Monthly Archives: April 2012

Breathing Is Underrated (So are happy children’s books)

I have a cold. This makes breathing through my nose a tenuous thing as it is. Most of today, though, I seem to have been able to take advantage of both nostrils, and that is a glorious thing. I breathed in as deeply as I could without coughing and smiled great big satisfied smiles. The muffin shared her Trader Joe’s scratch n’ sniff stickers with me -and I could smell them! And they smelled good! (Did I mention that Trader Joe’s has free scratch n’ sniff stickers? I felt like my 8 year old self today, scratching banana and pizza stickers in the parking lot over & over again.). Or at least, they smelled exactly like they should. Like childhood. Like … Well… Scratch n’ sniff versions of the real thing. Where was I? Oh yes: breathing. Through my nose. It was grand.
As I sit here writing this, I cannot breathe through my nose. In fact, my whole face is swollen. Why? Because of The Velveteen Rabbit. Yes, that’s right: because of a children’s book. The Noodle brought home a paper explaining that starting very soon, they would be exploring “change”, and would be reading & exploring, (among other books), The Velveteen Rabbit. I said something aloud like “oh, I hate that story. So sad. Wretched book.”. The Noodle, of course, wanted to know why.

Me: “oh, Noodle, it’s a beautiful story, but so completely sad – you’ll see. ” (I dissolve into tears)
Noodle: “ok, mom. I don’t want to know any more, you’ll really start crying.”
Me: “it’s a story about this favorite rabbit”
Noodle: “mom, don’t”
Me: “I can’t help it. There’s this rabbit & his boy gets sick” (tears flooding my face)
Noodle: “mom”
Me: (waving him off) “and the rabbit wants to know if becoming real hurts & he asks ‘does it hurt?’ and being loved does hurt sometimes, but the saddest part is because his boy is sick, the rabbit is supposed to be burned, and the boy never gets to see him again, but at least he’s a real rabbit.” (sobbing)
Noodle: “Whoa, mom! What the heck are you talking about?”
Me: “come here.”

I find the story online and we read it. I am heaving sobs the whole time. I didn’t mention that when I was a kid, this book gave me nightmares about my toys being burned – and me trying desperately to escape being burned.

Me: “isn’t (sob) that (hiccup) so (deep shuddering breath) sad?”
Noodle: “uh, yeah?”
(pause)
“mom, you never have to read that ever again, if you don’t want to. You probably shouldn’t.”
Just then Yum Yums woke from his nap and started to cry – right on cue. This made us all laugh.

This was at 3:30 this afternoon. It’s now slightly after 8:30 and I still can’t breathe through my nose.
Silly book.

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Slightly More Than 1/3 Life Crisis (or early Mid-Life Crisis) … but I can’t really be that old …right?

I love science. I come from a family of scientists, so this really isn’t a big surprise. My dad, though working as a construction manager, has a degree in Aero-Space Engineering. A great number of my aunts and uncles are also rocket scientists, physicists, astronomers, and computer program managers. My own sister is even a mathematician. Seriously. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an engineer at NASA just like my Aunt Mary. (Also, a secret agent-photographer- writer- ballet dancer-actor-artist-astronaut-fighter pilot-marine biologist-chemist-cashier, but that’s another blog post). When I was a teenager, I interned at NASA, went to Experimental Aircraft Association workshops, and had posters of the F-15 Eagle & SR-71 Blackbird on my wall. I mean, look at these beautiful planes – how could you not want these hanging over your bed?

The Eagle

The blackbird:

I actually wanted to be a fighter pilot.  (One of my grandfathers flew secret missions during & after WWII -maybe it’s in my blood).  My eyesight being as god-awful as it is, though, I knew they’d never let my fly, so I briefly entertained the idea of being an airplane mechanic.  That way I could at least work on those beauties. Then I realized that since I had a slight *ahem* problem with authority (and early wake-up times) the military wasn’t the place for me. My dad suggested that I design the planes instead of fly them. He really had hoped that I would become an engineer. Instead, I thought I’d “learn his lesson”, and follow a different path. One where I wouldn’t be stuck behind a desk. One where I could answer the question “what if?” You see, my dad also has another love: music; and my mom is quite an artist, and neither of them pursued these as a career. As a kid, I thought this was a crying shame – especially since my dad didn’t end up getting to be an engineer, anyway (yet another story for a different post.) So, I decided to go into the arts & follow the path less chosen.

*sigh*

Well, the good news is that I have a beautiful, relatively stress-free life. I get to stay home and raise my children. I have a fantastic husband. I ended up in two bands, and get to play music. How perfect is that? My life is so full. And yet, I can’t help but wonder what the hell I’ve done with it. In trying to avoid ever having to ask myself “what if?”, I’ve found myself asking that very same question – and worse answering with: “I should have.”

Ok.  I know that people hate a whiner, and no one likes to hear about regrets – and lately, I seem to have a growing list of them.  I know that when you have more than one option, “what if?” is an unavoidable question.  I know my life is beautiful and damned near perfect.  I know these things.  I know them, but still can’t help but ask myself the question “what the hell have you done with your life?”  This question frightens me when I realize that I’m past the age when I can call this state of mind a “quarter life crisis.”  The question frightens me even more when I realize that the answer is that I have done nothing that I had hoped.  I do have music, and I cling to that the way a drowning man would a piece of driftwood.  I am grateful for that, and most of the time it, along with the playful cacophony of my children, is enough to drive these sorts of questions from my mind, and leave me in a state of grateful bliss.  But maybe I should be glad of the self doubt and disappointment in myself.  Maybe it will motivate me to make more of myself – to do more or be more.  The Muffin & Noodle are obsessed with Lego Ninjago, and keep talking of “reaching (their) true potential”  (albeit fictional Lego Ninja style complete with ice or tornado powers).  Maybe the self doubt is enough to help me reach my “true potential”.  Maybe “someone” is trying to get through to me to reach past my comfortable life and do something more. I just wish I knew what that was …

 

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Waiting For The Dentist

I am sitting in the dentist’s chair with a swab of numbing gel in my mouth. I’m trying very hard not to swallow too much of it, so the numbness doesn’t travel down my throat. Oops, too late. Ah, here’s the dentist.
… … … …
“Just a quick pinch” she told me, before sticking the needle in. Biggest little white lie of the medical profession. No shot I have ever had, ever, has felt like a little pinch. At least this time I didn’t watch that Poirot movie – which one was it? “Buckle My Shoe”, I think. The one where the Fatal dose of Novocain was administered. Watched that one unwittingly the night before my last filling. Big mistake – but it did make me feel extra brave as I walked into the dentist’s office & waited for that needle. It is a kind of bravery, I think, to walk knowingly in to pain – even if it is just a filling.
Ah – my time’s up. I mean, here comes the dentist …

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Rise of the Sex-bot

I’m going to cut right to the chase: today I saw a headline about sex robots. Yes, you read that right – sex robots. Apparently, this is the new thing in Amsterdam. Sex robots made of materials resistant to STDs are intended to replace human prostitutes. The hope is that this will make a dent in sex trafficking, kidnapping, spread of STDs, and reduce crime. They are making these robots as lifelike as they can. Now, I’m as curious as the next gal, so I took a gander at some photos of these robots. Some are … ummmm… a far cry from life-like; more like *ahem* enhanced mannequins. Others were incredibly lifelike – and even blink! I guess, at first, I wasn’t sure what to think. On the one hand, if this takes off, wouldn’t it be great to put an end to – or at least seriously decrease – the horrors of human trafficking? On the other hand, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Daryl Hannah’s character in Blade Runner. You know, the sex trade “replicant” Harrison Ford’s character was sent to terminate. A bit far fetched? Maybe. Or maybe not. Just the other day, I read an article in Science Daily about a scientist making a huge breakthrough in the field of Artificial Intelligence. The aim is to continue efforts to perfect a computer that mimics the human brain, and learns. Before I continue on, I feel I should state that I think the field of Robotics is amazing. I am 100% behind the research focused on creating robotic limbs meant to benefit amputees. I think guided robots sent into collapsed mines or buildings, shipwrecks, minefields, and the surface of other worlds are ingenious! The key word here being “guided”. I think it is a huge mistake, though, to create another species – and that is exactly what we are doing here when we talk about creating a computer that mimics the human brain, and with the capacity to think & reason. My question is, and has always been on this topic: “why?” In this and other articles they spoke of companions for the blind who can understand obstacles, and guide their charges effortlessly through their day, and robots who can “interact successfully with a human partner”. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402113038.htm) Again, I beg the question “why?” Haven’t we heard enough cautionary tales of robots or computers gone awry to know better? I mean, isn’t this the basis for about a billion science fiction flicks for decades? It’s the plot line for at least a quarter of Doctor Who and Star Trek episodes, and then there’s Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica, 2001: A Space Oddessy, The Matrix – the list literally could go on and on. Why are we aiming for this? Because we can? Or is it to see if we can? Isn’t that the worst kind of hubris? Shouldn’t we be focused on research targeting sight restoration instead of robots guides for the blind? Shouldn’t we be trying to contain ourselves instead of creating STD resistant robots? Really what we’re doing here is spending millions on creating other things to do our dirty work, instead of correcting our own behavior. In the end, I’m a little sickened – and a little frightened of what we have become. Or maybe we’ve always been this way. Maybe it’s time to take responsibility for ourselves instead of creating a new race of slaves. For once, I think we should resist the urge to see what can be done, and instead take a moment to consider what should be done.

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Not Cut Out To Be A Stripper

Being a Stay At Home Mom can be a lonely business.  Sure, I’ve got my favorite little people on the planet with me at all times, but sometimes a gal just needs to interact with a grown-up.  This is why the cashiers at Target and Trader Joe’s know who I am. While it’s not actually their job to make small talk, many of them do, and well, they are a captive audience when they’re behind that cash register -(and being some of the only adults I’ll see all day, I take advantage of that).  Same goes for the other parents I briefly see as I pick The Noodle up from school.  So, I feel more than a little justified in ignoring the tugging on my shirt while I’m having an actual conversation with some other parents – a group of 6 on this particular occasion, right in front of the school. I have no idea what we were talking about, but it was “boring” to The Muffin, and I wasn’t “giving her any attention.” (This is what she told me).  So there I was, talking with a group of 2 dads & 4 moms about “boring” things out in front of the school.  Right in front of the school.  With other parents scattered all over the place, and the school buses lined up mere feet from me.  I had stopped paying attention to The Muffin’s shirt tugging and this is why I hadn’t noticed that the tugging had turned into unbuttoning.  I felt a breeze & that’s when I looked down.  She had succeeded in unbuttoning my shirt from the bottom up.  There was only 1 button keeping the whole school yard from seeing – well, more than they should.  I was mortified.  And shocked.  And angry.  And completely amused. Thank goodness I was holding Yum-Yums – who had also been tugging at my shirt (from the top), and had a firm grip on the top button.  I seized my shirt with my one free hand, and whirled around in a panic scolding The Muffin & laughing at the same time.  It was tricky buttoning up everything while holding a squirming 10 month old, and trying to shield myself.  Tricky, I tell ya.

I actually find my complete and utter embarrassment a little funny, because this Easter at the family egg hunt, as the wind was whipping my dress around giving people split second “free shows”, I didn’t care so much.  I even found myself saying “Yeah, I’ve delivered 3 babies, I have no pride left.”  Maybe it was because everyone in my parents’ backyard was family (and 2 friends).  Maybe that’s why my face wasn’t three shades of beet.  I dunno.  In any case, it was at that moment that I realized that I’m not cut out to be a stripper.  At least at my son’s Elementary School.

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God

My Aunt P. and Uncle R. are special people. They met when Aunt P. was riding her bike and was hit by a car. Uncle R. was the “Good Samaritan” who stopped to help her. That’s been pretty much the shape of their relationship since then: they help each other, and they help other people. When they realized that they couldn’t have children of their own, they became foster parents. I’m not sure if they were ever given the choice of the ages of the kids they were to care for, but they took in the teenagers: the kids who’ve been bounced around in the system. The ones with a lifetime of abuse, neglect, and the scars – both physical & emotional – to show for it. They took them in, and loved them as if they were their own. As time went by, they became “grandparents” and cared for some of their grandchildren. Their house was always full. There was always someone home, even if it was just the dogs or the sheep they keep. So, it seemed only natural when the last of the “kids” left, that they should take in someone else. That’s when Levi came to stay, and then Pedro. My mom describes them as folks who “just need a little help”. I’m not sure of the extent of their disabilities, but Pedro seems to me to need a bit more than “just a little”. But to my aunt and uncle, it doesn’t seem to be anything but a joy to help him, and as Aunt P. says with a smile “he’s such a Love!”

This brings me to Easter Sunday at my parents’ house.

I was having a conversation with Aunt P. & she mentioned to me that the other day she was driving along & suddenly felt sad. Deeply and profoundly sad that she never was able to have any children of her own. She said that’s when she felt that God was speaking to her, and He said “I gave you Pedro.” In an instant, she felt better. Joyful. Grateful. Happy.

Now, normally, I try to stay away from the topic of God. Belief or disbelief in God is a deeply personal thing. It brings people together, but it is also something that polarizes. As for me, belief in God is something that I try very hard not to struggle with. A strange way to phrase it, I know. You see, I have a memory. As a child, I thought it was an actual memory of a time before I was born. I was with God. I was without form, but I was me. God told me I was going to be born, and where, and my job (for lack of a better word) was to not forget Him (again, I lack a better word). He told me I might fail. I promised that I wouldn’t. A promise to God is a serious thing, and I felt that everything depended on me succeeding – Succeeding in believing. Now that I’m older, the rational part of my brain ( and I do actually pride myself in being rational, despite all my little quirks and obsessions) tells me it was very likely a memory of a dream. This makes me sad. It makes me feel sick inside, so I try very hard not to allow myself to debate His existence. I try very hard to keep any belief – or doubt – I have to myself. I call myself an Agnostic Theist: I choose to believe in God, but allow that there is the possibility that I am wrong. And that makes me sad, too, that I should even allow for such a thing.

When I am at peace, I marvel at the universe and the beauty of this world and feel – actually feel – God’s presence in something as simple as a flower, or in the air itself. I feel lighter – actually, for a brief moment, I feel like light; and I am so grateful to have been put here on this beautiful planet. It’s wonderful. Then “reality” pushes in, and it has its way of fighting light with reason. I shouldn’t have to look for signs, and I don’t feel that I have the right to ask for them, but I wish for them and I try to keep those wishes from God. (As silly as I know that is). I think that’s why I – and humanity in general- love a good ghost story. I will swear up and down to my kids that there’s no such thing as a ghost, but I will listen in earnest to any of you with a tale of the supernatural to tell. I want you to have a real life ghost story, not because I want you to have been frightened out of your mind; but because it means that we really are more than flesh and blood.  It’s a sign – or at least more than a hope that there is more. It means that I really am feeling God in the wind that blows through my hair; and I really was standing in blissful innocence next to Him before I was born; and He really did send my Aunt a man-child named Pedro, and in her moment of sorrow tell her so.
Tonight, when I pray I will quiet my mind, let my soul dance with the stars, and with a heart full of love and apology embrace what I believe is the light of God.

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The Easter Bunny: Smart Kids’ Dilema

My kids are too bright for their own good.

On the one hand, it makes me proud to be the mom of what I consider to be budding geniuses.  (It’s ok, I’m aware that every parent believes that their child is a genius, and this, I believe, is not only the natural order of things, but also a good thing.)  I love it when my 7 year old points out that “they” forgot to dot the half note in measure 8 of his Solfege exercise book, and that my 5 year old will sit down and read Nate The Great books on her own.

On the other hand, when they gang up on me before I’ve had my coffee & tell me all the reasons why the Easter Bunny isn’t real, it makes me sad.  Sad, proud & disappointed.  All at the same time.  It would be futile to dispute the fact that bunnies aren’t as large as a person; and insulting to assert that bunnies can, in fact, write notes; so I agreed with them on both counts.  I feebly offered up that bunnies are actually thieves of fruits and vegetables.  (In our house, the Easter Bunny steals grapes & berries & carrots – “bunny food” – and hides them in the plastic eggs I leave out on the counter under the pretense that they are to be filled in the morning & taken to my parents’ house for the annual egg hunt on their lawn.)  I tried – deftly, I might add – to change the subject, and to direct their attention elsewhere.   This worked for a short while before The Noodle declared: “I think it’s really a person who sneaks into our house.”

Muffin: “Yeah!”

Me: “Ya think? Huh…”

Yum Yums: “Gagaga dadada ooooooo”

(When he chimed in with all his 10 month old wisdom, I really felt cornered.)

Muffin: “The Easter Bunny at school was really just a person in face paint.”

Noodle: “And bunnies don’t have hands & can’t hide eggs”

Yum Yums: “that that that that”

Muffin: “And all the other Easter Bunnies are just strangers in costumes.”

Me (under my breath): “Creepy.”

Noodle:  “What, mom?”

Me: “nothing.  you guys are right.”

Noodle: “And bunnies don’t even like eggs.”

Me: “Yup.”

Silence.  Both kids run into the office & shut the door.  I pour a cup of coffee & contemplate my next move.  Then I hear giggling.

“What are you guys doing in there?”

Noodle & Muffin: “Don’t come in!  Ok?”

Me: “Um, why?”

Noodle & Muffin:  “It’s a surprise!”

I hear paper rustling & markers squeaking.  The feathers are flying, so to speak.

A few minutes later, I am ordered to go into another room & not peek.

Last year, this is the sign the Easter Bunny left:

This is what I found when I was allowed back into the front room:

So, the way I see it, the kids are using reason to work out fact from fiction, and draw their own conclusions.  They are growing up, this is certainly true – but the magic is far from gone.  (And I had a good time finding the toys they hid for me on their “practice egg hunt.”)

 

***Note: Upon further discussion, it seems they have not yet connected all the dots.  The Easter Bunny is a person, probably a “she”, who must be very wealthy to be able to afford to buy the stuff for the Easter baskets.  It seems I have at least one more Easter with the Noodle (at least) believing in some iteration of the “Bunny”.  How he isn’t disturbed that a person is entering our house at night while we are sleeping, is really something considering the fact that he’s scared to upstairs by himself in broad daylight.  Maybe it’s because there’s presents involved….

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