I am, emphatically, not a “Tiger Mom”. At first, I was a bit ashamed of this, being a PhD myself. Now I have embraced my slacker mom status fully and defiantly, like a black-nail-polish-and-pierced teenager with an upraised middle finger and a sneer. I am the anti-establishment punk-version of motherhood and I have decided that I am pretty okay with that.
My son is not going to summer school.
When I was a kid, when dinosaurs roamed the earth before the comet came, summer school was for those kids who were in danger of not passing grade, strictly remedial only. Having passed 22 years of official adulthood sans child, and another five before formal schooling became an issue, it was to my astonishment to find out that summer school had become the province of over-achievers. Summer was no longer time to “catch up”, but to move to the head of the class, and guarantee the coveted Ivy League college slot before the kid is off of training wheels.
I was a good student, near the top of my class, but rarely number 1. The tracked New York school system guaranteed a class peer group that could kick my academic butt from 7th grade onward. I don’t remember any of us voluntarily participating in summer school. Summer was a coveted time of long, lazy days spent on bicycles, in backyard pools, in street baseball games or stretched out on the lawn with reading material NOT assigned or sanctioned by the school district. I remember a summer when we took over an abandoned playground concession stand, vividly painted the inside with tempera paints, and made it into a clubhouse for the summer. Many a childhood drama was played out in those abandoned and adult-unsupervised walls.
Harry does not go to summer school either. He goes to a “summer daycamp”. Yes. It is a glorified daycare, but he goes to the pool at least 2 days a week, has water-wars and craft projects, a “sundry store” where he has an account to buy himself summer snacks (lacking the mom-and-pop corner stores I enjoyed as a child), and he comes home flushed and tired and smelling of little boy sweat mingled with the undefinable scent of hot summer sun. Little boy dramas are recounted, and what he lacks in lessons on math and vocabulary, he gains in working his way, in fits and starts, through the complicated social navigation of his world.
I value education. Highly. Everything I have I owe to hard academic work and persistence. But there is more to life than school. There is more to life than work, no matter how meaningful or worthwhile it is. And there is definitely more to the human experience than relentless pursuit of socioeconomic status.
I don’t think I have abandoned my desire for my son to have a successful life. But I have over the years redefined what “success” is, and by what scale I would like the value of my own life to be measured.
I have come to the conclusion that success has room for a little bit of summer. Especially for little boys.
I rarely ever re-read books. I have a prodigious memory for what I read, and since I read mainly mystery novels, there isn’t really much point. My appetite for reading falls squarely past voracious into rabid,and as there are always new books to read, re-reading old ones takes up the time I could be using to consume new delights. In reading, I am definitely a novel-experience (pardon the pun) addict.
But I recently got a copy of the first volume in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, Master and Commander, in audiobook format. After I got used to Stephen Maturin speaking in an Irish accent (which was a “Duh” moment for me, because despite the fact he’s Irish, it never occurred to me that he would SOUND that way), I settled into the comfortable, warm place that is a beloved story, with characters as familiar as my own kin.
I am not normally a fan of sequential book series. Most authors I know use book series for two purposes – to avoid having to write real resolutions to story lines they simply don’t know how to finish properly, and, well, to make money. They disappointingly do not use the prime advantage serial format to actual develop characters into breathing complex people.
O’Brian is the happy exception that absolutely shatters the rule.
Usually it’s a book that will spur me to watch a miniseries, but in a happy twist of fate, it was the A&E adaptation of the “Hornblower” series of books by C. S. Forester that piqued my interest in the Golden Age of the British Navy. And that led me to a love affair with the works of Patrick O’Brian that endured, all consuming through twenty breakneck, breathless novels.
Patrick O’Brian died while writing his twenty-first Aubrey and Maturin novel. He was the rare writer that wrote in a nearly linear fashion, and the first three chapters of his final, unfinished and unpolished book was published, ending midsentence.
I have not read that last, unfinished book. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it is the need to leave my beloved characters exactly as they are when the man himself brought them to resolution, and not hanging, unfinished in his thought. Or if it is because reading that last piece will close the series for me. There will be nothing left new, nothing to look forward to but that faint feeling of mourning that occurs when a grand fantasy comes to its end.
But until I have to face the last-book-crisis again, I am happily standing on the quarter-deck, wind in my hair, with a sail on the horizon.
Are a bit exaggerated. But possibly just a wee bit.
I went from benign blog aversion to outright blog negligence.
To say that life has been a bit busy at Casa de Awareness is sort of like saying that the Osbornes might be little dysfunctional. I have simply had so very little time to myself that what I HAVE had, I have certainly not wanted to write about. I have been hoarding my moments of solitude jealously.
But I have been writing. I write eight hours a day, five days a week. And by the time I log into my own website, the words, they have run out. I seem to have used them all in pages and pages of exposition on the relationships between the cardiovascular and parasympathetic nervous systems, how to assess the nutritional status of newborns and the minimum number of fleas necessary to comprise an “infestation”. That last bit turns out to be more complicated than you’d think. Who knew?
I have been to Detroit, MI, three times in as many months. I have been to Minnesota, South Carolina, Washington DC (twice), and New Orleans. I have spent as much time, it seems, on planes, trains, and automobiles, as I have spent in my house.
Oh. And I have a puppy now. A messy, exuberant, enormous, fluffy puppy.
After a long string of rescues, all over the age of one and well out of puppyhood, I had forgotten what it was like to have a puppy in the house. A puppy who likes to chew things, and whose control over his bodily functions is, let’s say, a tad less than perfect. As a person whose career requires them to occasionally sift through kiddie pools of horse entrails, I can’t really say that I am particularly squeamish. But I can be accurately described as fastidious. Fastidious + Young Puppy = Complete and Utter Insanity.
Between the time away from home, the puppy, and the general disarray of our current social obligations, life has been a bit challenging. Which, you may feel free to define as “I occasionally want to sit in the middle of my completely upended living room and cry for no apparent reason, or for every apparent reason, or whatever.”
In the non-blogging interim I have made many discoveries about myself.
1. I am not PTA material. I lack the appropriate hair color, T-shirt, perkiness, and I fall somewhat outside of the unstated (but immediately apparent) age and weight limit.
2. I am, however, completely content with throwing money at some problems. Need 100 apples for the class for the Arbor Day lesson? I’m your huckleberry. If I can pick something up and drop it into the hands of a perky ashe blonde, twenty years my junior, in a school T-shirt, I will walk away with the warm feeling of school support inside. Yay ME!
3. Pursuant to 1. and 2. above, I am not (and this comes as no surprise to anyone but me), child-friendly. This is not to say I don’t like children – I do. But I treat Harry as a little adult, and was quite perplexed to discover that this approach is generally not particularly effective in the outside world.
4. I like yarn. I like yarn a LOT. It is my coping drug of choice. I am rapidly approaching SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy). I am beginning to develop a rather disturbing understanding of hoarders. My life needs to get less complicated soon, or I will be filling mattresses with the stuff.
So. There it is. Nothing profound – my life has no time for profundity lately. Profound takes thought. Thought takes time. Time, here in the downhill side of life, goes away altogether too quickly.
How about you?
But only at writing, really. It’s been a bit busy lately on the home front. Work deadlines, a tiny health scare and the subsequent medical bills (it’s all okay now, but it was a pretty stressful month), and the impending entrance of Harry into Kindergarten have combined to form the perfect storm of mental exhaustion.
You know your life has gotten too complicated when you really crave a vacation that entails cleaning your house and sitting quietly in a darkened room with knitting needles and a book on tape. Exotic locations sound like just a wee bit too much work and excitement right now.
Not that I would turn down such a vacation if it dropped free into my lap, mind you.
I had summer for lunch yesterday and it was juicy and wonderful – tomato bruschetta made with heirloom “black” tomatoes, fresh garlic and basil and a sprinkling of salty feta. For dessert, an Arkansas peach, so juicy that it ran down my fingers and arm to my elbow and I had to finish it over the trash can in my office. I can still smell the sunny peach smell from the pit. It still lay in the bottom of the can, under the napkins, reminding me that it is still hot and bright outside while I sit in my cold air-conditioned office.
When I get home I will peel peaches and slice them and dust them with a bit of sugar and put them down into the dark cold of my freezer and save them against the dark winter. I will have peach sauce for my Christmas ham and peach and blueberry crisp for Valentine’s Day.
The summer heat is particularly brutal this year. Today, as I sit in my office, the temperature outside is 106°F. Yesterday we broke the record set over 20 years ago for that date. It is too hot to even make swimming a desirable activity, and we cower in the shade our house with the curtains drawn and the fans running. Even the brief walk across the grocery store parking lot is an endurance test, the waves of heat from the black pavement almost tangible in their ferocity.
I remember summers in New York as a child as a lazy time spent entirely out-of-doors. We eagerly waited until the temperature hit the magic 70°F – the temperature deemed sufficiently warm to be allowed in the swimming pool. After years in the South, I am still wearing light jackets at 70°F, and the thought of swimming in that weather is nearly incomprehensible. But when your average summer temperature hovers in the high seventies, and 85°F is a heat wave, your perspective is somewhat different than when you live in a region where anything below 90°F is positively balmy. This may be why New York is apple and grape country. Peaches, really good peaches, need a little more heat.
I think I am definitely more of an apple than a peach. The heat wilts me, and when I lived in New Orleans I asked native Louisianans how they could stand it. The response?
We turn down our air conditioner.
And pass the peaches.
I have a lot of hair. At least, for the most part, it stays on my head, which at an age where the hair starts thinning on our heads, and growing everywhere else we don’t want it to, I suppose I should shut up and be grateful. But when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. It’s thick, and wavy and heavy and it has a mind of its own. It took me until I was over 40 years old to figure out that maybe it’s just best to leave my hair to professionals. Real, bonafide expensive stylists at real salons who know what they hell they are doing with the scissors. It now takes an hour to cut and style my hair. Back before I resisted the temptation to layer it, it took less than ten minutes to tidy up the ends, because I wore it at one length to my waist. Now it is layered and blown and smoothed and straightened. All to give that casual windblown “I just got out of my Jaguar convertible” look.
But I am a complete piker in comparison to my grandmother. She was of the generation that had her hair “set”. Twice a week she went in to be washed and teased and sprayed and it was definitely NOT designed to look effortless. She wore her towering hairdo like a badge of honor. She was a woman who could afford to be “done” and it should, by golly, look like she had been. I remember going with her, sitting in the waiting chairs with a “Highlights” magazine, amidst the smell of perm solution and a haze of “Adorn” hairspray, waiting for her to emerge from under the giant bonnet hairdryers, a mountain of curlers on her head like so many spiked caterpillars. I wince when I think of the times she sat, cigarette dangling from between perfectly lacquered nails, while she was sprayed down, holding the little face shield in her offhand. It’s amazing she never lit the stream of hairspray on fire like a blowtorch.
My grandmother never went to bed without a open-top turban on her head, and she slept only on satin pillowcases. That seemed so exotic to the younger me, the one that napped on her bed, with my cheek against the cool slick pillow, inhaling the smell of her face lotion.
It wasn’t until I was in middle age myself that I understood the salon thing. For most of my life it was a giant waste of time, a scheduling nightmare done out of necessity. I deliberately picked a career that didn’t require a polished look until I hit managerial status. But a flexible schedule and a late need to dress and act like an adult (staved off until over 40) finally led me to appreciate the intangible joys of a salon, a real salon.
It is to be fussed over.
For one hour, I get an entire staff dedicated to making me feel good about myself. The shampooist massages conditioner into my hair, and I can almost feel the tenseness wash down the drain with the rinse water. As my stylist runs her hands through my hair we chat. About nothing at all. The weather. The construction on the highway. My child’s new school. The song playing on the satellite radio feed. They dress my hair with fantastic smells. They bring me coffee and bottled water. They touch up my makeup when I am done. No pressure, no demands.
I pay for a premium salon, but believe me, for that hour it’s a bargain. It’s a far sight less than I would pay a therapist and I come out feeling 100X better and my mascara is intact. I tip well – REALLY well.
It’s something my factory-working grandmother didn’t need an office and a college degree to figure out.
I think, next week, I will schedule that manicure.
And maybe buy a couple satin pillowcases.
I stopped sitting in window seats on the airplane long ago. One of the downsides of frequent business travel is that travel itself becomes more a focus on the destination and less about the journey. Like many pleasures that ultimately become your job, thing get routine and the lustre wears off. After getting that hard-won elite status on a major airline, I am pretty much always guaranteed an aisle seat near the front of the plane, and since it is one of the few times that I can enjoy uninterrupted and guilt-free knitting sessions, I tend to put the earphones in, pull out the project bag, and don’t look up until we are well into the descent.
Recently, a site visit to a facility out west resulted in circumstances that forced me on to an airline I do not normally fly with. No priority boarding or seating for me (I can hear your tiny hearts breaking for me, I really can). I ended up mid-plane, sandwiched against the wall in a window seat just in front of the wing. I was overtired and eyestrain and arthritis forced me to put my knitting away, and my gaze fell outside and down.
There is so much of the country that passes unnoticed beneath me as I travel. From heights too high to see houses, even in miniature, I used to watch the spiderweb patterns of roads and crop fields as I passed and my imagination built lives around that patchwork evidence of activity. I watch the Rocky Mountains pass below me and I let my mind wander through pine passes, as I had done on family trips as a child, and I just wondered. Below me, it looked like the spine of the world, and my mind tried to grasp the scale of the Himalayas by comparison:
On the way home, I left my knitting and my books deliberately and let the tapestry of the world roll by beneath me and the drama of living play out in my head. A forest fire outside of Albuquerque made me think of my great aunt, who spent the years of her life there, and who I never visited there even though she lived to be almost 100:
And the Grand Canyon, where I inadvertently spent three days as a child when our truck broke down. I never took a mule ride to the bottom. It’s been on my to-do-before-I-die list ever since:
It look so much smaller from the air. I remember standing at the rim as a child, and looking outward forever, feeling like I was suspended at the very edge of the world.
I guess, in a way, I was.
When we turn and we look beyond, and across, and away, we are standing at the outer edge of the world, no matter where we are. There are always endless possibilities stretching out in front of us.
We only have to raise up our eyes.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a sit-down talk with myself about the future of this blog, and whether or not to renew my domain name. It ended up begin decided for me by the autorenew feature with the hosting company.
I have not been writing. (Yes. I am a black-belt master of the subtle art of stating the obvious.) I have been horribly overworked, on the road far, far too much, and a little at odds about where to take this little site.
In short, I have been a bit too busy living my life to have any kind of coherent commentary on it. Which has its own sadness. I think that I have been so overwhelmed that I have drifted through the last year or two on autopilot, without any time for appreciating the experience. There are some writers that use the virtual world of their own creation as a substitute for genuine living. But I think, like most, I use writing as an outlet for prolonging a moment in time and exploring, not so much the literal experience, but the truth hidden underneath it. I think that without that outlet I have cut myself adrift, and I would like to return to it.
But my current lifestyle means I can no longer leave myself the luxury of unstructured writing if I am going to keep doing it. I think I need to start giving myself underpinnings if I am going to keep disciplined enough to write every day. I am just starting to form ideas about what that framework is going to be.
I also need to stop thinking about the readers. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate every one of you out there who bother to come by and spend any amount of your precious time reading what small coherences I manage to put out. But too many times, I spent time crafting things that other people want to read – and not necessarily what I want to write. It had started to suck the fun right out of it. I find that I write best if I just simply sit, without a target audience in mind, and write. Not that there isn’t refinement and rearrangement, but the initial structure of each thing I write is a creature unto itself. It builds itself and pulls its first breath as I pour out words upon a page, and then the sculpting of the fine features comes later (or not at all, as I am inclined – sometimes I just abandon the poor hapless things). I need to find my voice again, and not take on the one that I think everyone else expects to see.
To bring this long, rambling, monologue to a point, I am back. I hope. I really just need to be.
Harry: I want a Lego Star Wars Birthday Party.
Mommy: You do? Well I will have to look into that.
Harry: Just log on to www dot lego star wars dot com forward slash birthday party.
Mommy: Um. Did you see that on TV?
Harry: No. That’s just the way it works.