Thursday, October 22, 2009

Free poem
To a good home
Inquire within

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What I learned about parenting from Tom Cruise

I never thought I would write the words that couch-jumping, arguably misogynist Tom Cruise taught me something about parenting. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. I really learned my parenting lesson from Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr., and Tony Scott. If you aren't a movie trivia buff, you may not know that Cash and Epps wrote and Scott directed that 1980s classic movie Top Gun.

So what could I possibly learn from a movie about an arrogant military pilot what earns the nickname Maverick because he doesn't listen to advice and he insists on doing things his way? Sure, he's battling the memory of his father, but that's not what I learned.

I don't have the father issues Cruise's character, Lt. Pete Mitchell, has. In fact I'm fortunate that my father is a pretty good role model for fatherhood. What I don't have is a tremendous amount of patience. And with children, particularly small ones, patience is a must. Some might assume that the patience required involves simply waiting for small children to get in the car, settle down for bed, eat. Yes, all of those things are true and waiting in those moments does take tremendous patience for me and many other parents I've talked to. But the thing I learned from Lt. Pete Mitchell is this: Don't leave your wingman.

Patience with children, I've learned, is more than simply waiting without doing something for your child or constantly saying to hurry up. Don't leave your wingman is standing and waiting patiently while the child performs the task, and occasionally reminding the child what he or she is supposed to be doing. So instead of telling a child to go to the bathroom and waiting until he does. Don't leave your wingman. Go with the child to the bathroom and wait while he goes. Don't do anything else while he is going, either. Don't turn your back, don't wipe down the kitchen counter, don't pick up a magazine, don't chase a Soviet fighter jet. Focus on the child and wait, redirecting when necessary. It's best for the child and best for the parent. There is more learning and less yelling -- on both parts.

As an impatient multitasker, waiting has been a hard lesson to learn. But many of those moments, while waiting for a son to read a word or to solve a puzzle or to get dressed, are some of the most tender I have had with my children. With patience comes the ability to see my children as humans growing and learning. For that I thank Tom Cruise.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Resisting Theory

Why is it that when students are introduced to theoretical concepts, they resist?  I know that I'm writing in generality, but I find resistance much, much more frequently than I find acceptance.  Why are the ideas dismissed, or why do students rail against the challenge of reading?  Okay, the last half of the last question I can probably answer, but it does have me wondering.  I wonder how resistant I was when I first started working with theory.  Though I can remember much of my educational experience, I can't remember that.  I do remember really liking my first introduction to theory as an undergraduate, but I don't recall my reaction to the readings.   I remember thinking how cool it was that there was more kinds of criticism than New Criticism or Formalism.  I loved learning about Deconstruction, though it was easy to see its limitations and irony.   

I wonder. . . 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Do you have a pet?

In a recent meeting a colleague told me that during a study, doctors tried to find the best way to diagnose the general health of a patient in 10 seconds.  I'll spare you the details and suspense: they asked if the patient had a pet.  I'm assuming it's common knowledge that people with pets generally have better health than those who don't.  Of course this is a huge generalization, but the study bore out the value of such knowledge.  I have a cat, which often acts a lot like a dog.  I'm okay with that because I'm really a dog person.  

Before I had children I liked to joke that I liked dogs better than I liked people.  That still mostly holds true.  I really do love dogs for all the stereotypical reasons.  But having children has complicated things a bit.  I'm not sure that having children can or should be equated to having a pet, but I'm trying to get somewhere with this idea.  Bear with me as I work it out.

The family recently took the twins to get their hair cut at a relatively local mall.  The twins did great at the mall.  They always do.  They aren't ones for large crowds or strangers, so they listen pretty well.  After the haircuts, we spent some time in a large play area.  A very large play area.  It was a Sunday and there were far more kids there than we would have liked, and a lot much taller and older than the designers of the play area intended.  The older kids, ran wildly about, occasionally bumping into other kids.  I stood close by to make sure my kids weren't bumped.  

So if you are wondering where this is going, I'll try to get there quickly. I feel a constant tension when out with my children, or often at home for that matter.  I feel joy watching the amazing things they do and I get pleasure watching their amazement when they accomplish something or learn something new.  I've never felt quite that strongly with a pet's accomplishments, and that seems fairly obvious to explain.  The learning and emotional experience is exponentially stronger, more complicated, and easier to interpret and understand.  But, I also have tension.  It's borne of a tremendous sense of protectionism.  I don't want people to bump them, strangers to talk to them, or worse, touch them.  I worry that the chaos of the mall will upset them, or that we stayed too long and they are too tired, or they haven't eaten enough or well enough.  I worry they won't make it to the bathroom in time; I worry about how upset they will be if they don't make it.  Most of these fears are unfounded, even the lavatory fears, but I still feel them.  I don't have these fears with my cat.  I also don't have the joy.  With my children, I have them at the same time.  

What does one do with these conflicting emotions?  I suspect I am not unique, or even unusual.  But it is vexing that children can bring such joy and tension at the same moment.  And I want a dog.  

Monday, February 02, 2009

Words and Nature

As an English teacher, I admit to having a love of words.  I am not as big a logophile as some of my friends and colleagues (here's looking at you Macy Swain).  I also love nature, am an environmentalist, and I would spend most days outdoors if I could.  So, I was a bit surprised when I stumbled across this on the intertubes tonight.  

The Oxford Junior Dictionary has decided to remove words like dandelion, acorn, and beaver in place of words like broadband, because it seems these words are more likely to be used by youngsters (the dictionary is for children 7-9 years old).  It saddens me to think that we expect children to need to know broadband before beaver.  

Naturalists shouldn't feel singled out, though.  Christians appear to be under attack as well.  Also removed from the dictionary are the words: nun, saint, and psalm.  Where is Bill O'Reilly when we need him?  

I understand that dictionaries can't include everything, so someone will be unhappy with the words removed.  Maybe I'm bothered by the larger implications of the relationship between nature and technology.  Maybe I'm concerned that kids don't get outside enough and eat dirt to develop immunities and resistance to illness.  Maybe I'm distress by the disappearance of the acorn.  I've often told my students that dictionaries are poor sources of definitions for words.  They are static representations of what words meant in the past, often not representing what words have come to mean, or to capture the social meanings that don't fit into the staid explanations that are used in dictionaries.  If I get on a role, I bring in issues of signifiers and the signified, talking about deconstruction without always cuing the students.  So, should I care what a dictionary includes or how it is included?  Should I lament what has already come to pass?  Should I ignore it and not worry since the tech-savvy 7-9 year olds probably use online dictionaries that allow them to find the words they want anyway?

Whatever the answers to these questions, the Oxford Junior Dictionary story caught my attention and has me wondering what the implications might be.  

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bike-friendly Campus

So I've tried to take my bike commuting pretty seriously.  Today I rode with the temperature in the teens and it wasn't even the coldest day I've ridden this year.  My campus is trying to be more pedestrian friendly as it develops its first residential life.  As it put a new road right through campus, it managed to include a bike lane.  

Also, the campus put in new bike racks.  I wish I had a picture of the old ones.  They were hilarious.  They consisted of a cement block with a slit for a tire and a chain link to attach a lock.  Besides the potential damage the block could do to a rim, no modern lock worth using would fit through the chain link and the location of the link would make it difficult to secure the frame.  But I digress.  

So they put in new bike racks.  They are fairly standard "wave" style commercial bike racks.  There are better ones, but they are solid and work better than a cement block with a chain link.  Despite the university's goals of being more bike-friendly, it doesn't seem to have considered those of us who ride in winter.  There are a few bike racks on campus, one of which is under an overhang and sheltered from snow and rain.  But it isn't the one closest to my office.  So on days without precipitation, I park near my office, at a rack that is exposed to the elements.  Also, the groundskeepers push all of the snow out of the major walkways and right into the rack near my office.  

Maybe I'm lazy and don't want to walk across campus, maybe I'm stubborn, or maybe I want to make a statement, but I still want to park near my office.   

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Brick Streets

Today I had to get our new family addition a birth certificate, which is an interesting story in itself.  I've never had to, nor have I known anyone who has had to, apply (is that the right word?) for a birth certificate for a newborn.  But that is a post for a different day.  

This post is about my ride from work to the County Clerk's office in the County Courthouse.  For my trip, I had to ride up Saginaw Street, our Main Street.  It is a brick street, which was paved over for a while, and then returned to bricks as the city tries to modernize while returning to its past glory.  

So, I turned left from Kearsley Street onto Saginaw, onto the bricks.  It wasn't as smooth a ride as one might want.  I spent most of my time out of the saddle.  The road was sloppy, but my skinny tires cut right through the slop.  Despite getting nearly doored (on accident), all the drivers on the road were polite, moving to the left lane and one driver allowing my to pass a construction site in front of her.  

On the ride, I had my first mechanical mishap on the winter bike.  My lock slid off my rack and managed to pull the bungee course into my rear sprocket.  Needless to say it stopped me.  A little grease on the fingers and I was off again.  

And after the ride up the bricks, my bottom was no worse for wear.  Hey, if Lance can ride bricks, so can I.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I feel lighter today.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Early Onset

After the twins went to bed I went grocery shopping at Meijer.  Shopping at Meijer always takes a bit of extra energy from me.  It's too big and too busy and too unfriendly.  I shop there, though, because, barring the Farmers Market -- where I also shop, they have the best produce and prices in town.  So, given my limited budget, I shop at there.  

So tonight I went and worked my way up and down the aisles, occasionally going back to previous aisles from which I forgot to find things.  It was slow and I was tired.  After I got to the checkout lane, waited for the women in front of me, unloaded my groceries, and watched the teller start my groceries, I reached for my wallet.  It wasn't there.  I checked all my pockets, but I knew it was no use.  It wasn't there.  Sadly, this is not the first time I've done this.  It's not even the first time I've done this in 2009.  

I wonder if I have early onset Alzheimer's.  I forget things all the time I never used to forget.  I have thought of all the typical excuses polite friends make.  "Oh, you are sleep deprived because of the children." "You're just distracted."  "You have too many things going on in your life right now."  But I'm unwilling to accept these rationalizations.  Maybe it's age, and I have what some jokingly call CRS.  Maybe I don't want to be weak and think these excuses could cause my absentmindedness.  Maybe I want to believe there is something significant to blame besides myself.  An illness seems something outside of me, something I can blame.  Maybe it's the drama queen in me that proposes this idea.  But I wonder if it isn't something more than simple forgetfulness.  

The story of my shopping adventure ends with kindness. The teller, Jackie, asked where I lived, and I told her.  She told me I could get my wallet and then pay for the groceries.  Then she rang up my items and had an employee put them in the freezer.  She told me when I returned to seek her out and simply pay.  It was the nicest experience I have had at Meijer.  

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Usufruct Redux

Sometimes we can "get our eyes on" after we learn of something new.  For example, if you've ever learned about a new car, and then you see the car everywhere.  Or, you start paying attention to the color of a car, and you begin to see that car color everywhere.  

Well, I was reading the Flint Journal today and I saw an add from the Journal promoting the paper.  It was about a staff writer, Ron Fonger.  In his bio at the bottom, he states that he owns "10 acres, most of which is farmed by a neighbor."  Here is the definition of usufruct as I understand it.  Of course there are no details about his arrangement with his neighbor, but I suspect it is a generous arrangement.  Why wouldn't it be?  

In a town, in a part of the country, I often assume lacks the kind of progressive ideas (or what I assume are progressive ideas), I am regularly reminded of my assumptions and stereotypes and prejudices.  In Fonger's case of usufruct, it is most likely little more than a neighborly act, though again I am assuming.  After all, the text is for an advertisement.  But I'm going to stay with my dream, that Fonger does this as a neighborly act, and little more.  Ultimately, this is more about me, my assumptions and prejudices, and as something gets pointed out to me, brought to my attention, I will see it everywhere.  And in this case, I hope it's true.

Friday, January 02, 2009


So I recently discovered the concept of usufruct in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.  As I understand it, it is an idea that dates back to the Romans in which a person can us use or benefit from another's property as long as the property isn't damaged.  Pollan writes about an experience in which he took cherries that hung over a tree into a family member's yard.  Pollan also describes places in his hometown, Berkeley, from which he can get fruit from publicly located trees.  

Though I have traditionally been on the cautious side, my wife has readily enjoyed the benefits of the public cornucopia.  One of my earliest memories of this is camping at Craig Lake in the U.P. and finding some wild blueberries.  She, I, and another friend made blueberry pancakes, with the blueberries that survived our happy taste buds.  

Now, the twins and I take bike rides in the fall and pick mulberries from the trees along the Flint River Trail.  It makes for happy messy times.  I look forward to making it a foursome when our new one is old enough.  

Thursday, January 01, 2009

4-year Old Reprimand

Today, the first day of 2009, I was told "Don't be silly." by a 4-year old.

I'm so proud.

Happy New Year.

RIP Senator Pell

Though never a recipient of a Pell grant myself, many of my friends (far more qualified for college than I was) and many of my students are/were able to attend college because of the program. In an era when higher education, and funding for it, is under attack, Pell grants are one of the few bright spots for helping those who need it.

It is a sad day for champions of greater access to higher education.

Rest in Peace Senator Pell.