Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Learning for Learning's Sake

Since my kids have started a classical charter school, I've been coaching them through the transition from homeschool to academia. We've discussed strategies for budgeting time on tests, for example, or weighing "I can afford a B on tomorrow's literature homework, but I can't afford a B on tomorrow's math test." I have told them stories about using algebra to figure out "What is the lowest score I need on the history final in order to obtain an A-plus instead of an A for the semester? How many hours of study would it take me to hit that score? Is it worth my time, or should I prioritize preparing for my science final, instead?" I was extremely tactical about my grades in high school, and it paid off.

That said, I am also emphasizing that while grades matter, they are neither the only, nor the most, important thing. I got good grades, but I didn't obsess about the occasional B in chemistry; while I cared about making the honor roll, I did not care much about class rank.

Learning for learning's sake is a worthy, edifying goal.  Becoming a full-time mom was rough because I went into intellectual withdrawal. That is why I took informal ASL lessons when Eric and Daniel were preschoolers, why
 I joined book clubs that covered classics I'd missed in my formal education, and why I've so thoroughly enjoyed learning problem-solving math over the last five years. Lifelong learning is necessary to my spirit. (I hate being bored!)

Several months ago, during one of these discussions with Eric and Daniel, I told them a story about my own high school career. Last night, I attended a meeting for parents of 8th graders, all about expectations for high school and preparation for college. When the headmaster talked about not giving in to a culture of insane competition, grade inflation, and fear of failure, it resonated.


Once upon a time, during my junior year, I was sitting in French class, brooding about my bleak, bored, and depressed existence at "This stupid school in the middle of a cornfield, which claims to be one of the best in the state but doesn't offer any AP classes." (I had moved to Indiana a few months before, halfway through high school.)

The French class grouped years III and IV together, and the official curriculum was mostly a repeat for me. At least Madame Selke was an excellent teacher who did great things for my accent.  Once she started a unit on French history, I perked up. 

Madame assigned us to do group presentations about various historical figures. I forget who I did, but it was probably Robespierre, who was always a favorite of mine after Mrs. Johnston's ninth-grade simulation of the Revolution.

Anyway, this three-person group, which included a GPA-obsessed girl named Holly, her best friend, Betty, and Betty's boyfriend[1], stood up and started doing a presentation about Henry IV in halting French. I quickly caught the problem and started grinning. I looked over and caught Madame Selke's eye. She looked less amused, but then, she was a native Frenchwoman.

She interrupted them brusquely. "Wrong guy. You're talking about Henry IV of England. Go back and do some real research. You can re-present in two days. You might even be able to salvage a passing grade."

Henry IV, who instituted religious tolerance, among other things, is a famous and beloved figure in French history. To Madame, this was probably like an "ignerint Yank" messing up on either Queen Elizabeth while talking to a Briton. If you want an American-centric example, it would be like saying "Franklin Pierce was the president who rescued the U.S. from the Great Depression!" [2]

Holly, predictably, started to cry. That was her response to everything. "I got a B- on this calculus test. I think I'm going to cry!" she would announce, and then burst into tears. Followed immediately by "But I'm ranked number nine in the class! This might knock me out of the top ten! I'll never get into college...[Wail]" (Her anxiety was unfounded, since her parents had been pre-paying her tuition to the Florida university system for years.)

I still wonder how they could have made such an error. Granted, the French and British aristocracy intermarried and conquered each other over the years. Acquitaine, Normandy, and other provinces endured a political tug-of-war for centuries. Henry VI (of England) was even briefly declared king of both nations, though that didn't last.

Still, you'd think a modicum of research would alert them to the difference between "guy who usurps the English throne and kills his nephew(s), 1399" and "guy who converts to Catholicism so he can be crowned King of France, 1594." I mean, two centuries!

(Does it count as a "creative anachronism" if it's unintentional?) 

Holly was a classic example of putting grades over learning. She used to ask me for help with her homework; once she had a current events question and muttered "you're so smart!" when I answered "Jean-Bertrand Aristide used to be the president of Haiti. There was a coup there recently, he fled to the U.S., and President Clinton is considering sending troops to intervene." This simple explanation would have been unnecessary had she ever read a newspaper. Instead, she spent all her time on rigid homework, cheerleading, and boys.

She was also the kind of kid to say "But I can't take honors biology! The teacher is super hard, so I might get a B!"

While I found my peers' misplaced priorities sad, I found the results hilarious. The most important thing was acquiring a real education -- which included critical thinking skills like knowing how to [*snicker*] perform a sanity check. (Not just for programmers and engineers, folks.)

The "Henri Quatre" incident was one of the few highlights of an otherwise grim year. Heh, heh, heh.


[1]  Names have been changed.

Franklin Pierce, the 14th president (1853-1857), was an alcoholic and virulent anti-abolitionist; he is widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. Conversely, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president (1933-1945), is credited with navigating America successfully through both the Great Depression and World War II; he is widely regarded as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history.

Please note that FDR was imperfect. I don't approve of court-packing, and Japanese Internment was a massive moral failure. FDR and Eleanor were progressive on civil rights issues for all other minority groups, though, and deserve credit for that. People are messy: George Washington was a great president, although he was also both an imperfect man and a slave owner.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Daniel's Delivery

[This was originally published as part of a longer blog post about the birth stories of Eric through Sam. I'm pulling it out and publishing it as its own piece. To see the longer post, go here: --Gail]

At an ASL lesson, Kathryn Chapman once asked me to practice story telling. "Tell me a story," she instructed, "Like about what happened when Eric was born."

"Eric?" I signed. "Hospital--doctor--nurse--medicine--boring." (This was actually perfectly acceptable grammar in ASL.) "But Danny," I continued, placing "home" in one spot and "hospital" in another, then showing a car moving swiftly between them, "Super fast--freezing rain--screaming--no drugs--pain, pain, pain--awful, horrible....Drama."

Physically, my pregnancy with Danny was my easiest. I had other medical issues going on at the time, though, which really complicated things. Still, I worked through things fairly well and had mostly regained my equilibrium.

On the night of January 24th, 2004, I was sitting on the couch reading. It was around 11:30 and I was about to go to bed. Suddenly I realized I'd been having some abdominal discomfort. "Huh," I thought, dismissing it as a minor digestive problem. Then, " that a contraction?" I glanced at my watch. Around six minutes later, I glanced at it again. And then, an interval later, again. It was ten or so days early, but there was an ice storm coming. Jon and I had already discussed how we didn't want to be stranded at home and then have me go into labor. "Perhaps," I thought, moving upstairs to throw a few things into an overnight bag -- yes, I had procrastinated, despite Jon's frequent reminders -- "Perhaps we should err on the side of caution."

I told Jon, who began grabbing stuff far more aggressively. I called the doctor. She listened to my "Owww!"s over the phone and said to come on in.

We got Eric up. Poor kid, he was roused from sleep at midnight, thrown into the car, and rushed to a strange house. (At least we had a plan of where to park him.) He was two.

Yes, we had to stop and pack a bag for him, too, and yes, I was ill-prepared. Jon has been gracious enough not to rub it in too much over the years.

Sadly, the babysitter's house was in the opposite direction of the hospital. We drove over there, dropped off a very disoriented Eric and all his gear, and paused while Brother Schnegelberger assisted with a priesthood blessing. I remained in the passenger seat the whole time. Poor Brother S. was wearing light pajamas, and the temperature was plummeting rapidly. I was also beginning to pant and whimper. The contractions were coming more quickly and I was getting nervous.

Jon then retraced our route in the direction of the hospital. It would ordinarily have been a twenty- or twenty-five minute drive. In the middle of the night, with minimal traffic, it went slightly faster. It seemed like ages. I began yelling. "OW, OW, OWWW!!!"

Jon stopped for a red light. "Run it!" I ordered, tersely, and he looked startled but complied. We hit every single red light from then on, but by then I was screaming "Aaah! It hurts! Make it stop!" and Jon didn't have to be told to run 'em.

In retrospect, screaming "Jon!! Make it stop!!!" was one of the cruelest things I've ever done to the man. He's a guy. And an engineer. He likes to fix things. This was one problem where he was helpless. I maintain I was not responsible for anything I said at that point. (I do note proudly that I did not curse, even once. Or call Jon nasty names.)

 He began going twenty, then thirty, miles over the speed limit. I worried that a cop would pull us over. I feared not the ticket, but the inevitable delay. Would a police escort offset the time lost explaining the situation?

By then I was crying incoherently. It was a very odd experience: I could think fairly rationally, I just couldn't communicate.

Jon screeched to the ER entrance. A nurse was standing ready with a wheelchair and bundled me into it. Jon raced off to park the car. He said later the brakes almost caught on fire.

The nurse wheeled me, shrieking, through the ER. I had a vague, blurry impression of lots of faces staring at me, mouths dropping, as I was rushed past them at a moderately loud volume. (I was pre-registered at the hospital, by the way.)

The labor nurse didn't even have to look at me. Hearing me coming from several hundred feet away, she automatically routed us into a delivery room. She helped me undress and began to examine me. Jon rushed in, gasping asthmatically and looking like a second medical emergency.

"She's there," one nurse said to another, and I REALLY started to wail.

"Nooooooo! I want drugs! Give me drugs!!!!" I screamed, over and over. (I remind everyone of my classical vocal training. Despite a baby interfering with my diaphragm, I was very...piercing.

The next twenty or so minutes are rather vague. What I really remember thinking was "This must be what torture feels like. If someone told me, right now, that he could make the pain stop instantly if only I would reveal the top secret nuclear launch codes, I would totally do it. In fact, I wish I DID know some top secret nuclear launch codes, because then perhaps I could negotiate something..."

This was just a few weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. I have always opposed torture, but this experience gave me a much deeper, personal view of the issue.

It also gave me a new perspective on the atonement, but that's a topic for another time.

Somebody gave me something to bite down on. It wasn't helpful. I think I almost accidentally bit off someone's finger, though. I wished for a nice, thick, crunchy leather strap. Or a thick stick.

I remember a nurse getting in my face and yelling back at me. Something about "Gail. The baby is coming and you have got to focus!"

I did manage to push when they told me to push. Horrible as it was, I realized that I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. I also managed not to scream while pushing, since I was highly motivated to use my oxygen efficiently.

From the moment I thought "Huh. Was that a contraction?" to the moment I delivered measured almost exactly two hours.

Daniel popped out. I collapsed, hyperventilating and shaking uncontrollably. The pain and accompanying hysteria waned quickly. The first coherent thing I said was, "I am NEVER doing that again!!!" Jon got a quick disappointed look, like "Aww, I kind of wanted more kids, but I am totally not arguing with her right now!" Reading his look, I clarified, "I mean natural childbirth, not no more children."

The nurses gaped. "How," they asked in astonishment, "Can you even think about hypothetical future children right now?"

They had a point.

The second coherent thing I said was "Hi, my name's Mommy and I'll be your server for the next eighteen years." 

It was odd how quickly the nurses moved from drill sergeants to sweet, sympathetic ladies. During the crisis they yelled at me and practically slapped me around. Afterward, they were very solicitous.

Jon stuck around briefly, but he needed to hurry home to beat the impending storm.

That night, an inch of freezing rain fell, shutting the city completely down and cutting off power to large sections of it. Including our neighborhood.

Jon awoke freezing and trapped. The electricity came back on, but not the furnace. He was frazzled too, poor guy. When he called the babysitters to explain that not only were the roads unsafe but our house lacked heat, Erin suggested gently that he should call about getting the furnace repaired. "Oh! Good idea!" he said, dazedly, and she thought "Poor guy."

Poor Eric ended up spending two extra days at our friends' house. 

The roads cleared after 36 hours or so, and it looked like I could go home on time.

Then, with Jon on his way to pick me up, the nurse came in to do one last set of vitals on Daniel. After a minute, she said, with studied casualty, "I just want to check on something," and wheeled his bassinet out of the room.

She returned a few minutes later, without my baby, and sat me down. Daniel was "breathing funny," she explained. "It's not exactly wrong,'s not right, either," she said vaguely. Then she described how his chest was doing a see-saw motion. Sometimes his upper chest moved a lot, and then it would migrate so his diaphram had all the motion, and then back up again. A gradual cycle. They wanted to keep him a few extra hours for observation, and to give the resident pediatrician a chance to examine him.

Jon showed up. "A few hours" turned into "at least two extra days in the NICU." He might have meconium-induced pneumonia.They would take a sample and grow it in the lab, but it would take at least 24 hours to get the results back, so they wanted to start him on antibiotics right away, just in case. But the regimen would take at least 48 hours, and in the meantime they might as well run every single test imaginable, checking his blood oxygenation, the air pressure in his lungs, a chest x-ray, and a host of other things I can't recall any more.

They kept expecting me to freak out, and I kept not complying. I was worried, of course, but I thought that if my baby was having breathing problems, the very best place for him was in a very well-monitored NICU, where the slightest issue would be caught instantly. They granted me continued stay in my room; although I was officially discharged, I was staying on as part of Daniel's bill. Insurance even covered it. In fact, it was rather restful. I pumped, slept, and visited Daniel whenever I wanted. No nurses nagged me, except for one reminder that Danny was getting hungry.

Jon and Bishop Garrison gave Danny a blessing. Feeding him was complicated by all the wires and needles stuck into my poor little pincushion. I hated to see him uncomfortable, but he was in a crib next to a set of three-pound twins who were later transferred to UNC via helicopter. My eight-and-a-half pound baby looked like a giant in comparison, and I felt vaguely guilty that he was the healthiest kid in the room.

No, the real terror came forty-eight hours later, when they sat down with Jon and me to go over their findings. It boiled down to "All the tests came back negative, so we're not sure what was actually wrong with him. There might have been some meconium in a lung, the x-ray was inconclusive...anyway, it's probably fine to take him home. We're discharging him. Just watch him carefully, and if he suddenly spikes a fever, has a seizure, turns blue, or quits breathing, call 911."

Wide-eyed, I thought, "I am so not going to sleep for a week. Couldn't they keep him another few days...?"

It all worked out in the end, of course. And my mother was very gracious when I called to tell her, "I know I've apologized for your labor and delivery with me, but I have this new perspective about what it must have been like..."

Ah, karma. Alas, Daniel can't undergo natural childbirth himself, and I wouldn't wish it on a daughter-in-law. In fact, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I'm sure the universe will find other ways of balancing things, though. Wahahaha.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Constitution of Carolyn

I’m visiting my sister Carolyn in California for ten days, enjoying a nice vacation from noise and some quality writing time. It’s marvelous. Hopefully I’m not driving her too crazy.

Carolyn’s birthday is also coming up, so she hosted a nerdy game night/party tonight in celebration. Trying to be a good sister, I volunteered to provide the cake.

The plan was that I would take a picture on a flash drive, hand it to an employee at a local bakery, and ask them to print an edible image of it for me. I would then take that sheet of printed edible frosting back to her apartment, slap it on a sheet cake, and declare victory. In Texas, I have done that several times at H.E.B., a jewel of grocery stores. It took 20 minutes to get Eric’s birthday cake image printed, last September.

So, last night (Friday evening), I designed a picture. When I did research about getting it printed, though, I realized that some bakeries might decline to run off a copy of a Monopoly board, since it might be copyrighted. At first I tried keeping the problem a secret, merely asking her for general suggestions about how to handle a possibly-copyrighted image of a game board. (She suggested I do a filtered search on flickr, and that almost worked, but not quite.)

I gave up and enlisted her help. “Carolyn,” I said, “I hate to ruin the surprise, but I need your intellectual property law expertise….” I showed her what I wanted to make, which included bold geometric designs with lots of red, some text, a Monopoly board, and a picture of her notes as the Recorder of Deeds the first time I ever played “Anti-Trust Monopoly” with her, two-and-a-half years ago.

“Monopoly was copyrighted in 1937,” she said, and then stared into space for a minute, in an eerie trance of infracranial searching. Then she typed on the keyboard for a minute and declared, “Here, use this.” She had pulled up a “vintage” Monopoly board and assured me that this older printing had moved into the public domain though more modern ones had not. In typical Carolyn fashion, she solved a problem I’d spent more than half an hour on in a sixth the time. (I’m still unnerved. Who the heck memorizes things like “Monopoly was copyrighted in 1937?” I knew it was during the great depression. I could have given you the correct decade. But… well, that’s Carolyn.)

I pointed out that most minimum-wage, frequently Spanish-speaking, bakery employees likely wouldn’t know the difference between an out of print “vintage” Monopoly board and a more modern one, but I offered that, as part of her birthday present, she could come with me and argue the point. Fun times!

How do these bakeries sleep at night? I don’t know how the bakeries in California can live with their consciences.  To think that the Bay Area bills itself as the center for bleeding edge tech, only to be superseded by a regional chain in Texas! We tried six honkin’ different bakeries today, and none of them could do what I wanted. Even the ones who would take the job wanted to make the cake themselves from scratch and get the final result to me on Monday.

Eventually, I pulled the plug on printing the design I wanted. I just bought a sheet cake instead and wrote her name on it. (Badly.)

Here’s a picture of the cake I designed:

"Carolyn: Keeping things fun and fascinating since 1987." The notes, written in Carolyn's hand, say things like "Kyle owns the light blues in name. Gail is a joint tenant with right of survivorship" and "The Corporation of Orange New Jersey: All shareholders have easements."

And here's a picture of the cake she got:

"Court of Carolyn, est. 1987"

Ah well. Time spent with a sister is never wasted.

(Aside: It was particularly impressive when I looked out the window at a run-down neighborhood of 1970s houses, each about 1000 square feet with small yards, and mused “I wonder how much THOSE houses cost?” -- 
“Eight hundred thousand dollars,” Carolyn answered promptly, then pulled up a map on Zillow to check. She was spot-on. I’m used to the idea that houses in the Bay Area cost 3x what they do in Texas, but these houses were nasty! I mean, if they were cute little bungalows from the 90s, I might understand it, but these had broken garage doors and peeling paint. Every time I think I’ve adapted, I get sticker shock again.)

I digress. It’s the thought that counts, right? I totally made her life easier by hauling her around to various stores for two hours today. In her car. She drove. What are sisters for? (I did try to do online research and call ahead, which helped to filter out some stores, but it was an imperfect effort. The Walmart 20 minutes south didn’t have a phone extension to its bakery, for example.) All for naught.

But never fear: I had an Ace in the Hole!

Last night I also contacted Carolyn’s boyfriend and enlisted his aid in a separate project. My thanks to Brad Jones for his assistance in editing and making some improvements, particularly to footnote 7, which is entirely his work. Any errors which remain are entirely my own; in particular, he recommended that I strike the language about “British common law,” but I just couldn’t resist.
Carolyn, I know Article III is inherently more awesome, since it deals with the judiciary, but it really didn’t work for what I needed. Sorry to relegate you to Article II, instead. And happy birthday! I loved watching you laugh when you read this. Thanks for letting me crash here!

The Constitution of Carolyn
Article. II.
Section. 1.
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United Nerds. She1 shall hold her Office during a Term of Good Behavior.2
Section. 2.
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of Catan, and of the Military of the several Warmongering Games;3 she may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Players,4 upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and she shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United Nerds, except in Cases of Impeachment.
She shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Guests, to organize Games, provided two thirds of the Guests present concur.
The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess5 of a Guest, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.6
Section. 3.
She shall from time to time give to the Citizens Invitations to Nerdy Game Nights, and recommend to their Consideration such Diversions as she shall judge necessary and expedient; she may, on extraordinary Occasions,7 convene all Houses,8 or any of them.
Section. 4.
The President, and all Citizens or Guests, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, Cheating, Incivility, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

1 Surprisingly, there has been no major test case of this gendered pronoun.
2 There is no provision for term limits, and Carolyn has held this position for 29 years. Ronald v. Carolyn (2005) sought to challenge her President-for-Life status, but was struck down by the Jones court.
3 Recent legislation has enumerated that “Warmongering Games” includes Risk, Axis and Allies, Twilight Struggle, Seven Wonders, and any board game which includes reference to a military. Strict constructionists believe that Settlers of Catan is not a “Warmongering Game” despite the “largest army” card and the occasional removal of the bandit; a case challenging that interpretation is currently pending in the lower courts. Still unsettled in case law are non-board games such as RPGs and LARPs.
4 “Players” has long been considered to include both the singular and the plural. This understanding of “teams”, which hearkens back to British common law developed in the medieval period, is especially applicable in cases where underage children sit on a parent’s lap. See Haupt v. Homer (1981).
5 “Recess” has been defined by statute as “leaving the game early.” But a plurality of legal scholars believe it could refer to temporary illness or indisposition.
6 This is generally interpreted to mean that if a guest leaves in the middle of a game, the President may appoint another guest to take over game play for the remainder of that specific game. See Laurence v. Moody (2002). A fascinating case about recess appointments, involved a mother who left for three turns to deal with a screaming toddler, and then wished to resume normal game play on her return, but was told her younger brother had taken over her seat. This matter was settled out of court in 1999, so the question remains murky.
7 Per statute, “extraordinary occasion” includes such recurring events as fairly and usefully designated by the Guests to include, but not be limited to, annual revelries, convivialities, festivities, and frivolities – particularly those whose occasion are coterminous, but not consubstantial with, celebrations on the anniversary of one’s birth. See 17 UNC § 107.
8 Though untested, this would seem to indicate that Carolyn could convene simultaneous nerdy game nights in different locations, via skype.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Weeping, Angel, Princess, Dress

I hate crying in public.

And yet, the last several weeks at church, I've been an intermittent leaky spigot. One moment I'll be fine. The next moment I'll have water flowing everywhere. I try to be as inconspicuous as possible, but, seeing as how I'm surrounded by amazing, godly women full of charity and compassion and empathy, it's hard to hide. :(

I've known for years this would be an awful month. You'd think that knowing in advance would help me to prepare, but, sadly, no.

I'm coming up on Marian's 8th birthday, and the grief is hitting hard. I've been in a fog since mid-October. ("It's not supposed to hit me yet!" I kept arguing with myself. "It's only October. It's not supposed to get bad for another two weeks!" To no avail.) Though, predictably, the grief got a lot worse yesterday, on November 1st, at church . . .

I keep thinking about how, if she were here, she'd be attending her first math contest and getting baptized this month. Grandma(s) should be making her a beautiful white dress. She should be dancing around in excitement, negotiating details about the sash, the lace-covered bodice, the hair accessories, the princess look . . .

I've been making all kinds of mental errors: having difficulty prioritizing, organizing, tracking details, communicating coherently. "Impaired executive function," they call it. It's aggravating. When I visited Germany, I kept saying "I'm not an idiot; I just can't talk!" This month, I've been telling myself "I'm not an idiot; I just can't think!"


It hasn't been this bad in years. I'm trying to remember, now, what I did back then to get past the grief. I remember going to the Raleigh book sale and spending all day there as a distraction. I waited until the pain in my feet was worse than the pain anywhere else, and then I went home. What really helped, though, was service. After several weeks of moping about in self-pity, I got sick of feeling that way and decided that I needed to do something -- anything -- else. A wise friend who had also lost a baby said service helped, so I tried it.

I hate cleaning bathrooms. HATE it. (Even worse than I hate crying in public.) But there was a very poor family that was moving, and they needed assistance to get their security deposit back. I volunteered two hours, went to their tiny apartment, and scrubbed their bathroom. Looking around at their bare pantry, their supplies provided by the bishop's storehouse (LDS welfare agency), their meagre belongings, their limited opportunities, their paucity, I began to feel truly grateful for my own blessings again. It helped me get outside myself, and that made me even more thankful.

Baby loss is something everyone sympathizes with; while I don't want to talk about it in person, much, I know people understand. Now I'm trying to imagine someone in the ward who is going through something just as painful -- an unfaithful spouse, addiction, bankruptcy -- but who has no social support. I'm embarrassed at my weepiness, but I'd be even more embarrassed if I learned that I'd been unkind to someone who was suffering just as much, only with more dignity, more secrecy.

The thought that someone could be this -- forgive me for whining, but the word is "miserable" -- only without any support, especially if they don't have the Savior -- that's humbling. (It's even more humbling than realizing the previous sentence is a disaster. Remember what I said about impaired executive function? Even my writing is suffering. Disjointed disjuncture.)


Halloween of 2007, I incorporated my pregnancy into my Halloween costume. Wearing a medieval maternity dress -- I sewed the sleeves myself! -- I announced that I was Anne Boleyn, whose pregnancy had changed history.

Halloween 2007. Jon was Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer.
Eric and Daniel were knights.
I was Anne Boleyn, and Marian was Princess Elizabeth in utero.
At least I got to play dress-up with my princess one time.

I'm trying to be grateful for my blessings. To grieve appropriately but not extravagantly. To increase my compassion for others. To remember that suffering is not a competitive sport.

Just . . . be patient with me.

Anybody need help cleaning a bathroom?


Update: 11/3

I realized my post hardly mentions Jon. He has been wonderful and supportive, and he's grieving in his own way. He's just more private -- or at least, more successfully private -- than I am, and I don't presume to speak for him. Jon: I love you, sweetheart.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd

[Earlier today on facebook, I asked "What kind of weirdo wouldn't want to hear the story about a creepy old drunk guy accosting me with bad poetry at a classical music concert when I was 17?" A kind reader duly expressed interest (after the first person to whom I offered the tale ignored me), so I am sharing. It is an accurate-enough version of what happened, though I admit it was almost 20 years ago. When I include this story in my memoirs, I don't want anyone accusing me of gross falsification. My particular thanks to Sir Walter Raleigh, peace and blessings be upon him. --ed.]
When I was in high school in Indiana, my ward's boy scout troop had a contract with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to set up tables and chairs for their weekly summer "Symphony on the Prairie" series.
The ISO would perform on a stage in a large landscaped ampitheatre on the grounds of Conner Prairie, a "living history"museum. There were different price structures: a basic ticket would get you admittance to the grounds, where you could set up a blanket and enjoy the music; a higher-price ticket would get you admittance to the museum as well, where you could spend an hour or so talking to the re-enactors, including the honest-to-goodness blacksmith plus actors playing the pharmacist, the school teacher, various farmers, etc.; and a top-tier ticket would purchase all that plus prime seating at a banquet table with a folding chair and "catered" (from the March grocery store delicatessen) dinner thrown in.
While the boy scout troop had signed the contract, they encouraged others in the ward to help. I went as often as I could, though I skipped a few concerts that looked annoying. Sci fi night, 4th of July with actual artillery during the 1812 Overture, Mozart, check, check, check. But Stravinsky/Prokofiev night? Meh.
The deal was that if I showed up and helped with set up, I could stake out a good spot for my tarp and picnic dinner, visit the museum, and enjoy the concert, provided I also helped with take-down afterward. Most scouts showed up just to earn money toward scout camp, but I only went if I cared about the concert. It was a nice family activity, and I even did this as a date a few times in college; it was a hit with the young men I took, especially Jon.
Just after I graduated from high school, there was a romance-themed night. After the concert was over, the rich "box seat" types in their "luxury" plastic lawn chairs lingered. The other youth and I disassembled as best we could, but had been instructed not to hurry them. One of the patrons, a fifty-something balding guy, almost but not quite old enough to be my grandfather, started chatting with me as I walked past.
"Are we keeping you?" he asked, and I answered "Take your time, sir."
He then asked my opinion of the concert. I commented that this "romantic" concert had not included many selections from the actual Romantic period. Clearly surprised, he condescended to express himself impressed at my musical acumen, then took it upon himself to atone for the deficiencies of the music by providing a little extra "romance" himself.
Grabbing my hand, he began spouting poetry at me. Bad poetry. I stood stiffly, eyebrows arched in amusement. While I did not wish to encourage the guy, I found the entire thing funny. Although I'd been talking to him for several minutes, it only then began to dawn on me that perhaps he was tipsy. (Remember, sheltered Mormon girl. I didn't have much experience with alcohol.) I wasn't too worried about the guy; he was slightly creepy, but there were plenty of people around, including several people at his own table. The woman sitting next to him looked particularly Unamused; I wondered distractedly if she were his date -- or his wife.
His rather lengthy recitation also gave me time to consider my options. While I was required to be polite to him about his seating arrangements, I had no contractual obligations to coddle his ego. Thus, when he finished his verse, he looked at me and asked "What did you think?"
I smiled tolerantly and said "You wrote that yourself."
"How could you tell?" he blurted.
"You switched between 'thou' and 'you' several times," I answered. "Also, your conjugation of archaic forms was inconsistent. It's a common mistake to switch -st and -th endings on words, like 'thou thinketh" or 'he lovest.'"
Nettled, he inquired if I were some kind of expert literary critic, and I responded that I was surprisingly familiar with the classics for a seventeen-year-old. I emphasized the "seventeen" as subtle "Beeep! Beeeep! Minor! Jailbait!" warning. It went completely over his head, but was not lost on other members of his party who were less inebriated.
"Okay, so you want 'real' poetry!" he said, stung that I had so quickly identified his stuff as third-rate. He began quoting [1]:
"Come live with me and be my love,
And we shall all the pleasures prove..."
He stumbled badly through the middle of Christopher Marlowe's poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," but finished up decently enough:
"If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love."
 When he finished, I smiled beatifically at him, paused dramatically...and then answered, archly:
"If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love."
Then I extracted my hand firmly and walked away -- grinning like a loon. I gave his table a wide berth afterwards.
A girl my age almost tackled me when it was all over. "Oh my gosh, Gail!" she said. "What was that all about? I can't believe he did that." And then, belatedly, "And what did you say to him? He looks...not crushed, but..."
"Deflated?" I suggested.
His group decamped shortly afterward. I noted that the woman with him was acting...cold.
Heh heh heh.
Then the inevitable after-shock. "WHY," I asked the heavens, "Why couldn't he have been twenty--and SOBER?"

[1] It might have been "She walks in beauty" or "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" or a host of other famous poems. I honestly don't remember. I DID quote Sir Walter Raleigh at him, though, and in the proper spirit.

[Below: Random internet photos of Symphony on the Prairie picnickers.
Top left: from the stage looking out at the "prime" table seating.
Top right: from the tables, looking at the stage.
Center: Wider view from the audience, in the "camp chair" section. (In the "good old days" of the 90s, people brought blankets.)
Bottom: REAL percussion for Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Every July 4th, brought to us by the Evansville First Batallion 163rd Field Artillery. With howitzers.]


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Math Club: Stuffed Animal Venn Diagrams

My stuffed animals LOVE to come to math club.

Unfortunately, they're so enthusiastic that they get...overly rambunctious. This means I only let them come about once a semester.

("But we'll be angels this time, we swear! It was the kids! The kids made us do it!")

Uh huh.

Still, when they DO come, everyone has a blast. Here are some pictures from one of my very favorite activities last year, involving elementary set theory.

First, I selected which animals were invited. This led, naturally, to some arguments. ("No fair! Scheherezade got to go last time!" and "I feel the unicorns are over-represented whilst we non-magical ruminants are being ignored".)

Sadly, due to space constraints, I was forced to select along specific criteria, with preference going to mammals, reptiles, and magical creatures. While there were a token frog, fish, and bird or two, I apologize to the categories left cloistered in the closet who felt slighted. Their comrades told them later that being squished at the bottom of a laundry hamper for several hours was really not fun, but I'm not sure the excluded arthropods believed it.

Above: "Me, me, me! Take me!"
Below: "Can't...breathe...squashed..."

When it was time for our activity, I presented a short lecture about basic set theory. Venn and Euler, intersection versus union, subset and superset. The right side of the board, below, is relevant. The left was from our earlier practice problems that day.

Then the fun part. Let loose the stuffed animals! ("Freeeeeeedom!!!!")

[I note, sardonically, that the stuffed animals have, in theory, been "free" for five years, now. (They have declared independence and set up their own "government" but they have yet to ratify, or even write, a constitution.) That didn't stop them from acting like sailors on a rare shore leave spree. --ed.]

It was inevitable that the animals and kids would play together and ask for introductions. The children were sociable. ("Miss Gail, what is this mouse called? Oh, hi Reepicheep.") The critters, however, being severely self-centered, seemed to see the kids more as objects than people. Tsk.

I brought out several different colors of yarn and assigned the kids to make large circles on the floor. Then I had them sort stuffed animals by various criteria. This took some time since I had to compete with distractions: barks, oinks, loud conversations, fights, children whose eyes had just been clawed out...

We got there eventually.

Below, you see "animals with wings" in the red circle, animals who can fly in the yellow circle, and the intersection of those two sets in the center. Left to right: Opus the penguin; two dragons and Hedwig the owl; and Rasputin the reindeer, who moonlights for Santa. I also see and Season the sea serpent, but he really shouldn't be there, since he swims but doesn't fly. (Either one of the kids snuck him in incorrectly, or I'm remembering the criteria wrong. It could be animals with wings and magical animals, but there were more magical animals than that....

Yes, I should post these things when they're still fresh. Mea culpa.)

Here's another picture.

It looks like we had magical creatures on the right and maybe non-magical creatures on the left? I think that's right, but it looks like this picture was taken before we adjusted the circles so they didn't overlap.

I recall some charming arguments over which animals were, or were not, magical. The unicorn was obvious, but the kids were dubious about Tecumseh the skunk. I tried to offer a short--short! two sentence!--explanation from American history, but I don't think it penetrated. Fortunately, his impressive cloak swayed the doubters. Or something.

One of my favorite moments involved an argument about Hedwig. Some of the kids thought she was obviously magical, because she's from the world of Harry Potter. Others claimed that she might just be an unusually intelligent "squib" owl. (In Harry Potter, a squib is someone who is born and raised in the magical community but who doesn't possess magical powers.)

It's driving me nuts, now, that I can't remember for certain what our selection criteria were.

I do definitely remember Bear and Teddy being loud, obnoxious, and disruptive, though. They were so bad I was forced to put them in time out. (So, like every other day of math time.)

This picture below looks like "all animals" as a super set and "mammals" as a subset. More Euler than Venn.

There was also a three-circle problem with "real", "mammal", and "extinct". Jon's wooly mammoth Fred--you can tell my engineer of a husband named him instead of me--fit at the intersection of all three sets.

More awesome arguments from the kids:
"Dragons aren't extinct! They're not real!"
"No, they're like the dinosaurs. They belong in the yellow circle."

I tried not to interfere. Instead I just grinned and enjoyed the moment. Sadly, I don't have pictures of that one.

Meanwhile, younger siblings played happily with extra animals in the corner.

My imperfect memories and imperfect pictures are frustrating. I think I was so busy "teaching" (okay, fine, playing) that I didn't adequately document stuff.

Obviously this means we should do it again, right? --But only if the animals PROMISE to behave. No fights! No eating each other! No biting the kids! No loud grunts, growls, moos, and neighs while the teacher is talking!

("We swears. On the precious!")

Okay. Seems credible. Let's do it. ;)

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Julie Kimball, who handled it calmly that day when I showed up on her doorstep looking like a maniac with my hair in a wild, lopsided, fraying bun atop my head. I rushed around frantically for a minute, babbled incoherently, dropped off Littles, and then asked "Do you have any yarn?"

She rose to the occasion beautifully, taking my insanity in stride and producing a skein of cheerful yellow yarn within seconds.

Thanks, Julie. You're a real pal. :)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Math Club: Origami

We did this activity on January 21, 2014.

Simple but fun! I invited kids to bring in square paper, origami books, and any origami creations they were particularly proud of. One kid brought in some amazing origami dragons with wings that flapped! Other families brought in gorgeous paper and awesome resource books. I love how supportive everyone is.

We did our regular 60 minutes of problem solving, and then for the last half hour, I just turned them loose. It was pretty unstructured, but kids chatted and experimented and tried new "recipes" and played with beautiful paper.

It might not seem like a very educational activity, but I believe that kids learn through play and experimentation. This was "applied" math, where kids hopefully observed, and intuited, some relationships among different kinds of shapes and ratios of lengths.

We did discuss things like "isosceles triangles" a little, as a sop to my conscience. But really, sometimes it's okay to keep things simple and just enjoy the social aspect of math club.

Behold, pictures: