Monday, December 28, 2009

Dressing Like Ladies

Piper: Pumpkin likes to kiss Ching Pao (this is in reference to two of Piper's stuffed cats).
Umberto: Aren't they both boys?
Piper: Yeah. But sometimes at night Pumpkin likes to dress up like a lady and kiss boys.

All said very loudly at Sub Station II.


Sometimes FB has its uses. I discovered last night my mentor, my friend, my hands down favorite professor died on December 26th. I had not spoken to her in many years. For numerous reasons an awkwardness had developed between us. But that did nothing to dampen my own feeling of love for Alice.

Alice was a magnificent presence. There are many people, too many as I get older, whom I have a hard time picturing without photos. But Alice is etched into my head. I can close my eyes, and see her standing outside whatever building she's teaching in, often with a gray cloak or sweater wrapped around her short, plump body. Her big old fashion glasses framing piercing eyes that knew how to pin an obnoxious student with one glare. She often wore long simple skirts, wool socks, chunky shoes. Her hair was gray, cut into a page boy. It doesn't sound like anything memorable but she was. She'd look at me and say in her husky voice "Let's have a fag." And then she's pull out her Benson & Hedges and scrounge around her entourage for a light. It always reminded me of one of those old 40s movies, the way we all scrambled to be the one who lit her cigarette.

In the classroom was where the magnificence really shown. I remember when we were reading Beowulf, and she fell backwards onto the desk at the front of the room in a swoon over the language. There was an uncomfortable laughter but from those of us who often swooned over language it was a permission to be in love with text. Alice's love, her passion, for literature came with her everyday to the classroom. This is a woman who taught for many years. This passion never dimmed in the entire time I was privileged to know her. She tolerated no disrespect for the literature, herself or her students. She did not know any trendy educational methods, and when she learned of them she scoffed. I am sure that her teaching methods were utterly boring to many students who took her classes but for me, and for many others, her teaching was an inspiration.

Alice had no tolerance for fools or complainers. She was by no means unsympathetic. She herself was the daughter of a working class man, and she brought compassion to her teaching. But she expected hard work and thought from her students. What this meant for me was someone who pushed me but who also encouraged me. Anyone who received one of Alice's typewritten notes knows what I mean. Often I received a little note stapled onto a paper, or slipped into a book. She would tell me what I was doing right, and offer pointers in what I could do better. I learned to read because of Alice. Really read. And I learned to not be ashamed of my words, my thoughts, or the excitement I felt when reading an excellent novel. Alice defended me, nurtured me, berated me.

She wasn't perfect which no doubt was part of her inestimable charm. She hated new things. Refused to touch a computer. Didn't like much literature written after Joyce. Was a total Anglophile with a sharp dislike of literature outside of that canon. She and I had one of our sharpest disagreements over the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. I defended the novel against her attacks, and she finally snarled at me "Why don't you just read a book about butterflies." She hated feminism (even though I'd argue she was quite the feminist), and was not overly thrilled about my "defection" to religious studies. She had sharp criticism for those she deemed unworthy. She was often a sarcastic bitch in the classroom, and the sting of her tongue left many in tears (we became friends after she tried this method on me and I lashed back). Sometimes she was fickle. It was easy to fall out of her graces, and painful. She was uncomfortable with me as mother, and the last time I was with her was an uncomfortable dinner with U who was about one at the time. Her distinct disapproval of how I parented was apparent, and she ended up snubbing me for much of the night. It hurt but I loved Alice, and love stands those moments.

I hold all these memories of Alice. I don't just wish to remember her as the good, wise woman. She was more than this. She was not a character in a literary novel. As she often reminded her students, life is not literature. She was human, fallible with magnificent talents and faults. She lived too grandly to have minor faults. Her gift of friendship to me has left it's mark. I am a Bloom student. Her support of both my professional and personal life kept me going when I wanted to quit. I enjoyed lunches at her house in her wild English garden. I met her husband and her children. I enjoyed glasses of wine with her and her stories. I cherished those type-written letters, and the little gifts she offered me. And when it ended, as it should, I took away much more than I lost.

One day Alice and I were talking in the courtyard at UMF, inhaling our fags. We talking about teaching, literature, people we knew. It was a few days after a rather strange evening, the beginning of our distance. She had already forbidden me from taking any more classes with her ("I have nothing left to give you."). Any time I spent with her was now a treat laced with sadness. She looked at me after a few minutes of chatter. It was the look she gave when she had something big to say. "You remember in Beowulf after Beowulf defeats the monster?" (I always loved the way she said "the monster" in reference to Grendel....with a hint of malice and evil in her voice). I nodded. "What does Hrothgar give Beowulf." I had to think for a moment "Treasures, " I remember. "Yes," she said, "but there is something more important. Does he offer Beowulf a place to live?" "No," I answered laughing. "No!" she spits, "He gives him horses so that he'll get the hell out of there. He's not going to risk his throne to a young man. He gives horses so that he can leave." She's quiet again, and then she looks at me, and this time is gaze is as piercing but it's sad, "This is what a good teacher gives their students, horses." And with that she threw her cigarette down.

Thank you Alice for the horse. It's carried me far away but never too far to forget.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's True

I have neglected my poor blog and her little audience. I need to redo that commitment to write everyday for a month. Perhaps in January. I do miss writing here, and I know that the act of writing keeps me sharp both mentally and in terms of writing skills. I know this is something I need to maintain in order to complete my Ph.D. But...well I became readdicted to knitting. It's the knittings fault.

I'm a very tactile person and knitting appeals to that in well as my sad undeveloped artistic sense. I love hanging out in knitting stores, not actually buying anything, just lusting after the rows and rows of colors, textures, variety. Of course what's amusing is that I often buy skeins only to have them sit because I don't want to use them. They're almost too pretty. This was the case with two skeins of Italian ribbon yarn I bought on sale. They sat in my basket for over two years. Seriously. I'd look at them often, and imagine what they could be but could never quite bare to actually use them. I was afraid that my paltry skills would create something not worthy of such beautiful yarn.

In fact, my fear of being less than perfect is what lead to two years of having yarn sitting about but me doing nothing with it. This fall, I finally, decided to just knit, regardless of the consequences. I made a couple of very simple scarves for the girls. They were okay. Nothing spectacular but the girls liked them and they didn't look horrible. And me being who I am, I jumped into some deep knitting with an "easy" lace pattern baby blanket. Initially it didn't look too bad. I could see my mistakes but to H's untrained eye, it looked great. However as the weeks went by, the bottom started to swirl out like a skirt. At first, I just attributed this to it needing to be blocked but then it occurred to me that I had some how dropped a lot of stitches and the bottom was much longer than the top. I finished it then, and gave it to the girls for their stuffies. Now I'm finishing up the world's biggest scarf for H, and I just finished up two purses from that lovely ribbon yarn for the girls. The purses were my own design (very simple as befits such a luxurious yarn) and I'm proud of them. Next on my project list are a papoose, a kimono type sweater, and a hat for the baby, a scarf for Umberto, and hats for the whole family. I'm going to try socks soon.

As for other news, I am hugely pregnant. My plans to keep thin with a tiny cute belly blew up...literally. The blueberry kicks a great deal now to the point of hurting me sometimes. We are highly anticipating our water birth even though our insurance is threatening to not cover much of the expense. But I can't imagine giving a hospital birth at this point, and we'll eek out the money somehow.

Umberto had his EEG and his MRI. We won't know the results until Thursday. I'll update on his blog at that point.

We brought home a little something extra with our xmas tree. The place we were always buy our trees was offering free kittens. The kids fell in love with an almost pure black kitten with a little white spot on his chest. We caved to their pleas so now we have a new member to our family. It's nice having a cat again.
We had a simple Christmas this year. We decided to not buy nearly as much, and while we didn't get that same level of giddiness with the kids that we've gotten before, we did get kids who were ultimately much more satisfied with what they did get. In addition, we got toys we thought they'd all use, and that's been true so far. We'll definitely being doing more of this as the years pass. I don't see the point in going broke to accumulate more stuff that none of us really need. I know that Umberto felt it a bit more than the girls did. His friends were all getting Wiis, I-pods, etc. and he is old enough to feel that pain of why not me. We pointed out that he did get an X-box in September as an early gift, and we also pointed out that with the money we saved from buying too much stuff we can do things like get treats at Amelies (a French bakery in our neighborhood), go to B &N, go on small trips, etc. He was able to see that and accept it.
Happy Holidays everyone. I'll be posting a bunch of pictures later one, and will likely resume my one post a day in January so stay tuned....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Back and Forth

Our big news this semester is that we pulled the kids out of school at the end of October. Again. I know, I know. Initially it seemed like things were going great. For the first month, there were no mornings fights about getting ready. The kids went to be fairly easily. They talked about school, seemed to be making advances, etc, etc. I hated it. I hated the schedule. I hated not being able to do anything unless it revolved around their school was made doubly harder by being pregnant but they were happy so I dealt with it.

Then things started to slowly turn back into what we had experienced before. Umberto complained bitterly every morning. He was starting to talk about not being able to do the work, and it was apparent that he was falling behind and that his esteem was suffering. Camille was starting to act out again, hitting Piper being rude and having emotional outbursts with us. And it was a lot to deal with coupled with a four year old and a pregnant body. I appreciated their teachers' efforts but the reality was that the kids, both of them, needed a lot more one on one. Something that is pretty much impossible in most class rooms. H and I talked about it a great deal. I talked to my mom about (she had them on Tuesday and Thursdays). Both were counseling me to pull them out which was a big deal. Neither of them had really been 100% behind the homeschooling so for them to say "Pull them out" told me that my instinct wasn't off.

And fueling much of these thoughts was the fact that I missed them. When I had them home in the Spring I was going through some stuff. I was influenced by some people that I think really thought that kids should be out of sight for most of the time. They made snide comments frequently about how we spend so much time with our kids. They certainly thought homeschooling was crazy and one of them made many comments about how lazy homeschooling mothers were. It's hard to home school when that is your support system. It made me doubt my choices. And I wasn't doing much with them! I was so wrapped up in myself and not fully in a good way. Yes I was finishing up a thesis which was a big deal but I was also spending hours on Facebook.

We decided to pull them out at the end of the year. We were hoping Umberto would start reading at that point. But he continued to not only not read but to actually digress. And then my friend, M, started up our old group. We skipped school a couple of times to go hang out with our homeschooling friends. One time we went to the pumpkin farm. The kids had a lovely time. Umberto ran with his old friends, laughing and happy. Camille followed M's oldest daughter around, and played with the animals. They were joyful and carefree in a way I hadn't seen in a long time. At the end of the day as we driving home, Camille said to me "That was the best day EVER!" And i knew that we had to go back to this lifestyle. That it wasn't just me that yearned for those unstructured days. It was the kids.

At the end of October we pulled them out. It was the best decision we made. Umberto's reading has improved dramatically in the last few weeks. His love of books had returned. We spend hours reading chapter books together. Camille is about as chilled as Camille ever gets. She continues to great academically perhaps more so because she doesn't have the social pressures that I think pressed in our her.

I don't think they'll ever go back to least not until college, and this suits us as a family just fine.