Sunday, May 21, 2006

Today, A Sonnet 

We spent Sunday prying rocks out of a dying garden:
flagstones and slate revealed between the rows,
a history of hands and knees, straw hats,
fingers deep in the dirt of ownership.

The minister is moving up the street from us.
We've been moving her garden piecemeal for days,
skipping church to run our hands in the dirt.
Her dog barks at us through the window.

We fill our trunks with a pathway-to-be,
two cars and two trips, the kids underfoot.
We talk of stepping stones in a river of grass.

We go home to plant lillies along the scar of winter,
fill ruts with flowerstems, rebuild God's beauty
at the base of the poorly plowed driveway.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:54 PM | 1 comments

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Life In Jobs 

Yes, that lightning guy.

Ice cream mixer.
Flower deliverer.
Bakery deliverer.
Sandwich maker.
Corps member, City Year Boston.
"The Lightning Guy".
Education Fellow, Museum of Science, Boston.
Data Entry (Temp.).
Math mentor.
Writing mentor.
Preschool teacher.
Substitute teacher.
Artist in Residence.
One on One Aide.
Head Counselor.
Media Specialist.
Theater teacher.
History teacher.
Computers teacher.
Workshop presenter.
Lead Teacher.
Academic Technology/Information Literacy Coordinator.
Information Specialist.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:59 PM | 3 comments


The past week's constant downpour has turns into a series of overcast days, sprinkled with sunshine and an ocasional cloudburst. Streamwater runs yellow with washed-away pollen. The rains still come, but it's clearing.

Spent the bulk of the day cutting brush along the road at the base of our property: red birch, knee-high maples, here and there a few scattered oak tree shoots still red with new leaves. Something that might be poison ivy.

The birch smells like summer camp, birch beer and earth and boysweat coming home from a weekly trip into town, when you cut into the green trunk.

In the overgrowth behind the brick wall an old garden, a hidden legacy from our new home's previous owners: six fat ridges of straberries in flower, tall blueberry bushes, rhubarb low and redstemmed, thick brambles on their way towards something sticky and red.

I let the garden stand, for now.

By the driveway I unearthed a tiny red painted turtle, quarter-length shell emerging from the leaves like a moving sunspot. We put it in a mixing bowl on the counter, wet earth and leaves halfway up the slippery glass, a place of terrapin comfort amindst alien marble and artificial lighting.

Later before sunset we walked down the road, past the new calf and the waterfall, to where the slowmoving water backs up against the wrong side of the dam, and let it go. Willow cried, struggling to understand the ways of the wild. I held her hand as we left for home, and watched over her shoulder as it scrabbled back towards us, away from the water, a speck in the grass heading for the woods just as fast as its little legs could carry it.


posted by boyhowdy | 8:21 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Get Out Of The Classroom
Does recess need rescuing? 

Lonely playstructures of the world, unite!

Citing recent studies showing that 13% of sixth graders now have no recess whatsoever, CNN reports today on Rescuing Recess, a new Cartoon Network-slash-National PTA program designed to address the growing trend towards replacing recess with classroom time.

Certainly, there is still immense value in getting kids out of the structured environments. But its important to make the right case for recess. And by picking not one but two seriously silly arguments to focus on, CNN fails to provide real ammunition to those, like myself, who would advocate for recess to remain.

First, and more easily dealt with, CNN loses points for pagespace bemoaning the slow dwindling of Physical Education classes as part of their case for why recess is important.

The dwindling of the PE curriculum happens at our middle school, too -- our kids have an hour of gym 2 days out of every six, for only half the year. But the goals of Phys Ed are to provide bodytraining and exercise as part of healthy development, and it is the structure of the PE curriculum which makes this possible -- a fact that has and should have nothing to do with the loose runaround (or sitaround) possibilities of recess.

It's a serious issue, but one which doesn't belong here. To reiterate: PE is about activity; recess is about play; the two often coincide, but not inherently, and not in the parallel way that lets us consider one as an argument for addressing the other. The complications this nonetheless significant loss to the modern curriculum bring to the case for recess are absolutely distracting from the issue at hand.

More significantly disturbing, however, is the second hidden assumption of CNN's article, as show primarily through the words of parents like this one:
"The reason I get riled up -- and that most parents do -- is we see recess as an opportunity for children to play," said Diane Larson, a mother of four in Tacoma, Washington. "It's a time for children to be imaginative, to show innovation on the playground. And it's one of the times when kids actually get to interact with their friends."

Once upon a time, students really did need a break in the day for socialization and play. These days, however, our primary modes of classroom management lean increasingly on project-based collaborative learning, which in most schools involves significant time playing and peer-sharing in structured imaginative environments.

Look, unlike most teachers, my semi-metateacher's vocation allows me to spend time in other classrooms as a matter of course; in a given year, I end up observing part or all of numerous classes from almost every teacher in a given building, and I can assure you, it is an exceptionally rare day when student butts are in student seats for more than, say, two hours total. The modern classroom is characterized by exactly the kinds of peer interaction

Here's another parent that doesn't get it -- in this case, a PTA president in Virginia:
"The kids study all day, and they need some time for social activities," [PTA President Wendy] Logan said. "And those kids who struggle sitting the whole day -- they're the ones who need it the most."

Sitting all day? I've taught in schools public and private, from city to country, from kindergarten to high school, and I've yet to see "kids who struggle with sitting all day" -- because I've never, ever seen a school where kids sit more than half of their class hours.

And kids neither need nor always use recess time for social activities. The school of the millenium is a thousand times more social than the schools we grew up with. And, to be fair, recess is social in a way that reinforces cliques and allows for kids like I was to play solo, anti-socially, where class is much more about deliberately mixed socialization, under structure.

Either CNN -- and their PTA presidents and parents -- have never seen the inside of their kids' classrooms, or their schools are about twenty years behind the time. Sad, either way.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:43 AM | 1 comments

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mundania Again 

That the world grows, stretches, reaches for the sky. How the children push against each other, fill each other's silences in their struggle to be selves. The way the pollen turns everything green, after the rains have dried.

I figure it's worth noting, regardless. After all, it is our daily realities, the hard cold truths of nature and social strata settling, which frame the memorable moment, the bloggable gem. Without silence, our loud lives do not resonate.

A syllogism, then:

A. All writers write about writing.
B. All readers want to read about themselves.
C. Therefore, all writing should be about reading.

In the neighborhood the trees fill out into their summer selves. We watch the muscrat dive into the waterfalls, slide under the bridge like a bullet through butter. The neighbor's cow lows for her newborn calf into the night. When does the blogger stop metablogging?

Back in college my poetry professors encouraged me to major in something else, anything else: if you study writing, then you have nothing to write about but writing. It was a zen koan; I studied religion instead. Now I think about writing constantly, and write wonder at the world with wide eyes.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:51 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The New New Yorker Loses Its Cool 

Write your own damn Captain Hook caption here.

My cartoon caption contest entries (for example, What can I do? They all have passes.) are hands-down funnier than anything the judges are putting on the short list for voting, and it's getting pretty annoying. I mean, who wants to be disappointed with the last page of their favorite high-slash-nobrow publication week after week? It wears on you.

For a while, I thought it was just the contest judges. I tried to shrug it off. But then, a few weeks ago, they published this terrible, horrible, no good very unfunny Shanahan disaster:

And suddenly, I realized it wasn't just the judges.

Happily, the vast majority of New Yorker articles & fiction still rock -- it's hard to beat anything Malcolm Gladwell writes, and the addition of David Sedaris to the usual cast of contributing characters is a masterstroke. And there are still some great gems among the cartoonists, and their fodder. Won't be cancelling that subscription just yet. Wouldn't be prudent.

But overall, that cartoon sensibility seems to be shifting.

And it's just not funny.

You can buy any contest cartoon with your own caption on it, but why give them the satisfaction? From now on, I'm keeping my captions to myself. And you, of course. Think this week's cartoon would do better with a Captain Hook reference, or something about that old campfire chestnut? Weigh in (or add your own caption) in the comments...

[UPDATE 10:09 pm: Irony of ironies, less than an hour after posting the above I recieved the following email:

As a continuing and semi-regular contributor of cartoons to The New Yorker, I'd like to thank you personally for your heroically humorous efforts in the caption contest. If you've won, congratulations! If not, you're still in very inspiring company. To wit—

There have been over 300,000 entries to this point. We've had a variety of entrants, from noted film critic Roger Ebert to local celebrity Edward Surek of Sheboygan, Wisconsin (my father-in-law). Neither has won yet, but keep up the good work.

Trust me, it's not easy being funny (or getting published). You might be interested to know that I average about 40 submissions for every one published. Plus, I've yet to have a cartoon grace the caption contest. But I'm not giving up and neither should you! Perhaps one day my cartoon and your caption will become one. I'm misting up just thinking about it. So take pleasure in your glorious caption quest and know that the cartoon gurus at the home office appreciate your efforts, as do the cartoonists. (After all, without you, there is no caption contest.)

So, good luck and keep those courageous captions coming!

Best wishes,

Michael Shaw
Cartoon Contributor, The New Yorker

'nuff said, eh?

posted by boyhowdy | 8:47 PM | 1 comments

Monday, May 15, 2006


Parent meeting ran late this afternoon, so I stopped off in the front office to call home before heading out -- at a time that Howdyspouse generally puts the baby down for a nap.

Luckily, however, the three year old knows how to answer the cordless...


Hello, is this Willow?


Do you know who this is?


This is Daddy.

Hi, Daddy!

Hi, kid. Where's Mommy?

She's putting Cassia to sleep. Are you still at work, Daddy?

Yes, honey, but I'm coming home soon.

Are you in the car?

Not yet, I'm leaving now. Can you tell Mommy I'll be home soon?

She's upstairs putting Cassia to sleep!

Yes, I know. Can you tell her I called?

Okay, Daddy.

Thanks, sweetie. Love you.

Love you, Daddy!

Love you, kid. Okay, now hang up the phone.

Do I push a button?

Yes, honey. Push the button under the green light.

What light, Daddy?

The green light.

This green light, Daddy?

There's only one light, honey. Now push the button.

This button?

Yes, the button under the light.

The button next to the green light, or the button under the green light?

The one under the green light. Push it.

I don't know which button to push, Daddy.

Yes, I know, honey. It's under the green light.

Daddy, I think I better get Mommy.

No, don't do that. Just push the button.

Which button, Daddy?

Do you see the green light?

This light, Daddy?

Yes, fine. Now push the button under the light.

Here's Mommy, Daddy...

The front office ladies were quite amused, we've decided to put a sticker on the power button for the cordless, and, from now on, no one learns how to turn on anything until they are fully capable of turning it off.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:54 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, May 13, 2006

M Is For The Many Things 

A teacher's life is full of other people's mothers. If nothing else, the ongoing interaction is a constant reminder that every one of us can only be truly explicable alongside our parents, that traits are indeed inherited and passed along. You meet a mom for the first time after seeing their kid in the classroom all term, and suddenly everything makes sense, every quirk has context.

In my case, everything from my hyperactive wanderlust to my tendency towards easy tears spring from mom. I remind people of my father, mostly, but I owe mom much of my behavior, from my acute respect for careful language to my innate instinct for the psychological and emotive. I may have my father's brain, but I seem to have my mother's heart, and much of her soul.

We own the way we utilize our gifts, of course, and not all of what I inherit is turned towards good. My mother's oversensitivity presents itself in me as an anxiety; coupled with my father's perfectionism, rather than my mother's loose ADHD acceptance, it can heighten and complicate even the most banal of social and professional interactions. Somewhere inside me more often than not his logic gets overwhelmed by her desire to love and be loved.

Nature and nurture combined are a powerful thing. Sometimes I regret the strong otherwise-positive tendencies that I have allowed to rule myself. Sometimes I curse my mother, when I should be cursing -- and curing -- myself. Sometimes I forget that, in the end, it is we who choose to let the facets of ourselves dominate.

There is much to love in me that I love in her, I think. So much potential, and so much to be thankful for. So much generosity, and the desire to please; so much joy in nature, so much wonder at the world-as-it-is.

Without her, I would not wander, and so happily. Without her, I would be colder, darker. I would not see and live the world so interconnected.

So thanks, mom, for making me so much of who I am today. Good, bad, or otherwise, I wouldn't have me any other way.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:53 PM | 0 comments

Friday, May 12, 2006

Moms in the Classroom 

One way public school teaching is vastly different from the private realm is the weight that parents have in the classroom. Where the boarding environment essentially left us teachers in the parental role, here parents come in for project night, check in as they pick up their kids daily, give money and time, and actively bring us yummy faculty appreciation luncheons to die for.

All the more hilarious, then, to hear the following comments as we made Mother's Day Cards* in my 7th and 8th grade computer classes this week.

  • Yeah, because every mother wants a card that says "hey mom, watch out for the scary giant bunny!"

  • That sucks. You must really hate your mom.

  • There's Pearl Jam on the cover because my mom is taking me to a Pearl Jam concert for mother's day.

  • There's sharks on mine because my mom is allergic to flowers.

  • My mother doesn't like poems. I'm writing her a rap.

  • My mom hates me. Can I do something else today?

  • Do I have to give this to my mother?

  • Now that we did this, I don't have to get a present, too, right Mr. F?

  • Hey Farbs, what rhymes with hell?

  • Is a greeting card a card?

Ah, the fourteen year old mentality -- gotta love it. The best of the Publisher-produced cards drip sentiment, ooze bittersweet pre-adolescent apologetic glory. Hope the moms appreciate the effort.

*Technically, the activity asked students to make "Mothers or Others' Day Cards". After all, though everyone has a female adult in their life somewhere, not all have moms, or live with 'em. If being preemptive about the possibilities of the modern PC family bothers you, avoid teaching like the plague.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:31 AM | 1 comments

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Baby Mine 

Cassia Jade, awryAnother tough week in the howdyhouse: Darcie's still sick, I'm still tired, the elderchild continues to rant and rail against the growing pains of school, sisterhood, and self.

In the midst of it all a tiny angel grins infectiously. Mischief maker, free sprite and sprit is my Cassia Jade. At one year and seventeen pounds she barely talks, wobble-walks, stalks dog and cat, pulls rocks from the lawn like nobody's business. She moos at cows, pulls grass for goats and kisses them.

She is oft the heart of our own stress -- mama would be well by now, surely, were there time to nap on her own throughout the day; my tiredness today and yesterday stems from interrupted parentsleep, up-all-night teething pains and screams; elderkid Willow loses points and freedom throughout the day primarily due to her continued struggle to find her place as her sister comes into her own, crowding the once-attention that is forever the lost lot of first children.

But she twees along with the flute as I play for relaxation, brings books to our sides demanding to be read to. She loves waterplay and cabinetry, themselves mostly safe activities. She climbs in and out of chairs all day without a fall. She can lighten a room with her smile. She gives away everything from pacifier to the pre-chewed as if it were her lot in life to make others happy.

Cause and coherence, then -- a bittersweet reality. But it's not her fault that having a baby is hard on all of us. And were she any other child, it would be harder still.

One day, perhaps in her future days of adolescent angst and rebellion, may we remember, and appreciate her all the more for making our days more precious, our lives more blessed, our selves more rewarded, merely through the natural wonder that she is.

In the meanwhile, may it be enough to make time to appreciate her, and respect that which she brings; to remember to care for her even when we are sick and tired and trying to find ourselves in the midst of the chaos; to be gentle and kind and caring even at three a.m. when we should be sleeping.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:11 PM | 1 comments

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Making Time 

As I've mentioned here before, I am constitutionally nocturnal, a victim of Retarded Sleep Phase Syndrome, up long past midnight as a matter of course.

Once this was no problem. I did my best thesis writing between the hours of dark and sunrise; blogged late into the night, and made it to my classroom for the odd 8:30 class blurred but functional.

These days, however, what with commute and a seven thirty homeroom, my teaching mandates an early awakening. And I mean early. Like, before six.

End result: total suckage.

I've tried going to bed earlier as a matter of course (say, a civilized eleven fifteen) but for some reason, my brain and body seem to prefer to head to zombieville as the weekend nears. For a few weeks I managed to beat the odds by "accidentally" falling asleep putting the kids to bed at 8, which felt good as it happened. But this just as often caused me to rise in the wee hours of the morning afraid of missing the alarm, wander about for an hour, and end up overtired the next day.

I'm tired all the time, overcaffeinated and jittery when I should be alert. By Wednesday, I begin to arrive home with a shortened fuse, meandering about drunkenly without a drop to drink, napping on the couch when I should be enjoying those few precious kid hours between homecoming and bed. Thursdays I start nodding off on the drive home.

I'm starting to hate my life. Worse, I'm starting to sleepwalk through it.

So this week, in the interest of compromise, I've decided to start prepping for the morning ritual before bed. So far this evening I've ironed clothes for the week, hung 'em out for tomorrow, laid out wallet and pocket change by the door, and made sure the bathrobe and towel are handy. I even pre-filled the coffee pot.

Estimated net gain, at least by alarm clock standards: 20 minutes of extra sleep.

To be fair, twenty minutes doesn't sound like much. But I figure it's worth the same to the psyche as a serious midweek catch-up nap. At least, I hope so. Because this braindead-by-Thursday thing is seriously starting to kick my ass.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:14 PM | 3 comments

Saturday, May 06, 2006

In Other News... 

In addition to our wonderous new discovery (see Zoo Story, below), a trifecta of other trivialities today:
  • We finally bought a lawn sprinkler, because if you're going to have dirt, you might as well have wet dirt.

  • Post-it sticky-back photo paper is the best invention ever for three year olds, especially if your goal in life is to fetishize images of yourself on carousel horses.

  • Cassia has decided that the whole point of her new potty is to sit on it after she pees all over my leg.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:45 PM | 0 comments

Best. Zoo. Ever. 

As always, click on the pic for more photos from our day at the zoo...
Willow with wallaby - woo!

We're big proponents of tourism in bad weather, having once experienced a blissful 45 degree day at Disney World with no lines. So when the weather websites once again proved totally out of sync with the realities of New England sun-to-rain, we were more than prepared to hit the local zoo we had heard so much about.

Well, that, and after 15 hours of allergy-encrusted sleep between yesterday afternoon and this morning, I was itching to get off my ass and out of the house to spend some time with my wonderfully Daddy-tolerant family.

We arrived at Lupa Zoo just after 11 under overcast skies just beginning to let loose; bundled kids into the ever-handy double stroller befitted with oversized umbrella; scrounged up enough singles to make it through the gate only to discover that though there was no credit taken at the gate, the underage countergirl at the tiny gift shop was happy to call what was surely a mom-slash-owner to run the espresso machine and sell us a couple of boxes of animal snack crackers.

From there, we wandered what turned out to be an exquisitely intimate and friendly game farm that depends on visitors to feed the animals. Each pen, from Antelope to Zebra, allows closer-than-typical proximity to the animals, in order that bran crackers and purchased seed corn might be dropped down the everpresent chute or, in many cases, gifted open-hand through the crisscross fence to the lipping mounth of all sorts of fun exotics.

One note, for those (like myself) that have seen exotic animal care from behind the scenes: as our friendly and oddly ubiquitous young zookeeper mentioned over the course of our visit, the trade-off in making a zoo that is so visitor-oriented, so mellow and so intimate, so close-packed with face-to-face encounters of everything living and interesting is that a) there is no behind the scenes in which to care for and train animals, and b) the usual method of coaxing animals with food is lost to the "visitors feed everyone" phenomenon, which leaves little incentive for, say, the bear or coatimundi to behave for vets and caretakers.

But this is a minor quibble, one well worth (in this visitor's opinion) the experience that results. How often can you climb a staircase to handfeed a giraffe with a three year old? Or let the one-year-old walker rub noses with a baby Zebu? We saw more animals than people, which beats most zoo-goers experience anytime; never went more than 30 seconds without seeing another beast or bird close at hand. We stayed for over two hours, an unheard of success for kids this age past naptime on a rainy Saturday. Enough said, I say.

Overall, Lupa Zoo is a marvel of zoos, one which takes the typical "each animal a separate viewing spectacle" phenom of the modern zoo and replaces it with adjacency, an easy walk from one animal to the next, and even a single indoor space in the zoo center teeming with simians cages that twist around each other, bats up close, small monkeys clutching surprisingly human-like babies up to their chests mere inches away from our peering faces, aligators in an honest-to-god bathtub.

It doesn't feel like a spectacle, or a planned experience. It has no real commercial component; has two tiny gift shops of cameras and snacks, but it doesn't even have professionally made souveniers. Heck, the halloween decorations are still up from last year.

Lupa Zoo rocks, and that's all there is to it. It feels like a petting zoo, a community, an open barn in someone's backyard. It feels safe, open, and inviting. They run on biodiesel, compost heavily, and encourage visitors to bike in. They guy who built it lives in a nice house just past the aviary and the bobcats; you can see in his windows.

In fact, I'm planning on calling sometime soon to see if they take volunteers -- or want to hire this old museum educator for weekend educational programs, maybe.

If you're ever driving through Ludlow, Ma, call ahead and we'll meet you at Lupa Zoo. Just don't forget to bring cash to get in.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:50 PM | 1 comments

Thursday, May 04, 2006

New Life In The Neighborhood 

Arrived home to find Willow's been pushing her tiny sister around all day, and Mama's lost her voice to the same glandswelling something that hit me earlier. Shopping meant the ability to strap the kids down out of eyesight, so we all went off, bought spitcooked deli chicken and real bread, played it light for the evening, and it seemed to help.

The baby went down early, though, so while Mama and baby snuggled behind blinds Willow and I wandered off into the waning daylight. Highlights:
  • New calf close-up and mother-protected in the pasture across the street, still wobbly and wet.

  • Pooh-sticks with the season's first dandelions under the waterfall bridge.

  • This season's first frog, fat and green, jumping high at our feet, scared back into the water from the slippery slope above.

  • Bark souveniers from the beaver-chewed tree by the banks, it's scarred surface rough under our intertwined fingers.

  • A tick each, discovered and knocked free, and thank goodness we found them.

Ah, the discoveries of Spring. Home under a halfmoon with the half pint, a livingroom slowdance in the almostdark, and all is well again.

Funny how wide the pendulum swings in a day, sometimes. Not so funny, how vast and infuriating the shift from competitive to cuddly when her sister leaves the room.

And so it begins. If we're lucky, we've got a minimum of fifteen more years of this sibling rivalry, at least under our roof. At least we know how she feels, we two first children raising their own first.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:00 PM | 1 comments

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Small Town Life Suits Me Fine 

6 miles from the Connecticut border. 20 miles from the nearest Starbucks.

One bar. One school -- 80 kids per grade but it fields a pretty strong softball team. One market, one drugstore, one laundromat. Two kittycorner gas stations with dual service bays.

Total population: 8 thousand, including us four.

Friendly townies of bluecollar stock most in their third or fourth generation wander the streets in the afternoon. Farmers, carpenters, roofers, motorcyclists; sneakers and workboot feature prominently in adult couture.

There is no rush hour. At 3 in the afternoon school gets out, the streets begin to fill up with pick-up trucks, teenagers out driving their parent's cars, white utility vans. The market lot stays crowded until it closes at seven.

Sitting in a local barber shop while the car gets a long-overdue inspection offers, almost demands we revisit the smalltown life we have chosen. Here the gossip over the scissor snip; there on the window colorcopy flyers promote church ham suppers, fly fishing tournaments, the high school production. On TV they're interviewing a woman three towns over. The world passes by the windows. And it is good.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:52 PM | 2 comments

Monday, May 01, 2006

On The Other Side 

Green lawns line the roadside up and down the mountain. Some are populated by dandelions; most have delineated edges where woods begins and yard ends. The biggest, most lush homesteads have already grown enough to mow, sport finely trimmed lawns with perfectly parallel lines to and fro, like a freshly vacuumed carpet.

All around us, people spend their Sundays on the greening lawn, hose in hand, tossing water like rain. Meanwhile, our grass seed lies dead upon the hardpacked earth. Small tufts of green grow here and there, clustered like daffodil stems in the midst of an otherwise wasteland.

We debate buying a sprinkler. We try to buy a sprinkler, but life gets in the way. Plus, the Agway is closed on Sundays.

It looks like rain, but it doesn't rain. We take the kids through the car wash instead. Baby Cassia, new to the experience, reaches for the slapping cloth that slams against her window, and does not cry.

Next year, I promise myself. Next year we will have a lawn. For now, it is more than enough to have earth, and a family to put down root in it.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:24 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, April 29, 2006

How To Begin 

Still planning on doing so "real" writing this summer, with a book-length goal; as part of this process, I've allowed a part of my mind ongoing muse-ability on the subject. So far, however, though I seem to have settled on a voice (autobiographical and cultural analysis) and a tone (casual, with less research but plenty of anecdotal evidence laid out clearly from my life inner and external), picking a focus has eluded me.

One thing I've always found in my own writing is that, given a month of musing and muttering in a given direction, all it takes from there is that golden nugget -- a sentence, a phrase, even a title -- and you can build the world of interconnected ideas around it. But setting such a scale for the summer's trial means that my instinct is to write about everything all at once.

In order to establish that direction so crucial to putting words on paper, I've been toying this week with a title which would help me focus.

The title: Blogger and Son.

The inevitable premise that follows: the book would build on my last three and a half years of life experience, starting the week I began blogging and my daughter began turning from infantile object into person, with my own development as parent and son, and how the decision (and constant reexploration) to make my life public has affected and been affected by my role as a member of a growing family, at the heart of it all.

Obviously, the larger issue would be to try to make some connections to the universal -- through my experience and cultural agent and teacher of young people, and through exploration of the new ways in which various generations are using webbed technologies a la Web 2.0 -- and, in the end, make some generalizations about how currently living generations have been changed (and may continue to change) because of the new ways in which social technologies affect family dynamics, as a part of social dynamics.

The big question, then: Would this work? Do you think a publisher would want to buy it? Would you want to read it? And also, of course, has it been done?

posted by boyhowdy | 7:35 PM | 2 comments

The Week of "What?" 

Last week's virus on the tail of a long family flight has left us with a household of infected ears. Business as usual for me, really, since poorly constructed eustacian tubes run in my family (remind me to tell you about my brother and his re-cored soundhole sometime). And at just-one Cassia is too little to really be lost to a few days of lost audible cues.

But Willow has adapted to her loss of hearing by acting out more, as if an inability to hear us in active parent mode releases her to act out however the heck she feels. Ask her to do something and she smiles and yells "What?" Try and get her to stop pestering her sister and she reacts far too slow, as if the decoder that is her ear-brain connection is rather more delayed than simply stopped up.

To be fair, it probably does take her longer to process -- she's likely getting only bits and pieces of code, so it takes longer to rebuild meaning and react. But I'd like to think she would have adapted by now, and perhaps realized that she'll have to listen more carefully for a while. Instead, she's come undone, behaviorally, and spends much of her time in chairs. She seems to be taking advantage of that delay of translation, rather than simply suffering through it.

We are all frustrated and annoyed. I'd call a family conference, but it's hard to have a rational discussion when everyone's yelling at each other, and no one can hear you scream.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:19 PM | 0 comments

Friday, April 28, 2006

Poem, Again 

Something raw, half-drafted in indellible ink on an old envelope against the steering wheel while driving to and from work today. Because the blog entry I wrote earlier wasn't for public consumption. And because it's time, and true.

I've taken mornings to the concrete stoop
again, after so many changes put an end to it:
a need for sleep, and to disconnect the smoker's habits
from the newness of nonsmoking; the end of winter.

New job, new home, new patterns:
four years ago I could smoke in the house
where it was warm and childless,
Three years ago we lived in a stoopless attic;

The suburban proximity that disallowed
bathrobes on the porch, and the homeless summer -
the world conspired to keep me inside
until I was ready, and public, and already moving.

But flowers bloom in Spring and so do I.
The earth is warm and the road is behind the trees.
And here I am in my bathrobe way too early,
for no other reason than to watch the sun rise,

yesterday's coffee, reheated by my side;
admire new lawn, a hundred inherited daffodills
the way the tallest trees bud in yellows
and deep redbrown, crewcut against a bluing sky.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:39 PM | 0 comments

Parenting 301:
If it was easy, it wouldn't be love. 

For the first time in forever I actually felt the back go out, could feel the twinge as I twisted and dropped, lifted and tossed.

That I did it throwing my first and precious child, firm but as gentle as possible under the circumstances, into the time-out chair, roaring, still but only barely in control of my self, makes it no better.

That she was red-faced, screaming, already thirty minutes into a full-blown wail-and-cry attack makes it worse.

That what got us to that moment was that she tried to hurt me, but stopped herself at a token, is reassuring, though it doesn’t excuse the attack on my nose or wrists, with head and tinystrong hands and hard-headed dolly.

That she did it to try to get to mama is always and only a sad thing. But what can we do? Somewhere, even she knows that she has turned to keeping Cassia awake, accepted the bad attention as better – for now – than no attention during the younger sister’s bedtime. Keeping her from baby bedtime, that the baby might sleep, and more, that the elderchild might afterwards have the solo mama-and-me time that she so desperately craves and deserves, is an inevitable and vital step forward; that she has forced our hand in getting there by hook or crook is no excuse for letting things get worse, as if they could.

That I didn’t lose control is an ongoing triumph. I no longer fear myself, in these moments – know, indeed, that I will ever be capable of keeping the responses within the scale and scope of measured response. Once I worried that I would lose that conscious brain, revert entirely to lizard brain, in the worst of interfamiliar anger. It is truly awesome, in the original sense, to find that I am not, will not, cannot be that person that I feared I would be unable to not be.

But knowing that I own my temper is no compensation for having to go so far along the path towards big and scary.

And knowing that it has come to this is hard to accept, sometimes.

I do it out of love, and she accepts that, in the aftermath, hugging me goodnight, telling me she loves me. But it hurts, physically and psychologically.

That twinge of pressure will over three days swell and ache until it peaks at monster pain, the kind only those of us with herniation can truly understand.

I guess I had hoped we would be different. Now I know better, I suppose. That twinge of knowledge in her eyes, the one that says I know you are bigger and will use it when you must, is in the end the bittersweet heart of every parent’s constant struggle to love and care for, tame and ultimately set free every willful child.

It’s a mess, this parenting thing. It takes all my energy, drains my emotional core. And it hurts so much more because, in those lucid moments, she understands, somehow, at three and three quarters, that it hurts me, too. It hurts so much more because I, too, am no fan of delayed gratification, and I know exactly how she feels.

In these moments we are each other, the mature three, the once-child (and still secretly childlike) Daddy. We are past and present and future all at once; we are each other, and our selves in every age.

And in some ways, that we can go through this together and come out clutching each other is the scariest and the best thing of all.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:19 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dizzy & Light 

My wife is one of those steadfast people, the ones who soldier on through anything, and I admire her for it. It's one of the qualities I need in a family, and one reason I'm lucky she chose me. For though the constant blogging helps me center and reflect, I am flighty and anxious by nature, and cannot stabilize myself.

But we all have our off days, through no fault of our own. She gets dizzy spells sometimes when the weather changes, and today was pretty bad: I arrived home to find her in bed, trying hard to keep her head still while the kids swarmed around her.

We made it through evening, movie night and take-out chinese, but by bedtime the world turned sour and shaky again. Willow's been hit hard by the return to one-parent daytime normalcy after our long family vacation, and in the dark hours has started screaming for solo care from mama only -- which tends to wake the baby, thereby making mama inaccessible.

And from downstairs, as I closed the door to the basement laundry, I could hear my wife get stern, and then cold. And I knew she was desperate. You could hear it in her voice.

It's no fault to get frustrated in such scenarios, no matter how stable you are. The three year old middle-of-night mindset doesn't really grasp the causality of her actions; she's bright, but cannot be expected to own the cycle she creates no matter how much we lock her out in a vain attempt at sanity and long-term care for all. And what a cycle it is.

So tonight it was my turn to be the stable one, coming upstairs to remind Willow how precious she was while an exhausted and still-faint mama wandered off with the baby to put her to bed far too late for easy putdown.

It was, to be sure, a pure accident of timing and tenor that earned me tonight's sighs and heart-lightening halfsleep babble of love and affection where last night, post-nightmare, her sister awakened and now screaming behind a mama-closed door, Willow screamed at me that she did not love me when I tried the same strategy. Some things, parents learn, can not be fixed, but merely tolerated.

But sometimes it works.

And if I am able to be the center of the whirlwind even in these exceptional moments, given the allowance of daughter and chance, it is because Darcie has taught me to be me, and to be sane in the face of frustration. It is she that is precious, that we could not function as family without. It is she that still takes my breath away, and makes me dizzy and light, for no more reason than the realization that she loves me.

It is that love that I give to my daughter, when she lets me.

May I never forget. May we never be alone without it.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:17 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

All Things Go 

A late frost tonight, perhaps the year's last, after a damp day. Not enough to make the new grass crunch, enough to bring a wet sparkle to the garden rocks.

Willow wakes moaning in the night, cannot tell us where it hurts. Her ears have not yet recovered from the two-leg flight home on Sunday; she's been in off-and-on pain and half-deaf mornings and evenings since then, but it might be just a bad dream. I go upstairs to help, she pushes me away for mama.

Mom was up today after a trip to New York and New Jersey side of the family. My brother and his fiancee, unsure of their future, trying to decide which coast would best support their art without forcing them to earn life-money with the time they need to create. Her cousins, once as close as siblings, now proud grandparents themselves, each struggling to survive in their own way. Her aunt, in the last stages of Alzheimers, cawing at her like a crow, refusing to take her eyes from her.

As the Florida warmth leeches out of mind and body I think more and more about her great grandfather. Dad's father seemed more lucid than the last time we saw him, though he didn't change his clothes the whole time we were down there. He talks about the present more; has rebuilt himself, mostly, moved on from the loss of his wife, my grandmother.

The connection he had with Cassia brought him to life somehow, more than any I've seen in him, even with Willow before her. When I left the room he spoke to Darcie of his first child, born ill, the daughter he lost long before she passed away; when Willow pushed at her smaller sister he turned protective, though he spoke with understanding of the rivalry there.

Maybe it's a blessing of sorts, that he's finally there for himself, unhindered by future or companion, able to live in the moment, love with whole heart a small girl just barely able to speak his name, who smiles up at him with big blue eyes and just a hint of his late wife's red hair, tries to give him the stuffed bear he gave her moments before.

My brain sifts through it all, trying to make sense of the unanswered moments before they fade or crystallize. I think about my family, slowly falling to pieces, growing up, growing old, spreading to the corners of this country. I think about the small ones playing musical beds upstairs as they cry and wake, rock and fall back to sleep again, enacting in microcosm the up and down curve of adult life, and of life itself.

This afternoon while Mom tried to take our picture Willow and I danced slow in the playroom, holding each other tight tight tight. I hid the iPod on a shelf behind their chair while they shared a story and song, and, thinking about the 8 track recordings my mother's father once made of he and I, there in their New York high rise, recorded their conversation for the ages.

Once I knew where those tapes were, and cherished them. But then, once I had Cassia's first cry, and then the old iPod was stolen.

The world shines in funny ways. Sometimes its just mica in the rocks, a soft rock so easy to peel away. Sometimes its quartz, hard and unforgiving, eternal and sharp-edged, permanent as teeth. Tonight it's ice. By morning it will have melted away.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:38 PM | 0 comments

Monday, April 24, 2006

Shades of Independence 

Like everyone and Everett, I like indie music. 7300 songs worth and counting, if the iPod is any indication.

Unlike Everett, however, who is happy to lump the Beatles and Dylan in amongst his "less cutting edge, straightfowardly "indie" music" downloadable set at All Things Go, I can't tell what makes modern indie music distinct from modern folk music.

(And I'm not alone, either -- see the Wikipedia entry on Freak-folk, aka New Weird America music, and pay close attention to both the mess of a genre-description and the oddly diverse list of acts that follows).

These days, indie instrumentation is raw and acoustic, themes remain subtle and slow, and -- for much of the genre, at least -- stripped down singer-songwriter is the name of the game. Especially confounding is the borderline acts once officially folk-designate, such as The Weepies and proto-genrebuster Ms. DiFranco. Both of whom I've seen at folk festivals. Before they were indie. When their music sounded the same.

Unless it's a very, very slight tendency towards the obscure and morbid found in everything from band names (cf. Death Cab for Cutie) to lyricism (cf Sufjan), it seems the main difference between indie and folk is little more than audience designate -- as if the very fact that bunch of SXSW-hittin' twentysomethings were standing up at a venue made something not-folk.

Which is silly, and a bit like saying that, because adolescents read more fantasy than anyone else, anything adolescents generally read must be fantasy.

So much for post-post--post-modernism. I'm calling the genre fakefolk, or perhaps faux-lk, until further notice. Please join me in designating the very concept of "indie" officially dead.

In other news of impending independence, I've been back at work one day and already we're counting down the weeks (7) until summer vacation. Can I get a whoop whoop for the teachers and students in da house? Thanks, y'all. Now get back on the bus and get those damn white strings out of your ears.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:53 PM | 1 comments
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