Thursday, March 31, 2011

Work: Strong Language

To walk down a crowded high school corridor is to visit a Babel of bad words.  The cacophony of curses that bounces off the cinder block walls during the morning locker rush shows more creativity and attention to word craft than any student-penned sonnet I've read in 10 years.

I should be offended, but the truth is I love bad words.

This wouldn't be a problem if I were a stand up comedian or long-haul trucker, but I am a high school teacher and so while I spend my days awash in profanity I am strictly forbidden from indulging myself. 

Earlier in my career the requisite restraint actually bled over into the rest of my life.  When Big E was born, I spent the final eight of my twenty-four hours of unmedicated labor at the birth center, and though by the end I was chanting over and again to the midwife, "I'm dying; you're killing me," I never once used a swear word in the birthing room.

Three years deeper into my career, I gave birth to Little E, again unmedicated.  This time, though, I did let the s-word slip just once as I tried to express to the labor nurse the intensity of one particularly effective contraction.

And now?  Well, I may indulge a little too frequently.  My husband, as if trying to reduce the profanity footprint of our household has gone all Ned Flanders on me.  Last spring, he injured his ankle playing soccer and told me that it "hurt like holy heck."  I took this to be about a two on a pain scale of one to ten and was only mildly sympathetic.  I felt bad when an x-ray a few weeks later showed that he'd chipped the bone but consoled myself by noting that I'd have been a better nurse if he'd communicated more effectively.  Free-floating bone fragments are more properly categorized as hurting "like goddamn f*@k." At minimum.

I try hard not to reveal my trashmouth side to the girls.   Yet when I was still sleep-deprived and hormonal from Little E's arrival, I must have let one slip because one day in a fit of pique Big E, then just over three, turned to me, glared and announced coldly, "You're a f*@king."  I gasped in horror and watched a deep satisfaction well up within her as she enjoyed my shock.

I mention all of this because I am starting The Catcher in the Rye with my two sophomore classes and thus nearing the day that comes in every school year in which literature compels me to unleash a string of profanity on my students, and by that I mean the infamous Chapter 25 and its five f-bombs. 

Where normally I dance euphemistically around swear words and adult content in class, in this case the wording is essential to the novel and the narrator's voice and because I love this book and want my students to as well, I often read it aloud to them. And so each year I find myself welling up with a little satisfaction of my own as I watch my students' shock at seeing their mild-mannered English teacher use such language without turning to dust.

Over the years, reactions have varied.  Some students blush.  Some want to analyze those particular pages in great depth so as to prolong the swearing.  Last year, when I read the chapter during a particularly frustrating time in my career, my sympathetic students responded with encouraging nods and a smattering of applause.

This year, though, I considered not reading it.  With my new part-time schedule, the frustration and anxiety that I used to feel about balancing everything has pretty much dried out and my new relaxed, satisfied outlook on work and life in general makes the thought of saying the f-word to a roomful of 16-year-olds feel irresponsible and a bit tawdry.

But, then I thought some more.  Life is short and swearing is fun.  So, why the f*@k not?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dream: Road Trip! (?)

People complain about air travel. Sure there are the airlines' endless fees and loose regard for scheduled arrival times, but I can live with that.  There's something magical about folding yourself into your couple of hundred square inches of space on one side of the country and emerging mere hours later --though a little sweatier and more disheveled-- on the other side.

I wish I were one of those people who could value the journey just as much as the destination, but I'm much happier to spend a few hours balancing a little cup of warm Diet Coke on my knee and trying to ignore a full bladder while watching repeats of Real Housewives on the seat back screen if it gets me to where I want to be in a hurry.

Car travel holds no magic for me.  I am not a road trip girl.

My first extra-long road trip came the summer before my senior year in high school, when my parents combined a college tour of the eastern seaboard with a family driving vacation to Florida.  On that trip I discovered the miracle of Dramamine for passing long hours in a blur, and was dragged on more than one campus tour drool-slicked and bleary-eyed. 

Almost ten years later, my husband and I decided that driving to Miami would be a good idea, despite the fact that we were in the middle of buying our first home and had no cell phones with which to stay in touch with the mortgage broker, lawyer and realtor, who all seemed to require constant contact. It is a wonder that we didn't both end up with trench mouth given the questionable sanitation of the side of the road pay phones we used to make our calls.  After explaining to the exasperated realtor that she'd have to repeat some complicated title issue to me one more time because a semi-truck was passing by the first time, I told my husband that we would never take another driving trip again.

But, of course, we did.  When Little E was about seven months old and Big E three and a half, we drove as far as Richmond, Virginia, where my husband and I went to college.  On the return trip, trapped in gridlock traffic outside of DC with Little E inconsolable about an unfortunate diaper incident and Big E herself making weepy, desperate demands for a bathroom, I bellowed, "We will never take another driving trip again!"

So, naturally, I find myself  planning another major driving trip for this summer.  I need a big change of scene at least once or twice a year, but my part-time salary calls for austerity measures so we won't be buying plane tickets like we have the past few summers.  Instead, we'll be driving to Florida with some stops on the way and staying gratis in my grandmother's Florida condo.

I am trying to banish images of the endless gray pavement of I-95 and fly-infested roadside toilets.  I'm trying to pretend that portable DVD players will fully entertain the girls for the endless hours of driving, that there will be no tears or shouting --from them or from me.  I'm trying to conjure, instead, visions of walking the girls along the lakeside path that my husband and I strolled together as college freshman and of the girls sifting through the sand on the Gulf Coast beach where my brother and I searched for shark teeth on our family vacation.

I'm also trying to become someone who can appreciate the journey as much as the destination. But I'll probably pack some Dramamine just in case.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Eat: Monday Night Pizzas

Sometimes I think that the universe handed me Monday nights to teach me a lesson about appreciating what I have.

Mondays are when the childrens' activities all converge, my husband has an evening class and all falls to me.  I am responsible for the carting around, the coordinating, the refereeing, the cleaning, the overseeing of homework, and the feeding, all while trying to ease back into my own work week.

When I find myself coveting, say, roomy new construction on a cul-de-sac, an island vacation over February break, or maybe a grocery budget that allowed for the purchase of brand name cereals, I remind myself of Mondays because I'd rather do without on my husband's teacher salary than take on more than one day a week as the only grown-up on kid duty in exchange for travelling, suit-wearing money.

This pizza has kept me from feeling like a complete failure on those Monday evenings.  Sure, I use prepared sauces, but it doesn't come out of the freezer and it didn't appear from the drive-thru window, and it even allows for a little quality time during the preparation.  On a Monday that's more than I could ask for.

Monday Night Pizza

the crust:
3 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup warm water
1 packet rapid rise yeast
1 teaspoon of honey
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of olive oil (plus more for brushing before baking)
cornmeal for dusting the cooking surface

the sauce:

prepared pizza sauce and/or prepared pesto sauce

the cheese and toppings:

2 cups of shredded mozzarella and/or several slices of fresh mozzarella

Optional toppings: fresh herbs, sliced tomatoes, prosciutto, pepperoni, leftover roasted vegetables, pretty much anything that sounds good to you

to make the dough:
Because of the rising time involved, I make the dough a day ahead and have made it as many as three days ahead with good results.

  • Dissolve the honey in 1/4 cup of tap water that is very warm but not hot.  I don't have a thermometer but judge it by sticking my finger in the flow from the tap; when it feels very warm but not so hot that I want to pull my finger from the stream, it's good.
  • Add the yeast to the water and honey.  Within about five minutes the yeast should appear foamy.
  • While you are waiting for the yeast, mix the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment.
  • When the yeast is ready, pour it into the flour and salt mixture, along with 3/4 cup warm tap water and the tablesoon of olive oil.  Mix with the paddle attachment until just combined.
  • Switch to the dough hook and mix on slow speed for a few minutes, until the dough creeps up the hook.
  • Remove the dough to a lightly oiled bowl.  Turn the dough so that it, too, is lightly oiled and cover with a clean dish towel.  Leave it to rise for an hour; it should approximately double in size.
  • Knead the dough back down to size on a floured cutting board and then slice the ball into four equal pieces.  Roll the four pieces into balls, line them up on the cutting board, cover with a dampened dishcloth and allow them to rise for another hour. 
  • Knead the dough balls bak down to size, wrap individually and refrigerate.
for the pizza:

  • Preheat the oven to 500.
  • Prepare two cookie sheets by lightly spraying with olive oil or cooking spray and dusting with corn meal.
  • Roll out the dough on a floured surface, making four rounds, and put two on each cookie sheet.
  • Brush each round with a light coating of olive oil.  The kids like to do this part. Once I've rolled out the dough, I let them join me but usually lay out the cheese and toppings ahead of time so that I can contain the mess as much as possible.
  • Use the back of a spoon to spread a thin layer of sauce on each pizza.  The kids like traditional pizza sauce and my husband and I usually have pesto.
  • Top with cheese --shredded mozzarella for the girls, fresh for my husband and I. (Use the fresh mozzarella sparingly as the high moisture content can make it messy when it melts.)   Add any additional toppings along with the cheese.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown.
  • Let it rest for a few minutes before cutting and serving so that the cheese stays intact.  Kitchen shears are great for the slicing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Play: Travels with Cleo

A lot of people consider their dog to be sort of a practice child.  While my husband and I wouldn't have admitted it to ourselves back in 2002 when we first got our little Boston Terrier, Cleo, it's surely no coincidence that a year later I was seven months pregnant with Big E.

If you met Cleo, you'd be really glad that we had the opportunity to practice on an animal before we started in on human babies.

Cleo stoically tolerates the girls' pokes and pulls. She is so reliably housetrained that I think she'd sooner rupture her bladder than embarrass us all with a puddle on the floor. She welcomes us home with an enthusiastic flurry of licks whether we've been gone for 10 hours or 10 minutes.  She love us immensely; it's the rest of the world that she can't tolerate.

Our vet has flagged Cleo's file with a bright orange "caution" sign.  When he found out that we had children, he was horrified to the point that I wondered if he wouldn't make a call to Child Protective Services.

During a visit to another vet's office to check bandages on a mysterious (and expensive) wound she got during a rare escape from our fenced yard, she leaped at least three feet in the air in an attempt to clamp onto the crotch of a friendly technician who'd had the audacity to wave hello to her.  His fertility was saved only by the plastic cone she'd been forced to wear around her neck.

Once on a ferry boat ride to an island rental cottage, after she rebuffed a fellow passenger's attempts to befriend her, he sympathetically asked if we'd rescued her from an abusive home, and more than once people have politely inquired about whether we'd ever consider sending her to one of those no-kill shelters.

Because of Cleo's anti-social tendencies, my parents are pretty much the only people who can (or will) dogsit for us.  So when we all attended a family engagement party in New Jersey the weekend before last, we were forced to take Cleo on the road.  As an added bonus, my husband, the girls and I were staying with my in-laws who are definitely not dog people.  My mother-in-law is, in fact, terrified of dogs and has been scared of Cleo since she first met her when she was just a fluffy guinea pig-sized puppy I could hold in the palm of my hand, long before we knew she was vicious.

So I fretted about this trip for weeks, imagining various scenarios that involved my in-laws huddled in terror on top of the dining room table or animal control officers storming the house with tranquilizer guns.  I was convinced that failure was the only option.

Cleo, apparently, had other ideas.  Save the occasional dirty look or low octave growl at my father-in-law, she was a model travelling companion.  She wagged her tail at my mother-in-law but knew enough not to approach her, she exhibited far better manners than Little E on the trip, and unlike the children she was happy to sleep for the entire six-hour drive home.

It was a relief and it was a lesson: I must stop catastrophizing and expecting the worst of every situation.  Thanks to the practice child for reminding me so that I might learn to spare the actual children.
Let's hope my mother-in-law never stumbles across this photo of our dog contaminating her pristine white spread.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Work: The saddest chore in the house

The first time I had to clean out Big E's drawers, when she was a few months old and too big for her doll-size newborn sleepers and onesies, I balked at deciding what should stay and what I could give away.  Battling through lingering post-partum haze, I squelched the piercing sob that crept up the back of my throat by neatly folding every last tiny sweater and little dress, every stained kimono shirt and mismatched sock and packing them all away in a big plastic tote. 

I planned to use every single item again one day and so through careful folding, packing and labeling, I managed to avoid acknowledging that Big E and I were leaving a place to which we'd never return.  She'd never again be a fuzzy-headed, scrunched-up infant and I --for better or worse-- would never again be an awed and anxiety-ridden, sleep-deprived mother in her first weeks on the job. I was covering my ears and singing I-can't-hear-you-I-can't-hear-you to the ticking of the clock. Even at the time, I sort of knew that.

I had to face the futility of it all when Little E was about 6 months old.  Not only did she have drawers stuffed with outgrown clothes of her own, but in the basement I had a hulking fortress of plastic totes stuffed with hand knit sweaters and ratty burp cloths from Big E's babyhood.  I steeled my nerve and tore through it all in a trance, limiting myself to just a few remaining tubs. 

Afterwards, my husband had to drive with me to the yellow donation bin. I couldn't bring myself to be the one to heft up those bags and drop them away for all eternity.  For months after, my face would get hot and my throat would close up every time I thought about those bags that looked like sacks of trash but were really just the most important few years of my life to that point.

Alas, our house is tiny, the girls' dressers are Ikea flimsy, and I had to do some purging this week.

If it were just fleecy sweatpants and flowered dresses, souvenir t-shirts and adjustable waist blue jeans, I could manage.  I would have no problem passing them on to a friend's daughter, giving them up to a little girls whose parents can't afford footy pajamas, or even (if my father's claims about those donation bins are to be believed) allowing them to be cut into rags and sold by the pound for industrial cleanup.

They're not just clothes.  They are seasons, months, minutes of my girls' childhood that we won't see again. Embedded in their worn cotton knit are all the moments that have passed.

I can almost live with losing the important ones, the first day of school dresses and Christmas pajamas, the ones that got plenty of attention, that have been properly appreciated and photographed.  It's the little moments that are really gone. Little E calling me the mommy dog and she's my puppy curling up next to me in my bed while I try to sneak an afternoon nap --who even remembers what she was wearing, but I'm likely tossing it.

The blown moments that I won't get a re-do on kill me, too.  I don't remember which jeans and t-shirt Big E had on when I snapped at her for asking me what was for dinner --unleashing on her anger likely meant for myself-- but I do wish I could go back and take the deep breath I so sorely needed.  The jeans are gone, along with my chance to get that moment right.

It should be a lesson to me, all this angst over the clothes.  But, of course, I won't remember to cherish every second, to behave myself admirably in every minute.  Even if I did, the clothes would still get outgrown and the time would still pass. 

And I would still mourn the loss.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dream: Oh, Facebook, it's not you, it's me...

I should have known that my relationship with Facebook was doomed from the start.

I'd resisted its charms for years, but a co-worker that I was friendly with (notice we weren't friends) insisted that I had to get on Facebook.  She said it so many times that I believed her.

I nervously set up a profile, and, because asking someone to be my friend churns up all kinds of buried playground trauma, I started with a small group of people I felt confident would deign to be my friend. Naturally, I was wrong. 

That co-worker?  The one who insisted I had to be on Facebook, the one whom I'd just given a lead on some freelance work, the one whose daughter I forced my own girls to play with in the interest of collegiality?  Yup.  She ignored my friend request.

Stung by that rejection I never sent another friend request, so though I dutifully accept every request I receive, I have a pitifully low number.  Paradoxically, it is a number so low that I can't bring myself to make any further requests lest people who previously thought I was perfectly normal wonder why it is I am so terribly unpopular.

But even if we could work through that --because, let's face it, that problem is on my end, Facebook and I are just not compatible.  I am not Facebook's type.

Imagine I am sitting in a room with people that I know, sort of know and used to know (and all of the people that they know, sort of know and used to know). If a former co-worker stood up and announced, "Eating a muffin.  Mmmm," I would not rise to say, "Yummers!".  Nor would I make a frowny face and shout "So jealous!"  I wouldn't even think to offer a supportive thumbs up.

If I had a bad day at work, I might spend time brooding about the direction of my life, I might unleash my frustration on those around me, but I'd never walk into that crowded room, stand on a chair and yell, "Is it Friday yet?", and then wink and grin.  I don't even know how to wink.

Much as I'd love to be the girl with the witty rejoinder when the guy I sat next to in junior year history jumps up and shouts "Charlie Sheen!", that's just not me.  While all around me shouted out "Winning!", laughed out loud and even laughed their asses off, I'd likely be nodding awkwardly and waiting for the moment to pass.

When the lady who lives across the street kept demanding that everyone give her a thumbs up for taking brave stands like hating cancer and loving her kids, well, I might hold my thumbs just to be contrary.  And when a girl I haven't seen since junior high went on and on about imaginary crops on her non-existent farm, I'd start to wonder why I was hanging out in this room at all.

But when a cousin I barely knew held up photographic evidence of the bunny that her mother's dog had mauled that morning?  I'd head for the door. (And, sadly, no, that one wasn't a hypothetical).

And yet I can't bring myself to walk out on Facebook.  Maybe I'm waiting for someone to share a Starbucks cup quote or laughing baby video that will change my life.  Maybe I'm just afraid everyone will start talking about me when I leave.  I pack my bags, but I just can't make myself go.

Oh, Facebook, it's not you, it's me. We were never meant to be, and I've got to cut you loose.

But it might be one of those long, tortured breakups.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Eat: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna Margherita

Four weeks of my healthy dinner project and I'm still sticking to it.  I'm kind of amazed. 

In addition to the Butternut Squash and Black Bean Burritos that I shared here, we've had Roasted Squash Parmesan with Broccoli Rabe and Quinoa in Vinaigrette, and Homemade Whole Wheat Flatbread topped with Sauteed White Beans and Tomatoes and Frizzled Prosciutto. 

My favorite so far, though, has been this lasagna, which brings the combination of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil that I love on pizza margherita to a baked pasta.  It's also packed with vegetables and uses whole grain pasta, so despite the cheesy goodness I'm calling it healthy.

Big E actually managed to eat some --without gagging! And Little E?  Well, she (eventually) took the required three bites.  No comment on the gagging.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna Margherita

2 small eggplants, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
2 small zucchinis, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
3 red or green bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons of olive oil (plus extra to grease baking dish
2 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
16 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
3 oz. baby spinach
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon of salt
About 4 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 12 thin slices
1 box whole wheat lasagna noodles
freshly parmigiana reggiano for serving (optional) 

  • Heat the oven to 450.

  • Toss the vegetables with one tablespoon of olive oil, lay out in a single layer on two cookie sheets covered with foil and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until well-browned and softened.  You can multi-task by preparing the ricotta, starting the sauteed tomatoes and prepare the pasta while the vegetables roast.
  • To prepare the ricotta mixture: put ricotta, salt, spinach and egg into a food processor and whir until completely combined.  It will look bright green, but after Big E was convinced to try it she confirmed that it doesn't actually taste like spinach.

  • For the sauteed tomatoes, remove tomatoes from the can juices and lightly mash them with the back of a fork, cutting them if necessary to make the chunks bite-sized.  Heat two tablespoons of oil.  Add the garlic and saute it until it is fragrant and lightly browned.  Add tomatoes and cook until they are warmed through and juices are reduced.  Add two tablespoons of chopped basil and stir through.  Remove from the heat.

  • Prepare pasta according to package instructions.

  • Grease the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish with olive oil, and cover it with a layer of pasta, overlapping the pieces slightly if necessary.

  • Spread half of the sauteed tomatoes over the pasta layer, then evenly pour all of the ricotta mixture on top of the tomatoes. Distribute the roasted vegetables over the ricotta mixture. Cover the vegetables with a second layer of pasta. Spread the remaining tomatoes over pasta. Place the mozzarella slices in three rows of four and sprinkle with chopped basil.

  • Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Bake for an additional 5 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven and allow the lasagna to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Play: The view from the sideline

Little E returned to swim lessons this weekend after a year-long hiatus.  It was her first class without parent participation and I went to bed Friday night thinking that I was relieved that I wouldn't have to wedge my pale winter weight into last summer's suit and start my weekend in a chilly pool.

Then I woke up in the middle of the night with jiggling blob of anxiety filling my chest.

It was tough when I was shunted to the sideline of Big E's activities.  At her first kids-only story hour while all of the other mothers chatted or browsed the library, I set myself up on a chair about three feet from the door to the activity room and popped up every few minutes to be sure she wasn't sobbing disconsolately in my absence or being quietly tortured by the other children.

It's even harder to watch Little E shed her Mommy and Me activities.  This may be because when Big E began leaving me on the sideline, I still had a baby on my hip.  It may be, too, that, though I often imagine Little E as a second coming of Big E, they are very different children.

I want to be the calm and reasonable mother, the one who manages to maintain some perspective as she watches from the sideline, who loves her kids but knows that the minor disappointment of losing a soccer game or not passing on to the next swimming group will be good preparation for the big bad world.  I am not there yet with Little E.

A couple of weeks after we sat in a meeting to help write Little E's IEP, my husband and I watched as her skating teacher sighed impatiently at her slow shuffling and then steered her by the shoulders to a lower group, demoting her on the spot.  The fire that welled up within me right there in the bleachers burned so strong that had I known her license plate number I'd likely have fled to the parking lot to do some damage. 

In the absence of that information, I sent death rays onto the ice and my husband gushed pointedly to the teacher of the lower group about how pleased we were to have her back.  And while I can admit that Little E was much happier back in that group, where the teacher seemed to actually like her and the lesson consisted of more than spending 45 minutes of skating from one side of the rink and back, it hasn't really squelched that fire. I still glare snake eyes at the old teacher and whisper snarkily to my husband, "Check out Speedy Gonzalez there in the Bruins jersey.  Good thing our daughter isn't there to slow him down."

When I thought about signing her up for a gymnastics class, the kids-only follow-up to the parent-tot class she'd enjoyed last spring, my heart began to race at the slew of what-ifs that I conjured before I'd even asked her if she was interested.  What if she couldn't do it and the other kids laughed at her?  What if the instructor rolled her eyes?  What if Little E told them all she was a puppy and got on her hands and knees and growled at them the way she does several times a day at home? 

But on Saturday, despite some impassioned protest in the locker room, she was great.  She did everything her teacher told her to: slid into the water, dipped in her chin, paddled across the pool. In between she held tight to the side of the pool, bobbing and blue-lipped, and beamed up at us on the sideline. 

It now occurs to me that she's spent a lot of time there herself over the last four years while her sister took center stage. So, I'm (bravely) planning to sign her up for gymnastics during the next session. 

And we're taking a needed break from skating.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Work: The sick day paradox

A couple of weeks ago, a spot at the junction of my neck, back and shoulder started to hurt.  It kept on hurting and hit its peak earlier this week, when the tiniest move in the wrong direction resulted in a screamingly urgent shot of pain that made me think for an instant that my head was being wrenched off.  My husband urged me to take a sick day.

As if it were that simple.

At the beginning of each school year, I am allotted 15 sick days and they accrue from year to year. With young children in school and day care there have been years when I've had to take an embarrassing number of days, but this year I've lucked out and only had to take one. You would think that would make it an easy decision.  And yet it's so much more complicated.

First, there is the reality that Strep Throat, Stomach Flu and Pink Eye lurk just around the corner.  Because I never know when I'll wake to a feverish child or get the dreaded call from the daycare during my workday, I must be judicious with my sick days.  When deciding whether to spend a day on my own health, vomit is usually the gold standard.

My neck started hurting after a day at the mall.  The pain was particularly excruciating when I did the leaned back head tilt rear view-mirror-lipstick-check that is reflexive every time I get in the car. accident?  Vanity-induced repetitive use injury?  Considering that I only missed two days of work last year during the week the girls and I suffered from H1N1, I had trouble considering the neck pain worthy of a day.

Calling in sick is often more work than it's worth.  I spend as much time planning lessons for a day I'm not there as I do for a day that I am, and then I have the pleasure of returning to deal with the fallout of whatever went on in my absence.  There's nothing like starting the day by reading an angry substitute's report. Phrases like "completely disrespectful" and "some of the worst behavior I've seen" are particularly jarring at 7 a.m..  

Add to that the fact that my part-time schedule means that a sick day is only a partial break as Little E must be picked up at noon, the reality that sitting around my chore-neglected home is hardly restful, and the ego-driven sense that it is irresponsible --unfair even-- to deny my students even an hour of my skills and knowledge.

I opted to power through and skip the sick day, and my neck seems to be on the mend.

It started feeling better right around the time that I decided to take a personal day tomorrow. So much less complicated.