Category Archives: school

The Poor Princess in the Kingdom

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So the Poor Princess got poorer — $600 poorer — for one day (excluding accommodations) in Walt Disney’s genius megascam, Magic Kingdom (the magic is that they get you to agree to handing over $100s of your hard-earned dollars to wait hours to go on 3-minute rides that give you whiplash).

Poor Princess--the poorest princess in the kingdom

Poor Princess–the poorest princess in the kingdom

I’ll be honest: Parts of the day were brilliantly fun–like Splash Mountain, which we got a fastpass for and were all tall enough to go on:

The Princess-Scientist Family, renamed the Perries, on Splash Mountain

The Princess-Scientist Family, renamed the Perries for the day, on Splash Mountain

And parts revealed surprising beauty, like Cinderella’s Castle at night:

Cinderella's Castle at night

Cinderella’s Castle in shades of violet

And parts–like Cool J not being tall enough for Space Mountain (and LL raving about how amazing it was all day) and the miserably bad food we had to wait as long as Space Mountain for–were neither.

The day involved kicking, yelling, crying, too much ice cream (some of which was kicked . . . and led to yelling and crying . . . see above), a torrential downpour, rides that we could have ridden at any fair and at half the malls in America, and, of course, some magical delight. Was it worth $600?

Hell, no. Do you know what I could do with $600?

Unless–unless it was an investment.

This occurred to me the next day at breakfast, when I tried to interest the boys in the waffle iron but could not get their attention for the life of me. The boys were plotting and plotting. I listened in. Cool J, they decided, was going to built a bigger and better version of WDW–named after himself, of course. It would be in Texas–warm weather, lots of money, cheap real estate. The boys planned characters, logos, and rides. The conversation spilled from breakfast to our long, long car ride, and into the next day.

I doubt “Cool J’s World” will come to fruition, but I like the way my boys were thinking. WDW’s brilliant marketing suckered us into spending the cost of a roundtrip ticket to Europe for a day of kitschy Americana, but it also offered my boys an education.

And let’s face it: $600 is a whole lot less than I would spend on their MBAs.

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Etiquette class — take 2

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LL

I’m not going!

You thought etiquette class was a bizarre idea, didn’t you? You thought I should just sign him up for little league like all the other parents do?

Ha! I thought it was genius. And the reason I thought it was genius was the aftermath.

We come home from day 1 of etiquette class, and my mom calls. Usually LL refuses the phone because he’s playing DS or doing his homework or playing Wii or doesn’t feel like it or it’s not Monday (once, my mom made the mistake of telling the boys that she would like a phone/skype date with them every Monday. The routine never materialized, but the idea stuck forever). But that day (a Tuesday), he took the call readily. “Yes, hello. This is LL. Is this Gramma?” He spent the conversation telling her how much he loved her and missed her. My mom marvelled at this foreign creature I was passing off as my son.

The next evening we had a babysitter. This same babysitter (we’ll call her Magda), who is outstanding, had threatened never to return after her last visit (another babysitter didn’t threaten but just canceled on us and never came back after a world-famous performance by all 3 kids). Magda came, albeit reluctantly. At the end of the night, I asked, fearfully, “How did it go?” She said, “That LL is something else! He has the most beautiful manners and we had a long conversation about European cities. I felt like I was talking to an adult!”

Victory.

I was, of course, tremendously excited for the second class. I went to pick him up, armed with snacks (vital for good behavior) and “man clothes” (I even remembered his shoes, an improvement on the first class).

We walked into the church where the class is held. “Can you tie my tie?” he asked. I didn’t know how. The first time I had asked The Scientist to tie it and then I left it loose enough to slide over LL’s head. I said, “Don’t worry about it,” and took him to the class, where the program director told me to go to the side and tie the tie. I stood in the doorway. He realized I wasn’t moving. “Do you know how?” he asked. Not meanly, but I felt kind of stupid. I shook my head. “Next time,” the elderly patrician gentleman courteously admonished me, “Please watch a youtube video before you come.” He did LL’s knot and propelled him gently into the classroom. LL turned back. “Where’s W?” he asked of his friend. But W, it turned out, was at the ENT where his first-grader brother was having an emergency procedure to remove a bead from his nasal cavity (“I did that during an art project . . . in kindergarten,” the kid reported. Apparently beads can hang out in nasal cavities for long periods without causing problems. But then they do. On etiquette class day). “Will you watch me? Are you going to stay and watch? I want you to watch!” called out LL as he slowly walked into the class. Despite–or perhaps because–he’s my eldest (the only one who ever had us with no siblings around), he is our #1 “look at me!” child.

“No!” said Cool J. “I want to go out to the playground!”

“Playground!” echoed Baby MoFo.

A second later, LL was by our side. “My head hurts.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Yes, it does.”

“It didn’t a second ago.”

“It does now.”

“You’re going in.”

“I can’t.”

“You have to.”

“No.”

And then I threw a hissy fit rivalling any LL has ever thrown. But he wouldn’t be moved. He wasn’t going, and that was that.

Alas, another parenting dream down the toilet. Sigh.

Why I Can Vagabond My Kids All Over the World and Not Worry

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Yesterday, my kids started a new school. Not one of their friends from their old school are at their new school. It’s not in our neighborhood (or state; my mission is to have them try out Jewish schools in every American state and Canadian province and whatever they call them in the UK so that by the time they grow up, they will the world experts on Jewish schools. And NHL players, because that’s what they say they’re going to be. And doctors, because I always tack that on to NHL players). How will they make friends? Who will they talk to? Will it be like our arrival in the US a few years back when I got weekly calls from LL’s kindergarten teacher who would say encouraging things like “LL spoke in class today! I said his name and he whispered “Here.” Most of us even heard him!”?

In nervous anticipation of the transition, I turned–where else?–to Facebook. I scrolled through hundreds of friends. On the list: someone I spoke to twice at a conference in Barbados one year when she was dating someone who was a student in the program where The Scientist was a postdoc. She has since broken up with said student, who graduated, wrote a novel, and moved to England, and as for her, FB tells me she moved to Turkey and married a Turkish guy, and is having a birthday today, and all this is to say I am highly doubtful our paths will ever cross again, and I have no idea why she is on my friendlist. “Friend”? Marky Mark, can you come up with a variety of terms to designate these people who end up on our daily feeds?

Aha! I discover that a fellow who spent the year in Israel with The Scientist and me two decades ago has kids at the school my kids are about to attend. Thank you, Marky Mark. Loose ties are awesome. Sorry for the complaint.

I ding him. Back then, he was loud and obnoxious, which I don’t mean as an insult, because I’m also loud and obnoxious, and I was even louder and more obnoxious then. In fact, I rather liked him and his loud, obnoxious crowd.

He’s a rabbi now. Which somehow makes perfect sense. Who wants a quiet, mousy rabbi?

“We’re meeting Rabbi Loud’s kids tonight,” I tell my kids after arranging a date with his absolutely fabulous wife. “Please pretend you’re not obnoxious.” I have the word obnoxious in my head. Also, my kids are obnoxious. In fact, as I say this to them, they are beating each other with sticks. “You need to have friends in your new school.”

LL pshaws me. “Oh, mama, of course we’ll make friends.”

We arrive at their house, the kids all run off to play Wii, and they’re immediate besties. Guess LL was right.

He and Cool J start school. They’ll be taking the bus, but I drive them on the first day, worried they will be worried. They are not worried. I go home, and I wait anxiously for them to return. “Hey, Mama,” they call out as they burst through the door. They are all smiles. I ask a hundred questions; they ask to play Wii. “Can you tell me one thing?” I ask. “Did you have any friends? Did you talk to Rabbi Loud’s son?” LL looks at me like I’m crazy. “Of course I did,” he says. “He’s my best friend.” “He is?” “Well, of course he is. He’s the only person I know!”

I get fewer details from Cool J, but today he comes home with double the smile he had on yesterday. “Did you have fun at school?” I ask. “YES!! It was the best day at school ever!!” “It was?” I ask, delighted. “Well, sure,” he says. “It was better than yesterday, and there have only been two days, so it was the best day at school EVER!”

My kids are happy, positive people. Sometimes I think LL has something of my grandmother’s spirit in him (she was rather a glass half empty kind of person), but maybe I’m just mixing them up because they both love(d) to eat matzah year-round. Remind me of this when I’m obsessively scrolling through my FB friendlist next year in anticipation of our move to the UK.

new school

Best Parent (not really, but whatever)

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Last week, The Scientist and I went to England for six days. Six days. Sans kids. It was spectacular.

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What kids?

But–I worried. I did. Not about the kids, who I knew would be fine. I worried about my parents. Would they survive? Would they be completely destroyed on our return? Would they beg us to never, ever, ever show them the faces of their horrible grandchildren ever again? I wondered/feared/suspected.

Not at all. I was wrong. When I said, “I’m sorry if the baby climbed in your bed 95 times a night,” my mom said, “Huh? He never did that.” There has not been a night in remembered history that Baby MoFo has not shown up in my bed–and when returned to his own room, he comes back. And back. And back. When I said, “Sorry if they wasted all the food you made,” she said, “They ate beautifully!” When I asked, “Did the TV ever get turned off?” she said, “It never got turned on. They love to read!”

The day after I came home, I went to the boys’ school for LL’s “Authors’ Breakfast”–a morning where second graders read from the books they’ve been writing all year (needless to say, LL’s books were about zombies, plants–as they relate to zombies, that is, and Ninjao, and soccer). LL’s teacher calls me aside. “Were you away?” she asks. “Yes, I say. Thanks for asking–.” “I was wondering–all week?” “Yes, we–.” “He was perfect this week. Best he’s ever been.” “Great.”

Of course he was. Because it turns out what my parents have suspected all along is true. They are better parents than us.

But today I decided I redeemed myself. This morning was Cool J’s kindergarten graduation. It was very cute: the kids danced around and sang various songs about being friends and sharing and all that other kindergarteny-type stuff. At the end, our attention was drawn to the mini-people on the wall that the kids had painted and decorated. Each child wrote under the words “After I graduate I” what he or she wanted to be. Our jobs, as the parents, was to figure out which minifig represented our own child. Was mine the own who wrote “I want to be an artist”? “I want to be a cook”? “I want to be an emergency room doctor?” No, I knew right away:

hockey player 2013

I could have picked any of the kids’ pictures. I could have picked the one whose said “After I graduate, I want to be a lactation consultant.” I could have–really. I could have, but I didn’t. And do you know why? Because I know my kids. I might not get them to eat their greens at every meal or stay in their beds or read regularly, but I know them. Because I am the best parent. Well, not really, but whatever.

This Vagabond Life–Forever???

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All three kids have now lived a good part of their lives in the US, a good part in Canada. Is it time to move on? Are we destined to be vagabonds forever, moving from one country to the next, never settling, never buying that aluminum-siding, characterless McMansion, never investing in any long-term commitments (like phone contracts), never, as they said back in the 20th century, “putting down roots”? Is that, perhaps, not such a bad thing?

Alright, readers, here’s the thing: We have a chance to move to the UK.

S0–should we stay or should we go?

Option A

Option A

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Option B

Put another way:

Option A

Option A

Option B

Option B

Well, this could go on. I will give you the pros and cons for our family, and you will tell me what to do with my life.

Here we go–

The Pros:

* Jewish day schools are state-funded in the UK. That means FREE! (you can give a *voluntary* donation, which is bubkas compared to what we pay on this side of the Atlantic). Not only are they FREE, but they are also multicultural (since they can’t discriminate on the basis of religion for a state-funded school). 

*We would live in Europe! Granted, it’s not the continent, but the continent is a hop, skip, and a cheap Ryanair flight away. Hello, weekend in Barcelona, ski trip in Slovenia, a little shopping in Milan.

*The Scientist would be in a “real” job–an actual faculty member in a strong department with good research. As he moves from mid- to late-thirties, the time might be nigh to play big boy!

*We can vote. Apparently our Commonwealth status is worth something somewhere beyond Canadian borders. Of course, I know nothing about British politics, but it might be nice to get to have a say about the place I’m living in. Can I vote, by the way, for Canada not to be a part of the Commonwealth anymore (I’m really big on that whole republic thing, and do not appreciate being a monarchy with a foreign head of state), or would that be kind of self-defeating? (Would I be voting down my right vote?)

*We love welfare states! That’s so left-wing pinko commie academic of us, too, and sooo Canadian, too. But universal healthcare, you are a beautiful thing. It means the end of the very American kind of mail that arrives at our house and startles the crap out of us: “This is not a bill. Emergency room visit: $1480. Your insurance paid: $260. You owe: $0.” Huh?

The Cons:

*I LOVE SUNSHINE. The Scientist is of the opinion that weather “doesn’t matter,” but I DISAGREE! I might DIE in the grey, dreary, and drippy short dark days of the UK. And does it ever end? Rainy winters lead into rainy springs lead into rainy summers . . . Well, you get the picture.

*I would be jobless, friendless, and colleagueless. English departments at UK unis seem utterly devoid of American literature. I suspect the attitude is something along the lines of, “So, have they produced anything over in those colonies yet? Nah . . .”

*Babi and Zaidy and Gramma and Saba and aunties and uncles and all the cousins will be oh so far away. And phone/Skype conversations might become a challenge once our accents have morphed and we can no longer understand our family or them us.

*At heart, there is something deeply American (aka materialistic) about us. We go on about getting rid of clutter, going all minimalist, etc etc, but the truth is this: we love stuff. When I asked an American in the UK recently what it was that he missed most about the US, this is what he said: STUFF! (I panicked. What? No stuff? No stuff? What will I do without stuff?) He then he went on to point out that in the local Sainsbury’s or Tesco, at best you could find 30 or 40 kinds of cereal. Only 30 or 40! I mean, we’re not going to starve, but–?! (Ugh, if I were a better person, this would go in the pro list. So maybe the more appropriate con is that I have to realize what a bad, materialistic person I am.)

*We will be even poorer than we are now–in a not so cheap part of the world (some would say obscenely expensive, even). I know I’m all, yeah, whatev, I’m used to being a  באָרוועסר פּראָפעסאָר

. . . but can I handle being any poorer?

So–what should we do?

On the Travel Itinerary: Back to Where it all Began

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Now that all is booked, and I’m almost ready to go (minus 24 essays to grade and a conference talk to write, a book club to host, a couple of holiday parties and a Chanukah concert to attend–details, details), I find myself reminiscing on my formative years.

This begins as a sob story: I despised my first year of university. I was bored in my classes, and I carried around an obnoxious superiority complex, thinking I was smarter than all my classmates and probably most of my professors. This attitude led me, of course, to do terribly in my courses since I stopped showing up to classes and wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t handing in assignments that were due.

In addition to the lousy academic side of my so-called “college experience” (did such a thing exist for me? I lived at home with my parents, and didn’t make a single new friend, hanging out, as I was, with all my high school friends, who also lived at home with their parents), I was romantically wretched. I was in a warped not-relationship with a hirsute, hateful, rage-driven, confidence-killing, misogynistic, homophobic, Kill-the-Arabs man that a friend of mine affectionately referred to as “ha’Shatiach” (the carpet).

carpet

On one of his better days, he told me: “Every time you smile, I remember how ugly you are.” On another occasion, he borrowed a lip balm from a friend of mine who mentioned–who knows why–that a gay friend of hers regularly borrowed it as well, and ha’Shatiach scrubbed at his lips until they bled (he later told me his father said he should have dumped his plate of spaghetti in my friend’s lap–so we know where he got his loving personality from).

To add to this rather unpleasant foreground, the university I attended was and is one of the least architecturally attractive institutions out there–a mishmash of bad styles, most of them dating from the concrete- and industrial-art-loving 60s. All I wanted to be was anywhere but there.

And by my second year, that’s where I was.

Suddenly, school was cool. Surrounded by Jerusalem stone and the gleam of the Dome of the rock; conversing with people who were smart and cosmopolitan, and who went to famous, fabulous schools like Oxford and Harvard; partying at the “Orient Express,” a nightclub at the Hyatt that catered to stupid drunken tourists like me; high on the handshake between Rabin and Arafat (a clipping from the Jerusalem Post featuring that triptych of peace–Rabin, Clinton, and Arafat in camaraderie, Clinton with an arm almost but not quite around each of the Middle Eastern men–hung on my wall); I found, in Israel, two loves–one professional, and one romantic.

domeofrockext

I was 19.

One wouldn’t imagine that what happened that year would affect me so profoundly. But I guess it did. One day that year, visiting Tzfat, a beautiful, mystical city where the artists reign, I told my hosts (beneficent strangers who took me in for a Shabbos dinner), as though in a trance, that when I “grew up” I was going to be an English professor. It was the first time such a thought had ever entered my head, and it flew out of my mouth just as soon as it did.

Two days later, I returned to Jerusalem, and I told my boyfriend of the time of my plan.

That was 19 years ago–half a lifetime ago. This was me and my boyfriend:

PP & The Scientist--1994, Israel

THEN: PP & “Boyfriend of the time” in Israel (and yes–I still had the unfortunate eyebrows I had in high school, as Nancy Botwin reminds me every time she sees this picture).

My plan was extensive. I was going to go back to my home university. I would not be miserable because I would go visit my boyfriend whenever I could. And he would visit me. I would do incredibly well in all my classes. I would get into a good graduate program. And then I would get my PhD and become an English professor. And maybe–this part was hazier–marry the boyfriend.

There was one more thing: I didn’t just say I was going to be an English professor. I said I was going to be an English professor in Israel. So much had happened to me there, so many important life changes, I could only imagine that Israel would be a fundamental part of my life forever. I could only imagine that I would live there full-time. Or maybe part-time. But there was no way another year of my life would go by without my spending time in Israel.

But I was wrong. Israel wasn’t a big part of my life after that–not in any kind of physical, tangible way. 19 years went by–the same number of years of my life that led up to my year in Israel. 19 years went by and I didn’t go back to Israel once. I changed. Everyone changed. Even ha’Shatiach, I hear, changed. He found drugs, and through drugs found yoga, and through yoga found peace–and now he’s a peace-loving yogi/naturopath who lives happily in a Muslim country.

And as for me? Well, you all know where I am —

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Not tt, but happily teaching at one of the finest and prettiest universities in the world

PP, The Scientist, Cool J, LL, and Baby MoFo--2012

“Boyfriend of the time” and I are now 5: PP, The Scientist, Cool J, LL, and Baby MoFo

And, after half a lifetime, guess where I’m finally GOING?

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be a PROFESSOR there or anything . . . but I am finally going back.

It’s Not Starbucks

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AFter all that blah blah blah complaining about unemployment, I do it. I get a summer job. It’s not my dream job, but, you might say, it’s not Starbucks. I don’t have to wear a uniform (I don’t really do hats) or pretend I don’t understand when people say “medium” (“I’m sorry. We don’t carry that size. Perhaps you mean a grande??”). At the hourly rate local crossing guards make, it also pays a bit more per hour than Starbucks–although, as I’m soon to discover, there are many hours (“Be here an hour early to test the incoming students, but DON’T PUT THAT HOUR ON YOUR TIMESHEET WHATEVER YOU DO!!” “Oh, did we mention there’s a faculty development meeting today? Bring a lunch, and expect to stay and extra hour and a half or so. Oh, and DON’T PUT IT ON YOUR TIMESHEET!”) that are simply unpaid. So perhaps not.

When I read the job description, it sounded glamorous and exciting. I wonder if I misread it. I don’t have the ad, so I’ll try to reconstruct it from memory. It went something like this:

Italian students will be coming to America to discover, imbibe, inhale, and digest American culture. Some other Europeans are coming, too. For the small sum of 6000 € (plus airfare), they will: Shop! Go bowling! Visit the White House! See a Broadway play! Hit the mean streets of Philly! Eat hamburgers and fries! Stroll along the Baltimore Inner Harbor! Cry at Ground Zero! Spend lots of money! Tell their friends and brothers and sisters about their experience so that they, in turn, can  add many more euros to our coffers!

Teacher of English: You can be a part of this experience. You can impart to these FOBs what it is to love the land God blessed. You can teach them what it is to speak the language of our beloved country. You can fill their mouths with clichés and their heads with stereotypes. You can’t join them for that Broadway play (though feel free to play youtube videos from the production in your classroom), or live out your little Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr or Fay Wray/colossal gorilla romantic fantasies at the top of the Empire State Building (ditto the youtubes) with this job, but you can do something far more important. You can lock yourself in a classroom with them for 3 hours/morning–don’t come late! don’t leave early!–don’t take more than 10 minutes for a break!–and do something or other with them (we don’t really care what, but their parents aren’t going to pay for them to just go sightseeing. We are calling this edutainment, people!!)(ps: We recommend youtube videos).

Will you be paid for this job? Oh yes! Of course you are! Don’t you worry! Well, OK, we’re only going to pay you a pittance (hey–that 6000 € is ours), but just think about it: This is the opportunity of a lifetime.

YOU can give your students:

THE AMERICAN DREAM.

And so I did.

How to fill 3 hours of class time for a class with no objectives, no curriculum, and no rules (apart from those pertaining to the number of hours to be in class)? There are youtube videos . . . and then there are cupcakes. I filled my students up on Americana both ways. Also, I attempted to improve their English. Which is, I think, what they were there for.

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