Monday, April 28, 2008

Crunching the numbers

[Note: as expected, I received the "all clear" automated mammogram reply. Now I can get back to my full-time worrying about plane crashes, drunk drivers, and child molesters.]

Today's statistics:

YMCA parking: 99.99% full on a rainy Monday
Miles on treadmill: 2.7
Calories burned: nearly 300
duration of exercise: 47.35 minutes (I messed up and added a few minutes to the intended 45)
Male eye-candy score: 2+ (bonus for the fact that the really good-looking guy in front of me stayed on his treadmill--running, of course--for the entire duration of my measly workout)
Magazine selection: Last year's Atlantic Monthly
Most inspiring song played: Tie: "Crazy" (Gnarls Barkley) and "Stacy's Mom" (which is "inspiring" only that it is about a woman who is probably my age but looks much, much better than I do....)

Price: one very sad dog, who didn't get to go to the park


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dark thoughts

I just went for a mammogram--about which, the less said, the better. (Actually, it's just not that bad; it doesn't take too long, the technicians are generally very good at what they do, and, really, it's a pretty minor inconvenience for the potential benefits.)

I'm generally pretty un-neurotic in this one particular way: I don't, usually, harbor dire fears of getting cancer (or developing cancer, which seems to be much more apt in describing what actually happens when certain cells go haywire). But something about the lag time involved in getting these results--"If everything is fine, you'll get a letter in about 2 weeks. If there are any problems [with the images, with what the images show], we'll call you"--that creates a small but constant feeling of anxiety.

I'm generally sensible. I know that my husband's fate was one of cruel genetics--a congenital esophageal problem that they only now recognize as pre-cancerous--and, just maybe, an unkind universe. As such, it's not likely to be my fate. My relatives and recent ancestors are blessedly cancer-free. And yet. Something about this process triggers horrific visions of illness, death, and--most terrible of all--my daughter's repeated orphanhood. In the weird calculus of adoption, she's already had 4 parents, and lost 3 (or had 6 and lost 5, if we count the foster family in China with whom she lived for at least 3 months). That's a success rate of only 25%, or less. Now I know that there are more positive ways to look at her history: to see those biological parents and foster parents not as "lost," but as having given her a great gift; to focus on what my husband gave her, instead of what he can no longer give. But late at night, when the irrational fears take over, that's not the story I tell myself.

In the light of day, my daughter is a survivor. She's strong, adaptable, and demonstrably resilient. I've provided for her; the will is signed, the custodial arrangements made. And I am pretty sure we won't be needing any of them. But still.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

The lunatic fringe

I don't think the guy at the pump next to mine at the gas station really appreciated my "Woo HOO! Another personal fuel-price best!!"

But really, what are you to do but celebrate when you top $60 filling your tank? (And yes, I know: drive less. A tank of gas lasts me a good 2 weeks, however, and it's a biiiiig tank).

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


"A measure of the disorder that exists in a system." Amen. I think that within a system, entropy increases over time, and that it has to do with the amount of energy unable to be utilized for productive purposes--but this is deliberately a humanistic and not scientific interpretation of what is, of course, a scientific concept.

I'm trying to embrace entropy as the condition of my life, but it doesn't come naturally to me. I realize my attempts at imposing order, structure, and routine are futile, but they're what I have! At the same time, my basement fills up at a truly frightening pace with discarded furniture, baby toys, and unwanted clothes--I'd need to be going to a donation center once a week to keep up. My daughter generates piles of drawings, mounds of, and clusters of "flowers" to wilt in their vases. My winter clothes haven't yet been unpacked, and my summer clothes await unpacking. Every room has in it piles of projects unfinished, bills unpaid, letters unanswered, photos unfiled, memorabilia unsorted. My closet is a mess, my collection of bags and totes makes it impossible to close my bedroom door, and I have way, way, way too many books! And yes, I am extraordinarily lucky to be able to afford the excess that is killing me, and, yes, I need to stop buying ANYTHING until I have the energy to do some serious clearing out.

Update: We spent a week in Mexico with family and got some great cousin-time, a couple fabulous meals, and all the shrimp and avocados we could ingest. My daughter spent about 90% of her time in the water--either in the hotel pool or bouncing in the warm waves (as a child of the cold northern climes, she found the concept of warm, undertow-free ocean water delightful!) I spent a lot of time hiding under hats, wraps, beach umbrellas, and overhangs, but still managed to sunburn the tops of my feet. Since our kids come in nearly exact 18-month intervals, they can be counted on to play together well in pairs, if not always in 3s: my daughter loves to be a "big girl" with her older cousin, and to frolic like a slippery seal with her younger boy cousin.

I came home, caught my breath (barely), did laundry (some), and headed off to scenic east coast city for a short week of research. It's one of my favorite cities, the weather was surprisingly good, I found a couple of things that help to give my research direction (or clarify what I was already doing in new ways), and I caught up with a friend from grad-school.

And I compromised my democratic and environmental principles and put my daughter in the private school, to which I have to drive her. I considered all of the elements my smart and thoughtful commenters left for me, as well as a few others, but in the end, my decision came down to these:

1. I am more likely to regret NOT trying this school than to regret having tried it, even if I end up pulling her out next year or the year following.

2. The testing mania is destroying our public schools, even at the levels that are not subject to the testing itself. The public schools fall short, in my estimation, in science and math--two key areas in which I have little aptitude or enthusiasm. And while I can "make up" for deficiencies in music, art, and reading, I am less able, and less inclined, to supplement the "sciences." At the same time, my daughter has a real enthusiasm for these subjects--one I want to nurture and enhance. I can do this better, I am betting (although of course I won't know until I see how it's working out), by finding a school with a strong program, than by my own half-hearted attempts. Maybe that makes me a bad mother, but I don't want to spend every Saturday devising science projects.

3. The public schools have a 24:1 ratio in their kindergartens. Even with parent helpers, possible part-time aides, student volunteers, etc., that's a LOT of planning, prep, and focus-time for any one teacher. The private school has 2 full-time teachers for 21-22 students--11:1. If everything else were equal, this would still mean twice the interactions between my daughter and her teachers.

4. I have a strong education bias. I can realize in the abstract that there are equally important, non-academic and even non-"intellectual" qualities, and I want her to develop those fully (creativity, kindness, resilience, physicality). But education is a big, big thing in my life, and like pretty much every parent, my own values drive my parenting. I was bored, unchallenged, and lazy in school. She's not me, and her school is not my school. But even so, I want to challenge her, feed her interests, and help her develop more. I'm willing to make some compromises (demographics, commute, elitism), at least at this point to make those other things happen. My decisions will change, no doubt, as she develops and is more able to make her own preferences known. Racial identity may be more important to her in 2 years, or 3, or 8. Riding her bike to school may become a big deal. I may want to be around less affluent, pushy, or granola-esque parents. We'll try this for a year, and then we'll reevaluate. I don't think it makes much difference whether she starts public school in kindergarten or 1st grade.

5. Her tuition is about what I have been paying for her Montessori/childcare. If I take a break from that expense, I know myself--I'll find other ways to use that money (some of you might think that would be a good thing; I can't disagree), and going back to it would be even harder.

Yes, I have second thoughts. Sheryl Cashin's powerful indictment of racial separationism haunts me. The knowledge that I am the kind of parent who is currently needed in our district--to advocate for sanity in the face of the testing frenzy, to commit to the very notion of public education in an era that seems content to discard it--eats away at me. Driving her to school when we could walk to a closer school (or bike) feels, to be blunt, immoral. Soon those voices may come to dominate my thinking. If so, I'll change my mind.

And so it goes.

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