Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Write your own story

I have a particular fondness for no.4

Unexplained photos

Cat circus

My cats are not trained to do any tricks. They go to the bathroom in one designated spot; that is the only trick I ever require a cat to perform.
Prudence has a new game where she runs out the dog door to the back yard like she has somewhere urgent to be, then bolts to my bedroom sliding glass door and cries pitifully to be let in the house. If I let her in she acts as if I saved her life and is very affectionate and makes happy noises for about five minutes. Then she tears off running to the kitchen all of a sudden, and runs out the dog door into the back yard, then heads directly to my sliding glass door.... I did not train her to do this brilliant stunt. But she has me trained to leave the sliding door in my room open most of the time now. When the door is open, she will run to it and plop down outside, facing into my room and stare into the house. After about ten minutes she will come through the door, turn around and lay down facing outside and watch the back yard for another ten minutes. She will alternate these positions until it's time to run the loop through the house again.
I'm pretty sure my cat is a genius.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oldies but goodies

I've shared this before but I love it so I'm posting it here.

Do you have a balloon?

All The World Is Green

I fell into the ocean
When you became my wife
I risked it all aganist the sea
To have a better life
Marie you're the wild blue sky
And men do foolish things
You turn kings into beggars
And beggars into kings

Pretend that you owe me nothing
And all the world is green
We can bring back the old days again
And all the world is green

The face forgives the mirror
The worm forgives the plow
The questions begs the answer
Can you forgive me somehow
Maybe when our story's over
We'll go where it's always spring
The band is playing our song again
And all the world is green

Pretend that you owe me nothing
And all the world is green
We can bring back the old days again
And all the world is green

The moon is yellow silver
Oh the things that summer brings
It's a love you'd kill for
And all the world is green

He is balancing a diamond
On a blade of grass
The dew will settle on our graves
When all the world is green

-Tom Waits

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kids with cameras

Under the gun

For A's 18th birthday, I took her to get what she calls her "first" tattoo. I would like it if it were her only tattoo, but that's her decision to make. And if she does get more, I will probably end up liking them. I just don't want her rushing out to get them all while she is so young. Several of her friends have four or more tattoos and they are not 19 years old yet. I know it is a part of our popular culture right now. And in general I don't dislike tattoos. In fact, I appreciate the artwork and creativity of many of them.
So if I don't want A to be the tattooed lady by the time she is 18 1/2, then why take her on her birthday to get a tattoo? A laughed and told one person, "if you know my mom, you know this was a long, planned out process. Not just some impulsive thing!" I do have the tendency to be impulsive, but not when it comes to something like this with my child.
A has been telling me quite regularly for the past two years that she wants to get various tattoos when she turns 18. Many were cool or creative and even thoughtful, but I just kept telling her it's a bad idea. 18 is too young to make that call. I can't tell her no, but I can give her my opinion, and my opinion is that is not a wise thing to do. A week before her birthday she asked me again, but this time she asked me to get her the tattoo for her birthday as a gift. Again I laughed and said no. But this time I said it knowing she was a week away and a dollar short of being able to go with her friends and do it herself. So I heard her out. She wanted to get a roman numeral 17 on her arm for her cousin Josie who died at age 17. This was not the first time she had talked about doing that. I told her we could discuss it. "Write me an essay making your case for this tattoo. Tell me why and where you want it." And so our conversation began.
Before I got her essay I wrote to her and told her that while I love the idea of a memorial to Josie, I don't believe in tattoos to simply commemorate bad things. There are physical souvenirs for that. The program from her funeral, the pink ribbon she wore in Josie's memory, the photographs and cards she has saved. Sad experiences are important. They can be life-altering. They inform your perspective on the world and can play a big part in making you who you are. But the tribute to those hard times is how you handle them; who they help you to be. How can you move on from them or grow from them if you are constantly reminded by a permanent symbol of that sadness you have tattooed on your skin? So while I think it's beautiful to honor her, what will that tattoo mean?
A responded to me with her essay, which was beautifully written. She outlined the reasons that the tattoo is a celebration of life. How it would remind her to appreciate the life she has because she is lucky to be alive. She wrote about what she learned from Josie's short life and sudden death. She brought up many of the things we had discussed when Josie died, and they are all lessons I know she has taken to heart and lived by since the day Josie died. It was thoughtful and very insightful.
She also wrote about the placement of the tattoo. Originally she wanted it on her forearm. But then she realized that whenever someone asks, "What is that tattoo for?" and she says "My cousin who died," the response will be "Oh, I'm sorry." She didn't want it to be a pity tattoo or something sad. So she decided to put it under her heart in a place where she can keep it personal, but still easily share it when she chooses to.
After reading her essay and discussing it with her further, I decided I would get her the tattoo for her birthday. It's what she wanted, and I was happy that she chose to include me. She didn't have to, and I am fully aware of that.
The day after her birthday we were at Grandma's house and I heard someone ask her about the tattoo. That was when she called it her "first." She responded that she will involve me again when she plans future tattoos, because she likes how much thought I helped her put into it. She said she developed an appreciation for the process, instead of just focusing on the thrill of the outcome.
I want to help A develop her decision making skills as a new adult, and I want her to feel respected by me. I'm proud of her. And Josie would be, too.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lucky me

Today my older daughter turned 18 years old. What a wonderful 18 years it has been.

Friday, March 11, 2011

upon a star

My parents are the two most generous people I know. Which made me very comfortable taking, when I was younger. Although I think most young people are. I thank the example my parents set for helping me outgrow that phase and perspective in life.
One of my all-time favorite books is The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. I used to get so mad at the boy when I read it, because he just took and took. I wanted the tree to stop giving herself away and ask for something, instead of giving everything. Or say "no." Even though it frustrated me, I love that book. At different times in my life I have been the boy, and I have been the tree. I think you have it right when you strike a balance between the two.
I have a philosophy on wishes. I use my wishes. Birthday candles, shooting stars, 11:11 on the clock. But I believe that wishes will only come true if they are selfless. I know it's superstitious and silly, but I only make wishes for other people because of my belief about how wishes work. The first time I shared this philosophy with someone was a few years ago and he asked me, "What about the things you want for yourself?" I just shrugged and said "I guess if you're doing things right, someone else is using their wishes for you." I hadn't ever thought about that before, but my spontaneous response made sense to me.
The last time I was visiting my dad, the topic of wishes somehow came up. My dad said, "I have a philosophy about wishes." I laughed and told him I do too.
"Want to hear my philosophy?" Asked my dad. I did.
"Whenever I have a wish, like on a wishbone or something," my dad said, "I always wish that the other person's wish will come true."
Thanks Dad. For all the times you've been the tree.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

beach bubbles

Do you hear what I hear

When I was in sixth grade, my school friends and I had a clever way to communicate in class. We did not pass notes under Mr. Flint's watchful eyes. We signed the alphabet to each other instead. We'd spell out messages, our hands hidden at our sides, below our desks, out of the teacher's sight. We would do a slashing movement to indicate a break between words. I can't remember what we had to discuss in sixth grade that couldn't just wait until recess, but I remember signing things like m-e-e-t/m-e/b-y/t-h-e/t-r-e-e. We did it so much that I could write with my right hand while I signed important messages to friends with my left. I would subconsciously sign while I was talking sometimes, as well.
At that time I wanted to be my new best friend, Shannon Weaver. She was perfect. She was pretty, she took ballet. She played the flute. She had a pink bedroom with a theme and matching everything. Curtains and bedding and wall paper border with ballet pointe shoes on it. Her little brother was cute and they playfully teased each other. Her parents were still married, and at her birthday party they came into the living room and did swing dancing in front of all of us. Shannon was lucky enough to be embarrassed; I knew she took her wonderful life for granted. When my mom's best friend got pregnant, I suggested "Shannon Marie" for a name. I thought it was beautiful, just like Shannon herself.
The one thing that Shannon did that I could do with her was choir. It was free through the school, and I could even go with her. I asked my mom and she said yes. I was thrilled. That was the last time I can remember being thrilled about having to be at school an hour early.
That year we had just moved to Fresno from Michigan, so in the mornings my throat was froggy. I was not accustomed to the valley smog. On my first day of choir, I had to keep clearing my throat. Great for singing, I thought. We walked into the choir room and Shannon introduced me to the choir teacher. I forget his name. He smiled and shook my hand and asked me what my name was. My voice came out in a small croak and I said "Rachel." He kept shaking my hand and asked me again. I said "Rachel" again, still barely able to get my voice out, and this time my left hand came up and signed R-a-c-h-e-l. I took my hand out of his and pointed to my throat, and cleared it. I was mortified at this awkward meeting. The teacher watched me sign my name and then gave me a huge smile. He bent forward to be closer to my height and said very clearly, "Welcome.... Rachel!" It's... nice... to... meet... you. Would... you... like... to... stand... by ... Shannon?"
Would I ever! What a nice guy! I turned and followed Shannon to her spot and thought how great it was to be part of her world. Shannon's place to stand in the singing arrangement was on the teacher's far left, as he faced us, right in front. I stood next to her and learned "Big Rock Candy Mountain." He passed out the lyrics on mimeographed pages and I followed along quietly, still self conscious about my voice. Whenever I looked up and made eye contact with the teacher, he would open his eyes really wide and lean towards me, moving his mouth in an exaggerated way to enunciate the words while he sang, nodding at me enthusiastically. He was so nice and supportive, I loved this guy. I loved choir!
Between songs, Shannon would talk to me, and I would just nod and listen. I was in awe of this new wonderful life I was having. All because of Shannon. So this is what it's like to be her. I could get used to this. I started thinking about asking my mom if we could paint my room pink, and debated asking for ballet lessons when all of a sudden choir was over. My greatest morning before sixth grade ever. The start to my new awesome life.
The choir teacher came over to say goodbye to me and asked if I had fun. I nodded. he asked if I would be returning with my friend. I nodded again with excitement and a big smile. "Great!" he laughed. "Now, before you go, can you tell me how to say your name?" and he held up his hand in front of me. For a second I thought he was going for an awkward high-five. Then I realized he wanted me to sign it for him. I signed my name and he followed along letter by letter. "I'll practice that, Rachel!" He said with a giant smile and wide eyes, nodding at me encouragingly. I smiled back and walked out to meet Shannon. I wasn't sure what had just happened, but I was pretty sure I had missed something.
And that's how I became the deaf kid in choir.

Monday, March 7, 2011

That's why

We just got back from a great weekend in Los Angeles. Photos are on my facebook. I am not going to post them here anymore, or use the girls names (they can be A and M) because I just want to be more careful on the internet. Nothing happened to me, but someone creepy started bothering me on my last blog. I had photos and I named names there. I abandoned that blog and eventually moved over here to continue blogging. I may occasionally post a link to a private photo on flickr, so if you want to see those photos, just add me as a contact or email me about how to do that. I use facebook more now. Something I used to dislike very much has ended up coming in handy. With the many friends and family I have there, it just makes sense to update it more often. The privacy setting and social capabilities meet my needs the best there.
But I do enjoy telling long winded, pointless stories. Voila; my blog!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Auntie matter

Recently my cousin let me borrow her twin 10-year-old daughters for a weekend at my house. I have been wanting to take them for a weekend for a few years now, so I was thrilled that it finally worked out.
We had all kinds of fun, but some of the best times were when they were at my house in their pajamas, playing with all of the animals, or randomly bursting into song while accompanying themselves with one of the instruments in the living room (guitars, ukuleles, bass guitar, piano), or when they played video games. Guitar Hero and Just Dance were the two favorites, and the twins were a joy to watch play because they attacked every endeavour with 100% heart.
When their mom came for a visit and to pick the girls up, she said, "You know you didn't have to do all of this!" Referring to the shopping trip, night at the movie theater, and ceramics painting activities. I knew I didn't have to. I did it because I wanted to. Because it is my idea of fun. I thought a lot about what my cousin said, and about why I had wanted that visit with the girls (and want more in the future).
The answer was: Jan, Lisa and Julie. My three aunts.
I was lucky to be the first born niece in my family. First child, first grandchild, and first niece. My time as an "only" was brief, but well-spent. My aunts were very involved in my life and very available for me because they were young, and I was the first girl to come along for them to spoil. My Auntie Jan was unmarried, no kids yet. Aunt Lisa was married and had a son, but was still in her teens. My aunt Julie was also young and unmarried, no kids, when I came into her life. The attention they lavished on me made an impression that to this day I still carry with me and incorporate into my own role as an aunt, and even as a mother.
It wasn't because the time they spent with me was over-the-top or excessively expensive. On the contrary. One of my favorite memories was watching Donnie and Marie at Auntie Jan's house, then her giving me a bath and letting me put a wash cloth over my eyes to keep the soap and water out of them while she poured water over my hair. Still, at age 38, I hate having water run over my face when I rinse my hair. I remember thinking Auntie Jan was a genius for that rolled up wash cloth idea. I remember Jan singing to me, and making me food I loved. I typically disliked my mom's cooking when I was little. Not because the food wasn't good, but because I wanted hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, not felafel and tabouleh. All three of my aunts came through in the food department. And that has always been the way to my heart!
My Aunt Lisa used to put her facial masks on me, and give me make-overs. I don't think I needed smoother, younger looking skin at age 4, but I loved every seaweed mask and cold cream she slathered onto me. She pulled up a little stool so I could sit next to her at her vanity while she did my hair and applied under eye cream. She bought me a necklace with an "R" on it, which I promptly lost at a playground while I was swinging. She came over and asked why I was just playing in the sand instead of on the swings and I told her I was looking for my necklace. Instead of getting mad at me, she spent the whole drive home trying to cheer me up. I was cheered. All the silly faces and funny noises she made were just icing on the cake.
When I came into my Aunt Julie's life, I was 5 years old. I took to her right away, and she joined ranks with my other awesome aunts and immediately made me the center of her attention. She made time for just me, to talk to me and ask me about my life and what I liked and cared about. I remember her making eye contact with me when we would talk. Aunt Julie was never too busy to pay attention to me, when it was my time with her. She let me touch everything in her room without warning me not to break anything. She dressed me up in her tiaras and old prom dresses and told me I was beautiful, even without all the fancy stuff.
There were shopping trips at times, and outings. I remember a trip in Aunt Lisa and Uncle Jerry's plane when they flew above the clouds and told me we were in heaven. But the time with all of my aunts that made the biggest impression on me was when they talked to me, and listened to me. They made me feel important and loved, and I have never forgotten that. Those memories have stayed with me as a mother, and as I became an aunt myself. And as much as I have loved being a niece, I absolutely adore being an aunt! It's my turn to do make overs, and listen, and make favorite foods, and laugh at corny jokes and to let them show me how to do things their way. I have all the pets and all the musical instruments and I bake cookies, and I have every craft supply you could ever imagine. I know that I'm a fun Auntie Rachel. I know my biggest influences were Auntie Jan, Aunt Lisa, and Aunt Julie. And my inspiration is the impact their love and joy had on me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rock on

Yesterday I lost my car key. Not my whole key chain full of keys. That would have been much easier to find. Just the one car key. It was alone because I had just picked up my car from the body shop the day before, and I had not yet returned it to it's home with the family of keys on my Snoopy key chain.
My car was in the body shop because for my 38th birthday someone tried to surprise me by stealing my car. They failed, however, and instead surprised me by breaking my lock and tearing apart my ignition. So I decided to go ahead and start parking in my garage again, like I used to. Late Tuesday night I went out to the driveway and moved my car in. I pocketed my key (ding!) and after closing the garage door, I rearranged the cat food and cat boxes to make it a better fit. I came in the house through the garage instead of the front door (here is where I bungled the whole bit- take me off my routine and it all goes to pot), and kicked off my shoes then headed to wash my hands and put on pajamas. I took off my sweatshirt and threw it on my office chair and got ready for bed.
The next morning my key was nowhere to be found. A was beside herself with frustration over having to walk to school. M wasn't speaking to me because it made her late. They walked off together in a huff towards school while I wracked my brain to retrace my steps from the night before. I checked my pockets and they were empty. At close to 2 pm I found my lonely little car key on the floor under my desk. When I tossed my sweatshirt onto the chair, it must have flown out of the pocket. Mystery solved, and shins only slightly bruised from all the kicking myself I did.
While trapped at home I decided to make good use of the time. I cleaned out my bedroom and closet. As in took out everything I own and cleaned it all, and started (but have not yet finished) putting it back in better order. While my room was empty of all but the furniture, I vacuumed and that's when I found my key. Arrrgh.
My bedroom was simple to tidy up. But my closet, my very big closet, is a much bigger chore. I have 5 years of clothes in there, ranging in size from 6 to 12. I will never be a 6 again, so I feel safe giving those jeans to charity. But maybe I will be a 12 again? Better save them. T-shirts and sweaters also needed to be sorted. As well as odds and ends I had stashed here and there on the shelves and in drawers to save. As I have gotten older, I have become wonderfully unsentimental. After saving every single thing that came my way, it feels very freeing not to be so bound to trinkets. It went from being impossible to throw anything away to nearly impossible to keep anything. But just very recently, the pendulum has begun to swing back, and I am finding myself in old thought patterns again. Reasoning with myself to hold on to this or that because just maybe...
Most of my "just maybe's" have to do with the girls. They might want it as a remembrance, or they might appreciate having it someday. And occasionally my "just maybe" has to do with value. Some of my older belongings are now considered "vintage" and if I ever took the time I might find they are worth something. The most crippling "just maybe" of them all is that I might regret giving something up. It happened once recently and it stopped my unsentimental way right in it's tracks.
I have been reading books on childbirth. Childbirth in America, history of childbirth, the technical, the personal narratives, etc. With my first child about to turn 18 years of age, these books have taken me down memory lane. Especially the books of women telling their birth stories. I suddenly remembered the rocking chair I received for my 20th birthday. I was 8 months pregnant. My mom and Michael had purchased it at an unfinished wood furniture store and stained it for me. I put it in A's room, once we had an apartment where she had her own room, with my giant purple pillow my mom had quilted for me when I was in elementary school. Mike and I would sit there when we were rocking Amanda to sleep at night. And then M, when she came along.
Many years later we moved to a tiny house on Vandenberg AFB. The majority of our possessions remained boxed in our garage as the house was too small. We were not allowed to have yard sales on the Air Force base, so the boxes remained unopened in the garage. My rocking chair was in there, as well. No room for it in the house.
When we moved to our current home, we were living off base for the first time in years. I got to open all of those boxes and yard sale all the hundreds and hundreds of clothes and toys and books we had outgrown and stored for all that time. Cue unsentimental-ness. It felt so wonderful to make space in both the garage and the house by letting things go. It was almost an addiction; what else can I sell?? It wasn't for money, as I sold everything for very little, and gave a great deal of it away for free. I just felt very unburdened when I made more and more empty space. "How could I have ever thought this stuff was important to own, when we weren't using it?" I thought. "Other people need this, and I let it sit in boxes. How terrible of me," I reprimanded myself.
When I was having my second or third yard sale after moving here, and I was well on my empty-garage high, a man pointed into my open garage and asked in broken English, "how much for the rocking chair?" I hadn't intended to sell it. But there was no room for it in the house at that time, and his pregnant wife and three toddlers looked like they needed it more than I did. I can't remember what price I told him. I didn't let it go for dirt cheap, but I did make it a price they could afford so I know it wasn't much. I felt a pang of loss, but I thought it was good for me. I should not be so attached to material things. They would use it, whereas I only had it sitting unused in my garage at that point. It was good. A good thing to do.
Now, years later, I feel like my chair is missing. I want to sit in it while I read all of my childbirth books. I look around and all I can see is place after place the chair would fit perfectly.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I have a confession to make.

As much as I enjoyed certain aspects of graduate school, I really did not like the experience of being a graduate student. After so long wishing I could go back and finish school, I finally found myself achieving my dream... and disliking it more and more as each semester went by. At the end, before I quit, I figured out why. My major did a lot of examining of issues and problems. Dissecting them and theorizing about the "why's." But people in my field of study didn't do anything about the problems they uncovered, beyond study, theorize, and teach. I can see the value in that process. However as time went on, I found myself feeling more and more helpless about what I perceive as problems in our society that I want to effect a change upon. I researched and studied, but by my last semester I was so frustrated that I couldn't even complete any of my papers. I was unable to answer the "so what?" question of my research. "So it sucks and it will keep sucking if we don't do more than sit around as academics telling each other how much it sucks" was my only answer. I was very disheartened by the experience of grad school, and left it feeling confused and conflicted. I thought I knew what my goals were before I returned to college. Had they changed?
After taking some time off, I realized that I do still care about the same issues, but I want to be in a position to make change rather than simply theorize about what the problems are. I came to this realization when I decided to just focus my life on doing what I love. I didn't worry about money or long term goals. I simply started involving myself in things I care about. Eventually my path became obvious. The kind of obvious where I don't understand why I didn't see it all along. I'm not going to dwell on that, though. Instead I am just happy that I understand myself better, and what I need to do is more clear to me.
I currently spread my time between tutoring elementary school kids and volunteering at a shelter for battered women and children, and a child abuse awareness group. Between these activities and my family relationships, I began to understand that the work I want to do is encompassed in the field of social work. This was a revelation to me, although it is exactly the part that seems so obvious in hindsight. Beyond that, I have been pursuing jobs with group homes for teens. The one I really want is with a home for pregnant teens. While discussing that with my favorite nurse at a doctor's appointment, I mentioned how much I enjoy being a (non-professional) doula. Nurse Nancy told me she had been involved with a group that provided free doulas to pregnant teens who were alone and needed that support. I can't express how I felt when she was telling me about her experience, but it filled me with a sense of purpose and drive to pursue involvement in exactly that kind of work. I am now registered to complete my doula training in March, and I will begin volunteering my services immediately after. To prepare for my training, I have started re-reading several of my books about childbirth. I was using them for study so I had them on hand, and now they are required reading for my certification. I find myself reading them this time with more enjoyment now that my purpose for reading them has changed. Reading Ina May's Guide To Childbirth continuously brings me to happy tears. Which I take as a sign I am on the right path.
As for grad school, I am going back. Into a different program, though. When I left the communication department, the thought of starting over in a new major was depressing and I felt completely discouraged. Now my sense of excitement about academics has been renewed. I feel like I can make a difference in the world. I want to. And I am ready.