Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Needs her Own Personal Assistant

Something happened in the last year, somewhere between turning thirty, moving 7000 miles back home, getting married, starting a new job and discovering the wonder that is TiVo, but lately I have found myself unable to multitask the way I used to. In my twenties I filled every single moment of my day with something to do, whether it was productive or not. I needed a few hours of sleep a night and a Taco Bell bean burrito to keep me going. Somehow everything got done. Not anymore.

I have always held strong to the idea that no one can do things as well as I can, which was why at the beginning of the school year I scoffed at the idea of a TA (teacher's assistant) to help me in my classroom. I reflected on my own days as a TA, basically exchaging pages with my friends (yes, pages) or napping in the drama room for an hour a day my Senior year of high school, and realized I was better off alone.

K, a girl in my freshman honors class, begged me to be my first period TA a few weeks ago. She was so sweet about it-- something about a mom who worked early, I really wasn't listening-- but I finally did cave and let her in. 'Sure,' I thought. 'I'll give you a couple of credits for showing up every day. Go ahead and nap while I'm working. You deserve it.'

The thing is that K is so damned eager to please me that it turned out when I gave her small things to do, she did them. Well. And in that time I was able to do other things. Before either of us knew it, I was leaving her notes every morning for the things she was to do. She continues to do these things happily, and while I'm sure she complains to her friends how how unlucky she is that she is a TA for a teacher who actually makes her do stuff, I couldn't care less. I have actually been able to get to the gym a few times in the last month, which is nothing short of a miracle.

When V came to me last week begging me to be my 7th period TA, I at first said no. 'I already have a TA', I told her honestly, but she persisted, and it got me thinking. I am no math wizard, but I figured that if V was anything like K in terms of getting things done for me, two would be twice as good as one.

I was right. I love being right.

I refer to these girls as my personal assistants because I become much more important and legitimate in doing so. Just one time I would like to send either of them to pick up my dry cleaning and force them to say 'I'm Mrs. C's assistant'. I think it would earn me a lot of that street cred I have been so coveting the last year. Too bad they can't drive yet. Until then, they are forced to sort my handouts, check my mailbox, and remind me that a woman in her thirties knows that sanity trumps perfectionism.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties is Leery of Free

Every few months my district has what they call a "free sale". They basically take donations and hand-me-downs from the big corporations all over the area and stack everything in the parking lot of the district office for teachers to come by and grab. First come, first served. It is much like going to a Goodwill full of office supplies except without the price tag, and while on some level it is depressing to think that the best our state can do for our teachers is some old engineer's throw away swivel chair, we teachers will take what we can get.

I went to a free sale at the beginning of the school year, and this one was open only to new teachers in the district. All of us came laden with bags and pull-carts, and some people even brought trucks to haul away file cabinets and desks. I looked around before taking things, making sure that someone near me wasn't eyeing the same box of ball point pens I was. 'No, no,' my fellow newbiea said. 'You have it!' I left with a sore shoulder from carrying boxes full of folders and rolls of butcher paper, but also feeling as though I had a good start to the school year.

Today was another free sale, this one open to the entire district. Teachers who had been around for decades came not only with push carts, but with boxes with their names labeled on them and husbands ready to haul away large items. I came early and saw the hoard of people standing at the gates of the parking lot like lions ready to pounce. 'They're early,' I thought, my inner lioness growling. 'Dammit'.

The gates opened at 3:30 exactly, and by that point teachers had their arms and legs dangling over the chain fence that sectioned us off. The race began, and I can only liken it to the first time I went to IKEA on a Saturday afternoon. It was a flood of people, all racing and clawing and pushing. As I walked (rather, was shoved) into the parking lot I felt as I often do in claustrophobic situations-- short. All five feet two inches of me were swallowed up by a sea of shopping bags and elbows.

Somehow I wound up at a shelf full of pens. There were about fifteen boxes of red Sharpies in front of me, and they seemed radiate a light of awesomeness.

'Grab those for me!' a woman behind me yelled to the man next to me. 'I need red pens!'

The man next to me, or should I say the man whose breath smelled like the tuna sandwich he surely had for lunch said, 'How many do you want?'

'All of them!' the lady behind me shreiked, and I dodged a woman carrying poster board on her head as she walked through the crowd at decapitiation level.

'But I want some too,' the man said, grabbing two boxes for her.

The woman groaned. 'You teach math,' she said. 'You don't need them as much as I do.'

As a general rule, I don't correct papers with red pen. But suddenly I found my hand inside the basket, taking three boxes of pens, and slipping away to the next bookshelf. I left with my hair a wreck, a few ripped boxes of file folders, and the red pens I will never use. I looked as frazzled as I felt.

I thought that this whole woman in her thirties bit meant that I was supposed to have developed a tolerance to unpleasant situations, and a general patience for people and things. Stealing pens just to be mean was something I would have done in my passive aggressive twenties, right? I'm supposed to be beyond such triviality by now, unable to be moved to anger over Sharpies.

I guess not. As I left I imagined myself at the next free sale, armed with stilts and a semi-automatic weapon.

'Back away from the whiteboards Mr. P, and no one gets hurt,' I will say to the teacher lunging for the items I need for my classroom. He will, and that way I will take what I need and leave with my lip gloss in place, the way a woman in her thirties is meant to.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Likes the Taste of Salvation

As a lifelong Catholic, I have been to many a church. Each one is different of course, but one of the nicest things about being Catholic is that the fundamentals don't change. I've been to churches on four different continents and I can say this with certainty. The order in which things are done is the same, week on week, year on year. The homilies differ, but I've got to say that after thirty years of listening to them I know that all priests tend to focus on the same general themes. It's comforting to me-- the knowing what to expect. It's rare something in life offers such consistency.

When starting at a new parish there is always an adjustment period, and the one I'm currently attending is no different. It is easily among the most beautiful I've ever been to, but that's not what sets it apart from the churches of my past. What sets it apart is not the population, not the stained glass work, not even the priest who really knows a thing or two about a thing or two. It is the Eucharist. They use actual bread. Not wafers with tiny crosses on them. Bread that is ripped up and shared among the crowd. It's awesome-- and delicious.

As any Catholic knows, the sharing of the Eucharist is the most sacred part of the Mass. The bread and wine are blessed, people line up, and everyone gets one. I remember the first time I took my ex to Mass with me. When it was time to go up for Communion I turned to him and hissed 'Wait here.' He did, and when I came back he looked at me all dejected and said, 'How come everyone else got samples and I didn't?' It took me awhile to convince him that Communion wafers taste like nothing. Not anything like God.

In Asia going to a Catholic service involved metal detectors, identification, and a vacant visa office that served as our church. The poor priests kept all the church paraphernalia in a large Tupperware that was hidden in a hall closet in the building. Most weeks, as they said their blessings, they would push a stack of what would be the Eucharist through a plastic wrapper that came from a cardboard box labeled 'Communion wafers'. This always conjured images of the priest ordering a year's supply of pens, toilet paper, and Jesus through Amazon.

'Jesus hasn't arrived yet,' I could hear the priest say on the phone to customer service. 'We got the post it notes, but do you have a tracking number for Jesus?'

Anyway, instead of saying my prayers today when I took Communion I allowed my mind to contemplate the taste of the bread I was eating. It was fantastic, really, with a hint of honey. Which made me think about how nice this bread might taste with hummus. Speaking of which, I keep meaning to make some hummus and put that food processor we got for our wedding to work. And on that note, where the hell is our wedding album? Man, our photographer sucks.

This is what happens when you take away my routine.

Before I knew it, the service was over and I was thinking about all the scathing reviews I could write about our photographer on Yelp while the rest of the congregation was shaking hands and offering up their final blessings of peace and love for the week.

I looked up at Jesus hanging there at the front of the church and smiled because--let's be honest-- if there's one guy who understands irony, it's him.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Dreams of Rehab

My twenties were marked with vacations with my girlfriends. Cabo, Cancun, Tahoe, Vegas... Shots were taken. Dancing happened. Police were bribed. You know, the usual stuff.

I guess it was in my late twenties, and now especially in my thirties, my idea of what constitutes vacation has changed. I think it has less to do with the extensive traveling I did over the last three years, and more to do with the fact that I'm in a career that leaves me emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of every day. The truth of the matter is I don't want to go anywhere. I don't want to do anything. I want to relax. I want be on my schedule for a change. I want to know what it feels like to be bored.

It was Perez H who first gave me the idea of going to rehab. An extensive journalist when it comes to all things Britney Spears, last year he wrote a short caption in his blog about how she went to a place called Promises. I checked it out. At Promises, Britney had personal chefs cooking all healthy food. There is no TV-- only books. Promises Malibu boasts a tennis court, swimming pools, jacuzzis, and several meditation areas. You can horseback ride through the hills, overlooking the beach below. Lights out at 9:00. As for the results...have you seen Britney lately? She is smokin'.

This is the place for me.

People always react the same way when I say I want to go to rehab. 'But you're not addicted to anything!' And that, to me, is the beauty of it. While everyone else is suffering from withdrawl or sitting in group therapy, or whatever it is they do that makes Promises a legitimate medical facility, I will have the hiking trails and the sauna all to myself. I will leave the addicts to their recovery and they can leave me to my peaceful retreat. At the Sheraton, you are bombarded with vacationers who interrupt your reading or sunbathing with their conversations about sunscreen application or whether or not Jimmy just peed in the pool. At Promises I will have all the benefits of rehabilitation and none of the nasty side effects.

My birthday is coming in just under three months. Hint, hint. Hint.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Ponders the Longevity of Maury

Being thirty, I can remember a few things that date me. I remember when that girl fell down the well in Texas. I remember the first time I successfully pegged my own pants. I remember the rise and fall of Milli Vanillli. I also remember when Maury Povich, along with Phil Donahue and an unknown woman named Oprah Winfrey, was a legitimate talk show host.

This week is ski week, and along with being a reminder of why it is I got into teaching in the first place, it has given me some free time to channel surf during the day. Today I found Maury, and while I marveled at whatever self-tanner he's using (it's fabulous, really), the topic of the show pulsed at the bottom of the screen:

'If you slept with my Mom, the wedding is off!'

In college I took a class called 'Contemporary Fiction by Women'. On the first day I learned the true definition of the word feminist, and embraced my new descriptive with fervor. I have memories of watching Maury (or Jerry, or Ricki, or whoever) in my twenties and shouting in my new feminist self righteousness phrases of disgust in which I repeated the words 'exploitation' and 'outrage' more than once.

Today I was just confused. Honestly confused. Maury Povich still gets an entire hour every week day of cat fights, bleeped out swear words, and baby-daddy drama. It's been ten years since I've heard anything about Mystery Science Theater 3000, arguably one of the best TV shows of all time. Arrested Development was canceled after only three fantastic seasons. We still have no cure for cancer. Bin Laden remains undercover. But Maury is still on. How can this be?

As I sat in front of the TV contemplating the American psyche, L came into the living room asking me how I could watch such trash. He took a seat next to me on the couch, rolling his eyes and mimicking what each person said. We stayed there for about twenty minutes as though zombies, dreamily reminding each other we should get up and do stuff, that this shit was making us stupider by the second.

But we didn't. We stayed comatose in front of the TV. And in the back of my mind I wondered about how airplanes fly in the air, how Ryan Seacrest maintains his rigorous hosting schedule, how long it will be before we can say we have won the war on terror, and if Maury and Connie drink wine or champagne every night when they toast to all of us suckers.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Marries her Biggest Fan

L has always been somewhat notorious for his gift-giving skills, but this year's Valentine tops them all.

Nothing like the gift of encouragement. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Plays 'What If'... Carefully

Last night at dinner with L's family, the topic of discussion moved when L began a sentence with the words 'If I could do it differently...' We sat there for a good forty minutes, even after the bananas beignets had dissolved into a soupy mess in the middle of the table. L's father began telling a story involving a chance encounter on his way to New York City, a meal with a wealthy benefactress, and a lost opportunity to go to Yale. As we probed for more details, he went on to reveal that he had also turned down an opportunity to get a PhD at Princeton. As with every time L's father speaks, I found myself shutting up and thinking 'must write this man's memoirs. must write this man's memoirs...'

These types of conversations leave me feeling intoxicated in ways that I think only the likes of Amy Winehouse can relate to. I usually start with the first day of high school, Mr. Greenwood's PE class, and move on to K, which quickly gets me thinking about T and all the ways in which my life would have (should have?) been different. Thirty years of chance encounters, stupid decisions, excellent decisions, and lucky breaks. Each turn my life has taken has led me straight to where I sit tonight, wondering 'what if'.

This weekend I was listening to a priest speak about a friend of his who had just died. He was apparently a famous attorney, well known and respected in my area. He died one of those honorable deaths, his devoted wife of fifty years by his side, his children tearfully sharing with anyone who would listen what a great man their father was. I hear these types of stories and think that there are some people for whom there is no regret-- they live, they work, they love. Somehow they are chosen to avoid 'what if'. I guess, as a woman only in her thirties, I don't know if I am chosen for this fate. Maybe this is this fate I must choose.

Last night, as L's father spoke, we asked him why he didn't take any of these opportunites that presented themselves during his life. 'I was stupid!' he said at one point, smacking his forehead. It was his tone of voice that made us laugh, a mixture of 'what if' and 'maybe' that sounded a whole lot like happiness.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Prepares for the Guillotine

The rumors have been swirling, and yesterday the news was made official-- pink slips are coming to my school.

Damn you, crappy economy.

The details are painfully vague and have been tempered with 'but no one knows for sure yet'. From what I understand, my department is 'overstaffed' (funny, I could have sworn I have almost forty students in two of my classes...), and our district needs to cut somewhere between one and seven million dollars next year. My department head let it slip yesterday that one of us is getting the ax.

In the world of education, tenure does the talking. It doesn't matter that I have great reviews; all that matters is that I am among the lowest on the proverbial totem pole. If this all happens the way I think it will, I have a one in three chance of losing my job.

On my drive home tonight checked my 'Woman in her Thirties' meter for a way in which to deal with the situation:

1. Storm into my principal's office, tears brimming, and demand that he tell me my job is safe. No, I ultimately decided. I think I did something like that when I was thirteen when the family next door hired a different babysitter for their annual holiday party. Too emotional, and it didn't work.
2. Have a party this weekend to celebrate my coming unemployment, and spend the next month as the layoffs roll out showing R-Rated films to my classes and napping in the back of the classroom.
Tempting, but no. This is definitely something I did (and helped many friends do) in my twenties. Just because I BS'd my way through my job in college doesn't mean I should do it now.
3. Cross that bridge when I come to it.
Damn you, woman in her thirties sensibility.