Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Busy Season

Sum up the holidays?

Between their 2 to 3 jobs and full-time school, my young college students don't have any time. None of them ingest news of any sort on a daily basis, on-line, in print, on TV or radio. One was shocked to learn (from me) that Rudy Giuliani is now a presidential candidate.

"But isn't he the mayor of New York?"

My older students--those returning to school, mid-career--are swamped with full-time jobs and full-time school and children. They're marginally more informed but they don't care. Theirs is the shrug your shoulders attitude. Their noses are to their own grindstones, consumed with mortgages, careers, family demands.

A year after 9-11, Elaine Scarry wrote a marvelous essay that first appeared in The Boston Review: Citizenship in Emergency.

She points out that the only defense launched against the terrorists was from an informed citizenry (not the military, not the president). The people on Flight 93, she says, operated like a "small legislative assembly or town meeting."

Using cell phones, they gathered and verified facts. They assessed the threat to their own lives. They developed a plan. They voted on the plan. They acted.

She juxtaposes the efficacy of this process to the inability of the government to respond. Scarry notes that the military suspected Flight 93 was under terrorist control for nearly an hour but knew this for a fact for 20 minutes before the plane crashed.

Still, the military didn't deploy a defense. The logistics were just too overwhelming.

The main thrust of her argument is to question the wisdom of our current nuclear policy, allowing the President to make a decision--without Congress-- to launch a warhead in the name of defense.

We all know that scenario--the nuclear missile headed toward our borders, the President's hand forced to press that red button.

This should be changed, Scarry argues. Effective, speedy response and defense is a myth, an impossible story citizens soothe themselves with--and a dangerous lie. One person shouldn't have that power.

Instead, she holds the citizens of Flight 93 as examples for us all: we should all be operating like that, right now. We have the responsibility--as citizens-- to be well-informed. We have the responsibility to act on our knowledge, to defend the nation, ourselves. If we leave this vital task to politicians and the government machinery, we lose.

When we read this essay in my classes, someone always says: "But I'm too busy to get involved."

Then we all marvel at the irony, how we're too busy scrambling to question the scramble itself, the direction we're headed.


I better get going. Lots of shopping, baking, gift-making, card-writing, and party going ahead. Busy, busy, busy.

More To Love

Anything from Anne-Marie Chagnon . . . hope Santa's hunky helper is reading this blog.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Culinary Roulette

Note the earlier post (Prodigal Daughter), in which I observe that eating with my mother is a sort of culinary Russian Roulette. Somebody makes a fatal mistake.

Imagine the Thanksgiving feast, all that time to fumble and pitch.

As usual, the fatal mistake was mine (a dour and perhaps ill-conceived comment on the small rural town where I spent my adolescence). She packed up and left before dessert.

Now that I have children of my own, watching her walk away is harder--mostly because I'm always weak-kneed with relief to see her go.

But I want my children to adore me as adults.

This desire runs like a film clip (in Manhattan) where the 'mature' but still chic me is seen lunching with adult children; visiting museums; cooking huge Sunday night dinners (monthly, I'm realistic in my fantasy) during which we discuss politics, the economy, religion, and life and there is plenty of philosophical dissent but Family prevails; planning baby showers or anniversaries; grabbing the quick workweek lunch with my successful, happy children--who find me interesting, witty, frustrating, wise and generally pleasant to be around.

The soundtrack is Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. Just in case the intensity of the vision isn't clear.

But I am decidedly not modeling the parent/adult child relationship I want to create with my own children. Instead, I'm stuck holding the spatula, watching my mother round up her dogs (that's another story) and leave.

Hope I fare better.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Nostalgia, More

At the time, I was trying to take a picture -- a normal, every day sort of picture capturing a keystone event: Scarlett's first day as a preschooler at JJ Hill and Stryker's entrance into the real ranks, first grade.

I can't remember why, but for some reason Scarlett was mad at me (the neatly coiffed hair may be an indicator, though) and refused to smile. Check out that glare.

As for Stryker? Knowing I wanted to mark the day with a photograph, he decided to stick a suction cup to his forehead first.

Prodigal Daughter

My Mom came up for brunch on Sunday. Eating at a restaurant with my mother has sort of a culinary Russian Roulette quality. There's always some fatal mistake that someone (usually me) makes. You just never know what triggers her disapproval: wrong bread choice, too much salt, not enough gravy? I thought I'd get all kinds of goodies to use on the blog.

Instead, as I was packing up the children and looking for my coat, she said, "You're not invited."

But she did bring treats for the dogs.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I Made Stryker Read This

In Sunday's New York Times, this caught my eye: In Korea, a Boot Camp Cure for Web Obsession.

Seems like half the country is addicted to online games, which didn't much surprise. But this did: "It has become a national issue here in recent years, as users started dropping dead from exhaustion after playing online games for days on end."

Dropping dead!!?

So I google "Death from online games" and it appears that people do indeed, drop dead. Exhaustion, dehydration, general foaming at the mouth.

Of course, Stryker had a hard time focusing on the article, which I literally held to his face. Why?

A) Full House was on the television (we own five seasons and this was the really riveting episode in which Michelle loses her memory).
B) He was online, reading about the Game Boy game Zelda and the Phantom Hour Glass.
C) He was playing Zelda and the Phantom Hour Glass on his Game Boy.
D) Green Day's "American Idiot" was streaming (loudly) from the computer.


E) All of the above

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Parents Are Better People

I had intended to write a straight-up proclamation (or defense) but then I remembered Q.

Q and her boyfriend had a baby girl, Gigi. Q and boyfriend engaged in routine screaming matches, nicely timed to start around 1:00 am. Oh, and one would be in a car screaming and the other in a house. They traded spots sometimes.

Q has a way with words. I learned this phrase: "you small dick bitch."

If Gigi bounced a ball into the street or put a stick in her mouth, Q screamed at her, too. And those midnight fights also seemed to be the official custody switch. Four am? Certainly, time to bring the kid to her father.

Just after midnight one Minnesota winter -- way back when, when things were actually cold -- I was brushing my teeth and happened to look at the window. There was Q, getting out of a car and quite carefully drawing out . . . . a pit bull puppy ( ! ), which she started gently carrying to the house.

For one stupid second I was relieved. Until Q looked back and screamed: "COME ON."

Diapered, barefoot and not quite two, Gigi staggered out of the car and after her mother, who carried the dog.

I didn't have children of my own yet. Just the memory makes me want to run outside and scoop up that baby. She's over ten now and we've long left that corner.

If I'm going to return to that initial impulse--parents are better people -- it's gotta be good parents are better people.

Now I can defend myself.

For me, good parenting means (some of but not limited to at least always) this: remember when you fell in love? Head over heels, obsessive, in love? Heady times, when body language and inflection matter-- you tend to the beloved. You give up the last piece of cake, the best cut of meat, and leave the last sip of cream for her coffee.

Good parenting mirrors that state, that complete willingness to understand the needs of another: are you happy? sad? need a sweater, a snack, a ride? what can I do? who are you? what do you want in life? what are you thinking? let me look in--even if I don't like every last thing, I'll love you.

I like people in that state more than I like people wound tight in their own lives, in narrow concerns. Expand toward someone else -- you're a better person.

Maybe it's just real love of any sort that does the trick. I hope Gigi found some.