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I work with preschoolers. I work in preschool classrooms. 90% of the children I work with on a day-to-day basis are from 3-5 years old.  The few others are either toddlers at the centers and siblings in the homes; or children approaching six as they take an extra year in early intervention.

I understand parents and teachers struggle with when to teach kids proper terminology and anatomy.  I understand that you teach your child to use “breast”, “uterus”, “vagina”, “penis” and “anus” those words may show up as descriptors on a self-portrait he brings home from school, or, worse, a picture of the mother pregnant, with all accompanying labels.  It’s your choice to teach your child “esophagus” and “trachea” or just “throat” at this stage.  But as my mentor is fond of saying about preschoolers, “Too much information sinks the ship of wonder.”  Let them explore light and rainbows and refraction without going into the physics. 

Yet I think there are few people out there who would ardently argue for early exposure to unnecessary evils.  Certainly if a loved one dies, you have to approach the subject of death with compassion.  If children grow up in a neighborhood where they see guns in the home, then the topic can be handled with tact.  But even in the case of the child exposed to too much too soon in the home and neighborhood, let school stay a safe place.  Especially in preschool.

Why then did I see a child watching a youtube video titled “Stick Figures on Crack”?   Regardless of the content, do you want to be the one to explain crack to the precociously early-reading child, or to his parents?  My personal distaste for computers in the preschool classroom aside, if you are committed or obligated to have computers for the children to use, you are also in my view obligated to provide or find age-appropriate games.  Computer game manufacturers are quite adept at providing many early learning games.  Their actual education value I may question, but at least they’re developmentally appropriate.  Many children are adept at surfing a site like www.nickjr.com or www.pbskids.org, and can navigate their way to games starring their favorite characters.  I’m confused why, with such arguablu appropriate and free content on the web, I managed to glance at a screen and see  5 year old playing a bartending game on www.y8.com!  A game, which, I should mention, I now cannot find myself.  Oh, quipped one teacher, they’re not supposed to be on that.  Oh, really.  It’s another teacher’s view that the kids can be on a site that features such games as “Drunken Masters”, “Osama Sissy Fight”, and “Staggy the Boy Scount Slayer II”, not to metion 269 games in the category “Blood”, just as long as a teacher is monitoring them to make sure they find okay games. 

As there may be 18 children in that room, I doubt it makes sense in anyone’s resource book to have 1 teacher dedicated to monitoring computer gaming.  And because that supervision clearly does not happen (or didn’t today), the kids find adult things to play. 

Just as we lock up the cabinets containing cleaners and sharp knives; just as we put on high shelves the breakable materials; just as we do not leave available broken toys with sharp edges, we should not make accessible toys, or games, or websites that may be harmful to the children.  In that carefully controlled environment free of peanuts, can’t we determine what they’re viewing through the computer screen?

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It’s difficult being an insufferable know-it-all.  It’s hard to bite my tongue when I know the right answer.   This was something I struggled with all the way through grad school.   I can remember being in confirmation class in 8th grade and making wildly exaggerated gestures clasping my mouth shut and simultaneously raising my hand, trying not to blurt out the answer.  And yes, to all you teachers out there, I know how annoying that is.  And it’s still something I struggle with in polite conversation.

When it is okay to correct someone, and when is it best to just let it go? 

I had an unfortunate roommate in college – unfortunate, because I chose to room with her.  More tragic because I chose to travel with her, to go backpacking for seven weeks in Western Europe, and I realized how much I disliked her after I’d already committed to this trip.  To be with her 23.5 hours a day.  Among her less-than-stellar features, beyond her diet, which consisted of white bread, cheese, and fruit; and her perpetual post-nasal drip; she possessed the complete and utter inability to resist asserting her perception of The Right Answer.  And unlike how we were taught in debate class, where you’re supposed to back up your answer with some form of evidence, she would just matter-of-factly state, “No.  You’re wrong.”  This complete and total shut-down would leave me shrouded in self-doubt until I could look up my own allegation and quietly stew that I never had guts enough to assert myself to her face. 

“No.  The plural of passerby is passerbies.  You’re wrong.”

“No.  My grandmother bakes the best babka in the world.”

“No.  I can only eat my restricted vegetarian diet because I asserted myself at a very young age as clearly not liking meat.  You’re wrong.”

“No.  My mother said that even though I need only hypo-allergenic products, this one is okay because it’s Israeli.”

“No.  The portrayal of Jenny dying from AIDS in Forrest Gump was not very realistic.  You’re wrong.”

I must backtrack.  There was actually some “proof” offered in the way of “My mother said…” as if she were still arguing at the level of an 8 year old. 

I’d hit up my grammar books, wikipedia, whatever I had in hand.  I’d look up the things that were provable.  And I’d sigh deeply.  Let it go, let it go. 

Yet, when the shoe is on the other foot, and I hear misinformation, I am learning to resist correcting people for many reasons.  In the company of others, it makes one look foolish, to be pointed out as wrong.  If it’s not really important (like one road being more expedient than the other when there’s no deadline at stake), I’m trying to just let it go.  No one likes to be corrected.  Though a little piece of me dies when I hear people invent words like “independency” and pronounce “tortilla” like “tortilia”, I leave it alone, I bring it home, and I vent to Mr. Apron.  It’s not really important, unless it’s in a document with my name on it, like an IEP.  Then I’ll surreptitiously make the changes to reflect my command of the written English language, and we’ll all move on with life. 

But Mr. Apron’s not home tonight.  He’s at another rehearsal, and I can’t complain to him in person. 

A coworker, whom I have respect for on a person and professional level, has now twice said things I have had to hold my tongue about.  Stupid little things.  Things I’ve had to come home and google, because I just knew they weren’t right. 

It’s the time of year for Girl Scout cookies, those magical confections whose limited availability makes them so desirable!  They are pretty much the only cookie I will buy, besides Newman O’s, which are vastly superior to Oreos in every way.  All other cookies in my home came out of my oven or my mother’s.  But oh those Girl Scout cookies, with their funny names and delicious transfats!  Mmm…When I moved to Eastern Pennsylvania, I discovered that the cookies I’d known as Samoas in my childhood were suddenly Caramel deLites, that Trefoils were suddenly shortbreads, and that Tagalongs were Peanut Butter Patties.  Being a traditionalist, I balked.  But finally last year, after living here for six years in cool defiance to the different names, I looked it up.  Ah, wikipedia, though hast informed me thus: beyond merely a “regional” difference, each tribe/sect of Girl Sprouts buys their cookies from one of two suppliers: ABC Bakers, or Little Brownie Bakers (also a subsidiary of Keebler, and, thus, Kellogg). Each supplier uses different names, except for Thin Mints, which are universally called Thin Mints, instead of Skinny Minties, or Chocolato Minto or Lakotas.  All my life, I’d apparently been eating Little Brown Baker cookies, and not known it.  Suddenly, I found myself in the heart of ABC Baker country, and here I shall remain, though stubbornly refusing to call Samoas anything but Samoas.  

Well, my coworker came along today and somehow we were talking about Samoas, and she mentioned that they’re “now” called Caramel deLites.  So, having discovered this pertinent information last year, I of course mentioned that the names are regional.  Oh, no, she countered, the name was considered offensive and thus recently changed.  This sounded to me like an urban legend because “Samoa” and “Tagalong” sound like American Indian names and would have had to be changed due to conflict which suddenly surfaced in 2010.  Well, first of all, the language is Tagalog, not Tagalong, and I’ve not yet heard of any PC group of Samoans rebelling against the Girl Sprouts.  Sounds like there’d be a snopes entry about it…but it’s only mentioned in passing. 

I let it pass with my coworker, but you heard it here; I’m setting the record straight.

Some months ago, we were talking about the phenomenon of old sneakers being slung over telephone wires.  I had had this same discussion years ago with my sister, who insisted it was a way of drug dealers marking where they lived, or what their turf was.  Something like that.  Because I’m not afraid to oppose my sister, I challenged her, asking how, if the drug users were using the sneakers to find drug dealers, couldn’t the cops do the same exact thing?  After my coworker asserted that sneakers definitively marked drug dealers, I went home and put it to the snopes test, because it just didn’t make sense that some suburban kids would have figured this out before police caught on and shut them down.  Lo and behold – it’s one of those eternal urban mysteries. 

I guess I’m in pursuit of bigger fish that just winning an argument, especially if it means I would have to admit to doing research on Girl Scout cookies and old sneakers.  My brother likes to argue, but mostly he just loves to be right.  If he senses he’s about to lose the upper-hand, he resorts to the change-the-topic tactics of repeating one word or phrase over and over again.  Because you just can’t argue (and thus, win the discussion) with a man saying “Milkshake”.

As for me, I’m a tracker of the truth, a verifier of facts, and I mostly keep it to myself.  Or my husband, who will bolster me with affirming statements like, “Of course you were right!” and “How dare she think that!”  and “Why we just looked that up last night!”  Because when I’m not fixing the spelling on his blog posts, that’s what husbands are for.

When Mr. Apron and I arrived home from rehearsal tonight, it was like a treasure hunt.  My father is spending the night before heading home tomorrow.  We’re hoping he can help us (i.e., do it all himself) hang up the cabinet that’s been earmarked for holding DVDs for a year now.  My dad made me this cabinet for my 8th birthday, when I asked for a simple shelf to hold my books.  He drafted and created a beautiful cabinet precisely the right depth for the paperback books I was voraciously devouring.  He asked a friend to sketch the arches that frame the top and bottom of the cabinet, and he cut and routered them himself.  And then presented it to me for my birthday.  Years later, of course, we would like to hang it in our first home, and wouldn’t you know! The depth of a paperback Babysitters’ Club book is the same as a DVD of “The Royal Tenenbaums”. 

So Daddie is visiting briefly, spending the night, and we left him at home this evening while we went to rehearsal.  Upon returning, the game began.  What myriad things has he upended?  What is amiss, awry, askew?  You see, my father is the quintessential absent-minded professor.  Clinically, we can call it ADD.  I handed him the Tupperware of leftovers, stating, “Can you throw this in the fridge?”  Well, we stand there talking, and he, paying no mind to the container in his hand, sets the pasta on the counter.  So any hope of specific instructions being heeded is a crapshoot.  You have to get his undivided attention for any and all tasks.  I understand my mother’s frustration at feeling she has to constantly clean up after him and the things he just doesn’t notice. 

We entered our house at 10:06pm.  No sign of Daddie.  Must be asleep after a late night last night and a long drive today.  Found the heat cranked up to near 70 degrees.  Found a drinking glass had migrated upstairs to the bathroom.  Found the ceiling fan spinning manically in the kitchen.  Found the basement door ajar.  Found a sock of his in the dryer.  I can address each of these mysteries, and follow his path through our home.

Behold, my forensic musings:

He actually not only flipped his laundry to the dryer, but also retrieved it 40 minutes later.  This is progress from Mr. Apron’s and my usual neglect of clean clothing for 17 hours.  The lone sock simply escaped his cursory glance into the dark recesses of the dryer.  The basement door he did try to close, but clicked the lock before it was latched.  Upon leaving the kitchen he reached up to turn off the light by its cord instead of at the wall switch, and turned on the fan.  Then he grabbed a drinking glass and marched upstairs to bed.  But not before finding the thermostat and cranking it up to compensate for his complete lack of body fat.  My father is 5’6” and weighs maybe 130lbs.  Maybe.  And so we have Daddie’s trail accounted for.

But the one thing I did ask him to do – remove his shoes to keep the salt and muck off the floors – he did do.  Even Daddie, in his absent-minded stumbling through our house, can do what I need him to, if I only bother to ask. 

Too often at my parents’ house, the assumptions rule the roost.  While some people might see us loading the dishwasher and assume that dishes after a meal automatically go there, others might not.  Some might see a pile of shoes by the door and courteously remove their own.  Others just tromp on through, oblivious.  My mother often finds herself trailing after us, correcting, fixing, muttering, but rarely states an expectation outright.  With occasional guests, maybe this is okay, but they’ve had several foreign exchange students who are remembered not for their cultural contributions to the family, but for their lack of courtesy, not because they were inherently rude people, but because expectations were not laid down explicitly from the beginning.  No one said to Jonathan, “When you need soap for your shower, just ask me.”  (Don’t steal my daughter’s expensive facial soap.) No one said to Daniel, “You’re out quite a few nights each week.  We’d like to have you home more.”  (Instead of just stewing as he stayed out night after night).  No one said to Manuel, “If you’d like to have a party, go ahead (or don’t!), but please note we don’t allow food in the living room.”

I remember as a small child, showing the house to prospective house sitters or nannies.  As a little hostess, I made sure to tell them always to put their pillows and shoes in the closet each morning, lest Amy the fox terrier/whippet mix chew the aforementioned to shreds.  You have to tell people from the outset, lest you set them up for failure.  And ruined leather.  Mom’s one attempt has been an unending series of reminder notes taped to walls, doors, shelves signed “The Management” that always left my friends wondering if I lived in a boarding house

My sister and husband and I stayed up till 3am last night, chatting away as if we were all still silly undergrads.  We cried, we laughed.  We talked about everything, from our parents’ marriage to our relationships with our mom and the piles of crap/gifts she’s always bearing; to what demographic would watch the reality show starring our family, and whether it would be a prime-time sit-com, or a late-night reality show.  Or an A&E special.  Shudder.  She complained my mother hadn’t removed her shoes when she came into my sister’s apartment, despite the pile of boots by the door.  We all agreed how important it is to tell guests in your home (or children, or spouses) what you need them to do.

Mr. Apron’s theatre professor told him that he needed to learn to “ask for what you want, in a non-judgmental way” and let people deal with their own emotional fallout.  I think she was talking about bigger things, like, “I need to have alone time with my vibrator every Sunday night” or “I would like you to be home more evenings during the week,” but it applies to simple things as well, like, “Can you please fold the towels like this?  When you fold them like that, I end up refolding them anyway.” 

When Daddie and my brother (also with the absent-minded tendency, except with a bent towards not having a clue about other people’s feelings) moved me into my first apartment, they stuck around for a few days to “help”.  “Helping” included locking me in the house while they took all the keys to the locksmith.  “Helping” included constantly leaving all the cupboard doors open for me to whack my head on and using paper towels at an alarming rate.  And expecting to be congratulated for their “help”.  So I ran around slamming cupboard doors angrily and hiding the other rolls of paper towels, frantically searching for cloth hand towels.  Stupid, stupid little things.  But my first space all to myself, and I was pissed off. 

The end result: I came off as a hysterical female obsessed with bullshit, and they never had a clue what they did wrong.  Maybe it would have taken a couple of repetitions in a calm, impassive voice, but they might have figured it out.  If only I had asked for what I needed. 

Here’s what I’d say if Daddie weren’t packing up tomorrow and heading back to become my mother’s responsibility again: 

  • Please turn the kitchen light off using this switch on the wall. 
  • Please keep the thermostat at 60 degrees.  If you want another blanket, they’re on this shelf in the basement. 
  • I keep paper cups in the bathroom closet right here.  Please use them when you’re brushing your teeth. 
  • The basement door is a tight fit.  Try to lock it so Finley doesn’t go down there and host sexy parties. 
  • Here’s your sock.  You left it in the dryer.

Yesterday, on my most delicious and probably gratuitous snow day, I completed some much-needed errands.  The main roads were clear enough to feel safe, and the smaller neighborhood streets still haven’t been cleared, even on the snow day.  And, of course, in anticipation of tomorrow’s blizzard, schools have been closed preemptively.  Huzzah!!

After dropping off some library books, and cursing to myself as I realized the DVD I borrowed from the library and was preparing to return was not actually its case, I drove down to the tiny dance shop in the anonymous strip mall nearby and I purchased character shoes. 

Character shoes were first described to me as “heels, but more comfortable,” so I thought there was some advanced technology in them, like cushioned springs, or optical illusions to make the wearer seem taller.  I wondered, if they were so comfortable, why weren’t all heels made in their model?  Turns out, they’re merely cushiony leather-soled shoes for dancing.  But now I have a pair! 

I didn’t have a pair last fall for my last play, so I made do with an $8.00 pair of what I call “China flats” which I purchased in high school for the plays I was in back then.  They’re essentially black cotton Mary Janes with a completely flat sole.  No arch support, no frills.  And they worked just fine for my black costume in the fall, but I felt a bit foolish as everyone else strapped on their Real Theatre Shoes.  And now, into my second play, with actual time to run to the dance store on a snow day, I finally bit the bullet.  For $36, I have purchased legitimacy with ankle straps. 

I have a hesitancy in making certain purchases, not that $36 was so expensive for a pair of shoes, not that I couldn’t justify buying them, not that I don’t absolutely love shoes and theatre, and the marriage of the two in Theatre Shoes, but I put it off.  I could have had a great excuse in the fall to buy black character shoes, and then I’d get to buy tan ones now!  I could have been the proud owner of two pairs, but I waited. 

I do this sometimes.  I wait.  I see if I can make do without.  It’s not an experiment in anti-consumerism.  It’s not a yearlong blog project to see how many theatrical costumes I can create from my extant wardrobe.  It’s not even a spousal mandate to stop hogging closet space with all my footwear.  I just wait sometimes, to see if I’m really going to enjoy the new activity I’m starting, if it’s really something I’m going to continue, if it’s something for which I should actually invest in the paraphernalia. And then I make the plunge. 

Otherwise, I think we’d end up with the proverbial sporting goods closet full of equipment for things tried once or twice.  Mr. Apron’s father and grandfather tried in vain to interest him in a sport, running the gambit from real sports like soccer and baseball, on through to tennis, roller-skating, and even the marginal “sport” of golf.  As a result, there are racquets, clubs, a white leather glove, and who-knows-what else in his parents’ basement, serving as souvenirs of good intentions.  I don’t want to live amongst the trappings of aborted ventures serving to remind me of my failures.  It’s bad enough to live with equipment I don’t use as much as I’d like – my skis, my snowboard, our bicycles – or things I used to use, but haven’t touched in ages – my bassoon, my clarinet.  And then there’s all the yarn I have squirreled away from my botched attempt into the world of knitting. 

So I want to make sure I’m really going to use the new things I bring home. 

I’m also hopelessly cheap.  I mean, frugal.  Cheap is what my grandfather was, for not ever changing the spark plugs in his Lincoln and driving across the country to my parents’ wedding, necessitating that my father, the soon-to-be groom, undertake that deed before he let them try to drive home.  Frugal is very in vogue now.  Yes, I’m frugal. 

Way back when I apparently began this trend all the recessionistas are now bandwagoning, I was a frugal high school student nerdily plodding my way through, among other things, honors math classes.  Though the teachers always stated which kind of calculator was mandatory, most kids acquired the Texas Instruments graphing calculators (“nice, but not necessary” we were told) early on, until, in senior year, I was the only one in honors calculus left with merely a scientific calculator (price tag: ~$20, as opposed to the $90 TI-84).  And I made do, I got away with it.  Though my parents could have afforded the pricier toy, and would have bought it for me if I said I “needed it” (they bought one for my younger brother), I felt it was unnecessary.  Sure, I never got to play Frogger or the drug dealing game many people had on their calculators.  I never programmed the quadratic formula in for a little “help” on test day.  No one knew the full extent of what those things could do.  They were a little intimidating.  And I didn’t need one. 

Made it through college calc without one, too.  I’m kind of proud about that, actually.  I’m even a little smug. 

But I think I do want to wear my new shoes as I embark on what will hopefully be an enjoyable run in the world of community theatre.  Fortunately, in the world of community theatre, the price of “fitting in” is only $36.

As it is with other obligations, I forget all the time-consuming annoying, beat-your-head-against-the-wall, why-did-I-agree-to-this parts when I audition for a play.  And after last fall’s rousing success, and the immediate performance high that followed, Mr. Apron and I are once again gracing the stage in community theatre.  He is again starring in a leading role, and I have again joined the ensemble.  This time the women’s chorus numbers not 16, but 6, so I’m a little less hidden by the stronger voices, but a little more confident because I’ve done this before.

Unfortunately, our current “director” has made it clear to us her strength is not choreography.  Nor would it seem to be singing, which is okay, because our musical director is a heavy-set gay man who manages to work his name into warm-ups, and I appreciate that bit of egotism in a man who is simultaneously cuing us and playing the piano.  However, I have yet to discover what is our director’s particular talent, as she seems, on the whole, not only to be good at nothing directorial, but also makes nothing much in the way of contributions to the play whatsoever. 

On the first rehearsal where we were on our feet, where she said we were going to be blocking, she spent an hour positioning us for the Act I finale like little dollies at a tea party.  Except that was the extent of the blocking.  And it was clear she hadn’t thought this out in advance, not even to practice with her dollies at home, because she was having untoward difficulties balancing the numbers on stage right and stage left.  Lots of mumbling to herself, lots of mumbling at her heretofore impotent and silent husband.  I’m not sure what he’s doing there, either.  And then, when she was satisfied with our positions, she had to write them down, making it absolutely clear there was no forethought whatsoever.  

Other times she has herded us all offstage into a back hallway from which we would try to make an entrance, only to try to give us direction, which we of course cannot hear, being squashed one up against each other in the religious school classrooms of the church we rent space from.  “Now, I just want to see if this will work.  Can you, um, skip in, and you walk up there?”  And she’s greeted by a host of blank looks, because we are now barricaded backstage awaiting something resembling direction and can’t hear her.

And then there’s her famous Stand and Sing, where she tell us to gesture with our right and left arms almost as if leading in the Macarena, and then tells us nothing more, leaving us standing stock still as if we’re the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, who I’m sure were given more direction on how to hold their hands than we were. 

For a while, those of us who are accustomed to being directed stood there uncomfortably as she “blocked” another scene, hoping that the awkwardness we felt was emanating from the stage, and that eventually she would tell us what to do besides stand there and sing about joyful things while our bodies screamed, “I am not joyful.  Leave me alone.”  Maybe she would get the message.

One night while again being herded into the back hallway to look at the posters of “How we can help the Earth”, the women’s chorus began a revolt.  It started innocently enough, some whispers of discontent, some bitching about how dumb we’re going to feel in front of our friends and family, assuming we even invite them to the show.  Then it evolved into a mutiny.  While having the entire women’s chorus quit would have sent the desired message that the play, thus far, was so sucktastic we couldn’t take part, we chose a different type of revolution.  We decided to meet early before the next rehearsal, brainstorm our own choreography, and present it to Madame Un-director as little bits of support.  As supplements.  As mere ideas.  We didn’t think she’d be offended if we presented it in the right way, as “help”, not as coup. 

And she’s such a pushover with so few real ideas, she went for it immediately.  Now here’s one of those situations where picking up the slack for someone else’s laissez-faire attitude might not teach her to pull her own weight, but, since we’re the ones on stage, it’s going to save our own asses.  That kind of compensation, I’m all for.  I like my ass, and I’d like not to embarrass myself on stage by standing there, hands locked in choral pose, singing through dancing music.   And, what’s more, I can learn from her mistakes, and never again sign up to do a show she’s involved with.

There are subtle ways Madame Un-director tries to exert, if not her outright influence, then at least her power over us.  She lets us know she will grace the program as director even if we know she’s a joke.  She has told several people to “cheat out”, which seems to be her only bit of theatrical jargon, and her only real feedback.  Last night after the chorus had learned the new choreography and had run through the opening number, (with music!) and it actually didn’t suck, and I actually almost felt we might have a show, she let us know that when we, the women, turn over our shoulders and “talk” to the men behind us, she’s losing our faces, and, thus, our voices.  In a theatre of 75 seats, that’s actually a church social hall.  Oh, thank you for your single piece of input on a number we have taken from awful to enjoyable!   She also made the bold move of taking a script out of an actor’s hands while he was on stage, because we’re supposed to be off book.  Though, as Mr. Apron later told me, she tried that particular assertion twice, and chickened out the first time, returning to her folding chair without his script. 

 If she needs to feel important, or powerful, or in control when she tells us to “cheat out”, or arranges us like pawns on a chess board, or by timidly ripping scripts out of people’s hands, then so be it.  If that helps her feel like a director while we undermine her by blocking and choreographing while she’s on the phone, then it all works out. 

It’ll all be okay in the end, I know.  We’ll keep working on choreography surreptitiously to avoid embarrassment, and the slack-asses on stage will learn their lines eventually.  Our friends and family will come, and while there won’t be a curtain per-se, that will rise and fall, we’ll be back in the bright lights, on stage together.  As Mr. Apron said last night, by the first week of April we might really have a show.  Too bad we open February 26.   

On Martin Luther King Day, a gloriously sunny day in January, Mr. Apron had to work, so I ran errands.  We’d been talking about joining a gym, as a way to fight the post-work, mid-Winter blahs, as well as the softening of our formerly rock-hand physiques.  But seriously.  After a quick trip to the ACME for the requisite Caffeine Free Diet Coke, I realized that LA Fitness was in the same shopping center, so I started walking over there, intending to get a monthly fee schedule, and bring it home to talk over with Mr. Apron. As I walked over, I happened to pass Lucille Roberts, so I stopped in and did the same there.  Of course, it’s never so simple as to have a membership fee schedule on a piece of paper, and collect information like so many other scouting missions for comparing prices on Smart Wool socks, or cell phone plans, or soy milk. 

Of course I had to fill out an information card, disclosing my height, weight, how much weight I wanted to lose (note that it was not a Yes/No, as in “Do you want to lose weight?” but, as a women looking into a women’s gym in January, it was presupposed that the primary reason I would join was to lose weight.  But that’s another blog post.), and which areas of my flabby female form I wanted to target.  I filled it out, then, because my tour guide couldn’t be bothered to read it, had to respond as she asked me the exact same questions.  Like going to the doctor’s office.  Jeez.  I finally disclosed that the major drawback to Lucille Roberts was that Mr. Apron could not work out with me.  So, in spite of their One Day Only Free Registration Special, I left. 

Guess who else was having a One Day Only Special?  LA Fitness came highly recommended by a friend who spends all waking, non-working hours there.  And maintains the body of a 17 year old even as she approaches 33.  Of course, I knew I had to endure the rigmarole of waiting for a “Membership Asshole” named Andrew to give me a tour, take down my blood-type, and ask for collateral in the form of my unborn children.  So I tried.  I declined the offer of the swimming pool tour, citing my distaste for, and strong unlikelihood of using, said object.   I was patient as Andrew showed me the group classrooms, politely cutting him off at the pass as he was about to tell me at length about treadmills, but finally, as he started in about the mahogany lockers, I cut to the chase.  Tell me how much it’ll be, I asked, and we can all go on our merry ways.  Oh, well, wouldn’t you know it, they were having a one-day only sale!  Instead of $149 to join, it would be $125; or $75 instead of $99, and the monthly rates were discounted, too!  Instead of $44.99, it would be $29.99, or (if I chose the lower initiation fee), instead of $49.99, it would be $34.99.  Truly amazing.  I was almost fooled.  Especially when he started in on how my spouse’s initiation fee would be waived, but only if I signed up now.  See, I had up to 3 days to add him, but I had to join today.  Again, I said thank you, and I’d go home and discuss it with Mr. Apron, and we still had till midnight, so good bye.

We discussed it, and felt that we might join the locally owned independent gym instead, as there seemed to be less pressure on the membership front, it was closer in location, and seemed altogether more hamish.

So I let midnight pass.  If only it were over with the big chains.  Lucille Roberts proceeded to text message me every day, and LA Fitness called every day. 

I received such gems as, “Hey check this out!  Lucille Roberts is giving away FREE registration! You don’t want to miss out!  Call the now at XXX-XXX-XXXX.  Also FREE gift with phone orders.” And “This is BIG!  They are giving ½ off registration @ Lucille Roberts TODAY ONLY!  Don’t miss out!” etc.  and then, my favorite: “Your not going to believe this.  Lucille Roberts is having a huge ONE DAY SALE!  Get FREE registration TODAY ONLY!” etc.  Uh huh.  One day only.  What exactly are you paying for when you give them a $40 registration fee?  And how much of a bargain is it over the course of a year to save $40?  I think the whole registration fee is designed to be put on sale, so you think it’s a bargain and join TODAY.  ONLY.  FREE.  SALE.  WOMEN.  LOSE WEIGHT.  YOU”RE FAT. 

And LA Fitness called daily. Luckily, I spied the 664 exchange on their various lines and immediately rejected incoming calls.  I put off calling and telling them to quit calling me for several days, wondering how long the harrassment would continue.  Once, when I made the mistake of looking at a car when I had no intention of buying, the dealer send me a letter every week for 6 weeks, imploring my business.  Finally, Mr. Apron appealed to me to call off the gym membership hounds.  I called,  I yelled, I was terse.  They both assured me it would be done.  I wouldn’t have given my real phone number if I hadn’t intended to join a gym.  The incessant harrassment soured me on both places, and may have actually caused me to bail.   Years ago, my mother memorized the phone number for the local federal prison, and she used to give that as her phone number.  Mr. Apron gave out the phone number of his ambulance company, both when he was an employee, and after he left. 

So you’d think it would be over, this lesson.  That I would be happily pumping iron in the next town over, that I would have learned my lesson to always give a fake phone number if I had any doubts in my mind about what I wanted to do. 

And then, this morning, I received this:

“La Fitness Snow specials — 0 registration/35 monthly for this location only!!!  Pay first and last month to join.  That’s it and TODAY ONLY!!!!!”

I think I should call the exclamation point police on them.

It’s so hard to talk about work.  There’s the intentional vagueness, the fear of being identifiable, or identified, the desire to at once expose the daily insanity and yet still keep my job at the end of the day.  I try.  For my own sanity, I try.

Changes are afoot at work, and responsibilities are being shifted around.  Certain positions have been, shall we say, outsourced, so we’re all struggling to put the pieces back together and fill in the blanks left by those essential players on our team.  While the parent agency feels the important duties have been re-delegated appropriately, they have not.  Other parts of the job have been abandoned as non-essential, or they took on a wait-and-see approach — we’ll just wait and see if/who picks them up.  Yesterday at an IEP meeting, we finally found out.  No one did.  We sat across the table from the person who is supposed to have taken over the bulk of the responsibilities and listened as she told us it was on our shoulders.  And then we exchanged a few words.  Which is very responsible to be doing in front of a parent.

“Where’s the folder you guys always prepare?”

“Um, the woman who did that is no longer here.  We though it would be your job now.”

“No, if it’s going to be done, it would be you guys.”

Awesome.  And the shit hit the fan.  Which leads me to the bigger point.  On the continuum of slack-picking-up, where do I lie?  I noticed last year, when we were short another speech pathologist at my old center, my caseload seemed to grow and grow.  They weren’t any closer to hiring anyone else, and yet angry parents whose children weren’t receiving services due to our shortage were being placated so they wouldn’t sue.  Placated by having Junior assigned to my caseload.  Which grew.  And grew.  Beyond recommendations for a center-based speech pathologist of any experience, let alone a first-year clinical fellow.  In 3 days of center-based treatment per week, my caseload maxed out at 38 children.  It is recommended that a caseload for a center-based clinician not exceed 50 children per week, or 10 per day, or 30 in my 3 days.  Oops.  And who picked up the slack?  Me.  Who prepared for 100% of the scheduled IEPs despite being on campus 60% of the time?  Me.  And why did I do it?  Because I felt the children needed to be seen.  I didn’t want to punish them for the lack of speech therapists.

Imagine my intense jealousy when I found out they now have 8 days of speech therapists assigned to the same caseload I was drowning under in 3 days.  Well, I guess the new hires finally came through. Grrr.

And now, at my new center, we’re seeing the thousand little jobs our former coworker did, and we’re all wondering who is going to do them.  If we all pick up the slack, and take on things that aren’t in our job description, then the center may run smoothly, and we’ll feel her absence less keenly.  On the other hand, if we stand by and let the pieces fall where they may, it will hopefully send a message to the parent agency that we cannot do this by ourselves.  We need the support system we used to have.

I’m all for working together to make the best of what we have.  But what if what we have is not enough?

Wednesdays at 11:40am are my regularly scheduled time with Ryan. Before I leave my car, I carefully switch my heavy Pendleton wool winter coat for a lighter, machine-washable variety, in preparation for entering the dark, dank, smoky row-home Ryan lives in with his mother, his grandparents, his sisters, and assorted aunts/cousins. I can’t keep track of who exactly lives there, but there are always people coming and going and sleeping on the couch during my sessions.

While I’ve asked that no one light up when I’m actually in the home, the smell permeates all the surfaces — the carpet, the couch, my clothing, my skin, my hair. I get regular migraines on Wednesdays from being in this house for an hour. And I take regular showers on Wednesday nights. Last week, it was too cold to switch my coats, and I’ve been waiting a week for the smell in my coat and scarf to become manageable where I can wear it again.

I very much dislike going in that home. I sit on the nasty carpet in the room designated by the builder as the “dining room”, though I’ve never seen anything in it resembling a table and chair. More usually, I see various sizes of bicycles and toy-motorcycles stacked against a wall, an open box of wrenches, and a chest freezer. I block out the sound of the ever-present television and try to do therapy with Ryan and his little sister. She’s not on my caseload, but she wants desperately to have my attention and she’s a really hard worker with her speech, which is probably delayed, though not as severely as her brother’s. At the very least, she models speech sounds for Ryan and provides opportunities for taking turns with materials.

Despite my agency’s insistence (and mine at my interview) that I can do therapy with a spoon and a box, and that I should do therapy in the “natural environment” within the family’s “routines”, I bring toys into this home, because I have not seen any there. I bring books and I bring bubbles. I bring fishing games and play-dough. I bring blocks and puzzles. And I play with those kids.

Ryan is challenging to work with in his own right. He acts out and while I’m reasoning with him to sit back down, and using strategies I’ve developed, I hear his grand-mom piping up in the other room threatening to “beat his butt”. Then his mischievous eyes turn soft and he pleads with me “not to tell mom-mom”. It’s hard to use my own approach of logical consequences such as not bringing back certain troublesome toys, and laying out my expectations at the outset of each session, when it seems he’s accustomed to responding only to threats (and I’m sure, follow-though) of physical violence. He fears his mom-mom, and nothing short of her voice inspires him to stop climbing on the bikes and sit back down on that filthy carpet with me.

On top of that, his speech is a mess. He has articulation delays, and he also is showing signs of stuttering. The articulation I’ve been targeting since I started working with Ryan, but his progress is slow. We’ve worked on /l/ and /sh/, sounds he can kind of make. However, he has been unable, despite my multiple attempts and support, regardless of my strategies and tricks, to make a /k/ or a /g/ sound. These are a class of sounds that can be very hard to teach, because a kid can’t “see” when you demonstrate. It involves the back of the tongue making contact with the back of the palate, and most kids who need to work on /k/ and /g/ product them as /t/ and /d/, using the front of the tongue instead. In Ryan’s case, it’s the error impacting his intelligibility the most. If he could make /k/ and /g/, it would get him the most “bang for his buck”. And it might get me out of that house sooner rather than later.

Today, I resolved to do something I’d been trying not to do. I bought a bag of Dum-dums from the drug store, and used them in therapy. Not as a bribe, mind you, but actually for working on /k/. This is a strategy my supervisor in my preschool clinical placement in grad school showed me. Try it if you have clean hands or a spoon or a lollipop handy. If you push down the tip/front of the tongue and even try to make a /t/, you’re forced into making a /k/, since the back of your tongue humps up instead. It was kind of magical the first time I heard that melodious /k/ sound. So Ryan made his first “crashing sounds” today, as I call /k/ sounds.

The reason I didn’t want to bring in the candy is many fold. I really dislike using food in therapy as a bribe, and though I knew that wasn’t the purpose, I was worried Ryan and his family would view it as such. Food has long been used as a “motivator” (reward) in therapy, to work with children who are motivated by very little, but who would cross the desert for a cheese doodle. Though I’ve doled out endless Goldfish crackers and bites of food during therapy, I don’t like the message it sends to children who ought to be able to work for stickers and high-fives. And Ryan is one such child.

But if it works? Should I worry about giving out sugar at 11:40am? Should I worry that it makes me into the Candy Lady? Should I worry about the precedent it’s setting? It’s only supposed to be used to stimulate /k/ sound until a kid can do it with less support, but will he end up relying on it to get the sugar rush? Am I thinking too much?

I will go back to the office and raid the cupboards for flavored tongue depressors, the more P.C. tool for the same purpose of pushing down the front of the tongue. I will hope Ryan is as motivated by artificial grape flavored wood as he was by the sugar on a stick, and I will keep trying. I’m never just working on speech, no matter what the IEP says.

My clinical supervisor once told me that, when it seems I’m working on too much “big picture” development, or focusing too much on non-“speech”-seeming targets, to remember that my job as a preschool speech therapist is also to take a malleable, impressionable, wild child, and send him off to kindergarten as a little human being. When we’re talking about making therapy functional, molding human beings seems a lofty yet important goal. One that, if I need lollipops to achieve, then so be it.