Happy New Year

Well, I admit I feel a certain compulsion to write something today, but I don't know what.  Not an end-of-year reflection or highlight reel.*  Not resolutions.  Not anything especially meaningful; I just want to mark the day.  Too many days have gone by unnoticed, just like every other day, and sometimes it seems important to step out of that routine.

So.  Another jaunt round the sun, and here we are.  Not just another day, even though it was just another day.  A little tricky to explain why we celebrate to my little one.  He is more excited about it being our dog's birthday - bacon cake!  At least I can watch the celebrations somewhere further east so I don't have to stay up until midnight.  Hooray, it's already 2014 in most of the world!

Ok, I think that's what I've got for now.  After all, tomorrow is another day.

Here's to peace, joy, love, and adventure.

Happy new year, y'all.

*but maybe outtakes, the blooper reel?  I'll think about that.


Bikini Lines

Spring has sprung, at least according to the sunshine and flowers, and all the flesh on display around town.  Although I'm not a prude, I always surprise myself by being slightly shocked when we go from bundled-up to spaghetti straps and short shorts.  People just seem so naked after a winter of layers.  It  takes me a little while to adjust, and then bring on the sundresses!

Except.  This year I've still got my post-baby body flapping around.  It irritates me constantly because nothing fits, and then as soon as something does fit, it all changes again.  Grump.  And I hate shopping - maybe because I've always had a hard time finding clothes that fit well and look good.  But even more, I hate that our celebrity-obsessed society does its best to make us feel like crap if we don't look a certain way.  Lots of folks have written about this (and yet plenty of girls are stressed and starving themselves) (yes, some boys too), so here's my angle:

The Aztecs (I think it was them, anyway) used to treat women giving birth as warriors, with all the respect and admiration and recognition of courage and danger it involved.  That's sort of how I feel - more than the beautiful new-age images of dolphins leaping and flowers blooming, birth is sweaty and messy and scary and angry and loud and wonderful and painful and bloody.  And we should wear that with pride:  Look at this body - these stretch marks, this flappy belly, these saggy oversized boobs - they created life!  From scratch!  Fuck yeah!

Instead of looking for clothes that flow and drape and cover, I want to go out into the world in a skimpy outfit and be admired for it.  I don't want to rush from locker room to swimming pool, but to strut proudly.  This should always be true, regardless of the cause for the shape, but in this case I want everyone to know, because it's a big deal.  I should wear that bumper sticker:  I'm so crafty, I make people.  These are my battle scars, my medals of honor, and I want them to be seen in that light.  Look upon this body and feel awe!


Lives to be Lived

I just got around to reading the final 2012 issue of the NY Times magazine; they always end the year with "The Lives They Lived," a collection of bios of people who died that year.  It's a good mix of interesting lives, some that ended too soon (the Beasties' Adam Yauch) and some right on time ("Oh, God, there are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready." --Maurice Sendak).  Didn't seem like there were any that went on too long - but that's a topic for another post, another day.

Mostly extraordinary folks, with a smattering of more ordinary.  But the thing that I kept thinking as I read was that every one of them started out as a little baby, perfect and innocent and with a whole life ahead of them.  (No, this is not going to segue into anything about Newtown or related incidents, though that was mentioned in the magazine too.  It's just too sad, there's nothing I can add to that except more heartbreak and anger, which is not where I want to go with this post.)  All those people were once a tiny bundle of need, of adorable, of instinct and emotion and raw materials. Someone took the time to feed them and respond to their cries and find tiny socks to fill their tiny toes with sock fuzz, to watch them grow, to clean up their poop, and, hopefully, to surround them with love.

And those babies responded by transforming.  Their baby survival tactics (be cute and be loud!) got them through those first months, got them standing on their own two feet and making their way in the world.  And they made good choices and bad choices, and they continued to grow and change and become, reacting and learning and adapting to the world around them.  Until they got to the end, and we read about them in the paper, and reflected on their lives and our own.

As I stare at my own baby, now 3 months old, with his oh-so-kissable chubby cheeks and enormous grin and quivering lips and grasping fingers - and I do stare, all the time, all day long, and there is no better view in the world - that's what I see:  a whole life of possibility ahead.  He's still so totally unformed (and yet so perfectly formed, right down to the eyelashes and ear folds; how does that happen?  It's completely ridiculous and amazing and miraculous.  Go biology!) - even my 3-year-old has begun to narrow his paths simply by becoming who he is, so far removed from the babe he once was.  (Nature?  Nurture?  Surely some of both, and we may never know the difference)

I realize this is no great insight, that all adults were once babies, that all babies have a future wide open ahead of them (well, some have more width in their future than others; once again, another post...).  But I just can't stop thinking about it, thinking back on the paths that all those written about took.  About how it all comes back to a tiny seed, bursting with hope and joy and wonder.  Something so small - accidental, even, in some cases, and really hard work in others - turns into something so great.  Who will you be, little man?  As Dr. Seuss says: "You are you, and that's truer than true!"


Life Cycle 101

Turns out it's much easier for me to talk to my toddler about my vagina than about death.

They're both just biology, as far as I'm concerned, but when answering questions about birth, I can point to body parts and pictures and draw on analogies (it's just like the tube slide at the park!) and concrete answers (hopefully the baby won't land in the potty, but someone - the doctor?  your papa?  will catch him when he comes out).  Death?  Not so easy.

We've had a few neighborhood pets (a bunny, a cat, a dog) get put down this summer, very old and sick and not unexpected, but well-loved beings who were a regular part of our lives.  So the questions still come up:  'Where's ____?  Where did she go?  Why won't she be back?"  Hmm.  And we also visited some older relatives who are struggling with their health, which brought up related questions.  How to explain without making it too scary?  I don't want to compare it to sleep, and I don't want to focus too much on how it will happen to everyone.  I'm not going to say things I don't believe - she's chasing rabbits in doggy heaven! - that pretend it's a happy ending.  Of course we can't know for sure what happens, and I'll allow that there are more things on heaven and earth, etc. etc., but basically things just stop.  What does that mean to an almost-3-year-old?

It even comes up in silly little ways:  Harry, the dirty dog, plays dead in the story.  He lies there without moving.  No, that bee can't sting you - it's dead.  That means the body stops working.  Why?  The blood stops flowing, oxygen doesn't make it to the brain... as the science gets complicated, it starts being ridiculous and unhelpful to try and explain.  Hey!  Was that a helicopter?  Do you want some ice cream?  Let's go to the park!  Topic successfully evaded once again.

And birth?  To quote:  "That's just silly!"  I can't say I disagree.  (okay, okay, also wondrous and amazing, but come on, y'all)



Do not inhale helium.  Helium reduces and can eliminate oxygen available for breathing.  Inhaling helium can result in serious personal injury or death.

Inks used on this balloon conform to government standards that relate to children's toys.  Keep dry.  Water can cause the inks to bleed.  

This balloon may conduct electricity.  Do not release outdoors.  Do not use near power lines.  Misuse may cause personal injury.

Not suitable for children under 36 months due to potential small parts.

All this on a single happy-face balloon from the dollar store.  Repeat in French for full effect.  Ideally with a chipmunk voice from having inhaled helium.  God bless America!

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Side note:  100 posts!  Huzzah!


You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think

Oh, Texas.  You've done it again.  You gave us Six Flags and Austin City Limits, so it ain't all bad, but when it's bad, it's really really bad.  Yup, we're talking about education.  The recent news about the Republican plans for the state that unfortunately influences schools across the nation.  Some of their brilliant ideas for improving things?

-Allow teachers more latitude with discipline, because corporal punishment can be quite effective.

I guess in a state that hands out the death penalty so often, violence is the answer.  Reminds me of when I taught in New Mexico and had parents offer to write me a note giving me permission to hit their kid because that's how they did it at home and that's the only way to make 'em pay attention.  Um, no, actually, we don't do things that way, sorry, but thanks for your help, always good to get the families involved.  I guess it's better than the ones that didn't show up or answer calls at all.  But those were awkward conversations, and I'm sad to say they happened more than once.

-Stop teaching higher-order/critical thinking skills, because they will cause students to question their fixed beliefs and undermine parental authority.

WTF, Lone Star?  This is like all those people who vote for a guy they want at their bbq, instead of someone who comes off as a snob.  You know what?  I want the president (or any politician, really) - the leader of the free world, the commander-in-chief of one of the most powerful nations - to be a heck of a lot smarter than I am!  Sure, fine, let's knock back a beer and a burger, be a (wo)man of the people, but really, just have your shit together for your job.  Same goes for the future of our world:  these kids are going to grow up and face a heap of trouble, and I want them to be able to think creatively and problem-solve their way through the mess we leave behind.  Make good choices.  Pay attention to the world around you and be able to react in ways that make it better.  Why would parents not want that for their kids?

As much as I've been irritated at the media for inciting the red-blue divide in a land that's much more purple, and as much as I believe we all really do have more in common than not, these are the moments that make me wonder how we can possibly make it as truly united states.  There are just some divides that seem impossible to cross.  Maybe if I went to Texas and talked to those folks, we could find a way to understand each other, but this just seems like such a fundamentally different way of being in the world.  I hope it turns out to be all talk, and that the people who are in the classroom and making the real decisions make the right ones.

Legend has it that Dorothy Parker was asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence, and replied with my title.  This news reminded me of her response, but I've gotta say, I've got a higher opinion of the ladies in that profession than the men (pretty sure they were, mostly anyway) who spouted forth this garbage in the name of progress and better education.  Yee-haw.


Flip. Flop!

(a 5-minute quickwrite from summertime 2009)

Flip.  Flop.  Freedom.
Sweet release from a winter’s worth of smelly closet.
Shuffle shuffle shuffle – sunshine. 
Hot pavement.  Splintery boardwalk.  Sand.
Abandoned, as the feet fly into the water, oh so blue.
Flip.  Flop.  Fish!

Priceless protection for pattering pads
$3 thongs – can shove into a bag
travel the world and the neighborhood
flippin’ and floppin’ – man, life is good.
Kicked off at the hammock, the beach, and inside.
Let those feet breathe, dance, slip and slide!