So I’m driving in between radio stations with absolutely nothing to do but let my mind wander. It went to a conversation Lacey and I had last week, inspired by watching Belle. I started talking about marriage and courting conventions of the time and how they applied to Belle and her two suitors, Oliver Ashford and John Davinier. This turned into how our situations would look in the 1780s. Here is what our situation would be:
For one thing, I aged everyone down 10 years.
Mr. and Mrs. Hancher of Broad Run have run into financial trouble; because of that, their eldest daughter, Cathrine (affectionately called “Katie” by those who know her), became a governess of a house in Leesburg. Fortunately, she met the tutor of the elder sons of the house, a Keith Hughes, and it became love. Mr. Hancher had some objections to the marriage, as he was thoroughly Irish and not Anglican at all, but his heart was won over by the clear affection between the two and he agreed to the match.
Since the wedding, the two younger Hancher daughters, twins named Virginia and Sharon, have been let out into society. This is not much of a change for Virginia, who has been active in church since she was thirteen years old. She is beautiful, intelligent, and charming, and her parents hope for an excellent match for her. Since her coming out, she has caught the attention of a patent clerk named Brian King. Although not a member of the Broad Run church, his family is known to the the Hanchers. Altogether he would provide a comfortable middle-class life for Virginia. Mr. and Mrs. Hancher have high hopes for the marriage.
The other twin, Sharon, has been sickly since birth. Mr. and Mrs. Hancher would love to see her become a wife, but fear her poor health would prevent it. She is being courted by a baker’s apprentice, James Meyers. This has scandalized the Hanchers, as they wanted to marry their daughter to a man who would be able to provide all the comforts for their frail daughter; not to mention Mr. Meyers’ position as a tradesman. Sharon claims to have great pleasure in his company, and unbeknownst to the Hanchers, the Meyers own land in Carolina and also lay claim to land out West past the mountains. As the sole male heir, Mr. Meyers stands to inherit a lot.
I was talking with my brother-in-law the other day (I have a brother-in-law now!) and I told him that I was planning on pursuing a teaching degree at the University of North Carolina. He suggested that I apply as soon as possible, for a variety of reasons. With that in mind, I went and looked up the endorsements necessary to get into the two teaching programs I’m considering.
It appears that I am going to be a Latin teacher. Colonial history is going to have to be a hobby. For now.
The reason I went down to North Carolina this week was to prepare to move down here. To that end, James and I have been spending the past two days looking at apartments. We’ve been ruthlessly studying apartment layouts, comparing prices, discussing the our budget (which we’ve color-coded because we’re super-serious you guys).
Last week James went apartment-hunting and narrowed it down to three options for us to look at this week. When he called me and updated me about his apartment search, he enthused about one particular house. “The living area is huge!” he said. “The layout is perfect.”
The only problem, according to him, was the income restrictions: as an unmarried couple, we would be “roommates” by their policies. Once I was a substitute teacher, we could meet their income requirements. In the meantime, we had enough savings to cover the hole in the rent. He became even more certain when I landed a part-time job at Target yesterday. I had a job down here! Surely we could afford this wonderful apartment.
He took me around to this apartment complex. The grounds were certainly very nice, well-maintained without looking manicured. The clubhouse was huge. The agent was very pleasant and remembered details about James. She congratulated me on the job. She showed me the same model apartment that she had shown James.
I walked in the front door. “I can see a toilet,” I said.
Literally the first thing you see when you walk into that apartment was the guest toilet.
“You can close the door,” James scoffed.
“I’ll know it’s there though!” I insisted.
Once you turned away from the front door, it was a very nice apartment. Very spacious. Simple layout, elegant finishings. When I thought about it later, having the guest bathroom where it was made sense. It was closer to the rest of the plumbing. Perhaps we could throw a large piece of artwork in front of the door so that no one would know, walking in the door, how close they were to a toilet. Oh sure, they’d figure it out eventually, but only after they were in the apartment for a while.
Looking at it later, we realized that we had no way to make income requirements, and set it aside.
James hadn’t had a walking tour of the next apartment, as it had been pouring thunder and lightning when he had visited the place before. “It was in the middle of the woods,” he said. It was just a few blocks from the previous apartment, around the corner and a five-minute drive away. Farther away from shopping. Farther away from dining.
“There’s a laundry facility,” I said. “Are there not in-unit laundry units?” James had been filling my head with tales of in-unit laundry rooms in all North Carolina apartments. I had come to expect them.
“I think some of the one-bedrooms don’t have laundry hook-ups,” he said. “But all the two-bedrooms definitely have laundry hook-ups. Don’t worry, I asked. I want in-unit laundry too.”
I was filled with trepidation as we approached the leasing office. I could see the name of the management company by the door. It sounded like the sort of name you would give Section 8 housing. We walked inside.
The agent was very energetic and friendly. She was wearing purple eyeshadow to match her purple sweater. She hadn’t been there when James had been there before, but she asked us all sorts of questions and managed to make us feel welcome in her life without actually giving any relevant information away. When we told her that we wanted to move at the end of September, she ran around the office, consulting computers and other agents before getting back to us and saying that they technically didn’t have anything available but that they were like 95% they were going to have something available, she had just talked to a current resident yesterday and he was moving, etc etc. It was pretty much a done deal.
She showed us an apartment with the same layout of the one that guy was about to give up. Having just been in the luxe apartment around the corner, I was shocked by how small and dark it was. Perhaps that was just because of all the trees right outside the patio. I swallowed my comment about the darkness and walked into the kitchen. I asked James if the dining room seemed big enough for his furniture. He said it was. I looked in the galley kitchen, then opened the door at the end of it.
“We’ll just have hook-ups in your apartment,” said the agent.
“We have a washer and dryer,” said James.
“So this is where the pantry is?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the agent.
I swung the door open all the way, and saw that the door blocked about 2/3 of the oven. “We’d have to take this door out,” I said.
“Maybe hang a curtain there,” James said.
The agent pointed out other doors that could be taken out. “The door in the master bathroom,” she said. “It gets really cramped in there with the door open. And this door,” she indicated the door to one of the closets. “Look at this.” She flicked a light switch, turning on the closet light. Then she opened the door, blocking the light switch. “Ridiculous, right? We get so many maintenance requests to get rid of that door.”
“That would be my closet,” I mused. “James can have the one in the bathroom.”
We looked at James, who was standing flush against a window, arms stretched out, like he was trying to nap against the trees.
“Is there enough room for our furniture?” I asked.
“I was just measuring,” he said. “I think there’s enough for the king-size bed.”
“What about the dressers?” I asked.
None of us had an answer for that.
We looked at three more apartments today — another super-luxe apartment complex with giant living rooms and closets and golf carts to take us to the model apartment. It was about $100 more a month than we had budgeted. Another was a Camden property, like the apartment I had had with Beth and Jenn. The grounds reminded me so much of DC, and the layout itself was bright and home-like. But there were mandatory services (valet trash, cable) that drove the price up another $105. These had been appealing when we three girls had rented an apartment in 2010, but somehow that seemed unappealing this time around.
Another was right by the train tracks, but within an easy walking distance to Target, where I had just gotten a job. They didn’t have an apartment to show us, so we looked at their model townhouse instead. I had to admit that renting a townhouse seemed appealing. It would be more like home. There would also be a separation of the private and the public spheres, which was a decoration revolution I had read about in some of my colonial history books.
It had a nice kitchen. I nearly squealed with glee at the sight of a microwave oven mounted above the stove. James opened the door in the kitchen to reveal…an HVAC system and a water heater?
“Where’s the pantry?” I asked.
“There is no pantry,” said the agent.
Still, the guest bathroom was just a half-bath — perfect for the sort of guests we planned to have over — and the living area was just the right size. I could just imagine two separate gaming tables, people huddled around each one, fighting over victory points. I was almost reluctant to go upstairs, but I did go upstairs.
The laundry room was right off of the master bedroom. The master bedroom was large — not huge, but large — and the upstairs bathroom were a trek to get through, built to wrap around the laundry room. I could imagine James taking one vanity and me taking the other. I walked right into the guest bedroom and giggled in the closets. None of the other apartments had made me feel giddy. I tempered myself by remembering that the closets were small and that there was no pantry.
Back in the leasing office, James, the agent, and I poured over our options. Three apartments were available, and one townhouse available. We left with our maps and list of available apartments. We drove around the campus, looking at where the availabilities were. We had our eye on one apartment that was at least on the other side of the campus from the train tracks. It overlooked a parking lot, but it would at least be quiet.
“I loved that place,” I said.
“I read the reviews though, and maintenance is supposed to be terrible, and that agent is supposed to be a Jekyll and Hyde type,” James said. “And I could see it, too. Her niceness was just an act she was putting on.”
“How could you tell?” I asked.
He couldn’t really explain.
We brought all of our paperwork home. We plugged the numbers into our color-coded budget spreadsheet. We eliminated the super-luxe apartments and the Camden location for being out of our price range. That just left us with three options: the place with the Jekyll and Hyde agent, the small apartment in the woods, and renewing the lease on James’ current place.
So which option did we choose?
(cue upbeat thinking music)
We chose to renew the lease on James’ current place.
We only renewed it for six months. James is about to be promoted into management at the grocery company where he worked. I only have a part-time job down here. In six months, we’re going to be in much better financial positions. This apartment will be a little overfull with furniture for those six months, but we’ll be able to save money and wait for the autumn rental boom to quiet down. Still, it was nice to see our options, and maybe in March or April, we could look at that wooded apartment complex again…
I drove down to North Carolina yesterday. The drive went terribly, thank you very much. I play a game called Bakery Story on my phone, and the app froze on my phone, so instead of driving with a GPS telling me what to do, I was driving blind, and turning my phone on every time that the screen went dark so I could drain the battery. That’s how badly my phone was frozen: I couldn’t turn it off using the power button. As soon as it died, I charged it and uninstalled the app. Never again.
But unfortunately I was already driving in unfamiliar territory. The Washington-Richmond 95 corridor is awful, especially with construction, so I decided to drive in the opposite direction.
I normally take 95 to 85 to 70 to get to James’. I drove Rt 7 to 81 instead. I had been planning on using my GPS to get me from 81 to Cary, but, as I said before, I had no GPS because my phone was broken. So instead, I took 7 all the way across the state, drove down 81, got onto 64, and drove all the way back across the state to meet up with 95. I missed the 95 traffic alright. But it didn’t save me any time.
While driving down 81, in the heart of RoVa, driving up and down mountains, three bikers drove behind me for nearly an hour. I kept speed with traffic, stayed in my lane, etc. I’m frightened of driving around bikers; there’s nothing but air between them and the road. These bikers looked especially vulnerable, as they were wearing regular street clothes rather than biker clothes.
I was also driving almost next to a truck. A blue Golf pulled up behind the truck and then started flashing its blinkers to change into my lane. I lifted my foot off the gas pedal. The car pulled into my lane, then sped off into the distance. The lead biker immediately changed lanes to drive around me; she drove in the diagonal between my passenger front tire and the edge of the truck, turned her head towards me, and seemed to yell. I thought for a moment that she was yelling at me, which was ridiculous, because I would never hear her. One of her friends sped by her, even closer to the truck than she was. The third was still behind me. I wondered if she was yelling at him. Finally the woman sped off to drive in front of me. The third biker swerved to get around me, and flipped the bird at me as he did so.
My jaw dropped. I was absolutely baffled. Two trucks maneuvered around me, and I was left in the dust of the bikers, absolutely confused as to what I did wrong, how I pissed off these bikers enough that they would yell at me and flip me off. I continued on towards Staunton, trying to shake the confusion from my head. I reminded myself that these were probably not very good bikers; their leader drove with her head turned away from the road for several minutes and absolutely none of them wore safety gear, not even helmets. The guy who flipped me off at least kept his eyes on the road, waited for the way to become clear, and wore a leather vest. But as I drove the last 25 miles towards the I-64 junction, I continued to replay the last few minutes with the bikers over and over again, wondering what I did wrong.
Lord help me, do not send me eight-year-olds. I did not come into this having to deal with the politics of eight-year-olds. I just wanted to teach them cool tricks they could do with their own body, like how to hop from one place to another like they’re crossing a creek.
The Gruffalo’s Child has six parts. I needed parts for nine kids. So invented a few more parts — I made the tallest kid be the Mouse’s Shadow, I had another kid help me narrate, and lastly, I split the part of the Gruffalo into two parts — the Gruffalo, and the Gruffalo’s Wife. I did not think this would be a problem. The Gruffalo has a lot of lines. By splitting them into two, there would be less work for all involved.
It didn’t occur to me that, by casting two kids as the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo’s Wife, I was making them married and that is so super gross. The word “cooties” wasn’t said but they made their presence known. I had to find ways to keep them separated. Their “daughter” stood between them whenever possible. They spend most of the play asleep on the ground, and I had to assure them three times that no, they were just sleeping, they weren’t cuddling, don’t worry, you don’t have to touch each other.
Speaking of their “daughter”, I had trouble getting the Gruffalo’s Child to come out from under a desk. I sat with her and asked her questions, wondering if she had stage fright. I finally got a reason out of her — she was afraid the Fox would make fun of her. Why the Fox, of all people, considering that she doesn’t interact with any of the kids, really. Part of the reason why I made her the star was because I knew she could speak, but she never really talked. She tended to hang back, separate from the rest of the group. The kid who plays the Fox isn’t even the most rambunctious of the group. That would be the Gruffalo or the Owl. Why would she be afraid of the Fox in particular?
After rehearsal, she again hid under a desk. I asked her, and she again said that she was afraid the Fox would make fun of her.
I had the group play Sneaky Statues* to eat up time and encourage them to be quiet. She seemed fine for that. Then class ended. She gathered up her stuff, then looked around.
“Where’s [the Fox]?” she asked. “Where is he?”
Then it clicked. The Gruffalo’s Child has a precocious crush on the Fox. I have no idea what to do with this information. I also know that if she keeps up this behavior — hiding under tables in between rehearsals and then having to get coaxed out — then I’m going to need to find a new Gruffalo’s Child. And I don’t know how to break that gently.
*Sneaky Statues is a game where the players freeze in place while the “curator” or “guard” or “janitor” walks around them. When the janitor has her back to them, the statues have to move. If the janitor catches them moving, they are out of the game. Last person still a statue wins and becomes the next janitor. I like the game because it’s simple, physical, runs itself, and the kids tend to be quieter during the game. I dislike the game because, especially with small children, they tend to whine about getting eliminated, and you have to entertain the kids who have been eliminated. Eight is about the youngest age you can play with and keep your sanity.
So I’ve been working with elementary school students with learning differences these past five weeks. I’ve drunk the kool-aid! Having spent a lot of time with them, I now say that they have “learning differences” instead of “learning disabilities” or “learning disorders”. The kids are all smart and perfectly capable of learning what we have to teach them. They just don’t learn it the same way that we do.
They’ve also caught on that on Fridays, my class performs a play for the whole school. So for, like, all of Monday and Tuesday, whenever they had a free second, they would ask if they could do Calvin and Hobbes as their Friday performance. I wrote up a script for Calvin and Hobbes, in which Calvin takes Hobbes to school and cheats on a test using Hobbes and his Stupendous Man costume. It was taken word-for-word from a Calvin and Hobbes book. I loved it, entirely because I got to give Hobbes the line SOOOOOSIE IS A BOOGER BRAINNNNN.
I still struggled with writing it, because these are kids with learning differences. I had no idea what their level of reading was. Calvin has an immense vocabulary, and a lot of the punchlines are based on that. I ended up deleting an entire exchange between Calvin and Susie because, according to a lecture by a school psychologist at orientation, my kids don’t understand sarcasm and lying. All that Susie did in the exchange was use sarcasm and lie.
Still, I printed out copies of the script and handed it to the kids to read out loud. It went as terribly as I thought it would: the kids pondered over every word, and the counselors had to help two of them through the reading of it. It took us 45 minutes to get through a 2.5-page script. If we had had the entire five weeks, I’m sure we could pull it off, but I had two days to get a not-terrible play out of these kids.
And I had already picked out a play for them. I’ve seen Gruffalo’s Child, which features weird acting direction and clumsy, plain animation, neither of which would be terrible except that it’s an Oscar-Nominated short film. Still, the story is cute, and the story is great as something to read aloud to kids. And it features plenty of small parts with just one or two lines, perfect for a group of kids who can’t read but want to try reciting lines.
In the middle of the 45-minute struggle to get through Calvin and Hobbes, a little girl stood up, walked over to me, gestured for me to bend down, and then whispered in my ear. “None of the girls want to do Calvin and Hobbes. We all want to do Gruffalo’s Child.”
So I enacted my plan with confidence. After we finished reading Calvin and Hobbes, all the boys shouted that it was fun and that they couldn’t wait to perform it, who would play Hobbes, who would play the narrator, etc. etc. I had them quiet down, then told them that Calvin and Hobbes featured a lot of talking and reading, while Gruffalo’s Child was a lot simpler and easier and more fun, and that we’d all have a great time doing Gruffalo’s Child. But, I added, it was totally up to them. We would cast a vote. Who wanted to do Gruffalo’s Child? Who wanted to do Calvin and Hobbes?
Gruffalo’s Child won by a landslide.