Friday, January 30, 2009

Abraham Lincoln Was Home-Schooled

The first squabble Dr. Fiancé and I had about public-versus-private school was on our one-week anniversary. He’d taken me to a trendy Italian restaurant—one of those places with vertiginously high ceilings and shiny steel tables filled by women with shiny pants and shiny lips. We perched on a gigantic leather ottoman in the middle of the restaurant while we waited for our table, sipping sage-muddled cocktails and trying not to spill. Or at least I was trying. Dr. Fiancé didn’t seem like he was having to try. He seemed totally calm, confidently resting an affectionate hand on my lower back, as voices in my head confidently informed me, “Lady, you're an impostor. Just look at those shoes!”

I was in way over my head and way over my bank account. I’d been to restaurants like this before—as a twelve-year-old with my parents on the dime of my dad’s rich Republican cousin who was all too happy to choose the wine, tell us all what to order, and provide most of the “conversation.” But here I was, a full-fledged grownup on a date—a fourth date—with a guy I really liked—a doctor. Who went to Harvard. How could I live up? My body flooded with anxiety at every decision. Rossi or Bianchi? The Cesanese Lazio or the Cannonau Sardegna? Did I even want wine, or would I just spill it? Should I request the cheapest bottle? The most expensive one? The one I might be able to pronounce? My face got so hot my glasses fogged completely over.

Taking my cue from the sage in my cocktail, I tried to muddle along, acting, more or less, like I could pass for a person with a trust fund—hell, with a savings account—until just after the course of multinational olives when Dr. Fiancé announced that his future children—and by optimistic implication my future children—would be attending private school.

I lay down my hand-forged $3 cracker as if freeing up my hands for an imminent fistfight.

“Nothing’s more important than education,” he said, like that was a point I’d argue. “And the Seattle public school system’s terrible.” End of discussion.

To his credit, he didn’t actually say “end of discussion,” it was just implied by choosing that moment to take a large swig of his wine. (Also to his credit, it turns out he’s even less comfortable in trendy Italian restaurants than I am. He just fakes it better. Way better. They probably taught a class at his private high school on how to accomplish such feats.)

My comeback, honed by thirteen years of public school education? “But I went to public school.” Like, See, I turned out fine! I mean, sure, my glasses fog over when presented with a decision in Italian, but other than that I’m pretty smart and stuff.

Now—a year and a half later—when sketchy things happen at the public high school where I teach once a week, I have to think twice about whether to tell Dr. Fiancé, lest he put it in the “further reasons our children will attend private school file.” Instead I try to focus my commentary on the charms of public education, like how one of the teachers I work with has a bi-monthly “song day” where 10th graders do rhetorical analyses of Dylan songs and another teacher has propped a word-of-day calendar at the front of the room and makes a point to use the word throughout the day. Yesterday the word was lackadaisical, which she worked into a lesson on the importance of using specific sensory details to illustrate abstract concepts. “You can say a character is lazy, or you can describe the way he skips the corners when he vacuums lackadaisically.”

I have yet to tell Dr. Fiancé about the “lock-down drill” yesterday.

Just between you and me, it was the scariest fictional experience I’ve had in my life. Sure, when I was a kid we had bomb threats that sent us out into the cornfields for hours until the bomb-sniffing dogs could snoop through our lockers for pot or porn or whatever, and yes, we had to cower in the hallway in preparation for a tornado—but this, this was nothing like that. A pack of angry teenage gunman with semi-automatic rifles storms towards your class, determined to blow everyone to smithereens, but it’s okay—you’re protected by a piece of black construction paper covering the window in the door? And if by some chance they shoot through the construction paper you’re still okay because you’re sitting under your desk? I’m sure it won’t occur to the rampaging killers to aim a little lower.

The intercom crackled on and a man's disembodied voice reminded us, “If this were a real situation, we would use the district-wide code: Mr. Lincoln is in the building.” Like Honest Abe had finally snapped, having been teased one time too many about his height and his odd taste in facial hair and hats.

Perhaps it’s because I run a little on the anxious side, or perhaps it’s because I have a very rich imagination, or perhaps it’s because I’m a writer, so it’s my job to wonder what it would be like if the drill weren’t just a drill. Whatever the case, within ten seconds of sitting on the dirty carpet under a desk, wondering whether a cardboard box full of raggedy paperback copies of Catcher in the Rye would stop a bullet from reaching my heart, my armpits were completely soaked.

Sitting under their desks (shouldn’t the desks have been turned on their sides to better act as shields?), 28 students fidgeted, rustling papers, fingering cell phones, bored as bored can be by the prospect of one of their own turning homicidal and bursting into their classroom to massacre them all. Even their teacher—not me, their real teacher—seemed calm to the point of ennui as she reminded them from underneath a table to be silent “so no one knows there’s a classroom full of people in here, even though...” By the end of the sentence her voice had trailed off in homage to the impossibility of our silence protecting us from an arsenal of assault weapons. But you know what? That’s true at private school, too.

After what was probably three minutes but felt like 30, the intercom crackled back on to declare the end of the drill. “Well, that was completely terrifying,” I told the roomful of students as I dusted off the seat of my skirt.

They stared at me, not incredulous or amused or even confused, just blank-faced like they didn’t trust me enough to use facial expressions in my presence—or like they didn’t feel or care about anything. And with that, they brilliantly demonstrated the word of the day.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Houston, We Have a Wedding Date

July 13th, 2009. Two-years-minus-one-day after we first met, Dr. Fiance pacing in his pressed oxford and wrinkled khakis at the bottom of the stairs of the Old School’s Boys’ Play Court, grinning when he saw me as if to say: Oh, this is going to be good.

Yes, my thoughts exactly.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


“I’ve heard the best way to survive wedding planning without going insane is to choose two things you really care about and kind of let go of control over the rest,” I mentioned to Dr. Fiance oh-so-casually while pouring him a cup of coffee this morning. I was thinking about the five-bazillion decisions and compromises ahead of us in the next six months—and then the rest of our lives.

“That sounds smart. What are your two?”

“Um... I’m not sure,” I hedged. “How about you?”

“One would be... planning our wedding at least six months in advance. The other would be... TBD.”

Ooh! TBD! Good idea! “Mine are wearing the dress I got at Goodwill and... TBD.”

He smirked, I smirked.

Thank god we have each other.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The End of Malevolent Tchotchkes

At my favorite Seattle bookstore they sold key rings with an electronic counter on them that ticked off the number of days left in the Bush administration. Maybe it was supposed to be reassuring—a reminder of finite-ness—but each time I saw the display at the checkout I’d sink a little deeper into a depression. The number was always so big. Thousands of days. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of days. Numbers so large they might as well have been infinity.

Today I sniffled all the way through the inauguration, my tears gaining momentum every time they showed those adorable Obama girls in their bright wooly coats and gloves, waving in a new family, a new administration, a new era. I feel how most everyone does right now—dazzled by the man (and the woman! and her yellow dress!), incredulous at our nation’s flagrant and totally out-of-left-field display of progressive ideals, cowed by the enormity of it all.

Apparently presidential terms are finite, even when two of them are served back-to-back by an evil dumdum with no tolerance for civil liberties. I’m a little ashamed that for eight years I stopped believing that “making a difference” makes a difference. I gave in to despair, ennui, apathy, and some cynicism (just to keep it real). It’s a wonder I got anything done at all in the last decade, much less that I was able to act cheerful long enough to pick up a fiancé.

The bookstore sold out of the key chains around the time the number of days dipped down into the double digits—right around the time, according to my calculations, when the tchotchke was transformed from a taunting knickknack to a token of hope.

Monday, January 19, 2009

All the Difference

Dr. Fiancé and I have finally gotten serious about making wedding plans. Again.

The other day when I should have been writing I did some cruising on the information superhighway and discovered one of the world’s cutest, tiniest churches near Mount Rainier National Park, less than two hours from Seattle. It looks like a child’s drawing of a church—white and pointy and able to fit on an 8x11 piece of paper. It seats 45 people and, whoa, look at that! The adorable wooded property down the road full of well-appointed cabins sleeps 45.

So... instead of Iowa or Ireland or Tuscany or Tucson, how about right here where we already are? I pitched the idea to Dr. Fiancé, starting with the words, “You probably won’t like this, but just hear me out,” having discovered that the best way to deal with contrariness is to trick it into being on my side. (I discovered this by noticing that every time Dr. Fiancé starts a sentence that way, the first words out of my mouth are, “No, I love it!”) I was about one-sixteenth of the way through my pitch when the efficiency-minded emergency room doctor to whom I'm engaged interrupted to say, “Done. Love it. Sold.”

A few hours later we were taking a road trip to see if we’d like the church and the cabin-filled property as much in person as we did on the web.

We do.

I called the church people to make sure they allow atheists to get married there.

They do.

It was so easy—just the way they say it is once you “get out of your own way,” which I’ve realized is a nice way to say “stop being so fucking ambivalent.”

It only took us a few hours to nail down the essentials—well, a few hours plus seven months.

Apparently I’m sticking to my New Year’s resolution with some... resoluteness. I’m pretty sure 19 days is the longest I’ve ever kept a resolution. What is it about human nature that makes giving up one path in favor of another so excruciating? Why did Robert Frost have to say that taking the right road makes all the difference? Really, all of it? Are you sure that if you’d taken the road more traveled you wouldn’t have ultimately ended up in the same place?

I’ll confess I have wavered since coming up with the plan 48 hours ago, but they’ve only been small wavers—like “maybe I really do feel strongly about having cake” instead of “maybe we should skip this whole 'getting married' thing.”

As a friend from graduate school who returned to college in her forties to get her BA—living in a dorm and everything, brushing her teeth elbow-to-elbow with eighteen year-olds—as she likes to say, “Sometimes you have to take the long way around.”


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baby Lust

I’ve always been baby-crazy, but around my 23rd birthday the craving reached a whole new level. For months every time I heard a baby cry, I started crying too. I’d be standing in the light bulb aisle at Target, contemplating 60 watts versus 40—or perhaps 100?—and some tiny creature nearby would mewl its pathetic, helpless little newborn mewl and suddenly I’d have to run to the kleenex aisle, tears streaming down my face like a person with a cat allergy visiting a thickly carpeted house of lesbians.

I’ve been a big fan of babies since I was one myself, carrying my favorite doll everywhere I went, my plastic infant bundled in a fuzzy white coat and named Baby Chicago after the city of her adoption. After Baby Chicago came a veritable orphanage of Cabbage Patch Kids, Cabbage Patch Preemies, and two Cabbage Patch knock-offs (from whom, incidentally, I learned the concept of the “safety recall”).

I purchased my first car with money I’d made babysitting. I aced a developmental psychology class without ever opening the textbook. Babies to me were common sense—and never far from my mind. If I’d been able to get a boy to have sex with me—which would have required getting a boy to go out with me—which would have required getting a boy to talk to me—which would have required getting a boy to look at me—I’d currently be the mother of a teenager.

When I was 23, I lived in a thickly carpeted apartment with my lesbian girlfriend and pet cat. My cat, though usually sweet, was a poor substitute for a human baby. Every time I saw a puppy, I was overwhelmed by the urge to bring it home and make a soft, fluffy bed and a play area filled with brightly colored educational balls and rings and squeaky things on which to chew. At the pet store buying cat food, I'd stop at the puppy cages and reach my fingers between the bars to stroke their soft, tiny little paws and beg “Pleeeeeeze?” to my girlfriend—or, if I was there alone, to myself.

But as soon as she—or I—would shrug and say Sure, why not? the desire abated. Logic took over, my mind explaining to my heart—or perhaps to my uterus—that no number of four-legged creatures would take away the craving for a two-legged one. If I adopted every cute critter I encountered, by the time I had a baby I’d also have a stinky, heavily shedding menagerie competing for chew toys and lap space and tasty snacks and all the best nicknames. My people are not “animal people.” A cat, a goldfish, fine. But nothing requiring the ownership of more than one sticky-roller-pet-hair-remover thingy at a time.

It drove me crazy that my girlfriend and I could not get “accidentally” pregnant. If she’d been a man, I'd now be the mother of a fifth grader. The extra hurdle of finding a sperm donor forced me to be more of a planner than I was naturally inclined to be. In the cold, rational state of purposefulness, I realized a number of things: 1) I wanted my child to know who his or her father was; 2) as much as I loved her, my girlfriend was not someone I wanted to raise a child with; and 3) I wanted to be my baby’s only mom. Also: I did not really want a dog. Numbers two and three led to the eventual demise of our relationship—along with the fact that I was attracted to nearly every man who crossed my path—old, young, smart, dumb, here, there, straight, gay. There’s nothing quite like wanting to have sex with every guy you meet to make you realize you probably shouldn’t spend the rest of your life with your girlfriend, no matter how much you may love her.

What I didn’t know at the time was that it would take me nearly a decade to find a suitable mate. I also had no idea that my involuntary spells of crying were a clear hormonal signal that my fertility was peaking, right there in the light bulb aisle of Target.

Here I am, a decade later, and can I just say? Tick, tock!

So I've developed guiding principle for all disagreements with my charmingly contrary fiancé. I ask myself Will this get us closer to forming a happy family? Will a power struggle over flatware bring us closer to having a baby? How about the conversation in which I reiterate how annoyed I am with one of his friends? In case I start to lose focus, I've stashed a pack of newborn-size onesies in a drawer in my office as a reminder of our cuddly little goal. Just a little something I picked up at Target the other day when the living room light burned out and we needed some 60 watt bulbs.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Let It Be Resolved...

1. Write every day.
2. Be less ambivalent. Or keep ambivalence squished deep down inside and project certainty. But maybe not too much certainty. Just enough to keep Dr. Fiancé from dumping me for a mountain-climbing, Excel-spreadsheet-loving extrovert who isn't tortured by her own inner life.