Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Hole in the Middle


Things tend to converge in my mind when I’m thinking hard about something and two things have crashed together in my brainspace recently.

Ready?

The first, a camp song, came up because we’re helping Little A. learn to identify coins. I’ve been singing “The Donut Song” to him. Here it goes:

I walked around the corner
And I walked around the block
And I walked right in to a donut shop
I picked up a donut, fresh from the grease
And I handed the lady a five-cent piece.

Well, she looked at the nickel
And she looked at me and
She said, “This nickel is no good for me.
There’s a hole in the middle and it goes right through.”

I said, “There’s a hole in the donut, too!”

You can see why this is helpful with identifying our crazy US coins—it has “five-cent piece” and “nickel” right there. But I know what you’re really dying to know…What has this song converged with in my mind?

It converged with my feminine mid-life crisis.

According to Oprah, women tend to be pleasers and in their forties, they learn to let go of that. Okay, maybe I condensed her twenty years on TV a little, but that’s the gist of it, right?

I don’t know about anyone else, but here’s the deal with me. I can see patterns pretty well, I read people pretty well, and I’m good with breaking things down into beginning, middle, and end. Therefore I can organize things. Generally, I can organize people to be productive. I can do that. I CAN. And that’s a valued skill in our world.

I’ve done a lot of things against my nature over the years—things I had no talent for, things I learned superficial skills to manage, things that frightened me, things that sucked the life out of me. I can do those. I CAN. And so I’ve done a few things I’ve been praised for over the years.

I’ve learned to identify, assess, and prioritize other people’s needs over my own. I’m pretty empathetic, so I can do that. I CAN. And it’s easy to think that’s why I have friends and a family.

I, in and of myself, feel nothing from those things that I can do. Well, except for the general societal approval they generate. But that’s nothing, right? I mean, who needs your teachers and peers and family and social media to give you the big thumbs up?

I’m not complaining or being mean or shifting responsibility. I have huge affection for my teachers and my friends; I love my family. It’s just that I’m like that dang donut—or the nickel. Or the donut. Either way, there’s a hole in my middle and it goes right through.

As I’m finally getting to know myself and finally starting to hear my own voice, buried deep inside, I’m realizing I’ve built up a lot of things I CAN do in a big circle all around me, all around the giant hole where what I want to do lies.

That sounds childish, doesn’t it? What I WANT to do. How about these: what I was born to do, what I dream of doing, what I have a natural talent for, what gives me energy, what creates flow for me, what makes me feel alive, what helps me be a stronger, kinder, better, happier person? Still childish? I’m not so sure now.

I’m only beginning this process. I know this blog has been a lifeline, something I want to do, even when I have more productive things I CAN be doing. Something that I feel I have a knack for, something that energizes me.

I know I want to write. I know I want what goes with that—periods of absorbing life around me, observing nature, people, society, my own existence. Time alone, to think uninterrupted thoughts. I know I like to make things, beautiful things, to work on our house and sew for my children. I know I love helping people, in my own small, quiet way. I know I love the people in my life. I know I love being outside, travel, beauty, learning. Running and sailing. I know I've always wanted to save the world a little.

But how will you earn a living? What about your kids? Don’t they have to get to the bus and do their homework and don’t they need dinner? What about? What about? 

Oh—and aren’t those kind of oddball things to do? Being alone? Sewing? Who does that anymore? Well, unless you put it on Pinterest.

I hear you, little head voices. I don’t have all the answers yet. But I feel a strong need to find them. Because, right now, this nickel is no good for me.

---

As I write this, I’m fueling the fires of my rebellion by listening to Sir Ken Robinson’s second TedTalk. 

Not only is Sir Ken HYSTERICAL, he also says genius things like this, “You know, to me, human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability.” Or this, after a beautiful Yeats quote, “And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.

Listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s second TedTalk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution


Saturday, March 7, 2015

MomK


MomK--That’s pronounced [mahm-kay], like “5k” with a “mom” in front instead.

And I wrote it that way because I’m a mom. I also offer major kudos and a separate category to dads. Especially ones like my rocking husband who hung out with the kids while I ran ahead and who gave me the party bath bomb plus time to use it (see below).

I’d like to suggest that moms (see above) get their own prize category at races. Moms face some unique challenges, especially when they run with their kids, so it would just be recognizing reality. Right? We all deserve prizes!

Reason #1—Morning Pees
I’m sorry, but it has to be said. You go anywhere with a mixed group of adults and all the non-moms start looking funny at the moms before long. The look seems to say, “Really? Again?”

After a little while, the moms all get this look on their faces, like, “What? What is SO weird about having to pee 17 times before 9:00am?”

It just happens, folks. But getting to the race early enough to hit the portapotties 17 times before you start is an accomplishment.

Reason #2—Forgetting Stuff
Ummm, so, I meant to look up giving blood and running before I gave blood six days ago…but I forgot. I was just all, “Hey! I have spare time and the blood drive bus is right there, so let’s go!” And the form said no strenuous exercise for 24 hours, so I figured I was golden after that. Nope.

After I started to feel a little winded just walking around, I turned to Google. Mind you, I hadn’t given blood in a while. I always felt fine in college—but surely that had nothing to do with getting tons of sleep and, well, having nothing to do but get tons of sleep.

Google informed me that for THREE WEEKS after giving blood, I should just “get my miles in” and not worry about my times, because they ain’t gonna happen for three weeks or longer. Good to know. Wish I hadn’t forgotten to check that out.

Reason #3—Carrying stuff
We did a 5k RIGHT outside our neighborhood, which was awesome. No car keys to worry about, etc. Nobody had a wallet or a bag—great! Well, Big A. did ask me to stick a little cash in the secret pocket of my running pants. And the extra safety pins. And then I took a turn with Little A.’s sweatshirt. And after the race I collected his apple, my water bottle, everyone’s removed bibs, and the kids’ special participation ribbons.

Funny story—I won a random drawing (Yay!) and the lady needed to see my bib for ID. Now, as any mom would, I’d made a pocket for all our bibs by tucking my shirt tail into my waistband. So she says, “Do you have your bib?” I pull them all out. She says, “Wow. You have nine!” I said, “No, just four. It’s the whole ‘Mom, can you hold this?’ thing.”

Bonus Reason: Moms walk around looking much bigger than they are because they’ve got everyone else’s stuff tucked in their clothes. Truth.

Reason #4—Family Pinning
FOUR sets of those crazy safety pins! It was chilly this morning, people—I should get a medal for pinning sixteen safety pins without poking anyone.

Reason #5—Positioning
I don’t know about other moms, but especially here in southwest Florida in season, I spend nearly all my time moving through crowds in a hurry. Crowded roads, crowded stores, car lines, after school activities—we’re always coping with lots of other people while trying to get somewhere fast. We should get bonus points for doing it as a leisure activity! (Philosophical question: If racing is so much like my life, why is racing more fun? Hmm.)

Reason #6--The Point
Remember how the race was right outside our neighborhood? As we walked home, we crossed the course to go into our development and I started counting how many times I’d passed that point on the course—hereafter known as The Point—this morning. Mind you, The Point is a half mile from our house.
1. Walked the dog down to The Point and back this morning
2. Walked by The Point going to the Start
3. Ran by The Point on my outward leg
4. Ran by The Point on my way to the Finish
5. Walked by The Point looking for my family
6. Ran by The Point with Little A. on HIS way to the Finish
7. Walked by The Point going home, Part I
8. Ran by The Point when a friend texted that I’d won the drawing
9. Walked by The Point going home, Part II

Overall, it was a rockin’ good time. I LOVED seeing the kids race to the finish, we all improved our times (even anemic me), and we all recovered from our chilly morning with shaved ice for the kids (yes, they are nuts) and hot baths for all of us. And, yes, I had all the time I wanted to soak in my hot bath with a bath bomb that turned out to have soapy confetti in it. How amazingly apt!

Maybe there already are special prizes for moms. And dads.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Goalposts and Milestones


Our two beautiful children give us constant blessings—laughter, love, delight, deepening of emotion, growth of our souls…we are so lucky.

I’ve written a lot lately about wanting to slow down. I’ve reposted the article about the Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports elsewhere. I’m constantly—daily—looking for ways to streamline our lives so we have free time. In other words, I DO NOT want to be so busy we’re chasing our tails all day.

What DO I want? That’s the real question. I need to answer that one to make any effective changes.

I’m starting to get glimpses of it now, though.

One glimpse…
We have the best times at dinner—our family jokes and debates and flights of imaginations are so precious to me. I think of them as my paychecks. I want this for my family.

And then this glimpse…
Recently, S. has fallen in love with shopping at her school store, buying a vast assortment of mechanical pencils, novelty erasers, and other miscellanea that only grade school kids appreciate. Every once in a while, her brother will get big eyes when she displays her goods. And then, in the next day or two, she’ll come home with another one of the admired item, just for him.

Even more recently, Little A. discovered he could buy sports drinks at tae kwon do. The first day, he carefully counted out some money from his allowance. I watched him do it all by himself, smiling at his independence. Then, as I helped him make the purchase after class, I realized he had brought enough money for two drinks—he let his sister pick her favorite flavor and then bought it for her.

I want this for my family.

They did this all on their own. No one hinted or suggested or nudged them. I’ve always said that my most important parenting skill is staying out of their way so they can do their thing. And look what they do in that space.

And especially this glimpse…
S., like all of us here in our house, struggles with perfectionism. She’s always gotten a little down when she, in her mind, makes a mistake. And absolute tasks, like playing piano, have black and white results—you play the right note or you don’t. So difficult piano lessons have always been…difficult for her.

S. had tackled her piano practice last week with gusto, working on complex new pieces (including a duet) and learning an extra piece by ear. So I listened in a bit when she had her lesson last night. And I heard lots of corrections but also lots of laughter.

This morning, when her dad asked how it went, she made my heart sing. She said, “It was great! Ms. Debbie showed me lots of things I was doing wrong and it sounds so much better!”

I want that for my family.

Meals full of shared words, ideas, and laughter. Spontaneous, joyful giving and receiving. Delight in learning and creating. Resilience.

I’m starting to learn what I do want for my family. And with my eyes on that prize, giving up the race to nowhere suddenly feels ridiculously easy.

Scents, Sense, and (In)Sanity


The other day I dropped Little A. off at tae kwon do as usual, then headed to the bus stop to pick up S. I checked email as I waited in my car, content with my five-minute break in a busy afternoon. All was well.

The bus pulled up; the students piled out. Judging by the look on her face, S. had a decent day. All was still well.

She opened the door, plopped in the car, and started talking—because she never stops. She probably talked all the way from the bus to the car, I just couldn’t hear her. My brain started the familiar, “Oh, sweet powers that be, I can’t follow this—the speed, the randomness. I. Just. Can’t.” Following quickly behind came the equally familiar, “Don’t tune out! Ask relevant questions. She’s your kid, for Pete’s sake!”

All of this came to a screeching halt when a palpable wave of scent hit me. Hard.

It smelled like every fruit flavor Bubbalicious ever made had been sprayed in my car via a high pressure air hose. Through my rising nausea, I finally found a relevant question. I attempted to stop the runaway train of words.

“Sarah, did you eat something on the bus?”
“…blah blah blah. Did I eat something? No. Why?”
“Did someone spray—?”
“Wait. Um…. I did—I mean, I ate, like, I ate my pretzels.” 

At that point I could tell she was starting to worry because the number of verbal pauses in her sentences increased exponentially. So I tried to reassure her WHILE cross-examining her.

“It’s okay, sweetie. There’s just a very strong artificial fruit flavor smell in the car now. I was wondering if you ate any candy or gum…? I’m just curious.”
“No, definitely not.”
“Did someone spray hair spray near you?”
“No.”
“Body spray?”
“Noooooo….”
“Did the bus smell funny?”
“No. What do you mean? I don’t smell anything.”

Our house lies 1.3 miles from the bus stop and I spent the entire drive scouring my brain for possible sources of the smell, only to be shot down by firm denials and repeated questions about whether or not she actually smelled.

As we pulled into the garage, I got the sound many parents of pre-teen girls know all too well.
“Oh.”
“What is it, sweetie?”
“Well, my friend let me use some of her hand sanitizer at lunch.”
“Wow. That’s powerful stuff! How about you wash your hands while you’re in there?”

She washed hands, dumped off her lunchbox, and decided to take her backpack with her to tae kwon do to do homework there. Meanwhile, I rolled down windows.

The smell improved a little when she got back in, but I’d really expected the alcohol-based scent to be GONE. Still, I made it through tae kwon do sitting next to my daughter while she gave off waves of scent indicating someone had farted the whole Skittles rainbow on her.

So we drive home and the puke-inducing perfume gets worse, if possible, in the car. Just as we get into the house, S. slings her backpack onto its usual resting place and looks at the net pocket on the outside.

“OH NO! My friend put the hand sanitizer IN my backpack!”
“Okay, okay. Did it spill? Is the lid open?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know. Wait—there IS no lid!!!”

So in the middle of me trying to feed the dog, answer Little A.’s questions, and start a quick dinner, I’m coaching S. to wipe up the car seat, wipe up the backpack, and wipe up the floor. Then it hit me. Why????

“So why did your friend put her hand sanitizer in your backpack?”
“Um, I don’t know. I didn’t SEE her do it!”
Okay, she’s upset. “I was just wondering why she didn’t put it in hers.”
“Well, she didn’t have a backpack at lunch.”
“What about her lunchbox?”
“She didn’t have one today.”
“So she just walked to lunch holding an open bottle of hand sanitizer???”
“NO!” She rolls her eyes. “She FOUND it.”
“What? Where?”
“On the bench at lunch.”

I took seventeen deep breaths.

“So I guess someone else left the bottle there because, oh, say, it had no lid???”
“Yeah. NO. I dunno—I didn’t SEE her put it in my backpack!”

The dog got fed, we got fed, many hugs were had all around, all ended well.

The End

It still really stinks in here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Storm Lust


I love storms.

As I child, I went to a Girl Scout camp situated on the bluffs above the Sassafras River, where it joins the Chesapeake Bay. My unit, appropriately named Osprey, perched right on those bluffs. When storms came in the evenings, I’d slip away to wrap my arm around a pine tree and lean out over the edge of the bluff, watching the anvil-shaped clouds boil up the river. I could drink in the newborn air, feel the power of the wind swaying my tree, and hear that beautiful sound of tree tops before a storm.

The staff always found me before the storm hit. For some reason, I think I pissed them off…

In honor of last night’s thunderstorms here in Florida, here’s a poetical rendering of a stormy night.

Storm Lust

In the grainy grey
Unlight of a stormy night
I lie a knot of tension
Against my love’s soft back
Out of the house
Across sifted silver dunes
The waves pulse their call
To the thunder’s rising drums

Eyes wide, waiting
Lightening flashes outside glass
Pulling my heart from safety
Toward struggle

Reveling in release
I tiptoe the bedroom and
The wide wood floors
Catching glimpses
Of light and life beyond

Darting, turning I
Dive into the night
Every inch of my skin
Making love to the wind
My arms embracing
Flashes of passion that streak the sky

As the rumbling crescendo brings
Rain’s absolute surrender
Pushing up against the drops
Reaching out into the wind
Standing barefoot, sure-footed
On black, slippery jetty rock
I am alive

Only after
Chilled, exhilarated
Wonderfully, only me
Pure inside my skin and out
Part of nature’s arcing current

Can I enter a room
Touch a warm towel
And warm, dry, tired
At last find sleep
In warmth
     silence
     love

Friday, January 23, 2015

What Would You Do...


So, suppose you were out for your morning jog/stroll/bike—whatever you do.

It’s about seven o’clock on a Sunday morning. You’ve just passed the gates to a (gated) community of really nice houses and you’re currently running past a parking lot for a car wash and a Steak N Shake. Then you see it.

On the sidewalk in front of you lies a hundred-dollar bill.

You think, “Cool! Is it real?” It appears to be, blue stripe and all. It’s wet from the sprinklers that ran last night.

You look back at the neighborhood gate, maybe fifteen yards back. If this bill flew out of a resident’s pocket last night as they punched in the code, this morning they’ll probably say something like, “Didn’t I have another hundred in here?”

You look at the car wash and the restaurant. If an employee of one of those places cashed their paycheck for the week and dropped the bill, they’ll probably be out here before long, frantically looking for it.

All this is speculation, of course. You have no way of knowing how the bill got there or what might happen to it.

What do you do?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Not Before Coffee


Given that I’m often sleep-deprived and stressed out, plus I do a monster marathon of chores from 6:00-7:30 in the morning, I’m a pretty easy target for kiddie brain-stoppers. You know, like gob stoppers for your thought process. They nearly killed me the other morning!

Little A kicked it off….

“Mommy, what’s a doofus?” Pause. “Is it like a midnight snack?”

So, after, I got my mind rebooted—definitely Ctrl+Alt+Esc on that one!—we figured out that he had it confused with a term his sister and cousin coined, which would be “dinfest.” Dinfest is a combo of dinner and breakfast, eaten in the middle of the night.

Oh. Don’t I feel silly.

Actually, no, I’m just lucky to still be thinking at all. He ran off to spend ten minutes finding his socks. Then S. started the dreaded guessing game.

“Mom, guess what we’re doing in PE today?”

“I don’t know, sweetie. Why don’t you tell me?”

“Can you please guess?”

“Okay…running?”

“No!” (As in, duh, mom.)

“I’d like to hear. Just tell me.”

“Okay, we’re doing fitness testing.” She sounds excited.

“That’s great, sweetie.”

“Guess what I hope we’re doing today?”

She must have seen it—and I mean the “I have had IT!” look—on my face, because she moved on.

“I hope we get to do pull-ups today!”

And a little voice in my mind chirped, “Said no one, ever!” And it rim-shotted. I swear. [For the record, she went on to do the most pull-ups of anyone in her class—seven.]

Then they collaborated.

S. started again, “Guess what?”

I glared sizzling holes into her brain. She kept going, “The new Minecraft update lets you spawn baby animals in water and they won’t sink!”

I’m lost. They nearly always lose me on Minecraft. “There are animals in the sink?”

Little A. runs in and looks in the sink, “What animals?”

S. rolls her eyes and huffs, “I told Mommy that the new Minecraft update lets you spawn baby animals in water and they won’t sink.”

Little A. says, “Awesome!”

Big A. said, “C’mon, Little A., time for school!”

I said, “Awesome!”