May 31, 2007

Grace

Here they are, six feet up, on top of the monkey bars and basking in the glow of each other's company. Happy to just be and to share in the glory of the moment. A lesson in grace.

I just got off the phone with a friend who teaches ESL in a public school, whose students recently went through another round of unavoidable hours-long testing because of some No Child Left Behind provision aimed at accountability. As relative newcomers to the country, they naturally found taking a test designed for native-speakers pretty demoralizing.

And I couldn't help but think about all the young people I know, the friends that my discerning son is now starting to choose for himself. (Gone are the days when I could strap him into his car seat and just have him tag along to wherever I wanted to go; he now has opinions and requests in the matter.) And I have to say that so far I like his taste. He likes friends with active imaginations, friends who will climb and run with him, friends who will listen, friends who know that there's not really any such thing as "girl colors" and "boy colors."

He knows all his letters, and most of the sounds they make, but he hasn't really focused his energies on reading reading. His friend, E, pictured above, is finding some of the academic pieces of first grade really challenging. But they are each of them GREAT kids, and I cringe at the thought of either of them heading into school and coming out thinking that they're somehow "less than" because of some standardized test.

In friends, in co-workers, in random strangers on the sidewalk, I care about so much more than whatever those tests are trying to measure. Am I setting myself up for a slow march to insanity by earning my living as a college counselor, in a world where for so many those tests are the coin of the realm?

I am trying to teach my students about grace. I am trying to lean towards grace in my own life. And luckily for me, I am witness to daily examples of grace: in my son's deeply dimpled smiles, his unthinking and wordless songs as he skips along, and in his warm concern for the well-being of his friends.

(Thanks to the women of Mama Says Om
for their continuing inspiration.)

May 28, 2007

Common Ground Haiku


All day, strangers ask
each other, "Did you see it?"
Last night's heat lightning.


Four boys lined the bank,
each watching his line for signs
of hungry catfish.


(Thanks to the women of One Deep Breath
whose inspiring prompt this week ("Common Ground") helped me
realize that I'd experienced Sunday night's lightning
as an opportunity for connection,
which in turn led me to write about common ground
in the heavens and in water.
And thanks to S, who made sure
that each boy would have his own rod
and then dug up some worms he knew
the catfish wouldn't be able to resist.)

May 27, 2007

Garden Memories

Blogfriend cloudscome is hosting a garden walk over at a wrung sponge today, and since I'm far away from home, I'm cheating and submitting a haiku and photo from a garden a few years back. But it IS strawberry season, so at least I'm cheating appropriately. :-)

May 25, 2007

Be Careful Out There

Doing some travelling this weekend? Take a second (okay, 30 seconds) to listen to NJ Governor Jon Corzine's new PSA:

May 24, 2007

Night Haiku

Late night walk –
spiderweb across my face –
caught for a moment.

D stayed over at a friend's house tonight. This enabled T to play a round of golf at the crack of dawn tomorrow before her root canal. (Welcome to this week's episode of "Sentences You Never Thought You'd Hear".)

On those rare occasions when we find ourselves with a boy-free night, we invariably take a little after-dark walk. Just because we can. T says that once D's twelve we can step out for a little walkabout after he's gone to bed and not worry about falling afoul of the law. Only seven more years to go.


May 23, 2007

Peonies

Water on the Brain

Today's WaPo has an article about parthenogenesis in sharks:

A team of American and Irish researchers have discovered that some female sharks can reproduce without having sex, the first time that scientists have found the unusual capacity in such an ancient vertebrate species.

Whoa.

Meanwhile, I'm starting to think about the onset of swimming season, and since the lovely folks at Delta never did find my luggage, it's time to go shopping over at Tactics.



Surfer's rash guards are just SO much cooler than regular old swim suits, don't you think?

May 22, 2007

Viewpoint Haiku


Stand at river's edge,
see the water as boys do –
irresistible.



(Thanks to the women of One Deep Breath
for their continuing inspiration.)

May 21, 2007

Bloom


What if every night
you slept with the knowledge
that the sun would come?


(Thank you to the women of Mama Says Om
for their continuing inspiration.)


May 20, 2007

Boy Haiku


He wants to go out
and play in the drenching rain.
I pause, and say yes.




My boy in the bath
singing a song he makes up,

not caring who hears.

May 19, 2007

Masks

How does the mask-wearing get started?

At what point in our development do we start to get the message that maybe we shouldn't be wearing our hearts on our sleeves quite so much?

In my life, I have been unusually well-rewarded for setting my masks aside. When I stopped pretending that life with a soundtrack provided by alcoholism was fine, things actually got better. When I started acknowledging my sexual orientation and standing up for myself, life got better again. When I met my partner, we were both in an almost defiant place as far as masks went. Broken-hearted and determined not to pretend to be anyone other than who we were, we each had a kind of "this is who I am, like it or lump it" attitude, which turned out to be a great foundation for a reality-based relationship.

So lucky me. But am I making space for others to be their unmasked selves? I hear parents telling their kids to stop crying and cringe... I think I do that, too. I can hear myself saying it: "Oh, stop crying, it's not a big deal." That's not who I want to be.

Do I honor my friends' needs to grieve their losses, or do I let impatience get the upper hand? When one of my students breaks down unexpectedly in class, what do I do? When I greet people with a "How are you?" I often don't really mean it.

I think we start putting on masks because the people in our lives tell us – in words or in deed – that their lives would be made easier if we could put on a happy face.

I want to work towards being able to tell people – in words and in deed – that they can just bring themselves, and leave the masks in a drawer.

(Thanks to the women of Sunday Scribblings
for their continuing inspiration.)

May 18, 2007

Undamaged Boys

D and I spent Mother's Day up at the Princeton Blairstown Center with a groups of other (mostly) Quaker families for a gathering of Young Young Friends. (T's idea of a perfect Mother's Day weekend is full of peace and quiet, sleeping in, staying up late watching movies, and golfing.)

The weekend is full of adventure. Here's the fearless D tackling an extremely precarious "tip-over ladder":



D looks forward to this trip for months in advance, and was quite an evangelist in his First Day School and Beginning School classes. As a special bonus, this year he invited his friend JT to join him.

On Saturday the boys participated in a trust-walk course, in which the sighted person has to lead the temporarily sightless person through a series of obstacles. The limits of language quickly become apparent. How big is a "big step?" How far to the left is "a little to the left?" (And which side is left, again?) Our boys did a great job of being patient and careful with each other:


How sweet is that?

On any hike we took that weekend, the boys were quick to claim their highly independent status, working their way up through the column so that they could be walking with each other and behind some big boys, rather than next to their mothers. The confident spring in their steps was a joy to behold:


Adventure, trust, independence, confidence... such great gifts! I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities my Quaker community has provided me as a parent. A few days after we returned I had dinner with a friend who is the father of two young boys. Upon hearing my stories about Blairstown, he shared that he spends a lot of time thinking about the challenge of raising undamaged boys. The phrase has stuck in my heart.

Another friend of mine is dealing with the return home of her eldest son, who has left school and is struggling with depression.

What would an undamaged boy look like? And how can we raise them?

May 14, 2007

May 11, 2007

Second Chance

In my first "real" paid job after graduating from college (sorry, Sears, but policing the linens section for a few months doesn't really count), I made a huge mistake.

I was the regional director of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, and my boss was Lee Stetson. At a time when many admissions offices had a tiered system of job descriptions, with newbie admissions officers having little in the way of real responsibilities, Lee took a different approach.

Anyone he hired was immediately given real responsibility, along with some guidance and support. So within weeks of arriving at my desk – in an office with a door and a window! (something that I have rarely had since) – I was making decisions about what to say to students in my school visits. When I got back from the road I was reading applications and making recommendations. (I still remember the first time I recommended "deny" on a student's application.)

And then, as we were preparing to invite accepted students to celebratory receptions in their home towns, the invitations I'd ordered sat in a box under my assistant's desk. I knew I'd ordered them, and might have even been aware that they'd come in, but she was new, and I was new, and I thought she'd pop them in the mail once they'd arrived. Somehow, the invitations never rose to that level on either of our to-do lists, and about four days before the planned reception, I woke with that horrible sinking feeling in my stomach.

No invitations had gone out.

The room was reserved, the food ordered, the transportation for the accompanying professor arranged... but no one was going to be there. And the reception was in Westchester County, NY, where we had hundreds of powerful and well-connected alumni and dozens of accepted students with plenty of other great college choices.

It was a fire-able offense.

Heart thudding so hard I thought my colleagues might be able to hear it, I talked to my assistant, ordered lists of alumni and student addresses and phone numbers from our resident database whiz kid, came up with a plan that seemed like it might keep the event from being a total disaster.

Then I wrote the scariest memo I've written yet.

I told the Dean what had happened. I resisted with all my might the urge to make excuses. I took full responsibility, apologized, and outlined our plan. I wish I still had a copy of that memo.

And since we're writing about second chances this week, you know he didn't fire me. He thanked me for my honesty, suggested some additional action steps, and said he was pretty sure it was the last time I'd make a mistake like that.

And it pretty much was. At least so far.

(Thanks to the women of Sunday Scribbling
for their continuing inspiration.)

May 10, 2007

May 07, 2007

So Satisfying


In the midst of all our Kinetic Sculpture excitement, and despite cellphone connectivity issues, the fabulous Wendy of Mother Rising found me!

Whenever someone expresses skepticism about the value of blogging, I smile gently, avoid picking a fight, and imagine talented artists like Wendy and Nancy (and and and), who are creating and parenting with such style and grace and who I wouldn't have even known existed, let alone MET, if it hadn't been for their blogs.

I'm fixin' to move a couple of the other "Bloggity Goodness" denizens on up to "Lucky To Know 'Em" ville, too. Someday.

I tried to take a picture of the yummilicious Mr. Satch, but he was feeling shy... still, look closely and you can see that awesome smile peeking out from under his mama's hat on loan... kiss kiss kiss is the only appropriate response:

SUCH a satisfying feeling to meet these folks, if tantalyzingly brief...


Kinetic Sculpture Race 2007


What would happen if you told people there would be a race for kinetic sculpture? And that the race would include sections on land, sea, mud, and sand? That prizes would be given for mediocrity as well as for superior engineering? And then what if you made the whole thing free for spectators?

Something like what we did this past weekend:





(Thanks to the dedicated and slightly wacky folks
at the American Visionary Art Museum
for their continuing support of this rockin' great event!
Full photo coverage of last year's race is here...
they're working on getting this year's pics up, too.)

Sleep Haiku

Sleep pulls and gains strength
like a coming storm or tide –

inexorable.



When pretending sleep
my boy's eyelids flutter

as his dimples show.


(Thanks as ever to the women of
One Deep Breath
for their continuing inspiration.)

Coming Soon

Pictures from yet another fabulous trip to the East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Race should be up shortly.

Meanwhile, if you're so inclined, you can check out the he/she ratio of any website here. (Despite my frequent featuring of a certain young gentleman, But Wait, There's More currently clocks in at only 11% male. Oh well.)

In other news, I'm trying to figure out what I could possibly contribute to the Coudal Partners' Swap Meat... (if you're a creative type and enjoy getting cool mail, you should definitely check that action out; they just extended their submission deadline through the end of May).

Never a dull moment!

May 04, 2007

Ocean's Edge


I grew up in the land-locked town of Big Flats, so getting to the ocean took some doing. Still, my parents took us on just enough seaside vacations for me to develop an appreciation of the ocean's wonders.

My earliest memories of the ocean include fear of the unknown (what's down there, anyway?) and sometimes the known (jellyfish off the beach in Sarasota while visiting my grandparents). Once I got past the fear, I remember reveling in the extra buoyancy that the sea's saltwater offered. As an infrequent visitor, I learned to appreciate the anticipation of it. Leaning out the car window to see if the air smelled like ocean yet. Noticing that the quality of light changes when reflected off the waves, even if the waves themselves are still out of sight. Coming up over the crest of the dunes of Cape Cod and seeing the ocean for the first time in a year still gets my heart pounding.

Later, my parents saved up to buy a sailboat, and that's when my love affair with the ocean really began.

Sailing allowed us to feel more a part of the action. We dangled our toes and hands over the side, fell asleep to the gentle rocking of a boat at anchor while the halyards slapped against the mast. It was while sailing the my father taught me how to see the wind by watching its progress across the face of the water. During one scary storm, I watched my father's face and drank in his calm until I could once again move past the fear, this time to exhilaration.

In the last few years, as I've grown into my role as a parent, it's the ocean's edge that has captured my imagination. Our little guy isn't quite ready for body surfing or boogie boarding, and we don't have a sailboat, but we're both fascinated by the incredible biodiversity of the liminal space where the land ends and the ocean begins. We can and have spent hours and hours in the tidal pools at the ocean's edge, and no wonder; as Wikipedia says, liminality is sacred, alluring, and dangerous.

Oceans give us a glimpse into another way of being, and a way to remember the ways in which we are all connected. Nowadays my thoughts about our oceans are also bound up with my concern about their health. My love of the oceans and their untame-able wildness makes me think about all the truth-tellers who call us to act on our love. Mary Austin. Terry Tempest Williams. Rachel Carson. Barbara Kingsolver.

And now the Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin:

Interior Department officials -- who have maintained for months that they did not analyze how human activities were affecting Arctic warming and endangering polar bears' survival -- completed a review examining studies of this very subject less than a week before proposing that the government list the bears as threatened with extinction, according to the department's own documents.


(Thanks to the women of Sunday Scribblings
for their continuing inspiration.
And thanks to my partner and
Thomas D. Mangelsen/Imagesofnaturestock.com
for the use of their photos.
)

May 03, 2007

Leaning In



As the light pours down,
each leaf, every branch leans in,
awaiting the kiss.

(Thanks to the women of Poetry Thursday
for their continuing inspiration,
and to Kirby James, for letting me "lift" his photo.)

May 02, 2007

Flower Haiku


We may be tired
of the rain, but beauty still
calls for gratitude.


(Special thanks to Cate and cloudscome
whose photos of the natural world
have inspired me to bring my camera everywhere.)