Month: September 2014

Protest is Patriotic and Patriotism is Messy

ScanJoe4th2005

Our son with his flag.

We live in Jefferson County, Colorado. You might have heard about us in the news lately.

Recently, one of our newly elected school board members, Julie Williams, initiated a call for a review of the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, with which she takes issue because she feels “it has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing.” I am not a history teacher and have no experience writing college-level curriculum so I can’t imagine championing a revision of a course created by college professors and AP teachers. Ms. Williams, however, whose extensive knowledge of U.S. history must come from her previous position in the health industry running an orthodontic office, feels qualified to suggest such a revision. And in making this suggestion, she inadvertently sparked an uprising.

In a press release distributed last week to defend her position, she seemed shocked that anyone would be upset, noting that rewriting the curriculum is not unprecedented because “the Texas State Board of Education has voted to set aside the new AP U.S. History Framework in favor of its own state-mandated U.S. history curriculum.” What she failed to mention about Texas in her press release is that a sample revision to the history books in that state includes the mention of Moses. Yes. THE Moses. Now, I’ve got nothing against Moses, but I’m fairly sure that he had nothing to do with the founding of this nation, given that he had been dead for thousands of years before colonists settled these shores. I’m not sure what happened to the notion of separation of Church and State, but the idea that a textbook in a public school could contain the names of persons mentioned in the Bible seems to play against it. It was around this point in her argument that I determined that there might be a political motive at work in her rewriting the history curriculum. Turns out that Williams and her fellow, conservative cohorts on the board would like to see history courses promote “citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority.” While there is nothing wrong with those topics in and of themselves, if we include them while eliminating discussions about race, gender, ethnicity, and grievances against government, we’re creating a very one-sided discussion. That doesn’t seem accidental to me, and it doesn’t make me comfortable. We’re not the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We’re both.

Recently, students at local high schools have made national news by walking off campus to stage demonstrations against Williams’ suggestion that the APUSH curriculum is not appropriate and should be replaced by curriculum that reduces discussion around grievance and civil disobedience. By doing so, the students have shown exactly why our country is great. We are free to express grievance and perform acts of peaceful, civil disobedience. Students at several area high schools left class last week by the thousands and, with their parents’ permission, stood along busy intersections to voice their dissent about the proposed review, which they feel will limit their education. (It is possible, perhaps, that some of them were simply excited to ditch class. But I like to think that somewhere along the line even those kids gained some insight into the importance of citizens’ rights, free speech, and freedom of assembly.) In any case, I’m sure these protests were the very thing Julie Williams was hoping to quell by changing the curriculum. So much for not raising little rebels. Lesson learned.

My husband and I have been talking a lot over the past year or two about how we can broaden our sons’ experiences to prepare them for the world they will enter as adults. We inhabit a complex, continually changing planet, and we believe our sons need to be ready to accept that nothing is forever and that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, from all people, on all continents. There is no one “right” way of doing things but, instead, a myriad of options for every situation. We want for our sons a truly liberal education in the sense that they should become well-rounded citizens of Earth, open-minded, deeply thoughtful, generous of spirit, and globally aware. We would like them to know that there are good people in every nation and that a few mean-spirited, misguided bullies (hello, ISIS) do not represent the whole of the world’s people. We want for them hope for their future, knowledge that we are united in our common humanity, and the belief that together we can change the fate of this planet. Cue “It’s a Small World After All” and you will get the gist of our dream. None of this means that we do not love our country or are not patriotic. We are. We just don’t happen to believe that the “American Exceptionalism” Julie Williams would push necessarily equals patriotism. Our sons don’t need didactic, closed-minded, pro-America speeches to turn them into patriots. They need exposure to the world at large so they can value and appreciate what we have here.

I don’t love the idea of teaching our children to respect authority without acknowledging that sometimes authority is messed up (ala Hitler). I hope my children learn to question things, to dig deeper, to bravely consider all viewpoints. Call me crazy, but I honestly believe that is what our forefathers imagined when they dreamed about this great nation they were creating…a place where people could think, share their opinions, and compromise successfully when necessary for the betterment of all. I think our nation is facing a political crisis now due to a lack of critical thought and the non-stop, mindless repetition of talking points and sound bytes. We aren’t doing our due diligence as citizens to understand what is going on or what is at stake. We’re watching our 10-minute blurbs of cable news and allowing them to be our Truth. It’s the type of information cleansing that Ms. Williams is espousing that leads nations to ill-guided notions of supremacy. Taking the ugly out of American history is a mistake. It’s only when we are willing to bear witness to the ugly, the confusing, and the difficult that we learn and grow.

 

Stop It

Non-sequitur cute photo of our puppy dog, Ruby.

Non-sequitur cute photo of our puppy dog, Ruby. STOP IT!

A couple of days ago, my insightful, life-coach friend Heather (shameless plug for her here) commented on my last blog post about my need to apologize constantly for my choices and the way I live my life, even when I don’t feel sorry about those things. She simply added this comedy sketch by Bob Newhart to my Facebook page and told me I might appreciate it. In the sketch, Newhart plays a psychologist counseling a young woman about her fear of being buried alive in a box. She relays to him that this thought of being buried alive is so terrifying that she can’t go in tunnels or be in elevators. She is desperate to break free of this pattern in her life. He tells her he will give her two words that should help her put this fear behind her. Then, from across the desk he yells at her, “STOP IT!”

Now, I know that it’s not really possible to stop instantly the thought monsters that lurk in our brains and sabotage our attempts to be our best selves, but I can’t help but think how transformative these two words could be in my life. Look in the mirror and feel like an old hag. STOP IT!  Make a mistake and start berating myself. STOP IT! Hear my kids screaming like banshees at each other and feel the urge to intervene. STOP IT! Sit in a quiet PTO meeting and raise my hand to volunteer to take over a committee. STOP IT!  Witness hubby folding the towels the wrong way (yes…there is a wrong way) and open my mouth to comment. STOP IT!  Have a donut and reach for seconds. STOP IT!

I know I have some giganotosaurus-sized monsters in my head that won’t be quieted with a mere STOP IT, but perhaps those two small words could shush them long enough to keep me from threat-level-red insanity. I mean, if I could just keep myself from volunteering for things I don’t want to do, that would be a colossal step forward. I have invited my hubby and sons to tell me to STOP IT if I am going off the deep end, and I would like to invite my friends to do the same. So, if you see me and I seem to be coming unglued, tell me that you spoke with Bob Newhart. That should be the hint I need to get back on track. Either that or it will cause me to have an inexplicable urge to visit a bed and breakfast in Vermont. But, that might help too.

All Apologies

This morning I was going through some of the boys’ school papers. Joe almost never hands his to me because he flat-out forgets. I recover them months later when I notice his backpack has become too heavy to lift. Luke tosses his graded papers onto the counter amidst the usual chaos there where they often rest unnoticed until I finally remember there is an actual countertop under there and determine I should find it. At that point, they usually find their way to the trash because I don’t have the time to look through papers 20 minutes before company is scheduled to arrive. This morning, though, on a counter that was mostly clear because we had company over for dinner on Sunday, I found Luke’s papers and decided to flip through them before depositing them in the trash.

Luke's paper

Try not to notice that my son has me pegged for a Target addiction with his drawing.

 

Most of Luke’s papers were stamped Excellent or had positive comments written on them in Ms. Fitzwater’s bold, Sharpie markers. She had even drawn some pictures on the few of the papers, which I thought was above and beyond the usual teacher commentary. On this one paper, though, I noticed she had written, “Good second try!” Second try?

“Hey, Luke….”

“Yeah, Mom?”

I showed him the paper.

“Second try? Did you have to do this paper again?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“What happened to the first try?”

Luke looked right at me and in his usual unapologetic, straightforward way responded.

“You could say I didn’t find the right words….or use correct spelling…or use any punctuation..or make real sentences the first time.”

Well…there you go. I suppose that would invite a redo.

Luke is a funny kid. He’ll lie to you if he thinks he can get away with it. If you catch him in a lie, he will come clean without apologizing. It used to bother me, the lack of apology. Then I realized that his lack of contrition is the correct response. Why should he apologize for something he meant to get away with?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this lack of apology and how freeing it must be. I grew up apologizing…for everything. As a child, I was continually made aware if I were being too loud, too quiet, too aloof, too inquisitive, too busy, too lazy, or too whatever-adjective-you-want-to-insert. I became constantly fearful that whatever I was doing affected others in a negative way. I learned to apologize for my emotions, my actions, and my choices, as if everything I did was open to comments from the peanut gallery. I went into my adult life with a hesitant, cautious demeanor. It colored everything I did and reduced the number of things I was willing to attempt. It wasn’t until I hit midlife and felt time ticking away on me that I figured it was time to stop being so damned sorry all the time.

Luke was sent to me for a reason. He’s in my life to teach me that it’s okay not to offer unnecessary apologies. Luke is excellent at empathy and generous about owning up when he’s truly at fault or has caused pain. He merely doesn’t look for excuses for contrition. He doesn’t assume they’re necessary. That’s a skill I am working on. Luke lives his life. He is who he is and he knows what he wants. He knows what his strengths are and he knows his weaknesses too, although he’s smart enough not to dwell on them. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not grateful for what my son has brought to my life. Perhaps if I take some cues from Luke, I will finally grow up and learn to live without being all apologies.

Almost Famous

My thirteen year old reading my blog on his iPad.

Joe reading my blog on his iPad.

The other night, my sister stayed with our sons so hubby and I could attend a theater performance. Now that our boys are older, we get out quite a bit more than we used to. Usually, though, we are gone just for a couple of hours and remain completely accessible by text, phone, or Facetime. Our sons often avoid talking to us when we’re out for short periods of time. They’re too busy enjoying their Xbox or iPads without complaints about too much screen time. When we got to the theater, I turned off my phone, completely comfortable knowing the boys were in my sister’s capable hands, and settled in to enjoy an uninterrupted bit of culture.

After the play was over, I checked my phone just in case. There were four texts and a few notifications on my blog. Two of the texts were from my sister. Apparently Luke’s stomach gave him some trouble so he sacrificed most of his dinner to the toilet. “Too much food” was his excuse. (It’s taken me years, but I’ve gotten my children mostly trained to throw up for other people and not me.) Not surprisingly, the last two texts were from Joe inquiring when we would be home. It takes about three hours’ worth of time before our sons finally notice we’re missing. Once we pass the three-hour mark, Joe begins badgering us relentlessly via any electronic means possible. I expected that on the drive we would receive at least 5 additional text messages (it turned out to be 6) and possibly a request for a Facetime chat. It was nearly 11, and we’d been gone for about 6 hours already. He was tired and stubbornly refusing to fall asleep until we were there. We made a hasty exit and headed home.

I decided to check my blog comments in the car. Turns out one of the comments was on my Contact page. It was from Joe. It simply read, “Hi Mom,” which really cracked me up because this was a new and completely unanticipated way for him to contact me in my absence. My sons have known about my web page for years, but neither of them has ever really shown much of an interest in it. They just know that I write, often about them. I had told them what it was called, and Joe simply looked it up. I was shocked that he’d remembered the title and gotten a wild hair to check on it. This was a first.

When we finally got home, I checked on Luke. He was feeling better and having a snack to make up for his lost dinner. My sister had already crashed out for the night. I found Joe sitting on his bunk bed with his iPad.

“I saw your comment on my blog page,” I said.

“Yeah. I was reading it tonight,” he replied.

“I didn’t know you read my blog.”

“I just started,” he said. “I read the one about Safety Dad when Dad and Mr. Jeff went snowshoeing on Mt. Evans.”

My mind thought back to when I wrote that. It had to have been one of the first entries on this blog. He’d started in the archives. He was working his way through them. My heart was full.

“You’re a good writer, Mom. Some of those are pretty funny.”

I couldn’t decide what to be happier about…the knowledge that my son had actively sought out something I had written or the notion that he had actually appreciated it and me.

This is the most important comment I have ever received.

This is the most important comment I have ever received.

Yesterday I caught him going through my blog again. This time he asked me how he could put a comment on one, so I showed him. I know he’s reading them trying to find posts written about him or his brother. Sooner or later, he’s going to find a couple that I am sure he will protest. He is a teenager and having a mom who is a writer can leave you feeling a bit exposed. When that happens, I’ll show him a couple posts where I embarrassed myself and prove that no one, not even me, escapes the occasional embarrassment. Then I’ll use the opportunity to teach him about poetic license and the First Amendment. In the meantime, I am so honored that he is using his free time to find out more about what I do.

I often say that I write for myself. And this is absolutely true. I use my web page to keep myself accountable. If I know I need to publish something, it diminishes my myriad excuses for not writing. I never started out writing with a plan to build an actual readership. I never truly figured anyone would read it. I simply shared it so I would have the impetus to continue writing. Every single time someone follows my blog, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I never felt my blog was important until this weekend. With my readership increased by this one special person, I feel almost famous.

 

 

Mid-Century and the Mona Lisa

Forgot to take a photo of the house, so here's a photo of my son holding a light beer instead.

Forgot to take a photo of the house, so here’s a photo of my son holding a light beer instead. That works, right?

My sister and her husband have been house hunting. They sold their house last month and need a new one. In a week. They’ve done a lot of looking, put in some offers that didn’t go through, and they’re about to be homeless. (Not that they’ll be living in a van down by the river or anything. Instead, they’ll be moving back in with parents. I think I’d take the van down by the river.) I’ve gone to look at some houses with them and even proffered my sage wisdom about the homes they are looking at, and they are still undecided. Tonight, my family and I went with them to look at a house I accidentally found for them yesterday while driving to pick up lunch for the boys. It is a small, but beautifully restored mid-century modern home. It’s affordably priced, has a two-car garage, and it is like getting a perfectly wrapped package with your favorite gift ever inside. Not that I have any opinion on mid-century modern homes or whether they should buy this one. (They should.)

My sister was a bit iffy about the whole thing. She’s concerned about the lack of decent storage and not thrilled that it’s only two bedrooms. (She wants a guest room. Seriously, though, everyone in their families lives in the same city. Why do they need a guest room?) I think my brother-in-law, who was not present because he’s a coach and was working a high school track meet, would love it. It might not be their forever home, but I totally think they could make it work for a while. And, it’s a perfect situation because it was a house flip and they seller needs the money and they could move in fairly quickly because no one is living in it.

While my sister was unconvinced, my husband loved it and was trying to figure out if we could push a wall out and put an addition on. He was ready to move in. We’ve been talking for a while about downsizing. We’ve got too much stuff, and our stuff is vexing us. I feel the unused “company” dishes throwing shade at me every time I open the cupboard. We want to lighten our load, save money, and travel a lot more. This house would be too much of a downsize for us. We’d lose 2/3rds of our current space. That would be one heck of a downsize. If we’re going to go that small, we should just sell our house, buy the Airstream he’s already wanted, and travel the country while homeschooling our boys at picnic tables like gypsies.

“I think it’s too small,” I said, trying to reason with him.

“We could make it work. It would be an adjustment.”

“The boys cannot share a room. Sure they’re small and cute now, but they’re on the precipice of becoming real teenagers. They’re not going to fit on that bunk bed forever.”

“That’s why we’d push that wall out and make another bedroom.”

“Steve, we are not getting this house,” I said very slowly and clearly, in case he wasn’t hearing very well.

“Okay,” he replied, sullenly. Then I saw him perk up. He’d had a brilliant idea. “We could build our own mid-century modern house.”

This is the point where I looked at him like he was crazy.

“You can’t build a mid-century modern house now. By definition, that’s impossible. Mid-century moderns were built in the 1950s. That’s what made them mid-century.” You never, ever miss with a writer. Words matter.

“You know what I mean,” he replied. “We could build a house like a mid-century modern.”

This is the point where I looked at him like perhaps he’d gone past crazy and straight over the cuckoo’s nest.

“Dude…that would be like repainting the Mona Lisa. It can’t be done.”

He just looked at me and got in the car. I guess I told him.

This is our marriage in a nutshell…my husband, the eternal optimist, and me, the perpetual pragmatist. Someone’s got to keep him grounded, and someone has to remind me to lighten up and dream a little. Nineteen years and we’re still dancing the same waltz. We are planning to move in the next couple years. We’d like to reduce our carbon footprint and go from living large to living less. It’s time to jettison things, like panini machines that collect dust, and lighten our burdens. I don’t know if we’ll build the straw bale house he’s talked about forever or end up in a classic mid-century modern, but we’ll get it figured out. We’ve made the biggest decisions of our lives in minutes. Just don’t ask us what we want for dinner. That’s when things get really ugly.

 

I Stay Home…Get Over It

I have the best job ever.

This is my career. How could it be worthless?

Ever since I made the choice to leave my career and stay home with my sons, I’ve been overwhelmed by my choice. There have been periods of time when I felt like I was nothing more than a butt wiper or a housekeeper or, in darkest times, a slave. Some days it is hard to find the silver lining in my current career. But, no fail, right about the time that I am feeling 100% certain about my decision, some working woman or man asks me what I do. The standard response I get when I tell a career person that I am a stay-at-home mom is a simple, one syllable, “Oh.” Conversation over. Clearly, I have no longer have anything current or intelligent to talk about, and no one wants to hear about kids, so they leave. I am a serial conversation killer. I’m not exactly sure when the decision to expend my energy solely as mother and homemaker vaporized my IQ and decimated my inherent worth as a human being, but it happened. Working people get to ask me ridiculous questions about my personal choice without feeling an iota of impropriety. I wonder how they would feel about it if I questioned the validity of their career choice? Really? You’re a programmer? I’ve heard they’ve taught monkeys to do that.

I was fortunate enough to have a choice to make when I was 32: 1) have a career and no kids, 2) have a career and kids, or 3) have kids and no career. I chose what was behind Door Number Three. When Joe was born, I knew that what I really wanted was as low-stress of a life as I could have. To me, that meant not trying to juggle too many things. Steve worked. We could afford for me not to work. We came to an agreement. He puts money in our bank account. I run the house. We share duties with our sons. Our weekends are free to enjoy because I take care of the busy work during the week. As with any choice, it has both good and bad points. The choice I made means I clean toilets and mop floors like Cinderella because we can’t afford a maid. It also means, however, I can go to yoga during the day when my kids are in school because I am my own boss. Like anyone else’s life, my life is a balancing act to keep things working. But, make no mistake about it, I work. Every day. Seven days a week. I get no paid vacation. No bonuses. No salary. But it’s worth it to me because our four lives are more peaceful because of what I do.

To be fair, I know that the work I do is invisible to those on the outside (unless they catch me at Starbucks having coffee with a friend while they’re on their way to work and suddenly I’m no longer invisible). And this is why people feel free to interpret something they know nothing about. Still, I get tired of answering condescending questions. To that end, today I invented some succinct responses to lessen the agony of being asked them repeatedly:

“When do you think you’ll go back to work?” Never. Work sucks.

“What did you do when you worked?” I was an adult film star.

“What do you do with all your free time when the kids are in school?” Day drink.

“Don’t you get bored?” Oh…when I get bored watching Oprah, I take a nap. Crisis averted.

Really, people. I am doing the right thing for me. I only get one shot with my boys. I have to do my best the first time around because it’s the only time I have. Ask any adult child about their relationship with their parents and you will know this is true. Time with our children goes by fast. I have six years left with my beautiful, deep-thinking, first-born son. It will be over in the blink of an eye. I know I have been fortunate to have a choice, and I know that what is right for me is not necessarily right for others. I don’t begrudge anyone their choice. I simply wish others would believe that there’s more to me than my lack of a paycheck. Right now, I’m somebody’s most important person, and that won’t always be the case. Someday they will no longer need me. I bet I will not be on my death-bed regretting the inordinate amount of time I spent with my sons in their youth. I will only regret acknowledging stupid questions about the smartest choice I ever made.

One Tough Cookie

Look, ma! No hands!

Look, ma! No hands!

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I could no longer live with our basement. We had it finished eight years ago when the boys were small, and our big dream was to get the train table out of our family room. At the time, we had no practical idea about what the space would be used for other than glorified, out-of-sight toy storage and therefore we had the contractor paint the whole space a muted and incredibly boring white, reasoning that white would keep the area bright. Over time and with much abuse by boys, the white walls became foul. For years, I’ve avoided the basement altogether, only occasionally going down there to pick up trash, throw out broken toys, and vacuum up dead spiders. That was all I could handle.

Then I decided it was time to face my fears. The boys are growing up. The train table is gone. It was time for the basement to be a livable space for all of us. I needed to paint. We had to begin by cleaning the pit. I dragged the boys downstairs with me and my black, yard-size, plastic trash bags. We got to work. It was bad. Now, I’ve never wanted to be the Clean Police. I prefer to pick other battles with my sons. And I believe a boy should have someplace that isn’t subject to relentless, maternal scrutiny. (Besides, like a drill sergeant who loves surprise inspections, I prefer scrutiny on random occasions when it is unexpected.) As we continued around the room, though, I did voice my concern about their slovenliness. They reminded me that they do pick up when I ask them. I suggested that perhaps they can be more proactive about taking responsibility for the space when I don’t ask. Shockingly radical idea, I know.

I requested help moving the futon away from the wall. It had been in a bed position since Luke’s sleepover birthday party at the end of May. No. I had not gone down there since the party. I left the clean up to them. They’re old enough to handle that, right? Then summer hit and life got chaotic. We were training for the Inca Trail, and the state of our hideous basement was nowhere in the vicinity of my mind. Don’t judge. As we pulled the futon bed away from the wall, I saw something stuck there. I took one step closer to investigate and realized it was half of a chocolate chip cookie. A chocolate chip cookie. Stuck to the wall. For how long, I was not sure. Oddly enough, my first thought was not, “I am the world’s worst housekeeper.” Instead it was, “How is it sticking there?” I was concerned with the physics of the situation. I actually wondered if it had frosting or something that had adhered it to the wall. My next thought was that it was reasonably disgusting that a cookie stuck to the wall for who knows how long had no mold on it whatsoever. My children had ingested those. I shuddered at what a horrible person I am for feeding that “food” to my offspring. Certainly that should qualify as child abuse.

As I stood there with my mouth agape, staring incredulously at that stupid cookie, the boys started doing the math.

“When did we have cookies down here?” Luke asked.

“I don’t know. You know you’re not supposed to bring food down here,” I answered. “When was the last time I bought cookies?” I puzzled. “I never buy cookies.”

Joe, whose 13-year-old mind can’t remember to come home wearing two shoes, replied,”I think it was Luke’s birthday party.”

Now I started doing the math. Luke’s 11th birthday party was on May 23rd. Oh holy hell.

“That cookie has been on the wall for over three months!” I gasped. “You guys!”

“We didn’t know it was there,” came the rejoinder.

“Well…you should have,” I replied, peeling its overly preserved remains from the wall. “Look,” I said as I showed the cookie to them. “It still looks edible. Want a bite?”

They declined. Later on, though, curiously enough, both kids asked if we could get cookies for dessert.

Sometimes I think back to the days before I had kids, days when I never would have found a half of a cookie stuck to my wall. I think about those days, when my house was always clean and there were no random, inexplicable scuff marks high on the walls and no Legos in my vacuum canister. There were days when I was not afraid to enter any room in my house for fear of what terror might lurk pressed up against the wall behind a piece of furniture. Once upon a time, my house looked good enough for company…all the time. Then I had boys, and my house went to the dogs. Funny thing is it has never felt more like home than it does now. If you come over and find something stuck to the walls, try not to notice it. We’re busy living here.

My Mary-Shelley Monster

The calm before the non-creative storm

The calm before the non-creative storm

By chance today, I came across this comment on an old blog I had written: “You are such a talented writer.” It made me giggle a little. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a sweet compliment, and one I know that the issuer meant sincerely, but I don’t think of writing as a talent. Writing is work. It’s something I’ve been working on since I was 12. You have to find your voice and your style. You have to understand how to tell a story. There’s the whole sentence structure piece, the one that I have spent years tinkering with and studying. You need a strong command of your native language or, at the very least, a handy dictionary. A prodigious vocabulary is helpful, but so is a thesaurus. Of course, there are the small matters of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You also can’t downplay the importance being a good editor plays in being an effective writer. And, after all that, you’ve still got proofreading. Don’t get me started on proofreading and what a bear that is at midnight when you’ve been up for 18 hours and are so tired you can hardly see straight. Writing has next to nothing to do with talent. It has to do with arduous, tedious, unending work that stems from an inexplicable addiction to written communication.

I’ve spent a great deal of time learning how to spin an insignificant event into a meaningful message, a crazy anecdote into a tall tale, and a cautionary tale into a public service announcement. On my best days, I can take a quiet moment between my son and I and transform it into a thousand-word love story. The fun of being a writer is that you can tell whatever story you want. You can be creative, embellish, and turn mundane fact into hysterical fiction. You can reduce the static and make your crazy life seem normal and beautiful. It is a skill I work on nearly every time I write a blog post because real life is not always flattering or interesting. Some days are simply not pretty and I am not at the top of my game. Some days I am overwrought and overtired and only the ugly truth of my day comes out. It looks a little like this:

I woke up at 6:30 when my Fitbit vibrated on my wrist. Because our whole-house fan and run all night, I decided it was too cold to get out of bed until 7:25. At 7:28, I began to stress a bit because I had to be out of the house in 20 minutes with two boys dressed, fed, and ready for school and I hadn’t even walked downstairs yet. I skipped unloading the dishwasher so I could make lunches while the boys brushed teeth, combed their hair, and got their shoes on. Six minutes before we needed to leave I told Luke to eat a banana or a yogurt because there was no time for the usual eggs. We got to school five minutes later than we should have. I had the dog in the car so I took her for her requisite 3-mile, 40-minute walk around the lake at the park. Then I hit the library to return a book with a hold on it. Afterward I drove home where I spent the next 4 hours doing laundry, ironing, making two homemade banana breads, vacuuming, hauling an old armchair out to the garage, cleaning the basement, doing dishes, and unloading the dishwasher I had skipped earlier. Eventually I got a shower and made a smoothie for lunch. Then it was off to Goodwill to drop off two huge bags of clothes heavy enough that the collection guy asked if I had dead bodies in them. Picked up the boys, cooked two dinners (because the boys won’t eat lentils), cleaned up dishes, and went back upstairs to do some more ironing while watching Parks and Rec. Discovered one son sitting in a laundry basket lined with blankets while wearing no pants. Who knows why? Confronted the other son for walking in the hallway naked (what is it with naked people in my house?) and threatened, quite realistically, to publish a blog about it. At approximately 9:45 I lost it because I had been going non-stop all day and had no idea what to write about. Barked at my sons to go to sleep, tucked them in anyway, yawned on the way back to my room, and then said screw it to writing because I was tired. Then I picked up my laptop and started writing anyway because that’s what writers do. Oh. And I also killed two spiders today.

You still awake?

My writing is not about talent. It’s about self-management. It’s putting just enough of myself out there to be real but not so much that I’m too real. It’s also about knowing when to shut up and exit stage left. It’s akin to being Dr. Frankenstein, breathing life into the lifeless and then acknowledging 821 words in that perhaps I need a timely escape from my wayward monster. An ice floe in the Arctic might be just the thing. If I leave now, I should be able to make it by morning.

Parkour and Seven Years Ago

Our little guy works on his vault skills.

Our little guy works on his vault skills.

“To try and fail is at least to learn; to fail to try is to suffer the inestimable loss of what might have been.”
― Chester Barnard

When our boys were little, we did what all suburban parents did. We enrolled our kids in class after class, letting them try out countless activities to see what might be their thing. We tried swimming, soccer, baseball, tumbling, and multi-sport camps. Nothing clicked. I can’t tell you how many times our sons did not advance from a basic swim class. I can recall four different swim schools that could not teach them. We were beating our heads against a wall. I used to complain that if I could get the money back for every class they attempted and found no success in, I could fly to Europe and back. Twice. Yet, we persisted in our parental folly and perpetual money wasting because we felt they should be able to do these things other kids could do. Our expectations told us to hang on. If we threw enough money at it, sooner or later something would have to stick, right?

When they were 4 and 6, they were diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, which affected their fine and gross motor skills. They had very low core strength, as well. This explained why swimming and tumbling were nearly impossible for them while other kids their age breezed through without any trouble, but it did not make us feel any better. With assistance from occupational therapy twice weekly, they both learned to ride bicycles after they turned 8. They still had difficulty throwing a ball. Catching one was nearly impossible. Over time and with continued therapy, their core strength improved. They made progress, but they were still years behind other kids their age physically. We accepted it for what it is, and we stopped enrolling them in activities that made them feel slow, incapable, and defeated. We figured there was no point pushing them when they physically and mentally were not ready to be successful. We made the choice to let them just be kids. Time would take care of the rest.

Tonight, we made a big leap. We decided it was time to try again. I drove them to Apex Movement, a parkour gym, and enrolled them in an introductory class. I’d heard about parkour years ago from a male occupational therapist who worked with the boys and thought it might be a great thing for them. At the time, I showed the boys videos of professional parkour to pique their interest. They thought it looked cool, but weren’t totally on board. I talked about it the last two summers, telling them I could register them for parkour camp. Still…no interest. I reminded them of their successful work on the climbing wall at school and told them they were ready to take this step. No go. Then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago both boys come to me and tell me they want to try it. I thought I’d finally gotten through to them. Nope. Turns out their friends are doing it. There you go.

On the way to the gym, Joe was nervous. He began telling me that maybe he could start next month instead. I told him that you’re always nervous the first time you do something. It’s that nervousness that tells you that you’re actually growing. If you go through your whole life, never putting yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable, you never progress. I reminded him of some recent times when I had been nervous about something and how it worked out without incident. You can’t have success if you’re afraid to risk failure. I reminded him that his success rate so far in surviving uncomfortable, new experiences was 100%. All of the times he’s tried something new, he survived and was better for it. This would be no different.

When we got to the gym, the boys could barely stand the waiting process while I filled out waivers and verified payment and class information. They were dying to get out and jump around. When they got the all clear, they went into the open gym time and started trying out every obstacle they saw. When class started, they listened and tried everything that was asked of them without concern about failure. As I sat watching them make honest attempts at new things, some successfully and some with definite room for growth, I was so proud of them for being willing to move forward and try again, for facing their nerves and taking a chance on themselves. I was a fearful child. I did not learn how to take risks. I instead learned that failure is not an option. I hid behind excuses so I didn’t have to try anything. I left important things unsaid and undone. I avoided opportunities to make mistakes or do goofy things until I was in my forties, when I finally realized that I was letting life slip by unlived.

Most of the time, I feel I am an adequate parent, just good enough. I try. I make mistakes. I apologize. I try again. Tonight my boys showed me something. They’re braver than I was at their age, which means we are all making progress. We’re learning to give ourselves a chance. Seven years ago, my kids weren’t ready for the opportunities we gave them. And seven years ago, I made a conscious decision to begin work on my own risk-taking skills. Now here we all are together. The stars and planets have aligned. We are still nervous but trying because it’s better to try and fail and at least learn than never to know what might have been. Who knows with a little parkour and seven more years where we might end up?

Peru Adventure – Final Day in Lima

An open air restaurant in Miraflores

An open air restaurant in Miraflores

On our last day in Lima, we knew we had a few things to cross off our list. We hadn’t yet made it into the main part of the city nor had we taken the time to visit a museum. We decided the best way to knock these things off our list would be to take a tour. We’d seen some red, double-decker tour buses touring the city during the earlier part of our visit. That seemed like the way to go. So after taking time to work on our repacking a bit, we made our way to the tour bus kiosk located in Parque Kennedy. Our earlier research told us that there should be a tour leaving early in the afternoon. We made it our mission to be on it.

After we purchased our tickets, we walked across the street to a local jugeria and sandwich shop. One of the things I’ve loved in the past about traveling to Central and South America is the freshly squeezed, tropical fruit juices that are readily available. So far on our trip, I’d missed out on this. I was not leaving this country without having a juice. I decided on a orange, pineapple, and strawberry juice and shared a grilled ham and cheese. It was a simple, comfort-food lunch and it was heavenly. Now all we had to do was keep the cats in Parque Kennedy from jumping into our laps to eat our food.

On top of the world...or at least on top of the bus

On top of the world…or at least on top of the Mirabus

The Mirabus tour began at 1:30. We boarded the bus and found our seats on the upper deck. As we were about to depart, the tour operator told us that we would need to watch our heads and be sure not to stand up while the bus was in motion due to low-hanging power lines. That got my attention. I looked up as the bus took off down one of the main thoroughfares in Miraflores and was surprised to see the faintest bit of blue sky peaking through the lightly overcast sky. Could it be that we would finally see some sun and blue sky in Lima the day we were leaving?

We toured through the Miraflores district and then into the upscale San Isidro district. I was enjoying the opportunity to see Limeños in the midst of their daily lives. Sometimes when you travel to a location that is very touristy, your view of what is normal life for the locals can become skewed. Riding down city streets during the midst of lunch time rush offered an opportunity to see men and women in business attire going about their usual routines. Lima is a bustling, lively city. It was fun to be in the thick of it.

Basilica Cathedral of Lima

Basilica Cathedral of Lima

The tour landed us in the Plaza Mayor where streets were closed off for a political rally. At the same time, a local cathedral was also having a street parade with the requisite pageantry. The area was so congested that we had to disembark and walk for a bit, which was fine with us. We entered the main plaza where riot police were ready near the political rally, just in case. One thing we noticed quite often in Lima is the number of uniformed, armed police officers on the street. They are everywhere, on foot, on bike, on horseback, and on motorcycle. The Limeños are under constant surveillance. There are cameras everywhere. The police presence was far more noticeable than it is in the States. Oddly, the predominance of uniformed police officers made me feel more safe in Lima. I’m sure some could argue the opposite.

The colonial-influenced architecture in this part of Lima is striking. What is interesting about it, though, is that it hasn’t been around as long as you would think. The Basilica Cathedral of Lima was built between 1535 and 1541. It was destroyed in a major earthquake in 1746 and then rebuilt. The cathedral, along with other structures in the Plaza Mayor, have been damaged and redone after multiple, strong earthquakes, the most recent one in 1940. Maybe that’s why the old looks so new here.

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Blue sky in winter at the Museo Larco

The main stop on our tour was to the Museo Larco. The museum is in a lovely, 18th century building that was actually build over a 7th century, pre-Columbian pyramid. The museum houses an impressive, privately-owned collection of Peruvian pre-Columbian artifacts, some dating back 4,000 years. It also houses a large collection of ancient, erotic pottery, which we ran out of time to see. It’s too bad too because that would have made for some amusing dinner conversation once again.

The tour ended with a lovely drive down the coast and back to Miraflores. The blue skies were fading with the sun, and our time in Lima was wrapping up as nicely as it had begun. We were worn out after 11 days in Peru and opted to return to our new favorite restaurant right around the block from the hotel for one last round of Pisco Sours and a flawless meal. Then it was back to the hotel for final packing preparations and to await our shuttle to the airport. We had an overnight flight this time, for which I was highly grateful. Amazingly, I slept most of the way home, a feat I nearly never accomplish. It must have been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream that gave me the peace of mind to rest. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several “trip of a lifetime” experiences. Our time in Peru reminded me that nothing I can own is as important as spending money on experiences that will live a lifetime in my memory. So…where should I go next?