Monday, August 31, 2009

Strapless

I usually hang out at Rooster's pre-k playground for awhile after I pick her up.

It gives her a chance to play longer with her best friend and I effectively kill time until I can go pick up The Mayor.

[And it would be unfair not to admit that I really like the standing around and talking with the other parents part.]

Over time, I have developed a friendship with the parents of one of The Rooster's best friends.

The wife is secretly hysterical.

She is an introvert and, should you meet her on the street, you might find her quiet, but you would not know her true nature.

She endlessly e-mails me links to you tube videos of Latvian, Pirate Eurovision contestants.

Recently, after I retaliated with a little failed Karaoke, she admitted that "Tuts My Barreh" is her new make-out, come on, theme song.

[So you can see why I like talking to her.]

And that is just what I was doing when I heard,

"Mommy, come strap me in!"

The Rooster and her friend had climbed up on the baby swings.

Now, technically, they're not supposed to be on the baby swings in the first place because they are much too big.

"It's okay Roo," I called to her, "just hold on tightly to the rope."

Four seconds later I watched her fall and hit her chin. Hard.

I ran to her, scooped her up, covered her in love and apologized.

It was absolutely my fault... I was too pre-occupied talking to my friend.

[Oh, the guilt!]

A nano second later, The Rooster's friend also fell and she too, began to cry.

Her mother scooped her daughter up just as I had done.

When our girls calmed down a bit, she caught my eye and said,

"We should probably just split the Mother of the Year Award."

Ack!

No more going strapless!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ask For What You Need

My children were picking on each other at breakfast the other day.

[Because every day is the same.]

I interrupted them and asked WHY they fought so incessantly.

In response, they simply accused each other of being annoying.

[Oh, struggle of struggles!]

"Mayor, can you think of something The Rooster could do to make you feel good instead of annoyed?" I asked.

He thought for a moment.

"She could stop kissing and hugging me so much. I don't always like to be touched."

"And what about you, Rooster? Can you think of something The Mayor could do that would make you feel less annoyed?"

"He could help me to not feel so little all the time," she said.

[Mi pobrecita!]

A few days later they were both trying to make King Tut masks, an art project meant for much older kids.

There were a lot of pieces to cut out and The Rooster became increasingly frustrated.

"Here, let me help you," The Mayor said. "I'll cut your pieces out for you."

Beaming, she watched him cut. She didn't touch him at all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Work-A-Day Buddha

Because of a meeting at work, I spent the last two days with a Buddhist priest.

In our forty eight hours together, I asked him a lot about his faith.

Fundamentally, he saw the world as a borderless garden where everyone is welcome and invited to plant seeds.

He suggested that each of us find our best, most compassionate selves when we help nurture the seeds that others plant, when we recognize the good in others and help them.

He said he believed that love and compassion existed within every person, that it was universal.

“When you recognize the good in another person,” he said, “they go on to recognize the good in someone else. It creates a ripple effect for a more peaceful world. In seeing the good in others, you polish the goodness in yourself.”

The priest said he tried to approach every human interaction as an opportunity to help.

"How can I help you?" he liked to say.

I got home late the first night, and kept K up late talking about the idea of trying to recognize the good in others as an everyday act.

I wondered if there might be a way to employ these ideas when The Mayor and The Rooster become entangled in their many, daily struggles.

[My children spend a good part of every day trying to annoy each other, poke the other in the eye or generally disrupt the other’s peace.]

I imagined pulling them apart in one of those moments where, as a parent, I am forced to intervene lest blood be shed.

What if, before I got down to the business of mediating the mac-n-cheese vs. hot dog debate, I asked each of them to quiet themselves and say something nice about the other person?

What if I asked them to stop and recognize the good in their sibling?

I wondered if, over time, the practice would result in mutual consciousness of actually liking each other.

[A mother can dream.]

The next night at dinner I suggested that each of us say one good thing about every other member of the family.

Taking turns, we did it and it was actually pretty nice.

After dinner, K and I were in the kitchen cleaning up while the kids finished eating.

[How long can one linger over a chicken nugget, grasshopper?]

As they usually do when left alone, The Mayor and The Rooster started in on each other.

K and I ignored them.

[Unless there are screams of pain, we try to shut out the bickering.]

Then we heard The Mayor say,

“I’m not going to talk about it with you anymore. You’re just trying to pick a fight with me and there’s no point in arguing.”

“Bravo!” I thought, until The Rooster responded.

“No, I’m not. YOU’RE trying to pick a fight with ME.”

“No, YOU'RE trying to pick a fight with ME.”

“No YOU are.”

"No!"

"You!"

Oh tiny green shoots of compassion, may I suggest you avoid my home address when attempting to blossom in the borderless garden.

[Sigh.]

Faith is action to which you have dedicated your whole being.
Act for others first, with compassion.
Kindness has no borders.
You give, you grow, you transform.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Food Chain

At dinner the other night, The Rooster discussed her day at pre-school.

She led us through a list of proposed names for class pet hermit crab and we weighed the merits of each proposal.

"Joseph suggested Hermie," she told us.

[Oh, the original!]

The Mayor rolled his eyes and wryly contributed his own idea.

"Why don't you just call the hermit crab Bait?"

[!!!!]

It's usually his sister's role to be the macabre one.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Uncertainty

I went running with Merrily on Saturday morning and she made me cry.

She told me about her friend M.K. who is dying of lung cancer.

She has two kinds of lung cancer, though she isn’t, nor has she ever been, a smoker.

The doctors predict that she will only live a few more months.

M.K. is 41, she’s the mother of a six year old daughter and she is furious.

Every time she looks at her daughter, she wants to cry.

“Even if I lived six more years, or eight more years, it wouldn’t be enough. I still won’t be here when she graduates, when she gets’s married or when she has her own child... I shouldn’t be burdening you with all this,” she cried to Merrily.

“This is what I can give you,” Merrily said. “I can listen. I can do that for you.”

On our final lap around the neighborhood, I found myself unable to speak.

My voice kept cracking and breaking.

“She’s in the anger stage of her grief,” Merrily said, “and who wouldn’t be? She’s had the rug ripped right out from under her.”

“You think you’ve got things under control, even though you know in the deepest part of yourself that there isn’t any such thing, but you find comfort in the path you imagine you’re walking along and then WHAM.”

The path M.K. meant to walk is denied to her now.

“She has to find a new path,” Merrily said.

I thought about how hard it would be to figure out how to live the last days of your life if you knew that’s what they were.

It would be fantastic if you found out that you were dying and you could simply make sure you lived each day to the fullest - if for no other reason than to be present and joyful in your children's final memories of you.

I know that is unrealistic though.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could learn that you were dying and skip the angry part?

Of course M.K. is angry.

I would be angry too.

As we talked about M.K.'s situation, I found myself wishing.

I wished that if something similar ever happens to me that I would find a way to write letters to my children.

I thought about writing letters to them that could be handed over at all of the big life moments to come in their lives like birthdays, graduations and weddings…

That led me to think that maybe my discipline around journaling should shift.

Maybe I should write to them.

Maybe I should write even about ordinary days and bind up a journal of letters that reflect on the events of any average Tuesday.

I imagined writing to them as adults, the age they would be when they eventually read the letters.

I pictured my children finding the journal at the time of my death.

Some part of me says, “you should do that,” and urges me on.

Another part of me calls it “tempting fate” and warns against it like a shaman trying to ward of a bad omen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Law of Averages

A friend of mine was in town on business and we were able to get together for lunch.

I first met him at a party when we were in college.

It was a fraternity party where the "brothers" were all engineering students with severely enlarged cerebral cortexes.

[I only went to the coolest parties.]

[Geeks Unite!]

Anyway, it was the mid 1980’s and John had on a skinny, leather tie.

I was instantly IN LOVE.

I stalked this poor boy for several years until he finally quasi dated me and then broke my heart when he told me that, while he liked me very much, he did not LOVE me back.

[Only it took him a really long time to say it because he used a metaphor about setting off forever in a canoe with just one person and how I might be the person for the canoe, but… (??)]

Years later, after staying intermittently in touch, we actually became friends.

Both of us ended our starter marriages around the same time.

[Practice helps.]

Though he was never a good match for me, he has been a very good friend and I am grateful for it.

One thing I like about John is the way that he has always, even when we were in college, known what to ask people.

Anytime he meets someone new, he produces a miraculous question – one that draws the person out of themselves and seduces them to share something personal, interesting, or unusual.

John has a talent for that.

Today, in the heat of the mid-day, Georgia sun, we decided to walk to lunch.

On the way, John told me that he often asks older men what they would do differently if they could go back in time.

He asks them what they would do differently if they were him.

The two answers he’s received that he likes the most are: 1.) don't buy things you don’t need; and 2.) plan for a second career.

John talked a lot about the second one.

He talked about the balance we strike between ambition and parenthood.

Sometimes we’re content not to climb the ladder for awhile as long as we can balance our family lives with our professional ones.

Some older men have told him that they then found themselves at the end of their careers having achieved something far less than what they dreamed of achieving when they set out.

“It took a long time to figure out that I should have prepared myself for a second career – something far less lucrative, but far more fulfilling.”

I thought about my Grandfather.

He worked for years as an engineer for a company that made elevators.

After he retired, he spent the next fifteen years gardening and doing woodwork.

He didn’t make a living at either of these, but he grew much of the food he ate and he made furniture and gifts for all the members of our family.

Most importantly, he seemed happy with all of it.

John’s questions made me want to start asking older women what they would do differently, what they would do if they were me.

[I know, I know. Moisturize.]

It also made me think about how I’ll spend my days when the children are grown and I am retired.

What will be my “second career” as John's advisor called it?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Softly She Sang

"I am with you and we are together..."

She softly sang to herself as we drove along.

My mother and husband were in the front seat and I was sandwiched between The Mayor and The Rooster's car seats.

The Mayor begged for me to keep my right arm limp while he beat himself in the head with it and laughed.

[Oh, the proud.]

Out in the Pacific Northwest, visiting my mother, my brother-in-law's family and joined by Grandma New York, we made our way towards Fort Worden State Park on the Olympic Peninsula.

The Grandmas treated us all to a stay at an amazing house, The Retreat at Sycamore, seemingly designed for the sole purpose of drawing out your inner Zen Buddhist.

Every inch of the house and grounds made you want to sit quietly and simply contemplate.

[Too bad those of us in on the treat included four children under the age of seven who beat the house's giant gong incessantly, taking only intermittent breaks to divert yet still more water from the "personal cannonball pool" also known as the hot tub.]

Driving across the Hood Canal Bridge for a short excursion seemed like a welcome escape.

As we drove along, The Rooster held my hand in her soft, small one and sang.

"You and I are together, we are right here."

She gazed out the window singing this comforting little song to no one in particular other than herself.

"We will always be together, you and me, Roo and Mama."

She sighed happily. Just as I thought my heart would burst she added the song's finishing touches.

"We will always be together... forever... until you turn into a vampire."