Sunday, December 30, 2007

Resolutions and Darn Good (if I do say so myself!) Intentions

Yesterday my sister-in-law asked my if I had any New Year's Resolutions. I've gotta say, my main resolution has always been NOT TO HAVE ANY RESOLUTIONS. They always seem to be the same annual guilt-inducing albatrosses around our collectively gluttonous necks, as far as I am concerned. But she asked me this just as I had narrowed my wearable pants to the ample-waisted (in a matter of a month! SHEESH!) and had mused on the fact that I could most likely Drink Less In 2008. So I had, in fact, given this threshhold some thought.

My BFF from 5th grade once had a cool therapist who suggested she come up with 12 "Intentions." The idea is that they're implemented one month at a time, thereby (hopefully) becoming habit, one by one (help me, friend, by commenting on this post if I am inaccurately representing this approach; I also remember that there's something about burning them, something about moons, water?). But I was drawn to that idea back in 2005, as well as to the noun "intention." Way different, methinks, from "resolution": it allows for human frailty, forgetfulness, and our tendency (oops, using the same root!) to abandon our ideals from time to time.

I searched my emails for the Intentions I wrote and quite nakedly shared with my friend. They are still so appropos, and I even inspire myself anew:

1. I will honor my body (feed it nicely, not pick at it, etc.)
2. I will greet the world with a friendly face (including my husband, even when I am grumpy). Especially coworkers. Especially ones that are currently bugging me.
3. I will do Now versus Later.
4. I will honor privacy, confidentiality, by not forwarding emails or gossiping (TOO much, anyway).
5. I will not judge others.
6. I will take deep breaths and avoid stress.
7. I will make the best use of my time, at home and at work.
8. I will buy things that are useful and meaningful.
9. I will read deliberately and for pleasure.
10. I will write.
11. I will stay in touch with loved ones far away.
12. I will share my time with extended family members.

These are GOOD INTENTIONS. In need of some dusting off and Putting Into Action. I have high hopes for 2008.

But my favorite find of this Search For My Intentions is an addendum I sent to my friend later:

"Forget all my intentions: spending time with (my daughter) today says that there is only one intention: days of joy."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sisterly Love

Says my four-year-old daughter to her little sister last night: "You know when I love you the most? You know when I love you so much? When you're sleeping. That's when I really love you."

She didn't actually mean it the way it sounds.

Nevertheless, it cracked us up.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thoughtful Giving and Getting

No matter how much we resolve to downsize Christmas and spend less yet give more, we wind up overwhelmed by stuff. Yet when the dust settles and wrapping paper is recycled, I can appreciate that truly thoughtful giving has transpired. In the madness of going around the room opening and exclaiming, sometimes we don't properly express how touched we are.

The siblings in my family, along with our spouses, have been participating in a gift exchange for several years now. What I love about our gift exchange is that each one of us focuses on one gift for that one person we have and spend as many as several months planning: asking for possible leads, considering options, etc. This year in particular, I felt that great thought and love went into our gifts. I'm listing some, as well as other memorable presents given and received by friends and family members:

1. My parents donated three laptops for use by children in developing countries in our name. Since my father has been generous with his computer hand-me-downs to his children over the years (I think I had one of the first "portable" computers with me at college), this gift is particularly appropriate and meaningful.
2. My brother and sister-in-law-to-be gave my husband and other brother (whose names they drew) a day trip to a nearby ski mountain. On the card: "Please note: no wives, kids, animals, or tears."
3. Most of our wedding-registry wine glasses are broken; my sister replaced them with mix-and-match etched glasses found at a vintage store.
4. My brother-in-law-to-be, who is Belgian, brought the family a copy of his favorite children's book starring Tin-Tin, and my sister gave my brother's fiancee a piece of Belgian lace for use in their wedding next year.
5. My sister-in-law is a mother of three and surrogate mother to many of the neighborhood's children. She has a minivan in which she ferries her own and others' kids. My sister claimed her car for the day, and had it detailed and reorganized the contents. The day after Christmas, my sister and her fiance took the nephews and niece and gave her a much-deserved day and night off!
6. My aunt gave us gift certificates to a handcrafted wooden-toy store in Vermont.
7. My husband and I gave my brother, a chef, all the materials to build his own herb garden.
8. My resourceful sister-in-law-to-be used plastic containers to make a sticker box full of stickers for my niece and a "jewelry" box for my daughter--overflowing with costume jewelry and hair accessories.
9. My sister and sister-in-law refurbished and repainted doll beds for my daughter and niece.
10. We bought some snowbushes to plant at my dear friend's (and my daughters' godmother's) house--a family project this weekend!

Benazir Bhutto

I am so saddened by the news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto today, shortly followed by the death of at least twenty others when her murderer deployed a suicide bomb. I have always admired her strength, resolve, determination and guts. She knew going back to Pakistan would likely cause her death.

I heard the terrible, discouraging news on NPR right before I pulled into the gas station. On the pump kiosk was a TV screen with a newsfeed. Headlines in the U.S. this morning: disappointing Christmas retail sales. The health of our nation judged by the number of widgets we buy.


Monday, December 24, 2007

A Fairy Merry Christmas

"Your sister is at Toys R Us on Christmas Eve Eve?"

Alas, yes, yes, she was. Because her daughter did the old SantaSwitcheroo. In other words, Fake Anastasia Video, Go Fairies...and wait till the last week before Christmas to tell FOUR SANTAS that she wants Something Different from What Her Parents Already Bought.

My problem is not that I am concerned about my daughter having her True Desire/Wishes Come True/Heart's Content. My problem is that I am invested in her Believing In and Trusting Santa. This is probably both Hereditary and a psychological case of Projection. I was a Santa Skeptic to the extent that my parents made me watch A Miracle on 34th Street, while they loomed in the background, arguing, "So...what about the letters to Santa, huh? They HAVE TO BE DELIVERED. THAT'S THE LAW! Are you convinced, OR WHAT?" I have no idea what the next round of brainwashing might have entailed--maybe waterboarding?--because my rational mind bought the courtroom argument wholesale. But honestly, my parents Needed Me To Believe in Santa. Badly...because I am the oldest of five siblings, and my youngest sister is thirteen years younger than I. In other words, when I left for college, she was still falling asleep listening for sleigh bells.

But back to my daughter, who doesn't carry the weight of four siblings' faith in Santa on her shoulders. Nevertheless, I can't help but want it all to work for her (as well as her little sister). So if during the last week she happened to encounter Santa 1) at her school, 2) at Story Hour, 3) at her father's workplace party, 4) on the Street in front of a Store when we were Least Expecting It, For Crying OUT LOUD, and 5) at my mother's house on Christmas Eve, and 80% of those times she claimed to want FAIRIES, darn it! There are Going To Be Fairies! So she doesn't claim on Christmas Morn that Santa is a Man Who Does Not Listen.

This is why on Sunday night at 6:15 I headed out to Toys R Us, calling my sister on the way, because I knew she would give me some sympathy. And her husband, safely nestled on the couch, felt my pain, too (hence the opening quote). But I will tell you that there are signs at Toys R Us clearly delineating the way to Disney Fairies. And these signs made it possible for me to pluck the gratuitous fairies from the shelf, clutch them to my chest, and make my way to the checkout stand in less than 15 minutes, where of course we had a Price Check. But nothing could dampen my spirits. I even managed to grab some groceries from the store next door and called my sister from the car less than one hour after departure, bragging about my Holiday/Parental/Shopping Genius. I was home before my daughters' bedtime.

And now we have a Play Kitchen (assembled, miraculously, thankfully! offisite by our daughter's Godmother Claus) carefully staged with accessories for Christmas Morning, and my daughters' table and chairs, set up for a Fairy Tea Party.

And I think that's pretty magical.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Finally Feeling Holiday Cheer-ful

Today is the first day of holiday break, and I feel like a new person. Our school calendar is a little wacky this year; we had four full weeks of classes between Thanksgiving and the December break, instead of the usual three. It has felt like our break was a Long Time Coming, and because our last day of class this year was the 21st, it also feels like WHAM! Christmas is upon us! And now that I am finally ready to get ready for the holidays, my inbox is full of "last day to order for shipping by Christmas..." And that was yesterday. Oops. But I braved the mall this morning, buying the very few but essential things that remained on our list and came home feeling like Santa can come now, and I won't send him back up the chimney, accusing him of rushing me.

A few things lifted my spirits yesterday. Some members of our senior class set up a huge live (lopsided) tree in the middle of the quad, decorated in blue and gold ornaments and garlands and topped with a gold star inscribed "Seniors 2008." A sign in front proclaimed it the school's "Holiday Tree" was a perfect gesture of goodwill (and political correctness) on our last day of school in 2007. (Until sometime in the afternoon it rather unceremoniously toppled over).

We had a performing arts assembly showcasing our student dancers, musicians, singers, actors, and filmmakers. My career choice is always confirmed at these moments when I am witness to what unique, creative, and original individuals teenagers are. I searched YouTube for the film about the dangers of mixing rock and rap music some of our talented students made...but instead I found this creative endeavor by other students (they had to walk backwards throughout to pull this off!).

And then my daughter danced to "My Favorite Things" in her class's recital. Her ballet slipper fell off in the middle of the "performance," and she crouched down to pull it on, her face all scrunched in frustration and mouthing, "MOM!!!" Shoe back on, the show went on.

And my sister and her fiance came over with sushi, along with my daughters' godmother, and we ate and talked (while my husband fell asleep on the couch).

These are a few of my favorite things...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Do As I Ask, Not As I Actually Can, Will, or Do...(if you want)

So, it's my 15th college reunion year. I'm getting old, darn it! The problem with this old-ness is that it is not more than skin deep, really. Because take me back to college, or take me back to the neighborhood and apartment building where I lived and worked right after college, and I will tell you that I am still in my 20s. I still FEEL LIKE I am in my 20s when I am hanging out in my old haunts, to the point of wondering why there is no one familiar grabbing my arm and dragging me to the latest Social Event. I may look like a Mom to the TwentySomethings of Today, but they just DO NOT KNOW WHO I AM.

Somehow despite my lackluster college performance, academic and otherwise, and my relatively modest financial earnings, I was picked out as someone who might be good at asking others to give back to our college during reunion years (perhaps they ask everyone?). Nonetheless, I have a little trouble in this world saying NO, and as Tori Amos sings, "I have enough guilt to start my own religion." And maybe my "okay, yeah, I'll do it..." is fueled by the fact that my financial giving alone will not look like a commitment to my college, to which I am grateful for being allowed in there in the first place, not to mention for the general ignoring of all the lapses in judgment I committed on my way to a very nice B.A. (the Dean of Students did once notice my name as well as hers on one Happy Hour poster promoting a keg party and some unrealized jello wrestling in my dorm room. We had a very informative chat and I learned the consequences of allowing overzealous upperclassmen to advertise parties they talked me into HOSTING). So I said yes in anticipation of the 10th reunion year, and despite a vague sense that I vowed not to do it again, here I am, committed to asking my one-time acquaintances as well as life-long friends to support our college this year.

I don't really have a problem with this in theory. I loved college, I want others to benefit from my college's resources, and I can't wait to see both my college and my college friends at my reunion this summer. But I'll admit that I rebelled against the part of the process that asked me to guess how much my classmates were able to give (I mean, shoot! Giving to your college isn't all about what you have to give. It is quite possibly also about where else you donate your dollars and about how you felt about college then and now--and a whole host of other value-laden, personal reasons why we do what we do and don't do what we don't).

So I will perform this service as a way to contact old friends and convince them to come reunite in June, as well as share why I continue to be grateful to my alma mater for what was really a huge, invaluable, luxurious gift of learning to learn and to live. But I won't beg, cajole, or twist arms.

Bow wow wow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sorry if I hung up the car on you.

I have an earpiece for my cellphone which I immediately insert when I get in the car (at some point recently I vowed not to have my phone in my hand while I drive...but driving time is an opportune time to make phone calls).

However, I don't usually drive long enough to have very meaningful conversations, and they often end abruptly when I pull up in front of my house and explain that I am now at home, So Goodbye.

And here's where it gets a little weird.

For some reason my feeble brain links the car ignition to the cell-phone conversation (maybe because I have no hands on the phone but have them, instead, on the steering wheel?), so I have been known to pull up in front of my house or work and 1) Hang Up The Phone mid-sentence instead of Turn Off The Car, or, 2) keep the car running for many minutes As If Gas Is Fueling My Phone while I finish the conversation, and then say goodbye and Turn Off The Car Instead Of Hanging Up The Phone or 3) hang up the car and turn off the phone simultaneously--and SEE! I am even confused as I type.

This is probably all evidence that I SHOULD NOT BE TALKING ON THE PHONE WHILE I DRIVE (or even while I am PARKED).

But my daughters will tell you that I Shouldn't Be Talking On The Phone While I PARENT, either.

(In our next episode, How I Hold My Hands Expectantly Under My Bathroom Faucet Because The One At Work Is AUTOMATIC).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Just a Few Reasons Why This Weekend Was Awesome

1. One of my best friends from college was visiting and it was so great to go running with an old marathon partner and have her re-meet and bond with my daughters.
2. The low points of last week feel far away in the past...ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
3. One of my artist friends had his holiday sale of his works and I experienced again the awe of his creative genius...and the fact that his art brings many of the people in my life together.
4. My friend and I had dinner at my brother's restaurant (he's the chef!) and we appreciated his creative genius and the admiration that comes for someone doing something that you just can't do in the same amazing way he does it.
5. I went to the all-school musical Oliver (students K-12) and it was incredible. From the young students to our own staff members performing, it was a validating experience and an inspiring show.
6. A bunch of women at a neighborhood party toasted my husband for being one of the best Mr. Moms they know. And he is!
7. Our staff party was this weekend, and our staff members are truly neat (and hilarious) people. I missed this year's white elephant gift exchange for the first time in MANY years, and I actually really missed it!
8. I love that my neighborhood social group includes Norwegians; relatives; a family who speaks French; Mormons, current and lapsed; scientists; lawyers; moms; carpet cleaners...all plain old good people. We have a lot of fun and food (and drink and chaos) together. The value of such periodic social events where children and adults alike feel at home? Priceless...
9. One of my close friends is my daughters' godmother and a gifted photographer and she willingly gives herself to us, including this morning for a multi-generational photoshoot. Her patience, and her love of my children, humbles me.
10. My grandmother is here visiting and she looks beautiful and healthy and I am so grateful to have her in my life, knowing my husband and children, and present right now to watch our crazy extended family just be.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I'm Adding to Last Night's Post

because it just so happens that Heather Armstrong's (uberblogger of latest entry is a very perfect and poignant addition to the spectrum of HOW WE DEAL WITH FEELING LIKE CRAP.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

All Plans To Be Positive and Grateful Aside,

Sometimes it's just hard to keep it together (as a Mom, as a Person, as a Wife, as a Person Who Works With Other People).

Honestly, folks.

The last couple of days have been a bummer. My right eye actually feels tender to the touch (from random bouts of tears) and How Many People Does It Take Telling You You Look "Weary" To Make You Know You Really Look Like Sh^&%^?

This too shall pass ("This" being the OVERWHELM--a periodic condition--of having to work some nights and negotiating schedules with spouse and trying to be a Non-Yelling Mom and trying NOT to be a MARTYR). But I'm a fan of wallowing in it (read: lots of Random Bouts of Tears) for a painful 24-hour period and then Getting It Together. I'm on the upswing.

But boy does it suck at the nadir.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lying Around

I was at my mother's house with my two daughters and we were wondering if the Diaper-Wearing Daughter needed a change. My mom asked me if she generally tells the truth when you ask her.

Here's the answer:

Me: Hey you, do you need a diaper change?
Diaper Wearer: NO.
Me: (Sniff) Hmm...
Potty-Trained Older Daughter: Mom, she's lying.
Me: Hey...c' you need a change or what?
Diaper Wearer: NO.
Me: (Sneaking a peek) Yes You Do!!!
Older Daughter: You're lying!
Diaper Wearer: ROAR.
Me: (Laughing)
Older Daughter: (More Indignant) You're LYING!
Diaper Wearer: ROAR!!!
Me: (Confused) Why is she growling?
Older Daughter: Hey! You're not a LION!!! YOU'RE LYING!!!

Reminds me of Girled Cheese. (Another Time).

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Shuffling Along

Dear iPod,

When I go running, and set my entire music library on Shuffle Play, please stop choosing the Cowboy Junkies for every other song. I have over 3,000 songs. Half of them aren't Cowboy Junkies. Makes me want to lie down on the side of the road in Corpse Pose.

Thank You.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Anyone who thinks four-year-olds don't know much are sadly, sorrily, painfully mistaken.

My daughter has a small problem with her kidneys that we tried to fix this summer with a little outpatient procedure. About a month ago we learned that it was only effective on one side. So we will have to repeat the procedure. The specialists were supposed to call us to schedule it, and for some reason tonight, on a Friday night, my husband and I were reminded that they haven't contacted us yet.

Me: (Dialing)
Dr. Office: This is the After-Hours Line; if this is a life-threatening emergency...blah blah...if you want to leave a message, call this number: %$#-*&^-!@#
Me: (Trying to memorize number versus write it down)
Me: (Dialing the number I remember)
Dr. Office: This is the Specialists' Line...if you want to leave a message, we'll answer it on the next business day...
Me: (WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOO...celebrating that Unlike Usually, I got the number right) Hi...My name is X, my daughter's name is Y, and she had a "STING" procedure in July that only worked on one side...we need to...
Daughter: (Cocking her head as she eavedrops, and then SCREAMING) I DON'T WANT TO GO TO THE DOCTOR!!!!!!! NO, MOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: (RUNNING into another room as she is intercepted by her father)...schedule that second STING procedure...please call us...
Daughter: (More wailing. Lots of WAILING)
Me: That will be a fun message for them to hear on Monday.

So we spent a Good Amount of our Friday Night talking our daughter down from (as well as around, because It Is Going To Happen) the STING procedure, the last one of which she can remember some seriously uncanny details.

I'm going to suggest some new acronyms for this little outpatient gift, like "ICE CREAM" or "SOOTHING BACKRUB."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Helmet Head

I had my hair cut and dyed last night. The haircut is inconsequential; the hair color is WOW, DARK! I too, am still recognizing myself. Fun to explain all day.

On the quad at lunch I greeted the usual group of senior boys by their Big Tree. They acknowledged my New Look with gestures and some vague utterances. I said, "Yeah, well, you guys have given me grey hairs, so I had to cover them up."

One philosophical student replied, "You know, Ms. M., it sort of kills the idea of covering up grey hair if you tell us you have it."


Monday, December 3, 2007

Two Things to Make Me Wonder

1. Brand-new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made his first move as an elected official to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This move makes the United States the only "Developed Nation" still boycotting the international climate agreement.

2. Malawi is seeing its way out of famine, not only feeding its people but those of other African nations with a bumper crop of corn. This a result of ignoring the "donor prescription" (wow, an amazing euphemism!) that calls for eliminating government fertilizer subsidies for farmers (a practice widely used in the West). A classic case of "do as I say, not as I do."

I imagine one Malawian who died of starvation as a result of our strings-attached aid. And my full stomach hurts.

My Brain on Not Sleeping

Last night I woke up at 2:03 AM with a tummyache and could not go back to sleep. The first thing I do, sleepless, is the math to calculate how many zzzzzzzzs I have left if I Go Back To Sleep Immediately and have to get up at 5:45 AM. It never feels like enough. And then I start getting stressed out about how I Need My Sleep. And then I AM NOT SLEEPING and the minutes and hours between O'Dark Thirty and Time To Wake Up become fewer and my brain races more and I start thinking about Inadequacies and Guilt and To Do Lists and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

But after allowing my brain to do its normal Hamster Wheel rotations, I remembered that my sister had assigned me a Mental Task that would distract me from feeling like a hopeless, sleepless loser. In an email last week, she asked me to write some limericks (she never told me what for, but since she sent the request from her work account, I suspect they're for some Intra-Office Limerick Competition).

Pertinent background info: I have been tasked by various family members to write limericks on occasion. It's not a talent I generally remember I have or advertise, but relatives seem to come to me when they need a limerick written (versus when they seek legal advice, for example).

And this is how I happened to mentally "write" two limericks in the wee Monday hours and then fall unwittingly back to sleep. And remembered the poems well enough when I woke to triumphantly send them off to my sister.

I share these not because they're Fantastic Limericks. But because it would be Lame to tell a story about limericks and then not include them.

Each limerick had to include (a rather random) pair of words.

1. Coal/Cold

John's house was too cold I have learned
For some wood or a furnace he yearned
But Santa was wise,
Gave him coal--a surprise!
He was warm while that little lump burned

2. Larry/bill

In compliance old Larry could tell
if a bank was soon going to hell
He'd study each ill
And write a big bill
Not long after, that bank, it would sell.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fanny O'Rear Buys 4XL Granny Underwear on!

Hellooooooooooo, Facebook! Which genius marketing firm told you that the Beacon feature (which broadcasts members' online purchases to ALL their friends) would be a grand idea?


The article I read this morning about this ill-conceived plan highlights the case of a sweet husband who bought a diamond ring for his wife FOR CHRISTMAS on, the purchase and exact specifications of which were promptly sent to all his friends and HIS WIFE.

That is a sad story (only sadder if the ring was in fact for someone other than his wife...). And it gives us so much to talk, diamond rings? On Like, why 1/5 ct., huh, Sean? What does that mean? Oooh, now I am feeling snarky and mean. Which is Exactly My Point. The story fails to consider the more awkward implications of this rather obvious invasion of that elusive, once-upon-a-time-notion called "Privacy." Namely that the average person probably makes much more mundane and much more personally revealing purchases online, the particulars of which I am doubting he wants Everyone He Knows To Know About (and Talk About Behind His Back).

Is it possible that the marketing gurus in charge of this scheme were so focused on Americans' natural penchant for purchasing that they forgot that our inherent consumerism (and its excesses) are often guilty secrets? Did someone think this was a brilliant way to capitalize on the "fact" that we already announce to one another each and every acquisition? Dear (Address Book)! I bought a replacement nozzle for my ShopVac on! FYI! TGIF!

So silly. But take-backs make great news!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving Gratitude, Naikan Style

As I was cleaning the kitchen after dinner tonight I spotted the newspaper lying on the dining room table, and with just a twinge of resentment I thought, Ugh. I haven't read it. Not today, not yesterday. And then my mind went to a nasty place...Yeah! And if one more person asks me, Hey! Did you see the paper today? I am going to scream, NO! I don't have TIME! I am too busy being a Mom and working and picking up my kids and making dinner and then packing lunches and... and THEN I thought, I pretty much Don't Like That Person who responds so negatively, martyrishly when I innocently offer, Wow, did you see that article today?

So it's fair to say that I make a daily effort not to be That Person. And it's also fair to say that I could be reading the paper Right Now, instead of being all self-analytical on My Blog. But here I am. Because, *sigh*, my mind is going to that nasty place Too Often. And lately I have been in need of some kind of inspiration and recalibration.

I've been claiming that the 20s are for figuring oneself out and the 30s are for applying that knowledge. Here's what I know: I'm not a devout person nor a churchgoer, despite growing up and being confirmed in two Protestant denominations and having enjoyed youth group and the community offered by belonging to a church. I tend not to jump on spirituality bandwagons or trends, though I am curious, inquisitive, and willing to look into and consider. I would typify my philosophical/spiritual approach to life as being like constructing a collage or quilt: I pick up pieces here and there and glue or stitch them on, some of them more or less relevant at any given time.

Recently the Little Whiny Victim inside me has been throwing some fits, feeling a little like everyone is out to get her: Why oh why is she adrift on a sea of meaninglessness and what is the escape hatch besides quitting her job and selling her house and declaring bankruptcy, etc.? Meanwhile, the Practical Me is ashamed of Inward-Tantrum-Throwing-Me and suggests that there might be a way to rationalize this situation: Hey, remember that article you read in The Sun that made sense about perceiving things as NOT ALWAYS BEING AGAINST YOU? Can we find it, RIGHT NOW, PLEASE? And then Petulant Me regards the shelves of back issues of my favorite magazine and feels somewhat paralyzed by the seeming impossibility of finding my insightful needle in that dusty magazine haystack. So it's been a few more weeks of my vague sense that I should be looking for it.

But I found the article online today, encouraged by the added impetus of a friend waxing poetic about having a Sisyphean life but, Camus-like, needing to embrace it.

The article in question was an interview with Gregg Krech, of the ToDo Institute, about Naikan, a Japanese therapy that focuses on our perceptions of interactions with others. This approach seems particularly relevant to someone like me: married, with small children, in an intimate extended-family network, working with a boss, working with employees, serving young people, and living in a close-knit neighborhood. In other words, I interact with Many People on Many Levels All Day Long, which can lead to the frustration and irritation associated with Too Much Human Contact.

Naikan in a nutshell (as defined by me) is about walking in one's adversary's shoes and accurately seeing his/her perspective, and adjusting one's attitude accordingly. Also reflecting on the pain and agony one causes others on a daily basis. As in parenthood and everything else I need to understand how to tackle, I pick the best parts the sages have to offer and discard what doesn't apply, make sense, or fit. So, Naikan for me is about feeling grateful for the Many Things practically anyone in my life does for me, versus resentful for that One Annoying Thing any one person or The Entire World did to me today. It boils down to the glass half-full/half-empty outlook, and I am sure Voltaire's Candide might have fun with the rather Optimistic practices associated with hardcore Naikan retreats (like estimating the number of one's diapers one's mother changed, and appreciating her for it...) but for me, it serves as a simple refresher. For example, I could relate to this segment from the interview:

Krech: ...When you get home, and your spouse asks, "How was your day?" of course you respond, "Let me tell you how my day was. I had no water; there was a traffic jam; the copy machine was broken..." And yet you could say, "You know, I had a great day. The coffee maker worked; the car started; there was air conditioning at my office..."
Winter: But your spouse would look at you as if you were crazy.
Krech: You're right. We've gotten in the habit of only seeing the problems, because they are more dramatic. That's what gives a story value. But the cost is that we begin to focus our attention only on problems or traumas or tragedies...

Not that I can picture myself thanking the door for opening and the computer for obligingly booting up, but with Coworkers and Spouses and Other Moms and Pretty Much Anyone it's easy to fall into the No Really, I Have It Way Harder Than You trap. Like in college, when we would waste time at dinner comparing who had more studying to do (YAWN).

For me, a trip to Children's Hospital serves well to make me both humble and grateful. Despite the fact that we're usually there with regard to our daughter's medical issue, it's pretty hard not to notice that there are families and children dealing with conditions and disabilities and pain so much greater than our own. I always leave feeling fortunate.

So I am vowing to Not Complain About the Holidays, and to be More Zen about the Driver Who (For the Love of...!) Will Not Let Me In, and offer all the Characters I encounter on a daily basis Freedom To Be Who They Are.

And even some Gratitude.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nutcracker 'Sweet'

Snapshot: PBS airing the Nutcracker Ballet. Me, happening upon it via remote control. My daughters, leaping and dancing and twirling across the rug, so inspired.

Women in Leadership, Those Bitches

A few weeks ago I sat in on an AP Psychology class where the students were discussing an article about gender as it relates to learning, education, achievement. I listened rapt, struck by how much has changed since I was in high school almost 20 years ago (girls out-matriculating boys into college, for example), and how much hasn't (still no female President of the United States). I came back to the class to talk about how my views of myself and my career, as well as my very ambition, have been altered by becoming a mother, and the kinds of thinking I continue to do about my present and future as a woman in a leadership role.

I remember that when my job as school administrator was open (but I hadn't yet thrown my hat in the ring), there was talk among the women in the school's office about preferring that a man take the position. I think if a similar position were open today, and despite my general perception that the women I work with enjoy working with me, they would still profess that they'd rather work for a man. My own empirical evidence suggests that most women would prefer to work for men, at least in theory, no offense intended for some of the real women they've worked for.

I explained to the class that women in leadership are easily characterized as "bitchy" (boy did they love hearing me use that word) and we explored some possibilities why: perhaps women assert more authority than necessary out of a sense that they need to establish it; man in control is a more acceptable archetype; the bossy, nagging woman is too easily associated with familiar "Mom" in her most negative incarnation.

Many of the theories and ideas I attempted to articulate were described in this editorial, which appeared in the paper last week. The author, Pitts, explores why it may be acceptable to the American public both that a woman can ask out loud about Hilary Clinton, "So, how do we beat the bitch?" and that in response, John McCain can laugh without retribution. In his article Pitts admits that perhaps he's part of the problem; he can't imagine himself "cuddling up to" any women in government he can conjure (with Nancy Pelosi, mother of five children, likely being one of Congress's more experienced cuddlers...) But my sense that the public, comprising men and women, is more comfortable with a paternalistic "daddy" president upon whose lap we can collectively cuddle makes me wonder if we aren't all just a little fucked up when it comes to gender and authority.

And I also wonder why, when the general consensus here in America is that we're more developed and progressive, countries like India and Pakistan and Great Britain and Israel and Argentina and Chile and the Philippines have already managed to choose (and survive, somehow) female leaders.

I recoil at the question "Is America ready for a female President?" and at the underlying notion that the election question is simply whether to vote for a man or woman. Would it were that simple, really.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gratitude and Perspective

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's because I consider it an equal-opportunity celebration: anyone can participate because ultimately, it's about being grateful. I know the original Thanksgiving story has a dark side, and I know turkeys don't fare well in November, but I love the underlying sentiment and when you really distill it down, it's not about buying or receiving, not about being lucky in love, not about religion, not about being proud to live here, but simply about finding something to be absolutely thankful for and finding others to share it with, whether they're family members, friends, or people in the same place with you at the same time.

I think this is the ninth or tenth year my family has provided desserts for the Thanksgiving celebration at a downtown Resource Center for families affected by AIDS or HIV. I've always asked my students to participate and they've always come through--in the early years my seventh graders baked lopsided cakes. More recently our high school junior Navy ROTC students have been the committed volunteers. Various families have offered their homes as the dessert drop-off sites, and various family members and students and friends have accompanied us to deliver the goods.

The woman who coordinates volunteers for the Center has become a dear friend, though the kind of dear friend we only see once a year. She is a career health educator who has committed much of her free time to the Center. Last November, when we touched base as we always do a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, I learned she had spent the year since we saw her last battling life-threatening cancer of her reproductive organs. She had surgery right before Thanksgiving and was looking and feeling weak. I even wondered if we would see her this year. But before I could call her, she left her annual message on our machine asking if we were planning to help, and as always, expressing appreciation and giving us the opportunity to gracefully decline if we weren't "available." When I called her back, so glad to hear her voice, she asked about our daughters before I could inquire about her health. Over the course of our conversation I learned, after so long knowing her, that her not-yet-30-year-old daughter recently suffered a debilitating episode of Multiple Sclerosis and that she has an adult son who is severely developmentally disabled. Still she is thankful for all she has and dedicates time to others outside her family, outside her community, beyond her immediate reach.

And so I am grateful for the rather random relationships we fall into, foster, and which develop into meaning for our lives. I am all the better for knowing this woman who inspires and challenges me. This far outweighs the value of a minivan's worth of desserts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Life without Binky

So, this plane ride/trip was momentous in that it was the milestone past which my younger daughter would no longer have her pacifier (it's hard to give up the binky when you know it will silence your child in the presence of a captive audience in the near future). Needless to say, we're back from our trip. And the Binky Fairy has claimed her booty.

Both of my daughters have been pacifier girls. The whole pacifier thing hearkens back to nature versus nurture (are some babies born to be suckers??), and I will admit, I may have trumped nature in that I encouraged the pacifier...easy pacifying, easy taking away--unlike thumbs (and I should know, former thumbsucker). So I've had two addicts. We cut Daughter #1 off at 2 years old. I have vague memories of the pain. Daughter #2 made us realize we needed to act sooner, Or Else. You see, she was becoming a complicated Binky Dependent. Not only does this daughter enjoy sucking on a pacifier, she wants to hold one. Or two. Or two or three per hand. I am pretty sure her max is six binkies--one in mouth and two and three in hands. She went from having them only at nap and nighttime to wanting them Always. And frankly, I like hearing her talk. Binkies curb talking. It was time to end Binkydom.

Last night was The First Night of No Binky. We snipped the ends off all the binkies we could find. I thought, if the pacifier thing for her is partially tactile, I don't have a problem with her carrying around emasculated pacifiers... Well, nothing doing. She recoiled in horror when we presented the first snipped Binky. They were offensive to her. Not functional; not meaningful.

Hence, bedtime was hard. She cried and sobbed and begged for...something. I told my husband I was ready to cave (I knew where one pristine Binky was hidden...) She eventually fell asleep. And the miracle is that she slept Through the Night* (*Through the Night=until 4:45 AM). She accepted that her Binkies were Broken at that early hour, and snuggled in with me in our bed.

At breakfast, I told her sister, "We should really be proud. She slept through the night with NO BINKY." Daughter #2 heard that key word and looked up from her toast, reporting, rather analytically: "Binky...broken."

She came home from preschool today unscathed. After searching fruitlessly through her cubby at naptime to no avail, she accepted her Elmo jacket and shoes as consolation prizes. And slept. I can tell what happened at school, what the teachers said, because she has shared, rather impromptu, "Binky...broken. Sorry! So sad..."

Oh, kids. They're really amazing. And I am proud of my little noogie.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mother Lusts

I was in a bookstore this weekend and saw a book called "Mommy Porn" or something, with a photo of a shirtless dad/dude vacuuming. I chuckled and thumbed through it, I lust for the far more practical, actually, and men don't even need to be involved... here's my wishlist:

1. Drive-By Grocery Pick Up: Trust me, I have had deliver to my home and appreciate the convenience it offers, but I am talking about something far simpler and more spur-of-the-moment: I want to be able to call the store from my cell phone while picking up my kids from daycare with an order of a measly grocery bag full of the essential items I need to make dinner tonight and the lunches tomorrow. I'd like some (ok, maybe good-looking male) person to run out with my credit card receipt and bag as I drive by.

The point is, I don't have the time or patience to unbuckle my kids and take them into the store with me when they're ALREADY tired and hungry, and when all I need is some bread and milk and tomato sauce, dammit, and it's already 6 PM.

2. Preschool Pick-Up Runner: I would like my daughter's preschool to have a designated person who runs inside when he/she sees my car coming and returns with my daughter, her lunchbox, etc. Then I don't have to park and bring my other reluctant child inside with me. And carry both of them and a lunchbox and preschool art and preschool flyers and cajole them back into the car. I imagine teachers too would like to us sometimes to get our kids and GET OUT. I would use this service 75% of the time. The other 25% I would enjoy seeing the other moms, dads, and teachers. Everything in moderation.

3. Airport Grandma: I would like a background-checked grandmother available on every flight and at every airport restroom for the mother or father with more than one child and who cannot leave bags nor children unattended when one child needs to take a 20-minute poop. This nice lady could: 1) watch the younger child run willy-nilly through the terminal, or 2) take the pooper into the restroom while I supervise willy-nilliness, or 3) change the younger pooper's diaper in the airplane restroom while I remain seated and entertaining the remaining gremlin. Have you ever tried to fit yourself and two small children and fold out the diaperchanger thingamajig in the airplane restroom? This is why one of my children needed a diaper change for the duration of the flight today and didn't get it.

In retrospect, it may be curious that Southwest Airlines refuses service to customers who aren't dressed properly but not to those who have soiled themselves :).

Here I am whining about wanting a little more with my already modern conveniences, but *sigh*. I suspect I will add to this list before too long.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Packing, unpacking, folding, unfolding...repacking...

My daughters and I depart tomorrow morning for a weekend trip to visit friends who live a one-hour airplane ride away. Living moment to moment as I have been, it wasn't until after work and picking up the girls that I began thinking about packing and preparing to get away. My strategy for determining what to bring and assessing my progress is making a big pile of all the things we need to take and adding and subtracting from it. This looked like a fun game for my almost-two-year-old, who methodically emptied her drawers to add to my stack. All of her clothes. Systematically, armload by armload, destroying my organizational strategy by exclaiming "More jammies!" and throwing them on the heap. At this point, I am not sure what I packed in the bag nor what I tossed back into her drawers, after she was safely distracted by another task: putting on a flowered turtleneck like a pair of pants.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The greatest Joy/the greatest Pain

After I gave birth to my first child, a dear friend of mine told me something I will never forget. She confided, "Now that you're a parent, you will know the greatest joy, and the greatest pain." Although I suspect I have yet to suffer the greatest pain, this quote from Keri Russell, in an article about her titled "The Felicity of Motherhood" in the latest issue of Newsweek, reminds me of the wider range of emotion I've experienced since having children:

6. Actually, being a mom isn't always felicity: "I thought when you have a baby, you get this wisdom. But I still feel like a kid. I'm really happy, and I feel really crazy, too. I cry. I break glasses on the floor. I have spaz attacks. I feel rage I've never felt. Your heart and your feelings expand. In a way, it's nice. You're living more."


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Directions for Living

I used to be a creative writing teacher until I sold my soul to the devil and became a school administrator. I am being only partly facetious, as I have been struggling lately with what I consider to be the "soulless" aspects of my new job. This struggle comes with crises of conscience and identity, and next thing I know, I am singing a Talking Heads song and asking myself "How did I get here?" Now that I think about, I kind of do live in a shotgun shack...

To stave off these descents into the self-reflective abyss, I am taking action to reclaim the parts of my work life that sustain me beyond my job. This week an art teacher and I began collaboration on a joint creative writing/ceramics project. Students are going to write "Directions for Living" and then create something--sculptural or functional--out of clay that will be the vehicle for their writing. Today after we introduced the writing component we walked to the park to brainstorm and begin writing our own keys to the good life. I shared with students an example I wrote for my seniors in 1998 and shared with graduating 12th graders in my classes thereafter:

life is long--
long enough to try again.
to be wrong and be right and to start anew.
humble yourself.
grow from your shortcomings.

praise not only gods, but People.
find prophets and sages, wisdom and insight
in children, landscapes, birdsongs,
simple folk, the misunderstood.

say you’re sorry, when it matters and
it counts and it’s true.
trace the roots of envy. weed them out.

go great distances for those you love.

sweat. trust. love. accept. give. hope.
bask. assist. embrace. shed. gaze. open.
persist. acknowledge. inquire. donate.




part the branches. open the door.
peek behind the curtain. ask to be let in.

vow to yourself a life of adventures,
however small or big.

you will leave a wake;
must leave a wake.

But lest you run roughshod over the earth
on your path of courage and adventure,
look back every now and again
at the footprints you leave behind.

I can't wait to see what students write. And I can't wait to see what they make. And I can't wait to see what I make, ha! (No experience on the pottery wheel).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Query of the Day: What happened to Bird Flu?

Huh? Enlighten us, oh Media People. What shall we fear today?

Oh yeah...MRSA. You already told us.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why I can barely live without my weekly run

One weekend morning each week I run in my neighborhood. It's the same one-hour circle; the only variation is whether I start by heading south or west. Recently I have become acutely aware that this weekly run is a pretty significant part of my life. Which has a little to do with fitness and a lot to do with some of the things that happen when I am running.

1. Seriously, running only once a week is my last frontier. I used to run marathons, and now, busy mom/busy high school educator, this is what I've got. I love running, and I love this hour I have on Saturday or Sunday morning.
2. Sometimes jackrabbits cross my path in the canyon, hopping into the brush. Seeing one never fails to make me almost giddy (clearly I am too much a city girl now). Who doesn't love seeing a bunny? Makes my day.
3. I usually listen to my iPod on my long run, and songs tend variously inspire or remind me, or serve as a soundtrack for my thoughts (below). Today it was Crowded House's "I Feel Possessed" that took me right back to college, and a vague memory of mourning a bad short-lived relationship. A couple of weeks ago I felt the need to memorize the Indigo Girls' "Song of Devotion" and listened to it at least four times in a row. And over several successive weekend runs last summer, I choreographed in my head "What Goes Around Comes Around" by Justin Timberlake. This must have been my mind avoiding more important business.
4. I do good thinking while I run. Okay, sometimes I obsess on a distracting situation or person, but most often I problem-solve work or relationship issues, and even experience moments of epiphany. I make to-do lists. I "write" scripts for apologies and thank-yous to deliver later. I come up with plans and ideas. My mind feels free to both wander and commit. It's delicious.
5. Despite the fact that I do my run arbitrarily backwards or forwards, sometime between 8 and 10 AM and on either Saturday or Sunday, there's a man I often encounter, walking in the opposite direction, at the same spot on the same hill each time I run. He's always wearing the same shirt, and the same great smile, with his admirable sense of determination. I spotted him once on the other end of my run, so I know he does the same circle through the neighborhood I do, except he walks it, which must take him at least an hour and a half. I miss him when I don't see him. These are the kinds of random connections I have with people that make me feel connected to the UNIVERSE. I am not overly superstitious or spiritual, but there you go.
6. Running connects me to my neighborhood. I take stock of houses for sale, landscaping ideas, barking dogs, people on porches, new construction, and garage sales. My daughter's little pink bike was a running find. So was my brother and sister-in-law's rocking chair.
7. I feel energized and hungry all day after I run, so I eat a lot and revel in being a healthy person. One beautiful day out of the week.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

freak show

I am mustering up the required energy to chaperone the high school Homecoming Dance tonight. As the designated "Freak Napper," I will be roaming the dance floor wielding an imposing flashlight, whose beam is meant to identify and, hopefully, discourage "freak" dancing. The students have become so accustomed to me invading the dance floor that some of the boys see me coming and actually do a comical routine of exaggerated gyrations just to make light of the roles we play (them: testers of the line; me: rule-enforcing adult). At some point tonight I will mock my own generation's contribution to the continuum of dance trends by doing the "Sprinkler Head" (since I could never pull off "Running Man").

Meanwhile, in the living room, my daughter is dressed up in a tutu doing an impromptu ballet to Colbie Caillat's song "Bubbly."