Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Happy campers

I believe my son takes after me in that he considers large animals "smelly" and "not worth it."  Still, with his dad's encouragement, he is now signed up -- along with his sister, who is stoked -- for a week of riding lessons from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., aka Horse Camp.

Like many families with working parents, our summer is all about "camps."  Somehow, my children -- who hail from an undistinguished line of immigrants -- will be spending the next eight weeks in tennis lessons, swimming lessons, and English riding lessons, when they are not receiving combat training and spiritual instruction at the local dojo. 

"I feel like the freaking Kennedy Compound," I said to a work friend, staggering out of my office after the latest camp confirmation email.  "When I was a kid, I watched The Brady Bunch all summer.  That was it." 

Though it has cost a small -- okay, a large -- fortune to have my kids in childcare their entire lives, they seem none the worse for it.  They make friends easily with whatever playmates show up, and are trained in the niceties of taking turns, sharing, and fair play. 

Once, when my son was seven, he was chatting with a new acquaintance (age six) at the park.  The boy explained that he couldn't hang from the monkey bars, because his arm recently had been in a cast. 

"Sorry to hear that," said my son, and the conversation moved on.

This answer was so socially perfect, I doubt I could have pulled it off.  (Me, age 40: "Oh?  How did you break it? . . . Wow.  You really shouldn't have been doing that! . . . Sorry.") 

The difference between us makes sense, as growing up I was -- by both circumstance and preference -- a shut-in, whose idea of a big time at age seven was going across the street to my friend Michelle's house.  She had a playhouse in her backyard, and we used to pretend The Queen was coming and clean the house.  That was the game: cleaning.  Pretty soon, I'd be like: "It doesn't look like she's coming.  I'm going to go home and watch TV." 

(The Queen is still not coming, by the way.  This fact has saved me a lot of time and effort.) 

But tomorrow, we're off on a family vacation to New Mexico, so all the camps will have to wait.  Or, if the kids prefer, we'll give it a camp name:

Camp Underpants in the Desert

Camp Don't Teach Your Cousin to Say "Poop Jet" Because, Like You Two Clowns, She Will Never Stop Saying It

Camp Go Bother Nana, For She Has Missed You So

Camp Get the Heck Out of Camp, Because We Really Don't Need to Learn Anything This Week

Camp Freeeedommmm!

Finally, a camp I'm qualified to lead. 

Let's do it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

One less

On the second day of our Fort Bragg camping trip, Dave and I took the four kids (ages 17 through 6) to Glass Beach.  They were exploring the rocks when three young siblings showed up with their mother and baby sister.  These were locals -- who seemed to understand things like "the tide" -- out killing time with a crab bucket.

Soon, all the kids were prying small, black crabs from the rocks and throwing them in the bucket.  The bucket's owner, a boy named Tommy, had a vision or master plan.  Because he enjoyed slimy things and exhibited the qualities of a leader, my daughter took to Tommy immediately as a kindred spirit.  Within minutes of meeting him, she was grabbing handfuls of crustaceans like she'd been doing it all her life, yelling "Tommy!  Pass the bucket!"

Meanwhile, my son -- who prior to this trip could not be roused from his Minecraft game for food or water -- was off climbing the sheer face of a cliff, which he had specifically been told not to do.  There was a sign about this very danger, in both English and Spanish, which depicted a Bart Simpson-like boy tumbling headfirst into the ocean as the cliff's edge crumbled.  First I read it to him in English.  Then I read it in Spanish, in a flamboyant accent that -- halfway through -- took too much effort, so I stopped.  "Los crumblos!" I paraphrased dramatically.

"No, I don't think that's . . ." said Dave.  Well, everyone got the idea.

Eventually, after a lovely time, we had to leave.  As he scaled a ragged wall of sand high above our heads, I yelled at my son a little bit, who looked bored because he was still alive.  So what was the big deal?

On the paved path above the beach, my daughter announced Tommy's plan for the dozens of crabs now squirming over each other in close quarters: It was to dump them into a single tide pool, where -- having been gathered from all over -- they would make a new life together, claw in claw.

"Probably some of them don't even want to be in there with all the others," Dave remarked to no one in particular, maybe just to see who would say what.

"Well, they're a family now," I said after a silence, "so they can lump it."  Probably the kids weren't even listening.  It was just one more obscure joke between the parents. 

"I'll tell you one thing," he continued.  "Somewhere in there's a guy who feels, right now, like one less lonely crab."

". . . You are my favorite grown-up," I said.

And then we all went to Starbucks to charge our phones.

(Image: "Fort Bragg, CA: Glass Beach, King Tide" by Ellin Beltz (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Gearing up

Often when we are not good at something, we chalk it up to an ineradicable character flaw when the truth is, we simply lack the proper tools. 

Since my dental hygienist recommended soft picks, I have had champion flossing sessions, all while thinking how proud she would be of me.  For years, I felt I was being asked to play a primitive stringed instrument -- an erhu or diddley bow -- in my mouth.  I was not great at it.  Now I am like: Hello?  Where have you been, people at G.U.M.?  There's nothing wrong with me that this mass-produced plastic implement can't fix!

Cooking regular meals is another area where I need some help.  My domestic role model has always been Mrs. Murry of A Wrinkle in Time.  She heated up her children's dinners on the Bunsen burner in her home laboratory, where she was busy figuring out how to travel great distances by "folding" the fabric of space-time.

Certainly, sometimes she made French toast and other kitchen foods -- but just as often, her five-year-old genius was fixing himself a sandwich, the twins were at basketball practice, Meg was moping around, and Mrs. Murry was "watching a pale blue fluid move slowly through a tube" while trying to keep the chemicals out of a "big, earthenware dish of stew." (p. 39) 

For her, the Bunsen burner was the tool that enabled her to feed her family, before they were whisked away on an intergalactic adventure by witches.  For me, that tool is a full-service grocery store with an industrial-size kitchen, where -- at a moment's notice -- sushi, soup, and breaded chicken tenders can be purchased.  Self-affirmation: There's nothing wrong with me that a team of professional chefs, a roll of Saran Wrap, and a microwave can't fix!

The third thing I'm not good at is folding fitted sheets.  I think that was next on Mrs. Murry's to-do list of discoveries, but she died before she could figure it out. 

Nobody's perfect.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Off with her head

For a special project, the second graders learned to do portraits in the style of Modigliani.  Touchingly, my son chose to draw his sister.

All of us thought it turned out well, except . . .

"I look at that picture in class every day, and I feel ashamed." -- The Artist, who to this day cannot understand what possessed him to represent the human neck as he did

"Why did you make my neck like that?" -- The Subject, hitting The Artist with a stuffed monkey

Art is thankless work.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


The other day, I was flipping through Us Magazine while waiting for my haircut.  One page featured a pull quote from Queen Latifah, whom I generally like.  Describing the contents of her purse, she said:

"When I try on clothes, my eyebrows always wind up losing their shape. So I have CoverGirl Professional Natural Lash eyebrow gel to groom and keep them in the right direction."

I call bullshit, Queen Latifah.  Your eyebrows lose their shape when you try on clothes?  What?  Even as a shill for Cover Girl, this is beneath you.

The "phenomenon" you "describe" cannot even be characterized as a First World Problem.  As it has never happened to any living being, in any solar system, it is best classified as a No World Problem.

The pity is, I am a person to whom a $6 tube of eyebrow gel could conceivably be sold.  But this quote made me feel like a tool for even considering such a thing.

Me [high, mincing voice]:  When I try on clothes, my eyebrows lose their shape!  [Sad pout.]

Rest of the world:  Oh would you just shut up?

We all make missteps, Queen Latifah.  Stay awesome.  And please don't ever say that again.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Dear WHO

Dear World Health Organization,

Forgive my presumption in asking you the following questions.  You are an esteemed international body, employing 7,000 people in 150 countries, and I am a small-town single mother whose children are, as we speak, pelting rocks at each other in the street.  Still, I am just so curious about a statement I read recently, that I am compelled to seek answers.  It is:

"The World Health Organization estimates that 95 percent of the world's adult population is inactive, failing to meet minimum recommendations for health of 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity five times a week." -- Washington Post, June 2, 2015

Q: If 95 percent of humanity is failing to meet a certain standard, does that not suggest there is something wrong with the standard itself?  If you were testing for "perfect pitch" or "able to move objects with their minds," then a 95 percent failure rate -- 6.9 billion individuals, in hard numbers -- would not seem like such a big deal.  But when the overwhelming majority of the planet's population cannot pass a basic fitness test, I wonder.  When you say "moderate activity," do you mean riding a unicycle while juggling bowling pins, applicable only to the 5 percent of God's children who are circus clowns?  Do you mean diving for pearls at the bottom of the sea, or alligator wrestling?  Did you mistakenly include "dead people" in your sample size?  Or what?

Q: If you are correct, is this not -- in a certain light -- good news?  Through the ages, men have pondered the elusive path to world peace.  Some have said it will take a fiery apocalypse; others, an alien invasion.  Yet, what if the precious thread of commonality between warring peoples is the desire to sit on their butts and say, "No, you go ahead.  My show's on, and I've got my beak in a Doritos bag"?  If so, America should take the lead by manufacturing a battalion of La-Z Boy recliners and shipping them to every global "hot spot," along with 100 crates of Fanta or whatever it is they drink in those places.  As it is written: The lion will sit down with the lamb . . . because they both just love to sit, so much.  They really, really love it.  [Cite WHO.]
Q: How can I break into the elite 5 percent of humankind's go-getters?  Perhaps the "30 minutes of moderate activity" you speak of is not a lunch walk with a pause to consume a Subway Meal Deal? If so, I'm no better than the 6 billion-odd losers from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. What's worse, my all-too-human tendency to loaf is being passed down: Lately, my six-year-old -- one of the most active people I know -- has taken to sitting in a laundry basket and binge-watching back episodes of "Parks and Recreation" . . . with her mom. I blush to think my child is picking up the low-class habits of the Inuit, the Swiss, the Bengali, the French-Canadian . . . you know, those people.

But wait: They are my people, too!  As long as I am a member of the benighted 95 percent, I'm going to raise my fist in solidarity and march through the streets with the . . . Oh, never mind.  Sounds like too much trouble.
(Image: Garden of World Peace, by Immanuel Giel (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Because Aristotle

"Aristotle developed four logical methods to help people argue their way through complex issues ..." -- S. Crowley, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students.  Pearson, 2004) (Source of quote here.)

"In a logical proof, the premises may or may not all be true, the conclusion is a consequence of the premise-set, and, therefore, the conclusion may or may not be true. What we can say in the case of a logical proof is that it is logically impossible for the conclusion to be false unless at least one of the premises is false." -- M.R. Cohen, An Introduction to Logic.  Hackett, 1993) (Source: same.)

Proof No. 1:
1.  I have to go to the store for OTC medicine.
2.  French onion dip is at the store.
Therefore, since I'm going there anyway, I might as well get French onion dip.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Proof No. 2:
1.  Shortly I will be in the possession of French onion dip.
2.  What am I, an animal?  Am I going to eat it with my fingers?  Have I no dignity?
Therefore, I also need to get some chips.
Proof No. 3:
[Gotta go, bye!]

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Tragic Potato

Once there was a potato that no one remembered to cook.  Over time, as it sat neglected in a bowl on the counter, it evolved into a sentient being with huge, human eyes. 

Sadly, consciousness itself was a crushing burden to the potato.  Perhaps it had a mood disorder, or simply could not entertain the comforting illusions that make life bearable.  The day-to-day activities of the household -- microwaving, watching TV, joking around -- made the potato spiritually sick.  The happiness -- or "happiness" -- of the idiot family it lived among was a constant torment to one so sensitive to all the ugliness and injustice in the world.

On the day the potato's back began turning to human flesh, it knew it had reached its limit.  Somehow it must grow legs and crawl away to a place where it would be, mercifully, cooked and eaten. 

The next morning, the potato was simply . . . gone.  Some say it dove into the hot grease of a McDonald's french fry basket.  Others claim to have seen it slipping into the salty broth of a beef stew, where its tears added a certain je ne sais quois, to the chef's credit.

Back in the bowl, the onion remarked that it "never understood that guy."  The garlic spat with the small mouth it had evolved over months of non-use and said: "Yeah.  Me neither."

Friday, June 5, 2015

Flaming June

Ever since I saw it in a textbook or college poster shop ages ago, I have been a huge fan of the Pre-Raphaelite painting Flaming June.  In her gauzy sheath, this unkempt maiden ignores the sea, the flowers in bloom, and every luxury to curl up in a chair and nap away a perfect summer's day.

This rings so true.  It begs the question of whether there is any day so exquisite and rare that it cannot be improved by a long nap.  The day your child is born?  Unthinkable without a nap.  Your graduation?  Better to doze off when it starts and wake up when it's over. 

In mathematical terms, it may be that Good Day + Long-ish Period of Oblivion = Perfect Day (or as perfect as it's going to get until bedtime).  Is this just years of raising children talking?  Is this art criticism?  All I know is that I have a girl-crush on the Flaming June girl.  She is so cool!  Maybe when she wakes up, the two of us can go out for Mexican food -- and yes, we would like a refill on those chips, SeƱor!  I bet she'd like that.

                                                        * * * *

Over here, June is shaping up to be a busy month.  The kids are almost out of school (yay! sick of you, school, and your Liliputian chains of homework, permission slips, field trip logistics, lunch accounts, parking restrictions, and tardiness policies) (P.S. You are an excellent school and we are extremely grateful for your care and instruction) (P.P.S. Buh-bye!), and then we are going beach camping with Dave and his two teenagers, whom my kids revere.

We will be visiting tide pools, possibly my favorite part of the Pacific Ocean: Lucid and teeming with colorful creatures, they are an enchanting window into life's mystery and variety, and you cannot drown in them or be swept out to sea by a sudden riptide.  At most, your ankle will be splashed and you will laugh it off and then go on to take a glorious nap.  Perfect for a desert girl who was never cc'd on the memo "How Not to Accidentally Die in the Ocean."

Speaking of which, our next June trip will take us to New Mexico.  I am excited to show Dave my beautiful home state (motto: The Land of Enchantment) (alternative motto for disaffected local teens: The Land of Entrapment).  One of the unexpected pleasures of dating in your 40s is that it's like getting a do-over of your 20s -- meeting the family! seeing the hometown! -- except both you and other person are extremely, almost supernaturally, wise and sane for people in their 20s.  You are the freaking Zen Masters of being 25.  You own that age! 

Just went to pick up my daughter from a Friday night playdate.  At almost nine p.m., it was still light outside.

I love summer.

(Image: Frederic Leighton (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons)

Monday, June 1, 2015

My poetry problem: Update

"Dear Maya,

"We are very pleased to notify you that we have chosen your poem, specified below, to be included in the 2015 issue of Tule Review.

"This issue is due for release in November of 2015. We will begin further editing in June. We may be in touch at that time if we have questions or concerns.

"The editors and staff congratulate you on your success. We look forward to seeing you in print.

"Editor-in-Chief, Tule Review 2015"

Tule, pronounced "tool-ey," is a Central American word (adopted by Spanish settlers) for the low, marshy land of Northern California where reeds grow.  Bay Area elk and fog are referred to as "tule elk" and "tule fog." 

And may I just say, I am trule happy to have my poem published.  (Maybe there is a place for poems that rhyme in this incomprehensible modern world?)

Onward & upward.