Update on the little girl

Thanks for all your kind comments on the last post.

It's interesting that Laura commented that her first year of teaching was probably her best. I just can't resist the notion that even the best intentions in the world can't make up for experience. Today Lena told me that Miss Smith warned the class that if they got three checkmarks on the board (for bad behavior) she would cancel recess. But when the third check came, she said that if they got one more, there would be no recess. First, cancelling recess for the whole class is a baaaaad idea, in my opinion. These kids need recess! But second, and worse, she should not have changed her mind. What do you think? Other teachers out there, what was your first year like? My husband's first year, teaching in a charter school in Detroit that was also brand-new that year, was horrendous. Trial by fire.

Anyway, the little girl in the last post? On the second day of school -- yesterday -- they transferred her to the other first grade class, with a teacher who's been around the block a bunch of times. My feelings are mingled: relief and pity.

First day blues

Back to school is always hard for me, though not because I miss my kids. I feel the same relief as all the other SAHMs when the kids head off to school. No, it's because my husband has to go back to work, too. It's so lovely to have him around all summer, especially when there's a very rambunctious toddler in the family. We do role reversal all summer: he takes care of the kids most of the time, while I do my own thing. This summer, I started a little home business. Little in the scheme of things, but A Very Big Deal to me, with huge emotional investment. It is painful to have to cut back my time on that and go back to being the SAHM while he goes off to work. And I miss him.

I knew in advance that Lena's teacher was new to our school, and that she was young, but I didn't learn until this afternoon that this is her very first teaching job. I really liked her this morning: she seemed poised, confident, and sweet. But now that I know she's new to teaching I'm all worried. And yet I feel so stupid for worrying because first of all, this morning, before I knew, I thought she was great. And second, everyone has to start some time. Heck, I'm married to a teacher. Why not give her the benefit of the doubt? And third, Lena's not a particularly high-maintenance kid; she'll probably do fine wherever she is. And fourth, since Miss Smith is fresh from school she's presumably full of all the latest theories and ideas and so forth. She's probably super-motivated. And yet, and yet. There are a couple of very high-maintenance kids in the class. Well, I signed up to volunteer in the classroom, so I'll be able to keep an eye on her, at least for an hour a week! :)

One of the high-maintenance kids in the class is a little girl who, at the beginning of kindergarten last year, could not write or spell her own name or recognize most of the letters of the alphabet. She appears to be economically disadvantaged. No parent or guardian of hers was ever seen at any school event. She had no address or phone number listed in the directory. She diverts attention away from her academic difficulties with bad behavior. She has no idea how to get along with other kids. Once last year she said to my daughter: "Lena, you're a bad girl, and I'm going to tell you that every day!" I tried many times to get Lena to see the sadness of the situation, how this girl is trying to be Lena's friend but just doesn't know positive ways of getting attention, how often she herself has probably been called a bad girl, etc. When she saw Lena in the hallway this morning she ran right up to her and gave her a great big bear hug. Which Lena hated, but didn't break away from. And which made me a little teary, the poignancy of it.

Joey's going to have a great year. His teacher is also pretty new to teaching, but not brand new. I do know she's very creative with lesson plans. Even better, he was (deliberately?) put in a class separate from his two best pals. He was devastated, but I'm glad. The fewer the distractions, the better.

Daniel started off the school year by waking us up at 5 am. By late afternoon it was apparent that he had some kind of stomach bug, resulting in some extremely unpleasant diapers. Ew!

Sorry for rambling & bad grammar, but I've been up since 5 am and I am So Fried. Good night!

Statistics 101

Just to recap: my non-blogging friend Leslie has this theory that people tend to like either Life of Pi or Kite Runner, but not both. She and I, by the way, both liked the former but not the latter.

Five people who had read both books voted in the poll, certainly a statistically significant sample. Out of the five, three liked one but not the other. One liked both, one disliked both. I think this is pretty good support for Les's theory. I've been trying to get her to write a guest post that would give a reason for this phenomenon, because frankly I can't come up with much. The two books are sooooo different on so many levels. Would anyone else who's read both care to take a stab at it while we wait for Les?

Anyway, I'm taking down the poll now. I'm sorry about the popup ads; I didn't know that would happen. Thanks for voting, if you did.

Oh ha ha ha!

Have you seen these? They're rude but SO funny!


Big excitement, and a rant

I have been so envious lately because it seems like all the other bloggers are getting to meet each other in real life. I can't believe two of my favorite bloggers, Phantom Scribbler and Mimilou, got to have a playdate. No fair! Anyway, I was bemoaning my fate and feeling all alone, when I learned that Melanie Lynn Hauser is going to be here in just a couple of weeks, promoting her new book! Hurray! I get to meet a blogger!

Melanie's been doing a very cool thing on her blog with her interviews of independent booksellers. I do like to get up on my soapbox every once in a while and rant against the big corporate bookstores. I'm still mad at Barnes & Noble for buying out the student-run cooperative book store at the University of Michigan, god, how many years ago was that? And Borders? Oh, don't get me started! Actually, I have, uh, personal reasons for boycotting Borders, even aside from its size and general corporate-ness. I'd rather get books from the library anyway. But if I have to buy a book (and I have to buy Melanie's!) I will buy it at Nicola's or Shaman Drum.

Oh no . . . !

I saw this at Mimilou. I think INTJ is probably accurate for me, but still! Sheesh!

In the interest of fairness . . .

I should tell you that the other times I've called Poison Control I've had no communication problems at all. They've been great.

My great big 9yo back then
The first time I ever called them was when Joey was about one and a half. This was back in the good old days when doulicia and I used to be next-door neighbors. She and her husband went away for the weekend, leaving me to take care of their cats. So, Joey and I are down in her dank, cobwebby, unfinished basement (if you live in Michigan, you'll be able to picture it perfectly). I'm scooping the poops out of the litter and it's taking forever because there are two cats and the pooper-scooper thing is extremely flimsy. So, one little poop at a time, I'm picking out the pieces. While I'm doing that, Joey is . . . Joey is . . . ohmigod! Joey is holding what appears to be an empty gallon-size milk jug, but it has DANGER and POISON handwritten all over it in huge capital letters with black marker. And an actual skull and crossbones drawn on, too! Joey is giggling and shaking this jug, as white droplets of something fly out of the jug and land all over him and the floor around him. It was almost comical, in a Bugs Bunnyish sort of way.

Doulicia hadn't left any contact information. Poison Control said the mysterious poisonous white liquid was probably one of two things. Either it was whitewash, or it was industrial-strength pesticide. Knowing doulicia, we put our money on the whitewash. The ER doctor determined that whatever it was, Joey had not ingested any of it.

It was whitewash, by the way. Whitewash, which looks just like milk, and was in a milk jug, and Doulicia didn't want anyone to drink it by mistake . . . .

Luckily, no one did.


Couldn't resist this quiz I saw at MysteryMommy: which Greek god/goddess are you?

But I'm a little surprised and puzzled at the result I got:

You are Apollo! Apollo was the god of prophesy, music and healing.
He is famous for his skill with the lyre, and that he was responsible for the downfall of Achilles, a great hero during the Trojan War.


For some reason, this summer the birds didn't eat all the elderberries at my mother-in-law's house. She invited Joey and Lena to come over and eat whatever they could pick. Well, they picked a lot. A Lot. And because grandma lives next door, the kids were easily able to go back for more. Which they did. They brought back bowl after bowl. They mashed 'em up and added sugar. They ate 'em plain. They ate 'em with milk. They fed 'em to our delighted toddler.

The elderberryfest lasted a couple of days. Then my mother-in-law called just as we were in the middle of cleaning the purple off their faces so we could go to a dinner party. She told me she was looking up elderberry recipes on the internet. One of them warned that elderberries should never be eaten raw. Gulp!

I rushed to the internet to try to find more information. I found something about the pits containing cyanide, but it wasn't very specific. So I called poison control. The person who answered was not a native English-speaker. There was a bit of a communication problem. Now, is it just me, or is answering the phone at the poison control center the one place where communication skills are vitally important? ("Elderberries, dammit! E-l-d-e-r-b-e-r-r-y, elderberry!") By the time they figured it out my kids could've been dead!

Not really, as it turns out. Raw elderberries can cause tummy aches and diarrhea, but we would have known about it within 2 hours of first ingestion. Some people are more susceptible than others.

And I know what you're thinking. Yes, grandma did find an elderberry recipe. We ate the pie, still warm, with vanilla ice cream. Man, was it good!

elderberry pie

A brief and bitter digression into politics

"Hey, look, honey," I said to Steve the other day, "I found a funny typo in the paper. It says President Bush is on vacation for five weeks! Ha, ha, they said weeks instead of days!"

And it isn't even Wednesday

The title of this post is a literary allusion, dontcha know, referring to Phantom Scribbler's weekly Wednesday whine-fests.

So, like, I'm trying to read this book now. But it's too hard, because it was printed in 1971. A paperback, and not on archival paper. The pages are yellowy, brittle, almost falling out. The font and margins are miniscule. You can't hold the book without covering up some of the words with your thumb. What could be less inviting? What was the so-called designer thinking? It's a serious obstacle to my enjoyment of this book. The only book I've ever read that was worse than this is my copy of The Idiot, which has the above-described problems, PLUS the ink smears when you touch it. Gross!

The current book is Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis. I actually did make it through this godforsaken book once before, years ago. All I remember is how ugly it was -- the book, that is, not the content. But despite the huge obstacle I'm enjoying it. Here's a sample quote: "For the first time a suspicion that he might be dead and already in the ghost-life crossed his mind. He was trembling, but a hundred mental habits forbade hime to consider this possibility." And here's a very C.S. Lewis-y little phrase: "severe delight."

Well, I'm off to the library at the earliest opportunity to see if they have a better copy there.

Bad guys

In her comment on the preceding post, Laura wrote:

I'm curious about whether people can be evil without being insane. Can a person who is entirely sane still be deliberately evil? Does past abuse, attachment disorder, etc., make the actions any less evil? I understood that the definition of psychotic meant "out of touch with reality". In that case, aren't the organized murderers more psychotic (insane) than the disorganized ones?
Hmmmm. I'm going to go for the easy question first, which is the last one. No. The disorganized ones are more psychotic. One of the disorganized guys believed his blood would dry up and turn to dust unless he drank the blood of his victims. He also believed that by doing so he was preventing earthquakes from causing California to fall into the ocean. He truly believed he was saving millions of lives. The organized guys, on the other hand, are merely (merely!) making their life-long fantasies of domination and death come true. They know full well what they're doing, and judging by the descriptions in the book they are not psychotic. Unless you want to argue that only an insane person would do what this person did, therefore he must be insane -- an argument that traditionally has not held up in court, if I recall correctly.

Laura's other questions have more to do with definitions, and the answers I believe are matters of opinion. What does it mean to be sane? Well, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest a definition. Let's try this: sanity relates to cognitive processes, to how we understand and process information. One of the dictionary definitions is "able to anticipate and appraise the effect of one's actions." "Rational" is given as a synonym. Under this definition you could easily have a sane evil person. These organized guys clearly are able to anticipate and appraise the effects of their actions; the disorganized guys clearly are not.

Then again, I always wonder about the bad guys in movies. Do they think they are evil?

This is a great topic for discussion. What are your thoughts?

An irresistible impulse

It's one of the ways you can plead insanity. The original legal standard was that you had to be so insane as to not know the difference between right and wrong. After a while the definition was expanded to include those crazies who knew what they were doing was wrong, but had -- you guessed it -- an irresistible impulse to do it anyway.

I had an irresistible impulse to set aside Cry, the Beloved Country in favor of a book called Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Hunting Serial Killers for the FBI. Steve brought it home from the library the other day. I'm not sure why. I do know that reading books like this is wrong, WRONG, WRONG! Wrong because they are so f***ing creepy and disturbing. But despite knowing full well, I couldn't resist my (duh!) irresistible impulse. I've read almost 150 pages just since yesterday afternoon.

I guess I wouldn't be Bookworm if I didn't start out by saying that this book is very well written. From a purely literary point of view it's a very good read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the true crime genre. It's matter-of-fact, clean and concisely written. The author doesn't bother with a lot of adjectives and adverbs; he lets the facts speak for themselves (and boy howdy, do these facts speak for themselves!) The author, Robert K. Ressler, is a now-retired FBI agent who coined the term "serial killer." He comes across as a very likeable, unassuming guy. He freely admits his annoyance with FBI beaurocracy, and confesses to resorting to some sneaky strategies to get around the red tape. He even manages to work in a little gentle humor here and there, despite the distressing nature of the subject matter.

And it is distressing! My mind is filled with Manson, Gacy, Son of Sam, and many others I hadn't heard of before. Such macabre horrors you wouldn't believe. And their impoverished childhoods, their mean parents, their twisted fantasies, their irresistible impulses. Oh. My. God.

Why is this stuff so fascinating?

Hat meme

Found this meme at Jo(e)'s page: post a photo of your child wearing a hat. Coincidentally, I took this one just this morning.

little guy with cereal box hat

Where does he come up with this stuff?

This was a hard day. I was going to write a very sad post about a gigantic funeral that was held this morning at the church next to our house (tragic auto accident, parents and young children, 'nuff said), but decided instead to cheer myself up (and hopefully you too) with this little tidbit:

My son Joey, age 9, is into Yugioh, but because he's Joey, he prefers to make up his own cards than play with ones created by someone else. He goes through index cards like you wouldn't believe. I made a little collage of three randomly chosen cards from a recent pile:

homemade yugioh cards

If you're at all familiar with Yugioh you'll know that the above are fairly typical of the genre. And then I found this one:

Waxing enthusiastic

While we were on vacation I started reading our book club selection: Cry, the Beloved Country.

I will say first off that I would never have read this book if it weren't for the club. A quick initial flip through the pages gave me such a sinking feeling: it uses m-dashes instead of quotation marks to indicate dialogue. What could be more off-putting?

And then I read the first page. I was sucked in immediately by the beauty of the prose; the simple dignity of the main character; the emotional intensity of the plot and setting; Africa. The m-dashes are not an obstacle.

I'll give you a taste of it. A man has been murdered, and the protagonist, Kumalo, tries to figure out if he knew him.

[Kumalo] was silent, then he said, yet I remember, there was a small bright boy, and he too sometimes rode on his horse past the church. A small bright boy, I remember, though I do not remember it well.

And he was silent again, for who is not silent when someone is dead, who was a small bright boy?
Here's another one, also about silence. This scene takes place at a church service.

Msimangu opened the book, and read to them first from the book. And Kumalo had not known that his friend had such a voice. For the voice was of gold, and the voice had love for the words it was reading. The voice shook and beat and trembled, not as the voice of an old man shakes and beats and trembles, nor as a leaf shakes and beats and trembles, but as a deep bell when it is struck. For it was not only a voice of gold, but it was the voice of a man whose heart was golden, reading from a book of golden words. And the people were silent, and Kumalo was silent, for when are three such things found in one place together?
Wow. Heady stuff, huh?

We're back!

Hi everyone!

We're back from our trip, feeling simultaneously exhausted and refreshed. My brother-in-law is the designated family photographer: not only does he take terrific pictures, but he actually remembers to bring his camera. So, as soon as he downloads the photos, I'll post some.

I had decided to forego the Kite Runner discussion in favor of going sailing (a no-brainer) but fate dictated otherwise. It rained that morning. So I went. Along with 30 other people. We should have divided into smaller groups, but instead we all crammed into one big circle. Most people liked it a lot, though there were a few who didn't. The discussion was interesting. It focused mainly on class distinctions and Afghani culture, as opposed to the literary merits (or lack thereof!) of the novel. I was a little shy with so many people there: I didn't have the courage to bring up the comparison to Atonement, and I also wasted a perfect opportunity to take a Life of Pi vs. Kite Runner poll. Oh well! The discussion didn't make me like the book any more, but it did make me think about different aspects of it. But I would rather have gone sailing.

There's still lots of laundry and other catching up to do, but I am looking forward to going through my blog roll later today.