Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To Risk-Taking Girls Everywhere

If all the other kids were jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?

I did. And I took my seven year old with me.

Yesterday we visited a friend and her sons in Huntington Harbor for kayaking and swimming. It's a neighborhood custom to jump off a bridge that crosses over the bay into the water, one that my friend Jenni and her oldest son Joshua have done in previous summers: Joshua gleefully, Jenni, with fear and trembling. Yesterday, we spent an hour or so at the beach without seeing a single person take the plunge.

But then, a group of neighborhood kids showed up, age range about nine to 16, and one by one started plummeting off the side. Knowing Sophia to be a daredevil and loving this about her, I turned to her and said, "Wanna do it?" Of course she did. Until one minute later, when she turned to me, eyes as big as golf balls and said, "You know mom, I heard Levi say you're not supposed to jump off the bridge and they never do it when the police are around, so we better not do it either."

"Nah, it's fine. Mommy says it's fine, so it's fine." A few minutes later, shivering with both cold and nerves, holding the hand of a friendly 10 year girl on both sides, she leapt. A minute later, with a "woo hoo" and very little grace, I jumped in after her.

It's official. I'm a bad influence. The classic metaphor used to illustrate that you shouldn't just go along with the crowd, especially when they're doing something stupid or dangerous, came literally true in front of my eyes, and I failed the test. In my defense, I wasn't totally sure what we were doing was illegal; I'd only heard a five year old boy say so. And also, there was no real danger. Reasonable height, deep water, we can both swim. No problem. However, on our way home, I did happen to see the big sign that said "No jumping from bridge." Too late.

I hope I haven't launched my daughter down a course of rule breaking. But Sophia is at a stage where she's a little too worried about following the rules, too anxious to fall in line and please others, and too concerned about others falling in line as well. So the bridge jumping is good for her (am I convincing anyone?).

In all seriousness, one of my core values as a parent (and person) is that if there's an experience that scares you, but isn't actually going to cause you serious bodily harm or harm to someone else, you should do it. It's part of my "Mama Don't Raise No Sissies" program. There aren't enough females out there willing to take risks, but overcoming fears is what life is all about. This is my father's influence coming through; this is how he raised me and my brothers. I want my kids to ride the roller coaster. Jump off the high dive. They'll feel proud they did, and maybe be more willing to take risks in things that really matter: faith, relationships, learning, creative pursuits.

My friend Jenni gets this. She told me that last year when she jumped, it scared her to death, but she did it as a psychological exercise, to prove to herself that she could, and to show her boys she was willing to take risks. At that point in her life, God was calling her to make some major leaps of faith, and this became her physical metaphor. This is one of the reasons she and I are so close. To risk takers everywhere, we say, "You go, girls."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Re-entering the Atmosphere

Today on the southbound 405 at approximately 3:15 in the afternoon, my mothering went down in flames.

My two daughters just spent the weekend with Grammy and Grampy at a resort in Palm Desert, while Jeff and I stayed at Grammy and Grampy's house in Newport Beach. It was heaven all around. But then on Sunday afternoon, when we had been reunited, it was the opposite.

Liv and I set off from the beach house together in our family's oldest car, which is without air conditioning. A stop at the produce market, and we were back in the car, sweating, with the windows down at 70 mph. Livie starts to scream, "I can't hear the music with the windows down!" And I start to yell back, "I can't roll the windows up! It's too hot!" Five minutes into this illogical exchange with my three year old, and I am screaming not to be heard over the wind, but simply because I am furious that she will not accept the situation and chill out.

"Do you want to listen to music or do you want Mommy to suffocate????"

One mile later, as I stand on the shoulder of the ramp where I have pulled the car over two exits too early because I literally cannot spend another second in that boiling car with that frothing child another minute, something occurs to me. Upon reentering the atmosphere of our family, some friction may occur. And in this case, the reentry was so abrupt, we went up in flames.

It also occurred to me hours later that back on the freeway, Livie and I were experiencing the exact same emotion. We were both confronted with a situation that we greatly disliked and could not control. Livie had only an hour earlier been cruising in the back of Grammy's leather-upholstered Mercedes Benz, listening to tunes and sipping water from her own cup holder. I was chilling with my hubster on Grammy's luxury patio, listening to music and smelling salty sea air. But suddenly, we both find ourselves smelling old Volkswagen and having our other senses blasted with hot air and automobile noise. No wonder we were both ticked off.

This freeway incident is somewhat discouraging to me, because one would think that after a relaxing weekend I would have more patience with my child and an adverse situation, but I often find the opposite is true.

Let's back up a minute, shall we. Friday after dropping the kids off, I had the whole day to myself and spent it sewing, riding a bike, reading a magazine, swimming in the bay, watching Harry Potter, taking a bubble bath, and then meeting my husband for happy hour and a movie. Did I forget to mention I got to get dressed and blow dry my hair ALL BY MYSELF. After the movie we got chocolate cake at a coffee house and then lay on the beach and looked at stars. And I haven't even gotten to the part where I had a day and a half after that with just my husband.

"What has gotten into you," my husband said to me from the beach blanket. "It's like you've been unleashed!" He forgets how much fun I am when I'm not busy mothering (don't take that the wrong way. I love mothering. No, really.)

But is it any wonder that such self indulgence would make me shocked to find frothy three year old in my back seat? My goodness, over the weekend I had almost forgotten what a tantrum sounded like. And meantime, she's been in swimming pool and breakfast buffet heaven. Why should she be happy to be running hot errands with me?

What's the lesson here? No fun for mommy because it ill-equips me for real life? No grandparents' sponsored vacation for the kids? I really hope not. If presented with the opportunity, I would say yes and cram in all kinds of fun all over again. But I will also be aware when the kids come home: There may be some bumps upon reentry, so buckle up.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Miracle Milestones

Why do adults always say to children, "Look how big you've gotten?" I hear myself saying it all the time to my friends' kids and my nieces. It's obnoxious, but unavoidable. Here's why I think we do it. Once we ourselves have stopped physcially growing bigger, and reached an age where we don't really feel ourselves getting older or changing with much rapidity, the dramatic growth and development of childhood seems outrageous, unbelievable. Being in stasis ourselves, we expect the children around us to stay the size they were when we first saw them.

Imagine, therefore, what it's like for a mom, who has tracked her child from non-being into being. Who first began measuring them in inches and ounces. Who remembers them once being so dependent they fed off our bodies from the inside, and then the outside. It's a breath-taking, mind boggling, daily miracle watching them move from total dependence to autonomy -- a truth that happens gradually and then occasionally dawns on us like a smack in the face. My dear friend and neighbor, whose baby is turning 13 this month and celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, keeps making me look at how much hair her son has on his legs. She just can't get over it.

I anticipate and prepare myself for the big milestones: first solids, first steps, first day of school. But some of the small milestones sneak up on me. On Monday, I took Livie (formerly the Delicate Chicken) to the community pool, for the first time since she completed 10 days of swimming lessons. Together we discovered that she can stand up -- or "touch" as kids everywhere call it -- in the shallow end of the big pool.

Gasp. My -- sniff -- baby, can stand up in the big pool. I don't know why this shocks me. She is about 40 inches tall, off the charts in height for a not-quite four year old, so of course she can stand in the 3-foot section. On second thought, I do know why it shocks me. A month ago, after much coaxing, she'd enter the "big kid" pool only if she could cling to me like a baby possum: belly to belly, limbs wrapped around me. My goal was to be able to hold her at arms length by the end of the summer without shrieking (her or me). Getting her toes to the bottom seemed as far as the ocean floor: an insurmountable distance.

Now -- all hail the Woodbridge Village Association's extremely cheap "water exploration" swimming lessons -- Liv can crab walk the perimeter of the pool, climb in and out the side, dunk her head under, jump to me from the side, and is brave enough to stand in three feet of water all by her little skinny self.

So the abrupt change is both beautiful and heartbreaking. You moms know exactly what I'm talking about. Standing on dry land watching her bob up and down alone, I witnessed the beginning of the end. The end of dependence on me, the end of early childhood.

Sometimes I'm really grateful I discovered blogging, because without it, I wouldn't be commemorating this small moment, which at this moment, feels big, and perhaps have forgotten it. But now I will remember. I celebrate Livie's accomplishment in writing. And one day when she calls me to say -- sniff -- that her baby climbed her first tree or took her first steps or went down the stairs all by herself without falling, I'll send her a copy of this and say, "Baby girl, I know exactly how you feel."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hey DJ, Keep Playing that Song

Today is Jeff and my 12 year wedding anniversary, and for the last week I've been thinking about my husband of the last dozen years, my sweetheart for the last 16, and all the things he is to me. I decided his multiple positive roles deserved a blog on this day. Here goes.

My D.J. Since 1995, the soundtrack of my life has been arranged by Jeff. Thanks to used C.D. stores and BMG music club (back in the 1990s), he has satisfied his voracious musical appetite, and broadened the spectrum of what I listen to. He introduced me to Sarah McLauchlan and Neil Young. The way I first knew he was "into" me? A mixed tape with Weezer on one side and "Not Weezer" on the other side, a mix containing Oasis' "Wonderwall" which was our first song ("I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now..."). He knows how to set a tone that will make me feel good. For our recent anniversary road trip, Jeff made us eight CDs with 18 tracks a piece, a mixture of Tom Petty, Patty Griffin, The Decemberists, the Weepies, the Swell Season, and a whole bunch of other things I didn't recognize. Good stuff, man.

My GPS Navigational System: Just last week, I called home, frantic, from the 405, where I had almost exited Beach Blvd instead of Seal Beach Boulevard (about 8 miles off) on the way to meet a friend at a location I'd never been. With a dying cell phone battery at my ear and a bunch of orange detour signs out the window, I shrieked into the phone and my calm-as-usual husband, armed with google maps, talked me through it and got me there safe. This is a common occurrence. Until I get GPS in my car, Jeff is the one who makes sure I get where I'm going.

My Comic Sidekick Hubby is the Abbott to my Costello, the Andy to my Connan, the Chris Tucker to my Jackie Chan. Sometimes I can't get my next funny line out, because I'm still laughing so hard at his last one. Our senses of humor are idiosyncratic, but in sync. All day today, we've been calling each other Hoagy Charmichael and Neil Sugarman (each contributors to the Michael Buble album Jeff gave me this morning. I'm Hoagy.). Gosh, but we think we're funny.

My Copy Editor I can't spell, as Jeff learned back when we were corresponding across the Atlantic at a rate of at least one love letter a week. He finally wrote me to say that "agree" had only one "g." He's been checking my spelling ever since in everything from birthday cards to blogs. Last week I called him at work to find out how to spell "laminate" (well, he's an architect and it's a building term and I couldn't figure it out because I thought it had an "n"). That was crossing a line, he said.

My Filter Okay, so I have a tendency to say things out loud that I shouldn't. When in doubt whether or not to confront that friend, make that comment, or write that idea in a blog, I ask Jeff. He will tell me if it's appropriate or not. (Side note: if I know it's not appropriate but want to say or write it anyway, I do not ask Jeff.)

My Sharpener As it says in Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Or, as Michael Buble sang on my anniversary CD, "You make me work so we can work to work it out." Jeff has always made me want to be a better person, and in fact, I am actually succeeding under his influence. It's hard to demonstrate a lack of integrity around him. I can't yell at the kids. I can't be mean to my mom (when he's listening). I can't gossip. And I can't manipulate him emotionally (not that I want to, very often). He's too smart. The fact is, his opinion matters most to me of anyone's, and as he's a better person than I am, I have to keep raising my standards.

My Handyman and Bicycle Mechanic I can count on one had the amount of time in 12 years that I have had to pay someone to fix anything around here. He rocks at garbage disposals, wood glue, plaster, epoxy, jewelry repair. He recently installed a new gear shift on my bike. He rocks.

My Personal Shopper This may sound like a weird thing to say about one's husband, but Jeff has great influence on my style. It's even weirder because when I met him he was wearing a pink backpack and argyle socks with his Vans and shorts. But he pushes me to creative accessory and color combination and he always buys me cute things. He thinks I never listen to his opinion about what to wear (gosh, does he hate being asked about my outfits), but I do!

My Friend Still my most loyal and fun friend after all these years, Hubby is just a good person to spend time with. I can be myself around him, and I like the self that I am when I'm around him. We make each other better, as he wrote in our wedding vows.

So D.J. Jazzy Jeff, as I like to call you, keep the hits coming, honey. You know what I like.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Number 100

Julie: Okay, maybe I'm being a little narcissistic...
Eric: A little? On a scale of one to 10?
Julie: Okay, a 9.3. But what do you think a blog is? It's "me, me, me" day after day!
-- From Julie and Julia

This time last year, I had a gig as a ghostwriter. Part way through the project, my client had a personal crisis and moved to Norway, so we never finished. But that job was enough to get me back into the zone, clicking away on my laptop, waking in the middle of the night when inspiration would suddenly dawn. I got hooked on the heady feeling of actually completing a thought. So on June 28, 2010, I began the Summer of Blog.

I didn't know what it was going to be about exactly, but over the course of the year, a theme has emerged. I call it Imperfectionism.

Years ago, I was seeing a brilliant therapist, who told me I should stop calling myself a Recovering Perfectionist, because it showed I still was one: a person who couldn't accept myself or the world in a state of gray, who set impossible goals, and thought in terms of all or nothing.

As a quilter, I've always been drawn to a look we call "scrappy," quilts that combine all kinds of different fabrics, especially ones that at first glance don't seem to go together. As a seamstress, I've almost been always been able to give myself grace so that I can enjoy myself, an essential because I have all kinds of creativity but am lacking the diligence and math skills to make everything line up perfectly. I call myself a Fudger: I ease seams together and lop off the sides of uneven quilt blocks to make things fit together the best I can. A technically proficient quilter would see all kinds of problems with some of my best work.

And here's the beautiful thing: I call this page Scraps of Soul, because I can truly say this scrappy principle in my quilting is now also making a lot more sense in my life. The bad days, the toddler meltdowns, my personality flaws and limitations, even tension points in my closest relationships, are all starting to look beautiful to me as they get pieced into the fabric of my blessed and redeemed life. How trite and true: its those things that make us grow (and without them what would I have to write about!).

I know that God takes my imperfect faith and with it, saves me perfectly. He is imminently comfortable with my "issues," even as He nudges me towards healing them, one at a time. So I'm approaching my days and years differently, aiming for a B+ rather than an A+, and finding the journey infinitely more interesting and enjoyable than I used to, even if on certain assignments I get a C-.

As Sophia finished up her year of first grade this spring, her teachers were universal in their praise of her writing skills. Leaving open house, I quipped to Jeff, "I'm so proud, sweetie. Maybe she'll grow up to be just like her mother: articulate and unemployed." At this point I sit here typing away with no tangible reward. But I'm loving it, largely because every once in a while, one of you has been kind enough to tell me that you related to something that I wrote, or even that it made you feel better about your life or yourself.

This is an enormous relief to me, because no writer, singer, artist wants to create in a vacuum. I write to be read. And this undertaking, as Julie Powell said in the movie Julie and Julia, is certainly narcissistic. My own life is my inspiration. My closest friends and husband must be sick of me beginning sentences with "The other day I blogged about..." So I'm glad it's not totally without value.

Today is my 100th entry, which was my private goal when I started out a year ago. And I find I've not quite run out of things to say yet. So I'll keep scrapping away. Thank you for occasionally reading this. Thanks for the encouragement. And keep the comments coming.