Friday, February 26, 2010

Put That in Your Dot Com and Fax It

I am in a deeper funk than Rick James.

The Great Gray Beast is about to be devoured by lions and lambs and leprechauns and such, and I'm rooting for them - especially the lambs - but I'm not feeling as relieved as I should be. The Great Gray Beast sucked it out of me but good this year.

Y'know who DOESN'T hate February? My mom.

She has her reasons. One of them is that for the last twenty years or so she's spent the full month in warmer climes. That would sure be enough for me. But that's not her biggest or best reason. Her biggest and best reason is that her birthday is in February - tomorrow, actually, and she is - if it's possible - even more of a child about celebrating her birthday than I am. I'm sorry. Did I say birthday? She prefers birthmonth.

Anyway - in honor of Mom's birthmonth I thought I'd share a quick conversation we had yesterday. The backstory is that I told her about Beth and her campaign and Mom wanted to make some caps. She asked me for patterns, as many of you did (thank you!!!) and I told her what I told those of you who asked: there are so many patterns out there for every ability level and taste... for you computer savvy folks I followed that up with - just google chemo cap patterns. I told Mom basically the same thing then told her I'd look for her - what was she thinking about? She said, "My girlfriend down here has a computer - we can look it up. What do we do?"

I could hear her pencil scratching. "Now, should she just type in "chemo cap patterns dot com?"

"No - have her do a google search on chemo cap patterns."

"Google. Spell that."


"Ok. She'll know how to do that."

"Yes - she should."

"Google. Got it. Google dot com."


We talked about other things and ended the call. When she called yesterday, she very excitedly told me, "Hey, Tam, we dot commed those patterns and we found one we liked. Then we went down to the office (they stay in a condo on the beach) and they printed it out on their fax machine. So my friend and I are gonna get started on these in the next day or two."

God love 'em.

That woman brought me a smile through the funk. And it's not even my birthmonth.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gimme a Head With Hair

This is my friend Beth.

I know, pretty, right? What do you notice first when you look at her? Is it her sparkling eyes? Her sweet smile? It might be. But my best guess is that the first thing you noticed was that gorgeous crop of copper curls. Yep, Beth has some pretty hair.

Around Thanksgiving, she told me about St. Baldrick's. She told me she was thinking of shaving her head in exchange for contributions to this excellent charity that supports childrens' cancer research. She'll also be donating as much of the actual hair as possible. Now my own hair woes have been extensively discussed here. I'd shave mine bald in a heartbeat and have threatened to do so on many occasions. Beth, though. Damn. I mean LOOK at that hair! But she told me, "I believe in this cause. I want to contribute. I don't have money. But I have hair. It's the least I can give." Well that shut my shallow self up. I immediately stopped trying to talk her out of it and asked how I - someone whose locks are not so glorious and valuable - could contribute. She gave me two options:

1. Sponsor her. Tom and I intend to do that although, like her, money isn't something we have a whole lot of. Our contribution will be small, but the ocean is made up of drops of water, right? If you'd like to contribute as well, Beth - and I - would be infinitely grateful. She's set up to accept contributions as small as $1.

I'm betting if she sees a couple bucks as a result of this post she might be coerced into sharing some after pics with us and maybe MAYBE even some during pics...

2. Make chemo caps. I am in the process of madly doing that now. If any of you knit or crochet and would be interested in contributing in this way, please let me know and I'll hook you up with pattern links as well as a way to get them where they need to be.

Now go back and look at that picture again. Imagine her without hair. Still pretty beautiful, huh? Maybe, though it scarcely seems possible, even more so.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Hero

My sister doesn't read my blog. She just can't sit still long enough to bother. My parents don't read it either. They don't have a computer. Last year I wrote a lot of posts about traveling with my family and I compiled them into a self-published vanity book to give to my parents for Christmas. I gave my sister a copy, too. She can't bother to sit in front of the computer, but I figured it might be a good bathroom book. Everyone's got to sit sometimes.

My parents have shared that little volume with many of their friends. My sister liked it so much she read it 'in one sitting'. Interpret that as you like. Her major complaint, though, was that she wasn't featured enough, "There wasn't enough about ME!"

It's true, I don't write much about her. That has been a conscious decision. I felt that I was respecting her privacy. Turns out I was hurting her feelings. She mentioned last week, over a couple few beers, an incident that had occurred at the pizza shop where we both worked. She said, almost excitedly, "I bet you blogged about THAT!" I hadn't. Wanna hear it?

We had live music pretty regularly at the pizza shop. The owners were a husband/wife team and the husband took more interest in the music. He always let the performers eat and drink free. Most had a slice or two and a couple beers. One guy drank top shelf whiskey all night. It wasn't quite fair, but an equitable solution had yet to be worked out. On one particular evening, the husband wasn't there and the whiskey-drinking performer was. I poured him a drink and handed it to him, as I always did. "You didn't ring that up!" said my boss in her usual acerbic tone.

"It was for the performer."


"And your husband always lets the performers drink..."

(In real life, of course, I referred to them by their names and not by their functions. But while my sister has cleared me to talk about her, these three folks have not done the same. It makes the conversation sound stilted, but it was easier for me to relate it this way than to make up names.)

"That's why we are always fucking struggling!" she screamed at me as the bar and restaurant filled up. She was super-classy like that. "Ring up his goddamn drinks! ALL of them!"

I am so non-confrontational. I did as I was told. It felt very wrong - especially since she hadn't informed him - but I did it.

At the end of the night I presented him with his tab. It was hefty. It was, actually, more than he earned for playing that night. He was a little taken aback. And more than a little drunk. He yelled at me. He accused me of padding his bill. He - and I'm really not proud of this part - made me cry.

As he went about tearing down the stage and I went about closing up the shop, my sister came in - more than a little drunk herself. "Why are you crying?" she asked. I braced myself for her to tease me. It would have been in character. But she didn't. As I told her what happened, I watched her morph from lovable happy drunk to volatile angry drunk in seconds flat. As she turned to confront him, I begged her not to. Two drunks fighting about me was not something I needed at that point at all. I just wanted to go home and put the night behind me. But there was no stopping her.

She stepped up onto the stage, poked him to get his attention, and pointed at me. "YOU made MY SISTER cry."

He shrugged and turned to avoid her. He was still stinging from the bill and he just wanted to get out of there fast. But like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, my sister would not be ignored. She cornered him and said, "Who are YOU to make MY SISTER cry?"

He tried again - unsuccessfully - to dodge her.

"My sister is SMART! She has more degrees than you can IMAGINE! She's FUNNY! She's way TOO NICE for her own good! She's TOO GOOD for this place! She was only doing what she was TOLD and you had NO RIGHT to make her cry!" Each of the capitalized words was punctuated by a finger poke to his chest. "That's who SHE is - who are YOU?" It was rhetorical. She didn't give him a chance to answer before the poke fest continued. "YOU? Are a BIG FAT PIECE of WIENER!"

Out of the mouths of drunks. When I relayed the story to her the next day, she said, "I called him a WHAT?"

"A big fat piece of wiener."

"What did I even mean by that?"

"You said it, not me..."

"And I got right in his face?"

"Poked his chest repeatedly."

"He's - like - really tall."

"Yeah - but he's totally old."

"Not to mention drunk."

"Not to mention a big fat piece of wiener."

Don't screw with me, people. My sister's got my back. And a black belt. And not even a tiny bit of fear or restraint. Plus, I don't even like to think about what she might call you if you hurt me.

Friday, February 12, 2010

If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher

My friend Sandy, a fellow teacher and world traveler posted the following as her status update on Facebook today:

Remembering a time in Goa...a girl I passed everyday on my way to the library (yes there was a library there.)...asked me "what was it like? " and I didn't understand...."Reading...what is it like? " as a female child in a poor family she was uneducated and never had that joy....I tried to explain it ....but to this 18 year old with three children it only sounded like a dream world....

If that isn't a reminder to be thankful for what you have, I'm not sure what is. It reminded me of a time when I was teaching at a rehabilitation center. I had a young man in my class whose life's desire was to join the Army. He wore camouflage to class every day and preferred to be referred to by his last name. He was very able bodied (due in no small part to the fact that he subjected himself to an Army style fitness regimen), but had some significant learning challenges. He was unable to meet the education requirements.

He was a difficult student to work with. He had so much anger and frustration and while I never saw him take it out on a person, he was constantly flying into a rage and punching walls, doors, desks and other inanimate objects, usually accompanied by loud interjections. He made the other students nervous. Truth be told, he made me a little nervous. But I did work with him and we did make some slow steady progress. His will to learn was as strong as his temper.

Another professional opportunity opened up for me along with the opportunity to relocate. I took it. My students held a little going away party for me. After the party, I stayed behind to pack up my things. It was bittersweet, as most endings are. As the song says, "every new beginning comes from some other beginnings' end". I was alone in my classroom when he walked tentatively through the door.

"Can I tell you something?"

"Of course." I was a little nervous. This was a strong, volatile guy and I'd never been alone with him before. I started taking a mental inventory of who might be left in my wing of the building.

"I don't want you to go."

"You'll be fine - the new teacher is great."

"She won't be you."

Panic started to creep into my throat. He was stepping towards me. I was twenty-three at the time - only five years older than him. He punched my desk. I jumped back. "I don't want you to go."

And then, something unexpected: He raised his head and I could see that he'd been crying. I softened a bit, always a sucker for tears. "You don't understand," he continued. His voice was breaking now and he didn't look like a big scary man at all any more. He looked like a sad, vulnerable kid. He enveloped me in a hug - and that should have scared me, but it didn't. He was crying openly now, this strong, muscular, angry, military obsessed kid. Crying in my arms, because at this point I had returned the embrace. "You don't understand," he repeated, "You taught me to read. People have been trying to teach me to read since I was six years old and no one ever could. You did. And now you're leaving me."

Now let me stop right here and tell you that I don't believe this was due to any superior teaching skills on my part. I think it's more likely that he was just ready. I just happened to be the teacher who was in his life when that key turned. And it was the singular happiest moment of my teaching career.

As I gently extricated myself from his embrace - fearing a sexual harassment charge just as I was headed for a new life - he said, "I love you." I think he meant it. To Sir - er - Ma'am - with love.

I responded, "I'll never forget you." I meant it, too.

So. If you've read this post, you're lucky. You're luckier than Sandy's young lady friend. You're luckier than my student. You're lucky. Don't forget it. Show your appreciation by reading something wonderful today, and maybe by sparing a thought for the teachers and parents and caregivers in your life who saw to it that you could.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Time Tick Tick Tickin' in My Head

My family plays a game wherein a word will spark one of us to sing a quick clip of a song containing that word and the rest scramble to sing other songs that contain that word or phrase. Some words and phrases are easier than others. 'Love'? Forget about it - you'll never get 'em all and it isn't even a challenge. 'Rain' and 'Money' are easy words to play. Another easy word? 'Time'.

We could start with my title and easily get to: time is on my side, time for you to stop all of your cryin', if I could put time in a bottle, what time is it? (4:30), time after time... you get the idea. (and if you want to keep it going, far be it for me to stop you...)

Concerning time, there seem to be two schools of thought. There are those who think their time is more important than everyone else's and there are those who think everyone else's time is more important than their own. I fall pretty firmly into the second camp. This manifests in my full blown need to be prompt. If I tell you I will be somewhere at a certain time, it is very likely that I will be there fifteen minutes earlier. I have been known to sit in my car waiting to go in somewhere because I don't wish to appear too eager. I have very successfully instilled this value in my children - so much so that they don't refer to being prompt as being prompt - they refer to it instead as 'being Howardly'. This isn't to say I've never been late for anything ever. Of course I have. Things happen. But I feel genuinely bad about it. I hate the thought that I might be keeping someone waiting - that I might be wasting their time.

I'll make no apologies for that - I think it's a good way to be. It's respectful.

That being said, just because I put a high value on the time of others doesn't mean that I put a low value on my own time. I used to. I used to not mind waiting because I figured anything anyone else was doing was more important than anything I might have wanted to do. Not so anymore. I find myself becoming more and more impatient with people who do not value my time. While being prompt is respectful, taking your own sweet time while someone is waiting for you is rude. I'll wait my turn, certainly. I don't allow myself to become frustrated by long lines. But waiting for a scheduled appointment? That frustrates me much more quickly. It's one thing for me to think someone else's time is important and to respect that by being prompt. It is quite another for them to (essentially) come right out and say that their time is more important than mine.

Time never flies in the waiting room.

A stitch in time saves nine, time waits for no man, everything in it's own time... it seems that lyrics aren't the only place that themes of time are prevalent. Why are we so caught up in time? Is it because we all only have a finite amount of it?

Whoa. I hadn't meant to swim into the deep end. I really just wanted an excuse to use an Anthrax lyric as a post title. That song has been a recurring earworm since the first time I heard it. I hope the time I took to write this post won't push me to be late. I hate to be late (for a very important date, it's late it's late it's late but not too late, it's too late baby now it's too late...)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mother of the Year

I am not a beautiful or unique snowflake. It's a tale as old as time. I'm not boldly going where no woman has gone before. Why yes, I probably could squeeze a few more pop culture references in here, if I tried. Thank you for asking.

Every woman who has ever called a child her own has had a moment or two (or a thousand or a million) when they felt unworthy of the task. Today's mother of the year moment? Well, it involves shoes.

Liv has always had an interesting relationship with shoes. As the second daughter, she wore hand-me-down shoes from her sister for the first three years of her life. As fast as kids grow out of shoes at that age they were always in really good shape and I never gave it a second thought. Then one day - right around her third birthday - someone - probably my sister - bought her a pair of shoes. Her eyes lit up and she said "My own shoes? My very own shoes? Just for me?" I vowed that day to never make her wear hand-me-downs again. I had no idea. She never complained.

That was around the same year she discovered The Wizard of Oz and, along with it, Dorothy shoes. She, like so many toddlers before and since, NEEDED red sparkly shoes. And she had them. She had them through three size changes. She rarely if ever wore anything else for the next couple years. She wouldn't tell us when they started to get tight, because she didn't want us to take them away from her. I don't know if she just couldn't quite grok the fact that we'd buy her a new pair, or if she just didn't want a replacement because it wouldn't be the same. She had an unnatural attachment to those shoes.

Fast forward to last year. She found a pair of Iron Maiden Vans. That's right. Vans adorned with pictures of the iconic Eddie. To say she loved these shoes would be a dramatic understatement. She alternated them with her equally beloved knee high combat boots. I think it would be safe to say, wearwise, that she wore them for six solid months. Canvas shoes weren't made for that kind of abuse. They started to tear. She wore them like that for awhile, right under my oblivious nose. When I noticed, we started shopping for new shoes, but there was no satisfactory replacement to be found. And if Liv doesn't like it, Liv isn't going to wear it. I opted not to waste my money.

This morning she came downstairs to breakfast with her shoes wrapped in duct tape. Part of it was functional - where the upper had started to separate from the sole in the front - but then she'd repeated it on the back for purely aesthetic reasons. She was clearly thrilled to have Eddie back on her feet and was all ready to head out the door to school.

"You can't go to school with shoes held together by duct tape."

"Well, I can't go to school with ripped shoes."

Those were not the only two options at her disposal and I told her so. She didn't fight with me. She didn't say a word, actually. She went upstairs for a few moments, then came back down and finished her breakfast. When she left the table, I noticed that she'd changed her shoes. I also noticed that she'd been crying.

"What's wrong?"

"I was just trying to be creative."

"I know - put them back on if you want to."

"I can't."

"Yes you can - you still have a few minutes."

"No. I can't. I ripped them up. Duct tape won't fix them now."

I resisted the urge to say, "Oh, sweetie! Duct tape can fix ANYthing!" because it was time to head for the bus.

I hate that I made my baby cry.

I hate that I squelched her creativity.

But more than anything, I hate that I let my own class issues hurt her. I was more worried about what people would think than about how she felt.

I'm going to spend the day trying to forgive myself.

Right after I order a new pair of heavy metal kicks.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Great Gray Beast

Ok, I think I've showed amazing restraint. We are thirty hours into February as I write this and I have not once quoted Clive Barker. Yet.

The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter.

He didn't think much of his chances. More than likely he'd become so bored as the hours crawled by that one day he'd simply forget to breathe.

Ok. Now I've done it. Now it's February. This passage opens Clive Barker's 1992 book, The Thief of Always. It is actually a children's book, but it holds a great deal of adult appeal, as so many children's books do. Besides, in 1992 I was still firmly entrenched in my Clive Barker period, and if he wrote it, I was going to read it.

This particular passage resonated with me and, from what I've been reading, I am far from alone. It doesn't feel like February until I've quoted it to someone. Not that 'feeling like February' is such a good thing, I suppose. But February it is.

I held the great gray beast at bay for a couple hours yesterday. I hadn't meant to. There were errands that needed to be done, but there was also laundry and that pesky couch whose ability to remain on the floor couldn't always be trusted to gravity alone. I can assure you, I did NOT want to do those errands. It was warm and cozy here in my cave. But Liv had some books on hold at the library and they weren't going to hold them any longer. I sighed. It had to be done. But I didn't have to be happy about it.

I got dressed, but I didn't feel cute (laundry day - which was being blown off - remember?). I ran my errands - library, groceries, drop things off, pick things up - you know - a typical errand day. I was doing it with all the enthusiasm it merited (which was, you know, none). I drove through McDonald's for my lunch (oh, like you don't eat drive through on errand day) and when I opened my window, it was surprisingly not cold. To say it was warm would be an exaggeration, but it was not cold. Relatively. I left the window down till I picked up speed. It felt good - fresh.

A little sunshine, a little fresh air, and I felt the first stirrings of a smile. Of course the beast isn't done. I know that. It's just resting a bit. But that little taste of what was to come was enough to see me through the day.

Suck it, beast.

Happy February.