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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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Four Years Ago Tonight...

I began having contractions. Luckily for hugely pregnant me, our across-the-hall neighbors Sanjay and Janna were having a New Year's Eve party, so I could just waddle over in my flip flops. I sat and ate some insanely good Indian rice pudding and talked with a gathering crowd of revelers about... guess what? Birth. Labor and delivery. What everyone wants to talk to the hugely pregnant woman about.

"Have you decided what kind of birth you want? Will you take the drugs?"
"Well, I can't predict how it will go, and I'm not ruling anything out, but I'd like to try to have a natural birth as much as possible. That's my goal, as few interventions as possible."
"Yeah my sister totally wanted a natural birth, but then [details] and [complications] and [harrowing turns of events], and then after all that she ended up with a C-section anyway."

It seems like I had at least six conversations that went more or less like this, all the while having what I later realized were relatively mild contractions every twenty minutes or so. All the stories of difficult labors and jettisoned birth-plans pissed my Old Man off to an extreme degree, but for some reason, I was completely unfazed. I was just excited to get started, and hopeful that things would go well.

My son O. was born on January fourth, and my contractions didn't cease in the interim. Stay tuned for the whole nine (ten, fifteen, twenty) yards.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Holiday Music Recommendations

Winter break is here. Hallelujah. Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation! It’s nice to slow down, relax, get some done tasks I’ve been putting off (among them Christmas cards and Christmas shopping), and sleep later (parents of three-year-olds only get to sleep so late…) We usually go to the East Coast for the holidays, but this year we’re staying home and the East Coast is coming to us. No holiday air travel = 1. a much more relaxed break, and 2. an impetus to put up our first full-sized Christmas tree.

This year is probably the most fully and enthusiastically I’ve gotten into Christmas since I was a kid, and partly this is thanks to the fact that I have a child who is just the right age for getting heavily into the holiday season. O. wakes up every day excited to open his advent calendar window. (And he’s such an enthusiastic innocent, he does not mind a bit that I have replaced the chocolate squares in half the windows with other small items such as almonds and vitamins. He exclaims “Look Mama, a almond!” and pops it happily into his mouth. This is the last year I’ll be able to get away with that.) He is counting the days ‘til Christmas, and his anticipation is infectious.

But I also have my Old Man to thank. I once loved Christmas, but over the years I’ve gotten jaded with all the crass commercialism, and my lazy ass has figured out that it’s a lot easier to do the bare minimum than go the extra holiday mile. Left to my own devices, I would probably put on a pretty half-assed Christmas, and thus my poor son would be deprived of much yuletide joy. My dear husband has a much more positive attitude toward Christmas, and in embracing the coolest aspects of the holiday, he has helped me find my way back to loving Christmas.

One aspect of Christmas that I enjoy is the music, but I’m very picky about which music. My tastes tend toward the traditional and away from the cheesy, aggressively jazzy , or cute. I’m all about “O Holy Night,” “Lo How A Rose Ere Blooming,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and not so into “Jinglebell Rock,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or countrified renditions of any holiday song. Until last weekend, we had nary a Christmas song in the house. But after 45 minutes of browsing about on iTunes, with a few suggestions and nixings from me, my Old Man found an array of excellent holiday music that we’ve been spinning with great delight. So here are my favorites among this year's finds, two (Twentieth-Century ) classics and two new releases:

1. Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols . Britten is a Twentieth-Century composer, but this Christmas choral work is based on a series of medieval poems and the music grows out of Christmas carol traditional, with some interesting twists.

2. The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas . It’s cool, mellow-yet-upbeat piano jazz, and it also reminds you of that Charlie Brown Christmas special you watched year after year as a kid, which so perfectly captured the mix of joy and melancholy that is Christmas.

3. Speaking of Christmas melancholy, who captures ambivalence and artistic depression better than Aimee Mann? Improbably, Mann has put out a holiday record this year, One More Drifter in the Snow . Afraid that an Aimee Mann record would be too melancholy for Christmas? Well, it is. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s a perfect antidote to all the aggressive artificial good cheer you have to wade through at the mall. Come home, put it on, and sip scotch until a boozy stupor begins to melt away the stress of the season. Plus, her rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is funny and goofy, and counterbalances the delicate sadness of most of the rest of the record.

4. I’ve heard a lot about Sufjan Stevens, but had not checked him out ‘til a friend burned me Stevens’s five Christmas EPs . This is maybe my favorite discovery this holiday season. He does great understated versions of classic Christmas carols and songs, and offers original holiday tunes as well, and they’re all beautiful background music and reward close listening if you care to pay attention.

Please share any and all of your recommendations for listenable holiday music. And have a joyous Chrismukkah.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Gifts of Teaching

Each year at this time, as the last day of school before Winter Break approaches, I am thankful. Thankful that I get two weeks off at a time of year when many people get a measley few days, yes. But also thankful that I will not be receiving a mountain of bewildering gifts from my students. I teach high school, where the most I’m likely to get in a given year is a couple of small boxes of chocolate or a plate of homemade cookies or fudge, maybe a gift certificate to a local book store, any of which I can handle.

My first three years of teaching, I worked at a Catholic junior high school in a toney neighborhood in West LA. For the sake of my story, we’ll call it Our Lady of Perpetual Privilege. (If you buy me a drink sometime, I’ll tell you about the various athletes and minor-league stars whose kids went there, and which of them had coke habits or obvious plastic surgery.)The combination of teaching younger students and the particular culture at that school meant I got a gift from each and every family, usually a full-fledged, non-edible, unwrap-it-with-trepidation gift. I got the usual array of cheesy teacher gifts: plenty of paper weights and a ton of apple-themed or “world’s greatest teacher” tchotchkes. But I also collected a surprising array of clothing and accessories. Purses, jewelry, sweaters, dresses, even a mohair suit one time. Now in theory, a mohair suit sounds like a great idea – but alas, the colors were all kinds of wrong (some sort of yellow-orange-purple mohair-tweed nightmare). In fact, that was the case with almost all of the items of personal apparel I received from my students and their families. Not surprisingly, they had not a clue about my taste, and their own taste was terrible. Receiving their gifts was very odd, and very uncomfortable.

Each year, I was faced with the task of dragging this mountain of unwanted giftage back to the small one-bedroom apartment I shared with my then-boyfriend (located in a decidedly untoney West LA neighborhood). Then what? I am constitutionally incapable of regifting (mostly due to my own vanity: the idea of giving a gift whose taste I find revolting bugs me, because then the gifted person will think I have revolting taste, which I can’t abide even with a random acquaintance). The local Goodwill is always an option, but then there’s that twinge of guilt at cramming an item received as a gift into an overstuffed collection box full of used clothes and second-hand bedding. Generally, it took at least a year for that “I am a gift, do not misuse me” aura to wear off enough to cram the peachy-pink sweater or huge horrendous purse down the waiting maw of the Goodwill box. And in the meantime, the pile of unwanted crap sat, taking up valuable closet space.

Occasionally, there would be a tag or box indicating where the horrendous gift originated, and so theoretically I could return it and choose something more to my liking (or just take the money and run). Unlike sending a gift straight to Goodwill, exchanging a gift does not seem ungrateful. You’re not actually rejecting the gift; you’re just revising it. Alas, the stores where my students’ families shopped were rarely in neighborhoods I frequented, and I was not about to make a special trip to Rodeo Drive just to return a Waterford crystal American flag paper weight, much as I wanted to get rid of it. (Remember, I hate shopping, no matter how highbrow the shopping district.)

Once I actually did return a student-given gift, a "fun" faux-pearl necklace with giant fake pearls a la Wilma Flintstone. The store happened to be right on the way the LA County Museum of Art, where I was taking my mom. I figured we’d pop in, get the $10 or so refund, and with it I’d take my mom out for coffee at the museum. We entered the swank department store, made our way to the jewelry department, and I proffered the necklace for return. The clerk asked if I had the receipt, which I did not, and she said “Oh, too bad. I’ll have to give you the sale price.” At which point she handed me fifty bucks and change.

Fifty bucks? On sale? For this tacky bit of costume jewelry? I was psyched at the windfall of $50, but I was also kind of appalled that the family had spent so much on my Christmas gift (and in early nineties dollars). I made me wonder, what goes through the minds of the rich? When I say, “Oh, Hell. It's only $4.95, why not?” are they saying “Oh, Hell. It's only $50, why not?"

Anyway, while I’m revisiting horrifying Student Gifts of Christmas Past, I must give props where props are due. I did receive a few great gifts during my time at Our Lady of Perpetual Privilege. The gracious and extremely chic mother of one of my favorite seventh graders, Bebo, got me a fetching black leather purse with faux leopard trim that I still use on certain dressy occasions. And Tatyana gave me a hardbound copy of Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet one year, and then the next year her sister gave me a slang dictionary, remembering that I had wished aloud for one several months earlier. I’m grateful to those families for having decent taste and good sense.

To those of you who are currently searching for something to give your child’s teacher, some advice: avoid the perfume and jewelry aisles, shun clothing and accessories, and stay away from anything cutesy, patriotic, or teacher-themed. Gift certificates are always safe, and chocolate is a fair bet. Most people love it as it deserves to be loved, and if they don’t, it’s one gift that you can regift with your head held high.

Hey, I just remembered: I actually did regift one of my LA teacher presents, the Waterford crystal American flag paper weight! I gave it to my communist-sympathizing, pot-smoking, fourth-of-July-mocking lawyer friend. Now that was a rare and beautiful regifting.