Archive for April, 2008

In which a more successful day at the dentist is overshadowed by a gloomy victorian portrait.

I wish I’d had my camera with me on Monday when we went back to the dentist to fill those dreaded cavities. Because I really wish you could see the waiting room. For the most part, it’s a pretty standard pediatric dentist’s waiting room. There’s chairs, and magazines, and LOTS OF TOYS, and a television, of course, tuned in to the Disney Channel, all day every day. (At least it’s not Nickelodeon, right?)

And on the walls, here and there, are some framed photographs of the dentist’s own children, all grown up now, but still worth talking about. Incessantly. I know more about our new dentist’s kids than I do about some of my good friend’s children. He likes to talk about them. And show me pictures of them. Did I use the word “incessantly” yet? Oh, I did? Whoops. Sorry. Don’t mean to get all repetitive on you, but he does talk INCESSANTLY about his own kids. I take it as a good sign.

So, anyway. On the walls, there are a few shots of his kids, and then on the sliding glass partition the receptionist sits behind, there are some cool translucent sticker designs. Flowers and such. It’s pretty. And below the glass partition, there’s a silly mirror that the girls really like standing in front of.

It’s pretty much a waiting room that would give Sesame Place a run for it’s money. Except, that is, for the GIGANTIC GLOOMY VICTORIAN PORTRAIT hanging way way above the glass partition. It’s huge, it’s mostly black in the background, and it’s a full head-to-toe portrait of a young girl wearing a full-length yellow dress. She’s standing there staring down at us, with her curly dark hair piled formally on top of her head. She is NOT smiling. At all. Compared to this girl, Mona Lisa is positively GRINNING. And if we were to take the thing down off the high wall, it would probably stand as high as RegularDad, it’s THAT BIG.

I have no idea why this portrait is hanging in this waiting room. It goes with absolutely nothing else in the room, and it’s so large that it just overpowers everything else in the area that’s supposed to be cheerful.

My 5-year-old finally asked about it late Monday morning as we were patiently waiting for her sister to be finished with her fillings.

That is the MOST HUMUNGO picture I have ever seen! she said.
Yes, I said. It certainly is big.
Who is she?
I don’t know, I said. It’s just a picture.
Whoever she is, she’s not very happy.

Nope. Doesn’t look like it.
Maybe she’s got bad teeth. Maybe she had cavities.
Maybe she did, I said, and started laughing.
She should floss or something.

Then my 5-year-old turned back to the TV, where a bunch of psychadelic rainbow colored bunnies wearing sunglasses were hopping around singing a happy song. Each bunny had one pristine white buck tooth sticking out of its mouth, and you could just tell those bunnies know how to brush, and brush RIGHT.

Good news! RegularDad’s found a new band.

The audition process was arduous and stressful, believe me. But they just called and said he’s in. They’ll be taking it on the road just as soon as Fozzie brings back the tour bus.

In which a bad day at the dentist’s spirals down into murkier depths of insecurity.

Well, the girls have cavities. We’ll be returning to the dentist on Monday to begin the process of getting them filled/crowned/fixed/etc. We’re looking at maybe $2,000 worth of work to be done.

I am A TOTAL WRECK.

First of all, I hate the dentist. I am terrified of all dentists. While the girls were giggling with this TERRIFIC dentist I totally LUCKED into, I was the one clutching my 4-year-old’s stuffed elephant in a death grip. I kept this hidden under my arms so no one could see, but I was totally gripping that elephant.

Second of all, I’ve neglected the whole going to the dentist thing since we moved. It’s been over 2 years since we’ve been to a dentist, so I have no one to blame for the kids’ teeth but me. I spent two hours in the dentist’s office today telling myself that the women behind the counter Were Not Whispering About Me. That all those sidelong glances had NOTHING TO DO WITH ME AND MY KIDS’ CAVITIES.

Right?

So, after all that hell, of finding a dentist, scheduling appointments, getting to the dentist on time with a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old, getting the bad news, feeling like a total failure, trying not to let the paranoia show, I get home and call RegularDad, and I’m practically crying because the kids have cavities, and it’s just a bad scene, and he’s all: “Wait…HOW much did you say this is gonna cost?” And I was all: “WHO CARES ABOUT THE MONEY?” And he was all: “Lemmee call our dental insurance and get back to you.” So, then he calls back and says that the dentist I picked isn’t in our plan, and he asks me to find a new dentist.

And I just refused.

After all that, I just couldn’t handle starting over again. I told him if he felt that strongly about it he would have to be the one to find the dentist, make the appointments, take the kids there, and that he’d better have all that done by Monday because that’s when their next appointments were scheduled for, made by the brilliant dentist who was like personal friends with Dr. Spock or something, and has written numerous books and articles on pediatric dentristry, and who was so concerned about taking care of my kids’ teeth that he was cancelling his personal day to do the work.

And then RegularDad said he’d call the insurance people back and hung up. And then I went into the bathroom and had myself a really good cry. And then I read a story to my 4-year-old. Then I called the dentist’s office and talked to the ladies there and they assured me that they’d work with me on paying this bill. That no one expected me to walk in there next week with the full amount of money. And then I went online and found out that it doesn’t matter if the dentist is in plan or out of plan, our insurance will pay the same amount no matter who we pick. So I printed all these charts out and called RegularDad and told him that and he was all: “Oh, okay, that’s cool. We’ll stick with this dentist. And hey, no one thinks you’re a bad mom, you know.”

So, I guess it’s all worked out, but I’m a STILL A TOTAL WRECK.

And, I’ve picked up a cold from my 4-year-old.

I thought I was doing okay with the kids and their food, but in the end it doesn’t matter. No matter how many healthy organic meals I feed them, there will always be a relative nearby who will feed them candy and ice cream, soda and McDonald’s. And it’s those relatives that are the kids’ favorites, of course. Not me with my carrot sticks and roasted cauliflower, and admonishments to wash their hands, flush the toilet, pick up the toys in the living room, keep their shoes on.

No matter how clean I keep my house, there will always be that one chair in the dining room that still has crumbs on it, and someone will invariably notice the crumbs before they notice that I cleaned the bathroom because I knew they were coming, or that I bought a box of Splenda because I knew that they preferred it.

No matter how on top of the kids and the house and the yard and the schooling and the healthy food and the budget and the activities and the politics of family and friends I manage to stay, there will always be at least one place where I’ve dropped the ball — like their teeth — and that will be the thing that people talk about for years. Not that I succeeded in teaching them to read, not that I hand sew the rips and tears in their stuffed animals because repaired stuffed animals help them sleep. No, it’ll be these cavities that will come up in conversation at family gatherings for YEARS TO COME. And I will remain, as ever, a total failure as a mother.

And I’m just a little tired of it today, is all.

Just us…at the lake.

One of the biggest traps in homeschooling, if you ask me, is the constant pressure to Do Things With Other People. Just this morning, in my email, I finalized plans for friends to come over on Friday afternoon. As I was finishing that, the phone rang, and it was more friends asking about getting together for a day trip to a museum soon. Or, if not that, at least a play date. Or how about the zoo? What are you doing this weekend? Do you want to check out my co-op? It goes on and on.

And believe me, I’m not complaining at all. It’s good to have all these friends. It’s good to get together. But it’s also good to just not get together sometimes. And for me, being new and still sort of defensive and insecure about this whole homeschooling thing, I have to remind myself a lot to Not Always Be Getting Together With People. My previous post, in which you all were so kind as to reassure me that my friend was not exactly being friendly, is an excellent case in point. I could have said no when that woman called and asked if they could stop by. I should have said no, in fact. We were all tired. I’d spent the day sorting toys and catching up on laundry. I wasn’t in the mood for this woman at all to begin with. (Because honestly? That afternoon tea was only the tip of a very large iceberg. The woman’s got some ISSUES, is all I’m sayin’.) 

But the thing is, I exist on the defensive most of the time. When people find out we homeschool and start in with the endless questions on socialization, I want to be armed and ready with a Packed Social Schedule. It’s ridiculous and exhausting, but it’s hard to stop myself. And I’m not the only one who does this. Most of the women I know here are much more busy than I am. They’re stretched thin, and ragged, and possibly on the edge of burnout. I can see it in their eyes. And listening to them, I’m learning to simply say No to the endless stream of activities available to us. But when someone who isn’t a homeschooler starts asking THOSE QUESTIONS, I’m always quick to tell them all the millions of things we do all the time, and then having told people that, I begin to think that I’d better ramp up the social schedule, just in case those people with absolutely no experience homeschooling whatsoever are RIGHT and my kids NEED to be surrounded by other people 24-7.

And the truth is, we need LESS people around. We need some space. We need at least one day a week where we don’t go anywhere or have people over. For us, that day is Wednesday. And I guard Wednesdays fiercely. But maybe, I’m thinking, we need more than just that one day.

Today, it was just the three of us. We did some schoolwork, and took a quick run to the local elementary school so I could cast my vote in the primary. Then, seeing that the weather was good, we decided it might be nice to grab some sandwiches from Subway and go on over to the local lake and just hang out and see what there was to see.

And this is what we saw*:

 And the thing is, it was JUST US. We didn’t bring anyone else along. We didn’t have to synchronize our watches or sign up on a Yahoo message board or coordinate with half a dozen other people via email to have this day. We just got ourselves some lunch and went. And I didn’t have to talk to anyone. Or entertain anyone. Or encourage anyone. Or listen to anyone else’s bullshit. Or worry that my kids weren’t getting along with someone else’s kids. Or worry that the mom I was with had the better curriculum, or theory, or hairstyle, car, shoes, magazine subscriptions or WHATEVER. I just had to sit back, relax and take some pictures.

I think we need more days where it’s Just Us. I think that may be another way to take better care of me and my kids.

*Wordpress has this new gallery feature. I’ve spent some time dinking around with it to see if it’s worth using. What do you think? Is it too much clicking? Or do you like this layout? Comments on this will be appreciated. 🙂

Common pitfall of a classical home education.

Yesterday during lunch, we finished reading Black Ships Before Troy, a children’s version of the Iliad written by Rosemary Sutcliff. (I highly recommend this book, by the way, but if you can afford it, get the hardcover copy with the illustrations. I bought the cheaper paperbacks to save some cash, and was disappointed to discover that in the paperback version, they leave out all the illustrations.)

Anyway. Not long after we finished reading it, the girls went outside to play a while. And not five minutes later, my 4-year-old came in to tell me that her sister was hurt. I went out to check, and (of course) it was her heel. My 4-year-old had been pretending to be Paris, and threw a stick at her sister, who was pretending to be Achilles, and amazingly enough, it struck her on the heel.

I got out the Bactine and a bandaid and doctored her up and then brought them inside for a history lesson.

Later on, after dinner, they went outside for a while before bedtime, and not five minutes after they’d gone out, I heard my 4-year-old crying. I went out to check on them, and she was holding her eye and her sister was apologizing profusely for hitting her with a stick.

I was being Hector! And she was being Patroclus, and…and…and– she yelled. It was an accident! HONEST!

At which point, I brought them both inside and told them they weren’t allowed to play the Trojan War for the rest of the week.

We’ll be moving on to Sutcliff’s version of the Odyssey next. I can’t wait till the girls start pretending to be the Sirens.

There goes the neighborhood.

Realization.

I’m sitting here with all the windows open, letting in the early spring breeze, and listening to the girls playing outside. They’ve got a friend over, and the three of them are playing some sort of game that’s half The Silver Chair, half something else. They play this every time they get together.

Yesterday, we had other friends over, two little girls this time, and their mom. The girls spent the afternoon building fairy houses, and sliding and rolling down the grassy little hill in front of our house. I spent the afternoon laughing with their mother. We talked at high-speed, nonstop, for over three hours about everything under the sun. We both felt rejuvenated by the conversation and the warm air and the Just Being Together While Our Daughters Played Happily.

And I’m sitting here remembering last spring, and how it was, coming off such a hard cold winter, isolated into that little rented farmhouse, wondering why in the world we’d decided to move back East. More than half wishing we could Just Go Back. And the truth is, part of me still wants to go back. The part of me that hung out with all those poets, and knew where West was ALL THE TIME. In Colorado, I had a life separate from the homeschooling and the kids and the housework. And I’m realizing now, that I have neglected that part of me during this long, long year in which we Moved Back East.

And maybe if I stop neglecting that part of me, I won’t feel that PULL anymore. That PULL to go back to the West where I knew who I was.

Because the truth is, it’s better for us here. The girls are happy. They’ve got loads of new friends, and almost too many things to do in any given week. And RegularDad’s job is good. And yes I’m happy here, I’m making friends too. I’ve got lots of homeschoolin’ mamas to hang out with and the family and the cousins are here, and It’s ALL GOOD.

But, it’s also incomplete. In some smallish big way. I MYSELF am still not settled here.

I guess I need to work on that.

Shit.

Buds and berries.

This isn’t the most spectacular picture I’ve ever taken, but I just love it anyway. There’s something about the color scheme that makes me want to sit down and drink tea and sketch things all day long.


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