Monday, September 29, 2008

Feedback


The following came as a response to my blog post "Can't Help Smiling." I felt as though it was important to acknowledge these questions.

"does kario have a roof over her head,
a vehicle,
enough food,
enough income,
health insurance,
investments...?
Does she have a partner, a community...
Does she know the brutal facts about planetary warming...a recent report stated that China and the United States headed up the list of global warming contributors---and emissions had gone up last year, not down.
Does she know the rate of species extinction?
Does she know the living conditions for people post-Katrina?
Does she know what it takes to organize "us"? Is she part of organizing "us?"
I ask you because I don't know her. I live in an area in which there is no work, countless mortgage foreclosures, where the Social Service workers are stressed by doubling and tripling numbers of recipients; where people with Master's Degrees wait in line to apply for fast food jobs.
Sleep in their cars
Eat cat food and hold signs asking for work."

My answer is yes. I am painfully aware that I am one of the lucky few who have not suffered financial catastrophe, homelessness, destruction of my habitat or loss of my job or health insurance. However, I am also certain that my comfortable existence does not disqualify me from the ability to be deeply concerned with any and all of these difficulties.

Having spent over a decade of my life railing against the unfairness of life, fervently wishing my childhood had been less tumultuous and deciding that that ought to be enough to ensure that I was 'owed' something as an adult, I slowly came to realize that there was no such payment forthcoming. I couldn't possibly hope to change the past and expecting a positive future to grow from my anger was like planting a seed and watering it with rat poison.

"Can't Help Smiling" came out of an irrepressible positive feeling I have about the future. I refuse to react to the political climate with fear - I choose instead to talk about my opinions openly and encourage everyone I know to vote. I don't expect any magical panacea to come about regardless who wins the Presidency of the United States. I know that this country is not defined by its politicians. This country is defined by its citizens who can choose to be angry and blame others for the predicaments we find ourselves in or who can choose to look toward the future as rife with possibility.
There is no denying that things are incredibly difficult, in some cases life-threatening right now. Our choices from here on are two: find a community of people who are willing to make positive changes for all of us or continue to seek the perpetrators. We can probably find some of them. We may even be able to make some of them 'pay' for their mistakes. None of that will make us feel better in the end and it certainly won't undo what has been done. Moving forward with energy and hope together helps everyone. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. I am smiling because I have found people with spunk and spirit and heart more than they ought to have. I have discovered that each of us gets discouraged from time to time and in that group of individuals we surround ourselves with, there is always someone willing to lend a hand to stand us back up until our legs are strong enough again.

Making mistakes is how we learn. I grieve for the losses we have sustained and will continue to sustain due to the poor choices of others. Nobody can make me stop believing in the power of a passionate group of human beings who are determined not to be deterred. I'm still smiling.
I have lived with and without money. With and without health insurance. With and without the support of friends. With and without hope. The greatest poverty I have yet endured came at a time when I lived with all the creature comforts I could have ever wanted, but my days began and ended in a deep dark pit from which I could not emerge. Despite the material goods I had, I had lost hope and the understanding that anything could spark a light in this cave where I was existing. I had forgotten about balance. Yin and yang. Faith.
The people who reached out to me, both strangers and friends, reminded me that the horizontal connection between us is not to be dismissed. The most basic core of energy that exists in each of us can only be replenished by reaching out to connect with the energy of others. We sustain each other. We are each other's strength. The power of that darkness was terrifying, but in the end it was no match for the amazing potency of kinship. The ripples we create in this pond by caring for each other and recognizing the good in ourselves and others reverberate farther and wider than we can imagine. This, I believe.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Little Workhorse


Don't you love knowing that no matter what else is going on, there is one thing you can count on? Whether the girls have woken up grumpy or smiling, sniffling, feverish, or bounding out of bed, my espresso machine doesn't care. No matter that Bubba's out of town, the cat has yakked up something nasty on the carpet, my little fire-engine red Starbucks Barista baby sits on the counter ready and waiting.

Six and a half years ago I bought this little sweetie for my big sweetie as a birthday gift. Not only did it satisfy his need for a morning latte, but it appealed to the techie in him - something mechanical that he could fiddle with. He loved it so much that he ran out and got his mother one for Christmas. We progressed from using it on the weekends to getting so good at it that we had time to make espresso before we left for work in the mornings every day. When our friends from Europe and South America come, it gets pressed into service five or six times a day - producing the requisite morning coffees as well as the after-midday-meal digestive espresso and late evening espressos these visitors are used to consuming.

Two years ago, she started to sputter. She dripped the espresso excruciatingly slow and we considered tossing her and shopping for her replacement. On a whim, I decided to call the toll free number on her side and reached a coffee expert at Starbucks. She walked me through the descaling process (nope, hadn't done it even once in four+ years - my face was nearly as red as my little friend on the counter), made sure I wasn't packing too much espresso into the machine, taught me the optimal way to produce my morning latte, and voila! A new lease on life!


Since then, I take much better care of this girl. She gets descaled every month and is only filled with cold, clean water. In return, she is my workhorse. My predictable savior in the mornings, sitting in the corner shining her bright red smile at me, ready to make my espresso just the way I like it. Ahhh, technology.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can't Help Smiling


Don't ask me to explain it.

Don't ask me to justify it.

All I know is, I'm not worried. I know the stock market is down. I know the economy is shaky. I know that if I wanted to sell my house right now, I probably couldn't.

I know that our air quality is diminishing. I know that our atmosphere is warming and our energy reserves are dwindling.

I know that terrorists are determined, wars are being fought, more are being contemplated.

I know that our environment is damaged and our health is being affected.

But I'm feeling great.

I also know that I believe in our willingness to make a difference. I believe that the momentum of those who are determined to find positive solutions is great. I believe that the groundswell of common citizens who are concerned with making our world better has only just begun.

I believe that an honest, forthright politician is not an impossibility. And even if it is, it is not impossible to have a strong country in spite of that.

I believe that the number of people who truly want to live in peace and harmony is greater than the number who don't. I believe that the number of people who have compassion for others and are reaching out to help is growing every day. I believe that bumper stickers and sound bites are not even the tip of the iceberg. I believe that together we are unbeatable. Together, we are human beings. Together, we are connected. Together, we are better.

What comes next will come. Whatever shape it takes, we will find a way to survive and thrive. The collective human spirit is a more powerful force than the United States economy, global warming, and corrupt politicians added together.

Love.

Only love.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mixed Allegiance


Having finished my latest good read ("The Plague and I by Betty MacDonald of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books - hilarious memoir of her time in a TB sanatorium), I was forced to turn my attention to what Bubba was watching on TV. Knowing that I was fully engrossed in my book, he felt as though it was safe to tune in to the Fox Soccer Channel. Bless his lucky stars! Turns out the particular match being broadcast was one of England's most vicious rivalries - Manchester United versus Chelsea.

For those of you woefully uneducated as to European soccer, this match-up is akin to the New York Yankees playing the New York Mets. The New York Giants versus the New York Jets. Two teams from the same town vying for bragging rights in their particular sport. This particular sport is one that just happens to inspire drunken brawls and bloodshed from time to time. Indeed, as I slowly turned my attention to the game, I noticed the undercurrent of song. Nearly every fan in the stadium was chanting and swaying, cheering for their team. The game was in the 75th minute of 90, the score was 1-0.

The camera man panned to one of the coaches on the sideline - the leader of Manchester United. A stout 50-something man with white hair and thick forearms, he was pacing and waving his hands. What struck me were the three letters on his jersey; AIG.

Isn't that the company the US government just bailed out to the tune of 85 billion dollars?

"Uh, nice shirt? Shouldn't the coach have chosen another, more promising shirt to wear for this crucial game?" I asked Bubba.

"AIG has been the major sponsor for Man U forever," he noted wryly.

So does that mean I ought to be rooting for Manchester United? Or asking for "our" sponsorship money back.

My tax dollars at work.

The game ended in a tie.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Color Me Concerned


Is the world going to hell in a handbasket? I don't know, but every once in a while something happens that worries me. Some fundamental shift in the status quo that rocks me to my core.

Nope, I'm not talking about the stock market. The trend is downward right now and I suspect that pendulum will swing back the other way fairly soon. I can remain fairly sanguine about that for now.

I'm not referring to the global climate changes and the gradual degradation of our environment. I truly believe that the rising swell of consciousness about the way our consumerism affects the planet is a good thing that will make changes we can be proud of.

I'm concerned about this. "Products such as Whatchamacallit, Milk Duds, Mr. Goodbar and Krackel no longer have milk chocolate coatings, and Hershey’s Kissables are now labeled “chocolate candy” instead of “milk chocolate.”" Something here is wrong. Good thing I was never all that sweet on milk chocolate anyway. But I'll know that the world is coming to an end when they replace the cocoa butter in my Swiss dark chocolate with vegetable oil. I can only hope I'm gone before that happens...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

E-G-O spells trouble


The space that had seemed enormous quickly filled with eager pre-teen bodies clad in leotards, most of the giggling girls with their feet bare except for the tape across the balls of their feet. Ponytails bounced and swayed, clusters of two and three formed on the hardwood floor. I peered through the picture window, jaw tight, eyes locked on my eldest daughter - the shortest by at least 8 inches. Probably the youngest, too. She sat criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, facing the mirrored wall, spine straight, wide eyes following the young-twenty-something instructor in her long shorts and t-shirt.

I made silent plans to praise her for her courage - taking this class full of strangers, following the teacher's directions explicitly, not wavering. I stayed for the first ten minutes and then headed to the grocery store next door to get ingredients for dinner. She was so brave - didn't falter when I waved good-bye - trusting that I'd be back before class ended.

The sunshine outside was too bright. As I went through the double doors to the fluorescent produce section, sensory overload set in. Pushing the cart was all I could do as I struggled to gather my thoughts. Which direction should I go? Where to start? I was sure to forget some vital component of tonight's dinner and we'd have to get by. I wanted to put a healthy, tasty dinner on the table for the first day of school. Focus, girl! Maybe if I hit every aisle methodically I would remember everything I needed. Checking the clock on my cell phone, I quickened my pace. Finish before the class ends or she'll be scared.

The ride home began with sobs from her car seat. The teacher had flashed me two thumbs up at the end of class - letting me know that she was terrific - she fit in and did all the steps. She was flexible and agile enough for level 3 jazz class. I was so pleased!

"I don't want to do the class, Mommy!" she sputtered. "It's too hard! I'm so much younger than everyone else and she goes too fast - I can't follow the steps."

NO! Please don't quit! My chest was screaming. You won't play any team sports, anything competitive. You quit gymnastics last year and you were the best at the gym - it kills me! I was so embarrassed. Shameful. What? Why am I ashamed?

"Sweetheart, give yourself a break. It was your first class. Most of these girls have been dancing at this studio for years, now. Being the youngest in the class means that you're even better than they were at your age. The teacher gave me the thumbs-up sign - she thinks you're great and you can handle this class. You'll do great - just give yourself a few weeks to get the routines," my words came out like an auctioneer. She wasn't going to get any time to object.

"It's too late, anyway, Mommy. I'm tired. I hate not getting home until 6:30 after a full day of school. I don't want to do it."

"Now you're just making excuses. I don't want you to quit just because it's hard. I think you'll have fun and when I watched you, you were really getting it. Besides, it's only one night a week that you'll be late."

"Nuh-uh. Choir is Tuesday nights and it goes until 6, too. Mommy, I don't want to be out late two nights in a row."

Now I was angry. She was going to fight me all the way on this one. Find any excuse to give it up. She always quits when something is challenging. How am I ever going to teach her to hang in there and work at something?

"Fine. But don't think you're going to just drop it. Pick something else instead - something that will give your body exercise. Something athletic. But you're running out of options. You quit gymnastics. You've ruled out team sports. You won't do swim team because they have races. What else is there?" My tone was nasty - condescending. I hated myself for it, but justified it by rationalizing that everything I was saying was true.

"I don't know, Mommy. I don't want you to be disappointed. I know you wanted me to do jazz."

That arrow hit the soft spot. Now I really hated the words I'd spat out.

"No, honey. I want you to find something that you enjoy. I don't want you to choose because you think I want you to do it. If you're not having fun, it's not worth it." Worth. It. "But I'm not going to waste our time or money paying for something over and over again if you're just going to quit." Ugh. There I go again.

Her cheeks are glistening with tears. She knows I'm disappointed and angry. I glance at her over and over again in the rearview mirror. God, why do I do this to her? I love her. Why do I feel as though she has to use all of her talents right now? Why do I feel so ashamed and embarrassed when she chooses not to finish something? Why is it that the thought of telling my friends and co-workers that she gave up again slays me? Why do I use the words 'quit' and 'give up.' Why am I sending her this message that she has choices, but there's pressure to choose the thing I want her to choose? What kind of freedom is that? Why can't I believe that she truly doesn't like it instead of instantly thinking that she's being lazy or a wimp? Why can't I separate my ego from hers?

I love this child. The depth of my pride and affection when I look at her is endless. It is my own self-loathing that gets mixed up in this sludge when I see her as a strong, capable eight year old girl - one that I wish I could have been. It is my fearful eight year old that believed she would fail everything that is dying to teach her to survive, not give up. Instead, I'm teaching her that she has to continue on even if she hates it, if only to show some invisible army of judges that she CAN. I am so sorry, my precious girls. Both of you deserve better. I promise to try.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bubba's Nervous


He came home from a business trip last week to find my two most recent acquisitions from Amazon.com sitting on the kitchen counter:

"Split: A Memoir of Divorce" by Suzanne Finnamore, and

"Couldn't Keep it To Myself" by Wally Lamb and the women of York Correctional Institution

I watched as his step slowed and his eyebrows lifted. He glanced my way once, twice, and I didn't meet his eye. I turned away...

and giggled. He's not in danger. Just two more books in my string of what he calls 'depressing stories.' I kissed him hard and held him for an extra minute just to reassure him.
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