Won’t You Come In?

Scanning my RSS feed as I do when I get a free moment to catch up on my blogs, I read an old favorite, A Little Pregnant. When she described how her son, just entering kindergarten, had a “home visit” from the kindergarten teacher prior to the start of school my mental Foley kit played the record needle scratch–whaaaaat?  Is that done now?  My “WTF” radar immediately went up and I thought about commenting with my own rant until I read the comments.

As always, her commenters were enormously insightful; this is definitely not a black and white issue.  One said after explaining how this seems akin to a social worker visit at the hospital post-birth (“Do you have help, do you have a safe place to go?”) and being able to see the child at home is so helpful.  You can’t draw much from a 15-20 minute visit, but you can definitely get a feeling if something just isn’t right.  As she then put it, “We are not the droids they’re looking for.”  And many of the actual teachers who read mentioned that at their home visit, it’s all about meeting the kid on their turf and lessening the child’s fears and worries about this adult with whom they would be spending their days.  That is all completely valid, useful, and important.  Moreover, that kind of concern is a kindness, and “above all else, [a la Kurt Vonnegut in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater] you have to be kind” is the main value we want to instill.

But still…ick.  Ick.  Double ick.

It comes back to the same reaction I felt when I heard that Hawaii was going to furlough teachers on Friday, cutting the school week to 3.5 days (many towns have half-days on Wednesdays for…something. Teacher enrichment? Planning? I have no idea). So you can imagine what kind of strain that put on families who had to now figure out alternate childcare in a state that’s already at the economic breaking point. That has since been resolved but my first thought was “This is our tax system. These are our schools. The citizens of Hawaii should not have to work their lives around to fit the system; the education system exists to serve the public.”

Now, I’m pretty liberal. I like the idea of my taxes going to fix things, provide public services, what have you. But this edges into a watchdog kind of mentality that I’m not totally comfortable with. I get that I’m “not the droid” but I’ve worked with children before. You don’t have to see their home to know when things are fucked up at Ye Olde Homesteade; it comes out in a thousand little but completely visible ways.

I have no problem meeting the teacher, but the post didn’t mention whether it was optional or not to go somewhere else–maybe for coffee or a smoothie at the kid’s favorite shop, or a favorite park, or a mutual agreed upon meeting spot. I’d be totally fine meeting at the playground or our local Jamba Juice. Because if it *has* to be at home, that’s where I really feel uncomfortable. Teachers are human; they judge and have biases just like me. Just like anyone. I’m not about to give a perfect stranger a tour of our bedrooms and I’m not going to plant things that aren’t usually in the living room for appearances, so when a person walks into our house they’re going to see an LCD TV, about 200 DVDs, a few books high out of reach, my wine rack, and a real shabby couch. Unless Maggie brings them out, the teacher isn’t going to see her art notebooks (which she has already so enthusiastically filled with scribbles), the handmade toys, and the stocked bilingual library. Worse…what if she isn’t an “Arrested Development” fan?! What if she–rightly, I might add–summed us up as post-grad hipsterish snark addicts with a fondness for unpretentious cabernets and she likes “Friends” reruns and doesn’t drink? How would that affect her relationship with Maggie? It might not, but it may, and even in a way that the teacher doesn’t realize is happening.

And the final point I’d like to make is that even if these visits are required by the school district, the parents that have things to hide are going to stall, ignore, screen calls, or just flat out refuse to let the teacher in. So if I refuse on general principle, like feeling icky about the visits in general, that lumps us in with a category that is labeled difficult at best and with something awful to hide at worst.

So, yeah…if Maggie attends school (the debate over long-term finances and homeschooling is happening in fits and starts over here, but it is happening–at least, Tom hasn’t flat-out refused me yet ;-D), I want her to meet her teacher and feel comfortable. I want it to be a cooperative relationship, honest and happy and open, the kind that makes me enthusiastic about classroom volunteering and happy to tuck a nice big Target gift card into her Christmas card.

But I hate the idea of the school district telling me I am required to invite someone into my home, and I hate if I refuse on the basis that they don’t get to tell me what to do, I’m going be labeled difficult or shady. It seems as though my right to say no would automatically taint Maggie’s relationship with her teacher before it even starts, and that just isn’t right.


Dairy Air

I was perusing my blogs this morning, a favorite pastime while Maggie dutifully empties the toy box, inspects the contents, turns it over, and scoots into it backward. I can usually make it through about half my Google Reader list before Maggie bleats to be removed from her tiny toy prison. Today I read one of my favorites, The Everywhereist, who writes the sort of travel blog I once aspired to before I ran out of time, money, and sanity. You only need two of the three to write a travel blog, but not having any is a difficult obstacle.

Today’s post, The Inherent Sexism of Airport Security, really struck home for me, especially this line:

“While I can’t really figure out TSAs motivations, I will say this: if dudes lactated, there is no way that the TSA would dare try to throw away breast milk. Seriously, imagine walking up to some 300-pound bruiser of a man and telling him that you were going to toss out his child’s food, food that he himself had made with his own body. You’d spend the next three days pulling your own teeth out of your ass.”

The first five months of Maggie’s life was spent training her for a huge trip for my sister’s wedding in September. We got her to both love and look forward to sleeping against our bodies in a sling. We nursed in all manner of positions so it would be easier on the plane to Boston. We went to the Big Island for a long weekend to serve as a practice airport run. We practiced packing our bags to make security clearance a breeze. And in preparation for commitments that would prohibit nursing–the all-day bachelorette party, an actual movie date with my husband, holy shit, the ceremony and reception that I would be both in and photographing–I pumped like a madwoman. No babysitters for those first five months; I had to stockpile my bottles. I never quite got the knack of pumping so it was hard for me, even though my supply has always hovered between “abundant” and “Can we just send you to Africa for a month to feed this village?” By the time we were to fly from Honolulu to Boston, I had amassed about 30oz in small bottles in a wee cooler to take with us.

Then I panicked. The word from the official website was that the TSA rules allowed frozen breastmilk, though I may have to get ice from the food court and flight attendants after clearing security. From other moms and anecdotal stories…it was a crapshoot. It seemed it would be left totally to the discretion of the agent, agents who do not have a reputation for compassion or understanding. It seemed highly possible that I could lose my precious supply. Maggie had never had formula after that one bottle in the hospital; I stayed home with her, she had reflux, so why spend the money on trying formula that her belly wouldn’t accept? The idea of giving her sensitive, refluxy belly a new liquid in a new environment during the happiest day of her aunt’s life seemed like a disaster in the making.

Thus I went to the airport prepared. I printed the TSA guidelines to bring along, I went to our pediatrician and had her write a note on letterhead declaring the medical necessity of our milk. It turned out to be nothing–I had my sheaf of paper ready to go, all our other baby-related liquids neatly packaged and labeled in my Ziploc, and the woman smiled at me, scanned the liquid, and passed us through. She even said “Hi” to the baby. No fuss, no stress. I don’t want to make the statement that because she was a female agent she understood more than a male agent would; I know many men who value the nutritional benefits of breastmilk, and have encountered many women TSA agents who have a chip on their shoulder trying to seem as tough as their male colleagues in a viciously stressful and complicated job. But it could easily have gone the other way.

Pumping is hard work. It is uncomfortable. It is clinical. It inspires some of us to moo mournfully at the machine while we wait to fill up a bottle. I hate it. I can’t imagine the despair I would have felt if the agent had taken my stockpile away or the depth of my humiliation if my baby’s food that I worked so hard to produce, my baby’s food that was an extension of my own body, was thrown away like so much garbage.

So to my moo-cow sisters out there, good luck to you. Print the guidelines, get a note from the pediatrician just in case. I hope you don’t have to use it; you probably won’t. But do it just in case. And to the TSA–I’m a model flyer. My husband is too, and we’re going to do everything we can to make your jobs easier. But in the process of doing your job, don’t make my job harder.

Dear Sir

To the scandalized gentleman at Target today:

You know, I’d prefer not to feed my baby in public. My comfy chair, pillow, and best burp cloths are at home. But hey, I have to leave the house now and then and my baby has to eat. So I’ll make a deal with you: I’ll continue to feed my daughter by wearing her against me in my very discreet and all-parts-covering baby wrap and going to a secluded corner, and you try not to work so hard to look underneath the cloth. What do you think I have under there? Shoplifted pillows? Hoffa? Let the diaper bag and empty car seat in the cart be your first clue. Deal? Deal.

No love,

Division of Labor

Within every relationship exists the division of labor.

I don’t necessarily mean the stereotypical gender “woman cooks and cleans/man fixes car” lines.  I mean more that there are certain talents people possess, and in a relationship you figure out who’s the person to do a task based on their talent level.
Tom cooks and does a lot of the light cleaning–picking up, some dishes, etc.  He’s the primary reason why we can consistently see the floor and the kitchen counter.  I keep the bathroom more or less tidy (typically less) and I take the car for the weekly fill-up at the pump.  Tom washes the car, I take it for oil changes and tire rotations.  We both use Macs, so when the computers break or act wonky, I fix them.  I also put in the phone time when we need to call customer service because Tom cannot handle customer service phone calls.  We both do laundry and take care of trash and the recycling.  I book travel and make reservations, Tom plans itineraries.  Our house is not immaculate, but then, we don’t particularly care about immaculate.  It is clean enough that we don’t have bugs and we don’t overbuy items because we misplace things–food is never left out, dishes do not go undone, the vacuum is run often enough.  If my grandmother or aunt or father saw my apartment they’d be horrified, but I have never been able to bring myself to care about keeping things clean to that standard and Tom is only marginally neater than I am.  It’s cluttered and untidy, but not out and out dirty, and so far our division of household labor has gone along quite well.
However, there is a category of tasks that remains entirely Tom’s province, and that is the reason why I must write here to thank him.  Tom deals with the “yuck!” problems.  Garbage disposal clogged?  Tom unclogs it.  Random dish shoved to the back of the fridge that has a mold colony growing on it and a foul smell?  Tom cleans it.  
And today, right before my shower, I noticed that water was not draining properly, and I pulled out the stopper mechanism–along with an eight-inch long clot of hair wrapped around it.  Now, my mother has long, thick, wavy Portuguese hair, as does my sister.  I do not have thick hair, but I tend to shed when I’m nervous and I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder.  As you might imagine, my father was tasked with unclogging a great many drains in his time that he shared no responsibility for clogging in the first place.  And like my father before him, Tom–hair shaved to the scalp, body hair immaculately groomed–came into the bathroom at my squealing, stammering behest–“Tom, you have to deal with this, I can’t!”–and removed the stopper from my sight.  He thus returned it hair-free and our drain flows freely once again.
So thanks, Tom, and to all the other people who are the perennial “yuck” handlers in their relationships.  You are the ones who make our day to day existence possible.

Letter To My Fellow DC Commuters, Part 1 in the Social Contract Series

Dear Washington, DC commuters:

I realize that the weather has been unseasonably warm this fall; today it’s in the low sixties. Guess what? The cold germs that your little ones are bringing home from school don’t care. Better for them that it’s warm; makes it that much easier to annex your sinuses while demanding safe passage to your lungs. A few pointers for dealing with the cold:

At EVERY DRUGSTORE IN THE COUNTRY, they sell pocket packs of tissues. Keep them on you. Snot rockets are hilarious, but only in the company of pre-teen boys on the playground. Blow your nose. There’s no reason to leak like a faucet when a buck will buy you a ten-pack of tissues from the CVS dollar bin.

Sneezing happens. Coughing happens. Sneezing doesn’t have to happen all over the back of my coat. There is no reason for my jacket to acquire a layer of lung tissue and slime because you cannot perform a simple procedure. Repeat after me: lift arm. Bring forearm to mouth. Sneeze and/or cough against it.

NO, NOT YOUR HAND, MY GOD. Please do not sneeze a wad of snot into your hand on public transportation. Do you know where that hand ends up? Escalator rails. Hand holds. Ticket kiosks. Your fellow commuters. Remember the germ revolution working south toward the lungs? That’s how it starts. Don’t you remember Mr. Rogers? I’m pretty sure he went over that.

In short, try to keep your snot to yourself.

No love and no sharing my tissues with you,