Monday, October 29, 2012

holding my breath: a tale of teen driving

Do you remember the first time you discovered the real meaning of the phrase, "flying down the road?"
From my perch in the back, I hung casually over the front seat, my elbows crooked up under me, my head swiveling back and forth between my older sister and her friend, David. As I did my best to look cool, David maneuvered the torpedo of a car up the hill of a narrow residential road near our house.  He leaned back like a man in control, his left arm extended casually to the top of the wheel, his right hand gesticulating its way through the laughter of our conversation.

At 14, my parents had granted me the much anticipated privilege of riding home from school with these worldly teenagers.  They knew David; he was a “nice boy.”  I caught my first giddy whiff of freedom as I laughed, probably too loudly, at his jokes on that day.  When we crested the hill and began to speed down the other side, I sat up straight on the edge of the green vinyl upholstry, both hands gripping the front seat for the leverage you need when you’re not wearing a seatbelt.  The big sedan harrumphed over the uneven road in that barely-touching-the-ground kind of way that only a big car can.  When I bounced so high I bumped my head on the roof of the car, we all hooted and hollered to the sky of invincibility.  We were flying!

Many years later, I watched Gareth ride his bike for the first time down a hill by our house.  His little red two-wheeler wobbled precariously as he picked up speed.  His wonky helmet sat cockeyed on his precious little head; his legs pedaled furiously.  If I could have seen his face, I’m sure it would have exuded pure exhilaration.  Me?  I clutched my hands to my chest and held my breath. 

Does any parent breathe while they’re doing this letting-go-thing?

I haven’t yet. 

On Friday, as I unloaded my tutor supplies from my van, an unfamiliar red car pulled up in the driveway.   “Who’s that?” I wondered as I observed a teenager behind the wheel.  The back door opened and out climbed Gareth, hauling his back pack behind him with an unmistakable swagger. 

I had not given permission for him to ride in cars with other teenagers, so I was unhappy that he’d done so without my permission.  I stuck to that line of commentary for the afternoon, reprimanding him for getting in the car when he knew I would disapprove.  But inside, I wondered if a new milestone had arrived. 
The school thinks so: last year the soccer coach required parents to sign a waiver allowing underclassman to drive to practices with upperclassmen (even though it was never necessary).  The state thinks so: many of Gareth’s friends have gotten their learner’s permits.  Gareth thinks so: obviously.  I guess the only remaining question is: what do Steve and I think? 

He is 15 years old and a sophomore in high school.  I was only 14 that first day I went “flying.”  Of course, I don’t ever want Gareth to careen down a hill like that.  But in the same breath, I don’t want to deny him that feeling I had: the independence, the invincibility, the sheer being.  Teens have to get that somehow. 

I also think it’s a little hypocritical for me to deny freedoms to Gareth that I enjoyed at his age.  I don’t really buy into the idea that we live in a more dangerous world.  We live in a different world with different threats, yes, but more dangerous?  I’m just not sure.  Only luck kept me safe on the day I went soaring down a narrow hill in a wide car.  The reality is that most of the time, we are lucky.  We’re lucky every time we come to the end of a day and crawl into the safety of our flannel sheets with our families intact. 

Rather than suffering more danger, perhaps we are just more fearful.  Perhaps we are less comfortable living in a world where bad things can happen on the day when luck doesn’t show up.  We try to guard against this by regulating danger away (banning kickball, tag and running(!) on the playground, or keeping our kids on a short leash in the neighborhood).  

I have tried my best to resist this trend, to give my kids more freedom--to raise “free range kids,” when I can.  I don’t really know how good I am at it, quite frankly, but I try.  It takes guts to let your kids walk to the pool and cross a four-lane street by themselves when the other moms say it’s too dangerous.  If something goes wrong, you will not only suffer loss; you will suffer judgment. 

Despite all this trying, when it comes to cars, I admit I’m a bit of a disaster.  Having been privy to what happens when luck takes a nap, I know how quickly the familiar insides of a car can turn alien with the aura of injury and death.   Those experiences have left me scarred, and I admit, I feel terrified by the idea of letting Gareth go out into the world in a car.  “Free-range” evokes sweet bucolic images of chickens and children running around harmlessly in a field full of dandelions, doesn’t it?  I don’t see a car anywhere in that picture. 

But perhaps I just never noticed it.  

I can’t keep Gareth locked up in a bird cage just because I feel afraid, right?  I’ve backed myself into this cliché now, so I’m obligated to ask, is it time to “let him fly?”

 Ugh.  I think it is.

With a little trust and a lot of luck, I need to let him go.  He won’t get a free pass or anything, but when necessary, with kids we know, and with prior permission, it’s time to let Gareth, drum roll:  ride home from school with a teen driver.   It doesn’t sound like much, but I know it’s a slippery slope.  We’ll start with riding to and from school with upperclassmen.  Then it will be his friends driving, and then it will be him (he’s young for his grade).  Eventually he’ll be driving to friends’ houses on the weekends, and finally, he’ll simply be “going out.”  I’ll only think I know where he’s going. 

I can’t stop this progression.  I can only stand behind with my hands clasped to my chest, holding my breath. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

laughing with the left

Gareth joined us to watch a recording of Steven Colbert last night.   The show had all of us rolling. 

It was the first time we watched with Gareth, and I got to thinking: what a great way to teach kids about politics.  I certainly don’t think comedy should be anyone’s only source of news, but it seems comedy could be a good vehicle for engaging youth.  You usually have to know something about what’s going on to get the jokes, after all.  

And it doesn't hurt that comedy can make even bad news entertaining.

For example, Donald Trumps bizarre pseudo-extortionist offer to pay $5 million for Obama’s college transcripts struck me as a disturbing.  I didn’t think there was anything funny about this grotesque show of money until Steve Colbert got hold of it. 

 60 second parody of Trump's offer
It’s crude, yes.  But it had a triple positive effect.  First, it allowed us to talk to Gareth about Trump’s stunt with laughter instead of the more bitter or cynical tone I might have adopted after first hearing the story.  Second, it gave us a context for discussing power and money in an election where their connection has become so exaggerated.  Third, and most importantly, it helped us show Gareth how cool his parents are because we can laugh at a joke about dipping balls into people's mouths.  egad.   

So, I'm thinking about how I might be on to something:  I'm thinking we can exploit comedic news programs to engage Gareth in political discussions!  Imagining how that would work, I realized, “Wow. People on the Left are really funny! We have a ton of material to choose from!” 

Win or lose, it seems like it's a lot more fun to be a Democrat than a Republican.

They have Fox News with its flashing lights, dramatic music and low-intelligence messages of fear and doom.  We have Steven Colbert making fun of Fox with his faux-Fox set, his mock drama, and his clever spoofs on their stories and reporting styles. 

They have the blustering of Bill O’Reilly with his arrogant and oversimplified messages of outrage through which he hopes to breed indignation and suspicion for all things Left. 

We have the blustering of Jon Stewart who, rather than instill us with outrage, uses humor to relieve us of it.

 "Chaos on Bullshit Mountain" - from a month ago
 and an unfortunate 10 minutes long, but still has me laughing

And good god, they have Rush Limbaugh.  If you dare venture to listen to his red-faced, spittle-laden hate-speech for more than sixty seconds, it will surely leave you feeling that you need a shower.  I don't begrudge Rush's right to say what he wishes, but I’d trade his world where hatred rules, for Bill Maher’s “New Rules” any day. 
Bill concluding his argument that if we can't manage to tolerate offensive language in others,
 we end up with "The Least Interesting Man in the World." 
If all that’s not enough, we have Andy Borowitz on Twitter:

Romney: "Not only do I believe in drones, I am one." #debate

Sarah Silverman on line:

Sarah: "Let My People Vote!"

and Saturday Night Live on the old fashioned telly: 


Spoofing the first presidential debate

Everywhere I turn, someone’s making me laugh about an election that otherwise makes me want to cry.  That has to be good for my health, right?

With our country so polarized, and our political commentary so full of vitriol, I am grateful that our family can rally together around laughter instead of hate.

And no, it is not lost on me that I just posted a bunch of videos full of crude jokes and profanity and claimed them as something my "family" can rally around.  I guess that's the beauty of having a teenager!

Keep smiling!   J


Friday, October 19, 2012

election fatigue? take a spoonful of fall

this perfect (but inedible) pumpkin volunteered in my herb garden this year

Fall is well upon us, and not a word from me.  That just shows you the power of Mitt Romney to distract, because I love this time of year, and I haven’t been enjoying it nearly as much as I should. 

Even though the election has distracted me from the more introspective aspects of the season, I have still been incredibly busy with the preparation that October requires.  I have tomatoes, beans and fruit put up, herbs drying, and green stuff like broccoli, kale and collards moving weekly into my freezer. 

out of focus - i couldn't hold my camer still while standing on a chair!
the new word in window treatments!

boring apple picture
If I must have gray hovering around my doorstep in just a few weeks, at least I know I have color bottled up in jars, boxed up in cool storage, and vacuum packed in my freezer.  Meanwhile, we'll make the most of the arugula that's prime in the fridge, dappling it with walnuts and pear from the market.  We know the salad won’t last, but we don’t dwell on it.  There's something deeply satisfying in the box of pale fleshy sweet potatoes that stands a hero’s guard against winter in the corner of my kitchen.
An even surer sign of the season, we had soup for dinner last night! Black bean: the first official soup of these coming cooler months.  
As it happens, I have a confession to make about those beans. 
Remember when I posted Earth:Full, Pantry: Empty?  Well, feeling that the bar of soap I bought might make an inadequate store for civilization's coming seige, I eventually ordered some beans. 
Yes.  Yes, I did. 
You see, I already order wheat in bulk because I grind it to make my own flour.  So it wasn’t a stretch by any means to venture into the bean section of the website and click the number “one” under the description “black beans-6 gallon bucket.”  

Then I forgot about it.  Imagine my surprise when the order came in six weeks later.  I opened my bucket of “wheat,” only to discover a surprise guest:  a mountain of black beans, all shiny, new, and expectant. 
Six gallons.  I think that amounts to about 96 cups of beans (94, if you subtract what I used for the soup).

Steve doesn’t know. 

If you live in a small house, how do you hide 96 cups of black beans from your husband?  
You put them in the laundry room and stack other stuff on top of them.  Then you hope he doesn’t trip on the bucket when putting the bath towels in the dryer.  While he’s there, you might as well cross your fingers that he doesn’t look in the freezer, because you probably haven’t yet told him about the chickens…

Other women hide new stuff like Jimmy Choo pumps or Prada handbags.  Me? I don't really even know what those things are (I googled "fashionable shoes" to find cool names).  I have 6 gallons of dried beans lurking in my laundry room and approximately 20 covert chickens stuffed into a “new” freezer we inherited from my parents. 

It’s not that Steve doesn’t know that I store our food for winter.  It’s just that I don’t tell him about the bill when it happens (if he was a more faithful reader I could worry about outing myself but…that’s not a problem!).  It’s OK.  The cost will work itself out later, in the minimal grocery bill we’ll enjoy all winter.  For now, I plan to stay mum on the chickens and play oblivious to the beans.

Meanwhile, I need a break.  I think I have food storage fatigue.  I know I have election fatigue.  And I'm missing the fall. 

So tonight we went for a walk.
steve and my block-headed
but lovable dog named Maybe



The in between seasons teach us to pay attention, because whatever pleasures they offer, are fleeting.
a bee showing up for "last call"

Winter and summer can drag on.  Too much snow gives us cabin fever; too much sun gives us heat stroke.  The extremes wear us out, and by the end, we appeal for change. But not so with the in between.  I mean, when was the last time you heard someone say they were tired of fall?  Or sick of spring?  
a pink mum
summer marigolds still hanging on
In the moderate temperatures of fall, we can stop sweating and sit back to watch and listen as a timpani of clouds rolls in over the fiery hills, a trumpeting wind blusters leaves into fountains of sky, and color comes oozing out of the planet like music.  
decay is part of the beauty of fall
But be sure to tune in.  If you get distracted, you'll miss the show. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

the woman or the bean

Were you surprised to hear Paul Ryan reference "reason and science" when justifying his pro-life philosophy during the Vice Presidential Debates? 

I was.

What Republican would risk his or her reputation by basing a policy decision on [gasp] science?!   Well, as it turns out, not Paul Ryan.   When it comes to abortion, he can't seem to see the woman for the bean.

If I can trouble you for one more click, you can read more about my thoughts on Ryan's "science" over at Opinionista today!

Thanks for checking it out!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

the word "boy," president obama, and romney's racism

There’s been a lot of lament in the last few days about President Obama’s unusual awkwardness and silence during the debate.  Romney brought his “A” game, if putting on a say-anything smarmy sales routine counts as such—which it does.
While I shared everyone’s consternation over President Obama’s failure to come out swinging, I found myself much more upset with one particular moment in the debate: when Romney says:
“Look, I have five boys.  I’m used to people saying something that isn’t always true and keep on saying it hoping ultimately I will believe it.” 
So.  Just to be sure we have it straight.  Mr. Romney claimed that he is used to dealing with people like President Obama because Obama is a lying “boy” just like Romney’s own sons.
Shocked, I sat bolt upright in my chair, asking myself, “Did Romney just call President Obama a “boy?”
We have a long history of white people calling black men “boy” in our country.  The term evolved during slavery as a way of emasculating black men.  By calling them “boy,” and disavowing their adulthood, slave owners robbed them of the intelligence, humanity and sexuality of a grown man.  As “boys,” black men had no autonomy over their lives and no claim to their women.  The black man’s status as a “boy” justified his position as dependent and beholden to a master who claimed to take care of him.
Like the “N” word, use of “boy” did not disappear with emancipation.  It remained a powerful linguistic tool through Jim Crow and continues to pack a punch today.    
If you watch President Obama as Romney delivers this line, there is a distinct reaction.  He turns slightly towards Romney, lifts his head abruptly and inhales through his nose.  For just a second, he exhibits the body language of a man rising to the challenge of a physical fight.  He’s pissed. 
Then he reigns it in under the mask of an awkward smile.


Here stands our intelligent and principled president, admirably keeping his composure while this big lying oaf disparages him with dripping condescension and a subtly delivered racial epithet.

I don’t think we can explain Romney’s allusion away as an innocent reference to his kids.  Let’s give the man more credit than that.  Whether implicitly or explicitly, he understands the nuances of language in American culture because he grew up here.  We all know the language.  What separates us is whether we choose to embrace or reject it. 

People say Romney has no soul, no principles.  He can’t seem to decide on which side of anything he stands.  Even his insinuation that President Obama is no better than his own apparantly dishonest boys comes amid his own whopper lies about taxes and healthcare.  (Apparently then, the apples didn’t fall far from the tree?)

I think in this moment, and perhaps against his will, the real Romney seeps through the seams of his pressed and starched shirt.  We've seen glimpses of this bully before.  He is a guy who will do or say anything to get what he wants: a guy who put his dog on the car roof,  and who cut off his classmate’s hair; a guy who wrote off 47% of Americans when he thought no one was looking.  And now, a guy who called his president a "boy" in hopes of getting a vote.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

clueless hippie mom goes to the mall

Olivia turns 12 years old this week.  She told me she's excited to be 12 because, "it's old."  I know what she means. Suddenly, makeup isn't for dress up anymore; short shorts are more than cute; cell phones rank with necessary accoutrements like underwear and shoes; and skinny jeans...well, I wish I could take the skinny out of them.
A sure mark of this coming-of-age:  Olivia's friends want to go to the mall for entertainment--truly the moment I have been dreading for the long length of her short life.

I do not like the mall.

But I have a fine line to walk here (and incidentally, I have really big feet.  Steve likes to call them floppers.  Is it easier or harder to walk a tightrope with floppers?)

On the one hand, I'm holding the line.  No makeup and no cell phones. She does have short shorts and skinny jeans, but not because we bought them that way, rather, because she's grown so much in the last six months they've turned out that way.

So far, Olivia respects my decisions.  I'd say she's disappointed (about the phone especially), but tolerant.  I know this won't last, however, and when the day comes for her to push back, it won't help my case at all if she sees me as a cooky and clueless "hippie mom" who hasn't even heard of the store Pac Sun (When my sister, Laura, told me to shop there for Olivia's birthday, I said, "What's Pac Sun?"  Laura has mothered 4 teenagers.  She could only answer, "Lord help you.") 

I need some mall savvy quick.  Perhaps there's a map I could study?  When Olivia says, "Let's go to Pac Sun!"  I need to be able to answer, "Oh, no problem.  That's just this way on the other side of Hecht's Macy's."  I need to move with the alacrity and confidence of a hippie at a farmer's market!

Except I hate the mall. 

For one, the mall wastes so much energy.  Energy on lights, climate control (they crank that AC in the summer!) even electric signs.   Energy on the production, shipment and disposal of unnessary stuff: a foot massager we use once, another purse, or an expensive lamp made so cheaply it only lasts a year.  Energy on packaging: packaging that we then carry around in a bag.  Energy on the bag. Waste.  Waste.  Waste.

And don't get me started on the plastic at the mall.  Oh the plastic! 

And the chemicals.  I'm pretty sure there's nothing Bath and Body Works can do for me that I couldn't do for myself with a box of baking soda, a bottle of vinegar, a few essential oils, and an herb garden (and perhaps a little help from my friend at Musings of  Kitchen Witch).  Why pay such a hefty price to waste all those plastic bottles and rub nonfood-grade substances into our precious and vulnerable skin?

Clearly, I'm not much fun to shop with.  I rant; I mutter, and if you don't feed me regularly, I start to foam at the mouth--but don't even offer me anything from one of those chain restaurants with their centralized food distribution systems!

Nobody ever invites me to the mall.

Except now I have this daughter who thinks the mall is the coolest place ever.  I've only taken her there once, to get her ears pierced years ago, but now that her friends have taken her, she's got the fever.   

I still squirm about all that waste, but what I really need to worry about are the messages: messages about beauty, bodies, sex and self-worth.  Feeling pressured to shop at the mall for Olivia's birthday, I ventured into Abercrombie with my mother and found myself beseiged by images of bare-chested young men.  With shocks of hair hanging carelessly in their eyes and pouty mouths that begged for relief, I gathered they were verging on some kind of climax and turned to my mother with a surprised, "Oh!"  One young gentleman had his pants unzipped so far, I just may have seen a pube.  I considered getting out my reading glasses to check it out, but thought that might appear unseemly.   

The really insidious thing about all this is the idea that if you buy stuff, you can be sexy too.  This is how the mall turns shopping into entertainment.  With the low lights and the thumping music, Abercrombie feels more like a club than a store.  For admittance, just buy the overpriced clothing and carry it in a bag around the mall.  Then you too can show a pube and climax while looking good in a cami, a scarf and a pair of low-cut skinny jeans. 

I've been shielding Olivia from these messages as much as I can.   But that strategy won't work anymore.  As she confronts a consumer culture that tells her to look outward and buy stuff that makes her feel better, I have to teach her to look inward and find stuff that makes her be better.    

To do that, I can't be a clueless hippie who sits home with my "fresh face" and my hairy legs rejecting everything that entices her. 

No.  To do that, I have to put my big floppers in some trendy shoes and go to the mall.