Monday, March 24, 2008


- 9 hours and counting. As of early tomorrow, when we leave for the airport, I need to have my school choice made, insofar as I have to hold or lose my daughter's place at Private School C. I just visited choices A and B, and feel, if anything, less able to make a decision.

School A: I loved the teachers I met tonight. They were energetic, enthusiastic, and experienced (th three Es!). Their classrooms had lots of books, tons of child-produced art, and different "stations." Kids rotate through 3 arts-focused programs in a year: music, dance, and visual arts. There are hands-on science projects. I liked the other parents in attendance at this information session; they seemed funky and interesting and committed but not pushy. The buidling is old, but has a great "loft" space for the supplemental arts program. The most ethnically and socioeconomically diverse of my current options.

The downsides: 24 students to each teacher, although under-enrollment may bring that number down to 19:1 or so. No budget for regular aides. All those great dance, art, and music programs get only 30-60 minutes per week, although there are additional after-school programs on site. Teachers can/do integrate arts into their class activities, but a lot of the work is worksheets like my daughter is already doing: put an "X" on the object; trace the letter; trace the number; copy the word; color in the maps. Oh, and some guy informed us that there are 61 registered sex offenders within a .5 mile radius: "at least a third of those are level III." (Thanks, buddy. What a happy guy.)

School B: instead of an "open house," this was a methodical presentation. I like the principal--he's very informed and obviously loves his job. The kindergarten teachers were there, and were enthusiastic and informative. There's a great community feel at the school, although these parents were whiter and more...well, uptight. Several spoke up about being denied entry into the "best" (i.e., whitest, highest test-scores and income bracket) school--this appears to be second choice for the achiever families; it's in a "better" neighborhood than A.

The downsides: 24:1 ratio unlikely to get better. She might not even be accepted since we are not in one of the priority groups for this school. Same curriculum as above, but without the artistic elements. Minimal music, recess, art, etc. Parents seem a bit more status-conscious and competitive; the room was packed, and many of the questions had to do with test scores and with ways to "work the system" to ensure a place.

School C update: no new information, per se, but the newsletter this month talks about how the kindergartners are working on writing paragraphs with topic sentences, how they have finished their unit on geology, and how they are now working on the various systems of the human body. Spanish, music, art multiple times per week. An actual PE teacher.

It's still too white, too expensive, and too far away.

We leave tomorrow for a week-long trip to someplace warm. When I get back, I'll end the suspense of school roulette; in the meantime, feel free to guess which choice you think I made....

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Crabby Widow

Dear Macy's Department Store:

I realize that this is not a good time to be in retail. I realize that Target is now producing smart, snappy fashion at hoi polloi prices, that discount chains are underselling your designer lines, and that the shrinking of the American middle class has put a squeeze on mid-level retailers like you. However. There is no excuse for you sending me an email promotion with the subject line: "Engaged? Register with us and start earning rewards!" It's heartless, cruel, and it makes me want to cut my credit card into tiny pieces, find the nearest Macy's, and grind those pieces slowly. Into. Someone's. Eyeballs.

No, I'm not effing engaged. Bastards. Rub it in!


Friday, March 21, 2008

Fecking Brilliant

(Fear not--there's still time to weigh in on the kindergarten dilemma! The forms don't go in 'til Monday!)

I recently treated myself to Amy Winehouse's Grammy-winning and accolade-inspiring album, "Back to Black." The first time I listened to it, carelessly, in the car, I sort of liked it. I'm a sucker for those 60s R&B arrangements, and all the horns blaring away. But I thought, basically, "nice, but derivative...does she even write this stuff?"

Well, apparently she does (write her music), and the more I listen to it, the more effing brilliant it sounds. She's got the blowsy chanteuse down to an art form; her voice is edgy, nasal, and dark, and sounds like cigarettes and bourbon in a sleazy bar at last call. The melodies clearly owe a great debt to Dusty Springfield (or her songwriters), but as channeled through Billie Holliday. It's a voice that's stayed out all night, singing songs about having seen too much, wanted too much, felt too much, felt too little. The words are jarring, profane, unpoetic, and inspired (not, however, inspiring). The arrangements are rich, sultry, and just shy of excessive, with a kind of overblown sweetness that brings to mind spilled liquor, the juice of a dark cherry just past ripe, something redolent of sweat and stale perfume. Her diction is wildly idiosyncratic--strange elisions, garbled vowels, consonants jammed together and then teased back apart. The album as a whole brings to mind nothing so much as a cheap hotel room, sheets in disarray, and on the nightstand, a toppled bottle and an overflowing ashtray. But there's an intelligence behind the tawdriness, and an aching beauty in the songs; the album seems to acknowledge that love, betrayal, and loss are stale clich├ęs while insisting that in the end, nothing else really matters. Somehow the detachment of the clever lyrics conveys both a hard-edged postmodern approach to life and the aching sincerity it has replaced.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The hard stuff

I'm agonizing over where to send my beloved daughter for kindergarten. I've decided against continuing her at her current (private, Montessori) program, in part because it's the most expensive of my options, in part because the parents I've talked to are very happy with the primary classes, and less so with the motivation in the elementary, and finally because the class she'd be moving to is largely made up of boys--noisy, disruptive boys, in this case, who seem to get the majority of the teacher's attention. As a "good girl," my daughter seems likely to get less of the teacher's time and energy. And let's face it, as a control-freak with a PhD, I've hit the wall on the "at your own pace" element of Montessori learning. In theory, it's great; in practice, I want something more structured.

I realize that my decision needn't be permanent, but in several cases, one needs to enroll in the school (public OR private) to guarantee places in subsequent years, so I might not have this many options again.
So, I must decide, this weekend, before leaving for a week-long vacation extravaganza, while revising one article and drafting another, among these 3 schools:

School A is a public "arts magnet" elementary. Several of my students and grads have worked there and really liked it. The teachers are energetic, and art, music, drama, and dance are integrated throughout the curriculum. It's free, with a nominal fee for additional before-and-after care. It's not within walking distance, but then, none of these are. It's pretty close to my campus. It's ethnically and socio-economically diverse. The staff, I confess, has not been very helpful or informative, but then, I'd rather have them focused on my child. Big drawbacks: almost no science, lots of
"rote" work and worksheets, most students entering have had little pre-school or preparation, and there will be 24 students/class with one teacher and possibly parental or student-teacher aid. She'd love the art, music, and drama. I'm not sure how the math and science programs are.

School B is the public school favored by most of my colleagues whose kids are in local public schools. It is slightly closer (both A and B are near my campus; less than 2 miles from our house), and has a pretty well-balanced curriculum--which means minimal art and music, some science, and lots of worksheets. The principal is responsive and committed, the teachers are happy to be there, and an active parental support system tries to make up for the kinds of things that regular school budgets don't provide. Again, though, 24 kids per class. One teacher. Two inexpensive local or nearby choices for before-and-after care.

Both schools A and B are subject to the tyranny of our ridiculous state assessment tests, and while that's not an issue for her next year, it soon will be. There's also the "hard edge" that local public children have--they are very "old"-seeming--and she would have to develop some of that soon to thrive. Both are fine choices, and would be perfectly acceptable if I hadn't explored option C. To make it worse, while I have toured all three schools, the public school information sessions don't happen until after I will have to make my choice and leave town.

School C is private. It's about 20 minutes away and would require me to drive her to school at least once/day (there is another family, and possibly one more, who would carpool). It has one class per grade level, 18-20 students per class, and 2 full-time teachers in each class. She visited it yesterday, and was clearly both welcomed and challenged. It's expensive--pretty much the outside of what I can afford to pay (just below what I pay now, for tuition plus childcare). Students do lots and lots of hands-on art, science, music, Spanish, computers. It's well-established, with an active parent/family network. Unlike the other private schools around, the expenses are minimal once tuition is paid (other schools add supplies fees, trip fees, meals, etc., etc.--this one doesn't). The curriculum is centered on reading and math. There is lots of outdoor activity. On the downside, it means driving, gas, bridge tolls, and more stress (?) for me, although it's not really much farther than I take her now. The student body is not nearly so diverse as the local public schools, which will become more and more of an issue, I suspect. And the childcare is expensive, so her day (and mine) will be a bit shorter.

I can't sleep. I make one decision, and then regret it at 2 a.m. Everyone I ask has an agenda: pro-public schools. Anti-public schools. Private schools "attract a nice group of families," some say; ""private schools are for snobs and troublemakers," say others. "It's too expensive," some say, while others say, "what's more important than education?" "You don't want to be one of those parents," friends say--you know, the ones whose kids are already putting together a Harvard application and learning their second language. "Save that money for college," I've heard, and "these are the most important years for her." She would be fine at school A or school B. School C would be great for her, though, so why should I settle for fine?

It's all right, and it's all wrong, and no one knows her like I do. She's smart, willful, playful, creative, musical, much more athletic than her mother. She's stubborn, and not likely to push herself to do something difficult. She can read, and pretends not to. She's quirky and loving and inquisitive, and asks me hundreds of questions about how the world works, why the universe is the way it is (she's very concerned about Pluto's recent demotion, and wants to see for herself why it's no longer big enough to be considered a planet). She loves to cook and garden, and knows a smattering of Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish--somewhat interchangeably. She's brave and adaptable and self-sufficient. And the one other person who could make this decision with me is no longer around. I can imagine the various things he would say, but I can't envision where he would end up, given his bias against snobbery and his all-consuming love for his daughter. Of course, if he were here, I'd be more confident that she would learn about the world, and bugs, and planets, regardless of what she got in school. I'd be able to do without those hours and hours of childcare. But this way lies madness, right?


Monday, March 17, 2008

My three wishes

This is how my horizons have shrunk. I believe that I could achieve relative harmony with the universe if the gods would send me someone to

1. Test and discard all non-functioning pens, pencils, and other writing implements--including those pencils whose lead broke off up inside, making them irritatingly impervious to sharpening.

2. Sharpen my knives so that they go through cold chicken (boneless) more readily than through my fingers (which have bones...although not as many as they used to!).

3. Match all my plastic containers to their lids and throw out the unmatching, stained, and horribly warped ones so I don't have to lament the landfill space I am using up (I have a lifetime's worth of empty salad, yogurt, etc. containers that I feel too guilty to throw out and cannot recycle).

See? At heart, I am a simple girl. Or a pathetic one.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Why Johnny can't...

Am I the only one old enough to (vaguely) remember the Reader's Digest scare-stories like, "Why Johnny Can't Read (Add, Multiply, Get a Job, Keep a Job...)? I've recently done a brief and unsystematic (and disheartening, and disillusioning) survey of some of the various internet mating sites (there must be a nicer term, but I can't be bothered to think about it).

I can, however, say this about that:

If Johnny can't spell, Johnny ain't gonna get least not by me.

We'll save our discussion of the rule of English syntax for another post, shall we?

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008


1. It must be spring: the lawn guy came, followed immediately by two days of cold rain on my strawberry plants.

2. Why am I not comforted by Southwest's grounding 41 of their planes today when I just booked cross-country travel with them for next month?

3. Is it so wrong that I am obsessed with finding a humane way to euthanise my cats, all of whom are unbearable pests? Even my daughter says, "Mamma, our pets are PESTS, right?" A closed garage, a running car, the radio playing "Meow Mix" commercials--not a bad way to go, am I right?*

*(Before someone gets all PETA on my ass, let me remind you that all 4 cats, the dog, and the bunny are rescued, and that I am spectacularly unlikely to carry out this plan, especially now that the plumbers have refilled the dirt in my recent plumbing job; that would have been a Hoffa-esque ending for their little kitty corpses....)

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

A (final) haiku: appreciation

Beloved readers,
You are all so funny,
smart, and generous.

I will no longer
test your patience with my
foolish small haikus.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008


The rat man calleth;
He will kill the suckers dead.
With so little pain.

Rat man tells me, "This
has been going on for years.
It is not your fault."

"Oh, rat man," I say,
"I love you more than I love
sweet baby jesus."

I hang up, feeling
rescued by my gallant knight
with bait pellets and death fog.

* * *

I am becoming
enamored of the haiku--
its five-seven-five.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Year of the rat: a haiku tale and a letter (or two)

Rat man calls; he says
He needs 2 Gs to rid me
of newest tenants.

Dear Mastercard folks:
What do you mean, I can't use
twice credit limit?

Dear tenants: I need
for you to live with rodents
for just a short while.

Dear George W:
Send that f*&%ing refund check.
Your only good deed.

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Update from the trenches

Just for the record: the rental-house plumbing/sewer work is complete, although the work continues at the sidewalk on the line out to the city-owned main.

My credit-card balance has just become officially astronomical, with further cataclysmic damage to come.

And that {impending major life-event that is supposed to take place in the house}?

Nope. Nothing yet.

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