Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Enough

I recently read the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. The authors spend a good portion of the book discussing the idea of enough in terms of material possessions.

That's because there is a phenomenon economists refer to as hedonic adaptation: basically, the sheen comes off of any new experience or material item, which means we easily adapt to any betterment in our circumstances (or worsening, for that matter.) This is why it feels awesome to drive your new car off the lot, but your delight in your car generally fades sooner than the new car scent.

I love the idea of determining my enough point, as Robin and Dominguez suggest. I want to have enough to be comfortable and contented--and I want to leave anything more than that unbought/uncollected/unexperienced/uncluttering-up-my-house. It's an excellent way to live without waste or guilt.

But I've been thinking about enough in another context, as well.

You see, since my dad passed away, I've been thinking more about what happens after we die. I'm a pretty stubborn and hard-headed rationalist, and I simply cannot make myself believe that there is any kind of survival after death. It does not fit with my world view to believe that a sense of self can survive the death of our bodies.

In normal life, this is not anything I spend any amount of time thinking about. It just is, there in the back of my head. I agree with Roger Ebert: "I do not fear [death], because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state."

Several times after I have lost someone I loved, I actually thought of death as a kind of gift--a kind of contented oblivion that ended my loved one's pain.

But Dad is different. I miss him. I miss him like hell. I wish I could believe that I will see him again someday--but I just can't believe it.

So I was turning this over in my head, along with Your Money or Your Life's idea of enough when the answer hit me: if you live so that your life is enough, it doesn't matter what comes after. You have enjoyed enough.

That realization was incredibly comforting. I can certainly live so that I enjoy every drop of the life I'm granted. Squeeze out the joy and the wonderment, take the time to snuggle and run and pursue my passions, and love whole-heartedly and completely. Enough is within my grasp, no matter how many or how few years I get to spend on this earth.

But even though I draw comfort from the idea of getting enough in my own life, it still seems like my dad got cheated out of his enough. He didn't get to meet BB. His granddaughter, my niece Little Cousin, will not remember him. LO, his eldest grandchild, will only have hazy memories of his Grandpa. When Dad was diagnosed with the glioma that took him from us, he told me that he just wanted to live long enough so that LO would remember him. His life wasn't enough.

And when I think about the long, wonderful lives in front of LO and BB, and about J, I want more than enough for them. I want abundance and overwhelming joy. I want their cups to spill over.

Sometimes, I find myself on a thought merry-go-round, where my worries spin round and round, with no relief in sight. Why did I have this epiphany about living your life as if it's enough if I am still hurting over what's not enough for those I love?

An important realization crept up me during all of this wheel spinning. It wasn't like my sudden enough epiphany. It came slowly, as I thought about the people I've lost and the people we've all lost:
I don't get to decide what is enough for anyone but myself.
And with that understanding, I was relieved of the worry. I don't know if Dad got enough. Only he knew. I don't know if my boys and my husband and my family will have enough. That is up to them.

All I can do is worry about my own enough and hope that it will help to show them the way.
These guys are definitely enough. More than.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I've Failed as a Second Child Parent of a Second Child

I am the second of two, which means there are very few pictures of me prior to preschool, at which point people other than my parents were in charge of recording my childhood.

Now, to be fair to my parents, there aren't a whole heckuva lot of pictures of my older sister, either, but they definitely outnumber pictures of me.

As the second of two, I am very sensitive to any feelings BB might have about being an also-ran. Though I knew that I was absolutely loved and adored by my parents, there are certain aspects of coming second that can rankle when one is a child.

Despite this knowledge, I seem to have already muffed it.

For instance, as you might be aware, yesterday was BB's first birthday.

We have a tradition with LO where I take a picture of him every year on his birthday at the exact moment when he was born. This tradition started because I happened to be up at 6 a.m. on LO's first birthday, and I love the idea of having a whole collage of these photos.

The trouble is that LO was born early in the morning, and I tend to be an early rising type to begin with.

BB, on the other hand, decided to make his entrance at 13 minutes to midnight on Friday the 13th of September, 2013. He gets extra credit for flair, but minus points for arriving at a time of day during which I am pretty much never awake.

See if you can notice a difference in the quality of LO and BB's first birthday "time-of-birth" photos:
6:17 a.m. on August 31, 2011
11:47 p.m. on September 13, 2014
Other than the fact that LO's picture looks like it could have been taken by Annie Leibovitz and BB's looks like a still from a poorly lit "found footage" film, there are further differences. For one, I have about five photos of LO that I took during the minute between 6:17 and 6:18 that first year, whereas I snapped two hasty pictures of BB with my phone last night and crawled back to bed without even looking at them.

Of course, my photographic failure is not my only BB birthday misstep. There is also the issue of cake. When LO turned one, he got a mini layer cake on the day of his actual birth, and then he got a smash cake/giant cupcake on the day of his birthday party.


LO and BB celebrated with a shared birthday party last Sunday, meaning BB did enjoy his smash cake (and he got to eat it/smear it in his hair, too).
However, I somehow made no plans for a birthday treat for his actual natal day. (Since I am not to be trusted with cake in the house, we took LO out for ice cream on his birthday day, and I simply did not think about what we would do for BB's birthday.)

Last night, upon realizing that I really could not let the child have an actual first birthday without something sugary and delicious, I decided to make brownies.

Then I realized I was out of eggs.

No matter, I found this recipe which would allow me to create a chocolate masterpiece of brownie deliciousness with no need for unborn chickens.

Then I realized I was out of flour.

Okay, I figured this was why g-d invented food processors, and I pulverized some oatmeal into oat flour.

Then I realized I was out of vanilla extract.

This is the point at which a lesser mom would give up and just stick a candle in some applesauce and call it done. Since I was also out of applesauce, I soldiered on. (And apparently maple syrup is an excellent substitute for vanilla extract.)

So, a good 45 minutes after BB should have been in bed, we were able to give him his birthday treat of more-substitutions-than-you-can-shake-a-stick-at brownies, which he enjoyed immensely, even though he kept trying to "drink" it out of the bowl we served it to him in.

(In case you're wondering, we got no pictures of that.)

Happy birthday, BB! I hope you know that I'll always be willing to fake/make some brownies for you, even if I never get the photographic evidence your brother enjoyed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thank Heaven for Engineers

Specifically, my engineer, J.

Yesterday, I found myself repeatedly whipped up into a froth over the situation in Ferguson. Even though I do not usually watch the news, I found myself transfixed by coverage of Ferguson when I turned on the television to put on an episode of The Wiggles for the kids.

One tidbit that the news decided to report on was the racial divide in how Americans view what happened to Mike Brown. Apparently, 57% of blacks believe that Officer Darren Wilson is guilty of murder, while only 17% of whites do.

This set me off. I was horrified. How could 83% of whites look at the facts and not come to the conclusion that Mike Brown was murdered?

I mentioned this information to J. His immediate response was so straight to the point and rational that I wondered what the hell was wrong with me.

"How can anyone have an opinion on whether the officer is guilty of murder," he asked, "since no one knows all the facts yet and there has been no trial?"

Thank you, J.

You're right. There may be a court of public opinion in our 24-hour news cycle, but here in America we give everyone his day in court. My white-hot anger at this situation has made me irrational and made me forget the fact that I don't know exactly what happened and that Officer Wilson does have the right to defend himself in front of a jury of his peers.

Thank heaven for the engineers and economists and lawyers and others who are able to look dispassionately at the situation and recognize that their emotions are not the same as facts.

Without that kind of dispassion, there is no way forward.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thinking About Ferguson, MO

Photo courtesy of Loavesofbread
I am a white woman, and I do not know what to do or what to say about Ferguson, Missouri.

My heart is broken for the young man who was shot to death in the street. (Yes, I know that he allegedly stole from a convenience store and pushed over a clerk who was half his size. I frankly don't give a shit. Death is not an appropriate punishment for theft--or even robbery--and no punishment should ever be meted out by the police. It is not their job.)

There is a divide between black America and white America, and no matter how sympathetic I am, I cannot ever understand what it is like to be afraid that my sons might be shot by police. I do not have to coach my boys on how to safely handle interactions with police officers.

In a lot of ways, I feel like this gives me very little to say. As a woman and a feminist, I do know how frustrating it can be when well-intentioned men swoop in and try to talk about women's issues. Though they truly do want to understand and help, there is a sense of "Be quiet now, ladies, the mens are talking and will take care of that little issue for you." The line between meaningful support and being patronizing is so very easy to cross unknowingly.

I have no doubt that there is a similar line when well-meaning white folks want to understand and help the black community when it is hurting. That's why I try very hard to keep quiet about issues of race, since I understand that I don't know and will never know what it is really like.

The problem with keeping quiet, however, is that it can lead to inaction. Yes, I sign petitions and tweet (a little bit) and try to talk to my son about issues of race in good NurtureShock fashion. But mostly, I am glad that I don't have to worry about my sons and I am so glad that they will inherit an easy, privileged, white American life.

In the deep, dark heart of me, I am relieved that I can consider Mike Brown and the issue of injustice in America not my problem.

I am ashamed of these feelings.

And the thing is, no matter what I tell myself, Mike Brown's death is my problem. I am an American, and I am part of the problem with race in America unless and until I become part of the solution.

I'm not sure what that solution looks like. I just know that I have to get over my fear of speaking up--because, make no mistake, I am afraid. I'm afraid of sounding clueless and angering people and drawing the attention and ire of racists. But none of those things I fear compare with the fear of losing a child to violence. Nothing can compare with the heartbreak of seeing your son's body lying on the street for hours. I tell myself that I don't speak up because I don't want to make such tragedies be about me, but my real reason for not speaking up is all about me.

I hope that others who feel as I do will start to speak up, as well. I hope we can add our voices to the ones that are already raised in protest, and we can enact meaningful change. I hope that fifty years from now, we will not still have to protest this shit.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thank You, Robin Williams

Image courtesy of Darsie
Every night at bedtime, I tell LO the things I am grateful for. He and his brother and his daddy are always at the top of the list.

Last night, I told LO that I was grateful for a man named Robin Williams.

I know that LO had no idea what I was talking about. He was wondering why I was sad last night and asked me a couple of times if my head was okay. (Since I had a headache last week, that's his go-to question.)

The reality of it is that I am mourning a man I never met. And even though I have seen an inordinate amount of his work (I keep recalling other movies and appearances that I had forgotten about), I never actually knew this man, either. It seems likely that very few people knew him, even among his intimates.

But Robin Williams was not just an actor and a comedian in the background of my life, and the lives of so many of his fans. He was the hub of a circle that reached out and connected a great many people.

I can remember watching Dead Poets' Society with my father and discussing the ending with him. Dad had thought it was the lovesick Knox Overstreet who might cause the teacher's downfall, but knew it would either be him or Neil Perry that would bring it about. As a 10-year-old, I had no idea that the movie was headed in that direction. That conversation with Dad helped me realize that my father really and truly understood movies and stories and that I wanted to have that kind of understanding of story tropes, myself.

My sister and I went to see Aladdin together in the theater, and we talked afterward about how we needed to see it again because we were laughing so hard at Williams's genie that we missed other jokes. I think of that time, when Tracie was still in high school but old enough to drive us around, as the halcyon days of our relationship. The friendship has lasted, but after she left for college in 1994, we would never live in the same house again and be able to drop everything and go see a funny movie together. We didn't need Robin Williams to bring us together, but for that particular afternoon, he did.

It wasn't until after watching What Dreams May Come that I finally sought out Richard Matheson's work. I had been meaning to read him ever since I learned what an influence he was on Stephen King, but it was Robin Williams's incredible performance as a man discovering heaven with his children and rescuing his wife from hell that finally made me read through Matheson's entire collection. I found Matheson to be incredibly and obliviously misogynistic, but I have no doubt that he and Stephen King and many of Williams's movies have had an influence on my writing.

And it was a short, sweet (and kind of racist) moment in What Dreams May Come that affects my parenting to this day, even though I was 12 years away from motherhood when I saw the film. Williams's character meets a beautiful Asian woman named Leona, whom he comes to recognize as his daughter. She reminds him that he once remarked upon the beauty, grace, and intelligence of Asian women, and she decided she wanted to be like that when she grew up.

 
That movie moment has stayed with me for years because it helps me to remember that you never know what your child is soaking up from you, and so you should always strive to be the parent you want your children to remember.

So Robin Williams connected me to my sons, even though they have never seen a single one of his films.

Everywhere I look back over my 35 years, Robin Williams is there in some form. From the Mork & Mindy reruns I used to watch after school to the films I watched with my family and friends to the stand up routines I sought out in my teens because I so loved comedy. And I am just one individual to whom he brought laughter and entertainment.

I am sad that he is gone, and sadder still that he was so depressed.

But I am also grateful. I am grateful for his humor, his manic energy, his lovely/sad/funny/thought-provoking movies, and the way he weaved himself through the fabric of my life, and the lives of so many other people. I just wish we could have had him for longer.

Thank you, Mr. Williams. Thank you for sharing your talent with all of us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I'm Clearly Unqualified For This Position

This morning, BB decided to crawl into the bathroom with me. Since I am a member of the over-connected generation, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone. That's why it took me a second to realize that the sound I was hearing was splashing.

Let me back up. BB has reached the age wherein splashing liquid is a major form of entertainment. Most days will find the dog's water bowl spilled over the floor and a drenched and unrepentant BB sitting in the puddle with a shit-eating grin on his face. (And, as you will see, that particular metaphor has now taken on horrifying implications.)

Though BB's big brother LO has reached an age and a height wherein he can basically reach the actual toilet unassisted, he still likes using the little potty. It's *his.*

This morning, LO had made his usual deposit of micturition upon waking. I had not yet emptied the potty.

You see where this is going. Let us now return to the splashing sound I was hearing.

The second I realized what I was going on, I paused my own constitutional and immediately threw the child into the bathtub and turned on the water full force. BB was wearing nothing but a diaper at the time, which I unfastened but otherwise left on. I figured I could get him out of the diaper and clean him up once I had completed my own bathroom errand.

I was washing my hands preparatory to beginning the process of de-grossifying my child when I saw something horrifying. The diaper had filled with liquid and drifted away from the child, revealing the fact that BB had beshat it at some point. The tub was rapidly filling with floating turds. Which BB was reaching for, fascinated.

I screamed at him to stop, and got him out of the tub and into the sink before anything happened that both BB and I would be in therapy about for the next 30 years.

Thankfully, that ended the elimination portion of our morning's entertainment.

I scrubbed BB from stem to stern in the sink, and was pleased to see him reaching for the bar of soap on the counter.

Once the child was clean (although there's a part of me that worries he may be forever unclean), I rediapered him and got to work setting fire to the bathroom and putting the house on the market bleaching the bathroom within an inch of its life.

I fished the diaper out of the tub and put it in a garbage bag.

BB reached for the diaper.

I put it out of his reach.

Turd-cleaning the tub progressed with bleach and paper towels.

BB reached for the begrimed paper towels.

I started wondering if there was something seriously wrong with my poop-fascinated child as I put the paper towels out of his reach.

Once the tub was clean(er), I emptied LO's potty and bleached it, despite the fact that urine is sterile to begin with. Having already learned that BB's gross-meter is out of whack, I did this as far out of his reach as possible. BB looked disappointed.

Finally, everything was as clean as better-living-through-chemistry can ensure (although I did wish I knew where to find a flame-thrower), and BB and I are now relaxing in the living room, where, as far as I know, there is no shit for him to play with.

It's only 8:30, but I think I need to go back to bed.
"What? It's just a potato. Get your mind out of the gutter."