Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Chalk on the Walk

Yesterday was the first day of school, and I have to admit I'd been dreading its arrival. I truly love my job, and once the school year is underway I get completely engrossed in the pleasures and challenges of teaching, but the transition from slack summer to the crazed academic year can be rough. And this summer my Old Man and I were out of town until literally the day before my school-related duties began, which gave that rough ride an additional element of vertigo.

But when I got to school yesterday, as I walked my bike up to the crooked campus building where my office is located, I saw this chalking on the sidewalk outside:


I was immediately very moved. There was something about the phrasing of the statement and the shape of the letters that added poignance to the tribute. (The final phrase, the last couple of words smudged by the time a fellow teacher snapped this picture, are "never would have made it.") My office is in the building that houses all of the offices for the English and Fine Arts departments at my school. As I read the chalk message, I felt a kinship with my colleagues in that building that I hadn't a moment before, and I felt in my bones how vitally important our job is. I recalled the student I'd counseled back in my second year of teaching, a girl who'd been abused by her brother and was planning her to take her own life, whom I'd met with daily during my prep period and worried about for years after I left that job and city. And I recalled how I felt when, six years later, I got a letter from her letting me know that she was okay, that she was in college, that things were much better, and that she credited me with helping to save her life.

I don't know what the phrase "never would have made it" means to our anonymous chalker, but I do know that being a teacher is a rare honor and a fearsome responsibility. We often have no idea whether we've had an effect, for good or for bad, on a student once she leaves our classroom for the last time. But in a world that can be very alienating, scary, and cold, to do our jobs with kindness and compassion clearly makes a difference.

And, after that heartening early morning experience, I had an exceptionally good first day of school.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Lollapalooza Report

Ah, we are home. Finally. It has been a great summer, and the traveling we've done has offered much in the way of lovely scenery, good times, and quality people. But seven weeks away from home is too much. I am so happy to be sleeping in my own bed and cluttering up my own house.

(I ran into a teacher from my department at school and as we inquired about each other's summers, we found that both of us were exhausted and had tried to cram too much into too little time. "How do people who aren't teachers do manage without the summer off?" I asked him. He suggested that people who don't have the whole summer off probably don't try to cram as much in. I don't know. But I'm trying to avoid getting beat up by remembering not to complain to people with year-round jobs about how fast summer went and how tired I am from trucking around the country.)

A couple weeks back, O. attended his first rock show at the Lollapalooza festival, but then we flew off to the Northwest to visit my mom and stepdad at their Washington home and I never got to report on the eventful day. So I'm filing my Lollapalooza report a bit late. I'll make up for my tardiness by keeping it short and offering pictures.

In short: it was an excellent day and good fun was had by all. My Old Man, Little O, and I met our friends Big O. and Other E. at their home in the Ukrainian Village, and we all set off on the el train for Grant Park. We made it in time to find decent seats for the Shins, who played a great but somewhat too quiet set. They all wore olive drab and bantered jocularly with the audience between songs.

Lolla shot 2

Note O's earplugs. The Old Man and I are responsible rock and roll parents.

Despite my urge to truck across the park to check out Of Montreal, we stayed in the "Bud Light Stage" area in an attempt to improve our seating in time for the Wilco set. As a result we were subjected to the entire set of Poi Dog Pondering, who played the facing stage. Though I remember them from the early nineties as a lighthearted pop band with a penchant for tin whistle solos, they have morphed into (or perhaps been reborn as) an extremely cheesy R&B band whose white middle-aged guy singer seems to favor sexy lyrics exhorting listeners to lift up our skirt or expressing his desire to kiss us deeply with his passionate tongue. The set ended just before my ears began to bleed.

While my Old Man and O. milled around near the Poi Dog debacle, Big O. and Other E. and I found a nice spot fairly close to the stage, but off to the side, where Little O. was less likely to get trampled.

Little O. was definitely pumped for Wilco to play. He had that shiny excited-kid expression on as soon as the band hit the stage, Jeff Tweedy sporting a shaggy beard, a straw hat, and a lime green sport coat (which ensemble made him look oddly like scruffy Uncle Walt, my cigar-smoking Appalachian uncle). O. sat on my Old Man's shoulders for most of the set and clapped wildly after each song. It was beyond cool exchanging a meaningful wide-eyed glance with him as we simultaneously recognized the opening strains of one of his favorite songs. Unfortunately, Wilco didn't play his very favorite song, "Misunderstood," but he didn't seem to mind. They played a set full of many of his other favorites.

Lolla shot1

That's my kid, the tall one in the red shirt off to the right. And if you look close, you can just make out Jeff Tweedy's lime green sport coat.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Comin' Down the Mountain

I love the mountains. Whichever mountains. I've never met a mountain I didn't like. I spent many a summer as a kid driving and walking around various mountains in the Northwest with my mom and stepdad, spent a month in Switzerland hiking and working in the Alps, climbed small and large mountains in Guatemala, and hiked the sublime ridges and peaks of Glacier National Park with my Old Man on our honeymoon. I've never had the good fortune of living in the mountains for more than a few weeks at a time, but I try to get up into thinner air as often as possible.

Yesterday the Old Man, O, and I returned from three days with my mom and stepdad in Kaniksu National Forest in northern Idaho, my first mountain experience with a small child in tow. It was great bringing O. to a scenic log cabin retreat ringed by mountains in the Clark Fork river valley. It was kind of a drag that what looked on the website like a clear mountain lake directly in front of the cabins turned out to be a scummy pond, but that disappointment was offset by the train tracks within close sight of our cabin. (Freight trains clattering by at various points of the day and night might not be a bonus to most seekers of mountain solitude, but for parents of a three-year-old maniacally excited about trains, it's pretty cool.) An additional bonus: O. stayed in his grandparents' log cabin, giving my man and I some much appreciated late night and early morning time to ourselves.

We adults had a rough plan that involved a lot of hiking - a hike in the morning and again in the afternoon. The reality of getting four relatively laid-back adults and a willful toddler ready for a long hike foiled this rigorous hiking schedule, particularly because two of the adults (myself and the Oral Hygiene Queen Mother) are both laid-back (i.e. languorous to the point of pokiness) and anal (I come by my oral hygiene obsession by way of my mom, who is also a major source of my sunscreen fervor, my hydration fixation, and my need to have a snack packed at all times, not just for my child but for myself and anyone else who might decide to mooch). We ended up taking a pretty easy hike ending at a sweet spot on the Clark Fork river the first day and a challenging hike up to an old fire lookout the second day. The third day we wisely forwent that one last hike, preferring to drive to nearby Sandpoint, eat a big meal, and search for chocolate.

The hike to the fire lookout was really the highpoint and the low point of our whole stay in the Kaniksu. It was a beautiful hike, affording numerous vistas of the mountains, and views of the river valley and the tip of Lake Pend Oreille, and we knew it would end in a downright spectacular view. It was a private hike - amazingly, we didn't pass a single other party on our way up or back. For most of the way, it was a satisfyingly rugged hike, with plenty of up and down grades, but not so rugged that it made having O. along onerous. As we neared the end of the trail, however, the hike went from rugged to ridiculously steep. My Old Man, a beach kid by nature and habit, scored major mountain points and gained an even dearer place in my heart by carrying thirty-five pound O. on his back up this long, steep grade (in skate sneakers no less). The steep part went on and on and I found myself grumbling about the Forest Service guide book that had labeled this a "moderate" hike (moderate my ass, but then again, the only hiking I've done since O. was born has been in the ravines of Indiana's Turkey Run State park, so maybe my perception was just off). Finally, we reached the summit of the trail, where we found the decaying wooden fire lookout station and a three-sixty view that was indeed spectacular. I enjoyed it for about thirty seconds before the information that my beloved O. was approximately two feet from the edge of a towering precipice registered. I scooped him into my arms and shuffled him toward the relative security of the fire lookout, where he was immediately stung in the leg by a wasp. As he wailed, we all looked around and discovered a wasp's nest amid the rotting wood.

For most parents, this would be a major drag, but for me it was a nightmare. My dear Old Man is, alas, allergic to bee stings, and so there's a higher-than-usual likelihood that O. is also allergic. When I realized that my son had been stung, my heart began to pound hard, and when I saw the wasp's nest, I began to fear even more for my man. Nice view, thanks, but we're outta here. Our little party made it down the mountain in about a quarter of the time it took us to hike up, carrying O. the whole way while periodically checking his leg for signs of swelling. When the extent of the swelling remained small after twenty minutes or so, we began to relax a bit, though my man was wracking his brains to remember how long it had taken his foot to swell to the size of a cantaloupe the first time he had a reaction to a sting. Luckily, I had packed an ephedrine injection in the snack bag (being anal sometimes comes in handy), so if O. had starting ballooning, or if (God forbid) my man had gotten stung, we would have had some kind of recourse. Luckily, no mega dose of adrenaline was needed. The day ended on a relaxed note.

When we got back to our cabin, I checked the guidebook and realized that the hike we'd taken was actually labeled "more difficult," the second most challenging designation. Oops, my bad. Well, we were hardcore, even if we didn't really get to enjoy the scenic fruits of our labor for more than two minutes.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


O. often uses his morning piss as an opportunity to strip off his PJs and frolic nudie for a spell. This morning was no exception. As he stood up from his shiny red Baby Bjorn potty (conveniently placed right out there in the living room), he stretched his arms heavenward and exclaimed "Look at how big I am!"

My Old Man said "Man, you are big! I remember when you were just a little peanut."

In response, O. turned his bare backside toward us and looked over his shoulder with an insouciant smile "Hey, take a look at these peanuts!" he said, smacking a hand on either side of his ass.

Kudos, O. You have effectively knocked the wind out of our little moment of parental nostalgia. I'm a bit scandalized, quite amused, and definitely swelled with pride - my child's first use of metaphorical language in the service of lewd humor. I have a feeling you will go far, my son.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Lull

After five weeks on the East coast, we are home. Though we usually take two days to make the fifteen-hour trip from Chez In-Laws to Chez Nous, this time we drove straight though. We were making good time, and when O. piped up from the back seat saying he wanted to go home instead of stopping at a motel, the Old Man and I exchanged looks, checked the clock, and decided to go for it. I'm glad we did. It's good to be home, though I am plum tuckered out, y'all. And in a few short days, the whirlwind begins again. Sunday we head to Chicago to attend Lollapalooza, where O. will see his favorite band, Wilco, at his first ever rock concert. (We'll also probably check out a couple of other acts before the Wilco headliner, but since Wilco is the band O. is truly obsessed with, that's the band that's foremost in my mind.) It is going to blow his mind. Then Monday we fly out to Washington state to spend a week with loved ones. Then back to the Midwest, a brief visit to Chicago-area family, and home to stay for awhile. At that point, school will be starting, and I'll have to morph from a scruffy slacker to an organized teacher.

And that's all I have to say about that. I'm feeling a bit tapped out in terms of writing energies. Despite my excellent poetry workshop a couple weeks ago and the fact that summer is my time to focus on writing poems, I haven't done much more in the past week than toy with fragments or revise existing poems. And I'm not feeling very bloggy. So I apologize for this lame-ish post. I feel that I should really offer an interesting picture to make up for my lack of interesting words. Here, look at the desk I've been meaning to clean since school ended in May and feel better about the condition of your own desk:

Roll 98 - 3

Now good night, or good day, whichever applies to you at the moment.