Sunday, June 30, 2013

31 years of Ali-Cat

Alright, people, are you ready for this?  This is Catherine and Alison, through the ages.

Catherine and I have been friends since we were ten, in 1982.  In other words, we've been friends for 31 years.  We're together in Nashville this weekend, and we've decided to spend some time looking through old photo albums.  Here is a walk through our lives together.

We tried to find pictures featuring just the two of us, but this was the only one we could find from our first summer together, in 1982.  Catherine is at the head of the birthday table.  I'm the one on the far right.  I'm 9, and Catherine's just turning 10.  I'm sort of astonished by how cute we are.

Here we are in 1986, visiting Opryland with my family. We had bought the shirts we're wearing, and on the back of my shirt it says "Ali."  On the back of Catherine's shirt it says "Cat."  Get it?  Ali-Cat?  Oh, my god, we thought we were so cool!  And please check out our hair, and the fact that I'm wearing make-up.

Okay, this picture's unfair because it's just me, but I had to share it with y'all.  Here I am, trying to look sexy and adult.  I am 13 in this picture.  Now that it's 2013 and I am a sexy adult, I don't go about it this way at all.

This is 1989.  A lot had changed.  I actually like this picture--we were juniors in high school, and I'd become much more of the person that I am today (no poofy hair, no make-up, had read The Feminine Mystique, was radically opposed to environmental degradation).  Catherine, too, was becoming more of the person she is today--I remember her asking me lots of real questions and asking so attentively, so lovingly, to the answers.  

This one is from 1994.  We went to King's Island together in Cincinnati.  It was a rough weekend, in many ways.  Looking back, I think, what the hell were we doing?  But this picture documents our love for each other (and Catherine's loooong hair, and my huge glasses).

Myrtle Beach, 1999.  We wanted to do something before we started real life.  Catherine was about to start a new job in Nashville, and I'd just gotten married and finished my Ph.D.  Here we are in a photo booth, being goofy before our launch into a new kind of adulthood.

Catherine, Alison, and Maybelle
Here we are a decade later, real adults in every sense of the word.  Hello, Maybelle!  This was in 2009, when Maybelle was eight months old.  I have a picture of Catherine holding infant Maybelle, just a few days old, but not one of the two of us together at that time.  

And now to today (actually two days ago), in 2013.  Can you look at the girls in the first picture and see the two women here?  

I find myself wanting to make a list of the things we've been through in those 31 years, but the list would be radically insufficient. So let me just say that we've been through some incredibly wonderful things and some heavy, heavy shit--truly, some of the greatest joys and most profound sorrows that define a human existence--and we've been through it all together.

Look at this woman I have my arm around.  I'm so grateful that she's such a crucial, central part of my life, and has been for two thirds of the time I've been alive.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Road trip: hello, Tennessee!

Maybelle, Uncle Trey, Olivia, and I are in Tennessee!  I will have plenty of stories to tell from this trip, but let me start with the travel itself.  Uncle Trey, Maybelle, and I had about nine hours on the road on Thursday (in the world's largest SUV which my dad rented for us--that thing is so huge that I have to climb up into it).

Maybelle remains an excellent traveler.  Like, truly excellent.  That's really what this blog post is about.

For the first four hours of the trip, she did the following things:

  • Played with Lela and the girls, having them sing songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Oklahoma.  They spent quite a bit of time on "Jacob and Sons" (which isn't the name of the song, but that's how I remember it).
  • Read each of the books I brought along.  And read them.  I listened to her reading Listen to My Trumpet, a book I haven't read to her for several weeks.  She actually read the entire thing aloud, including all the wonderful sounds Piggie's trumpet makes.  This is a very good book--few words on the page so that Maybelle can follow along, but really cute and funny so that the adult enjoys it, too.  (Thank you, Amanda Hollinger, for this birthday present last August!)
  • Said "Mama!" occasionally, but wasn't requesting anything--just confirming that I was still up front.
  • Threw the girls on the floor and then said, "I want help, please!" to get me to pick them up.
Then after lunch, I was in the back seat with her so that Olivia and Trey could be in the front seats.  Maybelle remained an excellent traveler, but for the last five hours this required a tiny bit more effort on my part.  We did some little things to entertain her, like playing the soundtrack to Mary Poppins.  And then I had to do things that were a bit more labor intensive.  For instance:
  • I played "gimme five" with her for an hour.  That's not an exaggeration.  Here's how the game works:  I say, "Gimme five!" and she does it.  Then she flips her hand over and I give her five.  Then we both scream, "Right on!"
  • I sometimes switched this off with a new game she thinks is hilarious, the "Gimme five--too slow!" game, where I pull my hand away as hers is coming down.  This game doesn't get old to her.  She yells, "Too slow!" and laughs and laughs.
  • And then we had probably thirty minutes, interspersed in the "gimme five" games, of "This little piggie."
As these back seat activities were happening, adult conversation was going on up front.  Sometimes I wanted to be involved, but I'd have to make my comments in between the "right on!" and the next "gimme five!"

I never had to pull my computer out and play DVDs for Maybelle.  She never threw a fit.  She announced when she needed to potty, and we'd stop and I'd escort her into whatever bathroom we found.  Only one time was that a repulsive experience--we were in the middle of nowhere, and she said, pretty intensely, "Potty!  Pee in the potty!"  I encouraged her to hold it, that we would find something.  Hold it!  Hold it!  She did.  And what we found was a truck stop that was...icky.  She peed a lot, and then we scrubbed our hands and arms quite aggressively.

Trey wouldn't even come inside.  That's how unwelcoming the place was.  But when you're holding the hand of a four year old and looking desperately for the restroom sign, people are generally accommodating. 

A long but successful road trip.  All day, Maybelle was saying things like, "First yogurt, then Nonni and Poppi's house."  And when we got to my parents' house, she was delighted.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Field trip to the Charleston Aquarium

Today Maybelle's class took a field trip to the Charleston Aquarium.  For a class of 12 kids, I was one of eight parents who were chaperoning. Plus four staffers.  Honestly, we needed that many adults. The kids loved it and were excited the full time we were there.

Maybelle had never ridden a Charleston "bus-trolley" (as the kids called it) before, and this is how she felt about it.  Bus-trolley = big life event.

She told me ahead of time that the thing she wanted to see was starfish, and there were a couple in this touch tank.  I managed to get a picture of her looking interested, but she actually wasn't.  She made no effort to touch any of the fish or crabs in the touch tank, even though she was allowed to.

I kept taking pictures, and she wanted in on the action.  She loves a self-portrait

Okay, so this really was her favorite thing at the aquarium:  it's this big tank of silver fish.  There is one huge, huge tank in the middle of the aquarium--it has an assortment of amazing fish that are as big as the kids in Maybelle's class, sharks, sea turtles, etc--but she didn't care for that.  This tank, though, she loved.  The fish were all the same kind, and all shining silver.  The tank had a current, so they were all swimming together.  If you bumped the tank, or waved your hand quickly in front of it, they'd change directions all together.  The school of fish is a pretty cool thing. She stood there and watched it quite a while, until we had to move along with the rest of the kids from her class.

What kind of fish are they?  You know, it would have been good for me to look and make this an educational moment, but I didn't.

And as the morning at the aquarium ended, I saw more and more of this scenario.  Here's the conversation that accompanies this picture:
Maybelle:  "Carry you!"
Alison:  "Full sentence, please."
Maybelle:  "I want carry you, please."
Maybelle wasn't the only exhausted kid--they were all either giddy or silent on the bus ride back to school.  All in all, a very good field trip.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A fantastic booklet that YOU can support! You have ONE WEEK!

Please read this post with the understanding that you have one week to help support a cause I passionately believe in.

Understanding a Down Syndrome Diagnosis is an absolutely excellent booklet for pregnant women (and their partners) who've learned that the fetus they're carrying has Down syndrome.  It's excellent for a number of reasons:
  • It has pictures that are not just beautiful--they're humanizing.  This is a big deal.  Many, many publications about Down syndrome show the person with Down syndrome as a kind of freak show character, like, "Look at these terrible defects!  Weird eyes!  Space between the first and second toe!  A line on the hand!  OMG!"  Understanding a Down Syndrome Diagnosis shows kids and teens with Down syndrome doing the things they do in their lives:  coloring with a friend, waiting for their turn in dance class, working at the hospital, riding bikes.  I love the pictures in this booklet.
  • The information they provide about Down syndrome isn't frightening.  It's balanced--accurate, and they don't lead with the typical list of "Here are all the possible things that could go wrong."  We all know that if we're pregnant and are told all the possible things that could go wrong in the life of the fetus, we will be truly frightened.  Lots of things could go wrong with any of us.  That's not what defines us, though.
  • For instance, the first page of the booklet says, "The range of medical conditions and abilities can range widely for people with Down syndrome.  Therefore, each person with Down syndrome has his or her own strengths and weaknesses that no one can predict before birth."
  • The booklet acknowledges that abortion is an option.  Many booklets provided by organizations focused on Down syndrome refuse to acknowledge abortion--and by refusing to acknowledge it, they alienate many of their readers, as well as alienating the medical providers whose help they need to share the booklet.  Plus, let's all recognize that women have control over their own reproductive decision-making. Abortion is the right decision for some women.  Period.
  • The book provides recent research and excellent information (in English and Spanish) about how much the meaning of Down syndrome has changed in recent years.  For instance, "It is becoming more and more common to see adults with Down syndrome attending college, living independently, getting married, and working in the community as professionals such as teaching and medical assistants, artists, and musicians."  Hell, yeah.
I love this booklet.  I love Stephanie Meredith, who is the heart and soul of this project (and who will appear in my book).  I want each of you to support Lettercase, which produces this booklet and distributes it--for free--to people who've just learned that their fetus has Down syndrome.

So here's the point of this blog post:

(Not a picture from Understanding a Down Syndrome Diagnosis.)
This week, a purchase from Sevenly will provide a booklet. You buy one t-shirt, they're able to give one booklet.  And look how great the shirts are!

Advances in prenatal testing over the past year mean that more and more pregnant women are learning that their fetus has Down syndrome.  And yet most OB/GYNs--who are the ones telling expectant parents what's up--receive little to no training about Down syndrome, and the majority of pregnant women say they don't receive the information they need to understand what Down syndrome is.

You all know how important it is to me that we recognize Down syndrome as a valuable kind of human diversity--not a "defect" or "disease."  This booklet does that.  It provides the kind of information that can help cut through the stereotypes that define many people's understanding of Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.  It would have made a difference to me if I'd had this booklet when we first learned that the fetus might have Down syndrome.  In fact, it would have made a difference to me after Maybelle was born!  I love looking at it now--I'm having a great time flipping through it as I'm writing this blog post.  I should send it to my parents.

Go buy a shirt from Sevenly!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Not a fraud as a parent

My adrenaline level on a typical day, when nothing big is going on, is probably a tad higher than the average person's.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I kind of like it.  I like being revved up, being easily excitable, ready at a moment's notice to respond to an appalling situation or to have a dance party.

It also means, though, that I have a tendency toward anxiety.  Perhaps "a tendency" is a mild way of putting it.  I often have an inner anxious voice responding to things in my life.  Catherine calls this the VOJ:  voice of judgment.  It's a voice that's attempting to be protective but isn't actually reasonable, evidence-based, or functional.

I've had a number of individuals in my life--both paid professionals and outstanding friends--helping me to recognize and let go of this anxious voice.

One version of the VOJ says that I'm a fraud in lots of realms.  It's a voice that I encountered quite a bit in graduate school ("Everyone thinks I'm a competent graduate student, but they haven't recognized yet that it's all a performance!").  It became somewhat less compelling after I got the Ph.D. ("It may all be a performance, but everything I don't know is, by definition, something that someone with a Ph.D. is allowed not to know!")  And it became significantly less compelling once I got tenure and had several things published.  It began to seem that I did have thoughts that were interesting, performance or not.

But the VOJ emerges in other realms.  For instance, I'm sometimes willing to believe that my parenting is a fraud, that things are going so well because of luck or other people, or because Maybelle's just fantastic (the last item on the list is, of course, true).

Here's an example:  I lost Maybelle's glasses on Sunday.  She and I had biked to the big fountain downtown that people can play in.  The day was hot, the fountain was full of kids, and Maybelle was delighted to be in the water.  She very responsibly took her glasses off and put them on the stone wall near the fountain before she ran into the water.  I then picked them up and hung them from the neck of my t-shirt.

Maybelle and I walked, she splashed and played, I sweated, and finally it was time to go home.  At which point I reached for her glasses so that she could wear them...and discovered they weren't there.

I tried searching, but it's tough looking for wire-rimmed glasses in the midst of a thousand happily screaming kids, while holding your daughter's hand.  So we biked home with no glasses.  I went later and looked again, but with no success.

Glasses lost.  Parental fraud.

Now, I get that I'm not actually a parental fraud.  I do have a cognitive awareness that losing your child's glasses is irritating, but not evidence of failure or disaster.  It's irritating!  That's it!  So don't feel that you have to leave comments assuring me of my competence.

Let me move along with this story:  Maybelle loves her glasses.  She likes to put them on first thing in the morning.  "Glasses!" she said yesterday morning.  "Help!"

So yesterday I searched the house and found a spare pair of glasses that were identical to the ones I lost, except they were missing the nosepieces.  I took them to two different glasses shops yesterday, and two different people wrestled with them and tried to pry a broken screw out of one side so that they could put new nosepieces on.  No luck.

So I bought Krazy Glue, sliced up a squishy foam ear plug, and glued the tiny soft bits to the nosepiece holders:

I am either a terrible glasses repair-person or a genius.

And who is now wearing glasses, repaired by her fantastically competent mother?

Glasses repair in action
Yes, that would be Maybelle.  These glasses are comfortable, and she's happy to be wearing them.

And for those of you who think that this might not be the world's greatest glasses repair (ahem, Kevin O'Mara), rest assured that I called her ophthalmologist's office today, got her prescription faxed to the glasses place, and they are putting together a replica of the pair of glasses that I lost.

Not a fraud as a parent!  Hurray!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sexy Siren Aerobics

If you think me laughing is incredibly sexy, then you would love this class.

For an hour tonight, I took part in a Sexy Sirens Aerobics class at a dance studio a couple of blocks from my house, a class I was invited to by one of my students.  There were about a dozen women in the room, plus the teacher.

I haven't been to a dance class since I was an undergraduate (back then I took modern, jazz, ballet, and a couple of semesters of West African dance).  Since then it's mostly been yoga.  And in yoga classrooms, you don't usually have mirrors.  In dance classes, though, the front wall is covered with mirrors so that you can see everything you're doing.

That, of course, is what inspired me to laugh so much.

The dancing was fast--arms here, here, here, throw your head back, swivel your hips, pound the floor, pound pound!--with moments of slowness, most of which involved caressing various parts of your torso or biting your finger.  The teacher in the front of the class actually looked like a professional performer.  She'd toss her body around effortlessly.  Then it was our turn, and I was sort of astonished:  my body won't do that!  Wait, what?  What?  Trying to copy the teacher, I would look at her body, then mine, and realize I wasn't doing what she was doing at all.

And then I would giggle, inspiring my student to encourage and reassure me.  "You look great!" she'd say.  I had to tell her several times that the laughter wasn't a sign of distress.  It was a sign that I was having a good time.

I've often mentioned the benefits of being in my 40s, and one of the benefits is that throwing myself around in a room full of other women who are trying to capture a sexy spirit is a lot of fun, even if I don't know what I'm doing.  I feel very little shame these days.  In this class I was able to capture the what the hell spirit that I think defines much of my life right now.

And I'll offer just the tiniest bit of analysis here:  the room was full of women of different shapes and sizes, and I appreciated that.  I wasn't the oldest woman in the room--another good thing.  And on the whole the teacher framed the class as one that was allowing the women in the room to feel sexy rather than looking sexy.  I'm not sure I fully believe that, but I appreciated the effort.  There was only one heteronormative comment (when she noted that if you slowly drag your hand up your body and put your finger in your mouth, a guy will keep watching).  Better than I expected.

I wore the ultimate sexy outfit:  leggings and a tshirt from Early Bird Diner.  As Amber observed as I was leaving for the class, "Nothing says 'sexy' like fried chicken."  So true.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The weekend with Maybelle

Maybelle and I had an excellent weekend together, which included leisurely mornings, few planned events, and exceptionally hot weather (okay, so that wasn't one of the excellent parts--but it made coming back home into the air conditioning quite pleasant).

At the Farmer's Market
On Saturday we went to the downtown Farmer's Market, a normally large event which was huge because it's Spoleto time in Charleston.  All of Marion Square Park was filled with food vendors, artists, jump castles, musicians, and dogs on leashes. And there were some guys who'd laid vinyl flooring on the sidewalk and were breaking (I just learned through a web search that "breakdancing" is an inappropriate term, so I'm adopting the preferred term--breaking).  The dancers were just wonderful--they did amazing things that were hard to imagine, and they were obviously having a great time, laughing with each other, even laughing while they were dancing.  Maybelle loved it.  Here you can see her watching attentively. We stayed there for a long time because she was engrossed.

And then she decided it was her turn.  She ran out onto the dance floor.  I leapt to my feet.  "No, no, baby!" I said, reaching between the dancers to grab her.  "We're watching, we're not dancing."

"No!" the guys immediately said.  "Let her dance!"

And lord have mercy, she did.  She ran around the dance area in a bouncy way, arms in the air, while the crowd clapped for her.  And then she threw her body down onto the vinyl, not unlike the way the guy is doing it in this picture.  She wasn't just begging for attention (although clearly that's a big part of what she was doing).  She was also breaking!  The crowd went wild, as did the dancers.

Then I successfully got her off the dance floor with no temper tantrums thrown.  I'd already planned to enroll her in a dance class in the fall, and I think now I'm going to look for something like breaking in addition to the modern dance I'd already planned to find.

That's not all the performing Maybelle did this weekend.  While she was eating waffles at the house one morning, I decided to try to get her on video performing one of the songs that's currently a favorite:  Toby Keith's "Who's Your Daddy?"  This song is pretty wretchedly patriarchal.  And yet it's great to dance to.  I pick Maybelle up, and we do a version of the two step, and she's learned virtually the entire song.  Here she's singing:
You run on a little tough luck, baby.
Don't you sweat it.
Everything is waiting inside for you.
You know I got it.  Come on and get it!
Who's your daddy, who's your baby?
Who's your buddy, yeah who's your friend?
Who's the one guy that you come running to
When your love life starts tumbling?
I got the money, you got the honey,
Let's cut a deal, let's make a plan.
Who's your daddy, who's your baby?
Who's your buddy, who's your mmmmmman?
Please excuse the syrup dripping off her chin, and her runny nose, and all the various kinds of goo stuck to her face.  This is an enthusiastic rendition of this song, and she got cleaned up later.

Maybelle as Toby Keith from Maybelle on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Rock on!

Be prepared for a couple of quick blog posts this weekend.

Last week Claire and I attended a fundraiser for Girls Rock Charleston, a local nonprofit that I personally love love love, in part because of the respect I have for the folks running it (and I respect them so much because so many of them have been among my very favorite students over the years).

The event was a lot of fun--a silent auction, a live auction, food and drink, and loads of cool people.

And one of my favorite parts:  the photo area.  You could pose with a variety of props.  Claire and I made the obvious choice:  the microphone and the rainbow unicorn.  And then we rocked out, with no shame whatsoever (as I've often said, this is one benefit of being in my 40s:  so little shame remains!)

Rock on

Rock on 2

Don't we look like rock stars? And rainbow unicorn lovers?