19 September 2017

Constitution Week

It's Constitution Week.  It's one of those observances that is made for nerdy history teachers such as myself.  When I was teaching full time, state mandated testing schedules and other practicalities of public education prevented me from spending the entire week on the constitution,* but I always tried to do something apropos.  I could usually find a few minutes at the end of class to give some bonus points to students for being able to list the three founding documents of the US (hint: The Pledge of Allegiance is not one of them) or have a contest to see who could name the most people present at the constitutional convention. (hint: Sam Houston wasn't there)

Usually Constitution Week passes mostly unnoticed.  This year it seems that many more people are observing it.  This makes my little nerdy heart happy.  However, I find that, in observing constitution week, many are not celebrating the constitution.  I see post after post using Constitution Week to celebrate a specific political party.  (hint:political parties are not in the constitution)  I assume that most people who affiliate with a specific party do so because they agree with a majority of that party's tenants, or at the very least, find their party of choice to align more closely with their priorities than the opposing party.  I would expect someone who belongs to a party to passionately defend the ideas put forth by said party.  I don't find anything problematic about that dynamic.  I find the idea that one political party is the sole defender of the constitution while the opposing party is the Enemy of America to be shallow, intellectually dishonest, and in direct conflict with the ideas upon which this country was founded.  I do not find promoting a single party as the sole owner of patriotism an appropriate way to observe Constitution Week.

In many a political discussion, the intentions of the founding fathers are invoked.  Certainly discussing the men who created the country makes sense.  What does not make sense is talking about "the founding fathers" as a monlith.  The reason one political party cannot claim to be the sole defenders of the constitution is because the constitution was not created by a single political ideology.
The collective memory of the founding of America often looks like this:
Image result for constitutional convention 1787

Sometimes it's nice to imagine that the delegates arrived in Philadelphia and almost instantly began politely dictating the constitution.  Someone said, "I think we ought to have three coequal branches of government." To which someone else said, "A fine idea, good sir.  I'd like to also divide the legislative branch into two chambers." Whereupon founding father the third chimed in, "Quite so, my good man.  In addition, let us add a provision that all tax legislation must originate in the lower chamber." All the while, Jacob Shallus sat quietly in the corner carefully transcribing the conversation in calligraphy.  The balance of the summer was then spent proofreading the first draft.  While that would be a lovely story, that's not how it happened.  The founding fathers certainly approached the task with admiration and respect for the strengths of their colleagues, but they did not all agree on what America should be.

It is instructive to remember that the early days of the republic also looked like this:
A Political Cartoon Depicting The Federalists Vs Republicans In Congress

The constitutional convention included heated disagreements, juvenile insults, intense divisions, and near failure.  The founders were all talented and well studied. They were each patriotic and wanted to see the new country succeed.  They were passionate about their goals.  And they did not agree on the best course of action.  They were willing to include things they disagreed with while also ardently insisting on the things that were most important to them. The result of their actions was not the canonization of The One True America.  Rather it is a wonderfully resilient collection of ideological inconsistencies and contradictions that could evolve to become one of the most powerful nations on earth.

At the end of the convention, the constitution included something for everyone to be upset about.  But they also seemed to be incredibly proud and protective of their accomplishment.  The founding of the United States was not just an experiment in representative government, but also an exercise in pluralism.

*please don't leave comments about how this is an example of a failed public education system.  Students receive adequate education in all levels of government from municipal to national.  The instructional calendar just doesn't allow for the allotted time on the constitution to coincide with the anniversary of its creation.

14 September 2017


I have a three year old. He's pretty cute. He doesn't pronounce things very well, but he consistently speaks in complete sentences. He likes to sort things into piles. He loves trains and Lightning McQueen. He is full of energy and runs almost everywhere he goes. He rarely takes naps. He's a very cheerful kid. Recently I introduced him to Road Runner and Wile E Coyote cartoons. He calls them "beep beep movies." In the mornings, when the older kids are packing their lunches and backpacks, he gets his backpack and puts a snack in it. Then he sits by the front door and says he's ready to go to school.

Today I found him sitting on my bathroom counter. He had plugged the sink with a roll of toilet paper, filed it to the top, and left the tap running so that water was flowing onto the floor. He had all the drawers open and was tossing anything he could reach into the sink with one hand while brandishing Dave's razor in the other.

Me: Do these things belong to you?

3yo: Nope. They don't.

Me: Should you be touching them?

3yo: Nope

Me: Where are your toys?

3yo: My toys are in the playroom.

Me: Where is the playroom?

3yo: The playroom is upstairs.

Me: Where do you think I'd like you to play right now?

3yo: Right here.

I am not impressed with his deductive reasoning skills.

20 July 2017

From the (Previously Unpublished) Archives

My brother once told me that he believes it is impossible for parents to win a battle of wits with their children. His reasoning: adults have a myriad of responsibilities competing for time and attention.  Meanwhile kids have nothing to do all day but sit and figure out how to game the system.  Since he currently has no children of his own, I'm not sure how he happened upon this pearl of wisdom, but I do think he's onto something.  The children in the redhead household have an amazing ability to do precisely what I have asked and yet somehow exactly what I do not want.  My mother is chuckling right now.  She is thinking that this quality is genetic, and I am currently getting what I deserve.  To which I reply that if it's genetic, it didn't start with me.

I thought that my years of teaching inner city high school kids had honed my abilities to give  directions that left very little room for interpretation.  But high school students are not nearly as creative as toddlers.  I guess the responsibilities that come with negotiating drug deals in the bathrooms don't leave as much time for system gaming as I had originally thought.  To a three year old, "Go wash your hands and face" sounds like "Please climb into the washing machine and try to turn it on. It would be extra helpful if you could take your little sister with you."  I have learned that the proper way to give that instruction is "Go into the bathroom. Stand on the stool and use soap to wash your hands in the sink." I don't usually have to specify when to turn the water on and off.  I've also learned that when I ask the kids to keep the sand inside the sandbox it's important to specify that I mean the sandbox in our backyard.  The instructions to get ready for bed include close to a dozen steps.

It makes me giggle a little bit when my kids talk to me the same way I talk to them.  On our most recent trip to the grocery store my little girl told me, "Mama, first you have to find my brother's shoes.  Then you pick him up.  Then you put socks on him.  Then you put his shoes on.  Then you take him outside and open the van door.  Then you put him in his seat.  Then you buckle his top buckles.  Then his bottom buckles.  Then you do your buckles. Then we can go shopping."

I'm still pretty new to the parenting game.  So while I do find the antics somewhat aggravating, there is still a part of me that  is curious to see what they will come up with next.  A few days ago while I was washing my hands in the sink with soap (but not standing on the stool), I heard the unmistakable clatter of something large falling down the stairs. My initial panic that the day might include a trip to the emergency room subsided when the noise was followed by hysterical laughter.  The kids came running in to tell me that the diaper boxes were sleds and the stairs were snow.  I thought this sounded awesome, and my heart broke a little bit when I had to tell them to stop.  Especially since we live in Texas and that's as close to sledding as it gets around here. But my desire to avoid a medical emergency won the day, and we put the boxes away. 

Sometimes I give intentionally vague instructions to see what happens.  When it's time to read stories I tell them, "In two minutes I'm going to come upstairs and read the stories that are on the rocking chair, so if you want stories go pick them now."  So far they have not yet figured out that I have not limited them to one story each.  I'm waiting for the day when they decide to unload their entire bookshelf onto the rocking chair.  And if they ever do, I will sit there for as long as it takes and read every story.

27 February 2016

Super Tuesday

I believe that all politicians are dishonest and unethical.  I think that local elections are far more relevant to me than presidential campaigns.  Despite these beliefs, the presidential primary season is a train wreck that I just can't look away from.  It's my guilty pleasure.  Some people watch daytime talk shows, some people watch soap operas, I will be up Tuesday night with my cheesecake watching election returns.

In some ways, the election season kind of makes me embarrassed to be American.  Are these really the people we are choosing to lead our nation?  We really can't do better than this?  Has the campaign strategy really devolved to the point that there is more juvenile name calling than actually policy debate?  The world is watching us choose our leader in a contest that amounts to little more than a verbal food fight.  Then I watch the news coverage of "elections" in other nations (recently Iran) and I realize that, for all its flaws, our election process really is remarkable in the world.  Whoever wins, and I'm not really impressed with any of the options, election day will be nonviolent.  And the President Elect will take office on inauguration day in a peaceful ceremony.  At least half of the country will be disappointed or angry, but no one will die over it.

The presidential primary process is interesting to me.  I follow it more closely than is probably considered healthy.  Each party in each state has its own rules, and the game is complex.  I am registered in neither party.  I have voted for candidates in both parties.  But since I am a Mormon currently residing in the state of Texas, most of my friends are republicans, and I'm curious about your voting strategies.  Texas (and most of the other states holding primaries on Super Tuesday) allocates delegates to the national convention on a proportional basis.  Sort of.  Some of the delegates are at large delegates awarded based on state wide totals, and some delegates are awarded according to congressional district.  If a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, they get all the delegates.  If not, then all candidates receiving at least 20% of the vote are awarded delegates proportionally.  Unless only one candidate gets at least 20% of the vote.  In that case, the top two candidates are awarded delegates proportionally.  And there are more details.  The official rules are two pages long.  I find it interesting.  I know normal people don't.  I'm comfortable with my weirdness.

I've come up with some strategies that I think people use to decide who to vote for.  Which one best describes your thought process on election day?

1.  I vote for the party front runner.  The longer this shenanigan goes on the worse it is for my party.  I'd like to get this primary hoopla over as soon as possible and start focusing on the general election.

2. Delegates? Conventions? I don't have a clue what you are talking about and I don't care that much.  I show up.  I vote for who I like.  I get my sticker.  I go home.

3.  I thoughtfully pick the candidate I like the best (or dislike the least) and I vote for them even if I know they are unlikely to win any delegates.  I vote my conscience and I want my vote to represent how I actually feel.

4.  I choose from among the candidates who are most likely to reach the 20% threshold, even if I prefer a different candidate.  I feel like my vote has more impact if it translates into delegates.

5.  I don't like the candidates in either party.  I feel like a third party candidate has a decent shot this year.  I will intentionally abstain from voting in the primary of either party so that I can be eligible to sign a petition supporting a third party candidate hoping to be on the ballot for the general election in November.

6.  I'm disillusioned by the whole thing and will stay home on election day.

7.  I live in the state of Colorado where we vote for delegates who will attend a state convention that will convene to select delegates to go to the national convention.  None of the above apply to that process.

Or maybe you have an entirely different strategy.  Let me know how you decided who to vote for.

12 October 2015

Facebook Frustrates Me

As I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook this morning, I saw this post.  It came from a friend of a friend of a friend.  I'm pretty sure I have no connection to the person who originally posted it, and I don't think we will ever meet.  Yet there it was in my newsfeed.

"Please share My niece came to me crying saying she was getting bullied at school kids are telling her she is ugly and fat can you please share and like this pic of her or even comment to show her she is  beautiful lets see how many people think she is pretty lets make this go viral. STOP THE BULLYING✋✋✋✋✋✋"
It included a picture of an elementary aged girl and had hundreds of commenters assessing her appearance. I didn't read the comments.  I assume that most of them were favorable.

And, despite the fact that I take almost nothing I ever see on social media seriously, this post bothered me.  The teacher in me wanted to proofread and edit it a bit.  More importantly, the mother in me wanted to challenge the underlying messages.  If I were acquainted with the original poster, this would have been my comment to her:

It is a shame that your niece is being bullied.  I wish with all my heart that people would be kind to each other.  What a wonderful aunt you are to offer support in this difficult time.  This little girl is beautiful, but I wonder how helpful this kind of approach is.  If her self esteem is based on a tally of how other people feel about her appearance, it will always be fragile.  Hopefully she will be able to find more people who think she is beautiful than who will tell her she is ugly.  But what if the day comes that she can't?  And what happens if she looks in the mirror and just doesn't feel like she looks beautiful?  In that case, it won't matter how many internet strangers will compliment her appearance.  She will still feel badly about herself and believe that people are only lying to her.

Far more important than convincing this girl that a lot of people think she is beautiful, is teaching her that her value has nothing to do with her appearance.  She is not an object that exists simply to decorate the world.  Rather, she is a human being deserving of dignity and capable of accomplishing great to things no matter how she looks.

13 May 2015

On the Road

We spent basically the entire month of April in the doctors' office.  We started with routine annual well checks.  Then each of the red heads took a turn with the never ending ear infection.  I don't think ear infections are especially contagious, but my kids are a pretty tight knit crew, so maybe sympathy sickness is a thing.  There was also a drug reaction and an unfortunate incident wherein an infant sought to ingest a fire ant pile.

On one of our drives to the doctor, my little girl was adamant that it was not her turn to get a shot.  I assured her that she wasn't getting a shot, and the doctor only wanted to look in her ear to see why it was still hurting.  She got excited and said, "And then I will show her my hurting toes."  In the same tone of voice you would expect if she were saying, "Tomorrow's my birthday and I want chocolate cake."  I laughed and told her that the doctor would probably remind her to wear shoes when she rides her bike.

The four year old joined the conversation at this point: "Mommy, doctors don't give directions because they are not Mom and Dad."  Sometimes it's nice to know that he does hear what I tell him, even if he doesn't quite get it.  I told him that doctors give us directions about how to keep our bodies healthy.  He asked why.  I told him that doctors spend a long time in college to learn about how bodies work.  He asked why.  I told him that when you go to college you get to choose what you want to learn about.  I gave some more examples  "Daddy learned about money in college.  Mommy learned about history.  Aunt Heather learned about food that is good for you. Grandpa Justin learned about making cool movies on the computer (sorry Justin.  I don't actually know what your degree is in.) Aunt Megan is learning about...[pause while I try to think of a preschool description of chemical engineering...I've got nothing] chemistry."

Somewhere in the middle of this list I realized how silly it was to be talking to 3 children who are not yet school age about college degrees.  So I decided I might as well go completely crazy and start laying on the pressure for academic achievement.  "Ashley, what do you want to learn about when you go to college?"  She thought about it briefly and then said, "I want to learn about going somewhere."

Well played little one.  Well played.

22 March 2015


A very long time ago (I realize I'm not really old enough to say that. But it was many major life transitions ago, so the phrase feels appropriate.) I had a campus security job.  I worked on a campus where students were accustomed to compliance, and my assignment was in the library.  One of the reasons I enjoyed the job was because it was significantly less stressful than my previous employment.  Our biggest emergencies usually happened during finals week.  They would usually involve students who would spend all day in the library studying, forget to eat, and then pass out when they stood up to use the bathroom.  The crisis could generally be resolved with some apple juice and a graham cracker.  Now that I think about it, many a crisis in raising three young children is averted in exactly the same manner.

Occasionally a backpack or wallet would be stolen from a computer lab.  Other than that, the job was extremely low key.  The University did have extensive and expensive special collections which is why library security was even a job.  And it was a very fun very relaxed job.  The most intense regular assignment was walking through the library at closing time to wake the sleeping studiers and tell them it was time to leave.  My secret fear was always that I would find a dead person tucked away in a study carol somewhere.  People would fall asleep in the library all the time.  It didn't seem all that far-fetched that someone might have a heart attack and die.  Everyone who walked by all day would just assume the person was napping and leave them alone.  Then I would be left to wake them up only to discover they were dead.  In my mind this always happened in the farthest corner of the lowest basement and always after the main lights had been turned off.  

When I wasn't working the closing shift, my job was basically care free.  However, I did have a coworker who seemed to have a difficult time differentiating between library security and the Secret Service.  To him everything was ultra high intensity.  Someone forgot to stop by circulation and check out their books on the way out?  He would chase them down, and interrogate them like it was part of some deep assassination plot.  Someone tried to bring Jamba Juice into the library?  He would be sure to use his whistle, authoritatively declare the library's no food policy, and issue a written reprimand.  Sometimes I secretly wished he would encounter a dead person during the closing sweep.  It might be entertaining to see how he would handle it.  

One day I was working in the control room (our fancy, self important name for the place where we would eat our lunches and watch security cameras to monitor the elderly librarians in the special collections vaults.  And occasionally reset the fire alarms.)  Mr. Secret Service was just outside the door at the front desk actively scouring the crowd of harried students searching for potential threats.  In the periphery of my awareness I heard someone come up to the desk and talk to him.  He turned around and ran the three steps into the control room and breathlessly declared, "We have an emergency!"  I briefly considered the possibility that my shift that day might be eventful.  The he shouted, "Get me a Band-aid. STAT!"  I burst out laughing.  He looked confused and slightly irritated.  He didn't agree with my assessment when I told him, as I handed him our first aid kit, "any problem a Band-aid can solve is not an emergency."

When it comes to Band-aids I am still pretty cold and heartless.  And super cheap.  Normally I totally embrace the placebo effect in parenting and harness it to my benefit.  But I simply refuse to give my kids unessesary bandages.  They ask frequently, and I always say no.  I've explained repeatedly that Band-aids are only useful when blood is involved. If they want a Band-aid, I have to see blood.  They are starting to get it.  Now requests for Band-aids are quickly followed by, "Look.  I have blood."

A few days ago my oldest little redhead had a bloody nose.  It wasn't a big deal, and we got it stopped fairly quickly.  He had friends over, so he wanted to go back to playing immediately.  I didn't notice that he had gotten some blood on the back of his hands.  About an hour later he came to me.  "Mama, I just need a Band-aid for my hand.  Look there is blood."