Monday, May 25, 2009

Let It Linger

I suppose Spring could only be considered to linger if its climate extends into summer. It's not summer yet. But unlike other years, I'm not wishing Spring away.

Although the past couple of months have been fraught with emotion on many levels--from my blissful marriage to Ian (aka Best Guy Ever), to the death of my friend and former paramour Patrick, from the sweetness of preschool's Mother's Day Tea to the contentment of long, lazy afternoons in the backyard with friends, family, my boys. Even the past few weeks were spent with me and my friend Mary fighting the City of New Haven to make space for our sons in their rightful Kindergarten on the corner of our block. Now? Victory. They're in. We made enough noise, and they're in. We won the battle, but the New Haven Board of Education has a war--and a mess--on its hands. Unfortunately it's nothing new. But Mary and I were happy to take the fight to the next, more public level.

Through all of it, the messy, but happy past few months, many things have remained constant. I've spent as much time in the garden as possible. My children are an endless source of joy and wonder. I keep finding new and cool crafty ideas that go way beyond the sewing machine. And I've continued to enjoy what feels like a bonus round of a relationship with my grandmother. Grandma was diagnosed with liver cancer--liver cancer!!--just two years ago this August. Her initial prognosis was dire, but she managed to beat the odds. The fact that we celebrated her 80th birthday in late April is, to me, nothing short of a miracle. A true blessing.

We all give our time here a lot of lip service. "Seize the day!", "You only live once!", and "Life is short!" are familiar cliches. I'm grateful to have had this extra time with Grandma. I'm grateful to have had extra time with all of the people in my life. And I thank God every day that I always told Patrick exactly how much his friendship meant to me before his untimely death last April. The irony that his wake was the same day as Grandma's 80th birthday was not lost on me.

But there is one person to whom I wish I could have said goodbye. Rose, the grandmother of my closest and oldest friend, Renee, passed away yesterday at the age of 86. Her death was not unexpected. It was not tragic in the sense that she had lived a long, full life and was prepared to die in the end. But I never got to tell Rose how comfortable she always made me feel--how I loved her cooking, her pizza gain, her broad smile, her cute little laugh, the way she used to lightheartedly roll her eyes at the jokes of her husband Pete, who died seven years ago. Rose was adorable--and little! She was the only adult I knew who was shorter than me. Her home was impeccable and welcoming, and she seemed to know an awful lot about what it takes to make a life--and a household--stay on track. Not that she ever said as much. The answers were instead in the details, in the purposeful and thorough way in which she regarded her role as wife, mother and grandmother.

I hadn't seen Rose in a while--no fault of anyone's but mine. I wish I had taken a few minutes out of my life the past few years to just pop in and say hello. Just five minutes. I could have spared that for the woman who had nothing but an open heart and an open kitchen for me for so many years. When Renee told me that Rose was sick and that things weren't looking good for her, I wrongly assumed (breaking my own rule to never assume anything) that I would have a few extra days to visit her and say goodbye. God has other plans--as usual, right?--and Renee called this morning with the news that her grandmother passed away close to midnight last night.

So...seize the day. You only live once, and life is short. Make the most of it, be kind to others, be kind to yourself, and tell people that you love them. This Thursday I will find myself, again, at funeral services for a loved one. I will find myself again at All Saints Cemetery. I will say goodbye to Rose. I will stop by Patrick's grave and say hello. And later I will come home to my two beautiful boys and loving husband, ready to give them some extra hugs and kisses that have become regular fare around here. Nothing wrong with that.

Let Spring linger. Let Summer linger, too.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Raccoons, Tag Sales, and Spring Projects, Oh My!

Critters have moved into our house. A raccoon to be exact. Most likely it's a female, a mama looking for just the right place to have her babies. Naturally, our pretty, cozy little house complete with children, dogs, turtles, fish, the occasional uninvited mouse and general good-vibes is the perfect place.

Tomorrow, however, Mama will be evicted. Not euthenized--unless she's rabid, which we're sure she isn't. But Mama, and her babies, if she's had them yet, will be moved out of our house and into the woods at the end of our property. The guy we hired to do the job is licensed, insured and, above all, humane. Let's hope this goes well. If so, he'll be able to repair the damage to our house, as well. And then we'll call it a day.

The 'coon means business:

You can see here where she dumped out an old squirrel nest to make room for her new family. She's been busy since, rearranging furniture, maybe.

In other news, I scored a couple of cool items at a tag sale this weekend. First, the very cool WWII helmet, modeled here by Sean:

I'm psyched to show this to my Grandmother when she watches the boys tomorrow afternoon. Her first summer job was attaching the chin straps to helmets during the war. She doesn't talk about it often--not that her job was difficult or traumatizing, per se. But she had so many friends--and brothers of friends--killed in WWII. In her little town of Webster, MA, that amounted to roughly one in every two families, a scene played out throughout small towns throughout the country. Her father served as Air Raid Warden in town, and all I can think of is George Bailey in that same role in It's a Wonderful Life.

I wonder who wore that helmet.

Anyway, another score was this rad Wonder Woman cake tin from 1978:

We're going to break this puppy in with a Father's Day cake, I think.

I also picked up a simple glass pedestal bowl for a reverse decoupage project, which I've already started (pics to come). I'm pretty psyched to try my hand at this one.

It's plain, for sure. But it's the perfect foundation for the ripped up world map I've used for the project. Fun, fun. I'll share the end result with y'all.

Finally, I went to Kohl's in search of what I don't remember, but I walked out with some new jammies for Sean, as well as an ice cream maker.

[Insert host of angels singing here >here<.]

I have been eyeing ice cream makers for some time, and since we eat the stuff almost daily in our house--and since Sean has wicked peanut and tree nut allergies--I thought making our own might be a fun, cost-effective, and relatively "safer" way of enjoying the sweet stuff. Armed with peppermint extract, cream, sugar, milk, and some (reduced fat) Oreos, we're going to churn out some home made goodness tonight...even if it feels like it's about 40 degrees out there.

I've recovered from the four-game little league weekend. Not sure if the kids have, considering I had to wake them up before school this morning. That's a rare treat. I've got a few projects simmering for the week ahead, and I've decided to shelve some kitchen remodeling (i.e., painting the boring old wooden cabinets a kind of chartreuese) until some later date. I need more downtime in the garden, at the sewing machine, with my mod podge, hanging with my boys, or going out for a run. The kitchen can wait. Ice cream cannot.

Happy Monday!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Now. Finally.

Today I'm going to Grandma's for lunch. She'll no doubt ask me to dig up more myrtle, lilies of the valley and primrose to plant in my yard. I'll happily oblige. There is nothing like taking a piece of my childhood garden and planting it in my own at the insistence of my grandmother. Then tonight we have the first of four little league games this weekend. Four games, a birthday party, and a pet fair. I see many hot dogs in my future.

So the vomitous negativity of yesterday has passed. It's not that often that I *allow* myself to feel so totally pissed off. In fact, I've been known not to let myself truly feel a lot of emotion. I tend to bypass it and analyze it rather than go through it. But damn if the past couple of months haven't been an exercise in going straight through the flames of every emotion in the Moira Spectrum. I got married; my last boyfriend (and good friend, still) died; and now this BS with school registration.

But wait! There's so much more--good stuff of which I am proud! First of all, I'm confident this nonsense with school will work out--maybe not right now, maybe not even before the start of the school year. But it WILL work out. I'm also super-proud of my amazing kids. Sean and Nolan are by far the best kids ever. I'm so lucky to be their mom. They keep me grounded in ways they'll never know. I'm also blessed with four generations of amazing people in my family, and I've married into an equally strong family pack--splintered and messy like mine, but still strong.

And Ian. Man, have I lucked out with that one. The guy was just minding his own business, working minimally, enjoying single life with two dogs when I walked in. Now he's living with me, the boys, another dog and working his ass off at two jobs! He and I have something special, and I'm glad I finally allowed myself to enjoy it. I'm also so grateful for the genuine friends that I have. I sometimes cannot believe the sheer wealth of great people who have graced my life. And while a bright light went out when Patrick died, another one was lit somewhere above me--so my world has remained forever brightened by him.

I've got a bunch of projects I'm working on, too. I've got a couple of skirts and bags that I'm banging out on my sewing machine. I've ditched crochet in favor of knitting these days, and I'm slowly working on something--I don't know what it is yet, but I'm working on it--with the bamboo needles that Heide lent me months ago. I've got the decoupage itch, too. Reverse decoupage, to be exact. I need to scrounge up some glass plates and bowls at tag sales the next couple of weeks to get the ball rolling on that one.

I'm also finally putting some scrapbooks together--something I've kind of avoided for the past few years. I'm now ready to weed through boxes of memories accumulated since Hurricane Katrina, roughly the time my first marriage blew apart. I think I've healed enough from all of that to select and save proof of certain moments for posterity, glue them to pretty paper, and label them in a book. I'll decide what story I tell myself about my life. And I can tell you--it's all good. In the end, it's alllllllll good.

Finally, I've got a garden that is really coming together. This makes me so happy. The peace I find in our yard these days is really nurturing. Sean and Nolan love that "there is so much nature back here, Mom!". Although we've got a few years before many of the plants really mature and fill in, the yard is very different from when we first moved in last August, back when it was just a grass-shaped L and nothing more. Now at least 1/2--maybe even 2/3--of the space has been cultivated in some way. And the hummingbird feeder gets hung up today.

So basically, what I'm getting at today is that although I puked up some rough stuff yesterday, I'm really enjoying life and all that it throws at me these days. I can handle anything--I have no doubt about that. Yesterday I enjoyed a long, sweaty run after work. Nothing beats that for me. I absolutely love yoga, but a good run really gets so much out of my system. The kids were with their dad, Ian was out with Dylan, so I enjoyed a single girl's dinner standing at the kitchen counter and a glass of wine before everyone arrived home. My quiet moment in our home--which finally really feels like home, a place where I now know where to find things blindfolded--was precious to me. The flag mounted on our porch blew in a cool shoreline breeze. Birds made some noise in the yard, hopping around the flowers and chasing each other through the trees.

As I listened to the birds, I laughed to myself that the more things change, they really do stay the same. I'm again a homeowner in a tight New Haven neighborhood. I know most of my neighbors. I have a regular route I take when I run. I'm married. I have a garden. But this time, my garden is full of perennials. Sure, I have a smattering of impatiens again. But they no longer line my walkway like they did back in my old house. Now, my garden is all behind my fence, a sanctuary for me to return to each day with the people I love most. The front of the house has a few hanging and potted plants, of course. But whereas "before" I cared more about the curb appeal than the backyard behind my old broken gate, now the opposite is true. Our curb appeal is cute and adequate. But once you get beyond the simple, functioning gate of my little house...well, that's when you're really home.

So, I'm grateful. I'm happy. And I know that no matter what happens, it will all work out. It always has, and it always will. Wherever I go, there I am. And that's where I'm meant to be.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Hatin' (or, I'm pissed off so I used a lot of "quotations" to get my "point across")

I could have bought a house in the suburbs--if I had more money, or if I was willing to buy a fixer-upper that required at least 100K in repairs and basic updates STAT. I could have moved to the suburbs, I suppose, if I had really wanted to. But I didn't. I wanted to stay in New Haven. So I bought a house in "the Cove" neighborhood, which is a little bit like New Haven Light as far as crime rates go. But make no mistake: It's still New Haven.

And right now, I hate New Haven. Check that. I don't hate New Haven. I DESPISE its nepotism, which apparently is the only way to get anything accomplished in the City--starting in Kindergarten. It's "who you know", and that's that.

Ten days ago my neighbor and good friend Mary and I attempted to register our children--my Nolan and her Sean (not be confused with "my Sean", a/k/a Seany), for Kindergarten at Nathan Hale School, five doors away from our houses. It's the children's rightful "neighborhood" school. It's not a magnet school. It's not some special, private institution. It's the public school down the street from our house for neighborhood kids in grades K through 8.

And we were turned away.

Impossibly long story not made much shorter: The PreK students currently enrolled throughout the city have registration "preference" and are therefore allowed to register for their school of choice. Our children were not in the neighborhood public school PreK program for the simple fact that two years ago we were told it was a Head Start program and our children would not "qualify" for it. (The program at Nathan Hale was changed last year to a "regular" PreK, but no news was made of it and the NHPS website continued to list it as Head Start.)

The issue of this PreK registration preference was apparently a secret to the parents without children enrolled in the city's PreK program.

So Monday, May 4, Mary and I arrived at the NHPS registration office bright and early, and joined the other clueless parents there to register their children for their neighborhood Kindergartens. We didn't get very far. Nathan Hale registration was closed after just two parents enrolled their children. With 52 seats made available to Kindergarten students in that school, this immediate closure meant that there had been only two seats available on registration day. We were then informed that our children would be bussed across town to a Kindergarten holding pen, which has been set up with five classes to deal with the "overflow issue" at the Kindergarten level.

Well, Mary and I got our Irish up over this one. I don't pay taxes for a .09 acre property on that side of town. I pay more than $7k a year for my much larger property here on this side of town, just five doors away from school (on the same side of the street--literally in the school's backyard). I don't care where the "other" Kindergarten is, or how good or "bad" it is. I don't want my son going there when he could walk up the street to school with his friends from his own neighborhood.

So Mary and I began making noise. We made phones calls, sent emails, involved the local paper and were subsequently contacted by many other parents who are experiencing the same thing--or who had experienced the same issue in past years. Our aldermen were angry; this issue is not new and something they've been pressing to change for a while now, to no avail. What's more, the city paid millions to renovate the school not that long ago. Millions were spent and yet neighborhood kids are being turned away! What gives?

Mary and I even met with the Mayor on Tuesday the 5th and asked him as much. He had nothing to offer except diplomatic BS and a promise that someone from the BOE would work with us. Translation? Please, shut up and take what you can get.

Maybe if my father or mother were a judge or police chief or an assistant to some official then maybe things would go a little more smoothly in this department. Maybe we'd be able to fineagle some "registration preference". But the fact is, this is Kindergarten registration we're talking about! Not college! Not even high school. Kindergarten. These children are four and five years old. When I was in Kindergarten (cue nostalgic old timer music here), I was registered at the neighborhood school, where I walked (uphill both ways in bare feet) each day with a gang of kids from the neighborhood. Why on earth is it not this simple to get my children signed up at the school on the FREAKING CORNER?

Planning. That's why. Poor, poor planning. This mayor has spent billions on school construction in thie city, but the beautiful buildings are worth nothing if we can't accomodate all the children in their rightful seats.

Magnet schools are an option--for those interested. I am not one of those parents who is interested in a magnet school at this level. For high school, yes. But not for Kindergarten. If our neighborhood school wasn't particularly "good", then I might consider a magnet. But Nathan Hale is a "good" school. Unfortunately, the City seems to regard our dissatisfaction with the option of magnets as a case of us being picky. Are you kidding me? I don't understand what is so wrong with Mary and I--and all the other angry parents in the neighborhood right now--simply wanting our children to go to the school at the end of our street.

So, I'm angry. I'm really angry. And I'm not alone. I'm angry that we're regarded as unreasonable, bitchy mothers because we've made a stink about this. (Recent communique from the city has not been encouraging.) I'm angry that I spend a ton in taxes for nothing more than garbage collection--because I don't know (nor do I care to know) the "right" people. If I did, it's likely none of this would be an issue. Hell, I'd probably even be employed by the City. Alas, I earn my way through this life. Nothing is handed to me.

I'm just a regular taxpaying citizen. That's apparently not good enough to just get my kid in the door. So I will fight, and fight, and fight, and when they try again to turn me away, I will fight some more. This isn't, as my friend Heide pointed out, a private school on the Upper West Side on whose waiting list my children have been since birth. This is a decent, maybe even just mediocre public school in the City of New Haven. Screw the City for acting like its doing me favor by putting my kids on a bus.

If a society can be judged by how it treats its animals, to paraphrase Gandhi, then the animals seem to have it better than Kindergarteners in this town.

Ugh. Sorry for the negative spewage. I'm just one pissed off mama bear right now. Everything I do is for my kids, especially in the wake of my divorce from their father. I am doing everything I can now to ensure they are educated in a decent school while living in a sub-par "college town". Do I wish I had moved to the 'burbs? No. Do I wish the basic act of signing up my child for Kindergarten hadn't turned into the kind of thing that has me thinking of Silkwood? Yes.

If I had just stayed in a rotten marriage in my old house in my old leafy, liberal and self-congratulatory neighborhood, maybe I could have at least registered my kids at their local school with less hassle. Maybe. If I hadn't cracked and slipped off the face of the earth first.

I guess that's what amounts to options in this town.

Fuck you, DeStefano. You do not have my vote next election. You might run uncontested except by a Green Party candidate, but you still don't have my vote.

x f'ing o