The Poky Little Pundit


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Vote on August 6th!

Me and George

George and me about to canvass the neighborhood. (This is an excellent example of my husband’s photography skills. Luckily, he is good at many other things).

Though I have just one month remaining of novel-writing time before teaching swoops down and renders my other life pursuits obsolete, I wanted to dash off a quick post urging everyone to vote. The primaries are on August 6 – which means you need to get your ballot in the mail like NOW.

As the new resident PCO, or Precinct Committee Officer, for section 1761 of the 36th District, I have been spending time this past week knocking on neighbors’ doors and handing them pamphlets prepared by the 36th District Democrats with candidate endorsements. I brought George on my first foray as my little blonde talisman – nothing like a cute four-year-old to provide a distraction from the awkwardness of knocking on a stranger’s door. Sure enough, people were eager to open the door and chat. It is a pretty easy message to sell – here’s some information, and please vote. Even this sales-wary neophyte can handle that.

I also wanted to mention an excellent new economic agenda driven by Nancy Pelosi and fellow House Democrats. It was brought to my attention by an old student currently working in Washington, D.C. It is called “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families.” Susan Stamberg discussed the agenda with Nancy Pelosi just a few days ago on NPR, and it is well worth a listen. Considering the House is currently Republican, critics assume it doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell – ironic, no? Isn’t the GOP all about ‘family values?’ These are still things my peon brain has yet to grasp in the world of politics.

That’s all for today – this PCO stuff is rather time consuming, and I have more door knocking (and novel-writing) to get done. Feel free to write in and post absurd quotations from the Voter’s Pamphlet. My favorites this time round include a typo in the ‘occupation’ line (he’s an accountantt, apparently), a guy who thinks ‘life is just too short’ so Seattle should be more fun, and a guy whose favorite job is raising his son to be a ‘mighty man of God.’ Love it.

Now go vote!

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Laboring for some kind of fruit

my bean plant

My own garden! This is my first ever attempt to grow beans from seeds. Crossed fingers (or vines).

The past few weeks, I have been saying, to anyone willing to listen, that the next purchase I make will be a condo with no garden. It is absurd, I know, to complain about owning a home. Talk about first world problems. But having a garden is just totally, thoroughly exhausting. And like many exhausting things, also frustratingly worthwhile. Because after a day spent literally digging in the dirt, progress is visible. You have created and sustained life.

I feel the same way, to an extent, about trying to get involved in politics. There is no end to unfamiliar terms, to limits on time and resources, to the careful tending of raw material to yield a tiny bit of beauty or sustenance. And like gardening, there is such a host of people who know so much more than you that it is easy to just think, ‘I give up! Give me some cement and a cocktail!’ A large part of me also laughs at myself for the suburban middle-class-ness of both pursuits.

But I continue to hunger for that one, delicious plant that pops out of the dark earth, fecund with life. I’ve planted a few more this week: I applied to be a PCO for the 36th District Democrats. A PCO, or Precinct Committee Officer, is a person who knocks on doors in the leadup to elections and provides materials on endorsed candidates. Sounds like a great idea.

I also met up with Kirkland City Council member Shelley Kloba, who recently entered the political arena after many years of experience in the PTA. She was not only generous with her time but also with her ideas about how I can use my unique talents to become a part of the change-making institutions in our state. She defines herself as a child advocate and was down to earth, warm and obviously dedicated to serving her community – what a role model!

Finally, I am applying to be a member of the board of New Beginnings, an amazing Seattle organization committed to ending domestic violence. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than helping women and children in need.

But back to that garden: I have found, as many gardeners have before me, that one can spend an inordinate amount of money on stuff that you stick in dirt. Especially if you are impatient, or lazy, or an unfortunate combination of the two. I was hoping that, by merely expressing an interest in politics and scattering seeds, things would come my way. But no. I have to pick out the right seeds. I have to check the light and have good-quality soil. I have to water them. I have to weed things out. I have to water them again.

Right now, I’m just sowing seeds. And as everyone knows who has grown something from seed, it takes time and it’s kinda boring to watch. So I am taking time this summer to allow my tiny political plants to grow without witness. And, well, I also have a novel that needs finished by September 3 (both my birthday and the first day of school), and blogging is a fantastic way to procrastinate.

So until then, unless something momentous occurs, I am signing off. May all of you pursue goals this summer that will bear fruit!

Love, The Poky Little Pundit


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The Parent Tax

So last Thursday, I went into my high school to discuss my schedule for September with a colleague. My problem is that I no longer have a room – I will be travelling between two classrooms during the day to teach.

To non-teachers, that probably sounds like no biggie – and yes, there are worse things. But it is a bummer. It means I will not be able to set up my lessons for the day on a Smartboard, like I have been doing (that’s an interactive whiteboard, for those who haven’t been in a classroom for 20 years). It means I will not have a private, quiet space to complete my work each day. It means I have nowhere to put up book lists or display my favorite poetry or even make a private phone call, barring a bathroom.

But that’s not actually the part that makes me angry. What makes me angry is that my loss of a room is just another tax I pay for having a child. Yes, it is really that simple. I will break it down for you.

See, the problem is that high school starts at 7:00. We have to BE THERE at 7:00. And guess when all daycares open? 7:00. Do you see the problem yet? Let’s go a little further. Of my department, three of us have young children, which means three of us teach part time. And as my friend and colleague, who took over for me as Department Chair on my leave of absence, blithely informed me: The problem is that we all want the same schedule.

And it’s that tiny little word there – the ‘want’ – that makes me angry. Because I don’t WANT to teach part time just so I can get my kid to daycare. I don’t WANT to lose my classroom, and spend the day carting around stacks of papers, a computer and my personal belongings. I don’t WANT to lose out on a significant chunk of my paycheck because some idiot decided to make high school start at 7 bloody a.m.

And when people say, “Well, it was your choice,” I want to stab them. In all honesty, I had no idea what I was getting into, or how many choices would be taken away from me by my choice to have a baby. Parents should not have to choose between procreation and a career. And a society that sets up such an absurd choice needs reforming.

It is all part of the tax one must pay for being a parent. A tax that starts at conception and doesn’t appear to end until your child can find their own way to and from school. And what age is that? When will I feel comfortable allowing my son to wake himself up, nourish himself and get himself to school so that I can get to work on time? Age 8? 10? 12?

The solution is simple: Start high school, and all other employment where possible, at 9 am. Keep elementary and middle school start times at 8:30.

This would allow the great majority of us to wake our children, feed them, and get them to school or daycare so we can arrive at work without stress and without having to employ a morning nanny. It will also allow high school kids – who can get themselves to school, for the most part – to get much needed sleep, which is more in line with their natural circadian rhythms.

We could also simply be more understanding, as a nation, that parents are not being lazy when we go part-time or arrive to work a little late. We are making the best of a difficult situation for which there is no resolution in sight. And for those of us who do not have grandparents at the ready, or spare cash to pay for nannies, or for those of us whose spouses travel or who have no spouse at all, we are barely hanging on. And for what? So school can end at the bizarre hour of 2:30? 

Fellow parents or soon-to-be parents reading: What sort of “parent tax” do you have to pay in your job? And what can we do to take a collective stand? Considering the absolutely vast quantity of people this continuing problem affects, shouldn’t we be able to make a change if we really want to make one?


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Don’t ever dig holes under fences

thepokylittlepuppy

Recently a friend asked me about the title of this blog – I naively assumed everyone would get the title without me explaining. Isn’t everyone’s favorite childhood book The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey? Apparently not.

So, for those of you who don’t already know, I stole part of my blog title from the aforementioned text. And it is basically about an independent, adventurous puppy who disobeys his mother and eats lots of desserts. At least that is my childhood memory of it. In actuality, it is about accepting the consequences of our bad decisions and facing up to our responsibilities.

Which is essentially what I am trying to do here with this blog. Face up to being something other than a self-serving ignoramus who complains about ‘the man’ while leaving all the decision-making up to him. Especially when I should be making that man a woman. (Ha ha.)

On that note, last week was Filing Week – when candidates register to run for stuff in WA state for the August 6 primary election. I spent a bit of time on the King County website, going as far as registering to see what I could possibly run for. The obvious choice is the unpaid School Board position – others include City Council or Commissioner, and I don’t think one should run for an office one has to Google in order to understand it. Michael DeBell is vacating his seat on the school board (that’s my district) and three candidates have filed to run for his position. I have not, because I simply do not feel qualified. (Here’s a list of all candidates who have filed, if you are curious.)

So what does it take to become qualified? Why aren’t there little ‘starter’ positions for people who want to ease their way into politics? Teaching involves a great deal of politicking, but truly I should not be making large decisions on behalf of the people of Seattle – I’m still deciding myself on important issues in education, such as teachers’ unions.

Which brings us to Timothy Noah’s article, “The 1 Perfect Are Only Half the Problem.” Firstly, how lovely to read an article by a writer whose bias was not immediately apparent. Secondly, I had no idea he was going to be talking about labor unions until the very end of the article. Basically, he thinks labor unions are a great way to fix middle class economic woes. And while my socialistic leanings predispose me towards loving unions, I don’t.

I want to be clear, though (before my colleagues think I am crazy, and Progressive Majority kicks me off the farm team): I am not anti-union. The NEA and the WEA (the National and Washington Education Association respectively) are integral to supporting teachers. But I do think there needs to be serious reform, including the right for teachers to choose how their union dues are spent – especially since in WA state, we are forced to join them. (I’m still deciding on the right-to-work debate – for the moment, forced unionization seems necessary. Read more about a recent right-to-work debate regarding Boeing here.) Perhaps a trifle petty, but if I ran the teachers’ unions, the first thing I would cut is the eight pieces of propaganda that arrive at my doorstep every day. Seriously? A group of educators made this decision?

One thing I will do in September, when I step warily back into the public education sector, is become involved in the Washington Education Association – boring, but necessary in terms of understanding how unions function. In the meantime, read up on the candidates who have filed – a brave step by many quite amazing individuals! I thought by now the path into politics might become more clear; alas, the murkiness continues unabated. If only I could cut under the fence and still get the dessert, just like my favorite poky puppy.


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Why down under is tops

another baby change pic

Love the skirt.

Last week, instead of posting, I was snorkeling on a beach on an island off the coast of Perth. I could use the excuse of no Internet access for not posting, which is true, but mainly I just didn’t want to spend one second in front of a computer when I could spend it gazing out at the Indian Ocean. I am sure you agree I made the right choice.

I’ve been to Australia twice before, but both times were ages ago, before kids, when I didn’t really notice anything going on around me. This time, I went to visit friends with little babies. Which reminded me how hard it is to have little babies. The lingering smell of bodily fluids on every surface. The mucky milk bottles haunting the sink. Squeezing your day’s plans in between nap times. Good thing they are so damn cute.

So here’s some things I learned while in Oz:

1) Birds sound completely different there. They look like American and European birds, but then they open their little beaks and you are not in Kansas anymore.

2) Women have paid time off to raise babies. Like LOTS of time. One friend I was visiting had been off for three years raising her now 3-year-old girl and 8 month old boy. Her career is still there, waiting for her, when she goes back in another year. To a teaching career. Wild.

3) MEN HAVE TIME OFF TO RAISE BABIES. Another friend was alternating time off with his wife so each could have six months off with the baby. And he was being paid to do so. CRAZY.

4) They have “baby care rooms” in public places stocked with a large changing table, appropriate bins for nappies, wipes and other baby detritus, a grown-up and toddler size toilet in one stall, hot and cold water, room for a stroller, a comfortable seat and a microwave. If you have a kid, you totally get how absolutely amazing that is, and you hate America for not emulating this. Seriously, parents have to use more of their political power to get these implemented. I am annoyed I didn’t take a good photo.

5) It is really, really far away. Like REALLY far. Unless you live there, of course.

This week, I plan to rejuvenate my political aspirations. I have a few ideas, but I have to admit that I am foundering a little. The problems I see are just so big, and I feel so small. I am still compelled to enter the race, which is a good sign. Especially when people like Warren Buffett write articles like this which make me think I need to get a move on. But overall, after joining every political group known to humankind and sifting through 20 e-blasts a day detailing our current political climate and attending bill hearings in Olympia, I still have no idea where I belong. I am loathe to waste my or anyone else’s time by channeling my energies down the wrong path, so I am just standing here at the top of an impossible hill…gathering information.

It seems as good a time as ever to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!” Only I don’t plan to kill anyone…just trying to stoke up some resolve here. Ideas?


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Sharing the wealth

kid at desk

I’ve decided that my tipping point is one month. After one month of living out of a suitcase, travel officially becomes boring and my Seattle montage starts playing in my head: A run along Queen Anne’s hilltop, an Americano with half and half at Cafe Fiore, and a simple, homemade green salad while sitting out on my back deck in the sun. Yes.

I’m also really looking forward to new topics of conversation. How to get your child (or grandchild, or niece) into a ‘decent’ school consumes the thoughts of everyone in London. I am not being hyperbolic. The disparity between schools is terrifying. Many of our close friends, who happen to be atheists, attend church every Sunday, espousing a fervent belief in God, simply to get into the local (C of E or Catholic) school – and not just the year before the child is due to enter Reception (our Kindergarten). We are talking THREE YEARS of church attendance to get your kid into a state-run school.

Other friends and family members are lucky enough to be able to afford private school, but it doesn’t end with money. For my own son to attend the school his father attended, he would have had to take AN EXAM at age three to get into Reception, and another at 7 to secure a place in the junior school and another at age 11 to secure a place in the senior school – all for the bargain price of £12,000 a year.

Truly, it is a tragedy for parents here, which is why they must verbally process it at every social occasion. You can see the dilemma etched into the worry lines on their faces. Do you save and scrimp for private school, only for your child to become a toffee-nosed arse, or tossed out for poor exam results at age 11? Or do you attend church for three years to get into the free school, regardless of whether or not you believe? The alternative is too hideous to contemplate: sending your child to a failing school in a bad area where they are certain to receive a terrible education and probably end up robbing grannies after school. Of course, working class, poor people have no option at all, but it isn’t really cool to mention that.

It is tempting to feel rather smug on my way home today – George is certain to get into his local school, which is 400 meters away. If he doesn’t, there are two others in our neighborhood that are equally well-respected. That’s it. End of story. Our only complaint is that there is not a lot of green space. At our free, amazing school down the road.

But inequities in education obviously exist in America as well. Just six miles away, in the same county we pay our taxes in, school choices are starkly different to my own.  And I wish I could just carry on with my life, appreciating the amazing fortune afforded me by my parents and my own hard work. The fact that so many of us are able to ignore the inequities is perhaps the reason why they continue. But what do we do?

For a start, I think we should mimic Portland, OR (minus the organic hippie beard thing). They decided last year to pool one-third of all PTA contributions and re-distribute the money to failing schools. And since schools such as Coe Elementary (where George will go) raise almost $200,000 a year in parent contributions and schools down the road raise virtually none, this seems a place to start. I would love to give to my child’s school knowing it might also benefit other children whose parents are less able to support their local school. (This is disregarding the fact that WA state schools are hideously underfunded to the point of a Supreme Court order – that is a whole separate issue. Truly, parents should just stop topping up funding for schools so the government will cover the bill as it should, but as a representative parent, I am certainly not willing to prove a point with my child’s life prospects.)

I’ve been reading Diane Ravitch’s blog as well as Save Seattle Schools, a community forum. Both offer perspectives on the issue, but few real solutions. Can anyone offer other reading suggestions?

Next Tuesday, I will be en route to my fourth continent in the span of four weeks: Australia. I will be visiting two friends – one in Melbourne and one in Perth. Ah, the benefits of a year off teaching – cheap travel during term time!


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Take candy from babies, dammit.

I can pinpoint the exact moment in my life when I actually cared about what was going on in local politics. (In national politics, that moment was Dubya, of course.) It was in the winter of 2010. Just a few days previously, I had filled in my bubbles, quite pleased with myself for performing my civic duties by voting on stuff. And then I heard on the radio that WA state had voted to repeal a tax on candy. I actually screamed at the DJ in my car, who thought it was just great that people could get cheaper candy while government-run programs suffered. The issue is long past now – thanks to voters, a Snickers bar is a whole 2 cents cheaper and my last class of seniors numbered 38.

Anyway, after a few days away this weekend with my son’s friends and their parents (yep, he’s three, and he has actual friends), I came home to my favorite little non-food-item treat wrapped in blue – the New York Times on Sunday. Inside was an op-ed by former Kraft Foods executive Michael Mudd called “How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry.” His first point of advice? Levy taxes on sugared beverages and other snack foods and candy. I screamed YES at the newspaper, but then I got to thinking: How do we change the thinking of people who will most likely not even pick up this newspaper?

TRK-CHD SUB PDP FULL

I ate this excuse for food more times than I care to admit as a child. Remember the bendy cheese, the salt you could lick off the cracker and the gumlike texture of the meat? Mmm.

I see the complexity, obviously – no one wants Uncle Sam peering over their meal, checking its contents. And everyone has eaten with that friend – the one who waits to see what you order (grilled cheese) and then chooses the quinoa-stuffed peppers with a small salad. Everyone wants autonomy over their choices – but what is the alternative? If our medical insurance rates are terrible because  people decide to literally eat and drink themselves into a hospital, shouldn’t we be able to limit the poison they dump into their bodies? When will we finally acknowledge that we are all on the same planet, and start acting accordingly? I keep thinking about the look on WA state Senator Karen Keiser’s face when we were speaking in Olympia – the unspeakable frustration of working with people day after day who disagree with you on such a fundamental level that it is impossible to even begin a conversation.

So many of us – myself included – feel truly despondent. Like there is no point in even trying to get in the game. We know the outcome. So how do we bridge the gap? How do we find a way to talk to each other? We are out there, reaching into the abyss of the Internet, looking for a way to connect, but ultimately finding ways to polarize.

This feeling of helplessness also makes me miss teaching. You see, teenagers haven’t quite decided about issues. They still really listen and, most importantly, they fight back. We are all so busy being polite that we have stopped talking. Can you remember the last time you discussed politics over dinner with friends? With co-workers? With your spouse? Sometimes, I feel like I have to check the political affiliations of those around me before speaking, lest I offend. It is the same with religion (which I think should just be called Philosophy).  I still can’t figure out why we don’t really talk about this – the one thing that means anything. Our purpose. Why we are here.

Politics is ultimately about how we want our world to work. It is inextricably tied to the fates of our children. Surely, we should all be very interested in this. Perhaps this is why I blog as well. I don’t like being impolite. I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable to their faces. But I guess I don’t mind doing it on a screen. I think taxing candy, soda and any other food that is processed all to shit to make schools or other worthwhile programs better is the greatest idea ever. Why don’t other people?

And where do we go from here?