Monday, September 26, 2011

A Lesson in Why Being the Storyteller Is Important

It strikes me often, that since I control the content of these pages, I have an awful lot of power in laying down memories for my children. They will, likely, look back at this at some point and through it, remember some forgotten stories, learn ones they never knew, and swear up and down that what I write could not possibly be true. That last one will be Helen.

Cleopatra is one of those lost characters for me. Other than a recollection of her asp-bitten shortened life and taking the role of seductive temptress to many, I simply don't know that much about the Hellenistic period.

And you know what?

Neither do a lot of people - including the people telling the stories. Stacy Schiff takes a stab at sorting out some of the history in her book "Cleopatra: A Life", and painting this most powerful ruler in a new light. And I loved it.

You see, I know how society likes its women. Society likes us quiet, docile, and ready to take care of people. And when women break those roles - well, the adjectives aren't always that nice. A confident woman is a b*itch, when a woman doesn't flinch at a tough decision - she's seen as heartless, and heaven forbid she should attempt to do something women simply aren't supposed to do. Just look back at the media coverage of Geraldine Ferraro's and Sarah Palin's Vice Presidential bid and Hillary Clinton's Presidential bid. Some of that news coverage is disgraceful. PunditMom has documented this for us more than once.

And those stories about women politicians and other women who break the mold? Just like the stories on this blog could become hardened memories for my children, those stories can become hardened in our psyches.

So Helen, I need to set the record straight. I talk all the time about how stubborn you are. You stomp your foot better than anyone I know - and your stink eye makes people flinch. And while it might seem like I'm complaining. I'm not. For as much as a pain in the tush as it is now, I hope you keep that fight, and I know deep down that some day, you'll be faced with a really tough decision. And you will stare your opponent directly in the eyes, without flinching, and you will make the smartest, strongest argument you can. And whether you win or not, you'll be taken seriously.

And after reading this book, I'm taking Cleopatra more seriously myself. She was one tough ruler.


I received a free copy of the book "Cleopatra, A Life" as a member of the From Left to Write book club. I'm not quite to the end, but when I finish it - it's up for grabs. Any interest, Therese?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner!

Give her credit - the girl can dance! She even has names for some of these moves, none of which I can remember.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Connor's Heaven

About a week ago, Grandpa Dick came to babysit. He managed to squeeze a lot of fun into a hurricane shortened visit. The final evening of his visit was spent in the Red Caboose hotel near Strasburg, PA. While this might not have been Grandpa Dick's version of heaven, it was definitely Connor's version of heaven. Our car included two bunk beds, so both Helen and Connor scored a top bunk. Ed and I scored a double bed that wasn't quite long enough for Ed's body.


9/11 Remembered

I'm writing at the DCMoms now. Here we are, 10 years after four planes crashed in Arlington, Pennsylvania, and New York City. It still makes me sad. And although we had torrential downpours for the week preceding the anniversary of 9/11, those classic blue skies blanketed the area this past weekend.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Grade

I had two first grade teachers. The first one, Mrs. R.,  was simply appalled that I was not my sister. My sister, who is among the funnier people I know when she talks, describes herself as terrified to talk in class. There she sat, day after day, among the smartest kids, always getting her homework done on time and generally doing her best to not be noticed. She's the kind of student who really gave a teacher a break.

I was not that kid.

As I remember it, Mrs. R. would come out to lean into my mom's car on a near daily basis to let her know what egregious crime I had committed in class that day. It got old for me really fast. And it didn't make me change my mind about the merits of talking in class. It even got old for my mom. One day, my mother instructed me to hurry up to the car after school as fast as I could so that Mrs. R. couldn't talk to her in the carpool line. Rather than dilly-dallying, as I was prone to do, I was to beat Mrs. R. by such a margin that my mom could peal out of the pick-up area before being noticed by the evil Mrs. R.

I love my mom for that. She somehow recognized that nothing was going to change. And she could either listen to Mrs. R. complain daily, or she could avoid her.

I really did not enjoy my first few months of first grade. But then, glory of all glories, Mrs. R's husband got transferred and I got a new teacher. Mrs. P. was, by far, the best elementary school teacher I had. She adored the challenging kids in class, which means she adored me. And I adored her. I was thrilled not to be compared to my sister. Here was someone who didn't even know my sister!

Mrs. P. taught me a lot of important lessons. And she really pushed me and my friends. Each week, she would send about six of us who were pretty good at spelling to the library with big words - ones with 10 letters in them! These were glorious words that were completely foreign to us. After receiving our words for the week, we would each paw through the giant dictionary guarded by the librarian and record the meanings of these incredible words. Then, we would return back to class and when it came time for the weekly spelling test, we'd be tested on these words instead of the regular first grade spelling words. I still remember learning the word exaggerate.

I was so proud of knowing that word. I was so confident that this unique word was known only by myself, Mrs. P., and the others in my spelling group, that I decided to go home and impress my parents. I looked right at my dad during dinner and casually queried "Dad, do you EXAGGERATE?". (And yes, I'm sure I said it in ALL CAPS because this was the money word, and I was on the brink of proving my brilliance to all of humankind - or at least my family.) And my dad responded "yes". And I was filled with glee because my dad  had just admitted that he exaggerated. Clearly, he did not know what the word meant. Because in my first grade mind, I had decided that exaggerating was a very bad thing to do. It was much later in life that I learned to blog. So, I savored his response for about half a moment, and then I decided that I needed to really, really nail him, making clear my eventual plan to dominate the world with my smarts. So my eyes bugged out of my head as I tried to maintain my cool and I asked "YOU DO?!? YOU EXAGGERATE?". And my dad, who apparently had a vocabulary that was as good as mine responded, cool as a cucumber, "yes, about how great my children are. I do it all the time".

Game. Set. Match.

To say I was crushed would be an understatement. Here I am, after all, more than three full decades after this moment occurred and I remember it like it was yesterday. I realized then that world domination might elude me for a bit longer than I had initially suspected.

Learning that I should assume others know as much as me - especially others who were my parents - was but one of the many important lessons Mrs. P. would teach me over the year. She also reinforced for me that controlled chaos can be a beautiful thing, that the world is huge - and she did her best to expose me to it, and that a sophisticated Texas accent is enthralling. I was mesmerized from her first "howdy, y'all'.

I carry a little piece of Mrs. P. with me to this day. I still think about all the fun I had in that class. I think about how my friend learned to read from dinosaur books because he thought the traditional reader was stupid. I think about the time that so few children showed up for class, Mrs. P. actually took us to her house to bake cookies. Seriously. We all piled into her VW bug (kids could sit in the front seat in those days - and seat belts and car seats were either nonexistent, or nobody bothered to use them) and she took off with us for the day. Can you even imagine that happening today? I remember that I used to take a nap at my desk often, and Mrs. P. didn't seem to mind. One of the other kids would wake me if the class was leaving the room, and Mrs. P. would always, always, always give me a hug and let me know that it was hard for her to wake up sometimes, too. I remember being so sad when I was in 6th grade and found out she was moving back to her beloved Texas. I cried and cried on her last day. I even remember the little thumbprint Christmas ornament that we made for our parents that year. She had each of us make a thumbprint, and then she turned it into an animal. Mine was a mouse with a little tail. I thought she was the most gifted artist in the world. A thumbprint - into a mouse? Who could be that creative?

Today, Connor began first grade. I'm pretty confident Mrs. H. is closer to Mrs. P. than Mrs. R. For his sake, I sure hope I'm right. I know firsthand that first grade can be a complete dud, or a completely magical year. Mrs. P. definitely turned on my love of learning. Please, Mrs. H., give it your all! You've got a great student in front of you.


Monday, September 5, 2011

First Time Off the Diving Board for Helen

Tonight was the dive team picnic. Part of the picnic involved a family dive meet. Unfortunately, Connor had to join another family because he's the only one in ours who can complete a dive. Next year, though, I have big plans to take the adult dive lessons and find a way to not embarrass myself as I go flying through the air.

Tonight, though, was all Helen's. We asked the coach if he would catch her if she jumped off the board, and he was happy to do that. What a thrill! I think Helen's smile speaks for itself here. The whole dive team applauded when she went off the board. In two years, I could have two divers on the dive team! Connor has already asked if he could do it again next year.

Possibly, this will inspire Helen to learn to swim. Coach Bobby made Helen's night! Thank you, Coach Bobby. What a fantastic end to an incredibly fun summer.