Somebody's Mother on Obama Watch

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 12:59 p.m.
I went a little crazy with Obama Watch this week. President signs an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay in a year. I cheer. News reports that a released prisoner is now second in command for Al Qaida in Yemen. I say it figures that something like that would be reported immediately. Perhaps this is a Fox News plot but no, Al Jeezera confirms the report. Ellen shrugs – human rights first and all that. She fishes around seriously for excuses.

Day Two – President signs an executive order reversing Bush’s order that bans funding to any international group providing abortions or information on obtaining an abortion. I cheer again. Stem cell research? Yup, Obama is on that too. Bombing in Pakistan? Oy vey.

It’s been a long time since an American president has done things that have made me cheer. I’m frightened. Maybe I’m going soft. I’m making excuses to my skeptical husband for anything that the President does that seems out of my realm of good and evil. This is definitely worrisome – it’s two steps from there to my homeland, right or wrong. I have to get a grip on reality again.

Take Obama’s appointment of Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Here’s a man whose answer to problems in a school is to fire the principal, all the teachers and close the school. He’s a good buddy of the president’s; they’ve enjoyed quite a few games of pick-up basketball. Considering the social problems in the United States, it seems a bit iffy to use teacher-firing as a means for improving education when you have issues of poverty and family break-down in the United States that make it increasingly difficult for children to receive a decent education in the public system. Now add on the fact that classrooms are overcrowded and the fact that many take place in buildings that need serious renovation and you have a problem whose many facets are far beyond an individual teacher’s ability to solve. The Goldfinch jury is definitely out on this pick.

If Obama is seriously interested in educational reform (are you listening Stephen Harper?), here’s my recipe. Bring down class sizes and you’ll see a big change. This takes more than finding a few twenty-one year old college graduates, giving them a summer course and plopping them in some urban district in the hopes that they can teach kids with severe social and learning problems a thing or two before these grads with big ideals move on to their real careers. Teach For America is a program that seems to be designed to discourage people to be teachers. More teachers, more experienced teachers are needed in problem schools and some kind of financial bonus should make it worth their while to get into such schools and give it a try. You pay people what a job is really worth and there will be enough people to choose from to get the job done. It’s been a long time since teachers have been truly valued for their years of education and the stress factor in the jobs that they do and the complexity of what they try to achieve that often cannot be measured with test scores.

In the weeks to come and the year to come, I’m hoping to see the mess that Bush AND Clinton left us show a semblance of clean-up. Let’s not forget that the de-regulation of the banks started with the Clinton administration. Just as we’ve seen salmonella scares in the food industry for lack of food inspectors, the near-collapse of the credit system is a result of trusting the big guys too much to keep the wheels turning. It’s just crazy – as long as their wheels are greased, what the heck do they care about the rest of us? All eyes are on the President to figure this out. I wish him a lot of luck; he’ll need it. After all, it’s nice to have something to cheer about for a change. I hope he can keep it coming.

Links to this post |

Greasy Roads, Summer Tires and Life Spins Out of Control

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 10:26 p.m.
Last week was a tough one: the six month anniversary of my mother’s death and the death of a colleague after a four month battle with ovarian cancer. I went to her funeral on Friday and felt such a strong sense of disbelief. Four months ago, she said to me, “I feel perfectly fine and I know that they’re going to make me sick.” She looked perfectly fine but as the months went by, the news got repeatedly worse and we were finally warned that the end was near.

I went into Montreal after the funeral and went out to supper with my closest friends and some members of my family. I ate a good and very large Indian supper, washed down with a pint of Newcastle Brown, my favourite beer. The dinner conversation was lively and it was a good evening. For the rest of the weekend, I cleaned house, baked and ate some delicious oatmeal raisin cookies, sat by the fire a lot and drank big cups of coffee and a few glasses of wine with supper - a quiet but comfortable weekend only broken up by the routine of the weekly house cleaning and food shopping. I had no major complaints.

Life is tremendously precious to me although I have not trekked down the route of fame and fortune that I originally thought that I was on. The bliss of middle age is looking back on a life with few regrets. This is always incomprehensible to young people - and there is a bad Cat Stevens song that you can use as background music for that thought - but please don’t. Things could have really gone a lot worse for me but I was fortunate to find help on the way and a few people set me straight.

My father used to say to me on many occasions that there are two kinds of problems: those that are out of our control and those that are man-made. My mother was afraid of dying and yet she faced her terminal illness with courage. Yes, she used denial much of the time to handle the fact that she was going to die but it worked for her. Who am I to knock a life-long tool that has stood me in good stead? Procrastination is just another form of denial and it works just as much as it gets me into trouble. Mom complained rarely and cracked lots of jokes till she couldn’t talk anymore.

Some of my close friends are going through a similar process, getting through the first year of an elderly parent’s death. You find that some problems have sadly ended while the newer and more mundane ones of dealing with what parents have left behind seems to go on and on. It is a source of constant worry for me at this point. At least two members of my family have severed their relationship with me and I with them; it’s too painful.

These are the man-made problems that Dad talked about. Something can be done about them. Grieving for a lost loved one and death are out of our hands. It’s a test of our characters that we can’t avoid and that we need a sack-full of aphorisms to get through. I carry that invisible bag across my shoulder, like Santa, like the laundry bag that my father used to haul to the car on the way to his laundry business.

You take it one day at a time or it takes a year to get over the death of a loved one or as Janis Joplin said, get it while you can. For me, getting it has become that glass of Chateau Lafitte Laujac 2004 or that pint of Newcastle or that smile across the breakfast table from the one I love.

Here’s another one. The late, great Frank Zappa got up in concert and said that the show was going to be about the fact that it’s fucking great to be alive “…and if there’s anybody here who doesn’t think that it’s fucking great to be alive, then I wish that you’d just leave now because this show will just bum you out.”

Wish you were here, Frank. It’s 2009, an African America is about to be president (the jury’s out on what he’ll do with it though), the world is sinking into some kind of Depression/Recession and in spite of it all, it’s still extremely fucking great to be alive.

Links to this post |

Pedaling on the infernal guilt machine

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 12:38 p.m.

Exercise and music-these are my two New Year's resolutions. I'm not doing enough of either. For the sake of my mental health, I realized that I'd better get back into a habit of listening to music and playing music because we are entering the dark night of the soul, January, and if I don't doodle around on a guitar or turn my stereo up loud (my dog Molly will just have to go down to the basement of out on the back porch to wail at wind/string instruments), then I may go stark raving mad this winter.

Music is definitely the easy resolution. It makes me happy. Exercise does not make me happy and lack of exercise goes on to do something even worse to me - it churns up guilt. I have enough to feel guilty about. I don't send my children care packages. I don't do enough for my old dad in NY. A sibling and her brood think that I am one of the evildoers and I have students who hate me for assigning work to them and expecting them to do it. I feel guilty about my deeds that have had an impact on these people whether or not the guilt is warranted.

What the heck do I need another thing to feel guilty about? Ah, but you see, I did this to myself. Two years ago, I bought myself an elliptical trainer and I figured that since it cost me dearly, I would use it. I know that I can be a rather cheap little woman and wouldn't it be the height of waste buying an exercise machine and not using it? Most of you who chose to read this little tirade are probably shaking your heads with a knowing smile on your faces. Stop being so damn smug. You were right. You are still right.

I don’t use the machine and I’ve taken to calling it the guilt machine. It works so much better at exercising my guilt reflexes than it does at toning up my calf and thigh muscles and burning calories. Twenty-five minutes on that machine is so boring that it makes me want to scream for mercy. An iPod is no help - I’m bored to tears even with music. My latest idea is to stick a TV in front of it but you see that involves an outlay of more cash for a TV/DVD player and if I don’t use the machine and watch the TV, I will feel even guiltier about wasting money.

There is a solution: forget the exercise resolution and go forth to a newer, different me, a me who has resolved to banish guilt from her life. That is a resolution that is doomed to failure as I am guilt-ridden due to genetics, upbringing, cultural heritage and the present world situation. Anyone who lives as well as I do should feel guilty, right?

For twenty-five years, I’ve resolved to be more patient in the New Year and that never worked. Now I don’t need more patience; my kids have left home and I’ve got enough patience for what I do in life. Why be greedy? Why look for more? Maybe exercise should have a similar place in my life. I don’t need to run marathons and I’m not excessively overweight…no, I’m afraid it doesn’t work. When I get to old age and my legs fail from under me, I will be infuriated with myself for not getting enough exercise when I was young enough to do something about it. Then, I’ll feel guilty and it will be the same crap yet again: more guilt, more misery.

No, I will play music, I will listen to music and I will try to find some form of exercise that doesn’t bore me to tears…and when January gets too much for me, I’m going to drink a glass of very nice red wine in front of the fire. The Christmas lights outside may stay up till February too. Lights and wine and fire - that will be enough to stave off guilt for a few days anyway.

Links to this post |

Copyright © 2009 Somebody's Mother Online All rights reserved. Theme by Laptop Geek. | Bloggerized by FalconHive.