Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stuff in the Media: The "I Am Not the 99%" Hoax

You've probably seen the site We Are the 99 Percent, where people send in photos of themselves holding up sheets of paper with handwritten accounts of their personal tales of financial troubles.  Many of the tales are truly sad--stories of layoffs, health problems, foreclosures, and other woes that seem, at least on paper, to be misfortunes outside of the realm of the submitters' control.  And yes, some of the submissions hardly elicit sympathy, like "I am a 3x convicted felon who can't find a job," or "I don't feel respected at my job in retail."  Still others are neither here nor there, like the young people who write in with statements to the effect of "I feel like there's no hope for my future."  That seems more like a problem that could be solved with antidepressants, not a complete restructuring of the distribution of our country's finances. 

But, for the most part, the site paints a really grim picture.  An average working-class family, or a family with a spouse in the military, or a college student/recent college grad just can't afford to stay afloat like they used to.  It's appalling that there are so many situations where a hard-working person who has made good choices can no longer afford the basic necessities of life. 

So, naturally, there has to be some jerk out there who wants to swoop in and get everybody's attention by calling all these poor people irresponsible liars.  That jerk has created this photo, which has gone viral in social media:

Well, aren't you just the picture of austerity, Miss Frugal College Student?  There is just something so annoying about her "blame the victim" attitude here.  And yes, she makes some good points about being able to cut back on the items we deem necessities, which in her examples are the smartphone and the iPad.  (I'm not even going to touch her example about the new car, because she's not clear on whether that means she has no car at all, or she bought a used car, or she uses public transit.  And as a college student a car might not be a necessity, but it kind of is for a lot of people.  So I'm not going to analyze that one because there are too many unknowns.) 

But, minor good points aside, this girl is annoying.  I'm sure the laid-off auto factory worker who has gone into massive debt to pay for his child's medical expenses is really grateful for this random college student's wisdom on how to stay financially afloat.

So, I was kind of happy when another article went viral on Facebook, this one debunking the "I am not the 99%" poster and basically calling it a hoax.  The article's author, who goes by the screen name Buster Blonde, completed a full analysis of the living expenses of a college student and basically concluded that there is no way this student could possibly afford these expenses working 30 hours a week at a minimum wage job.

Buster Blonde argues that pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is much more difficult to pull off for today's college students than it was for college students even ten years ago.  Put simply, tuition and living expenses are up, and available financial aid is down.

Now, I'm not saying it's impossible to pull off a situation like that of the alleged poster student.  We don't know enough about her particular life--I mean, assuming she is a real person--to fairly assess how realistic and/or typical it is.  But, as Buster Blonde points out, it's unlikely that the girl is doing all this on her own; she must have some form of financial support from her parents, whether that be actual help with tuition, access to her parents' health plan, or living with her parents during the summer.  Which is Buster Blonde's main point: you're more likely to be successful if your parents were successful.  The people who truly struggle are those who have absolutely nobody to fall back on, the people whose extended families are also struggling. 

Take, for example, the refugees from Hurricane Katrina.  I, like many people, watched the coverage back in 2005 from my middle-class living room and wondered, If I lived there, would that have been me?  Hard to say, but it seems likely that the answer would be no.  I would have hopped in my car and driven my family to safety.  I would have checked into a hotel or stayed with out-of-state family.  But some of the New Orleans citizens didn't have cars, or else they couldn't afford the gas to get them far enough away to be safe.  And they didn't have credit cards or relatives they could borrow from, or relatives who would house them out of state.  Everybody they knew was poor and without resources. 

And there are plenty of people growing up in Chicago and in every other city who are caught in the same cycle of poverty.  Bottom line: It's hard to pull yourself up from the bootstraps if you don't have somebody else helping you pull. 

But while Bootstraps College Student's "blame the victim" attitude seems particularly offensive in light of the cases of these poorest citizens, I kind of can't help but think about how her attitude is also relevant to the rest of us. 

I have no idea what percent I'm in, but I know I rank among the average citizens who can afford everything I need but not necessarily everything I want.  And obviously the parameters of that group are very nebulous, because the line between needs and wants is sometimes blurry, and besides almost everybody wants something that he or she can't afford.  But let's say that there's a pretty big group that ranks somewhere in between completely destitute and filthy rich.  And this group is obviously a continuum.  The person who cannot afford the medication she "wants" in order to relieve her chronic migraines is a lot worse off than the person who cannot afford that dream vacation she wants. 

But it just seems like it's getting harder and harder for anybody to afford the wants and needs, no matter where you fall on the continuum.  And I know I'm not coming to any giant new conclusion here.  It's not like I'm just now learning about our crappy economy.  It's just, in reading the people on We Are the 99%, and the story of the hypothetical college student, I just can't help but feel as hopeless as some of those young people who write into the website. 

For example, hypothetical college student says that she doesn't even eat out once a month.  Now, nobody's going to start a nonprofit to help families who always have to cook at home, and not being able to afford restaurants is hardly a criterion for poverty.  Still, it seems sad when hard-working people can't even afford to go to someplace like Chipotle once in awhile.  Or Starbucks or Dunkin' Doughnuts or McDonald's.  Again, I'm not saying it's tragic.  I'm just saying that a hard-working person should be able to afford to treat herself to a store-bought latte once in awhile.  After all, the employees at these outfits need to keep their jobs, too. 

And what about all the other things that you kind-of-have-to-buy-but-kind-of-don't?  Let me run down my morning for a few examples:

This morning I got up and checked my email, Facebook, blogs, etc.  Home Internet access: certainly not along the lines of food, water, and shelter when it comes to basic needs, but I think it's a monthly expense that most of us deem important. 

Next I took my kid to preschool and there was a sign indicating that tuition payments are due November 1.  Now, obviously I could have chosen not to send Nathan to preschool, but I certainly don't think anybody ever said, "Wow, look at you, Mrs. Richie Rich, sending your kid to preschool." 

Following that, I worked out at the gym.  Now, the gym is, for sure, a luxury.  But still, exercise is a necessity, and when you live in a climate like the one I do it's pretty hard to exercise outdoors year-round.  Sure, you can work out in your home, but then you probably have to buy some sort of exercise equipment.  And yes, you can exercise at home for free using free YouTube exercise videos and barbells you make out of water bottles filled with sand.  But I don't think it's asking too much to be able to afford a gym membership or some piece of commercially-produced exercise equipment. 

When I picked up my kid from school, there were notices indicating that parents could bring some sort of individually-wrapped store-bought treat for the class Halloween party.  Having just read all the tales of woe from We Are the 99%, I thought about how hard a dumb preschool request like that would be for somebody who is really struggling financially.  And what about Halloween costumes for your kids?  And candy to give out to trick-or-treaters?  Yes, you can get secondhand costumes, and technically you don't have to pass out candy, although I think most people who take their kids out to beg for candy from the neighbors find that the decent thing to do would be to reciprocate. 

And that's just scratching the holiday surface.  We're just on the verge of a season of food, gift, and decoration expenses.   And what about birthdays?  Aren't we forever buying gifts for other kids' birthday parties? 

And no, you do not need three inflatable Halloween lawn decorations like the house around the corner from me has, but being remotely festive should not break you financially. 

Maybe part of the problem is that we've reached a point culturally where many items we deem necessities weren't necessarily necessities for the previous generations.  Excessive holiday decor.  Enrichment activities for children, and a bunch of gear for these activities.  A dumb giant celebration for every little occasion.  Fancy home rennovations.  Maybe our expectations are just too high for our collective financial stations in life. 

Like, Martha Stewart Living has an article this month about advent gift ideas.  You know, like you find a cute way to package 24 little daily gifts that your kids open up during the month of December as they count down to Christmas, like an advent calendar?  Now, I'm not saying that Martha Stewart has her finger anywhere near the pulse of the average person's standard of living, but the very fact that advent gifts have become a thing suggests that too many things have become too much. 

While the average person needs to just say no sometimes, and while there should be a magazine whose theme is "We get that you are of an educational/socioeconomic status that you enjoy reading for pleasure and have the disposable income to purchase magazines, but that doesn't mean you can afford a $300 sweater for an infant," the reality is that many of us are living in a culture where we are faced with a lot of financial demands.  And no, you don't need a giant inflatable lawn display, but you should be able to send your kid to preschool and provide snacks for that preschool.  And you should be able to stop and buy a sandwich at Subway once in awhile.  You should be able to afford clothes from Target and an occasional trip to the movies.  And I think, I think, there was a time when a working-class family could even afford to go on an annual vacation. 

I guess my point is that while most people can make some cutbacks to their spending, we've gone too far when the only recipe for financial responsibility is to live out the existence of the girl on the poster.  Even if she is fictional, the idea that anybody who doesn't live the most austere lifestyle imaginable is irresponsible and deserves to be poor just doesn't seem like the kind of standard we want to have in this country.  Yes, there will always be misfortune, but for the average person, it just shouldn't be that hard. 

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Fun With Fall Photo Ops

As a parent, it's very important to me to get good photos of my child. Never mind if he had fun and it was some big momentous occasion for him ... Did we get a photo of it? A good photo?

Pumpkin patches are, like, designed for parents like me.  They're like one adorable photo op after another, periodically interrupted by opportunities to buy pumpkins and do other fall things.

So, following last week's series of disappointing pumpkin patch closures, Nathan and I were finally able to hit the Important Must-See Fall Destination on a beautifully clear day.

Before I begin, I should note that I have made it a point throughout October to acquire cheaply-priced pumpkins at various retailers, so that we wouldn't be tempted to buy the expensive pumpkins at the patch.  I told Nathan that he could have $10 to buy whatever snacks, pumpkins, and/or crappy souvenirs he wanted, and that was it.  Naturally, our first stop had to be the gift shop.  He selected a $3 pair of googly eyeglasses.

You can see the eyeglasses in this first photo at this year year's new photo op: The wooden pumpkin. 

What will never cease to amaze me is how children find the water pump infinitely fascinating:

Now, the whole reason this particular facility is an Important Must-See Fall Destination is that, for the past four years, we have taken this photo in front of the "How Tall This Fall?" sign.  I'm not sure if the proprietors of the farm realize what a major selling feature the sign is.

Here's one of those random "stick your head in a hole" shots:

Another thing kids love is climbing on tractors:

Here's Nathan milking the plastic cow whose utters produce water.  It takes on a whole new meaning once you've used a breast pump:

This is Nathan at the start of the straw tunnel, which has been jazzed up this year to become the STRAW VORTEX.  (In one portion they added a visual effect that looks like the room is spinning.) 

This year the children's rides are free on the weekdays.  So we made sure to go on a weekday.  And then I think we rode fewer rides this year than in previous years when you had to buy separate tickets for each ride.  I guess because free rides equals longer lines. 

This is a kind of crappy picture on the Frog Hopper ride:

Also this year they added one of my favorite carnie attractions: The Fun Slide.  The following picture is not great of my kid (though that is him sliding down there), but I thought it had a fun nostalgic feel combined with a really nice fall backdrop:

This particular Important Must-See Fall Destination added a corn pit this year, which means we no longer have to go to the Other Important Must-See Fall Destination, whose main selling feature was the corn pit. 

Let me just say this right now: If you ever have the chance to jump in a corn pit, do it!  It is so soft and soothing.  I might build a corn pit in my basement!

And since I made it a point to wear Halloween-ish socks, I will show you a photo of them:

Next we went back to the Fun Slide.  The following picture is not perfect, but I did capture a fun expression on Nathan's face:

Side note: It was at the slide that I became aware that one can never win when it comes to mompetition.  See, I had packed snacks and drinks from home for budgetary/dietary reasons, and I was feeling all extra wholesome for bringing apple slices.  Then this mom over by the slide reached into a little basket and produced broccoli for her children.  Sigh.  

Also, as your kid gets older, he develops very specific opinions about what would look cute in a photo, and they often differ from your opinions.  Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

I take this photo every year, and every year I think if only:

Here is Nathan in front of a miniature house called Little House on the Scary, which plays a soundtrack that alternates between the theme song from The Addams Family and the theme song from The Munsters ... and repeat.  

Another photo op that implies criminal activity:

 The Smashing Pumpkins should be arrested for their depressing 90s-era alternative rock.

And the ever-classy "outhouse" photo op:

Finally kind of a sweet photo:

Here's another frog-themed ride:

And a kind of crappy train photo:

At the end of the visit, Nathan selected a medium-sized pumpkin to purchase with the remainder of his $10.  Although, at 24 pounds, it didn't feel all that medium when I was lugging it to our car in the parking lot. 
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Shannon Saves(?) Series: I Made My Own Effing Soap

All kinds of DIY recipes are making the rounds on Pinterest these days.  I'm not talking about food recipes, I'm talking about instructions for household items that you just always assumed you were supposed to buy at the store: laundry detergent, soap, stain removers, body wash ... you know, various cleansing agents. 

Like a lot of ideas on Pinterest, these tutorials have a sort of OMG I can't believe I never thought of that quality.  And there's a pinch of You'd be crazy not to do this! thrown in there, too.   

You can make gallons of laundry detergent for a quarter!  I made seven containers of body wash with one bar of soap!  You can, too!  Doooooo itttttttt.  

I'm leery of DIY projects because I often think they fall into the category of Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.  Take, for example, the time I endeavored to sew curtains at our old house.  We had just moved and I didn't have a job yet, and I had a brand-new sewing machine, so I figured why not be thrifty and make curtains?  (The fact that I can't really sew is beside the point.)  So, I got the pattern for curtains, and the fabric, and the 18 or so other items needed to make curtains ... and it all cost $180.  Bill made me embarrassingly crawl back into the store and return it all, and then we went over to Target and bought curtains for $30.  

So, I wasn't eager to jump on the whole DIY bandwagon.  It just seems like a lot of effort to save a little money, or, as with the case of the curtains, a lot of effort and a net cost over store-bought.  And with a most of these projects, you will only save money if you make the item several times.  For example, if you buy $15 worth of ingredients to make bread and you only make one loaf, you didn't save any money over buying a $2 loaf of bread at the store.  You'd have to make at least 8 loaves of bread to make the per-loaf cost of homemade bread an actual money-saver.  

Therefore, my general rule is that in most cases it's better to stick with store-bought items and focus on where you can buy them the cheapest.  

However, I admit to being intrigued by the idea of making your own hand soap.  Hand soap is one of those products that just seems to disappear in my house.  I don't know if it's because we're obsessive hand-washing germophobes, or we have to pee and then wash up more often than the average family, or if (and this is my real suspicion) Bill is actually using vast quantities of hand soap in some kind of secret science experiment--but the bottom line is that we always seem to be out of hand soap.  And it isn't just the cost of hand soap that gets me down--because truthfully you can buy it pretty cheaply at Costco or in the generic Target brand--it's the general hassle of always needing to buy hand soap.  No matter how often I buy hand soap, it seems like there's never any in the house, and so we're scrambling around playing musical hand soaps and switching the empty pumper by the kitchen sink for the full pumper from the lower-traffic bathroom   It's one of those marital situations that just always makes you feel annoyed and slighted.  You've just finished going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and OMG where did the soap go?

So, I figured that assuming DIY was cheaper or at least a wash (no pun intended) versus storebought soap, making handsoap would be beneficial in terms of time- and hassle-saving.

(Oh, and since the issue of How much is your time worth? tends to come up in these situations, let me remind you that I currently have no paying work.)  

So, I made soap.  

There are a number of homemade soap recipes on the Internet, though basically they all rely on grating up a bar of soap and adding glycerin and water.  What threw me tremendously was how much these recipes varied in terms of the ratio of water and soap to add.  I'm not a scientist, but I find it hard to believe that 4 cups of water vs. 10 cups of water, when added to the same quantity of soap, are going to yield a finished product of even remotely the same consistency.  

I mention this discrepancy between recipes because the first recipe I followed yielded a product that was way too watery.  It was basically soapy water.  But since I needed to financially justify the purchase of the glycerin, I kept plugging away at the soap-making effort.  

(Side note on the glycerin here: The Internets assured me that they sell glycerin behind the pharmacy counter at Target.  The pharmacist at my Target, though, said they had never stocked liquid glycerin behind the counter, and that they only sell it in suppository form.  I have no idea what ailment glycerin suppositories are intended to cure, but I was pretty sure they wouldn't work for making soap.  So then I went over to the pharmacy at the grocery store, where the guy again asked "liquid or suppository?" and then made a bit of an effort to dig the stuff up for me.  So I was aghast that a tiny bottle cost $10, but at that point I felt like I owed it to this guy to purchase the stuff.  That and I didn't feel like trying any more stores in my search for glycerin.  All of this is to say that I did not get a good deal on glycerin.  Apparently you can get it for waaaaaay cheaper than I did.) 

With one failed soap-making effort behind me, I went to Target and purchased a 3-pack of Ivory for $1.15.  Each bar was 3.3 oz, and I got about 3 cups of grated soap shreds out of that:

I boiled 4 cups of water and added the soap shreds.  Next I added 1 TBS of the glycerin.  Here is what my overpriced bottle of glycerin looks like, for the sake of those who have zero glycerin experience and need a visual:

At that point you need to let the mixture sit overnight, which is where the whole hassle-elimination issue comes into question.

I woke up the next morning, dismayed to find that my soap had not appeared to gel in the slightest, and instead still looked like a pan of liquid.

BUT!  When I went to dip my finger in the liquid, I realized it was actually solid and rubbery!  Here is a photo where I use the Dennison's Chili "you can stick a fork in it" trick to demonstrate the solidness of my soap batch:

Next I whizzed the stuff up in a blender.  This blender shot is blurry, but you know what a blender looks like:

Et voila!  Homemade liquid hand soap!   I poured the soap in an old Softsoap container.  Here's a photo demonstrating how much soap I ended up with:

It's definitely not the multiple gallons of soap that some of the online recipes promised.

Here's how it all breaks down:

Now, as I said, the bottle of glycerin cost $10.  I calculated that I could make 12 batches of soap with that one bottle.  So let's round that to about $1 worth of glycerin per batch, because it makes the math easier, and because you never quite get that last little bit of anything out of the container anyway.  Also, sales tax.

The soap was about 50 cents a bar when you account for sales tax.  So, soap + glycerin cost me $1.50 per batch of soap.

Now, the Target brand Up and Up soap refill of the same size costs $4.  And technically since my batch only filled like 3/4 of the bottle, it would actually have cost me $2 to fill the bottle.  Plus it's not like the water I used is totally free, nor was the electricity needed to boil the water and run the blender.

What I'm trying to say is AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  What I'm also trying to say is, it's hard to determine how much, if any, money you saving doing it yourself.  As I said, I'm still in the hole for the glycerin until I make several more batches.  My best guess is that you save $2 per batch with DIY, but not until you make at least 5 batches to cover the cost of the $10 glycerin, except you also have to then buy more soap, and it all becomes like one of those complicated algebra problems that start with "If a train leaves Chicago ..."

(Side note just to make myself a little crazier: I had a $1 off coupon I could have used on the Target brand soap.  But since it worked for any Up and Up product, it wasn't a total loss because I got $1 off a body wash instead.  Was that body wash cheaper per ounce than the Suave kind, which I also had a coupon for?  Who knows?  And now I've brought body wash into this.)

But regardless, we're now looking at a situation where I have maybe saved us ... what?  Ten dollars in six months?  And I mean I know every little bit helps, and it all adds up.  True. But also?  No.

My husband has already mocked me tremendously for the whole soap-making thing.  I mean tremendously.  He is decidedly anti-DIY.  He's even gone so far as to say my soap is not real soap, and we'll have to buy more soap to use in addition to the "soap" I made.  I suspect my home brew soap doesn't work in the secret hand soap experiments he's conducting.

But since I bought the glycerin-that-is-apparently-laced-with-gold, I'm committed to a few more batches of homemade hand soap.  So I've decided to look for more benefits of DIY, since the annual $20 savings isn't really selling me on the whole thing:

1. As I said before, there isn't the hassle of going to the store for hand soap anymore.  And there isn't the problem of being out of hand soap at any given time.

2. Fewer trips to the store to buy hand soap means fewer random side expenditures that happen whenever you are in a store.  Like, I came to Target for hand soap, but now that I'm here I realize we're also out of laundry detergent, Ziplocs, and glass cleaner.  Oh, and look at these cute shoes!

3. I can reuse the same plastic soap bottle over and over again, which means less packaging. Better for the environment!

4. Ivory soap smells really good, and I like how DIY soapmaking has a side air-freshening benefit.

5. You know exactly what chemicals you're using with DIY.  (But on the other hand the whole process does start with a commercial bar of soap.  But it's Ivory, right?  99.44% pure?  What's in that 0.06% though?)

6. Making my own soap gave me something to blog about.

So, this concludes my adventures in frugality for today.  Join me for the next installment of this series, which will probably be "I just decided to break down and get a job instead of finding 1,000 insignificant ways to save money." 

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Random Outing With My Kid: Kidsworks Children's Museum

We had originally planned to spend the afternoon at an Important Must-See Fall Destination with Farrah and her kids, but we decided to call it off on account of rain.  As the day progressed, though, I started to think maybe it might still be the perfect day to go to the Important Must-See Fall Destination, because the rain had subsided just enough to make it tolerable, but it was cold enough to keep the crowds down.   We dug out the winter hats and gloves and headed out.

When we got there, it was closed.  Nathan started to tear up a little.  I said not to worry, we would just head up the road a bit to the Other Important Must-See Fall Destination, which is much larger and must remain open in spite of a bit of rain.

And when we got there?  Yup, closed.  More tears from Nathan.  And a big fat WTF? from me, because these places are only open like a month out of the year, and then they're just going to go and be randomly closed one day?  I mean, I assume the proprietors of these places have learned from experience that it doesn't make financial sense to stay open on days like yesterday, but then I have to say, what is wrong with the people of Illinois that a tiny bit of bad weather (and we're talking a light drizzle and temps in the 40s) would scare them away from an outdoor activity?  This native Californian was suited up and ready to brave the cold.  You lost some points with me yesterday, Illinois.

(I do concede that it was also a random Thursday, which is probably a very low traffic day at Important Must-See Fall Destinations anyway, so when you add in the foul weather it just doesn't make sense to stay open.)

(However, you should have made a note of your closure on your website.)

Anyway.  Eventually we drove to the nice indoor children's museum, which is where we should have started out in the first place.

Nathan was dubious.  I'm not going to have fun here!  I want to go to a corn maze!

Of course it all worked out.

Here he is in the fire exhibit point a fire extinguisher at me, because clearly as a parent I was simply en fuego yesterday:

He's going to be a firefighter for Halloween, so he's just getting warmed up with the boots here:

Incidentally, his actual costume doesn't have the boots.  

I just like this next picture because I got the whole 9-1-1 display in the background:

One of those pinboard thingies:

Upstairs at the "dramatic play" area, Nathan models his costume as a train engineer who is also a tiger.  They really value inter-species diversity at the train engineer hiring place:

This is the tube/ramp/marble toy thing.  I find toys like this very frustrating, so naturally Nathan spent the most time there:

I'm all, It keeps falling apart!  Let's quit!  And Nathan is like, No, we have to stick with it!

This is the rock pit, also known in fancy Children's Museum parlance as the "texture table."  It's cute because they change it up for different holidays:

I don't know, I thought it was cool. 

Back at the stage, it seems the tiger train engineer also moonlights as a firefighter.  And he does a one-man show about it: 

Oh, but it turns out the train engineer firefighter was the alter-ego of a crime-fighting tiger superhero:

Wow, this play has some really dramatic plot twists!

What?!  He wasn't really a tiger at all?!  It was just a mask!  Clearly this plot point was inspired by the boy's extensive viewing of Scooby-Doo. 

And I would've gotten away with this if it weren't for you meddlesome kids!

Next we did a craft.  And then we got kicked out of the museum when it closed at 4:00.  On the way home we went to my favorite boba (a.k.a. bubble tea, a.k.a. tapioca balls) place, Paradise Smoothie. 

The end. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm a Little Worried That I Don't Worry Enough

I've talked before about my world-class worrying skills.  I am just an awesome worrier.  Worrying is how I cope with situations, how I prepare for the unknown.

But I've also talked about how the issue of my child's education is somehow impervious to my otherwise pervasive worry.  It's as though, while every other concern in life is drowning in a sea of worry, education is safely wrapped in a waterproof flotation device. 

I honestly can't figure out why I'm not more freaked out.  Maybe it's because he is four, and in preschool, and the time for freaking out hasn't happened yet.

Except, waiting until an appropriate time to worry isn't really my thing.  My usual tendency is to worry now, about everything, and then to go back and revisit those worries ... and repeat

Which is why I feel a little bit bad that I just can't muster up any worry about the latest situation at Nathan's preschool. 

Let me explain.  Nathan's preschool is broken into three "grades"-- the twos, the threes, and the fours--and each grade has two co-teachers.  Out of these six teachers, three have quit this year, and it's only October.  Two got better-paying jobs, and one is an older woman who was ready to retire.  The latter is one of Nathan's teachers, and while it seems more logical that a teacher would retire at the end of a school year, you never know what's really going on with regards to somebody's personal situation.

Bottom line, I don't believe the teachers left because the preschool is a crappy place to work.  Or, if I'm going to be very cynical, I don't get the impression that the preschool is any crappier a place to work than any other place.  People leave jobs.  That's a reality of life.  Things happen.

But when things happen that might affect the day-to-day life of somebody's precious child, it ends up being a very challenging situation for the higher-ups.

Take the example of the three-year-old class.  Unfortunately for the new preschool director, the three-year-old class started the year with subs in both teaching positions.  I heard the parents complaining about it in the parking lot.  I am so outraged!  This really upsets me!  She brings home art projects all the time!  Why can't it be more academic? 

Dude, chill.

I heard that the Tuesday/Thursday preschool class has lost 10 students in the first two months of school.  That's 18 students down to 8. 

Then, in the latest turn of events, we received a letter last week that said that one of the teachers in Nathan's four-year-old class had resigned.  The preschool director, who I know because she used to work in the gym daycare, saw me reading the letter on the way out of preschool and said, "Let me know if you have any questions."  I told her I didn't, that I understood, that I myself was a teacher who quit mid-year.  I went on to say that Nathan would be fine, and that in fact I'm not sure he would even notice that he got a new teacher unless we pointed it out to him.

The director reassured me that it was fine to be concerned, I mean after all this is my child.  It was like she was telling me I should be upset.  That's why I started to worry: Am I not worrying enough?

Yeah, I know.

Shortly thereafter we were given a notice about an upcoming parent meeting.  The notice said that the meeting would cover, "Things you want to know but were afraid to ask."  I personally wanted to come to the meeting with questions about the female anatomy, but my smart-assery is much more limited in non-Internet settings.

Prior to the meeting I went to the dry cleaners, which is relevant because the owner of the dry cleaners has a son that goes to the same preschool.  I asked her if she was going to the meeting.  I expressed that I didn't want to go, but felt like I was a bad parent if I didn't.  She agreed, so we both went.

The meeting began with the preschool director, who as I said I know from the gym, and the building director, who I know from my plays, attempting some preemptive damage control.  We understand that continuity is so important for young children.  The teachers all left for legitimate reasons.  We want to maintain an open line of communication with the parents.  I felt like my mere presence at the meeting suggested that I was somehow an adversary to these people, which was uncomfortable for me because really I just want everybody to like me. 

When it came to the Q-and-A portion of the meeting, I was actually kind of pumped to get some new material to ridicule on my blog.  For the most part, though, people were kind of shy in asking questions, probably because they're all more comfortable criticizing people behind their backs than to their faces (so we have that in common, at least).  Somebody asked whether a new teacher had been hired yet, which was a pretty reasonable question.  Another mom asked if we could expect more "reading readiness" activities, which seemed like a bit of a thinly-veiled criticism.

Finally a possibly annoying parent stepped up. 

She began by complaining that the time between the start of the year and the distribution of the student progress reports was too long.  She expressed that she would rather have near-constant feedback from the teachers as to her child's progress.  "At my older daughter's kindergarten, she gets a weekly progress report," the mom said.  Umm, did this mom notice that the preschool is not kindergarten?   She nattered on about school-home partnerships and whatnot. 

FWIW, I think school-home partnerships are a good thing, I just think asking a crappily-paid preschool teacher to take extra time to create a weekly progress report for each kid is kind of asking too much.  Oh, and when I was a teacher, we were glad to fill out any progress report form that a kid shoved in our faces, so long as the parent was the one to create the form. 

Anyway.  Throughout the meeting, you could tell the people in charge were really trying so hard to keep this so!  positive!  It felt awkward.  They were nervous and kind of suck-uppy.  We want to hear what you have to say!  We will take all your suggestions into account!  It's all about you and your children!  

I kept on telling myself that I was supposed to be totally freaked out about this apparently huge disruption in my child's life.  Come on, I told myself, you should muster up some worry here.  This is your only child, and apparently he will be scarred for life because of a change in personnel at his preschool. 

But, try as I may, I cannot see what the big deal is here.  Maybe it's because Nathan isn't the type of kid to get overly-attached to any particular person. 

Or maybe all of the sudden he's going to lose it with the new teacher and start behaving in a way that manifests his extreme struggle with the transition to a new teacher. 

But I'm not worried about it all right now.  And I don't mean to sound judgmental by suggesting that I'm more enlightened than the other preschool parents.  I have no room to judge people for being worried.  For crying out loud, I myself am worried that I don't worry enough.  I can't exactly criticize others for worrying about actual, real-life events. 

And just to assure you that I am, in fact, crazy in other ways, I will say that there are aspects of Nathan's future education that I am worried about.  I'm worried that he won't be well-behaved at school.  I'm worried that the teachers will blame me if and when he does misbehave.  I'm worried the teachers won't like me.  I'm worried that I'll want so badly for the teachers to like me that I won't be able to approach them when I do have concerns about Nathan.  I'm worried that I won't be able to be an advocate for my child. 

So, you see, I do worry about all the usual stuff.  If only it stopped there. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Nails: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

These are my special Halloween nails that I got done yesterday.  I'm thinking they might be my last hurrah, nails-wise.

I first got fake gel nails in July when I needed a manicure that would last through my 9-day trip to California.  I've had the gel nails ever since.  Thus far, gel nails have been my favorite nails.  I had acrylic nails back in the day, and those were fine, but I find the gel ones are sturdier, thinner, and a little cheaper.  I also like that with the gel nails, the tips are made of a different-colored gel, rather than being painted on with polish.  That way the color doesn't chip.

The only thing is, the cost of getting your nails done really adds up.  Depending on the particular design I get, the nails end up costing me anywhere from $70 to $100 a month (usually more toward $70 because I don't often get fancy designs like the Halloween nails). 

So should I get rid of the fake nails? 

Before you answer, let me tell you that I absolutely cannot DIY when it comes to nails.  I have extremely shaky hands, especially my left hand, so any nail polish ends up all over my cuticles and halfway up my arm.  So the choice isn't "fake nails vs. DIY manicure," but rather, "fake nails vs. my ugly natural hands." 

The arguments for either side are pretty obvious.  Having nice nails is something special you can do for yourself.  It's an easy way to ensure that no matter how schlubby you look, you'll always make a good impression in the nail department.  On the other hand (no pun intended), the nails are expensive and time-consuming.  And why do I need nice nails if my general lifestyle means I usually look schlubby anyway? 

I'm not really going to decide what to do about the nails just yet.  There are some unknowns in my professional future, and any particular turn of events might have a huge effect on my nail choices.  I guess I'm just wondering, am I a fool for scrambling to save money while still walking around with fancy-ass nails? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dopey Mom Moment: The Poohs' Birthday Party

As I've mentioned before, Nathan has two very special Poohs, Bangy-Nose Pooh and Squishy-Nose Pooh.  From time to time, Nathan tells us that it is the Poohs' birthday, probably because the first time he told us that we went out and got cupcakes to celebrate. 

This past Friday, which was October 14, Nathan told me it was the Poohs' birthday.  I decided to settle the matter once and for all by Googling "When is Winnie the Pooh's birthday?"  And, against all odds*, October 14 actually is the officially listed birthday for Pooh, because the first Winnie the Pooh book was published October 14, 1926. 

The Pooh brothers were turning 85!

It was not convenient for us to have the Poohs' party on their actual birthday, but we told Nathan that the next day we would get lunch and treats from Culver's and have a small party for the Poohs. 

After his soccer game, Nathan insisted on changing out of his uniform and into "party clothes," which apparently included Halloween socks that he wore on his hands as some sort of glove-like garment. 

Nathan gave the two Poohs the card he had made them, as well as their gifts, honey and sweetened condensed milk.  In the Winnie the Pooh book where Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's hole, his increased girth is caused by eating honey and sweetened condensed milk.  I guess maybe sweetened condensed milk as a topping for toast is a thing in England?  Or in the Hundred-Acre Wood? 

Squishy-Nose Pooh is on the left and Bangy-Nose Pooh is on the right.  

Here they are with their gifts and their special birthday treat:

Here they blow out their candle:

Nobody knows what their birthday wish was, but it was probably more honey.

As the Poohs' dad, Nathan photographed their birthday party with this teeny-tiny camera:

Just to give you a better look at the stylish Halloween sock-hands:

Blurry but adorable:

Let's all wish the Poohs a very happy, "No bother" birthday! 

*Obviously the odds of it actually being Pooh's birthday that day were 1 in 365, or 1 in 365.25 if you're going to get all technical about leap years. 
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