Saturday, November 1, 2008

When Michael Phelps Gets Performance Anxiety

Here's what Suburban Correspondent said about the Matron signing on for NaBloPoMo:

Hello? You seem to post twice a day already! Your doing NaBloPoMo is like Michael Phelps joining the community swim team.

Why, thank you, honey. The Matron is flexing her biceps. She is buff, all that typing!

And underneath all that bluster and brawn? Your poor little Matron signed up--made a commitment--to post every darn day and instantly got NERVOUS! Instead of standing confidently on top of those 486 blog posts in 396 days, both buoyed and well-grounded by such verbosity, the Matron is feeling a little bit, well, wobbly. Imagine all those posts on top of another, like so many loose dominoes. Down, down, down goes the Matron.

So she's afraid NaBloPoMo will somehow render her silent. Cause her to forget about her blog. Eliminate Idea, all. Fell her, completely.

In honor of her unflagging pathology, her uncanny ability to uncover yet another neurosis--NaBloPoMoPhoBia--little known to the rest of humanity but plaguing the Matron like, well, Plague--in honor of this new Phobia and her incredible Neurotic Talent, the Matron will lift the veil on a few of her current companion anxieties.

  • Rabies. This summer, brought two bats into the Matronly homestead. A man in northern Minnesota recently died of rabies; he didn't even know the bat he caught had bitten him until he started foaming at the mouth. Literally. Toss in two weeks ago, when the Matron stumbled across the tiniest little mouse, asleep in the house. Why, she got within a centimeter of that cuddly creature. It was a BAT. So the Matron has spent some time engaged in the following internal debate: "Should the whole household get rabies shots, just in case?" "Should Stryker get shots, just in case?" "What if (fill in name of loved one except for Satan's Familiar) gets bit and doesn't know it?"
  • Squirrels. These creatures are rats with tails. Rats are not cute. The filthly scrub brush attached to the butt is not enough to render the rat that is a squirrel, cute. The Matron is certain that one of these greedy, malicious little monsters will one day not run away from her, but run up her pant leg. She's positive this will happen.
  • Rabies + Squirrels
  • Transportation, all sort, but with a technicolor focus on automobile, school bus and air plane.
  • Transfats. Sigh. Her poor children! Picture the Matron in the bustling chain grocery store with her reading glasses perched upon her prim little nose, scanning every last delectable nummy treat they might get for the goddless chemical. Worse!!?? The Matron herself, indulging in Holiday Fete, might inadvertantly pass this toxic waste into her OWN PRECIOUS SELF. Ugh! She's shaking, just thinking about it.
  • Head lice. Hang on--she's gotta go check her head again.
  • Escalaters. The Matron gives her mother a win on this one because when the Matron was a Wee Bit of a Miss and scared that the end of the escalater would just grab her shoe and SUCK Wee Bit of a Miss right down with the rest of the disappearing stairway, well, when Wee Bit of a Miss asked her mother if this would really happen? Her mother said, yes. "I know someone who lost two children that way." To this day, the Matron grips tight and her gaze doesn't waver from the end game, that hop off the stair.
Happy November! NaBloPoMoPhoBia. Just in time for the flu season, which is sort of like the State Fair and a free shopping spree at Neiman Marcus for hypochondriacs. Not that she is one. . . .

Friday, October 31, 2008

Gearing Up!?

The Matron is taking the day off, sort of as a sigh before NaBloPoMo. That's right, readers. Thirty days, thirty blog posts.

Considering the Matron has been blogging for exactly 13 months tomorrow, and is just 5 posts away from her 500th, she thinks NaBloPo is just about the right pace.

Happy Hallowed Eve. The Matron is off now to make a small offering at the alter of the Sugar Goddess, hoping she will go lightly on her children. Merrick has enough bruises; bouncing off the walls until midnight won't help (besides, she's going to let all THREE of them do that on Tuesday night!).

Did she say she wasn't blogging today? See you tomorrow (and the next day and so on).


Thursday, October 30, 2008

The First Ever Matronly Cooking Lesson

Forget Rachel Ray! You have the Matron. Here's her secret recipe!


Recipe for Disaster


  • One highly sensitive, intelligent, serious and rule-bound 12-year old boy
  • Junior High Science Fair Project Literature Review, due tomorrow
  • One anxious, rule-bound, guilt-inclined and generally phobic mother
  • Large variety of college-level academic databases to which said mother has access
  • One completely inappropriate and impossible to research (and highly original) Junior High Science Project


First, be sure to take the Student-Parent Science Fair Project Handbook, received October 14th, and set aside in a folder on the mother's desk, never to be looked at again. To perfect this recipe, said folder must be set aside. If you do remember the folder, then you would read the section that says: "Students should go to the Murray Junior High or public library for their research. Using the catalogs there, use keywords to find your topic."

If you do know that you're to use the library, and not electronic databases, the entire recipe will be ruined.

Second, be sure the Project itself is unusual enough that no amount of research--in the library or online--will be fruitful. The original Project is a good example of the texture and quality that yours should be. In this Project, 15-20 12-year old boys will play video games with a small wire ring around their index fingers and a bowl of candy on top of the video games. Whenever they play badly, the boys will be shocked by a remote control 'shocker' conceptualized, designed and built by the highly sensitive, intelligent and rule-bound boy. Then, the boys will be rewarded for good video-gaming with candy. The hypothesis will be that boys playing video games respond more to negative consequences than positive consequences.

Boys must require a parental waiver and the experiment may not be conducted anywhere on or near School District 656 official property. Garnering permission for this Project is an entirely different recipe, found on page 9,451.

Sigh. (That's optional but adds flavor)

Third, get down to the wire. Finish the Literature Review the night before it's due. If you want your Disaster perfected--with that flaky crust and tender middle--make sure that you piddle away the after school hours into the evening.

Now that you've got everything prepared, stir everything together in a big bowl, except the large variety of college level data bases. That's the last ingredient.

You'll know the batter is ready when everyone is lumpy and thick. Time is running out. The texture starts to look alternately tense and tragic. There is no real good online, age-appropriate research to be found under the anxious mother's instruction. Just when the entire mess starts to curdle, toss in the college-level data bases. This is not only the last ingredient, but the secret one!

As you stir, you'll know everything progresses smoothly if the highly sensitive, intelligent 12-year old boy starts to crumble under the weight of the academic data bases. You'll notice language like this: "According to the analytical conventions of the generalized operant law of matches, bias (log b (double dagger) 0) would indicate no differential impact by one type of consequence; however no systematic bias was observed."

At this delicate point in the process, you should see the rule-bound anxious mother next to that language, gleefully pointing: "See! That's perfect! Perfect!" The 12 year old has no idea what is going on and that? Makes him angry.

The 12-year old frustration/anger and maternal certainty that the problem has been solved are the combustible items in the baking. You'll love the outcome! Indeed, this recipe gives you all the flavors of the complete disaster: there is crying, yelling, recrimination, guilt, despair and denial--from both sides! There is a back and forth about who has failed whom and Procrastination.

The final flavors come with The World Series as distraction and background noise AND the addition of a Fever. Let the rule-bound anxious mother discover at 8 pm--just as she is conveniently about to drive to another state to retrieve her daughter--that she has a fever of 101.9.

Now, your disaster is complete. The unhappy 12-year old has been rude enough that he's lost television privileges for two days AND the 'privilege' of his mother's assistance. The Literature Review is not finished. The mother not only feels complete frustration but is flaming from fever.

If you leave the disaster as is --that is, by driving away--by the time you come home you will find that the brittle bones holding the entire thing together have dissolved into something sweeter, something not only palatable, but nearly pleasant.

Left alone, without that 'privilege' of the rule-bound anxious mother's help, why, that 12-year old boy will quietly pick up the Literature Review and perservere. He will eventually find, on his own, age-appropriate and interesting sources commenting on the use of 'shock' over the course of history. He will be proud of himself and present the work to you for Admiration and Awe.

When the very last crumbs have been eaten and the emotional cutlery is set aside, store this disaster with all the others in the file labeled: First Child, Learning Curve.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The McCain-Palin Mob

The Matron's technological drool, wiped! She learned how to download youtube videos.

Hubba, hubba!! For today only, in honor of the Luddite's new tricks, video.

Political Theatre

The Matron nearly fell off her rocking chair at this one. She has plenty of favorite political videos and plans to post more, throughout the day. But this is her favorite--the heady intellectual transcript from an official Town Meeting in Wasila, Alaska. Presided over by? Yup! President Palin?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Actor in the House

Scene One

The set opens on the second floor of a tidy urban dwelling, a spacious home populated by mother, father, son one, daughter, and son two. The light is early morning pale in the daughter's bedroom. Walls are painted a putrid bright blue, barely discernable as the shades are drawn. The room is almost, but not quite (and this is a fine but important distinction) a garbage dump with piles of clothes, books, papers, packages, shoes, scrap booking material, photographs and toys arranged, just so, so that the room is a bit of a maze.

The daughter snores. Not softly.

Shift to the green illuminated clock: 7:55 am.

Enter Mother, tip-toeing. Clearly matronly, but with some degree of verve to her veer. She maneuvers through the mess to perch on her daughter's bed, rest a soft hand, gently, on her shoulder.

Although Mother's gesture is tender, there is a slight hesitation, a fallback, a reluctance that almost signals? Fear?

Mother: "Scarlett? Honey? It's almost 8. Time to get up for school! I know you were up really really late because of rehearsal, but we do need to get up for school."

The bed is unresponsive.

Mother: "Sweetie? Please?" She shakes the lump of blankets.

Suddenly, a glass-shattering scream pierces the room. This is no ordinary sound. In the daughter's awakening, we have the ability to stop pace-makers and induce labor. The sound -- not quite a scream but far more robust than a shout or wail -- is a Primordial Movement, making its way through the house, resting on the resigned shoulders of each family member.

First, in the kitchen, son two claps his hands on his ears, wincing. He is naked. And, sitting on the table. He is about 5 years old. A scruffy, skinny dog sits on the table beside him, eating out of a cereal bowl. There are no adults in sight. And the TV is on.

Father is shaving when the sound hits, and he does NOT nick himself, as would someone surprised or without a steely layer of reserve. Indeed, his eyes roll but there's a gleam of "that's my baby" in those brown pupils, as he continues trimming a very hot stubble off his chin.

Back in daughter's room, the Primordial Movement grows into a complete Chorus accompanied by Narration:


"I am SOOOO TIRED!! OMIGOD that sun is so BRIGHT!!"


"I BROKE my ankle and NOBODY CARES."

"Last night, I NEVER fell asleep at ALL and NOBODY CARES!!"

"My homework isn't done and I will have to STAY INSIDE during recess!"

But the main sound shooting across the set is the weeping -- the loud, dry heaves, the wails and maons, the ocassional collapse to the floor to best a chest and struggle to stand, once again.

Mother is long gone, so this is largely an audio performance. The daughter's ability to project should stagger the audience.

Scene One last approximately 40 minutes.

Scene Two

Daughter is sitting at her mother's computer, scrolling through upcoming auditions. The time is mid-afternoon, right after school. The light is bright, the room a colorful array of books, lamps and photos. The Mother is more relaxed, eager for an interaction other than the typical morning. The daughter is noticably excited, transformed. She hops in the computer chair and exhibits an unnatural energy, a hyperkinetic series of body motions and facial experessons.

Daughter: "Can I Can I Can I?"

Mother: "What?"

Daughter: "Audition to be in My Fair Lady? See, see, see, right here! Flower Girl and ensemble!! It's during Miracle Worker rehearsals so if we ask them if I can it will be fine!!! Fine!!"

Mother: "Sweetie, you would be working about 50 hours a week in theater then, and going to school. You don't have time."

Light changes in the room. There is an instant, intense darkening. The daughter falls out of sight. Following the Mother's gaze, we see she is writhing on the floor.


Mother pauses and must here capture, exquistely, the expresson that says "I wish everyone who asks me why I push her so much or everyone who says 'just say no to her' could be ME right now" and also "OMIGOD we both need a psychiatrist."

Mother: "Come on up. Stop! Don't beat your head against the floor! That's not helping! Here, let's look at other shows."

Daughter is back to the screen quicker than Sarah Palin returning her wardrobe.

Repeat scene several times, with different plays that Daughter will DIE if she is not in.

Scene Three

A visibly tired Mother is discussing with Father how much gas money they should pay for a fellow actor driving with Daughter. They are in the master bedroom, a brown and buttery cream room lit with the late afternoon sun and good wood. It is pleasant.

They do not see the daughter outside of their door.

Mother: "How much should we pay Frau Schmidt? I mean, what was your final calcuation?"

Father: "I think it cost $120 for gas, all told. Let's give her $50."

Mother: "Fifty!!!! If we owe $60, let's give her $70!"

Father: "Why?"

Mother: "Well, she actually drove."

Father: "But she HAD to be there those times anyway."

Mother: "So why not split it and give her $60?"

Father: "Because! We're now careful with money, remember? Haven't you given her four bottles of wine, a rack of chocolate and a handmade scarf already, anyway?"

The Mother simply rolls her eyes (she is as good as everyone else in the household as this when there is no real defense) and grabs her purse. Shifting so that her back is to Father (who is now busy with socks and underwear storage), she takes $60 from her wallet.

She meets the Daughter out in the hall, who scampers in delight behind her mother. They head downstairs, where Frau Schmidt will be any second.

Mother: "Scarlett? What do you think? If Frau Schmidt paid $120 for gas and we give her half, $60, is that enough?"

Daughter pauses and starts. She turns to her mother and grabs both of her mother's hands, pressing them directly underneath her own tiny chin. The face? Mournful? Eyes? Frightened, eager, hopeful and innocent.

Daughter: "Oh Mama! That is a wonderful idea! Because every night she complains so much about how much money she is spending on gas! It's a real sacrifice for her! She has some major money problems and this show isn't helping!"

Mother (frozen in uncertainty with years of Catholic girlhood Guilt effectively evoked; with Desire to Please discovered, seared and utilized; with role of Savior and Beneficiary of Those in Need tapped and readied. She is completely derailed): "Oh my!"

Daughter, instantly disengaged and trotting downstairs. "Just kidding!"

The End

Sunday, October 26, 2008



Some women have sexual awakenings, religious callings. When the Matron was a Young Miss, she experienced college as a sacred, spectacular, bone-chilling, quite possibly orgasmic Earthquake Event. Word! Idea! Knowledge!

Where others partied in Dorm, she dallied in Library. The more Idea kept coming at her, the more she sparkled and popped! After a horrible first year, dropped in the midst of "OMIGOD it's 2 pm and General Hospital is on, where the #$#% is my beer?" she hung out with her own ilk, young people capable of breaking out in a sweat or swooning over anything Theory. (and practice! she couldn't forget practice!) She majored in East Asian Studies with a minor in Chinese. Language (don't ask for any tricks -- all she remembers is "I'm hungry" which is currently coming in handy)

Her original major was History. The switch betwixt is the story. Trust her, it's worth the read.

Young Miss was assigned Dr. X as her advisor, Chair of the History Department of bucolic private College Q, which feted and clawed at Young Miss's unexperienced feet from the second her 11th grade PSAT scores were rolled out to the recruiters. Those folk were so good, she barely looked anywhere else.

So she ended up in Dr. X's office as a 17 year old freshman.

Life Experience + Young Miss = 0

Dr. X adored her! Well into his fifties or early sixties with pitch white hair and a paunch, he eagerly established himself as the missing Father Figure in Young Miss's frail, pale life. Even more effectively, Dr. X implied, directly and not, that Young Miss was nothing short of a genius! Why, he was SO INTERESTED in her intellectual career, he could barely think of anything else!

Young Miss adored him right back! She had never really thought of herself as really that smart or special, and to have someone affirm that she had real Gift? The Department Chair?! A well-published, well-regarded scholar, flattened by her potential?

The bond was sealed.

So taken was the Matron, that she barely noticed this poster on his office wall

Or this one

until well into her sophomore year, when Trouble began rearing it's ugly head.

Why, some of Dr. X's odd little habits had begun to bother the Young Miss. For instance, The Routine Inquiry.

Dr. X: "Do you have a boyfriend? I bet you do!"

Young Miss: "Well, sort of."

Dr. X: "And what do you do together? Is this is purely a physical connection or do you connect on an intellectual plane, as well?"

Young Miss: "Uh, more like music."

Dr. X wondered about Young Miss's social life to no end. He fretted about her wardrobe.

Dr. X: "You look lovely in lavender shades, deep blues. I might have something I can give you?"

Young Miss: "Uh, that's okay."

Dr. X (with a deep appreciative sigh): "You know, I just imagine that adorable little behind of yours, scooting across campus."

In her utter, blinding naivete, that comment about said adorable behind was the first real warning signal that actual made contact with 19 year old radar. It was only in retrospect that she questioned this item on a test given to History 101.

Putting out is

A) A term for producing cotton over night in the 1800's
B) What naughty girls do in the dorm at night.

Or, wondered about the Medieval History class when Dr. X stopped the lecture, faced the 20 students in the room, and said this: "Would Mary and Catherine please come and sit in the front row? No, really, Mary and Catherine."

Perplexed, Young Miss and Catherine gathered their books and settled in as instructed.

Dr. X: "Thank you, ladies. I realized I couldn't continue without something beautiful to look at, close up. Can we have more skin on the leg? Just a little!"

By the beginning of her junior year, Dr. X was THE thorn in her side. She really didn't like him, thought he was, well, creepy. She didn't approve of his posters, his crass leers, the ritual and required Routine Inquiry about boyfriend. She wasn't quite sure what was wrong or what to call it, but knew it was something.

Then there was this.

Dr. X: "I'd like you to be my teaching assistant for freshman classes -- you know, introductory courses."

Young Miss (skin, crawling): "Uh, I am REALLY busy this semester. I think I better pass on this."

Here upon, Dr. X. leaned in and pulled his papers toward him, beckoned to Young Miss to move forward and understand, in an intimate way: "Mary. I make or break History majors. If you want to get into Stanford, you're my TA. If not, consider the consequences."

Ping! Just like that, she was his TA!

After she agreed, heart-beating and dream (oh, she of Intellect and Philosophical Desire!) of academic future crashing, Dr. X chuckled and pulled out what he called: "My Little Black Book."

Dr. X: "Thank goodness we have that settled. Now I can add you to my Little Black Book. Some day soon, we'll have coffee. Maybe drinks."

Young Miss was resigned, indentured in her service. And oh Lord: fearful of coffee and drinks, above all else. Her entire life was spent avoiding that man. Sure, she had to show up at the big lectures to pass out papers and act as Girl Friday, happy and adoring. But for everything else, she did her work alone and slide stuff under his door. She knew when he ate lunch in the cafeteria and when he went to the library. She tracked his every move to avoid actual physical contact. But, then they had some.

She was in his office and made the mistake of sitting down. Her jeans had a hole in the knee. Doing what any normal college professor would do, Dr. X put his finger in that hole, rolled the finger around, and wondered: "How long will you wear these before you toss them away?"

Young Miss practically flew out of there. She vowed she would finish the semester and switch majors. Be done.

But the very next day, while she was shoving tests under his door, Dr. X. wandered up behind her.

Dr. X: "Mary! What a pleasure! Hang onto those tests and we'll put them on the table and keep things tidy."

He unlocked the door. She entered, set the tests down on the table, turned around and Dr. X stood directly in front of her and ripped open her shirt.

"My, we're looking sexy today!"

Young Miss burst into tears. She pulled her blouse together and stood there, sobbing.

Dr. X: "Are you coming to work tomorrow? It's imperative that you attend class tomorrow! I'm writing letters of recommendation for graduate school, this week!"

Young Miss walked out without a word and never looked back. Because this was a small, private liberal arts college (and she had no clue where to go or what to do), she went directly to the office of the President. The secretary took one look at her face and told her to go right in.

While Young Miss sat, sobbed and recounted the formative experiences of her freshman, sophomore and half of junior year at College Q, the President went from a smiling, pale-faced man to a quaking gray wreck on the phone with the college's general consul.

College President: "You can't talk to me because I also have to think about the institution. I want you to go, right now, to the college ombudsperson, Lovely Lady C. Last year, the school created its first ever sexual harassment policy. She can help you."

So Young Miss decided to take an hour and compose a lovely letter about Dr. X, given that she's so comfortable in prose. Lovely Lady C turned out to be the head librarian, and she was rushing out to a meeting when Youmg Miss came in.

Lovely Lady C said "Oh my! I'm afraid I'll have to talk to you tomorrow morning" while simaltaneously scanning Young Miss's letter. As she read, Lovely Lady C stopped talking. Kept reading. Put her fist down on her desk and then picked up the phone.

"Jill? I have to cancel. "

She spent two hours with Young Miss, doing more education and damage control than any sexual assault counselor. Thank you, Lovely Lady C.

Young Miss went ahead with the first stages of the official sexual harassment charges.

And when Dr. X sent Young Miss this letter? (yes, she saved it, lo these years)

Dear Mary,

I don't think that I have ever been so gievously hurt and betrayed in my life. It is all the more surprising since I genuinely like you, was concerned about your health and well-being, and always hoped good things would happen to you. To be blunt, I rather envied your mother and father, having a daughter like you, and it made me feel rather empty to know that I could never take pride in a daughter (or son) as they can in you. What is particularly hurtful is that you never even accorded me the most basic courtesy that I have always extended to my students: a chance to explain themselves free of humiliated publicity.

Mary, I am a rationalist: I believe in solving problesm, not trying to ascribe blame or humiliate people. My professional judgement is that if this matter is pushed to its logical conclusion, it will be mutually destructive, emotionally and legally, for both of us. Is it not possible for us to talk before resorting to total stranger and outsiders? For whatever this is worth, I am not sure that I would wish to defend myself, but would probably prefer to remain silent rather than to be forced to make statements that would be detrimental to you. I have no wish to hurt you or even appear as your adversary. Quite the contrary, until learning of this action on your part this morning, I thought you were my friend and co-worker, in the highest tradition of teacher-student relationshiops. I feel like I have woken up in the middle of a nightmare.

Now, remember, Young Miss had adored this man. She had initally eaten out of the palm of hand, all that. Consider that, and the myriad manipulations in this letter-- vague threats of detrimental statements, legal and emotional costs to her, as well as to him. Then there was all the "strangers are dividing us!" stuff of lovers--or fathers and caring teachers -- and lore.

It worked.

A sobbing, broken Young Miss took the letter to Lovely Lady C and said: "I can't! This is too scary! I am SO mean! The school newspaper thinks it's me and is begging me for an interview! Half the campus thinks I'm a fool and the other half wonders: is it her? I can't possibly go through with this! I'm cancelling!"

The wise Lovely Lady C patted Young Miss and reassured her that in this office, Young Miss was in charge of her own destiny.

LLC: "Mary. I have something I want to show you." She pulled open a desk, took out a foot thick file and put it in Young Miss's lap.

LLC: "These are the women who went before you and didn't go through with the suit. You're number 16. So far, 15 other female students have complained and some even started some kind of procedure. But he scared them all. Or, maybe it was that the school didn't have a policy in place. Whatever the reasons, you can stop now, and nobody will blame you. This might be one of the toughest things you do in your life. But if you don't press charges? Number 17 will be in my office, suffering just like you did, next year or the year after."

There was no question.

And whenever the publicity or drama or continuing threats got to be too much, she remembered the day Dr. X pulled open her blouse. That kept her grounded. In touch with reality.

Not only did Young Miss win that suit, there was zero legal toll (although plenty of emotional)

Here's the terms of settlement that Lovely Lady C helped Young Miss work out:

  1. 1. Young Miss was released from her TA duties for that year and the next, and got her salary, anyway! Goodie!!
  2. Dr. X wrote Young Miss the blandest and most cryptic and unapologetic letters of apology.
  3. College Q set aside $5000 (in 1983 funds) to establish a Women's Resource Center for female students. Young Miss was on the advisory board.
  4. Dr. X was required to attend at least 20 therapy sessions.
  5. He was removed from his position of Chair of the department.
  6. Young Miss's absolute favorite (and totally Lovely Lady C's idea): in addition to regular old course evaluations, Dr. X was forced to include Sexual Harassment Evaluations. As in: "Did this man touch you in inappropriate ways or make suggestive statements?" And he had to wear that Scarlet Letter for the rest of his years teaching at College Q.
This all tranpsired long ago and the Matron doesn't often think about Dr. X. But tonight while she wrote this blog post? She got a stomach ache while copying his letter. And she shed a little tear, a wee one, for that beautiful naive and trusting young woman, who had never even heard of sexual harassment until she understood herself, its victim.

Dr. X? He retired soon after the lawsuit, with no more complaints against him, of any kind.