Friday, June 29, 2007

Talk to Strangers

Never Talk to Strangers

I almost never watch the news. The suffering I see just taking a look around the city is generally sufficient, and I don’t need to digest a whole lot more fear on a daily basis either. The “You’re supposed to be afraid, VERY afraid, ALL OF THE TIME!!!!” type emails do find their way to me on a fairly regular basis, however.

If you’re a female, and particularly a female in a parking lot, you’re pretty much considered dead meat according to these types of emails. Maybe ‘cause I don’t like to shop (and thus spend a limited amount of time in parking lots), I laugh those off as best I can.

The most recent one I received said to be afraid of men offering perfume samples, which I should highly suspect of being a smelly paper covered in ether. I responded to my friend’s email with the following:

Who are all these crazy people out to get us and how come ****I**** never run into them? :-) :-) :-) KIDDING! I imagine I *do* run into them...I just expect them to buy me a drink...KIDDING again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Honestly though, I'll make sure not to smell paper in any more parking lots.

My favorite of these “be very afraid” emails had something to do with those spray bottles people use to clean their computer key boards. Now we’re supposed to be afraid of AIR?!?!?

The majority seem to advise us to fear strangers. And, y’know, caution is certainly warranted when interacting with the unknown. But in reality most people I know (with, admittedly, a few sensational exceptions) have had all their hurts inflicted on them by someone they know and like, love even. My personal experience with most strangers is that they are content to say “hi”, comment a little on the weather, share some happy news (yesterday a woman displaced by Katrina told me she’d be returning to Louisiana this weekend), or offer to make you feel things without touching you.

Of course, horrible things have happened at the hands of those we don’t know and one should never under any circumstances get into the car of an ax wielding stranger. I’ve only been close to kidnapped by a stranger/drug dealer ONE time (don’t worry Mom & Dad, this was way back when Nana was alive). And though I should have been more careful than I was, the very thing that got me out of the situation gracefully was that I had previously spoken to enough strangers to have befriended my neighbor Clarence. He happened to be out walking his dog at the time and ran the potential kidnapper off.

What was my point? Oh yeah! Talk to strangers people! I’m sure there are three or four out there who want to fill your gas tank with sugar water so they can molest and/or kill you in the parking lot (always, always in a parking lot), but I’m pretty sure the rest just want to know where the nearest coffee shop is and ask whether or not you’re tired of all the rain

Meanwhile, be sure to exercise caution when sniffing all those perfume cards the perverts and psychos hand out in the parking lots!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How Not to Plan a Night Out

I’m somewhat of a control freak in certain aspects of my life. It’s true that I consider seeing the calendar for the upcoming school year a small thrill, the entire year laid out on a single sheet of paper. But it’s also true that I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy spur of the moment…earlier this month I decided to go out of town for the weekend with two kids in tow a mere hour before walking out the door. (I like to think that I succeeded in the 20 minute packing experience on that occasion, though I failed to time myself).

It might be this mix of control freak/impulsiveness that makes me a poor choice for planning outings for large groups of people. When it comes to new things, if it’s not immoral, unethical, overly painful or otherwise self destructive and doesn’t involve sitting still for long periods of time, I’ll usually at least try. So normally just agreeing to whatever my friends want to do works fairly well for me.

I’m near impossible to reach by phone anyway and my social compass is such that I forget that not every last human being would spend an hour or three together as happily as I would wish them to. For that reason, when I really want to do something specific my inclination is to inform friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and virtual strangers of my plans in hopes that someone more organized than I am will be interested in going AND remember to show up.

That is how I came to invite my son’s third grade teacher, two virtual teetotalers, a couple of heavy drinkers, an almost complete stranger, and a neighbor or two among others all on the same outing, even encouraging a phone call or two between people who had never met. Although the event was fun, the planning process in and of itself led to several amusing conversations:

Between me and one of the near teetotalers:
I’ve just described finding out that the supposed coffee house where we’ll be going out is, in fact, a bar.
Tammy, one of the teetotalers says something I can’t quite hear about Karen a relatively heavy drinker, but which I think is, “Because she’s going to need it.”

Me – “Who’s going to need what?”
Tammy – “Karen’s going to need alcohol.”
Me – “With the assortment of people I’ve invited, we’re ALL going to need alcohol!”

In the lunch room at work:
- “No. Gan’s Indonesian, but they’re not the same person. They don’t even know each other.”
Coworker – “Is Gan your boyfriend?”
Me – “NO!
Gan’s not my boyfriend! Gan HAS a boyfriend!”
Gan actually has a husband, not a boyfriend, but that was not what happened to come out of my mouth at that moment.

Another conversation with a close to teetotaler:
"Well, you drank in Dallas.
I still have the wine on my t-shirt. " A big question mark over this person’s head along with a questioning hand gesture make it clear that he has no idea how these two statements could possibly be related. “Well”, I explained, “That was because when you were pulling on the bottle and I was yanking the cork and you asked me, ‘Are you sure?’ I meant ‘Yes, I’m sure this will get the cork out of the bottle.’ Not ‘Yes, I’m sure this won’t get wine all over the place.’”

Followed by this exchange with one of my children’s coach (did I mention I also invited a coach?) after I had mentioned Gan would be “definitely coming” and that it might be a less than suitable outing for homophobes. Coach says something about not having adequate experience with which to measure his level of homophobia, at which point Cassie pipes up loud and clear that SHE has a fear of NEEDLES and proceeds to describe her pneumonia related needle experience.

The look of surprise and/or shock on coach’s face is clear, but I can’t be sure whether it reads:

  • I forgot she was listening
  • I didn’t realize an 11 year old could decipher the word “homophobic”
  • I didn’t realize when I woke up this morning I would be discussing homophobia with an 11 year old

Or some combination of the three

For the record, I stopped short of inviting my principal and an ex LA gang member, but only just (and mainly because I thought a couple of my coworkers might wring my neck).

This is why Jill should never make the plans for a night out. Jill should smile and nod and say, “Why YES! I’d LOVE to!” And, after all, it would be true the majority of the time.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

To the guy who

introduced me to all of these important lessons and sayings:
  • Don't meet men in bars
  • Tell me again if it still hurts in a week
  • Pop him in the nose! I guarantee he won't do it again!
  • And the ever popular and useful: When you play rough, you're going to get hurt!
To the guy who encouraged me to toss my very first ever homework assignment into the fire he was building when I got home...

Who didn't even get that angry when I made his new Rolling Stone magazine into paper mache even though he hadn't read it yet (ummm...thanks for helping me get out of that one mom!)...

To the very best, best, best, dad:


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Kid Talk

My coteacher recently told me it was such a relief to see my interacting with my own children and realize that I wasn’t the fountain of endless patience I apparently appear to be in the classroom. What can I say? The requirements to suitably teach and supervise 15 three and four year olds for nine short months are a whole different ball game than what is required to parent the same two children for years on end.

Some of the things I’ve heard myself say ABOUT kids are surprising enough, such as when I answered something my brother asked with, “Yes. Last time they were hitting each other with fly swatters, I told them they had to wash their hands afterwards. Does that answer your question?

In my family we apparently teach speaking in riddles as a necessary if not entirely innate form of communication. I can remember Cassie’s concerted efforts to learn sarcasm at age two or three, having now perfected the art by age 11. She had the tone and vocabulary down well before fully discovering the extent of its possible uses. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her practice the inflection of a totally inappropriately placed, “Yeah RIGHT!!!”

This was a teachable moment for my seven year old nephew Leo, who was, I believe, banging a glass table with a paper cup at the time:

Erin, “That’s a little noisy.” Leo continues banging the cup long enough to prompt my brother to say, “When she says, ‘That’s a little noisy’, she really means, ‘STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!!’” It’s always helpful to know whether one is tiptoeing through the tulips or stomping through land mines.

I’ve heard many, many parents express astonishment and even dismay that they hear their parents voices coming out of their own mouths…”You’re going to break your neck!” or “You’re bored? You need something to do?!?! I’LL give you something to DO!!! It’s helpful if the children know in advance that “something to DO” (as opposed to “something to do” with no emphasis on the “do”) always, always means chores.

My parents always had a few up their sleeve that I’ve come to find out weren’t quite as typical, such as, “If it still hurts in a week, tell me again. That one comes in very handy.

But more surprising to me have always been the comments I never heard my parents say and amazed me even as they were coming out of my own mouth, such as, “Don’t spit on the cat while I’m on the phone! Suddenly it’s ok to spit on the cat when I’m not on the phone?!?

Although you will never find this particular comment in ANY parenting book, it sure did the trick at the time: “If you don’t stop right now, I’m not going to let you turn seven tomorrow and you’ll have to stay six!!!!! A later conversation revealed that although my son ceased the annoying behavior, it wasn’t necessarily that he believed my threat. After all, he explained, I had already bought the birthday cake. Still, I guess he wasn’t taking any chances.

These words are written up on my 9 year old's calendar. You'll notice, he spelled the vital word (summer) correctly: "Last day of shcool. Summer draek."

He needs a draek I think. We all do.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

And now for a word about bodily functions

I think I’ve mentioned that I love my job. I’m just about certain that I was meant for it and it was meant for me. There are one or two little drawbacks to teaching preschool though.

Preschoolers, for whatever reason (perhaps because they haven’t built up all the resistance of adults or perhaps because they are compelled to touch a vast deal more objects on a daily basis) are life size germ magnets.

Oh yes, we sterilize left and right, discourage mouthing and cheer hand washing as if it were a professional sport. And I’m sure we manage to kill off a great many germs and wash a good deal more down the sink. Still those germs hang on for dear life and sometimes even manage to track me down even outside of school.

Recently I saw a student who had been absent for two days, but who surely must have been healthy and fit, since I ran into her leaving after school activities. Nancy!” I exclaimed as she bounded toward me with a big hug, “Where have you been? We’ve missed you!” I’M SICK!” she exclaimed, unburying her face from my side which I suddenly noticed was thick with bright red rash. Peeling her arms from around me I found them also covered. Oh well. Since her face was affected, at least I know it wasn’t scabies.

The other drawback to teaching preschool is spending countless hours discussing toileting issues. I have had no less than SIX people stop to talk to me about one boy’s bowel movements in a SINGLE DAY. And although the sheer number of conversations seems absurd, it really doesn’t bother me during school hours and while on school grounds.

However, just the other day I ran into one of those six people outside of school and thought, “Please, please, PLEASE don’t start a conversation with me about Joey’s poop right now!” She managed to dance around the subject quite deftly though, and still get her point across, without ever mentioning any of the various words for poop.

But, at least that was during daylight hours during the week. There are times I particularly don’t want to talk bowel movements. One Friday night last month I’m rushing around doing my normal “I-waited-until-the-last-minute-to-get-ready-frantic
I’m waiting on phone calls from about five or six different people so we can nail down last minute plans.

Phone rings. I grab for it thinking, I suppose, what people generally think while trying to herd cats: “Oh good! That will be so and so, who will have talked to such and such and as soon as I know blah blah blah, I’ll be able to call and tell this, that, and the other person!"

With much anticipation, I pick up the phone only to find out it is a teacher from my school, calling to discuss…Yep!
You guessed it: Joey’s poop. I adore Joey. He’s cute and has big giant eyes and a sweet, capturing smile. I enjoyed having him in my class. I loved watching him learn and grow throughout the year. Under NO circumstances do I EVER want to talk about his bodily functions on a Friday night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Just, y’know…friendly advice in case it also happens to hold true for your child's teacher:

  • Monday to Friday before 4:30 pm, fantastic time for talking whatever child related bodily functions float your boat.
  • Talking poop on a happening Friday night: totally out of bounds.


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