Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day here—while others fight for us elsewhere

I don't like stereotyping at all, yet I couldn't help chuckling at this sticker when I saw it on a bumper sticker yesterday.

I wish we could substitute, "All misinformed fools who think that we should give away what people fought to obtain."

It's Memorial Day. Drive safely, don't spend all your money, and say a prayer for every family who's missing a beloved someone this holiday weekend.

The 100th Marine died in Afghanistan recently thanks to an IED.

Think of that young man and pray for his folks. Be thankful. Spread the word that freedom isn't free.

Friday, May 28, 2010

And the worst fault is—

There are certain human qualities that are acknowledged by most as troublemakers. Greed, perhaps. Selfishness. Narrow-mindedness. These are considered by a majority of folks to be unattractive and undesirable characteristics in a fellow man. But there’s another, less obvious trait that also causes trouble. B-I-G trouble. What is it?

The need to be liked.

Many people struggle daily with this need. Most kids feel it strongly in the form of peer pressure, which unfortunately seems to be hitting at an increasingly younger age these days. There is a yearning in many of our youth to feel acceptance, to know that people like or perhaps even admire them. And yes, a hopefully smaller dose of that yearning remains active in many of us well beyond our school years. No one enjoys being slighted, or uninvited, or avoided. People like to be liked. It feels good.

But I want to believe there comes a time when adults stop seeking this out exclusively. People age, and approval shrinks as a motivating force. I’ve often said, and continue to say, that the only really good thing about getting older is that I care less and less what people think of me. It’s liberating. It permits me to do what I believe in, to try to truthfully represent what I stand for instead of being swayed by every mindless human trend.

I’m disheartened to report that I'm beginning to notice there are plenty of adults who still feel deeply the need to be liked. It’s becoming a real problem.

I noticed it when I taught school years ago. Heck, I suffered from it briefly. It was hard to be as strict as I needed to be, because I wanted those kids to like me. I wanted them to think I was cool, hip, informed. It took very little time, however, to realize that this was impossible. I had to ignore that entire aspect of the student/teacher relationship. I had to be the bad guy. A lot. I had to call parents, I had to assign detention, I had to give zeroes for no effort. Some of them hated me. But all of them began to listen. Happily, this is a problem that tends to iron itself out for most who choose education as a profession and stick with it for more than a couple of long-suffering years. There are exceptions—I witnessed them—but they were few.

Bosses are another breed. And co-workers. Everyone can think of some colleague who'd fall without question into the category of bum-kisser. Sometimes it's an underling who's trying to climb that ladder with more speed; other times, it's simply a weak-willed leader who cannot and will not force the people for whom he is responsible to do what is required in an acceptable fashion. It's painful to watch employees take advantage of such a person in charge. Yet, I know it happens daily.

Parents sometimes display this unfortunate trait as well. When a person reproduces, life for that person changes forever: suddenly, the good of the child is the most important thing. No longer can decisions be made simply for the sake of one’s own comfort and safety and interest. Now, a child's welfare and future determines many outcomes. Steps must be taken according to what will best prepare the child to be a responsible, caring, contributing adult someday. However. If a parent still feels an overwhelming need to be liked, that need presents huge obstacles in that parent’s ability to exact punishment, to maintain established consequences. The parent, if more concerned about a child’s approval, will surrender time and again to the child’s demands in order to be the kid's friend. And that’s not good for any kid.

And now. The worst example yet, I believe: world leaders. To be precise, our own leader. He is so uncertain and unschooled in the strengths of this country, of what made it great, that he hesitates to defend it even to the most insidious infidels of the earth. He speaks with disdain and disrespect of our forefathers. He embarrasses us with crass statements, with trendy gadgets as gifts for his contemporaries (I've read that the gadgets featured "greatest hits" by his very self—I don't even have the stomach to confirm those rumblings); he bows to other religions while still tipping his hat, in mocking fashion it seems, to the very beliefs that built this country and that he claimed to embrace. He apologizes for our successes, downplays them, instead of climbing atop them to maintain his role as leader of a force with which to be reckoned.

The need to be liked brings about no good, especially in so-called grown-ups. It will most certainly elicit contempt from your enemies as they watch you prostrate yourself before them; likewise, it will bring disgust and shame from your allies as they step away to disassociate themselves from your ingratiating performance.

Perhaps this is why our founding countrymen specified a minimum age for an acting President. They assumed that by 35, a politically aware and educated person would have begun to shake off the shackles of youth and would no longer seek acceptance and popularity over common sense and duty.

I don't think they made the number high enough. Additionally, extreme arrogance in said person seems to further compound the confusion about priorities. Next time around, could we somehow incorporate a maturity quotient requirement into the mix? A wisdom requirement of some sort? Or an ethical one, perhaps... Problem solved.

Oops. I promised this wouldn't be that sort of blog. Alas, my "coming out" day grows nearer and nearer...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

some stuff to ponder

It's been a busy week here, hence the pseudo-post today. But I embrace my slacker ways.

Is there anything more cute than a baby goat? A baby pygmy goat, no less? Thanks to my sister's kind neighbor and her girls for letting us play last evening.


AND, if you haven't seen this yet, you simply must (and again, I apologize for no live links —will have to consult my technical advisor/husband about that):

I'll be honest: I haven't read it. (You'll understand when you watch.) But if I lived in AZ, I would've. And I should anyway (read it, not live there.) And if I lived there? I bet I'd be a staunch supporter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Didja cast your ballet yet? When're you gonna?!

This is IMPORTANT, people. Our beloved country is hanging on a cliff by some mere roots. Remember freedom? Remember innovation and pride and self-sustenance? Remember those founding fathers of ours, distant and recent, who went to great, great lengths to set up this whole Republic? (And it IS a republic, not a democracy. They said so.)

Go speak in the booth; thus begins the process. There's a Republican in Ted Kennedy's seat!!! Anything is possible! ANYTHING! It is our country and those tax party-ers are not an insane minority. They're a lot like you and me and they believe in working for what you've got, not sitting on your perfectly capable can and reaching out a hand for the handout.

Think of this as practice for November, when the REAL shakedown occurs.

If you need help remembering the choices in parties, go here (and I apologize for the no-live-links—for some reason I'm having trouble inserting them this morning! I think it's a Google conspiracy!)

And if you need some suggestions, go here:

(I like the Trib. PPG be damned, they're just not on my side. They can be BOUGHT. But the Trib? It has wonderful opinion pieces and it's not afraid to ruffle some feathers; it's more of what true journalism used to look like.)

OK, let's see what happens today. I'm starting to feel excited. And hopeful: because real hope does exist in independence and accomplishment—not socialism.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stupid human tricks

Ahhhh, youth.

Foolish youthfulness.

The very silly state that led me, some 20 years ago, to stand teetering on the edge of a bridge, looking down in doubt and trepidation.

No worries, it's not the way it sounds. I dated an ass through most of my college years, but he never drove me to jumping, truly. I'll start at the very beginning--a very good place to start, if I recall correctly the lyrics of a certain song.

Around 20 years ago, I found myself spending a blissful summer in the small, sleepy town of my undergrad alma mater. I had an apartment that I needed to hold for one more school year, and I had a part-time, work-study job that would morph into almost full-time if I wanted to keep working for June, July, and August.

I did want that. I wanted so much to spend my last carefree summer, that pivotal season between my junior and senior years of college, relaxing and seeing friends and reading novels in my own shabby little backyard. The apartment would just be sitting there anyway. I hadn't any really promising aspects of jobs elsewhere. And it was my last chance, as I saw it, to really kick back and just enjoy life. The pressure was not yet on, but it would be soon. This was a great, possibly final, opportunity to be a slacker student. And I wouldn't really even be a student, since I was the only one I knew who wouldn't be taking classes—I didn't need to. I would just work, and then I would play.

The center of all play time that summer, as it is every summer in that town, was the lovely river. It flowed slowly and gently through valley north of town, not even a mile down the hill from my humble rental. I could bike to it easily in 3 or 4 minutes. (Going up the hill afterward? Not so easy. Sigh.) A typical day looked like this: get up early, bike to work, work for most of the day, finish up mid-afternoon, bike home, take off work clothes and put on bathing suit and cutoffs, and scurry down the long slope with a soda and sunscreen in a little tote bag. Destination? The Rock.

As much as I rushed, I was never the first brown body to hit the Rock. This rock was huge, a slab of sandstone or shale or something native; it was impressed into and parallel with the slope of a hill leading down to the river's edge. The giant rock clung to the incline, embedded into it and yet still seeming to float upon the surface. It was relatively smooth and tilted at a navigable angle, not a perfect surface but quite serviceable for holding several blankets and towels and a bevy of young people. The more timid folks stayed near the top, where the rock was more flat; the braver souls traipsed further down, closer to the water's edge, where the slope of the thing became more steep and treacherous. Wrong steps here resulted in splashes and curses, scrapes on shins and the like. (I stayed near the top, unless I planned to sit on the edge and dangle feet in the water--always a bit nerve-wracking, since snakes also loved that spot.)

To reach this rock, however, you had to ride across a big, new bridge. The old bridge had been a converted railroad bridge, I believe, and was a giant black metal contraption; it had been dynamited into oblivion a year or two before this particular summer. Now, only the new bridge stood to accommodate all traffic, and the sides on it were low and concrete. The safety railings, if you could call them that, were concrete barriers not more than 3 1/2 feet high. The barriers didn't accomplish much if someone were driving out of control; in the short time I studied there, a beer truck careened off the thing and spilled its entire load into the dark waters. Students are probably still diving for the famed lost kegs to this day.

Anyway. When a couple of stupid kids, some of whom may or may not have imbibed a foamy substance, decide to jump from those concrete barriers, it's highly likely that other kids will see them and follow suit.

Normally, not me. I'm a wimp. I'm feeble. I'm the one who didn't even brave the steep lower part of the big rock, remember? And yet. It genuinely looked fun, watching those others fling themselves off the side. Every one of them came up fine. Most of them went into the water pretty cleanly, feet first, some with arms straight down and others with arms stretched overhead. They all made it look so appealing. And I wasn't tipsy, I was perfectly aware of what I was doing. I was tired of being feeble. By golly, I was going to jump off that bridge into the river.

I walked up to the road, began the long trip to the preferred (supposedly proven safe) jumping spot. Already, I was questioning my decision, my own sanity, the wisdom or lack thereof. But my feet kept taking steps, because others were watching now, and my image was on the line. I'd said to friends moments ago that I was going to jump; I honestly didn't have the nerve to turn around.

Then, I reached the spot. By now, I felt ill. I must have been temporarily insane to even think this deed. I couldn't do it. I simply could not. Yet, there I stood, and some others who were coming back for repeat jumps gave me a hand climbing up on the side. I balanced atop the concrete guardrail, looking down into that unforgiving green water, wondering what awaited beneath the surface. Tree roots that would catch my foot and not let go? A wrecked car or boat from years before, rusted into sharp, jagged edges that would tear my flesh? A nasty creature of some kind, slimy and hungry? Well, I knew that last fear was a bit unfounded, but still... it crossed my fear-addled mind.

I took a breath, listened to the others who'd made jumps as they advised me to keep my feet down, hold my nose if I didn't want a blast of river water in my head, and then--I jumped. I did it.

It took forever to reach the surface. The bridge can't be more than 30 feet above the water, but it felt like much more. I had time to ponder what the impact would feel like, to realize that my feet were trying to creep out to the side as I fell, to try to hold tighter to my nose, to wonder how ridiculous I looked in my clumsy descent...and then WHAM.

People, I wish I could say I entered the water with grace, like an arrow. I did not. I slapped the back side of one leg so hard I thought I would cry. I plunged down, down, deeper than I'd thought I would, and I dared to open my eyes and saw only murky yellowish water all around me. I had to kick up to the surface because I was running out of air. (My lung capacity stinks.) And then, eyes streaming, lungs anxious, I burst into sunshine and gasped a fresh breath.

One of the kids on the bridge must have heard the slap, and realized I was in pain. He asked me if I was okay. Of course, I covered effectively. I was fine, I said. And really, I was, when I considered all the things that might have happened to me, undertaking such a completely mindless attempt. I swam to the side, climbed out, returned to the rock sore but mildly triumphant. Of course, after all my bravery, my friends had become distracted and no one had even been watching my leap. Which was actually a relief, since it had been such a thing of ugliness. And the day went on just as if my act of stupidity had never happened.

Except for the gigantic blue-black bruise that formed on my leg, and stayed there for weeks before turning green, then yellow, then disappearing. I'm lucky I didn't do worse damage, in hindsight.

I never leapt from the bridge again. Not that bridge, nor any other. I've never again tried such a stunt.

I returned to that town a few years ago, drove past the rock and across the bridge, rolling alongside those concrete barriers. It didn't seem so scary at all, from a car; that bridge seemed quite friendly and low-slung. But I don't have to remind myself that the view is quite different when you're standing up on those sides, looking down. If I ever try that again, it'll likely be caused by a life-threatening thing ON the bridge, rushing toward me. I'm hoping that doesn't happen.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Unique, amusing, and effective distractions

A few days ago, the kid and I were listening to our city's classical station (89.3 FM). They were discussing an upcoming broadcast of an opera, playing snippets of it, raving about it, etc. Marcus was curious enough to ask me, "Mom, what's an opera?"

"Well, Honey, it's a play that's set to music."

"Who would think of that?"

I pondered this. "I guess people in Europe thought of it. Maybe someone composed the music, someone else added words to some songs, and then another person had the bright idea to base a story on a bunch of the songs together."

"What are they about?" he queried.

Now, I was on some unfamiliar ground here. I like classical music, can recognize a few pieces by ear, and have actually attended two operas in my life: one in German (Threepenny Opera) and the other in Italian (The Barber of Seville), both featuring gauche subtitles that ran over the performers' heads near the ceiling. They were pretty enjoyable—not something of which I'd want to make a steady diet, but pleasant and fun.

"Well," I answered with some hesitation, "they're sometimes about pretty dramatic things, like love and death and people stealing things from each other. But sometimes they're just about life, like on that one Arthur episode we saw where Muffy went to the opera. Remember?"

He thought for a moment. "Yeah, I remember, Binky made her go to the opera in her dream." This led to a discussion of that particular show, and further discussion about a segment after the show—a quick video that featured a real opera singer visiting a school and helping the young students compose an opera about a playground game where one kid wasn't following the rules.

Taking it a step further, I performed an impromptu solo piece, singing as if I were Daddy who just minutes ago had misplaced his keys. (I sang this to that tune from one of the most famous operas ever—I wish I could remember which! It was the same opera that was featured in that classic Bugs Bunny opera cartoon):

I cannot find them
I cannot find them
I cannot find them,
My elusive keys—

Anyway, the kid was amused. We composed another opera later while he took his bath, and this time the parts were played by bath toys like Pink Seal (soprano) and Orca (bass, of course). I voiced most of the silliness, but he did some too, and it cracked him up.

This morning, running on cement, the kid bit the dust and scraped his ankle. The first layer of skin was peeled away in a small spot, and by the time we'd made it into the bathroom for some Neosporin, the little bare circle of exposed under-skin was bloody. He was freaked out (blood always causes this response) and I tried to think of a quick way to avoid an all-out breakdown.

I suggested a spontaneous opera about this most recently acquired, oozing scrape. Better yet, we'd take it into the future when the scrape was already healed nicely. The scab would have a deep voice, but his voice would grow weaker as he prepared to fall off. The new skin would be much higher-pitched, soft at first and then triumphant as she emerged into the brightness of day. I launched into Act I to remove his mind from the current predicament:

Scab: I'm getting weaker... I feel my strength faaaaaaaaiiiiillllling... Oh nooooo! I can't hold on!!!

New Skin: What's this soft breeze? And this bright light? It feels so strange, and yet so right...

(You have to sing these lines for it to work, people. Yes, out loud. Now do it.)

The funny thing is that he stopped crying and started giggling instead. Perhaps that's the best thing about opera: yes, it can be quite dramatic and heart-wrenching and all that... but when you take it off the stage and start singing falsetto arias about the latest crisis in your life, it's nearly impossible not to laugh about it. The operatic interpretation of the mundane elevates that mundane to sublimely silly.

Try it. I'm serious. It's curiously liberating, and it forces a lighter perspective on the vast majority of subjects.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The bittersweet of many moms

Bitter moment of the day:

I am scrambling for my bag of work items, for the food I've packed to take along with me. I'm looking for my purse, hurrying to put on shoes, making certain there's nothing in my teeth. I add a couple of things to the daily "to-do" list on the dining room table, rinse my dishes in the sink, and give my sweet boy a hug. "I have to go to work now, Buddy," I say. "I'll see you soon."

"I'll wave to you from the window, Mama."

"Okay, Honey. I love you."

"I love you."

Today I got off easily; sometimes he peppers me with "Mama, don't go" statements that break my heart into slivers that continue to slice each other further as I depart.

I run to the garage, climb in my car, back out of the driveway, close the garage door, and then look at the living room window where he's standing, small white hand outstretched in a farewell gesture. Most of the time, he's serious—not sullen but also not jolly. I wave back, honk the horn, blow a kiss which happily I receive in return. There's always a little lump in my throat. Guilt? Mere sadness? Fear that he's growing too fast? All of that.

And then I switch gears, and worlds, for a few hours.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sweet moment of the day:

My departure time is nearing at work; I try to finish up the current task, tidy my desk, turn off the computer, and say goodbye to whomever else is still there. My car is out back; I grab bags and coat if necessary and then exit to the old vehicle waiting in the lot. Climbing the hill out of the office plan, I begin to shed the "work" me. I turn on good music, I think about the day at home and what might have occurred in my absence. I wait for various stoplights, studying the people in the other vehicles, wondering what they're going home to greet. The drive is mercifully short, and in a few minutes I'm coming around the bend that passes my back yard. I always peer through the trees to see if I spy anyone back there, but it's hard to get a clear view.

Then, I'm rounding the last couple of turns and coming down my street. If Todd and the kid are outside, they've often spotted my old Saturn approaching, and if I'm lucky, Marcus is by now running toward me or waiting in the yard as I enter the garage and climb out. Every now and then, he waits for the engine to stop and then comes right down to my car door so he can climb in on my lap as soon as said door opens.

And then? The transformation is complete, I am "home" me once again, my arms full of wriggling breathless jabbering boy, the stresses of my day swept away as he tells me what they did today, where they went, what they ate. And that report is always followed by the same words: "Can you play?"

Yes, my dear boy. Now, I can.

Monday, May 3, 2010

By the dawn's early light

I am unfortunate in that I am a light sleeper. All my life, I can recall being awakened by various sounds in the wee hours. As a child, it was traffic, mostly. Although we lived in a rural setting, the house sat next to a busy state route, which happened to be the main thoroughfare for a couple of large truck operations—lucky us. We were especially lucky during those summers when a lusty big bull occupied the empty field across the road from my bedroom window. My goodness, but that bull did have a determined note in his voice when he bellowed in the wee morning hours.

Moving out of that house brought no peace. Dorm life followed (as if that existence could ever bring peace, unless you were foolish enough to remain in the structure over a minor holiday weekend). And then, off-campus life brought new neighbors within the confines of an old, sound-unproofed house: a deaf old lady who loved her television loud, and a foolish bunch of party hounds whose best schoolwork happened drunkenly and vociferously very late at night, directly over my apartment ceiling.

The best years of sleep might have been during my years of teaching. I was blessed with relatively quiet rentals where neighbors weren't home often or made little to no sounds. However, rest was still marred by all the bad dreams that I had. Each one featured an increasingly less obedient classroom, and by the time I had thrown in the towel, my chaotic subconscious had rendered the dreams almost unbearable in their lack of closure and control.

I moved back to Pittsburgh to a very cheap rental that was a unit in an old hotel of sorts. The building was U-shaped, with all the "front" windows of apartments opening onto a center parking lot. That place was annoying in that my early morning hours on hot nights brought me out of a sound sleep, awakened by the noise and the noxious odor of someone grilling hot dogs in the parking lot. The apartment after that one? A lovely, restful third story—which just happened to be situated next to a busy stop light in which various air-braked vehicles came first to a screeching halt, then to a grinding, groaning acceleration when the stop light once again permitted them to advance. To top it off, the light featured a bus stop. Some a**hole woke me at 6 or so one morning, singing aloud the few lyrics he knew from the movie Dirty Dancing; "I...had...the time of my life...and I owe it all to youuuuuu..." Over. And over. And over. The bus finally picked him up, not before I'd imagined a few little times of my own life which may or may not have involved hurting that guy.

My first married apartment? On a city street in a no-school-bus district, where loud little children traipsed up the sidewalk shouting at each other directly under our front windows. The next residence, our first purchased home? Why, on a dead-end road leading to an illegal residual waste holding station, for which waste arrived and left in large metal dumpsters... Did I mention that the road was very dilapidated and the trucks and their loads bounced when they hit those bumps at 5:00am?

So now we're in this house, and Verizon sits at our back, another illegal operation which was only supposed to house offices, not trucks and supplies—and which now stores bucket vehicles, treated poles, and immense spools of every type of wire you can imagine. They love to back up their vehicles at 4:30 and 5 in the morning. "Beep, beep, beep." During snowy mornings, those Verizon folks are so on top of things that they plow and scrape the sidewalk, loudly, before dawn. And don't forget the barking dog down the street, the canine squeak toy that I already moaned about here. Apparently, his bladder is tiny. Stupid dog.

I've announced over and over that the next house will be AWAY. I will not agree to another home/property purchase until there's the promise that I'll neither hear nor see another human being. But in this general area of the world, is that possible? Realistic? Un-Christian of me? I just want a good night's sleep. And yet, will that require a soundproof room, so I can't hear my son stirring? Will a good night's sleep allow any wiggle room for being shaken awake by my night-owl husband coming to bed? My wakeful husband, whose solution is simply to blast a fan for white noise, which is what we do for my son. But I hate the fan. It dries out my eyes and nose. It makes me wake up coughing in the night. I feel so isolated when it's blurring my contact with the outside world, when I have to wonder whether I'd hear an intruder in our home or my child being sick in his bed sheets.

Is there a solution? An adequate escape? Has the whole world given up and is resting peacefully, albeit cough-fully, against the soundtrack of a loud fan?

It's the principle of the matter, really: I shouldn't need to block out the world to get some rest. And yet.