Wednesday, May 30, 2012

why i am voting for tom barrett next tuesday

If you live in Wisconsin, you'd have to work pretty hard not to notice that we have a big election next Tuesday. Republican Governor Scott Walker is up for recall.  Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch will also be on the ballet, along with four Republican state senators in their respective districts, but Walker is clearly the big fish here.

It took a lot of work just to get this far. Weeks of massive, peaceful protests last year drew, briefly, the attention of the national news (and this was months before Occupy Wall Street began, I might add.) Between November 15, 2011 and January 15, 2012, volunteers across the state collected nearly twice as many signatures as we needed to trigger the recall. It really felt like we were rolling.

But now, for some reason, though Walker's approval rating is still pretty low, he's 7 points ahead in the polls against his democratic challenger, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett. This isn't a huge lead, but it exceeds the margin of error by 3 points. This has me worried. I'm not sure if this says more about Walker's perceived success as Wisconsin governor or lack of enthusiasm for Tom Barrett. Barrett lost to Walker already in the fall of 2010, and he's not really a whole lot more exciting now than he was then.

But he's not Scott Walker, and that's the whole point. I have an extensive list of complaints against Scott Walker. I fundamentally disagree with nearly all of his policies and his ideology and everything he stands for. He's gutted education on every level, slashed healthcare funding for people who can least afford it on their own, eliminated equal pay protection for women, trashed environmental protections, and rendered public employee unions impotent. Walker's policies alone, terrible as they are, are not the main reason he should be recalled, though. The main reason I support this recall, the reason I want Walker out now, rather than waiting out this term and trying to elect someone else next time around, is because he went about this in a way that deeply divided our state and completely demoralized thousands of workers. He was dishonest and sneaky, as were his ultra-conservative colleagues in the state leg when they resorted to unconstitutional tactics to push their piece of shit legislation through when they knew it would never make it in a regular session.

Next Tuesday I am voting for Tom Barrett because I want Scott Walker out of office asap. If Barrett wins, and I sincerely hope he does, I hope he can start to mend the wounds inflicted upon the Wisconsin public in the last 16 months. It's time to heal.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

piano teacher!

Funny how things work out sometimes. After agonizing about finding Daniel a piano teacher and trying to convince him he'd like to take lessons, I was talking to a friend about it, and she casually mentioned that her daughter's teacher 1) is excellent, 2) lives close by (not quite close enough to walk, but the drive is only a few minutes) and 3) has had some students graduate or move and therefore has openings in her studio. She also mentioned about three other families we know from school with kids who take lessons from this teacher, and they are equally happy with her. I got the teacher's info, sent her an email, and two days later we were in her studio so Daniel could meet her and have a sample lesson. My hope was that if he could actually meet a teacher and see what piano lessons would be like, he would get excited about the idea. And wouldn't you know, it worked! At least, I think it did. She's a fine musician, and also patient, fun, and seems to teach a lot like I do. We're planning to start lessons once school is done in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

i don't want to be a soccer mom

I've always said that the two things my kids wouldn't have a choice about growing up would be learning to swim and taking piano lessons. I've always thought those were two vital skills for a person to have. Swimming is obvious, since knowing how can mean the difference between life and death should one find oneself in a body of water. And piano? Well, I'm clearly biased, since that's what I do and all. I could make 1000 arguments for my kids taking piano lessons, but chief among them is that I want my children to know something about my profession and appreciate the importance of music (and, by extension, the arts in general) in our culture.

Come to think of it, swimming and piano lessons  were two consistents throughout my childhood. No wonder I want the same for my children!

Swimming is great. We've joined a pool the last three summers or so, and my kids love taking lessons and I love swimming laps while they take lessons, and it's working out just...well...swimmingly.

The music stuff is a different story.

Thus far, my children don't seem especially musically adept. When Daniel started kindergarten this past fall, for  example, we were treated to many tuneless renditions of "My Country 'Tis of Thee," which the kids sing every morning after the Pledge of Allegiance. His sense of pitch has improved somewhat, but I think we can safely say he's far from being the next Pavarotti. Anya's in the same boat. She does love to sing, the enthusiasm is certainly there, but even in simple tunes like the ABC song she inadvertently changes keys several times.

It's okay, really. I'm told by a friend who teaches music in an elementary school that sometimes that sense of pitch comes later (though I've heard plenty of kids younger than mine sing "Twinkle, Twinkle" with waaaay more accuracy, and I'm trying not to feel demoralized by that). It's fine if my kids aren't fabulously talented. I never was, in fact.  It's just that by the time I started college I had decided that playing the piano was what I liked better than anything else, so that's what I majored in. I got by because I worked hard and could handle the academic side of things pretty well, too. (I kind of wish someone would have mentioned how finding a job later would be nearly impossible, and maybe suggested that I pick up a second major in something practical, but no one did. In fact, I ended up barely squeezing out a German major, which was fun and interesting and useful for the music stuff...but see above re: employability. I'm afraid that by now my Deutsch skills are pretty rusty, too.)

I'm getting totally sidetracked here. My point is this: Daniel is 6 years old, finishing up kindergarten, and I think it's about time he started piano lessons. The trouble is, he doesn't agree. I know better than to teach him myself; that would be a big, fat, huge mistake of epic proportions that would probably significantly damage our relationship. But even when I suggest that we meet some piano teachers and find a good one with a personality that clicks with his, he's resistant to the idea. "No, mom, I just don't want to," he says when I ask.

Are you ready for this? He'd rather play soccer. And the thing is, he'd probably be pretty good at it. Daniel is a fast runner, very coordinated, has good endurance and enough physical assertiveness that he'd probably do more than stare at the ball and wait for it to jump into the goal on its own like I did when I tried playing soccer at his age.

I haven't signed him up for anything soccer-related yet, partly because I'm not sure where to start but mostly because I'm not ready to go down that road. I know a lot of kids who play soccer, including a few who are quite good at it, and I know how it completely takes over their lives and their parents' lives. (Two of them are my piano students.  Let me just say it is entirely clear to me where their priorities lie.)

After finding a promising lead on a good piano teacher in the area, I asked Daniel again what he thinks about piano lessons. "I'd rather play soccer," he replied. I died a little inside, but simply asked "Why?" He thought a minute before he replied, "Because then I can run around and stuff and that sounds more fun."

There it is. If you were a gregarious and active little boy, given the choice between running around with a bunch of friends and playing a sport that everyone knows about and appreciates with a crowd cheering you on, versus sitting alone at a piano, what would you choose? Soccer, of course. In what world is playing the piano more fun than soccer if you're a kid like Daniel? Bizarro world, maybe.

I'm so doomed. I don't want to be the pushy parent, I don't expect him to be some dedicated and great musician if that's not his destiny, but I want him to learn and it's killing me that I'm meeting resistance already before he's even started.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

his quilt

Note: this entry is cross-posted on Mad Knitting, because I feel it's important enough to say twice.

Yesterday, our family was invited to a birthday party for a friend of Daniel's at a local park. It was a boisterous affair, with 8 or 9 kids - mostly boys and a few girls - plus a few parents, one set of grandparents, snacks, a Star Wars-themed cake and a water fight with foam squirt toys (since the high temperature yesterday hit about 90, that water fight was a good call!) It got pretty rowdy, especially during the water fight, with kids spraying each other and us parents standing in the shade a safe distance away.

At one point, someone commented that birthday parties for girls are typically much quieter and calmer, with invitees lining up politely to hand over gifts, unlike the mayhem we were witnessing before us. Don't I know it, agreed one particularly large and jolly woman, I've been a Cub Scout leader for many years. I know what groups of boys are like. They have all those merit badges, you know. Can you imagine a group of boys sitting down in a room to do arts and crafts? She guffawed loudly, and everyone in the group laughed and shook their heads knowingly, because no, of course they couldn't imagine it.

I said nothing, but the thought of these hypothetical Cub Scouts stayed with me all afternoon. I know that groups of boys tend to be rowdy, but what of it? Does that mean they would all automatically reject the idea of participating in something artistic? It seemed like a rather close-minded assumption, I thought. And by the way, it came as no surprise to me to learn after the party that this woman, this Cub Scout leader, was the mother of the singularly loudest, most obnoxious kid at the birthday party. (Seriously, there were a few times when someone just needed to tell him to shut the hell up.)

How many boys act wild and rowdy just to fit in, I wondered? How many Cub Scouts are out there longing to earn a merit badge for Arts and Crafts or what-have-you but are afraid to because they know they would be made fun of for doing it? How many Picassos and Rembrandts and Bernsteins has the world lost or overlooked because of this mindset that boys will be boys will be boys, which we all know means anything but the Arts and Crafts merit badge in Cub Scouts. 

We often discuss the consequences of our complex expectations for girls, but there's another side to this. We need to make it clear to boys that they need not be all snips and snails and puppy-dog tails, that moments of expression and creativity (both quiet and loud!) are just as acceptable as chasing each other with water squirters and yelling poop-face!, if not even more so.

This is not to say that loud and rambunctious birthday parties aren't a lot of fun. My kids had a great time at the party, eating cake and getting soaked with water on a hot day. (They were also ecstatic that the foam water pumps were party favors to take home, and spent a good part of today playing with them out in the yard.) But afterwards I made a point of talking to each of them, Daniel especially, about how proud I was that they both had fun and behaved themselves, not grabbing at the gifts and yelling inappropriately when we sat down for cake, and playing nicely with the water toys. It occurred to me that Daniel could very easily get the impression from occasions like this that boys are supposed to be wild and aggressive and totally dominant in every way, because there were a couple of boys at this party who were exactly like that and seemed to get all of the attention (and I'm not talking about the birthday kid here, by the way. He was plenty excited, but behaved just fine.)

I wonder what the Cub Scout mother would have thought about a boy making a quilt, a quilt like this one:

You can see how proud he is. Is this something to be ashamed of? Or something to be proud of?

I think you know my answer to that question.

Now, I suppose I shouldn't come down so hard on this person that I barely know. I'm sure her offhand comment was meant to be harmless, a mere observation of the goings-on and a remark on her own experience dealing with groups of boys.I have no idea what her talents are, what she does professionally or in her spare time (other than Cub Scouts, apparently). And for that matter, I have no idea what one has to do to earn a merit badge in Arts and Crafts for the Cub Scouts (though I'm too lazy to google it and I bet someone out there will blast me for this in comments); for all I know it's something totally lame like making a macramé belt that would have been out of style before even I was born...but then again, maybe not. Maybe it's something really cool like, I don't know, designing your very own quilt like my six-year-old son did, or learning how to knit your own wool hat (very handy in Wisconsin) or painting a mural at a community center. I really don't know, so feel free to enlighten me.

All my life I've been sensitive and resistant to expectations placed on me and others, especially based on gender. (Remember my stint as Paul Revere?) Perhaps we've made some progress since I was a kid, but it sure seems like we have a long way to go.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

midweek randomness

1. You know what irks me the most about that Time magazine cover of the pretty blonde lady breastfeeding her four-year-old son? That they actually get so much attention for pulling this crap. They're trying to be all edgy and controversial, but really, it's cheap. It's a cheap shot, a cheap cry for attention (which worked, and now I'm blogging it too, so I guess I'm equally guilty) that has resulted in a lot of smug indignation from all sides. Are we having a meaningful conversation now about the challenges of parenthood (motherhood in particular) in America as a result of that photo? No, we are not. So let's move on and start talking about stuff that actually matters. 

2. This article by Kirsten Swinth in the Christian Science Monitor from a few weeks ago (reaction to the Hilary Rosen-Ann Romney "dust-up") is much, much more substantial and thought-provoking than some stupid re-hash of whether attachment parenting is good or bad. Go read it. I'll wait.

3. I've had more accompanying work in the last few weeks, and a couple more gigs coming up. Nothing exciting, nothing that will be in the newspapers or anything, but it feels good to be playing a little more...even if it means I spent an hour this afternoon sight-reading show tunes. It's okay if I'm not doing anything glamorous right now. I am really enjoying what I'm doing.

4. Daniel picked these flowers for me at the park yesterday. He found them growing in a ditch. I think they are beautiful.

5. Lots of warm, sunny weather has inspired me to get some gardening done. Anya and I went yesterday and today to water our community garden plot. I noticed that my snap peas were a few inches shorter today.  Damn bunnies. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I've done a lot of reflecting lately on where I am with life and career, often wishing I could do more with the latter. There's nothing like a piece of bad news to put it all into perspective, though. I just found out my next door neighbor has breast cancer. It's still too early for a full diagnosis, but when she told me I felt a little like the wind had been knocked out of me. She is my age, or perhaps a few years older (I'm 33). My first thought upon hearing the news was of course, Oh no, this sucks, I'm so sorry she and her partner have to go through this. She is such a wonderful person and this just isn't fair. My second thought was, Oh God, this could happen to me. I better schedule my annual (and overdue) physical and ask about getting a mammogram.

The other gut-punch I got this week was when I heard Daniel's teacher explaining to another adult volunteer that some of the students in the class are homeless, so they have frequent absences. I didn't know this. I know many of them are poor, and some have unstable home lives. But homeless...that came as a shock, though I suppose it shouldn't have.

So I'm sad today.

Cliché as this statement is, moments like these make me think about what's really important, about all that I have to be grateful for, and the things we should appreciate. Life is short.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

a young paul revere

When I was in fifth grade, I played the part of Paul Revere. Our class was studying the American Revolution, and we were given an assignment where everyone had to choose a historical figure from that time period, dress up as that person, and do a mock interview in front of the class. I quickly realized that, as a girl, my options for female historical figures from the American Revolution were limited to Betsy Ross and Martha Washington.

It was the men who did the fighting, who declared independence, who exhibited bravery in the face of exhaustion and starvation, who rode through the towns at midnight warning of imminent attack by British troops. The men got to be the heroes and do the exciting stuff. Meanwhile, Betsy Ross sewed a flag, and Martha Washington cheered the troops from the sidelines. Whoop. Dee. Doo.

At least, this is how we learned it in fifth grade. I have since read a bit more about Mrs. Washington, and it turns out she was a pretty tough lady with leadership skills and a practical fashion sense that was actually pretty important for women at the time. I wish we'd learned that stuff about her in fifth grade instead of just that she was somebody's wife.

Every other girl in the class chose to be either Betsy Ross or Martha Washington.  I, however, decided to be Paul Revere. I think it was his midnight ride that got me going (I was really into horses at the time....) but I remember thinking it was highly unfair that there weren't any particularly interesting females to represent in this mock interview assignment. (My sense of injustice was acute even at a young age, you see.) 

I don't know how the other girls in the class felt about the assignment. Clearly, while our teacher didn't object to me playing a male role, she hadn't encouraged it since I was the only one. I came up with the idea on my own. And I wasn't the only Paul Revere, understand, just the only girl who chose to be him. Did the other girls not feel empowered enough to choose another character? Did they truly think Betsy and Martha were as interesting and as important as all the men we studied? Or did it not even occur to them to do anything differently? I wonder.

I've been thinking about this recently in the wake of all the idiotic things that have been said in the last few weeks and months about women's health and mothering and the pay gap and all those things that show just how far we are from true gender equality and justice in this country. Truly, the mind reels at the asinine things that come out of people's mouths. I'm angry about a lot of it because, well, it's hard not to be angry. If you're not angry, you're probably not paying attention - is that how the saying goes? Anyway, I feel frustration and anger mounting at the "conversation" we (the societal "we") are having, or pretending to have, and the assumptions people make about me...and I think about myself in fifth grade dressed in gray knickers (my mom converted a pair of corduroy pants for me), a button-down shirt and thick glasses, describing my midnight ride and pretending to be a hero.