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Archive for November, 2012

One of many hand-knit items for sale in our shop. Don’t worry, it’s only a little pot! HA!

My mother and I have started a tiny business. Sarobi Interiors, which will one day be a thriving, full service home decorating firm, is, for now, a booth of goods in a corner of the Mill 77 Trading Company in Amesbury, MA.

Why did we decide to embark on this when my mother is a full time R.N./Nursing Supervisor and I have two jobs already plus two kids under the age of six? It’s been a dream of ours for some time now. Both being design enthusiasts and avid amateur decorators, we elected to take the plunge and hopefully parlay our booth into something more.

But secretly, I was driven by a deeper purpose: the fear that I was about to be evicted from the United States for being a hippe-pinko-socialist. “Love it or leave it!” an angry mob would cry as they wrapped me in a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and dumped me into Boston Harbor. And who could blame them? A vegan atheist who made her own Obama banner and drives a Prius bearing the bumper sticker “Got science?” Man, I was one composting toilet away from a one way ticket to Sweden. But no more! Now, I can be venerated as the heart and soul of this nation, a driver of the economy, an All-American striver for life liberty and money.

Our business is a small one to be sure. So exceedingly small that it can fit in a 15′ x 5′ half room we rent from someone else. But we’ve got pluck. And dedication. And a naysaying in-house lawyer/husband/son-in-law who sternly advises things like LLC status and a close read of the Massachusetts income tax statutes. Killjoy.

So if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and check the place out. Even better, buy something! It’s salvaged, repurposed, and retrofitted goods, so we’re green friendly (hippie-pinko-socialist tendencies die hard), but capitalist all the way! So support our small business this holiday season, and wish us luck, dear readers! To find our booth, take a right upon entering Mill 77 on Route 110 in Amesbury, and look for the last room on the right. Our tags bear the dealer code DBPEA. Let us know what you think if you do stop by!

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So I wear a skirt; you got a problem with that?

Sometimes, I lose my sense of whether I and my children are weird or not. Most of the time, I actually think we’re quite conventional. Single-family house, a few pets, swing set in the backyard, urine in test tubes by the bed. Wait! See? I think that last one is probably weird. But most of the time, we’re quotidian. I am fairly certain of it.

Still, sometimes I get jolted out of this belief. Simon, my three year old son, likes to wear a skirt from time to time. He seems to like the movement of it. He also chose a pink and purple butterfly toothbrush at the dentist’s office the other day. I am pleased to say that most people we meet are unfazed by these choices, and mostly (in this post-“free to be you and me” era) encourage him. But there are still plenty of people who say to him, “Oh, you don’t want that. That’s for girls. That’s not for strong boys like you.” I bristle (ha! toothbrush pun!) when this happens, because unless it’s something that will harm my son, don’t tell him he “doesn’t want that.” To be sure, my kids do not always, or even often, get the things they want. But they are free to want them. I suspect Simon’s predilections are not all that weird. In this case, I think the only “weirdness” is my otherwise very normal husband, who is not the least fazed by Simon’s occasional princess indulgence. Whenever I’m out with Simon in a skirt, people invariably say, “Better take that off before Daddy sees it, huh?” No, actually. And among the many, many wondrous things about my husband, his utter lack of the machismo/homophobia/masculine insecurity complex is near the top of the list. Unfortunately, I suspect that does make him a bit weird. Not unique, by any stretch, but more unusual than I’d like.

I like his simple caption: “Malcolm Poop”

A more obvious oddity of ours was illuminated the other day when the weekly kindergarten news came home from Malcolm’s class. In it, each kid reports one single, scintillating bit of information. Usually something like, “We got a kitten!” or “I got lots of candy for Trick or Treat!” What does Malcolm’s say? “I touched raccoon poop in the woods.” I actually had to speak with him about this. Not because I object to poop encounters; indeed, we often pull apart woods poop to learn about the pooper and often the identity of its last meal (the poopee). Raccoon poop, however, can harbor a horrible brain eating parasite. So we only touch raccoon poop with a stick, of course. Otherwise, carry on, children.

So, are we weird? I don’t know. Between the vegan thing, and the animal skulls around the house thing, and the woods poop thing, and the princess boy with the unfazed dad thing, maybe we are. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Plastic army guy, you’re lucky it’s almost Veterans’ Day and I’m feeling charitable.

I’ve had to take a day off running after an early morning encounter with a plastic Army guy on a darkened staircase. Though small, the Army guy was clearly very well trained. I never saw him, and the next thing I knew, I was right on top of him and my feet flew out from under me. I thudded down the stairs and emerged mostly unscathed, but with an eight inch welt and bruise on a region rather critical to running.
I’m doing fine and will be back out to run today, but the forced rest left me preoccupied with how I came to be a runner (only a year and a half ago) and how I would like to respond to all the people who say, “Oh, I could never do that.” Here are the top 5 reasons why (which people feel compelled to share with me):

Reason 1: I don’t have time.
Response: Neither do I. At least, not in the way you mean. The time I spend running could easily be taken up by doing laundry, reading to my kids, catching up on work, seeing a movie, and so on. And these are just the necessary or worthy things I could be doing. It’s true, you will need to elbow some other things aside. I assure you, there are things you can afford to elbow.

Reason 2: I don’t have anyone to watch my kids.
Response: I appreciate this. My kids are not old enough to be left alone. If yours aren’t either, and they’re very young indeed, take them with you. That’s the actual reason jogging strollers exist, not just to impress other suburban moms. If you can’t take them with you, and you can’t afford to hire a babysitter, get a friend to watch them. If you have no friends, expand your definition of friend to include anyone who will watch your kids in exchange for cookies, petsitting, or whatever other barter currency you have to offer.

Reason 3: I don’t have the energy.
Response: Running begets energy.

Reason 4: There is no sports bra in the world that can restrain my ample bosoms.
Response: You think you’ll get sympathy from me?! I, who have a concavity where your ample bosoms are bounding painfully around? I, who sacrificed what little I had on the altar of breastfeeding? No, I have nothing to offer you on this front. Take comfort though; the scientific community is working to help you with articles like this one, entitled “Predictors of three dimensional breast kinematics during bare-breasted running.” Imagine the scene in THAT lab.

Reason 5: I don’t have the money.
Response: You really don’t need much. A pair of shoes (and they can be the cheapest ones at WalMart; there is no benefit in terms of injury prevention to expensive shoes), a good sports bra (see Reason 4) if you’re a lady. That’s about it. Cheaper than a gym membership, even if you do have to pay someone to watch your kids. Also, probably cheaper than anti-anxiety meds, and high blood pressure meds, and cholesterol meds.

If all five of these reasons are obstacles for you, and you have no time, no friends, no energy, and no money, then I suppose you should sit down and re-examine your life. But take some comfort in your ample bosoms. After all, it’s not the worst problem a girl can have.

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I spent yesterday in a sweat of nervous energy, trying to fill the hours until the polls closed and the returns began to come in. Even my young sons were caught up in the excitement, though I was surprised to discover, in this exclusive interview, that they came down on either side of the political divide.

Going about my errands yesterday, I drove past the polling place in the town next to mine. As I crested the hill and the little white buildings on the diminutive town green came into view, I saw the parking lot packed with cars and people filing in to vote. I felt a sudden visceral wave of pride and gratitude rise my mouth in a half sob. I know my last post was partisan, but the pride I felt yesterday was not about winning. I didn’t know then who would win. In fact, while I live in a purple state that went blue yesterday, my pocket of New Hampshire is decidedly red. So more likely than not, those folks were lined up to vote for Romney. The thing is, regardless of the candidates or the stakes, the sight of people peaceably assembling to vote, and without any fear of reprisal, gets me every time. I can be as cynical as the next girl about all the money and special interests, but on election day, when everyone is slotted into the booths with only their feet and ankles visible below the curtain, it’s down to one man, one vote, as it’s meant to be. Fine leather wingtips alongside steel-toed work boots alongside a college student’s optimistic flip-flops, despite the cold wind sweeping in at the edge of a coming Nor’Easter.

As I drove by, I noticed a sign by the road advertising a bake sale, soup and lunch at the polling location. I suspect most of those people would have voted anyway, even without the soup. But I cannot express the fullness of my gratitude for the privilege of living in this country where we vote without fear, without trepidation, and with an untroubled stomach, ready to slip our ballots into the waiting machine, and then stroll over to bake sale and have a cookie with the neighbors.

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I promise, after this, I’ll write a few short, pithy, light-hearted posts. But this one, I must do now, for the obvious reasons.

I believe in civility, and I believe in civic engagement, so usually I try to encourage public participation in our democracy no matter which side of the aisle your guy may be on. But I confess, as we get close to election day, I am feeling a pit of anxiety opening in my stomach. My family is political on every level, from town referenda to Presidential primaries, and I always feel the stakes are high. But this time, I really mean it.

On the Mall on Inauguration Day, 2009.

We went to an Obama rally in Concord, NH today, and stood in line for 3 hours to stand in the press of a crowd 300 yards distant from the occasionally visible President. 14,000 other people and our kids were with us. They were also with us on a freezing day in Washington D.C. four years ago when we stood with millions of other people to watch this same President sworn in. Simon, our second son, was still in utero, and Malcolm, running a fever, was mostly confined to his snowsuit and blanket draped stroller. The crowd in Concord today was different from that inauguration day not just because it was a bunch of reserved, mostly middle-aged New Englanders who prefer dignified (though firm) clapping to indecorous hooting and shrieking. It’s different because this President’s been up to his elbows in work for four years now, and with our firm clapping and firm set jaws, we’d like to see him through.

Uncannily similar, four years later in Concord.

I don’t generally get weepy or maudlin. I do not cry at weddings, and I do not watch chick flicks. But today, listening to the President talk about teachers, and about opportunity for every kid, I found myself with an unexpected catch in my throat. So much so that I had to give up indecorous hooting and merely clap. Because here’s why I’m a Democrat: I’m a smart and talented person. But that is not nearly enough to make it. I am now what some might derisively call “an East Coast elite.” But it was not always so. My family generally had what we needed growing up, but not all the stuff we wanted. My mom went to nursing school at Northern Essex Community College with 4 kids at home. I did a lot of babysitting. We shared some tiny bedrooms. I went to public school up through eighth grade, and was pushed and challenged by Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Miller, and Mr. Doran, who gave me extra time, and special assignments and good books and told me about the existence of prep school, and that I should go there. So I did. And so I kept company with the elites for four years. I won’t say some of my best friends are hedge fund managers, but many of my acquaintances are. I didn’t appreciate how hard my parents worked to be able to afford Exeter until, clutching a fistful of acceptance letters from some of the very best private colleges, I listened to my father tell me I couldn’t go. We couldn’t afford it.  And so I went to UMass instead. My wild, sprawling, chaotic and wonderful state school out in the Valley. We could afford it. We could afford it because Massachusetts invested in it on my behalf. We could afford it because what wasn’t subsidized by my state, I could loan out from my country.

And then, with my four years done, and my diploma in hand, I went to veterinary school at another East Coast Elite institution: Tufts. But for a Massachusetts kid, that too was subsidized by the state. So heavily, in fact, that when the state hit tough times, and the subsidy was wavering, I contemplated what I would do after I had to withdraw from school. But the state came through every time, and I got that degree too. All the things I’ve accomplished may be my own, but the chances given to me were the gifts of a faithful and optimistic government.

Now, I teach at North Shore Community College in Danvers, Massachusetts. My students are moms in night classes, Iraq war vets on the G.I. bill, immigrants on Pell grants, and 25 year olds who can stay in school now because Obamacare lets them stay on their parents’ insurance for another year. This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do with my degrees. I won’t ever get rich off it, and it probably won’t ever pay off my own student loans. But I am no victim, and neither are my students. We are the next in line of long generations who wedged a foot in the door of this country and waited for their children to pry it open a little wider. There’s more than a little light getting through the space we’ve made in that doorway now, and I bring my boys, my exhausted, cold, hungry, good boys, to these events even if they’ll never remember it. Because I need to show them what I believe. That we are none of us able to to open that door all the way in one try, in one generation. But we’re nearly there now, and I want them to look behind when they go striding through, and remember to grasp the hand of the stranger running to catch up. Born Americans, but bred Democrats.

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…he’s going to fill it with urine and leave it on his bedside table.

Test tubes at the bedside.

I knew this vaguely, but now recognize it as a certainty. After a lab exercise in my biology course last week, I brought home a slew of glass test tubes. Normally, we dispose of these at our college, which I always hate to do, but it’s challenging to fully remove every trace of toxic chemical from the tubes, so I am mostly resigned to it. Last week’s experiment, however, involved only yeast, sugar water and some very poor quality moonshine (in the successful experiments). So, I cleaned the tubes and hauled them home.

The next day, I noticed Malcolm had placed a few of the tubes in a glass jar on his nightstand. Most were empty, but one, I noticed, contained the telltale  yellow, refractile swirl of urine. “What’s this?” I asked him, knowing already. “An experiment,” Malcolm said quietly, eyes downcast. Asking again, I saw him take in a sharp breath, and his face crumpled. “It’s pee,” he sobbed. “I wanted to be a real scientist and take a sample.” All at once, my vision closed in at the edges, and I was no longer seeing only Malcolm, no longer parenting only Malcolm, but myself too, decades ago. The same weirdness, the same tendency to collect oddities, dead animals, bones and scraps of fur, and that alongside the first-born child’s desperate need not to offend, not to anger, not to disappoint the grown-ups. To always be good. My brain rifled through all the possible responses to this situation, trying to find the correct one. The fact is, I am neither surprised nor upset by a tube of urine on a nightstand, and I handed it to Malcolm saying, “Good scientists clean up their lab space after the experiment is done. So please go wash this and put it back with your lab supplies.” So he did.

When this is your mom, you’re probably destined to keep urine filled test tubes by the bed.

I know that there are certain unavoidable things that make first-borns the way they are, and middle children, and babies. I know that birth order is a strong driver of personality–perhaps the strongest. And Malcolm is the first born child of two first borns. That leaves our second son outside our circle, and sometimes we all three look at him with a bewildered mixture of fascination and shock. He’s only three and I have no idea how I will parent him when he’s a teenager. I know that we are unconsciously forming Malcolm into the classic first born and Simon into the classic youngest. But I can’t stop it from happening. So I hope I am at least instilling in Malcolm that it’s ok to do science experiments, and try things without always having approval for them, and that the disapproval of grown-ups is not a soul-crushing event to be seared into his memory. But I remember vividly every teacher or aunt or Girl Scout troop leader who ever reprimanded me since I was four years old, so I know there’s partly no way around it. The best I can do is the best I can do. Try to help Malcolm navigate being a first born, and try to understand Simon somehow. After all, it could very well be the worst Malcolm ever does to keep a scientific specimen. We first borns can be serious, hard-core goody-goodys. Simon, on the other hand, oh, Simon. I cannot begin to imagine the things I will find him collecting over the next 15 years. And only a few are likely to be containable within the walls of a test tube. But I strive. I always strive.

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