The last hour of the drive through tidewater North Carolina to my in-laws beach house is through one of the poorest areas of the country. Rusty shacks off the highway. Jesus on the radio. A sign outside the local corner store advertises pizza, AIDS tests, and a carton of smokes for $20.

Once we cross the bridge to the beach, it’s like entering a bag of skittles with candy colored beach mansions and clear blue skies.

We’re down here to check in on the in-laws and recharge our own batteries with long runs and books. I needed it.

Steve rented a convertible from the airport in Raleigh. He and Ian are super happy. I’m stuck in the backseat with wind blown hair.


An Outsourced Life

Back in the early years of this blog, when we were living on a shoe-string budget as we recovered from the economic devastation that was grad school, I did a lot of soul searching about paying for staff that would free up time to work full time.

I did have some childcare, though never full time, and I had a bi-monthly housecleaner for a few years. I always felt a lot of guilt for paying someone to do work that I thought that I should be able to do myself. I ended up working a lot of very low wage jobs over the years that gave me the flexibility to do it all.

Of course, I wasn’t really doing it all. Those low wages jobs – freelance writing and adjunct/temporary professor jobs – aren’t exactly the fast track to proper careers and healthy paychecks.

But just in the past few months, we’ve outsourced a great deal of our household and kiddo chores. I just wrote a fat check to Ed the Landscaper to clean up our weed-covered yard, so Steve doesn’t have to arrange his entire weekend around dealing with our corner lot. I hired a housecleaner who came last week to de-gross our showers. (Oh, the humiliation.) I hired a math tutor for Ian whose math is too tough for us, so he can go beyond the classwork in school. I hired a reading tutor, because his special ed English class is seriously flawed, and I’m too burned out to be patient with his reading disability. With a small subsidy from the state, I’m hiring respite care for Ian on Saturday nights.

I’m writing checks left and right. And it’s all new. And it stresses me out, because even as we’re beyond the grad school years, we’ve never stopped thinking like grad students. Also, Steve and I grew up in families without helpers. My dad in his early 80s still mows his own lawn and shovels the snow from the driveway.

Ideally, I would like to simplify our lives, so we don’t need so much help, but we’re not there yet. In fact, things seem to get busier and messier. Our standards for tidiness have increased. I’m not going to stop feeling guilty about all this help. I’ve traded the green mold in the shower for a thin layer of self-hatred.

All Politics is Local

Last night, after we all shoveled some rotisserie chicken and boxed Mac n’ cheese in our mouths, I kissed my husband, who had I seen for approximately 20 minutes that day, and ran out to the local Board of Ed meeting.

I am a regular attendee of our town’s BOE meetings. At those meetings, I often get ideas for articles and even get the whispers of a coming story that puts me ahead of my competitors. I was one of the first to write about the opt-out testing movement, because I went to the meetings and watched parents up in arms.

But I also go, because it’s good fun. There’s always some drama.

I rarely speak up at the microphone during the open public sessions, except when the topic turns to special education, though I have to say that I really love public speaking. I’ve been asked to run for the BOE, so I could do this more regularly, but at this point, I’ve got enough on my plate with Ian’s education and my articles. I keep saying no.

Last night’s meeting was about the hotly contested school budget. The entire Village council was there last night, so I got a double dose of politics. I left the meeting after three hours at around 10:30. The meeting was still going on. Most people would think a budget meeting would be dreadfully dull, but I loved it. It gives the inside scoop on a whole bunch of education debates.

When the powerpoint slide turned to the pie chart showing where money was allocated, they showed a Pac Man shaped size wedge — nearly 80 percent — that was the allocation towards salaries and benefits. Nearly all of the money goes to the teachers. Teachers salaries and benefits are fixed costs. And with tenure, they are permanent fixed costs. That leaves about several on-a-diet wedges for things like capital improvements, clubs, new curriculum, and so on.

In the meantime, people from the town council and from the public got up to the mike to complain about local property taxes. which are the highest in the nation. They say they feel oppressed by local taxes and want the school district to shrink its $34 million budget.

There have been many stories about the low pay of teachers this year, but they’ve left out this part of the puzzle. Taxpayers don’t want to pay for it.

In the meantime, there’s growing pressure to do more with less. The only way to keep educating kids without raising taxes is to attack that Pac-man pie slice, teachers’ salaries.

So, what’s going to happen? It could be that the problem could just go away, as the school-aged population drops and teachers retire without replacement. The job of teaching could be outsourced to community colleges (it’s happening) or to a computer (that’s happening, too). Or grassroots movement against taxes will be strong enough to overcome union power.

I have no idea. But I’ll be in the back row of the administrative building watching it unfold.

SL 749

You have to check out this girl’s YouTube video for some mean girl gossip on mean girls. Whew! And that vocal fry! Whew! From the Daily Mail.

Real question: Does everybody have their own lifestyle YouTube channel now?

Everybody is talking about the fact that only 7 African-American kids out of 900 got into Stuyvesant High School in NYC.

Any recipe that calls for two kinds of pork products is a win around here.

Teenage Wasteland

About five years ago, I wrote an essay than I never ended up publishing anywhere talking about how the rise in dystopian YA novels was a sign that kids were really f*cked up today. My theory was that teens preferred fictional dystopias to their realities.

How many kids read The Hunger Games and thought about the cut-throat world of college admissions? And saw their parents as the micro-managing and semi-evil as the rulers of the Capital? But instead of submitting to the system, the heroine blows it up and finds freedom.

I must have dozens of blog posts over the past few years about the stress, unhealthy world that we’ve given our kids. Here’s another article about the mental health issues that coming out of this disaster.

(I’m scavenging through the articles that came out last week and picking out the little tidbits that have some actual meat to them. I’ll post some random thoughts throughout the day.)