Sunday, December 9, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about waiting recently. A coworker is expecting her first child any day now, and I've been checking my email, eagerly awaiting news.

Waiting is not something we seek out in this 21st-century, instant-gratification world of fast food and multitasking and instant streaming movies. It's something we complain about, or at best, tolerate; a sometimes necessary evil. But it's not something we choose. And yet, God often calls us to wait, if we're listening.

I am not blessed with patience, but all the greatest blessings in my life are things I had to wait for. Things that came not on my schedule, but on God's. My husband, for example, whom I met at the ripe old age of 27, not in college when I thought I should (but boy would marrying my college boyfriend have been a disaster - a path I was on until God whacked me upside the head with a painful epiphany that even I couldn't miss). Or take Rapunzel, who took 2 years longer to conceive than I had in mind. She was worth the wait...

Advent is a season dedicated to waiting, waiting for Christ to be born again. It's pretty easy to lose that in the clamor of Christmas: shopping and decorating and parties and baking cookies and sending cards. It's not that thinking of our loved ones with gifts or cookies, that making our homes festive, are bad things, but it's easy to use them to distract ourselves from the waiting.

A few years ago, I resolved to try to do all my Christmas shopping before Advent, in that often short space between Thanksgiving (before which I have a hard time thinking about Christmas) and the first Sunday of Advent. This year, the calendar obliged me by stretching that usually 2-day window to 9 days. I don't usually get it all done, but I do usually get most of it done.

And still I find it hard to be with the expectation, the waiting. I tend to picture that as sitting somewhere by myself, quiet, waiting. A sort of meditation, which I have never been good at. And how do I  reconcile that with all the school functions and work functions and parties and other activities that vie for our attention and participation at this time of year? I always think, "I must cut some of these out," but they all have value, too: a birthday party for old friends, a middle school band concert, taking a friend and her daughter to the library, then making cookies with them. Which of these would I eliminate?

And then, as I struggled with this, the confession this morning in church went like this:
We confess, Surprising God, that our sense of anticipation has been dulled.
We have ceased to expect wonders from your hand.
We miss the marvels around us in the people and happenings we view as commonplace.
We are not alert to your presence or your action on our behalf.
Wake us up, God, lest sleep be our death.
Forgive and redeem us, that we may escape the judgment we are bringing on ourselves.
Send your light that it may shine through us into a needy world.
That resonated so hard that I felt like I was actually vibrating (thanks for the wake up call, God...)

So instead of trying to cut back on the annual December activities, I resolve today instead to marvel at the commonplace, to be alert to God's presence. To be in those events, in the moment, as completely as I can, to connect with the people in my life who are sharing those events. To be fully present and not thinking ahead to the next event, the next activity. I resolve to be here, now, in this space and time and to be open to whatever gifts that has to offer, to let God's light shine through me and to see it shining through others.

My Advent wish for all of you is to be able to do the same, whatever your beliefs: to marvel at the commonplace, to connect, to be present, to be the light and to see the light in others. Peace be with you.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


It's Thanksgiving, and I awoke early this morning and found myself thinking of all the things I am thankful for in my life. Not that I do this only once a year; I am often overcome by the ways in which I have been blessed. But it seemed particularly apt today. We are at the beach for Thanksgiving this year, a first for us because my mother-in-law, whose turn it was to host, had a yen to go to the beach. Who were we to say no??

Yesterday, as I sat in the living room of the beach house, overlooking the ocean and watching Rapunzel and The Nerd, I was overcome by a moment of awe, that I had somehow created these two fascinating people. They weren't doing anything particularly remarkable - Rapunzel was working on a jigsaw puzzle and The Nerd was out on the porch debating with her uncle whether that object in the distance through the telescope was really a pier or not. An ordinary moment. But here were these girls, with their own minds and personalities and opinions... here because Chris and I made a decision 17 years ago and 14 years ago... I cannot take responsibility for all that they are - they are one part me, one part Chris, and one part miracle, all combined to make two unique human beings. Even when they challenge me, there is nothing about their essential natures I would change. So I am so thankful to have these two young women (I can't really call them children any more...) in my life.
I am also thankful for Chris. I never thought anyone would want to marry me or spend their life with me - I am a prickly person, and not always the easiest to live with. So it astonishes me on a regular basis that he saw beyond that and is willing to put up with that and share a life with me. We just celebrated out 20th anniversary, so I guess he's going to stick around!

There is so much more - my family and friends, my September Moms, our church, my job and coworkers, our fur babies - all things I am thankful for. But I will leave you, to go help my mother and mother-in-law prepare dinner, and you to go prepare your own and be thankful for your own blessings. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Friday, November 16, 2012

In every way but blood

November 5 was the third anniversary of the death of my dear friend Dedi from metastatic breast cancer. The next day was election day, the culmination of weeks, months of our country trying to insist we all come in just two varieties: red and blue. The juxtaposition had me thinking back over our unlikely friendship.

Dedi and I at my wedding.
Boy, were we younger then...
Dedi and I met 25 years ago, when we were both 25 years old. On the surface, we had nothing in common. I am an introvert and a nerd, born and raised outside Boston, as a Catholic. I am (and was) a very liberal Democrat. When we met, I was pursing a PhD (which I later punted when I finished my masters). By contrast, Dedi was a flaming extrovert who never met a stranger (seriously, she could have carried on an animated conversation with a brick wall), born and raised in small-town North Carolina, as a Presbyterian. She was a moderate Republican. She never went to college.

Not only were we different in personality, temperament, upbringing, and education, we were also at totally different points in our lives when we met. I was a single, not-even-dating graduate student, who figured I would never get married or have kids. She managed my apartment complex, had married at 19, and had a 4 year old.

Not a likely pairing for a friendship, right? And yet. However unlikely it was, we hit it off from the moment we met. Whatever the differences between us, whatever way you want to carve the world into two kinds of people, that I fell on one side and she on the other, we just got each other.We could talk for hours, about everything and nothing. She was in awe of my education, I was in awe of her social poise. It was some years later that I confessed to her I had never understood why she, so confident, so outgoing, so personable, would want to be friends with awkward me. Which is when she confessed she'd often wondered why someone as educated as I was would want to be friends with her... We laughed about that many times in the years that followed.

Many times over the years, our other friends scratched their heads over our friendship. Interestingly, both sets mostly focused on the disparity in our education. I know a lot of PhDs who have no sense, no compassion, no people skills. I wouldn't have traded Dedi and her high school education for a truckload of them. I didn't give a fig for her education: she was funny, smart, curious, compassionate, and fiercely loyal. No one ever had a truer friend, or one with a bigger heart, or a greater knack for saying exactly the right thing at the right time, even if it didn't seem like the obvious right thing. (I once shared an epiphany about my family with her, something I felt I would have to defend and explain, and her immediate response was "Well, duh!" It was perfect... One thing we did share was a snarky and sarcastic sense of humor...) Sometimes she leaned on me, and sometimes I leaned on her, and neither of us kept score.

I learned an enormous amount from her about parenting, about interacting with the world, about self confidence, about life in general. Our friendship transformed me. I still reach for the phone when I have a thorny how-should-I-deal-with-this problem, only now, I can no longer ask her, I can only think "What would Dedi do?"

I am so grateful for the 22 years of our friendship. We shared countless meals, trips to the beach, movies, everything. She was my matron of honor when I got married, my unofficial doula at the births of both Rapunzel and The Nerd, and The Nerd's godmother. And it was not enough: I wanted to lunch with her in our retirement, admire her grandbabies and brag on mine. I would love to have chewed on the issues that vex me and vex our world with her. But  that was not to be, and I still mourn the loss of that.

She herself summed up our relationship when Rapunzel was born. One of the labor and delivery nurses asked her if we were sisters. Her response? "In every way but blood." Rest in peace my sister. I miss you still.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

30 Days Without Sweets

In May 2011, my doctor told me I was "one blood test away" from a Type II diabetes diagnosis. It was a wake-up call. Over the next year, I lost 35 pounds. But since May, I've been stuck, losing and regaining the same next 5 pounds. Something had to change. And I didn't have to look far to know what: I'd long since trimmed a lot of excess fat from the whole family's day-to-day diet, so it wasn't fat, but I have killer sweet tooth.

So I committed to give up sweets for 30 days. By sweets, I mean things that are basically a vehicle for refined sugars and fats, with no significant nutritional value: cookies, candy, cake, ice cream... I did not scrutinize labels for hidden sugars - I took a more "I know a sweet when I see it" approach. Fruit, I continued to eat, indeed ate more - in fruit, Sugar comes to the party with Fiber, in contrast to sweets, where she brings her sketchier date, Fat.

The idea was to see if I could reset my taste buds to rein in the sweet tooth and form some better habits for times when I reached for sweets because they were there. To be more intentional about what I ate, and less reactive to habit or opportunity (just because that plate of cookies is in the break room at work doesn't mean I need to eat one).

I looked at the calendar, and picked a 30-day period in which I would not have more than the usual temptations (things like Halloween, or holidays, or birthday celebrations), when I would have the greatest chance of success. I marked my chosen start date on my calendar with a huge star, and I spent two weeks reminding myself I would start on that day and ridding my house of sweets.

It was, astonishingly, easier than I expected. I think the mental buildup and the fixed date range helped. I told people I was giving up refined sugars (it took me almost 4 weeks to realize that "sweets" was really more accurate), and that helped keep me honest. It also enlisted unexpected help - a coworker who had set up a "cake break" for my coworkers to see my slides from Europe, on hearing this, asked if I would rather she made fruit salad than cake for it. She did, and another temptation was avoided.

And if I learned one thing, it's that it's easier to plan ahead and avoid temptation than it is to try to resist temptation. They've even done studies on will power that show that - none of us really has will power when faced with strong tempation. So I skipped that middle school mid-quarter breakfast to pick up The Nerd's interim reports, a function I knew from past experience would involve a huge table laden with doughnuts and pastries and all manner of sweets. She brought her interims home, and I avoided temptation.

I thought about situations in which I eat sweets, and planned how to handle them. Like, we eat at the local diner every Friday, and we always get dessert. So I psyched myself up for days before the first dinner at Elmo's that I was not going to get dessert. God apparently has both a sense of humor and a lot of faith in me - their dessert special was key lime pie, which I LOVE. As does The Nerd. And she got a piece. And ate it sitting next to me. And you know what? I wanted a bite in the worst way, but I didn't have one. Anne 1, Key Lime Pie 0.

I also tend to reach for cookies when I get home from work - those 100 calorie packs are wolves in sheep's clothing - they seem benign, even good, in that they limit portion size, but oh, they make it easy to just grab one and ignore better options. Now, I reach for an apple (and have discovered that investing 30 seconds in slicing and coring it and putting it in a little bowl makes it a much more snacky snack, and more satisfying). Or a tablespoon of peanut butter. Or a hardboiled egg. Or some grapes and blueberries, which turn out to taste REALLY sweet once you stop eating junk sweets...

My worst temptation was The Nerd's birthday - which involved chocolate cake. Not my favorite indulgence, but still... Rapunzel and a friend of the girls who'd come to visit for the weekend made the cake for me (making it might have undone me...). After dinner, I lit the candles, brought it to the table, sang while she blew them out, then excused myself while Rapunzel served and she and The Nerd and Chris and the friend had cake. But the next day or so, I would keep encountering the leftovers and saying "Eat this cake up, would you???" Just a finger swipe of chocolate frosting, I'd think.... But I resisted.

Many nights during these 30 days I have dreamed of eating sweets. But not in an"oh, this is good" way but an "uh oh, I accidentally ate <fill in the blank sweet>!" way. It was not wish fulfillment but "what if I fail and cheat?" anxiety. The dreams tapered off the further I got into the 30 days, perhaps as I gained more confidence that I could do it.

I lost 10 pounds over the course of the 30 days, but it had other, unforeseen benefits. Like The Nerd asking if she could do it with me. She decided it would be wiser for her to start after her birthday weekend, so she started on October 9, and is two weeks in. She's done amazingly, and I am so proud of her. And now that The Nerd and I don't get dessert at Elmo's, neither does Rapunzel, and Chris usually gets something at the grocery (where we do the shopping after dinner at Elmo's on Friday) to eat later.

I finished the 30 days a couple days ago. The next day, I ate no sweets. But today, I was making apple cake for a baby shower at work. And so of course, I was going to have a piece, but the plan was just one. And I learned one more thing: I am incapable of eating "just one" when it comes to sweets. I ate two pieces of apple cake and one and a half of the other cake, and felt gross after. So the moral of this story, for me, is that I need to not start unless there is external portion control. Because once I start, I will pig out.

So, my name is Anne. I'm a sugar addict. I've been sugar free for 7 hours.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Things I wish someone had told me before we went to Europe

So, we're back, and we had a fabulous time, and very smooth travels. I'm sure I'll be posting more about it as I process the experience. But what's bumping around my brain right now is things I wish I had known before we went. In no particular order:

1. Always buy train tickets from a human. The machines are everywhere, and tempting when you don't speak the language, but we were never able to get them to take our credit cards (and 4 train tickets is a lot of cash...), and in one instance, after it refused to take the card and we went to a human, the tickets cost 2/3 as much from the human as the machine (saving us about $65...) So, humans are good. In many stations, they have flags displayed for each agent indicating what languages they speak (look for the Great Britain flag, not the American flag...)

2. Italian waiters will never, EVER bring you the check until you ask. Sometimes more than once. They would consider it the height of rudeness to bring the check unasked, like they were rushing you off. Most Italian restaurants expect one party to occupy a table the entire evening. So, learn the following Italian phrase: "Il conto, per favore." It means "Check, please"!

3. If you order water, you will get bottled water. For about $3 for 3/4 of a liter. You will go broke  if you drink as much water as we do. It took us a week and a fair amount of desperation before we discovered that if you ask for tap water, they will happily provide it. Although "tap water" doesn't really translate - we said "from the sink" and that seemed to do it. If you do want bottled water, they will ask if you want "gas or no gas". I was completely stymied by this our first night, but Chris correctly deduced that they meant sparkling or flat. So if you want flat, you want "no gas" or "naturale". Also, ice is an alien concept on the continent. They have it in England, but nowhere else. Learn to live without it.

4. French hotels have almost no electrical outlets. We thought to bring a number of plug adaptors, but in France, we had 1 outlet in each of the 3 hotel rooms we inhabited; two of those also had an outlet in the bathroom. In the third one, in Paris, in record 98 degree heat, we had to choose between plugging in my CPAP machine and the fan overnight. We opted unanimously for the fan.

5. Which brings me to air conditioning: they have it in Italy, but not mostly anywhere further north than Italy. The very first items we bought when we arrived in Rome were fans. They were essential equipment until we reached London...

6. Use crosswalks. Especially in Italy. The drivers are lunatics, but they do respect crosswalks and will stop for them if there are pedestrians waiting to cross. Jaywalk in Rome, and you are taking your life in your hands....

7. The street names are pretty much all on the sides of the buildings at the corners. We were completely confounded in Rome looking for our hotel, because we had no idea what street we were on, because we were looking for American-style road signs, which they do not have in Italy or much of anywhere we went in Europe. By our next stop, we'd worked that out, and navigating became a lot easier.

8. Admit you will never learn to recognize the small change. The actual denomination markings on the coins are so small and so faint, you will drive yourself crazy trying to work out which is which. Size is no indicator - the 2 pence piece is the biggest of the British small change, and the 20 pence piece the smallest. I found if  I dumped my small change on the counter and began picking through it, the cashier would help me find what I needed. Oh, and they have coins for 1 and 2 Euro or Pounds, not bills. Those, you will learn to recognize pretty quickly, and they are much more clearly marked.

9. Diet Coke is called Coke Light on the continent (but Diet Coke in the U.K.). And Coke products are everywhere. If you are, like me, a Diet Pepsi addict, prepare to suffer with Coke Light for the duration. We only found Pepsi products in England, and Coke was still more common.

10. Everyone smokes in public. Funny, they are much more progressive on environmental issues (fewer cars, better rail, more bikes, more walking) and have a much better sense of how to live in their environment (e.g., using shutters on the sunny side of the house, then opening them once that side is shady) than Americans, but they all smoke like chimneys in public. There's not a lot you can do about it other than move. And use that fan to waft it away from you!

Those are the biggies... we figured them all out sooner or later (mostly sooner, except the water).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cultural exchange

When I was Rapunzel's age, I spent a month in Munich on a cultural exchange trip. Our German partner students came to Boston for a month in the summer of 1977, and we went to Munich the summer of 1978. At the time, I was amazed my parents were willing to spend the money (the then-enormous sum of $600, about $2,200 in today's dollars); now, as a mother, I am amazed they were willing to let a 16 year old roam around a foreign city mostly on her own (yes, we had chaperones and supervised activities, but we also had some unsupervised time to ourselves, and we made the most of it).

This is the only one of my slides from Munich I've scanned...
I don't recall what building this was.
The trip was sponsored by the Goethe Institute for the purpose of cultural exchange (the fact that I learned more German in 30 days than I had in 2 years in school was merely a side benefit). And I do think the most lasting impact it had on me was cultural. But on a different scale than I think the Institute had in mind. The organizers planned trips to art museums and historical sites, churches and architectural sights. We took ourselves to beer gardens and movie theaters, department stores and restaurants. The German students wept for the death of Elvis while they were here, and wanted nothing more than to buy American blue jeans. The American students marveled at the lack of drinking age there, and drank like fish (if you ordered a "beer" there with no qualifiers, you got a liter stein). And we noticed smaller, more personal things. We learned that it was just as offensive to use the formal form of address in German with someone you knew well as it was to use the informal with a stranger.

We learned that while meticulous about their public spaces, Germans were far less obsessive than Americans about personal cleanliness (which, let's face it, Americans are fairly compulsive about). My host family would have been horrified if I'd showered daily, considering that a profligate use of water (and I discovered that not only would the world not end if I did not, but that my dry skin would actually thank me for it. As a result, it's a habit that's stuck ever since, and now you know my literally dirty secret - I don't shower every day!) Nor did they do laundry nearly as often as we do, wearing garments multiple times before washing them, another habit that has stuck. One thing I could not embrace was their practice of ironing their pajamas and jeans every day, even if they had been worn...

But the Germans were very conscious of their public face, on scales both large and small. One of the things that astonished the American students on a daily basis was the immaculate cleanliness of their subways and other public spaces. You could have eaten off the floor in their subway stations. I grew up in Boston, and trust me, you don't even want to STEP on the floor of Boston's subway stations, lest something vile make its way through your shoes, which stick repulsively to the floor. The substances that cause that do not bear thinking about.

But this attention to their public face went beyond the floors of their subways. They took us to the Olympic Park, and while I was oblivious at the time, I am in hindsight astounded that they made no mention, a mere 6 years after the fact, of the deaths of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics on that very site. I think in their mind, it was a blot on their culture that they did not want to draw attention to.

More glaring was the complete absence on the itinerary of a trip to Dachau, which is only about 45 minutes from Munich by subway. So appalled were two of my American friends and I that we played hooky from one of the art museums and took the train to Dachau ourselves. My host family was not enthusiastic. I tried to explain that I didn't judge them for this black period in German history - after all, they weren't personally the people who perpetrated the Holocaust, and indeed, most Germans at the time were guilty only of looking the other way out of fear of their own lives. How can I know I would have done differently? And much of the rest of the world looked away too, with possibly less excuse. So it was important to us (me, and my friends Lyz and Scott) not to look away. We had nothing more to fear than offending our hosts. So we went, and it was surprisingly banal. Perhaps evil is always banal up close; I don't know. But I'm glad we went.

So yes, I took away a lot of cultural enlightenment from my trip to Munich, some trivial, some deeply meaningful, little of it of the art-and-architecture sort the organizers had in mind. I can only hope that Rapunzel and The Nerd get a similar experience out of our trip to Europe - that the experience transcends the sights and activities and opens their eyes and hearts to the realization that the world is a much bigger and varied place than our little corner of North Carolina.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Making the world I want

I saw a quote recently on Facebook in the wake of the brouhaha over a certain fast food chain owner's stand on gay marriage to the effect that you should spend every dollar as if it were a vote for the world you want. And it's made me think about what is the world I want, and how do we get there?

It will be no surprise to most of you that I am a pragmatist, not an idealist. So what follows are a pragmatist's thoughts on the infeasibility of spending every dollar like it's a vote for the world you want. If you are an idealist, I'm not trying to offend or denigrate you or your choices - the world surely needs idealists, and I'm grateful for you, I just am not one of you. For the rest of you, I promise not to rehash the fast food chain issue (which I choose not to name in the hopes of not drawing the crazies out of the woodwork...but if you don't know who I mean, I wonder if there's room under your rock for me, because I'm getting sick of reading about it).

Anyway. I read a piece about the brouhaha that asserted that in this age of the Internet, it was possible to get information on companies about their stands on political and social issues. I agree in theory, up to a point. But here's where the pragmatist speaks up. The theory is all well and good: yes, that information is out there on the Internet for publicly owned companies for sure, and probably a number of other large but privately owned companies. But stop and think for a minute about everything you buy in a month, about every store you patronize. How many different companies are represented? Companies that make or sell the goods, companies that offer services? Groceries, clothing, home improvement, cleaning supplies, household items, toiletries, medications, pet products, toys, entertainment, and that probably only scratches the surface.

So in theory, I could find out where all those stores, all those products' manufacturers stand on gay marriage, but how long would it take? And wait, while I'm at it, where do they stand on the environment and global warming - are they green? And what about evolution vs creationism, or women's rights? The list could be endless. I, like you, have a life: a job, two kids, volunteer commitments, family, friends... gathering all this information on that many entities and all the issues I care about would be a full time job...

And what of the small businesses? I like to patronize small local businesses when I can, especially for service-oriented things. That's based not just on spend-local principles (though that factors in), but also on the selfish observation that small businesses usually provide better, more personalized service. That's why I patronize a small local pharmacy, the locally owned movie theater, a locally owned restaurant - they know me, they want to help me, they want to accommodate my preferences. I recently ran into my pharmacist in another store, and he greeted me warmly. His staff usually has my prescription in their hand by the time I cover the 25 ft from the door to the counter. But I confess, I know nothing of his views on social and political issues, or how he donates his money (or if he donates his money), and it's not really something I can find out. I patronize his business because he provides good, personalized, attentive service, and frankly, I don't really care what his politics are - he treats me with respect and attention to my needs, and that's all I can reasonably ask.

But suppose I did know a lot about a business - either I've done my Internet homework, or I happen to have information about a local business some other way. Then it's easy, right? Wrong. What if you agree on some issues and disagree on others? What then?

As it happens, I do patronize a local business, a dairy about 5 miles from my house that I drive past every day, whose owners (a couple about the age of my parents) I do know a fair amount about. We make a point of buying their milk, and we patronize their ice cream store far too often for the good of my waistline. They are Republicans, and not shy about it - they post political signs regularly, and those are 100% Republican, so there can be little doubt. I think it highly likely they supported Amendment 1, which amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage, an outcome that grieved me enormously. But. They also give generously to the local schools and have for years. They run a solar-powered agricultural education center to teach kids about green agriculture. They recently donated land to the local volunteer fire department for a fire station, and have given easements in perpetuity to the Triangle Land Conservancy, ensuring their many acres in rural Orange County will not be turned into a subdivision in 10 or 20 years (for which I am grateful, because I'd rather drive by cows than McMansions). They are active in the community - I routinely see the wife volunteering at the precinct we both vote in on election day. Their ice cream store opened on New Year's Day 2005 and donated all the receipts to relief efforts for the victims of the December 26, 2004, tsunami; the line was out the door.

So. Should I stop patronizing a local, environmentally responsible business that supports many causes I approve of because the owners are Republicans who are almost certainly against gay marriage? For the record, I have not, and I don't plan to. Their milk is in my refrigerator even as I type, and I'm seriously thinking of going to the ice cream store tonight to celebrate The Nerd's first stay-home-with-Rapunzel-all-day success.

The problem is, even if we had the time and ability to obtain perfect information, life is so much more nuanced and complex than us vs. them, than gay marriage or not gay marriage (or any other hot button topic of the day). If we're going to make the world I want, we have to keep talking to each other, not choosing up sides and shouting at each other over our signs at a protest. Social issues like gay marriage change over time through the gradual changing of one person's heart at a time. I know people I love dearly who are still struggling with this issue, and others who have struggled and whose hearts have been changed. Those hearts weren't changed by a sign in a picket line, by standing on one side of a line in the sand, by being shouted at by someone on the other side of that line. They were changed by having real dialogue, real relationships with other human beings. By listening and being heard. And that's the world I want.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

End of an era

Dear Carolina Friends School Summer Program:

For 10 years, one or both of our daughters, Rapunzel (now nearly 16) and The Nerd (now 12), have been going to summer camp for about 5 weeks a summer. They've been to at least half a dozen different camps, but CFS has been the mainstay: they have done at least two weeks with you every summer. No other camp has held their attention year after year like yours.

10 years ago, when Rapunzel was in kindergarten, my mother in law came to me and said "I want to check out this Friends School camp for Rapunzel." I can't remember how she heard about you, but she was enthusiastic. She checked you out, came to visit, and encouraged me to check out your summer brochure. I did, Rapunzel went for two weeks that summer, and she loved it.

Rapunzel outgrew camp about 2 years ago - she felt too old, at almost 14, for the camps, and being a CIT just wasn't her thing. So last summer, she stayed home by herself  while The Nerd went to camp. And now, The Nerd is outgrowing it too - I think this is her last summer. She too is beginning to feel like the oldest kid there, and also isn't interested in the Counselor-in-Training programs for teens (which is a shame - she'd be great at it...). And she's teetering on the edge of being willing to stay home alone with Rapunzel now, and expects to be fine with it by next summer. So it's feeling like the end of the summer camp era.

But I am grateful for CFS Summer camp every February as I download camp brochures. Neither of the girls were ever really into the traditional swimming-canoeing-archery-crafts type of summer camp. They've done a few weeks of that, but it wasn't really their cup of tea. They do love riding camp, but it's pricey, and we can't afford to do 5 weeks of that (much as they might love it!) So they tend to gravitate toward camps like CFS where there are a variety of topic-specific camps to choose from.

CFS is not the only camp of that sort around here. But after 10 years, and probably 75 kid-weeks of camp, more than half of them at CFS, I can say that it is the best. Why? Two reasons.

First, the breadth of your offerings amazes me year after year after year. You have something for every kid from 5 to 15: Animation, Batik, Cooking, Desserts, Earth arts, Fortbuilding, Guitar, Hoop flow, Improv, Jewelry, Kitchen chemistry, Lets rock, Magical quest, Naturewalk, Outdoor adventures, Photography, Robotics, Science, Theater, Ukelele, Video, Watercolor.... The girls have never failed to find 2 or 3 camps that grabbed them, though working out a schedule that hit their top choices in the same 2 or 3 weeks was always interesting!

One of The Nerd's photos from Photographic Eye
And then, there are the instructors... I don't know how you manage to hire such incredible instructors every time, but you do: the girls have probably done 35-40 kid-weeks at CFS, and every single one of those instructors has been great or awesome. Not most, but Every. Single. One. I always knew I could sign them up for anything at CFS and be completely confident that the camp would be exquisitely planned, expertly taught, educational, and entertaining.

So, thank you CFS Summer Staff, for entertaining my daughters so expertly for so many years. We'll miss you... Though if you can get Miss Christine, teacher of Photographic Eye this summer, back to do an advanced photography camp next summer, you might just see The Nerd one last time!

Friday, July 20, 2012

To my teenaged self

I was a pudgy kid in my early teens. I saw myself as not just pudgy but fat, and unattractive besides. Consequently, I tended to dress, as one "friend" in high school put it, like a baked potato: drab. Self-confidence was NOT my middle name...

A friend from college took the picture below of me our senior year (I know, I look about 12, but I was actually 21) and she found it and sent it to me around 10 years ago. You tell me: is this girl fat and homely?

I don't know about you, but when I saw first this picture, I thought "How cute was I???" And fat?? Not by any stretch of the imagination. And it's not just that this picture happens to be particularly flattering; here's another one, from my college graduation:
Yup: cute. And so NOT fat.

But it's not just from the vantage of 20 or 30 years later that I can say I was cute then. Somewhere along the way from 1984 to today, I embraced myself. (And before you ask, I have no magic secret to share on how. I'm sure 8 years of therapy helped.) But at some point, I realized that I like my face: as is, no makeup, just me. And I mean I like it NOW, a few wrinkles and all, not just as it was 30 years ago. I also like my hair, grey hairs and all. And I even like my body, including the oversized boobs I inherited from my grandmother Crook. (And truly, I'm lucky - I'm 5 foot 6; she was 4 foot 11 something at her absolute tallest, and hers were just as big as mine...) I would like to continue to lose weight for my health, but it's not about thinking I'm fat and ugly anymore.

I wish I could go back and tell my teenaged self that you don't have to look like a supermodel to be beautiful. And how did we let the media co-opt the word beautiful and use it for headlines like "50 Most Beautiful People!" As if there were a limited supply of beauty, and it's relative, so only the top 1% or something qualify? Hogwash. We are ALL beautiful one way or another: God doesn't make ugly. We just have to find a way to embrace our own unique beauty and find ways to let it shine.

Alas, I cannot go back and tell my teenaged self that, and I don't know if she could hear it if I did. But I'll settle for this: if you're reading this, you are beautiful. Own it, cultivate it, revel in it, embrace it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The more things change, part 2

So, OK. Clearly my post on The More Things Change, about child safety issues, hit a nerve or three. The comments are limited to 4,000 characters, so in the interests of a fuller response, I'm doing a second post. I should say, everything I post here is my opinion, indeed, my musings on things I find interesting. I did not and do not espouse disobeying any safety laws.

First, regarding carseat laws, KalJ is correct that age 12 is a recommendation and not the law, at least in NC where I live (it varies by state - don't get me started on the insanity of that...). The law here is still 8 or 80 lbs. I should have verified that and not taken my coworker's (muddled) word for it. Still, even as a recommendation, yeesh... But the costs of infantilizing a tween by making them ride in a booster seat and the tradeoff in safety is a whole 'nother post for another day. 

As several of you pointed out, age (beyond some developmental point, probably in preschool) and weight are utterly irrelevant when it comes to the safety of children in car seatbelts. The relevant measure of whether a child (or adult) is adequately protected by a seat/shoulder belt is HEIGHT. Yet almost NO state carseat laws are based on height - they are based on age and weight. Lord only knows why - height is no harder to measure, and actually the easiest of the 3 for a cop who's pulled you over to estimate accurately (the cop's height being constant, they should be able to find out where the height cutoff falls on their own body, and use that as an index). I would not rail against a standard based on height, especially if it were coupled with laws requiring car makers to make seat belts adjustable to a reasonable range of pre-teen to adult heights. My paternal grandmother never topped 5 ft - should she have had to drive in a booster seat? (As an aside, I'm not sure I buy the contention that car seat belts are designed only for adult men - the seat belts in my Corolla, hardly an expensive car, are height adjustable to a range that easily fits The Nerd, who is currently 5'4", as well as my husband, who is 6'0".)

Moving on to cribs, how many deaths are too many and we have to ban something? Why do we ban a useful feature on cribs (drop sides) over 3-4 deaths a year, but we don't ban swimming pools? A quick google search finds a paper that found 675 drowning deaths in pools among 5-24 yr olds in a 4 year period. That's about 170 per year, a heck of a lot more than 3-4, a lot more families crushed when it's their kid, yet we haven't banned pools. Why not? They are purely recreational - there's no tangible"benefit" to them - they're just fun. There is, at least for some people, a benefit to drop sides on cribs. For me, that drop side on the crib was a life saver with Rapunzel, who was a hideously bad sleeper. Getting her down without waking her with the drop side down was hard enough; without it, it would have been nigh unto impossible. At what point would my own sleep deprivation have become a greater danger to her than the crib?

So, why are we so inconsistent? Why is it OK to ban cribs that cause 3-4 deaths a year and not ban pools that cause 170? I don't know the answer, and that's part of what interested me about the whole thing, though I obviously did not do a good job of conveying that in the original post.

One more thing. "You know more, you do better" sounds great, and in many situations, it makes sense. But gains in safety are not free. Sometimes, the costs (and I don't mean purely monetary) are small compared to the benefit of the decrease in risk. Take prenatal care: there are some risks associated with driving to appointments, but the gains in the health and well-being of both mother and fetus far outweigh them.

But that is not always the case. Take children on airplanes: statistics show that children under two are safer in a plane crash if they are in a carseat in their own seat than on a parent's lap. So, under the principle of "You know more, you do better" we should require parents to buy a seat for their kid and buckle them up, right? Not necessarily. Many airlines do now require this, with the consequence that as young families (not known for having a lot of disposable income) are faced with buying an extra ticket (or two), more of them are choosing to drive to their destination instead of fly. Except that driving, even in a carseat, is MUCH MUCH more dangerous than flying, even in a parent's lap. So we have, by saying we know more and should require people to do better, inadvertently caused MORE child deaths via car crashes than we have saved via plane crashes. Here, the costs exceed the benefits.

Now, both those examples are pretty easy comparisons because we're comparing apples to apples - child deaths under plan A to child deaths under plan B (whether it's prenatal care or carseats on planes). The tradeoff is, alas, not always so easy, and when it's not so easy, different people can and will in good faith come to different conclusions without any of them being wrong. Clearly, I came to a different conclusion than some of my readers. That does not make either me or them wrong - just different.

As a mother, I have to make tradeoffs about my children's safety all the time (see, for example, my post "You're Taking This Really Well!" about the girls doing horseback riding). As a risk assessor, I can't help thinking about those tradeoffs, and that's not a bad thing: I'd rather think about it and make conscious decisions, for good or bad, than depend on my unconscious intuition about risk (which is innately bad in pretty much all humans, myself included - our perceptions of risk are warped by a number of well-studied factors). And as a writer, it's likely something I will continue to muse on.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The more things change...

Ours was all white, but it did have that cool pop top...
When I was a child, cars did not mostly have seatbelts. The VW camper we drove in the 60s and 70s had lap belts in the front seat, and that was it - shoulder belts were unheard of then, and lap belts were far from standard. What's more, there was no such thing as carseats for infants, much less toddlers and older children. My mother had a car bed that just laid on the back seat for my brothers and I when we were babies.

Look, Ma, no seatbelts!
That's unthinkable now. Imagine if you told someone you just laid your baby on the back seat for car trips. At best, they would be horrified. At worst, they'd have you arrested for child endangerment. Yet it was typical 50 years ago. When I had Rapunzel, you had to have a properly installed carseat to talk your baby home from the hospital. You had to use one until your child was 5 years old or weighed 40 lbs, whichever came first. By the time I had The Nerd 3 years later, it was 8 years or 80 lbs, which I thought was taking it a bit far. I remember the day she turned 8 and we ceremoniously removed the booster seat - she'd been waiting for that day a long time. Now, a pregnant coworker tells me it's 12 years (or presumably some higher weight). Let that sink in: The Nerd is 12, and just finished 7th grade. Kids typically turn 12 in late 6th grade or early 7th grade. So the law now requires middle schoolers to ride in booster seats. Seriously? Even a year ago, at 11, The Nerd was taller than and outweighed both her grandmothers, and no one thinks they need to be in a booster seat.

This sort of obsession with child safety is, on the one hand, laudable, and on the other, going to ridiculous extremes. And what is unthinkable is changing, it seems, at an ever-faster pace. When Rapunzel was born, I would not have dreamed of using the crib my mother used for my brothers and me - the bars were too far apart and a safety hazard (little heads could get caught - Mom claims we all had really big heads, so it was fine...). I felt very superior that I knew better. But the crib Rapunzel and The Nerd slept in? Is now deemed unsafe because it has drop sides, and one day, both of them will refuse in horror to use it because "everyone knows those are not safe!"

I wonder what else I did as a parent when the girls were young that they will gasp in horror at when they have children. Like I did when my mother-in-law told me that when her sons were babies, baby formula was a make-it-yourself affair consisting of condensed milk and karo syrup.

It's not that I don't feel protective of the girls - I do - but at what point does taking reasonable precautions cross over into compulsive overprotectiveness? It makes sense to legislate safety protections for things that kill thousands of children and can be avoided through reasonable precautions (say, carseats for babies or booster seats for kids too short to safely use a shoulder belt). But no carseat is going to change the fact that driving is a risky activity. Thousands of adults are killed in car wrecks every year, even with seat belts and air bags and antilock brakes... So at some point, reasonableness has to take over. I would argue that keeping kids in booster seats until they're 12 crosses that line. Likewise, convenience must be weighed (and don't tell me it doesn't - if we weren't weighing in convenience, no one would drive. We'd still be using the horse and buggy.)

A deathtrap, if you believe the CPSC.
And take that now-verboten drop sided crib - how big are the risks, really? The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which banned them, says 30 to 45 children have been killed because of them in the last DECADE. That's 3-4 deaths a year. Out of how many millions using them? The most recent Census says there are more than 20 million children under 5 in the United States. If you figure they're pretty evenly distributed, that's 8 million kids under 2 probably sleeping in a crib. So, an annual risk of about 5 in 10 million, or 5E-7. For comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers risks 20 times higher (1 in 100,000) to be acceptable. Yet in banning them, the CPSC characterized drop-sided cribs as "deadly." Really?

I've said it before, and will say it again: you can't eliminate risk from life. We weigh risks against many other factors every single day, even if it's not conscious.

Still, I might as well take the crib the girls slept in to the dump - I doubt they will ever be willing to use it. And I'll steel myself for the inevitable "you did WHAT?"s that I will surely hear when they have kids and I start saying "when you were a baby, we...."

The more things change....

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wedding rings redux

I posted last month about not being able to wear my wedding rings, and ended with this:

"The upshot of it is, I feel less invisible to men without my rings. It’s a curious sensation, the resulting attention. Flattering, but also sort of surreal. On the whole, I’ll be glad when I can get my rings over that knuckle and wear them where they belong again."

A friend read that post and likened the rings to a force field, a metaphor I wish I'd thought of (thanks, Erin!).

Shortly after I wrote that post, I asked my hand therapist when she thought the swelling would have subsided and stabilized enough for it to be worth resizing my rings. They will surely need to be made larger, and by enough that stretching is not going to do it - I'll have to have gold added to both of them. Having just done that with my grandmother's opal ring to take it up 3 sizes, I know that will not be cheap, and this will be two rings, not one. So I don't want to pay to add gold and then pay to have some of it taken back out later. I'd rather wait till it settles at its new normal.

She told me it would probably be October. The next day, I asked the surgeon the same question and he said it could be a year from the accident (so, March). 

I decided I didn't want to do without my force field for that long. If nothing else, we will be going to Europe in August, and I don't feel comfortable traveling in a foreign country without rings (which is probably irrational, since Europeans are less like to wear wedding rings than Americans...)

My new pseudo-wedding rings.
So, I went to the jewelry store and got the finger measured to see what size ring I'd need to wear on it now. I then ordered a lovely blue topaz and sterling ring I've been coveting for a while on Etsy and a matching plain silver band in the current ring size. I figure once I get my rings resized, I'll have these made smaller and wear them on my right hand, in rotation with a couple other rings I wear there now.

The rings came today, and I am thrilled. The stone is much more beautiful than it looks in the picture... So, thanks to Cavalier Creations, I now have my force field again! And I really think I need the pair of earrings that match.....

Post script: When Chris came home and saw the rings, he took my hand and said "With this ring I thee wed." Awwwwww... I think I'll keep him!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Enjoying the empty nest (temporarily)

I think I've mentioned that the girls were in Baltimore this week on a youth group mission trip. And I, meanwhile, have been enjoying the heck out of my weeklong visit to the empty nest!

During a previous mission trip, I asked another of the youth parents if she and her husband were enjoying their kid-free status for a week, and she said oh, no, that they really missed them. I don't recall what I said, but I thought "Really?" Because, confession time: I don't miss mine terribly when they're away for a week. About the time I start to miss them, they come home...

But it occurred to me just today that this woman's kids are a bit older than mine - her youngest is the age of my oldest. So her oldest drives, and presumably both will happily stay home alone if need be. So they probably don't restrict her activities much.

I'm not there yet. Rapunzel will stay home alone, but The Nerd will not stay home with Rapunzel for more than about 2 hours tops, and alone, not at all. Nor is Rapunzel driving solo yet. So it occurs to me that I enjoy their absence more because I'm able to do things I can't when they're around (happy hour anyone??? And yes, it was awesome), whereas the other mom probably feels more able to do those things all the time, because her kids are that bit older and thus more independent.

I realize that day is not long off for me - Rapunzel could be driving solo by October (though it will probably be next spring), at which point, she could do some of the taxi-service duty I do now (like, picking up The Nerd and going to riding if I need to work later). And The Nerd is moving toward more willingness to stay home by herself or with Rapunzel - a year ago, she wouldn't have stayed home with Rapunzel for 5 minutes - me going to walk the dog was a major crisis. And she's talking about aging out of summer camp (except riding camp) after this summer, which she knows means staying home while I go to work next summer.

So, I've enjoyed the temporary empty nest, and look forward to having some of the perks of that without having to send them out of town for a week. And it's all training for 2 years from now, when Rapunzel goes to college (ACK!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wanted: Department social queen. Extrovert a plus, but not required.

I am an introvert. I start with that because, although you all know me, you may not know that about me. It seems obvious, but judging from the fact that most people greet this statement with either laughter or some variant of "Yeah, right," I have to assume it's not as obvious as I think. But it's true: I am an introvert, in the Myers-Briggs sense: when I need to recharge, I need to be alone. When an extrovert is needs to recharge, they need to be around people. I like people, but social activities drain my energy.

Yet despite being an introvert, in the 18 months since I rejoined my current department at work, I have somehow, improbably, become the de facto social queen. I am the one who has a list of everyone's birthdays and organizes cake in the break room each month to celebrate. Who arranges lunches out or just lunches together in the conference room or on the patio. Who instigates baby pools and baby showers.

It had occurred to me before that this is sort of an unlikely thing - most social organizers are extroverts. But I'd never given much thought to how or why it came about until this week.

This week, my girls are away on a mission trip, and Chris and I are enjoying being temporarily kid-free. One of my coworkers, C_____, has been talking about organizing happy hour after work one day this week. This is the one semi-regular social activity at work I don't organize or attend, because I leave at 2:30. There's usually some excuse, like a colleague from the DC office in town; this week, it was meeting up with a coworker on maternity leave. And with the girls away, I was excited that I could go.

But C_____ got swamped, so I offered to pull it together instead. Which was fine, until the pretext, the coworker on maternity leave, couldn't do this week. So I set up lunch with the new mom in a couple weeks, and mentally kissed happy hour goodbye. When I sent out the invite to lunch, C_______ replied "But we should do happy hour anyway, just because you're kid-free this week!"

And that was when that little voice in my head, the one I call The Critic, said "You can't send out an e-mail saying let's have happy hour just because you're kid-free this week and can come! No one will  come for that!" I thought  8 years of therapy had banished The Critic, but apparently not. And in truth, we probably all have a little voice like that, though the things that prompt it to come out and spread its dysfunctional little wings differ.

But it was an epiphany of sorts: one reason I like organizing social activities at work, despite being an introvert, is that it enables me to socialize without risking rejection or giving the appearance of assuming people would want to spend time with me. Because despite a fair amount of empirical evidence to the contrary (people do not flee when I enter a room, and did I mention the 8 years of therapy?), I STILL fear that people's response to the idea of socializing with me is along the lines of "I think I hear my mother calling me..." (or maybe in this context, the client).

I do think there's more to my being social queen than avoiding The Critic's insidious whispers. The other, healthier part of it is that I do like socializing, but as an introvert, I like it best in small doses. A half hour cake break with my coworkers is perfect - it's structured, it has a focus that's not me, it's all people I know and have common conversational ground with, and it's short. So I enjoy that, and am motivated to make it happen.

The happy hour story does have a happy ending. I actually told C_____ why I had punted happy hour (take THAT little voice!) and bless her heart, she set it up herself, and without saying "because Anne is kidless this week and can come." Just, let's have happy hour.

So tomorrow at 5:00, I'll be at City Beverage enjoying a beer with my excellent coworkers. Thanks, C_____!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer bucket list

Another idea for a Friday post, stolen from my niece, Megg. These are the things I hope/plan to do this summer:

  • Take the girls to Europe (the plane tix are bought!)
  • Enjoy the heck out of kid-free-ness next week while the girls are in Baltimore on a mission trip; specifically:
    • Go out to dinner with Chris at least once (and thanks, but only one check)
    • Have my parents over to dinner
    • Go to a movie on a weeknight (oh, decadence...)
    • Go to happy hour with my coworkers
  • Take the girls to the real pool twice (as opposed to the small aboveground pool in our yard)
  • Figure out what the heck to get Rapunzel for her 16th birthday that's portable to Europe (which lets out a horse, sweetie...) If you have suggestions, e-mail me or message me on Facebook, but don't comment here, as Rapunzel reads this blog!
  • Resist the urge to buy an iPad
  • See the new Batman movie, the new Spiderman movie, and the new Bourne movie (yeah, I like comic book and action movies...)
  • Finish the last two Game of Thrones books (ditto fantasy books)
  • Write at least two blog posts a week
I think that's about it. What's your summer bucket list?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"You're taking this really well!"

The Nerd on Ellie in 2009.
The girls are at riding camp this week at the barn where they've been taking riding lessons for 5 years. Yesterday at lunchtime, my cell phone rang, and I could see it was the camp. When I answered, it was S_____, one of the owner's two 20-something daughters who help run the camp.

"The Nerd got knocked down by her horse. She's OK, just bumps and bruises, but she's a little shaken up and would like you to come pick her up."

The longer story, which I got later, is that The Nerd was leading Lily (the horse) at a trot with a more inexperienced rider on her, Lily was having an off day and something set her off, and she and The Nerd got their feet tangled up together and Lily bumped The Nerd with her shoulder. The Nerd fell, and Lily partially stepped on The Nerd's thigh (she has a rather spectacular hoof-shaped bruise...) She wasn't wearing her helmet, since she wasn't riding the horse, and Lily may have just clipped her behind the ear with a hoof, as she has a sore spot there.

Anyway, as I was talking to S_______, she said at one point "You're taking this really well!" I heard that again from the owner's other daughter when I arrived to collect The Nerd, and yet again from the owner when I went back at 3:00 to pick up Rapunzel.

I'm sure they're used to more panicky parents... It's not that I was unconcerned, but then, I've had The Nerd to the orthopedic urgent care for x-rays following falls from a horse enough times that they know us. So my biggest worry was that I would have to take her for x-rays or to the pediatrician to be evaluated for concussion and not get any work done that afternoon.

Or maybe they're used to angrier parents who blame them. But after 5 years, I know them, and I know they are very careful and responsible. Any time you deal with an animal, unexpected things can happen, beyond anyone's control.

But here's the thing: I'm a risk assessor by trade, so I have perhaps a better awareness than most that life is inherently risky. Everything we do is risky to one degree or another. Even things that seem innocuous: The Nerd broke her arm at 18 months falling off a rocking horse a foot off the ground (yet she's fallen off real horses at least 4 times and never broken anything). Rapunzel broke her ankle 2 years ago on a slip 'n slide. My mother broke her ankle 25 years ago just by stepping on it wrong. And I tripped and fell and broke 3 fingers in March just walking down our street, for pete sake...

We can't eliminate risk from life - we can only weigh the risks of a particular activity against the benefits. That's often a subconscious calculation. We all engage in an extremely risky activity every day: driving. Why? Because the benefits outweigh the risks. (Well, also because we underestimate the risks, which is common for activities where we perceive ourselves to be in control. That's an illusion when it comes to driving - no matter how good a driver you are, you can't control the other drivers around you, who may be incompetent, distracted, or impaired.)

Horseback riding is riskier than walking down the street (but almost certainly less risky than driving). So we take reasonable precautions: they wear high-quality riding helmets, and sturdy boots to guard against feet getting stepped on. They take lessons at a barn where the instructor goes slowly, making sure they have mastered and repeated basic skills until they are second nature. But even so, falls are going to happen: horses spook and start cantering, or galloping, unexpectedly. Or they balk at a jump. Sometimes a rider has to do an emergency dismount (something they learn early). Sometimes the rider falls off before they can dismount. Bumps and bruises are going to happen. Yes, more serious injuries can occur too - broken bones, even broken necks (Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a fall from a horse).

But there are also benefits - it's athletic (anyone who thinks horseback riding is not athletic has never ridden a horse), promotes good posture, and with this teacher, promotes empathy (she's always saying after they've completed something "Thank your horse") and responsibility (they tack up and groom the horses as well as ride, and if it rains, they clean tack). Plus, they enjoy it immensely. How many things can you say your kid enjoys immensely that also build character and muscles?

There's always that urge, as a parent, to protect your kids from all possible harm. But overprotectiveness is just as harmful in its own way as negligence. Kids need to learn to deal with risk, not be wrapped in cotton wool for 18 years and then turned loose on the big bad world, unequipped to deal with risk or failure or setbacks.

There was no question that The Nerd was going back to camp today. What's more, she requested the same horse. She fell, she got back up, and she was ready to get back on. There's no better life lesson than that. So yes, I'm taking this really well.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The mother they deserve

I've read a couple comments online recently by mothers saying they wish they were the mother their child deserves. One was a woman I know personally and would have described as an excellent mother - thoughtful, loving, conscientious. The other was a blogger I don't know, but it came at the end of a list of things she wanted her 10 year old daughter to know that caused me to nod in violent agreement at every one. She was clearly also a thoughtful, loving mother. So how did these women think they were somehow not the mothers their children deserve?

Society sets a high bar for mothers - we idealize motherhood to the point that we somehow expect ourselves to be perfect mothers or feel like we're failing short.

Well, pardon my French, but bullshit.

My parenting mantra from the very beginning has been a line my mother (who is, thankfully, not perfect) has always attributed to Jung (thank you, Mom):

Children don't need perfect parents. They need "good enough" parents.

Not that they are just OK if they don't have perfect parents and do have good enough parents. No - he means they actively need NOT to have perfect parents and actively NEED good enough parents instead. Which is a good thing, because perfect parents are a mythical beast, like pretty much anything else perfect.

Now, I say this as a person who has had to fight against the urge for perfection my whole life. If you are familiar with the Enneagram (a personality type indicator in which the types are assigned a number from one to nine), I am a flaming One, whose self-idealization is "I am right." Ones are ALL about perfection, and I'm no exception. But it's a false goal - you will drive yourself crazy in the pursuit of it, and still never attain it.

Most people know that about most things. But, ah, motherhood. It's our most cherished ideal, the perfect mother. When Rapunzel was an infant, I remember thinking I was doing something wrong because it wasn't all joy and happiness all the time. I loved (and still love) her with an intensity I could not begin to imagine before her birth (and I tried). But nobody told me that motherhood is hard work. There are huge rewards, but also huge frustrations, worry, rampant sleep deprivation, and just flat out exhaustion. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I wish someone had told me to expect it to be hard, and not all joy and choirs of angels.

Honestly, I never really expected to be a good mother - I wanted to have children because I wanted to experience what it was to love another human being completely unconditionally (I love my husband to pieces, but it's not and never will be unconditional). I boy did I find out (for the record, it's awesome and terrifying in equal parts. I once read a description of it as agreeing to let your heart walk around outside your body for the rest of your life, and that's pretty dead on.) But even wanting to have children and experience that, I just couldn't mentally fit myself into that idealized image of the perfect mom - you know, the one that never gets tired or frustrated, never loses her cool, always knows just what her child needs, loves nothing more than to sit on the floor playing with a toddler....

Here's my confession: I love babies, but toddlers? Please, no. I don't enjoy playing games with kids. Or doing art with kids. Or cooking with kids. Or doing anything that might make a mess with kids (which is almost everything, if you do it right...) I do not enjoy cooking and don't manage to put perfectly balanced, healthy meals on the table (or indeed, any meals on the table - I don't cook at all, Chris does...) I do enjoy reading to kids, though - anything that involves a book, I'm on board. Although the 50th time through that More, More, More Said the Baby and I wanted to scream. Still, mostly I didn't mind the repetition of reading the same picture books over and over and over. I could do Hippos Go Berserk all day long....

But I was confessing. I found helping with elementary school homework frustrating. And I tolerated but didn't truly enjoy taking them to playgrounds (God, could anything be more boring?) or museums (whee, the butterfly house at the Museum of Life and Science, AGAIN).

OK, I'm overstating things a little, but I was never, ever, that image of the idealized mother. I don't want you to think I hated every minute - I didn't. There were plenty of fun times, too. And somewhere in there, they turned into really interesting little people, and I could TALK to them, and wind up wondering how the heck we ended up talking about [fill in the blank with anything weird or offbeat or not typical kid conversation], and that's been really, really fun. Well, when they aren't rolling their eyes or turning "Mother" into a word of 10 syllables...

But here's the thing: I am not that idealized, "perfect" mother. No way, no how. But I AM a good enough mother. Indeed, I am surprised on a regular basis to realize I am actually a damn good mother. My girls are growing up into awesome human beings, and are the teenagers every parent dreams of. I can't (and won't) take all the credit - they have an awesome (but not perfect) father, great (and local) grandparents, and a church full of people willing to help raise them in a thousand little ways... So there's a whole village that gets shared credit.

But today, almost 16 years down the road of motherhood, I'm not going to be another mother who flogs herself by saying she's not the mother her children deserve. Nope. I AM the mother they deserve: not perfect by any stretch, but more than good enough. Jung would be proud.

Friday, June 15, 2012


I'm stealing an idea from my niece, who does Furbaby Fridays on her blog. The post on motherhood that's in the works needs to percolate some more, so what better than to introduce my furbabies?

Here are all of them in a rare moment of detente on Rapunzel's lap. From left to right are Juliet, Harry, and Othello.

First up is Harry. He'll never be first in the household pecking order, so he might as well get to be first here. He is, in our humble opinion, the cutest dog in the known universe (but it's OK if you think yours is cuter - you gotta be partial to your own babies...) He's half beagle, half chihuahua, and all sweetie pie.

When he's not sleeping, he likes to help around the house. Say, by helping clean the dishes...

Then there is Juliet. She was a stray who was hanging around Rapunzel's afterschool pottery place. I walked in, took one look at her holding court on the studio's sofa, and knew she was ours.

She does have a bad case of chronic grumpy-face, but is really a very sweet girl.

Finally, there is Othello. He's my grumpy old man. He was also a rescue. We call him the attention hound, because he LOVES attention. (That's my brother giving him some...)

And last but not least, there is our dear departed Sebastian. He succumbed to throat cancer in January, but lives on in our hearts...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax

My name is Anne. I'm a shoe addict.

The blue sandals.
I say that in case any of you have missed that about me. I recently bought a pair of blue sandals, posted a picture of them on Facebook, then had this conversation with one of my Facebook friends at church the next morning:

Friend: Oh, it's the new shoes.

Me: Yeah. I took [The Nerd] to buy black flats for the chorus concert, and came home with these. I am not a safe person in a shoe store.

Friend: Really? I would never have known that about you.

Which surprised me, until I remembered she'd met me during The Running Shoe years - kicked off by a bout with plantar fasciitis, and prolonged past usefulness by motherhood and the Mommy Rut uniform (stretch pants, solid colored t-shirts, and running shoes). But long before the Running Shoe years, and even during them, I was a shoe addict.

My addiction has its roots in my childhood. I was knock-kneed, and the pediatrician prescribed some kind of orthotic thingummy to go in my shoes to correct it. This device ruled out many styles of shoes, including, it seemed, all the cute ones. I remember standing in Jacobs Shoes pining after all the cute shoes while the salesman showed my mother which ones I could pick from. They were all reminiscent of the orthopedic shoes my grandmother wore. At some point, I think I gave up begging for the ones I wanted - it was fruitless and I knew it.

But they might as well have let me get the cute ones I wanted - the whole correct-the-knock-knees endeavor was doomed by my refusal to wear the hated shoes at all unless I absolutely had to; I spent a great deal of my childhood barefoot by choice. As a result, I am still knock-kneed, and while that may have killed any chance I had of being a model (a career I never desired and which was already doomed by the inheritance of my grandmother's prodigious bosom), it has not otherwise affected my life for the worse. But it did leave me with an unfulfilled craving for cute shoes that has never abated.

At 16, I got my drivers license and a job at Shoe Town. Shoe Town was everything Jacobs Shoes was not: there was no stuffy and intimidating salesman between you and the shoes - just rack upon rack of shoes that you could take down and try on yourself. No one to tell you they didn't fit right, or weren't suitable. I got to see all the shoes before they ever went on the racks, and I had an employee discount.... I was like a kid in a candy store. My mother had apparently given up on the knock-knees by that time - she knew when a battle was lost. I had my own money, and access to all manner of unapproved footwear. I was unstoppable.

I still remember the high-heeled black open-toed slingbacks I paid too much for to wear to the first Christmas party at my first job out of college. They were my first "sexy" shoes... and they were uncomfortable as heck, but they were gorgeous.

The Sam and Libby wedding shoes.
Eventually I gave up heels and entered the Sam and Libby stage. For those of you too young to remember, Sam and Libby was a brand that made nothing but ballet flats with a bow on the toe, in every color you can possibly imagine. I had at least half a dozen pairs, to go with any outfit, and I even wore a white pair of them with my wedding dress. But although they were cute and went with anything, they also had soles approximately the thickness of a sheet of paper. Plantar fasciitis reared its ugly head, and I had to retire the ballet flats for running shoes that actually had arch support. I felt like I was giving up my last vanity.

Soon after, I had Rapunzel, and although the plantar fasciitis healed, the running shoes stuck as part of the Mommy Uniform. Which I'm sorry to say persisted until Rapunzel was 13 and The Nerd was 10. Then, three things happened in rapid succession to vanquish the Mommy Rut: I got on antidepressants (and started caring what I looked like again), we got cable TV (in preparation for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics), and Rapunzel broke her leg and got us all hooked on What Not to Wear while she was laid up. I ditched the Mommy Uniform, and the running shoes, and rediscovered cute clothes and cute shoes.

And oh, the things you can get now - platforms that LOOK like heels but don't FEEL like heels... wide sizes in cute styles... comfortable shoes that don't look orthopedic... I am in shoe heaven.

And so, once more, I am not safe in a shoe store. My last vanity is back, with a vengeance!

[Oh, and if you're waiting for the ships and sealing wax, I lied - this really was just "Of shoes," but I couldn't resist the Lewis Carroll quote!]

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wedding rings

I don’t usually give much thought to my wedding rings. After nearly 20 years, they are just a fixture on my left hand, like a part of my body. I only take them off once a year, at Christmas, when I make the cookie dough that has to have the last 3 cups of flour mixed in by hand. For 10 minutes, they reside in a bowl on the kitchen counter, until the cookie dough is mixed and my hands are washed. The other 525,590 minutes a year, they are on my hand. 
My rings, on Rapunzel's cord.

That is, until this March, when I broke 3 fingers on my left hand.  In the immediate aftermath, my attention was mostly focused on seeking medical care. But somewhere in those first few minutes, I thought “I better take off my rings while I still can.” I have not been able to wear them since – the ring finger is only mildly swollen now, but the middle joint is still enlarged and will not straighten all the way, and the rings won’t go over it. They have never fit on my right hand, so I wear them on a cord around my neck that Rapunzel made me the night of the accident.

I miss having them on my hand, and as a result, I now think about them a lot – they are made noticeable by their absence. It doesn’t surprise me that I’m aware of their absence. What does surprise me is that strangers, especially men, seem to notice their absence.  
Oh, not that they say “you aren’t wearing wedding rings.” But I’m fascinated by the subtly different way men interact with me now that I’m not wearing wedding rings. Clerks in stores are mildly flirtatious. Nothing offensive or overt; indeed, it almost seems like a reflex. But a reflex that didn’t happen when I wore wedding rings.

Then there was the man at work who offered to share his umbrella to the front door one recent rainy morning. I didn’t think much of his chivalrous gesture (though as a rule, men stride by me making for the front door of the building), until we got on the elevator and he made eye contact, said “I’m John Smith,” and extended his hand. There was no graceful way to not complete the introduction. He then proceeded to make conversation. Not small talk, but actual conversation.

Now, you must understand that this is entirely counter to elevator culture at my workplace. People occupy themselves with their smart phones or stare at the walls. Passing the occasional remark on the weather, the day of the week (“Almost Friday!”), or the sloth-like pace of the elevators is acceptable, but generally eye contact is not made, and unless you are riding with someone you know, actual conversation is Not Done.  So by the time I’d reached my office, I had come to the conclusion that he had been ever-so-gently hitting on me. Like the store clerks, only a bit more focused, a bit less reflexive.   

Then there was the waiter the other night, when Chris and I grabbed an opportunity to go out to dinner without the girls, who asked at the end of the meal, “One check or two?” I can’t remember the last time a waiter asked us if we wanted two checks. But apparently man + woman without wedding rings = date = possible two checks. Or perhaps, given Chris was wearing his ring, the equation was man wearing wedding ring + woman without wedding rings = illicit tryst = two checks, the better to conceal our date from his wife… 

The upshot of it is, I feel less invisible to men without my rings. It’s a curious sensation, the resulting attention. Flattering, but also sort of surreal. On the whole, I’ll be glad when I can get my rings over that knuckle and wear them where they belong again.