So Much Depends on a Sweet Potato

“This sweet potato is burned!” my daughter said dramatically, holding up the offending bit of brown on her dinner.

“No it’s not, it’s just cooked. It tastes fine.”

“No, mommy, it’s really burned. I just ate some of it and it’s really burned!”

So I took it from her hand, ate a bite, and pretended to gag and fall out of my chair and die. Standard parenting stuff, right? Not tonight. Tonight my daughter decided that I am never to tease her again, about anything, ever. This is a childhood whimsy I’m not prepared to humor, not even for a night to get her to shut up and go to bed.

Tonight we went several rounds with her lashing out at me and then demanding a hug in her angry voice. Telling me that it seems like I don’t care about her and then having a hysterical crying bout in her closet.

“It seems like you might be ready for bed,” I suggested. This was not well received, as you might imagine.

Oh, and did I mention it’s the first night of Hanukkah? Whether or not you have children it’s impossible to miss the dramatic rise in the emotional barometric pressure this time of year. If you do have children, you can enjoy the fun of watching tiny little emotional pressure gauges explode right in front of you.

And who can blame them really? Everything about this time of year is about anticipation, excitement and potential happiness in puppy-sized packages. This is the happiest, happiest, happiest time of year and it’s everywhere! No matter how low key your holidays might be, the world is essentially a giant three year old drinking red bulls and snorting pixie sticks.

I haven’t figured out a way to translate this into language my seven year old will understand, assuming she’ll let me speak to her that is. But I think it’s important to find a way to explain to her that we are all spinning in the holiday maelstrom, at least until January 2nd.

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What are you trying to win?

I recently read the amazingly funny book You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein which led me down a rabbit hole of reading other funny things she produced and wrote. Klein is the head writer on the Amy Schumer show and the writer of this sketch about a group of pregnant women sitting around trying to one up each other about how natural their births are going to be. If you don’t watch it I’ll give you the gist here:

Woman 1: I’m giving birth into a tub of organic quinoa

Woman 2: Oh, yeah, I’m giving birth on top of a high peak in Nepal to get away from western medicine. My doula is a Sherpa.

Woman 3:My doula is a 3 month old baby so she really gets it.

You get the idea. Klein mentions this in light of a friend of hers who asked her once when she was complaining about something child or career related and comparing herself to others -what are you trying to win? I think it’s a good question to ask oneself any time you get overly worked up in comparing yourself to others.

I thought about it a lot this summer when I was on the beach observing teenage girls and young women taking photos of themselves. I work with middle school kids. I’m well aware of the influence of social media and selfie culture. But I was still grossed out by the number of young women I saw spending all their time on the beach getting the perfect shot.

Who am I to judge?

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I included this picture that I’m sure a friend took of me in my bedroom at age 16. The poster, the hair, the come hither expression. I have no doubt that if I were a teenager today I would have posted this. Ugh, it grosses me out to even think about it. But that’s what the kids do. They work hard at posting. The various groups of young women I observed spent almost their entire beach time  working on getting the perfect -casual, sexy, good time image. If I were a kid not included in this outing, I would look at that picture and think, “Everyone is having a good time without me. My life sucks.”

As adults we’re not immune to this either. How many times have you looked at the photos someone else posts on instaface and thought to yourself, “Their vacation is so much better than mine. My life sucks.” A friend of mine recently posted pictures of her camping trip with two young kids. As a caption she added that the pictures did not include her driving home because they forgot the sleeping bags or the time spent chasing their fire-obsessed one year old away from the campfire. I really appreciate these attempts at realism. It made me appreciate and more fully understand her experience.

But why shouldn’t we curate our best lives on social media? No one wants to go to a museum and see all of Picasso’s crappy failure paintings? Right? Maybe not. I was recently given the gift of The Moth -a paperback version of 50 stories from the storytelling podcast. In the introduction I came across this gem, “The number one quality of great storytellers is their willingness to be vulnerable, their ability to tell on themselves.” Maybe it is in fact our rainy days, our toddler meltdowns, our flabby bellies that make the better story and endear us to those we love.

When we curate and photoshop our lives the way advertisers photoshop women’s bodies do we make ourselves as unattainable and unrelatable? Are we losing the present moment because we’re so busy composing the perfect shot? And to what end?

What are we trying to win?

I don’t know. I do know that I spent last weekend away from my family with plenty of time to mull these things over. I went for a walk on Sunday morning down a long scenic country road. At one point a deer walked out right in front of me. So of course, I reached for my phone.

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2 Days, 3 Books

CS Lewis quote

I packed three books to go to my parents for the weekend – really it was more like a 30 hour trip. I went to help out after my dad had a series of small strokes that followed a severe stroke a couple years ago. My mom is his caretaker. Is is a lot.

Before I left I checked the fifth Harry Potter book on audio out of the library for my daughter. She’s seven and loves audio books. Since I introduced her to the literary crack that is Harry Potter she’s been flying through them.  I knew she was worried about me. And I knew if she had an audio book she was into she could squirrel herself away in her room and get lost in  a story.

My mom calls it defensive eating -when we eat not because we’re so hungry but to prevent being hungry later on. (Did I mention we’re Jewish?) Anyway, sometimes I practice defensive library use. I check books out to avoid being without one at my fingertips.

I brought the following books:

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein -a re-read but one that is light and smart and makes me laugh.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi -my current YA fiction read. The story of Fabiola who emigrates to the US alone to live with her Aunt and cousins after her mom is detained.

Astrophysics for People In a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson – because I’ve never read anything by him and I heard him talk about it brilliantly on the radio. And because sometimes it’s good to get distracted by things that are a lot bigger than you are.

I didn’t pick up a single one -okay maybe a few pages of You’ll Grow Out of It before bed, but that was it. But I knew they were there. I knew if/when things got hard or painful that those books were there for me. I’m not a religious person but I imagine this is how it feels to have that kind of spiritual faith.

When I open the pages of a well loved book I know that the words will be in the same order they were before, that the plot will arc in the same direction. When I read something by a trusted and loved author I know I am investing myself in something that could show me the interconnectedness of all things, or a world wildly different from my own but that resonates with me emotionally.

“We read to know we’re not alone,” is a quote often attributed to C.S. Lewis but there’s some controversy around that. I’m not surprised I’m sure it’s one many people have said or thought. I know I have.

The Importance of Representation

You can know a thing and not really know it. I knew representation was important. I knew it’s important that Doc McStuffins exists and that baby dolls come in all colors. But I didn’t really get it until it changed the way I thought about myself.

This week I was teaching a unit about genetics and in doing so was discussing the meaning of the word “generations”. I did this on two different days. The first day, my slideshow featured these images:

Generations 1

There were no unexpected or unusual comments as we discussed the meaning of the term. The next day as part of a review, my slideshow featured these pictures:

Generations 2

In two of my classes there were comments from the male members of the class. “Where are the boys?” they wanted to know. One student even went so far as to say, “Hey that’s discrimination.” He was joking, but that’s hardly the point. The boys noticed when they were absent. They noticed when there were people in the pictures who didn’t represent them. They noticed, and they complained.

The girls, when looking at similar pictures, said nothing. They did not think it was strange to look at pictures representing a term that should include them but didn’t. Their absence or lack of representation was not a new or unusual thing.

I thought about writing a post like this after I watched the first few episodes of Girls, starring Lena Dunham. I loved the awkward and uncomfortable way she portrayed sex. But after the first few episodes I realized it was more than that. I loved watching a woman with a less than pencil thin body being portrayed as a sexy and sexually desirable being. The character of Hannah Horvath is in many ways an awful human; self-centered, narcissistic, etc. But one of my favorite scenes involved her riding her bike down the road in her bikini. When one of her friends suggested she put on some clothes she dismisses the idea, claiming that she’s in a beach town.

The humor in this scene doesn’t come from the fact that she’s hanging out of her bikini six different ways. It comes from her own delightful lack of self-awareness and social mores. It’s funny because she doesn’t care. I didn’t realize how much I liked watching someone with an actual human-looking body on TV until I saw it. I’m embarrassed to admit how much watching a TV show has made me feel differently about my own body. And I’m equally embarrassed to admit how much I didn’t really get about the importance of representation until I did.

There’s a fantastic organization in the kidlit world called We Need Diverse Books. I’ve followed their progress in social media but now I understand their mission in a new way. It’s not called “Diverse Books Would be Nice” or “Diverse Books Would be Helpful”. There is a need for diverse books because of the way representation can fundamentally alter the way we see ourselves and envision our future. If seeing Lena Dunham parade around in her altogether can change the way a 40 year old woman thinks about some very entrenched ideas about body image, imagine the possibilities for kids seeing themselves in the pages of books and on TV as doctors, lawyers, ninja super heroes, rock climbers, athletes, professors, and so on. The possibilities are truly infinite or at least they could be.

 

The Importance of Friendship

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I became a mother almost 7 years ago but it took my daughter’s first sleepover with a friend to make me really feel like “a mom”.

The sleepover itself was smooth sailing. Lots of giggling, pizza for dinner, more giggling, extra cookies, giggling at a movie that as far as I can tell was not a comedy and then more giggling before passing out a good hour after bedtime. All standard stuff.

It was a really weird feeling to be the one creeping up the stairs only to hear the giggling stop. But this isn’t a post about getting older or getting more mom-like, it’s about friendship. Because what I didn’t expect was how teary I felt watching my daughter and her friend create this world that is just about them. This was an extended look at a relationship she has with another human that has very little to do with her parents.

I never doubted my daughter would have friends. Both of her parents are pretty extroverted social people. Our community of friends is like a second family for both of us. But there’s something about seeing those relationships form that made me grateful, both for her friends and mine.

The book I’m currently writing/revising is considered middle grade fiction; the protagonist is eleven. And the theme of the book (kids get your pencils out) is the importance of friendship. The main character has a tough family, but learns that his friends can hold him in the world much like a functional family does.

There are a lot of young adult and middle grade books about romantic relationships because adolescence is the age of discovery as far as what those bits and pieces mean and do. But discovering friendship and the role it plays in our lives is equally important and the lessons last well into adulthood.

As a side note, I’m exhausted and now understanding why my parents were never quite as thrilled at the idea of a sleepover as I was.

Resistance and Rage in Period 5

Oh look, I’ve neglected my blog since early November….like many of you I felt sucker-punched in early November. The rise of Voldemort has left me feeling rather lacking in the words department.

In the last few weeks I’ve felt more consistently angry than I can ever remember feeling. I have felt torn between wanting to run out and join whatever guerilla revolution would have me, and wanting to hide with my kids in a blanket fort. Guerilla revolutions offer full health and dental coverage right?

I’m afraid to continue with my life as though things are normal and yet I’m struggling to know how best to resist being squashed by the pavement roller of patriarchy and oppression that is rolling across our land.  I’ve always felt like the work I do as a middle school teacher is less about kids learning science and more about kids learning that there are lots of different ways to be a healthy functioning adult in the world. But right now that doesn’t feel like enough. I suppose I feel more helpless and powerless than I ever have in my life before. It’s kind of scary to stand in front of a class of 13 year olds when you’re feeling that way about the collective future of the country.

I’ve been told that tomorrow during our school-wide viewing of the inauguration “personal emotions/beliefs/views will not be communicated/shared”. I understand this in theory; no one wants Ms. Kaufman to launch Dumbledore’s Army during 5th period, and yet there is so much about this that is troubling. I don’t want to be passive and accepting. I want to channel my rage into something productive, into something that makes a difference and I want my students to know the importance and power of resistance. But mostly I want my students to know that 3 million more people in this country voted for love and acceptance over hate and division. I want them to know that this is not a “normal” election even if it is a peaceful transfer of power. I want them to know that what they do with their lives matters so I guess I have to practice what I preach. 

 

Totally normal

Totally normal things authors think when their agents take more than 24 hours to return an email.*

*My agent is a wunderkind who never takes more than 6 hours to get back to me. But, if say an email were to get lost in the shuffle…..

  • She hates me
  • She hates what I wrote
  • She is in the middle of negotiating a really important deal for someone else
    • I will never get important deals because I suck and shouldn’t ever have gotten her as an agent anyway.
    • Everyone has better deals than me
  • She thinks I’m too needy
  • Am I too needy?
  • I bet her other clients aren’t this needy
  • Was my question dumb?
  • Maybe I can google the answer
  • Maybe I should add dolphins or an amusement park to the ending of my book
  • I bet her other clients write about dolphin-themed amusement parks
  • There is probably a huge dolphin-themed amusement park book about to be HUGE any second now.
  • Shit, we’re going to miss it.
  • *Sigh*
  • *Hits refresh*