With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mesa & Rocktober

William and I were somewhat shocked to find ourselves in Mesa, Arizona, last Thursday night. Despite efficient calendaring and planning, the trip to "Rocktober" 12 & Under Water Polo Championships came way too fast. Also, Mesa looks a lot like Albuquerque; my roommate (fellow WP mom) and I kept thinking we were in New Mexico instead of Arizona.  Despite the short flight, there is an hour time change and a twenty - degree temperature differential, which combined to shock bodies and scramble minds.

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

Pumpkin as Metaphor, 2015

It's a whirlwind of sodden leaves and homework assignments, and William and I head out to Arizona tonight for a water polo tournament. I got back from hiking with friends on Sunday evening, Rob was out of town Monday through Wednesday, and now the van heads back to the airport this afternoon. Since I'm caught between packing and doing coursework for my new class, I am reposting this blog (with a few edits) from February of 2010. Hard to believe that Aden was eight years old when I wrote this piece. I remember sitting next to her, little legs swinging over the edge of the seat. Now she's closing in on my height . .  .

Enjoy.

“What would you rather have my friends
A chance to shine, or die here on the vine?
The better way seems very plain to me/
You will have eyes to see, and for that night, you’ll be
A bright lamp burning in the darkness”
- From “John’s Garden” Music and Lyrics by Peter Mayer

I took my eight-year-old daughter to her first real concert on Friday. Peter Mayer, a folksinger with incredible vocal and guitar skills, was the star and solo act. She and I sat enraptured while he worked his guitar-string magic, making cat’s cradles of the cat gut and tuning the instrument as finely as a mother might comb and braid her baby’s hair. Many of his songs are humorous and many contain moral queries and speculate on life’s big questions, such as “is it better to go big and flame out or slowly fade away?”

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

Art in Nature

Our fall has been gorgeous, warm and sunny, no rain, lots of fall foliage lingering on the trees. I've been appreciating the quality of light through the reds and golds of autumn while noticing the weirdness of wearing tank tops and shorts through mid-October. In the midst of this juxtaposition, I made arrangements to rejoin / restart a group that's interested in the environment.

We met at a lovely solar-paneled home to discuss things we can do to help the earth through this time of crisis. We can only do small things, but feel the moral imperative to do something. Our organizer had some notes that raised our  hopes; she had recently been at a presentation by Randy Hayes, organizer at Foundation Earth (http://www.fdnearth.org/), who advocates for doubling the native forest canopy around the world. Hayes says that by doubling the canopy and turning to renewables, humans can actually bring greenhouse gases under control in future decades.

Few messages about climate change are so hopeful, and I came out of the meeting newly energized. We were also buoyed by looking at environmental art by Andy Goldsworthy (http://visualmelt.com/Andy-Goldsworthy), who works with natural materials in nature to create ephemeral works of art. I was so delighted by his sculptures that I had to share his images with the kids, and we spent the next hour working on our own "yard art." Aden's pictures - above - is the result of her efforts.

So I'm off to hike in the mountains this weekend with renewed hope. The mountains are sure to inspire us, as always, and I will come back and give money to plant trees, research solar panels, find more messages of gratitude and hope.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dizzy Daze

I just had to out myself after a few days of crazy stunts and foolishness. My brain must have scrambled over a weekend of class at Regis. I enjoyed class immensely, wrote several essays, and apparently burned all neuron bridges to functioning in the real world.

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

Anger and Grief

"Grief is perhaps the emotion we fear the most."
- 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 2015http://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

Lord of the Flies

It's definitely lord of the flies around here. On the cusp of cool weather our house suddenly fills with horrendously large, buzzing flies that come from nowhere and bump against window screens and light fixtures until they fall dead on the floor in appalling fuzzy clumps.The annual event never becomes less disgusting, though this year's horror is alleviated somewhat by the humor of watching Rex the cat in his perpetual hunt of the ugly insects. Rex stalks, leaps, bats, sometimes connects, and then immediately loses interest when the flies fall motionless to the floor. We think he ate one or two and became disgusted with the whole process, but at least he was exhausted for a few days.

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.