Thursday, December 24, 2015
Friday, December 18, 2015
Monday, December 14, 2015
"Did you know,
that your Baby (Boy) has walked where angels trod?When you kiss your little Baby, you kiss the face of God?"
Did I know?
Do I still?
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Moms know this, of course, but to have the linguistic proof set me back a step. Our focus on our kids - their well-being, success, and happiness - has become the standard of our lives. No wonder most of us are slightly crazy; you can't ensure the path of another person's life. I grasped at Natalia Ginzburg's advice to 'step away' from the kids and 'provide space' for their life to develop as if the phrases were life preservers and I was a floater in the Black Sea. Both Ginzburg and Senior argue that the best way to show a child how to develop a passion and find a vocation is to have one ourselves. Blessed be.
While making these mental adjustments, I opened the new issue of National Geographic, which has the Virgin Mary on the cover with this caption: "The Most Powerful Woman in the World". (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/). No pressure, ladies. If this is the standard we have to live up to, no wonder we find motherhood stressful. Dads are lucky that Jesus didn't develop a similar studly reputation for fatherhood. Joseph is great, but not quite cover photo material.
I found this quote from poet Adrienne Rich to be more analogous to my experience as a parent: "The worker can unionize, go out on strike; mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds; our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown." In this crazy month of to-do lists on steroids, let's remember to reach out to one another, to give ourselves and our kids some space, and to put down the exaggerated role models. We're just doing the best we can, and that has to be enough.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Ginzburg also talks about the parent and teacher habit of teaching "little virtues," which she lists as thrift, caution, shrewdness, and a desire for success. She writes, "We do not bother to teach the great virtues, though we love them and want our children to have them, But we nourish the hope that they will spontaneously appear in their consciousness someday in the future." Great virtues: generosity, courage, love of truth, self-denial.
How does anyone teach the great virtues? I can only think it's by example. My father taught generosity by giving deeply to the church, courage by volunteering to fight in Vietnam. My mother taught self-denial by placing us first her entire life. I wonder, what am I teaching my children?
In the same issue of The Sun (The Sun) where I found Ginzburg's essay, I found another excellent piece entitled "Great Expectations: Jennifer Senior on Modern Parenthood and its Discontents." I'll have more from this amazing interview in future posts, but wanted to leave with this quote that relates to the great and small virtues:
"You might feel nachas when your kid gets into Harvard, but you'd feel it even more so, I think, if your kid stood up to a bully, or for a principle, or did a good deed. Personally, I'd be prouder of that behavior. If your kid gets into Harvard, sure, it's worth celebrating, - but if your kid is the one who tells the asshole to stop picking on the gay kid, you've done something even more right." (issue 479, p. 6).
Love of life, great virtues. And we carry on.
Monday, November 30, 2015
On the plane headed via jet stream to the Midwest I read several fascinating articles in The Sun (thesunmagazine.org) related to the complex issues of parenting and watching our children become. In an article titled "The Dog-Eared Page" (excerpted from The Little Virtues, by Natalia Ginzburg), I was startled into underlining and highlighting the following exceptional paragraph:
"What we must remember above all in the education of our children is that their love of life should never weaken. This love can take different forms, and sometimes a listless, solitary, bashful child is not lacking in a love of life. He is not overwhelmed by a fear of life; he is simply in a state of expectancy, intent on preparing himself for his vocation. And what is a human being's vocation but the highest expression of his love of life? And so we must wait, next to him, while his vocation awakens and takes shape. His behavior can be like that of a mole, or of a lizard that holds itself still and pretends to be dead but in reality it has detected the insect that is its prey and is watching its movements, and then suddenly springs forward. Next to him, but in silence and a little aloof from him, we must wait for this leap of his spirit. We should not demand anything; we should not ask or hope that he is a genius or an artist or a hero or a saint; and yet we must be ready for everything; our waiting and our patience must compass both the possibility of the highest and the most ordinary of fates."
Amazing, fascinating, striking at truth. We must wait, in extended advent, for our children, just as we wait in this season for the coming of perhaps the world's most famous child. Whereas the Christ-child brings joy and spectacle without doubt, the unwrapping of our children's future brings profound mystery, a requirement of readiness, and the challenge of remaining apart.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
- At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. - Albert Schweitzer
- He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." - Epictetus
- from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201111/the-seven-best-gratitude-quotes
― Steve Maraboli,
― Meister Eckhart
― William Arthur Ward
[Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1963]”
― John F. Kennedy
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Sunday, November 15, 2015
In the aftermath of the attacks on Paris and gut-wrenching waves of news reports about the events there, it is a relief to celebrate young people who have decided to commit to a life of faith. Pastor Mark says "These students will profess their faith openly and pledge to 'walk in the way that leads to life.'" Though confirmation is but one milestone on the life-long journey of faith, it is a hope-filled and joyous one. I pray to remember my own commitment to live out a life of kindness and service to others; it's hard to renew those credos when fear and hate raise their heads in our world.
Many thanks to grandparents and other family members whose emails, cards, and well-wishes helped to support Aden today. She read her cards with many smiles and thank yous, and we all feel buoyed by the love from afar. We send it right back to you, with gratitude and joy.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Rev. Feldmeir asked the congregation to think about how we would like to be discussed at our funeral. Will speakers focus on on our job title, income level, long-distant academic successes? Or will they talk about the money and time we gave to others, our random acts of kindness, our loyalty and our dedication to friends and family? For me, the latter rings true, and not just because I'm mostly a SAHM with little income and no job title to speak of.
The idea of legacy makes me feel better about life decisions that have taken me off the career ladder, moved me into the 'volunteer' category in different areas. I'm also motivated to do more - do better - with the time I have left. Like our oak and maple trees that were planted five years ago and waited all this time to leaf out in brilliant fall colors, our fruits and our offerings can get better over time.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
So I'm an elk, and I'm also confined to the house for the day as Daniel woke up feverish, with an urgent need to throw up. I'm going to focus on being grateful that he made it to the toilet, and not on all of my canceled plans. It helps that I already ran upstairs to vent to Rob that I will never be able to write a novel - or even a short story - while the kids are still young. No time, no control over the schedule, no available brain cells. Even the blog will be short today.
So now that I've Lysol-wiped the whole downstairs, let me end on a positive note. Our young oak tree actually turned red for the first time this year, our flaming bush is starting to go up in scarlet, and the house is cozy on our first really cold day. Time to curl up with my sick boyo, drink tea while he sips ginger-ale, and look forward to some TJ's salad.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Our kids were delighted to join the happy throng of kids, reminding us that last year we had no trick-or-treating in the Grand Canyon, and the year before that we had only grocery store candy from Orlando. Rob and I reminded them how lucky they were to have a fall break timed for inexpensive travel, and how grateful they should be to see new places at regular intervals. Our words may have fallen on deaf (or sugar-buzzed ears), but it did make an impression when, on Saturday's trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Aden's phone pulled up the "what you did last year on this day" feature to show pictures of the Grand Canyon.
"How cool is that!" she said, as she scrolled through photos of the kids hiking on the Kaibab trail. We had just finished the Oak and Rim trails at the Black Canyon, and felt a little bit of "deja vu all over again."
So grateful for adventures, so grateful to be home again. Loved seeing pictures of cousins and good friends trick-or-treating in costumes from Ghostbuster to Taco, and thrilled to drop off excess candy at the elementary school, where they are collecting it to send to soldiers overseas. Good times, all round; next up, Thanksgiving!
Monday, October 26, 2015
The kids handled the change better than we did, as evidenced by their amazing 3 and 2 record against some of the top teams in the country. California contributed most of the teams, but Connecticut, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and yes, Colorado, brought excellent groups, as well. Our boys and girls finished 10th out of 24 teams, earning them a legitimate place among the top ten U12 teams in the country. By the end of the tournament, we not only knew for sure where we were, but we knew that our kids belonged in challenging games and excellent tournaments; that's pretty exciting for a group from pool-poor, landlocked Colorado!
In addition to watching five close water polo games we explored Mesa. Highlights for me included a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival in downtown Mesa's art district, and dinner at "Organ Pizza," a pizza place with a giant, European cathedral - style organ built into the whole front wall. The organist serenaded team, parents, and other patrons with tunes from Sinatra to Ghost Busters, and the kids were dancing and singing along to the music. We also played at the Sheraton "Wrigleyville" pools and saw the stadium where the Cubs play their spring training games. Quite a lot to see in Mesa, after all!
The trip ended on a rough note as one of our kiddos got sick, and our flight was delayed two and a half hours. When we landed at 1:30 am we were a tired crew, but after a few days' rest we will be as good as new and grateful for the chance to have such an adventure.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
The song, “John’s Garden,” addresses this question in a pumpkin patch on the eve of Halloween, when farmer John comes to tell the pumpkins that their lives will soon change forever. The big moment, the climax of their existence, is at hand, and though it may be unfamiliar it will be glorious. When John leaves, the pumpkins call a meeting. Most are confused, scared or reluctant to become the jack-o-lanterns John has planned. One boldly speaks out and calls the promised eyes and candlelight a lie, a trap that will not be worth the sacrifice. Another counters with the verse I included, saying that their moment of glory will encompass splendor and vision (maybe even starlight!) and be worth any sacrifice.
On the way home I asked my daughter which were her favorite songs. “John’s Garden” was at the top of her list, and I asked her what she would decide if she were a pumpkin at Halloween. She decisively replied that she would want to die on the vine. Hmmm. She did not ask which option I would choose and I held my counsel. I asked her why, and she said, “I don’t want to be carved.”
Perhaps I would have answered the same way when I was her age, withholding my promise and potential from the mere thought of endings, of fading away, of bruising and carving.
Now, at what I hope is the midpoint of life, I tend to favor the road of the jack-o-lantern. I know life will carve me up (there are a few slices already), and if either original or reflected light burns within me, I’d opt to have it shine through the cracks. Hopefully the candle within is long and slow-burning as opposed to the short and stubby blackened nubs that we usually place in our carved pumpkins. Who knows, if my jack-o-lantern self is not too bruised and blackened at the end of the party I might even be used in a pumpkin pie.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Exhibit A: I went to Starbucks to get an iced green tea. Having given up coffee, I inhaled the scent so deeply that I drew suspicious glances from the others in line. After drinking my iced tea over Brene Brown's latest book, I went to the bathroom and set my purse on the toilet instead of the hook. When I turned to flush, my purse fell in to the contents of the bowl (fortunately only liquid). So I had to fish out my purse, pray that no one else was in the bathroom, and mop it dry over the sink. Urine cures leather, doesn't it? No wonder they put hooks on the door.
Exhibit B: I went to the gym, in a hurry to warm up on the treadmill before yoga. Valuable minutes ticked away while I tried desperately to untangle the blue wires of my ear buds. Finally triumphing over the tangle, I stuck them in my ears and turned on my iPod - to discover that it was dead. I kept the buds in my ears, of course, so no one would notice my wasted effort.
Exhibit C: I tried to call my parents in the twenty-eight minutes of kid-free time that I had last evening. I picked up the house phone, dialed a number automatically, and waited while it rang for minutes . . . .only to realize that I had dialed my own number. Please tell me this gets better . . .
If any of this has happened to you, you're not alone. If anyone has advice on how to resuscitate brain cells, I'm all ears!
Thursday, October 8, 2015
- Brene Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.
It's so much easier to get angry than it is to grieve. Much easier to over-function and plan than to break down, especially when surrounded by children and the needs of a busy household. I've been wrestling with grief over the past weeks, trying not to feel the sorrow of my father's diagnosis, not to feel the loss of what I thought would be a life-long friendship, not to fully swallow the pain of a child who has been routinely excluded.
My MO for grief is usually to brew anger in my gut (no wonder I have so many gut issues) and then let it fly like the steam of a teakettle late in the evening when the kids are in bed. Rob usually gets a contact burn from being a beta listener, and he patiently steps back and waits for the pressure to die down before offering a few words of support. Rarely do I substitute tears for the anger, but when I do it's more cleansing for me and easier for Rob to offer support. The tears are more rare because it hurts too much to go there, and I don't know how to "do" grief.
In a wonderful article called "The Geography of Sorrow" by Tim McKee (The Sun , October 2015, http://thesunmagazine.org/), psychologist Francis Weller talks about how modern society has lost the grief rituals that sustained our ancestors in a tribal culture: "When modern people engage in grief rituals, the often say it feels familiar, as if they've done this before. Yes, we have, for more than two hundred thousand years. And then, within the past few hundred years, it practically disappeared. That's a profound loss." We now grieve alone, not wanting to inflict our discomfort on other people, not wanting to disappoint. We've certainly lost the practice of thanking the one who grieves, as Weller notes in the same article: "During the grief ritual you go off by yourself to weep, and when you return, the group welcomes you back and thanks you for helping to empty the communal cup of sorrow. How many of us have ever been thanked for our grief before?"
I was fortunate to read McKee's article and Brene' Brown's book at the same time I was suppressing my grief. With a double whammy of insight and instruction, I was able to give myself space and permission to feel sorrow and to let the steam of my anger settle back down into tears. I still want to function, to not overstate my grief or let it overwhelm me, but a wise, wise friend told me that my compassion and my grief (shared in many cases) can prove a valuable undercurrent to pragmatics and planning. To sit compassionately with one who suffers, to listen and not try to fix, would certainly be a gift.
Friday, October 2, 2015
The craziness of the flies has expanded to my mental state as the round of children's events, practices, and appointments increases with each passing day. From track meets to band concerts to swim initiations (where you apparently spend hundreds of dollars on swag before even making the team), to practices we drive with white-knuckle intent. To add insult to injury, we also had four trips to the orthodontist and dentist this week, accumulating rubber bands and ibuprofen tablets as fast as flies.
The dentist / ortho combination really chaps my hide. For two appointments I tried desperately to get the kids into the ortho to remove the wire before they had their teeth cleaned, only to run late at the dentist and barely get back to the ortho in time to have the wire put back on. I gave up the attempt to do things in the requested order and yesterday managed to reverse the process, so that William had to go to the dentist before his braces appointment. The hygienist was mad at him for not getting the wire removed (as if he has control of the car keys, the appointment calendar, and the credit card??), and then the ortho tech muttered about fluoride's stickiness and how they are more than happy to take wires off before the appointment.
I'm frustrated that anyone would complain to my twelve-year-old child instead of to me, and happy to explain that our schedule is so ridiculous that the kids are lucky to be in braces and get to the dentist at all. I guess the takeaway is relief that I am not trapped on an island with a group of dental and ortho assistants, schedulers, and technicians, or my lord-of-the-flies demeanor would get all of us in trouble.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
My favorite moments were watching Daniel and William pass together in the warm up pool or clown around with their friends when they were supposed to be passing. I joked with a friend that all it took was six hours in the pool and three physical games for the boys to be able to hang together. She called it the "get along or drown" method of parenting.
Other great moments were stopping in Santa Fe with Rob, Aden and Daniel for lunch and for a quick tour of the Georgie O'Keeffe Museum. O'Keeffe is one of my favorite artists, and Aden has done two projects relating to her art, so we were both excited to see the pieces on exhibit. The scenery up in Santa Fe is beautiful, too.
But I have to "out" myself - it was hard to stay grounded in the "normal child" philosophy that I so vigorously supported just last week. After William had a particularly good game, we had kind friends and other parents come up to us and compliment his play. They also asked if he had signed up for Olympic Development Camps, future seasons, other tournaments, etc. Instantly my mind went to Stanford, picturing seats at poolside for a PAC 10 game some eight years down the road.
I did firmly grip my wandering mind and rein it back to the present, but it was an exhausting tug-of-war. I'm dismayed by how convinced I can be in one moment, only to topple in a relatively light wind of praise or recognition. I guess I'm just wired to "Zing" to that type of reinforcement, and it will be the project of the lifetime to take such comments in stride and move forward with my normal, wonderful life.
Monday, September 21, 2015
- Mark Manson, author, on markmanson.net
Manson's sentiments struck a chord with me. Since I was six, I felt that I had to be exceptional to be worthy. Normal was a bad word; only the top 1% would do (this was long before the phrase "top one percent" became a negative.) In the last ten years I finally realized that this pressure was making me miserable. Striving for exceptional caused an artificial separation from other people, and sent the wrong message to my children: that they too, had to strive for the unattainable.
When I saw the thought process passed from parent to child I felt sick. I don't want that pressure, that loneliness for my kids, but it's tough to turn off the message that we receive from society. In this age of uber-parenting, parents are told that our kids need to be "more, better, best." Jeffery Kluger notes in his TIME Magazine article, "In Praise of the Ordinary Child," (link) that the reason we push our kids might have economic underpinnings:
"The stock market swings of the 1980s were followed by the tech boom of the ’90s, which led to the tech collapse of the aughts, which was followed, finally, by the great, tectonic crash of 2008. Through all that, the American middle class grew smaller and smaller while the rungs on the economic ladder grew ever farther apart. If their kids were going to get ahead, many parents felt, they would have to be bred to be failure-proof."
And so we push towards the exceptional in school, test scores and sports. We fear the normal, even though the odds of Ivy Leagues or Big Leagues are infinitesimal. We sometimes - God forgive us - fail to see the unique miracles perpetrated by our children every day, and we forget that allowing children to fail and teaching them how to get up, are some of the most important lessons in life.
Thinking of my kids as 'normal' was a mind-bender at first. The children aren't ordinary to me or their father. What of Aden's budding artistic ability, her amazing pictures of flowers in the sun, her kindness toward strangers? Or William's sun-bright smile, his singing voice accompanying a favorite song on the radio, his loyal friendships? And Daniel's passion for reading comics, his joy in sharing funny lines announced with "now hear this!" and his Space Invader stacks of books? These traits can't be measured by grades or test scores but they are intrinsically valuable.
Our children might be normal in the eyes of the world, and that's just fine, but they should know that they are unique. No winning result could make them more special or loved. They should also know that success requires hard work and healthy striving; it also requires the ability to fall and get back up. They should know that no matter how "normal" their class rank, their band seat number, their place on the team, they will find a way to build a healthy and productive life, surrounded by friends and family who know that life is not built out of exceptional moments, but by the common ones in between.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
My folks were here for a visit over the last week, checking in with a few docs at the UC Hospital, and blessing our family with their presence along the way. Mom reminded Aden how to crochet, and they baked and ran errands together before sitting down together at the kitchen table to knit scarves and washclothes. Dad and Mom teamed up to make a formidable solitaire team and played with me and the boys several close games (solitaire being a game that has been mastered by Connie Dravenstott, and occasionally by Bill, too!).
Sometime over the weekend Mom told me a sweet, sweet story. On the morning of their forty-sixth anniversary, they exchanged cards, and Dad opened hers with a smile. After reading the card with its two hearts on the front, Mom opened . . . the same card. Hearts and minds attuned, for sure.
Mom takes great care of Dad as he works through some health issues; her hand in his, her arm at his elbow, her care for his drinks and meals starts tears flowing. If there is an evolution in the state of marriages, theirs is highly evolved, for sure. Another example of this: one of Dad's doctors recommended that they turn into snowbirds, and find a warm and brighter climate for the winter. Though it's hard to change plans and routines, difficult to venture out on that limb, I could see both of them nudging forward along the thought process, willing to do whatever it took to keep each other safe, secure, and happy. I only wish Denver was warm and sunny all winter long, but promise to come visit whichever snowbird nest they choose.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
So I quickly apologized for any fiction I may have passed off as reality, and she waved her hand and said, "it's only that we DID go to back to school nights at Rolling Hills High School. Both of us went; one went to your classes while the other went to John's. And Dad still remembers that French teacher of yours, and the eighty-two-year old long term sub you had in Calculus. And how would we know that if we had not gone to Back to School night?"
Duly chastened, I noted that no one could forget Madame, and admitted that as a self-absorbed 16-year-old, I probably didn't notice anything that didn't pertain to my immediate self. Since I wasn't at my own open house,it could not have happened. Makes me aware of what's in store when my kids get just a bit older . . .and my own reputation goes down the tubes. Mea culpa, Mom and Dad.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
After some naps and football on Sunday, Rob dedicated a few hours to researching new refrigerators. Our current fifteen-year-old model is turning itself off regularly, requiring Rob to restart it by unplugging, and then plugging it back in (a trick learned after 20+ years in the high tech world!). Scared to contemplate losing hundreds of dollars in food, we decided to go spend thousands of dollars on a new refrigerator. After a lengthy visit to Home Depot, a Q&A session on water filters, and pulling Daniel out of several ovens and dryers, we came home with receipts and instructions on how to fit the new fridge in our kitchen. We cut out / tear down the cupboard currently set in the wall and repaint the kitchen, of course, as one has to pay a high price for a new appliance.
When Rob got home from work last night he sat down rather despondently and sighed. "I've got to get something off my chest," he said. A different woman's mind might have flashed toward pornography, an affair, or a missed bill payment, but knowing Rob, mine did not. I was surprised however, to hear the reason: "you know our fridge? the one I thought was ranked third in consumer reports? Well, it's not the same model. Our is actually ranked seven points lower." He looked at his tamales with regret.
When I assured him that I didn't care about the Consumer Report ranking and felt confident that we would be able to use the new fridge for fifteen years regardless, he was relieved and set to dinner with relish. That's the kind of confession a woman likes to hear. A good egg, for sure!
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Fortunately, I found a nugget to blog about in Bill McKibben's short review of the document. McKibben quotes the Pope as he discusses the '"rapidification of life" in the sense that:
"the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.'" (Sojourners Sept-Oct 2015 p12, www.sojo.net)
Anxiety. A curse of modern times. I suffer from it, my family members and friends suffer from it, in fact health professionals assure me that most of America suffers from it. This quote helped me to realize that our response of anxiety is just normal in the face of all that bombards us every day. Humans are not meant to have messages, photos, news bytes, texts, etc. flooding our consciousness all day and into the night 365 days per year. No generation has ever lived like this before, and the Pope's message indicates that the pace of change may be too rapid for any quick adjustments on our part.
On the flip side, if we could slow down, if we could make changes that are positive for the earth - which includes our own species - then not only would we be doing the right thing but we would be a whole lot happier. Let's "de-rapidify" our lives. I might start with a long, slow read of the Papal encyclical.
Monday, August 31, 2015
One bittersweet note was the number of references I made to writing, to hopes for editing and freelancing jobs, to classes taken and books purchased (last week I also had to throw out the 1996 and 1997 Writer's Markets since both are obviously outdated, pre-twitter, pre-everything). Here is one note I made to myself from February of 2001;
"I got really busy with school and two coaching jobs sometime after my last entry and have not had time or extra energy for writing, just for emails and checking the pregnancy websites J However – I got a letter from a friend asking to exchange some writing material for critiquing purposes. I’m intrigued by the suggestion and asked her for an “assignment” to complete since I don’t have any other writing to give her! Definitely need to keep in practice."
I was often "intrigued" and given to exhortations to "keep practicing." I made other references to writing up to August, and then - after a detailed description of Aden's birth - everything stops for ten years. While this decade of delay is not uncommon after women have children (see Meg Wolitzer's The Ten Year Nap link), I felt constricted and teary at the thought of so many false starts and delays.There's no doubt that - while motherhood pushed everything else out of the way - it has also provided deep and lasting topics for writing and discussion, which are 'intriguing.' Now I just have to "keep practicing!" and finally make that dream happen.
Friday, August 28, 2015
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Friday, August 21, 2015
And yes, I did say "thousands.' Last night at Aden's high school, one of the assistant principals told us that he estimated between 3500 and 5000 parents would attend the BTSN. I was in shock for a number of reasons: my fitbit said that I walked two miles to get to all of Aden's classes, we had just walked into - and out of - the special college prep counseling room with hundreds of collegiate pennants hanging from the ceiling, and Rob and I had just finished musing on the lack of any kind of back to school night at our high schools. In fact, what memory tells me (and it could be lying) was that my parents took me to seventh grade, wished me luck with college planning, and did not set foot on my middle school or high school campuses until graduation.
So we either live in an incredible district or just see the real-time effects of helicopter parenting, or both, as we jostle for space in crowded corridors and wipe sweat from our brow in overcrowded classrooms. I almost laughed out loud on Tuesday at the 7th grade BTSN; William's science teacher was absent due to taking her own daughter to college, so she recorded a video to play for parents. As we filed in and sat down, another school employee greeted us and explained, then started the video. The classroom was full, the video playing, and I looked around in disbelief as everyone focused intently on the screen, taking notes of the teacher's contact info and requirements. Surely this was the moment for idle chatter, comic relief, or even sneaking out early - but no, we were rapt. Anything to guarantee our children's success.
But of course, we can't guarantee success, any more than we can prevent heartache and disappointment. To that end, we were gratified by the high school's emphasis on students' reaching out to their teachers whenever they need help; teachers have office hours each day and set up other special times by appointment. They expect the freshman to need help and ask for it, and that might be the greatest skill they learn this year. I didn't learn how to ask for help until my mid-thirties, so our kids will be way ahead of the curve, no matter what grades they earn.
Monday, August 17, 2015
It's weird being down in the basement, hiding from housework, the phone, and the cat. When I plugged the computer into the unused wall outlet - after working for ten minutes to get the child protector piece out of the socket with various coins, and banging my head on the desk in the process - I thought I might be electrocuted, either by the ancient outlet or by a lightning strike from God, angry at my hubris. But no electrocution, only a frightened spider.
Stephen King gave me the motivation to clear 200 pounds of toys and old clothes out of the space in order to create my writing haven. In his wonderful book, On Writing, King strongly recommends that a hopeful writer finds a place of their own to write. King says, "it really only needs one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk." (2000, page 155). The kitchen counter and our converted dining room / office space do not have doors, which is great when I need to see what the kids are doing on their computers, but counterproductive for me, when all family members and pets can find and distract me at will. This little room has a door, it also has a small desk and a bookshelf. It's humble, but it's a start. If you'll excuse me, I'll get to work.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Nerves were at play with all the kids and I felt the emotional weight of the milestone, so we'll all be jangly this afternoon, for sure. A few of my friends had tears (their own and their kiddo's) at the elementary school, and while I feel more excited for the adventures to begin than sad at the start of crazy school week routines, I understand the emotions. Though time passes quickly all year round and the children grow and change daily, parents notice the growth - the sharper cheekbones, extra inches, newly practiced eye-roll - much more at an official start date like the first day of school.
It's shocking as a cold rainstorm in August to realize that my child started high school today. She's ready, and I'm curious and eager to hear about all of her adventures, but I do thank my lucky stars that she has four full years left before college. (By that time I plan to have invented a college that she can attend in my living room). Now the hard part will be buckling down myself to get writing done, and hopefully acquire a writing job. With no kids to distract me, with the house mostly cleaned out and ready for new adventures I have no excuses - except maybe to finally get my 5:30am workout in before everyone comes home.
Monday, August 10, 2015
I have been to Hawaii four times and this trip was my favorite. Highlights included: snorkeling with the kids - seeing a green sea turtle with Aden and swimming through a school of white and black striped fish with William; sea kayaking out to a small island / bird sanctuary and down Lanikai beach; taking turns on a paddle board in both the calm canal and the choppy ocean and watching Aden and William ride the waves (standing!) all the way back to shore; shopping and eating out at the Kailua farmers' market (trying local kombucha, dragon fruit, lychee popsicles and macadamia nut candy); playing high-speed, competitive solitaire with Grandpa Bill and Grandma Connie each night, and wandering through a brilliant plumeria grove at the Koko crater botanical garden. Of course, food cost twice as much, and the kids almost killed each other in the back seat of the rented minivan on more than one occasion, but all things considered it was a vacation beyond compare.
We did miss the meeting of the Clavadetscher cousins, aunts and uncles in Montana, and we watched Aunt Karen's compilation video with full hearts and eager eyes. We hope to see everyone next year - maybe back at our other favorite ocean off the shore of Cape Cod? And lastly, I want to ask for prayers for Andrea Himmelberger, Rob's cousin's wife, a wonderful lady who starts chemo for lymphoma today. Sending love to all!
Friday, July 31, 2015
A Calendar Of Sonnets: August
Poem by Helen Hunt Jackson
Silence again. The glorious symphony
Hath need of pause and interval of peace.
Some subtle signal bids all sweet sounds cease,
Save hum of insects' aimless industry.
Pathetic summer seeks by blazonry
Of color to conceal her swift decrease.
Weak subterfuge! Each mocking day doth fleece
A blossom, and lay bare her poverty.
Poor middle-aged summer! Vain this show!
Whole fields of Golden-Rod cannot offset
One meadow with a single violet;
And well the singing thrush and lily know,
Spite of all artifice which her regret
Can deck in splendid guise, their time to go!
Sunday, July 26, 2015
On Friday night we celebrated the 50th birthday of a good friend whose wife had gone all out to make sure he didn't know about the party. In the row of friends and family holding the S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E signs was a college friend who flew in from upstate New York to visit the birthday boy, whom he hadn't seen in decades. When we blocked the road with our signs and released the balloons, the honoree smiled and looked grateful and certainly surprised, but when he saw his dear friend holding up the second R, his face just morphed into a beautiful expression of shock and love and gratitude. All of us who saw this recognition and their ensuing embrace teared up, men and women turning aside to dab at their eyes and wave their hands in that helpless, mid-life expression which signifies "I don't know why I'm crying but dammit, here I go again!"
Rob also celebrated his birthday yesterday. Since it wasn't one of the "big ones" we had a quieter family day at home, but it was lovely to watch him read the cards from parents and his grandmother and brothers and the kids, and to remember what a gift his life is to all of us. Without Rob, the kids wouldn't be here, and I would be in a radically different place. We are blessed by each other, that's a fact, and we don't need to be You Tube sensations, Facebook fanatics, or Instagram addicts to know that our presence is a gift and the people in our lives are gifts to us.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Last weekend we broke free of the calendar and camped with friends at a delightful locale called Spillway Camp. Third time's still a charm, and the kids ran and played with as much abandon as on our first two yearly outings at this lovely, rock-pile-strewn riverside camp. The stars on our first night were absolutely breathtaking; William and I thought the little dipper would pour a cup of warm milk right into our hands. We saw a bald eagle, a fox, hawks, and many chipper-munkers, as well as the most amazing sight of all - kids of all ages getting along for the better part of three days. William wore his high-top hiking boots and scrambled over boulders without re-injuring his ankle and Aden and I wrote poetry during the rains to make up for my missed seminar.
This week William is off to camp at Eagle Lake, I'm working, and Daniel has nature camp every morning. Aden finished her math packet for high school and I am trying to arrange an tour for her at the high school where she will be a freshwoman. Thank goodness for our village here in Willow Creek - the carpools, pet-sitters, package-picker-uppers and reminders from our neighbors have saved our bacon numerous times over the past weeks. We're blessed beyond measure to be reminded daily that our friends and family matter most - that long afternoons in conversation and long walks and even short group texts tie us all together on a emotional-spiritual life raft to carry us from season to season.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Aden raced on a cool Tuesday with the 13-14's and 15-18's, swimming her best times in the 200 free, 100 breast and 200 IM. She placed 9th in the breast to qualify for finals and later was bumped up to 8th as someone in front of her scratched (whoopee!). Both of her relays also qualified and ensured that the day of finals would be full of friends. Today she improved her time by another second and both relays moved up in the standings. She also swam a blistering 50 free to anchor the free relay and it was her best time in that race, as well.
Daniel raced on another cool day that turned rainy and colder. He swam two relays and a 50 backstroke, cutting six seconds to race to his best time in that race. He also spent time at both his brother's and his sister's prelim days, putting in nearly as many spectator - hours as his mother.
William battled through his badly sprained ankle, removing the air cast for the first time to kick at prelims on Thursday, and squeaking into finals in his 50 fly and 50 free despite adding between two and three seconds in both races. His relays also made the championship heat in finals and all of the boys ensured their return trip today. When the day of racing did not cause further injury or additional swelling to the ankle, we decided to proceed with finals today and William shook off any concerns of readiness and pushed himself, dropping 3.5 seconds in his 50 fly and 1.7 seconds in his 50 free (from Thursday!) to do best times and improve his standing in both races. The relays also improved, and we're hoping his 11-12 boy teammates brought home the trophy for C division once again.
So now we're sunburned and bleary - eyed, resting up before the season-ending banquet and awards ceremony. As usual, the time has gone too quickly, and we'll hang up goggles for a while before jumping back into the pool again to train or race. So sorry to see the season end but grateful for good health and good friends, and the kids' internal drive to do their best.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Next stop the pool. We go home and change, fill the cooler and lube up with the sunscreen before heading out to relays and games at Mineral. With the shade tent in place from an early morning scramble to save seats, we kick back with friends to watch the kids dive for coins and soda cans, their goggled faces nearly split with glee. The kids get kicked out for the 21-and-over beer can grab, and our youngest danced with excitement to see Rob jump in and take part. Moms, Dads and grandparents grabbed a beer and snapped the tab immediately to the lifeguards' great dismay. "No beer in the pool!" they shouted.
Our family relay made the final heat but then placed fourth, after a valiant effort from William on his sprained ankle. I blew the inner tube relay for our team trying to loop it around my foot in an awkward backstroke, and was barely forgiven in time to purchase a hamburger and chips for lunch. A visiting man in bright pink trunks won the big splash contest by sacrificing his body for heroic belly flops. After the kids' water balloon toss we made our escape to veg out at home for a few hours. In the evening, a barbecue with friends and fireworks in the cul de sac topped off the exhilarating and exhausting day.
After a day of recovery we're embarking on the final week of swim team, with prelims for our kids on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The jury's still out on how much William will swim and on how many events the kids might have to re-swim at finals. Certainly no rest for the weary!
Friday, July 3, 2015
His message was unexpectedly simple and appropriate for the newly wedded couple. "Sin should be spelled with a little s, a big, BIG I, and a little n. That's what happens when the egoic "I" gets in the way of our savior and our neighbor. We have to work very hard to take that big I and bend it, force the ends together, round it out and change it's shape. When we're done we have a circle, an 'O' and the word now is 'son,' as in the son of God." Easy to remember, hard to do, but always helpful in a marriage, a family, a community.
Wishing everyone a blessed Fourth!
Monday, June 29, 2015
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Our baseball team has been together four years, and our coaches and families are committed and passionate while trying to keep wins and umpire calls in perspective. The three boys who were absent sent extended family at the game to spectate and cheer along with us, yelling phrases like "that's a good cut, Tom," or "good eye, Jack" when a batter swung and missed, or held off and watched a ball sail by. Normally baseball is too slow for me, an excuse to chat with friends and zone out in the heat of the afternoon rather than be drawn into the game. But this weekend the action seemed fast and furious, the first game close, the second game a blowout in our favor, and the third game an intensely even affair that came down to the wire before our side struck out a final batter and erupted in cheers of joy and disbelief.
Sometimes baseball cuts cruelly, the spotlight falling on a struggling pitcher, a batter who strikes out at the crucial junctures or a fielder who gets a bad bounce and fails to stop a line drive. The boys breathe deep to get the butterflies out before they are pinned by the excited gazes of fifty spectators, and nervous parents pace behind the dugout while their kids pitch, bat, or lunge for the ball. Some games, like the one-run loss on Saturday night, stick in our craw, and remind us to teach our sons that we cannot control life, only our efforts, But some games reward players and fans alike, with three-up, three-down innings by our pitchers, home runs off our bats, safe slides across home, and jubilation at the final out. What hooked me was the huge grin on my son's face as he entered the dugout after a home run, yelling "did you see that, Mom?" and his exuberant leap into the arms of a coach after he pitched a great inning.
We're back to the tournament on Saturday, with a brave bunch of boys and a renewed zeal for the game. The families will be out in force, our numbers back to the full team, and the weatherman promises a hot day. Nothing better on a summer afternoon.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
These accusations chip away at me like a workout session with a punching bag. You don't feel much at first but after repeated attacks the muscles quiver and you need to sit down. I agree that I should not say "I can't" - it makes me a hypocrite and a bad example. But what to say instead? It's good for children to recognize that their parents have limits and that the kids cannot have everything they want right at the time they want it. My mom, who was visiting, praised Rob and me for not giving in to every whim and encouraging delayed gratification, but I don't know that we do, really. The children most often get what they request fairly soon after they express their desire. They may pay for what they want themselves, but the ride to a store and the time it takes to shop come from us.
I guess that a parent's inability to be everywhere and do everything gives rise to the need for a driver's license at a child's 16th birthday. Though some young adults may be too young to drive, the family's need combined with the young person's intense desire to be with friends and do what those friends are doing RIGHT NOW makes that little piece of plastic a necessity. I don't know how to navigate the two and a half years before that piece of plastic comes home with Aden, but I'd better stop saying those two bad words.
Friday, June 12, 2015
I was surprised and inspired by her performance. (I was also impressed by the deep pockets that allow her to fly around the country for repeat auditions, and the mysterious ability to work her way into a second audition in as many weeks). No one likes failure, but it's the best if not only way to really learn.
This message resonated with me again this morning as I took Aden and Daniel to SwimLabs to work on their strokes and to practice using the video software. They both did a great job in applying my suggestions, though Daniel still tends to take critique personally and react with growing frustration. I could see huge growth in Aden as she calmly listened and watched and worked to incorporate changes that felt strange and new. She used to take such comments personally but has grown to realize that adults only take the time to critique when they believe the student has potential to be better, to be excellent.
As it turns out, my video was a bit too long for the connection to upload quickly, and my upload took twenty minutes (about 12 minutes too long) as the next class moved into the water and could not use the TV. I felt guilty and unpracticed, and got into the car with my own angst. I asked Aden, "What would I say to you if this happened under your watch?" and she calmly replied, "You didn't hurt anyone, you didn't do anything wrong, and everything will be OK." I don't know who's raising who, but so glad to have some expertise in the family. I fall down just as much as the kids and can use their help in getting back on my feet - though I'll never be the country's best dancer!