Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Choir

Tuesday evenings are rough. We pick up my eldest from school and have an hour to kill before choir practice. No reason to go home and come back, so I pack snacks for the girls and we run a few errands. They would prefer not to unbuckle from their car seats, struggle into warm jackets and walk across the rainy parking lot into the store. Once in the store, they quickly grow weary of my single-mindedness and my monosyllabic vocabulary, "No." But, but, they only want this candy, that book, this pen that lights up and has a magnet on the end...

The snacks are never quite what they would have liked. Not enough salt, not enough sugar. I brought water instead of juice or soda pop or chocolate milk. Why don't I ever let them eat treats? Finally, it is time to head to choir practice. Lola frantically searches her bag for the quiet toys she has brought to occupy her for the next hour and a half. Did she remember crayons? Is there a red one in case she needs it? Black? Oh, no, what if there isn't a brown one? Will I color with her? Do we have to take the dog for a walk? Why can't we just drop Eve off and go home and then come back to get her later?

"NO!" Eve shouts. "I don't like it when you go. I want to know you're there, Mommy."

I drive, my breathing falling into cadence with the wiper blades, letting their protestations bounce off of me like raindrops on the windshield. I wipe them away without responding. I recognize this for what it is. Eve is exhausted from the stimulation of a full day of school and knows she won't have time to regroup before jumping into another group of kids. Lola is weary of the day and wishes she could go home and play with her sister quietly. She has been waiting all day to get out the Polly Pockets and make up a game with her big sister. I worry about entertaining Lola and wish she didn't have to get schlepped around to other people's activities and appointments so often.

We arrive and Eve bounces out of her carseat, radiant smile for her instructor blooming across her cheeks. Lola gathers her bag of toys and we head inside. Eve settles into her seat directly in front of the teacher's podium, spine straight, lungs clear and inflated. Lola and I sit in the back, set up a makeshift table to color on, and find the crayons we need. All at once, the voices of the children, harmonious and perfect, ring out in the room, filling it with light and sound. We abandon our coloring, mesmerized. Bumps chase each other up my arms as the song penetrates my skin. We will listen to this majestic children's choir, singing, laughing and finding joy for the next 90 minutes. How lucky are we?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Princess and the Bump


Once upon a time a little princess had an accident. You know, one of those ones that occur sometimes to little princesses in the middle of the night after a bedtime story and a big glass of water. She yelled her royal yell to summon the Queen and, when the Queen came running, the princess demanded that she change her sheets.


The Queen noted, with some dismay, that the princess' royal chamber was without an absorbent pad beneath the sheet. Damn! Well, no matter. While the princess chose some new jammies the Queen fetched some towels to soak up the puddle. She placed a fresh towel on top of the mattress and fitted the bed with the favored flannel bedclothes adorned with snowmen, of course. All the time, she marveled at the way one glass of water can turn into three gallons of pee, but that is another story for another time.


As the princess clambered back into her bed, she noticed that her snowmen were not lying flat. Indeed, there was a bump underneath them. That would never do.


"I don't want to sleep on a bump!" she screeched. The Queen winced, hoping the other members of the castle wouldn't be awakened by the indignant yell of the littlest princess. She explained that the "bump" was necessary in order to keep the dampness away from the princess' skin as she slept. The princess demanded another solution immediately, as she could never be expected to sleep on a bump.


The Queen, too tired to argue, informed the princess that she could either sleep on the bump or sleep on the floor, but she herself was going to retire until morning. In response, the princess got on all fours directly above the offending bump and began flailing her legs up into the air attempting to donkey kick the bump into submission. She sat on it, squirming her little hips around and trying to grind the bump down so that it would be flat. All the while, she grunted and yelled at nobody in particular and the Queen leaned one shoulder against the doorjamb, trying desperately not to wet herself with laughter.


As the princess finally tired herself out and settled into sleep the Queen realized she could now be certain that her daughter was a true princess. Honestly, what true royalty could be expected to sleep on a bump?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Happy, Happy, Happy Anniversary!

Thirteen years ago today I woke up with an entire colony of creatures climbing in my gut. At noon I was to be married to my best friend. We had spent months designing this day and worrying and spending gobs of money we didn't have and this was it. I wasn't concerned with my hair or what being married would bring. Nope, I was worried about a brawl.

There were ex-wives and husbands, ex-boyfriends and girlfriends (of each other, not ourselves) that would come to witness this day. There would be no overt religious portion of the ceremony, just lots of food and wine and people we love.

I am proud to say that the day came off beautifully. I didn't fall on my face while walking down the aisle, I didn't forget my lines or falter in the most important moment. We left two hours later for a honeymoon that was magical and adventurous, not knowing what was to come, but looking forward to it with abandon.

I fell in love with this man because he made me laugh. He still makes me laugh like nobody else. He "gets" me and likes me anyway. He is my knight in shining armor, my stand-up comic, my soothing lullaby and a southern BBQ master trapped in the body of a computer company exec. I wouldn't trade a second of our journey for anything and can't wait to see what the next thirteen years brings. Happy Anniversary, sweetie! I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Creating Meaning

Every once in a while I read something that stops me dead in my tracks. I almost always remember the phrase verbatim, but don't count on me to recall who wrote it or when. I've long since abandoned wasting brain capacity on those kinds of things. I've got far more important things to remember on a daily basis, such as which child is currently enamored of Ovaltine and which cup is the preferred one to enjoy it in. Critical, national security things like that, ya know?

Anyway, I've recently been slowly ruminating on some long-dead philosopher's words (I'm too lazy to look up which one, but if you're truly interested, let me know and I will find the reference for you) I read in a book a few weeks ago. He said, "It is not up to us to look for the meaning in the events of our lives. Rather, we must work to create meaning from the experiences we have." Huh. Active versus passive. Responsibility versus victimization. Cool. I like it. I've never been a believer in fate or destiny anyway - we control freaks like our notion of free will far too much for that. Turning this concept over and over in my mind allows me to have a different perspective on events in my life much like reversing binoculars from the magnifying side to the smaller end. Instead of trying to decipher WHY something has happened to me at this time in my life, I can work to make it meaningful. I can use it in my quest for peace and happiness.

Currently, the three most influential males in my life are afflicted with some physical ailments. My husband and I are still searching for clues to his mystery illness, my grandfather is suffering from the end stages of lung and bone cancer, and my father recently learned he will need to lose a portion of his right lung after a biopsy revealed the first stages of a cancer there.

I grew up firmly rooted in a matriarchical community, single mom with a strong mother figure, strong respectful relationship with my first stepmother, committed long-term relationships with girlfriends I hung out with in high school. I have surrounded myself with supportive women whom I admire and revere my entire life. Now I am faced with examining the importance of the men in my life.

I am frightened and saddened by the prospect of these three magnificent human beings suffering to any degree. I cannot begin to calculate the gifts I have received from them all over time. Rather than succumbing to the despair and frustration at not being able to impact their physical status I will struggle to make this all meaningful. I will find a way to strengthen my connections with these men and honor their contributions to the person I am.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Working on Changing "I Want to" to "I Will"

I am an expert at justification. I have a bachelor's degree in philosophy (no, really, I do) and can play devil's advocate with the best of them. Really want that new car? I can find a way to make it seem like the only thing that makes sense is to go out and get it. Thinking about breaking up with your boyfriend? Just give me a few facts and I'll convince you in moments. Of course, if he gets to me first, I just may find a few hundred logical reasons for him to hold on to you at all costs, so watch out!

I have never aspired to use these powers for evil. Not even when my then-boyfriend proposed to me on vacation in Maui and I desperately wanted us to get married there and then return to the mainland and announce it to our families. I had a gut feeling that I could have talked him in to eloping in the few short days we had remaining on the island, but I also knew that his mother would never ever in an infinite number of years forgive him for doing such a horrible thing. So I didn't exercise my will. (Part of me still wishes I had, and during the planning of the wedding, we both kicked ourselves multiple times for not eloping).

I have a natural affinity for excuses. It's not the prettiest part of my character, and I'm not proud of it, but it remains nonetheless. I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember, and over the past three years I have attended multiple writing workshops and classes, purchased a laptop solely for those endeavors, and started this blog. But I have also found numerous excuses not to launch myself into the writing stratosphere wholly. "I have young kids whose schedules are unpredictable and I am their primary caregiver. My husband suffers from a chronic unknown illness that strikes often and throws us into chaos. I can't find the time to sit and focus every single day. Just as soon as..."

In the meantime, I am watching friends and fellow bloggers like Michelle (http://www.michelleoneilwrites.blogspot.com/) and Jenny (http://www.jennyrough.com/) immerse themselves in their dreams and make their writing a priority. Jenny, that most courageous of all souls, quit her lucrative job as an attorney to become a freelance journalist and she has succeeded spectacularly. Michelle is writing a memoir that is certain to knock the socks off of everyone who reads it. Carrie Link (http://fully-caffeinated.blogspot.com/) has taken a job as an assistant to a phenomenal nonfiction author and is penning her own memoir as well. Why haven't I thrown myself into my writing wholeheartedly yet?

I have submitted short pieces for publication in online magazines and local parenting magazines. None have been accepted, but I can't say that it has devastated me. I have other ideas for series articles and have pitched them and gotten feedback that is encouraging. What is it that keeps me from making the leap? I have a terrific idea for a book and have gone so far as to conduct interviews for it, but I have yet to dedicate a daily chunk of my time or energy to moving any of these projects forward.

Next Thursday I am traveling to another workshop with a group of fantastic women whom I admire and respect. I am incredibly excited to be getting away and hope that I am able to find the spark that will put me over the edge. I know that I am the only person who can make this happen and I also know that I won't be fully satisfied until I make the effort 100%. I wish I could talk myself into just letting go...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's a Love-Hate Relationship




Ahh, Valentine's Day. A day rarely met with indifference. You can't avoid it in the US. Some retailers begin putting up displays as early as January 2 (those are the ones I despise the most), but by mid-January all the store windows are red and lacy. Heart shaped balloons are everywhere...but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.


Because my wedding anniversary is in February, we made a decision long ago not to celebrate Valentine's Day. At least not formally. I will admit I have cheated over the years, but I think my efforts have been appreciated. One year I planned to meet Bubba for lunch and as he walked through the parking lot to greet me I flashed him a quick peek beneath my trench coat. Yup, you got it. Good thing our apartment was only a five minute drive away from his office.

Then came children. Yeah, they throw a bucket of cold water on those spontaneous trysts, but there are good things about it, too. I love watching their enthusiasm while crafting homemade cards for their teachers (hate the mess the glitter and glue make all over the counter). I love having the excuse to bake and the way it makes my house smell (hate the leftovers that I feel compelled to snarf down after the kids are in bed). I love coming up with creative ways to tell my kids I love them on that special day (hate the cheap toys and crappy candy that line the shelves of the supermarket and transform my girls into greedy whiners). I love, love, love chocolate and the excuse to treat myself with some decadent goodies (hate that I go overboard treating myself and end up with chocolate for weeks afterward).

My favorite part of Valentine's Day, though, is Victoria's Secret at 6pm on February 13th. I don't go there to purchase anything. No, I'm much more petty than that. I love to lurk - spying on the men who've saved their Valentine's plan for the last minute and are now seeking advice from the barely legal salesgirl who wears a size 2. There are the ones who, outside the store, swagger with confidence and self-assuredness and enter sideways as if under the spell of some magnetic force inside, looking around for people that might recognize them. Some of them give the naughtier racks a wide berth with their bodies while struggling to keep their eyes off the thongs and short teddies. There are the guys who think they're alone and head right for the racy, silky panties and then jump and redden when the salesgirl walks up behind them and offers her help. Man, I want to work there on February 13th!

I love watching them try to estimate the size of their girlfriend/wife by holding their hands out. I once witnessed a guy pull a label out of his pocket that he had removed from his wife's underwear that morning, only to discover that several million washings had removed the size from it altogether. I heard one man ask whether a gift card was a bad idea. I wanted so badly to be the salesperson who innocently answered, "That depends on where you expect her to wear it." I can think of so many one-liners and double entendres that would reduce these already embarrassed men to mere puddles of self-consciousness on the plush carpet. These are the guys who slowly study every lingerie catalog that comes in the mail. What is it about going to the actual store that is so intimidating? Would it be easier or more difficult if it was Frederick's of Hollywood? And why do I find it so entertaining to watch them frantically search for just the right thing in the right size? I certainly don't envy them their task. You've got to get just the right balance of sexy but not slutty, not-too-big and not-too-small in order to obtain the perfect response. I don't know - I might opt for flowers and a nice dinner out. It might not get you laid, but it probably won't get you kicked out.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Pocket of Peace Inside the War


Opposites attract. We are all familiar with the phrase. Sometimes the chasm between opposing things can seem so large as to be unfathomable. There are other times when the microscopic filament that is the line between opposites is so small that we are able to cross it multiple times without even thinking or even doing so deliberately.
(Photo taken by Ronald Andrew "Andy" Hoskinson. Visit his website at http://www.hoskinson.net/gulfwar/)


This morning I was listening to an interview with Bruce Feiler on my local NPR station. Bruce Feiler (don't worry, I had no clue who he was before this morning, either) is the host of the PBS series "Walking the Bible" and has written books chronicling his travels through the Middle East while attempting to locate many of the critical places written about in the bible. While I don't consider myself a "believer" of the Christian God (or any other single entity, for that matter), I found the dialogue captivating. At one point, Mr. Feiler was describing the role of military chaplains as masters of interfaith dialogue. He brought up the point that, despite the aggressive, conservative stereotype of the American armed forces, in some social sense, they have been pioneers. The military was integrated racially long before the rest of American society was out of necessity, and they are also necessarily respectful of varying religions, perhaps more so than our culture at large.


I found it fascinating that when we must, for practical purposes, work together and find ways to live in harmony with opposing viewpoints, we tend to do so much more readily. Perhaps it is easier to put aside our differences when our overarching goals are the same. Maybe it is that we are all respectful of the same authority and are unwilling to question it when we are commanded to collaborate. I know that when I do not, as a parent, make my rules crystal clear, my children feel more compelled to challenge them and use every inch of wiggle room they've been allowed. When I lay down the law in no uncertain terms, they may struggle initially, but then they relax and move forward within their narrower boundaries.


It is tragic that so many of our citizens with disparate beliefs are dying in a country where individuals with opposing religious viewpoints are intent on perpetuating the violence against their enemies. I wonder how prevalent religious arguments are among American troops in Iraq, or whether they have accepted their job without reservation and are content to put aside their own differences in order to achieve the goals they have been given. In a society where so much verbal emphasis is placed on acceptance of others and living together in harmony in our "melting pot", I find it refreshing to know that, at least in our Armed Forces, that is put into practice without hesitation. The chaplains are educated with respect to many different religious practices and are encouraged to foster interfaith discussion. They carry with them supplies to minister to injured and dying soldiers who might be Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or otherwise. How do we capitalize on this example of peaceful co-existence in our much less dramatic lives here at home? These soldiers are facing injury, hatred, death, lack of comfort and family support, and other unknown terrors, yet they somehow manage to band together to do their jobs. How can we, as a society with every luxury available to us, adopt their willingness to move forward and focus on working collaboratively to make every life a better one and stop violence based on our differences?

Monday, February 05, 2007

It's Getting Deep...


"An arctic cold wave hit portions of the East Coast today. It was 38 below zero in Independence Valley," the NPR announcer spoke in his oh-so-serious tone.


NPR is the one fixed radio station in my car. Often, I drive and completely ignore it, soothed by the voices in the background. I know I don't have to worry about what's going on in the larger world because they're doing that for me. But today, the phrase "38 below zero" reached out of the dashboard and pinched me.


Who decided what "zero" is? When they did, did they have any concept that there could possibly be anything lower than it? I remember sitting in an elementary classroom learning about negative numbers and trying to wrap my consciousness around that. Are there people who see that as a purely mathematical concept or is there some philosophical importance inherently woven into the definition of negativity, loss of positivity. When I was a kid, knowing that there was some ultimate rock bottom beneath me was somewhat comforting. I knew that no matter how hard things got, regardless of the hell in which I was currently residing, eventually the freefall would stop. I would be caught by some kind of floor beneath me. It might be hard or rocky or hurt like a sonofabitch, but I would stop falling. And at that point, the only place to go would be up.


I love math. The "one right answer" part of it, the part where you can work your equations backwards and forwards to prove that you've achieved that one right answer, the logical progression of it, the ability to reach a perfect point where all of the loose ends are tied up, I love that. There is no ambiguity in elementary mathematics. 1+1 always equals two. I might not have always known the best way to get the correct answer, but I was certain there was a correct answer. It was only a matter of time until I could figure it out. Ahh, there was some order in my world.


Is it that my idea of ground zero was underestimated? If the mathematical/meteorological founding fathers had it to do over again, would they move 0 degrees lower or would they be okay with recording temperatures below where they ever thought they could fall? If you move 0 degrees lower, how do you ever know you've moved it far enough? I can't keep moving my rock bottom lower, but the thought of sinking below that is more frightening. Where does the momentum of falling stop so that we can change direction and begin moving upward again? Without a surface on which to land, where do I rest?


For me, the answer lies in submitting completely to the falling. Keeping my body still within the fall instead of struggling against it and simply feeling the sensation of weightlessness and my own discomfort. If I focus outside of myself, I can see images rushing by, choices I could have made differently and will make differently on my next journey upward. I can see opportunities for do-overs and reconciliation. At some point, there aren't any landmarks for me to tell how far I've fallen, and oddly, this is a relief. Maybe I haven't gone as far as I thought. Perhaps I'm only rewinding a bit so that I can understand this portion of my life a little better before moving on.


I'm beginning to understand that I don't need a rock bottom anymore. Wherever I find myself is just fine. It might be frightening or unhappy or exciting, but the only way to change it is to try and understand it. Like everyone else, I prefer not to suffer, but simply enduring the situation I'm in while waiting to hit the bottom won't change that. I am finding that it is much more empowering to examine my surroundings and let go of the fear I have that I can't change them.
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