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I just came home from the park where I almost lost both our dogs.  Because I am an idiot, I let them off their leashes.  The older dog is emotionally needy, and has never strayed farther than we can see him.  The younger dog I just let off her leash for the first time yesterday, after experiencing a surge of guilt that we never let her expend all her energy.  She is a beautiful thing to behold at full-speech; that is, when she’s running towards you.  Grace, elegance, speed: like a fox.  When she’s running away, darting across creeks ion pursuit of squirrels at full tilt, she’s terrifying.  I’d been working yesterday on reinforcing her returns to me with abundant training treats.  I thought she had it.  She came back to me 6 or 7 times yesterday to copious verbal praise and edible treats.  Today—she didn’t come back at all.  When realized this might go to the edge of the woods, and the end of daylight, I ran back to the other dog, who was nowhere to be seen, but who, faithfully, came running at the mention of his name.  I love that dog more.  She, however, was hot on the trail of some phantom squirrel, and it was only when she tumbled down the steep incline she’d mounted in pursuit of him that I body slammed her into the hill.  I dragged her back to her leash, having learned my lesson.  I just tried to do right by her, by letting her off-leash.  We are hoping that when we can walk her nicely on the leash (another issue) we’ll be able to tolerate taking her on longer walks.  Until then, she’s an energy demon at home, and we have to keep her crated when we’re not home lest she destroy the house. 

Friday, we took the pups to the tennis courts, a nice, enclosed perimeter.  Unfortunately, this weekend was Asian Tennis Court Monopolizing Open.  I hope that dog trainer calls me back soon, before I really lose it.

My in-laws (FIL, SIL, and MIL) came over to see our new kitchen flooring, which is pretty much done.  All the important parts are in place, and it just needs some vinyl trim and sill plates to be 100% finished.  They wanted to see the gorgeous cork flooring we’d bragged about.  I tried to occupy the dogs by feeding them peanut butter Kongs before the arrival of the in-laws.   I put Blondie in her crate.  As for Old Man, he loves my in-laws, as my FIL often walks them while we are away.  He would much rather play with them than lick peanut butter out of a rubber cone, so he went in pursuit.  SIL is allergic to dogs; this I do not doubt.  She has come in our house before, to see some other home improvement, and left after feeling allergic, ~7 minutes or so.  This time, as Old Man traipsed into the kitchen, 2 ft ahead of me, she shrieked, “Get him off me!”  My FIL wrangled the arthritic 12-year-old mutt to the floor (“Wash your hands, Daddy.”).  I am not saying she is faking.  I just think the entire family’s reaction to her + dogs is a little out of proportion.  Since allergies can be genetic, let’s also look at the fact that her brother, my husband’s most recent allergy test came back as highly allergic to dogs.  She acts as if one flake of dander or one stray hair will send her into an anaphylactic coma.  Never underestimate fear or hypochondria, my friends. 

On the way home from the park, with two slightly tired dogs, and one beaten-beyond-belief human behind them, we crossed paths with the most anti-social dogs in our neighborhood.  One is a smallish cairn terrier, and one is what looks to be wire-haired fox terrier.  They are both endlessly nasty, as is the old man who walks them.  They do not live on our street, and yet the man insists on regularly walking them down our street, which only incites our usually peaceful friendly dogs to bark their heads off, pull on their leashes, and angle for a fight.  Mr. Apron regularly plays a passive game of chicken, trying avoid walking anywhere near them.  Of course, this is harder when they insist on walking right by our house as Mr. Apron is about to exit the front door.  Then he makes it worse by yelling “shut up” at the dogs and yanking on their leashes. 

At least I called a dog trainer. 

Mr. Apron is working tonight, swing shift, from 3 until 11.  Then he’ll wake up and work at 7am again.  And he worked last night.  It’s awesome for me, too.  On Friday night, I became very melancholy at the prospect of his working weekend, which happens every other weekend.  I’m not so good at being alone, and when I almost lose my canine companions, that makes it worse.  I want him to go this Halloween thing with me and my friend tonight.  I want to curl up on the couch under a blanket with him tonight and watch last week’s Project Runway that we missed because we were out doing awesome things for our (belated) anniversary.  I want to make dinner with him, answer the door with him, and switch to the red corduroy couch covers with him. 

My MIL told him to tell me not to answer the door (to Trick or Treaters) since I’ll be alone tonight.  I said to him, “And I’m going to pretend you didn’t tell me that.”

I guess when you live in abject fear of dogs and Trick or Treaters in a safe suburban neighborhood, you’re never alone.  You’re always accompanied by Fear. 

Maybe I’d rather be alone.  While my in-laws turn off all the lights and huddle in the basement together, afraid of all the cheerleaders, Ironmen, Disney Princesses, and 3-foot-tall skeletons, at least I can hand out the candy I bought expressly for that purpose.

Happy Halloween.

Yes, I did.  I watched the Rocky Horror episode of Glee.  More than that, I planned to watch it.  I rarely plan on watching specific episodes of TV.  I am not good at following a series from week to week, and I often find myself watching shows like Law & Order or Arthur, where the characters are familiar, but you can basically jump in at any point in the narrative.  With most sitcoms, the reassuring fact that everything will be resolved in 22 minutes means I don’t have to follow to be able to follow along.  Along the way, I’ll pick up key reoccurring elements, or plot developments so I can make cultural references that are somewhat on target. (I know it happened when Ross & Rachel were on a break; I know about the Soup Nazi and the Chinese restaurant episodes of Seinfeld.  Well, maybe I’m a decade behind, but I used to know the cultural lexicon…) Still, when a coworker started telling me about Glee, I heard the fantastical plot, and started watching, just to see.

I won’t lie and say I’m hooked.  It’s not a show you watch for the plot.  As a matter of fact, here’s the plot: Hey, we’re in a competition against insurmountable odds.  Wow, we won.  Oh, no!  There’s another competition coming up. And let’s swap boyfriends, just for the hell of it.  Throw in some pregnancy, some OCD, and some thin characters, and that’s basically it.  But I do enjoy the show.  I love watching the staging, hearing the singing, and suspending disbelief in the way we always do when watching anything with the word “musical” in it.  Breaking into song in the library and having a full back-up band, doo-wop girls, and a chorus line?  Bring it.  Dancing on top of chairs in perfect pitch while lifting girls skyward, as you pretend to be a 15 year old in control of his voice?  Right on. 

I guess Glee is supposed to appeal to the musical theatre/pop music nerd in all of us, focus on nerd.  The glee club is supposed to consist of cast-offs from high school, of the socially retarded dregs of teen society, of the losers, the geeks, the gays, and the band-dorks.  I buy it, in some respects.  Take Kurt, the only openly gay guy in school.  Surely he’s an outcast.  Take Rachel, who is routinely ridiculed for dressing like an old lady and is just too much of a goody-goody overachiever even for me.  Surely no one really likes her.  Take Quinn; have a baby in high school and…wait?  What’s she doing back in school?  Where’s the baby?  Oops, I guess I dropped that plot line when I missed the season finale or something.  I’m sure they tied up the loose ends very neatly.

Anyway, for all the progressive messages on homosexuality, acceptance of kids with Down syndrome, and issues of teen pregnancy, I don’t think they did a good enough making it look convincing dorky.  Sure, they talk about joining the Glee club as being social suicide.   Where are the real musical theatre dorks?  Where are the wholly undate-able guys with greasy long hair?  Where are the girls wearing acid-wash jeans?  Where is the outcast who inexplicably wears military fatigues everyday?  The girls who haven’t discovered a hair brush yet?  The guys wearing eyeliner and skulking in the corner?  And even Rachel, who is supposed to be the one who dresses like a frumpy old lady, is wearing designer labels.  Aside from her cardigans, which I’m sure are a dorky affectation, here is my point: I shouldn’t be overhearing middle-schoolers saying, “I just bought the dress Rachel wore on last week’s episode.”  People who are committing “social suicide” are not supposed to be trend-setters for legions of impressionable youth. 

With product placement seeing an explosion (notice people on the screen are now drinking real Coke on TV, and driving real Cadillacs, and sporting real logos?) on television and in movies, it’s no surprise websites like Cool Spotters are springing up.  From their site:  “Coolspotters is an online service that makes it easy to discover and buy the products, brands, and fashions being used by your favorite celebrities – in their real lives, and in movies and television.”

Find that Schiaparelli-inspired H&M Kerchief print sweater that Rachel wore. Or the Anthropologie moth sweater that Emma wore (I want this; you can buy it for me, but not in that pastel teal color).  Or, of course, the lacy Marc Jacobs number Tina the faux-stuttering dork wears to school on a regular basis.  I mean, don’t we all?  What?  You mean musical theater outcasts don’t wear Alexander McQueen to school? 

Just don’t tell Glee.  It’d be too unbelievable.

There’s a book fair going on downstairs in the gym, and I can’t help feeling a bit jealous.  There are so many good books now in the “young adult” genre, and I feel like I totally missed out.  There are authors – good authors – who are devoted to writing for that age group, and I just can’t remember having this kind of selection when I was in middle/high school. 

In middle school, we lived in a small town (pop ~24,000) that had only one library.  While I enjoyed going there as younger child and reading in the bathtub they had propped in the children’s section, it became rather limited as I got into middle school and had devoured all appropriate books in my house.  Case in point – in 6th grade, all the science classes had to do a 3 page report on whales.  In a town with exactly one middle school, that meant every 6th grader in town (minus the few at the Catholic school) was hot on the trail of books about whales.  By the time I managed to get myself to the library (procrastinator I am and was), all the whale books (and I do mean all) had been liberated from the 599.5 shelf, leaving a gaping hole where my research should have been.  In 1992, before computers were anywhere useful enough for research (not even Encarta could help me then), books were the limit, and I was out of luck.

Fortunately, we had connections, of sorts, at the college.  We had a babysitter or a housesitter or a dog walker who was a college student, and I found myself, late one night before the paper was due (remember procrastination?), graciously reaping the benefits of a mediocre college library. 

Beyond my academic pursuits, the local library did not support my leisure reading, which was a shame, as I devoured everything with print I could get my hands on.  I reread cereal boxes until the Cheerios were soggy and had disintegrated in the milk.  I recited billboards as we drove past.  I read warning labels, instruction manuals, recipes, and drug facts.  I was unstoppable, except when it came to age-appropriate literature.  There just wasn’t enough, or I couldn’t find it.

One summer during high school, as we were engaged in precocious pursuits at Harvard Summer School, Jessica, a close friend of mine, upon hearing that I’d never read “Anne of Green Gables,” took it upon herself to make me buy it from a used book store we’d discovered.  She, somehow, despite also growing up in a small town (and so sheltered from such worldliness she didn’t know what FAO Schwartz was! I had things to teach her, too.), had managed to find all the classics.  While Jerry Spinelli and J.K. Rowling had not yet come into the market, folks like Carl Hiassen and Julia Alvarez were still writing only for adults, and the popular graphic novel was in its infancy with “Maus,” there were in fact classics to be had.  I have since gone through most of the Anne of Green Gables series and the Chronicles of Narnia,  and I’m anxiously trying to catch up on my missed adolescence of literature. 

For my wedding, Jessica and a bunch of high school friends banded together to buy us an assortment of books.  Never ones to be traditional and shop the registry, they opted instead to schlep 12 or 15 books across the country.  Is it any surprise she’s become (I’m sure an inspiring and creative) teacher?  Along with the guide to murals in Philadelphia and the requisite home improvement book, we found classics like “The Alchemist” and “A Wind in the Door”.  I had never heard of most of these books, which I’m sure she knew.  Last week, looking for interesting reading for my students, I grabbed my entire young adult section from the shelves at home and brought them into school.  Among the half-dozen books, I selected “A Wind in the Door” to read during some down-time.  I had never heard of “A Wind in the Door,” which is a companion to the more popular “A Wrinkle in Time,” which I also skipped as a child.  Though written in 1973, it’s done with a timeless nod to science fiction, imagination, and the enduring themes of belonging, adapting, and family ties.  I started the book last week, I thought about it all weekend, and this afternoon, I finished devouring it. 

With so much effort being put into newer young adult books, and so much quality in the classics I never knew about, I think they’re worth a second look, or, in my case, a first look. 

Let me know when it’s time to eat dinner.  I may be deep in Narnia, so call before the food gets cold.

When I used to stay up late, in the days before the FCC jumped into the sack with the cable companies, and all my TV’s antenna could handle was the 3 big networks, PBS, Fox, and WB, my late-night programming was severely limited. After reruns at 11:30p of some awful sit-com, it was time for shows like “Blind Date”, “Cheaters”, or “Change of Heart”.  When I couldn’t sleep, “Change of Heart” had just enough appeal to either hold my attention, or put me to sleep.  It was a great show.  On weekends, the pickings were slimmer, as programming was worse.  All I had to choose from were sports games for teams I didn’t care about (who am I kidding?  I don’t care about any teams), Sunday morning talking heads, or infomercials. 

I have a soft-spot for infomercials.  I can do a great Ron Popeil Flavor Injector imitation, Jack Lalane’s virility scares me, and the variety of “fun” exercise equipment inventions is seemingly unending.  I continue to be amazed at the “But if you call right now, we’ll throw in a month’s supply of hemorrhoid cream” tactics and standard infomercial formula.  I am stunned firstly that it works, and secondly, that anyone can watch for more than 5 minutes without wanting to gouge their eyes out or buy up the entire stock. 

I was at an all-day craft fair on Saturday, as a vendor, and by the end, I felt ready to do the same. 

I was trapped in a small room at a community church from 8am to 4pm with two other vendors, a room usually reserved for Sunday school, but which, on Saturday, housed 3 8-foot-long tables, the accompanying vendors, and massive amounts of merchandise.  I was there selling my usual colorful toys, clothing, and bags.  I stayed up way too late Friday night maniacally sewing on sock monkey mouths, using Mr. Apron as slave labor to finish the eyes.  I had a sleepless night about not being prepared, and a rushed morning in which I lamented my lack of sanity no fewer than 37 times. 

I set up, propping my items precariously on an assortment of Clementine crates, baskets, scraps of fabric, and pinned to the corkboard strip on the wall.  I glanced around the room at my “competition”.  To my left was a young mother of two (children to arrive later), selling hand-made cards, decoupaged picture frames, cutesy hair-bows, and mod-podged magnets.  Cute stuff, and different enough from my own that I didn’t feel threatened.  She was relaxed enough that I didn’t feel inadequate or unprofessional, either.  To my right, however, was Mr. Utilikilt and his rainbow aluminum chain maille. 

I watched him all day long, hawking his wares to all who would listen.  I watched him demonstrate his products by wearing them, inflicting them on his girlfriend, and showing off their myriad features.  I heard him talk about his process, his product, his inspiration, his consummation, his 34 different earring designs, his neckties (yes, chain maille neckties – look this guy up!  But don’t tell him I sent you. Seriously.), his custom-orders, his mom, his career history and future aspirations.  I could give the FBI everything they need were they to come looking.  I heard this over and over again, each time someone new would dare to enter our cave of kitsch.  I heard him wheeling and dealing and upselling and discounting.  I saw his product demonstration no fewer than 34 different times.  I heard his explanation of the “Jacob’s ladder effect” of his “optical illusion” 34 times.  I heard his audience’s gasps and coos as they became enlightened.  Thirty-four times.  I heard his promotions and his explications and his offers of custom-designs. 

And, if you could look past the Utilikilt (shock value, of course; he commented on how he’d received no remarks from others about it yet that day) and the greasy long curly hair, what was apparent was that I was trapped in a day-long infomercial.  I felt like one of those people promised “free” cruises, if you can sit through a time-share pitch.  Except that my reward, after 8 hours, was just to leave. 

After watching a standard infomercial, I must say I’ve noted there are several stages in the viewer’s acceptance of the product.  At first, there is Denial – the product can’t work, it’s bunk, this is quackery, a ruse, a joke.  Then, as you sit through 5 different presentations of the same demonstration, you become annoyed, incensed, bored.  This is Anger.  Slowly, you begin to come around, thinking it can’t be all that bad, maybe if you just tried it, it might actually work. This is the beginning of the Buy-In, but you’re still on the fence.  Here’s where the special, limited-time offers come into play.  Buy one, get 16 free; return it if you don’t love it after 30 days (less S&H); if you act now you get a free nose hair trimmer; they’ll even make one payment for you! And now you’re putty in their hands.  Assuming the product does half the thing it claims to, you are officially now a Representative.  You’ll sell this product for them.  You’ll recommend it to friends and family and praise it as the new Gadget Almighty. 

Or you turn off the TV and move on with your life, which is what I usually do before I am completely sold.  On Saturday, however, I couldn’t turn it off.  Mr. Utilikilt kept talking, and kept being there, and kept offering discounts, and kept demonstrating his jewelry.  We all broke down.  First, it was the other vendor in the room and her friend.  They crossed the invisible divide, professing they had to see what all the fuss was about.  Later, as Mr. Utilikilt and his girlfriend went to get some food, I left my post to investigate.  I picked up the bracelet, I tried the “magic,” and I’ll admit – it was cool. 

As my chair gently molded into the shape of my butt, and my eyes glazed over with boredom at the lack of customers, I began to lose my sense of purpose.  Why had Isigned up for this nonsense?  What was I doing in this church, competing with stuffed Christmas trees and paper towel holders (with pockets for hand sanitizer and change, for the car)?  Why was no one buying my irresistible products?  I wasn’t sure of anything, except for one thing:

Mr. Utilikilt is either a fool, or a blasted genius.  His chain maille jewelry is either tacky useless drek, or the next fashion must-have to hit Southeast Pennsylvania.  I hope I don’t miss the trend.  Watch out Silly bandz, your days are numbered. 

Remember, folks, you heard it here first.

Peer pressure a funny thing – what it can make you do, or not do.  Peer pressure is responsible for my brother’s almost normal, borderline Eurotrash, um, fashion stylings.  And I think I prefer this (even with the sun glasses indoors) to his middle school uniform of track pants or sweat suits.  In high school, he suddenly became aware there was more to life than clothing that went swish, and my mother found herself in the GAP, trying, at his insistence, to ease his transition into high school with such novelties as jeans and khakis. 

Peer pressure is also an evil, terrible thing.  I’m not even talking about doing drugs and just saying no, and bullying (wait, maybe a little, but we’ll get to that).  I’m talking about my career research project in 7th grade Home-Ec, or Family & Career Skills, or Home and Consumer Science – whatever they called it in 1993.  In a unit that had us engaging in mock interviews, writing checks, and filling out job applications at McDonald’s, we were of course charged with researching and writing a paper on a career of our choice.  At that point in my life, I wanted to do interior design.  I don’t know where I picked up the idea, but I knew that I loved color and fabric, and that whenever the mood would strike me, I’d rearrange my room.  It’s not just a far leap to interior design.  I still cannot resist, upon entering a friend’s apartment or a house for sale, mentally knocking down walls and rearranging furniture.  Just mentally.  Until I get my jackhammer. 

But as I prepared to make my selection in 7th grade, D.F. also made his choice, and he said interior design, too.  In an era before such things as “Asperger’s” and “social pragmatic language disorder” likely existed, and certainly before they came into vogue, there was D. F., waiting for the psycho-educational specialists to find him.  I think back then society may have referred to him by the derogatory “idiot savant” designation.  He and another student, C. S., had each completed high school math by the end of 8th grade.  Because we lived in a small town, there was barely such a thing as advanced course work, and very little support for the gifted student, so D.F. and C.S. were pretty much self-taught.  They worked their way through textbooks, taking the New York State Regents when they felt they ready, and acing them all along the way.  I’m sure they’re on their way into Fortune 500s and discovering cures for diseases by now. 

But back in 7th grade, they were just awkward, dorky, snivelly, and the only 2 kids who wore their backpacks by both straps.  As soon as the words “interior designer” left D.F.’s lips, I was on the path to becoming something else, anything else.  So I chose to research “teacher”.

Somehow or another, Teacher stayed in my mind.  I think many children must think about being teachers when they grow up, as teachers are the profession they interact with most.  I knew doctor was out, as it took too long.  Lawyer was out, because it seemed incomprehensibly boring, and required you to wear blazers.  The whole idea of “business” remains a mystery to me.  I watch “The Office” occasionally, and while I can now identify with cubicle jokes and staff meeting agony, I still am no closer to understanding the daily jobs of middle management or the work-a-day cubicle-slave.  I just didn’t know about that many other professions, and, besides, I idolized my teachers, keepers of the answer keys and ultimate givers of positive feedback.  When you’re good at school, you kind of want to stay there forever. 

College opened up other worlds to me, but I still couldn’t quite see the correlation between undergraduate majors and the jobs available in the Real World.  Turns out that’s because there isn’t any.  And unless you’re brilliant like my sister, and major in social work, or have relevant skills like my computer science friends do, you’re pretty much lining up for minimum wage jobs, but with B.A. after your name. 

Sadly, I was considered too educated for many of the jobs I applied for.  I say this not to be a snob, but because I was very flatteringly told so, as I applied to job after job after job.  I couldn’t even get a mall job.  And I tried.  I put on my most epic look, and went down to Pacific Sunwear.  I got an initial interview, and never heard back. 

So I started teaching, not because it was my first choice anymore, but because it was there.  I worked at a private school, which is the only place I could work, given that I didn’t have any teacher certification, and I had majored in linguistics.  That’s almost as bad as classics, employment-wise.  I loved working in preschool.  I soaked up all the information my lead teacher/mentor doled out, and used it effortlessly in the classroom.  I loved the campus, I loved the kids, I loved the creativity.  I was still a little petrified on days when I’d sub for the lead, afraid the kids would find out I was a fraud, or not completely a grown-up, or had never taken a course in child development. 

They never asked.  I was lucky in that my mentor took a chance on me, on my interactions with children, on my babysitting and camp counseling experience, on my common-sense approach and my way with words, and my intuitive understanding of the 3- and 4-year-old mind.  Truthfully, though, it was not something I could envision myself doing forever.  Though the job was rewarding, the pay (private school + preschool + assistant + no certification) was abysmal, and I looked into my options. 

Let us forget for a moment my brain surgery, my burgeoning relationship with my then-boyfriend, or the full range of absurd career options my mother was trying to cram into my head. 

Did teaching enter my mind?  Absolutely.  Master’s in Education, certification, etc.  And it all meant graduate school.  Whereas undergrad had meant 4 years of self-indulgence, sleeping in, and selecting courses based on the workload and best schedule, graduate school might actually lead to some employable skills (besides, of course, work avoidance, which I had practically majored in).  

In evaluating my options, I considered my strengths.  I preferred working with kids in small groups.  Though my classroom management skills have become a strength I continue to rely on, I recognized that I didn’t want to spend my career at the front of a class of 25 or 30 school-age kids, or even 18 or 20 preschoolers.  I didn’t want to be the one responsible for teaching all the subjects, at elementary level, or dealing with adolescent drama, in middle and high school.  While preschool is great, and I will frequently profess it is my favorite age, I really wanted to get away from extraneous boogers, toileting, and shoe-tying.  I tell people that the reason I went to graduate school is so I wouldn’t have to change diapers (other than my own children’s). 

It’s not just the actual act of the diaper change, which of course is gross but necessary.  It becomes even less appealing as the kids get older.  Ask me how I know.  But as a speech pathologist, I get the benefit of returning a 5 year old to his classroom and telling the teacher he needs to be changed.  I recognized this power in grad school.

That, and I was terrified of full classrooms of children. 

From time to time, a great idea of a lesson plan or a curricular theme, or even a bulletin board design will invade my brain.  I’ll think of fantastic projects or writing activities I’d love to explore with different age groups.  I’ll think of ways I could improve the layout or decor of any classroom I enter, and I take mental notes upon entering classrooms what ideas I would hypothetically steal for my imaginary class.  When I was working in community-based early intervention, I couldn’t help but think of and suggest ways to improve the environment; it was my job.  I guess Teacher is still wired into my brain on some level. 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to explore that unrequited calling.  Because it was Bullying Awareness Week last week, my school is exploring what the kids know about bullying and using it for several activities.  The speech pathologists were each charged with bringing a planned discussion and activity into several classrooms.  On Wednesday, as I reviewed my lesson plan, a teacher whose class I was to take over asked kindly if he could use that period as a prep to finish his presentation for an upcoming conference.  Translation: I had his kids alone, by myself, without him.  Twice. 

Well, after shitting myself and recoiling from the shock, I steeled myself against the prospect of two 7th grade classes.  And yesterday, I did it. 

I’ll not pretend everything went perfectly according to plan.  Some kids took a “pass” on the independent work altogether, while others dwelled on misremembered amalgams of news stories/internet memes related to bully-instigated suicide.  However, they were all engaged in the activity to some extent, and I made it through without letting on how terrified I really was.  Twice. 

 What’s ironic is that the other class I invaded had even more kids, and their teacher sat idly by at his desk, noodling around on his computer, or perhaps doing progress notes (which, as an SLP, I don’t have to do!  Perk!).  I wasn’t sure how engaged he would be in the discussion, as some teachers had interacted more than others, but he said only one thing during the entire class – he asked for relative silence during the independent work portion of the period.  And that was it.  He didn’t have to be there, but in my mind he provided a safe “out”.  I could royally fuck up, and he would be there to rescue me.  I could lose the kids entirely, and he’d step in to make it relevant.  They might threaten mutiny, and he’d give them the stink eye.  None of which happened, mind you.  It really was just me, acting as the Teacher, in front of a classroom full of kids.

If I ever get the hankering to be overworked, underappreciated, and have to deal with classroom issues like pencil sharpening, bathroom breaks, progress notes, grading papers, designing rubrics, assigning homework, and appearing confident, it’s nice to know I could do it.  As long as the school I taught at didn’t make me wear a blazer.

Last weekend was my birthday.  Mr. Apron whisked me away to Lancaster County for a getaway.  He told me only (barely) what to pack, and I managed to weasel out of him the approximate distance we’d be traveling from home (between 1-3 hours).  This meant I was tromping through a pumpkin patch wearing designer jeans and ballet flats as my shoes took on more hay than a scarecrow at a gay pride event.  We were trapped on a hayride behind a tractor spewing diesel, nestled among Coach-bag-toting white trash parents and their eager children.  This meant we found ourselves side-stepping the smorgasbords with their promises of “authenticity” and “family friendly”ness among the vats of macaroni salad and bacon dressing.  This meant staying far from the “Amish experience” tourist traps and seeking out our own adventures. 

Some highlights:

  • Leaving the dogs behind, enjoying a night’s sleep without worrying about letting them out first thing in the morning, and not being able to get back to sleep.
  • Letting someone else cook for us, even if the breakfast “strata” of white bread, eggs, heavy cream, and American cheese, left something to be desired. 
  • Seeing kitty footprints all over our car in the morning, as the 15-odd barn cats had evidently used our car as a jungle gym during the night.
  • Watching preparations for a wedding to be held at the B&B on my birthday.
  • Playing Skip-Bo (the best card game) on the canopy bed in Violet’s room while munching on Chex Mix Muddy Buddies.
  • Spontaneously deciding to see the Lancaster Symphony as we sat in a café across the street sipping endless glasses of strawberry lemonade. 
  • Take naps in the middle of the day. 
  • Opening birthday presents from my best buddy and feeling like the world revolved around me. 
  • Laughing at the frog pajamas my aunt gave me, and plotting for their immediate donation to the aptly named “Donate Pile” at Mr. Apron’s place of employment.
  • Selecting apples from the orchard, shining them on our pant-legs, and eating them while sitting on the trunk of the car.
  • Bumping along on the hay-ride, staring out over the open fields and pretending no one else was near us. 
  • Being surrounded by antiques stores and old things. Trying on hats and playing with lead-laden children’s toys.  Hunting through old dress-patterns for a gem.  Discovering a brand-new old corduroy winter coat for $6.50 at the thrift store.
  • Getting birthday phone calls and text messages all day long on my birthday.
  • Leaving behind our e-mail, work, home, and life responsibilities for a weekend.

To enjoy your Lancaster County get-away, simply follow our rules for eating.  They pretty much apply to businesses to patronize as well.

  • Nothing with ‘N in the title: “Plain ‘N Fancy”, “Good ‘N Plenty”
  • Nothing called “Smorgasbord” or “buffet”
  • Avoid restaurants claiming to cater to families
  • Diners are okay, but steer clear of out-of-region specialties, such as seafood
  • “Ethnic” cuisine is a safe-bet, as long as there are people of that ethnicity eating and/or working in the restaurant.  Chinese restaurants serving chicken nuggets are a no-no. 
  • Cafes are generally a good idea, but watch for “pumpkin spice” coffee flavoring that is just non-dairy creamer mixed with nutmeg repackaged with the café’s label. 
  • When in doubt, indulge in cookies, cakes, pies, and fresh fruit.  After all, this is a vacation. 

I love when Mr. Apron takes me away on a surprise trip.  He took me to Hartford, CT, to propose to me back in 2005.  We ran away to Bucks County to revisit our mini-honeymoon last year.  He’s taken me on countless day trips for my birthday.  I’ve dragged him to a drive-in movie theatre, car shows, and a folk festival.  While there’s always the worry I won’t be properly attired, or I’ll forget some critical supply I didn’t know I’d need, there’s also a thrill, an excitement, in the plotting and scheming (for the planner), and in the element of surprise and the unexpected (for the recipient).  I hope he never stops trying to whisk me away, sweep me off my feet, and kidnap me to mystery destinations.

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Similar to the “Roses and Thorns” family activity the Obamas allegedly play around the dinner table at the White House, Mr. Apron and I play a game we call “One Good Thing,” or, as he sometimes abbreviates it, “OGT”.  It’s not hard to find sucky things (ahem, “thorns”) in a shitty (“thorny”) day, but it can be hard to find a good thing.  We play OGT to help each other find one nice, decent, or even just mediocre thing in a day.  On a rough day, it might be, “I got a street parking spot in front of the house” or “The dog didn’t try to eat her shit.” 

Yesterday was just a normal day at work, until I received, out of the blue, an e-mail from a former supervisor.  She remembered that my birthday is coming up (October 9th; send presents!) this weekend, and wanted to send good wishes.  “I’m sure you are busy with your new job, but I hope you are loving that challenge too. They are very lucky to have you; I miss your positive attitude and clever insights. Please keep in touch.”  It made me feel all warm and snuggly all over.  I feel that I was able to leave my old job with no hard feelings.  Even though this woman sat in on my exit interview where I trashed the company she’s been working for; even though I left, citing irreconcilable differences with policies, management, and expectations.  That was definitely my OGT.

And my OGT was promptly derailed shortly after work.  A student I tutor, outside of school hours, inside of the school building, brushed briefly by my classroom/office/cubby/closet door, grinning ear to ear that he had no homework, making it clear he intended to get picked up with his sister today.  Bound by duty (and wary of 6th graders who proclaim they have no homework), I pulled him aside, checked his planner, and went through his classes.  Nope, seemed like no homework!  I got to leave early, all was good.

Until his mother e-mailed…didn’t he have a vocab quiz tomorrow?  Shit.  Of course he did.  And I, wonderful tutor, have neglected my duty, have shown myself to be forgetful (must not let them see my human side.  must be superhero speech therapist/tutor.), and have shirked my task.  I checked my e-mail obsessively after I replied, briefly, with a message that I hope came off more as, “Whoops!  I knew about the quiz — of course — but it slipped my mind.  Let me tell you about the quiz, to show you how much I know about. I’m responsible,”  and less as, “Sheesh, lady.  I can’t be expected to remember what every kid is doing in every class.  You do his studying with him.  You’re his mom.”  I kept expected to see her reply to my e-mail stating that she was 1) firing me from tutoring, 2) having me fired from the school, and 3) pulling her kid out of the school.  As of 8pm, I stopped checking my e-mail, figuring that she would have replied by then.  And I would have been fired by then. 

Lest I get too full of myself, it’s nice to know I will always make (and be called on) human errors to bring me back to earth, where the mortals belong.

A friend of ours is your typical Type B personality – laid back, can’t be bothered by things like deadlines, unfettered by time constraints, and seemingly unaffected by the stress of others around him. 

This is the man who installed our closet, a “one day job,” over 3 weekends.  This is the man who would stop to chat about any number of his previous lives, such as when he owned a restaurant, his first date, on growing up in a small enclave on the Main Line, on seeing a circumcised penis for the first time on a Boy Scout trip.  You name it; it was part of a closet-installation digression.

Don’t get me wrong – he’s a wonderful guy, with a great attitude towards his family, his work, and his life.  He just sometimes clashes with others of us who are more Type A, and feel more pressure to be slightly more product oriented. 

So it’s no surprise that when his son set out “to seek his fortune” and scored his first job out of college, he had some pearls of wisdom.  His son, eager to impress, had said he would be the first one to work, the last one to leave, the guy to take on extra work, the overachiever, the go-getter, the brown-noser.  And the father, ever the sage of work in moderation, told him, “Just be there.  Don’t be early, don’t stay late, just do your job.  Don’t stick out, don’t try to impress, don’t work too hard.  You’ll burn out, and they’ll be sick of you.  Just do your job.”  And wouldn’t you know, within 4 months, he’d been promoted. 

I guess the theory is, when the upper echelons go looking for their next promotee, they don’t want a trouble-maker.  They don’t want someone who has too much personality and sticks out and is going to require too much managing himself.  They don’t want a slack-ass who will need babysitting.  They just want a competent fellow who can do his job without too much support, who doesn’t cause friction or require too much maintenance.

Throughout grad school, when I would begin a new practicum, there was a very gentle beginning, with much to learn, but little to do independently.  My responsibilities began and ended with our patients, or clients, or students.  I didn’t do billing, or deal with office crap.  I showed up, prepared (or pretended to be), saw clients/patients/kids, wrote notes, and tried not to stick out.  When I was bored, I tried to look busy.  I journalled.  I flipped through catalogues of therapy toys or resource books.  I was fully aware that if I had that expectant look on my face that said I was bored, or needed a task, I would seem like I needed something to do.  And that my supervisor would have to find something for me to do, as for a small child who constantly needs to be stimulated with brightly colored toys. 

In my efforts to look busy, I have developed many tasks that serve me well.  I am quite adept at self-entertainment at work.  I have theories that we are not a truly the efficient work force we claim to be in this country.  Who among us can claim to actually be productive for 7-8 continuous hours in a day?  Who among us is not guilty of extraneous trips to the bathroom, water cooler, and coffee pot?  Who among us does not welcome a walk around the building or the neighborhood on some silly errand?  Who does not check e-mail a little more than necessary?  These breaks keep us sane, they keep us busy, or at least they keep us looking busy. 

The best part about looking busy is that it allows me to just do my job.  If I do end up with extra work – a report, billing, a deluge of e-mails, or some extra last-minute kiddos to cover for a coworker – I can manage it.  It’s built into my schedule, both mentally and physically.  If I were already operating at maximum capacity, I would burn out.  A modicum of Type B would serve us all well in the work force, and provide better stories, too.

I had to cancel on my friend.  The opera season is opening tonight and she was pumped to go rush for tickets to see “Othello”.  At first, it was going to work out perfectly.  My new job gets me home earlier, so being downtown by 5pm was not too difficult.  Mr. Apron’s new job often has him leaving work by 3pm, so that would work, too. 

And then Mr. Apron reminded me that his work changed his schedule so he’s now working till 4pm on Fridays, which makes it harder to come home, and then head downtown.  Or, if he were to head straight downtown, but I had to come home first to walk the dogs, and we met downtown, we’d have two cars downtown in expensive garages. 

So maybe I go anyway, and Mr. Apron could just suffer without me?

Then my father called.  Through the usual brand of my family’s craziness, he wants to spend Friday and Saturday night with us this weekend, because he’ll use our house as his home-base for his trip down to Silver Spring, MD, where he lived when he was a small child, and still has friends.  So although our floor installation with him is still slated for Sunday, we’ll still be hosting him Friday and Saturday night.  And unless he wanted to arrive close to midnight, we’d be out at the opera.  Assuming we got tickets, that is.

Last time we tried to rush for opera tickets, it was almost too easy. By some miracle, I arrived downtown by 5pm on the train, and Mr. Apron was already downtown for a meeting.  We showed up at the box office a trifle early (though the website had said it opened at 5pm, they wouldn’t open doors till 5:30), waited, and were the 3rd or so group to buy tickets for “Orphee et Eurydice”.  “Three please,” we’d said.  He handed over 3 tickets, we paid our money, and we headed out to dinner.  After a pleasant dinner, we returned to the theatre, where we finally looked at our tickets, and they glaringly said, “Showgirls.”  So that was why it was so easy.  But the website had said that was where the operas were playing.  Stupid website.  At least they took our tickets back, in spite of the no-refund, no-exchange sign by the ticket window.

This time I can just picture the insanity.  I somehow arrive downtown and have to pay $20 to garage my car.  I have a cardboard cut-out of Mr. Apron to hold his place in line, and he’ll finally arrive after we’ve already gone through the ticket window.  He’ll wait in line and get a seat, but it’ll be an obstructed view nowhere near my friend and me.  Or, worse, none of us get seats at all, and our attempts to score cheap opera tickets cost us $40 in parking, with no opera. 

Or else we go see “Showgirls”.  I’m sure there are always seats to see “Showgirls.” 

I texted my friend to cancel last night.  I felt awful doing it.  Not only did I really want to go see “Othello,” I hate cancelling on people.  I feel like I am letting them down.  I worry I will get a reputation for being a wet blanket, as one who always cancels, never shows up, can never be bothered to haul her ass downtown for fun events, and who treats any outing as a major ordeal.  I have a friend in New York City who will be celebrating her birthday Saturday night. I briefly entertained ideas of going, as I’d been able to attend another (mutual) friend’s birthday back in August in New York.  But then Dad will be coming in, and Mr. Apron will be working, and I’d have to get myself on a bus or train, and it just seems like too much bother.  I’d rather stay home and just feel bad about it.  Mr. Apron will still be working that night.  My dad will be coming back from Silver Spring at some indeterminate time.  I’ll be staying home, feeling bad about it. 

I doubt anyone at the party (I’ll basically only know the birthday girl) will be concerned about that girl from Philly who couldn’t be bothered to get on a bus to come celebrate her friend’s birthday.  But I’ll still feel bad.  I just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I think aside from the anti-social whackos out there who are bent on causing pain and destruction, that few of us try to hurt feelings, and I hope most of us try to avoid it most of the time. 

But does there come a point where the worry about hurting feelings becomes more worrisome than the actuality? Am I overreacting to the daily disappointments in life, or to my fear of disappointing others?

Mr. Apron’s sister knows, unequivocally, that she is the most important person in the world. As such, she seldom worries (or even realizes) how her actions affect those around her, specifically her family.  It breaks my heart when Mr. Apron or his other sister tries to “make nice” and make plans with Bianca, and she cancels.  They are never karmically rewarded for their efforts, unless you count the effect it has on their parents, who must be thinking, on some level, “Thank goodness the kids all (pretend to) get along now.  We can finally finish parenting our 30+ year old children.” But, in terms of personal satisfaction, they get little.  Bianca is a chronic canceller.  She’s not really terribly organized in her personal or work life, and I’m sure there are honest cases of “Oh, I had a work meeting I forgot about,” or “Something came up,” and “Yeah, Tuesday’s not really a good day for me,” in addition to the frequent cancellations with no real excuse.  At least Mr. Apron is used to it now, but Bianca has basically become a joke in her truancy from family events.  Even if they do arrange and carry out a meeting, it’s inevitably a miserable event where Bianca talks about herself for 2 hours and offers “advice” to her siblings on how they’re ruining their lives. 

Even though I know instinctively that I am not like Bianca, and I do care how my actions, thoughts, and words affect other people, I am still afraid that others will judge me when I cancel or turn down an event or opportunity.

As such, I have a tremendously hard time saying no to people, and I often find myself overextended.  One semester when I was teaching preschool full-time, I found myself not only teaching sewing in the evenings at a friend’s arts center, but also teaching creative movement in the afternoon to school-age kids.  It’s hard to recall, but I was probably also taking online courses in preparation for grad school.  I was barely home, I was miserable, but at least I was meeting my commitments, and upholding people’s expectations of my abilities to, um, show up?  I’m not sure what their expectations truly are.  I just know it’s important to be accountable, to cancel appointments in a timely manner, to try to show up on time, or call if you’re late, and, in general, to be there when you say you are.  Having signed up for any number of commitments, I feel it’s important to do what you say you’re going to do. 

I guess I just like to say yes in the moment, even if it causes me agita later down the road.  It’s at the very least flattering to be considered.  Pleasing to the ego to be asked.  Satisfying to my sense of self-worth.  My mother asks me to decorate cakes when I come home, a skill I picked up at age 14.  Though I’m by no means a pro, it still feels good to be asked, even if I usually feel put upon and annoyed that she waited for me to take a 300 mile trip to visit with her, and I’m being handed an apron and a pastry bag instead of a hug and a kiss.  Mom calls me from the road, asking if I’m near a computer.  This is code for, “I’m lost in some Boston suburb.  Can you map me home/to my destination?”  I’m either enabling her to perpetuate her lack of planning if I rescue her, or I’m dooming her to an hour of frustration and possibly missing an appointment.  Is it my fault?  No, but I’m doing it anyway.  I’m annoyed she can’t/won’t use her GPS, or map the destination, or call one of my siblings.  Or she calls, unable to find the Jewel lullaby CD at her local Target store.  Oh, and while I’m at it, could I look up the Putumayo Picnic Playground CD since that one is hard to find, too?  Will you pick up a couple copies for me and I’ll pay you back? 

Yet it feels good to help, to be the one with the know-how, to have the time and the computer at my disposal. 

A local theatre arts program for children routinely asks me to do make-up for their spring and fall shows.  Though I’d never done make-up for anyone before (save my own make-up as Piglet in a high school production of “Winnie-the-Pooh” – pink base, outrageous eyebrows, and a little black nose), I was asked solely based on my qualification as being “creative”.  My “creativity” was first called upon to do the quick-change make-up for the principals in “The Wizard of Oz” back in 2007, and since then I have wrangled myself (through passivity, mostly) into the intractable commitment of doing make-up for each and every show.  My responsibilities have grown from doing the few principals, to helping load sets, organizing make-up, coordinating the parents volunteers thrust upon me, and overseeing the make-up for every person in the show, which can often number 80 or more, including preschoolers.  As they say in “Oklahoma”, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no.”  In spite of the fact that for every show that comes along I grumble and complain, I loathe doing the inevitable crowd control of impulsive children, and I swear that next time will be different.

This time truly will.  Mr. Apron has withdrawn 95% of his involvement with the performing arts center, and I’ve sworn that the last show was my last show. 

Saying no is not easy.  It’s bound to disappoint some people.  But saying yes seems to breed resentment or at least annoyance.  How is that a fair price to pay for the intention of not hurting someone’s feelings if I end up grumbling and sniveling and being angry at them? 

I used to put up more of a fight, at least where my mother is concerned.  When I was an angsty teen, and even into my college years, I let my resentment show.  I was rewarded with the guilt-trip of the ungrateful child: for the many things she’d done for me, can’t I do this one for her?  Yes, this one and the millions like it.  “Are you bored?” she’d ask, hankering for an opening.  “I have a project for you.”  My sister and I learned very quickly to look busy and always deny boredom, (a skill that also serves us well in the word world).  I have forbidden the use of the word “project”. So now she comes at it with a smirk and a twinkle in her eye, “Do you need a P-word?”  It’s easier to be complacent in the short run.  I sewed her some sample tea-wallets for X-mas gifts for her friends.  I order a gift for my father on-line when she couldn’t find it in the stores.  I looked up the CDs for her, told her they were very much still in print.  And yes, it would be very easy for me to pick up a couple on eBay or Amazon, but I didn’t.  I could have but I just didn’t want to.  She can do this crap.  If it’s important to her, she can Google it and she can find it, and she can order it.  I called her back and told her that they CDs were still in print and she could go to Wal-Mart if their labor practices didn’t bother her as they do me, or she could, all by herself, go to, and pick up a few so as to get free shipping. 

Mom’s reasons for asking me to do Projects for her are her own.  I will never truly know whether she feels she isn’t truly competent; or she wants to exploit me; or she feels I owe it to her after her years of tantrums and diaper changes; or she wants me to feel flattered that I am “needed” for my skill set.  I have to learn to draw limits, say no, and only submit to her often ridiculous requests when I truly want to do the Project, when I will truly, personally derive pleasure from the act.

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October 2010