Post #8: You Lintlicker!

There are some great words in the English language. There are limitless combinations of ways to say what you need to say. Even many ‘bad’ words, in my opinion, have a time and a place. The thing is, however, you have to be careful in distinguishing the words you should use from the words you should admire from afar, leaving for literary experts to handle. A few that come to mind off my do-not-use list are: asinine, lackadaisical, conundrum. Great words. I know what they mean, but I couldn’t use them effortlessly in a sentence despite years of Shostak vocabulary practice with doing just that. Sometimes, handling a fabulous word incorrectly can make you look pretentious, or, in the case of swear words, downright ridiculous.

When I was teaching, I had strong censors in place on my language. Even with high-schoolers, it’s incredibly important to keep dialogue PG-rated, both to set a good example and to keep your job. The only F-words I used in my daily vocabulary were Factor, Fraction, and Formula. Occasionally on the weekends, in the comfort of my own home, I would let my guard down and let the bad words out. It’s like eating that one piece of chocolate (or two or three) when you are on a diet. You have to give yourself a little bit of freedom to be really successful. Despite my allowance of sorts, a week’s worth of choosing “Shucks!” over “Shit!” usually prevented me from using the latter altogether. In a sense, I forgot how to swear. Not that I ever really knew how…

Kevin will tell you that I am the world’s worst swearer. At least 93% of the time that swear conversationally for emphasis or to demonstrate conviction, I do so unsuccessfully. Then, in times when angry swearing is actually appropriate (if ever), I choke. Kevin has been there to witness this phenomenon twice, fortunately for him and unfortunately for me. In one case, it was in response to an unjustifiably angry bike-rider in Providence who called Kevin a “JACKASS!”*. The second was while confronting the grumpiest, rudest used-car-salesman I’ve ever met. In both cases, I blacked out. In my mind, I was launching an intelligent, profanity-infused verbal assault that highlighted my frustration while effectively putting my opponent in his place. The kind of spoken lashing that would make a person feel embarrassed by the actions that inspired my loaded words. What was actually happening, according to Kevin’s testimony is an entirely different story.  Apparently, I not only neglected to incorporate swears, but I also barely gave the impression that I was angry. I thought I was issuing a counterattack consistent with the dialogue and wit of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting but it was actually more similar to that of Matt Damon in We Bought a Zoo. Polite, friendly, perhaps even apologetic. “Excuse me, Mister… this is all the result of a big misunderstanding… sorry if you feel that way… blah blah blah”. I refuse to admit that it was THAT bad. I mean, I was frustrated for having been treated with such disrespect. And that’s really all I could come up with?

Me: Come on, Kevin. You’re exaggerating.
Kevin: Ok, maybe you didn’t call him ‘Mister’… it might have been ‘Sir’.

So I’m bad at swearing and worse under the pressure of confrontational situations. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying. Especially since my hiatus from teaching began three Septembers ago, I catch myself dropping more and more f-bombs into every day speech. “That’s f-ing crazy!”, “Are you f-ing serious?” I’m sorry, English teachers of my past. I know that you taught me other, less offensive ways verbalize astonishment and disbelief. I blame this habit on my husband to whom the f-word is just a multi-functional part of grammar. And he’d probably blame this on hockey. Swearing in a hockey locker room, after all, is far more socially acceptable than swearing in a classroom. Plus, being from Southie, I think everyone expects him to talk like he’s from Southie. Because, let’s face it, everyone from Boston talks like they do in The Departed. And who is Kevin to un-do the stereotype?

So here’s the obvious problem: What sounds almost natural coming from a Boston accented hockey-player does not sound the same coming from a someone like me, a friendly, non-confrontational, math-teaching MOTHER. Brayden will soon be repeating every word I say, and so this has to stop!

Which is why, as part of my New Years’ Resolutions list, I am reverting back to my teacher-appropriate language. And because I am feeling ambitious and I hate procrastinating, I am starting it early. Today. On the eve of the New Year. No more swearing. I obviously don’t want my son to swear at all. But if he ever is going to swear, I want him to swear right. And he clearly isn’t going to learn how to do that from me.

* This man, by the way, is the world’s second worst-swearer in the world for using the word “Jackass!” and thinking it was an offensive word. What I should have said in response was “I’d rather be a Jackass than a Butthead, you Butthead!”

Post #7: Merry Christmas

Two years ago, we were in Italy. As we approached our first Christmas away from our families, my moping put the year's celebrations in jeopardy. I didn't know how to embrace the season without having our loved ones there to share it with. I was homesick and, embarrassing as it is to admit, prone to crying about it.  Fortunately, I snapped out of my pitiful state just in time to save Christmas. I baked cookies, watched Christmas movies, and streamed holiday classics through an internet radio station. We went to mass despite not understanding the language. I even whipped up some homemade cinnamon buns because I couldn’t find any Italian equivalent to Pillsbury.

While our families were thousands of miles and several time zones away, these small pieces of Christmases past helped establish the feeling of my favorite holiday of the year. From there, new elements were integrated into our holiday festivities like a brunch of make-ahead egg strata and an afternoon viewing of It's a Wonderful Life. Blending the old with the new, we have developed what I suppose could be considered our own little Christmas traditions. Traditions that will inevitably grow and change as does our own little family and its location.

This year was perfect proof of that. Having a baby to share in the magic of Christmas gave the holiday an entirely new dynamic. (It also inspired the addition of "family nap" to our holiday's agenda.) While Brayden opened his gifts munched on wrapping paper I couldn't help but be excited for him and simultaneously excited for myself as a parent. Though he doesn’t necessarily understand it yet, this Christmas marked his first of many that will likely be part of countless cherished memories. Small details from these celebrations of faith, love, and happiness will bring with them the feeling of “home”, like they have done for Kevin and I. And, I hope that he values them as much as we do. If he does, he will be able to bring the spirit of Christmas wherever he goes, much like Kevin and I do now.

So, until the day that our December includes the company of our families again, I will be incredibly grateful for Skype. And, I will continue to be thankful that we have so many loved ones worthy of being missed on the holidays (and every day for that matter). Families that have instilled in us the true meaning of the Christmas. We love you all!


Post #6: So it goes

I've heard the expression that "life goes on", but I've never heard that it stays the same. Because it doesn't... not for anyone feeling the aftershock of an event warranting the expression. Trauma changes us in varying degrees depending on how far we are removed from the point of impact. For the friends and families directly connected to the Sandy Hook tragedy, I know this change will be immeasurable. And with the strength of human empathy, I think we will all feel its affects in some capacity. I think we can all imagine, as painful as it is to do so, what that change will look like for those who lost their loved ones. But what will this change look like for for people at the farthest periphery of the tragedy's influence? Parents who have held their children a little closer this past week... Teachers who have had to discuss an incomprehensible reality with their students... Policymakers who have the responsibility to protect everyday citizens.  As with anything else, I think that only time will tell. But, tomorrow, as we all pay tribute in our own ways to the lives lost, I hope we can consider where we want to go from here in how we view the world, live our lives, and value the lives of others. And I hope it's in the direction of love.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.

Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.

Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.

Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.

In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

May we hold on to the love for those who died. And may they be remembered as stars, casting a glimmer of light through this darkness.



Post #5: Keeping Faith

I was nannying on Friday and, since it was a game day for Kevin, Brayden was with me. He loves spending time with his four-month-old “girlfriend” and was thrilled that her older sister was with us on this particular afternoon as well. I wore a smile on my face as I watched them happily interact on the floor, but there was a lump in my throat.

Brayden looked up at his five-year-old playmate and flashed his new and improved smile. Head back, nose scrunched with lips curled above his gums. She put her foot onto his foot and they both giggled. “Look, Sarah,” she said through her laugh, “It’s a Toe Hug!” With that, my eyes welled with tears.

Five years old. She seems so big compared to Brayden and her infant sister. But she is still a baby herself. Completely and totally innocent, blissfully unaware of any dark side to her seemingly perfect world. She knows what it means to trust and to love. She understands happiness and finds wonder in the little things like making her sister smile, sipping apple juice through a swirly straw, and giving toe hugs. What more is there?

I’d heard about what happened in Connecticut before I’d left for work. I couldn’t bear to watch the news, and I haven’t been able to since. I don’t care about the man responsible. I don’t need details about how it happened. I especially don’t want to hear about how this is a case for more guns or how this is what is deserved for taking religion out of the classroom. The only thing I want to do is pray. I can’t stop thinking about all the people affected, all of whom I have never met. I feel love for those individuals who gave their lives trying to protect the lives of others. My spirit is heavy with the loss of all those beautiful, innocent children and I’m aching for all the families who are suffering from this senseless tragedy. No words can undo the devastation of what happened, but I’ll keep holding the victims and their loved ones in my heart. And I’ll keep hoping that this world is actually wonderful, like it is through a child's eyes.