Monday, April 16, 2012

His grace was my path forward

There is a concrete path leading to the basketball court, at the park we frequent.  It's an old  path-- probably paved decades ago.  It is hard and well worn.  But substantial cement slabs weren't Sadia's preferred road.

She wanted instead to make her way to the court across the soft grass.  Freshly cut blades glittered the soles of her shoes, as she raced through the delicate field.  There's no paved way through the grass; she blazed her own trail.
Source: Corbis Images
When I was her age, I ran to basketball .  I clung to it.  I'd wake up early in the morning to practice on a makeshift hoop in my back yard.  I lived for the sound of the ball crashing through the net and wanted the arch on my shot to match my dad's.  I made certain to follow-through with my arm extended in the air, just like his.  Basketball was his passion and it wasn't long before it became mine, as well.

I felt a real connection to my dad through basketball.  He provided a soft place for me to land as I learned the game at such a tender age.  He absorbed my frustration when it took what seemed an eternity to make 10 shots in a row before retiring for the night.  He knew when to push me on the court, and when to pull back, sit quietly along side me, and listen as I ranted and cried.  He cushioned my falls, and made the court a place I loved and felt loved.

I've oft wondered what my dad felt the moment I picked up his sport.  He probably felt the way I did as I watched Sadia play today.

She made her way awkwardly to the free throw line the way she always does-- with reckless abandon.  She picked up the ball and dribbled rudimentarily towards the rim.  Typically, the ball careens off of the backboard or side post.  But not today.  Today, it sailed through the net.  Suddenly, that old familiar sound rang in my ear again, SWISH!  Only this time Sadia produced it as her arm extended into the air like mine had so many times before.  Her face beamed with pride.

I knew that look.  She was hooked.

I looked on from the grass and admired her tenacity.  She landed 9 more shots after her first -- a chip off the old block.  Some time passed and the sun began to set.  Dusk beckoned, but her 10th-made shot beckoned louder.  Until then, Sadia refused to leave the court.  When the final shot hit the bottom of the net, I bubbled over with pride-- careful to temper my excitement with caution.

I am challenged daily to keep my own ascriptions at bay when it comes to my child's life decisions.  Basketball is my first love, and not necessarily hers.  Her relative success on the court today doesn't confirm a shared dream to play basketball.  At this point in her life, when it comes to sports she's still trying to find her way.

I would love it if one day Sadia chose to pursue basketball.  Exhilaration would fill my depths if one day she decided to sign up for the local NJB team.  It would give me immeasurable joy to see her take the journey that I once started years ago.  Ultimately though, the decision is hers.

I can't live vicariously through Sadia, and it would be easy to try and relive a bygone era through her simple explorations.   Basketball was my path and I was grateful for it.  Where my path was long, windy, and worn, hers seems so small, graceful, and smooth.

When Sadia barreled off the court tonight, she collapsed next to me on the grass letting her body go limp across my lap.  She glared up towards the sky, and I embraced her through a realization that she must pave her own way in life.   Will she grow to love basketball as I have?  Only time will tell.  But this thought occurred to me:

Sometimes we see a path leading towards our desires and we take it even though we don't know the journey that lies ahead.

My dad got me started down my journey of athletic aspiration.  His gentleness helped assuage my fears and insecurities along the way.   His grace was my path forward.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I delight in seeing corny people get tortured...

I am so tired of the hacks driving the national discourse.  So-called journalists that destroy meaningful dialogue and prevent the nation as a whole from moving forward.  It's a love/hate thing really.

NEWS FLASH!!!!  Today's media outlets don't start meaningful conversations, they grind them to a screeching halt.

Case in point: I read an article the other day that cited TMZ as a source.  TMZ!  Don't snub your nose, because your news source looks to Twitter.  Po-tay-to, po-taw-to.   What next, attorneys citing Wikipedia?!!  Tabloids drive our 24 hour news cycle people!!!  It's the National Inquirer on steroids!!!!!

No one likes a dialogue hog TMZ! Quit leaking news  to real sources of information like primetime media and cable networks (wink, wink, nod, nod).  These purveyors certainly don't dominate discussions and dissuade people from having any real conversations.  They don't operate under a cloak of journalistic expertise to wrest control of truth and spin it for our delicate palates.

They're the kid in front of the class practically jumping out of his seat, motioning vehemently with his arms for attention.  The excessive enthusiasm drives them to cut off and choke out streams of potentially thought-provoking national debate.  They quarantine our conversations and inflate our minds with garbage.

But media outlets aren't solely to blame for the vitriol.  They're just giving us more of what we want.  Salacious headlines appeal to our base nature.  Just look at the recent explosion of Reality TV Shows.  It's a system of supply and demand, and public appeal drags us further into an abyss like a black hole.  The source consumes the audience it panders to.  Almost cannibalistic.

E. E. Weems Goya online gallery
Francisco Goya's painting of Mercury devouring his son comes to mind.  The dark nature in Goya's painting is purposive.  It's meant to make us uneasy, much like Spain left Goya with a distinct image of humanity.  Grotesque?  Perhaps, you prefer your blood sport less bloody.

Maybe you prefer instead to feed your boredom with a steady diet of turbulence, violence, and political brutality against citizens, and then wonder why your appetites is never satisfied.

Remember the Jerry Springer era?  How many of us followed the rabbit down that hole?  Honestly!  It was garbage, but we watched with bated breath in part to satisfy our curiosity, and partly to make ourselves feel better about our own lives.  It was vile and disgusting and we gobbled it up in super-sized portions.

Reality TV today is a slightly less messy twist on the 90s tabloid talk show.  I fully realize this, and yet I tell myself, "I only watch for the (fill in the blank with any line of justification reaching for precious insight into the human condition)".  The truth is I delight in seeing corny people get tortured.  The jilted bachelorette, the American Idol rejectee stubbornly convinced of his vocal range (maybe the judges are really the ones that are tone-deaf), and Real Housewives that look more like beauty pageant contestants than actual housewives (you mean you don't perform domestic duties in six-inch stilettos, full hair, and make-up?).  It's tragic, but I have to force myself to look away.

I even discuss their lives in the lunch room over the water-cooler ad-nauseum as if their TV personas actually transcends the printed page.  Despite better judgement, I convince myself that they're real.  Come ON!  It's not like I'm watching WWF Wrestling or anything like THAT.  Everyone knows THAT stuff is totally scripted, whereas Reality TV is real.  It even has the word real in the genre.

I'm willing to admit to having my major exposure to current events fed to me by fake news shows produced by The Onion,  Jon Stewart, or Stephen Colbert?  (Naw I'm just kidding.  That stuff's real.  They're not competing for ratings or anything.)  Oh, lighten up.  It's just entertainment.  Right?

Who doesn't get lost in these 24 hour news cycles competing for our attention.  What seasoned teacher doesn't get sucked-in to the kid eager to feed her what she wants to hear.

It would be easy to blame the media who produces the embarrassingly immature content that dominates our news feeds.  But are these sources really influencing national discourse?  Or is it merely echoing public opinion?

I guess if we want to return civility back to public discourse, we must first start with self.  It isn't enough merely to point-out the need to tone down our national rhetoric.  The content is not to blame, but the sources themselves drive the conversation into the gutter in the first place.  We need to stop driving demand.   "The medium is the message" and the more of it we consume, the less critical we become.

Demanding higher standards for ourselves means that we have to expect more from the media pandering to us.  We have to build stronger reflective filters.   As my father put it we need to pick up a book!

My tv and my computer have an on/off button.   I know how to use it.  This idea may seem obvious to those of you who've already begun the practice of re-routing the source of your discourse, but controlling content for the rest of us will be a process.

As a society, we can do better.  We must do better.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Glory Over Dentist Racism-- Yada Yada

I'm not sure if this narrative translates well in written form or whether my writing style does it justice.  Nevertheless, I want need to document the story for future posterity.

I teach predominantly Hispanic students.  During a student lead discussion today on Ann Petry's biography, "A Glory Over Everything" (which documents Harriet Tubman's life in the 1800s)  a question of social justice emerged.  Quickly the conversation shifted towards demographics.

But first a little context:   

In 1680, blacks made up about 7 percent of the North American population.  By the mid 1700s, they accounted for more than 40 percent.  More than 90 percent of slaves lived in the South.  By 1808 Congress had outlawed the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but not slavery itself.  By this time, less than 10 percent of slaves were African-born.  

Now, back to the discussion.

Students abruptly narrowed the focus on Tubman's struggles  associated with slavery and punctuated by her life in the cotton fields.  Petry imparts Tubman's glory and triumph through her freedom songs, chants,  and quilt squares while laboring on the plantation.  

"Can anyone  connect to Tubman's experience here?" I asked awaiting my first brave volunteer.  

Since making sound connections  is always difficult for 12 year olds I allowed lots of wait time.  Suddenly, one student called out, "What was going on with Mexicans during all of this?"

There it is! I thought.  An initial attempt at a connection.  I stirred the pot.  "What do you mean?" I asked

"Well..." he said reluctantly, "...While blacks were being mistreated, how were Mexicans being treated?"

I stood quietly and let the weight of the question linger.  Seconds later Student E offered, "This reminds me of the way Mexicans are treated in the U.S. today."

"Can you support that claim? " I proded.

He continued.  "Mexicans are mistreated today, like blacks were then.  Some states are even passing laws making it legal to discriminate against Mexicans." 

A lightbulb went on in students' eyes.  Many nodded in a collective sense of discovery.  From that point, I began to frame the discussion in a context of victory.  "And for the Latino community," I asked "what  triumph will emerge from the injustice? What will stand out from their collective experience like a glory over everything?"

A few others responded, but one in particular wrapped up Student E's connection with this jewel, "a sense of community" he added.

I was so proud of the shared knowledge they had constructed.  The meaning they had strung together shone brightly like beads on a bracelet.  Eager to continue in this vein of self awareness, I moved on to another student standing on the precipice of discovery.  The hand adjacent to Student E's caught my eye.  "Student A, what connections did you make to the text?" I asked.

"This reminds me of something I saw on TV." Student A offered.

Great prelude.  Maybe Student A will share any number of social injustices saturating the news these days.  I thought to myself.  I asked Student A to be more specific.  She continued.

"Haven't you heard of dentist racism?  My mom and I were watching a show where the people were discriminating against dentists." she said, intending to be informative.

I admit, the reference escaped me.  Without sounding dismissive, I asked her to clarify.  She went on to describe a late  night show she had watched with her mom about dentist racism. 

Silence fell over the room.  

Pair by pair, I felt students eyes scan my face in desperate search for their cue.  Should I laugh?  Should I nod in agreement?  These thoughts painted their expressions.  

Again, I drew a blank but couldn't risk extinguishing Student A's delicate enthusiasm.  

All of a sudden, my Teacher's Aide erupted in laughter.  I shot a look of confusion her way.  She took a moment to gather herself -- prolonging a moment of discomfort--and in deadpan 
delivered these sage words:

"Rabid Anti-dentite."

Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld?  Student A couldn't remember the actual term coined in this clip, so she improvised dentist racism.

My students amaze me.  They make me proud.  They make me think.  The make me do double takes.  They give me stories to tell.  But most of all, they make me laugh.  And that is the glory that prevails.

Monday, March 26, 2012

And Under His Wings You Will Find Refuge

Yesterday I went to bed tired and spent after processing my thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case.  You can read more on that here.

Last night I felt a deep loss of hope.  A mother lost her son to senseless violence and the justice system failed her.  Even now, I struggle to see God in the midst of this tragedy.  Myself a mother, my heart is so entangled with distress as I empathized with her tragedy.  Even though she is a stranger, in many ways she is not unlike me.

But as a Christian I'm not supposed to go there.  At least not in a public forum.  As a Christian, I'm supposed to be a beacon of light in a dark world.  I'm supposed to point others to The light.  Yet all I could do last night was morn the darkness of it all.

I struggle in acknowledging that for a moment I lost sight of God's power.  I fell short.  Fortunately, where my flaws abound, God's grace abounds the more.  He was not caught off guard by my weakness.

Just the opposite, He made provision for it.

Early this morning, my sorrow lifted when I checked my inbox and found this image attached to an email from my step-mom.

It is a picture of a bird nestled into the branches with two small chicks tucked snugly beneath the umbrella of her wings.

The message was coincidental, however as I trace last nights rain metaphor to this morning's image of babies shielded from the rain, I'm almost certain there's a connection.

This mother bird is sheltering her young from a storm, and I am struck by the image of God as refuge.  The thought is comforting.

It is a brief reminder that God is the only safe place where I find strength.

My take away is recorded in Psalms 91:4.  Here the psalmist writes:
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Trayvon Martin, Mountains, and Rain

It's a rainy Sunday morning.  I zip up Simone's sweater and pull the hoodie over her freshly styled hair.  She scurries towards an opened car door.  Her curls droop like Easter tulips past their prime.

Rain can be so destructive.

It gnaws away mountain sides.  To a greater extent, it carves meandering grooves into cliffs and sends sediment running like many trails of salt-stained tears.  Note the irony: the drumbeat of raindrops carved out even the Grand Canyon.

Just as rain greatly erodes canyons, so also the slow and steady drip of racial prejudice, evident in the Trayvon Martin case, further erodes my trust in our country's justice system.

In the US, relations between black people and white police officers is wrought with fear, suspicion, and racial prejudice.

I've had unsettling encounters with white police officers myself.  In most cases, I was stopped in Orange County and drove away feeling like a second-class citizen.  I guess I should consider myself lucky I even drove away at all.

In any case, I received neither a warning nor a ticket.   The encounters left me with a troubling sense of exclusion from the part of society that law enforcement agencies claim to protect and serve.

When I was stopped, each officer told me-- as though reading from a script-- that I "fit the description of a suspect" in the area.    That profile-- as covert as it is pernicious-- meant that I was pulled over because of my skin color.

To be clear, I was not stopped because I had broken the law.  I had no outstanding tickets.  I just happened to be the wrong color.  And even though I left those encounters empty-handed, I did leave with something:  a gradual wearing away of my dignity.

Over time, I've learned that our criminal justice system targets people who look like me.  This perspective is not unique, as many black families will attest.  Most that I know have had similar brushes with the law-- usually involving male family members.

I realize that not all, but many law enforcement officers harbor prejudice deep within their subconscious. While Zimmerman pulled the trigger, criminal justice experts ignored the smoking gun.

Subjectivity prevented police from making an arrest because the shooter had probable cause-- a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary.

The Trayvon Martin case is deeply unsettling on so many levels.  It brings to the surface raw emotions, reminding me that black life has little value in America.

It's disheartening to think that the shooter in the case goes unpunished thus far.  It's even more appalling to watch the Sanford Florida police department's handling of the case.  Why hasn't the gunman been arrested?  The answer to that is unclear.

What is clear is that police officers enforce laws with a large amount of latitude.  They do not treat black citizens with the same deference that they undoubtedly--and perhaps unknowingly-- give whites.

I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that some hope has sprung from this senseless loss.  Thousands of people have amassed around the country and aimed their protest toward the police department that handled the initial investigation.  Armed with skittles and hoodies, their calls for justice have significant implications.  The federal government will put pressure on Florida to change their laws.  Zimmerman will probably be prosecuted.  Like tiny pieces of sediment, they have cemented together and built up a mountainous outcry.  However, the day-to-day injustices blacks experience will continue to go unnoticed.

Unfortunately, in our country it seems that racial prejudice runs deeper than mountains are high.

If history is any indication, actively growing mountains are not exempt from adversity.  During the 60s and 70s, strength thrusted great movements skyward.  But for all the encouraging-- astonishing, really--progress over the last 50 years, racism still runs rampant.

Just as anyone who looks at the Grand Canyon recognizes that water broke rock, so also anyone can point out the racial prejudice unraveling the fabric of the Trayvon Martin case.  Over time, even the Grand Canyon's majestic peaks humbly bowed.   All it took was a constant dripping over days of steady rain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

He Scoots, He Scores

I knew this day would come.  Samuel is moving around now.  I just imagined a more traditional method of transport.

Through a series of awkward maneuvering, side-ways wiggling, and few irregular clutch-and-pulls, Samuel has officially become mobile in his 9th month!  The object of his affection?  Anything off limits, out of reach, and naughty.  Tiny toys, pointy parts, outlets, and remote controls.

The girls have learned to anticipate his go-to items.   They are experts at intercepting objects in his pathway, and gently relocating them.

But when he's in the zone, he's like a heat-seeking missile; he won't let up until he gets his target.

And what does he lock his radar on?  His toys?  Pfft!  Those are for babies.  He's got a much more sophisticated palate.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sadia's Stroke of Genius

I'm not sure why Santa Claus is still relevant in our house.  It's March.  We should be talking about leprechauns and shamrocks, not the jolly man in a red suit.  Perhaps this is the reason, and I'm expressing some latent sense of loss behind it, but I digress.

Lately Sadia has been questioning Santa's existence.  She's been asking a lot of questions about magic and Teddy thinks someone at school has cast doubt in her mind.

Tonight, his name surfaced over a plate of sausage, potatoes, and cabbage.  Sadia argued that magic didn't exist.  She used the disappearing finger trick to illustrate her point, and reasoned that magic happens mystically [paraphrase].  It is invisible. Unexplainable.  "Like fairy dust."

"Are fairies magical?" I asked

"Of course!" she said emphatically, though clearly uncertain.  She admitted to never having seen one.

She went on.  "No one really knows how fairies do what they do, but in the vanishing thumb trick, you're just hiding your hand."  The distinction being what can vs. what can not be seen.

"But what about Santa?" I said to further probe her thinking.

"How do you explain him?  Surely flying reindeer, and legendary rides around the world are magical."

Silence fell over the dining room.  As Sadia's wheels turned, she relaxed her eyebrows, leaned back in her chair, and thought for a moment.  Finally, the silence was broken.

"You're right!"  She said excitedly.  "Santa Claus is evidence that magic does exist!   After all, you can't afford all of those gifts that we get on Christmas."

And with that quip, the matter was closed, the magic of Santa remained magical, and my March Christmas musings her innocence was preserved.

35 Portraits at 35 in 254 Days

Portrait 1: Blind contour with Sharpie on paper

If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it. 

The quote above is from Andy Warhol.  He created many self-portraits.  Warhol said he was deeply superficial and that there was nothing behind his artwork.  Is that possible?

I don't know.  I think art can be so telling.  Sometimes a technique or collection can present a very thought-provoking self -image and reveal something unique about a subject.  

I turn 35 this year. Thirty-five seems like a big number.  For many, it's half a lifetime.  I've challenged myself to document this milestone through a series of self-portraits-- artistic renderings of myself. Thirty-five portraits at thirty- five.  

My biggest challenge will be my shrinking free time.  I'm not even sure I'll collect 35 portraits, but here are a few questions I hope to explore through this process:

  • What distinctive qualities make me "me"?
  •  How do I want people to see me?
  • How do I see myself?
  • How do I express different aspects of myself?
  • How do I reinvent myself for different purposes or times in life?
  • How do I change from day to day or month to month?
  • Who do I want to become?
Artists have many reasons for making portraits.  Here, I hope to preserve some memories, and to document my journey of self exploration.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Kite Festival Trip That Almost Wasn't

Perhaps my favorite kite of the day.  It's made of a simple piece of paper.

Kites rise highest against an opposing wind. We had a beautiful time at the Redondo Beach Kite Festival today.  It couldn't have been better if I had planned it myself.  But as beautiful as this day was, it's hard to believe how close I came to calling the whole thing off.  Yes, this was the trip that almost wasn't.

I have a habit of over planning trips.  I realize there is no such thing as the perfect trip, especially when you've got three small children in tow, but I tend to over-analyze everything.  I weigh every aspect of the  trip as though the slightest mis-calculation will set the whole thing askew.  I'm sure you can see how this thinking is problematic.  I have canceled events before because of my inability to just let things go (a bit self-fulfilling, I know).

This habit usually cast a dark cloud over every thought.  If I cannot account for every aspect of our day, I convince myself that everything will fall apart.  In this case, I told myself that we waited too late, I had too little sleep, and the weather was too cold.  By the time we were ready to pack-up the car the night before,  I literally felt like I was being knocked backwards off my heels.  

We didn't have kites for the kids.  I rationalized that I couldn't take kids to a kite festival, without kites.  From here, my thoughts spiraled quickly out of control and I got this sinking feeling that things wouldn't turn out right.  In fact, the entire time I packed the car, I fought a creeping suspicion that everything would just come crashing down all around me. A little dramatic?  Perhaps.  I told you I was flawed.  

Sadia nudges her kite up a little higher.

I take some pride in the fact that I can recognize the vicious thought cycle now.  In the past, I couldn't always catch myself in these moments, and I'd lose sight of the big picture.  

This morning I ground my feet in the sand, took a deep breath, and found peace in the simplicity of just being in the moment with my family.  This was a huge step for me.

Teddy coaches Simone on kite navigation.

Not long after this incredible moment of self-awarness, peace got bullied by Daylight Savings.  It caught me off guard.  Again.  Despite the fact that I left myself constant reminders throughout the day, and then there were the countless Facebook posts.  I synced all of my electronic calendars and I still forgot.   By the time I remembered, it was already an hour past bedtime.  A one hour loss to Daylight Savings, plus getting to bed late knocked me off balance.  But I couldn't let a fatigue rob me of precious headway.

Simone takes her kite to the limit.

When I woke up this morning, the sky was overcast.  The temperature was a brisk 69 degrees.  That feeling sank within me again.  Then the early morning threatened rain.  Luckily, the weather ended up holding beautifully, and by 1 o'clock, we headed to the Festival.  

Gifted with a kite.
And I am so glad I did.  Moments after we laid out our blankets and got settled in, a family approached Teddy and offered us their kites.  They had packed up to leave for the day, and wanted to find a good home for a Star Wars boxed and a traditional diamond newt with a three foot tail.  

The girls work at keeping their kites in the air.
The girls were ecstatic.  I was shocked by their good will, and even more surprised at  how simply this wrinkle seemed to iron itself out... and without my having controlled it.  

I felt as if God had rewarded me for stepping out of my comfort zone.  This generous family happily handed their kites over to us-- something that I could have never anticipated-- and just like that a weight lifted off of my shoulders.  

This weekend almost didn't happen.  A little resistance was all it would have taken to derail everything.  It seems silly now to think that I would have lost out on such a wonderful experience, if I hadn't let go.  I had to come to an end of myself.  I set my gaze to the wind and I flew.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Day Six: A Place Where You Find Peace

Samuel's nursery

Tomorrow: Something yellow

Monday, March 05, 2012

Day 5: Last Item Purchased

Simone is in a Michael Jackson one-glove-phase, while Sadia just likes being quarky.

I took the girls to the movies Sunday to see "The Lorax" in 3D. Here they are posing in front of the cardboard display.

Tomorrow: A place where you find peace

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Day Four: Gratitude

Better late then never.

Today the prompt is gratitude. I am eternally grateful for the gift of growing with my children.

After my mom abandoned me (there is something so uncomfortably permanent about writing that word), I naturally doubted my own maternal instincts. This fear was rooted in a belief that I was a mirror reflection of her. I thought I would fail as a mother, because she failed. I thought my fate was inextricably intertwined with her choices. I thought I would repeat the same cycle of abandonment in my own life. These thoughts imprisoned me.

Freedom came the day I claimed my own individuality. I am not the sum total of my mother's choices.

I am imperfectly human.

When I look at this picture, I see remnants of my own imperfections. These small reflections show up in a smirk or a smile. A mannerism or temperament. On the other hand, when I look at this picture I see individuals. I see unique personalities; people who will ultimately make their own choices in life.

I am grateful to be there for those choices. I am grateful to share every emotional outburst, impatient meltdown, peaceful compromise, and loving embrace, because I live in the immediacy of these moments.

There is something wonderfully abiding in these rich experiences, and I am grateful to share in the full breadth of the human experience with them.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

March Photo a Day Challenge

Alright, time to knock the dust off this blog. It's been a year and 24 days since my last post. I don't have my sea legs yet, so bare with me.

Diane got me into this "Photo-A-Day" challenge. The idea is you post a photo according to a predetermined prompt each day in March. Diane's friend Shannon creates the prompts. I'm linking to both their blogs here.

Today, we have to document a "first". Initially, this challenge seemed daunting. I felt pressure to scrutinize every aspect of my day, to find something unique. By late afternoon, I had nothing. During my 5 o'clock rush hour commute home, I had resolved to scrap today's challenge and focus on tomorrow's instead. Then, it hit me like a six-foot tree.

I walked through my front door, laid the baby down, and collapsed next to him on the couch. There, beside the arm and stabbing my elbow, stood my "first"-- preserved in all it's dry-winter glory.

Of course! What took me so long to document the Mother of all Firsts!

I refer to this photo as My First Christmas in March. Yes, yes..I know. Our Christmas tree is still up. And yes, I do realize that it's already March. I meant to take it down sometime in January, but alas.., the months got away from me.

By February, we had the Christmas ornaments taken down, but then the branches were naked. I couldn't stand for this once majestic tree to look so exposed. Finally we decided to hang the kids' Valentine's Day cards from it's brittle limbs.

Please don't judge me. I am a busy mom of three children. I work a full-time job and I am a loving wife. I don't have time for the frivolity of Christmas decoration dismantling and storing. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some Valentines' to store and Shamrock ornaments to hang.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Right-sizing Easter Traditions

Easter is just around the corner. It's supposed to be a time of rejoicing. However, with Easter only a week away, I am elbow deep in pointless checklists. What's on my to-do list this Easter, you ask? Here are just a few things I tend to fuss over:
    [✔]hair appointments
    [✔]matching outfits
    [✔]obnoxiously oversized baskets
    [✔]elaborate meal preparations
    [✔]family photo appointment
    [✔]hefty investments in greeting cards
Note that none of these items bear the slightest relevance to the purpose for the special day.

And so, I find myself in a new season. Learning. Breathing. Growing. Putting things back into perspective.

We're going to scale back our Resurrection Day celebration plans this year. We're going to redirect our energy towards the real reason for the season. We're going to bring our focus back into balance. We'll be right-sizing our traditions, and the first step in our overhaul plan is a simple recognition of one man who gave His life so that we all could have eternal life.

The girls will still decorate eggs and participate in a hunt or two. The Easter egg hunt is a great illustration reminding us of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

I'll let someone else take over this part of the story:

(On Good Friday, Jesus died. Hallelujah!)

And really for us, celebrating doesn't get more purposive than that.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Transformative Living

involves one of these

in these dimensions

to contain all this.

So at least it looks like I'm pulling it all together.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Too Many Toys

Our family room doubles as a playroom (or maybe it's the other way around). At any rate, now that we share our living space with the girls, Teddy and I are tired of watching toys terrorize our living room. A mismatched-plastic-princess-slipper graveyard is buried beneath the couch. A talking, pooping, vomiting half naked doll is crammed in a corner. A primary colored VTech move and crawl ball that no longer moves or crawls is stowed in the ottoman. We are tired of watching our living room overran with toddler shrapnel.

So, we did what any responsible parents would do. We invested in pastel colored toy storage furniture to clear the clutter. We've sorted, donated, reciprocated, and rotated. However, rather than fostering organization, the bins seem to be the destination place for miniature toy procreation. The more we tidy, the more they multiply. But just what is driving our excessive toy collection?

On problems with clutter and toy consumerism, one Illinois mom blogged about the issue of too many toys and framed the discussion in a broader context of Global citizenship. She put it this way:
... more often than not, kids don't enjoy the plastic toys and you have to beg them to play with them. The only F.P. product he's absolutely loved was his small piano (4 notes) and his bubble mower. Otherwise it's been worthless plastic kid crap that took endless resources to make and mold that ends up being so disposable at the end of it's short life, it ends up getting donated and re-sold for pennies on the dollar. Disposable-ness & cheapness goes along with so easy to buy, so difficult to get rid of.
Is this a matter of American consumerism? We have too much because we buy too much?  Is my Fisher Price clutter a play and learn metaphor for global landfills?

Teddy and I are minimalists.  Our home is about 1200 sq ft., we have no cable, no form of gas guzzling transportation, and neither of us own a cell phone.  The only reason we own a microwave is because it came with the house.  Money is tight and we don't purchase many toys, so Deborah's perspective, though broad, may be too far a reach for my small scale toy dump woes. A more conclusive probe was needed.  So I looked to a recent discussion with my five year-old.

In the car ride home from school today, Sadia lamented, "Mom, I'm the only one in my class [of five year olds] that doesn't have a Nintendo DS."

This is what she clamored for.  A super sleek, super sharp, super expensive game console that is the modern equivalent of the Gameboy popularized when I was a kid.

Like my parents did with me, I too had deprived Sadia of access into the "in-crowd" by not buying her the toy.  With children of my own, I have a better understanding of my moms decision, born out of principal rather than financial means.  Raising children of substance is the crux where difficult decisions are made and overpriced gadgets don't make the cut.  But initially I reacted to Sadia's experience with feelings of guilt. 

I know what it is to feel like the only have not in elementary school. It is an extremely isolating experience. While the rest of my peers accumulated the latest gadgets and a reciprocal boost in popularity, I fell further and further behind the approval curve. Sadia felt left out at school and that resonated with me. I wondered whether her mounting toy collection stemmed from my own latent desire for her to fit in.  My "brown" daughter already stands out on campus as it is.  Could more stuff make this reality less upsetting?  Is this growing toy problem driven by feelings of guilt?

On this issue of guilt, Deborah Bohn, co-author of a blog called Babyzone, shared a few insights from Tom Limbert of Standford University's Bing Nursery School of Child Development Research and Training here.  According to Tim, sometimes our kid's plethora of toys IS a byproduct of guilt. He writes:
Believe it or not, another common reason parents cite for buying tons of toys is because they feel they ought to. Peer pressure induced by visits to other children's homes often sends mothers running to the store for more junk.
When I heard that Sadia was the only kid in her class without the video game console, I felt like the worst mom in the world. No mother wants her daughter to feel left out, and comments from friends and family like, "You've got to get this new toy and that new gizmo!" or "She doesn't have a DSi?" can have the same isolating affect.

But blaming well meaning family for my overindulged children is far too easy and frankly just does not get to the heart of the matter. I am extremely grateful for my children's grandparents, aunts, uncles and extended family. My purpose here is not to question their love and support. So, I decided to probe more closely at the problem of too many toys.

If I am honest, then the real source of guilt driving my over-consumption of toys stems from my own efforts to occupy my kids attention while trying to balance a family, work, school, and personal time table.

On dealing with the guilt brought on by feelings of parental inadequacies, Michael Grose, Australia's parenting educator and author of the blog Parenting Ideas wrote:
Let’s face it, parents can find plenty of issues to feel guilty about. Leaving children in child-care, long hours spent at work, and even discipline measures are common sources of guilt.
There really is no end to the stream of guilt I experience as a working mom.  My kids are at school from 8 to 4 Monday through Friday.  As soon as we walk through the door, my kids give me a quick recap about their day while I'm busy preparing dinner.  By the time dinner is finished we're pouring over Sadia's homework, and then well into the bedtime routine.  Perhaps if the toy is fancy enough, shiny enough, or new enough it will put me more at ease about these compromises.  But fancy, shiny, and new only goes so far, and my kids grow disinterested with the toys.  It seems like the more toys they have, the more whineyer they become.

I suppose the toy my kids really want, is me.  Unfortunately, I have yet to master being fully present for my kids while meeting the demands of managing a busy household piled on top of the pressures of navigating work and school responsibilities. Sometimes I use my summers off as a rationale for my compromise during the year.  I can always make this time up during my two and a half months off.  Or, still maybe it's easier to make the latest toy accessible, because it appeases my own feelings of guilt for not spending more time with my kids.

From this perspective, my toy management issue is really a quality of life assessment and the matter of too many toys pales by comparison.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, Mom! Wait, that isn't chocolate....

Well, it looks like "Simona Pooplooza" kicked off  2010 with a bang.  The event coincided with Valentine's Day this year.  While Teddy and I relaxed in bed a little later than usual and exchanged Valentine's Day gifts, Simone made a Valentine's Day deposit of her own in bed.  It looked like chocolate.  She had smeared the tell tale signs of the brown stuff everywhere.  Tiny, curious handprints covered her body, crib posts, and linens. Its aroma wafted through the air and invaded my nostrils.  Wait...., that isn't chocolate.  It was the $#!t... LITERALLY.  I'll spare you the pictures, but the cute, hand-picked crib bumper that once lined the safety rails?  Gone.  The once adorable, matching Abby Rose bedding?  Off to the incinerator.  Got any recommendations for a new toddler bed?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blogging for Healthy Hearts

Hello Blogger Community,
Did you know that coronary heart disease, which causes heart attacks, is the leading cause of death for American women?  It's an alarming fact that can't be ignored.

Over the next two weeks, my students and I will raise funds and awareness for the American Heart Association, to help fight heart disease.  Will you help us reach our fundraising goal of $100? 

Click on the link, donate a buck or two, and join us in saving lives!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anna Quindlen On Being a Mom

I got this email from a good friend and colleague today.  Anna's insights expressed here really resonate with me and I wanted to share them with my mommy-blogger-friends.
All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow, but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost-adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I bought for the bathr oom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.
Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now.  Penelope Leach, T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories. What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations.  What they taught me, was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all.
Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One child is toilet trained at 3, his sibling at 2.
When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.  I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he de velopmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.
Every part of raising children is humbling. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the 'Remember-When-Mom-Did' Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, 'What did you get wrong?' (She insisted I include that here.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?
But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night.
I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.
Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.
As I read this post I wished I was less of a doer and more of a be-er.  I wished I was the kind of mom that treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

I always here people talk about living in the moment.  More often than not, this concept escapes me.   How terribly impractical it sounds.  Now however, as I try to remember the quirky way Sadia dished a school yard experience at the dining room table last night, ironically I can't even remember that cute little thing she did that made me fall out of my chair laughing.   I remember us all gathered at the table, but the vision goes black at that comedic moment Her mannerisms brought the whole house to a halt and all I can remember is trying to stick to the bedtime routine.  Sadly, I was more focused on finishing her homework and less on the personality that was evolving right before my eyes.

Tonight I will lend more of my present self to my children's shovels, picks, extra hugs, kisses, and all other tricks they may take up to excavate my humanity.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This isn't Kansas Anymore Toto

I couldn't let the landmark event from the Wizard of Oz go without a mention.

Today's weather forecast: Rain? Yes. Thunderstorms? Likely. Hail? Probable. Tornado??????????????? YES???!!!

Apparently a tornado touched down in various locations throughout Orange County today. You can read more about our weird weather here.

Following the tornado, a National Weather Advisory Warning blew through Orange County Schools like a..., well, like a tornado. The warning was prompted by an uncharacteristic storm moving through the area..., and perhaps this incredibly trendy street embellishment had a little something to do with it, no?
(Photo borrowed from the Orange County Register)

SIDEBAR: Sunset Beach residents certainly have a flare for the dramatic (smile).

I know this because at some point between English and Science class a very unfriendly all-school alert came blaring from the PA system:

Will all students and teachers return to their classrooms. Do not proceed to PE. Do not go to the library. Return to your classrooms immediately and close your doors.

Here's the trivia question for the day: What do you get when you cross an all-school alert to close doors and stay away from windows with a classroom full of mischievous elementary school kids? Well, if you're playing along at home and you guessed a wave of curious faces suctioned cupped to the nearest available glass, then you win the gold star for the day. My students were so eager to get a glimpse at whatever transpired outside my window, that they completely ignored all cautionary warnings and vied for any Hot-Cheetos-scented, fog-covered spot they could find at the pane.

No actual images of the phantom twister surfaced on the web, so I asked students to describe what they remembered from their own first-hand experiences.

One account of note, reported lots of flying debris, and a young lady wearing red sparkly shoes and carrying a little dog.

On a serious note Californians don't see weather like this too often, so find a comprehensive list of tornado safety tips here.

Clearly, the site's credibility can be measured more by what's missing from the safety tips, rather than what's included in them. Noticeably absent from among the suggestions are oldies but goodies:
  1. clicking your heels together three times
  2. and saying, "There's no place like home."


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