22 June 2011

Graduation Dress

I'm sure you remember Becky, the math whiz.  Well, she's fourteen now, and she is finishing the eighth grade.

There will be a little promotion ceremony tonight.  For this, she needs a dress.  The brand-new white dress with matching shrug that she wore at her confirmation at the end of May won't do.  Nope.  She needs a new dress.

And not just any new dress.  She informed me that she wanted a white sundress with elastic smocking across the bustline.  She owns such a dress, but it's really just a beach coverup, since it's made out of terrycloth.  (And it's way too short for any use other than beach or poolside.)  I told her the terrycloth coverup would not be appropriate for a graduation.  "Your dress should be made of cotton, or satin, or something like that," I said.  "A dressy fabric."

"Let's go to Simon [our local tailor] and see if he can make a dress just like this one, but in satin," she suggested.

Off we went to see Simon.  He wasn't in his shop, but his wife was.  We showed her the terrycloth dress, and Becky described what she wanted.  We were quoted a price of $400 to custom-make such a dress.

$400 for a one-occasion dress for a fourteen-year-old?  A dress that is, essentially, a tube with some elastic across the top? This woman must be insane.  "No, thanks," I said.  "That's a little bit beyond our budget."  I escorted a very disappointed young girl out of the shop.

"But that's what I wanted, Mom," she protested.

I can sew.  "I'll make it for you," I told her.

"Are you sure?" she asked, brightening.  "You'll have time?"

"Sure," I said.  Why wouldn't I have time to make a graduation dress for Becky?  What else do I have to do?

I have a fair amount of sewing under my belt, but I have never created anything with elastic smocking on it before.  My first step, therefore, was to do an internet search to learn how it's done.  I quickly found a handy little tutorial, complete with pictures, here.  I learned that elastic smocking is made with two threads:  you thread the sewing machine needle with regular cotton thread, and the bobbin with elastic thread.  Then you simply stitch straight, plain rows across your fabric, and it gathers and elasticizes evenly and beautifully.  How hard could this be?  I went to fabric.com and ordered a couple of yards of white satin and several spools of elastic thread.

I spent a few evenings practicing on muslin.  The first thing I noticed was that my sewing machine did not like the elastic thread at all.  That's okay, I reasoned; I can wind the bobbins by hand.  I did so.  Frequently.  Because the very next thing I noticed is that the elastic thread was about four times as thick as the cotton thread and therefore ran out much more quickly.  The elastic thread and the cotton thread were acutely aware of their differences, and about every half-row of stitching, I had to open the bobbin case and settle a brawl twixt needle and bobbin.  But I eventually got some smooth rows of stitching, and they did indeed look like elastic smocking.  I was ready to move on to the satin.

Here's the problem with satin:  unlike muslin, it's slippery.  It makes every attempt to slide off the ironing board when I am not looking, invariably landing on the dirtiest spot of the basement floor.  And it doesn't particularly like being ironed in the first place; it has to be covered with a cloth first, to avoid melting and scorching.  And pins leave big, visible holes in it.

Basically, my dreams of being a graceful, skilled seamstress, fulfilling my daughter's every sartorial wish, disintegrated into late nights spent in my poorly-lit basement, punctuated by the occasional f-bomb as I made mistake after mistake and tried to figure out how to fix each one with minimal collateral damage.  I yelled at the kids for their every insignificant offense.  Stop watching The Dog Whisperer!  It's so annoying!  Turn down that music!  I can't concentrate here!  Hey Becky, you better have a backup plan, 'cause this dress ain't happening!  We measured Becky about fifty times.  We tried on the dress.  We pinned and modified.  We adjusted.

And it happened.  Like Christmas in Who-Ville, it eventually came together, despite all the odds stacked against it.  Last night, I made a bias-strip neck strap, hemmed the bottom of the dress, and sewed a little "Handmade by Mom" label into the side seam.  I pressed out the last few wrinkles.  And Becky, absolutely thrilled, modeled the dress for a quick iPhone publicity shoot.



I posted a picture on Facebook.  Her godfather said, "You're amazing.  I don't know how you do it."

My only response:  it's a piece of cake.

Congratulations, Becky.  You look awesome.

17 June 2011

Balancing

Well, my hackles are up again.

On Sunday, Dr. Karen Sibert published an editorial in the New York Times in which she argued that some careers - such as the practice of medicine - require such undivided dedication that they are inappropriate for mothers, who frequently need part-time schedules.  (I am greatly oversimplifying her argument, so I encourage you to read the entire editorial here.)  Sibert claims that, for the good of society, the practice of medicine requires full-time dedication, and mothers who work part-time cannot possibly live up to that standard.

On Monday, Lisa Belkin, in an excellent entry to her New York Times "Motherlode" blog, valiantly refuted Sibert's argument.  Though I am a great admirer of Belkin - a link to her blog has been on my sidebar since Day 1 - my favorite part of the Motherlode blog post was the following comment by a reader:

Eighty percent of American women become mothers. When you discriminate against mothers you discriminate against women. Reimagining motherhood as a "choice," rather than recognizing it as the norm, is an ugly way of marginalizing women while pretending not to.


I am currently reading TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career, & The Conflict of Modern Motherhood, which is the current selection in Belkin's "Motherlode Book Club."  The book is a collection of personal essays and reflections by mothers, focusing on how they have balanced their professional lives with their families.  Some, like Sibert, work full time and acknowledge that their families have paid the price of their absence.  Some work at home, and some work outside of the home.  One young woman became a mother during her sophomore year at Dartmouth and still managed to complete her degree on time.  Every writer acknowledges that she has struggled with the "balance" issue.

As you know if you have been reading this blog for a while, I too am a working mother who struggles with this issue.  I have tried every possible permutation of work schedule, from full-time to part-time to stay-at-home, and I have ratcheted down my ambitions along the way.  I have felt, lately, that the "balance" discussion often centers around a couple of myths that our society perpetuates.  The first myth is that motherhood is a choice.  That may be true in the wealthy suburban outposts of the United States, where women decide whether and when to become sexually active and have access to high-quality health care and birth control, but for most of the women of the world, motherhood comes when it comes. Sibert, in her editorial, rests her reasoning on the motherhood-as-choice myth.  She essentially argues that all women must choose between work and motherhood, and then they need to dedicate themselves, full time, to their choice.

Which brings us to the second myth:  that full-time motherhood is a viable option for all women.  Women who make a "choice" regarding full-time motherhood must actually have the option of not working.  The option of not working.  That's the elephant in the room.  The work/home dichotomy and its accompanying debate have been raging for decades, but the word no one ever mentions is money.  It seems to me that most of the mothers in the world who work outside of the home do so not because they need to fill some abstract intellectual void in their lives, but because they need to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate their children.  There are places in the world where stay-at-home mothers receive financial support from the government, but the United States is not one of them.  All the stay-at-home mothers I know are married to men who bring home salaries sufficient to support their families singlehandedly.  But there are legions of mothers in the world who need to work outside of the home.  They have no choice.

When I went back to work three years ago, it wasn't because I missed the intellectual challenge, the fancy lunch meetings, and the fourteen-hour days of big law firm life.  It wasn't because the time I spent with my children and their friends wasn't professionally fulfilling for me.  It was because we needed health insurance.  I needed enough money to pay for the groceries and the mortgage.    I love my kids and would cherish the opportunity to raise them myself.  But the economic realities of today's world don't provide that option for most American women.  The stay-at-home suburban housewife is the exception rather than the rule.

In my own profession - a profession, I might add, which I chose and for which I was educated before I knew whether I would ever be a mother - part-time or limited schedules are frowned upon, much as, according to Dr. Sibert, they are in the medical profession.  And for the same reasons.  After my first daughter was born, my request for a part-time schedule at my law firm was summarily denied.  "We just don't have room for a part-time schedule in our litigation department," the partner told me, unapologetically.  Clients need their attorneys to be available night and day to answer questions and respond to crises.  At my firm, it was all or nothing.  I chose nothing, and took a nine-to-five government job at less than half my law firm salary.

I know many single moms who work night and day to keep their heads above water.  Sure, they'd love to go to the gym in the mornings, lunch with the other moms in the afternoons, produce fabulous crafts, decorate and redecorate their living rooms, throw creative birthday parties, and help with the math homework in the evenings.  But, as the sole wage-earners in their families, they cannot.  There are no lifestyle choices, no compromises, and no balancing acts.  It's not about self-respect, professional fulfillment, or pride.  It's about getting from one day to the next in one piece.

Mothers in the most demanding professions are still, sadly enough, an aberration.  The moment we become parents, we lose professional ground because, as Alexandra Bradner points out in one of the better essays in TORN,

Our professional worlds - replete with late nights, weekends, and the general expectation of ever-readiness - are structured on the assumption that everyone has a stay-at-home wife.  Our most demanding work - toward tenure, partner, director, or VP - occurs during the average six years we spend pregnant, breastfeeding, and chasing after toddlers.  Most of our fields have no reentry culture.

I have been through the void where my field's "reentry culture" should have been.  (See my reentry blog post here.)  I have been offered inappropriate positions at unacceptable pay, and told that the limited hours I need were a fair trade for menial work.  When I am spotted fleeing the office at 5 PM, hours before my colleagues, people shake their heads and say, "She has three kids."  And with those four words, people suddenly think they understand volumes about me, my life, my professional ambitions, and my choices.  I would counter that they actually know very little.

Lisa Belkin's thoughtful reader pointed out, very accurately, that defining motherhood as a "choice" is an insidious way of marginalizing women.  It is a way of classifying us as serious or not serious, based on the circumstances of our lives (which are often beyond our control).  Men are not judged in the same way.  A day will come, hopefully during the lifetimes of my daughters, when women who are educated and empowered in the same way as men will also be judged in the same way.  That day is not here yet, but it is on its way.

16 June 2011

Caregiver

I saw an ad on the subway this morning for a Caregiver Hotline.  The ad said, "What do you do if your mother starts repeating herself?  What do you do if your mother starts repeating herself?"

My answer:  All mothers repeat themselves.  Get over it.  Give her a hug and tell her how much you love hearing that story.

Seriously, though, the ad got me thinking about the word "caregiver."  I think it's a pretty recent addition to the common lexicon.  It seems to refer to the person who is hired to care for children while the parents are at work, or the person - a family member or otherwise - who cares for a sickly elder.  I never heard this word when I was a child.

The person who cared for us kids was referred to as Mom, Grandma, Mrs. (insert the name of the mom of the friend at whose house we were playing), or Susan or Eddie, neighborhood teenagers who frequently babysat.  Susan, whom I still see now and then, would laugh if I referred to her as our caregiver.  She was just the daughter of my dad's best buddy, slightly older than us, and she came over and colored and watched TV with us when Mom, Dad and Grandma had an evening out.

The person who cared for Grandma during her final illness was called Mom.  Mom had help in the form of Dad and Us Kids (and, at the very end, when medical expertise was required, some visiting nurses).  We were not caregivers.  We were just people who cared.  It's what you did for people you were close to who needed help.  You cared, so you helped.

Maybe that's the problem I have with the word.  Since when did care become something that we give?  Care used to be an intransitive verb.  (Side note for my kids:  that's a verb that doesn't usually take a direct object.  "Shut" is a transitive verb because it needs an object - you need to shut something, like a door or a mouth.  But you don't "care" something.  You just "care."  Intransitive.)

You could care "for" something, of course.  We cared for our pets, and I didn't particularly care for lima beans.  And you could certainly care "about" something.  I cared about my grades, my friends, and my clothes to some extent.  But I didn't give care to anyone.  I just cared about them, or for them, so I did what naturally follows when you care.

There is a widow on my street.  I care about her, so I get the neighborhood kids to shovel her snow.  When my neighbor's father passed away, I cared, because she's a nice person who has lived across the street from me for almost twenty years.  I sent over a dessert to help feed all the visitors at her house.  Sometimes I feel like I am the only person in our house who cares for (and about) the last surviving fish in our living room aquarium.  I feed him, and I clean his home, and I look out in a general sense for his health and comfort.  However, I would not call myself a fish caregiver.  I just care, and then I do what follows.  The reverse is also true, and more common.  If I don't care, I do nothing.

So, back to the caregiver.  Someone who gives care.  Someone who cares for and, hopefully, about.  Because so many parents work, and because so many older people are living with illness that requires support, there are a lot of caregivers out there.  They have their own hotline.

Whatever you call them, here's to the caregivers.  Here's to the caregivers.  Here's to the caregivers.  Oops, there I go, repeating myself again.

13 June 2011

Summer Job

The front page (is it still called a front page if it's the online version?) of the New York Times today has an article about teenagers trying to find summer jobs, along with an invitation to "tell us about your first summer job."

Challenge accepted.

I think I was fourteen.  Money was tight in our household, and my mother, a teacher, waited tables in the evening and all summer long to supplement the family income.  (Actually, I think she was more than supplementing it.)  The restaurant in question was a creperie in Hackensack, New Jersey called The Magic Pan.  My older sister worked a few nights a week making salads at The Magic Pan and actually came home with her very own money, which she used to buy her own clothes and to go out with her friends.  I very much admired my older sister's earning power and wished I too could make salads and that other type of green stuff.

The restaurant's manager was a big, gregarious Greek woman named Pat.  My mom and Pat were fast friends, so my mom spoke with her about taking on a second Salad Girl.  Pat was game.  I would come in one afternoon to be trained, and thereafter, because of my tender age, I would work off the books.  (I hope the statute of limitations on child labor violations has run.  Pat was such a nice person - I'd hate to get her into trouble thirty years later.)

I donned a paper hat, tucked my ponytail underneath it, and showed up for my training.  The salad area was next to the dishwashing area.  It had a big walk-in refrigerator where all the ingredients were stored, an enormous sink for washing lettuce, a wide counter for cutting tomatoes, and a little refrigerator, with a front and back door.  I put the salads into the back, and the waiters and waitresses took them out of the front.  During the dinner rush, it looked like a sped-up film.  Door open; tray of salads in.  Other door open; salads out at a startling pace.  Empty trays removed and re-stocked.  Salads in.  Salads out.

I was in charge of washing and preparing all produce, making all the salad dressings, assembling the salads themselves, and preparing the add-ons that the waiters and waitresses added at the last minute, such as crumbled bacon and chopped boiled egg.  I could chat with the dishwashers as I worked in the salad area.  This was particularly fun, because they were usually recent immigrants who spoke only Spanish, and I only knew a few words of Spanish.  I had to learn quickly, and to use gestures and pratfalls to supplement my limited conversational skills.  To reward my efforts at being friendly, they helped me fetch things off high shelves, lifted heavy eighteen-quart containers of salad dressing for me, and fast-tracked the washing of salad bowls when things got particularly crazy.

Salad dressings were prepared in the main part of the kitchen in a huge Hobart mixer that was as tall as I was.  The chef was a stern woman named Judy who was mildly annoyed whenever I touched her stuff.  (Everything in the kitchen qualified as her stuff:  knives, cutting boards, eggs, containers of oil, bits of cheese, and the mixer itself.)  Judy was gay.  I knew some gay men, but I had never met an openly gay woman before.  She scared me a little, because she was gruff and cranky, but underneath it all, she was actually a kind person.  She helped me mop up messes that I made, bandaged the inevitable knife-wielding and burn injuries I sustained, and listened patiently to the inanities of my life, like the high school play I was auditioning for and the particular boy I was interested in.  She was a great cook, and she let me taste her creations now and then.  Even back then, that was the surest way to become my friend.

If you ask my mother what she remembers most about this period of my professional life, she will tell you about a dinner shift early in my tenure, when I had not yet mastered the art of making an appetizing salad.  One of the waitresses took a mixed green salad out of the refrigerator and, frustrated with its sad appearance, yelled, "Who's the RE-tard making the salads tonight?"

My mother went nuts.  She stomped her feet and lectured this woman about the fact that the "retard" making the salads was in fact a student at a prestigious girls' school in Manhattan who was acing her Latin and French classes and was almost certainly bound for an Ivy League degree.  I peered through the glass refrigerator doors and took in the scene of my five-foot mother dressing this poor woman down.  It was a scene none of us will ever forget, and I'm pretty sure it's the last time anyone ever called me a "retard," at least within my mother's earshot.

I made salads until I was old enough to bus tables, and then I did that until I was eighteen, and old enough to serve alcohol.  I then waitressed until my sophomore year in college, at which point I was able to secure a "real" job in an office, as a paralegal.

My oldest daughter and her friends are now in the process of trying to find summer jobs.  A new ice cream shop is opening in our town, and several of them have applied to be scoopers.  Money is of course a motivation, but the pressure to find a prestigious internship, or a job that relates somehow to their future careers, is palpable.  I don't think it's a bad thing to start out as something humble, like a Salad Girl.  I met a lot of people I otherwise would not have met, and I learned how to communicate with them and work as a team.  The work was hard and messy, and pressured at times.  I needed to be organized, neat, and helpful.  I formed friendships, some of them enduring.  I worked my way up from bringing home a few dollars an hour to a pocket stuffed at the end of a long night with generous tips.

I didn't much like the job back then, but I appreciate it now for what it taught me.  So many experiences are funny like that.

What was your first job?  What did you learn from it?

Jennie

09 June 2011

Badass

One of my son's sixth-grade classmates asked him on Facebook what his middle name is.  "Brewster," he responded.

"Ha ha," she wrote.  "That's a badass middle name."

It just so happens that I, too, have that badass middle name.  In fact, I had it first, and I passed it along to my son.  My siblings have normal, beautiful middle names:  Grace, Elizabeth, and Charles.  My daughters have normal middle names too:  they were named after their grandmothers Jane and Claire.  So how is it, you might ask, that my son and I are the only badasses in the family?

Brewster is an old family name.  It's of English origin, going at least as far back as Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, where a certain ancestor of ours was born in the sixteenth century.  That ancestor's puritanical religious views rubbed the Church of England the wrong way, though, so he and his family left their homeland in search of a more comfortable place to live.  They settled first in the Netherlands for a short while, and then, when that didn't work out, they headed for a new place called Massachusetts, where they helped establish a colony of like-minded religious people.  There's still a town named after them on Cape Cod. (It's called - you guessed it - Brewster.)  And, owing to the fact that his family prospered and multiplied once they arrived in the land of religious freedom, there are Brewster descendants all over the United States.  Some of them are fairly well-known, and some of them are just regular folks like us.

I don't know why I got the family name and my siblings didn't.  For a long time, I wished it had been otherwise.

My middle name was a source of endless amusement to my peers when I was in grade school.  They called me Jennie Rooster and made squawking sounds when I entered the room.  All my female classmates had middle names like Marie or Laura or Katherine.  Brewster seemed decidedly unfeminine and ugly, and I hated it.  I wished, miserably, for a name that better expressed who I was.  I was not some old Puritan guy from the sixteenth century.  I was a young girl growing up in New Jersey in the twentieth century.  I wanted to be like the other girls:  pretty and popular, with a moniker that affirmed my prettiness and popularity.

It was only many years later that I realized that my middle name did express who I was - and it did so better than any other name I could have been given.  My name has historical significance.  It keeps alive a heritage that, owing to our society's habit of passing names through the father's line, could have been lost generations ago.  It is a memento of hardship and pilgrimage.  It is a reminder that white people of Anglo-Saxon descent were once themselves victims of religious oppression, and that they, above all people, must refuse to perpetuate oppression of any sort against anyone.  The name carries with it the responsibility of tolerance, open-mindedness, and conscience.

It's an honor, really, to have been chosen to be the bearer of that name.

I wanted at least one of my children to carry it forward.  I have charged my son with that responsibility.  He might be a little young to appreciate it just yet...




... but I have no doubt that, in time, he'll live up to his badass name.

08 June 2011

Middle

I am a middle child.  Actually, I am second of four; I have an older sister, a younger sister, and a younger brother.  But since we were just three girls until I was seven, and my mother finally gave me the brother I had long wished for (thanks Mom - he's just what I wanted and more), I have always thought of myself as the middle sister.

People say a lot of things about middle children.  In fact, there's a whole psychological syndrome devoted to us.  It's called, not surprisingly, "Middle Child Syndrome," or MCS.  Middle children, being neither the admired oldest nor the pampered youngest, are reportedly overlooked, underphotographed, and generally unnoticed.  They are said to be creative and often very gifted; to seek the limelight; to crave attention and approval; and to yearn for acceptance from their peers.  They compete heavily with their siblings.  None of this, by the way, is proven scientific fact.  It falls more appropriately into the category of popular science.  More popular than science.

I think it's a little bit akin to horoscopes, or what I call FCS (Fortune Cookie Syndrome).  That is, if you say something vague enough, everyone will find a way to relate to it.  A big surprise is coming your way.  Brace yourself for significant events in your love life.  Beware precipitous decisions.  This month, you will find yourself facing something difficult.  For more personal fulfillment, spend some time pursuing your dreams.

Yeah, I compete with my older sister.  I always have.  But it might have nothing to do with the fact that I'm a middle sister.  It might be because my sister is sixteen months older than I am, smart, pretty, articulate, and, in her adult life, professionally successful.  She is a good three inches taller and thirty pounds lighter than I am.  She blows her top, recovers gracefully, and moves on.  I smolder for months, slow to forgive and forget.  She has (and has always had) beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes.  She wore bouncy, curly ponytails when we were kids.  I, branded the one with the difficult hair, was forced to wear my dull brown tresses in a pixie cut until I was in middle school.  This did not do a lot for my self-esteem.

Yeah, I'm creative.  I've always loved to write, knit, sew, cook, sing and act, and to decorate anything I can get my hands on.  But two of the most creative people I know - both women writers of approximately my vintage - are only children.  So much for that.

And I like to be noticed and complimented.  Who doesn't?  My writing teacher said something complimentary to me today and I floated around my office all afternoon, convinced that I am bound for a Pulitzer prize. (Or whatever the equivalent is for bloggers - a Bloggie maybe?)

My point is that people want to hear things that confirm their suspicions.  They believe things that sound quasi-scientific because they want explanations.  They follow weird diets, check their horoscopes, and subscribe to theories that claim to explain their personalities.  They overestimate the value of praise or criticism, depending on their needs.  And the bigger the grain of truth at the bottom of a theory, the more likely people are to swallow the whole thing.  Yes, my siblings have had a tremendous influence on me for my entire life.  They are an integral part of who I am.  I have no idea what it would be like to be an only child.  I therefore must suffer from MCS.

To test my theory that MCS is mostly nonsense, I interviewed my own middle daughter.  "Do you think I ignore you, because you're the middle child?" I asked her.

"Sometimes," she said.  "Actually, most of the time."  I searched her face for a hint of a smile, or some subtle sign of irony.  Nothing.  She was dead serious.

Well.  So much for that.

05 June 2011

Mending Time

With sincerest apologies to Robert Frost for mangling one of my favorites.





Something there is that doesn't love my children's trampoline,
That sends the wind and rain to tear its net



And spills the twigs and leaves upon its surface,


And makes holes even teens can poke their heads through.


The work of squirrels is another thing:
I have come after them and felt despair
Where they have left big gaps and chewing marks,


But they would high-tail it out of there,
If they ever saw my yelping dogs. The holes I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at June mending-time we find them there.


I let my daughter know when we're home from church;
And on a beautiful day we thread our needles
And try to close the net up once again.


We keep the net taut as we go.
To each the tears they feel that they can fix.
And some are straight and some so perfectly crooked
We have to use a spell to make them align:
"Mom, this is so much harder than it looks!"


We stab our fingers rough with stitching them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
Keeping out the leaves. It comes to little more:
There where it is we like to have the net:
It keeps the tots from tumbling to the ground.
The teenagers would never be so dumb
As to get hurt when they are jumping, I'm told.
I only say, 'Better safe than sorry'.


The urge to sew is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in her head
To love it too, the way I did when young.


But hobbies are different now.
Before they chose one, they would ask to know
How long it takes, and where they'd plug it in,
And how to tag or share it with their friends.


Something there is that doesn't love this net,
That wants it down. I could say 'Elves' to her,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
She said it for herself. I see her there
Bringing a needle grasped firmly by her thumb
And weaving it through the fabric as she goes.
She moves with skill as it seems to me~
Not of an expert, but of a determined learner.
She will not be inspired to sew anything else,
Or make any other repairs around the house.
But we are happy with our neat results,
And with our hour spent together bonding.



01 June 2011

Conditioning

Last night, as I was climbing into bed, my husband installed our little rickety air conditioner into the front window of our bedroom.  (I say "rickety" just because I like the word, not because there's anything wrong with our air conditioner that can't be fixed by an extension cord and several old towels stuffed between it and the window frame.)  In a few short minutes, the temperature in our room had dropped by at least ten degrees.  I pulled the covers up to my chin and murmured, "I love air conditioning."

"Really?" my husband asked, incredulous.  His tone indicated that he thought I was lying, or delirious, or just babbling as a result of my half-conscious state.  Just before I drifted off to sleep, I had an epiphany:  I must write an extensive blog post explaining my feelings about air conditioning, because there seem to be a few misconceptions floating about.

The misconceptions are rational and are based on scientific observation of my behavior in air-conditioned situations.  I wear heavy sweatshirts to the movie theater in August.  When we go on long drives in the summer, I bring a fleece blanket to shield me from the cold air vents on the dashboard.  I plead with the driver to turn the air conditioning down.  My teeth chatter.  Today it's something like eighty degrees Fahrenheit outside, and I am in my office in a floor-length maxi dress and a big sweater.  I have piles of papers all along the window vents, blocking the assault of Arctic air on my space.  I am completely comfortable.

I have always disliked the sensation of chilled air hitting my bare skin.  I find it unpleasant to be cold.  I assume this is because I am female, which means my body naturally focuses on keeping my core warm, leaving my extremities to fend for themselves in the breeze.  In the winter, I need hats, gloves, and scarves, heavy blankets, and several layers of clothing.  From late October to early April, I am a big fan of warm socks, preferably of the homemade variety, worn all day and all night.  Don't misunderstand:  I love winter.  I just don't like being uncomfortably cold.

And sometimes air conditioning is uncomfortably cold.

It is the very nature of the beast that makes it uncomfortable.  Air conditioning seems to consist, usually, of a chill artificial wind, forced through some small vent, right into my face.  Were it merely a vague, unforced lowering of the ambient temperature, I would not mind it at all.  I happen to think that the ideal temperature for a comfortably-clad human body is something like seventy degrees Fahrenheit.  If that goal could be achieved without blowing winter all over my poor goosebumped skin, I'd be thrilled.

Summer in the New York area, at its most intense, consists of unrelenting heat and humidity, punctuated by the occasional violent late-day thunderstorm.  I am as happy as the next person to be in a dry, cooled-down space, or to jump into a pool or lake to take the edge off the heat.  I love going to the movies, sitting in a cool, dark room munching popcorn.  I even like driving in an air-conditioned car, as long as the vents are pointed away from my face and arms (or I have some sort of clothing to shield me from the direct assault).  Fans are nice, but often not sufficient.

What I meant last night, before I drifted off to sleep, is that I love being comfortable.  A cool bedroom, a big fluffy blanket, the monotonous hum of that rickety box (muffled by the towels):  heaven for a very tired mom.

Jennie