Susan's Blog

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Just Bee-ing Myself

I like to anthropomorphize. And this time of year, the bug world gives one plenty of opportunities to muse and wonder.

“What’s worse than a giraffe with a sore throat?” asks Ned. “A centipede with a broken leg.” And then he thinks about it and says, “Actually, what’s the big deal about a centipede with a broken leg? He’s got 99 others.”

“The fuzz takes away it’s awesome brightness,” — Ben, on bees.
I don’t agree. For some reason, I think the fuzz on a bee enhances its look, makes it even cuter. Plus, it dares to wear horizontal stripes, that ultra fashion faux pas, despite its completely round shape. Come on, Bee! It totally makes you look fat. Yet, fat works for the bee. In fact, I would venture to say that the bee is the cutest of the insects, even better than a ladybug, though I do adore the red and the polka dots.

By far, the ugliest but perhaps the coolest of the insects has to be the spider, which has a kind of goth thing going on, with its all-black, or all-brown, kind of a ‘sixties vibe there. Interestingly enough, it has fur, like the far-more-adorable bumblebee, but the fur makes the spider repulsive/compelling. Why is that? I imagine its fur to be like Brillo hairs, whereas the bumblebee’s is soft and fuzzy (how do I know? it rhymes with “buzzy.”) I believe spiders are smart, too, because they can bite you without giving up their lives.

I told Ben that I have been stung lots of times and I still think bees are cute. When I was little, I remember pulling out a flower from a shrub, and a bumblebee flew out, and I watched in horror as it landed on my big toe. Of course it stung me. But I remained unafraid of bees. Makes no sense; except, perhaps, when you think about it, I had disturbed its sleep, or work, or whatever, and it was mad.

I made Ben laugh this morning doing my impression of some bugs in the world. Here’s the bee: Flies into your face, asking, “Are you a flower? No?” Lands on you anyway. Stings, dies.
And the fly: Flies into your face, asking, “Are you poop? No?” Is swatted away, comes right back, “Are you poop? No?” Is swatted away, etc., ad infinitum, until it is squashed. The fly is the existentialist of bugs; continues to do what it has to do, regardless of outcome, even if it means its own death. Something to think about.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Channeling Ado Annie

Whatcha gonna do when he talks like that?
Spit in his eye?
–Ado Annie, “Oklahoma!”

Those naughty Baby Bellies. I actually had to kick two of them out of class today, and I’m working on getting rid of a third. These were some of the newest girls, and they had utterly the wrong attitude. It was just test, test, test. Asking me crap like, “Why are you so sweaty?” and saying stuff to another girl like, “Didn’t you know it was picture day?” while eying her outfit. And who needs that? I just want to teach bellydance and they clearly just want to make trouble. By now, the changes I’ve made are: no hip scarves; snack at designated time only; those who do not participate have to sit down quietly or go to the Office; no running and screaming.

I don’t like setting boundaries. I’m like Ado Annie in most things: I’m just a girl who cain’t say no — that is, until suddenly I’ve had enough and my head explodes. But I’m a-learnin’ how. The Baby Bellies are forcing the issue. My two dearest students told me today that they did not want to come anymore because of all the chaos! I told them I understood, and that I was working on fixing it.

So the after school activity coordinator is getting those two out of the class. And I’m going to continue to lay down the law, or at least to clap my hands for order every now and then.

Ben and his friend C were outside of the Multi-purpose room where class is held — they would never join the class, of course — and they overheard all of it. Driving home afterwards, C remarked that I had to “learn to be meaner.” But I’ve gone about as fur as I can go.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Escape to New York

My parents came up so that Ned and I could get a springtime getaway to New York. We stayed at the Ritz way down at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, very close to all of our favorite neighborhoods, or at least a couple of subway stops away. We walked, talked, and ate and ate. So much to see, just by putting one foot in front of the other. So great to be together, alone.

Tabblo: Romantic Getaway to New York

Friday, April 25, 2008

Natty Boy

Natty boy, the groups, the groups, are calling…
–Danny Boy, old Irish song

Things have been going so beautifully I have not wanted to write and possibly jinx it all. Plus there is that matter of blogstipation. So I knock wood as I write this morning.

Nat has been so happy these days, (knock, knock, knock). Even though Max and Ben have vacation, and sleep late, break the morning routine, etc. Even though he has school and they don’t. He wakes up with laughter lacing all of his silly talk. And all he can talk about is social group. Now the guy who runs the group sends fliers and all other correspondence directly to Nat, who for the first time in his life understands the fun of opening mail sent to you. Birthday cards and presents never held his interest the way Drew’s envelopes do. Nat reads the stuff, and then periodically comes back to it during the day and repeats portions to me, with wide eyes, just like when he was a little boy turning to me to tell him what was what about the day or the world. He so openly seeks my input, my validation, or at least, my conversation, because he knows that I care as much as he does about these things.

This is why I say to people, atypical development really means atypical development. Some people get to things later than others. Just because a kid could not care less about opening presents or mail when others first learn to care, doesn’t mean he’ll never care. Just because a kid doesn’t like hanging out with other kids when he’s in elementary school, doesn’t mean he’ll never want to. Nat loves having friends and outings now, at 18. And by the way, his version of having friends is quite different from mine. He does not talk to his friends, whereas that is all I do with mine. He goes places, in vans or on the T, with them. I sit in restaurant booths or go to shopping malls or walk with mine. Whatever you do with a friend, it is good to discover exactly what it is you need. Well, Nat has, at last, and you can see how happy it makes him to have this need known and met. I am so proud of him to have grown this much, to understand himself and to let us know what he has learned — without words, but with smiles, joyful house stompies, laughter, and eagerness to go.

Ned and I are going away to New York this morning, after my parents get here. I have not written anything down for Nat, but I have talked about it a lot with him. As long as tonight’s social group outing is all set, he is not all that interested in what ever else I need to tell him. Tonight he is going to social group without an aide, which is new. But I checked with Drew and he knows Nat so well; his staff also felt that Nat would be fine without the aide. I trust them.

I pay around $40 per outing, including the aide. But to be able to say, “I trust them,” and to see Nat’s face when he bounds from my car to the vans on Friday nights, I’d pay a whole lot more.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ooooh, Help!



They’re My Blue Sky

Walk along the river,
sweet lullaby, it just keeps on flowing,
It don’t worry ’bout where it’s going, no, no.
–Allman Brothers

Yesterday, Patriot’s Day, was a double header for Boston: the Marathon, and the Red Sox. I think Patriot’s Day is one of my favorite state holidays here because it is almost always a beautiful day. The combination of outdoor activity + late April in Boston makes people want to go outside in droves and feel their hearts beating and their muscles working.

When I was driving back from my morning work out at the gym, I heard Ned’s voice in my head, asking me to try to take Ben with me food shopping. We are feeling so anxious about Ben’s love for the Great Indoors that even a trip to the supermarket would be something of an accomplishment. Truly, we are worried a bit about him and we continue to wrestle with his truculent, overly-focused psyche and infuse him with gentle flexibility, open air, and empathy.

But, I thought, food shopping? I hate food shopping. There is very little to love about it. Why treat Benji like an appendage to my shopping cart? I knew what Ned really wanted: to get Ben out into the world a little more. And I wanted it, too. Especially given the day.

I told Ben and Max, when I got home, that we were going to take a little walk with our cameras, and we would see what they photographed afterward. I thought maybe the Arboretum, which is in bloom with pear trees, crabapples, and cherries right now. Ben seemed mildly interested, especially when I mentioned the trails. Max looked at me as if I had told him it was time for his surgery.

“Just an hour,” I said. “You guys can pick the place we walk, okay?”
Max brightened at that, and said, “Can it end in Best Buy?”
Being a veteran shopper myself, I couldn’t see why not. “Sure,” I said, “I’ll try out Rock Band again.”

They gave me no trouble, and as we walked over to Brookline Ave., Ben said, “Do I have to take pictures?”
“No,” I replied. Max offered to carry his camera. Ben began to complain about the distance right away, but we kept going. Max wanted to show us where he liked to walk with his friends when they didn’t have enough money to take the T there. It was a dirt path along the Muddy River, for which our town was originally named, that led along The Riverway through to the Emerald Necklace, the riverside park leading into Boston and designed, I believe, by Frederick Law Olmsted himself (who created Central Park in NYC) in the 19th century (The Olmsted Homestead is actually a National Historic Site and is located in Brookline). I had never seen The Riverway this way, because I had always kept to the sidewalks or, of course, the road.

We passed people lounging on benches, Canadian geese sitting and staring, and even a pair of perfectly good, vacated Bean boots. Max kept taking pictures, I think he was looking for graffiti. We went under bridges and up an embankment to a small, circular building with a cone-shaped roof, clearly an old fixture from the park’s beginnings. Utterly dirty and smelly inside. I felt a moment’s irritation with the City of Boston for allowing this bit of history to just crumble away, and for allowing the homelessness of its inhabitants to begin with.

But the day was for my sons and the sun and not for political invective, so we kept going, arriving at Best Buy tired but psyched to play. After our time there, we went to Coldstone Creamery, a strangely dark red ice cream store, and we all had ice creams (they had a fat-free, sugar free white flavor, which also turned out to be flavor-free). At first an exciting place, filled with over-the-top flavors like “cake batter” and things like that, but it is very confusing, hard to decipher the offerings, and the help is all college students who could barely give a shit. I spent nearly $15 on three ice creams. But sitting outside in the sun with my boys made it all worth it.

We took the T home, and it was full of happy Red Sox fans who had left after the sixth inning because the Sox were ahead 8-0. There was also a Marathon runner or two, finished with their 26-mile mission. Within minutes we got to our stop and after the brief walk home, we were finished with ours. A good day.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Passover Weekend 2008

It was such a good time. I was bereft when everyone left. But there’s always the Tabblo, to remember it by!

Tabblo: Passover Weekend 2008

It all started in Egypt, thousands of years ago.  But our Passover started here, in the kitchen.    My mission:  to make a brisket out of seven pounds of Kosher beef; to hard boil 16 eggs (part of our seder is to eat eggs and I wanted everyone, all 12 of us, to have as many as we wanted).  Also I had to assemble the seder plate:  parsley sprigs, roasted egg, haroses (chopped walnuts, wine, cinammon, and apples, to imitate bricks and mortar used by the enslaved Jews to build the Pharaoh his Pyramids), roasted shank bone (Mom brought it and cooked it) to remind us of the lamb’s blood the enslaved Jews smeared on their houses so that they would be PASSED OVER by the Angel of Death, who was the 10th plague visited upon the Egyptians, who refused to free the Jews.   … See my Tabblo>


I have been utterly blogstipated lately. Every time I sit down to write, I find myself thinking, “Oh, you can’t say that because you always say that,” or “you can’t say that because it is too personal.” But if I stop to think, of course there are things to write about, if I just give it the time it deserves, and bleed a little bit onto the screen. The trouble is knowing how to open up just a little, and not injure myself in the process.

That is the crux of the issue for me and my sparse blogging. I don’t want to completely give myself away. I need to preserve boundaries better and not tell, tell, tell. I have had trouble lately separating what I can write about from what I need to think about.

And, there is a conservation of energy in creative pursuits as well as life. When you use energy in one medium, you are taking it from another. I have been doing a lot of thinking about what my front yard garden is going to become and what to do to make the porch more hospitable to our lifestyle. In other words, thinking outside of the (computer) box. I sit down to write and I get distracted by the way the sky is partially obscured by the fuzz of new leaves, and the flash of bellydance-cossie pink of the cherry tree that I forgot was there.

Nat, too, is so happy these days. What a blessing that is. He wakes up laughing and talking, but it is a blissful twist on what he did when he was seven and we were living a nightmare of interrupted sleep at 2 a.m. If he had only pushed that five hours ahead, the story would have ended so differently! Although I probably would have panicked over the unfamiliar words he uses or the fact that I could not tell what was so funny. I would have been unhappy no matter what, because Nat was waking up autistic.

I’m so glad I don’t feel that way anymore, and that I’ve come to know him and not be afraid of his differences. He feels it, and he responds to my comfort and he rewards me with his thousand-dollar smile (almost literally, because of the braces). I am learning compassion for my younger self; to see fresh, plump, scared Susan as almost a daughter of mine and to be glad that she has grown a bit wiser (though also a bit wizened). I am also learning protection for my current self, a thin covering of springtime growth in the summer of my life.

I think about the opening line of Ben’s very first comic, which was a drawing of a robot. The caption was, “Robot didn’t notice…” And of course, something terrible was about to happen to Robot. Truths, revelations and change unfurl suddenly, like the new leaves on my maples. It happens so regularly, however, that it can be commonplace and unremarkable — unless we take time to notice.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dayenu With the Education Cuts, Already

Our local elections are imminent (May 6). As a former politico in my town, I stay plugged into what’s going on, and I am almost never at a loss for an opinion. I have been fairly silent on the issue of the Proposition 2 1/2 Override (which would raise taxes and provide several million more a year for the town coffers) not because I am opposed in any way to the tax increase; I am annoyed about how this particular campaign has been managed. I think it is a mistake to have all the moderates in town as the central command, and to invite none of the more passionate others (like me) into that particular smoke-filled room. Sure, it would have driven me crazy to have to breathe all that in, but they were all overthinking it way too much and they have produced a slow and uninspiring campaign as a result. They should have asked me and people like me to be part of it and because they did not, they have a lackluster, plodding message and material.

Lack of Override sparks aside, I finally was moved to write something in favor, because in the end I am a school proponent, I love my town, and I hate to see people miss out on an opportunity to improve things. Plus the cost of this particular tax increase is negligible, compared to what we will get (restoration of some of the staff cuts that have occurred because of state and federal cuts in the last six years; a possible World Language program in the Kindergartens – sixth grades to produce true fluency by high school; a 20-minute longer school day to comply with the state’s time and learning requirements).

If you are reading this and you are a voter in my town, Vote Yes on both Override questions on May 6. Enough with the cuts, already. And so, in honor of Passover beginning tomorrow, in which we will sing “Dayenu,” which means “Enough” in Hebrew (it’s all about how grateful we are to God; it would have been enough merely to have been brought out of slavery in Egypt, but look at how much more He did for us, etc.)

Opinion: With education, like most things, you get what you pay for

By Susan Senator/Edge of Town

Wed Apr 16, 2008, 05:24 PM EDT

Brookline – One thing I learned in my days on the School Committee was that if you’re going to make an omelet, you’re going to have to break some eggs — meaning, to do what you need to do, you can’t please everyone. Last week I read in the TAB that Brookline Public Schools is at the very top in per-pupil expenditure, and the implication of the article was that this is probably not a good thing. I found myself sighing, and thinking, “Here we go again.”

In the name of being prudent, careful, cautious and conservative, we draw comparisons to other towns, but the truth is, this is apples to oranges. What is a “comparable” town, anyway? Are we like Cambridge, who, though similar in some ways, spends 50 percent more than Brookline per pupil, according to the state Department of Education? And yet, how many people do you know move to Cambridge for the schools? Or are we somehow like Eastham, who spends in a similar range to Brookline, but is utterly different in size and make-up? Do we want to be like those in Newton, whose per-pupil expenditure is comparable, but who have difficulty designing cost-efficient new buildings?

No. We are Brookline. We live here because the schools are excellent, because the property values hold, because our location can’t be beat, and because our population is diverse and interesting. All of these benefits are connected to each other, as surely as Brookline was once a part of Boston. Your property values hold because your schools are perceived as excellent. Your schools are excellent because they offer a curriculum that is both broad and deep. The curriculum and professional development are comprehensive because they take into account the diverse body of learners and cultures. The diversity drives the curriculum. And we want it that way.

Furthermore, we have done due diligence as a town looking into all of our expenditures. The Override Study Committee, an independent body of citizens from a diverse spectrum of experiences and beliefs, came out months ago with their recommendation to raise taxes to address the structural deficit, building and equipment maintenance, rising energy and health-care costs. Not only that: There have been numerous public forums where school and town personnel have demonstrated the many different ways in which cuts from the state and federal government in the last six years or so have taken their toll on our budget.

Yet, against the backdrop of so many constraints and difficulties, Brookline has managed to offer a competitive and comprehensive education to its students, consummate with the challenges and demands of today’s working world and with government mandates. Brookline has managed with cuts and heavy costs, by trimming wherever possible, and by considerable sacrifice: reduction in staff across the schools, resistance to program expansions, painful and difficult contract negotiations and deferral of certain building projects, to name a few.

The per-pupil expenditure is high, no question. But the fact remains that you get what you pay for. It costs money to educate kids; it is a complex world out there, and they need to master quite a bit more than we had to when we went to school. We’d all love to think that not so much has changed, that kids are kids and school is school. But that is simply not true. We all understand how much more competitive the world is today; that English is not the only language you need to know and that certain skills are expected of every child. We also see how today’s classroom is more of a melting pot, in terms of learning styles and issues, international diversity and also socio-economic disparities.

For all of our hard-earned dollars, we get math specialists at all the schools, aides in most of the kindergartens to assist with the burgeoning enrollment numbers, a high school whose course offerings look like college classes. And we get more special needs taken into account in Brookline classrooms than ever before.

Is there room for improvement? Of course there is. Is every child’s every need met, even with all this money spent? No, of course not. But how do Brookline kids do once they are out in the world? They do extremely well. Even in these days of slow economy and the worst federal education funding in history, Brookline has a school system to be proud of.

But that does not come cheap. We have to invest in the things we believe in. At some point, we have to stop walking on eggs
hells. Let’s look at the facts, take a deep breath, and do what is necessary to stay at the top.

Susan Senator is author of “Making Peace with Autism,” awarded the Exceptional Parent Magazine Symbol of Excellence. She can be reached at Blah blah blah…

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mon Ami de Soie

Dancing avec soie to ‘Mon Ami de Rose,’ the Natacha Atlas version (Egyptian-style Edith Piaf). First time trying out the new silk veil, which flutters on every air current, like a rose petal itself, falling to the ground.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Riku Robe 4 Sale

Max is selling his Riku Robe and one of you may want to buy it, for $75, free shipping within the U.S.

Slightly Used Kingdom Hearts Organization XIII Coat Cosplay Costume

Please note, this is not a new custom-made costume, it was made custom for me, meaning it only comes in one size.

It fit me pretty snugly, but then again, it fits the characters in the game pretty snugly, too. I’m 74 inches tall, with a 27 inch waist, 35 inch chest, and 33 inch hips. It looked absolutely great for my Riku cosplay.

Includes one necklace (see picture), it originally came with two but one broke. Most Organization XIII members only have one necklace anyway,

Unfortunately, it smells faintly like gasoline, has been aired out for a couple of weeks and fabreezed a few times, which helped the smell a lot. Only worn twice, once to try it on and once to Anime Boston for a day, meaning it’s in great condition.

Originally purchased from Honest Dragon China. It really is a great costume, superb quality, I just have no need for it anymore and no way to store it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Day of Purpose

A day of energy and collected wits. Some days are like that; I find I am more articulate, more patient, more energetic. More. It is good when I feel this way in the early part of the day, because then I can set myself up for a good, productive day, a la Mom. Mom likes to exercise first thing and really start her day off with her best possible self.

So this morning, after drop off, I decided to finish the yard clean-up. I have already done around 20 bags just raking up remaining leaves and dead grass from the back. Today, the front.

Zorn, as the rabbits say in Watership Down. This means, “utter destruction,” in Rabbit. The sewage pipe replacement left in its wake tons of small stones and a few upended roots, where once there was a large bed of lillies of the valley. Now that side of the front yard is ugly, broken, gaping, and brown, like a hobo’s mouth.

I raked out all the full-sun beds all along the stone wall that rims the front and side of my property. I collected sticks and pushed rocks to the side, to be carted away by my landscaper (once I hire him). I filled six big paper bags. I uprooted a dead pine. I raked the soft, chocolately black earth and uncovered bulbs and newly green plant clusters. Tiny tufts of green everywhere.

Well-satisfied with my work, I then hurried to an appointment which I shall not write about, because I just cannot bring myself to. But it went well. After that, Beastie pick-up and Baby Bellies. Or should I say, “Bratty Bellies?!” They were so bad last week! There are now fourteen girls, whereas last session there were around 8. Be careful what you wish for. Needless to say, it is a world of difference. Hard to get anything done. Word got around the school that Susan Senator’s class was acting up, and the Mom Network swung into action. I had offers from three or four people to help out with discipline if I needed it.

I didn’t want to rely on other moms though. I wanted to solve it myself. I knew I had to set boundaries, lay down some rules. Stop being so soft. I was determined that today would be better. I thought for a bit today about what to do. I asked another mom for a little help and also a teacher came in and gave me a little advice, mainly saying, “Yeah, this bunch is a handful, I know most of them;” and “you can send them right to the office if they misbehave.” Yikes! Okay. Well, I didn’t think I would need to do that.

I started off by leaving my veils and hip scarves home. The Bellies would have to earn them, I decided, with good behavior. I didn’t want my stuff to be abused (dragged across the gym, swung through the air, worn into the bathroom). I also told them what we would do today, a la Nat: first, next, last.

I showed them some performance pieces from the Bellydance Superstars, to familiarize and remind them of why they were here. Then we worked on isolations and hip lifts. (So cute!) Some things they can do really well because of their little flexible bodies. Some things, though — ! I really worked them hard, delaying their snack until I was satisfied that they all were trying their hardest. It is very difficult to convey how to do a hip lift, I have found. They all bring their legs out to the side to jerk their hips up and they straighten their knees, which is all wrong. But you can’t say, “No! All wrong!” You have to pick out the small thing that’s right and then try to get them to change the rest! Also I had to come up with metaphors, like, “pretend you’re sitting in an invisible chair,” to make them understand how the butt sits on the back, bent leg.

They were all very good today, minus the part where they laughed at me for sweating a lot. I told them that when they were 45 they would understand. “You’re 45! My dad is not as old as you!” Oy vey.

All it takes for me to have a good day, I think, is to have a positive purpose or two, and the time to accomplish them. And a sunny yard and high-spirited children within reach.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Tired and True

I woke up not only on the wrong side of the bed; I felt as if I’d woken up with someone else’s head. I had taken Nyquil last night because of that horrible choking tickle cough, and needless to say, it worked. I could barely open my eyes.

We were to leave by 9 a.m. for Nat’s swim qualifiers at Babson College in Wellesley, and all I could think was, “I don’t wanna!” Even after sucking down 2 1/2 mugs of strong coffee, my eyes still felt slightly crossed. How was I going to stand there for hours in that crowded gym and the steamy pool area with best solar pool cover, making small talk and mustering up the energy to cheer for Nat? All I wanted was to go back to bed, or just sit and read.

“So, don’t go,” said Ned.
Don’t go? I thought. Don’t go? It was not even an option. “I will need to stop for more coffee,” I said in response, dismissing this “don’t go” nonsense, and packed up Nat-snacks and lunch: kidney beans, chili powder, grapes, cookies, water. Salami, cheese, and Atkins bar for me (don’t ask). Yogurt for Ned. Plenty of dollars for the soda machine.

We drove up to the brick buildings of Babson and as soon as we saw the clusters of families and the big yellow signs, the fog in my brain started to lift a little. What is it about walking into one of those Special Olympics events that just sweeps over me like a river and washes away all the crud? Even Nyquil stupor can’t last at one of those. You just can’t be there and also be in a bad mood.

There is just so much going on there that makes me think, smile, and my heart beat fast. Is it seeing parents I’ve known for years, and exchanging stories about our kids, of growth and setbacks? Is it the brightly-shirted sea of volunteers, who run the events with the finesse and polish of master showmen? Is it the athletes, high-fiving coaches and calling out to anyone nearby — even strangers — that they got the gold? And expecting them to care?

Yes, I’m sure it is. But most of all, it is seeing my Nat stomping a circuit all over the gym, around his teammates, puppet hand a-flapping, and a huge smile on his Shaggy-Doo face. I’m never too tired for that, and I’ll never get tired of that.

And, well, seeing him get the gold in all three of his events sure didn’t hurt.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Got my first Passover bit of email today (click below for a Pesadicka parody of Marguritaville). Pesach is a comin’ as surely as that frickin’ Angel of Death came for the Egyptian first borns all those years ago (you shouldn’t know from it, says my Bubbe). I am hosting the first night seder this year, like I did last year. I love to do that. It is a real spring holiday, complete with gorgeous fleurs everywhere. Dad leads the seder, Mom brings the chicken soup, Laura comes with her family, and all is right in the world. If you’re Jewish, you will probably love this video; if you’re not, you might find it kinda weird…

I Am What I Am Not

As much as I try not to, in the end I still assign roles to my children. Then I am surprised when they show me that they are not what I thought, and indeed, they are far more. I should not be surprised; why do I have to keep learning the same lessons over and over? I never like to be thought of as just one thing. I feel that to define is to limit, in almost an existential sense, a la Martin Heidegger: once you posit what a being is, its real self is no longer that. Naming brings something into the light, only to lose the connection to the unnamed thing-ness it was before.

Growing up, my sister and I seemed to accept such narrow roles for ourselves. Sometimes, ridiculously, I thought of myself as “the pretty one” and Laura as “the smart one,” for example (She is, needless to say, quite beautiful.) Or I was the fuck-up, and she was successful. It is so unfair to ourselves and to each other to think this way. She should have the chance to be the fuck-up, the needy one, and I should get to be successful and together sometimes. So when suddenly I scored much higher than Laura on the verbal SAT, it was practically a crisis in identity for me.

With the boys, I have often found that I am wrong about Nat, and who he is, and what he can do. He is continually surprising me, refusing to be defined. I am also guilty of thinking of Max as the more successful student, and Ben, the struggling one. But although it is good for Max to be encouraged to be the best he can be in school, sometimes he is not. He needs to be able to occupy that role, the role of the child in trouble with his parents at times, and that does not come easily to me or to him. Sometimes when I am trying to speak to him seriously about the need for more A’s, now that he is almost a junior, we exchange a glance that seems to say, “we both know that you’re going to do just fine, humor me.” But I feel that it is my duty as his parent to keep pushing him, anyway. He does, however, give me that feeling of ease and calm, and he always has.

Ben has always worried me. Even in utero we had troubles that required one or two emergency room visits, only to find that little sprite practically grinning at us from the ultrasound pics, seeming to say, “Gotcha!” As a growing boy, he has never really enjoyed schoolwork, because he always has his own fish to fry, something else he is thinking about, reading, or drawing, and so we often have conversations like, “Who invented school anyway?”

And I reply, “Irving School.” (This is an old Senator family joke. My father has always answered the question, “who invented …?” with “Irving ….” I always thought it was simply funny, that he would pick that name, the name of his dad, my grandpa, every time. One day, though, Ned explained it thus: “Well, who invented your dad? Irving!” I laughed and laughed. Still laughing, with only one cup of half-caf in me at 6:12 a.m.)

Ben always talks about how people should be born already knowing what they need to know; how school wastes his time; how he needs more time to do X, Y, or Z. So when he brought home a homework assignment that was three parts long, including an essay, I just about fainted, anticipating the nudge sessions I would have to endure.

But Ned started in right away, just getting Ben to work on it a day at a time. He discovered that if he lets Ben dictate his answers, and Ned records them, it goes incredibly fast. So I took over the next day. I typed on Precious while Ben formulated essay sentences.

I was amazed at the gorgeous sentences Ben constructed, out of thin air. But why should I be surprised? He also does large math problems in his head. It is the “show your work” demand that stymies him. So his essay evolved into a very interesting and well-worded piece, about the Stinky Cheese Man. I did nothing but type. Even when he came up with an odd construction or weird syntax, I let it be. I was merely the facilitator.

Then came the part of the assignment where Ben was supposed to draw the Stinky Cheese Man, precisely the way the artist had in the book. This was as close to a murderously insulting assignment as Ben could ever have. Ben, the artist, being forced to copy someone else’s art. Disgusting.

But, the idea was to get the child to see what it feels like to create a Caldecott-Award winning illustration and book. (I really don’t like this assignment, but I’m just the parent, and even when I was on the School Committee, there was no real forum in which we could change the kind of assignments teachers gave. Thou Shalt Not Micromanage is the First Commandment of the School Committee member.)

Once Ben realized what he had to do and that he had to do it, he got out every colored pencil we own and worked for hours trying to color the picture exactly as it was drawn in the book. No matter what Ned and I said about it being great, or just fine, or finished already (!) he would not let it be until it was exactly the same as the book’s picture. Needless to say it was a fantastic rendering. He told me that when the teacher held it up to the class, he could not tell at first which was his and which was the one from the book. Obviously he was very proud of himself.

I have not been accustomed to thinking of B as a dedicated student, and now I see I was wrong. The thing is, to Ben, assignments are so incredibly important, that he leaves himself no room to do simply what he can. Being so literal, he believes that he must do exactly as the teacher asks, or what he thinks she’s asking. And then he becomes overwhelmed, of course! So the thing is, Ben may be kind of a perfectionist, and that is why he gets so resentful of school work and so reluctant to even start it. But when he does do it — wow.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Tail of Two Tails

This is a bit off-topic, even for me, especially given my previous (Un)Explained post. But I need to talk about Starbucks’ new logo. First of all, I never even realized to begin with that the original logo was a mermaid. I guess I thought it was just some kind of sun goddess being, because the hair is all zig-zaggy, like energy lines. The image definitely is not like the mermaids I know and love, Peter Pan’s hussies are a good example, (the ones who gang up on poor Wendy, who may have deserved it because she is just so proper! But really, they almost drowned her! But actually, you’d expect a little salt from a gal who has to spend her days swimming deep underwater.) Another great example of the beautiful, strong-willed mermaid is Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid that I talked about here a while ago. I don’t really like Ariel in Disney’s version; she is too much like Barbie: good to look at but doesn’t offer much otherwise. Besides, who would give up their voice for a man?? Or for legs?

Anyway, I was having coffee with Emily, and having a great time catching up on our book projects, when she turned her cup towards me and showed me the new Starbucks logo: the splayed-tail mermaid. She laughed about how a mom in her PTO would not let them use the cups at a fundraiser because of this! Plus, her breasts are almost visible under her hair.

Wow, I nearly horked my grande decaf breve misto. I totally love the new logo! She is based, apparently, on a 15th century mermaid drawing. She is fantastically not modern; she has a belly and a heavy tail section. She is definitely as real as the Dove women. Good for her! A little dash of reality for all of America’s coffee drinkers who are probably entirely too used to the nipped and tucked females shown everywhere in the media, but practically nowhere in real life.

Still, I wondered what was with the splayed tail? It turns out that she is a siren, not a mermaid: and sirens have two tails! I wonder what the story is behind that… I’ve heard of being two-faced, but two-tailed?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


To think of all I never knew —
The brilliance of music, the sugared hue
Enhanced perhaps by flickers and gaps,
Of fragile, or evaded synapse.

The pockets into which I fall
The descending curtain, the heavy pall
When time expands, and lung explodes
Have something to do with flawed brain nodes?

There’s more, of course; my tapestry
my past, my now, the woven me
The way I was loved, and taught to be
The paths that I choose, the way I see

But now, to know a piece of why
Gives such relief — a triumphant cry
And tenderness towards my forty five years
Pale green hope for fewer tears.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Extreme Breakthrough

I had an idea for a new reality show, quite unlike what is out there. It would be an extreme makeover of a very different kind. I would call it: Extreme Breakthrough. In this show, there’d be no surgery, no new wardrobe, no makeup sessions, no dental work. The success would be based on how well the person does when bathed in praise and love.

The contestant would be a low self-esteem neurotic type, perhaps perceived as overweight or plain, or nebbishy, and for three months, she would be completely surrounded by positive energy and praise. People would talk to her about things she’s done and why they were good things. She would be encouraged and supported to pursue a project of her dreams (living in Paris for a month alone, painting on the Left Bank, perhaps, or setting up a home for battered women; volunteering for Special Olympics, helping out at a hospice, making a whole new garden somewhere, going to cooking school, whatever). Family members would be required to tell her she’s beautiful, that she’s got perfect this or the best that. They would have to exercise total self-control for three months around her or else they could not be around her. Strangers would open doors for her, bosses would compliment and praise, children would behave around her, and spouse/boyfriend would be under oath to do all kind things for three months: backrubs, orgasms, cooking, playing with her hair.

Nothing would need to be bought, except perhaps the people involved would get some kind of reward at the end of it: a happier loved one in their lives. Someone who has seen what it’s like to be loved and cherished for exactly who she is.

Let Ability Ring

Went to a gala last night, the 40th anniversary of Special Olympics Massachusetts. Tim Shriver had invited me as a guest, and he was there to accept an award for his mom, Eunice, who, of course, founded the entire operation 40 years ago in her back yard (Camp Shriver). That still blows my mind, to imagine how incredibly psyched she must have been, looking around at their large yard and thinking, “Hmmmmmmm…. how could I do it? Could I? Really?” I wonder how many times she encountered self-doubt or skepticism from others. Apparently many family outsiders doubted this undertaking, but various Kennedy sibs always jumped in to say, “Maybe you or I won’t be able to, but Eunice will do it, trust me.”

This is what you need to succeed at something. A really good idea, that taps into an unmet need of a group, a circle of people who wholeheartedly support you, the unflagging desire to make it happen, and well, maybe a good connection or two. But it can’t be just one of these qualities: connections or money alone will not do it, nor will passion alone. You also need a great yard.

Seriously, I went to this thing held at Harvard’s Indoor Track, a gala billed as “black tie and sneakers.” Some people actually did wear sneakers with their finery. Not me. Never. Here’s what I wore:

While there I met some pretty interesting people. I heard a wonderful athlete make a speech that brought us to our feet. This kid is autistic, albeit fairly mildly, and he is now a champion golfer, got an 82 on some famous course somewhere, and the men at my table were all choking on their filet mignon over this great score.

Which goes to show you that we can’t make assumptio0ns about ability. I remember when I was on School Committee, and served as a liaison to the “Gifted and Talented Parent Advisory Board” I saw what happens with labels and assumptions. Many of the parents there were certain that there was a large divide between so-called “gifted” kids and so-called “disabled” kids. But very, very often, the twain do meet. In fact, probably always. You can, you are, gifted in some things and struggling in others. The lines should not be so darkly drawn.

Last night I met a guy who was director of a famous college program that served students with disabilities, a program I have long admired. I found that even he seemed to harbor these kinds of assumptions. He told me that he often steered his students away from Special Olympics because they tend to be “ringers.” Maybe he was kidding. But I felt a little bit punched. I thought of Nat, so swift and able on the track and in the pool. I thought of Tyler, who played that great game of golf. I thought of Sam, Chris, Emily, Scott, and for a moment I was speechless. That is my particular inability: I can’t always think on my feet (particularly when I’m wearing 3 inch stilettos). I let the remark pass, and I changed the subject.

But now I want to say what I could not say then: you never really know who is the ringer in a given activity or subject. And that is why everyone should be given the chance to find out. Let ability ring.

Lovely Saturday


Tabblo: Lovely Day

After much anxiety about who could and could not make it to Ben’s 10th birthday party, we ended up with just about everyone we invited! Relieved and happy, we could set about the next very important task of the day, which was to make a fantastic cake, based, as always, on the current interest of the moment.   … See my Tabblo>

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