Thursday, April 19, 2007

Notes Scribbled Between Events

Liz Phair turns 40 this week. I can't tell you how old that makes me feel.

My considered position on Nor'easters: I don't like 'em. Not one little bit.

We got hammered. A few blocks from here, an entire section of my town was under water, including our local fire station. TB's school was cancelled Monday because the road to the front entrance was submerged. Two of our local grocery stores (possibly three – I didn't check the third) were quite literally swamped. Evil Sidekick's Mom reported that one part of town, a part that includes a house we once considered buying, was flooded out, and the residents were evacuated. The next two towns over converted their high school gyms to shelters. In one of those towns, a few houses caught fire, leading to the utterly weird spectacle of fire trucks dousing submerged houses with even more water. Driving was a nightmare, since road closures pop up in unexpected places, and the side roads couldn't be described as 'linear.'

Since when do we got Nor'easters in April? I've lived in this part of this state for the last 17 years, and I don't recall that ever happening. They're supposed to be a winter thing.

We didn't lose electricity, so the sump pump did its job. Still, this is a bit more precarious than I care for. Our next house will be on a hill. With an unfinished basement. In another state. Or province.

The Boy did great at the Science Fair. He looked like a little professional, standing by his project and explaining it to passersby. He got a ribbon for 'scientific thought,' which is pretty good for a kindergartener. The only other experiment there that really impressed me involved a kid wrapping eggs in various different kinds of material, then dropping them from measured heights to see how high you could go with each kind of packaging before the egg cracked. I'm guessing he used hard-boiled eggs.

Another sign of age: TB's school principal is disconcertingly attractive. This violates the natural order of things. School principals are supposed to be either late middle-aged men in preposterous polyester suits, or late middle-aged women who look like East German weightlifters. Someone didn't get the memo.


Once in a while, TW brings the kids to visit me at work. We try to pick a day when I have some free time around lunch, and I do a longish lunch with them on campus. The last visit was about a week ago.

It's fairly rare – maybe once or twice a semester. TB and TG are both remarkably well-behaved in public. Like their Daddy, when they're uncomfortable, their characteristic move is to be quiet. (Unfortunately for TW, that's also my characteristic move when I'm contented. Reading the silences is, I'm told, a bit of an acquired skill. It's a fine line between “the strong and silent type” and “an immovable lump.” You marry a Scandinavian, you take your chances...) Given the available options, that isn't a bad one.

And TB and TG both have considerable star power, if I do say so myself.

For a week or two after a visit, I notice that the folks who saw me with them talk to me differently. It's like they suddenly stop seeing The Dean and start seeing an actual person. It fades quickly, and I go back to faceless-bureaucrat status, but for a brief window there's almost something like rapport.

I'm guessing that gender makes a huge difference here.

As a relatively reserved male in authority, kids humanize me. They add a dimension. (A former colleague at Proprietary U once commented that he couldn't imagine me saying “goochie goochie goo.” I didn't know what to make of that.) My guess – and it's only a guess – is that the effect is more equivocal for women.

It's hard to test the theory here, since almost nobody else here is between the ages of 25 and 50. (And the few who are, almost without exception, are either male or childless.) But my impression is that women come pre-humanized, and sometimes struggle to be perceived as Serious. For them, being seen with young kids on campus might be riskier, in a sense, in that it wouldn't so much add depth as confirm stereotypes.

How does your campus react to the occasional visiting faculty/admin offspring?