Thursday, April 30, 2015

A note on fashion

I wonder if others feel like they've "aged out" of normal women's clothes?  At some point, I realized there were lots of good movies that, in all likelihood, I would never see again.  I'm starting to think that about garments now.  (I'm looking at you, pencil skirt.)  It's just not going to happen.

The other day, I "owned" the fact that I would only wear one pair of pants.  No matter how many pants tumbled out of the clown car of my closet, I inevitably chose the same (comfortable, dark linen) pair, five days a week.  That brought my Real Pants number to 1.  Probably it was time to buy another, if only so this much-abused pair did not walk off the job in disgust.  For then where would I be?

Like life itself, my work wardrobe is constantly in flux.  Last summer, after sober reflection, I retired the black maternity dress from Target that had been a standby for years.  (No, I was not pregnant when I bought it.)  Paired with a simple cardigan, this flowing, floor-length number made me feel like the priestess of an ancient mystery cult instead of someone sitting in an office researching the statute of limitations.  (Why did I stop wearing that dress, again?) 

Growing up in rural New Mexico, I thought I would one day dress well.  Like living in an overpriced coastal city with a husband who'd gone to prep school, this was a key element of my childish vision of "making it."  Fast forward twenty years, when I rode BART into San Francisco's Financial District every day, surrounded by beautifully-attired people whose shoes alone appeared to cost a fortune.  I could not help but notice that no one paid them, or their clothes, any attention.  As a onetime yokel, I was probably the most impressed -- and even I didn't care. 

These days, I try to strike a balance between comfort and . . . uh . . . trofmoc, which is comfort spelled backwards.  It means "style"!  No, seriously: Just comfort.

With this in mind, I quickly found a wonderful new pair of pants: Made of crinkly black cotton with a drawstring waist, they gave a billowy, vaguely foreign impression, like I had been magically conjured from an old lamp.  Real Pants: 2.

Yet, after ten more minutes in the women's department, my mood began to sour: Why would anyone wear this?  Who would make that?  Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?

Anyway, it was time to go.  As a last-minute impulse buy, I grabbed a summer nightdress --  to replace my gunmetal-grey shift, which calls to mind an escapee from a 1930s women's prison camp. 

Real Pajamas: 1. 

(Image: High-waisted dancing dress with a slit overskirt, by Unknown 1809 artist (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Amazing Amy

"I felt that at the time there was nothing really new, that really represented me or the way I felt so I just really started writing."  -- Amy Winehouse

That girl was brilliant & one of a kind.  Miss her. 

Robot humor

This morning (Sunday), the kids are irritating me a little bit.  I can't understand why I am here, shampooing them and serving them Trader Joe's coffee cake, instead of getting a salon pedicure while reading my latest guilty-pleasure Target novel.  Something has gone awry. 

At times like these, the single mother has to dig deep into her emotional reserves and use her robot voice.

Like annoying-nerd couple Michael and Holly of The Office, my daughter and I sometimes converse in robot voices.  Today (though not always) she started it, getting out of the tub and saying, in an electro-synth voice worthy of an 80's dance song:  "Please get me a towel."

"Affirmative.  Here is your towel."  The words are not important.  In fact, to say something interesting in a robot voice would miss the point.  

This continued into the kids' room ("Please find me some clothes"), where my son was propped in bed, reading the Sunday New York Times playing a video game.  "You two annoying robots," he remarked offhandedly.  "You stupid -- "

 I turned around and machine-gunned him into oblivion.

"Did I mention I was a killer robot?" 

After a moment of surprise, my son thought this was just hilarious.  All of us had a good laugh -- the first all morning between two tiresome children and their cranky mom. 

"If you think something bad about a killer robot," I bleeped, on a roll, "keep it to yourself.  Or it will go poorly for you." 

This seemed to cheer everyone up, and pretty soon we're off to haircuts.  Word.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kicking it old school

So Kate's baby, rumored to be a girl, is due any day now.  This raises an interesting possibility.

The other day, while trying to confirm an obscure fact online, I ran across a fascinating trove of information.  To call it highly valuable would be an understatement: In the social-climbing equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest, it was an alpine harness, six caribiners, and an ice axe, all rolled into one. 

I speak, of course, of the Glossary of Eton Expressions.

Ha ha!  Fools!  I couldn't believe that Eton College, the world's preeminent boys' school founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, would haphazardly sling this stuff onto the Internet in the na├»ve assumption that the world, like Eton, was full of classy people.

Didn't they realize that, armed with this knowledge, any enterprising young man could Talented-Mr.-Ripley his way into the British upper crust with less memorization than it would take to win a spelling bee?  And that this man might be my son?  Making my daughter-in-law . . . the princess?

Here I must insert the necessary disclaimer that my grown-up son may not want to marry Will and Kate's daughter, and that his life is his to live as he pleases.  Still, it is a notable fact that he would only be eight years older than this no-doubt-lovely girl, and a plane ticket to London is not too expensive if you bid on it during off-season, in the middle of the night. 

So!  With that in mind, here are the terms I will be drilling my boy on at 4 a.m., Obama-mom style:

Abracadabra - Eton's basic academic timetable, determining who does what when.

And we're off to an adorable start! 

Beak - A master, i.e., teacher, whether male or female. 

Bill - If a boy misbehaves, he may be placed 'On the Bill,' which means that the Head Master or Lower Master will see him and rebuke or punish him appropriately. 

Oh no!  Not the Bill!

Debate - The sub-prefects in an oppidan house.

Okay.  Whatever.

Lord's - The annual cricket match against Harrow School, which has been held at Lord's cricket ground for well over a hundred years.

Sample dialogue between my son and Some Eton Dude, c. 2030:

"I had an absolutely ripping time at Lord's that year!  Did you?"

"Missed it, I'm afraid.  I was having a lie-in at Godolphin House."

"Wasn't the Deputy Headmaster named Walsh?"

"Yes.  Good fellow."

"Too true. . . . Say, have you met my sister?"

Non-dies - A day in which there is no regular work whatsoever

Otherwise known as "Saturday at my mom's house." 

Porny School - A primary school in Eton Street.

Yes? What were you thinking?

Slack bobs - Boys who neither row nor play cricket. 

Hey, this is starting to sound a little classist! 

Let us now turn to the obvious question of how my son is going to finesse his Sacramento-area accent.  Easy, that's how:

"So you're a direct descendant of Sir James Chichester, 12th Baronet of Raleigh, eh?  What happened to your accent?"

"I lost it in a polo accident, and it's an extremely painful subject, so I'll thank you not to mention it again." 

The truth is, even though life in an elite British boarding school looks fun in a Hogwarts-sort-of-way, I like to think my son is as happy as any of those boys.  Even in a Minecraft t-shirt instead of an Old School tie, he is learning a lot, running through green fields, and enjoying playground games of tetherball and Foursquare.  His typical school lunch, he claims, consists of "carrots and True Moo," and after school somebody makes him a pizza bagel.  He's got it made.

Plus, if he ever takes a liking to little Elizabeth Katherine Spencer, her Royal Highness of Cambridge, he already knows what to say, words by which any country boy can win the heart of a princess-in-training:

"As you wish."

(Image: Portrait of a Young Scholar (1531), attributed to Jan van Scorel (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Over to you, Roald

Here's a tip: If you are too tired to converse with your young children over dinner, just eat quickly, then read them a book.  Sometimes I have only a salad or snack-sized applesauce no one wants, before heading straight into the literary portion of the program. 

This achieves the vaunted "sit-down dinner" without having to talk too long about anyone's day.  Because the fact is that one day in elementary school is much like another.  On a good night, we do "Best & Worst" in a review of the highlights and low-lights.  If that seems dull, we do "Worst of the Worst," in which the one who recounts the worst experience "wins."  (A social slight will beat out a minor playground injury, for instance.)  For a while, it sounded like my son had an "enemy," which excited us, but it boiled down to the fact that she scored higher on a computer math game.  Oh.

On the night I realized I could just read to them, we all perked up: Here, finally, was something to talk about besides our own small lives.  A collection of international folktales stunned us with their casual brutality. By the time I'd finished the story of Margot the Black, who conjured the Devil on "the blackest night ever known in Denmark" and whose ghost still "haunts the ramparts of the great wall," the kids had finished their pasta and not once said: "I don't know.  Nothing."  Yes!

Lately, we've been reading James and the Giant Peach.  And I'm beginning to realize that, in addition to jazzing up dinnertime, children's books are broadly educational across a range of subjects. 

Spoiler alert:  The giant peach squashes James's two aunts.  Prior to this, Roald Dahl had taken pains to depict Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker as the most despicable, loveless, flagrantly abusive adults on the planet. 

Yet, when the giant peach snuffed them out, my son was clearly troubled. 

"That's violent," he said, wide-eyed.  Unlike Dahl, who fought the Nazis as a pilot in World War II, he was a product of 21st-century California and a nice boy.

"Yes," I replied carefully.  "But they were so mean to James!  Don't you think they kind of deserved it?"

He didn't know.  The idea that anyone might "deserve" to be killed by a rogue fruit in their own garden was unsettling, possibly immoral.  Was the peach organic?  Oh boy.


The other day, Dave happened to be around at storytime.  The peach was in the ocean, surrounded by sharks, and its passengers -- a bunch of giant insects and James -- were hatching a plan which involved using the Earthworm as bait:

James went over and put an arm gently around the Earthworm's shoulders.  "I won't let them touch you," he said.

"Wait," said Dave. "What does that mean, 'the Earthworm's shoulders'?  Does an earthworm even have shoulders?"

This stumped us all, until my daughter finally yelled:  "It means his back!"


Last week, after we forgot to send back her library book, my daughter was sent home with the Scarlet A of library science: the Black Dot book.  Marked with a black dot, this despised article means the school doesn't trust you and doesn't care if you lose the book, which you probably will. 

We've seen our share of Black Dot books, which are faded and have a distinctly 1970s vibe.  Often they feature people in bellbottoms dancing through the streets, and little else.

Today's Black Dot book was called The Earth is Good.   My son read it on the way home, in the backseat.  It went:

The sun is good.

The earth is good.

The trees

[Page break for suspense]

and birds and bees are good.  The flowers are good

And so on.  The three of us laughed so much, it was like a party in the car.  Every page brought fresh hilarity.  By the time it wrapped up with "And you are good," the children had been taught an important lesson:

"The earth is good!  But that book is terrible."

(Image: "German American Kids Bookshelf" by user: Stilfehler - Own work.  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My poetry problem

In my twenties, I had an embarrassing secret.  One day, I chose to share it with a teenaged drifter named Sam, who was crashing that week at a local shelter before lighting out for Seattle.
I had been interviewing Sam -- on a purple couch, in the game room upstairs -- for a newspaper story on homeless runaways.  He was an angel-faced boy of seventeen and had been showing me his poetry.  It was handwritten and earnest.  Oh Sam!
"Do you like poetry?" he asked.  I paused, considering my secret.
"Some kinds," I said vaguely.
"Like what?" Sam asked, looking like a cross between James Dean and a puppy.
I eyed him levelly.  The hell with it.
"I like poems that rhyme," I confessed. 
Shock, confusion, and disappointment played across Sam's porcelain features.  "Oh," he managed to say.  "Yeah.  Well . . ."  Probably Sam had to get going.  His life story was being penned by a slack-jawed idiot.  Rhyme!
For this faux pas, I blamed one Edgar Allan Poe.  Back home, on the bookshelf next to the medical treatises available to anyone who might want to become a doctor, was an American literature anthology.  Inside, at around age ten, I found the best poem ever written.  It was called The Raven.
It was the epitome of good poetry: a brilliant person, showing off.  No one I knew could do anything like it: "The Raven" was so right, it seemed like God had written it.  Yet it was just some syphilitic drunk with a pen in his hand.  This was the magic of a good poem-that-rhymed. 
As an English major, I was assigned less Poe, more Gloria Anzaldua: a Chicana poet from Texas who mined the themes of race and identity.  As I was not interested in my own, rather colorful ethnicity (Indo-Hungarian-American), I was hard-pressed to care whether anyone else defined herself as a mestiza in free verse.  It was just not my cup of tea.  (Sorry, Gloria!)   
I liked poems that rhymed. 
Last year, I got on a kick and wrote a lot of poems.  They came to me while I was driving to work or doing the dishes -- in rhyme schemes that were nothing fancy (couplets, etc), but got the job done.  A handful of these seemed kind of good, or clever anyway.  Maybe I should read them somewhere? 
A local group hosts poetry readings twice a month, on Thursday nights.  By 8 p.m. Thursday, my kids are at their dad's, so theoretically I could attend.  In reality, I'm exhausted by the time they leave.  If Poe himself were at the Open Mic, there is a 50 percent chance I would stay home, take a hot bath, and watch Maroon 5 videos in my kitchen.
The other thing is that -- unlike other people? -- I like poems that rhyme.  When I envision standing up to speak, the first words I say into the microphone, facing a roomful of strangers, are: 
"Er, this a rhyming poem. Sorry." 
[Eye rolls, snorts of derision.  Hey, you in the back -- is that -- Sam?]
That, in short, is my poetry problem.  To which the answer is:  Go anyway. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Howdy partner

I recently read that successful creatives -- like successful people of all types -- tend to have supportive spouses: people who make their lives easier and value the offbeat qualities they bring to the table.

This makes perfect sense.  In fact, whenever someone comes along who seems to like you at your most zany and useless, you should spend as much time around them as possible.  It will be good for your creative life (and your actual life won't mind, either). 

Last spring, Dave suggested that the two of us go camping.  I later learned it was a test to see what I would be like on a camping trip.  As an experiment ten months in, this seemed fair.  What would I be like?  No idea.

Though I grew up in a rural area, ours was not an outdoorsy family.  To experience Nature, we drove through Arizona once a year with the air conditioning on full-blast, stopping only to remark, in 106-degree heat in the parking lot of some McDonald's, "How does anyone live in Arizona?" -- and that was quite enough.

In my twenties, I did go camping a few times with my then-boyfriend.  I enjoyed parts of it, but at some point would burst into tears due to a combination of poor sleep, an enormous pack strapped to my back, and being stuck on the side of a mountain with no relief in sight.  (Reader, I married him.)

Dave understood I was not made to slog it out in harsh conditions.  He guessed that I would be amenable to camping -- in a state park, in Napa, for two nights, with hot showers available, if we could drive into town for an ice cream cone, and if I could bring three hats in preparation for any contingency.  And . . . deal!

He has gone camping his whole life, often with his children in tow, and brings a German ubercompetence to any practical thing he undertakes.  Seemingly within minutes, the car was unpacked, the tent was up, the radio was on, we were eating some sort of delicious stir-fry, and playing (in my case, badly) a complicated European board game.  What?

My one contribution to the evening was a ridiculous idea, pens, and tape.  As I coyly explained:  It was just a little thing I called Camprov.

Camping!  Plus Improv!  Clearly I had been watching too much Louie, becoming overly-fascinated with the "process" of stand-up comedians, who lived their lives in the white-hot fire of truth.  Both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had written glowingly of Improvisational Theater, where the answer to every question was Yes.  I felt I too could be searingly honest and say yes.  Why not?

For my plan to work, however, I needed puppets.

"I brought some paper," I explained.  For the fire?  No: for the puppets.  Aren't you listening?

Per the rules of Camprov, each made a stick-and-paper representation of the other person.  (Dave is generally better at drawing, but my puppet of him was awesome.  He still has it.) 

The idea was that we would improvise some sort of crazy, hilarious "conflict" with the puppets around sunset, and record it on our phones.  I'm not really sure what I was going for -- some whacked out-cinematic hybrid of The Blair Witch Project (shaky camera, trees), August: Osage County (domestic dysfunction), and What About Bob? (therapeutic puppets).

The whole thing was quite silly.  And as a drinking game in the woods, it took some doing.  But it was interesting and made us laugh.  (My kids would have been better at it, as they are nuttier, with meaner jokes.  Their puppets would have killed each other!)

After two days, we went home.  Aside from gathering a few sticks or cutting up some produce now and then, I had done literally nothing to ensure our survival in the woods.

"How was I at camping?"  I asked, genuinely curious. 

He said:  "You were great."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The alternative

Even in California, there isn't much to do on winter nights.  For several weeks -- or months? -- I solved this problem by watching The Office.

This is not to say I watched all nine seasons, or 192 episodes, in chronological order while the dishes moldered in the sink and my son did random YouTube searches crouched in the darkness of his closet.  If there was a wedding coming up, or if I was tired of Andy, I skipped ahead.  And then skipped back, wondering if I was a little bit in love with Andy.  About one hundred episodes in, I began to strongly identify with Angela.  What a little spitfire she was!  Pam was insipid in comparison.  Team Angela! 

"Mom?" one of the kids said, at some point.  Naturally, they wondered what was going on.  Night after night, I tried to explain the water-cooler politics of a small paper company in Scranton, but as they were not yet in third grade, it was uphill sledding.  Eventually they grasped that Michael was the boss or "regional manager," and that Dwight was the "assistant to the regional manager" who erroneously believed himself to be the "assistant regional manager."  Twenty or thirty hours in, this began to strike them as funny, or at least familiar.

"Why did Michael just say 'That's what she said'?"
"Oh, that's a joke about . . . ordering paper."

Why was I so into The Office?  On one level, it was a high-quality sitcom with loveable characters, laugh-out-loud dialogue, and a spunky heroine named Angela.  On another level, it was a glimpse into a world of talented, creative people having fun.  The actors were having a great time.  Behind the scenes, with bloodshot eyes and failed relationships, the writers were having a great time.  Even the lighting crew was loving life on the set of The Office.  Plus, TV sets are catered.  Their complexions were glowing from sushi and laughter!

It couldn't hurt my kids to see adults at play, I reasoned vaguely.  It wasn't all grocery lists and health insurance deductibles.  Take heart!

By February, when my son turned eight, we were searching the web for Schrute Farm T-shirts in children's sizes -- available at keepitup&
About to click on "Buy," I paused and took a breath.  This was going too far.  I needed to stop marinating our household in The Office -- it was unhealthy!  And, it was over.  We had all gathered on the couch to solemnly watch Episode 192. 

"That's it?"
"Yeah."  Pause.  "That's it."
"So, what's for dinner?"
"The hell with dinner! . . . Sorry."

* * * *
After the shabbiness of Dunder-Mifflin, I pivoted to Downton Abbey.  This required me to explain the British class system around the time of the Great War -- specifically why the show's most winsome character, Tom, a chauffeur who had taken up with the Granthams' youngest daughter, scandalously married her, and now lived among the family in the shadow of her death, appeared so wistful and conflicted, given his past Marxist leanings.
My daughter was having none of this and left to play with some plastic giraffes. 
But my son was happy to sit on the couch, with a mug of sweet tea, and watch it with me.  One night, the heartbreaking depths of his devotion to me and/or authentic period detail were revealed: I left to take a ten-minute phone call and, when I came back, asked:  "What happened?"
"You know that white lady?  The one that helps Lady Mary?  She went to fetch something.  That's all I could understand."
Spring came, and the days grew longer.  Everyone got sick of Downton Abbey -- which, too, eventually betrayed us by ending.  In the Christmas special, one old servant proposed to another old servant.  This failed to thrill us: a good sign. 
Daffodils bloomed.  The kids got out their bikes.  I resumed sitting in my lawn chair.  But the kids were older, and I could just as well watch them play out the window. 
Didn't I used to play?  I think so . . .
Probably it was time to start a blog.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

About that workshop

One afternoon, when I was five or six years old, I was hanging around the kitchen, complaining that I had nothing to do. 

At the sink, my mom -- who seemed to want me to go somewhere else -- intoned the following words, never uttered in our house before or since:

An empty mind is the Devil's workshop.

Moodily tracing a line of tile grout with my toe, I stopped that instant and, for a long time, said nothing.  For this sentence -- while arresting and ominous -- held almost no meaning for me at all.

My only knowledge of the Devil came from the Saturday morning cartoons, where he occasionally could be seen sitting on someone's shoulder, hissing into their ear to go ahead and blow up Bugs Bunny, or what-have-you.  I vaguely knew him to be bad, as a little Baptist girl had sorrowfully explained that my whole family would one day slave under his fiery lash in Hell.  Come again?

Adding to my confusion, I did not know what a "workshop" was.  My dad was not an American DIYer, but a foreign professor with zero interest or skill in home repair.  I'm not certain he owned a toolbox.  So a workshop was a place where Santa's elves made toys!  Except . . . the Devil.  Huh.

And finally, I could not grasp the concept of an "empty mind." Was my mind empty? I seemed to be thinking my usual thoughts -- I'm bored.  I wish I could meet Peter Pan! -- thoughts which, in fact, carried me well into my twenties and beyond.

Struck dumb by this koan, I eventually chose to believe that the tall, narrow cupboard where we kept the broom and dustpan was "the Devil's workshop" -- it was dark in back, there may have been a spider in it -- and if I just stayed out of there, I would probably be all right.

Fast-forward to the present, when stressed-out Westerners are shelling out for workshops that promise to help empty their minds.  An empty mind sounds clean!  Relaxing.  (It now goes by the name "beginner's mind.")

Last spring, of such a mind, I took an eight-week course in meditation.  I was not very "good" at meditating -- I tended to fall asleep -- but it was a pleasant way to spend two hours on a Tuesday night.  My favorite type of meditation was not to think about nothing -- or "bring the mind back" to nothing -- while attending to the sensations of the present moment.  It was to think about whatever I wanted, without having to get someone a glass of milk, break up a fight, or scrape peas off the floor. 

Whether the Devil had a hand in it is not entirely clear.  If dozing on a yoga mat until roused by the tinkle of a Tibetan chime is diabolical, then his infernal designs aren't all they're cracked up to be.

Driving to work in light traffic, I often have an empty mind.  (As an aside, this is one reason I probably shouldn't drive.)  Occasionally, a song like Moves Like Jagger or Womanizer will come on the radio, and my mind will perk up, exclaiming: This is the best pop song in the world! 

In sum, I feel the empty-minded have been given a bad rap.  We are not Satan's spawn.  We're just a bunch of goofballs with time on our hands. 

One such goofball was Archimedes, the greatest mathematician of the Classical Age.  Lounging in his bath one day, thinking about nothing, he suddenly realized that the upward buoyant force that is exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, whether fully or partially submerged, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces -- a Principle that endures to this day, primarily in bathtubs, but other places too. 

"Hey dummies!" he reportedly announced, clutching a towel, moments later.  "Hades, the sceptered ruler of the Underworld, has a message for you.  He says, quote: You're welcome." 

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The daily

Nina Camic is a Polish-born law professor whose blogs at The Other Side of the Ocean.  She travels all over the world, taking photographs and having adventures.  She also spends time at her farmhouse in Wisconsin, where her typical blog post is . . . a photo of her boyfriend Ed, eating breakfast.

In a randomly-chosen week in February (linked), there were seven such photos.  My son and I had to count three times, because they all look the same.  Breakfast is the same (oatmeal and berries).  The breakfast table is the same (flowers).  And Ed himself -- a shaggy, rumpled man in glasses  -- is the same in every post, smiling tolerantly at the camera while trying to eat.

Up late reading blogs (when I should have been getting my sanity sleep), I puzzled over this parade of breakfasts.  What was she "going for," exactly?  This was a highly intelligent, vivacious woman who -- on any given day -- was having lobster in Poitou-Charentes or visiting orphans in a mud hut in Ghana.  I didn't have nearly as much going on, yet -- as delightful as my boyfriend was at breakfast -- I would not fill a blog with pictures of him buttering his toast.

What was I missing?  It seemed to involve giving ordinary things their due. 

* * * *

On our ill-fated fourth date, Dave and I had a cup of tea before the movie.  Fresh from a visit to the pediatric dentist, I spoke at length about the (seemingly insane) suggestion that my son be outfitted with a metal plate on the roof of his mouth, before the inevitable braces.  Even while saying these words, I sensed that I was acting like a boring mom.  Maybe that's why he didn't hold my hand?
Actually, it was all good.  (In fact, few topics are more likely to charm and intrigue a man than your small children's dental problems.  Try it!)  Despite the fact that my life outwardly consisted of doing my job, taking care of the kids, loading the dishwasher, and going to Target, we hit it off and, for twenty months, have had plenty of things to talk about.
With writing, too, it can feel like grown-ups have few interesting things to say.  Our lives are governed by sensible routines.  On the face of it, there is little to discuss, celebrate, or question.  It's just the same old oatmeal.  Who could possibly care?
* * * *
This past weekend, my daughter wanted to practice riding her bike.  Since the training wheels came off, she has been shuttling down a path near our house, mostly with her dad.  This time, because she was so close to balancing with no help -- a moment I didn't want to miss -- I decided to tag along with them.

The three of us walked to the park.  In the middle, she clutched her dad's hand in her left hand, mine in her right.  I couldn't remember the last time we'd done this, if ever.

"You know what would be great?" she said.  "If you both could lift me up and swing me -- while we were walking -- like this."  She kicked her feet in the air.

"I'm afraid that can never be,"  I said.

"Can't do it," said her dad.

We raised her arms and swung her several times.

"Do it again!" 

"I think you're too heavy," I said.

"Maybe another time," said her dad.

Walking, we swung her up again, making her laugh.

Six years ago, when she was born, her parents' marriage was deteriorating fast.  By age two-and-a-half, she was being shuttled between two houses.  The fact that she could spend a perfectly nice hour with her parents, at the park, was not much in the scheme of things.  It was just ordinary life.

Still, in its own way, it was notable. 

Within ten minutes, she could ride that bike.