Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dangerous love

I know our cat loves us. Or at least, I think she does.

She watches our every move. She has a sixth sense that alerts her the moment we awaken, or the instant we step foot in the kitchen.

She is there. Watching.

It's not as creepy as it sounds. Or maybe it is, who am I kidding?

It's a love, I must admit, that feels a little dangerous.

She's always one step ahead. Literally. A step slower and she'd trip me on the stairs. Every. Time.
It's like she's programmed to overlap my territory.

Instead of lazing in the sun, or curling up in a cardboard box like other cats are reported to do, our cat seems to only bask in the warmth of my immediate departure.

For instance:
Any given dinner time I'll get up from my place setting, walk into the kitchen, grab the milk from the fridge and walk back into the dining room and my chair will be filled with cat.

It takes exactly 8.50 seconds. (I know because the boy pick-pocketed my iPhone and timed me.)
But I can only guess that it takes the cat just a fraction of My-Own-Dinner-Is-Getting-Cold speed to commandeer my chair at the table.

And there she'll sit, a black shadow, low on her haunches, not disturbed in the least by my return.
Nary a sound will she make as I unknowingly move to sit down, only to ricochet back to standing with all the finesse of a bull in a china shop.

Jump in my grave, why don't you,” I holler, just as my mother would have given the circumstances. The room explodes in giggles as the show begins. Of course, the cat won't budge.

My family can barely contain their amusement as I try everything from tipping to telepathy to get the cat to vamoose and let me eat in peace. Eventually, I have no choice but to pick up her small-dog-sized frame and move her to another piece of recently vacated furniture. Maybe the dog bed is still warm. ...
I'm not complaining, really.

She's a good pet for an animal who can't be trained, won't be contained and doesn't answer to her name.

She's friendly and affectionate. Loving, even when it's probably not in her best interest. If I were her I would have sliced the resident ambushing dog to ribbons by now, but she just waits out the dopey affection and walks away with drool-covered fur. Not even a hiss.

I would have mapped out hiding spots and been in them whenever the stampeding of little feet headed my way. She doesn't even blink when the bag of doll clothes gets up-zipped. Maybe she thinks she looks pretty in a bonnet, who knows? You'd think she was declawed.

At least that's what people tell me when they visit. (They usually tell their kids: “Don't go trying this on your cat at home.”)

Of course, she's not totally an alien creature.

She'll play with string, chase her tail, and, in springtime, she'll bring us the catch of the day. Leaving some poor, hapless rodent gutted on the porch for us to find.

New theories of cat fancy tell me this garish morsel is not the thoughtful gift we accepted it to be. She is not repaying our kind offerings of Fancy Feast with a headless mole or an eviscerated snake. She is the mother huntress and we are her idiot kittens, albeit huge and relatively hairless ones. She's training us to hunt.

And that kneading business? Turns out her obsessive need to knead me in the middle of the night, circle around and sleep in the middle of my back, may have nothing to do with her vague memory of kittenhood or the pleasures of a warm mommy. She's just marking her territory with the scent glands on the bottoms of her paws.

But I can hear in the velvet flutter of her purr that I am more than just her pillow.

Try not to wake me when you lose all feeling in your lower extremities, human. Unless you are getting my breakfast. … Then do be careful on the stairs.”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

From parity to parody, and the inside joke

No matter which statistic you'd like to take as fact, the gender wage gap is shrinking. The only question is when, if ever, will it achieve parity?

The White House says for every dollar a man makes a woman makes 77 cents.

According to Pew Research Center, women earn about 84 percent of what their male counterparts make and younger women are expected to earn 93 percent.

If you can believe that.

For sure, it's a difficult concept to wrap one's head around. Since 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act, which stipulates employers cannot discriminate between employees based on gender, folks have been trying to figure out what – exactly – parity should look like.

Some will argue that we're not really tabulating comparable jobs. How can we ever find fairness if we have to take into account that women suspend their careers an average of three years to tend to the business of life and family.

It has been estimated that women generally earn $400,000 less than their male counterparts during the course of their careers. But are we really comparing apples and apples or are we comparing astronauts and airline attendants?

That's so sexist, you say. I just shrug my shoulders.

I know what it's like to go to college, work for a few years, gain experience, earn a couple of dollars in raises and then find out, over after-work drinks that newly hired male coworker, without any experience or college education earned .50 less per hour than I did, and $2 more than the college-educated, non-experienced woman I had recommended for hire three months earlier.

And the kicker? When I asked my boss about the disparity, It was I who had broken the sacred trust of wage secrecy.

Which, in my opinion, was the kiss of death to any hope of equal pay for equal work.
“The world is crazy,” my mom would say. “People talk about sex until they're blue in the face, but money? It's taboo.”

In the late 1960s, when my parents were starting down their separate career paths – mom a registered nurse, and dad a craftsman for AT&T Long Lines – they made the exact same salary. For a time their wages even stayed in lock-step.

Before they married, my mom had bought her mother a house, her brother a car, and she had helped her sister pay for college. She was a genius at finance. She could save a fortune without seeming to have pinched a penny.

My dad's money, on the other hand, burned a hole in his pocket.

By the time they married, she had paid his (minor) debts, taken over the family finances and everyone was happy.

By the late 1970s, her wages had stagnated while his had risen steadily. She ended up staying home with the kids, working only sporadically and always part-time.

Yet, if someone were analyzing how mom's stewardship of the bank accounts contributed to the family's overall wealth, they'd likely find she was the engine that not only could, but did.

My mom was always more of a Suze Ormon type than a Gloria Steinem, though.

She didn't see herself as the victim of a gender gap, certainly not in the same way my generation views this divide.

She made wage parity. We've made wage parodies.

Without being able to talk about money, what we end up with is an inside joke.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

An exhibition at the exhibition

Taking kids on a family outing to an art museum is fun.

No. Strike that. It's more than fun, it's an adventure.

But there are a few things you should know.

First, be aware that when you make an executive decision to forgo the usual tennis match of fun activities you could be doing today (but won't be doing because, as it turns out, the argument IS the activity) and tell the kids WE'RE GOING TO AN ART MUSEUM, there will be tears.

Big, fat, you-might-as-well-have-shipped-our-dog-to-A FARM IN THE COUNTRY-type tears.

They might even go boneless and refuse to put on pants. Who knows?

Persevere. Culture and broadened horizons are worth the donning of pants.

You might get around this little road block by offering to let your kids each take a friend with them to the museum.

Don't think of it as your children having partners in crime, think of it as them having moral support.

They will each have a compadre with whom they can explore contemporary expressions of existentialism as well as play hide-and-seek in the coat room.

Note to future self: It may be a good idea to steer clear of the coin-operated lockers, or at least demand to be the holder of the dayglow orange key. You will thank me for avoiding that frantic (and ultimately fruitless) end-of-adventure key hunt, not to mention having to explain to two different sets of families how it was you managed to lose their children's jackets.

It may be also comforting to know that security professionals LOVE children.
They follow their every move.

Nothing gets their attention faster than a first-grader running at breakneck speed toward an irreplaceable piece of art or history.

And we are the careful parents.

Aside from wrapping our kids in padding and attaching them to harnesses with bungee cords, we've prepped them for every manner of temptation.

Do not run. Do not jump.

Do not touch. Anything.

Don't even think about touching. Anything.

Even if they tell you you can touch something, pretend it will give you a shock. ...

And don't pick your nose. Even if you think no one is looking.

Note to future musem-going self: There is a reason children give you the stink-eye when you tell them they will have fun at the museum despite the fact that they can't act like children there.

Moving on.

If you can manage it, you might want to follow a tour.

I'm telling you it will be a hoot when your guide walks you through the complexities of German Fluxist Joseph Beuy's “Lightning with Stag in its Glare,” describing in detail the features of the piece and how they relate to the artist's obsession with the primal, elemental world … with the exception of the one (and only) detail my son was so eager to point out:

“It looks like poop.”

Moving on …

But not too far … because when you turn around to clamp your hand over your kid's mouth, the docent will notice something peculiar about you.

Something the ticket seller … and the bathroom attendant … and dozen or so security guards prior to this very moment had somehow overlooked.

“Is that a backpack?”

“Uh … I suppose it is,” I answered thinking about the nylon drawstring bag containing all my worldly possessions: a credit card, wet wipes and a package of fruit snacks.

“How did you get that in here? You can't have a backpack in the gallery. Handbags only.”

She was kindly, though, and her words were not in any way as accusing as the voice in my head was translating.

I turn, red-faced, to notice all the gentile women gliding about the gallery encumbered with briefcase-sized shoulder bags but unencumbered by knee-high sprogs, but I said nothing.

All I could think about was how was I going to corral the cats without stepping foot into the space where they had dispersed.

“I'll tell you what … I'll carry the bag over one shoulder and we'll call it a shoulder bag.”

What were they going to say? “Go stow the bag in a locker, I'll herd your cats?”

Nope … it's more like:
“How about you get the kids and go stow the bag in a locker.”

Moving on ...

Of course, there are things you can do to alleviate your embarrassment.

You can drink.

Oh, settle down. I'm kidding.

You can't drink. You have to drive later … that is if you can find the locker key your son insisted on keeping in sweaty, art destroying hands.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Common discord

I understood the words printed on the torn newsprint worksheet that came home from my son's first-grade classroom, but compiled into directions they confounded me:

“Put the items into a number sentence with the longest item first.”

Under the words -- which were growing more meaningless by the minute -- there were three line drawings of various tools. Pictured were a screwdriver; a pencil; and a tube of lipgloss, which had the words “glue stick” printed on its side.

And then there was this:
A. ____________________________
B. ____________________________
C. ____________________________

I was lost.

Were they being literal? Did they want us to cut out the pictures and paste them onto a line?

Maybe they wanted us to measure the pictures and incorporate the measurements into a haiku.
Perhaps we are supposed to get a real screwdriver, measure it and then sharpen a pencil until it is smaller than our screwdriver but longer than a lipgloss (as it so happens, we are fresh out of glue sticks) and then write all of those figures down in alphabetical order.

No. They didn't say we'd need a ruler for this exercise.

Wait! What's the mathematical equation for “screwdriver” again?

I scratch my head and start to hyperventilate as my son looks on, unperturbed.

He hasn't mastered reading directions in the same way the test prep people haven't mastered writing directions, so it seems they are evenly matched.

Or more likely, it's his teacher who has helped him interpret this strange new choreography.

“I'm just going to draw pictures. Longest first ... Shortest last,” he says, matter-of-factly.

Everyone has to have standards, I suppose.

At least that's what I tell myself every time my social network lights up with 140-character assassinations of this latest education reform we all know as Common Core.

I don't disagree, but I don't agree completely either.

Not that I'm a scientist. Or a sociologist. Or a teacher. Or an expert on anything, with the exception of the face my kid makes when I give him the elbow-kind of noodles instead of the shell-shaped ones in his macaroni and cheese.

I am an expert on that expression.

Which may explain why I haven't gotten too worked up over the latest incarnation of Education ReformTM.

I'm certain Scott Foresman and his descendants have been irritating parents, one torn-out worksheet at a time, since the late 1800s.

And I'm sure my father wasn't the first person in the history of education to complain to a third grade teacher that creative spelling isn't going to make human communication any easier in the long run.

The experts are always changing their minds.

It's a slippery slope.

I don't want to roll my eyes every time someone I love comes and tells me the latest research on coffee and apple cider vinegar being the cure for whatever ails. Or that Singapore math is better than any other methodology.

Not that I don't want to believe the scientific double-blind study of 164 randomly sampled people from Scandinavia.

I know being skeptical of science is likely to spin out of control. Who's to know which among us will end up on a Fox news camera talking about how Global Warming isn't really a thing or that Intelligent Design is definitely a thing …

You know …

Because winter is persisting. … 

And humans can't be happenstance. … 

And kids shouldn't be ready for college right out of kindergarten. 

… Or what happens to the kids who will never be ready for college?

It all boils down to the fear of the unknown, I think.

Fear that we aren't prepared for the future. Fear that we can't prepare for the future. Fear that our children will be the ones left behind because everything is different now.

But I can't help thinking things are always going to be different. And school is the textbook equivalent of a single page torn from the workbook of life. We can only prepare so much for a future that is always changing. Eventually we just have to react or adapt.

Maybe we should be taking great comfort in knowing that even if our kids can't string a few words together into a cogent math sentence, they won't be precluded from shaping the next great educational reform.