Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Monday, May 3, 2021

Kid Funnies

After getting my two jabs and waiting the recommended two weeks for full immunity from COVID, I jumped back in the pool to give swim lessons. Most of my clients are older and I can keep some distance while wearing my clear face shield, and for some I can even stay out of the water, but for the younger swimmers I am right there at arm's length, still protected by the Darth Vaderesque shield but up close. Working with kids under the age of 12 again provides welcome humorous material and useful research for my children's book and this blog.

A few weeks ago I had a young man - we'll call him Fred, though that's not his name - with a reputation of bouncing off the pool walls, turning somersaults underwater ad nauseam, and generally not wanting to do any of the suggested swim drills or distances. He's a sharp and funny kid, and I decided to take the bull by the horns and great him with tremendous positive energy.

"Fred! It's been so long since I last taught you, you have grown so much! How old are you now, 18?"

Taken aback, he froze and gave me serious side-eye. "I'm eight. When did I have you as a teacher?" he asked with lifted eyebrow.

"Oh, it's been at least two or three years," I said. "I bet you're a super swimmer now."

He ignored my obvious gambit to start swimming. "Three years, hmm." There was a long pause as he processed my absence from his life.  "Let me tell you, you have a lot to catch up on!" 

It was my turn to be surprised as Fred filled me in on the major events of the last three years, grandparent visits and deaths, school performances, sibling accidents, etc. My ploy to start swimming had failed, but our relationship certainly got back on good terms.

Then last week I had two youngsters in a beginner class. The first, aged six, was dutiful and determined, floating and kicking with straight legs and somber gaze. The second, aged three, was both exuberant and fearful, flashing an adorable grin when he felt comfortable and grabbing my arm with a vise grip when he felt nervous.  Imagine my surprise when I gently put him back on the bench after a back float and he turned and grabbed my chest with both hands. 

"Honk, honk!" he said with a glint in his eyes. I quickly recovered from my shock and removed his hands from my breasts, telling him that "we don't do that to teachers" and wondering how on earth he learned that party trick. I hoped the parents in the lobby didn't see that particular move on our TV. Still in fine fettle despite my reprimand, he grabbed the safety whistle as he went down the stairs and blew it until I could wrest it from his grasp. 

So merriment, shock and disbelief are back in my life and I remember now how interesting, surprising and startling young children can be. Time to dial up the shocking behavior in my children's book, and keep my notebook and pen ready for more kid adventures.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

More Light

 "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being."  - Carl Jung

"To love beauty is to see light." - Victor Hugo

"There's more light out there, go find it!" - Kendall Toole

William and I watched the first part of My Octopus Teacher last night. The beautiful documentary about a filmmaker, producer Craig Foster, and an octopus that he befriends in the frigid Atlantic waters off the coast of South Africa brought me to near-tears with its beauty. The bright colors of the corals became the bright colors of the octopus, and the sunlight shone through translucent jelly fish and other creatures in the kelp forest. Just watching the first half-hour reminded me of all the beauty, all the light that exists in the world, and how much I want to go find it after this terrible year.

The whole country staggers to its feet now that the vaccine has arrived and COVID infections are mostly down, but headlines from India and Brazil continue to buffet our awareness and mass shootings have once again surfaced as daily occurrences. Most of us have learned to ration our news intake, to distance ourselves from tragedy just to preserve our sanity, but I forgot to seek out sources of beauty and light.

Withdrawing into my hole of unconsciousness, like the octopus hiding in its rocky den, doesn't spark my joy. The Oscar-winning documentary about an unlikely friendship between a man and animal reminded me of the mystery, the miracle-filled nature of our world. William and I spoke at the same time last night as we watched Craig Foster free dive in the kelp: "I really want to do that!" There's nothing stopping us from planning that trip. We'll soon be able to explore again, to recognize how much light is out there and how much we need to find it.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Enough Love to Get Our Hands Dirty

"Do you have enough love in your heart
To go and get your hands dirty?
It isn't that much, but it's a good start
So go and get your hands dirty.
Do you love your neighbor?
Is it in your nature?
Do you love a sunset?
Aren't you fed up yet?
Do you have enough love in your heart
To go and get your hands dirty?"
-Lyrics to "Dirty" by Grandson

When we had finished our Earth Day service project, new cottonwood trees and drought-resistant shrubs dotted the high prairie landscape. Socially distanced volunteers spread out across the suburban parkland, carrying buckets of mulch from the truck to new plantings, exchanging overjoyed hellos when they passed a masked friend they hadn't seen in fifteen months. A warm sun broke through the chilly inversion layer, and curious red-winged blackbirds screeched at us when we passed by their cattail marsh.

Our Indivisible volunteers joined with a group from the office of U.S. Representative Jason Crow to put young trees and shrubs into the ground (conveniently pre-augured by the South Suburban Parks team).  We celebrated both Earth Day and the many positive actions taken by Congressman Crow to protect the environment. What a relief to have a champion in government who wants to increase protection for public lands, sponsor energy innovation, examine carbon fees and promote dividends that go back to the people. His young family joined him on site, getting their hands dirty to help protect and rebuild the landscape.

When I stood up from my own Charlie Brown-esque baby pine, I scanned the families working together and thought about last week's blog on Radical Hope, the idea that having young children provides extra motivation to address the climate crisis. That outlook felt myopic as a wider gaze took in the range of volunteers, those who came solo, couples without kids or with grown children, and I thought of the lyrics of the song "Dirty": Do you love your neighbor? Is it in your nature? Do you love a sunset? Do you have enough love in your heart to get your hands dirty?

We don't have to have children, young or old, to work for change, we just need to have enough love for something. A nesting robin, a hawk circling overhead, a family of foxes hiding in the greenbelt, spring tulips, a sunset. The love can come from any source, be directed literally anywhere on earth. If we have enough love in our hearts to get our hands dirty, we have motivation to fight, to protect the Earth and every living thing who shares it with us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Not the Worst

 "COVID 19 in Colorado: Wave is not the worst in U.S." - Denver Post, p1, April 20, 2021

What to  make of a headline that states, "we're not the worst?"  Is that good news, bad news, or purposefully blurred news? We're getting worse, but other states have bigger problems - is that supposed to reassure me?

Today feels like a "not the worst" kind of day. The high school quarantined my senior because of "close contact," and he now awaits the results of his PCR test from his bedroom. As a result, I had to drive my freshman to school through icy, slushy streets. It took over 30 minutes to drop him off (usually a 12-minute drive) and then another 30 to get to Trader Joe's for the weekly grocery shopping. Driving west toward snow-covered mountains and blue sky, I tried to bathe in appreciation but descended into cursing the slow traffic and smut-spattered windshield.

A tall latte lifted my spirits briefly, though they crashed when I realized that the yogurt and eggs on my shopping list had never made it into my cart. The steaming beverage and bright sun brought on a hot flash which required the rolling down of windows, despite an outside temperature of 24 degrees. My uncombed hair fluttered strangely in the breeze, like the wings of a injured bird.

I had to shovel my way to the door with four heavy grocery bags, and when I was done unloading, I felt like going back to bed. The substitution of a quick blog will hopefully re-set the morning and my view on the day's chores, which include two more trips to the high school and a dentist appointment. Cheers to a day that's not the worst!

Friday, April 16, 2021

Act of Radical Hope

 "In a time of Covid-19, climate change and catastrophe, having a baby is an act of radical hope." - Tom Whyman, "Why, Despite Everything, You Should Have Kids (if You Want Them)", New York Times, April 13, 2021

I work with a lovely young woman who has two young girls, one only four months old. We met yesterday to discuss changes in the onboarding process, and she confessed that though she knew the world was a mess, she couldn't look at the news. My co-worker's biggest goal is to get her baby to transition from breastfeeding to a bottle before she can come back to work full-time.  Having faced this same issue with my oldest (twenty years ago), I could sympathize. What are headlines when your child won't eat?

In a rare moment of frustration she asked, "What are we even doing, having children, when the world is like this?" A profound question, not only in the time of COVID. Those of us in mid-life who were following the climate crisis twenty or thirty years ago asked the same question before we had our children, and the situation has not gotten better.

In 2000, before we conceived our oldest child, I asked my mentor in Environmental Studies if I should follow the dictates of my biological clock (loudly ticking), given what we knew then about global warming and its devastating potential effects.  He pondered the question, a single man with a step-daughter whom he loved. I'll never forget what Frank told me: "It's an act of hope, it forces you to work hard for a better society, a better world. When you have children, you have skin in the game."

Parents do have skin in the game, as we fight for a more just society, a functioning democracy, an environment that will continue to support life in future generations. I only have twenty-five or thirty years left on the planet if I'm lucky, and I confess that if I didn't have children, I might be tempted to give up the fight. Certainly I would have spent a lot more time in bed during the past pandemic year. 

This mindset, a personal failing, not a global truth, helps me to understand Tom Whyman's position that having a baby continues to be an act of radical hope. It's not for everyone and I applaud those who can fight for a more just world on the basis of their own moral imperatives. Personally, the three young faces at my kitchen table provide deep motivation for my work on climate change, for our personal choices in terms of solar panels and food, and for getting up out of bed each day with a positive attitude. We do not know the future, and something - someone - great may lead us into a better place that, for now, we can't yet see.