Monday, May 23, 2011

Bad Snare Day

I tend to characterize myself as a very well-behaved girl growing up.  My childhood resume provides foundation for this thesis: I am the first-born of five children, with a predictable sense of responsibility and Type-A personality.  I wasn't allowed to eat sugar cereal or watch cartoons and my favorite TV shows (which had to fit in a 1.5 hour per week allotment) were, at various stages of childhood, 3-2-1 Contact, The Electric Company, Donny & Marie, The Muppet Show, Little House on the Prairie, Father Murphy, Alf, and Murder, She Wrote.  My parents keenly sniffed out my natural penchant for guilt and never gave me a curfew.  "You know when it's time to come home," they assured me confidently.  Darn it if I didn't exceed their expectations  99.9% of the time.  I was also good cover, apparently; I learned at my high school reunion that several classmates told their parents they were going to my house when they were planning to be elsewhere, partying. 

Despite my upbringing and internal regulator, there is a little streak of naughty inside me I indulged from time to time, mainly at school.  My friends and I engineered a variety of pranks on our teachers in middle school, including sending notes around the classroom with a time and activity ("At 9:23, stare up at the ceiling," "drop your pen on the floor," or, causing a cloud of dust to rise up from the carpet which enveloped the class:  "stomp your feet"), and taping notes to our teachers' backs.  I once earned myself a phone call home from my teacher for chatting in sign language with my BFF across the room in math class. 

In high school we moved the desks in our history classroom into the teacher's office and sat on the floor in their places, where the teacher found us when he entered the classroom.  We turned our good-natured history teacher's posters upside down and lit incense and stuck it in the pencil sharpener.  We also "forked" the lawn of a boy we liked and hot-dogged his tree.  On the last day of class senior year, I asked my beloved physics teacher if he was as dumb as he looks (no good answer to that question, haha!) and he responded by gleefully sending me to the vice principal's office with a referral.   

But my favorite story of my own malfeasance is the time a bad hairdo was the undoing of me and some members of my cross country team. 

It was the 80s, when neon colors, acid wash, big bangs, plastic earrings, and perms were "in."  And there were times when I sported all of these trends in one totally awesome ensemble.  The summer between freshman and sophomore year, I decided to have my hair permed.  I saved money and rode my bike to the Navy Exchange Salon on a Friday for a late afternoon appointment.  I was the last appointment, and I remember it being one of the longest one of my life.  Because as my hair was trapped in very narrow-barrelled curlers and I was captive beneath a hood dryer, my hairdresser cleaned the salon thoroughly and forgot about me.  "Oops!"  she exclaimed, finally noticing my feet by the broom as she swept the floor.  I smiled at her weakly, chemicals burning my eyes.  "You've been under there for quite a while!"  Her nervous good cheer was belied by the speed at which she yanked those rollers out and her suggestion that washing my hair often would relax the crazy curls. 

I rode my ten speed home, horrified and resigned.  I wanted curly hair, and boy, did I have it. 

There was no hiding my hair, so I rocked it.  And that perm lasted months, through summer and fall, into Homecoming:

as well as cross country season.

Daily athletic practices in high school are exhausting, but cross country practices are a particular grind.  Everyday, we ran.  And running is tiring.  Even though we experienced a variety of workouts, including running sand dunes, running intervals, running hills, running fartleks, and running through the neighborhood, it was still, always, running.  We loved running--we chose cross country as a sport, after all--but we loved to complain about it too. 

There were some days when we just didn't feel like it.  Those were the days we'd beg to cancel practice, cajole our coach into going light on us, and turn the whining up a notch or two.  And on some occasions, we'd show up but skip practice altogether.  The beauty of cross country practice was that unless we were running around the track, we were generally running away from and out of sight of our coach.  Under these instances, he would ride his bike along our route to encourage us (i.e., keep track of us). 

One long-neighborhood-run day when we weren't feeling it, a group of us conspired to jog off as if we were embarking on the workout, and then duck around the block, jump in Scooter's car, and head to Baskin Robbins.  Not only were we not going to run that day, we planned to eat ice cream.  We would park a block or two away afterwards, and run back to the track as if we'd just put in five miles.

We piled in Scooter's car as planned and drove a route to the ice cream shop we thought wouldn't cross the path of our honest teammates and coach.  We miscalculated, however, and Scooter turned left and merged right into the path of our coach on his bike.

"Duck!" he yelled, and we attempted to hide ourselves in the backseat as Scooter drove his car without looking.  I was a little slow on the uptake and piled myself atop a friend who was giggling into the upholstery.  We hit Baskin Robbins as planned, believing we were home free, and faked a sweaty exhausted return to campus. 

Our coach logged our return on his clipboard and then called us over, hands on his hips, as we dramatically panted. 

"Not only did I recognize Scooter's car," Coach pointed out, "but I could see Fer's curls flying in the air through the back windshield." 

And that's how my hair got us in trouble--and earned us some extra sprints. 

Baskin Robbins' Chocolate Mousse Royale made it almost worth it. 
Hair:  too big to hide, and big enough to hide behind

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Dream of Spring

I've had hopes dashed, but none so profound as loss of what was mine.

I wrote this poem many years ago for a friend who suffered a miscarriage.  I post it today for a friend enduring the letting go of great anticipation, a woman who is already a mother in so many ways. 


when you weren't looking,
my fingers slipped into your pocket,
finding it warm--
the womb of a baked potato,
heating the hands of a child's
snowy trudge to school.

They could linger there,

my fingers--
nestled amongst your syllables waiting to be worn
the next time,
nourished by the umbilicus of your kindness,
welcomed by the proximity of your beseeching eyes.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lullaby, and Goodnight

Do you ever feel like a hostage in your own home at your children's bedtime? I'm wagering that there is no other parenting frontier--dinnertime, perhaps--upon which kids launch stealthier and more concerted attacks. The range of tactics employed--including stalling, faking, sleights of hand, and feigned injury--and the rate at which they're changed up make me think even the Navy Seals could learn a thing or two from the Kids' Bedtime Ops Manual.

I respect parents' discretion in determining how they put their children to bed; some moms and dads I know enjoy spending an hour or more reading, snuggling, tucking, singing. Before we were parents, we were invited for dinner at the home of friends with small children.  When we noted that our friends spent much of the evening tag-teaming putting their children to bed, husband and I vowed not to let bedtime rule our roost. Oh, how much more easily said by the childless than done by the besieged!  We have to remain on high alert just to keep the list of pre-sleep tasks confined to a reasonable number.

Big Sis is, for the most part, past the shock-and-awe stage of attention-getting at bedtime.  She will employ the I-can't-sleep-will-you-rub-my-back technique or I-can't-stop-thinking-about-people-in-our-family-dying ploy on occasion, both of which tend to draw us to the bedroom to dole out the TLC. 

Little Sis, on the other hand, is a masterful and creative staller (read here for her antics from two years ago) for whom we have limited sympathy.  Her latest and favorite strategies are the Come out of Bed to Ask a Random Question ("Hi.  Where am I going tomorrow?"  Eye rolling.  "School."  "Oh yeah!  I forgot!") and the Identify a Fatal Wound  to Report (Crying:  "Mooooooom, this morning at school I got sand in my eye and now it really really REALLY stings..."  "Sorry.  Get in bed.").

The other night at the dinner table we were reviewing our scheduled activities for the week. I explained that Dad was at a meeting tonight and would be home after bedtime; I would be at lacrosse and volleyball games tomorrow evening. We cleaned up the dishes, finished homework, and began getting ready for bed.

Little Sis gets to choose three books to have read to her each evening, and then Big Sis joins in for the read-aloud book (currently Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which I highly recommend). Teeth are brushed, and then it's climb-into-bed time. We turn on the hall light and the flower light, as well as the star lights under the bunk bed. We kiss and hug and sometimes sing or tell a brief tale. The girls read books in their beds for a bit before they fall asleep. And then all lights are out.

Big Sis has a book box attached to the side of her bed; Little Sis piles her books beside her bed. At some point we added to her tasks in the morning that she needs to reshelve her books from the night before, or we don't bring her new ones. But we're softies. Or, at least one of the parents is a softie. Which is why I was called out on Tuesday night.

"Moooooooom, can you bring me books? Can I have cold water?"

"I think you can get up and get your own books," I responded from the couch. "And if you want cold water, you need to remember to get yourself some before you get in bed."

"Oh yeah? How come Daddy always brings me books and cold water? You never bring me books and water."

"Are you saying I am a mean mommy?"

"Well, Daddy always brings me books and cold water. He never makes me get them myself."

I sighed, relenting, not cherishing the distinction of cold, unloving parent. I grabbed some books off the shelf and brought her fresh cold water. "Okay, I am giving these to you tonight, but tomorrow night you need to remember to get them yourself."

"Umm.  Mommy.  Tomorrow night you're going to be at a lacrosse game."

She smiled sweetly.  "Can I have a kiss?"

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Mother Mentors

I admire you, moms, because... parent each of your children as individuals, nurturing them into the distinct human beings they are. lost your only child, and you cheerfully tend to ailing family members, never asking for anything for yourself. spent countless afternoons in the backyard playing catch with your son.

...your house may not be clean, but it abounds with love. sat beside your son in the principal's office as he took accountability for his actions and faced his consequences, not making excuses for him, but guiding him, loving him, and forgiving him. teach your children that smaller bellies and needier ones eat first. parent alone or in the absence of your partner. adopted your children.'ve watched your child suffer and helped her endure. made a difficult choice on behalf of your family. teach your children the value of community service, hard work, and reflective practice. accepted your child before and after she came out to you. open your mind and heart when your child has something to teach you. maintain a healthy relationship with your ex and honor the relationship your children have with your former partner. tend to your own health, needs, passions, and dreams, and demonstrate that a balanced individual is a better parent. exercise/play an instrument/sew/create/build/cook/play/work with your child. are tough when you need to be. talk frankly with your child about sex. apologize to your children when you're wrong or out of bounds. have no children of your own but care for them as if they're yours. have one child or many; you work outside or inside the home; you breast- or bottle feed; you cloth- or disposable diaper; you public or private school; you buy all organic or not: but you follow your instincts and do what feels right to you without judging others.

Thank you for inspiring me.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The 'Moving to Africa' Strategy

We have a fantasy (or dream--we haven't yet determined which label applies) about moving to Africa for a year sometime before the girls are in high school.  You know, get off the grid.  Expose them, and us, to another culture's ways and means and sense of community and time.  Defy all notions that retirement accounts, bank accounts, mortgages, obligations, careers, loyalty, and inertia stand in the way of such an adventure.  Nevertheless, they do.  And fear creeps in. 

But I was imagining last week that we were relocating to Africa for year or two or three, with a little prompting from hints of a possible opportunity.  The mind reels. Then I gained an objective view of what I would think and do if we were leaving in months for a sojourn abroad. And I recognized the value of living in an "Africa imminent" state for a while. I recommend it, even if you are not planning to budge.

First thought: We have too much stuff. Let's sell it all. But seriously; what would we keep? The list proves surprisingly short (and most of the objects to which we're attached are small). For example, a couch is a couch, after all, and replaceable. Save a few antique dressers, most of our furniture merely functions versus delights. Some of it is questionably functional, actually (see "glue gun").  And the rest of our tchotchkes? I'm asking myself, if I would ditch them for Africa, why am I saving them now? 

Also:  I considered all the services we'd have to cancel, including bottled water and cooler, organic veggie delivery, museum memberships...tallying them helped me take stock of what's truly appreciated and what may be frivolous or underused. (Note: water cooler and cold fluoridated water is a worthy budget cut, but the CSA box would only be axed under dire circumstances or an actual move across the Atlantic).

Next:  If we were readying our house for rental; it's time to fix some stuff.  A great way to prioritize tackling deferred maintenance is to consider what someone else living in your home shouldn't have to put up with, namely the hole in the garage roof, the toilet prone to clogging, and the part of the living room wall which I believe may crumble at any moment.  Meanwhile, the spendier schemes, like room additions and new kitchens, suddenly seem less relevant and compelling.

And then:  Nothing curbs the gimmies like supposing the object of your material desires will have to be packed, sold, or shipped.  Next time you shop at Target or Costco, curb your spending by considering how useful or necessary the items in your cart are if you're headed off the continent. 

Finally:  If family and friends are about to be halfway around the globe and an expensive flight away, time with them is at a premium.  Less morbid than to live "like you're dying" is to live like you're embarking on a prolonged walkabout.  Linger over dinner; go on long walks and talks; invite folks over; make yourself available.

When someone you know is contemplating a courageous endeavor, nudge them off the grid. Promise to visit them in faraway lands. Remind them that stuff is stuff and people will be here when they return, enriched by experience. Honor the fact that you wouldn't make the leap yourself; live vicariously.

And then head out of town for a spell (like a week, or even a weekend)!  What a relief to know that not all adventures require as much advance planning, deep breaths, and sacrifices as a move to Africa.  Use the money earned at that garage sale and saved from curtailed spending. 
Stay away just long enough to appreciate home again.