September; Shopping Irritations; 24; Dumbing of Age

It is September! I love September. All of fall is still ahead of us. It’s the Friday afternoon of months. Well, it is for those of us who like fall best. For those of us who like summer best, it’s the Sunday afternoon of months. And for those of us who like winter best, it’s the Wednesday evening of months. For those of us who like spring best, it’s nothing.

At Target yesterday I impulse-bought a pack of cake-batter Chapstick. It tastes/smells remarkably like cake batter. It makes me want to eat cake.

I also impulse-bought a Russell Stover s’more, 50% off. It tasted remarkably like a s’more, and was even more difficult than a regular s’more to eat while driving. I mean, I assume it was, having never test-driven a regular s’more. I know the Russell Stover one was crumbly and I had to give up, and it seems like a regular s’more would be sticky and gooey but would at least mostly stay together because of that sticky/gooey situation. I wish I’d bought more than one.

I had an irritating coupon thing happen. It was one of those Target register coupons that prints out with the receipt, for 20% off Purell, which seemed like an odd coupon (for such a low-price item, I would expect a cents-off-when-you-buy-2 type of coupon), but then I noticed it said that the coupon would be applied to all qualifying items in the order, which made more sense: not 20% off a $2.69 container of Purell, but rather 20% off ALL the Purell I buy in that trip—like, for school shopping for all the kids’ classrooms. But I’m looking at my receipt and I see it only applied the coupon to one container.

Also, there were two boxes of Kleenex on a moderate clearance—something like $1.68 down from $2.39. Not a huge bargain, but the three youngests’ class lists all include two boxes of tissues, so I bought them. But they both rang up at $2.39, and I didn’t notice at the time. The clearance sticker is right on them, so I COULD bring them back and get the price adjusted, but I know I’m not going to.

I hate stuff like that. It’s not a big deal AT ALL, but I hate it. It does help a little that the notebook I bought for $3.50 rang up as $2.80.

The non-Henry kids and I are watching the first season of 24. That show is too scary for me. The twins are missing a lot of the subtle scary stuff, like what is happening to that girl after the bad guy takes her into a more private room. Rob, age 15, thinks it is the coolest show he has ever watched. I’m hoping some of the “danger to women” issues are sinking in—though there’s so much danger OVERALL, perhaps it will seem to him to be spread out evenly.

Speaking of which, Janeric recommended the comic strip Dumbing of Age in the comments section on the teaching Rob the situation with women post, and I’ve been reading it and I really like it. I tried to join the strip in progress, but gave up after half a dozen strips and started at the beginning instead. I’m tearing through them now to catch up, and have recommended it to Rob. It reminds me somewhat of Questionable Content, a comic strip Rob and I both like (it took me awhile to get into it, but he recommended it so strongly I persisted, and now I love it).

First-Day-of-School Clothes

Henry and I had a difference of opinion about his First Day of School outfit. My opinion was that the outfit should be one of his nicer ones: it didn’t have to include a vest and bow-tie, but maybe a solid-color polo shirt, for example, or a patterned button-down—but not a character t-shirt. Basically the same as a School Picture Day outfit. When I had to think out WHY this was my inclination, I came up with four reasons:

1. That’s what I remember from my own youth
2. The first day of school is Special, and we dress up a little for Special
3. Making a good first impression on the teacher
4. Looks nice in the photos I take at the bus stop and post on Facebook


Henry’s opinion was that the outfit should be one that expressed his interests. That is, he had the Exact Opposite idea: I was saying “collar shirt—or maybe even a solid-color t-shirt but definitely not a character t-shirt” and he was saying “definitely a character t-shirt, and the only question is WHICH character t-shirt.” When he had to think out WHY this was his inclination, he came up with two reasons:

1. Making a good first impression on his classmates
2. Communicating his interests to other children quickly and easily


I could have pulled “No, most days you can wear what you want, but I am the boss and we’re doing it my way for this one day” (this is what I do on Picture Day and Easter and Thanksgiving and Christmas and certain other occasions, if necessary), but we did it his way, because I could see his point. Also because he was quite nervous about the first day, and I thought a favorite shirt might help. Minecraft t-shirt it is.

When I was helping Edward pick out an outfit, then, I explained Henry’s philosophy and asked if Edward subscribed to the same one. I showed him the solid green polo shirt I would pick for him if it were up to me, and asked if instead he would like to choose something more like what he’d normally wear—more representative of his personality and interests. He said, “Yes, but, that shirt looks NORMAL to me.” Green polo shirt it is.

I wasn’t going to plan out Elizabeth’s outfit with her, because she has been highly opinionated about her clothes since infancy. But when I saw she had set aside velour pants, I suggested she might want something less warm in her non-air-conditioned classroom.

Rob is in 10th grade this year and William in 8th, so they’re on their own for clothing choices. I would say something if I thought their choices weren’t quite right—like, if they were wearing something stained or too small. But I don’t try to make them wear shirts with collars or anything like that.


I’m interested to know how you do things at your house with first-day-of-school outfits.

Summer Workbooks

This was my tenth summer with school-aged children, so by now I know not to bother saving all the workbooks and worksheets and flashcards and suggested exercises the teachers send home for summer use. When I see all that stuff, I WANT to use it. I’ll INTEND to use it. But I know we won’t, because experience is a better teacher than I am.

I do feel a little bad about it: so much preparation and work and planning and stapling and putting into packets; so much paper wasted. But I didn’t ask for that preparation and work to be done, or for that paper to be used, and teaching is very low on my life-skills list. And also, it doesn’t matter WHY we don’t use them, since the fact is that we won’t. I can recycle everything at the beginning of summer, or I can wait and recycle it all the night before school starts when we’re making sure the backpacks are ready.

Last summer, I recycled everything at the beginning. That’s my preference, since then I don’t have to deal with it while I’m stressed about getting things ready for back-to-school. But THIS summer, the children caught me and insisted that everything be kept. They WOULD do the workbooks, they WOULD! They WANTED to! They WOULD practice their math facts! They WOULD do the speech exercises and the math games and the reading comprehension booklets!

Of course they did not. Nor did I suddenly change temperaments and turn into someone who would sit down with them each day and require it. (My mother was of that temperament. She was also a teacher.)

I’ve heard the arguments about how much progress children lose over the summer if they don’t practice the skills. I’m not sure how that translated to “and so untrained/inexperienced parents should be told to spend 1/4th of the year homeschooling multiple grades,” instead of into “and so we should have school all year instead of taking summers off.” And since not all the children will get this review over the summer, the first part of the year will have to be spent in review anyway, which will be even more boring for children who DID spend the summer reviewing. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how compelling the arguments are, or how fervently I intend to support the school by being a summer teacher, or how much I want to do what I’m asked to do, or how much the practice is needed, or whether or not it’s even a good idea to do it: the fact remains that I DON’T DO IT.

Amazon Smile

As far as you know, is there any DOWNSIDE to doing Amazon Smile? I keep seeing mentions of it. The gist is that you choose a charity, and then from then on, a small percentage of every purchase you make at Amazon is donated to that charity. I read the FAQs and nothing there alarms me, but it seems like the money to donate has to come from SOMEWHERE, so I’m wondering if there will be an unpleasant surprise down the line—like that my Amazon Visa will no longer accumulate gift cards, or whatever.

…Actually, in the time it took me to write that paragraph, I got over my hesitations and went ahead and signed up for it. I wavered between St. Jude and Plan International as my charity, and eventually chose the latter; it lets you switch if you want to, so I could even switch annually or something if I wanted to. If I find out something negative about the whole set-up, it looks like I can easily undo it and go back to regular Amazon shopping.

Link Soup; The Gone-Away World

Two things. FIRST, I wanted to thank you vigorously for all the comments on the post about how to get certain points across to Rob. I feel like I have RICHES now, and from all directions—things I wouldn’t have found on my own, places I wouldn’t have thought to look, angles I wouldn’t have considered. This is one of my favorite things about the internet, and reminds me of that story where everyone brings one thing for the pot of boiling water and so everyone ends up eating soup. All I had was boiling water.


Second, I read a book and really liked it and felt like it was different than anything I’d read before:

(image from

(image from

The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway.

I would never have tried the book at all if I hadn’t read a review by Jenny on ShelfLove. The premise didn’t appeal to me. The cover didn’t appeal to me. (I read the hardcover, which I think is even less appealing than the paperback image above, and looks as if it were printed on someone’s home color printer.) What got me to read it was Jenny saying she hadn’t wanted to read it, but now wanted everyone to read it. And I ended up feeling the same way: I hadn’t wanted to read it, but now I want everyone to.

It took me some effort to get into it: it starts out with a lot of macho guy talk and it’s hard to figure out what’s going on at all. I found I frequently had to re-read a paragraph I hadn’t understood. I didn’t start to love it until I was nearly 50 pages into it—but after that, I really loved it.

Teaching Boys About the Situation with Women

Today Rob got together with one of his female friends for a few hours at the park. When I arrived to pick him up, her dad hadn’t arrived yet, so I suggested Rob and I wait with her until he did. When he’d arrived, and Rob and I were on our way home, I mentioned that in general it is a good idea not to leave a woman stranded on her own. Rob scoffed and said, “You mean, to leave ANYONE stranded.” Well…sort of. But not really, actually.

One of the problems with bringing up children to believe that men and women are equal and that sex-based discrimination is wrong, is they can grow up thinking there are no differences between men and women, and that treating people differently based on sex is ALWAYS wrong. Also, it is hard to tell a child that a group they belong to by birth is known for being awful in a certain way. Also, I’ve been trying to explain to the kids that there are certain behaviors that are wrong not so much because those actual behaviors are wrong, but because those behaviors can symbolize certain things that WERE wrong that happened earlier, and that people need to be sensitive to that kind of history; but the parts of Rob’s brain that need to develop before he can understand that level of thinking are not yet developed, apparently. Or else he is never going to achieve that level of thinking, and I don’t think I want to turn my mind to that at this point.

In the meantime, I think what he needs is an educational supplement. I can tell him that in the United States, it hasn’t even been 100 years since women got the right to vote—but that amount of time has very little meaning to him. It only had meaning to ME in recent years, and I AM A WOMAN. Less than 100 years, can you even believe it? One hundred years ago, women could not vote. Because they weren’t men. Men could vote, but women couldn’t. When my grandparents were born, women couldn’t vote. That’s such a shocking concept now (THE ABILITY TO VOTE IS LOCATED IN THE PENIS), and aren’t we lucky that it is? And doesn’t it make us feel a little violent in our hearts? Yes. Completely understandable. It’s probably hysteria, a condition which can be treated by having a man remove some of your female parts for you.

I don’t think showing Rob a filmstrip about sexism is going to help. I don’t think it will help to find him a book on feminism. I don’t think it will help to lecture him. Here is what he appears to be thinking: “We have to treat women as if they’re special, because a long time ago, men-who-were-not-me treated women badly. THIS IS SO UNFAIR. Women are EQUAL now. WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR THE PAST??” He also appears to be thinking something like: “Women and men are EQUAL! So why do I have to treat them DIFFERENTLY?” (Keep in mind, this is me putting words in Rob’s mouth in order to summarize the way it SEEMS to me he is feeling/thinking. He is not actually saying these things. Also, keep in mind that teenagers can be contrary, and Rob is of that sort of teenager: he may be arguing against what he actually believes, just in order to argue with me. He might be totally clear on all of this. I remember riling my own parents in similar ways.)

Here is what I want him to understand: Women are treated badly, even now, even by men like him, and also by men not like him. Women are more vulnerable to attack. SOME women are physically stronger than men, but in general, men are physically stronger—and some of them take advantage of that. Women are much more often victims of domestic violence, even though men can also be victims of it. What is the rate of sexual abuse now, 1 in 5 women? And that’s considered a very low estimate, because of how many women don’t report it. In war situations, or any situation where power is involved, the number of women raped by men is so vast compared to the number of men raped by either men or women, or to the number of women raped by women, it’s hard to even put those numbers on the same page. Men do continue to mistreat women, even though of course it is also possible to think of examples where women mistreat men. Men overall have greater physical strength and greater cultural power, even now when we say they shouldn’t. Men make more money for the same work, even now that we’ve noticed it and complained about it and made it really clear it shouldn’t be that way. If Rob leaves his female friend alone at the park, she ACTUALLY IS in more danger than a male friend would be. And if Rob grows up to be a man who doesn’t understand these things, I will still love him but a part of me is going to hate him, so let’s see if we can fix this. How do we bring up boys to understand the situation as it is, while also teaching them the situation as it should be?

As I said, I don’t think educational education (documentaries, statistics, history) is the direction I want to go with this, though I’m not abandoning that idea entirely. But telling him statistics doesn’t seem to have much effect. Talking about 1920 doesn’t seem to have much effect. And I remember as a teenager resisting anything that was Deliberately Trying to Teach Me Something. Here is what I want: Movies and/or TV shows and/or books that are completely popular and fun and mainstream and non-educational and non-agenda—and yet will bring him on his own to the horrified realization that I am right. Movies that show realistically how women are still treated, without making it seem like Yesterday’s Problem. And maybe not making it seem as if only Evil Movie Villains do it.

We can come up with some of those, I think, if we work on it together. A documentary about Genevieve Clark is not going to do it, but I’m sure if we put our minds to it we can we think of movies and shows and books that made us understand with a horrified chill how much power men still have over women, how awful men can be to women, what an imbalance there still is, how much still needs to be done, how much may never be done. We don’t need to show that ALL men are terrible to ALL women, because they’re NOT. We don’t need to show that ALL men are responsible for ALL bad things that men do, because they’re NOT. We don’t need to show that women never do anything bad, because GOODNESS KNOWS that’s not the case either. But I would like to firmly demonstrate these concepts to Rob: “Just because YOU are not doing these things to women doesn’t mean these things aren’t happening to women. Just because things should be equal doesn’t mean they’re equal yet. Just because things SHOULDN’T happen doesn’t mean they DON’T happen. Just because YOU PERSONALLY don’t see things happening before your very eyes, doesn’t mean they’re not happening. And, at this point, leaving your female friend alone at the park is different than leaving your male friend alone at the park.”

Maybe we can ask the guys in our life, the ones who DO realize. WHEN did they realize? HOW did they realize? What made it clear to them? It’s a human thing to listen more closely to people you identify with: maybe Rob would hear it better from Men than he would hear it from me, much as that might make me want to uproot a skyscraper or something. I have also vigorously discussed this with Paul this evening, pointing out that he is supposed to help deal with this, and NOT in a “women are crazy and you have to tiptoe around certain subjects” kind of way.

I remembered there was an article that compared the situation to video games, and it pleased me very much that searching “video game analogy women men” gave me the very article as the VERY FIRST HIT. I’m also looking for that post that explained how different it is to be a woman: like, how a woman is always calculating her risk of being raped/attacked, in situations where a man wouldn’t be worrying. [Edited: I'm pretty sure this one Mary mentioned is the one I was thinking of: A Gentleman's Guide to Rape Culture.] [Edited again: Ah! No, THIS one Brigid mentioned is the one I was thinking of!: Schrödinger's Rapist: A Guy's Guide to Approaching Strange Women Without Being Maced.]

Visit: This Post Turns out to Be the Backstory

Paul’s aunt and uncle are coming to stay in our area for three days. They’ve mentioned this idea several times before but it’s never come to anything. This time, the hotel is booked. I’m nervous, and suddenly realize I don’t know much about hosting/entertaining guests. But I’m also intrigued, because it’s far off so I’m not DEEPLY nervous yet—more interested in the range of how these things work. Different guests and different hosts would expect different levels of involvement, and there are many elements to consider such as how far the guests have come, and whether or not they are staying in one’s home. I don’t know yet whether they/we are thinking of a “Hey, great, you’re in town, let’s get together for lunch!” encounter or more of a “Here’s/Where’s the itinerary for our three days of sun-up to sundown together!”

I’ve never met them, but they’re in their early 70s, not very physically vigorous at this point, and extremely involved in their church (he is a former pastor and still does some subbing). I gather Aunt Marilyn is a bit of a force to be reckoned with. Several times I’ve seen her try to manage a family situation in a rather…managerial fashion. Fortunately, she CAN be made to back down. For example, one of her projects was to try to get my mother-in-law to move near to us. She launched an aggressive and worrisome campaign that had me saying aggressive and worrisome things to Paul. But she did stop. First her husband had to say firmly that he felt that was not a good idea and that she should probably butt out. I found this out later, after I’d had to find a way to translate Significant Raised Eyebrows into typed text and tell her tactfully that I believed that if my mother-in-law moved near to us, we would soon, by sheerest coincidence, be moving as well. She dropped it with grace, saying that her husband had told her she should probably butt out.

There is some uncertain-feelings history here as well. I too felt it was startling when Paul and his sister decided not to have a funeral for their dad, who was Aunt Marilyn’s brother. I understand their point of view, but if it had been up to me I would have gone a different way on that decision. I told Paul so at the time, but I did feel it was up to Paul and his sister, not up to me: their dad was indeed a piece of work, and the family is secretive as hell tactful so I know very little about it, and I KNOW I know very little about it, and my own experiences with him were not positive, and if it were MY family I would want Paul to butt out, so I butted out. Aunt Marilyn arranged the funeral instead, without telling Paul and his sister. That is a bit of a murky puddle there.

A third issue, if third is what we’re up to by now, is that Paul’s family, like mine, is extensively religious. When I met Paul, he was not religious but hadn’t told his family so. He continued not to tell his family so, and never did tell them. Again, this is a decision where I would have gone a different way (and DID go a different way) but, also again, this is his family and his decision. It makes things a bit awkward, though, when the visit will include a Sunday. Even if the visit didn’t include a Sunday, I think the subject would be likely to come up—not because they’d be tentatively asking whether or not we are a certain way, but because they will ask a question that ASSUMES it without even thinking it COULD be otherwise (“So, what does your pastor think of [recent topic that is hot to them but totally off our radar]?”), and I will have to figure out how to answer a question like that.

Hm. With this post I’d intended to discuss the practical aspects of hosting/guesting: meals, activities, expectations, etc. And I DO want to talk about those things, but I seem to have gone off in a different direction here, so let’s save that other stuff for later and consider today’s topic The Backstory that may help with the future post’s discussion.


This weekend my sister-in-law treated me to my first pedicure. I had long wanted to try one, going so far as to price them at various locations, peek in the windows of pedicure places, and ask people what pedicures were like—but I kept not following through out of New Things/Places Nervousness. Also, I have ticklish feet and was worried the experience would be torture.

Going with someone else was KEY: I, my sister-in-law Anna, and my sister-in-law’s sister Lottie who I also think of as my sister-in-law all went together, and it is just so much more comfortable to go through the process with people you can chat with if you are feeling awkward about a stranger rubbing your calves. Also, it is nice to go with people who have had pedicures before, because they can give you the heads-up about the calf-rubbing.

Plus, one thing I remembered from my first manicure a long while back is that the manicure did not include clipping. That is, I was supposed to cut my own nails, and the manicure place would use a file to shape them, but that most of the point of the manicure was the fancier things with cuticles and paint. So it was nice to have someone to ask if I was supposed to cut my own toenails first. The answer was “Yes, if you don’t like someone else doing it for you.” Indeed I don’t, so I clipped my own. The pedicurist still did do a few little tiny shaping snips, but not many—maybe three or four tiny snips total.

Oh, and I remember one more question I was glad to get to ask ahead of time, which was whether I was supposed to take off the rest of my toenail polish beforehand. The answer was no, they would do that. This was very pleasing, because I hate taking off the old polish. Also, I’d used blue the last time and hadn’t used a protective base coat, so the nails were stained blue; the pedicurist got most of that off with something abrasive.

I’d been worried about ticklishness, but it was not too bad. Most of the foot-touching is too firm to feel tickly. The filing was the only part I found uncomfortable, and that wasn’t so much the tickliness as the vibrating/scraping sensation that is exactly what I don’t like about filing. But on the other hand, I was also VERY DISTRACTED by the interesting conversation we were having, so perhaps if I went on my own the other parts would bother me more.

Another of my concerns was that the pedicurist might reel back in horror at my never-been-pedicured feet. This did not occur. She did not even make critical remarks, or tsk at me, or say anything from my imaginings (“Wow, I can really tell YOU’VE never had a pedicure before!” or “Boy, I’ve got MY work cut out for me!”). She just got to work without comment.

Polish-choosing was fun and a little stressful. There were so many choices! But nobody rushed us: the color-choosing was the very first thing, so it was as if we hadn’t even arrived for our appointments until we’d chosen the color. This was much better than at my manicure, where the manicurist got to the painting part and THEN directed me to choose a color while she waited.

I’d thought I would choose a blue or green or purple, but got nervous about the shade looking corpsey/zombie-like. Plus, my old polish was blue, so I felt like having something different. My inclination was to choose something unlike anything I had at home, but it can be so difficult to know what a polish will look like: at my manicure, I got a pink that looked subtle in the bottle but like bubblegum on my fingernails. Eventually I stopped trying to force myself to be adventurous, and chose the color that most appealed to me, which was a magenta-pink I know I like.

One of my sisters-in-law was undecided between two shades, so she brought both over and asked to see them. The pedicurist painted one of her own fingernails in each of the colors so we could see. This was extremely helpful, though it led to the pedicurist giving her own strong opinion on which was better, which fortunately was the same as the one the three of us thought was better. If it were me, and if the pedicurist’s opinion were different than my own, I’d feel some discomfort choosing the polish I wanted instead of the polish she wanted. I’m not saying this is how things SHOULD be, but there it is. This is another situation where it would be nice to have a companion: I can picture the pedicurist giving her opinion, and then me turning to my friend and saying, “I don’t know, I might like the other one,” and my friend saying, “Oh, me too” and then me feeling more braced.

There were some language-barrier issues, which I think would improve with repeated experience: it’s much easier to understand instructions and questions when you know what sorts of instructions and questions to expect.

The three of us also agreed afterward that we felt a little odd about having someone else tend to us in this way. I think it’s that it might feel as if one person shouldn’t have to do certain things for another person? or something? I’m not sure I can put a finger on what the issue is, but it comes up from time to time with service-industry things. I feel similarly weird when the hair stylist is washing my hair, or when someone is cleaning the public bathroom, or when I consider hiring a house-cleaner.

Middle Seat

There were two things that surprised me about my recent airplane travel, but now I can only remember one of them. Well, I will start with that, and maybe the other one will come to me as I write.

The first thing that surprised me was how many people felt comfortable asking their fellow travelers to switch for a worse seat. The first time I heard someone with the middle seat say, “Do you mind if I sit in your window seat instead?,” I thought, “Wow, that takes GUTS. Or, like, some sort of empathy disorder.” But it happened on every flight, multiple times, and that was just the cases that happened within my earshot. It seemed that everyone with the middle seat subscribed to the “Doesn’t Hurt to Ask” Policy—a policy it will not surprise you to discover I vehemently disagree with in many, many situations. In many situations it DOES hurt to ask. It DOES.

This may seem like an ironic complaint, considering my flight strategy involved the high likelihood of asking someone else to switch seats. I had deliberately booked the aisle and window seats for Elizabeth and me, figuring that if the flight wasn’t full (note: flights are always full), this would increase our chances of getting our whole row of three seats to ourselves, since the middle seats sell last. The difference here is that the inferiority of the middle seat is WIDELY RECOGNIZED (they SELL LAST). This is not one of those things where I have a Secret Arbitrary Rule I disdain others for not following: “It’s okay to ask to switch if it’s a WEST-bound flight, but not if it’s an EAST-bound flight.” Instead my strategy was based on the comfortable assumption that ALMOST EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE WORLD prefers NOT to have the middle seat—that I would in fact be IMPROVING SOMEONE’S LIFE by asking. Asking someone to switch for something universally considered better is not the equivalent of asking someone to switch for something universally considered worse. “Listen, I wonder if you’d do me the tremendous favor of trading my $20 bill for your $1 bill” is not the equivalent of “Hey, how about I give you my $1 and you give me your $20? I’d prefer it,” even if it’s true there do exist a few people who would be burdened by more money and would prefer to have less, or who desperately need that dollar bill for the bathroom vending machine.

And even knowing the vast statistical likelihood was that I was going to give our potential middle-seat companion a VASTLY IMPROVED airplane experience, I STILL started out sitting in my assigned aisle seat rather than presumptuously assuming they would want to switch with me. For all I know (and because every question that begins “Am I the only one who…?” can be automatically answered “No” without even hearing the rest of the question), that person could have DELIBERATELY booked a middle seat because they feel safer sitting between two people, or because they have that thing that’s the opposite of claustrophobia, or because they read an article saying people in middle seats die less often in emergency landings, or because 24B is their lucky seat, or WHATEVER.

But in a couple of cases I personally witnessed, a middle-seat person SAT IN SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOW OR AISLE SEAT, and then, when that person arrived and politely requested to sit in their own seat, said, “Ohhhhhh, do you mind if I sit here instead? I prefer it.” Me: WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE. Oh, do you mind if I take your book and snack? I’d prefer to have those items. Hey, do you mind if I open your wallet and take out your money? I’d prefer to have it. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask!

And in my own situation, I needn’t have stressed about the unpleasantness of having to ask a stranger for something they would likely joyfully agree to (“Do you mind terribly sitting in the far more desirable and comfortable seat? Oh, dear, I’m so sorry to ask!”), because in both cases our middle seat person said, “Oh, do you mind if I sit in the aisle or window instead? I’d prefer it.” Okay, no, that is a lie: it only happened once. But the second time, our seatmate noticed Elizabeth, figured out we were likely traveling together, and with huge hope in his voice asked if we’d like to sit together.

I still haven’t thought of that second thing that surprised me.

Medical Bills; Cello

We got the bill for Paul’s hospital stay, and it’s kind of pleasing to see the whole deductible taken care of in one shot like that, especially because the insurance year started in May. Perhaps I am just a little irritable with Paul right now, but I would have expected him to get sick right BEFORE the deductible reset.

Another very pleasing thing is that our hospital (and maybe all hospitals do this, I don’t know) gives a 10% discount if you pay in full within 10 days. That’s a pretty hefty discount, and has me filling out the payment information within about 30 seconds of opening the envelope. I am apparently more rewards-based than penalty-based—though I also find penalties/fees extremely motivating. In fact, I guess I see this just as much as a penalty for paying late.


It looks as if I have failed to mention that Rob recently started the cello, after more than six months of dithering around (mine). He first mentioned it around Christmas, and I was like, “Mm hm, well we’ll see,” which is my preferred technique for weeding out the fleeting interests of children. But he persisted, and was watching videos on YouTube of people playing cello, and was saying “When can we talk again about cello?,” and so finally I started turning a few gears—but slowly, not only for weeding purposes but also because there turned out to be a lot of hassle involved: no cello teachers in our area, apparently, and no place renting cellos.

But finally I got my brother involved (he is musical and I am not, and he is the children’s advocate and sponsor when it comes to instruments), and one day last month the children and I spent half a day bringing home the cello. It is the most dramatic instrument I have ever been responsible for. The guy at the instrument place was giving us instructions like a nurse in the maternity ward. At one point I said, “I feel like I’m bringing home a newborn. Ha ha,” and he said, “Well…” with a RISING sort of trailing-off and tip of the head, informing me that I was not far off, and that newborns were, after all, less particular about humidity levels.

It was also difficult to acquire a cello teacher. We finally found one, a student herself, and I don’t know why she’s willing to drive an hour’s round trip for a half-hour lesson, and in fact have had to talk myself through the “We can’t make decisions for other people” talk a number of times. To me, it seems like a very bad deal she’s getting. But perhaps she wants the experience, or perhaps she is financially in the “Every dollar is significant” category, or perhaps she has some other reason I don’t know about, or perhaps in time she will think “This is crazy” and quit—but she is the ONLY cello teacher we could find, so I am not going to tell her she shouldn’t work for us.

And here is the thing: after all these months of discussing a cello, pleading for a cello, asking can we talk again about what the chances are that we can get a cello—Rob is not practicing. The cello teacher told us he should mess around with the cello before his first lesson, just to get the feel for it, and he did that, but only once. He had his first lesson, and in the week before his second lesson he practiced only once. He had his second lesson, and in the week before his third lesson he has not practiced at all. Compare this to piano, where as soon as we got the keyboard he started voluntarily playing on it every single day for more than the suggested practicing time, and has persisted in that for well over a year, including very satisfying behaviors such as playing vigorously to blow off steam after he feels we’ve been very stupid and unreasonable.

I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I subscribe to the idea that if I have to do a lot of nagging, this is not an interest worth pursuing/funding. On the other hand, a certain measured amount of nagging can be considered “coaching” or “training,” and kids are not great at making themselves do things, and maybe nagging is required to make sure he gives it a fair shot, and this was an awful lot of hassle so he should at least try a LITTLE harder to make that effort worth it, and so on. It is hard to know what’s best, but I don’t enjoy nagging, and I don’t enjoy being responsible for making someone else responsible, and honestly I don’t know why I thought parenting would be to my tastes, then, but here we are.

I do feel like this is a win-win situation. If Rob does turn out to enjoy the cello (maybe he just hates the early parts where he’s not good at something yet, or maybe it’s the hassle of taking it out of its case as opposed to just being able to sit down and start playing), then I will be happy we went to the trouble, and I will be pleased that he has this interesting interest, and it will be fun for me to see him being musical when I am not. Also, I like the sound of the cello, so I will be pleased about that too.

And if he doesn’t turn out to enjoy it, I will be relieved to take that thing back to the shop and not have to worry about it anymore. It’s a rental: if we keep paying rent on it for three years, we will own it. But, I asked the guy at the store, what if it’s not a good fit after all? “Then you bring it back to us, and we stop charging the credit card,” said the guy. “No fees or penalties?,” I asked anxiously. “Nope,” he said. “As long as you were careful about humidity.”

Also I would be relieved not to have a cello teacher coming to our house.