Your Opinion Could Get Me Fired

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that explored the subject of how I take criticism, but also treaded—ever-so-lightly—on how I give it. I didn’t get very far. The post ended with how I might view and critique my creative writing students’ manuscripts and it felt, well, uncomfortable to say the least. “What do you think?” I asked Josh. He shrugged. I read each sentence over repeatedly, just to make sure I wasn’t saying anything that might be taken the wrong way. Landing on a title that wasn’t completely inappropriate proved to be a challenge, too.

As a community college professor, it’s 100% in my best interest to scrutinize every public phrase I write that is associated with my job, which is one reason why I don’t really write about it (the other is because no one wants to read about what college professors do except maybe other college professors). I’ve seen the fallout. Remember that Bucks County high school English teacher who called her students “dunderheads” and “lazy whiners” on her blog? Well she was fired for it. Seems like a minor indiscretion to me, though her blog upset many parents (how dare a teacher think those unkind thoughts about their children?). I can’t help but think it sounds pretty normal for a high school English teacher to become frustrated with her students now and then. Blogging those thoughts off your chest? Probably not the smartest way to vent in the media age, but it’s a shame she lost her job. And as a mom and a wife, I would think twice before posting something that could harm or embarrass my kid or my husband. My story doesn’t need to be their problem. I love my job. I love my family. I’d be super bummed if an offhand comment ruined my life as I now know it.

I feel strongly, though, that we should be able to tell our own stories, even if some take offense, even if these stories might hurt other peoples’ feelings, even if our own truth does not square with someone else’s who might have even played a role in the experience. It can come at a cost, though. It’s up to the writer to decide if the risk is worth the perceived reward of getting the story out there. But not me. Sharing my mad love of coffee and complaining about winter are pretty low stakes. I can’t imagine I’ll be any more forthcoming in the future because frankly, I’m too afraid. A tell-all memoir is probably not in my future.

Me, Myself, and I…and the House and the Girl and the Dog

Josh has been away on a work trip, so I’ve been a single parent for the week. I admire anyone who can do this successfully on their own and know many who make it look easy. It’s not. The number of plates I had to spin this week saw a significant jump in numbers. Getting Virginia to school on time, walking the dog, dealing with trash day, keeping VA busy during a holiday and a snow day, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, shoveling snow, holding down a job—seriously, there are just not enough hours in the day when you’re doing it all on your own. But it’s been OK. I didn’t burn the house down, my dog didn’t starve or anything, but I did notice a few unexpected changes.

Our eating habits immediately changed. Josh is a three squares a day guy. And he likes a complete dinner with a main, side, and salad. Virginia is more ambivalent about complete meals, and you know what? With the pressure off, so was I. I haven’t quite gone back to the days when chips and salsa stepped in as a just-fine dinner, but if VA wanted 3 servings of matzo ball soup for dinner, another serving the next morning for breakfast and one more for lunch, and the last of it for after-school snack, I’m gonna say “sure, why not?”

I could find no good reason to shave my legs. None. Josh is away and it’s February in Pennsylvania.

I’m not on light patrol all day long. Josh tends to leave the lights on during the day and sometimes at night. He just doesn’t notice and forgets—it’s a quirk. And it’s not a big deal—to him—but I do find myself roaming around the house periodically during the day turning lights off. This week, it’s simple: the lights are off during the day and after we go to bed at night. No roaming. Josh tells me I have my own personality quirks too. Apparently I load the dishwasher totally wrong. But you know what? I’ve been loading it just the way I like all week.

The three of us left behind are certainly cozy around here. I think with Josh away for the week, Virginia and I, and even Jazz, too, can feel the emptiness in the house acutely, so we stay close. None of us want more alone time. I find I’m more eager for her to return from school, so I can make her a snack and hear all about her day. I happily help her with her homework and she lets me. The best way to watch TV/read/do homework? It’s when VA, the dog, and I are all piled on the couch. That goes for sleeping too—best way to sleep is when VA, Jazzy, and I are all snug in the bed.

Although I feel good about how the week went and thankful disaster didn’t strike as an unfortunate result of my neglect, I’m anxious for Josh to return. He brings balance to our little household, and frankly, my legs could use a shave.

There Are Two Kinds of People in this World

The day may start, but mine doesn’t until I’ve had my first cup of coffee. My coffee roots run deep. My grandparents and parents were all heavy users. When I was really small, before Starbucks and Peets, I remember the can of Yuban that lived on our kitchen counter. My mom always prided herself on the ability to brew the best coffee, no matter what brand or blend (the secret is to use enough coffee—weak coffee is an abomination). Living in the Bay Area, though, we soon kicked Yuban to the curb when we became Peets Coffee early adopters and never looked back.

We have a family history of encouraging/pushing coffee, because it’s lonely being the sole coffee drinker in a household. I got hooked really young. By the time I was three, I was allowed coffee milk in the mornings, which made me feel grown up and sophisticated. And by thirteen, I was drinking coffee black every morning. To this day, when I grab coffee with a friend who needs milk and sugar and/or any other powdery substance offered by the café just to get the stuff down, I think, not a coffee drinker. Anyone who likes flavored coffee? Not a coffee drinker. Frappuccinos don’t count. Mochas don’t count. Pumpkin lattes don’t count.

When I moved to southern California for college, at the time a region without Peets readily available, my mom made sure she had a couple pounds shipped to my dorm every month, just so I wouldn’t have to experience withdrawals. Isn’t she the sweetest (enabler)? I’ll do the same for Virginia, who indulges in a coffee milk every now and then (please don’t call Child Protective Services). But her experience is different from mine. I—gasp—married someone who doesn’t drink coffee. Josh hates it. And after VA was born, and I could finally drink a fully caffeinated beverage again, I’d look down at my sweet baby and think, is this one going to be a coffee drinker? A true coffee drinker? Like, not one of those hazelnut fake coffee drinkers?  One day when VA was about two and half, the three of us were at a mall to use their indoor playground during a sweltering summer day. I grabbed an iced coffee to sip while we watched VA tottering around on the foam mats. She saw me find my seat next to Josh, holding the drink and made a bee line. “Sip?” she asked. I looked at Josh. He shrugged. Maybe she’ll hate it, I thought. She’ll learn her lesson, and I won’t have to be the parent who stunts her child’s growth by supplying her with coffee through college. It’s like forcing a kid to smoke a pack of cigarettes to ward him off smoking for the rest of his life. I handed the drink over and she took a tentative sip, swallowed, and went back for more. She downed as much as she could before I wrestled it away from her greedy little toddler hands. In that moment, I knew she was going to carry the coffee torch from my side of the family. And if she’s anything like me when she gets older, you might keep your distance until she’s had her first cup of coffee in the morning.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

As someone who loathes winter and all things snow, I am reluctantly going on a weekend ski trip with Josh and Virginia. Last year I got out of it by taking a last-minute trip out west to visit my mom for the weekend on account of self-diagnosed seasonal affective disorder. No one can say northern California is particularly warm in the winter either, but in February, it’s certainly balmier there than in Philadelphia. What a break to spend a few days in 50 degree weather.

I hate to even complain about going away on a weekend trip, but given the circumstances, what choice do I really have? I don’t understand why anyone who lives in freezing temperatures and snow for 3+ month would waste a weekend and money just to be surrounded by even colder temperatures and more snow. So why go this year? I’ve been grappling with that question this week as I look ahead to traveling to the Poconos, a region that enjoys more cold and snow than Philly for the opportunity to slide down an icy hill on skis. This sounds more like torture than recreation. However, Josh, Virginia, and our friends we’ll be traveling with consider skiing “fun.” VA asked that I go this time around, “I want Dad and you to go this time.” I didn’t want to say no to that. Are you kidding? I couldn’t say no—not when your child is asking to spend time with you. Plus, she’s ten, so I know my days of her wanting spend any amount of time with me are numbered. Any day now she’ll be turning into a sullen teenager who’d rather drop dead than be caught within shouting distance of her mother. Josh and I laugh and joke about how embarrassing it will be to have us as parents when she hits puberty. We are not cool. We are goofy and socially awkward and will most likely volunteer to chaperone her school dances.

So now she wants me to join them and I’m going. I wouldn’t miss it. And truthfully, I’m doing it as much for me as I am for her. Before I know it, I’ll be that mom who’s required to walk at least ten paces behind VA and her friends at the mall. But until then? I’ll be the mom who gets to spend a weekend with her daughter in the freezing, freezing cold.