Don’t Need to “Get a Sweater”

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 5.40.37 AMThe wood stove is on. Rural New England’s got “the-leaves-have-turned” chill that sparks my competitive spirit. It’s five degrees colder than urban New England where the collective effects of the sun beating off the black pavement and all the car exhaust produces heat.

Growing up, leaving off the heat was a triumph. “I didn’t turn my heat on until November 17th,” one person bragged. My dad tried to trump it, like when I try to outrun the guy next to me on the treadmill. Every year he said, “I’ll give everyone heat for Christmas,” and “Get a sweater.” We wouldn’t think of touching the thermostat. It was relegated to the male head of household, like hooking up stereo parts or packing the trunk for vacation. There are just things women don’t do. Even in modern times.

When I got my own apartment, my first thought was, “Who’s going to turn on the heat?” I pondered from the first chilly day in September all the way through the fall. I wondered “What day can the heat go on? November 17th? Christmas? Or should I try to knock this out of the park and go for Groundhog Day? I can WIN this!”

There are things a person can do to avoid turning on heat. Wear many sweaters…but there are only so many layers one can wear before resembling the inside of a padded room. Baking works, too. But that’s cheating, because the energy that runs the stove–gas, electric, or propane isn’t free.

What is the reason for the “Get a sweater” anyway?  Why avoid heat, historically?

Flashback. My grandmother used to give the look when I put sugar in my tea. “Have some tea with your sugar.” Clear cut sarcasm. The best way to combat sarcasm, I’ve found, is to pretend to be too stupid to understand it.

“Okay. Thanks, Grandma.” In order for this to work, the response must be genuine and innocent. Any touch of return-volley sarcasm invites doom.

The point is, she remembered The Great Depression and World War II when ration cards restricted the amount of meat, sugar, eggs, and butter for her growing family. My uncle tells a story of losing the ration book on the way to the store. He didn’t go there straight away–he stopped to play with his friends. Everyone went out in the dark to hunt and luckily, it was found. They would’ve lost the food for the month, let alone the sugar.

“Have some sugar with your tea,” is a flashback to times of no sugar. Grandma also saved every plastic bag and odd gadgets before we recycled such things. Never know when they could be of use. We don’t have to worry about sugar now. There’s no need to ration it. It’s mass-produced in countries where people should get paid more, and it floods the nation. No shortage whatsoever.

Where did the “get a sweater,” originate? Where did freezing become a badge of honor? Growing up in the 70’s with electric heat–the type of heat that was supposed to end up cheaper and cleaner but really ended up making houses unsellable relics with bills that got up to 4-500/month…that’s where the sweater began for us. Then we lived in a large Victorian to start a group home that never quite got going, while my parents did about fifty things to make the world a better place–soup kitchens, grants, helping others in need. Meanwhile, they, themselves worried how to heat the large home they bought with the helping-others package. It had a wood stove that heated the center column of the house. The rest of the large house…got a sweater. Getting a sweater burrowed into two generations of psyche.

I don’t waste money. I can afford heat. Rusty gathered and chopped two years of wood himself, taking trees for people after the hurricane and turning them into round pieces then woodstove-sized logs. “It’s exercise.”

But here I sit, with the heat on early, toggling between guilty and defiant.  I’m drinking coffee enjoying the calm. I toss another log in the stove. The gloves cover my pajamas with soot. Forgot about that. That’s what you get for putting on the heat so early. I put the heat on because I can.

I remember times of need. I’ll see the faces of students and others this time of year–no coat, “Christmas sucks” (because I’m not going to get anything). Some have as much heat as they want in utilities-included apartments, others are “getting a sweater” too. And some remain blissfully unaffected by the needs around them. Innocent.

The winter and holidays are times of great compassion and generosity–food drives popping up everywhere, “Give a dollar for this cause,” in every grocery line.

I don’t need to “get a sweater” anymore, I’m blessed. I’ll joke about sweaters on Thanksgiving. But for a moment, I remember the times when I’ve needed them. And think about those who still do.

 

[image: tipsyelves.com . They have some cool sweaters. If you dare….]

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The Next Deplorable Trend in Fashion: Teen 101 Series

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 6.16.46 AMSagging. Butt cracks. Guys with skinny jeans that look like they got robbed from a second grader. Hundred-dollar ripped jeans. Sneakers that are venerated not played in. Chains on pants. Bright red hair. Micro micro micro minis. Shirts missing sleeves–maybe it was a half-price sale for one.

These are the fashions I deal with daily in school.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

“Miss–your sweater’s ripped.” I look down and feign surprise. Indeed it is. Truth is, I knew that. I laid out my clothes for the next day, not realizing that the seam had ripped out my entire left arm, leaving a gaping flapping sleeve. I was cold. I had two choices. Run with it, or wake my husband at dumb o’clock in the morning rummaging for another warm thing to wear.

I went with “run with it.” I figured that if I can be butt-cracked daily by sagging teens eight feet taller than me, I can wear even more bad fashion. Much better than creating a grumpy guy.

But then, I got an idea.

“I know, isn’t it cool?” I said. Puzzled looks…

“It’s the next great fashion. It’ll be bigger than leg warmers and teal.  You all ripped your pants and drew on them with Sharpie already–that’s old. This is new. The next thing. By the end of the week, I predict you’ll be ripping your sweaters, too. By Friday, they’ll be making these in China for the runway in New York.

I nodded and walked away, a group of freshmen looking at each other quizzically, one or two staring at a sleeve wondering if it should get ripped.

Only the two seniors stood in the back laughing .

[image: ultragross.blogspot.com]

 

I Can Do Anything I Want

Don't Touch the Thermostat“Mom, you can’t do that!”

Um, yes, I can. It seems like I, once again, made an executive parenting decision that was unpopular to the crowd. Too bad.

I started to think. I just turned 42. There is a whole host of things I can do now. In fact, I can do anything I want.

For example:

I can eat all the candy I want. Every day. I remember the first time I discovered this. I bought a pound of M&Ms with my babysitting money–back when a pound was 16 ounces, a boatload of chocolate–and kept it in my room. I ate the whole thing I didn’t want candy after that. I tell that to Declan I can eat all the candy I want but he has to eat vegetables. It’s fun parenting. I rarely eat junk. But I can.

I can use the thermostat. Heck, I pay bills, so I refuse to “put on another sweater.” There’d be days growing up when I looked like the Fat Albert I had so many sweaters, and Dad would tell me to get one more. Lesson one: you can never have enough sweaters. Lesson two: don’t go with electric heat during the Carter administration.

Even today, I argue with my husband–he feels strongly heat should be kept at one steady temperature. Something about the molecules of the furniture reabsorbing heat and costing more. Maybe there’s a science person out there who can weigh in on this. We’ve argued–I’m sure he’s correct. That’s not the point. I want to be warm. With great pride I touch the thermostat, even though I get flashbacks of having my life threatened and being given more layers.

I can take long showers. I don’t, though. I don’t want the world to have less water on my account. I love the environment.

I can stay up as late as I want. I can party all night. But that never quite meshes with my getting anything done at work the next day. It’s just not fun. I learned that in college–looking at a plate of eggs at 6AM and falling asleep at an 8AM class just didn’t bring the joie de vive that it should have for someone who had the freedom to be social all night.

I can say the F word. I like to save it for emergencies though, because otherwise it loses its effect, and there really isn’t a better word in reserve. Well, there is, but it’s not in English–it’s a swear in Russian that packs quite a punch, but when translated, comes across as “penis from the mountain,” which doesn’t reflect extreme anger as intended. Lesson: never swear in a foreign language.

I can hook up stereo wires, pack a trunk, and use a lawnmower. I can drive a stick shift. I can do all the things that were relegated to the male world or put in the “no” and “don’t touch,” category growing up.

I can do anything I want. But the problem is this–It’s no longer a big deal. That’s how you know you’ve grown up…when you can do anything you want, but “anything,” is no longer fun. Fun, for me, is growing more carrots that I could ever eat, reading a book, running. Or writing this post. All nerd things.

I wonder if, when I contemplated all the things I’d be able to do when I grew up–the things everyone prohibited earlier in life–the idea ever crossed my teen mind that it wouldn’t be fun. Or productive. Did I even know what productive was?

When I’m at school and this subject comes up, I take the liberty of informing students, “Yeah, you’ll be able to do anything you want. And it’ll suck. Because you’ll have bills, responsibilities, and people counting on you. So you won’t party. You won’t blow off work, and you won’t waste stuff. Because you’ll be paying for it. In fact, study more now. You’ll be grateful later.

They all groan and tell me how terrible I am for even saying that. And I smile through the veil of a million years of experience and the commensurate beatdowns I’ve taken giving me the right to make such a statement. That’s the joy of teaching. Everyone hates the truth. That is the truth. But it must get out in the open.

And once in a while it’s fun to say. And I do. Because I can do anything I want.

 

The Reason for Low Test Scores is Teacher Clothes

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If you have followed my writings, you know that I struggle with fashion. I hate it, as a matter of fact, though with proper guidance I clean up well.  But I think I’m in a better place now than I was in September when I prayed for Carson Kressley to come and take me to 5th Avenue even if it meant that someone on reality TV got to laugh at my transformation.

I’m grateful, in part, to the lady at Banana Republic who took my coupons and came back with clothes. I’m not saying this was easy—I refused to let her put me in the size that she said fit, if only because it gave me an atomic wedgie of the proportion reserved for 80’s movies where the nerd got skewered on the flagpole. We don’t allow atomic wedgies these days—zero tolerance for bullying. As such, I refuse to be bullied by my own clothes—I’ll wear them slightly oversized.

I have improved in my ability to look at fashion. I’m in a place where I can now look in the mirror and determine if an outfit works or not even though I really don’t match colors well. I can’t, on a good day, place salmon in the color wheel and when called upon to choose colors for my bathroom, I redecorated using the colors of nature—yellow and green. It looked nothing like nature—it looked like it was a hangover job done by the marketing guy from Sprite.

So, I plagiarize a lot.  I’m not above looking at someone’s well put together purple sweater, realizing that I have a purple sweater sitting in a bin that could well see the light of day.  In fact, that’s how I chose my outfit today. And I seem to be getting by.

But there’s a larger disruption going on in the field of education today, something very wrong indeed. It’s lowering test scores and distracting students…It might be too late to save us, in which case we should just pack it up and declare Finland the winner in all things education. The problem, in my mind, isn’t the achievement gap. It’s…

Teacher clothes.

They’re horrible. If I think teacher clothes are an issue–zero fashion me–then there must be a disturbance in the force. When fashion is so…unique…that even I am distracted, I can say with data correlation that it most definitely affects student achievement. I couldn’t do a math paper if I had the opportunity to stare at my instructor’s Rudolph Christmas tie with the LED blinking nose.

I went to a conference recently. My favorite thing to do at teacher conferences is to look at teacher clothes.  It makes it tough to learn about, say, vocabulary or classroom management when there are so many bright and shiny things to capture my attention.

Teacher clothes have been the subject of jokes for 50 years.  The schoolmarm in the a-line skirt brandishing a ruler over the cowering students image that won’t go away. Every time I look around a room full of teachers, I see the following:

  • Power suits.  These are cool.  I suspect teachers with power suits came over from Corporate America seeking to change the world or work fewer hours. Since teaching is actually a 24/7 job, they probably suspect they made a mistake, but still believe in world-changing, so they hang on. That is, until their first second-grader sneaks his second chocolate milk and barfs all over the power suit. That’s $800 down the drain.
  • Cardigans.  These can be done well, but more often than not, they represent the repeat syndrome.  Most teachers have one or two sweaters that they drape over the back of their chairs for the three coldest months of the year when the heating system malfunctions.  It’s like hiking Everest. You have to have layers.
  • Vintage clothes.  I respect teachers with experience, and I, too, have been guilty of wearing vintage clothes. I tried to rebrand it as Zen. I don’t need to be materialistic and buy hundreds of dollars worth of new clothing just because the runway season changed. But there’s something to be said for ditching the powder blue leisure suit, too. “Vintage,” only goes so far.
  • Holiday-themed sweaters.  Yes, the dreaded embroidered Christmas sweater. The only excuse EVER for wearing such an item is for making fun of someone who wears such items. In the case of humor, satire, and practical jokes, a holiday sweater can be worn if the wearer can keep a straight face. Holiday socks are okay, however.
  • Clothes that don’t match with the decade in which the wearer was born. This one is tough. I’m 41. There is no reason on earth that I should be stuffing myself in things from the Junior section. Even though it would fit, it would be wrong. Not allowed.
  • Bangles.  This is a personal issue—I don’t own or wear a lot of jewelry. Some people wear it in style.  But in any case, it shouldn’t be worn all at once like a Mr. T revival.  At many teacher conventions, I see so many layers of beads, bangles, and bracelets, I wonder if I’m in the wind chime aisle at my local garden superstore.
  •  The scarves—oh, the scarves!!  Teachers love scarves. They wear them indoors. I wear scarves, too, but usually just when my heat doesn’t work or when I go hiking.  I can’t figure out scarves. Too close to macrame or hojojitsu (the samurai art of knot tying).  For the brief time I lived in Russia, I associated scarves with old ladies. The word for scarf in Russian is, in fact, babushka, which also means “grandmother.” I don’t want to be an old lady. No scarf for me.

As I get older and confront my own mortality, I have to address the subject of teacher clothes in my own life. In 20 years if I’m still in the classroom, I think I’ll be the hippie crunchy teacher—the one with the silver braid, hiking boots, and Irish cable knit sweater playing music from two decades ago.  But that’s a long way off. In the mean time, I’ll keep bringing my coupon to the girl at the store that tells me what to wear. And I won’t wear teacher clothes.

 

[image: nothingbutdollsonstrings.com]