Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chemically Creative Writing On Its Way

Tomorrow I'm spending the entire day at the Mall of America with my mother and the three children.

No doubt, I will return a crack addict.

While I Was Chronicling Holiday Horrors, Below

John did this. And no matronly sweat was spent.

Holiday Dry Heaves

I appreciate (need) order. Schedule. Routine. These words soothe. Wild rides, of nearly any sort, are for someone else.

So the holiday season always sets my teeth on edge: on top of the regular routine-- wait. That phrase, "regular routine" deserves its own sentence. This is no slow pace: three busy school age children--one of whom is an actor with transportation needs that make nuclear physics look easy--two dogs, and two working parents. Still, bathrooms must be cleaned and clutter kept at bay. There are lessons, practices, play dates.

And in December add: planning gift lists; navigating complex extended family dynamics and neuroses regarding gift lists; pen Holiday Missive; assemble gift baskets for those who assemble for you; assemble gift baskets for friends you thought of first, so they can be the ones that scramble; track down Santa; shop, shop, shop; produce and mail Missive; attend so many parties that wine never fully leaves system; gain five pounds; decorate home; trim tree; bake the annual cookies to humor children who realize again why we smell home-baked goods in the house but once a year; build terrible and sticky gingerbread house; purchase gifts our children's teachers may meanly mock one day, and be jolly, generally.

The day we bring home the tree makes me specially crazy. All that mess! Needles everywhere, boxes and bags of shiny trinkets strewn throughout the dining room, lights and glass baubles breaking. Ugh.

Yes, I am that much fun. My kids love trimming the tree with me. "Pick that up!"

So we can't get the darn tree straight. No matter what how hard we yell at each other. No matter how intent the battle over who gets to place what bauble where. I send John to a store for a new tree stand.

Thank GOD Scarlett gets invited to a friend's house. All morning long, she's been in her room, cleaning, so I don't even bother to check it out until she's long gone. Nearly every room in my house looks like hers at the moment.

Then the tree fell.

John's home. No more tree stands at Target.

That's why I'm up in my office, goofing around online. Instead.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Trouble, Mid-Term

This is Kristin Kovacic, on parenting teens, in the winter issue of Brain, Child:

"And just as suddenly, things get really quiet. The kids become secretive, closing the doors to their rooms as thoughtlessly as they once climbed into your lap. The parenting magazines you peruse in the pediatrician's office (who, by the way, has kicked you out of the examining room) no longer apply to you. Their colorful taglines--The Truth About Fructose!--and clever craft ideas seem like pamphlets from another planet, like the Easy Readers your kids can't believe they ever actually read. Most noticeably, other parents stop their happy babble. Your old playgroup coffee klatch suddenly seems to you, in memory, like a teddy bear tea party. Because real secrets, real fear, real shame and the specter of real failure have now entered the space where you once traded stories."

Stryker has long spurned laps. At his last annual exam, I made good use of the waiting room, doing just that. He is halfway through 11.

Yet Trouble has entered my world.

The beautiful 17 year old daughter of friends we admire and respect is having a baby. High school graduation? Uncertain.

Running into an acquaintance I hadn't seen in a long time, I inquire after her offspring. "Real challenges," she said. One was clinically depressed; another had gone through drug treatment.

Another old friend has a 20-year old son living in her basement: under-employed and aimless. He has no interest in higher education, even if she foots the bill.

And in another corner, a smart, creative talented high school senior failed just enough of the wrong classes; forgot to fill out that college application; missed the boat on driver's education. Her post-graduation plans? Zero.

When I was younger--young--I envisioned my life as expansive. Life would encompass a touch of fame, travel, art, excitement. At my wedding, I tipped a martini, sucked in my cigarette and swore off children. Never.

Nearly13 years and three children later, my understanding of 'expansive' has changed.

Sure, I still see Europe (again) and Asia in my future. A touch of fame (most decidedly) wouldn't hurt me.

But it turns out the expansiveness that life is primarily offering me is one of interiority. I am mining the subterranean of self and other. Vast territory, important. Suddenly, I am seeing how high the stakes are. Some mistakes matter.

Seeing Trouble around me reminds me that I will get my share, too. I hope mining the internal terrain can keep me honest, accountable.

Honest and accountable. So that if one of my kids screws up big--you know, pregnant, addicted, dropped out--I can honestly say that I did my very, very best. I didn't check out, cop out, look the other way. I want to know that I jumped into the vast expanse, awake.

And I'm not there yet.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Holiday Missive, Redux

Feminist and Prince Charming is my best Holiday Missive, but this was the first ever and is reprinted here, because it's John's favorite. Happy Thursday, honey.

Tidings of Joy

December 2000

Dear Family & Friends,

It began when I stopped apartment roving and settled in with John and two dogs. Things escalated quickly from there: buying a house, getting married, having children. Now I’ve reached the height of modern domesticity—the traditional holiday form letter. Rules of format, style, and tone threaten to overwhelm: one must present recent career advancements, life milestones, children’s growth and exploits, and well wishes to all. The order of presentation may vary but never the tone, which is of paramount importance. Accomplishments (especially those related to money and children) must remain upbeat, yet moderate—no gloating or bragging allowed. Above all, no complaining or whining! This is holiday cheer, after all. With these guidelines in mind, prepare gentle reader, for my own foray into such festive fare:

First, in the year 2000 it became glaringly apparent that John has no rivals in the real estate business, selling houses right and left with such swiftness, such deft and cunning that his peers were left breathless, clients thrilled, and bank account neatly padded. Modest man that he is, he chalks everything up to luck and Alan Greenspan. I know better, and now, so do you. It’s brilliance. Of course, he had some help. Imagine having a devoted, even doting, Wife capable of preparing gourmet meals in a heartbeat (think crepes and soufflés), ironing shirts to the precise crispness required by a real estate mogul, shining shoes until they glisten, and cheerfully attending to his every whim and demand. Yes, just imagine that. Through it all, John managed to attend to his parenting duties with equal zeal and ardor. Does a man get any better?

John’s household and parenting duties reached a new peak this year, meaning he tucked in the children and did the dishes while yours truly finally plowed through that dissertation to earn a doctorate in English Literature and Feminist Studies. Some misguided souls, prone to dreary realism, may have thought my doctorate a lost cause after nearly a decade in graduate school. It may come as a happy shock to discover that I was incubating! Yes, incubating what certainly may be one of the densest theoretical treatises known to academia; a document that will undoubtedly propel me to the forefront of that fast-paced, dynamic, and slightly dangerous field of English Literature. Watch your covers of Time and Newsweek. Undoubtedly, once literary theory takes it’s rightful place in the universe, I’ll assume mine on those covers. While I wait for the world to right itself, I continue my position as an adjunct faculty member at -- University.

Did I mention the children? Here, gentle reader, I find myself at a loss for words, torn between decorum and the brutal reality of their perfection. As the enclosed photo(s) indicate, there are no finer specimens of beauty and exuberance. Stryker is now four, showing potential in too many areas to list. Wait, I’ll try: art, literature, dance, finance, physics, and astronomy. He draws perfect stick figures, scrawls his own name in nearly recognizable form, break-dances through family heirlooms, allocates our cash for only the finest ear-shattering toys, defies gravity, and stays awake late into the night for the sole purpose of plotting new constellations. He may be the next governor of Minnesota, considering his propensity for bold wrestling moves and attention.

At two, Scarlett is all princess, a child so attuned to both fashion and her own sensibilities that she’s shunned pajamas in favor of lace dresses and flowered tights at night! What taste, what style! Like her brother, she too has unusual abilities, including a voice so pure that her rare crying tantrums are a treat—just to hear that mezzo soprano pour through the house, the yard, into the neighbor’s windows! Already pulled in different directions by her multitude of talents, Scarlett is currently torn between a career as a principal ballerina, opera singer, and surgeon—demonstrating various skills in each of these areas throughout our house and on her dolls. John and I only hope we have the wisdom and humility necessary to guide these young protégés into their shining futures.

Throughout the year, we’ve also been busily engaged in a wide variety of ordinary middle-class activities: the children and I have begun attending Sunday meditations at Clouds in the Water Zen Center (even a two year old, especially one as precocious as Scarlett, can say “Buddha”); I continue to practice and teach yoga; John and I both held court at our respective 20 year high school reunions; John has picked up his guitar once again, knowing how the world awaits his music; I’m frantically finishing my next opus, a novel, and already beating back calls from Oprah; Stryker is nearly ready to teach the sign language class he’s taking in preschool; I’ve tossed out my parenting books (given the nature of our children) and am now parenting by astrology and psychic guidance; and finally, I’m available for spell casting and Tarot readings, two other recent interests. My fee is nominal.

Finally, my apologies, dear reader, for this letter’s brevity, for the way limitations of time and form required such brief descriptions of our children, for my strict adherence to moderation, for the plodding tone and humility you’ve found here. Despite this letter’s shortcomings, I find myself strangely buoyed by another domestic duty well done, and by my ability to remain attentive to, and respectful of, the exact tenor of tradition.

Season’s Greetings,


Emily Post

In the midst of the screaming sobbing mayhem that is our daily exit for school, Stryker was the eye, silent.

Seems he was contemplating ethics, 11-year old boy style, because once in the van he had these questions.

"If I say 'I don't mean any offense, but you're a real idiot' is that rude?"

Me (can't help myself): "I guess it depends on who you're talking to. Some people are real idiots."

He contemplates that one for a second.

Then: "Why is it that when we're home and we have a guest, our family rule is 'the guest rules.' But when we're at someone else's house and we're the guest, our family rule is that the host comes first?"

Me: "That's so you're the polite one every time."

Ah, the question was just bait.

Stryker leaps and grabs: "That's totally unfair and one-sided. I knew that rule wasn't fair. You just admitted I always have to suffer. Why am I always the one that suffers?"

We hear honking. A mean driver, I nearly join in out of sheer blood lust.

Thrilled, Merrick points to the two dueling vehicles" "Look! That idiot is honking at the idiot!"

Boy, I am laying some quality psycho-social groundwork here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Cinderella Story


Once upon a time, there was a young woman who thought herself a Feminist. She frequented bookstores, favored espresso, and sneered at domesticity. Our young Feminist eschewed practical clothing for tie-dye leggings, a worn black leather biker jacket, and matching knee-high boots (with gorgeous, thick metal buckles). She had aspirations: Academe! Art! Revolutionary gender politics! A life without gainful employment! Then, the philosophically unacceptable occurred. She met her Prince Charming. He was tall, dark, and handsome. Even as our bold Prince applauded said aspirations, he swept Feminist off her booted feet with his dark-eyed, guitar-wielding, baleful voiced ways. Plus, he had a job! Their desire to toss a party was stronger than doubt about state-sanctioned unions: they got married. Despite being steeped in the ordinary (house, spouse, higher education, career) they considered themselves out of step with much of America and were happy.

Then, our unsuspecting Feminist and Prince had a baby. And another. And another. And an – (just kidding).

The first set of surprises they called Stryker. He sucked in his first breath and set about the business of systematically dissembling our Feminist’s fundamental beliefs about gender politics and their ability to be revolutionized at all. The future King of Commerce toddled about with sticks and weapons, screeching “bang” while Feminist begged at his feet with pretty cloth toys especially designed to promote world peace. The second set of surprises they called Scarlett. The future Diva dealt a final blow to utopian parenting goals. She adorned herself in all materials Pink before taking up arms with her brother to insure that both poor Feminist and her Prince understood that they knew nothing about anything whatsoever at all.

Our Feminist and Prince were worried. Unmoored. Adrift in domesticity. Guitars had been laid to rest since the Prince began his steady ascent into the Kingdom of Real Estate. Musical compositions were limited to lullabies and bribes. Still, Prince secured his family in a lovely castle and learned to be skillful with drills and saws and other strange equipment. Our brave Feminist was reduced to practical shoes and peanut-butter stained sweatshirts. She spent most of her waking hours moving items from where they were dropped to where they were stored. Still, she toiled nights (for four years) to write a dissertation and two novels (if one were to count – and she wouldn’t – that would be 852 high quality pages).

When the final set of surprises arrived, our sweet Prince and Feminist dubbed him Merrick Ramone and waited for the castle to crumble under all this cultural freight: the mini-van; the three children; the over-educated and underemployed, politically active Feminist; the businessman Prince who can close a deal, then change a diaper and call a doll by her brand-given name; and the two dogs (ancient, yet still able to knock over a toddler for his cookie without panting).

But the final set of surprises acted strangely. He failed to throw tantrums or fling heavy culinary tools. He forgot to hurl himself down stairs or pitch fits in grocery store. Indeed, Prince Charming Junior was just that: charming. He puckered his lips for kisses from Feminist, gasped and clapped when Prince Charming Senior sang, worshiped at the pink-feathered feet of Diva, and handed over anything anyone gave him to the King of Commerce.

The castle did not crumble. Indeed, unforeseen events occurred. The King of Commerce matured and his mercenary interests took a softer shape. He (and Feminist) formed a ‘boys book club’ of hard-reading eight year olds that was featured in the St. Paul paper. He took up Art and won third place in the Minnesota State Fair for his painting. Our future King took on an alarming number of Hermit Crabs (caged in a room in the castle) as his first subjects. He acquired his first pair of reading glasses. He engaged in Sport, trying his foot first at skiing and then at soccer. He found solace in the company of other future Kings, all first-born, seeking their fortunes in computer games, cards, tag, comics, and an array of wild outdoor, dirty Activity that Feminist didn’t understand but that made Prince Charming Senior smile fondly.

Unforeseen—and slightly more exciting—events occurred around Diva as well. She too subjected her pink slippered foot to Sport, but recoiled in agony. Downhill skiing? Never again. Soccer? Only if she can hold a pom-pom and lead a cheer. Diva established her reign in First Grade and became an exceptional reader. One full moon, she astounded her parents by changing her name to Louisa. Lest Prince and his Feminist forget, she created small nametags for all of her clothing. Diva-Louisa took up Art with zeal: piano, ballet, and painting. Her Minnesota State Fair entry inched past her brother’s: she won a red ribbon for second place (Foul, cried King of Commerce). On another full moon, Diva-Louisa announced that she was now to be known as Tomboy. Under the delighted consul of King of Commerce, Diva-Louisa-Tomboy stripped her room of sequins and pulled on a pair of jeans. She also composed original songs and ordered Prince Charming to accompany her on the guitar, performing wherever an audience was to be found (or forced). By any name, our sweet Diva delighted in an audience and understood the value of Drama.

Since the castle did not crumble after all, our dear Feminist and her Prince took up the fine art of Hosting. They threw parties and potlucks; they held political gatherings (think Progressive Minnesota and MoveOn!). Feminist created a “Salon” for mothers, nights of thought, talk, and beverage for smart women trapped in, and struggling against, Stereotype. And even when Feminist’s writing career faltered, she rose again like Cher to strap on a new headdress and fresher face and try, try, try again. The Kingdom shall see and admire her books, one day. Meanwhile, she entertains herself teaching college youth the tools of her trade and putters about online.

Perhaps most significantly, our enduring Feminist has discovered that kid goo wipes nicely off a black leather motorcycle jacket. She has observed that hose buckled knee boots look even better on her now than they did, lo, those many years ago. And despite being steeped in the ordinary, she and her Prince (and many many many others) feel once again out of step with much of America. Or, they are changing it.

And they live, happily.

Standing In Her Shoes For a Moment

Scarlett's latest show includes one perk: a really good car pool. It was my turn to drive last night and a red light landed us behind a Hilary! bumper sticker.

One of the two 15-year olds in the van--sharp, funny, African-American, and from a family with the tiniest toehold into the middle-class--said, "Oligarchy."

Me: "What?"

"Isn't that what we'll have," she asked, "if Hilary wins? Two rich, white families running the country--maybe the world--for how many years?"

My Obama inclination just dug a little deeper.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Speaking of Fevers . . .

Which I did, one post below and now: we're sick!

Merrick threw up (spectacularly) in the middle of the night. He's watching Sesame Street right now, nursing a fever and a Ginger Brew. I am quite the Walking Antioxidant, pounding vitamin C, Gypsy Cold Care, mangosteen juice, ginger, Rescue Remedy and zinc. I can't tell if all these supplements are keeping my mild cold alive and happy, or staving off something stronger.

Stryker and John has the same muck I do, at the same degree, and haven't touched a pill or herb.

The minute Scarlett heard that Merrick threw up, she said, "My tummy aches," and burst into tears.

She's at school of course. We all know about that tummy.

Warm Fuzzies

Sure, it was six degrees while I was jogging, but the news was good!

Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey drew 30,000 people in South Carolina. Funny how the MPR commentators kept questioning whether or not Winfrey's clout will matter. Has anyone else drummed up that many people in one place? Oprah's influence may not be as direct as people imagine but just think of all that contact info on 30,000 people: potential volunteers, donors, and voters.

Then I got to hear a snippet of Al Gore's speech as he accepted the Nobel Prize!

A good day for this unapologetic left-leaner, when Gore gets the big prize and Dems draw 30,000. I'm catching a little bit of that Obama fever myself. Even though John Edwards is more progressive on paper, I can't help but think that Obama may be a JFK in the making. JFK ran on a considerably more conservative platform than his presidential policies turned out to be. Maybe once he's safely ensconced, Obama will do the same?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Happy Birthday Buddha

Today our sangha celebrated Buddha's birthday: he was born sometime around 563 BC and Zen Buddhists mark December 8th as the day.

During my run this morning, I caught part of Speaking of Faith's phenomenal interview with Rick and Kay Warren. Wow.

Funny to find myself feeling a sense of kinship with these Evangelical Christians who head a mega-church with a 100,000 membership. They seem entirely Republican (hard to discern, I know, but I'm not), conservative, suburban. Well, evangelical.

They were famous and rich evangelicals, featured on nightly news shows and with bestselling books (of course, I missed that entirely but found them on NPR) when Kay picked up a magazine, read an article and discovered HIV-AIDS in Africa.

Like she hadn't really understood the problem existed.

In the interview, she tells Krista Tipett that until that magazine article, she hadn't understood this simple fact: most people in the world live in shattering, brutal poverty. Half the people live on less than $2.oo a day. One billion people live on less than a dollar a day.

The Warrens were so disturbed they went to Africa to see for themselves: AIDS, poverty, disease. It would be easy to make fun of their ignorance and their ability to hop on a plane and go check it out. Sort of has a celebrity feel to it, an Angelina Jolie-esque quality.

Except now they give 90% of their considerable annual income to fight AIDS, poverty, disease. They toil for the poor. They're shouting the message from their mountain top: every sick child, each starving person is my, your, our responsibility.

This reminds me of the Singer Solution to end world poverty: share more. Share most. And Prince Siddhartha took suffering--all suffering--on as his personal problem to solve.

The interview reminded me of a good friend who, when we first met, identified himself as a born again Christian. Seeing my visible shock (we were at a Green Party meeting), he said: "Like Jesus. You know, actually give away all your stuff, work hard and live among the poor--that kind of Christian."

The average American family spends between $750-$900 on Christmas. We're no better or worse, I'm sure. And we're not even Christians, so Santa just shoots in with toys for the hell of it.