22 February 2015

Wherein a Cynic Rethinks Some Things

All those awesome happy beautiful good life photos we see on social media: they're all a total crock, right?

When my kids see their friends' super cool Instagram photos and respond by decrying their own boring lives, I whip out my tried and true lecture entitled The Problem with Social Media and wax on and on about the insidious nature of the filtered, photoshopped, edited, culled and selectively presented Beautiful Life we think everyone but us is having. 

It can make me crazy, this 24-7 invasion into our homes and minds and psyches, and I feel a certain sense of urgency about making sure my kids know that all those sick shots are not necessarily an accurate portrayal of life. 

As you might imagine, my kids roll their eyes at me a lot. 

I'm a bit of a fun sponge like that. 

Today I had occasion to re-consider my opinion.  Because ya' know what? This weekend has been super average -- dare I say boring. My house is a mess, I've been kinda grumpy and my kids have been unpleasant and annoying.  I'm half-heartedly cleaning a ridiculously cluttered garage and serving uninspired meals; my kids are half-heartedly doing homework and serving up complaints.  Rick is, as usual, working hard and not taking any time to relax.  Just normal, tilting towards Bummerville, ho-hum life. 

Who wants to document and remember that?

In the midst of all that mediocrity, this happened too. 





And I immediately grabbed my phone and posted these photos on Facebook because they're fun and cute. 

I chastised myself. Gently, of course--nothing too serious. But I did roll my eyes at myself for a moment. 

And then I realized that I would rather remember these moments, thank you very much, instead of the bickering in the car on the way home from Mass, or the mountain of laundry defying physics in my garage, or the truly inane battle of wills I got drawn into with my kid, or a hundred other challenging moments in this long, mundane weekend. 

Maybe it's narcissistic at worst or fake at least to only post what makes ours look like a charmed life. 

Or maybe it's what keeps me grateful, keeps me going, keeps my head in the game. 

Whaddya know, a cynic can still learn a thing or two from this crazy world.  Photographs of a happy family never tell the whole story. But the part they do tell is pretty damn important too.

#grateful



15 February 2015

Thank you, Philip Levine

On Valentine's Day, Philip Levine, our 2011 Poet Laureate, died.  To mark his life and the small but significant impact he had on me, I am re-posting a reflection I originally posted back in 2011, shortly after his appointment as our nation's "First Poet."  I still think about this post, and its impetus, frequently.

* * *

from The Poetry Foundation's website
biography of Philip Levine
Written August 11, 2011. Yesterday, the Library of Congress announced the appointment of Philip Levine as the new Poet Laureate of the United States. The job of the Poet Laureate is "to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry." (Taken from the website of the Library of Congress.)

Prior to that announcement, I knew little to nothing about Philip Levine, although his name was familiar. But the news came to me yesterday while I was lamenting the quality of my children's exposure to arts and culture, at least any arts and culture that doesn't make my ears bleed. So when, in the car on the way to camp this morning, our local public radio station KQED aired an interview with Levine, I turned it up. I wanted my kids to hear this guy talking about poetry. I'm sure my intended audience was more attentive to his/her electronic devices, but I turned it up anyway. I paused to explain to my captive audience what a Poet Laureate is, and was greeted by blank stares.

But I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the interview. I liked what he had to say about teaching at Fresno State, where he has been for 30 years: 
"I've got these students, who are capable of learning, gave themselves the freedom to learn because they gave themselves the freedom to fail."
He goes on to say that at other, more prestigious schools where he has taught, like Yale and Vanderbilt, "students had a lot of trouble being told that their poems were no damn good." It seems that education, for these high achieving students, is more about being brilliant already than about expanding one's mind and possibilities. (You can access the whole interview here.)

What an important concept to keep in mind. Amidst all our striving towards excellence and achievement, it's easy to lose sight of real learning. We can forget the importance of failure in shaping our minds, our hearts, who we are, and how much we grow, in intellectual and in more personal or creative endeavors.

While we may want our children to work hard enough to go to a good college or university, what we want for them even more is the freedom to fail, the freedom to find more and better paths for their creativity and innovation to flourish. Maybe in art or poetry, maybe in engineering, maybe on a soccer field or in a medical lab, maybe in their personal pursuits or in common cause for others. 

Maybe in family life and raising children, too. Maybe parents need the freedom to fail, in order to grow and get better at crafting children, the way a poet crafts his poems. Perhaps it's not about being perfect already, but about keeping ourselves open to the possibilities before us, to directions we aren't expecting to go.

Leave it to a poet to remind us how our hearts and minds expand.

* * *

Read more about Philip Levine in his biography on The Poetry Foundation's website.

03 February 2015

Sights and Sounds

It has been such a busy and challenging year so far.  Many highs and lows, many, many activities, and not much down time.

Today: the perfect antidote.  A much needed day off.  Some California winter weather (read: sunshine).  A trusty dog.

Not much in my world cannot be made better by hearing and seeing the following:

video


What sights and sounds soothe your rough edges?



06 January 2015

On Laundry and New Beginnings

I don't make New Years Resolutions.  Per se.

Instead, I spend the whole last week of each year in a perpetual state of "Oh My Gosh I Need To Read More, Eat Less, Breathe More, Yell Less, Calm the F Down, and Take Charge."

Then I resolve to be a better person.  All vague and stuff.  Because really, resolutions don't work.

Do they?  December 31 is just a day on a calendar.  It doesn't matter.  It's not significant.

Is it?

Anyway, who the hell knows?  I only know one thing for certain: I spent an inordinate amount of time on my two week vacation sorting laundry, doing laundry, folding laundry, finding laundry, and re-organizing the laundry area of our garage.

The one thing I didn't get done was putting it all away.  And I am oh so very terrified, now that I've been back to work for two days, that all my hours of thankless labor will be a big fat waste of time because while I am at work, I fear the small and grimy hands that could be rifling through my neatly folded piles looking for just the right pair of leggings, toppling piles and wreaking havoc.  The face belonging to those hands might as well just spit in my face and reject me outright.

Because as is the case with every organizational project I ever take on, peeling back the covers and discovering the extent of the problem becomes a daunting and downright sysiphisean endeavor.  Case in point: I told my daughters to clean out their dresser drawers so we could put away all the folded clothes as neatly as possible.  My youngest is adamantly insisting that one of her drawers is her "crayon holder."  And so, I find myself in a power struggle with an 8 year old over whether or not a depressing collection of mostly broken crayons really belongs in a dresser drawer.  The power struggle is too much for me, when I'm pretty much doing 3+ full time jobs at the same time, between main job, raising kids, keeping house, and doing freelance gigs.  (Husband also doing multiple jobs, also helpful, also fighting the same battles I am, just so's ya know.)  So I put off winning the battle, or so I tell myself.  I tell myself that I will finesse her, that I will bring her around to my point of view without having to argue, that I will charm her into submission…tomorrow.  When I have more energy.

And then tomorrow comes and it's the strangest thing, but I don't got no more energies.

So I don't charm her.  She is un-finessed.  Crayons are still in the dresser drawer.  Folded clothes, slumping and sliding in their piles, are still on the laundry table.

Take that power struggle and multiple it by 5.  These days, I feel like I'm locking horns with each and every one of my little darlings…and this is just normal, not a crisis, not dangerous and not anything to really worry about.  I can spend 10, 15 glorious minutes with my crazy-bright and funny 10 year old, impressed by the sheer speed of her wit and dazzled by her laughter…and then BAM, I do or say something that prompts her to tell me what I mean and terrible mom I am.  Horns lock.  Battle lines emerge.  She won't let me hug her or tease her into playfulness again.

It happens on the daily.  Times 5.  How am I supposed to get the laundry put away in such an environment?  How keep resolutions to be better?

But one other thing I know for sure.  Want I want to do more than anything else in the world tonight, after I finally get home from a full day of work, followed by an evening school board meeting, when I am utterly exhausted, and just as all the children finally have my ear to pull and my arm to tug, is this:  I want to put all of the folded laundry away.

I resolve to do so.  I resolve to be a better person.  Eat more, sleep less.  Or the other way around.  Whatever.  I just. want. order.

Instead, I have children.  And many piles of folded laundry.  And a brand new year to...conquer.

* * *

  

09 December 2014

Cupcake Dreams

I want to be a kid again.  I want to tell stories the way my youngest daughter does.  I want to dream about cupcakes.  And I really, really want a Dream Teller of my very own.

During dinner last night, Little T was devouring my homemade spaghetti sauce and making me feel like Martha Stewart, Julia Child, and Ree Drummond, all rolled into one, and she mentioned that she knew she was going to have a good dinner tonight because her Dream Teller told her so.

Come again, daughter?

Your what?

That's right.  She has a Dream Teller.  Every morning, after a night of dreaming about cupcakes and unicorns and whatever other lovelies visit her while she is sleeping, her Dream Teller tells her what her dreams mean.  Here's last night's:



Actually, I don't want to be a kid again: I want to be THIS KID.

* * *

29 October 2014

Averting Awkward Alliteration

Little T learned about alliteration today in school, and she had a great time creating little one line "poems" with her classmates. My personal favorite, koan-like in its profound simplicity, is this:

The careful cat cooked colorful cupcakes in the courtyard.

Let that soak into your brain for a moment. It's pure beauty, right?

She remembered many of the others she composed at school:

The lion licked lots of lemon lollipops.
Savana slid down several slippery slides.
The seal told his sister several silly stories.

Then we started making up our own, Little T, Lady E, and I.  I'm guessing the ones we did here at home used the words "butt" and "poop" more than the ones Mrs. Onu collected from her 2nd graders. I'll save you most of those but here are a few of the gems we came up with:

Happy hippies hold hands and hop through hothouses.
Isabelle has a big icky contagious illness.
The canine’s colorful crap cooled down after being freshly cooped up. (Thank you, 5th grader.)
Big bears bang their butts on the backs of banana trees.

For that last one, she had the word "paws" instead of "butts."  I got a kick out of suggesting she might be able to think of a body part that started with a 'B' and then watching her crack her little self up with the revision. 

I refrained, however, from making the same suggestion for this one:

The princess printed pretty pictures of her prince’s...BUTT.

She was so pleased with herself!  So amused!  So delighted with her hutzpah! 

Mommy was pretty happy, too, to have avoided an awkward -- although admittedly hilarious -- alliterative apex!

Language is such a thrill, isn't it?



20 October 2014

Mr. Angry Truck Driver Guy, this is for you.

Driving home in the twilight tonight, my two youngest daughters in tow, we encountered one of those teachable moments.

I had just managed to avert a potent Clash of the Sisters, and was basking in the success of having steered us successfully away from the threat of punches to an invitation to "come up on my bed when we get home" from the top-bunk dwelling sister.  It was glorious.  And rare.

We were sitting at a red light, when my youngest asked for pain medication and a drink of water.  She is currently in a wrist brace from a slight sprain, and her wrist was hurting.  Also, she can't do some things, such as open a water bottle.  I glanced up at the light, marking that it was still red, grabbed an ibuprofen from my purse, gave it to her, and then reached for the water bottle, opened it and handed it over.  She took the pill, drank the water, and handed back the bottle.

In the time it took for those things to happen, which seemed quite brief to me, the light turned green.  The driver of the truck behind me BLASTED his horn at me.  I spilled the water.  And then I stepped on the gas and began to proceed through the intersection.  Mr. Angry Truck Driver Guy swerved hard to my right and passed me at just the right pace to allow him to give me a nice long glare as he drove by.

Daughter commentary: "MOMmy, HE'S giving you the STINK eye!"

Once he passed me, he swerved hard back to the left and in front of my car.  Just to make a point I guess.

* * *

Earlier today, a co-worker of mine dissolved into tears from two recent and unexpected deaths in her family.

Earlier today, my son called me with a plea for advice for handling an upsetting issue in his life.

Earlier today, I listened to a news story about an Iraqi student who lives in an ISIS-controlled area, who is now breaking the law by attending his state university; he leaves his house before dark each day to minimize the possibility that he will be arrested for pursuing an education.

And right at that moment, in my little minivan cocoon, I had, in a short five minutes, successfully prevented a nasty, soul-crushing fight between my daughters, and tended to an 8-year old's pain.

I kind of think that Mr. Angry Truck Drive Guy needs to take a chill pill and realize what's really important in life.

But my own reaction was interesting too.  I wanted to speed up and RIDE HIS ASS.  I wanted to ask him WTF was so important that he had to shatter my nice little moment with my daughters.  I really wanted to pull right up to him, roll down my window and say in a drippingly sarcastic voice: "Hey, I'm soooooo sorry I made you wait an extra 10 seconds.  I was giving my daughter pain medication for her sprained wrist.  I hope we haven't made you late for something truly important.  Have a nice evening, asshole!"

But my girls, they saw it differently.

They thought the guy was a whack job.  They had a nice little laugh at how stressed out he got.  Nothing was going to touch their groove, or derail them from their top-bunk plans.  So that teachable moment thing?  That was them, teaching me not to sweat the small stuff and to keep right on enjoying moments with the ones I love.

Here's my advice to humanity: whenever possible, whenever it occurs to you, several times a day if necessary, take a giant chill pill and control your stink eye.  It's just not that hard to tend to the more important things in life, if you give it at try.

* * *

We drove on, into the twilight, and soon right along the gorgeous San Francisco bay, and I was so happy to be with my non-fighting daughters on one of the first Fall-feeling evenings of the season.

Chill pills are the best.

* * *