Monday, August 30, 2010

Why are my eyes stinging?

Surely you must know that this breaks my heart.

Into sharp fragments.

That keep poking me on the inside of my chest.

Let us speak of it no more.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Other people's birthdays and conquering fears

I'll bet you're wondering where I found that nice photo of our fair city.

Well, I took it.

Or, my husband took it. I'd already taken a few, but I was in the back seat and the wing was in my viewfinder. So he snapped some photos from the front seat—his birthday seat of honor.

He turned 40 today. I tried and tried to think of a nifty gift, and then I remembered that I know I certified pilot—a calm, capable, experienced fellow who'd volunteered at my last workplace. I felt out the husband in casual conversation: have you ever been up in one of those little, bitty planes? Ever wanted to? He was gung ho, thought it would be fun, and that sealed the deal. I contacted the pilot privately and the covert planning began.

Except I figured I'd just send my husband on the flight, because the mere thought of being up there in a tiny propeller plane, at the mercy of buffeting winds and unpredictable drafts, was enough to make me hurl. Then I thought, perhaps I'll let Marcus go, too. He'd love it. He's transfixed by planes and helicopters and flying in general. But I realized quickly that would be a disaster, because if that plane went down, there goes my life too, plus or minus an eternity of survivor's guilt. So. Nix that.

But I'd already asked my friend the pilot if he'd take a child, and he was delighted. "Kids are the most fun," he said. The idea was planted. I told him I'd think about it. He told me it would be a shame if my boy missed the ride because "his mother was a chicken."

Well, the gauntlet was thrown. And I, with much hesitation and trepidation, picked it up. And thought many times about throwing it down again. Thank goodness this little idea came together quickly, because since I've learned it would be a reality, I've felt slightly sick. I mean, I've flown before...but in commercial aircraft, the big guys, the ones with phenomenal safety records. And I don't like those trips, either.

The momentous morning came, and somehow, the boy and I had both managed to keep the secret. I told Todd when we were leaving and to be ready. We departed, and as I drove, I remembered the JFK Jr. accident, the recent wreck of a small plane carrying Alaska's former governor and others, the long list of light flights that inexplicably fell from the sky or crashed into mountains or resulted in cannibalism. Fun stuff to consider, whilst you drive to your doom.

We got there, the pilot was waiting, and Todd figured out our scheme (after sharing his slight alarm at the thought that we might be dropping him out of one of these things). We went into the office to pick up necessary headphones and paperwork; I hit the ladies' head and called home to leave a message detailing where we kept the last will and testament. We stepped outside (no excuses there, because the weather was absolutely perfect) and I saw the tiny craft we'd be squeezed into. Wow. Small.

Gary, the pilot, was completely in his element. He showed Todd the plane, the gas tanks, the rudder, all the moving parts. He had already been up in the air earlier that morning, so the machine was checked and tip-top. Without much delay, we were loading Marcus into the back seat, adjusting his headset, and then it was my turn to squeeze my much larger self in beside the child. We buckled up, waited for Todd to climb in and do the same, and then watched Gary go through his checklist and start 'er up.

You taxi just like any other plane... but you feel everything. And you can see the birds that have built nests in the shelter of the runway lights and signs, because you're pretty much on the same level as those birds. You begin moving and speed up just like on a commercial flight, but it doesn't take nearly as much time or speed to lift up into the sky. I was amazed at how quickly we were zooming above the trees. The whole thing was honestly sort of surreal, from the climbing-in moment to the perfect landing. Looking out the window was akin to looking at simulation screens, in that I couldn't quite grasp that we were, indeed, flying over the mall, downtown, stadiums and rivers. It was insane, and great, and scary, and nauseating at the same time. (I forgot to buy Dramamine. I kept the birthday secret, the kid kept the secret, but I forgot to buy motion sickness pills. Don't worry, though—I'm the only one who needs them.)

We all survived. I'm glad I went. It was definitely out of my comfort zone, but Todd loved it and Marcus did too. And I enjoyed it, honestly, except for the last ten minutes when I had to stare at my own thigh to fend off barfing. But other than that, it was awesome. Mostly, I just felt a teensy bit proud of myself, as I climbed out of the plane and hunkered down with head between knees. This little foray into the near sky was not easy for me, as you might have guessed. No regrets, though. (Of course there are no regrets; I'm still here to tell the story.) It was a fun way for our family to ring in Todd's 40th, to round out the summer, to celebrate a glorious August day, and to try something challenging and different.

Still? If it never happens again, I'd be okay with that, too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Grande dame of the chlorinated world

In a mildly frenzied attempt to fit in all the activities we'd wanted to try before summer's end, we've been doing some running around in the past couple of weeks. Trips to fairs, museums, theaters, and water parks have all occurred here recently. One of the unexpected highlights, for me at least, was a recent afternoon at North Park Pool.

Now, North Park is huge, and I've canoed on the lake and taken walks and attended various picnics and parties there. But until last weekend, I'd never visited the pool. We simply live too close to our local pool to justify driving the extra 5 or 10 minutes to that old northern behemoth. However, after our last trip to the nearby pool, Marcus declared it too "splashy" (translation: too overpopulated with mostly older kids who kicked, jumped, and otherwise disturbed his watery revery). I'd read about the monstrous North Park pool and wanted to check it out.

I called on Saturday at lunchtime for prices and hours, and found out from the recording that the pool would be closing in just two days because they simply could not keep it staffed adequately beyond that very weekend. We panicked, threw sunscreen and drinking water into the trusty beach bag, and headed north. That day, the pool's next-to-last day, was our only chance to go this season since we'd been gifted with baseball tickets for the following Sunday afternoon.

The vast pool parking lot alone is impressive; it has to cover 4 or 5 acres, or I've lost my spatial gauge altogether. We found a spot with ease, locked my ancient vehicle, and carried our goods to the window to pay admission. Following the signs led us through the women's shower and locker rooms (the only way to reach the pool). Those spaces, too, were unbelievably large—I stepped into more than one wrong passageway before finally finding my pathetic way, kid in tow, and emerging into warm sunshine.

The view hit me immediately. Both restrooms exit onto a huge concrete patio, the largest I've ever seen. Gigantic welcoming steps lead down to the pool, which is surprisingly enormous. The boy and I carefully descended those steps, going toward the separate baby pool which is also immense. We found a spot on the grass in between baby and "big" pools, spread our blanket, and hit the water. (No plastic adjustable chaise lounges here—this is old school, people.)

There was no danger whatsoever of splashy kids. The shallow end stretches for what seems like miles; any trouble is easily visible from some distance away. It was a cinch to avoid the few bigger boys who'd rented large, yellow tubes on which to float (and to upset from underneath unsuspecting buddies). The space along the wall, normally coveted areas of moms and small kids everywhere, was so ridiculously available that we didn't even feel the need to linger there. The water was perfect, not too warm but warm enough; we could look down to the other end and watch kids zip out of the big slide, observe others jumping into a deep end that was flocked on both sides by solid, red brick bleachers. Those babies weren't going anywhere. There must have been swim competitions here back in the day—perhaps there still are, for all I know.

When we headed up to the snack bar for goodies, peering inside revealed how it was also absolutely huge. The choices were limited; the management was trying to unload all the current stuff and hadn't ordered anything new in light of the next-day closing. We got some fries and I asked about taking them to our blanket. The young girl who served us explained that no food was permitted off of the veranda.

Yes, the veranda. I noticed the same message on a sign posted near the snack window. Now, I ask you: how many pools have you visited that have a veranda? Heck, how many homes have you visited with a veranda? My answer is none. Unless you count Fallingwater. But I didn't know those people, and it's not a home these days. So.

While we sat at one of the many picnic tables, I read bits from an old plague posted on a large brick wall that keeps snackers from tumbling down to the level of the pool far below. Apparently, this lovely, impressive place was dedicated in 1936. Probably a WPA undertaking, although I couldn't confirm it. The official title those days was "Allegheny County Swimming Pool," according to a separate but also ancient plague. I looked down from the massive veranda at the thousands of gallons of wet, at the very stable brick bleachers at the far end, at the expanse of grass on all sides of water, and I imagined what it must have been like when it opened. People streaming in wearing more modest swimsuits, throngs of ladies donning their gear in that mammoth dressing room. I wondered what sorts of snacks they served in the 30s. I pondered what the admission would have been, how long it must have taken many pool-goers to drive in temperamental automobiles on back road after back road. I tried to imagine the fellows, impressing the gals with silly dives and stunts, just like nowadays, yet more innocent—or at least that's how I pictured it. I longed momentarily for olden days, when just going to a pool was enough, when a shimmering rectangle of water was a day's vacation in and of itself.

And then I realized that it's still enough. I breathed a deep breath, stole one of the last fries from my son, and we wiped greasy fingers before tossing the evidence and lazily sauntering down to our blanket once more.

The swimming pool—or should I say, this swimming pool—will suffice quite nicely. It's still every bit as appealing as it was on opening day, because a true grande dame maintains her charm, even when her dew has gone.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bright spots

To make up for the vitriolic ire of some of my recent posts, here are two really uplifting websites—both of them the brainchildren of kindhearted people. I'm so inspired when I see fellow humans choose to do something generous and thoughtful instead of taking the far easier path of selfishness and loathing.

(Once again, stupid Blogger is not allowing me to insert live links...!!?? Sorry about the inconvenience.)

I just read about this gal in the newspaper:

And this is one I've known about for awhile, thanks to a great blog I read sometimes (if you're a crafter, take note):

Hope they make your day better!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

See that jar?

Full of blood, that's what.

Well, figuratively speaking, of course. It may or may not also contain some sweat or tears. (Have you ever noticed that if you combine sweat and tears, you get swears? A coincidence? I think not.)

I believe I may have spoken before on this site of my and my husband's very diverse work styles (here and here to be specific), and how said diversities affect our marriage. Well, we canned some tomato sauce recently, and it amplified those differences.

I had already canned some things in the past few weeks, and perhaps I was a bit canned out. He was eager to use all the tomatoes he'd grown, but perhaps not so eager to actually embark on chopping, measuring, cooking, and processing after an already long day. Perhaps he gets tired of taking orders, and perhaps, just perhaps, I'm not too good at taking them either. (I've been told that I'm not a good support player. I can't deny it. But I'm not to blame: you see, I'm no good at switching roles. If I must manage some places, I end up trying to manage in all places. If I see inefficiency and incorrectness, I must speak. So call me a manager. I've been called far worse.)

Anyway, we plowed through a huge vat of tomatoes. I stayed away for awhile, having been ordered from the kitchen at one point early in the procedure, but then I got sucked back in like a Ball canning lid, and ended up cleaning most of the mess (which usually happens, and might just be the reason I try to stay out of these events).

All I know is that a big bunch of tomatoes were reduced to a much smaller pile of guts and seeds, and an unimpressive amount of canned sauce...and that I have ever-growing respect for the true pioneers who had to do this sort of work along with a slew of other, tougher assignments just to garner enough food and fuel to survive a winter. All that so they could work their hind ends off again come spring, likely while caring for and/or expecting children. They were a hardier strain of beings, I think; one old diary my father has tells of some frontier gal who "was delivered of a son in the morning and then prepared dinner later that day." Can you imagine? I guess all the weaklings died in childbirth; based on my labor experience, that would likely have been my lot—Todd would've been out shopping for someone younger and healthier within a season or two, because he'd have needed a crew of workers.

But I digress. I'm done canning for awhile. I'll eat the veggies fresh, fried, grilled, boiled, sautéed, whatever, but I'm not dragging that mammoth pot out again until at least September. I hope all the work will be worth it when we break this stuff out in winter. If nothing else, it was a good reminder for my poor, naive husband, who clings to a confused belief that he and I can somehow work together on projects from home. As a team. Us. Hmmmmmm.

Signing off.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Medication of the young, unformed masses

I found out recently that a young child we know is now being medicated for an attention deficit issue.

I really object to that. Medication in anyone under the age of at least 12 should, in my uninformed opinion, be an absolute last resort. We don't know the long-term effects of this stuff. It's still very much being studied. The results down the road are a mystery. Meds can change a child's personality completely; they're far too available to kids today, and they're being pushed by everyone from school officials to therapists to counselors to doctors. Medicine in general seems to be pushed. I've already touched on that issue here; I am pretty positive that advertising any medication, period, is wrong—let alone advertising in family magazines for childrens' meds. Sick. In a bad way.

There are ways around attention deficits. Here's a thought: turn off the tube. Yep, it does not help. Super-short commercials, fast-paced and brightly colored cartoons, eye-popping special effects set to the tune of booming soundtracks... None of those things will help your child learn to focus and concentrate better. The real world does not even remotely resemble Sesame Street, nor a video game.

Even if there is a genuine learning disability present, I am honestly pretty certain that any of those problems would be lessened if the parent(s) involved would give a better example of how to slow down and think about something instead of buying some new distraction. For the kid or the parent? It doesn't matter, honestly. The lesson is internalized equally by both. Sad? Bored? Feeling unappreciated? Buy something new! Waste money on a temporary pleasure! Which, truly, seems to be what medicine has become: a new distraction, a temporary escape from the reality.

There are teaching methods devoted to helping kids learn how to train their brains. The first lesson that would help, though, is simple discipline. Do a chore, even if you don't want to. Go to bed on time, and get up at a decent hour—the same hour each day. Eat meals at roughly the same times each day. And oh, by the way, if the food is prepared at home, and eaten at a table with the family, that might help. Oops, there goes that whole "setting a good example" problem... because we're all so stinkin' busy keeping up with technology and cars and toys that we don't have time to cook and eat together, do we? It's so uncool.

When we medicate children who, for the most part, need to be told "No" and have a few boundaries established, we are doing those children a huge disservice. We are training them up in the American Way: take pills if life isn't easy. Don't try to forge a better path, don't try to alter lazy behaviors, don't change anything—just get a pill and take it until you feel better. There will always be a new pill, right? Why should we seek a long-lasting, permanent fix for our problems? Just pop a capsule and go distract yourself with meaningless diversions.

Even better if the child carries that lesson into adulthood, because when this same method is employed by grown-ups, there are far more profits. In a recent talk with a relative, she informed me that most of her comfortable, well-to-do friends are popping some sort of anti-depressant; she, alone, is the unmedicated one. What is wrong with this picture? Is self-medication the only way our spoiled, overly comfortable culture can stand itself? Is this the answer instead of work, self-control, and humility?

There are very few days anymore when I don't daydream about leaving the whole mess and going to hide in the mountains. I know there would still be problems. Still, I think I'd prefer problems that can be solved by effort, common sense, and faith. I know there are some exceptions to the rule, some genuine cases where medication can really change the life of a child, or an adult, with a serious issue that impedes his or her ability to function. However, I stand firm in my belief that we've brought many of these problems on ourselves. The kid and I went to the public library today, and that visit pretty much underlined my concern about today's lackluster parents and their unwillingness to lay down rules and consequences for their kids. The children ran wild, yelled, threw things, stepped on books instead of reading them*, and there sat the moms and dads, on their overweight cans, offering lukewarm disciplinary suggestions from a distance instead of kicking backsides as needed. That would have been too much trouble, you see: real parenting requires relentless effort, paying attention, and self-discipline. That isn't going to happen.

I ponder the start of kindergarten in a few weeks. I pray it will look different from today's scene at the library. But in my heart, I know; those same kids, those same parents, will likely bring about many of those same pathetic results. Why are we so afraid of our children? Of saying no? Of cracking down? Why?

And when will people realize that pills will never take the proper place of parenting?

* The really sad part is that every time my boy and I sit and actually read a book in the library, at least one other child wanders over and peers over our shoulders, listening in, stealing the book experience. How sad is that? In a library, home of the "libre," no one is actually reading books. What the hell is going on here?