Monday, August 28, 2017

Kids and Clean Cannot Co-exist

I am a very clean person.  Boringly clean. Disturbingly clean. I-need-a-life clean. If I am feeling frazzled or stressed, I clean. For some reason, herding and purging dirt makes me feel grounded and in control of my life.  I wish eating vegetables and jogging made me feel in control of my life, but it doesn't work half as well as cleaning. Or eating chocolate and drinking wine.

Since I live alone, keeping my place organized and spotless is fairly easy. So is eating chocolate and drinking wine. I was so grounded a tree would be jealous. Then my sister had to go and have kids and just throw my life into chaos.

Jay, 5 and Blake, 22 mths.
I used to try and fight the chaos when my nephews would come stay the night with me. I'd run around behind them wiping things down and picking things up; I ran the vacuum so much that my cats now suffer from shell shock. Finally, I accepted a modified version of a clean and orderly house--modified being there would be no clean and no orderly. After a night with one or with both boys, my place could serve as a set for hoarders. Toys would blanket the floor; Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, and God-knows-what-else jammed between seat cushions and clinging to carpet fibers could supply me and my cats snacks for days. And when Jay began using the toilet, my bathroom became a bio-hazard.

My one feeble attempt to maintain some kind of order when my nephews visit is during bath-time.  I know; it's like trying to stay on a diet in Las Vegas, but logic has never been my strong suit.

To prep for bath time, I first remove all my beauty products from the tub and put them out-of-reach. Then, I line the bathroom floor with towels, because I learned quickly kids scare water so much it will leap out of the tub in order to escape them. I load the tub with toys, water and bubbles and then dump the kids in to play, hopefully long enough for me to savor my wine instead of shooting it like Tequila.

Last Saturday night, I had both nephews. I went through my preparation, got the kids situated but before I had my fingers wrapped around the stem of my glass I heard Jay call, "Auntie!"

I headed back to the bathroom to him leaping from the tub, announcing, "I have to poop!"

He jumped onto the pot before I could get his kid potty-seat down (the only thing keeping him from falling in were braced hands and skinny arms).  Even though I was focused on keeping Jay from falling into the toilet, I noticed some suspicious movement from his brother, Blake, in the tub. Before I could further investigate, Jay pulled my attention back to him by saying, "Auntie, I have something bad to tell you."


"I pooped a little in the tub."

If you have not had the pleasure of fishing poop out of a tub, let me tell you it is probably the most disgusting thing I've ever had to do. Ever.

Well, Blake had handled that for me. In a tub filled with at least 100 toys bobbing beneath a mountain of suds, that toddler managed to find the only, small nugget of shit. Kids can't find their shoes, their homework, their pants, their parents, their ass--but this one can find the only thing in the damn tub I didn't want him to touch.

Blake squished the nugget into a pancake, shrugged, and then smeared it on the wall.

Let's just say we did a Bath Time, Take 2.  And I did shoot my wine like Tequila.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

From the Mouths of Babes . . .

At age 5, my nephew already knows more shit than I do. No sarcasm intended. Once when he staying overnight at my house, he offered a chip in response to my moaning about not feeling well. Of course, I ate it and he said, “If you can eat a chip, you can’t really be sick.”

I love that. What a great metaphor.  What a simple philosophy to guide one through life.  As long as you can eats chips--and chips can represent anything from oxygen to daily massages--you can never be sick--and sick can represent anything from grumpy to terminal.  If I can put a roof over my head, I can’t really be a failure.  If I can blog, I can’t really be unhappy.

Or maybe he just meant sick people can’t eat chips because they’ll throw them up.

Teenagers tout this I-have-shit-all-figured- out persona, but it is far less cute. Maybe it is because we can’t see beyond the constant rolling of eyes.  But really, adolescents are more children than not; therefore, they might possibly be throwing down some real truths or at least giving us jaded, out-of-touch adults new convictions on how to lead a more fulfilling life.

For example, a group of students shared with the theater teacher, “Ms. Vance really knows her shit.” What a compliment. They probably meant that I really know my subject matter, but “shit” could have multiple interpretations. I doubt my students were suggesting I could identify my turd in a poop line-up, but they might have meant that I am well in-touch with my short-comings. Lord knows they’ve witnessed enough of them after watching fumble around in front of a classroom one hour a day, five days a week, for the last eight months.

Having a goal of perfection is unreasonable; knowing my faults aids in my ability to shore up against
them.  It helps to keep my shit from complicating my life more than just being me does.  For example, I know I can’t remember shit, so I surround myself with post-it-notes. They’re on my desk at work, on my coffee table at home, on my bathroom mirror, on my front door . . . everywhere.

If one looked at my google calendar, he or she might think I was one over-committed and popular person. In reality, if he or she read what the “events” are, he or she would see “don’t forget your paperwork for Rio Hondo” or “call your sister,” or “put your pants on.”   If I know my shit, I can know when it’s coming to soil and stink up my life; I can get to bathroom with my V.I.P. Poo.  

Design by Karine Sultan
A teen’s perspective can also save lives.  When I wore a multi-strand necklace (back in the eighties we had to wear several different necklaces in hommage to Mr. T) my students said I was “gangster.” If all it took to get that rep was wearing a plethora of necklaces, how many lives could be saved without having to deal drugs and to shoot rival gang members in order to earn your street cred?  Status could be determined by true, brute strength: the number of chains you can wear without toppling over defines true toughness.  And those who face-plant on the pavement are only hurting themselves; the collateral damage would be minimal compared to drug use and shootings.  Unless you toppled in Disneyland and took out a few kids on the way down.  But I’m not sure too many serious gangsters roll deep at the happiest place on earth.

Finally, a teen’s tendency to see beyond the surface may be more wise than immature.  On Ash Wednesday, a student asked me what I was giving up for Lent and I said, “Nothing, because I’m not Catholic.” This student’s classmate rolled his eyes and said, “Duh, she’s Buddhist.”  Why Buddhist? Well, we had just finished the novel Siddhartha which centers on the founder of the Buddhist religion. Why do I teach it?  Because I can get my hands on a class set.  My students assume it’s because I want to share my religion (they haven’t quite figured out in the separation of church and state, “state” means public school).  They don’t suspect that I might teach ideas or beliefs that I don’t hold. How trusting; how optimistic to never consider I might misrepresent myself. That those who have a wide-reaching influence, politicians, police, firemen, doctors, teachers, would never be disingenuous.

So instead of disregarding observations of the youth, maybe we should get in touch with our Puritan, witch-hunting roots like they did in Salem back in 1692, and take their word as gospel.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

To Quote My Grandmother: "Why Are Teenagers So Stupid?"

My 4th period juniors have been quite a challenge this year.  They are good kids, but their collective ego could use some humbling.  I have several varsity football players in that class, and our team does quite well. Put a bunch of successful athletes who are also buddies in the same class and it becomes an ego-off.  I make one statement and I have six boys trying to out smart-ass each other.

Of course, I've been through the steps of smart-ass management.  First, I seat them far away from one another, and when they should across the room, I send them outside and call parents.  When those consequences wear off, I go to siting quietly at my podium, looking disgusted and bored at their witty banter, reminding them to "Waste all the time that you want.  I'm not the one whose gonna end up with more homework because y'all need to be the center of attention." That usually gets their peers, just as "over" by their antics to apply some peer pressure.

Yes, there are moments when I consider seating them together in the back corner of the room and telling them to just bro-love themselves to death as long as they don't disrupt what I'm teaching (and their grades will tank because they won't know what's going on), but I refuse to give in.

With enough patience and consistency, I usually get them in line within a month or so.

Then Spring Break hits and everything goes to shit. All systems break down.  All adherence to the rules goes out the window. It becomes pure survival: juniors want to be seniors, seniors want to be graduated, and I want to be on an Italian Vineyard sipping wine.

To keep both me and the students from going nuts, I find a compromise between my teaching integrity and their unwillingness to do anything.  I ease up on the homework, slow down my pace within the classroom, and do my best to teach something the students will enjoy (or at least not whine every time I ask them to get out their books).

Currently, I am teaching my juniors the novel, The Great Gatsby.  Of course, most have seen the movie, but my approach is to have students determine whether F. Scott Fitzgerald would approve of Bax Lurhmann's interpretation: does he represent the spirit of the novel or would Lurhmann's adjustments to plot and character representation give Fitzgerald reason to rise from the grave and sober up long enough to tell Lurhmann Gatsby never loses his cool.

But I digress.

As expected, my 4th period egos are interested in Gatsby.  He is a baller; the novel is full of drinking and drama. It's all about flash and display of greatness (I wait until the end of the novel to explain that Fitzgerald is criticizing these ideas).

Today, the class analyzed how the party guests who attend his parties and wreck his house and Gatsby himself are represented in the novel.  I told them to list adjectives to describe the characters' behavior. With the party guests, I specifically said to not use the adjective "drunk."

Immediately, the students start shouting out, "how about lit? Buzzed? Wasted? Wrecked? Trashed?'

"Nor any synonyms for drunk," I emphasized.  "What can you say about people who get that drunk all the time?"  Then I waved off any answer to that question, realizing that at that age being falling down drunk is cool.

I knew I was taking a risk giving this task to my 4th period full of the "in crowd" and ADHD, but I'm edgy.  Or stupid--the verdict is still out.

After a few minutes of vigorous scribbling, I have the students share their adjectives with their neighbors.  I specifically say, "With those sitting next to you."

Immediately, one of my rambunctious athletes, Caleb, who sits two feet from my podium, shouts to his friend across the room, "Hey, Freddy. I put lit, wasted, and fucked-up for party guests.  What did you put?"

The class goes silent.  Students look at me and then look at Caleb. My forehead hits the podium.

"What?" Caleb asked.  "What did I do?  Ms. Vance, are you okay?"

Wine, whether on an Italian Villa or no, here I come.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Sometimes, tacos can make everything okay.  After a long day of coaxing and convincing 150+ students that literacy is important, I need a couple of  Del Tacos to remind me why I get up in the morning. The crunch of the shell as it shatters into flakes of salty goodness on my tongue, the grease drips out the corner, pools in my hand and then runs down my arm, the bite of cheese, the cool, crisp lettuce . . .

I understand why an entire day of the week is dedicated to tacos.
As a kid, when my mom would ask what I wanted for my birthday dinner, I would often request those golden parabolas filled with happiness.

Despite my need, respect, and admiration for the power of the taco, I do have one complaint: how they are assembled: first meat, then sour cream/salsa, lettuce, cheese and finally tomatoes.

There are many kinds of tacos, but my issue relates to the hard-shell tacos from fast-food and sit-down restaurants.

Eating a hard-shell taco goes something like this: bite into taco, scoop up what falls out of the taco and tuck it back into the shell. Bite, scoop, tuck.  Bite, scoop, tuck. As the shell whittles away, what beef, cheese, salsa, tomato escapes gets scooped directly into the mouth. At that point, one wonders why he or she didn't just order a taco salad.

Why not just let what tumbled from the taco remain on the plate (or in your lap or on the floor of the car)?  Because what is first to fall is what is on top, and what is usually on top is the cheese and tomatoes. And what eventually gets shoved out of one end of the taco after each bite is the meat and sour cream. Who is their right mind is going to leave behind that beautiful cheese? Those ripe, red tomatoes? That seasoned, spicy meat? That refreshing sour cream?  I'll eat cheese off a pile of shit if that's the only way I can get it.

If lettuce was to fall out of my taco, I wouldn't care. Who scrounges for lettuce? Dieters, that's who. But dieters don't eat tacos because dieters have given up their souls.

I understand the reasoning behind putting the cheese and tomatoes on top: marketing appeal.  I see that cheese smiling from over the top of a taco shell and it's like an old friend.  A taco bursting with lettuce is not going to draw anyone. Except dieters. And they'll only buy one.

So Mexican restaurants of America, display those cheese and tomato crowned tacos, but do me a favor: make sure that cheese and tomato is ensconced between the meat and lettuce.  I promise I won't complain that what you give me doesn't look like the picture.

Friday, April 14, 2017

In Awe and Reverence of Parents

I am amazed to see parents who can manage to hold down a job, keep a house, remain social, and not go absolutely nuts.  Several of my co-workers have young children and every day they show up with a smile on their faces to teach even more children. With smiles on their faces.  Fashionably dressed. Healthy, packed lunches at the ready.  I'm convinced they are medicated.

Or, Holden Caulfield so eloquently stated, "All mothers are slightly insane."

I keep my nephews for 24 hours and I feel, look and behave like a mental patient whose been on the streets for weeks.  If manage to brush my teeth, I feel like a champ.

Those who own me.
There is nothing, nothing I love more in this world than my two nephews: Jay, who is 5, and Blake, who is almost 1 1/2.  They spend the night with me often, usually one at a time, but there are occasions when I keep both. One is hard enough; two, OMG.

This parenting shit is hard.  And I am not even parenting; I'm quasi-parenting. Actually, I just keep them alive. Naively, I figured all it required was to throw food at them, change a diaper, and block them from running into traffic. Guess what? It takes a lot more than that.

I have to convince Jay flipping over couches and leaping off chairs can result in him getting hurt, try to get him to eat anything other than candy and chips (I have no problem spoiling him; I do have a problem with the demon within unleashed by sugar), and if I take him to the park? That adds at least 100 other ways he can hurt himself: slides, swings, strangers, oh my.

And the gear one needs to keep a baby alive: I don't know how anyone can afford to be parents.  You need diapers, 5 changes of clothes per day, a sleep sack, butt cream, wipes, whole milk, baby food, regular food (that he'll like, that he can "swallow" without choking because chewing is new), a high chair, and a pack-n-play. Oh, and toys.  Lots and lots of toys.

The first time I watched both boys for an extended period of time, we barely made it. And when I say "we" I mean me.  After that harrowing 24 hours, I swore the next time my sister asked if I could take both overnight, I'd immediately volunteer as tribute for the Hunger Games. I just don't have enough arms, patience, and brain cells to keep both of them alive for an extended period of time.

As with all other great pains in life-- heart-break, labor, crossfit--time blotted out the memory of it, so when my sister and mom went to DC for five days, I volunteered as tribute to watch both nephews overnight to provide her husband with a break.

I prepped like a motherfucker: I stocked up on child and baby preferred snacks: Cheerios, bananas, fruit, and cookies.  Bottles are pulled out and lined up on the counter.  Sheets were laid over the furniture to save them from ruin. All breakable items were stashed in a closet. Pack-n-play was set up (after a lot of cursing and sweating). Wine was chilled. And if shit really gets rough, children's Benedryl was loaded in the medicine syringe ready to fire.

The first 5 hours, I managed fairly well.  Kids were fed and entertained.  My apartment was littered with toys, but nothing has been broken. Each kid had only one or two brushes with death.

Inevitably, my strength waned. I'm not sure why Jay can't get it through his head that he shouldn't cover his brother's face, and since I don't speak baby babble, I'm not sure how to communicate to Blake that kamikaze diving off my ottoman is not a good idea. I had been watching Teen Titians, PAW Patrol, and Team Umizoomie forever, so I found the movie Dawn of Justice: Batman vs. Superman for them to watch--it's about superheroes, so it's child-appropriate, right?--but after Jay asked me 1000 questions about the plot, I'm ready to go back to helping Umizoomie save another one of their dumbass friends. My feet were pock-marked from stepping on legos. I considered putting tape over Blake's mouth to keep him from shoving anything and everything into it--he can still breath through his nose--but the last thing I need to be doing is giving Jay ideas.

I had poured a glass of wine, but couldn't find two seconds to actually drink it.  One of the kids might have drank it; I don't know.

When I got Blake to go to sleep for the night, I figured I might be at the end of the gauntlet. Jay was watching television, so I told him I was going to take a quick shower.  And I mean quick--long enough to get clean--no relaxing, not pampering.  In and out.  But as soon as I had lathered up my hair and then . . . surprise! My shower curtain flew open and there was Jay, "Auntie, are you done yet?"

Yes, young man, I am done. And I still have about 12 hours to go.

I'm sure parenting books have a chapter on how to synchronize the sleeping of multiple children, but I haven't read them.  Blake was asleep at 8:30 p.m. and then up at 3 a.m.  We hung out for two hours--me trying to convince myself that I'm a rockstar being up at 3 a.m.  I think "rockstar" status is negated by poopy diapers though. I finally got Blake back to sleep at 5 a.m. just to have Jay pounce on me at 6 a.m.

I had to make it until noon.  If I made it, I had planned on auditioning for Survivor.

Jay doesn't understand the concept of brain development. To tell him that Blake "doesn't understand"--well, anything--doesn't quite sink in.  So, when Blake threw his Cheerios all over the floor, Jay figured he had license to throw his much bigger bowl of Cheerios on the floor. Fuck it; I told them to pick their breakfast out of the carpet. Hell, I saw Blake eat a few Cheerios he peeled off the bottom of his foot. Breakfast turned into a scavenger hunt since they had to sift through the toys that blanketed the floor.

I've heard parents--moms especially--lament the time they used to have to themselves.  They claim they can't do anything alone.  My own mother swears that she hasn't "peed or had a can of Pepsi to herself in 35 years."

While my nephews scrounged for their breakfast, I decided to duck into the bathroom. Not ten seconds after my butt hit the toilet seat, Jay comes in asking me how kryptonite works.  As I explained this (for the 100th time), Blake toddled in with a small tennis ball and began bouncing it off the walls.

Taking a dump while explaining the power of a glowing green rock while a ball pings around my head: #glamlife.

At 11:30, I loaded those kids up and drove 80 miles an hour to meet up with their dad to hand them off.  In my pajamas.

When I got home, it took me hours to get my place and my psyche back in order.  A week later, I'm still stepping on Cheerios.

In my opinion, setting a pack-n-play up and breaking it down qualifies as a workout.  I may not have been able to brush my teeth, but I could scratch "exercise" off my list.  Shit, I can't even do that on a day without kids.