Monthly Archives: February 2010


I pretty much consistently dream in the nightmare genre. And probably 99.99% of those involve extreme peril–navigating sixty-story scaffolding over a pit of lava, say–with six or seven infants and toddlers in tow.
Almost every night, all night. I've resigned myself to this. 
Last night I dreamed the end of a typical day, except this time one of the toddlers I watch clung to me and refused to go home with his parents.
Almost as terrifying as the lava pit… Kidding! No. It was rather nice, for a change.
I don't know if it was a result of the inspection we passed–in which, thank you very much, we were told that the inspector rarely, if ever finds places as well organized, clean, and safe as ours–or if it was something I ate. 
I do think I let small criticisms by isolated individuals constantly eat away at me and make me doubt my suitability for this or any other job involving real live people. It was very kind of the inspector to put that in perspective for me. 
I'm sure I'll go back to the nightmares tomorrow, but for today we're going to breathe easy. 

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Taste Testing for Engine Fluids

All this talk about teen driving has made me remember my own first (and last, thank you very much) accident. 
I was sixteen years old, and we were moving from Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada to Okanogan Washington. If you've never heard of it, congratulate yourself. Kidding. Sort of. There were 43 students in my graduating class and I'll bet five of us weren't high on something at commencement.
Besides the point.
We were driving. I was driving, specifically down an Idaho highway late in the afternoon when the sun had begun to set and the slush in the traffic lanes was beginning to solidify into deep, frozen ruts. And the middle aged occupants of the car had dozed off. 
Now, just keep in mind that I'm telling this from the teen me point of view. I'm sure my mother's account would differ, but she doesn't blog so it's totally my story–believe who you will.
We were coming around a slight bend in the road and a semi appeared over a rise. Just as a particularly jarring rut of ice woke my mother up and she found herself–seemingly–face to grill with a semi-truck. She grabbed the wheel and jerked it with all the strength of a mother saving four of her children from the idiot fifth one behind the wheel over to the right. We sailed . . .  off the shoulder, shearing a signpost–one of those big ones that tell you how far each of the next half a dozen towns are away–off at the base. It cartwheeled over the car, tearing a gash in the roof, and we came to rest in a snowbank. 
The State patrol officer actually thought it was pretty funny. 
The mechanic could not, for the life of him, figure out what the brown fluid in the snow was, as the integrity of the engine seemed unaffected. Recommended we not drive it far. Until he resorted to tasting the fluid and discovered that it was root beer. 
I kid you not.
We drove the rest of the way through Idaho, got lost in freezing fog somewhere over by the Grand Coulee Dam and arrived safely sometime the next morning to begin the process of becoming Americans in earnest. (A process which can take a surprising number of years (13 was it?) if you are white, non-criminal, and even married to an American.) 
I'm taking my daughter out driving this evening for the first time.

I don't plan to be drowsy, and I will be repeating this mantra in my head: I will not yank the steering wheel out of my daughter's hands. I will not yank the steering wheel out of my daughter's hands. I will not yank…

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$1000 of Gasoline

Took my daughter in today to get her learners permit. 
It wasn't terribly real to me until I glanced up and saw her face on the preview screen as the DOL employee made up her permit. 
Because I want to drive her out to the college every day in the fall even less than I want to see her driving herself. On highway 17. In a motor vehicle. By herself. 
Not only that, but the little dears pointed out to me tonight that my son can officially get his permit this year, also. 
No parent on earth should have to log 100 hours of practice driving sessions in the same year. 
At fuel burn rate of approximately $10/hour, I'm shelling out $1000 for the privilege of shelling out even more to insure two teenage drivers. That's on top of tuition for Driver's Education. 
They didn't cost this much when they were in diapers. 
Everyone assures me that I will adore having extra drivers attached to the household. 
Uh huh.
On a completely different note, I made the decision to change my hours. I will be closing at 4:30. Good for my family, but tough to lose kids I love like my own. 
I also turned away four other children this week. 
I don't usually do that, when I have room. But they've been here before, and after reviewing their records I remember why I was relieved the last time they left. Three and four hours late to be picked up, etc.
I wrestled with the decision for days–but when I really made it, really made up my mind, it was like walking out of a dark room into the light. Knew it was the right thing to do. Paring down the ranks, little by little. I want to go back to more of a family feel and less of the institutional you have to run with larger numbers, even if it doesn't pay as well.
Ooooh. I just had a great idea. 
The drivers, being drivers, could eventually get jobs and buy their own gas. And stuff. Yeah?
Maybe this license thing isn't such a bad idea after all…

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I sweep my floor every day at 6am, 10am, 1pm, and 3pm. If you think I'm a little obsessive, you should see the sheer quantity of stuff I sweep up. No matter what–no matter how strict I am about eating while seated or taking off your muddy shoes or keeping the playdough on the table. There's always this mysterious debris.
So yesterday I conducted a particle by particle analysis of the stuff. I drew the line at actually tasting the particles, but I looked very closely
There was the usual-bits of grass and hair, crushed pretzels and cereal, food that clung in the folds of clothing and fell off after meals were done and far from the table, but the greater percentage of it wasn't anything recognizable. And there is always a lot of it. As if the very stuff of life itself is continually wearing down and depositing its detritus on my tile. Not all of it yields to the broom, either.
One of the mothers who arrive at 6:30 every morning, just as I'm finishing up with the dishrag, asked me today why I don't have a mop. I tried to explain to her that for the kind of wear my floor gets, your average kitchen mop just won't do–you need a constant rinsing of fresh water and application of the thumbnail.  
And what is that, on the floor every morning, sticking to the soles of my shoes? I wipe up the spilled milk and meals throughout the day, but still, every morning this mystery crud. It might be drool: invisible at the time of drooling, but dried and sticky by the next day. Or alien goo. I know for a fact they visit my kitchen in the wee small hours to wreak havoc. Leave the freezer ajar, the tap running, the milk out to spoil. 
I once heard someone say that cleaning a house full of children is like brushing your teeth with a mouthful of Oreos. 
More like cleaning your teeth with a mouthful of Oreos, one finger and some baking soda because the two year old flushed the toothbrush and someone has decorated the mirror with the last bit of Colgate. Oh, and there's no running water because the plumber was an idiot. (Or maybe because the two-year-old flushed the toothbrush.) And the entire time, the fifteen month old on your hip is trying to pry open your jaws to get his fair share of the frosting-stuffed chocolate cookie, the fifteen year old is holding the phone out to you mouthing the words It's the principal! with a horrified look on her face and a potential client is picking her way across the minefield on your front porch. There's also probably something dripping somewhere with an ominous, muffled ping, ping, ping…
There might be a representative from the IRS or the State hunkered over your kitchen table too,  looking for financial records or maybe proof that kid you watched once back in '03 was immunized.
That's definitely more accurate.

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Because I Didn’t Have Enough To Do, PART II

The ceiling in my bathroom is dripping–and in an area where there shouldn't be any plumbing, and the drywall is looking bloated. 
My drywall and my plumbing that is less than five years old. 
The plumber is not answering his phone.
I am so not okay with this. 
On any level. 

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Because I Didn’t Have Enough To Do, Already

It's official.
I have applied to graduate school. Okay, it probably isn't official; the mailman hasn't actually come yet; there is still time to go retrieve the thing from my mailbox.
But I'm not. 
I'm going to start in August and I'm going to give up my Friday evenings and all day, every Saturday, for more than two years in pursuit of a degree that I may or may not ever use. 
Because…I can?
Because I have a relentless compulsion to torture myself anew whenever I've completed whatever project was last tormenting me?
Because I am fascinated with the process of teaching? Because I never feel so fully alive as I do at four a.m., when I hit upon that perfect hook that will snag even the most belligerent thirteen year old's attention and reel her in and get her to ask questions and contribute answers and think?
Funny thing, though: I honestly cannot picture myself teaching in the public school system. I'm pretty sure I'd rather keep my current job. 
But I can't not do this program. 
For whatever reason.

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True Story

Just reached the end of my 439 item checklist in preparation for the records audit/facility inspection I'm fairly certain will happen this week. 
Some of those 439 things I should probably do anyway but wouldn't if there wasn't an inspector breathing down my neck (vacuuming the coils on the back of my refrigerator), and some things I only do for the sake of the inspection (throw away the peachy-pale crayons that say "flesh colored").
Some of those 439 things are lawsuits waiting to happen. Imagine this. You adopt two children.  One from China, and one who is part American Indian. When you enroll them in my childcare, the government asks that you disclose the race of your children. You don't have to tell me if they have any diseases, like, say, AIDS. But we do have to mark the boxes and plug the little dears into the correct racial category. 
Next, we will need to come up with an appropriate curriculum plan for your American Indian child to address his special social and cultural needs. We will have to agree on an appropriate way to point out to this child that he is not like the other children–not like anyone else in his family, even–and because he is different, he will need to read this stack of books and do these puzzles and learn to sing these songs. We will need to come up with culturally specific "resources and a training plan" for him.
Even if he's nine months old. 
You can't begin too early.
Everyone else? The Mexicans and the Africans and the Asians?
Have a couple dolls with darker skin and a frog that sings the alphabet in Spanish and put them where everyone can reach them. They'll adapt.
True story.
In America, in 2010.

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Past Due

When I was in Kindergarten, my mother remarried. 

My stepfather was unlike anyone I had ever met before. The man danced in parking lots and didn't eat ham or chocolate. (Does it get more nefarious than that?) And he wanted to adopt us. Which, to his credit, he did.

He was 27 years old, childless, the baby of his own family, and here he found himself the head of household of six. And the little ones peered out at him with eyes of suspicion.

He did his best. He made up strange stories–Maple the Dragon and Sir Up the Knight–and unique games. Things like blindfolding himself and letting us lead him wherever we chose. He was an intriguing sort of puzzle, but also a convenient scapegoat for our own childish frustrations and fears. We weren't overly cooperative I'm afraid.

The poor, poor man.

Today, he sends me a letter, every month, telling me stories about his childhood and the years of his single-adulthood. He always includes a dollar bill so that every month I can have at least one "bill" to look forward to. He does this for all six of his children.

And for more than a year, I've been mulling over the best way to respond. This man owns books the way some men own sporting equipment. He loves words, loves bending them in unexpected ways, like sending his children a "bill". And so I've been pondering the question: How do you pay your bills? Should I send him a big batch of Chex mix, with a note: Here is your overdue "chex"? Feeble. He would smile, but still, feeble. I want it to be just right.

Last month, enclosed with the greenback was "An Explanation of Your New Bill". And it was a new bill. He'd gone to every financial institution in town in search of a brand new, uncirculated series of bank notes to send to his children. 

Strange, funny, trying little man.

How do you pay an overdue bill? 

With interest. 

So here it is. 

I want you to know that I read your letters, every month. 

The first few months I intended to make up a book and organize them, but I can't bring myself to do it. They accumulate instead in the back cover and between the pages of my scriptures. Sometimes they flutter out in the middle of a Sunday School lesson and I read them again. And I smile. 

Thank you for teaching me respect for the English language, for believing in stories that had never been written, and for allowing me to put them on paper. Your paper, with your typewriter. 

Thank you for teaching me to love the scriptures. I am me because of the words I find there, every day. I open those pages you helped us wade through in our youth, blinded by disinterest and inexperience and I am surprised, every day, that I know my way. Sometimes it is Isaiah, and every once in a while it is you. More often, the answer comes without any form at all; it just comes. Because I am listening.

And I am listening. With interest. 

Thank you.

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American Caricature

Today we were talking about what we want to be when we grow up. 
"I want to be a homeless," one of the five-year-olds said. 
"A what?" I asked.
"A homeless."
"What's a homeless?" I ask, thinking I've misunderstood.
She rolls her eyes. "You know–like a person without a home."
"Why do you want to be homeless?"
"Then I can live with my friends."
She's already got it figured out, and she's five. She knows all about the plumbing/landscaping/heat and air/insurance headaches a homeowner endures. She's just going to mooch off her less perceptive friends.
The NLCHP estimated, in July of 2009, that 3.5 million people in America experience homelessness every year. Disconcerting, isn't it? Not an exact science, of course, counting people who can't be pinned down with a physical address, but still. 
We hear a lot of ruckus right now about how access to medical care should be a basic, inalienable right–and this sounds reasonable to me. But I'm also wondering…isn't shelter an equally urgent need? And then, if you are going to guarantee everyone a roof over their heads, and a doctor to care for them, don't food and clothing fit in there somewhere too? 
All reasonable, right? But where does it stop? Where, for the adults who are thinking like this five year old still, does the responsibility start? 
I'm not saying we shouldn't provide anything to anyone.  I've just observed a lot of adults lately acting like preschoolers.
Single mothers who don't marry the fathers of their children because if you counted both incomes, they probably don't qualify for all their subsidies. 
Women who collect food from WIC that rots in their fridge or goes stale on their shelf because they don't get around to cooking with it because they can afford not to. 
Fathers who do not provide for their families–estranged or not–because they know their kids are not actually going to starve or go homeless–especially if Daddy makes himself scarce.
I don't presume to have the answer. I know there are many truly needy people, and you hate to see children suffer for their parents choices, but the political clamor I hear reminds me of the siege I was under today from a three year old.
She loves nothing more than to put on other children's socks and shoes. It's a fetish of hers. Possibly because it makes the other child freak out, every time. "My shoes! My shoes!" 
Anyway. She does this, every day. And every day, several times a day, when it is time to go outside or when she just feels like it, she demands that I put on her socks and shoes for her. And I do, because it is easier than arguing with her about how she can do it herself. 
Today I tired of the game; I told her that if she wanted to go outside with the big kids, she'd have to dress herself, like a big kid. She pouted, whined, shouted, and threw things at me. For almost an hour. 
And then she sighed, sat down, and put on her socks and shoes. She put on her coat and asked me to zip it up, which I did, because she honestly can't. 
You have no idea how long an almost-hour can be, when you're under siege by a three year old.
I know some adults who have been throwing their shoes around for a long time.
I know a lot more who have their shoes put on for them, every day.
I know it would take a lot of patience and they might shout themselves silly and throw things at us and in the end we'll probably still have to zip them into their snugglies, but truly, I think there are a significant number of people on the program who really could do it for themselves. If we stopped doing it for them. 
I see no easy way of differentiating between the ones who can and the ones who can't. Except maybe trying to mend the disconnect between the ones with the bare feet and the ones dealing out the shoes. Finding solutions that make our social system an instrument of compassion and wisdom, run by and for people who understand and love one another enough to do the right things, even when it's difficult.
Sounds Utopian, I know. But there must be a way.

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