A Fun Game – Thanks, Rick Santorum!

Even though it’s Fat Tuesday (or maybe because of it?), everyone around me seems crabby today. But over on Jezebel, a short bit on Rick Santorum has spiraled into a fun “Who Do You Think You Are” kind of game, & I think we could all play!

Apparently, the former senator recently made a comment about being “from the coal fields.” Turns out he has to go back two generations for that to count. So if you go back two (or three) generations, who are you?

I actually am from the coal fields (my dad was a union coal miner for 20 years). If I go back two, & even three generations, yup, still coal fields. But I’m also a young woman who left her family on the farm & moved to Seattle to work in a Chinese restaurant while waiting for her boyfriends to return from the Navy. Yes, boyfriends. I was in love with two best friends, & once visited a gypsy & asked if it was possible to be in love with two men. She told me yes, so I privately made a decision to marry whichever got back from the war first.

I was also the privileged younger daughter of a wealthy farmer who worked as a post office clerk for a while for fun while waiting for my poor boyfriend to make enough money to marry me. When I had my first baby, I hemorrhaged so badly I nearly died, and I was afraid to have another baby for ten years.

If you’d like to see some of the Jezebel stories, the link is above. But who would you be if you claimed your ancestors’ stories as your own?


What is “normal”?

In order not to hijack a thread, I decided to make a diary out of our recent experiences with Gus being tested to try to solve some of his challenges in school. I think several of us may be struggling with children who are difficult to parent, so hopefully anyone with experience, expertise, and sympathy can help us sort some of this out.

We had a meeting this week with four specialists, Gus’s teacher, the school director, and the general specialist (GS) who’s on staff. Over the last six weeks, Gus was tested for a variety of things. His teacher and the GS felt early in the school year that he was having more trouble than usual sitting still, focusing, following rules, and settling into the routine.

I was not surprised by some of this. Gus is impulsive and often noncompliant. He was observed last year in preschool for this, and it was concluded there wasn’t a need for intervention (observing him the first half hour of school vs. the last half hour showed a marked difference).

Some background: Gus was born at 28 weeks, but had no known developmental delays. Part of the problem with saying this is that even 15 years ago, the odds of a baby born this early surviving with no problems was extremely rare. There simple isn’t a large body of data to study, so we often feel now that Gus is past toddler stage, we’re flying on our own. He has a late July birthday and attended two years of part-time preschool at our public school. He has never been in daycare. We thought very long about starting him in kindergarten this year or holding him back, but he’s so smart that we didn’t feel right holding him back academically. His preschool teachers agreed we should send him.

He attends a German immersion charter school full-time. There are 22 in his class, and he has a marvelous teacher. He is nearly a year younger than some of the kids in his class. Overall, we feel he enjoys school. His interest in art has totally spiked, he talks frequently about other friends in his class, likes to play with first graders at recess, and loves his teachers.

The meeting ended up being two hours long as we went through a 33-page report. They were very thorough! And they were helpful & kind as well. But after thinking about it a while, I still don’t know what to make of much of it, and worse, what to do. We and his teacher were also interviewed, and our answers were incorporated into the report.

He was evaluated by a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, a child psychologist, and an autism consultant. If any of you know or are interested in the particular tests, I can tell you. The speech pathologist reported that he was average to above average in her tests (expressive, receptive, & pragmatic language), even in a test that’s usually not done until age six, so his results were mixed in there.

The psychologist basically said he is scary smart, mostly in reading, but also testing above average in math. Both her tests & the teacher’s report put him way down on social skills, much further down than we reported. The psychologist was very clear though that it was her opinion we couldn’t discount his prematurity, or the fact that he is quite a bit younger than his peers. But she felt that since so much of his intellect was in the superior range, the fact that he was average in some areas was concerning because the gap was so wide.

The OT reported major deficiencies in her motor coordination, much more than we would’ve ever thought. One test had him at the age equivalent of less than three years old. He’s definitely not the sportiest kid in the world, but it’s not something we’ve encouraged, and he loves to move (possibly another problem). He had nine months of physical therapy and six months in braces around age three for tippy-toe walking that was starting to affect his foot movement, but was declared cured. We’ve seen huge improvements in his drawing & writing ability since school started, but even his fine motor skills tested low.

The autism one was hard. His teacher reported behaviors with far more frequency than we did, almost across the board. So did the consultant. As an example, let’s say a score of 80 means the likelihood of being on the spectrum is high. We scored him around 55; they scored him at 78 or 79.

At the end, the recommendation was that he did not score “bad” enough in any area to qualify for school intervention. The psychologist was not ready to look at ADHD (Gus’s ped agrees), although the OT & autism consultant seemed like they wanted to go that way. They all mentioned frustration that Gus didn’t seem to fit into any strong category where they could recommend a solid course of action. One thing they did agree on was the possiblity of a sensory integration (SI) disorder rather than the autism spectrum. The OT suggested getting him evaluated again by his ped, showing her the test results, & seeing if she would recommend outside SI therapy as a medical necessity so our insurance might possibly pay for it. The consultant commented that SI problems often are misdiagnosed as autism, so she felt that was the right way to go as well.

I’m sorry this is getting long, but it’s helping me process to write it out, and I feel so out of my element here. A big part of me wonders if I even know my own kid. Am I in denial about his behaviors? If anything can be done to put him on a good path, we’re going to do it. But maybe I’m just old-school enough to be wondering can’t we leave the kid alone to grow up a bit? Or do I not know enough about how kids are supposed to operate to make a judgement?

Here are some points that were made, for example, that leave me wondering:
-He was asked “What would if your teacher was sick?” He first answered “She won’t be able to come to school.” That was good. Then he added, “They might cancel school for a week.” That was inappropriate. I thought, is that so bad? He doesn’t really know. Older kids would know it wouldn’t happen, but he has a very vivid imagination. He might have been talking about what he wish would happen.

-He crawls around a lot while listening to a story. I understand why that would be distracting and the teacher would like that behavior to stop. But I think often he is still listening to the story. Moving may help him process it (which is chalked up to SI problems). He can still answer questions about somethign that was being said or done while he was moving.

-He doesn’t know when he’s being ridiculed or made fun of. First off, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of experience with this. Also, just this week, he told me he’d been filling his water bottle and a big kid told him Backyardigans are for babies. I asked “What did you say then?” He shrugged and said, “I didn’t say anything.” It didn’t bother him. Isn’t that good…not being upset if someone says something you know is kind of ridiculous. He brought it up, so I’m thinking he knew the kid was saying something unkind. But it didn’t upset him.

And this is actually the short version of what happened! I feel sorry for his teacher; she was probably hoping she’d get some extra support but all she got was sorry, the guidelines don’t let us fit him in. But as I said, she is wonderful & we’re fully committed to working with her to reinforce whatever she’s doing in school. But other than exploring the SI therapy, we really don’t know whre to go. I’m not necessarily a fan of normal, but I think I’d like my kid to be just normal enough that it’s not so concerning. Thanks so much for your attention & thoughts.


Have You Been Naughty or Nice?

Like me, you may be in the middle of creating the holiday experience for your family, including spending a lot of time looking for gifts for kids. Seems like moms can get a little left out this time of year, so although world peace and the GOP candidates getting a 12-month case of laryngitis would be nice, get all material & tell me: what are you hoping to find in a pretty box this year?

I have a few things bouncing around my head. I’d like a new laptop. I’m interested in a Kindle Fire but don’t know much about it. I’d like a device for turning photos, slides, & negatives into digital files. I’ve wanted a standing jewelry case for a while, and I never turn my nose down at jewelry, particularly homemade or vintage. I’ve been thinking about one-cup coffeemakers. But a gift card for Barnes & Noble, Archivers, or iTunes will suit me just fine. What’s on your wish list? I know you all have been exceedingly nice this year!


Last Day Owning Our House

There’s something I’ve been carrying for a few months, but I didn’t want to talk about it until it was final. But the day has come. Our house is in foreclosure. It will be sold at a sheriff’s sale tomorrow, and this is our last day officially owning it. We have until June 1 to move out.

You might be wondering how it got to this, and sometimes I’m not even sure. We bought our house a bit over six years ago. It was built by my MIL & stepFIL over 20 years ago. They wanted to sell quickly to move to Arizona before winter. We wanted a house but didn’t have a down payment. They offered us gifted equity, and everyone told us that was a good deal. At the time, DH & I were both working (me just under full-time), so we believed that an ARM wouldn’t be too bad, and were assured we could re-finance in 18 months. This was fall 2005.

Flash-forward to spring 2007. I wasn’t working any more because DS had been born nine months earlier and I quit work when we were advised to keep him isolated all winter. When we went to refinance, we were denied. It was at the beginning of the housing fiasco. We still weren’t too worried because DH has a good salary and we still thought we could ride things out a bit and figure out a way to improve the situation.

Things didn’t spiral downward; it’s more like they leisurely flowed downhill. We had DD (not a negative, but still an additional expense). It made more sense for me to stay home because even assuming I could get a job at the highest salary I ever made, I would still make less than $500 a month after daycare expenses, which is close to what I make if I teach once a week. The house started to fall apart. My in-laws had either not made repairs & updates, or my stepFIL made them himself and they weren’t solid. Our kids were sharing a room that was meant to be a den. We decided to look into selling when my parents said they would help us with a down payment.

Then things really started crashing. Around summer 2009 our mortgage jumped. The housing market was imploding all around. We lost the gifted equity. We got our property tax assessment and found out the house was worth at least $30,000 less than we paid. Houses started to go up for sale all around us that were newer, bigger, & nicer than ours. We couldn’t sell but we also had nothing with which to either improve the property (the list of what needs to be done is at about 20 items).

We looked into everything we could. With a few things, we were just under the percentage needed to get help. Since DH still had a good job, no one thought it was immediate trouble. Our mortgage got sold twice, and none of the companies would refinance or cut our interest rate. We were wary anyway because good friends of ours got refinancing (which took them about eight months) only to have the company tell them six months later that it wanted to back payments. It took them another six months and a lawyer to fight that.

We tried to pay every month, but were often late. When we did pay, we would usually get to a point where it was five days before payday and we had less than $50 for gas & food. What started as a wry joke about just letting the house go became more of a serious possibility. Our dear neighbor next door lost her house. She was fine (moved in with her fiance) but the house sat empty seven months before selling. We found out it sold for $100,00 less than it was worth. We talked to my parents & DH’s mom & stepdad, and they backed our decision to let the house go. We were tired of fighting for a house we didn’t really like and that would likely never be the investment it was meant to be.

We stopped paying in July and got the official letter in October. In a way, it lessened the stress to know exactly when things were going to happen. It’s still scary and sad and embarrassing. But we are looking forward to starting over. We would like to rent a house or townhouse closer to the center of town where DS’s school & our church is. We are glad the kids are still too younger to remember anything. I was almost three and almost six when my family moved, and I remember little. They are sold on the idea of getting their own rooms.

DH wants to go to the sale tomorrow, but I’m not going. I’m feeling a little sick and teary. This is not how we wanted things to turn out. We did not buy too much house. We honestly thought we were buying what we could afford. The conventional wisdom (which seems so quaint now) was a house would never depreciate as long as you kept it up. We realize we made some dumb decisions, but we did them with the best intentions. We realize we can definitely manage our finances better, and this was a hard way to learn it.

We are very fortunate. We don’t have to declare bankruptcy. Our credit’s probably already in the toilet, but we have a car, DH has a good job, I’m still able to teach when I can, our children are healthy and happy, we have friends and family who love and support us and we are going to have a happy Christmas. Still, it’s going to be hard. We dread telling the conservative members of our family (DH’s dad, my brother). I don’t want to lie about anything, but I’m sure people will naturally have questions when we tell them we’re moving. I don’t want to explain myself because I don’t think it’s anyone’s business except those I choose to tell, but I still feel responsible and sorry for what happened. It feels very humbling to be our age and to fail like this. I wonder what sort of example we are setting for our children.

But we will be OK. I keep thinking that this time next year we will be settled in a new place, the kids will be happy in school, and we’ll be working hard to move forward. It was interesting to read today on the thread where people discussed being worried about finances. You might be cheered to know that since you know me, it becomes statistically less likely that this will happen to you! Then again, you wouldn’t be alone. I couldn’t find exact figures, and Minnesota is a bit higher, but it seems like 25%-29% of American homeowners has faced this in the last three years. We feel better knowing we made the choice and we can make plans. We know one other person who got foreclosed, but she really wanted to keep her house, and was moving out at the last minute before the doors got locked on her, yet she had no where else to go. She is now happy in an apartment and, like us, glad to be starting over.

This got very long, but it was cathartic for me to write this. I will be telling the whole story to a few more close friends, but otherwise I’m still not sure what or how much I’ll say. Thank you for listening. Every time I look into my daughter’s face today I am reminded what’s really important, and that I have been so very fortunate. Blessings to you all.


What a Union Did For Me

I’ve had a lot of thoughts jumping around in my head that have really started boiling since all the action began in Wisconsin. I wrote down what I was feeling and finally posted it today on my Facebook page. My wonderful, supportive MT friends have read it, given me encouragement (and courage), linked it on their pages, and asked me if I’d post it here. I’d like to because I am really interested in all of your experiences, either as union members, or children or spouses of members. How has it affected your lives? Do you still see those effects? What are the benefits, and the downsides? Are unions really beside the point…does the middle class and those who care about it finally need to stand up and say we’re not going back to the Gilded Age?

In April 1975 I was six years old, had just started kindergarten, and my dad, a member of the United Mineworkers of America, was on strike. My little town in west-central North Dakota was still blanketed with snow, which was not uncommon for springtime. Still, the coal miners were out at the tracks, walking a picket line, and one day, my dad took us with him.

My memories of that day are few, but imprinted in my mind 35 years later. We went to the mine, a few miles out of town, and stood on the tracks so the coal cars couldn’t pass. A TV crew from Bismarck was there. They ended their story that night with a shot of my seven-month-old brother, bundled up against the cold, resting in my mom’s arms against her shoulder. We were taken (arrested?) to City Hall, where we crowded into the small building and were eventually just sent home. Not long after, while pretending to write my own newspaper, I interviewed my dad about the strike.

My dad had been a union coal miner for less than five years, and it had completely changed his perspective. His dad was a small business owner, who might’ve been in a union if he wasn’t the only blacksmith in town. So because of his position in town and following in his ethnic group’s path, he was a Republican. I don’t know who (or if) my dad voted for in 1964, a few weeks after turning 18, but in 1968 he voted for Nixon. He told me that was the last Republican he voted for. By 1972, even though he’d only been a union member for a year, he knew who was on the side of the working man, and it wasn’t Republicans.

So you could say I was raised in a union household starting at two years old. I don’t know that this made me any different; it just was. My dad was on strike a few more times, most devastating to me was during my freshman year of college. He wasn’t fanatic, but he participated in local union activities, contributed to funds to help families of other striking miners (particularly in West Virginia), had us boycott products if the company’s union was on strike, and vowed to never have a Japanese car in his driveway.

Watching what is happening in Wisconsin has made me really think about what my dad’s union membership did for me. My maternal grandfather was also a union coal miner, so this was not just a temporary thing for me. I can’t deny that the benefits my father was able to receive and supply to us through his union were great and far-reaching. I have to stand up and say that unions put me where I am today.

My dad’s mine wasn’t the only one around; the county I grew up in is known as Coal Country. It is strip mining, which is considerably less dangerous than underground mining. Still, I believe there hasn’t been a mine death in over 60 years. Because of unions, I didn’t worry too much about my dad’s safety while at work. I could worry about the fact that the mine was out in the country, and that he was often driving home in the middle of the night. I could worry he might hit a deer, or fall asleep, or hit ice in the winter. But on the job, he was pretty safe.

My dad’s generation might have been the last when a man could have a middle-class, blue-collar job, and still be able to purchase a modest new home at age 27, have two cars, three children, and a wife who could stay home. We eventually had a camper so we could indulge in my dad’s favorite vacation relaxation – sitting around doing nothing. But we also took car trips around the country to see relatives and national treasures along the way. We had nothing extravagent, but there was nothing we lacked.

I do not remember my parents worrying about healthcare. Because of my dad’s union benefits, I got an eye exam every year, and new glasses every two years, covered 100%. This was especially important with five people in our family needing glasses, including all three of us kids, who needed them before we were ten years old. I’ve never had eye coverage like that since. The only hospitalization any of us needed was me for a few days when I had a severe kidney infection. But one of my younger brothers had asthma and severe allergies, and the other had juvenile epilepsy. This meant a lot of testing and specialists for a few years. It was not a great financial hardship to my family.

Many years ago, while browsing through a bookstore in North Dakota, I glanced through a book of poems from a local poet. One poem started “There’s a graveyard south of Beulah…” and went on to paint a bleak picture of the evils of coal mines. My stomach tightened, and I’ve never been able to forget that line, although I’ve long forgotten the bitter old poet’s name. That graveyard not only fed my family, but the union that protected my dad’s job launched me into the world. It allowed me to become one of the first members of my family to graduate from college with an advanced degree. It gave me a small scholarship. In only three generations, we went from being a family that barely understood English to one with a person so proficient with the language, she could teach it at a college level.

Besides college (and I didn’t go too far from home for that), the stability of my dad’s union-protected job sent me further than I ever dreamed. I became the first person in my family for 100 hundred years to go back to Russia. I was thousands of miles away from our homeland, in St. Petersburg, a city my ancestors never saw, but I was able to do it…stopping at London and Stockholm on the way. I went to Germany, another place so dear to my ancestors, but one most of them had never seen. I saw St. Lawrence’s Church, the great Lutheran cathedral in Nurnberg, a place my peasant ancestors may not have been welcome.

True, the union didn’t “give” me these things. My father worked hard, and I stood on his shoulders and tried to work as hard as I could. But I don’t forget where I came from. I don’t forget who sacrificed for me. I don’t forget who supported me. I don’t fancy myself so accomplished that I can take credit myself that I, and I alone, should be praised for every good thing I’ve managed to have.  

I was a member of a union when I briefly worked for the University of Minnesota. Yes, I was one of those selfish, thuggish public servants so reviled now in Wisconsin. It was uneventful, but I fully supported AFSCME’s goals, and as a taxpayer, I still do. My younger brother has grown rather conservative, but his police union is still there for him if his city decides his services are no longer worth what they’ve been paying, or to give him legal support if his methods are challenged, or to help his family if he should give ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

I will not entertain the argument that unions were good years ago, but they’ve lost their usefulness. I will also not entertain the ignorant sentiment that the two or three union workers one might know are lazy and the union just protects their inadequacy, or the really uneducated argument that unions are just too powerful. Labor activists have died for something you take for granted such as a 40-hour work week, or the ability to use the toilet when you need to while at work. I can’t help you if you don’t think such sacrifices were worth it, and I certainly find it hard to respect you.

Learn about what unions actually provided for you, regardless of whether or not you or any member of your family was ever personally involved. Learn who and why and how they fought. Tell me why you trust big corporations to do the right thing by workers and their families. Tell me why you find it so easy to turn against your neighbors, who aren’t fighting for the hope they will ever be as rich and powerful as a big company owner. They just want their kids to have a home, an education, a healthy, stable life. Just like my dad wanted for me. And I got it. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t easy. But I am grateful, and I will express that gratitude by standing up for people in hopes that, when I need it, they will be standing up, again, for me.


What’s So Great About You?

Sue in Queens’ diary that invited us American slacker moms to toot our kids’ horns was a fun, inspiring read. Vegas expressed an interest in having some more good times. So how about we talk about the positive things about ourselves?

I’ve always heard that one big difference between men and women in business is men are never afraid to take credit and boast about their accomplishments, whereas women tend to stay quiet to avoid “bragging” or want to share the accolades. I don’t know how true this is, being as I haven’t worked in almost five years. But I’d be willing to bet that all of you were fantastic kids who grew into the amazing women you are, and I’d like to hear about it.

So why don’t we look back on ourselves as children and talk about the great qualities we had, and how they’ve followed us into adulthood. Or just tell us how great you are in general. Or tell us what your family appreciates about you (even if they are just a little slow in expressing it sometimes). I want to hear some loud horn-tooting, ladies!


An idea…Mamacita, DON’T LOOK!!! UPDATE

Dr. Capsab has volunteered to coordinate a photo book like we made for vegas, which was super cool. I can’t remember how we did that…did we pitch in for the cost? I’ll ask capsab to post an email where you can send photos, messages, etc. If we could do that by the end of the month, she can work on in it and we can surprise Mamacita next month, when no one expects anything but bills!

Also, if you’d like to send something paper (postcard, clipping, cartoon, etc.) please email me at cynmillbeaAThotmail.com and I’ll give you my address.

Thanks for all the positive responses.

Hi all,
A Facebook posting by our Mamacita was a welcome message today. According to it, her arms and hands still hurt too much to be online much. I think she lurks a lot but can’t comment too much.

I believe she is also still struggling with her former employer. I wanted to do something small and old-fashioned to brighten her day. Remember card showers? I thought we could find cards, postcards, drawings, clippings, anything you like to let her know we’re thinking of her and to give her a nice surprise in her mailbox. I just thought of the fact that it’s the holidays and she will probably be getting a lot of mail, so we could wait until January if you all think that would be better (and more of a surprise). Also, one less thing for us to add to our to-do lists this month. I can post a reminder diary in a few weeks.

You could send everything to me and I will forward her a big envelope (or even better…a big box!). I thought of this because for the last couple of years, American fans of the British soap opera “EastEnders” have sent greetings to one of the elderly actors who used to be on the show. A woman in North Carolina befriended him and his wife, and she collects our cards and sends them a big packet. I’m told it’s one of the highlights of their holiday season, and I think it’s amazing that just a card I send with a photos of my kids (watching the show, of course) can be so meaningful and make someone so happy.

So let me know if this is something we could do and if/how you’d like to participate. Thanks, everyone!



Spooky Stories

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge Halloween fan. It’s okay, but I don’t get all that into it. I love the idea of fantasy, but I’m not hardcore believer in ghosts/spirits. Neither do I think everything has a rational explanation. But I was reading a link on Jezebel about haunted houses, and I thought it might be fun this weekend to share your own spooky stories.

Here are mine:

My maternal grandfather, Gust (where DS gets his name) died three years before I was born. He had a seizure while in bed one night, and died less than two weeks later during surgery to relieve pressure from a brain aneurysm. He was 43. My grandma remarried and remained in the house for about 15 years, then sold it to my aunt & uncle. They divorced, and my aunt remarried and remained in the house.

I was visiting my aunt maybe ten years ago, and she was talking about how she found objects in her bedrooms moved around sometimes. She’s a very neat, organized person, and knew where she kept things. One was a small fringed jacket that she wanted to hang on a wall in her cowboy-theme room. She hung it in a closet, but would find it out on the bed. Her husband swore he knew nothing about it. Her divorce had been bad, so she thought maybe her ex was sneaking into the house to mess with her. But she wondered if maybe her dad, my grandpa, was making his presence known. We got to talking about other things, and she wanted to show me a new quilt she was making, so we headed back to a guest room. The house had three bedrooms, and my cousins were out of the house, so only my aunt & uncle lived there, and the other two rooms were for guests.

My aunt walked into the room ahead of me and screamed. She’d had three dolls sitting on pillows at the head of the bed (which I’d seen in previous visits). One doll was now face down in the middle of the bed. My aunt swore she’d been in the room the day before and everything was in order, and no one had been in the house until I visited. It was a little freaky!

My grandpa may have made other visits. Photos of me after my baptism were taken in a corner of my parents’ house. It was an assembly-line thing with each set of relatives holding me, then passing me over, all within a few minutes. In the photo with my grandmother and step-grandfather, there is a line of light over me, with two dark circles above my head. Yep…sort of like orbs. I want to scan some photos today or tomorrow….I’ll try to post it and see what you think.

When Gus was in the NICU, he would often look into the corner of the room and smile. He wasn’t staring vacantly; his eyes were focused, and it like he was watching something. We would joke that the angels were telling him funny baby jokes. I know kids will do that, but the weird thing is, he never did it once he was home, and Sanna never did it at all.

I do wonder if kids are more in-tuned to things. When Gus was about 2 1/2, I walked past his room one night and noticed he was still awake. I asked why he wasn’t sleeping and he said Grandpa Gus was talking to him. We don’t talk about my grandpa a lot; I never knew him and my mother has barely talked about him at all in my whole life. Gus knows he was named after someone, but we don’t even have photos of my grandpa around. A few months ago, Gus said, “Grandpa Sam talks to little Sam.” My six-year-old nephew is named after my other grandfather, who died 23 years ago. Again, not something we discuss in any detail!

One more strange thing with Gus. We go frequently go to a local, family-owned restaurant. If you go in the back, you go up a flight of stairs that are pretty basic…flat, brown carpet, cheap black metal railings, paneling on the walls. Again a few months ago, Gus & I were walking up and he said “This is like Grandma Fina’s house.” I actually burst into tears. My grandmother died a year before Gus was born, and the stairs up to her apartment looked nearly exactly like that. It’s not a place Gus had ever been, and I never even noticed the resemblance at the restaurant until Gus said it. Now that freaked the poop out of me!

When we were in Edinburgh, Scotland, on our honeymoon, we took a ghost tour. Edinburgh has an extensive underground tunnel system, where people lived during the plague, and medical students did experiements. In one room, the guide told us we should take photos because it was the most haunted place in Scotland. Back at the tour office, they had several binders of photos people took, and then noticed things in the background when they were developed. We took a few, but nothing showed up on ours.

So those are my brushes with the supernatural. Anyone else have a ghost story to share? Happy Halloween!


Which Language? Any Language? No Language?

I feel super-yuppie even asking this, but it’s a discussion that’s been getting thick in our house lately. We would like to send DS to a language immersion kindergarten. I want German; DH wants Spanish. Which is better? Does it matter? Is it a bad idea altogether?

Here are the arguments. I favor German. I grew up in a German-speaking family, in a small town heavily populated with my ethnic group. To me, it is more than a second language. It’s a connection to my children’s heritage. Unfortunately, I was part of that third generation that wasn’t taught the language (it was an excellent way for our grandparents to talk about things they didn’t want us to hear) and I didn’t have a chance to study the language until I was in college. I have a minor, but having spent only the equivalent of about three weeks in German-speaking countries, my ability is pretty low. I think German is an excellent language for science & engineering, and gives a good base for Scandinavian languages. It’s a hard language, and I feel if you don’t consciously study it, it’s difficult to pick up. There is an excellent German immersion K-3 charter school that is a reasonable drive for us. DH’s German comprehension is almost as good as mine. I feel if DS studies German, it will be easy to him to pick up another language down the line.

DH favors Spanish. He is fairly fluent (learned most of it from dating exchange students in high school) and is gifted with languages, which is why his German understanding is pretty good as well. He feels Spanish is more useful in the world today, especially in this country. He thinks DS will get more use out of Spanish and be able to pick it up easier. He agrees with me that once DS has one language, he’ll easily pick up another, but DH thinks the immersion should be Spanish.

I argue that Spanish is so prevalent, DS could pick it up if he wanted to. There are two Spanish-speaking kids in his class (public preschool) right now. We live near a Mexican-American enclave in St. Paul. There are Spanish-language radio stations. Our library is full of Spanish-language books & tapes. He’s picked up a lot from “Dora.” If DS studies German, we can both help & support him. If he studies Spanish, I’ll be left out because I basically don’t know much aside from “Dora.” Since I think we have to make more of an effort to study German, I feel we should start by sending him to the immersion kindergarten.

The other side of it is, does it really matter? He will get benefits out of either language. I argue to DH that if it’s future use or promotion we are concerned about, we should be teaching him Mandarin! But neither of us is really interested in that. I concur that my reasoning is highly personal & emotional, but I do really think that studying a second language early is important & valuable.

I know some of you here have been down the immersion road. Is it right for us? Should we wait if we can’t agree? Is it a bad idea for DS (and I can give you more insight into him if you want).

One last thing: the last time we talked about this, DH said, “Fine, he can take German. You owe me. I get to make the next decision.” I went mental! This is not usually how we discuss things, and I really didn’t like the idea that he’s giving in so he can pull points later. This is our son’s education we’re talking about, but I’m validating (OK, Katie!!) how DH is feeling. Maybe that says more about our relationship than the actual topic, but we need to make a decision in 2-4 months since that’s when we need to register for wherever we send DS. Even if we don’t start him in kindergarten, we’d like his third year of preschool to be something different, so we can send him to one year at an immersion preschool.  Please give me your collective wisdom!


You Must’ve Been a Beautiful Baby

It’s been a long, hot, diffcult summer for a lot of people, so why don’t we end it with some fun. A day or so ago, Gloria shared an adorable childhood photo of her with her brother. Care to play a game?

Several organizations I’ve been in have a fun icebreaking game where members display a baby or childhood photo of themselves and others try to guess who is who. It’s also a fun game that I recommend when I speak about memoir writing, heritage art, and family reunions.

Perhaps you have a photo like this:
Cindy's 1st Xmas

This is me on my first Christmas, at 11 months old, 1969. I love it because in addition to being an adorable photo of me & my parents, it’s such a period piece. Aren’t my mom & dad cute? They are both barely 23 in this photo. My mom is also wearing high black boots; she looks like Mrs. Partridge. We are at my grandparents’ house. Dig the harvest gold drapes and the frosted Christmas tree! You can tell I was the only grandchild because there are two framed photos of me in the background. People tell me they can really see my daughter in this particular photo, but I’m not sure I see it myself.

Gloria has graciously agreed to organize this. If you are inclined, send her a photo to gloria@mothertalkers.com. I think, since many of us don’t know what each other looks like in real life, maybe include a clue to your MT identity. If you can do this by August 31, Gloria will post them and we can try to guess who is who.

Come on, let the little girl you once were shine! I want to see ruffled poodle skirts, bell bottoms, disco shirts, neon hair bows, and, well, whatever little kids wore in the 90s! Don’t forget mini-bee hives, wedge cuts, pouffy bangs with crimping, and mini-Rachels…it’s all about the hair. Can’t wait to see everyone’s cuteness!