Here’s My Issue With Standardized Testing:

The snacks.

I mean it. I remember when I was a kid and we had our standardized testing, we did it in the gym. You could bring two pencils and a book to keep you busy between sections. These days, testing is done in the classroom. Fine. The kids still get to bring a book. Fine again. BUT…… Gabby came home on Friday with a along and detailed list of the various snacks the students are allowed to bring, to “help them focus” during testing week. (She wrote this list gigantically on her left arm, which is another topic entirely.) If I remember correctly, when I was young, there had to be an Act of God to allow you to get so much as a drink of water while testing was in progress. In fact, I clearly recall losing a tooth once, and the teacher just handed me a Kleenex and told me to wait until break. But Kids These Days? They get to keep their water bottles handy, and they can get up and refill them at will.

And then there’s the snacks.

Do your kids bring a snack as well as a lunch to school every day? My sixth grader gets daily snack time. And my third grader even gets chocolate milk at snack time, for the love of God. We were not allowed to eat anything– ANYTHING– unless we were sitting in the lunchroom, or at a holiday party. But Kids These Days? –The list on Gabby’s arm was clear: SNACKS TO HELP THEM FOCUS. “Look, Mom. I divided my arm into three sections: Gum, Mints, and Other,” Gabby told me helpfully. “Do you think I would like butterscotch? That’s under Other.” Addie J, smelling a specialty trip to the drugstore, chimed in. “I think we would both like the butterscotch, Gabby,” she said angelically. “But I’ll take whatever Mom wants to buy us.” And then she smiled sweetly at me and hugged me.

I would like to note at this time that I received detention twice in high school. Once was because this little snot named Jason or Jimmy or Junior tattled on me, the day I wore shorts to school (shorts weren’t allowed, but they looked like a miniskirt which was allowed, and really? Can you see the difference here?). His mother was a teacher at the school and he told his mom on me, for real. I’m still disgusted. Anyway, the other time was because I was chewing gum. (You can see I was quite the rebel in high school.) So my kids, who casually tool around in shorts all day at school, are also encouraged to chew gum during testing week– just in case their daily snack wasn’t enough.

My God. Get off my lawn, or I will turn the hose on you whippersnappers.


    Addie Has a Dark Side.

    She looks so sweet and innocent, doesn't she?

    She looks so sweet and innocent, doesn’t she?

    ADDIE J: Mom, I hope it gets really, really hot in the summer.

    JULIE: Me too.

    ADDIE J: Like, what if it was maybe 500 degrees?

    JULIE: I feel like that might be too hot.

    ADDIE J: I think it would be okay.

    JULIE: We would actually die.

    ADDIE J: Well, we have air conditioning. We could stay inside.

    JULIE: True. But what about all the people who don’t have air conditioning?

    ADDIE J: They would die.

    JULIE:

    ADDIE J: But we would live.

    JULIE:

    ADDIE J: So I hope it gets really, really hot.


      Thursday Bullet Blog

      • In case you’re wondering: I’m still obsessed with my Fitbit. You probably shouldn’t become my Fitbit friend, because I will totally beat you on a daily basis and I will be super obnoxious about it.
      • Just a general note: a couple of times recently I have heard a woman say, “Other women don’t really like me. You know how women get around each other,” or words to that effect. This never fails to irritate me, because of the willful omission of the Common Factor Principle (when looking for the problem in a series of related issues, you should always begin by identifying what these issues have in common). Ladies, as a woman who has never had trouble making and keeping wonderful, supportive, lifelong friendships, I’m here to tell you: look for the common factor in your relationships with other women. Here’s a hint: it’s you.
      • I continue to find it very bizarre that I can no longer instantly identify my son as the littlest guy on the field, that he has become one of a group of teenage-sized boys identifiable only by their helmets. Also: I really need Cam to stop showing me YouTube videos of terrible lacrosse hits. I always end up like this:
      • Gabby told me yesterday that some girls in her class come to school wearing a full face of makeup. Her friend M was in the car as well, and M confirmed it solemnly: “That is totally true,” she said. Fortunately for me, Gabby the Frat Boy isn’t really interested in makeup. Unfortunately for me, Addie J is obsessed with her daily wardrobe, while Gabby the Frat Boy isn’t really interested in looking nice, at all, ever. This is my daily conundrum.
      • Interesting moment from yesterday: I went downstairs to find the clothes dryer disemboweled, and my husband kneeling inside the surprisingly spacious corpse.
      • I submit to you that Valentine’s Day decorations should not go up outside your home until you have taken down your Christmas decorations. You know who you are.
      • In a few weeks, we have an appointment with the director of Registration at the high school, to discuss Cameron’s testing placements and courses. I’m in a complicated state of denial about this. Take it away, Steve Buscemi:


        Freeeeeeedommmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!

        My kids have allergies. You know this already. Cameron has actually been in treatment for his allergies for…… wait a second while I access my health claims history……. 6 years now. His treatments included getting his tonsils and adenoids (adenoid? His allergist refers to it in the singular?) removed, as well as a turbinate reduction– which basically means they shrank the tissues in his nasal passages to create an airway (where before there was functionally none). This was a radical improvement for him– Cam told me at the time, “It feels like I used to breathe through a straw, and now the straw is gone.” If only that had been the end of it, but: no. His severe allergies to everything on the planet continued to exist, so he started allergy drops. When he was older, we switched to weekly shots.

        For those of you who are blissfully unfamiliar, here’s the shots process: you drive to the office. The patient signs in and waits to be called. After shots are given, there is a mandatory wait time– in the office– to make sure the patient doesn’t experience a severe reaction to the shots, before you can drive home. In my three years of experience, this whole process can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours, door-to-door. Every. Single. Week. And the bitch of it was, Cam started feeling better almost immediately on the treatment, so I couldn’t even plead that it wasn’t working and stop taking him. Every time they tested him, he showed a teeny, teeny, tiny bit of improvement. It’s been a slow process…….

        ……And then last week, at his annual State of the Union appointment with the allergist, his doc checked him out and spoke these words, “His treatment has been a home run. His airways are just wide open.” AND THEN said that he could start getting shots every other week.

        braveheart_freedom

         

        Yesterday the allergist’s office called. “The doctor asked me to call you,” the nurse said, “because actually, Cameron remains just as allergic as he has always been to one allergen. He was wondering if you’d like to continue coming in every week for that one allergen, in hopes that he might build up a tolerance.”

        Sadness

        I said, “What’s the allergen?” And she replied, “Cats.” I too am allergic to cats; I also fiercely dislike cats and their filthy habits of indoor crapping as well as walking on furniture and kitchen surfaces. I said, “Nah. We don’t even like cats.”

        And I’m back to this:

        will

         


          Florida, My Favorite Crazy State.

          This photo of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a really bad jumpsuit, that shows her Spanx lines, causes the viewer to do a double-take, mutter "Oh my God," and laugh to herself-- just like news stories from Florida.

          This photo of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a really bad jumpsuit, that shows her Spanx lines, causes the viewer to do a double-take, mutter “Oh my God,” and laugh in disbelief– just like news stories from Florida.

          Ah, Florida. You give and give. I was just reading this story about a really, really subtle Florida drug dealer, and laughing to myself, when I thought I remembered another, similar story (that’s the beauty of Florida: no matter how crazy the news item, I always think to myself, “Didn’t that happen already, somewhere in Florida?”). So I searched “Florida weird news.” I didn’t even get back to searching for that original article, because you guys– did you know there are entire web pages devoted to Florida’s daily insanity? Huffington Post has Weird Florida. There is a hysterical Twitter handle, Florida Man, which you just need to follow because you’re welcome. And Floridians seem to have a sense of humor about themselves, because the Sun-Sentinel carries a blog called FloriDUH.

          Full disclosure: my uncle lived in Naples, and my aunt lived in St. Augustine. Lovely places both; I’ve visited lots of other very nice places in Florida (Orlando of course; Destin; Miami, etc. I personally have never met the level of crazy that Florida produces on a daily basis, any time I have visited– but I sort of wish that I had. And I’m not alone in loving the weirdness that is Florida: any time the headline begins with “Florida Man….” — you click it, too. So keep on keepin’ on, Florida. You light up my news feed as well as my life.


            New Year’s Diet Resolutions? I’m Here to Help!

            Often, people will ask me if I’m a vegetarian. And actually: no, I am not. But I think I could easily stop eating meat– as long I could still have eggs and dairy. Dairy because 1. cream in my coffee; 2. chai lattes (and I do not want to hear about the soy milk option); 3. pizza with real cheese. And eggs because, since I tend not to eat a lot of meat, a good percentage of my protein intake comes from my morning scrambled-egg-and-salsa-in-a-tortilla breakfast obsession. But, other than my latest obsession of entering my food intake into Fitbit, I tend to just follow the, “Eat mostly healthy, and also exercise” plan. Now that the holidays are over and we aren’t buying those incredible made-in-house tortilla chips from the nearby grocery, of course. The holidays were a blur of extra salty tortilla chips and vodka tonics.

            We are in the start of a new year, which is the time many people make a life change, such as in their diets. My beloved Gwyneth Paltrow suggests annual cleanses to start off the New Year– last year she recommended that we all eat chickpeas in bowls of lemon water (I actually love chickpeas, but that photo is Just. So. Gross), and this year we’ve got some amazing smoothie options: you can go with kale, dandeli0n, and parsley (she calls this the House Special; I would have called it Lawn Trimmings) or you could try the beets-and-ginger variety. I love her so, so, so much for her genuine belief that people should consume these items together as a drink. But! If you do not hate yourself, and you’re looking for a less terrible way to change your diet, you have many, many other options: the Paleo. The gluten-free. Raw food. And, honestly: go for it. I don’t care at all what you’re eating and why. I might roll my eyes while you’re telling me how superior your sugar-free, carb-free, dairy-free, free-of-all-good-things Prisoner at Alcatraz diet makes you feel– but I won’t begrudge you one single day of denying yourself the deliciousness.

            In fact, just in case you do want to find the weirdest, most obscure and dubious diet possible, I’m going to help you: New York Magazine asked a journalist to try a variety of bizarre celebrity diets. They range from the weird (Elizabeth Taylor liked tuna with tomato paste and grapefruit) to the truly horrifying (Greta Garbo put raw eggs in her orange juice, you guys. For real). So if you’re tired of your existing weird diet, feel free to give one of these a try.

            Looking for something less vomit-inducing? Enjoying developing your jaw muscles? Fletcherism says you can eat whatever you want, as long as you wait until you “have a true hunger” and chew everything at least 32 times.

            If you really want to emphasize the “cleanse” part of this concept, you might try the misleadingly named Lemonade Diet. Only, um, it’s not lemonade– it’s “lemonade.” You will not spend all day sunning yourself on the wide front porch of your family’s plantation, and calling for more delicious, ice-cold lemonade. Rather you will start off every day by drinking a full quart of saltwater and then trying not to die. If you do live, then for the rest of that awful day you will ingest nothing but hot water with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. This is like lemonade for people who enjoy the taste of the dishwasher’s rinse cycle.

            Speaking of trying not to die: the tapeworm diet? Really?

            Finally, my current favorite diet product: Sensa powder. Just shake that shit all over your food and it will look too disgusting to eat  it will curb your appetite. How well does it work? Well, if you click that link, you’ll see just what happened to this company and its breakthrough scientific product.

            Or, you know: just try to eat healthy most of the time, and then don’t sweat the occasional homemade tortilla chip binge. (Sorry, Gwyneth. I know you’re disappointed in me.)


              Still Here.

              judadThree years ago today, my family and I were gathered around my dad. He was one of the strongest people, physically and mentally, that I have ever known, and he was tired. For whatever reason– pesticides spread on nearby fields, or toxic chemicals in his workplace, or a genetic time bomb, or– as I keep reading recently– unbelievable bad luck, Dad had to battle myxofibrosarcoma. Myxofibrosarcoma is rare in adults. It is difficult to treat. It is resistant to many forms of chemotherapy and to radiation. It is aggressive, and it is relentless. Already once, with all of his strength, Dad had fought it off and reclaimed his life. But that’s the bitch of cancer, isn’t it? It waits. It sneaks to new places. It comes back. And Dad fought it hard again, but now he was tired. And even so, he was still fighting: once, during the last few days in the hospital, we told him through tears that it was okay to let go. And he surprised us all- and made us smile– by replying, “But I don’t wanna.”

              Dad fought all the way to the end, and it was my great, great honor to be there when he won his peace. You know how some events in your life change you? I will never forget those days, when so many people were crowded into his room, never leaving him alone for one second (much like in life, poor guy), crying and laughing and witnessing this great man’s journey. Afterward, at Dad’s services, we received a thrilling gift in the form of  the hundreds and hundreds of people who came to honor Dad. Emergency Services had to be called to direct traffic, and people waited hours in line to say their goodbyes. What a wonderful gift that was for all of us, to feel the love of all of these people and know how important Dad was to so many.

              And then he was gone, and we were faced with the task of living without him. Make no mistake: this part sucks. I remember the day it occurred to me that I was going to live and live and live, and still Dad would be gone. It seems like the most obvious concept, but I was devastated to face the realization. Our family had a ragged, gaping hole at the center, and we all struggled. How do we move forward and honor him for who he was, when we can’t get over his loss? The day-to-day answer to that is that, because we had no alternative, we simply did. Life rolls inexorably forward, taking us further every day from the time when he was here, and we must move forward with it.

              So today is a day when I am still filled with fury, that awful people live in this world, yet my wonderful, much-needed, good-hearted dad was taken from us. I am still sad, for my family and my husband and my kids and for myself. The hole in the center of our lives is still here. It’s less raw, and we’re not getting over it so much as we’re getting used to it– but it’s still there. However: I can also tell you one thing I know, which I have learned in the past three years: Dad is still here. His presence pervades my parents’ house (sometimes that’s difficult and sometimes it’s so comforting). I can sometimes hear his voice in my head, giving me that grounded, smart advice he always has. I see him in my son– how is it that I never realized that Cam gets his people skills from Dad?– and I see him in the way my brother dotes on his newborn (but still does hilarious things like make her “dance” and dress her in Cousin Eddie tshirts). He’s still here in a thousand ways, both tangible and in my heart. And I’m grateful for that.

              Love you, Dad. It’s been forever and it’s been a blink. Thanks for still being here.

               


                Dad, Cammy, and the Snake

                Remember those days when your kid couldn't figure out how to smile on cue?

                Remember those days when your kid couldn’t figure out how to smile on cue? 

                Cam, as you know, loved going to the garage and working with his Papa. Once, when he was about five, he and Dave spent a Saturday morning at the garage with Dad. It must have been a rather light-duty day, although Dave doesn’t really recall exactly what they were doing. When they came home, Cam came running into the house, holding a jar. “Lookit!!!! Mommy, lookit what Papa gave me!!!!” he said with excitement. And when I looked into the jar, I saw a Headless. Freaking. Snake.

                My five year old son came home from Dad’s garage with a dead snake in a jar.

                Dave later told me the story: when they got to the garage, Dad said, “Is that a snake by the door?” –and indeed it was. It slithered to the side as they went in, where Dad picked up some old, heavy car part. He dropped the part onto the snake, then briskly picked it up again. “Dead!” he announced. “Head came right off!” Then, as Dave related the story: “He dumped out an old Mason jar of nuts and bolts, and stuffed the snake’s body into the jar. Then he handed it to Cameron and said, ‘Here. You can take this home with you. Now go see if you can find any more snakes for your jar.’ And then he looked up at me with that smirk and told me to get over there and help him. Julie, there was nothing I could do.”

                I tried to find the photo of a thrilled little boy, standing in front of the building with his canned snake, but I couldn’t track it down. So instead I’ll give you this shot of Dad and Cammy, chilling out in the truck bed some weekend. See how thrilled Cammy is here? That’s how he looked every time he hung out with Papa.


                  The Time I Learned About Crying

                  I'm in the green dress, at about the age that I learned about crying.

                  I’m in the green dress, at about the age that I learned about crying. Also you can see where I got my sideburns.

                  Once I had a conversation with another parent about kids’ emotions, crying in particular. This other parent was of the opinion that all kids should be allowed to react to any and all of their emotions, completely and fully, at all times. Which sounds pretty good in theory. However, I was (and still am) of the opinion that, while children should of course feel all of the feelings, etc.– they should also at some point learn that they can control themselves. Yes, even while in the grip of The Feelings. When I have discussions like these, I am reminded of a meeting I attended a few years ago. The architect with whom we had been working had never done a performance space before; rather than asking us all for guidance, he made apparently random and ill-advised choices on his own (e.g. no window at the box office counter), then defended them vehemently in the face of rational objections (box office staff could simply answer the phone, what’s the problem?). After about a month of craziness, this gentleman exploded spectacularly at a meeting. Faced with a simple and easily-corrected math mistake, which everyone at the table could see but he refused to acknowledge, he suddenly threw his papers in the air and stomped out of the room.

                  He threw his papers in the air.

                  I’ve never seen that before or since. Stop and think about your last meeting: did anyone throw their papers and dramatically huff out? (If yes, then please allow me to Skype in at your next meeting.) And as the rest of the group looked around at each other in disbelief, horrified but also sort of thrilled to have witnessed it– that might have been just me– I had this distinct thought: “That guy never learned to control his emotions.” Or more specifically, and as I tell my own children: you may not be able to control how you feel– but you are always responsible for how you behave. Dude let The Feelings dictate his behavior, which is maybe acceptable in a toddler, but at some point, we all have to get hold of ourselves, no?

                  So anyway: I remember very clearly the first time I learned this lesson for myself. Dad and I were at church by ourselves; I was maybe 5 years old. I started feeling sick, but when I told Dad, he blew me off (totally understand that one; I know that if I fell for that “I don’t feel good” thing every time my kids used it, they’d never go to school). But this time it was legit: about ten minutes after my queasiness began, I threw up onto the kneeler. Dad had to handle the entire situation on his own– while Mass continued around us and other churchgoers watched avidly– and the entire time I was sitting there on the pew, wailing like a fire truck. (FYI if I remember correctly, he cleaned it up with one of his cloth handkerchiefs. I know you wondered.) Then Dad took me by the arm and propelled me past all the gawkers and out the door. When we got to the car, he deposited me in the back seat. Instead of getting in, though, he just stood there for a second. In retrospect, he must have been homicidal; I know I would have been. He said to me, “Why are you crying? Are you hurt?”

                  I stopped abruptly. I had only been crying out of habit: if you barfed, then you would also cry. I had never questioned that sequence of events before. I thought for a second, trying to see if I was indeed hurt. “…..No,” I said.

                  “Are you still feeling sick?”

                  “No.”

                  “Is anything wrong right now?”

                  “…No.”

                  “Then stop crying. You don’t have to cry every time something happens that you don’t like,” Dad concluded, and he got behind the wheel and drove us home. I never forgot how amazed and self-actualized I felt: I could choose how I responded to circumstances. I could choose to be in control of myself. It was like Dad had given me a superpower.

                  That architect could have used some of Dad’s simple life rules: one that would have really come into play at that meeting is that, if you’re wrong, you should just say you’re wrong. (Everyone usually knows it anyway.) And of course: you don’t have to cry every time something happens that you don’t like.

                   


                    Home Movie Dad

                    Remember this? Hilarious.

                    Remember this? Hilarious.

                    Over the holidays, we watched a bunch of movies from when we were kids, and even some from before we were born. It’s always fun to see the plaid pants and giant clown bowties my brother wore, to pinpoint the exact year that Mom decided Betsy would look cute in a frizzy perm, and actually I didn’t remember that my grandma had an impressive collection of print pantsuits.

                    We also saw some film shot in Jamaica, at my parents’ honeymoon. Which reminds me that,when my parents got to the airport to leave for their honeymoon, they realized that Dad had forgotten my mother’s plane ticket. This was 1968- it wasn’t like they could text someone to email them a new copy. They had to buy her a new one with traveler’s checks or something. Dad’s explanation for forgetting his new wife’s ticket? “My mom packed my suitcase.” Still cracks me up.

                    Anyway. In these movies, Dad is prominent: he’s pushing one of us on a new bike. He’s holding court with a bunch of guys at a barbecue. He’s frequently filmed holding one of us in one arm, sort of absentmindedly, like he held babies so often that he hardly even noticed. (In one film– taken on a sunny day– he can be seen in the background, removing his cap and putting it on the head of the sleeping child in his arms. So sweet.) While watching these movies, we made a game of trying to figure out what Dad was drinking: Old Style a couple of times. Budweiser. He was a connoisseur of beer– and in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised as a college student, when he could always identify at a glance the random beer in our fridge. He is present in nearly all of these films in some capacity. It’s so wonderful to watch him, in his element, surrounded by loved ones. He was such a great dad.


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