Thursday, August 27, 2009

Still a 3 year-old. . .

Fang sent me this photo from his day with Lucas. Look at the size of that boy!

I just measured, and he's 43.5 inches tall. Freakishly tall.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Growing up too damn fast

I've been horribly remiss in my mamablogging. For friends and family, here are some recent photos of Lucas, who is still 3, believe it or not:

Mowing the lawn

Guess what he'd love to have for his birthday? (Versus what he's actually getting: one more 12¢ goldfish to go with the big ol' fish tank and 4 fish we already bought him for as an early birthday gift.)

Checking out the polar bear at the San Diego Zoo. This is one of the few exhibits where he actually spent some time really looking at the animal, though I suspect it had less to do with the polar bear and more with that awesome little ledge he was standing on.

Monday, August 24, 2009


About a dozen years ago, when I was writing my Master's thesis for my highly marketable degree in writing poetry, I penned this poem. I've been thinking about it lately, for reasons I'll explain in a moment.
A Lone Survivor, Fleeing the Space Station after Tragedy, Recalls the Order Chelonia

The crispness of hatch-closing, and then in silence breaking away
she drops, half-scudding through the atmosphere,
the wingless airfoil plunging, she hopes, to open fields.
But there’s so much asphalt, so many hard cities unseen below.
She thinks perhaps the ocean will swallow her.
Perhaps is such a large word now:
she wears it, a one-piece zippered suit.

Warming, through the window she sees the hull glow ember-gold.
She slips faster, down. In her mind, she diagrams
the earth, the atmosphere, gravity’s certainties.
She flies as turtles swim, lift and drag balanced into descent.
She is in the belly of a turtle. What she has left behind—
she tries not to think of it—burns. She thinks, rather, of water,
the ocean, kelp, tides, California.
Outside, America grows toward her, suddenly large, mountainous, alarming.
No place for a chelonian. Why does she know that word?
Wonders why she knows that and not something useful, something like God.

She checks her watch and listens.
Amidst the roaring, a door, almost unheard, opens.
She imagines the people who took two weeks
to pack the hundreds of cables, the seven thousand square feet of silk.
Did they work at night? Were they tired, thoughtless, depressed?
Were their minds on their task those long warehouse days?
Two long minutes the cables untangle, the cloth unfurls;
whomping and foomping and hissing, it stutters a long perhaps.
Announces itself like love: I’ve been here all along.

The carapace bears up like an elevator.
Her earpiece crackles to life.
She says It’s me, I’m here, I’m home.
Swimming toward the sand, she presses her face against the pane
and, drawing back, is surprised by the silver reflection there: an imprint
of a ghost-bird caught in mid-flight, stunned
by the invisible shell of cold,
by all the things, having fallen, it suddenly knows.
The poem draws on an an article I read about a prototype escape pod for occupants of the space station, my flowering obsession with natural history and taxonomy, and a genuine desire to put down roots in one place instead of being, as I had been for many years as an undergraduate (three colleges, three states) and then as a graduate student, caught between places, not knowing where I was going to land.

A dozen years, two more degrees, a few more interstate adventures, seven years of marriage, and one child later, I find myself only a few blocks from where I originally wrote that poem about falling into place without being able to decide exactly where one will land.

But I promised to say why I've been thinking about the poem, about falling, about being a little bit out of control.

In January 2001, after (not) dealing with depression on and off for, oh, 17 years, I finally sought out--with much encouragement from Fang--the assistance of a therapist, who referred me to my doctor for a prescription for antidepressants.

My recovery felt miraculous. Whereas previously every day at work had the possibility of being a very bad one, suddenly I awoke feeling each day had promise. I recall that before antidepressants, a phone call I didn't feel like returning to a patron of the symphony orchestra where I worked would send me spiraling downward into blackness. I'd extrapolate my reluctance to return a phone call to a lifetime of phone calls to return for a series of low-paying nonprofit jobs where I would be warehoused in cubicles, which meant, of course, I would never, ever be able to pay off the student loans from my expensive undergraduate degree or my professionally useless poetry M.A. Those of you who have experienced depression know what I'm talking about, and those of you who haven't likely have witnessed someone falling into this vortex of negativity and despair.

Within months of starting the antidepressants, I was accepted to a shiny new Ph.D. program in a town I knew I liked, and I became engaged to Fang. There were other smaller milestones, too, ones I've forgotten now but which I remember made my therapist very happy. It was no coincidence she scheduled my weekly sessions for Friday afternoons--why shouldn't she finish her week on a high note?

Of course, antidepressants come with side effects, and after some time on Celexa, I decided it was time to shake off these byproducts and check in with my old self. I tried several times to wean myself from the drug, but every time found the withdrawal experience worse than the side effects of taking the pills. Plus, I tended to hit bottom again pretty quickly--usually within a week. I tried another type of antidepressant, hoping for more attractive side effects, but instead I experienced some of my darkest days ever.

Still, I wanted to get off the pills. After all, even when unmedicated, I had been an exceptionally high-functioning depressive. I may not have wanted to make those phone calls, but I did. There were certainly times in college where I wanted to burrow under the covers and not go to class, but I did--and I frequently finished papers for my courses a week before they were due. I may have been depressed, but dammit, I was driven.

Three weeks ago, when it was time to refill my prescription, I decided to leave a few emergency pills in the bottle and go cold turkey. I was slow to tell Fang, forgetting that I had promised him I would always alert him to these experiments, and hoping instead I could greet him one morning with the triumphant tale of how I'd been off the citalopram for a month. Aside from this major misstep, the going has been much, much better this time. Nausea, yes. Dizziness, yes. But bottoming out? Literally seeing dark shadows around people, as I had the last time I was withdrawing? Nope.

I'm still calibrating my emotions. The past week in particular I've had a hard time keeping the tears from welling up--but today I also laughed harder than I had in a long, long time.

This smile is brought to you by natural serotonin levels.*

In the face of furloughs, pay cuts, a husband recently diagnosed with scoliosis that will eventually require surgery to fuse some of his vertebrae together, my still-too-recent-and-raw failure to secure either the tenure-track humanities job for which I had trained for years or the couple of administrative jobs I dearly wanted, and so much other nastiness in the world, it may seem more than a little crazy to choose this moment to give up the drugs.

I'm feeling raw, I'm feeling a bit sad, but I'm also feeling like me. It's taken me 8.5 years, but I feel I'm ready to face the world without medicine that at first was a necessary life-changer and that was a life-saver post-partum, but which I fear in more recent years had become a crutch, a way of anesthetizing myself.**

I am, like the woman in the poem I wrote 12 years ago, experiencing re-entry, and right now I'm plunging through the atmosphere, feeling the heat burning up the old shell but also glorying in the light that only results from an almost unbearable friction with the world.

* And eight years of orthodontia.

** Please note: I'm absolutely not writing this post to dismiss the effectiveness of antidepressants or encourage anyone else to ditch their meds. My quitting has been a long time coming, and I'm ready for it; I alerted my doctor and have been monitoring my moods closely. Do not attempt withdrawal from psychotropic medicines on your own, as it's likely your experience will vary significantly from mine.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

And now for something completely different

In this video, Fang caught a pretty typical two minutes in the life of Lucas. The boy is just a joy to live with these days.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another note to JetBlue

I confess: Even after my previous righteous indignation at JetBlue, when I saw them unjustly eject the only African American passenger from a flight for talking too loudly, I've been flying with them because, well, their flights are affordable and practically deliver me to the door of my parents' home.


On my flights earlier this week, I ran across another problem--not as big as the earlier one, but still troubling. My note to them is below.

On both of the JetBlue flights my 3-year-old and I took this week, I was incredibly disappointed to see that it was impossible to tune away from the early in-flight commercials for Dark Blue--especially since the commercials are violent, with one man clearly aiming a gun at another person, then firing the gun and (presumably) killing the person. The first time the commercial was on, I was dismayed that my 3-year-old was exposed to this mandatory programming; after all, I monitor all his interactions with media. However, on the return flight, things were worse, as when I saw the same commercial start, I immediately went to dim his screen--but the brightness controls on the arm of his seat wouldn't let me dim the screen at all. That's appalling.

There were many other small children on both flights. Families appreciate JetBlue's affordability, but we don't need to have our children exposed to such violence. Please consider asking sponsors of this mandatory viewing time to tone down violence for the youngest audience members. At the very least, have the flight attendants provide a warning to parents that the mandatory viewing contains violence, and they should dim their screens (which should be possible at *any* time during the flight, by the way).

Many thanks for your consideration. I'd appreciate a response.

Has anyone else had problems with this kind of forced viewing, when you can't change the channel or dim the screen? When we're on JetBlue flights, I monitor Lucas's channels; when he was younger, I dimmed his screen altogether, but now he knows how to turn it back on.

If I get a response from JetBlue, I'll post it here.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Stanford Teacher Ed Program v. Blogger: A Draw?

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

Imagine this scenario: You're taking some college courses, and you're not happy with your program. Do you blog about it? If so, how far do you take your criticism? Do you do so under your own name? Do you name the program, your instructors, your fellow students? Where do you draw the line? If you work with kids as part of your program, do you blog about them?

Blogging at The Washington Post, Jay Mathews recently brought to our attention a messy intersection: one academic program's definition of professionalism vs. one blogger's First Amendment rights. Mathews's post is, I think, a bit one-sided, but he outlines the issues pretty clearly:

wish the supervisors of the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) at that university’s School of Education had checked with me before they decided [Michele] Kerr’s views and her blogging were inappropriate for a student in their program. They appeared to have decided her anti-progressive views were disrupting their classes, alienating other students and proving that she and Stanford were a bad fit. Kerr says they tried to stifle both her opinions and her blog, and threatened to withhold the Masters in Education she was working toward, based on their expressed fear that she was “unsuited for the practice of teaching.”

Kerr’s eventual triumph over such embarrassingly wrong-headed political correctness is a complicated story, but worth telling. In her struggle with STEP, she exposed serious problems in the way Stanford and, I suspect, other education schools, treat independent thinkers, particularly those who blog.

STEP retains the right to decide if a student is suited to teaching, and can deny even someone as smart and dedicated as Kerr, who has a splendid record as a tutor, a chance to work in the public schools.

I don't have the space here to provide a play-by-play of the challenges Kerr and STEP posed to one another. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a controversial organization whose self-stated mission is to protect "freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience" within academia, has posted a selection of materials related to the Kerr case, including letters from Kerr, who writes online and posts to forums under the name Cal Lanier, and STEP administrators.

Kerr also offers a list of key blog posts and documents at her site "Surviving Stanford." Among her posts is this one, which details the days following STEP's discovery that Kerr was blogging:

Regular readers may have noticed that since my last post, my blog disappeared for six weeks and then came back with a new name and lots of edits. That's because the School That Must Not Be Named found out that I had a blog

The neutral news: I genuinely don't think they did it because they wanted to hurt me, or because they were singling me out. The program director went out of her way to stress that. They apparently have absolutely no idea about what's in the blogosphere already. They have no blogging policy and no idea that one might be needed. They were convinced that any discussion of students was in violation of FERPA, even though I use an anonymous name for myself and the students, even though I don't discuss their academic performance or grades or violate their privacy. I believe they are wrong. I can come up with tons of examples, including a fairly well known local blog written by a guy who my school uses as a supervising teacher--a guy who blogs using his real name, his school's real name, and clearly identifies students in negative contexts, which I never do, and in some cases even mentions grades. So the idea that my little blog with pseudonyms for me, my fellow students, my own students, is some grotesque violation is pretty absurd.

I told them this, told them that the absolute lack of conversation about the possibility that far more revealing cases (of which this is only one) means that either there's no violation of FERPA or that about a million teacher blogs are violating FERPA.

(FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.)

Kerr may have violated the spirit of FERPA, if not its letter--I'm qualified to say whether she's broken the law--when in a public forum she posted a video (which has since been removed) of one of her students. Typically, teachers and academics don't publish identifiable data about their students without students' express permission. If the video was considered part of a research project, Kerr likely would have needed to get permission to record and post the video from the university's institutional review board/human subjects committee.

Just as troubling, in the comments on the Mathews post, it becomes clear that Kerr has been removing forum postings that may be somehow incriminating or interpreted in a way that is unflattering. It's troubling because in an e-mail Mathews quotes, Kerr chastised her classmates for not publicly voicing their thoughts and owning their speech. An excerpt:

“I’ll continue being me, and those of you who feel uncomfortable can maybe learn how to speak up. Or not. Your call.”

Kerr's supervisors at STEP had more concerns than just Kerr's blogging about her experiences in the program, so it's not entirely fair to frame the conflict in terms of Big Bad Institution vs. Individual Blogger. In a letter to Kerr, they suggested that she demonstrate improvement in a number of areas in order to be considered suitable to practice teaching. Among the recommendations made in the letter:

  • Work as a team with STEP faculty, staff, peers, university supervisor as well as cooperating teachers and colleagues at your placement site.

  • Develop and maintain an openness to learning and self criticism.

  • Assess your development as a teacher by seeking out and accepting corrective and critical feedback from instructors, colleagues, cooperating teacher and university supervisor.

  • Analyze and reflect on your teaching and your curriculum to understand what contributes to student learning.

  • Expand your knowledge of instructional methods and technologies and demonstrate their implementation in the classroom.

  • Use observations of veteran teachers to improve your teaching and extend your learning.

  • Avoid unnecessary personal and professional conflicts related to STEP.

  • Submit assignments by the deadline (we acknowledge you have made progress and need to maintain your improvement with regard to this area of concern).

  • Attend class on time (we acknowledge you have made progress and need to maintain your improvement with regard to this area of concern).

Joanne Jacobs updates us on Kerr's journey:

After filing a complaint, Kerr got a new supervisor with whom she got along very well. She completed the program and was hired by a high school in the area to teach algebra, geometry and humanities.

What are your thoughts?