-and-mortar school half of the time.  I knew we didn't want to homeschool, but beyond that we were a bit at sea regarding the where-do-we-send-her question.  There was the more liberal side of me that was leaning toward the whole public-schools-won't-improve-if-we-don't-send-our-kids-there argument, but then there was the less attractive side of me whispering, "She's smart.  She's reading already.  She's advanced.  Send her to private for a better education."  Of course, money played into the decision as well.  Do we make the massive financial sacrifice that is tuition, or do we send her to public so that we can afford things like dance/music/art lessons and a new car sometime in the next thirteen years?

We debated/prayed over these questions for a long time.  Ultimately, however, we decided to go with our local, zoned-for public school.  Kiddo's education is extremely important to us.  We both went to college, and I went to grad school, and we have similar ambitions for her.  But. And it's a big but.  We also want other things for her.  We want her to know that she's special, yes, but never to think she's better.  We want her to value diversity and equality.  We want her to learn kindness and tolerance.  Not that you can't learn those things when you're homeschooled or attend private school, but in our relatively small circle, school seems like the best place (or at least one of the first places) to encounter people who look and think differently than you.  As tempting as it is to protect and shelter our precious girl, it is imperative to us (and especially meaningful to me) that I stay focused on our primary goal: preparing Kiddo to live and function without us.  That is our job as parents.  It's not a pretty or a particularly happy thought, but it remains true.  One day, we won't be here to take her to church or read her books or help her navigate the world and its bureaucracy (incidentally, I totally had to look up how to spell that word.  I just couldn't get it right.)  She might as well jump right in and start learning how to manage now while we're still here to help.

 So that's our first day of school experience.  No tears from anyone.  All smiles.  Now it's time for me to get back to work on lesson plans and trying to stay awake.  Six-thirty is killing me, and the old Earl of Grey isn't holding up his end of the caffeine bargain.  Until next time.

Edit/clarification: This is a post about our personal decision/thoughts regarding school.  It is not meant to reflect on anyone else's choices for their children/families.  We're all just doing what we think is best for our particular child/family.  Unless you're sending your kid to Nazi Dictator Day School, I'm not judging your choices.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What I'm Reading: 1st Day of Kindergarten Edition

Today is the day -- the day I've waited five and a half years for: KINDERGARTEN!  Yes, folks, we made it.  And I am totally rocking staying awake and staying in my chair working.  (Mostly, anyway.)  But enough about school; I'll write more on that once we've made it through an entire day.  Instead, let's talk about BOOKS!

I've been reading so many good books lately.  And really much of this is due to some really amazing suggestions from one of my favorite podcasts, All the Books, a Book Riot podcast.  They cover everything from literary fiction to YA to memoir to romance, so regardless of your reading habits, they've got you covered.  Here are some of my favorite recent reads:

Saint Maize, by Jami Attenberg

I am so in love with this book.  It's difficult to put my finger on why I loved it so much, but I just didn't want the story to end.  Great female protagonist who is beautifully flawed, set in one of my favorite time periods/places to read about, and the story is revealed though various "historical documents" (such as diaries, news clippings, interviews), which is a conceit that I love.  Can't say enough good things about this one.

The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma

This one has made the Man Booker long list, and it's obvious why.  Though it is set in modern Nigeria, something about this story feels almost fable-like, and I loved the voice of the narrator.  While this is a tragic story of family love and loss, I never felt depressed or manipulated.  Just a really beautiful story.

Music for Wartime, by Rebecca Makkai

This is probably the best short story collection I've read in a year or two.  Could not put this down.  Never have I read such an eclectic group of stories that maintain such unity of theme. These were beautiful (and sometimes heartbreaking) stories with just the right amount of whimsy thrown in (mini-Bach crawling out of a piano, anyone?) for the perfect balance.  Read this even if you don't usually like short stories.  Actually, read this especially if you don't like short stories.  It just may change how you feel about short fiction.

In the Country, by Mia Alvar

This is what I'm reading right now, and so far I'm loving it.  I've read some comparisons of this to Jhumpa Lahiri's short fiction, and while I hesitate to label her book as the Filipina version of Lahiri, I will admit to parallels in theme and style.  This is a collection about being in the margins, an outsider, sometimes even in the main character's own country.  The settings are modern and recognizable and the characters are real and surprising.  Can't wait to finish this one.

So, that's all I've got for today.  Of course, I've been reading lots of other stuff, but these are the current standouts.  Now back to lesson plans and reveling in the perfect silence of my house.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Margot the Magnificent!

I can't believe it's been seven months since we lost our sweet Abby Tabby.  I can't believe I went so long without a cat in the house.  It was unnatural.  I may not have grown up with cats (Mom and I were both terribly allergic.  I grew out of it; she didn't.), but I have had at least one (and up to 3 -- insanity) feline(s) in my home since 1997.  First there was Sophie (or more appropriately, Satan).  Then there was Murray (my love), then Abby, then precious Hobson (or Hobbes depending on who you ask).  When Abby died, I was torn between grieving a pet of sixteen years and longing to fill that empty cat-shaped spot in the house.  We attempted to remedy the catless situation back in February when we adopted Oscar.  Sadly, poor Oscar was too troubled (and vicious) for a home with a small child.  It was a heartbreaking decision, but Oscar had to go.

But enough with all the sad stuff.  Because we have a new family member, and this little stinker is here to stay.  Meet Margot!

This little ball of fluff and teeth and purrs is around nine weeks old and was approximately six weeks when we brought her home.  I had been reconsidering my ban on adopting a kitten (usually preferring to rescue an adult cat) because of the size of our beast/dog, Sam.  My hope was that if the kitten grew up with a giant dog, she wouldn't know any different and they could be friends, but more on that in a minute.  A friend had recently rescued a tiny 4 to 5 week old kitten abandoned in a parking lot and had put the call out on Facebook.  The pictures were too cute/pitiful to ignore, and I decided to meet the little orphan.  She was tinier than I expected and had more fleas than any living creature should have to endure, but I was hooked.

The next step was to de-flea the poor baby, and my friend and I rallied for the seven hour ordeal.  (Incidentally, excellent friend-bonding time, elbow deep in flea-filled water, holding a struggling kitten together.  Seriously, it was like months of actual friend time compressed into a day!)  I'll save you the gory details of picking off hundreds of fleas and instead give you this:

And this:

Sweet little Margot (named after a character, Margot Tenenbaum, from my all-time favorite movie, The Royal Tenenbaums) was a real trooper through all the de-fleaing torture, and a few days later she came home to a very excited five year old and an extremely sniffy dog.  She has since adjusted quite nicely to this slightly askew family, and has morphed into a hilarious, fluffy little dictator/clown who runs the house between cuddles.  The dog does little more than annoy her, except for when she's stalking/attacking his cords, which she loves, and her favorite pastime is listening to Kiddo read.  There is no in-between for Margot Kitten, and she is either the Queen of Cuddles, purring and stretching and squeezing her eyes shut tight, or she is Kitten Murderface, wielder of razor claws and microscopically pointy teeth that she clamps down with abandon.  There is much running and hiding and stalking and booty shaking and attacking and flipping and chasing and back arching and purring and head butting and nibbling and swatting and hissing and sniffing and every other kitten good thing there is.

And through it all, Sam remains impassive:

Just a slight size disparity.  Nothing insurmountable. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mommy Doesn't Feel Like Crying

So many things to write about, so little time.  What an excellent problem to have!  It's been a crazy few weeks, and a few even crazier ones are ahead, but I'm feeling positive.  Why this sudden burst of rose-tinted perspective, you ask?  Because of two things on the near horizon: #1 Classes will be starting back in less that two weeks for me, which means lots of teaching and writing.  I can hardly wait.  #2 KINDERGARTEN BEGINS IN LESS THAN A WEEK!  (I'm sorry.  Was I shouting?)  Seriously folks, I'm going to sucker punch the next well-meaning head tilter who speaks to me in the third person: "How is Mommy handling kindergarten coming up?  I bet she wants to cry."  Just stop.  The only crying I feel coming on is for joy at all the extra time that is opening up for writing and work.  Also, my sweet little, high-energy, chatterbox will have a new outlet for all her high-energy chattering.  Hallelujah for silence.  Quiet, how I have missed you.  Think I'm terrible yet?  Too bad.  This mama is ready for kindergarten (both literally and figuratively) and proud of it.

In upcoming blogs? (If I can ever get these freaking lesson plans done.)  Our new family member, Margot.  (A kitten.  NOT a baby.)  My annual pilgrimage to Frederick (and of course, Wonder Book.  Can't wait to tell you about one of my super-cool finds.)  My current favorite reads (there have been some doozies, let me tell you.)  And an update on how the first days of school (Kiddo's and mine) turned out.  In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves....I'll give you a topic: Parliamentary Procedure -- Aye? or Nay?

Random pic of me attempting to work with help from the Big Dog.