Passeth all understanding
Elementary school art classroom
Helping with Charlie's school's Peace Tiles project
Okay, everybody, come sit in a circle. Circle. No, circle. That's the round one...So now that you're all seated, let's talk about what represents peace to you. ...Nice. The way you describe that, I can almost see it. A swim in the lake on a hot day sounds soothing. Good one -- I like fireflies at twilight, too. Oh, yeah, snuggling in front of the fire with a pet...sunsets...sure... Ah. Well. Yes. I, too, have always found hard-boiled eggs to be...peaceful...I guess.
Now we're going to start on our collages. At each table there's a stack of magazines, and we have paper, paint, fabric...all sorts of...sure, I'd be happy to help you find some pictures related to your peaceful idea. Let me just look here. You know, I can't seem to find any pictures of semi trucks, but...oh, you found one of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Way to be flexible! That's like peace on wheels right there. ...Meaty peace.
Ah, I see you're already cutting some stuff out. What was your peaceful thought? Oh, right, the ocean -- when you said that in the circle I could just imagine myself sitting on the beach with the waves lapping at my toes, too. I...huh. I didn't imagine sharks, though. Wow, you sure found...a lot of them. Yeah, the red paint is over there, but I really think the picture already looks exciting enou...well, okay, now, isn't that vivid. ...Yeah, you'll want to let that dry.
Oh, yeah, there are a lot of pictures torn out of that National Geographic, huh? Well, I'm not exactly sure why. I guess someone else wanted to use them in their peace collage.
I agree, it's really cool how that snake is completely misshapen by...whatever rodent it just swallowed. So do you think that's...peaceful? Well, but even though it swallowed the...armadillo?...whole, without chewing, it's still...right, nature in general is something that makes us think of peace, but...wow, you certainly did a careful job cutting around its fangs.
I'd add the dripping venom later. Not today.
But seriously, folks, I'm here till recess
Speaking of trying hard, Charlie and his class were charged with the task of doing a report on notable women for women's history month. Charlie's choice surprised no one, though his title did strike me as maybe a little too hip for the room:
Marie Curie: Radiation Lady
The "trying hard" part wasn't the research he did, grumbling the entire time. It wasn't the exquisite restraint Paul exercised in getting him to organize his notes into some semblance of coherence. It wasn't the long self-sacrificing dive I took — "NOOOOoooooooooooooooooooooo!" — between him and the laptop to prevent him from adding "Gangnam Style" as the soundtrack to his slides.
No, the "trying hard" was how resolutely I stood in my refusal to let him add to his scripted talk, "So really, when you think about it, she was actually kinda asking for it."
If ten years of blog posts here have taught us nothing else, by now we've all learned that I'm sometimes an asshole. Do not worry: despite how seldom I post these days, I'm in no danger of forgetting that. Parenting reminds me regularly.
I've been fretting a fair amount about how Charlie doesn't want to do anything hard. In that he is truly my son; I never wanted to spend time practicing things that didn't immediately come easily, either. You know how they say that the things that make you crazy in other people are actually things that bother you about yourself? Not completely true — pretty sure I'm not the one who comes into the office in the morning and turns on lite jaaaaaazz — but, sure, okay, a little bit.
Anyway, it had kind of been eating at me, this worry that my kid was never going to buckle down and do anything tough, to keep after something and master it, to learn the value of good old American stick-to-it-iveness, the pleasure and reward of hard work. Yes, like his Puritan forebears! Who soberly toiled their whole lives long, seeking only to amplify the glory of God, with the Xbox only on weekends.
Now, first of all, what an asshole stance that is. Don't we all mostly just want to do what's easy and fun? Do I expect my eight-year-old to be magically different from — better than — almost every other kid in the universe? Is it reasonable to think he should be innately better at that shit than I am after 42 years of practice?
So that's bad enough. But the real asshole part is that it recently struck me, shortly after a parent/teacher conference, that I've had it all absolutely wrong.
We have these conferences regularly as part of Charlie's 504 plan to check in on which accommodations are helpful, which need adjustment, and exactly which awful thing I should dwell on every night at 4 AM for the month until the next conference. Over the last three or four months there have been some real improvements — some slow but perceptible changes in his ability to participate in the class, in his self-regulation, in his impulse control, in his capacity to just...hold it together. To get through the day.
The result is that with the help of meds and some classroom supports, Charlie is mostly managing himself, to the extent that there are no longer insanely detailed behavior charts sent home — seriously, at one point there was a chart for which facial expressions he was using, like, "Oh! Hey, good work: I see you were merely 'mutinous' today!" My heart no longer races fight-or-flight-style when the phone rings during the day. (My palms do not sweat. They glow.) Among his peers, his behavior is rarely...let us say notable. Even a quick note from the teacher is unusual these days.
And after a couple of months of this gradual progress, after a conference where we were actually able to focus more on his learning than on his hyperactivity, his impulse control, and his oh-my-God-stop-with-the-armpit-farts-the-entire-class-has-moved-on, it suddenly occurred to me: none of that comes naturally to him. None of it is easy. Forget riding a bike or stepping through a tae kwon do pattern or improving his handwriting; every day of his eight-year-old life, he is practicing something hard.
Dear Mom (writing about Mom) writing about Mom on the iPhone
These days I don't usually get too exercised about mom-on-mom atrocities. You know: the mommy wars. Momtroversy! Hand-to-hand mombat! ...OkayI'llstopnow.
...Momnia Brawlia in tres partes diviOKAY.
It's not so much that I feel that hot-button topics don't apply to me, because Marissa Meyer and I have a lot in common and I plan to give her a call next time I feel like getting my peasant on, see if she wants to bump panniers or something. It's more, I think, that I feel comfortable.
I don't have a lot to fight over, not a lot I'm ambivalent about. I don't feel the urge to argue about what goes on in my life. The need I might once have had to defend a position is satisfied now by living it. When it comes to caring what other moms do, or what others think about me, I'm as disengaged as one of Marie Antoinette's cows, as immune to controversy as her pretty pink sheep.
So it surprised me to get so annoyed about a piece that was making the rounds last week, the one about the mom on her iPhone. Yet get about it so annoyed I did do. First of all, don't call me Momma. I spell it Mama, and it's pronounced I'll thank you not to patronize me. Second, I found the sanctimony of it repellent. Third, the implication that every moment is golden and not to be missed strikes me as disingenuous, although I do agree that watching a four-year-old stick his finger up his nose all the way up to his elbow is more gripping, in its way, than anything a smartphone can easily serve up, possibly with the exception of a video of same set to K-pop. Fourth — and this is the biggie — I reject the notion that I should always be available as an audience, that my kids should be entitled to endless applause, and that they should get positive reinforcement for expecting it.
Now pretend there's a paragraph here explaining what I don't mean by that last. I mean, look, I'll gladly watch you twirl once. I'll even watch you do it twice, to verify that in fact your twirling only improves as you work to hone your talent, which is, I agree, prodigious. And if you're Ben in your pink sequined skirt, I'll even give you three more times, because, child, you are hilarious. But beyond that — well, anyway, are we good here? Okay, moving on.
So that post made me crotchety, and I know I'm not alone in that, as I saw several rebuttals posted in a much more timely fashion than this one. (What. I was busy having my farthingale rewired, installing new rebar in my stomacher, and getting my wig sprayed for silverfish.) I was glad to see so many dissenting opinions, because it seems to me that sistermothercommunityhood is only powerful as long as we're willing to call each other out on our bullshit. But I was chagrined to see so many of them miss what I felt was the point.
The responses that disappointed me all boiled down to this premise: What if the trope on the bench with the phone were doing something important? She could be answering e-mail from work, so as to keep the job that puts food on the table. She could be scheduling therapy appointments for her child, who has, I don't remember, scrimshaw or something. She could be organizing a fundraiser to benefit cancer research. She could be reaching out for emotional support from her 60,000 Twitter followers. Don't judge her: she's righteously busy.
And, you know, she could be, this entirely fictitious lady on her entirely hypothetical phone ignoring, imaginarily, her theoretical children. Plenty of people manage to be respectably productive on a smartphone, even in the presence of children. Me? When my kids are around I find I can't work, so fragile is my focus. (It's not you, boys, it's me.) (And you.) (But mostly me.) (...Andalsoyou.) And when I'm on my phone, it's Scramble city, sweetheart. Or Facebook, or HootSuite, or texting snotty things with a friend about, seriously, the four cans of soda her son was given during a recent playdate. ("Howler monkey on PCP?" "ADHD lemur on meth.")
The thing is, I'm usually not busy with something important when I'm ignoring my kids. I'm generally dicking around, and why is that not okay? Why do I need to justify doing something just because it's fun with phrases like "self-care" and "recharging my batteries"? Oh, wait. Huh: I don't! It is okay to just screw around, to put my own desires in front of my kids' now and again, and I wish more people would thrust a fist into the air and declare it. I'm fucking off and I don't care.
I mean, we still get to do that, even once we have kids. If you're uncomfortable with the baldness of that assertion, you can dress it up if you want to, acknowledge that during interludes of benign neglect we're simultaneously teaching our children something valuable: that other people's desires are important, too; that you're not always the focus of every eye, and you mustn't expect to be; that when you need us we'll be present, but not every second you merely want; that if Momma — shudder — looks away for a minute, you'll still be fine. You'll thrive.
All true. All true even if the reason for my benign neglect is not that I'm organizing an airlift of humanitarian aid or spearheading an adult literacy program or singlehandedly keeping special needs primates off street drugs and Dr. Pepper. The same thing is true even if I'm merely scowling over my phone, wondering why SHIT and SHAT are words in Scramble but SHITTER doesn't count.
And, whoa, 950 words later I find I must still have something to argue about. Hey, good thing it's something important, like what anonymous strangers think when I'm tuned out with my kids.
Posted by Julie at 09:50 PM in I've learned a lot...but I'm not sure it's worth it. | Comments (69)
Out with the old
Gone bad wrong
Every time something bad happens, some disaster — a shooting, a storm — that doesn't discriminate in its violence, people tell each other, "Hug your babies tight." The message I get is that we're supposed to feel a renewed gratitude to be able to draw our children close when others can't. And I do, but I also feel uncomfortable with the admonition. I do hug my babies tight — and for all I know, so did Nancy Lanza.
Where we fail most grievously, I think, is not in loving and accepting our own children, but in loving and accepting those beyond our immediate circle, and beyond our tiny radius of comfort. Did others see Nancy Lanza struggling, and did they enfold her and bear her up? Did people in the community try to reach Adam, insofar as he could be reached? Did they — did we — give the family all the practical assistance the system could bring to bear?
I don't know the answers to any of these questions about how hard we worked, how seriously we took our commitment to each other. That we didn't help them enough, though, seems at this point obvious. I don't know if anyone could. I just know we need to try, all of us — keep trying and do better.
Charlie saw the news on the muted TV screen at a restaurant Friday night.
I told him what had happened, although the chyrons on CNN spelled it out pretty boldly. He didn't ask why, which struck me as strange. I explained anyway, saying that most of us understand certain hard and fast limits about how to handle what hurts us, but that when something has gone bad wrong in our mind — "gone bad wrong," oh, how else is there to say it? — we no longer play by those rules.
He nodded, grasping the metaphor. "Then we make up our own," he suggested. "And then it goes really bad wrong."
An eight-year-old has an intuitive understanding of the consequences of unchecked mental illness. Is it safe to say the same about those entrusted to safeguard our public health?
In the wake of the shooting a friend on Facebook posted a picture of herself at age 5. It's a way of sidling up, I guess, to absorb the meaning of an incalculable loss to so many families and friends. To look at our own kindergarteners and ourselves when we were the same age, to imagine what it would be like to get that call one morning, or to consider — oh, it sickens me — the fear they surely felt. To blend the edges of where we end into where those in Newtown begin.
I've seen pictures of some of the victims, and although I could describe them with a handful of appropriate adjectives — glossy-haired baby-toothed pink-cheeked smiling, God, smiling — the only way I really see them is loved, loved, loved.
I also saw a photo of a young Adam Lanza, age undetermined. You know the one: chin ducked down, slight smile, blue polo shirt buttoned all the way up.
I feel like what I'm about to say is dangerously profane. I feel equally strongly, though, that we need to say it and hear it, while we're still blending our edges to try and understand each other: I can't stop thinking that he was once five, once went to kindergarten, once sat through having his hair combed. Once smiled for the camera.
The children of Sandy Hook Elementary were beautiful, as were the people who fought for them, and those who protected them and kept some safe from harm. And so once was Adam Lanza, before someone — we — failed him.
I saw a photo this weekend of an art teacher setting up wooden angels representing the children who were killed.
I know better than to believe that there was one for Adam, or even to think there should be.
But I also know we have to do better by each other. We have to. We have to. We have to.
Posted by Julie at 09:52 AM | Comments (71)
A dream is a wish your heart makesDidgeridon't
Charlie's been practicing his accents. Unhampered by ever having heard, say, a real live Australian, he nevertheless lets out long strings of conversation that make him sound like Crocodile Dundee and Eliza Doolittle had a baby and taught him to talk by playing "Electric Avenue" on repeat. And then grafted on an extra tongue, removed many important teeth, and replaced his epiglottis with a swim fin. And then stabbed the poor kid in the brain stem with a souvenir icepick. Feyncegggh soom oice enh yo tay, meeight?
Sure and begorrah, kiddo, is all I can say to that.
...Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone
As Ben played happily with his dog school, he noticed I'd slipped in a cat. "No cats allowed," he boomed, and enforced this new rule with vigor.
The cat. Down there. To the left. On the lonely side of the fence.
I'm totally going to fuck with him by gradually removing the dogs and replacing them with Lego Gollums.
...I was not compensated in any way for writing the following review, which will shortly become obvious
I took the boys to Walt Disney World for a surprise trip to celebrate Charlie's birthday. If you're looking for expensive ways to find out your children don't give a shit about theme parks, well, friends, look no further. Five stars!
I don't know; I sort of lost my mind. (One night Paul told me there was a special on JetBlue — kids fly free to Orlando. "Should I take them, you think?" I asked him. He said, "...Someone has to go with them?")
Shortly after booking the trip, I was fairly gripped with remorse, but airlines have rules about these things, including HA HA FUCK YOU NO WAY LADY YOU'RE GOING, so the morning of Charlie's birthday found us getting up before dawn, casually revealing to him that he didn't have to go to school that day, and then trundling off to the airport. Normally I like JetBlue, but, y'all, they let a lady onto the plane wearing a Buzz Lightyear hoodie. I don't mean it had a logo on it, or a tasteful low-key portrait on the front; I mean this, in grown-ass-woman size:
...which she naturally wore hood-up. Given current TSA regulations I assumed her LASER button had been disabled, but since you can't be too careful these days, I spent the duration of the flight nervously searching the flight safety card for info on what to do in case of a giant plastic lady toy sweatshirt space attack. (I mean, when I wasn't watching HGTV on my seatback TV screen.) Alas, I searched in vain. One star, JetBlue, for your cavalier approach to passenger safety. Five stars, Lady Lightyear, for keeping the galaxy safe.
We stayed at the Dolphin — nice hotel, notably devoid of any egregious Disney magic. I like to think I paid extra for that. Otherwise, it was fine: the requisite number of beds, hot and cold running television, and numerous opportunities for my children to come to blows over who got to push the elevator button. My only complaint is that although the JetBlue promotional package included free dining for the kids, I was disappointed to notice that the menu offered no bottlenose, not even on seafood buffet night. Three stars, but only because I was eventually able to get a whaleburger from room service.
As for the parks themselves? Well, everything at Disney is very well done, clean and efficient and carefully planned to deliver a satisfying — if somewhat sterile — guest experience. Charile was left largely unmoved, though, by almost everything but Mission: Space, which he liked well enough that we did it three times. Ben was most struck by the three nanoseconds on the Little Mermaid ride that featured the Sea Witch, a flash of terror that he continues to relish and relive weeks later, allowing me the pleasure of his company at the gently starlit hour of fuck-you-mouse-o'clock.
So it was fine, but overwhelming, I think; by three o'clock each day, Charlie asked nicely if we could go back to the hotel then, a request I was happy to grant — good God, I didn't need another trip through It's a Small World, after all. Not when the first had been such a delight: I swear on Walt's frozen corpse that the man behind us in our boat was singing along the whole time...in accents. As we rounded the curve to France, for example, he started singing, "Eet's uh smohl world ahhhftair all! Eet's uh smohl, smohl, wohrhrhrld!" But that wasn't enough. Then he'd embellish it, replacing some of the lyrics: "Eet's a world of fromage and a world of berets..." et ainsi de suite.
I froze in my seat when he started this, thinking, Surely he's not going to... Ah, mais oui, and don't call me certainement: he did. And it got better, by which I mean it got worse. As we sailed on through Indeterminate Asialand, he changed his lyrics to, "Ching chong, ching chong..." I'd been darting meaningful looks over my shoulder the whole time, but at this point I stopped, afraid to see whether he was making slanty eyes with his fingers. But when we entered the harbor at Generica Panafrica, and he began — forgive me, forgive me — chanting, "Ooga booga, ooga booga," I really did turn and stare openly. I don't know what I'd expected, but in my everyday life I'm so insulated from overt bigotry that it startled me to see just a plain old normal-looking guy there, seeming mildly surprised to be whirled upon. One star, park planners, for not installing a "You Must Be at Least >This Racist< to Ride in That Guy's Boat" sign at the entrance. Five stars, Imagineers, for figuring out a way to make my head explode in a crowd-pleasing cascade of sparks at no expense to Disney.
I don't know, so many people love going to the parks, but the charm of it largely eludes me. I confess I was secretly pleased to see the same was true for my kids. They had a lot more fun playing on the hotel's "beach," and I use the term loosely, than they did at the parks, and in fact we did it every evening and one afternoon. (I had more fun, too, once I discovered the poolside bar would make me a cocktail to go.)
I love that I have kids who get excited about landscaping — "Look, Ben! Look! It's topiary!" — and armrests — "This seat has a place where I can rest my arms!" The animals at Animal Kingdom left Ben momentarily speechless, but then so did the little shampoo bottles on the hotel bathroom counter.
I will recommend one experience without reservation and mostly without snark. There's this thing, this one ruinously expensive activity among many, that kids do at the parks: they exchange Disney-themed enameled pins. I knew about this from the last trip I took there with Charlie, so we went prepared; Charlie had a lanyard from before, and I'd bought Ben an assortment of pins, weird, obscure, and cheap, from eBay. (Seriously cheap. They must add extra lead to those...and pass the savings on to you!)
The idea is that you see someone with a pin you like and you invite them to trade with you. Last time we did it, Charlie was extremely reluctant to approach anyone, so I expected the same this time. But it was different. I'd see a kid with a lot of pins and suggest he go over and say hi...and he would! Overhearing the resulting conversation, the "What's your name?" and the gruff "Pleasure doing business with you," the normal-kid normalcy of it — that alone made the trip worth it.
...Okay, no, it didn't. (Do you know how much whaleburgers cost at that place?) But it did make the trip great when otherwise it was just good. Five stars, Charlie. Five stars, social learning program, to which I give much of the credit. Five stars, Blinc mascara, which didn't run even a little.
...It's not about me, except the part of it that is
On his birthday in November, Charlie turned eight. I'd say I don't know where the time went, but that's not true: when I look at him and Ben I see every second of it. I've changed so much myself, am still changing every day. When women talk about the birth of a child, they say they became a mother. It's not some finite thing, though. I just keep becoming.
The thing I couldn't know while we were still trying to have children is that what you think you wish for is different from what you'll be thankful for. There is no happily-ever-after, not exactly. Or rather, the happily ever after and the sadly — the good, the hard, the unendurable, the amazing, the can't-face-another-day and the please-let-this-time-pass-slowly — all coalesce in a slow unfolding of luckily ever after.
Four: the arguments for
Several weeks ago Ben decided to change his name and asked that we address him as Superman.
Naturally, for Halloween he was...
...not Superman. (I'm pretty sure he's also wearing Spiderman underpants. All the bases covered, that kid. Job worth doing, worth doing thoroughly.)
But I'm in no position to cricitize; apparently my identity is also somewhat fluid. I didn't change my name when I married, which is kind of weird when you think how utterly surrendered I am in every other way, but when Superman says the word...
...I eagerly snort the pixie dust, even if he does have cartoons on his ass. Because he has cartoons on his ass.
...hey, at four he's got plenty of time.
Four: the arguments against
At high volume, in full cry:
"I didn't want a kiss! I can't just wipe it off! Now there's something unpleasant on my cheek!"
"I was watching the swirl in the bathtub as the water went down the drain and you distracted me and now it's gone forever!"
"When you make up my bed you do it wrong! I want you to make a list of the way my blankets should go so you'll make it up right all the time."
[Gnawing on a Sugar Daddy snagged at Halloween, after my warning that it would be hard and chewy.] "I need some help eating this candy!" [You don't have to finish it if you don't want, but that's not something I can help you with.] "But if someone doesn't help me I'll starve!"
"I wanted to high-five someone and Charlie went away! No, I want to high-five someone else! Someone who's not you! And I can't high-five the cat because he has sharp claws!"
I will say it's gotten better. Oh, Charlie's still not sleeping, but it's not weighing on me so heavily these days; once we've sent him along to his room in the evening over his passionate protests, he occupies himself with quiet, constructive pursuits like this:
I'm sure he would use his power responsibly if only we whiny oligarchs were to give him some.
And he's still doing wildly inappropriate anti-social shit like this:
…enshrining a precious memory the other class parents will surely treasure.
And we're still getting notes home from school like this:
According to a 4th grader our friend on the way to school today turned around and slapped him across the face. When I asked him about this today, he said that he never turned around and therefore didn't hit anyone.
I stated that when I get two such different accounts of a situation, I ask the nearest adult to give a little more attention in the future. He didn't like this and stated "why do adult stick their noses where they don't belong." I reiterated that it's only because we care.
And it's hard. (Notice I didn't add a joke to that last?) I can't even describe it. I can't really think of it for too long without feeling frightened and discouraged, which is part of why I'm so quiet here lately. It's hard enough to put into words in the privacy of my own mind; to see it written out somehow makes it scarier. It looks so damning in black and white, even to me, without the moderating presence of the real live technicolor boy — and if it's hard for the one who loves him the most, how can anyone else understand? Finally, it's difficult to expose myself knowingly to judgment, when one likely verdict is certainly fair: I have no idea what I'm doing.
I'm probably screwing this up; I'm surely not making it better.
Yet it is better. Or at least it feels better. I feel better. Part of it — the part where I've thrown up my hands, poured myself a drink, and given the sleepless nights up to Jesus — is because I shared it all here. Sometimes I forget how the process of writing allows me arrive at my own real feelings. And I forget, because I'm new to this webernet communijournal AOLosphlog Geocitisphere 2.0.com thing, what a relief it is to talk to all of you, and to hear you talk back.
But the larger part of it is just...loving my kid. I know, I know: You're going to say I'm crazy because you hate and fear change. But about a century or so after you've sacrificed me to your angry gods for the sake of my radical ideas, I will be revered as a visionary genius.
I love my kid. That doesn't change. I act, I think, most of the time in his best interest. I act, I believe, with concern for him as my prime motivation. I'm teaching him, urging him, disciplining and rewarding him all out of plain old love. But I've realized that in the frustration and worry of the moment, I don't always behave in a way that makes Charlie feel it.
I'm working on that. I am trying to be kinder. To help him feel understood, to offer compromises when I can, to listen; to ask him gently, "What happened on the bus?" instead of "Why did you hit that kid?" Those are the obvious things, but there are the little things, too: letting him have a soda now and then, just because it gives him pleasure, just because why the hell not? Letting him stay up late in the den with me, both of us reading companionably, instead of marching him off to his room at the stroke of oh-my-God-you're-still-up? Offering him an expensive bath bomb to soak with, saying nothing about the glitter — oh, my hell, glitter — it leaves all over the tub, running his towel through the dryer so it'll be nice and warm to fold around him. (Oh, my bathtub-scrubbing hell, glitter mixed with bath oil. I mean really.)
Maybe you do these things as a matter of course — automatic, no big deal. I sure wish I did. But when I'm anxious and irritated, it takes mindfulness, intention, and effort. I work at it, at reaching out to stroke his head with one hand while I'm typing a mortified note to the behavior coach with the other. ("C sez didnt hit & u cant prove it & anyway kid desrvd it. LOL j/k BRB weeping.") I'm making a conscious choice to be nicer to my kid, even when I feel mad and helpless. I'm trying to show him love in ways that let him recognize it.
And it doesn't solve any of the major problems, but I think it's helping some. I'm still exasperated much of the time — if you think I didn't consider Photoshopping that class picture to replace him with a well-behaved ficus, you haven't been reading here long — but I'm finding that when I can nudge my worry aside long enough to ask him to help me with the crossword puzzle, my guilt at failing him eases somewhat. It turns out making my son feel good makes me feel slightly better, too.