Before our difficulties began, one day as we were chatting, Kathy started to tell me about her “gentleman friend,” Mel. Mel came from a background similar to hers. He was the son of an evangelical Christian minister. In rebellion, he had turned to a life of “rock and roll and rebellion” (I translated this as engaging in sex, drugs, alcohol, and the like). Kathy told me that they were living together.

She told me that Mel was intelligent and sweet, but unable to get and hold a job. Apparently, he spent much of his time working out as a body builder. She knew he had the intelligence and charm to get himself a fine job (perhaps as a salesman), but he was entirely lacking in confidence in himself.

It was obvious that she desperately wanted him to propose to her and marry her. (Although she was not attending church, she still considered herself a “good Christian girl,” and living with a man in “sin” distressed her.)

Mel felt as a man he had to support Kathy. Actually, he was a fine “house husband,” a good cook and housekeeper. Kathy was fine with supporting Mel financially, but Mel was horrified at the idea.

She told me that periodically they would have a big fight and she would storm out and leave him, but then return.

I said, “This does not sound like it will work out. Perhaps you should just cut your losses and realize he is never going to change…”

At that point, Kathy astonished me by saying with some vigor, “No! No! I love him! I am not going to leave him.”

I was startled and decided to stop giving her advice. Looking back on the situation with perspective from years later, I now conclude that what Kathy (the evangelical feminist) wanted was, like Maria, a man who wouldn’t give her much shit. It was fine with her if she had to support Mel, as long as he let her wear the pants (so to speak) in the relationship.

Over time I actually met Mel a few times. He seemed like a pleasant, personable man. I could see no reason why he and Kathy would not make a fine married couple, but what do I know?

However, I figured that Mel would never break down and agree to marry Kathy. However, one week they made a trip to Nevada (not for gambling, but for what reason I don’t remember), and on her return Kathy surprised everyone at the school by telling us that Mel had married her in Las Vegas during the trip. As I had recently seen the zany Nicholas Cage film Honeymoon in Las Vegas depicting Cage as a reluctant boyfriend who finally breaks down and marries his lady love, I was struck by the peculiar coincidence. I could think of few people less similar to the characters in the movie than Mel and Kathy, but there they were, married on impulse, in Las Vegas.

Kathy told me after the marriage that after watching Mel with their dog, she decided not to have children. As I’ve always believed that 75% of the people who do have children should not, that seemed as good a reason for coming to such a conclusion as any.

About a year or so again I had an email exchange with Kathy. She and Mel are still married. She still likes to be in charge of everything, but she found a job at a community college where she prepares curriculum and seems to be in charge of enough stuff to keep her control urges satisfied. She said that she and Mel are still married, and he has become a minister (of what crazy denomination I have no idea) and satisfied his urge to be a preacher by marrying people. All in all seems like a happy ending for an evangelical Christian feminist.

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Kathy told me that her goal in attending Multnomah School of the Bible was to be a missionary in Africa and win souls for Christ among the heathens. However, as she neared graduation, she had an uncomfortable insight.

“I realized that the only way I could be a missionary was to either be the wife of a missionary or be a “go-fer” for a missionary. These were the only roles available for a woman in my church.”

In other words, somehow, Kathy had somehow succumbed to feminism, despite all her training and indoctrination against it.

Instead of using her divinity degree, Kathy got a job as a clerk in an office. As an intelligent, energetic and ambitious person, she quickly taught herself about computers and office procedures and rose to responsible positions. However, two main themes in her life were 1) fearing betrayal by people she trusted and 2) lacking respect for people less intelligent and perceptive than her telling her what to do. As she constantly feared betrayal, she would provoke people around her into betraying her, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we worked together, I saw her engage in this pattern.

 

At first, however, things went very well for Kathy. My boss, Tom, quickly recognized Kathy’s intelligence and ability, and, as did I, responded to her charm, which is considerable. Unlike Tammy, (the woman I described in my last post), Kathy does not play on her sex appeal in as strong and calculating way, but she knows how to make a very positive impression on people she meets, both men and women with her courtesy, intelligence, and desire to help people learn and succeed.

Tom quickly hired her and she quickly proved to be one of the best teachers in our “school.” [We were well separated from the rest of the University; both geographically and in how we functioned, so mostly we thought of ourselves as a separate school, like a little community college in Portland.]

Every class we taught was “graded” by the students, who submitted a feedback form, rating the class on a scale from 1-5, on about half a dozen points having to do with the quality of the class. Although I was and am fairly conceited about my teaching ability and about my ability to recognize and improve my teaching flaws and correct my failures, like all the other instructors I read the student feedback carefully. As far as I could tell, Kathy and I were the two highest rated instructors in the program.

I found this fascinating in that our teaching styles were quite different. We sometimes sat in on each others classes. Sometimes this was to learn a program we didn’t know. In large classes, the program provided “teaching assistants.” Once in a while one of the full instructors would help out as a TA.

My style of teaching is varied and improvisational. I am constantly trying new approaches and experimenting. I am very responsive to student requests. For example, one day I was teaching a class for a group of employees for the Internal Revenue Service. I began by making jokes about how much people hate and fear the IRS. I noticed a passing university employee staring at me in alarm, apparently fearing that I would be audited and arrested on the spot.

I quickly learned that the requested topic for the class (assigned by a supervisor who was not present) was not what the group of employees actually wanted to learn. I knew something about the topic they wanted but did not have a class prepared. I improvised a class on the spot. Later, I got a letter from an IRS department head expressing appreciation at how well I had met employee needs. That was an illustration of how I functioned when I was working at my best.

The down side was that I was (and am) easily distracted and impulsive. Sometimes in an effort to better meet students’ needs I would go off on a wild goose chase or get in deeply over my head. My willingness to improve and fly by the seat of my pants drove some students crazy.

Kathy, on the other hand, was a person who functioned entirely by depending on careful analysis and preparation. Once she had mastered a topic, she planned her classes practically to the minute. As I walked by her classroom, I would hear her voice, look at my watch, and joke quietly to other teachers, “It’s 11:15 am. I now exactly what she is going to say right now, because it’s on her schedule.”

Students loved her organization, confidence, knowledge of her subject. On the other hand, when circumstances were not entirely under her control or events were not going as she planned, Kathy tended to panic.

I remember once, she was teaching a database class, a topic where she was expert and my knowledge was skimpy. Microsoft had just released its first database program. Students were clamouring for it. The program was full of bugs and constantly crashing. I went into the classroom to assist Kathy. She was practically distraught. She wanted to cancel the class. In her mind, if the program crashed while she was teaching, the students would blame her personally, not Microsoft, who was releasing software not ready for prime time, nor the University of Oregon Portland Center, who was offering a dubious and unready program to satisfy student demands.

I said to Kathy, “Just tell the students, ‘We know you really want this class and we are offering it even though we cannot guarantee that the program will run without crashing through the entire class. If it crashes, we will give you your money back or a free class at a future time when we can make it work.’”

“No! I can’t do that. It’s completely unprofessional! They will consider me as a person who does not know what she is doing and is not fit to teach!” Kathy lamented, practically in tears. “I can’t get up and say something like that to a room full of students!”

I said, “I will do it for you. I will take full responsibility. Since Tom [the director of the program] is not here today, I will tell them I am the ranking staff member here and if someone is furious and irate, I will take all the heat. I will tell them I am the senior staff member in the absence of the Director.” [This was more or less true.]

Eventually, Kathy let me make a brief introductory statement to the class while she cringed in the back of the room. I explained that we really wanted to meet their need for a class on this program, but we could not guarantee it would run through the entire class without crashing. The students (who were for the most part already very computer-experienced and used to the typical ways in which computer hardware and software fails all the time) mostly shrugged.

Kathy then began teaching the class. Although the software was shaky for the duration of the class (about 6 hours over one day), it never actually failed completely. The students were enormously grateful for the fine job she did that day.

 

I was also fairly confident in dealing with difficult and hostile students. I attributed this to having been a high school teacher for about ten years. Adolescents are by nature difficult and hostile. I regarded the adults in our classes at UO as fairly pliable and easy to control. As I had been teaching for much of my career in a “diverse” high school with a variety of races, religions, and general nuttiness, I was fairly comfortable in dealing with diverse groups. Probably I overestimated my capability in this regard, but in general I was more relaxed in dealing with hostile students than my fellow teachers.

One day Kathy taught a class where a black man accused her of not providing him with enough attention and support. I wasn’t there, but I suspect I would have been more comfortable handling this situation after having experience with teaching a few hostile black gang members in my classes in high school. Again, Kathy was mortified; horrified that anyone would consider her prejudiced.

However, Kathy soon began to play out her betrayal dramas. In our classes, there was never quite enough work to go around for all the teachers. Each teacher would have his or her “turf”; classes they considered their property. Other teachers were not supposed to teach turf classes unless there was so much work to go around that the “owner” would say, “OK, you go ahead and teach that section.”

Kathy and I shared the Microsoft Word classes amicably enough, but trouble arose in the area of databases. Kathy and a teacher named Richard shared the database classes. Richard was a friednly and easy-going person, but he began developing a new database class. Kathy (with little justification) began to regard Richard’s work as “stealing database classes” from her.

It’s always easier to see other people’s flaws and errors than our own. I could see that Kathy was provoking a “betrayal drama” where she would get herself fired. My efforts to tell her to calm herself down were not well-received. We never had a complete break, but our friendship cooled considerably.

During the period when our friendship was having difficulty, Kathy told me, with some asperity, that I was too willing to go along to get along, and that I should stand up for myself more and compromise less. As a person who was usually in trouble for arguing with bosses and on the verge of getting fired, I was rather bitterly amused to receive such criticism.

I met Kathy, the second evangelical Christian feminist, when I was teaching computer classes for the University of Oregon. This is an extremely misleading sentence because it makes me sound like a professor of computer science teaching advanced classes for future nerds. In fact, these classes were short, ungraded, no credit classes akin to community college classes taught in Portland, Oregon, about a hundred miles from the main UO campus in Eugene, Oregon.

Anyway, in those days I was younger, smarter (though not by much) and sort of “tri-lingual” in that I taught DOS classes, Windows classes, and Macintosh classes. I was teaching a Microsoft Word class for the Macintosh computer when I met Kathy, one of the students, about ten years younger than I, pretty without being bodacious. As the class proceeded, it quickly became clear to me that while a few details of the Macintosh were unfamiliar to her, in general she knew as much or more than I did about Microsoft Word. At the end of the class, she stopped to chat with me a bit. Given her obvious intelligence and knowledge of the program, I wondered a bit why she was taking the class.

When she asked about the class and about our program, fairly quickly became apparent to me that she was trolling for a teaching job. [As I got to know Kathy better, I realized that the reason she was trolling for a new job was that she knew she was about to get fired. At the time, she was office manager for a well known market research company in Portland. In my checkered working career, I was usually in trouble and conflict with my bosses, but Kathy outdid me by a few light years in this regard in her tendency to get into battles she could not win with her bosses.]

I explained that I was not the person who hired for our school, but advised her that if she provided a copy of her resume, I would pass it on to my boss. Up to that point, Kathy had been confident and self-assured in manner and projected smooth professional self-confidence. All of a sudden she seemed embarrassed and diffident and reluctant to let me see her resume. However, when I pressed a bit she reluctantly handed me a nice-looking and well-prepared curriculum vitae.

As I glanced at her education, I was struck by her degree: in divinity from a Portland college: Multnomah School of the Bible. I was slightly familiar with this school. It’s an extremely conservative, very devout evangelical Christian college. (A quick web check shows it is still going strong and now rather dubiously labels itself as a “university.”)

As we talked, and as I got to know her over the next months, Kathy told me something of her background. She had grown up in Northern California, a child of very strict, very devout evangelical parents. My impression is that she was a very obedient and devoted child who accepted what her parents and her church told her wholeheartedly. She apparently felt her entire purpose in life was to worship Jesus and to convert non believers to conservative Christianity.

About the time she was a pre-teen, her father abandoned her mother and ran off with another woman. As far as I could parse as I got to know her, Kathy’s immediate response to her father’s betrayal and hypocrisy was to double or triple her devotion to God and Jesus–perhaps blaming herself for the failure of her parents’ marriage–but on a deeper level, she developed a deep fear of betrayal and a passionate reluctance to trust anyone else or depend on anyone else.

(To be continued)

Part 1

In talking about feminists I have known, I tend to divide them into two groups. One group I would describe as “classical feminists,” who thought, “Men have fucked us [women] over; when we get the chance, we will screw them just as badly.”

Historically, until recently, women seldom got the opportunity. Three women from historical records come quickly to mind: Cleopatra, Elizabeth I of England, and Catherine the Great of Russia.

Cleopatra famously fooled around with Anthony, who lost out in the Roman gang war rumbles of the time; she went down with him. Elizabeth was very tough and coy; defeating the Spanish armada, negotiating with a variety of suitors, while cultivating a cult of virginity (the virginity may have been accurate in fact.) Catherine of Russia proved to be a tough babe in a rough land; conquering enemies in war, holding on to her court (after her husband was deposed and then killed); and taking and casting aside lovers as suited her tastes without much qualm or secrecy.

At this point, as my style, I will embark on an incredibly prolix, tedious, and ignorant essay on the history of modern religious belief, which will eventually get you to the subject of feminist evangelical Christian babes I have known. Feel free to skip to the not so bad part will be helpfully labeled, “Not so bad part, slightly safer to read.”

While my co-worker Maria would probably not wanted to be grouped with babes like Cleopatra, Elizabeth, and Liz; as a very educated woman who majored in history and possessed a wry sense of humor, I suspect she would have reluctantly conceded the resemblance.

As an English major, I was familiar with Henry James, an eccentric writer who wrote dense novels that most people feel they ought to read but probably don’t want to. [Actually, with a little effort on the part of the reader, some of James’ early novels, such as What Maisie Knew, are pretty good, but as James was very bright and very talented, once he put his mind to writing completely unreadable novels, by the end of his life he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. If he had been a competitive runner, James would have been one who ran marathons hundreds of miles from where any other competitor would dream of running in desert landscapes where no human observers would be caught dead watching the race because they would be caught dead period by the Gila monsters and rattlesnakes.

Until later, I was less familiar with Henry’s eccentric and brilliant brother, William James, a philosopher who believed in pragmatism (if i t works, it probably is right); a social scientist who invented experimental psychology (a system for torturing rats and pigeons); and one of the first people to study religious belief from the point of view of social science. In other words, aside from pondering the question of whether religious belief is true (impossible to determine for sure, but probably not) an issue that fretted James quite a bit as he was fairly depressed much of the time and did not want to die any more than most of us, except when he was considering whether to commit suicide, he also contemplated the question: what do religious people actually believe?

Writing in the late 1800s, James noticed that religious belief tended to fall into two schools:

Positive Thinking School: What might be called the “positive thinking school” (Tending toward a belief in a benevolent Loving God who will reward us for existing by granting us life after physical death in a groovy place called Heaven) and:

Humans Are Wicked, Doomed Sinners School:What might be called the “” believing that Christ’s sacrifice will save us from eternal punishment in Hell if we worship God and Christ while constantly bragging about our sinfulness and unworthiness.”

[In keeping with James I am speaking of Christianity here, but similar strains existed in other religions of his time as he was aware.]

A century after William James went to find out for himself if there is any there there (in other words, he croaked), globalism seems to be creeping into the world of religion, in that two main  religions are cohering around the world. Speaking in the late 1900s and early 2000s, writers such as Karen Armstrong (Catholic nun drop-out and author of acclaimed books such as The History of God) have described these trends (my summaries of which would probably make poor Karen puke, though very gently and discreetly, because she is a very gentle, refined woman):

Tolerant, Ecumenical, We Are All Children of One Loving God School and

WE BLOW OURSELVES UP AND YOU WITH US IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE CORRECT GOD OF YOUR OWN FREEE WILL SCHOOL!!!!

(Karen Armstrong herself, describes the second school as “Fundamentalism”]

One of the typical strains of fundamentalism is “obedience to God.” God wants humans to be blindly and unquestionably obedient to Him. A side benefit of this system is that many fundamentalists assign themselves roles as spokespeople for God and then start telling others around them to be obedient to them as religious leaders, political leaders, and so on. In evangelical Christianity (and most other fundamentalist religions), men interpret this chain of command as applying to women being obedient to men (husbands, fathers, and so on).

Just as in the case of political leaders such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth, and Catherine, some fundamentalist women are not inclined by temperament and philosophy to be blindly and passively obedient to the men in their lives. In the following sections of this thread I will describe a couple of evangelical Christian women I have known who were by nature feminists and the somewhat amusing (at least to me) turns these contradictions played out in their lives.

As we were getting ready to leave to see the mommies and Random Granddaughter, I noticed a distressed look on my wife’s face. When I queried her, she said, “I feel like I am going to throw up. I do not want to make anyone sick. You go. I will stay home.”

When I got to the mommies, RG was talking on the phone. Mommy (my daughter’s partner and RG’s birth mother) said, “She is talking to her dad. He is Amsterdam with his mom.”

RG has flown to Virginia and to Chicago, but not to Europe. Mommy said, “Dad keeps threatening to take her to Europe.” I am sure when that day occurs, RG will take Europe by storm as she has America.

Mama (my daughter) stayed upstairs and studied her calculus and statistics for her graduate school class. She explained what she is studying a little bit. I tried to look alert and comprehending, much as Sylvie, the mommies’ adorable cat, tries to loot alert and comprehending when we explain to her when she wants to go outside that she can’t because the raccoons and the coyotes who live in the city will eat her.

Mommy and RG and I went to the Arboretum to feed the ducks. The mommies are very nutrition conscious, so we didn’t bring stale white bread. RG had a bag of organic oats. RG threw oats at the ducks. It is hard to read the expression on a duck’s face, but I suspect the ducks’ faces said, “We would like stale white bread crumbs just as well, thank you.”

We then walked for a bit and then RG spied something interesting on the shore of a lagoon. We went to examine it. “That’s a dead beaver,” said Mommy.

RG stared at the dead beaver for quite a while with interest. I didn’t tell her that the dead beaver’s name, when alive, was “Existential Dilemma.” Or perhaps it was “I build dams, damn it!”

We then returned to the small house in the medium-sized city. As Mommy fixed us a nice lunch, she told me that her mother, who is 69, has arrhythmia in her heart. She is not in any danger of dying immediately, but the doctors have been inserting tubes up into her heart and trying to get it to beat in the proper rhythm. The process in very painful and uncomfortable.

My cousin Julie told me that my Aunt Henriette was told she needs an operation on her heart. Henriette has always believed that good nutrition and exercise would help her live forever, but she has agreed to have the operation. Her son Carl, who has been very estranged from his mother, is flying out to be with her. He has no money, so Julie is paying for his plane trip. (She calls it a loan, but I doubt that she is holding her breath waiting for repayment).

I try to be very nice to my daughter and her partner and that she will be able to afford the ferry trip to visit us when the time comes. At the moment, my blood sugar is at an acceptable level, and my blood pressure is at a good level as well, and my heart goes into the training level on the treadmill fairly readily, but one never knows.

January 28, 2010

As I mentioned in a comment on David’s blog, I had a conversation with my Aunt Henriette a few days ago.. I learned from my cousin that she was in the hospital for two days because her heart is calcified. I suspect that she is close to dying, but she will not admit she is failing until five minutes after she expires, which is perhaps the best approach to take to the matter.

My aunts, like my grandmother, were/are all tough, narcissist broads, and about as difficult to knock off as Rasputin.

After the usual awkward conversation about diet with my Aunt Henriette, who considers herself an expert on health care and who wanted to go over what supplements I take and so on, I changed the subject (not sure I wanted to be prescribed to by a dying woman) and began to explore my roots.

As a child, I detested my grandparents and my parents, so I mostly avoided asking about or learning about my ancestry. Henriette is still alert and articulate.

I know that my mother’s parents were Ukranian Jews (though in those days everything in the area was considered “Russian,” I think), but I didn’t have much of a picture of my father’s roots. In passing, I got an interesting perspective on the toxic roots of my childhood and my parents.

In terms of ancestry, my paternal grandmother was born in Latvia (Jewish, of course) and arrived in the United States at the age of two. My paternal grandfather was born in the United States. His ancestors were Hungarian Jews, and made a living as musicians, often playing at weddings. So, in the unlikely event anyone is interested, I am a Ukrainian, Latvian, Hungarian Jewish radical agnostic.

The interesting information was about my grandmother, whom I remember (from her last years of life, when she lived with my Aunt Naomi in Southern California) as a dreadful narcissistic monster.

The information below is a combination of my recent conversation, and information I’ve received at other times (such as family reunions). As a young woman, around the turn the century, Grandma Agnes was an energetic feminist and career woman, working at several jobs, including as a secretary in a steel mill.

However, at one point she was a script writer for a movie studio. This was in New York City. Some of the movie studios operated in New York City as well as in California in the early days of the movie business.

At some point, Agnes married my grandfather Harry (who was a dentist who studied with John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek Michigan (and thus we enter the world of The Road to Wellness, which David recommended I read).

 However, Kellogg was notoriously phobic about sex, and Grandfather Harry didn’t get the memo, as my aunts told me that he was an enthusiastic horn dog, though as far as I know, faithful to Grandma Agnes. Anyway, Agnes became pregnant fairly quickly and had three daughters—Aunt Diana, Aunt Naomi, Aunt Henriette (the baby), and one son, my father. When Grandma Agnes found herself a mother, her budding career as a scriptwriter and who knows what else was destroyed and she became quite angry and embittered, and turned her fury on Diana, her oldest daughter.

On top of that, Grandfather Harry, as a big fan of Kellogg, administered enemas to all the members of his family. Diana became irate at both mom and dad, stormed out of her family, and eventually married a conventional medical doctor. In my alternative health care fanatic family, this was the ultimate insult.

To add further to the drama and commotion, Diana, much like her mother, a narcissistic monster, in the words of her children, “Destroyed her husband, the doctor.”

Diana got the worst treatment from Grandma Agnes, but all of my father’s family suffered quite a bit. My Aunt Naomi, who studied to be a ballet dancer, and was tall and beautiful as a young woman, fell in love with some pretentious “guru” who placed some spell over the entire family and ran off to California with him.

Eventually, Naomi tossed him aside and fell in love with my Uncle Donald, a cowboy from a California high desert ranching family, who became an engineer and eventually a chiropractor. As a tough cowboy, used to breaking wild horses, and about ten years younger, Donald was about equal to Naomi, and they had a fairly happy and successful marriage. As I’ve told elsewhere, their daughter, Joanna, became fluent in Chinese and co-founded with her Taiwanese husband the multi-national baby stroller/baby furniture company Graco and became a millionaire. She also became a bit of a heroine in Taiwan because after her youngest daughter was implanted with the first cochlear implant for a Chinese child, she set up a foundation to provide care for deaf children born in Taiwan.

 There’s more, some of which I’ve told at other times. I have two points I will close with. If I had writing talent like say T. Correghesan Boyle,, and had paid attention as a child, I could have used my family as a launching pad for a great memoir. I care not much.

 The other point is that toxic strains in families creep down through many generations. Grandmother Agnes getting pregnant had terrible effects on at least the families of three of her children, (Naomi and Donald did pretty well with my cousins Joanna and her sister Valerie) but the rest of her children and their families were fairly well ruined.

Except perhaps, in my case. I just turned 66 a few days ago. I am fairly content with my life. My wife and I both came from fairly toxic families. I am most proud that we were able to break free of noxious roots and stay on good terms with our daughter and her partner.

They, in turn, seem to be doing quite well with the illustrious Random Granddaughter, though as she is a notorious drama queen and the terror of her kindergarten (with her partner in crime the billionaire’s daughter) at the School for Very Bright Children,  the jury is still out.

This weekend we will visit the barely extended family and celebrate my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and little child genius’ birthday.

Though, of course, she may take advantage of her birthday party to tell us that she is disowning us.

Grandparents Day (Part 3)

November 29, 2009

Performing in front of a roomful of rich grandparents must have been stressful. I am sure that KT the kindergarten teacher was grateful when time for a break came. Many of the small classes at the private school have a teaching assistant. The young man who fills this role for RG’s class took the children to the playground; Grandma and I followed.

The children scattered to various play activities. I spotted RG and another little girl following the TA to an equipment shed. As I approached the conversation clued me in that the other little girl is someone I will call BIP for Bad Influence Peer.

The TA was telling the two little girls (in a gentle and kindly manner) that it was problematic to let them play together because they often got into trouble. They would have to promise to be good, he said, for him to allow their companionship for the rest of the day.

Eager to get to some favorite toys, they agreed. The TA handed them both some hand scoops and they ran off with them.

I followed at a discreet distance. Random Granddaughter and BIP were digging and scooping leaves and dirt in and out of holes with considerable intensity with the two scoops.

I looked at BIP with some curiosity. The word “fox” came to mind, for two reasons. First, she is very pretty. I have no doubt that when she is 15 she will be regarded by the boys as a “fox” (or whatever the slang for an attractive girl is by about 2020.) Second, she struck me as having a cunning, calculating expression, fitting the connotation of cunning, crafty.

I heard RG say to BIP, “Let’s be good today, so we can get to play together.” RG is trying to be a good influence I thought. I could not tell if it was working.

Grandma and I had errands to run and tasks to do on our day on the mainland, so we left, with plans to join the mommies and RG for dinner that night at their house.

Grandparents Day (Part 2)

November 28, 2009

Imagine a school which is something like a combination of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford with a student body of highly intelligent, very creative, frequently neurotic young students. Most come from wealthy backgrounds, though there are a number of “scholarship” students as well, selected on a combination of merit and a desire to promote diversity. Instead of young adults ranging from late teens to early twenties, the students range from preschool to eighth grade. You will find something like the private school Random Granddaughter attends as a kindergarten student.

When Mrs. Random and I arrived for Grandparents and Grandfriends day, we were escorted into a lobby with the other Grands. We were quickly and efficiently registered, receiving a sticker displaying our name, our grandchild’s name and marked with a color indicating grade level (green in our case indicated our grandchild is a kindergartner). A large movie screen presented a show documenting a trip by eighth graders to Vietnam.

I joked earlier about RG “adopting” rich grandparents to get in their will. My prediction has had a slight detour with truth in a surprising way, which I will get to in a bit. However, Mommy (a teacher at this school) confirmed that the Grands day is in part a marketing promotion to bring in students and bequests for this expensive to operate private school.

 

After a brief wait a staff member welcomed us and described the plan for the day. At a little after 9 am the grandparents would go on a school tour, and then go to their assigned classrooms. However, we kindergartener grands were directed to go our grandchild’s class right away, so we missed the tour.

In our kindergarten (one of three) we found 13 children gathered around the teacher listening as she read to them. [Each classroom at the private school has 16 students; 3 were away on Thanksgiving travels.]

Grands gathered in a circle of folding chairs surrounding the class. The kindergarten teacher, whom I will refer to as KT, was a pretty, buxom young woman who spoke to the children enthusiastically and positively. Although I did not encounter the other two kindergarten teachers, I could see why Mommy had selected this woman as RG’s teacher.. The mommies try to be positive and upbeat with RG, and careful about what she encounters in the arts, to maintain her innocence and enthusiasm for life as long as possible.

KT read a story, more of a chant, actually, about picking things out of a bucket. The moral was to pick good things out of the bucket; things to be thankful for. The teacher then greeted the Grands and explained the children would perform “The Gingerbread Man” for our entertainment. The children gathered in groups by characters. Several children got to play each character. For example, there were two gingerbread men (both girls), one blond, one light brown. The characters were always referred to in the singular and performed, spoke, and sang in a group.

We saw Random Granddaughter in a group of three girls, each playing a cow, indicated by a hat with horns.. RG nodded slightly when she saw Grandma in the audience, but otherwise ignored our presence.

KT narrated the play and frequently prompted the children with lines and cues. Mommy later told us that this teacher loves to use drama in her class. “I generally avoid trying to direct plays cast with small children,” Mommy said with admiration.

At the end of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Lear goes mad after learning of the death of his daughter Cordelia. They play is often considered one of the most wrenching and depressing of Shakespeare’s tragic creations. For a time, a happy ending was tacked on to productions. As Wikipedia summarizes:

Nahum Tate produced an adaptation in 1681: he gave the play a happy ending, with Edgar and Cordelia marrying, and Lear restored to kingship. The Fool was eliminated altogether, and Arante, a confidant for Cordelia, was added. This was the version acted by Thomas Betterton, David Garrick, and Edmund Kean, and praised by Samuel Johnson.

This page provides a pretty typical version of the traditional Gingerbread man story.  When I worked as student teacher in ghetto public schools I sometimes told it to small children, taking great delight in presenting the tragic ending where the fox gobbles the runaway cookie man. As I remember, the little ghetto children (growing up in an atmosphere of crime and gangs) took some delight in the violent ending.

At the end of the kindergarten play, when it is fairly obvious that the fox is going to gobble the Gingerbread Man, all the characters gather in the meadow and have a jolly picnic in peace and love. This provides the uplifting and politically correct version of the story suitable for a private school for (mostly) rich children.

After the ending, the children all sang a song. Up to that point, Random Granddaughter’s acting (in what was obviously a bit part) had been a bit perfunctory, but when it came to the song, she participated with great enthusiasm, singing loudly and gesturing firmly.

After the conclusion, each child received a large paper apple and dropped it into a large symbolic Thanksgiving pot, telling the audience what they were thankful for. “My family” was a frequent choice. RG said, “My family…and trains, planes, and automobiles.” As I can say with some confidence that RG has never seen the movie of that title, it was an interesting contribution on her part.

At that point, the children went into the audience to sit on their grandparents’ laps. The grandparents were asked to share a favorite memory of their grandchild.

RG came and sat in my lap. Grandma shared, “We were present when RG first crawled by herself and when she took her first step.”

 

 

 

Grandparents Day (Part 1)

November 26, 2009

“Please take your toe out of your mouth,” said Grandma. It is fairly common for people to nibble at stubborn cuticles, but not many do it on a toenail.

I was reading a book to Random Granddaughter called Zoo Babies while Mommy fixed a roast chicken as a two days before Thanksgiving family dinner. Mama had been studying at the University, and had not arrived home yet. It was the evening of the day Grandma and I had visited RG at kindergarten on Grandparents and Grandfriends Day.

I had found the book at the recycling center, in the trailer where they stack books people dump in the waste paper and they think might be attractive to someone or other and they sell for about 50 cents or so. This book, copyright 1953, was attractive to me because my family owned it when I was nine years old so it made me nostalgic to encounter it again and to bring it as a gift for RG.

Later that night, after dinner, as we drove home toward the ferry, Mrs. Random said, “RG is very limber, being able to stick her toe in her mouth.”

I replied, “Perhaps she can show her trouble-making school friend how to do it and she can go home and impress her billionaire daddy. ‘Look what Random Granddaughter showed me how to do at the School for Very Bright Children,’ she will say when she gets home.”

 

[to be continued]

The Va-Va-Voom Sisters are three sisters who live in the Pacific Northwest, whose first names all start with the letter “V.” I have never met the oldest, V1, who lives in Idaho. Although I haven’t seen them for a while, I consider V2 and V3, whom I met in my last job, when I worked for a library system, as good friends and charmingly eccentric people.

V3, the youngest, told me that their father is an airline pilot. His dream as a dad was to teach all three of his daughters to fly. Unfortunately, they all hate flying and get airsick. I presume they all still love each other, but if you are a parent, don’t get your heart set too much on your children loving your dreams and passions. None of the Va-Va-Voom girls will go up in a plane with dad.

In several chapters, I will describe why I enjoyed knowing them so much.