A Place in the Shade

My thoughts and stories; no more, no less.

The Bullies Win Again November 19, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 8:26 pm

He’s one of those kids who is wired differently. Outside the box, the odd duck, however you want to put it. They are the ones we write about after all, not the ordinary ones. I had asked for him. We had developed a bit of a rapport when he was in the class next door, on his good days. I was happy to take him on, add him to my crew. After 18 years of teaching, I felt I had the tools to deal with him. And on that point, I was not proved wrong.

He has rough time, this kid. There are forces in him that he can’t always control. They result in the yelling and the hitting and the strange ways he leans on chairs to calm himself down. He is angry a lot. I don’t know if that’s because of those inner demons themselves, or his inability to control them, or the world’s reaction to him. But it’s there. And it keeps him from being the full person he wants to be.

He draws trees. Trees after trees after trees. Beautiful trees, and he knows their names and where they grow and the nature of their cones and seeds. Pretty remarkable for a six year old. His family spends time hiking and camping; they are a part of his culture. But the trees also speak to him. They are beautiful and regal and don’t challenge him. They are quiet and undemanding. They just are.

He’s as obnoxious as hell, this one. Lashing out at adults and children alike. He can tell if someone doesn’t like and respect him, and he treats them with disdain whether they are three feet tall or six feet tall. That’s gotten him in the most trouble. We call it disrespect. He’s just reacting with his emotions. There are days when I simply can’t take it, so I send him to a quiet corner or the principal’s office with his notebook. It doesn’t matter if he listens to the lesson or not, he’s smart enough to absorb it by osmosis.

I see his gifts. I see his light. The others don’t. They see his violence and his anger and his disruption. Their baby is in Kindergarten, and this kid is interrupting their child’s “perfect” Kindergarten experience. They want him out. They complain and cajole and bully until he is gone. I see no compassion in their actions.

Children come and go in a school, it is the way of education. But I am grieving more for the loss of this student than I have for any. I was particularly attached to him. I worked hard to bring him to a place that wasn’t so bad, where he had begun to see his self-control as useful, and find healthier tools to deal with life. The complainers have taken this away from me, have taken him away from me. Have interrupted his progress and mine, and forced him into a place where he has to start over.

I am angry. I won’t see him again, but I will see them. They have precious children under my care, innocent ones who deserve my attention as much as anyone else, and who I will hug really hard as we mourn the loss of their classmate. I’ll have to look the adults in the eye and pretend I don’t care what they did. And walk away from the comments and the questions. This is no solution in my book. Not for him, not for me. And not for the children who will never learn about understanding and compassion from a boy who is just a bit different.


The Joy of November November 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 5:01 pm
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Contrary to popular opinion, November is my favorite month.

November is the anniversary of my birth, a day I celebrate with enthusiasm, because the alternative sucks, and each year of my life I grow wiser and more relaxed. Age is a good thing.

November is the month of Thanksgiving, a time focused on family and gratitude, two of my favorite things. It is a holiday unburdened by candy begging, gifting obligations, kissing requirements, religious guilt or fiery explosions. And I am lucky; my family likes each other.

November in Northern California is relatively warm. I won’t taunt the east-coasters by naming the temperature today. But the air does cool off, we are finally through the Indian summer heat and the crazy first months of school. The kids are learning their letters, and I can teach them about the importance of family and thankfulness. My neighborhood streets are lined with trees turning scarlet (I’m sure the trees were chosen for just that reason). Summer haze and smog are gone and the sun shines a bit too brightly, but that’s what sunglasses are for. Apples are ripe on the trees in my yard; there are tarts and pies to be made. It is a time of shift and change; of settling in and settling down. A time when it’s okay to put on a few pounds in preparation for winter.

The co-opting of the season by frightening images of death and gore are over, leaving me with colorful, ever changing foliage and the harvest of root vegetables. The starkness of winter has not yet set in and it is time to begin the tucking-in process. Gather the firewood; stock the shelves with hearty soup and bread, haul the comforters out of the closet. I look forward to days when one of the few activities available is curling up with a good book, and reading becomes a priority. Darn, it’ll be too cold/dark/wet to exercise, guess I’ll just read. I have not yet entered the crazies of the “holidays.” And as I grow older, I’ve simplified them anyway, so they no longer daunt me. The cold dim days of winter have not yet appeared, and the winter funk has not arrived. It is a time to be savored.


A Group of Idiots: or John Kennedy Toole Said it Better. July 7, 2011

I pay close attention to lists of “must read” books. I consider myself educated and well read, and I hate it when I miss a reference to classic pop culture (“classic pop culture” – now there’s a phrase. But I think you know what I mean). I am usually pleased to discover I have read at least half of the books on any given list of essential literature. Some have been required reading in school, others I’ve read on my own, or because I saw it on some other list and decided I’d better get to it. Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is one of those books that keeps popping up that I’ve never read, and I’ve been curious about it for quite a while.

One of the things my wasband and I share is a love of books and reading. It brought us together, and we still exchange and share and recommend, knowing each other’s tastes well. It was, and remains, the best part of the relationship. So when I saw Dunces on the wasband’s shelf, I asked to borrow it.

I picked up the Pulitzer-Prize-winning bestseller, not knowing what to expect. Political tome? Cultural observation? Social commentary? Dramatic fiction? After all the years of seeing the title on lists, I still had absolutely no idea what it was about, and frankly, the porcine cartoon character on the cover wasn’t telling me much that was appealing.

I read up on it a bit, and became interested in the story behind it; how Toole’s mother found a publisher for it after he had committed suicide at age 39, and the fact that it was set in New Orleans, a place I knew little about. Reviews called it original and funny. It became the first book on my summer reading list.

I was soaked in it for the first third, enjoying the writing. I like Toole’s phrasing, how he weaves together words and sentences, descriptions of character and place. It was intricate and interesting, yet never hard to follow. This element of it kept me turning the pages.

But I kept putting it down in disgust. I could not develop any affection or interest in the main character. Ignatius J. Reilly is narcissistic, ego-driven and smug. He’s the epitome of arrogance, slovenliness, snobbery and a certain kind of intellectual self-indulgence. I wanted to skip his navel-gazing “journal entries,” but found that they drove the plot. Finding a character in a story that I can like, relate to, or at least find interesting is a very important part of any reading experience for me. I closed Dunces, and then opened it up, again and again, looking for other characters or a more dynamic plot to keep me interested. I really couldn’t find any. A few other personalities had appealing characteristics, but nothing that held me long enough. Ignatius dominates, and the others don’t have enough presence in the story to hold my interest. I kept reading in the hopes that something would move the story forward and around, giving it some meaning for me. I understand now that it is picaresque novel, and a satire, but I don’t like feeling like I need to take a shower after every chapter. Maybe it’s just not my kind of book.

I’ve stopped at page 242. I can’t decide what to do. In the 2 weeks it has been sitting in my house, I have read seven other books. I can’t believe I have gotten this far into a book and don’t want to finish it. At this point, I would normally just power through. I keep looking at it, picking it up and moving it, watching it travel from the coffee table to my bedside to my summer chaise lounge in the garden. I don’t really care what happens to any of the characters, and I keep thinking I’ve gotten enough of Toole’s writing style to suffice. And yet….I am curious. Where is Toole going to take these noxious people? A part of me is determined to finish it no matter what – I will not let it beat me. Another part of me knows there are million books to read, and I don’t want to waste any more of my precious summer reading time on this. The wasband hasn’t read it yet, what do I tell him? Perhaps I should read it simply for the sake of the writing. In the meantime, I’ll turn to the biography of Gypsy Rose Lee at the top of my stack.


My Dad Is Perfect June 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 10:14 am

Oh, the arrogance of that title. But, what’s true is true.

While I was growing up, my dad worked very hard to support his family, but he understood the balance between work and play. Work (for the most part) stayed at work. Weekends were devoted to his family. Soccer games, chores around the house, camping trips, teaching his three kids to drive. He never missed a concert or a game, but it was more than that. He was there. He was present. He was at home, doing things that needed to be done, taking care of his house and family. I spent many hours sitting in the garage, listening to him whistle, watching him putter around. Dad’s always been a putterer.

My dad worked in city government for 35 years (he’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I’m pretty close). He had the same job in the same city that entire time. Though he is far from rigid in his personality, Dad’s weekday schedule was like clockwork. Every morning we were awoken by his voice calling us for breakfast. He made oatmeal on school days. He still makes oatmeal on a regular basis, and we have it when my daughter and I go to visit. In fact, there was a period of time when I was asked to “make it the way Grandpa makes it,” on the stove, the old fashioned way, not thrown together in the microwave.

But I digress.

Dad returned home from work at 5:30 p.m. sharp every day, after leaving his office at 5:00. I always awaited his arrival with anticipation, darting looks at the clock as I read my late afternoon book. If he didn’t walk through that door between 5:25 and 5:30, something was off. He arrived home, poured himself a glass of wine and read the paper in the horrendously ugly green chair next to the drum table. And all was well with the world. We were all home, Daddy was here, and the family was complete. Every Monday night for those 35 years, Dad was forced to attend City Council meetings. I grew bored hearing about the details of them over dinner, but those meetings were a significant factor in my life. At 7:00 p.m. on those Mondays, after dinner with the family, Dad returned to his office for these meetings. He was rarely home before my bedtime. And I couldn’t sleep until Daddy was home. I lay awake, listening to the cuckoo clock in the dining room chirp off the hours until he returned. When I heard the station wagon coming up the steep hill, and the front door opening and closing, then I could sleep. Dad was home, and all was right with the world again.

My dad is the sensitive type. I often watch his lip quiver when he talks about his parents, or his grandkids, the success or failure of a family friend. At the same time, he is an absolute rock. When mom was sick, all those years, I don’t remember seeing him waver, I always felt safe, secure, held up. He still holds us all up. He stood by while I went through two divorces and some pretty severe anxiety. I saw how it pained him, but he always held steady for me. Why he didn’t haul off and slug one of my ex husbands or boyfriends I will never know; he taught me the value of forgiveness. When my life came crashing down around me on more than one occasion as an adult, Dad was always there. More often than not, he didn’t know what to say; girls in their twenties are complicated, and Dad never wanted to interfere too much, but he was always there, the net that kept me from crashing to the ground.

My dad is the marrying type. He and mom were married for 23 years before she died at the age of 43. At that point, he had two children off to college and one at home in high school. We were all smart, well-behaved, well-adjusted kids. He had a nice home, a steady job, and was a respected member of the community. He was a widow. He was good-looking and relatively young. He was a hot commodity. I noticed how the attitudes of women around him changed, how he became an “item.” I dreaded the idea of my father dating and pursuing a new wife, but I knew it was coming. That’s just the way he is, he likes having a partner. We were very, very lucky. I don’t believe Dad actually dated much. Instead, he fell in love with one of my mother’s closest friends, opened his arms, and welcomed her and her teenage son into his life, and our lives. It has been a twenty-eight year blessing. And I love how he loves my step mom. I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. My father knows how to love.

My dad is one of the nice guys. Involved in community activities, volunteering his time at soup kitchens, the library and community organizations. He and my stepmom are the best examples of retired people that I have ever seen, balancing travel, family and volunteerism beautifully. Dad has a hard time saying no, particularly if he is seeing that a job is not being done well.  He is kind and compassionate, but has little tolerance for stupidity, prejudice or intolerance. Stay on his good side. He has grace, and will not take you down in public, but if he disagrees, you will know. He is one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever known, though I don’t think I was aware of it as a child. He attended Boalt Law School, not something to be sneered at. He amazes me sometimes with the details and thought processes in his head, how he works his way around and through a political or social issue. He is not just another pretty face.

My dad is very funny. His favorite kind of joke ends with a really good pun. As a family, we have spent many hours around the holiday table, building on puns and odd word play. If I brought a beau to that table, and he didn’t get the jokes, you could be sure he wasn’t going to be around for very long. I always sought that sense of language and humor in anyone I bonded with over the years, and it started with Dad.

I am not convinced this piece it reflects the depth of love, respect, admiration and affection I have for my father. I’m not sure words can. I have spent my life searching for another man like my dad. I have failed, because he spoiled me for all other men. Sorry guys. Thanks Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.


A Letter to My Compassionate HOA June 15, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 9:25 am

Dear Beloved Homeowner’s Association,

Thank you very much for the notice outlining my recent infractions, and the follow-up notice assessing my fine. Every time I allow the weeds to get above one foot in my yard, I eagerly await your attention. I thoroughly enjoy having a petty bureaucracy watch over my every move. It brings out the Libertarian in me.

Perhaps you may not have noticed the difficulties that have impeded my ability to maintain my yard in the manner that you demand. It has rained nearly every weekend for the last three months in this climate-changed spring. This meant the weeds grew exceptionally tall, and I was not able to use my electric weed-whacker on them (picture that!). Due to budgetary constraints, I have been unable to hire a brawny yard guy to accomplish the work on those days when it was sunny but I was at work. You are probably unaware that every time the sun did shine on a weekend, I was sick, my child was sick, or I was out of town helping my retired parents move. I was therefore unable to do the yard work that you feel is so critical to my well-being. However, you must acknowledge that individuals in this HOA have lives that may not include yard maintenance.

I am quite aware that a nice looking neighborhood is a more pleasant place to live and improves property values, and my child does prefer to play on a freshly mowed lawn. However, going to work, attending to my child’s needs, and pursuing my personal relationships takes priority for me on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps you may have noticed that I am a quiet and conscientious neighbor in all other ways. I never park my car on the street, I put my garbage cans away on the day the garbage is collected (90% of the time), and I never play any of my electronic devices at a volume that might disturb my neighbors. In addition, my pet rabbit does not bark incessantly when I am out of town, or defecate in other peoples’ yards. Yes, things grew out of hand on my property, but are my weeds keeping anyone awake, endangering my neighbors, or impeding anyone’s view of the mountains? I think not. A monetary fine seems excessive.

I would like to politely request that you take the missives you have sent me via the U.S. Postal Service in the last 10 days and place them up your collective asses. I’m sure there is enough paperwork to go around. What does the $50 fine pay for, anyway? Pizza and beer at your board meetings? Pencils, paper and stamps to allow you to legally nag each member of the HOA? Perhaps my $50 could be better spent on the hunky yard guy mentioned in paragraph 1.

I apologize that I do not have time or inclination to attend a hearing on this matter. I anticipate that such a meeting would take at least an hour, and include at least two hours of pre-meeting anxiety and post-meeting recovery. Frankly, three hours of my time is probably worth the $50 you are demanding from me (although my salary as a public school teacher may not reflect that).

Since school is now out for the summer, I am able to spend my valuable vacation time chopping at native plants you don’t want to look at. Also, my tax return has come through, and I can now afford the buff yard guy to complete all the major work requested. It will be done by next Tuesday. So there.


Sincerely and Resentfully yours,

Weed Girl in the Cul-de-Sac


Skinny Girl June 11, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 7:20 pm

My 11-year-old daughter is a skinny girl. A very skinny girl. I was too.

(I’m the one on the right, at about 13 years old).

At 15, I weighed 85 pounds, and easily passed for 12 whenever it was necessary to get cheaper entrance to the movies. I remember how excited I was the day I hit triple digits (101 pounds!), somewhere in my college years. It seemed like a miracle. I’d been scarfing down banana splits for years in an effort to fatten myself up.

My beautiful daughter is experiencing the same sort of “observations” from adults and children that I experienced, people finding it necessary to comment in some fashion on her weight. Among her classmates, it is often unkind. Kids tease each other, that’s the way of the world. When she complains about it, I ask to her to list all the characteristics that other kids get teased about – there’s something for everyone. I can easily rant about how other kids are just envious. And I tell her stories of my childhood, how I was tossed around swimming pools and carried across playgrounds and called all the lovely names I’ve tried to forget. I am also able to point out how strong she is. A gymnast, my kid can do more sit ups and pull ups than anyone in her class, boys included. I never could do that, and I am more proud of her than I can say. I tell her the same thing my mother told me about my toothpick-thin legs; that they would be fabulous when I grew up (they are – and still my best feature).

It is more difficult to explain away the comments of adults, especially those she knows and trusts. Why do people think it’s all right to comment on a child’s slender figure? We frown upon people who make comments about children being overweight, don’t we? Doesn’t the tactful rule apply to skinny girls too? With strangers, I can chalk it up to ignorance, rudeness, or envy (again), but it always astounds me that anyone thinks it is appropriate to tell an unfamiliar child that they need to eat more (or less). I have vivid memories of waitresses asking me “Is that all you’re going to eat?” I didn’t eat much, and looked it, but why should I have to explain that to anyone? I was embarrassed and upset, and developed an anxiety about restaurants that cursed me for years.

The toughest comments to digest (yes, I used that word that intentionally) have come from her gymnastics coaches, which sparked this particular rant. They encourage all the girls to have healthy eating habits, no matter their size, so I believe yesterday’s questions came from a place of concern – her coaches asking what she eats and how much, and telling her she should eat more. But some friendly teasing may have followed. She was upset. Like me, she is very sensitive about this issue, and nothing hurts me more than when this issue upsets her. It comes up constantly, and there is nothing she can do about it. She is who she is.

D is a good eater, really. She was very picky as a small child, and her appetite is not gargantuan. I have at times worried about her weight. But eight hours of gymnastics a week demands sustenance, she certainly eats a lot more than I did as a kid, and her food repertoire grows all the time. She eats a steady, healthy diet, is active and alert, and actually gets sick less than any kid I know. She’s fine, just built with a fast metabolism.

I dread my daughter developing any kind of issue over food. I did, and it is not something I want her to endure as well. I am grateful for the gymnastics, which brings her strength, confidence, and a relatively hearty appetite. But don’t talk to my kid about food. She’ll eat as much as she wants, when she wants, and I will provide her with proper nutrition and all the ice cream she desires. As long as she is bouncing around, developing her brain and her body, and happy at least 80% of the time, we’re good.


Hello world! May 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — sweetfeet63 @ 3:37 am

Welcome to Linda’s new/old blog. If you have been reading me over at OpenSalon, you will find that this is the same old thing; my thoughts, stories and impressions. Thanks for visiting.  New posts will be coming soon. Please comment.