Archive for the ‘The Prairie’ Category

Yesterday was language development day.  After a successful attempt at getting the Snapper dressed without a fuss–victory is mine!–taking a stroller ride to KMart for laundry detergent, and some wonderful freeplay, we played with a stack of letter cards together.  They’re the kind with the letter and some sort of representative object.  We just went through them saying the object and the letter it begins with.  I didn’t think it would make much of an impression (he’s only 2 1/2, after all), but at the bus stop as we were hunkered down watching the miniature world of the sidewalk I asked him, “what letter does ‘ant’ begin with?” (‘ant’ was on the ‘a’ card specifically) and he answered “A, Alligators all Around!” quoting a song we love.  It was thrilling.  Of course it could just be a coincidence and he certainly doesn’t know all of his letters, but it was cool.

After lunch/reading/nap we hopped on the bus to the library, where he had a tantrum over sharing at the train table (seriously, if you are going to have your 14-year-old babysit, please forbid them from texting) and got to see his favorite babysitter.  Then we met Attic Man and friends for pizza downtown.  One of the Snapper’s most favoritist of Attic Man’s friends was there, and he was ecstatic to have the friend carry him partway to the bus stop to go home.

I wanted to say a couple of things about this preschool-at-home approach.  First, it’s mostly for me.  I need structure to, as Kohana phrased it, always be moving toward the “next thing” so I don’t get stuck.  Second, I really believe there are as many ways to parent as there are kids, and that lots of people do it with very little structure and their kids thrive.  Mine wasn’t (well, as much as he could be), and I wasn’t, so I did what was needed.  Third, I am not in the least deluded enough to think that this will necessarily give the Snapper any kind of academic edge.  He already lives in a language-rich environment with adults that pay attention to him and include him.  Honestly the teaching is just a lot of fun for both of us.  The moment it becomes work we will change it up.  I imagine the unschooling people have a similar philosophy with their older kids, and I can really get behind that.  Learning should be fun.

One of the nice things we’ve arranged these days is for Attic Man to do the entire bedtime routine so that I can go to our Community Garden plot in the evenings.  It’s been so nice to get my hands in the dirt.  I’ve planted peas, broccoli, romaine lettuce, okra tomatoes, peppers, rosemary, cilantro, green beans, and cosmos for the ends of the rows.  And I’m planting more today!  I may run out of garden before I can use up all my seed packets.

And the Snapper this morning?  Playing happily in his room.  He hasn’t called for me yet so I’m enjoying the time to myself.  He has never done that before.

So life is good.


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On Being Quiet

It hasn’t been for lack of suitable material: my son’s rapidly growing, frequently outlandish vocabulary (which tonight expanded to include “pastaaaaaaa!” with a little growl); my evolving sense of race issues both personally and communally in our new neighborhood; the astounding–and I do not exaggerate–fact that our house has remained neat, clean, and under control for five entire weeks with nary a hiccup longer than two days; continued frustration over being over 30 and not yet living my ‘real life,’ complete with ‘real job’ and ‘real house’ and continued self-flagellation over feeling entitled to those things when most people don’t have them and can never expect to; and in general my increasingly complicated relationship with my own aging process, mortality, the mortality of all people, and my incredulousness over the passage of time (see out comma freaking);

and becoming a Quaker.  That I may be able to talk about.

Two weeks ago at the end of the IC Meeting for Worship I voiced my intention to form a Clearness Committee, which is a group of people that are supposed to help me discern my readiness for Quaker life and its appropriateness for mine.  After happy murmurs from the meeting the clerk kindly explained that I would need to send a letter addressed to the meeting stating my intentions and that at the next Meeting for Business a Clearness Committee would be discussed.

Probably all that I will need to write is something like, “I wish to ask the Meeting to form a Clearness Committee to help me determine whether or not membership is appropriate at this time,” but I find myself writing a much longer letter in my head, one that contemplates the many paths I’ve wandered on and how they’ve intersected and intertwined in the need for a particular kind of community striving for the kind of life I yearn to live but have never been able to on my own.

I suppose it really does relate to this turning-thirty business (which I did a whole year ago; the plan was to take the year between 30 and 31 to set into motion all the changes I wanted to make permanent, and then start living them at 31, which is simultaneously hilarious, ridiculous, and wonderful).  When I picture the best version of myself–gentle, strong, compassionate, giving (but from a place of strength, not doormattishiness), respectful and protective of life in all its forms, practicing peaceful and mindful living–that person is closest of all to the prototypical Quaker.  I know myself, and I know that I will become what I am near, and the best thing I can do for myself it to be near what I wish to become.

I have learned in the past few weeks that the outward practices of Friends–peace and social justice work, silent meetings–drew me in initially, but less tangible aspects of Quaker life are beginning to anchor me to it.  There are so many tendrils from which to choose, but tonight I am thinking about the best kind of flexibility: like the yoga instructor soothingly explains in the video I used in college, encouraging the yogi through the tree pose, “you may sway.  trees sway.  get more grounded.”  Quaker flexibility allows for the winds to blow wherever they may (and the metaphor is intentional–Friends emphasize the Holy Spirit, which is almost always referred to as a wind in scripture), for the demands of each age to be accommodated as God leads, but always, always the Friend is deeply rooted in tradition, scripture, prayer, and community. To me Quakerism is like Unitarianism with a root system: gentle, accepting, flexible, and firm, sure, and–in a way I cannot yet articulate–uncompromising (indeed Quaker decision-making is always based on consensus, not on a democratic majority-rules ethic.  One does not compromise so much as one moves with surety).  Because of this rooted flexibility, Friends have never excluded or marginalized women (hard to do anyway when everyone in the meeting–elders included–is completely and equally able to receive the Holy Spirit and to share its leadings with the meeting), were against slavery from the start, have been involved in every major peace movement since their genesis, accept and celebrate alternative sexual expression, and more recently, have taken a lead on environmental issues.

Friends are not ordinary liberals.  Though they take up many liberal social issues, they are less prone to the hypocrisies of liberal life because their practice is to continually examine their own real and potential hypocrisies (in a wonderful moment at the last Meeting for Worship at Iowa Yearly Meeting, a man spoke of his normally-gentle father’s horrible response to his brother’s homosexuality and how it reminds him that every generation has its blind spots, and of his intention to seek out what his were, and wondered if one of those blind spots has been the way we have persisted in abusing the earth and its inhabitants).

And then there are these moments of strangeness in which I feel alienated from a tradition that is so different from my own, wondering if it will ever feel perfect–as it does in small moments during meetings–and if it should.  I wonder about the absence in this country of Quakers of color, especially given Friends’ inclusiveness, and wonder if that’s a blind spot, too, one that I may be right to give voice to…wonder not only if the Friends are right for me, but if I am right for them, if I have something to give as well…

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It’s the worst kind of anniversary.  There are no gifts.  But if there were, this year would be paper.  On the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Women for Peace Iowa held a protest outside of the offices of Senator Harkin and Representative Loebsack, complete with a flag-draped coffin replica.  Yours truly and her son in a backpack were pallbearers.

Upstairs, tiny paper coffins made out of printed flag paper lined the long hallway and spilled into the politicians’ offices.  I didn’t expect to be moved, but my heart sank into my shoes when I saw them.  The worst part was the way they tumbled over one another in the offices–lives tossed away carelessly.  Each one represented a life lost and a family torn apart.  Cliches cannot really convey how moving it was to see these tiny coffins.  And there were only 2,000 of them, just half the number of soldiers we’ve lost.

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-The Snapper goes under the mask and under the knife tomorrow as the urologist looks for a missing t*sticle. It’s minor but it’s surgery, and it’s general anesthesia so there’s a undercurrent of worry. The next worst part of it is that he can’t eat or drink anything after midnight or have milk products (including breastmilk–I checked) 2-3 hours after he comes home. That will be at least twelve hours of not nursing during a time when he arguably needs to nurse the most. Attic Man will be on hand for that time as we’ve decided that he will not understand why I am there but refusing to nurse him. I am not looking forward to not being there to see him off and see him for recovery.

Update: Home and recovering well.

-I drove by the little house in our price range and it’s cute. The neighborhood is full of these tiny houses and it looks working class/grad studenty. There is a playground three or four houses away and a big open park. The yard is big, bigger than what we have now, with a grand old tree, and it’s fenced in. It’s about $100 more than we’re paying for rent now, but seeing as we spend $160 on gas commuting to IC right now, we’ll come out slightly ahead. We’re in email contact with the lessee at the moment. We’ll see if it comes to anything. In the meantime I’m finding houses in that range in that general vicinity, which is about 3 miles from the law school, not really walkable but very commutable. We talked about public transit but that will not save the kind of time we need to be saving to make this move. So I am thinking we may be able to do a house. That makes me feel A LOT better. We may still end up in an apt. but maybe not, whereas before I was thinking it was inevitable.

-Thanks for thinking of joining Fitness Sisters, Abebech and Jenny! I’m still working out what I want my indicators to be. I think that we should all have our own goals to track, and y’all can put them in the comments section so we can encourage each other. That way it can be personal to you but you’ll have the support of the other women. Also, I’ve thought about the jeans thing and I’ve gone back and forth. I have those jeans, too, the ones that I wore when I was last at my ideal weight. Ultimately I think we have to leave the jeans out of it, because jean size obsession (or even concern) is awfully close to weight-watching. I want to get away from size and think health and fitness. If you want to have that as a goal, cool, but maybe keep that on your side of the internet and just talk about how many times you went to the gym or took a brisk walk.

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The two-year move

Attic Man and I will have been married for eight years this June. It’s an even-numbered year, so unfortunately that means it’s time to move.

It’s not like we planned it this way. It’s just that every two years an opportunity for something better comes along: a move to Pittsburgh for grad school, a move across Pittsburgh for a bigger, nicer place nearer to school, a move halfway across the country for midwest living (and now, law school). Now we’re looking at places in Iowa City. We’re both tired of Attic Man’s commute (45 min each way, and with nasty weather as much as 90 min) and I’m beginning to tire of Cedar Rapids. It has its charms, true, but IC has some things I really miss, like a food co-op, ethnic restaurants, and a university. When we visit there I always feel more natural, like I can put down my guard. I don’t have to explain why I am enrolled in a Pittsburgh school but live in Iowa, or what a dissertation is. I don’t mind explaining these things, and I don’t look down on people who need them to be explained. I am just tired of feeling like a…I don’t know…like an impostor, like I am always holding back.

The depressing part of it (aside from the hell of relocation) is that IC is a hell of a lot more expensive than CR. We will save a bundle on gas (and parking, if we can find something close enough to the law school) but it does depend on the individual situation whether or not we break even on the prospect. We WILL come out ahead in terms of time, and that would be a huge quality-of-life bump. But all this means that we are looking at apartment buildings instead of houses. I am no snob, but we have two big dogs who are accustomed in their lavatory habits to a fenced-in-yard. It was so nice to move to this house and have that after living with no yard in Pittsburgh. The good news is that the places we’ve scoped out are on cul-de-sacs near woodsy/meadowy areas so the dogs wouldn’t have to deal with city streets. Lenny is TERRIFIED of city streets and at this point we can’t train it out of him. There is one house in our price range but I am skeptical about it being in our price range. We’re not going to have a lot of money next year. I work for a few dollars over minimum wage and Attic Man is in school full time. I can’t afford to be picky, but dammit, I am kicking and whining about this one. And coin-op laundry? After having it in-home for four years? After remembering what a pain in the ass it is to take laundry off-site? With a toddler? No thank you.

Through dumb luck we’ve always lived in houses or duplexes. We would have gladly moved into an apartment before we had dogs but the duplex was what came open in Pittsburgh, and then we wanted a house so we could have a dog and at that point we could afford to rent one. So I guess I’m spoiled. But whine! Remember, I’m obsessed with being 30. I don’t want to be 30 and living in a run-down, cramped apartment with two dogs and a kid and carting my laundry up and down stairs or to laundromat. What’s that? I AM being a snob? Lots of people who are over 30 live in cramped, run-down apartments? Hurrumph. I still hate it.

Privilege. Makes you feel entitled to all kinda shit.

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Caucus Notes

Me: Hey, Edwards staffer!  Please tell me your candidate’s latest position on troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Edwards staffer, turning significantly to my right, meeting my husband’s eyes: So glad you asked that! [super-long answer that I find acceptable but nauseatingly peppered with statements like, “well, you know I was just talking to Elizabeth the other day…”]

Me, having tuned out the second half and having already decided to caucus for Edward, impatiently: Tim, is it? Tim, I have a piece of advice for you.  The next time a woman asks you a question, direct your answer to HER, not to her husband.  Thank you.

Attic Man, amused: Yeah, Tim, I already knew I was caucusing for Edwards.  She’s the one that was undecided.

Tim: [sputters an apology and blabbers about how his wife has a baby at home and isn’t it so nice that she’s taking care of him while he’s here?]  Can I get you anything for the baby?  Some water, maybe?

Me: No, Tim, we’re fine.  Just do it differently next time.

I still like you, Edwards, even if you do have sexist staffers.


I have never liked Iowans more than I liked them tonight.  The caucuses are CRAZY, yo.  Iowans are feisty.  It’s funny how people get when you tell them that their opinions really and truly matter.

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that when I was on the way home to Cedar Rapids from Madison, WI, listening to Beethoven’s Sixth and thinking about my life, and saw a sign that said “Welcome to Davenport” (!) I

a) knew where I was and how to get home from there,

b) had enough money to buy more gas,

c) didn’t have a hungry baby in the backseat,

d) was close enough to the World’s Largest Truckstop to fulfill all automotive and nutritional (well, caloric) needs in bright-light and big-rig safety at a very late hour,

e) remembered the Family restroom at same and could pump a nice three ounces therein,

f) could reflect on a lovely, lovely Thanksgiving dinner with my sister-in-law’s lovely, lovely family,

g) during which I was able to share some of my pumped bounty with my niece,

h) and also that I chose an amazing father for my child, who is happily romping with his cousins in Pennsylvania,

i) and then was able to come home to a warm house in a safe neighborhood with enough food in a time without domestic war.

More to come re: thinking about my life in the car. It has a lot to do with Beethoven.

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