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Being Grandma Liza

I'm going to be a grandmother.

Sam is expecting in May.

I wasn't sure at first how I felt about this. I haven't finished raising my youngest two kids yet and now I'm becoming a grandma. Aren't you supposed to get some in-between time in order to miss having kids around the place?

But, I'm warming to the idea.

Dave and I have chosen a knitting project to complete before Baby arrives. What? You don't have a bunting set jointly knitted by your grandparents? What kind of a deprived childhood did you have?

And, as Sam's belly gets bigger, I am appreciating this Grandma gig more and more. Soon there will be a baby around for me to play with and hang out with, but I don't have to change the kid's diaper or wake up in the night to feed the little darling. And soon there will be a baby and I got to stay the same size during the whole process. Staying the same size is a relatively new experience for me. For years, I routinely ballooned in weight and shape, back and forth, with a few pounds permanently added each time. Most women have "the nice clothes" and "the fat clothes" in their closets, the fat clothes being for those times when the nice clothes are a little tight.

I had: the nice clothes, the fat clothes, the early pregnancy clothes, the late pregnancy clothes, the postpartum clothes, the nursing mom clothes and the I'm almost back to my pre-pregnancy weight except for those last damned 5 pounds clothes. This is why I have an inordinate amount of shoes, bags, watches and earrings. They always fit. (Also, I hate to mention this because it shows my age, but I also have more shawls than Stevie Nicks.)

So, I'm glad I'm not pregnant. It's bad for my closet.

And I never really liked being pregnant. It was uncomfortable and I never slept well. But why did you do it six times then, you ask? I did it for the end result. I like kids. But, if I could have ordered them on amazon.com, I would have.

And not only that, but I got in some practice today on the tram. Tori was chatting with an older gentleman about this and that and the man mentioned something I had said and referred to me as "your grandmother" to Tori.

Crap.

I'll be off now to the store to buy some hair coloring. Not for any particular reason, you know, just because I'm looking for a change.

Philadelphia Wants Me

I've spent a lot of time in airports recently.

Especially in Philadelphia.

I flew out of Frankfurt, with a layover in Philly, on my way to West Palm Beach. The plan was to go to Florida, help my sister Mag with funeral arrangements there, fly with Mom's ashes up to Providence for the funeral, fly back to Florida and help clear out Mom's apartment, and then fly back to Frankfurt, via Charlotte.

Philadelphia had other plans.

When I arrived in Philly, there were storms all up and down the East Coast. My flight to West Palm was canceled. Many, many flights were canceled.

I stood in line for 3 hours to re-book my flight to West Palm. The customers in line were cranky and rude and obnoxious. When, after two hours, I finally got within sight of the customer service desk, it seemed to me that the ground personnel were doing the best that they could. However, people were leaving the counter grumbling about having to fly two days later, having received no compensation, and were blaming USAir for the the weather.

I decided to take the bull by the horns.

When it was my turn, I smiled brightly at the woman behind the counter, asked after her health, and said, "Well, let's see what you can do for me."

I ended up with a confirmed seat on a flight out the next evening, a voucher for a local motel, 3 meal vouchers and directions to the baggage claim office where I could pick up an overnight kit if I wanted. (Overnight kits include toiletries and a t-shirt for sleeping in. Things a stranded traveler might need.) When flights are canceled because of "an act of God" the airlines are not required to give you anything, but a seat on the next available flight. But if you are not cranky, rude and obnoxious, they may decide to give you more than that. The line at the baggage claim office looked almost as formidable as the one upstairs, so I decided to forgo the complimentary overnight kit. I had a toothbrush, a miniature tube of toothpaste and a tiny can of deodorant with me, so I ventured forth with these provisions like Lewis and Clark before me, without even the help of Sacagawea.

My meal voucher proved to be useless, however, since the motel's restaurant had already closed for the evening. I was assured that the neighborhood was a good one and I could walk a few blocks to a restaurant. This I did and then afterward I stopped into a drug store for some provisions. On the way out of the parking lot to walk the two blocks to the motel, some guy in a pick-up truck asked me if I wanted a ride. No thank you, I said, I'm not going far. He accepted this and drove off.

I have no idea if the man was trying to pick me up because he thought I was cute or was planning to kill me and dump my body somewhere, or if he was simply offering me a ride. But, honestly. How stupid would it have been to get into a car with a stranger, in a city where no one knew where I was? It's kind of sad that we live in a world where I have to think like that.

I spent the night in a Howard Johnson Motel, woke up the next morning, walked to Walmart to buy some clean clothes and made my way back to the airport, picking up a young mother and her three-month-old baby on the way. She was trying to get back to Frankfurt, her English was pretty good except when people talked too fast at her and she had 2 large suitcases with her as well as the baby and her awkward plastic babyseat. I figured I should probably help her out. I felt her pain, having been stranded myself in airports with small children. Plus, her flight left a few hours before mine and I was looking at a very long day, so it was nice to have something constructive to do.

We got the young woman checked in, got rid of the luggage, and ate lunch.

Then she turned to me and said, "My husband is in the military. We could go hang out at the USO."

I ended up sitting comfortably in the USO for several hours, drinking coffee, eating cookies and chatting with interesting people. Then I got the young woman and her baby to the gate and she went off home feeling not so overwhelmed.

See what happens when you are a mensch? Nice guys do not always finish last.

I got to Florida a day late, but still had time to help out my sis. We then flew up to Providence via Washington without incident--except for the cannoli incident, which provided much needed comic relief.

On the way back to Florida, we got stuck in Philly again.

In fact, I was surprised they ever let us leave Providence. This was the day that Tropical Storm Fay was dumping water all over Florida and turning it back into the swamp it originally was. But the powers that be decided to let us fly because every airport in South Florida was closed except for the ever optimistic West Palm Beach airport.

We had equipment trouble in Providence, which made us miss our connection in Philly, which made us have to stand in line at the customer service counter, which I barely recognized without its throng of angry customers in front of it.

We got seats on a flight leaving in seven hours.

It turns out that 7 hours is just enough time to eat lunch, find a phone store to add minutes to your cell phone, find the train station and figure out that you have just enough time to ride into Center City and hang around for 2 hours before having to ride back. Since it costs 7 dollars one way for this and there were three of us, we decided that it wasn't worth 42 bucks.

Instead we hung out in a bar in the hotel across the street. Airports were beginning to depress me and I just did not want to go back in there until absolutely necessary.

We flew into West Palm, somehow avoiding TS Fay. Apparently, she had gone north and we swung out over the ocean after passing NC and came in from the east. You would never have known that Mother Nature was beating the crap out of the state at the time.

My flight home from Florida to Frankfurt was mercifully without incident.

I was very grateful.

Lost and Found

I found the keepsake box with my mother's ashes.

I swear I looked in my backpack about 100 times.

And I did.

I just never looked in the pencil case. I don't think it ever occurred to me that the box would fit in the pencil case.

So, this morning, as I was completely emptying the backpack so I could put it in storage until I needed it again, I still didn't look in the pencil case because I never empty that part. I leave the pens in there always.

But, as I lifted the supposedly empty pack to put it in the closet, it felt too heavy. And when I opened it, I finally noticed the strange bulge in the pencil case.

The keepsake box now resides in the glass-doored cupboard in my dining room. It turns out that I actually do have a place in my house that has flat surfaces that do not become a refuge for random junk.

I keep a few tchotchkes in there, my bowl of spinning tops, a couple of ceramic pieces, some flower vases.

It's a good place to keep my mother's ashes.

She'd like to spend eternity in a dining room, as she was a fan of food. Also, she was a fan of dinnertime conversation.

It seems an appropriate place.

And I feel much less like a totally irresponsible idiot child because I did not, in fact, lose my mother's ashes.

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Leave the Ashes, Take the Cannoli

My mother didn't leave a mess. Which is odd, considering that in life, she was not a particularly neat person.

Long ago, she wrote down everything she wanted for her funeral. She put this paper, along with all other important papers--insurance information, the rental agreement for her apartment, birth certificate, etc--into a metal lock box and told my sister Mag where to find it. Several years ago, she gave away her good jewelry because "I want to see you enjoy it now."

She wasn't being morbid, just practical. She did not want us, in our bereavement, to have to go looking for stuff.

She lived in Florida for the past 12 years, but wanted to be buried next to my father in Rhode Island. She decided she wanted to be cremated and have us take her ashes to RI because transporting a body cost too much money. Fine. We proceeded to do what she wanted.

We picked up her ashes from the funeral home in Florida. They were in a heavy plastic bag, which itself was inside a plain white cardboard box. The whole shebang came with papers to show the airport personnel when we went through security. We could have had the funeral home in FL send them to the funeral home in RI, but we decided we could not trust anyone but ourselves with this duty, so the ashes came with us on the plane.

Our plane stopped in Washington, but was to go on to Providence. However, we were made to disembark during the layover. Mag took the box with her when she left the plane. She wasn't letting her mom's ashes out of her sight.

On the way back into the plane, there was a woman in line between me and Mag. She very cheerily asked, "So, what's in the box? Cannoli?"

Mag smiled back, "No, my mother's ashes."

The woman was hugely distraught at her faux pas, but between my bursting out laughing and Mag's calm assurances that somewhere our mother was finding the entire situation hysterically funny, and indeed, the box bore an uncanny resemblance to a pastry box, the woman woman stopped feeling like an ass.

For my part, I couldn't seem to fathom why anyone would bring cannoli *TO Rhode Island FROM Florida.* It's like bringing ice cubes to the Arctic. Cannoli are to be bought in the Federal Hill section of Providence. It's almost sacrilegious to bring cannoli to RI.

Later, at the Providence airport, we were standing outside waiting for the shuttle bus to the car rental place and Cannoli Woman was standing next to us waiting for her son to pick her up. As he approached, she shouted out, "Hey, Adam! Guess what I did? These nice young women are taking their mother's ashes to be buried and I asked them if it was cannoli in the box!"

Poor Adam. He was mortally embarrassed. I got the feeling that this was not the first time that he had had to put his face in his hands in mortification at something his mother had said.

At the funeral home in RI, Mag asked the funeral director about keepsake boxes. Apparently, these are small decorative boxes with a bit of the ashes in them. The boxes are sealed shut. You take them home with you and, well, keep them. I had never heard of such a thing. Mag ordered 4 of them, including one for me.

Now, I don't live in a House Beautiful Photo Spread house. All the flat surfaces in my house are decorated with piles of stuff that should be put away, but never is. (If you put it away, how the heck are you ever going to find it again?) The whole time I was in RI I was trying to figure out what to do with my keepsake box.

I needn't have worried at all, because somewhere along the line, I lost it.

The last time anyone saw it was in the car in West Palm Beach after we flew back from RI. My niece Kayla put it in my backpack. When I went looking for it three days later, it wasn't in my backpack anymore. Somewhere in south Florida, there is a little gold decorative box with Mary's ashes in it.

You'd think I'd be upset by this.

But, my mother was ALWAYS misplacing stuff. "Where are my glasses?" "Where are my keys?" These questions run like a leitmotif through my childhood memories. One time my mom found her purse in the refrigerator. Ever after, the answer to any "Where's my" question was, "Did you look in the fridge?"

I figure that misplacing my mother's ashes is a tribute to her memory.

(Read the next entry for part two of this story)

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The Next Several Posts

The next several posts will be dealing with various aspects of the last three weeks of my life.

My mother died.

The last three weeks have been surreal.

I said a few words at the reception following my mom's funeral. I will write them down here so you can get an idea of who my mom was in case you never had the pleasure of meeting her in person. This will also give you some insight into the following entries when you read them.

In 1955, my parents took my older brother John, who was about 2, to the Slater Park Zoo. My father was holding John in his arms and they were looking at the lion. This lion was the laziest animal on Earth. He hardly ever moved. But, once every decade or so, he would stand up and roar. And he decided that this would be the day. He stood up, walked right over to where my father was standing, and roared the loudest, scariest, king-of-the-jungle roar. A real cliche roar, even better than the MGM lion. My brother John responded to this by turning to my father and saying, "I want my mommy now!" My mother always told this story as an example of how funny little kids are. The thought of my mom, at 5'4" and not the buffest female around, as a lion fighter was hysterical to her.

But John knew, at the young age of two, that Mary Cameron was the go-to gal if you were in trouble.

Lost your job and don't know what to do next? Ask Mary.
Having trouble with your teenager? Talk to Mary.
The lion is going to eat you? You need Mary.

My mother exuded confidence, humor and capability. She gave sage advice. But her real gift was to convince you that you were capable of handling anything that life threw at you. People came to her, not just for her advice, but for the infusion of "I will get through this" that she imparted.

This gift is what made her a great teacher. Officially, she became a teacher at age 40, after deciding to change careers at age 36 and go to college. This was back in 1968, when women returning to higher education was just beginning to be heard of. She was graduated from Bryant College in 1972, summa cum laude. She paved the way for all the women who came after her. But, although, she didn't technically become a teacher until middle age, she was truly a teacher all her life. She just had to accomplish a few things so that the State of Rhode Island would give her a piece of paper confirming what she had always been.

Supposedly, she taught business subjects: typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, etc. She confessed that she really taught "how to think for yourself," "how to learn," "self-confidence," and "personal responsibility." She said a real teacher is just a resource, like a dictionary or an encyclopedia. Open the door to the student and then get out of his way. And she proved this the year she was slated to teach word processing.

Picture a woman in the mid-1980's, who is herself in her 50's, about to try to teach a bunch of poor inner-city kids, who certainly do not possess home computers, how to use a PC and learn a few business apps. My mother had, by the first day of school, learned where the on/off button was.

So, she stood before them and said, "Okay. Turn on the machine. Pick up the manual and look through it. Push some buttons. If you figure anything out, raise your hand and we'll all come over and look."

By the end of the semester everyone in the class, including Mary, could produce all kinds of documents.

She also believed that one should never stop learning new things. And she lived by this rule. About three years ago I asked her what she would like for Christmas and she said she wanted a world atlas. An atlas? Why? "Well, there are all these new countries since I learned geography in school. And it occurred to me the other day that I really don't know as much as I should about Africa." I bought her the best atlas Amazon carries.

My mother was often a very good example of what it means to be a good human being. But, she was also fantastic at being a bad example. And she never minded being a bad example. She admitted every stupid kid thing she had ever done, every dumb young wife stunt she pulled, every bad mothering moment. I believe she did this for two reasons: First, she wanted to give you information so you could avoid making the same mistakes and, maybe, your life would be a little easier. Second, I believe she felt we were often in awe of her--Summa cum laude, with a home and family of six to take care of. It's a tough act to follow--and she wanted to let us know that the pedestal we sometimes put her on was shaky.

She once told me that she thought I was a better mother than she had been. Which is weird, since I learned almost all of what I know about being a mother from her.

Some lessons were:

1. Don't be a martyr to your children. They will not thank you for it.

2. Always be there, paying attention, BUT try to stay out of their way. Your children have places to go! They are not just supporting actors in your life story, but also the stars of their own stories.

3. Be a person in your own right and not just somebody's mother. It sets a good example for them and it makes you a more interesting person, so that when they grow up, they might want to spend time with you.

But the most important lesson I learned from my mom was brought home to me in 1985, 30 years after the Zoo incident.

I was on safari in Africa with my little family and the guide drove the Landrover down into a pride of lions lazing around the watering hole. We were assured that this was perfectly safe as the smell of exhaust fumes masked the smell of human so that the lions pretty much ignored our presence.

Well, they couldn't smell us, but they could hear it when my two-year-old son began fussing after a long day in the bush. One lioness stood up, pricked up her ears and turned to the Landrover. A baby's cry is a baby's cry and species is immaterial. That lioness was going to investigate what that noise was.

The guide reacted quickly and we got the heck out of there well before the lioness got even remotely close enough to spring. And the guide's assistant had the elephant gun trained on her the whole time, just in case.

We drove a few miles away and then stopped to get our bearings. No one had said a word during this whole episode and everyone was sitting pressed back into their seats.

Except me.

I had scooted off the back seat and placed myself on the floor of the Landrover, where my two kids had been squatting, effectively positioning myself as a shield between the kids and the lioness. Hysterical, really. What did I think I was going to do if the lion sprang upon us? Everyone laughed at me.

But I knew.

I learned it long ago, in a funny story my mom told about John at the Slater Park Zoo.

The Big Lesson: It's the mother's job to save you from the lion.

Writer's Shoulder

I haven't written in 14 weeks. I've been going insane. My head is so full it's going to explode.

What happened was this: My arm started hurting and I thought I had pulled a muscle so I ignored it and babied it for a few weeks. Didn't help. Went to the doc. Got diagnosed as tendinopathy. Arm immobilization, cortisone/steroid shots. "For God's sake, DON'T TYPE!!!"

Went for a second opinion. I tell people that I did this because I felt that the doc was wrong. A gut feeling. That's a lie. Only another writer will understand why I really went. I went for a second opinion because not being able to write makes me crazy. I felt that I would soon be on the water tower spewing bullets at passersby. (I don't have a gun and I live in Germany where these things are not easy to come by, so perhaps it would have been a SuperSoaker Water Uzi, but still.) I wanted to hurt someone. Or at least go downtown and grab random strangers and force them to listen to me tell them a story. By going for a second opinion I was grasping at straws, "Please let there be a different answer."

Luckily, the second opinion was "Frozen Shoulder. Don't baby it. For God's sake, KEEP TYPING!"

I went with the second opinion.

I've been having PT and trying to move my shoulder as much as possible. It's coming along, but apparently this frozen shoulder thing is a long haul situation. Whatever. As long as typing is possible, I'm cool with it.

In the meantime, several other things have happened in my life that have provided fodder for the pen. I will be writing journal entries more regularly for a while. Gotta get this crap outta my head.

Some Children Don't Like Birthday Parties

Summer is coming and I will be losing my tutoring students. In anticipation of this I found some translation work. My oldest daughter got me one job translating an article about the results of a clinical study of socially phobic children for a psychology magazine. I find that I like translation work better than the teaching. The hours are better, too. With the tutoring, I spent more time traveling to and from the job than at the job. Plus I had to arrange for a babysitter for Tori. Translating is something I can do at home. No muss, no fuss.

Also, translating gives me another good reason to get out of bed each morning.

Let me explain.

I used to wake up every morning and realize that I was never going to have to go to high school again. That was enough to get me bounding out of the bed. Now I have another reason. I got married at age nineteen and proceeded to have a passel of kids. (Almost, but not quite, in that order.) This means that I did not follow what I then considered to be my true path--academia. I didn't go off to college and get a PhD.

And now I'm glad I didn't.

If I had, I imagine I would now be one of those academic pod people who writes 20 pages of text, sprinkled liberally with ten-dollar words, to come to the conclusion that socially phobic children don't like social situations and begin to get upset even before the event. The title of this blog entry is six words long and says basically the same thing.

But, although I could laugh at the literary style of the article and the foibles of Academe that make that kind of literary style inevitable, I did enjoy the process. And it is a kind of writing.

I asked the professor for whom I did the translation to please use me again in the future and to pass my name around to others. And I probably have another job lined up for the summer on a longer project. This guy is some kind of neuro-psychologist with an esoteric specialty, so I just can't wait to see what comes out of there. I'll probably be doing a lot of translations in the branch of psychology because that is oldest daughter Sam's major and she is getting me the jobs. I also have two other kids in university, so maybe they can get the word out, too. Then I will be doing translations of computer science articles and economics articles, too.

I'm hoping it will turn into a nice little day job.

Liza

24 LIttle Hours

This is a post about time.

I spent five hours yesterday picking my daughter up from school.

Usually, it only takes three hours.

I don't have a car, so I have to take public transit to pick her up. It's not so bad. I get to read a lot. And sometimes, I take the laptop with me and get some writing done. We live on the southwestern edge of Frankfurt and her school is in the northeastern corner of Frankfurt. Picking her up requires a streetcar, an urban train and a bus. I walk out the door at 11:30 in the morning and arrive home between 2:15 and 2:30 depending on how fast the child walks and whether we miss any connections.

But, yesterday, I was in transit for five hours. Everything started off well. Then, I got to the school, where I found Tori and her friend T in tears. T and her brother M were supposed to come to our house for a play date. It took a while to straighten out the spat that Tori and T had had. Just enough time to miss the bus down the hill. So, we walked.

Tori had had her birthday on Tuesday and had gotten a watch. She is just learning to tell time so it was a special watch. I spent about a week on the Internet looking for the perfect I-am-learning-to-tell-time-watch. Watch designers are a bit crazy when they design watches for children. Most of the models are just plain stupidly designed. I had a list of features that I wanted her watch to have. First, the watch couldn't have any complicated picture on the face. It makes seeing the hands too difficult. Second, the watch had to have hands that were distinctly different from each other, either two different colors or two lengths that were easily distinguishable. (You would not believe how many children's watches don't conform to this rule.) Third, I wanted not only all the numbers on the watch to be there--no 3-6-9-12 nonsense--but I also wanted another set of numbers around the face, showing the minutes. After searching and searching I finally found the almost perfect watch. (It had a plastic wristband and I wanted leather, but you can't have everything.) Not only did it have all the features I wanted, it also had a third set of numbers with 13-24, so the kid could learn the 24-hour clock. We live in Europe where people actually say the time using the 24-hour system. Being a professional mother, and having been through the whole watch-owning experience with five previous children, I tried to preempt any tragedies by telling Tori that she was NEVER to take off the watch unless she was at home.

Yesterday was Thursday and we now resume our story. As I was walking down the hill with three kids in tow, I noticed that Tori's left wrist was bare.

"Where's your watch?"

"Oh!" (The look on her face says that she does not want to tell me.)

"Did you take it off at school?" (Please say yes.)

"No. I took it off at T's house yesterday."

"Did you take it off IN her house?" (Please, please say yes.)

"No." (And now the face falls even further.)

"In her yard?" (Because I am hopelessly optimistic.)

"No. We were doing cartwheels in the field across the street and the watch hurt my arm so I took it off and laid it in the grass."

"Crap."

So, instead of heading in the direction of our house, we took the urban train to the bus that would take us to T's house so we could look for the watch. Of course, we missed the bus. The next one would come in half an hour. So, we walked to T's house. I can't see waiting 30 minutes for a bus when we can walk it in 20 minutes. We got there and looked around, but of course, the watch was gone. I knew it would be, but one has to try. We will put up a sign, but, optimist or not, I hold out no hope for this plan.

She owned the watch for one day.

By this time, it made no sense to take T and M to our house for the play date. By the time we got there and ate something, it would be time to go home. So, Tori and I ventured forth to our house. It had been an unpleasant time. She was tired and I was tired. Also, she was wearing one of her My-Mother-Is-A-Lunatic-Because-She-Lets-Me-Dress-Myself outfits. In addition, her face was a mess. She had put on a show at school that day where she wore German flag colors on her face: red, yellow and black vertical stripes were painted on her face.

By this time, most of the makeup had worn off or had been smeared around because of tears and sweat. She still had a slightly jaundiced looking right side of her face, a left side that looked like she hadn't washed in several weeks, and a big red blotch on her forehead. I wasn't faring so well, either. It had been a hot walk through the afternoon sun. When we got to the underground station, we had ten minutes to wait for our train so I found a convenient wall to sit against and we collapsed. That is when I noticed what we must look like to passersby.

"Try to look a little more pathetic. Maybe people will give us money."

Hey, what do you want from me? I was out 20 bucks for a watch, I figured I might get a little of it back.

Update on the watch: We put up a sign and no one came forward within a week, so we figured no one ever would. Strangely, about three weeks after this someone actually showed up at T's house with the watch! So, Tori got her watch back and I have a warm space in my heart for people who find stuff and actually bring it back to the owners. Bless them.

I Must Brag

I have a son. Actually, I have two, but I want to brag about the younger one.

He is sweet and lovable. He has also spent the first 8 and a half years of his school career barely making it through. It didn't seem to be a problem of intelligence. All his grade school teachers told me that he was smart, but he just didn't seem to be able to show it on paper. We had all the tests done. No conclusions were drawn from the results. His IQ was in the top ten percent. He maybe had a little ADD. Maybe he had dyslexia, but the results of the tests weren't conclusive. There might be an eyesight problem. We did some vision therapy. We sat with him while he did his homework. We watched and cajoled and helped and gave up and ranted and commiserated. He was labeled lazy, disorganized, unable to concentrate, disruptive, immature, and unintelligent by various teachers. (I particularly loved the unintelligent comment since Alex's IQ is quite possibly a good ten points higher than that of the teacher who said it. And I'm being generous in my guess of the teacher's IQ.)

The final straw came in the ninth grade when his teacher told me that he probably wouldn't be able to go beyond the 9th grade because he didn't have the ability. But he could get a 9th grade leaving certificate and go on to a trade school and maybe get a job at the local grocery store stocking shelves. (He had just done an eighth grade internship at the local grocer and had had fun doing it.) NO! My son will not stock shelves for a living. [See my note at the bottom of this entry] This is when it finally dawned on me that public school wasn't giving him what he needed. He didn't fit there.

We found a Montessori high school. He spent the second semester of 9th grade there and passed his 9th grade finals with an A+/B-, qualifying him to go on to the next level of high school. The tests are given by the state so they were the same tests as those given in his public school. The difference was the school.

Now he is finishing up the 10th grade and has just gotten the results of his written tests for this leaving certificate. A+/B-. He still has to do an oral test and have his second semester grades factored in. If he gets better than a C+ average, he qualifies for the college prep level of high school.

I am astounded and delighted by his progress.

But, more than that, I am astounded and delighted by his ability to overcome what must have seemed like torture to him. I can't imagine having the capacity to learn, but being in an environment that constantly put stumbling blocks in my way. I am sure I would have given up after 8 years of this nonsense.

It turns out he has a couple of very easily solved problems that the public school was either unable or unwilling to solve. He has a difficult time writing down things that are said to him, so taking notes or writing down a homework assignment is hit or miss. He has an inability to change his eye focus from near to far focus very quickly, so copying something written on a blackboard in a timely manner is almost impossible. He has a small motor control problem so writing in general is difficult, but typing seems to work better for him. He reads slowly, but given a little more time he can comprehend what he reads. He has difficulty changing gears so that a 45 minute class is just too short a time for him. By the time he has his brain in math mode, it's time for English class.

In his new school, he manages much of his own time. He does his math in record time because he's good at it. He then has more time for reading assignments. The assignments for the week are written on a whiteboard in the back of the room and he may go over there and re-check as many times as he needs to. There are scheduled times for "homework help" so that if he missed something in a lecture, he can go consult with the teacher about anything he may not have fully understood in class. He is allowed to use a word processor for writing assignments.

Simple, no? But his public school was unable to adapt itself to him.

I have no big problems with public school in general. My first four kids did exceedingly well there. There are just some kids who don't fit the mold. Alex was one of them. Luckily, we have the wherewithal to pay for private school for him. But, IMNSHO, public schools could adapt to kids like mine. They need the personnel and the equipment. They need the money and the vision.

Why do governments not spend enough money on schools? This has been a problem since public schooling was invented. The old bumper sticker from the 60's is still valid: "It Will Be a Great Day When Our Schools Get all the Money They Need and the Air Force Has to Hold a Bake Sale to Buy a Bomber"

[Note about shelf-stocking as a career]: I'm not an elitist. Really. There is nothing wrong with stocking shelves. Shelves need stocking. But there is something definitely wrong with a person taking that job when he has huge potential. The only people who should be doing that are either those who truly can't do anything else, people who do it part time to earn a few extra bucks, or people whose true vocation is something that earns them no money so that they do this job to put food on the table and they spend all their free time pursuing their passion. (Like art, writing, politics, volunteerism, etc.) Indeed, I believe that all honest work is valuable. If you don't believe me, imagine if a spaceship came down to earth and took all the physical laborers away: no garbage collectors, no shelf stockers, no fruit pickers. (Any job that requires not more than an average IQ and a strong body.) The world would go to hell in about three days. Now imagine that a spaceship came down and took all the MBA's away. Would we even notice? I just think that it isn't right for my child to take away a job from someone who may need it when he has the potential to do something else. It's not elitism I'm infected with, it's socialism. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."

Blast from the Past

I am busy today taking some kids to the zoo. So, here's a piece I wrote years ago and saved.

We have two cats. Nice cats. Very purry. Only one
problem. They have the blood lust of crazed rampaging
vampires.

So, this morning I stumble into the kitchen to make
coffee at 6AM. And I immediately go into the morning
hay fever sneezing ritual where I sneeze about 27
times in a row. Normally, I bend over and sneeze onto
the floor until I can stagger over to the nearest
tissue box. But this morning I stop after one sneeze
because I turn and atchoo violently onto a dead mouse.
This effectively interrupts the sneezing fit.
Corpses will do that to a person. (Rebecca has since
suggested that I carry a dead mouse in my purse as a
sneezing deterrent.)

Now, what you have to know about me is that small
furry corpses give me the willies. Somehow birds
don't bother me so much, but rodents freak me out. I
don't mind live ones, it's just the dead ones I can't
handle. It's a mammal thing. This brutally murdered
little furry thing has the same number of vertebrae in
its neck as I do. If it's a female--I didn't look
closely enough to check--it nursed its young. Just
like me. And now it has, for no apparent reason
except one that makes sense to a cat, been robbed of
its life. It's a sobering thought, and one that never
ceases to make me say, "Yuck! A dead mouse."

Under normal circumstances I would say, "Eeeeeew!
Dave! Get this mouse outa here!" But, alas, it was
very early and I was the only one awake. So, I
screwed up my courage, turned the knob way down on my
personal squick-o-meter, girded my loins (whatever
that means) and performed the mouse removal procedure
myself. Aren't you proud of me?

Dave wonders at this quirk of mine since I am pretty
much a competent person in many other areas. Also, I
read those kinds of books where human corpses are apt
to be found on a hearth rug in Victorian England or
mutilated beyond recognition on a sidewalk in
Manhattan that for some obscure reason the author
has decided to rename Isola. So, why can I not handle
a dead mouse? Well, those aren't real people, they're
characters in books. I have no problem with character
assassination. (No, wait. that's something else
entirely. English is a weird language. Shouldn't
character assassination be what Agatha Christie does?)

So, now it's 6:48 and I'm going to have my second cup
of coffee and, frankly, I deserve it.