Thursday, May 29, 2014

My New Normal

While I have been "funemployed" for the last two months, I have had ample time to assess my priorities in life, tackle those tedious home projects, and really use my time wisely to work on my character and. . .

Yeah, no, I'm just shitting you; unless you consider vacuuming UNDER the coffee table, I've been about as productive as Lindsay Lohan on Nyquil.  But I HAVE had the opportunity to mooch an unholy amount of free meals from my employed friends, which brought me to Gina's office yesterday at noon.

Walking through the lobby of her posh law office, I waved cheerfully at the receptionist and entered Gina's inner sanctum.  She was busily tying on her iPad and gave me the index finger straight up and then tapped her Bluetooth so I'd know to remain silent while she was being all lawyer-y.  Wrapping up the call with a terse "We'll see" she sighed and plucked the earpiece from her shiny black hair and tossed it on the stack of case files before her.  I shook my head and gave her a s-l-o-w c-l-a-p.

"What?"  she asked.

"Wow."  I stared at her incredulously.  "A Bluetooth AND an iPad with video capacity.  Now, if you could just find a way to make your Pandora station pound out some teeth-chattering bass you may just complete the trifecta of douche."

Flipping me off amiably, Gina leaned forward on her desk.  "So, where are we going for lunch?"

"I don't really care."  I shrugged.  "As long as I eat.  My fridge is emptier than a Jenny Craig on Fat Tuesday."

Gina sighed.  "You know, they have these things called 'grocery stores'; they're really quite useful.  And when Children's Services comes a-knockin' it might be a good idea to actually have food in the house."

"Oh, there's food!"  I argued.  "However, you could harvest stem cells from what I saw growing on most of it."

Gina crinkled her perfect nose in disgust.  "Do we need to have the discussion about adequate food storage again?"

I shook my head vehemently.  "No!  It's perfect!  I don't have health insurance right now, so if I get sick I can just open the fridge and, BAM!  Free penicillin!"

"Did your mother drink when she was pregnant?"  Gina asked in awe.  "C'mon,"  she said, standing and grabbing her jacket. "I'm feeding you before your blood sugar gets low and the crazy shows up."

Following her out of her office, I glanced at the business cards on the table near the door.  "Wait a minute,"  I said, plucking one from the pile.  "Does this seriously say 'Follow _____ Law Offices on Twitter'?"

"Yeah.  So?"  Gina asked, pulling her sleek hair into a ponytail.

"So, isn't social media for a law office a little. . .weird?"

Gina shrugged again.  "Everything's on Twitter now, Jen.  Hell, YOU'RE on Twitter."

"Well. . .yeah."  I agreed.  "I mean, I'm technically on it, but I never actually use it.  For me, tweeting is like masturbating: a lot of mindless fingering and you're really only satisfying yourself."

Gina stared at me in stunned silence.  "That may be the most magical analogy you've ever made.  You have officially out-Dennis Miller-ed yourself."

"Why thank you, milady!"  I cooed, dropping a benevolent curtsy.  "Now take me out and feed my broke ass."

Making our way through the streets of downtown Portland, Gina pulled out her iPhone and began chuckling.

"What is it?"  I said, craning my neck to see.

Gina held up the phone.  "It's today's 'Dear Abby',"  she chuckled.  "Abby totally NAILED this guy!"

"Wait a minute,"  I shook my head in confusion.  "I thought 'Dear Abby' was dead."

Gina nodded.  "She is. . .technically.  But someone else writes it now and just kept the name."

I made a face in horror.  "Isn't that a little effed-up and creepy?"

Gina tilted her head in thought.  "I dunno. . .maybe.  Anyway the column was really funny today; do you want to hear it?"

"No thanks!"  I deferred.  "If I want a dead person's opinion, I'll listen to Larry King."

Shaking her head in annoyance (I get that a lot), Gina pulled open the glass doors to our favorite downtown bistro.  As if on cue, our ebullient waitress appeared with glasses of water and asked if we would like some bread to start.

"Oh, yes, please!"  Gina beamed.  "And could you bring a side of gub'ment cheese for my friend here?  She's on the dole."  I glared daggers at Gina's cherubic face as she slowly began whistling Elvis Presley's 'In The Ghetto'.

"Dicks."  I stated firmly.  "You can eat a steaming bowl of dicks."

"Speaking of dicks,"  Gina deftly segued, "talk to me about this new guy you're dating.  He's obviously serious if you made him 'Facebook Official'." 

I grinned at my menu.  "Yeah. . .he's pretty special.  I just need to stop overthinking everything and slow my roll a little."

"How's that workin' for you?" Gina asked, arching her perfect brows.

"Baby steps."  I admitted.  "Fortunately he's an overthinker too so he calls me on my shit when I start getting all obsess-y.  I just tend to. . .live inside my head and read into things that aren't there."

"With good reason!"  Gina cried.  "You have 15 years of conditioning of being abused, lied to, cheated on, and thrown aside.  It's hard to NOT look for those markers in any relationship.  But you ARE doing so much better.  You don't cry all the time and constantly 'worst case scenario' everything like you used to."

I nodded.  "I'm really trying hard not to.  He's an amazing man and I always know where I stand with him.  I just need to back off and trust the process."

"Hmmm."  Gina nodded sagely, chewing her bread.  "So, what's his glitch?"

I tilted my head in confusion.  "His glitch?"

"Yeah,"  she shrugged.  "every guy you've dated has had at least one major red flag waving over his head like the Sword of freaking Damocles, so what's his?"

I threw my hands up in frustration.  "Not EVERY guy has had a 'glitch'."

Gina set down her bread and leaned forward.  "OK.  So, is this guy still secretly married?"

"Euw, like Tim?  No.  Divorced. . .very divorced."  I replied with a shudder of disgust.

"Does he have a secret Facebook girlfriend on the East Coast?"

"No.  But in his defense, Dylan and Miss North Carolina are very happily married now."

"Was he recently fired for sexual harassment?"

"I thought we agreed to never again speak of THAT debacle."

Gina smirked.  "OK, you get a mulligan on that one.  Is he in a cult?"

"Wait. . .what?  I never dated anybody in a cult."


I rolled my eyes. "Geen, Tyler was Mormon, that's not a cult."

She snorted derisively. "Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that, Katie Holmes."

"No, he's never been arrested for harassment, no he isn't in a cult, yes, he has a job."

"So far so good,"  Gina concluded, "sounds like the real deal."

I leaned forward and went nose to nose with my inquisitive friend.  "Gina, he is a man.  A real, true, respectful and respectable grown-ass man."

"Wow."  Gina leaned back in wonder.  "He sounds almost. . .dare I say. . .normal!"

"I know!"  I cried, almost knocking over my water glass.  "Now if I could just stop overthinking everything and enjoy the normal I'll be fine."

"But that's hard for you, Jen."  Gina said with a soothing pat on my arm.  "The last couple of guys you were with lied to your face on numerous occasions and fed you and your kids a lot of false future promises.  You've got years of conditioning to overcome.  But you're getting there.  Your hands don't shake any more, have you noticed that?  And when you call me now you're laughing instead of crying.  And your eyes. . .they look. . ."

"Softer?"  I smiled.  "Yeah, that's what Christian said too."

Gina smiled.  "He's good for you.  NORMAL is good for you, Jen.  You deserve to be in a relationship with someone who is honest with you and treats you well, and he does. . .I can tell.  Just don't freak out at every little thing; I know you -- you are so used to being rejected that you look for it at every turn, but a real man, a NORMAL man won't just do the 'slow fade' on you or boot you into the FriendZone overnight because that is some cowardly douchebag shizz right there.  With a normal guy, you'll always know where you stand because he'll actually man up and TELL you."

I nodded.  "I know this. . .rationally.  And I'm getting better at understanding it each day and just living in the moment without future-tripping but old habits die hard.  I've never dated a 'normy' before and it feels. . .different."

"Different bad or different good?"  Gina posited.

"Different good."  I said with a smile.  "I feel like I'm at peace now; not just with him but even when we're apart.  I trust him.  He may not tell me what I want to hear, but he will always tell me the truth.  And he never makes a promise he doesn't fully intend to keep.  This is virgin territory for me."

Gina grinned.  "So, when do I get to meet 'Normy'?"

"You will meet Norm soon," I promised, raising my glass in a toast.  "Because if he can survive meeting all of my friends that will be the true test of how much crazy he can handle."

Gina laughed.  "I'd say we'll behave, but I think we all know that's not going to happen."

I scowled.  "Can we leave Alex at home?"


"How about Jamie and Shellie?"

"Trial by fire, Babe."

I sighed deeply and took a long swig of my water.  Be afraid, Norm. . .be very, very afraid.



Monday, May 5, 2014

From C+ To Shining C-

Ah, springtime in Portland, Oregon.  A time when the hipsters change from plaid flannel button-ups to iconic 80's tees; a time when the housing prices act like Robert Downey Jr.: getting irrationally high, then crashing and regrouping; and a time when the homeless citizens on Rosa Parks Way remove the rain covers from their shopping carts.*

*Ironically enough, there are no bus lines that run on Rosa Parks Way.  You would think the city planners would have wiki-ed Rosa's name and been all over that business.
And springtime is also when the public school system in Oregon touts out a series of standardized testing designed to pigeonhole assess each child's progress under No Child Left Behind. 
I'm sure most of you are familiar with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but for those of you who may have missed the memo due to a challenging career, active social life, or having neglected to use birth control a couple of times in the 90's, here's a recap:
No Child Left Behind requires all public schools receiving federal funding to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students. This means that all students take the same test under the same conditions. Schools that receive Title I funding must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores (e.g. each year, fifth graders must do better on standardized tests than the previous year's fifth graders).
Seems pretty straight forward, right?  Higher scores = more funding.  So, why would anyone have a problem with it?  Gee, glad you asked.  For me, it started when my son, M. came home in tears two weeks ago.  I asked him what was wrong and he told me that he "flunked" his OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test and that he'd have to take it again.  Now, I found this a little disconcerting, as M. is an exceptionally bright little boy, but I understand that his autism brings along with it some learning challenges.  So, I did what any pushy interested parent would do and I contacted the school to ask how the test was administered.
"Oh, all of the OAKS testing is done on the computer."  the teacher told me with a smile.
I stared at her incredulously.  "You have M's IEP."  I said calmly.  "You know that he can't have screens: TV, computer, iPads at school because he will just fixate on them and lose focus on the materials being taught."
She shrugged affably.  "There's no choice.  Every child has to take the test the exact same way for total accuracy."
"But it's NOT accurate!"  I cried.  "M. can't learn that way and he certainly can't be tested that way.  If you give him the test in written form or orally, he'll ace it."
She shook her head solemnly.  "We can't."  Then she sighed and threw her hands up in frustration.  "Look, I know it's stupid.  I know it's not indicative of individual learning styles.  But it's the law, and our hands are tied."
So, in summation:  my son was given a test that pigeonholes him as a challenged learner because the law of No Child Left Behind somehow supercedes his right for appropriate modifications to the curriculum under the Individuals With Disabilities Act.  I'm sorry, but this is some craziness right there.  You can't just force these children to take the test again and again until they get the score YOU want.  It isn't poker; you can't just keep tossing the low cards and fishing for a better hand.  And these test scores say nothing about the individual learner nor do they even go on their academic record.  The scores are a little like Sarah Palin: annoying, meaningless, and easily forgotten.  All they are meant to do is drum up revenue for the school.
Now, God knows I am a devout Republican.  I loves me some Ronald Reagan, and have secret fantasies about partying with the Bush twins.  I even love ol' George Dubya with his faux Texas drawl and inability to pronounce 'nuclear'.*
*Although, you have to wonder if his brother hates him a little.  I can just picture Jeb Bush shaking his head, thinking "I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, for Pete's sake.  What in hell am I doing stuck in the swamplands of Florida while my brother is off doing Jell-O shots with the prime minister of Israel?"  Your time is nigh, Jeb.
But although I am pro-Bush Administration, a tiny part of my soul dies when NCLB enters the picture.  Et tu, Dubya?  I'm sure he meant well when he signed off on that little governmental document (or maybe he was drunk), but somewhere along the line, the whole concept went seriously awry.  Now the test scores aren't just being used to drum up school funding, they are leading to massive teacher layoffs, and children being forced out of school when they don't adhere to the high standards of the test.  NCLB even has a name for it: "pushouts"; as in 'we're pushing you out of school because you don't measure up'.  And it's not just Oregon; every state has it's own series of standardized testing designed to assess student progress.  Standardized testing has become as de rigueur as a pretentious blogger who peppers her writing with random French bon mots in an attempt to appear intellectual.*
*La haine du jeu, pas de lecteur.
So, what happens if your child -- like mine -- doesn't "measure up".  Well, generally one of two things.  They either start disappearing faster than a 'Teen Mom' baby daddy, or they are categorized as "challenged learners" and expectations are lowered.  "I'm going to be a doctor some day!"  Well. . .not according to your test scores, Billy.  From what we see, you're going to be over here in group B with Jen, blogging, eating Funyans, and collecting unemployment.*
*"U-S-A!  U-S-A!"
I don't think it's fair. . .any of it.  No Child Left Behind?  Why not?  What's wrong with leaving them behind?  I say leave them behind until they've freaking LEARNED something, no matter how long that takes!  We don't all blossom in our youth.  Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa when he was 76, Julia Child didn't start cooking until her mid-40's, and Grandma Moses didn't start painting until she was 75.  There is no timeline for greatness and some kids just need that extra time to discover theirs.  And, in truth, does standardized testing really answer the question "are the children learning?", or rather "are the teachers teaching?"  Actually, I guess the better question is, "are the teachers being allowed to teach to the best of their abilities or are they being forced to 'teach to the test' in fear of losing their jobs if their students don't curry a high score?"  It is this circle-jerk mentality that drives me nine kinds of crazy and whenever you get me fired up about some governmental issue, it's a little like asking R. Kelly to babysit your 14-year-old daughter -- you know somebody's gonna get pissed.
My son M. took the OAKS tests a second time. . .and received even lower scores.  Yesterday I received a notice that he would be required to take them a third time; I will be taking that notice to the superintendent of special education this afternoon.  Hell hath no fury like the mother of a special needs child, y'all.  This is one little boy that will most certainly NOT be left behind.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Stupidest Crap Ever Spoken By Me And My Friends: Beer and Selfies.

ALEX:  I still can't believe you wouldn't watch 'Lord Of The Rings' with me.
GINA:  Oh, please.  If I want to  spend two hours watching skeevy trolls with bad haircuts fighting over a ring, I'll watch 'The Bachelor'.

JESS:  Have you see Rowan's Instagram page?  It's nothing but selfies!
ME:  Well, at least she loves herself.
JESS:  Dude, Ted Kennedy loved scotch but even he bought a round for the house from time to time.

ME:  For Halloween this year I'm going to follow people around, misdirecting them and finishing their sentences and go as Google.
KELLY:  Or just tell them all they have cancer and go as WebMD.

BRANDON:  That grosses me out when women breastfeed in restaurants.
ALLY:  It's a perfectly natural act, B.
BRANDON:  Yeah, well so is masturbation, but you don't see me jacking off at the salad bar.

GINA:  What would you do if I died?
ALEX:  I'd be miserable, Baby.  I'd go crazy!
GINA:  Would you get married again?
ALEX:  I'm not THAT crazy.
GINA:  How about Jen.  You could marry Jen.
ALEX:  Baby, NOBODY'S that crazy.

KELLY:  I hate it when people say "long story short. . ." because, technically, by saying that you just made your story three words longer.

KAREN:  I swear there aren't enough hours in the day.
ME:  You should leave D.C. and move back to Oregon.
KAREN:  Why?
ME:  Don't you see?  We're three hours behind, so if you moved here you'd actually be going back in time and, voila!  Three extra hours!
KAREN:  Did your mother drink when she was pregnant?

BRANDON:  Do you think animals are racist?  'Cause I bet that shit would get REALLY confusing if you were a panda or a zebra.

ME:  I'm an optimist, but I'm also a perfectionist so I see the glass as half-full but then I have to measure it to make sure that it's exactly half-full.

KELLY:  They need to come out with some educational breakfast cereals.  Like, Homonym Bunches of Oats.  It will "bury" you in "berry" flavor!
ME:  Or, Synonym Toast Crunch.  It's "delicious", "delectable", and "scrumptious"!

GINA:  I bet if you called a narwhal a 'dickhead' it'd be, like, whatever.  'Cause, you know, how can a narwhal argue with that?

BRANDON:  Every time I drink beer I pee way more than I drank.  If I could find a way to reverse that process I'd open my own brewery and make mad money.
ME:  What would you call it?
BRANDON:  Martinez I.P., 'Eh?
ME:  Naturally.

MY SISTER (in Cozumel):  Is it OK to walk around with a beer in Mexico?
MY DAD:  Hell, you can fuck a donkey in Mexico; don't see how walking around with a beer is going to raise too many eyebrows.