Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Ever since I first felt Jonah move inside my belly, I've been concerned about my children's' education. I feel like my parents were involved the right amount: not too much, and not too little. We were fairly smart kids and they made sure were placed in the right programs to help us succeed. Once we hit high school, my parents moved us to a town that offered us a truly innovative education, laying a solid foundation for our future. After accepting a job in a different state, my father commuted well over an hour each way in order to allow me to remain in my high school. This didn't go unnoticed, and I've always known that as a parent, I would be expected (and willing) to make sacrifices for my children to ensure they have every opportunity to fulfill their potential.

We live in Utah, which creates a number of almost insurmountable obstacles when it comes to my kids' education. We're a state with a huge number of children and not enough money to support them. Our state government has consistently demonstrated that education sits fairly low on the priority scale, and our embarrassingly low test scores/competency rates reflect that. No money, no resources. No money, can't attract or keep quality teachers. No money, sub-par facilities. If all of these things are neglected (as they are), its our children that suffer. We will be graduating scores of young adults unprepared for their future and the responsibilities they will ultimately face. I don't know about you, but that's just not okay with me. Our neighborhood elementary school does a lot in the area of grant writing for additional funds, but we're also a community of young professionals who have the means and know-how to pursue such resources. Not many schools in our district or state are so lucky.

Jonah happens to be an exceptionally bright little boy (no doing of mine -- he just came out that way). We're not even certain what his reading level was when entering kindergarten because they only test up to a second-grade reading level, and he aced that with little effort. His sweet teacher does everything she can think of to challenge him but the reality is, he's bored. Every day. We're not in the financial position to provide him with a private education, so we began investigating what the district can do to help him, or kids like him. This is what we found out: The district has only three classes for kids that need accelerated learning. Those classes are housed in three different schools downtown. Each class accepts 26 students. So for each grade level, a maximum of 78 children are allowed to exercise that particular resource (and for clarification's sake, 26 of that 78 are put in a Spanish-English immersion program, so they don't necessarily get to learn state curriculum any faster). I haven't been able to get many specifics from the district as far as how curriculum is altered or general test scores for this accelerated program are concerned, and it worries me that so little information is provided to parents. These magnet programs also reside in schools whose test scores fall below the state average. Perhaps they put them there in an effort to bring up each school's overall scores? Either way, as a parent, I'm really, really concerned about what is (or is NOT) going on. My concern isn't only for my children. I worry about how we're serving all of the children in our state, how we are accommodating various needs and learning styles, and how we are failing to provide enrichment programs in addition to ensuring there is a proficiency in basic, general education.

My best friend teaches at a high school in the Jordan School District (we reside in the Salt Lake School District). We spend a lot of time talking about the educational undercurrents in the state and how that effects both students and educators. Unfortunately for the past few years, there has been nothing positive to report and this year is no exception. I received the following email from her today, and I think its something that all parents of Utah children should read and be aware of because if something similar hasn't already happened in your district, it seems like its only a matter of time before it does unless residents/parents/taxpayers start getting involved:

"So last night was the school board meeting where they told us the budget decision for the coming year. We knew they would have to cut from a variety of sources, so we were prepared for some cuts. Of all the areas they could find money, the biggest revenue is in a tax raise. It would come to about $100 more per year for every $100,000 of home. That makes a difference, but not that much. I live in the school boundary and I have no children to support in education, yet I was willing to take the tax increase. The other options for finding necessary funding were small money producers in comparison. The board voted against a tax increase and in favor of personnel cuts, increased class sizes, and less prep time for the teachers with no compensation. Elementary classes are scheduled to increase by two students, middle school classes will increase by three students, and high school classes will increase by 4.5 students per class. (Of course that will be greater since the geniuses who figure the ratio of students to teachers figure in administration, classified employees, and non-teaching licensed employees. Right now the "ratio" is 1:28, but when just the teachers in the class rooms are counted, the ratio is 1:36. We are looking at an increased load of something more like 7 students to each class.) Additionally, we will no longer be teaching 6 of 8 classes with one preparation period each day, but 7 of 8 classes with one preparation period every other day. Our funding now says we have 216 students each, but with the changes, we will be at 301 students with half our normal preparation time. They voted to balance the budget on the backs of the teachers instead of the general public or a combination of both. Specifically, they are balancing it on high school teachers where the increase of class sizes is greater and the 8 period day is in force. Now tell me how I am going to teach 300 students to write if I have no time to read their work? How am I going to teach them to analytically read and think if we don't have enough books to accommodate that many students nor the money to buy more books? How am I expected to be effective at all in my job with half the prep time, a third more work, and no pay raise (even for cost of living) at all? Do they not understand that they voted to limit my ability to teach which results in students who are even less prepared to college and other jobs? And there is nothing we can do about it. I am so mad and disgusted with this decision I can hardly believe it is really the reality for next year. This decision cost 600 people their jobs. Most of them are classified employees (office and custodial staff, aids...) We need them, but they will be gone. The board says it thought long and hard about the cuts; but I don't buy that for a second. They sold us out so as not to upset the tax payers. There is no talk of removing such restrictions once the economic hardship subsides. We are just expected to keep working for free while being cut and abused even more. I can't see how this has a silver lining, and I am getting angry again just thinking about all the ways we are metaphorically being thrown under the bus. It makes me sick."

It makes me sick, too. We live in a state where few but teachers and classified employees are expected to sacrifice in order to keep things going. I joke with my friend that next year her district will be sending her a bill instead of a paycheck. When you think about what our teachers are asked to endure, you can't help but wonder why anyone would want to subject themselves to that treatment. Its a thankless job on so many levels. I know my friend does it because teaching is her passion -- and she's amazing at it. As a parent, I'm just not sure what I need to do in order to guarantee my children get the best education possible -- with teachers like her. Common sense tells me that nothing is going to change for the good until taxpayers get involved and become more vocal about their expectations from the state and individual districts.

I know the move has to be mine, but what, exactly? I wish I knew where to find those answers...because my kids deserve it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I am Caucasian.

While Tyler was over at the D Street house installing our wall oven the other night, I was at home, flipping channels for company. I stumbled across TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras. What a seriously bizarre show. On this particular episode, the camera filmed as a three-year-old gagged while enduring a spray tan in preparation for a pageant. You’d think as a mother I would have felt some sense of outrage for this little girl, but instead I found myself too busy reliving my own failed attempts to satiate my vanity and alter my own skin color.

When it comes to my skin tone, I’ve always felt like I got the short end of the stick. Go ahead and tell me I have “porcelain” skin — giving it a pretty name doesn’t make it any less pasty-white. I might not have even noticed just how pale I am had my Eastern European grandmother not passed down her beautiful olive-toned skin to the other females in the family. Of course by the time I was conceived, the family melanin supply must have been depleted because I missed out in that category. Completely. I do not tan, despite my best efforts. I grew up in California, spent a significant amount of time in the pool, burned off several hundred layers of skin, but never achieved an amber glow. My sister, on the other hand, (who nicknamed me "Casper the friendly ghost") only has to think about sunshine in order to look like a Coppertone spokesperson. Still, I don’t think I began to feel self-conscious about it until I was a teenager. At the time, I was involved in our local theater community, and was cast in a role that required me wear costumes that didn’t provide much more coverage than a swimsuit would have. My all-too-honest director commented that my bare skin looked like Haley’s comet under all the stage lights and that I needed to do something about it. This was the mid-90's, and everywhere you looked there were advertisements for this new thing called “tanning lotion,” so after school one day, I headed over to a friend’s house with a bottle of drug-store lotion to transform from blinding white, to sexy brown. The next morning (remember when it took that long to process?) I awoke to find myself an orange, utter mess. It looked like a bag of Cheetos had thrown up on me, and if the color — and smell — weren’t bad enough, there were visible hand prints all over my back and neck. Not pretty. I had to wait a couple weeks for the color to wear off, and vowed never to try again.

But then prom rolled around. I was going to be wearing a lovely sleeveless gown with an exposed back and again found myself longing to be kissed by the sun. This time I decided to try a tanning booth. How could I go wrong there? It was practically natural, right? Just step in, perspire for 10 minutes, and after a couple visits you walk out tan. I went once, then twice, then three times — each visit increasing the amount of time I stayed in the booth. Of course the mistake I made was that I tried to do all of this the week before prom. At my final dress fitting, my mother finally commented on my lobster-red skin. In defense I said, “I’ve got a few days. The burn should turn into a tan, right?” Not on my skin. I go from white, to red, peel, then back to white. Luckily, prom arrived before the peeling began, so while I did look like a tomato, at least I didn’t look like a lizard.

I decided to give up my quest for a number of years. I was busy with life and didn’t have too many occasions to worry about it...until about a month before my wedding, I started to realize that the color of my dress was very similar to the color of my skin. This time I said, “I don’t want to be tan, I just want a tiny bit of color.” I already knew tanning lotion didn’t work, and I didn’t seem to get good results with the tanning booth, so this time I decided to try the time-honored tanning bed. I told myself I was going to start off slow — get the “base tan” people always talked about — and only shoot for the amount of color needed to look good in my dress. The method seemed to be working well. I wasn’t burning too badly, but I was concerned about tan lines (why, I’m not sure) so I decided to shed the bikini at my next visit. People do that, right? However, the thought of going commando gave me the heebie-jeebies. (Germs!!!) I thought a brilliant solution would be to take one of the post-treatment wipes they provided in each room and place it on the tanning bed where my behind would be. (man, I felt like such a good problem solver!) For some reason, my time was increased a bit too much that day, and wouldn’t you know it — I burned. Badly. It was one of those burns that you feel instantly. By the time the evening rolled around, my skin was on fire, I had the chills, a fever, vomiting... Who gets sick from a tanning bed-induced sunburn??? But to add insult to injury, when I surveyed the damage that night, I discovered a perfect 6x6 square of white skin in the middle of my butt. Every inch of my body was burned EXCEPT for that square! I knew the reality of burns well enough to know that while my sunburn would fade before my wedding day, that white square would not and would likely be a very unfashionable accessory on my honeymoon. Oh boy, did it stick around. For months.

At that point I swore off tanning altogether, until about three years later when one of my best friends was getting married. I found an adorable white pencil skirt to wear to the reception, but found myself in the same white-on-white predicament. This time I thought my next attempt would be foolproof: a spray booth. I heard people talk about spray tans all the time. It HAD to work. Why wouldn’t it? So I went, spent my 90 seconds in the booth, patted myself down, got dressed, and went home a happy gal. I admired my new tan in the mirror quite a bit that evening. I had finally beat the system!

And then the morning came.

I had been told that the tan solution was virtually waterproof…”virtually” obviously excludes sweat, and apparently, I sweat a lot that night. To my horror, there were drips marks all over my body — horrible streaks that looked like I had tie-dyed my skin in a drunken stupor. I was mortified. So with two hours on the clock before we had to leave for the wedding, I grabbed a loofah and scrubbed my skin raw. I suppose the streaky fake-tan was less noticeable due to my now red, irritated skin, but I still walked through that day in shame. And again, vowed to never try to alter my skin color again.

Lessons learned. Embarrassing, self-degrading, hard lessons. Can I truthfully say I haven’t tried a lotion or two since then? No, of course not. Not that my efforts have led to anything but disappointment. But such is the cost of vanity. I wish I were so comfortable with who I am that I could say that stuff doesn't matter. Unfortunately, there will always be little things about myself that I'd like to change. Chalk it up to being human, and female.

So now that I’m 30, I’m officially turning my focus from my skin color to skin aging. Who wants to place bets on the number of times I’m likely to blister part of my face while attempting to rid myself of crow’s feet?

I’ll take that bet. Whatever it is.

Friday, February 5, 2010

How to Fold Shirts


Last night this was given to me by Jonah for safe keeping. He had asked for a tutorial on folding shirts a few days ago, and is excited to try out his adapted method. Excited? Jonah? Not surprising. But excited about folding laundry? Hallelujah!

For those of you not fluent in 6-year-old:
"How to fold shirts Jonah's way" -- followed by a very clear, concise diagram detailing how one is to lay the shirt flat, fold in each sleeve, then fold the shirt in half twice, apparently. Hopefully we're on to something here. This diagram is a keeper, though, as is this kid. He's a hoot.

Now off to do some laundry to test his method...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bathroom Nazi

Ever react to something one of your children did and then wonder if maybe you went a little overboard?

I do. All the time.

This morning I may have crossed a boundary somewhere. But first you'll need a little background to understand the years leading up to my hysteria.

When we moved into our current situation, we first did what we always do: ripped everything apart and put it back together. We remodeled every room except for one -- the master bathroom. (and to clarify, we never completed the remodel on the main bath, either...which is why I refuse to move into the D Street house until its done-done.) The master bath was unfortunately unusable by my standards. Its a safety hazard. The wall-mounted sink is barely hanging on by a bolt or two, the grout is missing in most of the shower, and the shower fixtures themselves are not in working order. Cracked tile on the floor, no working get the picture. Had I not been 9 months pregnant at the time, I would have totally gone in there and fixed it myself and probably wouldn't have had to spend more than $500 to do so, but that just wasn't on my agenda at the time. So it became a temporary storage closet instead, and to this day is a door that remains closed.

What that means is that our family shares one bathroom. In the big scheme of things, I realize this is not a big deal. We're lucky to have a bathroom at all, right? I do tell myself that, I do, but sometimes when I'm running out the door to meet with a client only to discover my dry-clean slacks are laced with sparkly children's' toothpaste, that gratitude escapes me. My bathtub is full of Happy Meal toys, my makeup is frequently used as finger paint, and my feminine hygiene products have been known to double as torpedoes in Star Wars battles. Now that we're in the beginning stages of potty-training Sam, the family bathroom has become an even more cramped, almost frantic environment. Every time I see one those home-improvement shows where they're making a "serene, spa-like bathroom," I snort and change the channel.

When Jonah goes to the bathroom, we expect him to be gone for at least 15 minutes. Like many little boys his age, a trip to the bathroom means a full-scale retreat into his imagination. He sings, he tries out new accents and dialects, he tells stories, and makes animal noises. When the bathroom FAN is switched on, however, its a completely different story. Not only will that 15 minutes be extended to at least 30, we also know its in our best interests (and necessary for our overall general health) to stay away until the fumes subside. This isn't big deal when no one else needs to use the bathroom (like I'm going to complain that he's occupied for a half hour!), but that's not always the case.

This morning the dreaded bathroom fan was switched on as I was getting ready for the day and Sam was playing in the bathtub. I quickly warned him to be fast and to be cognizant of the fact that there were two other people using the bathroom at the time. Do your business and flush. He assured me he would, but 10 seconds into the task, he was obviously fighting a Pokemon in a jungle somewhere in his mind. Every couple minutes I would tell him to hurry up, and when I finally pulled the mascara wand away from my eye, I glanced over to see him getting ready to use a compacted wad of toilet paper the size of a softball. I cannot tell you how many conversations/tutorials/Family Night lessons we have had on the proper usage of toilet paper. Two squares, I say. TWO SQUARES! If you need more, fine, but only in two square increments! Forget the fact that poor trees are giving their lives so you can clean your behind -- I pay for that stuff! So I march over in a huff and start separating his immense handful of toilet paper into two-square sections. When I'm done, there is a pile of 11 pieces. He was going to use 23 squares of toilet paper for one swipe! I gave him the most serious "I'm-your-mother-and-I-will-be-heard" look I could (I think I even pointed a finger to make sure he knew I meant business) and told him to finish and flush. Now.

A few minutes later I walked back in to see him getting ready to pull more paper off the roll.

"But MOM! I'm not done!"

-- Okay. In all honesty, I think I'm to blame here. In an effort to prevent the "skid marks" I've witnessed in some of my nephew's underpants, I think I may have told him at one point that if he were to ever leave anything behind after going #2, he would get a terrible, horrible rash and would be in dire pain and agony. My bad. --

"Yes you are. You are done. You have used more toilet paper than a grown man. There is no reason to -- JONAH!"

I had glanced into the toilet and saw that water could no longer be seen. There was so much toilet paper in that bowl, it was inches away from actually touching his little hiney. Had this been the first time this had ever happened, I may have handled the situation better, but as it were, I had become an expert in the use of a plunger long ago. Not a skill set I ever thought I'd need, but one I use at least every other week because of this little boy and his toilet paper habit. And I'm so over it.

So we flushed. And as you may have guessed, it didn't go down. Suddenly, I remembered one of the empty threats I had issued a few weeks ago -- I told him that the next time he clogged the toilet, I was not going to trek to the garage to retrieve the plunger, I was going to make him reach into the toilet and pull the toilet paper (etc.) out. With his hands.

And that's what I did.

I remember catching the tail-end of an Oprah episode a year or so ago where they were doing silly mom-confessions and one mother said something to the effect of, "I think the best way to discipline is for your kid to think that you're just a little bit crazy. You've got to make them think that this might be the moment that Mom finally loses it."

Today Jonah may have thought I finally cracked. After he cleared the clog and washed his hands with soap - twice - I calmly explained that this was the new order. He was now the family plunger. I think I made my point. Whether that point was a warning to use less toilet paper, or proof that his mother is actually insane, I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see what happens the next time he flips on the fan.

image via The Frugal Law Student

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Cactus vs. The Penguin

A couple weeks ago, my sister-in-law reminded me it was time for Old Navy's annual "50% off all clearance" sale. I'm in love with that sale. I try to purchase as much boys clothing for the upcoming year(s) as possible during that week, and have been known to hit every Old Navy in the area to find the best selection. I'm always doing what I can to save money, and since ALL clothing worn by my children should be deemed "disposable" (translation: look at something they've worn at the end of any given day and you'll think my boys share the same genetic make-up as porcupines and pigs), why not spend $1.50 on a shirt as opposed to $10.00?

This time, the whole family came along to kindly complicate my shopping experience. When I was finally wrapping things up, Jonah approached me , positively giddy: "MOM! Look what I FOUND!" I looked down to see him holding the most disgusting pair of slippers I've ever seen. I am absolutely certain that some kid got these slippers for Christmas and wore them once or twice, the family dog decided to use them as a chew toy, and then the mom decided they were a total waste of money and returned them to the store. I'm sure that in any other circumstance Jonah would have been able to recognize their dilapidated state, but in this instance, all reasoning was lost on him because these were Penguin slippers. I don't know what it is about Penguins and my oldest son. He loves them. Not crazy-love, but if he's going to receive anything plush, it'd better resemble a non-flying bird. I looked at the price tag.

"50% off $5.49 is $2.75."

"I've got money at home!"

"But you don't have $2.75 because you just barely made that trip to the dollar store..."

"Mom. If you'll buy them for me, I promise I'll pay you back. Pinkie swear! Look they fit perfect!" (...only if by "perfect" he means that his heels are completely hanging off the back.)

There didn't seem to be much harm in indulging his penguin fetish, and I do like to provide opportunities for him to learn to earn and respect I gave in -- with the understanding that they could not be worn and the tag could not be removed until he paid in full.

Fast forward a couple weeks. Like any normal household, the filled Old Navy bags were still sitting on the kitchen floor. I finally (begrudgingly) decided it was time to put everything away, at which point we were all reminded of the penguin slippers. The desire to pay his debt was renewed, and I encouraged him to talk to his Granny to determine whether or not she had any paying jobs he could do to earn some money.

Now Jonah hates to work. Haaaates it. And he's a pretty resourceful little bugger so I'm never surprised to see him looking for ways to skirt manual labor. This time there was no whining, though, which surprised me. About an hour later I saw him trot downstairs holding the potted cactus I bought him a couple years ago in an effort to teach him about caring for living things (a lesson which totally backfired since I failed to recognize that those things are impossible to kill so it doesn't matter that we haven't watered it for 18 months). He rarely shows any interest in it, so I was curious to find out what he was doing. I went downstairs and found Jonah cactus-less with a handful of change. Tyler's grandma explained:

"Jonah sold me his cactus. He told me he needed $2.75, but I negotiated and talked him down to $2.00."

"You sold your cactus to Granny?"

"Yes! And now I'm going to go count my money and see if I have enough to buy the slippers."

What am I going say? The cactus belonged to him -- he can do with it what he pleases. Deep down I was a little impressed that he even thought to make money that way. But of course, that's not the end of the story. The thrill of entrepreneurship lasted a whole 10 minutes until I heard him approach his Granny again:

"Granny, I changed my mind. I want to buy back my cactus for $2.00."

"Okay, if that's what you want. How come?"

"I know you'll do a very good job taking care of it, but I'm afraid it will be lonely without me."

So the refund was made and the cactus reclaimed its rightful place on Jonah's dusty, cluttered dresser.

And guess what? The tags are still on those darned slippers.

$2.75 is a lot of money, after all.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I deserve immunity.

Yesterday I wasn't feeling quite 100%.

Normally, someone in this position would think, "Hm. Maybe I'm coming down with something. Good thing I've been rationing my sick days." But you see, I'm not one of those people. I'm a Mom. Moms don't qualify for sick days (or salaries, or Social Security contributions, or bathroom breaks, for that matter). When Mom is sick, the entire axis of the planet is turned topsy-turvy because as I've come to learn during these past 6 years of Mom-dom, it is physically impossible for a family of two boys-and-a-dad to take care of themselves. Can't be done.

In his defense, I married a man who tries. Hard. He's a great partner-in-crime and will come to my aid whenever summoned. But that doesn't mean he is an acceptable stand-in for Mom, because apparently when I gave birth the first time, aliens implanted my brain with a measure of knowledge and ability that far surpasses anything a man can muster. I mean, really -- I know where the can opener is. Doesn't that just blow your mind???

So as I laid in bed last night, unable to sleep, with inevitable doom on my mind because it was obvious that the area between my chest and hips was going into full, internal revolt, I started to take immediate stock of my resources: How will I get Jonah to school? Do we have enough food storage to get us through the next 24 hours? How many movies can I safely let my children watch before their brain actually turns to mush? Does popcorn count as breakfast? Should I write down all the bank account numbers for Tyler in case I don't make it? When was the last time I cleaned the toilet??? (the latter being the most important question in my current condition!) And sure enough, it hit me. The stomach flu. The worst day-to-day illness a mother can endure. Because as much as she tries, a Mom simply cannot power through the stomach flu.

I was awaken from my groggy stupor this morning by the cheery calls of, "Mo-ooom. I po-oooped!" And so it began. Diapers still had to be changed, breakfast still had to be made, clean underwear still had to be retrieved from the dryer, children still had to be bathed, kindergartners still had to be driven to school, the dentist still had to be phoned, and clients still had to be dealt with. I couldn't help but consider the injustice of it all -- how no medical researcher has found a way to immunize a woman from basic physical ailments so that we may continue to carry on our quest to save the world, one runny nose at a time. As one friend put it, "Moms should be exempt from all illnesses when they still have children in the home..." Amen to that.

For now, I'll pretend not to hear the gasp that will surely depart Tyler's lips when he walks through the door tonight to find the remains of what used to be a functioning household (I didn't clean up the spilled Raisin Bran on purpose! What if Sam got hungry? Can't you see I'm sick???). And I'm just going to hope that they all figure out that the can of soup on the counter is indeed their dinner...and that they can effectively locate the can opener without my assistance.

I suppose I'll have to worry about all that later, though. I've been ignoring the desperate requests to read "Peek-a-boo Puppy" (for the 42nd time today) for long enough.

Back to work, sissy.

art by Andy Warhol