Archive for November, 2012


Let’s do the time warp again

November 29, 2012


Well, that got your attention, didn’t it?

Yes, that is my jaw.  And yes, I had surgery this fall to stick that screw there.  On purpose.  And because of the screw I am now sporting a retainer that reminds me of the post-braces days- except instead of a thin wire circumnavigating the front of my teeth, my retainer has a composite tooth on it.  Which, let’s be honest, was really fun to play with in front of the kids’ friends on Halloween.

And once the initial healing was over, it hasn’t been a problem at all.  Except that I get really thirsty.  Which, one could argue, is not a problem.  Upside- it means I’m actually staying hydrated.  Downside- it means I’m getting up more often in the middle of the night.  The only other problem is that I can’t chew gum.  Well, that is an exaggeration.  I can chew gum, I just have to think about it.  Pay complete attention to it.  If I’m not constantly changing the position of the gum in my mouth it will stick to the retainer.  Adhere might be a more accurate term.  Adhere strongly enough that I have to remove my retainer and peel off the gum.  Which is kinda embarrassing in mixed company.  (I know what you are thinking- quit chewing gum.  I’m considering it.)

And I can read your mind again and hear you thinking overshare.  What does this even remotely have to do with parenting?  Stick with me…

My need to use my full Jedi mind powers on chewing gum reminds we of when we were trying to teach Cole to chew – but not swallow—his gum.  He wanted to chew gum so badly, but after about 52 seconds he’d get distracted and a moment later down it would go.  So we devised a plan.  I would sit down next to him on the floor.  He could chew the gum for as long as he wanted.  Just sit and chew.  No toys.   No books.  No distractions.  The moment he was done he would spit it out and be on his way.  I have no recollection how long we did this (Carie, do you remember?) but it worked.  He learned to chew gum without swallowing.

And this reminds me of the research on multitasking, which researchers are now calling task-switching.  Because we aren’t actually doing multiple things at one time, instead we are asking our brains to quickly transfer focus from one task to the next to the next to the next and back to the beginning all over again.  And they say this results in a loss of up to 40% of our efficiency. 40%!  In kid parlance that’s an iron-clad guarantee of going from a D to an A if we just put down our distractions.

Which many of us are trying to do.  We are in our mid-lives trying to break a long ingrained habit.  Trying to slow down, trying to focus on one thing, trying to be fully present, trying to unlearn the myth of multitasking.  Yet ironically and unwittingly, we are teaching our kids to do the exact opposite.  We are training them to live on the dark side- to be little task-switchers.

We are born zen.  Okay, sometimes zen mixed with colic.  Less poetically, but maybe more on point, we are born fully present mono-taskers.  As children we are only aware of the now, and to the now we fully commit.  Follow the crack on the sidewalk.  Stop and pull every dandelion in the yard.  Dance with wild abandon to the tunes of the street buskers.  In childhood we simply are.  Then as parents we come along and teach them how to rush and rush and do, do, do.  (not doo-doo, we’re trying to be adults here, remember?)

This morning I asked Eleanor to tie her shoe while telling me about her dream, then later reminded her to actually eat her breakfast as she listened to the story I was reading.  For an adult, those are mundane tasks.  But we forget that for a child, those are events that take full concentration.  It’s like asking an adult to text and drive.  Or parent and drive, for that matter.

And let’s be honest, when we try to task-switch is when we make mistakes.  We hit ‘reply all’ instead of ‘reply’.  We knock over a cup of coffee not paying attention to the edge of the table.  And the clean up from either of those takes much longer than if we had just focused on it completely the first time.  The more we try to multitask the more frantic we get, the more crazed we become, the more exhausted we are, the worse we sleep, the more coffee we drink.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

The funny thing is, when we slow down, we get it done.  Rushing doesn’t make it happen faster.  It’s as if, in being fully present with the current task, we are able to stretch time to meet our own speed, our own needs.   Time warping?  A Jedi mind trick, to be sure.

In this season of hustle and bustle and rush and wrap, what if we don’t?  What if we walk away from the frantic?  What if we just follow the call of the events in front of us?  And allow space for our children to continue doing the same?  As for me, my Jedi mind and I will be sitting in the corner chewing gum.  Will it work?  I’ll keep you posted.


indigo-orange: seasons of thanks

November 22, 2012


“It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season- like all the other seasons- is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them.”

~Lemony Snicket



some assembly required.

November 19, 2012

My family tree looks like an inverted March Madness tournament bracket.  Orderly lines, 90 degree angles, grands begetting parents begetting off-spring.  My husband’s side of the family, in sharp contrast, looks more like the frenetic X’s and O’s hastily drawn on the sidelines of football game moments from the end of the fourth quarter when a come-from-behind win is possible only through the miraculous completion of a Hail Mary play.  Madcap arrows pointing every which way, scribbles of ideas launched at the very last minute.  The players include ex’s and oh’s…and fulls and halves and steps and surrogates.  There are twists and turns and betrayals and triumphs and stories untold.

And when I met them, I didn’t quite know what to do.

But then I heard my husband laugh.  I had never heard it sound quite like that before.  And in all the years since it has been confirmed- the uproariously joyful sound erupts only when he is with his brother.  And by brother I technically mean his ex-step-brother from a marriage that imploded in the late 80’s.  Exploded might be a better description to help you imagine the collateral damage.  But technicalities don’t count.  These adult boys have known one another since they were five (or five and six, but that’s an entirely different story).  The point is, they have been brothers ever since.  They will be brothers forever because they choose to be brothers every day.

And when I stood in the kitchen recently, I didn’t know quite what to do.

Then I remembered Rebecca.  At age 42 I may not have ever baked a pie, but I had watched it done over the Fourth of July in Kentucky at what we all call Cousin Camp.  It was not hand-me-down knowledge, but hand-me-sideways from my husband’s ex-step-aunt’s daughter.  I strapped on my fabulous retro apron and got to work.  Baking pies as if it were a family tradition.  Because it is.  Because family is the collection of people to whom we give love.

But when the phone rings, I still don’t know quite what to do.

It could be from any of them- Kenya to California, or one of the Kentuckians in between.  The phone rings, the caller ID lights up, I smile knowing who is on the other end of the line.  Then I reflexively toss the phone to my husband.  I assume they are calling for him.  He is their family- why would they want to talk to me?

Ingrained assumptions are tricky to recognize, habits are hard to break.  We go through the motions, repeating patterns set down decades before.  We follow traditions that began for reasons we no longer remember.  So what now?  Life doesn’t come prefabricated out of the box.  We have to put together the pieces.

We are fam-i-ly: my ex-step-brother-in-law and me.  (Although I find it much easier to call him Doug).  And Beth, and David, Rachel, Peter, (Sophia!), Nathan, Rebecca, Katie, Sam, Allie, Derek, Quinn, Della, Beverly, Sandra, Lauren, Terry, Phil, Rafi, Gabe and Jamila.  I love you all.

As I sit down on Thursday with my play-off bracket family, I’ll be thankful for my Hail Mary clan.  And you, dear reader?  Who will you assemble?  Whose call will you answer?  Who do you love?  Keep me posted.


tent for two: let’s talk about six, baby

November 14, 2012

Somewhere between 4 ½ and 6 seconds the hug became awkward.

Kindly, but with slight bewilderment, my husband asked “Ummmmm….what are you doing?”  It was a school day, he was running a few minutes behind, little Cole was bouncing off the walls on the way to the car and toddler Eleanor was into nine kinds of mischief.

And there I was, prolonging our hug good-bye.  It wasn’t the hug of desperation – the ‘pppplllllleeeeeeease don’t leave me here all day looooong with kneebiters’ one.  He could identify that hug easily.  It wasn’t the welcome home hug of the mildly insane ‘oh! you are here!!  You are back!!!  You are an adult who speaks in full sentences!!!!’.  {slight aside:  I am often tempted to ask Brian, the neighborhood UPS driver, just how often he gets pulled into lengthy conversations by stay-at-home parents whose need for adult interaction is a little too evident.}

Nope.  This was a run-of-the-mill ‘good-bye and have a great day’ hug.  Except it was lasting about five and a half heartbeats longer than usual.  Why?  Well, I wish I could direct you back to my source- but it is long lost in the ‘oh! That is so interesting!  I’ve got to write it down somewhere!’ meta-pile in my head.  {In other words, I read it before Delicious or Pinterest entered my life.}  And I just now spent far too long falling down the rabbit hole of internet research trying to find the original source, and all I found was a bunch of ‘research shows’ references without crediting the first study.  So you’re either going to have to dive in yourself, or trust me.

That’s what I thought.

Here’s what I recall from the article:  if you hold on to the one you love for six seconds, it will start to change your brain chemistry.  So, you know, six seconds of holding hands, touching their shoulder, or even better, hugging, will signal your brain to release the we’re-having-fun-here neurochemicals oxytocin and serotonin.  {and most likely others, but these are the ones I remember…}

So there I stood, counting to six, hoping the effects would last 14 hours.  Maybe I should have tried it with a bit more finesse or at a more opportune moment. {do those actually exist in parenting?}  I’d love to say that that one hug revolutionized our lives, but truthfully I have no memory of whether or not it worked on that particular day.

But think back.  Remember the rush of falling in love?  Falling because we were so often entwined?  Hands.  Lips.  Eyes.  Turns out all that near constant contact had our brains lit up like pinball machines of attraction and bonding.  Our brains were OD’ing on happy hormones.

Which brings to mind the slightly psychedelic pinball-machine-themed Sesame Street cartoon that helped us learn to count to 12.  {this I could easily find, which might lead one to write about the vagaries of online research…}  More than 30 years earlier than the hug research and they were already teaching us the importance of multiples of 6.  Hug for 12?  I wonder what that would do.  Which leads us nicely to our Tent for Two challenge.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…what if that’s all it takes?  What if six measly seconds are all we need to remember the fun stuff?  Six to putting goofy grins on our faces. Six to make our kids wonder why we are blushing and playing footsy at the dinner table.  So try it.  Count to six.  And keep me posted.*

*In the most general of terms.  No details necessary.  Really.  Void where prohibited.  Overachievers, I know, will go for 12.  Same rules apply.


both sides of the aisle

November 9, 2012

When I was in 9th grade my English teacher did four things I will never forget.

  1. He kicked a student out just before we got to the ‘good part’ of Franco Zeffrelli’s 1968 ‘Romeo and Juliet’ movie version of s-e-x.
  2. He threw his keys at anyone he thought wasn’t paying sufficient attention.
  3. He always crossed out the first paragraph of every essay I ever wrote.  Without reading it.
  4. He’d ask a question, call a name, then make you wait before your opened your mouth.  (Or maybe did that only to me – the audio version of number 3.)

Method?  Madness?  Mix?  I was scandalized by the first (can a teacher kick you out in advance of your behavior?), I stayed focused because of the threat of the second (no goose eggs on my forehead, thankyouverymuch).  I learned how to edit from the third, and adopted think then raise your hand from the forth.

But sometimes I think too long before I speak.  Why?  Well, we’ve established here how much discord makes me greatly uncomfortable.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love dialog, the exchange of ideas, a good tête-à-tête.  But I need to know we are doing it in connection.  The back and forth of a deep heart-to-heart.  But standing on the cliff of a conversation and awaiting an echo that never returns?  That makes me uneasy, bordering on queasy.

The balance is that if I don’t speak, there is still a message.  The meaning of silence speaks volumes.  So where’s the middle ground?  For me, speaking after thinking.  Speaking after reflecting.  Speaking with a full heart.  Speaking with respect.  So I am publishing this with thought, reflection, love and respect.  For all people.  Because I know voters on each side of this issue.

But I also know a little girl.  And a little boy.  And I want to dance at their wedding.

I’ve been to all kinds of weddings.  Indoor weddings, outdoor weddings, catholic weddings, country weddings.  Ill-fated weddings where the groom was still drunk from the bachelor party.  Twilight Zone weddings in which the priest lifted a straight arm 135 degrees in the air and invited the congregation to do the same as he blessed the bride and groom.  It looked like Germany circa 1939.

And, oh, the dresses.  I’ve worn long dresses and short dresses.  Cream dresses and shiny green dresses.  I’ve been bedecked by brides in softest pink, darkest eggplant, and garish turquoise.

I’ve had my hair professionally coiffed into a chic chignon.  And I have had it teased, ratted and topped with a whale spout on one side.  (sorry, no pictures, nothing to look at here folks, keep moving).

And then there’s the music.  I once attended a ceremony in which the instrumental interlude during the church service was Captain and Tennille’s Muskrat Love.  No Lie.  There have been boom boxes, swing bands, DJ’s.  YMCA, It Had To Be You, and of course, the Macarena.

I’ve been to receptions that were depressingly dry.  Receptions at which the groom snuck outside to hide with his friends and another where the bride stuck her bottle of beer down the vee of her gown.  All the better to hug everyone without spilling, don’t cha know.  Parties that lasted long into the night, festivities that lasted longer than the unions.

There are so many ways to say I Do.

So I want to say to the parents of this little girl and that little boy – my RSVP, all these years in advance, is yes.  I will.  I will be there.  I was there when your children learned to toddle and run and read and play.  I am here as they transition into tweens, and are trying out fashions that can only be defined as statements.  I will be there when they become teens, and challenge us in ways we cannot yet imagine.  I’ve made meals and I’ll bring wine.

I am a villager, part of the circle raising these children.  And when I arrive at the ceremony and someone tries to determine along which aisle to seat me by asking ‘which side are you on?’ I want these children to know:  I am on the side of love.

Because while they may someday plan a gorgeous ceremony, their hearts will not be pledged to one another.  For I think this girl will find a beautiful bride and that boy a handsome groom.  And I will be there to witness and dance and laugh all in the name of love.  Come with me.  Wear whatever you like.  Coif your hair however you please.  As people in their village we’ll YMCA the night away.  And as for the Macarena?  Well, I’ll keep you posted.

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