Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making an angry taxpayer out of me

I just got a phone call that set my blood boiling. It had to do with school politics in our town, which just couldn't be more messed up. The schools are overcrowded, and people are pretty much doing backflips to keep from acknowledging that because they don't want to pay more taxes.

There are kids having classes in closets, in hallways, in the cafeteria; my daughter had resource room in the media center, because when you're struggling with a subject, you for sure want everybody walking through the library to see you do it. And we have people claiming that the way you see if a school's overcrowded is divide the number of square feet by the number of students. They're advocating putting up screens to divide classrooms in half so as to maximize all that wasted space. Never mind whether students can hear the particular lesson they're getting, you know?

Now, my feeling on this is, objectively, we need new school space. But if you don't want to pay the taxes, fine, I get it. Taxes are high. But you then give up your right to complain about test scores. You want to consider schools to be sardine cans that, if you try hard enough, you can cram a few more sardines into, great. But don't gripe if kids can't learn.

So it is in that context that a call came to my house at 8:45 p.m., a time when I'm already, off the bat, going to be defensive toward junk calls. Somebody with an accent not from around here announced that he was taking a survey of taxpayers in our town, and asked a question this way: "Are you aware that taxes have been going up while test scores are going down, and given that, how likely are you to support the school budget that is coming up for a vote?"

That's not a survey question. That's an editorial. And I know exactly the segment of our citizenry it's coming from. The sardine-pushers. Who apparently have money to pay some company to take a survey, but not to give kids decent classrooms.

I gave that poor out-of-towner an earful and slammed the phone down. And now my heart is beating fast and I'm all grouchy. I keep saying I'm not going to let local politics get to me, because it's stupid and it's always been stupid and it always will be, and I just need to get my kids through school and out.

But the answer is: Very likely to support the budget. Very, extremely likely. Because schools are important. Because band uniforms are in that budget, and my daughter's uniform is so worn out it's splitting across the behind. Because the tanking test scores have more to do with the badness of the tests than the poorness of the teaching, and if you think otherwise you are only going to make it worse. And because, if you're calling my house at quarter to nine trying to stir up trouble, you are only going to make me more eager to vote against you.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Big boy

My son turned 15 on Friday, and has been growing into a very big boy for quite some time. When he and I look at ourselves in the mirror now, him towering over me by about a head, he looks so ... large. Not just taller, but outsized, like something out of Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. I used to tuck this little guy under my arm, he used to ride on my hip. Now he's big enough to stomp Las Vegas.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Family viewing

I've recently moved my computer out to the living room so that my kids can see me as I work obsessively, though not so much interrupt me, you know? This has given me a good view of what they watch on TV, which mostly makes me want to move my office back to the farthest reaches of my bedroom, pronto.

My daughter's new favorite is Kenan and Kel on Nick, a show whose broad humor makes me want to crank up the iTunes on my computer as loud as I can to drown out the dialog. I've let my son start watching Hey Arnold again, after an unfortunate spell in elementary school during which he picked up on the bully's "I'm gonna pound you!" and repeated it to everybody at school. He's not fixing on any phrases at the moment, but he still likes to rewind and replay bits of a dialog in a way that makes me nuts.

Of course, the kids aren't the only ones whose TV choices make me cringe. My husband always seems to be watching some violent thing or other, whether it's old Westerns or contemporary actioners or some serial-killer TV series or other. It makes me wonder: How come he can watch people being dismembered or blown to bits and not worry about the kids coming in the room, but if I watch something with a smidgen of profanity, it's like I'm corrupting the minors?

What does your family watch that drives you crazy? (And if you're wondering what I watch that drives my family crazy, that's easy: this dang computer screen.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Still a fan of Juno

It's been a couple of months since I finally saw the adoption comedy Juno, and though I've meant every day to post here about it, it's March already, the Oscar is lost, the movie's out of most theaters, and the backlash against this small charming movie is in full swing. It hurts my feelings, a little, to see how people pile on these modest films that unexpectedly become popular.

Me? Loved it then, love it now, will buy the DVD on Day 1.

I suppose I can see how birthparents might have some objections to the way Juno, a pregnant teen, chooses to have her baby and give it to someone she finds in the PennySaver, without making any sort of appropriate plan. And I suppose I can see how parents who adopted children from China might be offended by young Juno characterizing Chinese adoption as giving away infants like iPods, although I'd probably suggest they get a sense of humor.

But in general, for adoptive parents? Let's just say, it's our answer to birthparent fantasies like August Rush.

In particular, I adored the performance of Jennifer Garner as the prospective adoptive mom. I wanted to give her a hug, and maybe send her flowers. I think she hit so many perfect notes along the way, from seeming sort of stiff and businesslike at the beginning, to being obsessed with baby minutiae, to demonstrating a genuine love and appreciation for kids. I loved the fact that Juno was able to see past her initial assessment of the adoptive couple to realize that Vanessa was meant to be her baby's mom.

In the end, you know, it's not a documentary. It's not supposed to be the last word on anything. It's kind of quirky, with a dialog and rhythm that are not exactly naturalistic. But I loved its spirit, and its validation of the sort of family I've formed. The writing is fun and the performances are excellent.

Below, the film's trailer. It's due out on DVD April 15. I've got my copy pre-ordered.