Thursday, March 25, 2010

Senioritis and Passover Prep

You know it’s time for a sabbatical if while teaching Symphonie Fantastique and the witches Sabbath all you can think about is Sabrina the teenage witch on a broomstick. Another clue is cursing repeatedly in front of undergraduates and wondering if music 101 really needs a final exam or if it’s not just too much trouble. Failing the sexual harassment quiz for the third time and forgetting to return already graded papers to grad students for about five days also suggest a certain senioritis. The other symptoms along this line are not fit for public consumption. The real telling factor though involves a desperate urge to finish a book, to remember why this whole business seemed like a good idea in the first place. One of my grad students helped with this realization during class on Monday. I suggested that in parsing a hard sentence of critical theory we just leave out the part about castration. His response was “Isn’t that your thing?” Indeed it is….. Now in fairness to me my castrated men are pre Phallus so Freudian readings don’t quite apply but still the sentiment works…

Meanwhile I’m in the middle of a doing a retail relay order for Passover. (This is charlottesville’s life changing grocery delivery which brings yummies from all kinds of stores, local farms, and specialty shops) This week’s order involves feeding 12 people for a festive meal and attempting to fill the house with food that will satisfy six kids and six adults. My computer keeps crashing; it doesn’t like the idea of ordering four dozen eggs. It might have also been bothered by the juxtaposition of organic kindly fed pork chops and gefilte fish. My mom talks about the way that food possessors would have revolutionized her grandmother’s life at the Jewish Holidays. Well Retail Relay has revolutionized ours. How delightful to order all of this food and know that it will also come with giant bins in which we can stow each of the six children when they get rowdy. And it can even bring wine and beer.

We’re preparing the house in other ways too. I’m attempting a massive cleanup, not in the traditional get the break out way but in the put all toys away so that they can be taken out again and clean the guest room so a set of adults can sleep in relative peace. I’m trying to delegate these responsibilities but somehow that’s not quite working. We’re all a bit worried about sleeping arrangements. My sister’s baby, two year old Jacob, has apparently been climbing out of the crib. If he stays in it mostly seems to involve stripping everything including a poopey diaper. I apparently did this at about ten months old but my kids have all been perfectly happy in the crib. My three and a half year old, who could step over the railings with no effort, loves his crib and rather than climbing out prefers to issue forth loud commands from his little haven. “Mommy get me out, Mommy I need a cone warrior, Mommy I need another book, Mommy what are ya doin? Mommy is it waining out?” While this complacency may indicate great laziness and lack of drive on his part I have absolutely no desire to have him running around the house and intend to keep him locked in his crib at least until Kindergarten.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

First of all if you were at the IMPACT meeting on equal access to preschool education last night that was my child who after sitting very sweetly listening to the church choir proceeded to turn my inhaler into a gun which he shot fairly randomly. It seems to me that Passover is not the ideal time for this at an interfaith gathering of predominantly very serious Christians but……. I was already in a sort of weird mood since we’d rushed there from my seminar. This week readings involved Fred Moten who in one page managed to cite Derrida, Heidegger, Lacan, and Anthony Braxton. I’m pretty sure his notion of the sonic and way that describing sound necessarily occludes it will be profoundly important to me. I just haven’t figured how yet. It's by the way a real pleasure to have grad students whom you really feel like you are working through ideas with. This is as smart, committed, and witty a bunch as I've ever had.

It’s been a week of catch up since I spent last weekend in New York City with my mom and my sister celebrating my grandmother’s birthday. This was for the most not at all uplifting. My grandparents were fabulously vibrant; my grandma wore black leather pants to my graduation, produced a cable TV show, played the guitar at my college birthday parties and flirted with my male friends all the way through graduate school. She was a knock out in all senses and loved people and parties. She knows that every x-boyfriend any of her granddaughters had must be gay. And at 83 she sat down on a blanket in the Hamptons and rolled around with my baby twins. My grandfather is certain that he is the smartest person on the planet and that anything good from his progeny comes from him. He portrays enormous sexism but is also sure of the brilliance of daughter, granddaughters, and great granddaughters. He has one of Rebecca’s pictures in his private art gallery. (ok it’s in his bathroom and that’s weird but whatever) My books have been on the table by the couch since they came out and I believe he attempted to offer Pami critique on her master’s thesis. My cousin Eliza for the record is best geologist she might as well have discovered the ice age, Stephanie has the business sense and smarts to run the world, and Maggie is the most creative entrepreneurial woman to ever live. Oh and in our spare time we could all be super models. We all get this from him of course. I’m not willing to go that far but he was a fabulous artist and a doctor who was paid in chickens when his patients couldn’t afford it and taught us all the difference between a medical inconvenience and a problem.

Those grandparents aren’t with us any more despite inhabiting the same cluttered with bizarre objects apartment at 86th and 2nd. The high/low points involved my grandmother jay walking across 86th street with her walker—the kind with a chair. Then we had to stop for a sit. It might be a bus that does her in ultimately. It took us 20 minutes to get to the Mexican restaurant across the street. My grandfather meanwhile had done two shots of Scotch on his way out the door and insisted on holding on to Pam. We spent lots of time talking about who was dead and who wasn’t. I’m not sure either of them know exactly whose kids are whose but in fairness Pami and I have 6 between the ages of two and seven between us so it’s hard to work out sometimes. (hers are blond and tall mine are less blond and short) I’m not convinced my grandmother could tell us apart but again in fairness she’s blind and neither our husbands nor parents can necessarily make the distinction on the phone. Pam was excellent at introducing them to itunes which involved my grandfather with an ear bud in one ear and the lap top up to the other. She is much more patient than I. They both seemed to like to watch me do headstands. This worked for me because since the visit consisted largely of sitting I was pacing around the apartment Jonathan style by the end of it.

Meanwhile Manuel held down the fort at home and the kids were clean, their clothes were clean, and they were happy when I got back. While I was gone they did apparently name their dragons. If you live in cville and walk by the church on 3rd street on the way to CBI you might not have noticed the dragons. Rebecca and Jonathan found them when they were four and they live in what used to vents with little levers you can pull to put food in. They were for years nameless three are now called Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Blackwell and James Madison. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor—I’d never heard of her despite my certificate in women’s studies from a prestigious institution. My favorite part of the dragons this week was that the kids actually fought over how to feed them and the boys came to blows over this. How do you mediate a fight over imaginary animals? We’ve had this before. When I was pregnant with Eli Rebecca and Jonathan were fighting over who got to ride the camel. We without looking told them to set a timer and assumed they were on a rocking horse. Nope they were prancing around on an imaginary camel. I think Jonathan has had enough of having a little brother. He’s mastered the art of whacking Eli and getting out of the way before Eli can even cry and told me in no uncertain terms that “Eli wipes the smile off my face.” His days are numbered though; the collective sense is that in not much more than a year Eli will be bigger than Jonathan and then all hell will break loose.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Post Birthday

I’m warming up for an especially manic post break Monday with a little blog post. Imagine this scene from yesterday morning. Saturday’s insane combo of ethnomusicology conference, kid birthday party at ACAC, and preschool wine tasting fundraiser left me hung over. Thanks to the rudeness of Daylight savings time I simply was not able to take the big kids to Sunday school and Manuel graciously agreed to do singing and bonding while I stayed home with Eli clutching my coffee. Eventually I went upstairs for approximately three minutes to accomplish this to put on running clothes. When I came downstairs there was little Eli covered in frosting, literally from the top of his head to his foot with a very blue face and red hands. I looked at him in disbelief and without missing a beat the kid said “I was hungwy” In my three minutes upstairs he had ingeniously gotten a stool sat on the counter wrestled the plastic off of the giant SAMS club cake from the birthday party and with a kid sized fork managed to scrape the frosting off of about half the cake. I’m not exaggerating; he didn’t eat much for the rest of the day and is till not entirely his regular color. For a kid who sleeps in a crib and has no interest in the potty he’s getting frighteningly independent. He made himself a peanut butter sandwich the other day and yesterday decided he needed to find Manuel’s tool box so that he could fix something in his toy kitchen.

Meanwhile I think the seventh birthday has finally come to an end. Rebecca has made at 17 bags with her sewing machine and Manuel and Jonathan are still working on the Star Wars arc170 with it’s 763 lego pieces. I felt like having their party at the ACAC indoor playground from hell further sealed my fate as not mother of the year. But for the record the kids LOVED it, it’s cheaper than the clever things I’ve done at home, and there was no cleanup. Ok it’s true that before we even left the driveway I had to call my friend Liz and inform her that two out of three kids were tantruming and one husband was having the 46 year old versions of a tantrum. (Neither my family nor Liz’s ever gets through a party without tears as far as I can tell) And it’s also true that the noise level left me needing to take more advil than the bottle recommends. And the kids all ate pieces of processed Sam’s club cake the size of their heads. (One child whose mother pretty much outlaws processed sugar looked completely green after the cake and we had a little cuddle before I let her back on the equipment) And my idea that we take the other three kids who live on the block to spare their parents the delicious feeling of the indoor playground did make for a rather loud van ride—four boys aged 6-8, a diva with an impressive set of pipes, and a three year old who echoes everything can make quite the racket. My favorite part of the van ride was the one kid who goes to private school teaching the other kids the lovely song “boys go to college to get more knowledge girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider.” Manuel nipped it in the bud by asking what do you need to be an astronaut to which my feminist daughter replied “my mommmy and your mommy both have PhD’s and you’re wrong wrong wrong”

In any case yesterday was a slow day on the home front. Somehow the ten mile run took most of the day, perhaps because of the long bath it required. I run with four other women and am pleased to say that despite a dearth of long runs resulting from the snow, a variety of illnesses, and two completed book manuscripts (not mine) we did in fact run the ten miles and should finish the miler with some decency. When we were younger and fresher and our children were cuter and more loving Anna’s son dubbed us the “pretty running ladies.” The afternoon recovery involved for me somehow finding myself in the middle of some star wars prisoner game in which I told the five kids wielding sticks that they could put me in prison if they cleaned up. Oddly enough they did.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I sat down with lots of thoughts about the way that every year Rebecca and Jonathan’s birthday seems to become more and more of a full time job. We have so far been involved with 60 cupcakes from Harris Teeter and two separate cakes made by me and decorated by Rebecca and the fun is not yet over. (Thank you Anna for introducing me to your Friend HT the first year we were here and the school birthday thing came up) And I was thinking at dinner of all the ways that it’s complicated to be a mother of twins and actually said to Jonathan, who as usual refused to eat anything but bread and cheese. “I’ve been feeding you for seven years and I’m sick of it.” (this is a kid who was as they say "failure to thrive" and had feeding therapy so when I say feeding I mean it with a capital F. Luckily for me it’s also a kid who gets sarcasm and pretty much laughed at me and got his orange cheese. He will not hopefully have to take that comment to his therpaist later in life.)

But then I looked back at my journal from March of 2004 when they turned one. That was the year the kids failed the pointing test. Jonathan had no teeth and one word—uh oh. He weighed about 17lbx, not much for a one year old. Rebecca, we thought was a genius because when she wanted us to sing she sort of hummed ba ba and swung back and forth. She was the fattest low birthweight baby anyone had every seen and was radically opposed to anyone touching her but us and our friend Gary Marker. She also treated her friends and loved ones to a febrile seizure which involved turning blue and riding in an ambulance. This had the benefit of making almost every other medical problem seem sort of trivial. My Monteverdi book was in press and I was dealing with copyediting and thinking I’d never have another academic idea. In March of 2005 when they turned two I decided that I might want to write a book on castrato but wondered if I’d actually have anything to say and if it was possible to do archival work after kids. Rebecca had learned to take her pants on and off, and was fascinated by the Pope’s funeral “pope all gone” Jonathan still wasn’t talking much but did a lot of air guitar and what we called speaking Chinese, full stories with gestures and punctuation. He was an excellent climber and the day after their birthday slid down the slide, landed with his face in the sand, got a fat lip, and refused to get on a slide for almost three years after that.

So now they are seven and they are supposed to be asleep but they are looking up lynx in their encyclopedia and reciting speeches, and singing Jewish songs. They still talk mostly in the we, and every so often they still cuddle up in the same bed and seem to forget whose legs are whose. Rebecca got a sewing machine for her birthday and made me a cell phone case. Jonathan got some sort of lego starwars thing from hell which took my dad an hour to put together one part of and has utterly defeated Manuel. We brought cupcakes to two first grade classes. Jonathan’s class was learning about presidents. When the student teacher asked what war Lincoln fought in Jonathan answered “the Black Hawk War,” the teacher then asked for a more famous war that he might be more familiar with. To the question which president was affiliated with UVa, Joanthan answered Woodrow Wilson. Rebecca’s teacher asked Rebecca to choose a book for me to read to the class. She chose a Passover book about Mirium which seemed sweet and feminist until I started reading and realized that it was Passover at it’s goriest complete with bloody dead first born sons and way more talk of God’s saving our people from slavery than I’m comfortable with in a public school in Virginia. This involved some serious rewriting on the spot, the teacher laughing, and Rebecca saying “mommy you’re not reading all the words….” The birthday was not without drama. Rebecca was home sick with strep throat and at bedtime had a full meltdown because she didn’t spend enough time with her brother. Eli was convinced it was his birthday too and spent much of the evening yelling “it’s willy willy my birfday and I have a twin too.”

Tomorrow is the birthday party. I lost the list of who we invited, (each kid picked six kids) and I'm certain that not everyone RSVP'd. But that will be ACAC's problem! This is the first time I've ever done a full out farm it out birthday party and while I feel it perhaps signifies another way in which I am not mother of the year my friends assure me that the kids will love it and that it will actually be cheaper than the clever events I've done at our house! And there is nothing to clean up which is excellent since super Dad cleaneruper is crashed out from China jet lag.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bedtime from hell and update from China

The inmates are running the asylum here. Tonight while I called Manuel’s father to give him an update Rebecca got on my computer and started putting items in the retail relay shopping cart. They included chocolate pudding, canned pineapple, expensive fruit salad from foods of all nations and a $14 brick of cheese from feast that she knows she’ll like because it’s from Italy. Jonathan meanwhile was obsessively playing every Elvis song I have on my ipod. I’ve lately figured out that Eli treats R and J like a second set of parents. If we say no he asks them. “Well wabecca gave me this cookie, Jonny says I can go outside” From my perspective they are not doing a good enough job of co-parenting and should take over potty training and bed time. Last night was not a golden moment for me in the parenting department though. It is always delicious when you have a wretched parenting night and it’s witnessed by 8 of your grad students and a perspective graduate student who we can only hope found it amusing and not terrifying. My plan was that the students would be charmingly in bed and we’d have pleasant discourse over Chinese food. The big kids wanted to stay up to say hi to the students. Eli chose this night to pitch a total fit at bedtime because he wanted a shield in Note to self turn off baby monitor when students are in the house you never know what will come out of your children s mouth. Eli chose this night to pitch a total fit at bedtime because he wanted a shield in his bed. He already had about 7 other things and I finally decided he was time busting and I was done. So he screamed bloody murder. And so began the power struggle between the mother and the three year old which ended with Eli up about 23 and me at a giant 0. The low points were Rebecca calling my cell phone from upstairs and leaving a message with Eli screaming. And Jonathan coming downstairs and saying "come on mommy he really needs you just get up and deal with it" I finally got the brilliant idea to give Jonathan the objects to give to Eli so that Eli would put us all out of our misery but not think that I was willing to turn bedtime into a two hour bargaining ritual. J came skipping down the steps to say that Eli had three other requests, a gun, a sword, and a bullet. I’m afraid in my exhaustion that I may have not put our absolute best foot forward to the perspective graduate student who was visiting. I'm also not sure about having these students sit in on my seminar. This one involved not only my usual checking on google for factual information that I don't know but looking at my email in my own class because I was anxious to hear from Manuel who was in a city I'd never heard of with no phone and checking the cell phone. As is her custom Rebecca had an ashtma attack sunday night so I kept expecting the school or the babysitter to call with need of inhaler advice. She's totally fine by the way.

Now for a modulation with no preparation see below for an update from Manuel from China. He is there checking out a possible location for part of our sabbatical.

The airport in Kunming this morning was a scene utter chaos and confusions, I had to try 4 non-english speakers before I could piece together our cheerful efforts at sign language and end up at the correct check-in counter. I then had a beautiful moment in security where I got a near-massage from a 13 year old army dude with a metal detector and soft hands. The awkward moment was that one got checked with one's hand overhead, and he couldn't reach, so I had to bend over as he leaned across my back and probed. Probably best if not pictured too closely. However, when all was said and done, it only took me 18 minutes to go from arrical through ticketing, boarding pass, and security to the gate. Weird how such a short time can seem an eternity when it's spent in a confused whirl.

My plane ended up being about 20 minutes late, which worked well because Chai-Sian was a little late picking me up at the airport. She and Bonnie will get along. She's a no nonsense scientist mom who is navigating being a spousal hire and a woman in a society that makes ours looks like it's run by Xena. They have an eight year old and four year old whom I'll meet tonight. It doesn't hurt that she's wicked smart and grew up speaking Chinese. We spent almost 3 hours doing errands and eating lunch in the city, Jianghong, which is an hour from the Garden. Jianghong is where you go to do everything, and where the state hospital is. There's also a doctor resident in the garden and one who is there during business hours, and they handle most ailments. Jianghong is slow sleepy city of 750,000 people; somehow even at that size it maintains a small town feel. The entire town takes a 3 hour lunch break during the work week. You can buy everything you need there, and there's a very nice collection of restaurants.

Before lunch we went to the 'supermarket', a word that doesn't begin to do it justice. You can buy everything there, from soldering irons to frozen pizza. The candy collection is like the Louvre's painting one. There is also a large table of edible flowers near more kinds of breakfast cereal than you knew existed. They also carry more brands of toilet paper than I had ever seen. The foods were an interesting melange. The above-mentioned frozen pizzas were displayed next to the frozen worms. We then went to the pet market area so CS could buy cat food. Next we took the one hour drive from Jianghong to the Garden. The garden itself is bit like Fantasy Island, a botanic garden plopped into rural tropical China.