Thursday, March 31, 2011

You wouldn't believe the stain I got on my pants.

This is a serious one, Batman, and should you turn out to be a dude, I apologize in advance for the potential irrelevance of this rant. On the other hand, half the point of this post is that I shouldn't need to apologize to a man for talking about lady-stuff, so if you've got a twig and berries, read it and weep. As time goes on, I know I'll rant a lot more about the American system of gender identification and categorization and how it is thoroughly messing up, well, everything, but for now let's start with the basics.

Ryan is out of town this weekend. My reflexive actions were the following: first was to buy an oversized bottle of Pinot Grigio and plan out a slew of cheesy movies and crappy reality TV that I knew he wouldn't care about watching (why do I even care? yet I do...). I sloughed around the apartment in pajamas all day (which I fully justified, since it was a snow day anyhow, and snow days don't count as real days) and didn't wash my hair. That evening, I became vaguely despondent at being left alone, and shortly after that (and the Pinot) kicked in, I painted my toenails. This morning, I made myself a latte, bacon, and eggs, and dove right back into the indulgent cheesy television.

I am endlessly grateful that Ryan is not the kind of guy who disapproves of greasy hair, lazy TV indulgence, or wine-induce bouts of productivity (I finished making our wedding invitations!); in fact, he often jumps (or slumps) right in with me. Still, my choice of how to spend my time felt motivated by a sense that as a woman, I am almost obligated to save up my unladylike behavior for when the man is away.

I'll be honest; I have not closed the bathroom door in over twenty-four hours. I haven't even looked at a hairbrush, and while I have certainly brushed my teeth and washed my face, I am currently wearing the same grungy pajamas as I was the night Ryan left. When I went out to run some errands yesterday afternoon, I literally just put a hat on and went out as I was. I almost contemplated putting on a smear of makeup, but meh. I'm not even going to get in to the hour I spent picking at my toenails, or that incident in the bathroom last night...

Okay, Batman. I am an empowered, successful (as much as a young teacher can be in these times), and socially liberal woman living near a reasonably large city in a supposedly progressive decade. Why do I still save up all my un-ladylike behavior for when my man is away? Even further, why do I feel most obligated to do so as young, engaged, childless woman?

If I were married, there would be a sense of imposed complacency that allowed for less-than-elegant behavior to fly on the grounds that, welp, we're married and he's stuck with me, oogly hangnails and all. Even when one is home, it's totally cool to fart - copiously - in front of your husband. "Dudes" might not like it, but that's just the hetero-normative standard.

If I had a child, then there's every excuse I'd ever need. Spent an hour sitting on the kitchen floor reading labels because I wanted to prove to myself that there were processed sugar and ungodly amounts of preservatives in every canned soup we had? No problem, that's just because my kids were driving me kind of crazy. Didn't wash that sweatshirt after splashing the least-sugary soup on it, and continued to wear it for three days? Hey, you do these things when you're busy with your children.

You know, after writing this, I think I've decided to not give two little craps about saving up my femininity for show. We've never been an overly genderized couple in any way, but I definitely held back on a lot. As soon as Ryan gets home, he'd better be ready for burps and unwashed socks out the wazoo.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm wearing leggings tomorrow, and you can't stop me.

It seems there comes a time in every child's life where some element of "cool" becomes desirable, nay, even vital. Normally I save the "big life lesson" for the end, but here is is now: cool is utterly irrelevant to quality, and is so subjective that it seriously couldn't matter less. If you are cool now, that will matter about as much to you when you're thirty as it matters now what brand your underwear were when you were seven. Now, it only matters to me how cool I was in fifth grade because I am bothering to think and write about it, but it only "matters" because realizing that I wasn't was such a liberation.

There was a particularly uncomfortable moment sometime when I was in fifth grade when I realized - sharply, suddenly, and with all the weight of a piano plopped on my noggin - that the stretchy leggings, sweatpants, second-hand t-shirts, and fluorescent headbands (hey, it was the early 90's) were thoroughly uncool. I needed blue jeans. I needed to either blend in or stand out as a trendsetter, because standing out as "that kid who shows up wearing brightly colored pants that clash with her baggy, brightly colored shirt and oh god why is she wearing light-up sneakers again?" was just not okay.

I went on a very classic shopping trip with my Bubbe and procured for myself the ultimate in cool: blue jeans and some generically bland shirts. Prancing down the stairs at her house to show off to my parents was massively exciting: there I was, the essence of cool. My butt looked like a butt, not the back portion of a ten-year-old, and my shirt neither stopped traffic nor even drew a second glance. It was almost like being normal! I was certain that my social status would immediately skyrocket, and that every boy in the class would think I was, y'know, pretty or something.

The next week of school was absolute torture. I was a kind of pudgy kid (read: the fat kid) in elementary school (and middle school, and some of high school), so squashing my lower half into unyielding denim was not unlike time spent with a Play Dough Fun Factory...only with a lot less stuff spewing out in colorful squiggles, and much more shame. I had previously worn stretchy leggings not because of my weight, but because I just liked them. Jeans didn't come in lime green with pink lightning bolts all over them: leggings did. Leggings offered stretchy, comfy, flexible coverage with no possibility of ever being too tight: jeans did not. I did enjoy having pockets in my pants, but not being able to roll around freely on the floor, sit without a stiff waistband sawing me in half, or stand up without needing to readjust every single time all wore thin rapidly.

The straw that broke my back came that Friday. I was thrilled for the coming weekend, and the opportunity not to wear that veritable iron maiden of a garment for two days. The bland shirts were doing a great job of being bland and inoffensive, although I missed my fun ones. That Friday, my class's token ridiculously rich, spoiled girl noted that the style of jeans I was wearing was "so 1980's." What the hell, spoiled girl? It took me until 1995 to even wear these damn things; how could I be expected to get it right the first time? Her snarky comment got a few giggles from a bunch of girls who all grew up to be lower to middle management (and that's what you get if you tell everyone you're going to be an actress for seventeen years despite having no talent or desire to work, bee-yotch!), and I decided it was worse to do something cool wrong than to just do something wrong.

I gave up on the jeans until about 1998, primarily out of protest, but also because I entirely gave up on even trying to be cool in high school, and found that jeans fit better once I'd developed a waistline. Ironically, were I to dress today the way I did when I was ten, I would be super cool. Batman, don't cave in just to be cool, especially when comfort is at stake.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


One of my students informed me yesterday morning that he needed to consume chocolate in order to treat an illness that his doctor had diagnosed the previous afternoon. This student (let's call him "Billy" to protect the not-so-innocent) proceeded to produce from his jacket pocket a one pound bar of milk chocolate with some kind of mocha filling that I really wanted to confiscate and eat. Billy blithely began to unwrap his doctor-sanctioned snack, but - responsibly following the same protocol I would for a student attempting to take a painkiller, inhaler, or some other medication for which I have not been given documentation by the school nurse - I informed him that he would need to check in with the school nurse before I allowed him to consume any medication.

I took the chocolate bar. He protested briefly, but when I told him I would be happy to check in with the nurse to verify his needs, he only muttered into the collar of his jacket and scuffled away.

Now, Batman, one of the most useful side-effects of being a teacher is the adaptation of a pretty stellar bullshit detector. I don't always call a kid out on it right away (which, admittedly, is greatly due to the fact that I just love creating an escalating sense of drama before a kid gets his or her comeuppance). Billy, for example, only tasted my wrath a few hours later, after the following events played out:
  1. I reported him to the school nurse, expressing a healthy blend of concern for a child in such a perilous medical condition and bemused skepticism of his honesty.
  2. She called Billy's mother. Billy's mother rarely answers the phone, so it was somewhat magical happenstance that she picked up at all.
  3. Billy's mother used some very choice language to express her opinion of her son's choice to lie bold-faced to his teachers in order to simply eat chocolate, confirming my theory that her kid was utterly full of it.
  4. The school nurse reported back to me, and I crafted the most guilt-inducing condemnation I could possibly cram into a twelve-year-old's ears. 
  5. I lay in wait until Billy traipsed back into my room, blithely requesting that I return his medicinal chocolate.
  6. I lovingly and with an expression that firmly stated "this hurts me, too" tore Billy a new one.
This is where I am a Viking. In a public school, protocol dictates that any time something medical is brought up and full, official documentation is lacking, the teacher must exercise proper due diligence before allowing a student to ingest, apply, insert, or otherwise use any medical item. When I know a kid is full of shit, this is no burden. In fact, while the school nurse was likely less-than-thrilled to contact Billy's less-than-comported mother, I nearly took pleasure from this endeavor.

My point, Batman, is that if you're ever going to lie, make it believable! One of Billy's friends who I will call "Stevie" pulled a good one on me today by telling me that he had to go to the nurse to have a "rash" looked at. Worried for the sanitation of my classroom, I asked him if he'd touched anything in the room that morning to which he could have an allergic reaction.

"Not with the part of my body where the rash is," he told me, averting his eyes to the floor. Of course I let him go to the nurse, and when I found out that his "trip to the nurse" was really a trip to the athletic office to beg a football off one of the coaches for him to play with at recess...gosh darn it, I was so impressed that I let it slide.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bacon = love

Batman, if you turn out to be a vegetarian, a vegan, or of any dietary predilection that does not warmly invite bacon with open arms, I will love you no less, but I might be a little disappointed. Why? Because I LOVE bacon. I love bacon like I love the smell of old books, like I love the feel of damp sand through my toes as I stand in the surf, like I love those long hugs that let you know the other person truly cares about you, like I love the change from one season to the, screw it, bacon is totally better than all that. Seriously. I love bacon.

What's the big deal with bacon, you might ask? Three big things. First and foremost, bacon is THE SHIT. If I made a rubric for a perfect food experience, it would hit all the taste/texture criteria with a perfect four. It's delicious, salty, sweet, crispy, chewy, satisfying, and it leaves this incredible film of scrumptious grease on anything it touches that lets you appreciate the baconey goodness later! Second, and no less important, is the fact bacon holds a precious place in my memories of a few very important people in my life. Granted, the Jewish side of the family didn't really do the whole bacon thing, but that's cool.

My Grandpa, who I fear you'll never meet, was no great cook. I remember his contributions to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners think he put something in the oven once, and I'm sure he cut stuff every now and then. He was, however, lord and master of a magical concoction known as "Glop." Glop was composed of literally every meat product floating around in the fridge, a bag of frozen shredded hash browns, diced onion, and some ungodly number of eggs. It was like every best thing you ever ate, sex, and breakfast had some sort of beautiful, gooey baby. Every time we had breakfast at Grandma and Grandpa's house, unless someone stopped me, I would eat Glop until I was literally aching. As my parents told me years later, one of the primary ingredients in this delicacy was generic brand scrapple from the nearby dollar store. This is why my parents NEVER ate any Glop, and why there was always enough for Grandpa and I to smugly eat ourselves sick together every single time he made it. I didn't care (or even know) about the scrapple: what I cared about was that, regardless of how much of anything else went into it, there was a full pound of bacon in every batch of Glop. My delicate, otherwise nearly bacon-free system practically launched into sodium-induced shock after consuming, oh, half of that in one sitting, but damn was it worth it.

My Dad did a pretty solid job of instilling bacon-love in me. Having been raised in a Jewish household that, while not adhering fanatically to Kosher law, maintained many core tenets. Dad didn't really eat much pork growing up. When I was little, every time Dad made bacon at home, it felt conspiratorial. It was like he was sneaking the bacon behind his parents' back, despite their living twenty-five minutes away. He'd hover over the stove, prodding the bacon every few seconds as if it would otherwise leap from the pan to run and tell on him. Dad is a REALLY good cook; there is very little he wouldn't cook or eat, so seeing him treat any food with such near-paranoid reverence kind of freaked me out. Outside of my Glop consumption, these rare, deviant instances were almost the only times I ate bacon until I was in college. Bacon had acquired a mystique akin to fugu. If I ate it too often, I risked...something (probably heart disease, but whatevs)...still, I wanted it so badly...

Then came the bacon years. Oh yes, that's right. I think there's something magical between my generation and pork products. I seem to know more people who LOVE fancy pork, no matter how it's prepared, than I ever remember noticing or knowing until my peers got into their twenties. Maybe it's just something that happens to everyone near the quarter-life crisis, or maybe we are special (I hope we're special!), but bacon feels almost like the diasporic food of the twenty-something. We would smuggle paper cups packed full of bacon out of the cafeteria for later, more exciting breakfasts, and find creative ways to sneak bacon into nearly anything we ate, be it pasta, pizza, casserole, vegetable, get the idea.

When I met Ryan (your eventually-going-to-be-father), one of our first real bonding experiences was over bacon. (I'll tell you about that time NOT on the internet.) As our relationship evolved, bacon became the iconic food of celebration and comfort. Christmas morning? Bacon for all! First day of vacation? Fancy bacon! Birthday? Special bacon! Some random weekend? Bacon again! Batman, I can bet you good money that after you're born (eventually), I will eat a SHITLOAD of bacon.

Bacon, to me, is a symbol of love. Yes, that's right. I'm sure some clever psychologist could make something fascinating of my association between emotion, affection, and a processed pork product, but I'll just leave you with this: sometimes, a particular food just comes to mean something beautiful. Batman, you should embrace every chance to enjoy that food as an opportunity to feel a little glimmer of that happiness. On the other hand, I do really only eat bacon once a week or less, and I would not recommend indulging too frequently in a similarly unhealthy love-food (like, say, ranch dressing or lard). Just tell yourself it would dilute the experience to have it too often (or whatever helps you not eat a pound of bacon in one sitting). I leave you with the words of an arguably less delicious Bacon: "Rebellions of the belly are the worst."

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Okay, okay, you deserve an explanation. Even given that you will doubtlessly end up with a name that causes fewer raised eyebrows and less social awkwardness than your current moniker, Batman might seem an absurd nickname. It's really not, and let me tell you why.

Think about it: pregnant mothers call their unborn children all sorts of weird shit. On the almost boringly reasonable end of the spectrum are "Bambino" and "The Baby," and only a few skips down the line towards absurdity lie "Bean," "Peanut," and "Egg." (Why are these all edible? Do I really want to know?) Somewhere a little further along is "Skipper" (which would have been cool if I  was five), followed closely by "Kitten" (which cast serious doubt on the supposed father's role in conception), and ending with "Nugget" (which made me worry if the pregnancy was actually just some sort of gastrointestinal incident waiting to happen).

Before we leap straight into the pit of almost unforgivable weirdness, let's consider the context for this type of name. Who ever really notices the cute pet name cooed at a mother's swelling tummy? The answer is EVERYONE. Once a name like this is established, it is uttered in front of not only family and medical providers, but waiters, cashiers, post office clerks, that nice lady who hold the door for you at the mall, some kid passing you on his bike, and literally everyone in between. Total strangers will hear a future father murmering "Aww, I think Snoogly-toes will love this!" or "Is Taco Bob making you nauseous again?" and they will briefly wonder if that man is insane, then likely brush it off as just another pregnancy thing. This is not an issue of being embarrassed, judged, or otherwise seen in a negative light. This is about capitalizing on an opportunity to be awesome and saving others from potentially very awkward situations.

Consider all the things that people name. Dudes and ladies alike name assorted body parts. Tons of people name cars, trucks, boats, bikes, or whatever it is they use to get from point A to point B. Streets and highways are named after famous people, events, or what have you. I know plenty of people who name most any piece of technology they own, from a laptop to a hair dryer (my current one is named Sheila). At this point, I've learned to expect this, especially from the seventh graders I work with now. Pencils take on nuanced personalities with complex personal histories, and heaven forbid I ever remove ANYTHING from my room. The second a crappy file cabinet is gone, they're all up my ass wondering "Where did you put Steve?" or asking if some catastrophe has befallen him. Often it has.

A lot of this naming phenomenon is just garden variety anthropomorphism, which is all very well and good, but sometimes it gets out of control. With my students, I just tell them that Steve is on vacation or something like that, and they are mollified until their hormone-addled brains skip to a new concern. With adults, I just don't know how to react. I once had a conversation with a coworker about who I assumed was his friend "Dave" needing a lot of help. Dave was really struggling to get by, even with the little stuff, and my colleague didn't know if he was going to make it. I compassionately agreed or made sad noises when it was appropriate to do either, and after a few minutes, genuinely felt bad for Dave. It was only when I asked if Dave had any kids that I learned that Dave was, in fact, a lawn mower. This left me frustrated and somehow charmed by my coworker's sensitivity, though I was a little creeped out.

My name in utero was Mordechai Schlepinger. I am 100% absolutely serious about this. Can you imagine my parents wandering around Arlington, Virginia talking about what Mordechai Schlepinger wanted my mother to have for dinner? Everyone must have thought they were SO COOL! On the other hand, my brother, David, had some totally lame pre-birth nickname like "Bun." I can only attribute this to my parents' knowledge that people in Connecticut just couldn't handle something kickass like "Ephraim McGillicuddystein," or on a more subtle note, "The Sweetness."

Put simply, Batman, you need to pick your names carefully. Had my coworker's lawnmower been named Shreddy McGnomeslasher IV, I would never have been put in that awkward position. Rather than always looking at him just a little funny any time he didn't specify that "Mark" or "Angela" was a student - not some sort of household appliance - I would have thought he was completely awesome. Calling you Batman (rather than "Sprout" or "Bump") makes your father and I total badasses. Yeah, some people might look at us a little funny, but we'll know how thoroughly awesome we are, and anyone who actually believes that Batman is making me need to pee every twenty minutes totally deserves their confusion.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Beware the internet, Batman.

Ah, the internet. When I was but a wee lass, I loved writing lengthy, complex, and almost inconceivably convoluted stories on page after page of loose leaf paper. I'd craft epic tales of my imaginary friend (Snowball the unicorn, who was TOTALLY REAL and who will kick your ass if you don't humor me) and her trials and tribulations, often involving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the setting of whatever movie I was currently obsessed with. These stories, almost all of which were lost in a necessary but irresponsible cleaning of my parents' basement in 2004, were richly illustrated in whatever overpriced medium I could scavenge from the art closet.

Yes. We had an art closet. It had crappy shelves made from crappy wood, and was literally overflowing with my Mom's repeated attempts at a new crafty, artsy hobby. (She goes through phases of creative interest much the way that teenage girls go through nail polish colors, and I love her for it.) "The time Snowball and Michaelangelo got lost in that scary castle from "The Last Unicorn"" was probably illustrated in oil pastel or $6 a pop markers, and probably had a cover that I spent most of an afternoon collage-ing, painting, or possibly even weaving with fancy ribbons and weird natural fibers left over from some holiday gift project. In other words, I put a crap-ton of time into making these things, and they were literally some eight-paragraph ramble of copyright infringement and pre-pubescent romantic fantasy (more copyright infringement). Still, they were creative, they were original, and they fulfilled my youthful dreams of publishing glory.

Now, we have the internet. Some see this as an endless sea of possibility, peppered with every inspiration, every fragment of human creation and aspiration, and every answer imaginable short of that to the question "am I pregnant?" (There is not a good pregnancy test online: I've looked.) I think the 'net is pretty sweet, but like any fun tool, it must be used with great caution, or someone is liable to lose an eye.

When I was your age (i.e. unconceived), the internet sort of existed, but my parents didn't even own a computer. We got an iMac - the original turquoise blue one - when I was in middle school, and thus I began my online adventures. A favorite internet memory of mine is of going in to my first chatroom with my brand new AOL screen name (badass) while my parents watched over my shoulder in proud awe. Amidst a sea of strangers asking if anyone wanted to chat (which, logically, is why they were there in the first place) and probing one another for such personal details as geographic location or favorite movie, I accidentally responded "no" to someone's question about a personal interest (I think someone asked if "anyone had ever been to Paris") and it LOOKED like I had said "no" to a chat request. My mother immediately started screaming at me for being so inconsiderate, and forced me to spend the next five minutes typing "I'm sorry, TallMan35! I didn't mean to be so mean! Please forgive me!" and the like until this (probably both confused and ambivalent) dude said it was no big deal. I felt like a total jackhole, and was too embarrassed to go in a public chatroom again until I was almost 17. 

Things did get better: the next iMac was purple (not green, like I had begged for it to be) and I started to assert my privilege to use it without fear of parental judgment. I did once leave the internet connected to some X-Files fan site overnight, causing me to need to write a letter of apology to my father's boss...because he paid for our internet and it was only supposed to be for business use. I developed a neuroses about staying online for too long, since the internet apparently cost a case of gold krugerrands per hour of use back then, but this has served me well. I've learned to be discerning, to not just rampantly consume every flashy and vaguely relevant-to-my-life site that comes along; I think this has saved me a lot of time, though I do tend to miss out on a lot of contagious memes.

My fear for you - even for me, little Batman - is that the internet is actively killing human creativity. I feel that my care in not oversaturating myself with the internet's tempting juices has paid off, and not just because I was raised playing with recycled Glenlivet tins (where the hell did those come from if neither of my parents drank the stuff? am I that naive, or is this really a mystery?) filled with paintable plaster Christmas ornaments. I certainly don't think that overuse - responsible heavy use, especially - of the so-called "world wide web" is necessarily a problem. As you'll no doubt learn, I am definitely a snob, but this is not one of those times when I look down my nose as those who act differently from me. Some of the most innovative, dynamic, original thinkers I know basically need a digital vomitorium to get through all the internet they consume in a given day. Then again, nearly every blithering moron I interact with tends to cite "this cool shit I found online" or "this bitching link on someone's Facebook wall" as if this link, picture, idea, or whatever was an earth-shattering revelation. 

Guess what? If you've found it somewhere on the internet, you can probably find it in several oodles of other places on the internet. Batman, my challenge to you is to come up with something that the internet hasn't thought of yet. If, in your life, you can compose one truly original idea (and I'm not just talking about a magical new food combo, though that'd be cool, too), you will have surpassed most of the billions of humans on this planet. Just don't put it online, okay?