Excerpt From Jan. 17 Newsletter

Here’s an excerpt from my latest newsletter. Please subscribe, folks!

It’s January Jersey. Which means the sky is a greige color that all the designers are putting on their walls.

I know all about griege, because we’re in the middle of a painting project at home. Between being grounded in the house with various medical testing for Ian and a dull spot in between writing projects, I have some time on my hand. I decided that it was time to rent a steamer from Home Depot and tackle the last two rooms in our home that still had the previous owner’s wallpaper on the walls.

So, our bedroom furniture is covered with plastic tarps, and my office is inhospitable, until we can finish the job. When we embarked on this plan, I expected to finish off in a week or two. In reality, we are still a month of weekends away from applying any paint — griege or otherwise – on the walls. 

I have a writing topic on hold. The topic is all approved by an editor, but we’re just waiting for one of the presidential candidates to bring up a specific education topic. The candidate is not cooperating, so I’ve done a little background research and am just waiting. And catching up with my other job, which is housewifery. 

I never planned on being a stay at home parent, who works gigs on the side. I planned on having a prestigious job in the university or a policy think tank. That’s why I wasted most of my twenties in graduate school and finished the PhD. But here am I. Drinking rosé with the soccer moms and spinning away the muffin tops on Monday mornings. 

On most days, that’s just fine. I have time to paint walls, check in on my mom, make sure the college kid has filled out the right forms for next year’s dorm assignments, attend IEP meetings, talk with the lawyer about the guardianship papers, and arrange appointments with a contractor who has to fix the hole in the foundation by the garage. 

Other days, I get impatient with my situation. Freelancers don’t get the choice assignments or get paid very well. I miss teaching college classes, even six years later; though I don’t miss grading papers, which always sucked. I miss the identity of a full time job. 

As a neurotic progressive, I also feel guilty. Others don’t have the option to have a flexible job. I’m able to support my kids, both the special ed and the typical one, so they’re two steps ahead of kids who don’t have a parent like me. Which is totally unfair. In a world that is falling apart, I’m staring at Benjamin Moore paint colors so long that I have actual opinions on Grey Owl grey versus Metropolitan grey. I should be out there in the thick of things, making changes, instead of looking at Pinterest boards. 

I handle the guilt by writing. Writing is a source of guilt, too, because writing is becoming more and more of a rich person’s game; there are fewer and fewer traditional journalism jobs. But it is an effective soap box. I also join local political organizations and progressive parents groups. 

There is a growing parental political movement happening. Parents — okay, mostly women — are showing up at board of ed meetings and state house protests. They’re forming letter writing committees. They’re organizing fundraisers for political candidates. Not all of them are progressive, of course. One group of parents in New Jersey just pushed back against a new vaccination law. Other groups are too focused on changes in our own privileged town, and aren’t advocating for all kids. But there are other parent groups that line up more with my political leanings. 

This situation isn’t getting a lot of attention from the press, because most journalists have full time jobs in the cities. Even the education reporters aren’t showing up to Board of Ed meetings. I am. And so, weirdly enough, being a stay at home parent gives me a professional advantage. Life is funny that way. 

So, on this greige day, I’m working and not working at the same time. At noon, I’ve got a date with Lauren at the hair salon who will make my hair a more uniform red and give me a good Jersey blowout. And we’ll talk. She’ll tell me about her mixed race family and her husband’s contracting hustles. We’ll talk about her middle school son and his struggles in school. I’ll walk out of the salon with sleek red hair and some fodder for half a dozen articles. 

At some point, I’ll figure out how to make more money from all this working and not working, but that’s for another day. 

4 thoughts on “Excerpt From Jan. 17 Newsletter

  1. This post is perfect.

    I get you. I despair at the state of the world, am grateful to be fully employed now that my autistic kid is independent (and has taken himself to another coast), feel guilty that very few of my autism mom friends are in the same place and that I’m not more engaged in changing the world or even in autism advocacy. Meanwhile, my roots are a mess (no time to call the salon) and somehow I have strong opinions about Edgecomb Gray.

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  2. I really don’t understand the point of guilt. Instead of guilt, I aim to recognize the ways in which my choices and outcomes (for myself and my family) are shaped by my opportunities and resources. I aim to understand, as best I can, the challenges others face and to work where I can for common goods.

    Taking care of our own children is a responsibility as well as a privilege. To the extent that you are helping I negotiate a difficult world, you are helping all of us. To the extent that my parents raised a teacher they have helping so many people.

    And if I felt guilty about assessing two shades of gray, I wouldn’t do it. In my case, it’s obsessively trying to determine which of two pictures are in better focus, rather than going out and changing the world. I came to the recognition of what I can do and what I can’t very early, by being exposed to extreme need and poverty when I was young and rejecting the idea that being sad or guilty about someone else’s suffering is at all useful.

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    1. bj said, “I really don’t understand the point of guilt.”

      It really doesn’t have one, if you’re doing what you ought to be doing.

      In fact, I’d say that misplaced guilt tends to eat up energy that ought to be used elsewhere. (Not to make anybody feel guilty about feeling guilty, though!) Guilt is the mental equivalent of car wheels spinning in a rut.

      If you’re doing some good, keep doing it. If you’re doing something bad, stop doing it. If you’re not doing a good thing that you ought to be doing, do it (or pencil it in to do it later).

      “Taking care of our own children is a responsibility as well as a privilege. To the extent that you are helping I negotiate a difficult world, you are helping all of us.”

      Right.

      And I think that we cannot underestimate the value of simply figuring things out what works in our own family and communicating that to others. There’s also a lot of benefit in going about your life, but leaving a bit of your mind working on the question of how your resources could benefit others. This is, by the way, more feasible if your mind isn’t already 110% committed to basic survival and if you aren’t exhausted or guilt-ridden.

      I’ll give a few small examples:

      1. I have an area where I collect things that I notice that my family doesn’t need anymore, but that I’m not sure would be efficiently used by Goodwill. If I wait a bit, inspiration often strikes. For example, it turned out recently that the kindergarten and first grade teachers at our school really wanted some puzzles I had. I’ve also done a couple of coffees recently where I invite some moms from my neighborhood to swap easy reader books. If inspiration doesn’t strike, the stuff goes to Goodwill.

      2. One of my “mom” activities (that I couldn’t do if I were working full-time) is shuttling my high schoolers to their volunteering at Public-Elementary-Off-MLK-BLVD. I’ve done that off and on for a number of years now. Coincidentally, I also have a 1st grader at our private school who has been a reluctant reader and has some handwriting and math issues, as well as a bunch of other school issues (hyperactivity, attention, blah blah blah). I think we’re making progress on this, but one of the things that happened over Christmas was that as I was working with the 1st grader with her dry erase handwriting practice book that I had bought her (because it’s easier to write with and erase than pencil), a lightbulb went on over my head and I suddenly realized: HEY! I BET THAT THIS WOULD BE VERY HELPFUL TO THE KIDS AT PUBLIC-ELEMENTARY-OFF-MLK-BLVD! So, after Christmas, I emailed the kindergarten teachers there. After some email discussion and sending them some samples (which they really liked), I now have an “order” from them and in a week or so, I will be ordering 80 dry erase book sets (and a reasonable number of backup markers), which will provide enough books for four kindergarten classrooms. This is probably going to be a $1,000 project, but the nice thing is that the materials are largely reusable.

      3. I haven’t done this yet, but after noting the motivating power of being able to choose a Scholastic book for herself, I also want to talk to the 1st grade teachers at the public elementary school about sponsoring a couple of Scholastic book choices. (Scholastic books are often very affordable.) Again, our budget for this is probably about $1,000, but we may have more in the future.

      Some other things I haven’t done yet but have made notes for:

      4. Arranging for the 1st or 2nd graders to get a large attractive children’s picture book (animals? undersea? children’s encyclopedia? not sure yet) as an end-of-year gift. I could do the same thing of sending samples to a teacher and asking for suggestions.

      5. Lastly, it has occurred to me that if I were to do the preceding things, it might be possible for me (or my 9th grader in a couple of years) to run a book swap at the public elementary. We’d probably need to seed it with some books we provided, but we could supervise a bring-a-book-take-a-book box or table. We’ll have a bunch of books in a year or two, as our youngest grows out of some of her stuff.

      This mostly doesn’t exist yet in reality, but it is a page at the end of my big mom weekly planner, and that I can do a little bit at a time. (Any advice about bulk book buying is much appreciated.)

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  3. Laura wrote, “make sure the college kid has filled out the right forms for next year’s dorm assignments”

    When I was in college, I believe there were one or two years where I showed up (to my out-of-state college) having forgotten to do my dorm assignment stuff…It worked out OK, but man!

    “As a neurotic progressive, I also feel guilty. Others don’t have the option to have a flexible job.”

    Is it actually a choice on your part, though? Could you realistically be working a full-time job right now?

    “Even the education reporters aren’t showing up to Board of Ed meetings. I am. And so, weirdly enough, being a stay at home parent gives me a professional advantage.”

    Funny! I suspect that so many people writing today just don’t have the time to go places and talk to people in meat space, because it would cut down on their productivity for the day too much. That’s one of the reasons why so many online articles have such an air of detachment from reality.

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