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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Fellow graduates, I apologize

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I’ve recently attended two very different graduation ceremonies: preschool “graduation” for my youngest child, and high school graduation for my oldest niece. The events left me with a few observations to share. You know, I’ve got stuff to say.

But first, can I just have a private moment with any fellow graduates of Wasilla High School, class of 1987? I was one of your graduation speakers, you probably don’t remember, but I was the one you couldn’t see over the podium. Unless they gave me a stool, I don’t remember. I do remember what I wore, the most elegant silk Angora sweater and skirt set, ivory with little pearl beads on the sweater. It was a gift from my grandmother, and I loved it. (And I would pay a million dollars to fit into it today, but that’s a different matter.)

I dont remember what I said in my speech, but recent experiences have given me enough emotional flashback to know it was probably awful, insufferable, equal parts perky beyond measure and grandiose predictions about our future. Ugh, and I probably started it with a portentous quote from some famous person I barely recognized from the “Quotes for a Speech” booklet.

Sidebar: Why do young speakers feel the need to start a speech with a quote? It’s unnecessary, clichéd, and generally only distantly related to the subject at hand. Not only that, but a huge percentage of the audience immediately tunes you out for the duration of the Quote from the Important Person and begins wondering how long it will be until they can get a Diet Pepsi. I’m just sayin’. If you are not a young speaker and you still do it, Stop It. Immediately.

Anyhow, Class of ’87, I’m sure you all were busy hoping your silly hat stayed on while you crossed the stage, or whatever, but on behalf of my 18-year-old self, I’m so sorry.

Now, observations from this year’s graduations:

– The silly hats, oh, my. One was carefully sized and stapled construction paper, and the other was cheap polyester, and they were both silly. But tradition! Tradition!

– Flowers for preschool graduation? Far be it from me to deprive anyone of an opportunity to celebrate and love on their kid, but I’m a little concerned here that we are building these kids up so much, over-celebrating the early achievements  that we will soon be holding daily graduation ceremonies for the littlest things. “Honey, do you have your tie on yet? I’ll grab the bouquet, it’s time for Tuesday We Put Our Shirt On Graduation!” I’m just a little worried, that’s all….

– But preschoolers all dressed up in paper graduation hats and singing adorable little songs with hand motions while trying their hardest to not smile even though they are really excited when they see you in the audience? A momma can’t help but wipe away a few tears of big, upwelling emotion.

– The clapping. Oh, how I need a clapping storage device, so that in situations of prolonged clapping I could reuse and recycle my enthusiastic clapping from the beginning of the event and share it equally with those deserving it at the end of the event.  I love all of you, you cute little preschoolers, but I just don’t want to clap that long, it’s exhausting. Right? And 374 high school students? I’m sorry, there’s just no way.

– Which takes me to Clapping Math and Psychology. I am quite sure there is a mathematical genius out there who if correctly paired with an equally genius psychologist could devise a clear set of equations to measure the clapping and associated cheering for each high school graduate and correctly identify their exact type to within a standard deviation. (Whatever that is, Statistics was my very Enemy in grad school and has been driven from my mind and soul.)

Follow me here, though, I’m on to something. Supportive, enthusiastic, widespread clapping with lots of deep cheering? The class athletes, homecoming royalty, bound for college scholarships. Polite, measured clapping of a barely decent level? The well-respected valedictorian who no one really got to know. Crazed, super-loud cheering for the guy who bounces onto the stage in the wrong direction? His family never thought he’d graduate, none of them ever did, and they are poppin’ a beer in the stands while they holler.

Us? Well, our girl was about number 93, and by that point I’d already done plenty of judging of other’s lack of class and decorum. Didn’t think making a scene like that was really appropriate, you know?

But our girl? She got up and walked across that stage after surviving a near-fatal car accident three years earlier, after struggling with traumatic brain injury ever since, and while living in a medical foster care home. Did all that without her immediate family, which had been torn apart by illness and stupid horrible things grownups did that weren’t her fault even a little bit. So much to my surprise, when they called her name, I threw decorum out the window and screamed and hooted and hollered with the best of them while wiping away hot furious tears of pride, yes I did.

Who knows what Clapping Math and Psychology would do with that.

This Crazy Kite Needs a Rock on Her String

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What IS the stale in stale ice cream? How did it get in there? And why does having the lid tilted off a just little bit make ice cream stale? And why can’t ice cream cut me some slack, I can’t help it that the freezer is haphazardly loaded and a bit full, I just went to Costco. And all I wanted was some ding dang ice cream……

I’m sorry, what? Well, yes, I am feeling a bit emotional today, funny you should ask. Don’t know why, yesterday was good, it was a good day. Family had a good weekend, all was well. Then came today.

Today swept in all ugly.  Angsty, unpredictable, inexplicably weepy. No reason, no dramatic change in circumstance, no loss or challenge, not rhyme nor reason. Reminded me of a poem, or a bit of scripture. Remember this one?

“Fear the woman, for she is like the gusty winds of spring, one moment blowing through in icy chills, then bringing sun that warms the cheek, then pelting rain which drives all hope and joy from the air.”

No? Well, of course not. I just made that up. But that would be an apt description of me, had I been written about in poetry today. I don’t even want to know how I would come off in a news report. “Yes, that’s right, Jane, this suburban mom was caught on camera earlier today yelling at some shoes in her entryway. Witnesses heard something like ‘on the rack, I just want you all on the shoe rack for 5 minutes, would that be too much to ask?’ These same witnesses swore they heard hysterical laughter and saw shoes flying through the air right after that. Very sad, Samantha, very sad. Back to you now in the studio……”

On a day like today, my brain whirrs with stupid anxiety, spinning from topic to topic. Want a taste of the crazy?

Top 5 things I angsted about today:

1. My utter failure as a housekeeper. There is not one corner of my house, save for my youngest’s room, that isn’t a vile pit of filth. Or at least really messy. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I keep this relatively small house from looking like a bomb went off? And why was the bomb composed primarily of Legos, art supplies and unapplied Cub Scout badges?

2. My crazy career goals. Seemed like a good idea at the time, even a God idea. But on a day like today, I can talk myself out of it in a quick minute. Don’t know how to get there from here, probably not going to work. I’m just fooling myself, etc., etc.

3. How my past actions have already irreparably ruined child A (or B, or C). Today I was convinced that my years as a working mom (in nonprofit Christian social justice, mind you, not as a drug dealer) were the ruination of my middle child, and that I should have never made him spend so much time in preschool aftercare, as that was clearly why he doesn’t get as many play dates as his older brother. All my fault.

4. Big, ugly Things I have to do this week. OK, I know this is vague, but necessarily so. And it doesn’t matter what they are, just that the time I spent worrying about them got me exactly……nowhere. I still gotta do them. And I could have used the time to do something productive.

5. The fact that my brain wouldn’t stop spinning like a crazy kite, careening wildly up and down, one topic of angst to the next, flying in my mind from worry to worry.

(6. Oh, let’s be honest. Time was also spent on “I’m fat and my hair looks weird.” Really, what would be the point in not being honest on my little blog on the Internet. It’s not like anyone will know, right?)

The good news is twofold. First, I am a naturally optimistic, confident person, and I’m a girl. So odds are good that by Wednesday, things will be looking up. Thursday at the outside, and I’ll be back to my sassy, perky self, raring to go.

Second, the goodness of my life doesn’t really depend on me, or which way my winds are blowing. It depends on One who is solid, who doesn’t have mood swings, who doesn’t lose sleep worrying, who doesn’t second-guess and over-analyze His plans for my days.

The good news is that this crazy kite has a Rock on her string.

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2

“Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:2

In Which I Reveal My Superhero Alter Ego

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I think the world is ready to know the truth. I Am Danger Girl.

What is my superpower, you ask? Well, that’s kind of a personal question, but I’ll allow it. My superpower is, quite simply, to put myself in danger, or occasionally to put others in danger. I didn’t say it was a great superpower, but it works for me. I was given the title by my husband early in our relationship. I don’t remember the specifics, but I’m sure it happened while we were walking. I am a bit of a public hazard when walking, especially when walking and talking. Talking, in my book, requires both enthusiastic arm and hand motions as well as near-constant eye contact, and this does not always work well when walking and say, crossing a street. Or walking through a crowd. Or shopping near elderly people. I’m just saying.

Especially since at my 4’11” height I stop below eye level for many people, so they don’t even notice the almost-midget involved in the enthusiastic full-body retelling of last night’s Modern Family episode until I’ve plowed into their sternum.

There is a corollary to the physical aspects of my superhero powers of Danger that relate to my optimistic embrace of Adventure That is Not Burdened With Tedious Planning.  I believe such Adventures should be frequent and fabulous, and my more restrained family members fall somewhere closer to infrequent and small-with-no-possibility-of-disaster. Side trips, road trips, heading down roads that are only sort of on the map and have weird warning symbols? Bring it on! Hey, let’s go downtown to the Croatian Festival and sample new foods! Hey, let’s foster a litter of kittens! Bring. It. On.

I Am Danger Girl.

Somehow, though I’ve not publicly revealed this alter ego before today, I think others may have figured it out. The dance class I take at the gym, for instance. I’ve noticed that no matter how crowded the class, I am given a wide and respectful berth as we power through the samba, hip hop and disco numbers. Lovely, really, how….respectful they all are.

My family, of course, has long known of my alter ego and my superpowers. I have only but to utter the words “I have a great idea, let’s….” and there are pre-emptive groans and looks of concern all around. But they know the good side of my superpowers – life is often more fun and more rewarding. (For the purposes of legal accuracy, about 7.43% of the time, Life with Danger Girl can be utterly disastrous. But those are good odds, right?)

My confidence in my alter ego was significantly strengthened this February. The keynote speaker for our church women’s retreat was Susanna Foth Aughtmon, who is herself the Tired Supergirl and author of funny books you should read: “All I need is Jesus and a good pair of jeans” and “My bangs look good, and other lies I tell myself”. She helped me see that following my own superhero path could be a righteous one as well as one full of adventure.

Need more convincing of the benefits of Adventure? None other than Facebook CEO Larry Page is quoted in April’s Wired magazine as saying “Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely. That’s the thing that people don’t get.”

I try to think about it like this, see. I’m like Po, the Kung Fu Panda. As one movie reviewer put it, Po discovers that his greatest weakness – his oversize belly – is his greatest strength. (I of course am referencing my penchant for Adventure, and not my possibly oversize belly.)

It’s all kind of like me right now, stepping out in faith into this new Adventure of blogging and professional speaking. That’s right – me, Larry Page, and Kung Fu Panda.

Oh, and the One who protects me faithfully along the way.

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.” Psalm 138:7, NIV

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.  When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place,  it won’t be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43: 1-2, The Message

The Moose in My Basement

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When I was a kid, there was a moose in my basement. That’s right, my childhood home in Alaska had a moose in the basement. Don’t think my parents listed that when they put the house on the market a few years ago. “Lovely older 4 BR, 4 bath home on acreage with spectacular mountain view, large gardens, moose in basement.”

As childhood fears go, I know this one is kind of weird, but I think that stuff happens when you grow up in Alaska. The situation didn’t cause me too much angst as a kid, because I followed the rules.

You see, the moose and I had an unspoken agreement, an understanding, if you will. If I flipped on the lights from the top of the stairs before I went down, and waited a few seconds to give him time, he would leave. So that’s what I did. Because I certainly didn’t want to risk the consequences of NOT complying with the agreement, and neglect to first flip the lights. Then, the moose would get me. That’s right. It would get me.

Didn’t matter that moose are herbivores, more inclined to eat willow bushes than “get” little girls, or that they don’t traditionally live in residential basements. None of that mattered, ’cause my basement had a moose.  I have no idea how I came by this awareness, nor do I remember any time in my childhood that I did not believe the moose was down there. I just knew, and accepted the weight of that knowledge with equanimity.

Now, I do understand how my personal childhood fear came to take the form of a moose. They were a fairly constant presence in Alaska, at least in the winter when they came down to lower elevations to escape deeper snow and forage in the ‘hood. The moose would wander through our woods, munching on shrubs, occasionally wandering into our yards. My family lived on ten acres that bordered my best friend’s family’s ten acres, and our shared driveway wound through the woods to the road we lived on.

We’d walk down the driveway to the bus stop in the mornings in the dark (cause winter mornings are dark in Alaska), and we could sometimes see their dark shapes off in the woods, laying down in the snow, or hear their whuffling breath, or the sound of their hooves breaking through the snow.  Scary stuff, I’ll tell ya, with nothing more to defend us than a flashlight and our parents’ near-meaningless admonitions to “make lots of noise, they’ll leave you alone” in our ears.

Every year in early December my dad would drag my brother and I out to the forest somewhere to cut down our pitiful little Alaska spruce Christmas tree, and it seemed like there was always a discomforting moose spotting or two while we were out there, so bundled up we couldn’t run if we wanted to, miles and miles from the car in the freezing cold. (I may be exaggerating this experience a wee little bit, my father might tell a slightly different version.) Nor did it help that once in a while there would be news of some poor soul coming between a cow moose and her calf, and the cow stomping the person to death. This happened to a little boy when I was in elementary school, or so I remember, and I’m sure contributed to the frightening certainty of the moose downstairs.

Moose avoidance was part and parcel of learning to drive in Alaska. Hitting a 1200-pound moose could have put a real ugly dent in my serviceable “ain’t nobody going to misbehave in a car this ugly” hatchback Chevy Citation. (Even now, driving the suburban roads of the Portland metro area, I can’t help but evaluate any looming dark shape on the side of the road as a potential moose, just for a split second. This auto-response is tripled on the approximately 2 days each year we have a skiff of snow on the ground.)

Mind you, the moose in the basement was well established before my teenage driving days, but since a deal is a deal, I habitually flipped those lights at the top of the stairs well into my college years. Of course, since it was a basement, there were also other dangers lurking down there, in the dark coldroom with the potatoes and carrots (and Lord knows what else?) stored in sand, or in the creepy pantry below the stairs, shelves lined with canned salmon and homemade raspberry jelly and SPIDERS THAT MIGHT LEAP ON YOUR HEAD AND EAT YOUR BRAINS.

Really, it’s amazing I’m as normal as I am.

There are days now, though, when I would welcome that moose into the Lego-strewn daylight basement of my own family’s home. Growing up means trading childhood fears for new adult fears with bigger teeth and deeper bites, fears like cancer and loss, injustice and unemployment, fear of failure, things that really can “get you”. The magical thinking that enabled a frightening but fair moose in the basement might come in handy now and again.

How ’bout you? Any quirky childhood fears you can look back on and admit to today?

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