Life

Tessa Cunningham & Ben Morris

When Ruby is older and there is extra time in our schedules, West Coast Swing lessons are on my couple’s 100 Things to Do Before We Die list. Because I really, really want to be Tessa Cunningham do this:

A nursery rhyme (NSFW)

GTFTS: A Primer for Tired Women Everywhere from mrs. g. on Vimeo.

Vive la France!

Meet our exchange student, Lucile.

Isn’t she adorable?

She arrived last night, swirly-eyed and seemingly in shock after a very long day of travel that included and excruciatingly long lay over in Houston, of all God-awful places. Of course, if you have to go to Houston, the airport is probably your safest bet.

We took Lucile for a quick dinner, brought her home, let her shower and sent her to bed. Today, I initiated her with a quick zip through the hallowed halls of Target because I absolutely had to go there. And I will say, she looked completely freaked out when she stammered, we don’t have anysing so beeg like thees!

Just wait ’til the child sees Costco.

I got her the hell out of there, and took her to an independent grocery where I let her pick out some things for the house. We also ordered deli sandwiches to take with us to the beach. And while Target presented to my new daughter-like person the quintessential gluttonous America, Windmill Farms offered authentic American hospitality when the guy behind the sandwich counter announced to everyone in the general area that it was Lucile’s first! Day! In! America!

His patriotism overfloweth.

“She’s here from France!” he said. (It’s my fault; I’d told him this after having to explain mayonnaise to Lucile while he watched in amazement). We giggled as I tried to steer her away from the bent-over, curmudgeonly lunchtime shoppers who were beginning to surround us, enamored as they were by the novelty of Lucile. “My son just got back from France!” yelled a little old Jewish lady in our direction as we made a bee line for the check out. They were all staring, moving toward us like the un-dead. I thought we might be eaten alive. Or, at the very least, I thought they might try to pet the poor girl. Again, we had to make our escape.

After we dropped the groceries at home (Lucile helped carry the bags into the house without me asking; dear lord, her parents raised her right!), we met my friends and the student they are hosting for an afternoon in Coronado, a place that Lucile said matched her imaginings of Southern California exactly. What didn’t match was the water temperature. At 61 degrees, this is not her Mediterranean Sea. Still, she seemed very relaxed and happy.

Everything—even a pristine SoCal beach—is better in French.

Open Letter To The Aspiring Yogi

Dear College Girl in the “Pink” Brand Track Suit from Victoria’s Secret and Well-If-Accidentally-Coordinated Hello Kitty Socks:

Welcome to yoga class! As a person who has recently discovered the inherent joys of yoga, I can say with all sincerity that I celebrate your having found your way to practice. Yoga holds the promise of many benefits, among them strength, flexibility and balance. And by balance, I mean much more than being able to stand in tree pose, which is part of it, no question.

But I’m referring to a more encompassing balance, an overall union of body, mind, and spirit. Yoga includes a particular focus on calmness, forgiveness, patience, and a general withholding of judgement, all qualities that are difficult to sustain in day-to-day life. I know I struggle with this and as such, I look forward to my one hour-and-fifteen minutes in the studio specifically for reconnecting to, and an internalization of, these traits. I’m guessing many other students in class would agree.

So, College Girl, when your iPhone rings in class? Three times? And when you finally decide to put a stop to that adorable duck-quack ring tone you’ve chosen by answering? And when you proceed to have a conversation from a modified downward on-the-phone dog with one hand muffling your voice, effectively transporting me to Charlie Brown’s classroom? You are not only not practicing yoga, but you’re being a dickhead co-ed in—let’s be honest—a brilliantly branded but stupid costume.

All of which combines to piss me off. Preoccupied with yourself as you are, you may not have noticed that being pissed off is not listed as one of the many benefits of yoga (see above). Of course, me being physically fit enough to kick your ass is. On the other hand, me kicking your ass is not yogi-like behavior.

Yin, Yang…it’s an endless struggle.

Anyway: Please. Don’t make me do it. I’m trying to be a better person.

The next time you next decide to join a yoga class, give a little flick to that toggle on the side of your smart phone. It will mute the ringer. Sure, you may miss a Very Important Phone Call from your roommate who’s wondering where you put her Essie Forever Yummy nail polish, but the built-in technology of said smart phone (the very same technology that includes a fandangled mute switch) will allow her to leave you a message! That you can check later!

Can you, like, believe it?

And if this is all just too much for you, if you cannot handle being disconnected for seventy-five minutes to chase your bliss, THEN STAY THE FUCK HOME.

Namaste,

~aaryn

An ugly number

Jesus Christ, people. I have somewhere in the ballpark of a bajillion writing ideas floating around in my head, and how many have I written? Take a guess. I ‘ll wait…

Stumped? Here. I’ll give you some hints:

1. The number is equal to the amount of character in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s left pinky fingernail.

2. It is exactly how much California Republicans care about educating children in this state.

3. It is the number of breast augmentation surgeries Christina Hendricks claims to have had.

4. It’s the number of people swept up to heaven during Saturday’s Rapture. Haha, just kidding! That was the “invisible rapture day.” The new and improved Rapture date is October 21, 2011. Be ready.

5. It’s the amount of common sense/IQ points/ability to reason exhibited by those folks who believe the Rapture is coming.

So yeah: Zee-Row. That’s what I’ve written. And that makes me very unhappy. But things are about to change around here…

Upended

One of the first people I met when I began writing for CityBeat is my friend, Kia. I suppose she is more of an acquaintance, since she moved away shortly thereafter to find herself and experience the world (thought not until after we’d had a chance to share a few cocktails and collaborate on a small project). I would say it was sort of an Eat, Pray, Love kind of thing but without all the divorce and schmaltz and pretentiousness and whatnot. She was young and she just had to go and I admired her so much for doing what I was never brave enough to do at her age.

Despite our the brevity of our in-person friendship, I felt an instant affection for her when we were introduced. She is wise beyond her years, as they say; an old soul. She is beautiful, warm, funny, kind, creative, insightful and smart. All of which add up to this: The woman can write. I mean, She Can Write Like A Mo Fo.

Kia

Isn’t she lovely? She just looks like a gifted writer.

Recently Kia’s life took an unexpected detour and she has found herself battling Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. As Dorothy Parker would say—and as I wrote to Kia in an email a few days ago—this is terrible. It’s fancy terrible. It’s terrible with raisins in it. I have to admit, I’m really angry about it.

But if Kia is angry, she hasn’t let on. She has chosen positivity to carry her through this unplanned-for journey. And she’s also chosen to share it at CaliforniCancerCation in a most eloquent, humorous, honest, grace-filled and, yes, a tad-bit-heartbreaking way, which is sort of her way. I think this may just culminate in her first book. I encourage you to check her out, starting with this post. It’s a killer.

And if you feel so inclined, if you have just a moment, please send a few positive thoughts or prayers or mantras or whatever it is you do, out into the universe for her.

Undervalued: The absurdity of teacher as scapegoat

“Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true: Teachers make a goddamn difference! What about you?” —From “What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If Things Don’t Work Out, You Can Always Go to Law School” by poet Taylor Mali

As I write this, the battle between the mouth-breathing governor of Wisconsin and American workers is raging. It’s my hope that, as you read this, the 14 Democratic senators necessary for a vote on Scott Walker’s union-busting bill will still be in their undisclosed bunkers, fondling their newly grown balls. It sure has been nice to see the Dems finally stand for something, even if it is too little too late.

Regardless of how this “brouhaha”—as Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal dismissively called this pivotal moment in American history— plays out, and aside from the larger issue of Unions: Good or Evil?, I am awestruck by the widespread disdain for teachers, a profession, as it happens, largely undertaken by women. But that’s another column.

The broad demonization of teachers is being underscored by the daily news cycle. It’s not just one or two states taking an antagonistic stance toward teachers; this is happening everywhere.

State education officials in Michigan have ordered closure of half the schools in Detroit, where class sizes in the high schools will swell to 60 students in the coming year.

In Providence, R.I., teachers were given a layoff notice last week. This doesn’t mean all 2,000 of them won’t have jobs next year (some of them definitely won’t). But it does mean they work the remainder of this year knowing they may not have jobs next year. Yay for workplace morale! I should point out that annual layoff notices are not uncommon and are, on the contrary, part of the fabric of our modern education system. They’re a yearly occurrence across the country. Sort of like Christmas. With lumps of coal. Delivered by Scrooge.

Back in Madison, Wisc., highly paid (non-unionized) administrators are refusing sick pay to teachers who were absent from work while protesting Walker’s proposed bill. Each of these administrators—who I know have never fudged on a sick day—is conveniently channeling an inner Helen Lovejoy. The poor children are not learning when a teacher spends a day in the capitol rotunda with her sign that reads, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

Never mind the civics lesson inherent in civil disobedience; these teachers should shut up and teach—and never deviate from mandated curriculum. Or else.

As if the headlines aren’t alarming enough, one little jaunt into the toxic waters of any comment section reveals a widespread derision.

“I love teachers…. for all their self righteous babble…” wrote someone calling himself Deucejack on The Huffington Post. “[T]hey don’t give two nickels about the kids they supposedly provide a service to. LMOA at teachers…. Now I’m laughing at the unions in their last nose dive.” One thing is certain: Douchejackass here could have used a better grammar teacher.

Comments like this are disturbingly abundant and wildly narrow in their vision. Just as in any other profession, there will always be what I call “driftwood” among teachers; there is a small subset who are underachievers, skaters, system-bilkers and incompetents. They exist and Sarah Palin is the poster child for this unrefudiateable fact. Her devotees serve as supporting evidence.

But, by and large, teachers teach precisely because they give at least—and usually far more than—two nickels about the children in their care. With a child six months into kindergarten, I’ve had an opportunity to spend time in the classroom and see what a teacher does when she’s set adrift by a society that progressively downgrades her worth.

With increasing class sizes, no aides, few support staff, absurdly limited supplies and resources, an endless barrage of new training requirements and too many too-busy-working-multiple-jobs-to-be-involved parents, a teacher puts a smile on her face and welcomes her children in the morning. Then she goes right on ahead and teaches her ass off.

While meeting district-, state- and federally mandated goals, she also acts as counselor, nurse, custodian, disciplinarian and parent. She manages personalities, fixes scrapes and cuts, wipes noses and tears. She helps her kids navigate ever-changing relationships and moods. At any given time, she’s attending to the hurt feelings of one child and attempting to engage another whose attention span is fleeting. She may be patiently problem solving with a child who struggles with a concept or assisting four others on a math test. Often, she’s doing any number of these things simultaneously, while teaching!

In addition to all of this—and her prep work and training and certifications—she responds to perhaps the most demanding customers in her equation: parents, both those who respect what she does and those who don’t. There isn’t enough money in the world that could entice me to do even that part of the job, let alone the rest of it.

For seven hours a day, five days a week, 40 weeks each year, for 13 years, we put our children in the care of teachers. But from the way many folks are vilifying them, you’d think our little bumpkins were spending time with Osama bin Laden.

(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)

No need to hit me over the head with it

I decided to watch television the other night while Sam was out with his boyfriends on their weekly pilgrimage to whatever bar is serving the coldest beer. Generally speaking, these evenings provide me with uninterrupted time to write or read or, currently, to do homework (more about that another time). But this week, I wanted none of that. felt like veggin’ out which usually equals sports for me. But The Australian Open is over and so is the Super Bowl, and while I’m a happy little clam about The Packers’ win, I’m about done watching the parade coverage and the many re-runs of the game, even with the compelling field audio.

Instead I decided on a chick-flick, purchased for $4.99 from On Demand. Now, I’m totally embarrassed by the movie I chose but I will say these two things about why I chose it:

1. Javier

2. Bardem

There were two other lesser reasons to have selected this film, reasons I was not aware of when I clicked the “BUY” button on my screen:

1. James

2. Franco

Now, the beginning of the movie was insufferable. But then there was James Franco and for a minute I thought there might be redemption. Mais non. His character was cute and sexy for about three minutes, then he was dark and angry for another three minutes and then Julia left him behind as she made her way to Italy. And it was during a scene—the cinematic montage popular in contemporary girl-finding-herself flicks—as Julia tried to squeeze her newly rotund body (yeah, right) into new jeans, that I had the same realization I had on page 75 of The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris’: Life is too short for this shit.

Forty-six minutes of my life and I didn’t even get to reasons 1 and 2.  I love Javier Bardem. But there is a limit to my love. As wonderful as Bardem is, he is not worth that amount of suffering.

That film is unwatchable. I’m embarrassed I even attempted it.

I love my snowbirds: My in-laws are here to stay

It was Monday, Dec. 20, and we weren’t expecting my in-laws for another four days. But then the phone rang.

“We’re making really great time. The weather’s been terrific, and there’s hardly any traffic. We’re in a town called—” My father-in-law paused to double check. “Uh, Lakeside? Have you heard of it?”

“Lakeside?!?” I said to Sam, when he relayed the information. “But—they’re supposed to be in Santa Fe right now! What the hell?”

“They’ll be here by lunch time,” Sam said. I blinked at him in silence. I started to hyperventilate. “But I’ll tell them to come at dinner,” he said. I was getting dizzy, seeing spots and auras and tracers. I genuinely like my inlaws, but I was dreading this visit.

“What do you think? Is 4:30 OK?” I nodded, and sat down on the couch using a hand to steady myself. I asked Sam to bring me an ice pack for my head.

And so it was that my husband’s parents—along with my sister-in-law and one cute but yappy lap dog—left blizzards and black ice in their rear view mirror and began their first winter as snowbirds. It was now only the distance between East County and the College Area separating me from a two-and-a-half month visit.

No, that’s no typo; it’s my reality. A two-and-a-half-month visit! With my in-laws!

Good Christ.

The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Of all the peoples whom I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers, I always find that at least 50 percent would prefer to have at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law.”

Now, I don’t need a jungle between my in-laws and me. But one plane ticket is about right. I’m the Queen of the Short Visit, Master of the Three-Day Weekend. I can tolerate just about anything for 72 hours, but give me an entire season of my mother-in-law’s perfume and my furry father-in-law shirtlessly sunning himself in my back yard? Well, then. You can just consider me a wild card.

It’s worthy of mention that my husband and I haven’t lived within 1,500 miles of a parental unit for more than 20 years, a choice with which we are both very content. We visit with my mother twice a year, and she and I chat on the phone once every three or four weeks. It works for us.

My in-laws, on the other hand, would like to talk daily. And visit often. And hug and kiss and generally enjoy each other in person, all the time. This is uncomfortable territory for a girl who digs her obligation-free existence. Family dinners? What is that? It’s accurate to say I went into this whole we’re-coming-out-for-the-winter arrangement with a little bit of apprehension.

OK, so maybe that’s downplaying it. I’ve been a little bit more like a 4-year-old having a temper tantrum, complete with foot stomping and fist pounding. It’s not been graceful.

But back to their first night: Their arrival was as smooth as 17 clowns piling out of a Volkswagen Beetle right in the middle of a meditation retreat. The cosmos was disrupted with much exclaiming and fawning. There was tearful hugging. And kissing and touching and stroking of hair and multiple expressions of how exciting it was to have So! Much! Time! Together!

There was a dog-butt-sniffing frenzy and then a small territorial battle. There were the noise-making toys brought cross-country for Ruby and the excited screaming over a much-anticipated Barbie Bus.There was the kitchen takeover and general overcrowding of our little home, already overstuffed with Christmas paraphernalia. It was pandemonium. It was sensory overload. It was everything I’d imagined it would be, and I knew I couldn’t deal for another two months. I poured myself a cocktail and stretched a thin smile across my face.

During the coming weeks, my in-laws settled into a little house they rented in South Park and Sam and I set a few boundaries—he, of course, being more tactful about it than I. When my mother-in-law happily chirped that they’d booked the house for next year, it was through clenched teeth that I said I wasn’t ready to talk about it just yet.

My mother-in-law ignored that and went about her business. She and my father-in-law began to get familiar with what they now call “our ’hood.” They introduced themselves to shop owners and neighbors; if you live or work in the area, I’ll bet money you already know Tommy and Marsha from Wisconsin.

My mother-in-law signed up for knitting workshops. My father-in-law walked the beaches. He’s pushed well beyond his fear of Southern California freeway driving, and just the other day, I watched him top out at 70 mph—I didn’t know he could go over 50—while talking on his cell phone. I was so proud of him.

My sister-in-law does her thing, sometimes with us, sometimes without. But what matters is that they’re all making their own life here, and the presence of a routine has made together-time more wonderful than I’d expected.

And I’m not saying this because of their willingness to babysit, any time, for free! Dear Lord, Sweet Baby Jesus in the sky, the free babysitting is glorious! Just last Thursday, they picked Ruby up after school so I could go to the gym. When I got home, the dishes were done, the floors were swept, the laundry was folded and stacked and our windows were washed. I had to point out to my mother-in-law that she’d left a streak on one of the windows, to which she said, “Oh, fuck you!” God, how I love her.

My temper tantrum is over and this is my public apology for my private bad behavior. I have decided the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to living with only a 10-mile concrete jungle between my in-laws and me. I just can’t wait until they make it permanent.


(As published in San Diego CityBeat.)

By default, I am Mother of the Year

Once again, I have to return to the tired theme of background checks, fingerprinting, interviews and essays that I had to endure to become a parent, while certain other mutants on the planet just get knocked up and go on to abuse their children. I love the candy as incentive. This is some stellar parenting right here (which is to say nothing of the esthetician’s judgement). Behold: