Monday, October 21, 2019

Bravo

Nathan is my friend that is an opera singer. When I went to operas with Nathan in college, he would - from the balcony - stand up at the end of the event and shout BRAVO so loudly and clearly that I am certain everyone in the theater heard him.

Next to Nathan, my voice felt small. My applause felt like not enough. I was in awe. But I couldn't bring myself to shout my cheers. I stood next to him and applauded.

When I became a parent, and I first saw my children do something - I was so overwhelmed with how awesome the world is - that a small child can just DO SOMETHING - ANYTHING - that at the end, I summoned my inner Nathan and shouted "Bravo". And I noticed that no one else did this. I thought it was a little odd, but I think that a lot, so I didn't dwell on it much.

I realize now that many people might have taken that moment as a cue and become a little more subtle. I did not. I have not. And I don't regret it.

When my niece graduated from high school -which felt like such a big and important deal to me, she walked across the stage and I could not help myself. I shouted "Bravo". And immediately, I cringed inside a tiny bit because I knew it would end up on my brother-in-law's video, and I was thinking that I should have been a little more reserved so that my voice wouldn't be blotting out whatever other cool things were happening. But I was so proud of her and I was awash in happy feelings of my own graduation and if there was any chance for her to hear me, I wanted to take it.

A few months ago, she reposted the video, and she was not at all miffed that my "bravo" stood out, but instead said it was how she knew I was there, and that it meant a lot to her. I told her that was how I was going to wake her from a coma if she ever fell into one - and I was only a little bit joking.

This summer, Helen was in a theater production and on the way there, she said "Mom, at the end, just clap. Do not say "bravo". Everyone knows it's you and it's embarrassing". To which I said "For real? Don't you want to know I'm there. Don't you think how boring all the other people  in the audience must be?" And she said "actually, yes, do whatever you want". And I could tell, the way only a parent can, that she was actually having this conversation to point out that I better keep being me.

At the performance, I shouted my "bravo" at the end, and her friend next to her looked at her and said "Helen, your mom is here!". And they had a little conversation about it, and Helen was beaming. That other girl's mom? Sitting right in front of me.

I think a lot about what I'm leaving for my kids when I'm gone. And I really do hope that when they are older, and I am no longer in the audience, there's a little voice in their head, that mimics mine.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mom

Being the mom inevitably involves a lot of driving, cajoling, praising, holding back, supporting, reminding, questioning, disciplining, and losing sleep. But I have noticed something - almost every time an athlete finishes a race, he or she looks up for his or her mom. And whenever he or she sits for an interview, the first thanks go to the mom for always being there. Sometimes, the looks and thanks go to the parents, but I have yet to see an athlete finish an event and give the dad top billing.

And I think I know why. Because the moment motherhood happens, there is some fierce belief in this child that takes place. Moms are endowed with the knowledge that, given the right conditions, her child can succeed. And it's as if the whole relationship from there on out is infused with this knowledge which can never be taken away. Moms have their kids' backs, even when it makes no sense to do so.

I'm not saying dads aren't fiercely loyal, and my own dad attended more softball games than I can count, and even drove me to Dallas to audition for a school he would never allow me to attend (I'm almost NOT bitter about that any more, Dad, thanks to a recent epiphany I had).

But for better or worse, I think a lot of moms are the ones who get the meal on the table, get the laundry started, and pick up the pieces when they all fall apart.

And while it often feels like the hardest, thankless task that exists, it gets noticed.

Thanks, Mom.

Elaine

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Washington-Loving High School?

Living in Virginia is somewhat bizarre. Unlike our neighbors in Maryland who like to pretend their from the North even though *cough* Mason-Dixon Lind *cough*, we in Virginia know we are part of the South. But in Northern Virginia, we like our Democrats, have turned our state from a swing state to a solid blue state, and we generally adopt progressive policies. So while we have a legacy of being in the South, we govern like our friends in the North.


But still...we are encumbered with reminders of the South all the time. Ed's and my first shared living space was a few blocks away from Jefferson Davis Highway. For real. And pretty much every few blocks there's something named after General Lee or another guy famous for fighting for the South. Partly, it's because Virginia bred a ton of these guys. Partly, it's because after the Civil War ended discontented people were really good at getting major things named for their losing people. I suppose at the time it seemed like a nice gesture from the winners.


Now, amidst a national conversation on race and very painful histories, that gesture doesn't seem too appropriate. And I agree with the folks who think it's time to stop honoring all these folks who advanced terrible positions. Which is how the high school near me got caught up in a name change.


Today, it is called Washington-Lee. Tomorrow, it will likely be called Washington-Loving. What's up with the Loving? It's the Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage, and it was brought by Virginians. That feels like a better thing to honor than a commander of the Confederate Army.


Tonight, the school board will vote on whether to follow the committee recommendation and remove Lee from the school's name. No doubt, tomorrow will be filled with Lee apologists, and for years - the school will be called by the wrong moniker.


But, eh? I like the idea of not having Lee's name on a public building a few blocks from my home.


Elaine

Friday, October 5, 2018

Bears!

This vacation actually took place in the summer of 2017. But...somehow the post got caught in my drafts, so I'm posting more than a year late!

We went way up North in Minnesota to check out the bears at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. It's both a terrible and wonderful place.

Years ago, Vince Shute - a Minnesota Logger, was shooting black bears left and right so he could run his business. Eventually, he got tired of doing this, and decided the bears didn't want to mess up his business, they were hungry. So he started feeding them. And while this did solve the nuisance bear problem he faced - they stopped getting into his cabins and disrupting his business, it also created a problem that persists today - bears looking for food at what is now the Sanctuary (the logging business ended quite some time ago), rather than in the wild.

Today, of course, we would never open an operation like this. We know it's a bad idea to feed bears because they will, no doubt, start to rely on that food. But at this point, the operators of the Sanctuary don't see a way out. If they stopped feeding them tomorrow, the bears would become nuisance bears in the nearby town, and nobody wants that. They've opted, instead, to feed the bears the highest quality diet they can, emulating what the bears search for in the wild to the extent possible (no more sour-dough pancakes from Vince!). They do this for most of the non-hibernation months - and guess they feed about 400 bears a year. Some return a lot, some for brief periods (I'm not actually sure I believe that last bit).

From 5:00 - 8:00, Tuesday - Sunday, visitors can pay a small fee and enter the Sanctuary. From there, you can take a bus out to a platform, and then sit and watch bears.

It's nuts. Truly. We saw 20 - 40 bears there every evening we visited. We saw baby bears climbing trees every evening we visited (what could be cuter?). We saw a bear that likes to lounge in front of a cabin, bears that went up on their hind legs and growled - everything you can imagine. It's the only sanctuary dedicated to black bears in the world, and getting there is not particularly easy.

My best friend from elementary school and her two daughters met us there. The four kids were perfect companions, with two introverts and two extroverts running around from sun up, when they would often relight a fire left smoking from the night before before playing a few games, paddling around a bit, and checking out the area our cabin was in.







Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Air Kiss

A couple of days ago, I decided to run some errands with Helen while Connor was at his piano lesson. Helen has a few friends having bday parties soon - and sometimes it's nice to go to the toy store a few miles from our home rather than the one up the street to get a little variety. We moved deftly through the shopping process and had a few more minutes to spare, so I decided to go to the music store a few minutes away to pick up a book of music I've been needing to grab for Connor.

The music store was a madhouse. Is it possible that every single elementary student deciding whether to rent or buy their instrument had coordinated with each other to hit the music store? It felt like it. I couldn't find the book, and then it took a while to hail someone who worked at the store to help me, and it took her a few minutes as well.

After saying no to roughly ten million music doodads (think pencils, stickers, buttons), we were finally out of the store, with book in hand. Helen trotted around to the passenger side of the car, and I decided to toss my purchase into the backseat.

I was moving too fast and flustered, I suppose, but somehow I managed to smash my finger in the door. It was far enough in that I had to open the car door with my other hand to free my trapped finger.

The pain was so intense, I thought I might black out. Helen heard me scream and came running to my aid - immediately pronouncing that she knew I had smashed something in the door from the terror in my voice. My finger was bleeding, I was holding back tears, Helen was asking if I needed ice, I was groping for the first aid kit hoping for a band aid. It was a mess.

And then Helen said "I'm so sorry - do you want me to give it a kiss? Well, maybe just an air kiss?"

It was so sweet, that I immediately thought of all those times when she was little and just needed a kiss to feel better and head on her way.

I guess the instinct to comfort sunk in - even if the kiss is not actually a physical healer. Indeed, an air kiss was just what I needed.

Elaine

Monday, September 10, 2018

Pocketknives

We took a family vacation that lasted 17 days. Our internet was junky or nonexistent, and I’m not particularly enamored with my job right now, so I just turned my work email off. I had warned people before I left that I wouldn’t be available – and I wasn’t. That’s rare for me, because long ago when I moved to part-time, I made a deal with my boss that I’d be available on my days off if an emergency arose. Even though I’m full-time now, that habit is a hard one to break.

In any case, on day 8 of the trip, the children acquired pocket knives. The little one spent a car ride asking, from the backseat, for things she could cut. I sat in the front, muttering to her father “it’s on you to take her to the clinic when she cuts herself “. It was a good example of why having parents willing to take different risks is nice for kids. I would’ve just said “no” to the pocketknife. And in fact, when I was approached, I could tell some negotiations had already taken place, and I made the quick decision to let Ed be the bad guy. I told her to ask her father.

That was a huge mistake. Because while I see almost no benefit to having the contraptions and plenty of risk, he sees dreams fulfilled. How powerful is a girl wielding a pocketknife?

So far…not powerful enough to injure herself, but that bar of soap that crossed her path is full of regret!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Teen in the House


I am the mother of a teen. That’s the kind of news that starts to sink in a few days before it actually happens, and then continues a few weeks after that. It’s not that I either want or expect my children to stay eternally young. I like all of the stages we’ve traversed together, and I look forward to more.

But when you have a teen in the house, there is just no way to deny that time is moving forward. Quickly.

We’re on vacation in Jackson, Wyoming, and while Ed and Connor make their way through a ropes course together, I have opted to play the role of chaperone to Helen. She’s too young- or more likely-too small to be with them. She’s stuck on a smaller course. It kills her. I know.

And this is somewhat ironic, since just a few hours earlier we went hiking to a rock that our travel book declared made a great place to jump into the lake – at least 25 feet below. Helen was the first to take the leap, and Connor only followed to save his pride.

Regardless, as I look up at Helen, it hits me like the proverbial ton of bricks.

Parenting from here on out involves a lot of trust. Trust that the world will provide a safe place to tether to, and trust that your child will find those places and tether on.

It’s a series of moments when I realize that my heart is doomed to dangle dangerously outside my body, and the best thing to do is let that happen.

And even when I’m not sure what the ending will be, the story must be written in someone else’s handwriting.


Elaine

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Institutions

As Trump's presidency unfolds, I find myself walking very lightly most days.

Some concerns I have are about today - will these children ever be reunited with their families? Will the investigation be completed before another election? How compromised is our government and how much more so will it be in the near future? And note, a friend I was running with who has held high level defense positions said to make no bones about it, our president is compromised. I believe her.

Most of my fears are longer term. Will my children grow up in a more racist, more sexist world than I came of age in? Will my democracy be stronger than whatever is trying to undermine it? Will the US get backed into a corner and come out swinging dangerously? And more.

It occurred to me the other day that Ed does not have anxiety about our world. He is not worried that alienating our allies will be impossible to fix. He does not fear a world where the budget is so messed up we will not be able to provide assistance to anyone. By all accounts - he seems fine.

And so I asked him - how can you be fine when I'm struggling to breathe on occasion - and though it doesn't happen often, I still hold back tears when I think about the state of our country too long? How is this even possible? Because I know Ed is a compassionate, brilliant person.

His answer was simple. He believes our institutions are strong enough to keep everything together, in the end. I had to process that for a minute. His faith in our system of government is so strong, he can simultaneously say what is happening is truly horrible, but also know in his head it will be fine.

That was mind boggling to me. Until it occurred to me that he, I'm guessing, has never been let down by the institutions around him. He's never been in a meeting where someone talked over him and took credit for his idea. He's never had the President of another company talk shop with everyone in the room until he walked up and chose to talk about children with him instead. He is always seen in exactly the role he's participating in - and I know not one single woman or person of color that can say the same thing.

We have all been knocked around unfairly - and each time it has happened, I suspect I've lost a little bit of my faith in these institutions. I have spent so much time curating a world for my daughter where she knows, without doubt, she is deserving of every space she inhabits - that the notion that the bigger world hasn't come along is maddening.

I have two voices inside me. One that tells me my daughter is in for a world of hurt, and one that tells me this nightmare will end.

Elaine


Friday, June 29, 2018

Summer...Summer...Summer

For a few years, we created a summer list, which proved to be excellent motivation to get out and about during the summer. It turns out, a lot of these activities became embedded in our lives, and we've done them over and over. One exception? Picking fruit. This always seems like such a wonderful idea, but the bottom line is that it's hot, dirty, often in the sun - and usually costs about as much as buying the fruit at the farmer's market, which is what we do now.

This summer will be a little heavier on the hiking side than typical because we're heading to Yellowstone for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer. While there, we plan to hit a few hikes and stay overnight in tents. Presumably, it will not be quite as hot in Wyoming as it is here in DC, or we'll be so used to the heat that it won't matter. (Note: it was already 80 degrees when I set out on my run this morning at 6:00 AM!)

We're lucky to be at the point we are with the kids, which is that they can make it a day outdoors expending energy without accompanying that with a lot of complaints. It's true that I have developed the ability to just ignore complaining small people, but I believe they have actually stopped complaining. The one issue that still causes a bit of forethought on my part is snacks, because my children would eat candy and chips all day if given the choice, but I know they need some protein to keep their bodies fueled.

We use to send them to camps and other outings with Stonyfield tube yogurt, but Stonyfield has recently added resealable pouches to its lineup, and that's a big help for on-the-go snacking. Like other Stonyfield products, it has 25-35% less sugar than competitors, which means I don't feel like my stomach needs to do gymnastics to process the stuff. And, my children have yet to notice the missing sugar.


We've been testing these babies out at the pool, at camps, and even in our own backyard. We'll definitely be packing them for our trip. And, pro-tip, stick it in the freezer a few hours before your adventure or overnight and you have a cool treat to take along on your travels.

Because it's summer, we are loading up on sunscreen as well. I was lucky because Stonyfield partnered with a brand that is already in my house, Badger Sunscreen (and if you have extra money in an MSA you can purchase a case of sunscreen and get reimbursed from your MSA, like, ahem, I did last year!). Why is Badger already my brand of choice? Because every year it gets rated highly by the Environmental Working Group.


So, coupled with the fact that I am still trying to spend my money where my heart is - which is with companies working to protect my children and the environment, I'm feeling quite prepared for our summer vacation.

We'll be testing the sunscreen and yogurt pouches in a couple of weeks when we vacation at a lake in Upstate New York. Hopefully I'll remember to post the photos of my not hungry and not sunburned children!

Elaine

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

New Commuting Partner

This week, Connor is enrolled in a camp on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. When I signed him up for it, I *thought* it was at the college campus a few blocks from my office. I learned that it's at that college - but at a satellite campus north of my office, which is only important because it means the drive in would be much worse than my commute.


When I was still in the phase of thinking the camp was by my office, I told Connor we could be commuting partners. He could hop on his bike, follow me, and then we could bike home together. I did not tell him that biking home was essentially straight uphill.


Then, I received the notice that this camp was not where I thought it was, but an out of town friend who is sending her child to the same camp later in the summer told me there was a magical shuttle that would take Connor from the main campus to the satellite campus. Problem solved! So I came clean on the difficulty of the commute home, which Connor was OK with.


Yesterday, we commuted together in what I can only describe as my best bike ride into work yet. And, as much as a broken record like I know I sound like, I do believe we have reached the glory days of parenting. He was an absolute sport as I issued warnings about various roads, cars, other bikes, etc. We rode the shuttle together in the morning, but then he rode it back at the end of the day on his own. Yay to me, since that meant I didn't have to ride the bus AND could get in another hour of work.


And then we started our bike ride home. I told Connor we could catch a bus if he wanted, but he decided to go for the ride. He crushed it. And, just for sport, on the very last uphill on our way home when he knew where he was, I hear him cruising by my with the standard bike warning "on your left". Of course, when he reached the top of the hill he was about dead, but I think it was worth it to him to pass me.




Day 2 morning commute was uneventful. Trying to decide now if I risk three days in a row or if I decide we should commute by subway tomorrow.


Elaine