Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer Perspectives

So, summer has fully arrived. Not just the weather, but also the joy of spending nearly every hour with our beautiful children.

And I love them! They constantly surprise and amaze me.

Just last weekend, as the four of us drove somewhere, Little A. said, "Mom?"

And I smiled. And I said, "Yes?"

And he mumbled something.

"What did you say?"

"I said, never mind!"

Well, okay then.

And then S. leans over in the backseat, not even really bothering to be too quiet, and says to him with delight in her voice, "I love doing that, too."

 ><><><

About two hours into the Great Road Trip of 2017, Little A. once again pipes up.

"Traveling is great for getting out into the world and...and...

Oh my gosh, this is gonna be good. All our efforts will pay off in chunks of wisdom picked up while traveling.

"I mean, it's nice to get out and see things in real life, you know. Things like, like ..."

This will be enlightened! Wise! Life-changing! Oooh, I can't wait...

"I really like seeing real things, like billboards for all the companies they advertise on the radio."

...
...
...

Speaking of signs, let's end on a positive note. A little contribution from one of our Philadelphia contributors to remind us that empathy is the key!


Friday, May 12, 2017

This is Sick*





This has been my view for the last few days. Notice the sofa-level angle on the picture? Yeah. I've been laid low by this bizarre virus that (while allegedly not the flu) lasts for days.

Honestly, if I hadn't seen my son go through it first, I wouldn't have believed it. But this bug sucked the energy right out of a nine-year-old boy.

Honestly, if the pediatrician hadn't told me half the town has it and it lasts 10-12 days, I wouldn't have believed.

And, honestly, I still might not have believed it if the all-around tough guy--also a great guy!--who trims our palms hadn't had to reschedule for a week later because *he* had it.

I felt a little bleh all weekend, so I then felt super proud of myself for making it through my PiYo class Monday morning. The downhill slide began when I picked up my phone after class and saw eight missed calls. Eight?!?! Turns out we'd sent Little A. back to school too soon and he needed to come home. No problem. I picked him up and got him settled.

The rest of the week passed in a blur of already scheduled home repair and/or maintenance visits and the subsequent follow-ups (see the list on the legal pad there?), attempts to remember when I last took Advil, and making really lame dinners for the kids. Oh--I also had to set an alarm on my phone to remember to give Little A. his antibiotics twice a day because it turns out he had an ear infection, too.

He's not a complainer and, usually, neither am I. But it's funny how you learn things about yourself when you have kids exactly like you, warts and all.

It's flippin' hard to take care of him! I never have any idea how sick  he is unless I catch one of his tells. His teacher sent him home because, after he was a total jerk to her about some instructions that he couldn't hear because EAR INFECTION, she caught one of his tells. He put his head down on his desk. I'm so glad she spotted that for what it was--a totally out of character moment of overwhelming misery--and called me.

Even then he argued with me later. "I ALWAYS put my head on my desk." Um, yeah, son? I'm not in class with you all day but I'm willing to bet that's a big negative, Ghost Rider.

So if I'd like him to be more aware of his symptoms and more open with the people around him, I guess I'd better teach by example. I'll try to do better at assessing my condition and sharing it with the people who have to deal with me. Here goes.

I've been sick, so sick that the dog barking gives me an adrenaline shot equivalent to... I dunno what. A triple espresso?  But it takes me roughly a half hour to recover and, with at least five companies scheduled to work on the house, plus one guy from a fairly major investment firm going door-to-door "not selling anything, just letting me know he's opened an office nearby" (?!?!?) this week, the dog has barked. A lot.

Oh, yeah--did I mention that Little A. spent his sick days surprising the dog with a remote control helicopter?

I've been so sick that getting up to get water makes my heart race. Notice I don't say "getting up to get hot tea with honey"--because that's too darn hard to fix when I'm this sick.

I've tried reading to pass time, but I have to stop when the story gets to action scenes because it's just too exhausting. If you know my reading habits, this is truly alarming.

Also typos! I'm so sick I'm not even getting close enough for Autosuggest to guess. I can't tell how many corrections I've made to this post. And I'm feeling better today!

*Here's where you find out this whole post has been a ploy to see if I can put together complete sentences and catch my typos. If I succeed, it's back to work for me!

Although, with no one scheduled to be at the house this afternoon, I may nap later...

Wishing you health and peace, my friends.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The World Is Wide Enough

The other morning, while solo parenting, I negotiated a sibling dispute. Slowing down my bright, quick, passionate children and engaging their frontal lobes rather than their brain stems took every ounce of attention, skill, and experience I possess. But when they’d settled things, I realized I’d just seen something crucial to our world.

Let me set the scene.

As we ate, the topic of circus came up. Shocking, really, considering S. spends AT LEAST twelve hours a week there. We talked about various different types of acts, then Little A. confidently proclaimed his opinion.

“I like ALL the clowns and ONLY the clowns!”

Now, I knew he was just playing with words. Once he said “all” he (subconsciously) created some parallel structure and cool contrast between “all” and “only.” He’s been doing that a lot lately—probably because he’s reading books with better prose lately. But S. didn’t like it one bit.

“That’s just wrong! Why would you say that?”

She probably would have kept going, but I cut her off. “Wait. Why are you upset?”

“I’m offended because *I* like other acts and he shouldn’t say that—” Her voice went up an octave.

I jumped in. “Whoa! Whoa! The world is wide enough for both your brother and you.”

Hamilton references always diffuse tricky situations in our house, so we were able to dial things down a bit. We went on to have a discussion about how Little A. can hold his opinion (and maybe even change it someday) while S. holds hers. They can be opposite opinions and that’s OKAY. What’s in one person’s mind does not negate what’s in another person’s mind.

And really, isn’t that the tragedy of Hamilton? Burr realizes, too late, that he and Hamilton could coexist without negating each other. “The world is wide enough for both Hamilton and me.”

And really, isn’t that the tragedy of our society right now? I’ve heard our political environment compared both to a sports league, where rivalries generate ratings and everyone’s a rabid fan of their team, and to dog fighting, where the powerful throw scraps down for the powerless to fight over—at least in part to distract the powerless from realizing they probably could break free if they stopped fighting.

And then I heard this phenomenal podcast. Essentially, it’s an interview with two South Carolina politicians—Jamie Harrison, chair of the state Democratic Party, and Matt Moore, chair of the state Republican Party--about issues affecting the judicial system. But the quality of the conversation struck me far more than the content. Not only do these two men have a fantastic rapport, but they clearly have profound respect for each other. And they actually discuss the unfortunate enmity between various groups in our society, the possible causes, and potential solutions.

And then I ran across this excellent TEDTalk on how to make that happen—a spiritual and political practice that could restore America, which is much more of a tossed salad than a melting pot.

Listen to these folks if you can. Even if you can’t, remember this:
The world is wide enough for both everyone else and you.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Just Do It


Two profound experiences in one week have my head in a whirl.

The first, though simplest to say, may end up being the most complex to explain. Except that I can’t explain. I listened to S-Town.

W-o-w. No spoilers here, so let me just say that I will be moving forward through my life newly determined to act on needs I see, large or small, to tell people I care about them, and to live a life I love. “Eff it” does not just have to be an excuse for not thinking before we act. We can make our “eff it” moments our chance to see, to care, and to act out of love.

There’s a large quantity of existential depression in S-Town and I wrestle with that at times. It’s felt personal lately, but I have to say that, flaws and all, John B’s huge heart and the many varied windmills he tilted at, large and small, have inspired me to see, care, and act. And to do it out loud, so I can join in with other people doing the same. That way, none of us faces dark thoughts alone.

And my second profound experience came from someone who probably couldn’t even pronounce existential depression, but still managed to see, care, and act…to help me.

I take the most amazing fitness classes, led by someone who loves her work and attended by all kinds of folks, all shapes, sizes, and ages. One of my best friends has recently started coming and, since preschoolers are welcome to play during the class—or join in!—her toddler has, too.

On Wednesday, we set up for a drill involving punching bags. Since gloves were optional, I opted to go barehanded—it makes me pay attention to my form! The other students all geared up in gloves and we got started. Halfway through the drill, this sweet little guy toddled up next to me, holding a glove up over his head, offering it to me to use.

Tears in my eyes, I thanked him and—sure enough—he pattered all the way across the gym, got a second glove from the box, and brought that one to me, too.

He. Is. Two. Two years old.

A two-year-old boy watched five people do something and noticed four of them had gloves, but one did not. He thought it might be important, so he went and got gloves for the fifth person. He saw, he cared, and he acted.

Granted, my friend is raising a house full of amazing children, but if her two-year-old can do it, why can’t we?

We never know how far small acts of caring will carry someone. I may not have needed the gloves, but I sure needed the caring.

See. Care. Act. Just do it.


My virtual 5k coming up--a small act, but I will be running for so many reasons!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Process

I just finished pulling together a collection of my poems for a contest that I'd really, really, really like to win.

It provided me with one heck of a learning experience. I'm by no means the first writer to be astonished by my own process, but I am. I am 100%...amazed by how my writerly brain works.

The main cause for pause? There's very little writing in my writing. I think accepting this may be the number one thing I need to do to nurture my creative side. Honestly, my Puritan work ethic equates productivity with worth. I hear my grumpy old New England forefathers grudgingly admitting I can fool around with that writing stuff as long as I can produce X pages a year and get paid.That's the American way, right?

But if I can sit with myself, if I can make peace with the fallow times, if I can accept that the bulk of my creative iceberg lies below the surface, maybe I can finally commit to writing.

So, just for fun, I made a pie chart. And then I learned something else: I am entirely mediocre at dividing up pie charts. But, for what it's worth, here's a pie chart of my writing process.


Also, please feel free to making offerings to the spirit of Emily Dickinson on my behalf between now and April 30. Thanks!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dear Bougainvillea




I've had a love-hate relationship with the bougainvillea next to our driveway since the moment we moved in. It's a thorny, sprawling bush planted TWO FEET from our driveway. It could literally grow three or four feet overnight after a rainstorm, so it needed constant trimming.

Our tree guy refuses to deal with any bougainvillea bushes after an epic battle he once had with one. So it stayed. Eventually, I got the brilliant idea to turn it into a tree. We cut back every branch below my head. During this process, I stood up, hit my head on a branch, and acquired the one-inch thorn in my scalp that stayed there all the way through the Tough Mudder. 

But it worked. Trimming the bougainvillea got much easier, it only scratched up the roof of the car after growth spurts, and it looked charming--flowers on top, bird house and flowers underneath. I could almost like the dang thing, even if it required several solid hours of attention every time I did yardwork. And do you know how hard it is to stick thorny branches in a yard bag? Oy.

Unfortunately, the trunk wasn't sound; trimming it like a tree made it a bit top-heavy, too. It toppled in a windstorm a few weeks ago. And, with profound apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda and everyone associated with the cultural phenomenon Hamilton, I could only think of this:

Dear Bougainvillea, what to say to you?
You had long thorns
You had bright magenta blooms
When we bought our little house, you grew and it broke my heart
I’ve dedicated so much time to you
Gardening work was never quite my style
 
But when you grew, you scratched my car up and I pruned you back
And I thought I was all done
Then you’d grow three feet after a rainstorm
I’d bleed and fight with you, I’d make it right with you
 
If I could cut enough long branches
Then I could stop pruning you, I could park next to you
And you could bloom all day
Someday, someday
The wind’ll blow you all away
Someday, someday

Oh, Bougie, when you bloom I am undone
My tree
Look at my tree
Pride is not the word I’m looking for
Mixed feelings fight inside me now

Oh, Bougie, you glow out in the morning sun
My tree
But when you grow, I fall apart
And I thought I was so smart
Trimming you up higher (trimming you up higher)

I swear that
I’ll find a way around you
I’ll do whatever it takes
I’ll make a million mistakes

I’ll make you look pretty and taller
I’ll work with all your long thorny arms, ‘cause
I’ve bled and fought with you, I’ve tried to make it right with you

I tried to trim you so that
We could drive safely by you, we could reach the world despite you 

But the wind’ll blow you all away
Someday, someday
The wind’ll blow you all away
Someday, someday

How could I forgot the pink flowers that stuck to everyone's shoes and left stains all over the floor?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Empathy


An interesting concept has made the rounds of the internet lately. People have begun to notice that the “Facebook algorithm” determines the content we see online. The programs, designed to please us, track what we view, what we like, and what we comment on, then give us more of it. We then receive a narrower and narrower stream of input, all of which confirms our feelings, our opinions, and our world view.

In other words, we only hear what we sympathize with.

A lot of us have lost track of the distinction, so here’s a refresher—to sympathize means to be in keeping, accord, or harmony with; to share in suffering or grief with; or to be in sympathy intellectually.

It’s a like-attracts-like kind of relationship.

I’m voting for empathy from here on out. Be on guard against anyone who promotes conflict, question anyone who says “others” are to blame, and overthrow those marketing algorithms that promote sameness. Instead, empathize with real human beings of all kinds.

And here’s our refresher on empathy, which is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either in the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

In other words (because that’s a lot of words), having empathy means you can put yourself in the place of someone entirely different than you without having their point of view spelled out for you.

It’s an act that builds bridges between people who are not alike.

To be even more direct, sympathy says, “You have the same pain I do. I get that,” but, conversely, leaves out the pain of others, “Your pain is not my pain.” Empathy says, “I see your pain. I’ve known pain. All pain sucks. I’m sorry for your pain, my friend.”

What if, rather than a competition or a barrier, our pains, unique though they may be, became a bridge? What if we use empathy to build that bridge?

I belong to a segment of society once considered property to be disposed of at another’s whim, with no legal standing, no right to own property, no vote, no mention in the Declaration of Independence. We’ve only recently won freedom from those bonds, yet we are still dismissed, marginalized, judged by our appearance. I may not be more likely to be killed by police because of my body, but I’m more likely to be killed by my partner.

I’m not saying this makes my fears or pains more or stronger or even the same as anyone else’s. They do make me empathetic. They do make me yearn—and act--for a world where no one feels “other” in any degree, for any reason.

I heard a lot of bigoted talk growing up, some directed toward groups that included me, but most of it directed toward people other than me. Do you know what I learned then? I learned to fear being different, to avoid being “other.” I saw that my safety lay in staying within the circle of sympathy.

And do you know what my mature, adult response to that is? No. I choose empathy. I choose to see pain in another’s eyes and say, “I see your pain. I’ve known pain. All pain sucks. I’m sorry for your pain, my friend.”

I choose to yearn—and act—for a world where no one is other.

We are all so weird and wonderful and unique.