I’ve been thinking a lot about communication within families lately. My kids are still at camp, so I don’t talk to them every day except to send them cat pictures and what I hope are encouraging words via Google Hangouts. This process has provided me with an opportunity to examine how well (or not well) I do on my end of it. Frankly, and a bit uncomfortably, I admit I feel like I’m struggling, and more so as they have grown up and entered their teen years.
I’ve been getting over jet lag since getting back to California from my European trip, and finding that 9 hours is pretty difficult to overcome. It’s harder than the 6 hour time difference that used to characterize my trips to Europe when I lived in the Boston area. There is also much less difference between going East and going West when I’ve got 9 or 10 hours to change. Now it is approaching the point where everything is just flipped, turned inside-out; day is night and night is day, and the most I can do to cope is to get some sun and exercise during the day, and wait it out.
In case you can’t see it up there on the featured image, I’m on day 104 of a geocaching streak. It started the last day of 2015, and this morning my husband and I biked to and found a cache around the corner that has a similar name to our teenage daughter.
Streaks are more his thing than mine, and I started doing this so that we’d have something to do together. We don’t always find the same cache every day: he is doing a puzzle cache streak (again, more his thing than mine) and I’m doing an “any old cache” streak. So, sometimes it’s a puzzle, but often it’s not. Continue reading The Streak: Day 104
The fun of meeting new people and being “on” socially on Sunday morning waxes and wanes for me. Lately it has been waning: my inner introvert felt particularly strong last Sunday. Continue reading Veterans Day Tears
On the other hand, I feel like simplicity is not a big goal for me right now. When I moved to CA this summer, I spent a lot of time decluttering for the move. I’ve blogged about this. I got tired of it. Simplicity had taken on a complicated life of its own. Continue reading Simple Gifts
I might not have read this book if I didn’t know the author online, but I am glad I did. It is fascinating and well crafted, with relatable characters and an satisfying plot.
The book is about two ballet dancers at different stages in their careers: Alice is a former soloist who sustained a career-ending injury and now works in arts administration. Lana, a young newcomer, has just joined the company where Alice used to dance. The book follows their unlikely friendship as they wrestle with their own inner demons and their significant relationships with men and with their mothers. Continue reading Book Review: Off Balance by Terez Mertes Rose
In the past, I have referred to myself ironically as a “soccer mom.” Both my kids have played soccer, and one of them still does.
I say ironically, though, because it’s not a natural fit for me. Growing up, I never played any team sports. I was 2 years ahead of my school classmates and graduated high school when I was 16. I’m also old enough that there weren’t as many opportunities for girls to play youth sports back then. When talking, or even thinking, about why I didn’t play team sports, I tend to emphasize those aspects of the experience–that I was younger and smaller than everyone else, that there was sexism–with the fond hope in the back of my mind that if I had grown up in a different time or place, things might have been different for me too.
But that’s debatable. Furthermore, the past is the past. We’ll never know whether I could have successfully played a team sport as a kid. All I have is now. When I was in my mid-20’s, in graduate school, I went skiing in Lake Tahoe. I remember riding up the ski lift with a woman who told me that she was there because, for her 50th birthday, she had learned to ski. I also remember thinking something like, “wow, good for her, she’s still doing new things and putting herself out there at such an advanced age!” Well, I apologize now for any internal condescension I might have felt. Because here I am now, a few months before my own 50th birthday, learning to play soccer.
Before the move to CA, I felt I needed to make sure that my 12-year-old son had some activities outside of school when he got here. He played soccer in Belmont so I looked online for a soccer team. I found a couple: AYSO region 45 in Mountain View, and a private competitive league. Of those, AYSO seemed to be the most like what we were used to: a reasonably priced, recreational town league that competes with neighboring towns and has boys and girls divisions. And, just like back in Belmont, it was run by a small number of super-dedicated and amazing volunteers who had way too much to do. Furthermore, registration was already over and my son was on the wait list. I emailed the competitive team and let them know we were interested. But then, a few weeks later, I got a familiar-sounding email from AYSO: “Help, we need coaches!” And if you agree to coach, your child is guaranteed a spot on a team. I decided to do it.
Fast Forward a few months, and practices have started. My son’s team has bright yellow uniforms and is called the Wasps. I’m an Assistant Coach under a British Head Coach, Coach David, who likes to use words that sound like they are straight out of Harry Potter: striker, sweeper, stopper, keeper. (In Belmont, we just called the players forwards, midfielders, and defenders.) And he’s very experienced. Which is good, because our team has two assistant coaches, both of us moms with kids on the team, neither of us with soccer experience.
There are two major ways in which my soccer experience has been different here so far. The first is that individual teams have to paint the fields.
You mean fields don’t just magically paint themselves? Oh, right, this isn’t Quidditch. You use one of these little machines, put in a spray can, and follow the lines that someone else (hopefully) laid down last week. When I got to the field, there were still some people playing, but they understood what we needed to do, and let us have at it: three parents rolling these carts around in the fading twilight. One of the coaches on the field who didn’t know me even took the trouble to thank me for doing this, and he reminded me to be sure to paint the penalty spot. “That often gets forgotten!” It was fun. And it gives you a better idea of where all the lines are and how far they are from each other. I will also note that the school where this field is, which my son does not attend, is within walking distance of our house. Unlike the school he does attend. Such is the crazy school districting in CA.
The other aspect that is different from what I did before is the training classes. In Belmont I assisted too, and I got occasional emails about the existence of coaching classes but no one checked up if I took them or not, and I decided that I was too busy. Here, if you volunteer it’s required that you sign up and take a training class appropriate to your level. There was one on Labor Day weekend. When I signed up it seemed very far away, and “it’ll be good for me,” I thought. But as Labor Day approached, I got nervous. “Any plans for Labor Day weekend?” people were asking. “Uh . . . yeah.”
The weekend dawned and it soon became “so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Or maybe an EGBOPP. That was one of the many acronyms that they gave us so that we could remember equally many lists: lists of attacking principles, defending principles, mission statement, vision statement, red cards, yellow cards, laws of the game. It was a little like being back in high school. I even made flash cards, because there was a test at the end.
I chose to highlight that particular acronym here, because that is the acronym for the AYSO philosophies, which I think are worth memorizing, and repeating: Everybody Plays, Good Sportsmanship, Balanced Teams, Open Registration, Positive Coaching, and Player Development.
I support all of those philosophies and think they apply equally well to other youth sports and activities. So it’s an organization I’m proud to support and be involved with. I hope keeping these philosophies in mind can help me be a better educator wherever I am involved with youth. This is not the impression I had of most youth sports/activities when I was growing up. Everybody plays? Player Development for all players, even the less talented? Not really. Some things do appear to have changed for the better.
A friend recently posted this graphic onto my Facebook wall:
While I’d much prefer to practice the violin for an hour than to run a mile, I’ve never been that interested in calories, or especially in counting them. I don’t need to lose weight. What I seem to need is harder to pin down.
Growing up I was more or less a stereotypical nerdy kid who spent most of her time reading and wasn’t good at, and didn’t like, sports. Being 2 years younger than my classmates, and a late bloomer, didn’t help either. I have a number of memories of school gym class that are probably best left unwritten about. My high school was relatively enlightened, however, and by 10th grade they allowed students to choose individual activities like weightlifting and swimming to meet the PE requirement, which I did in the company of a similarly non-athletic friend, and never looked back.
I’m also old enough to remember big discrepancies in athletic opportunities for girls vs. boys. Good feminist that I am, I’ve watched and applauded the change over the past 40 years or so. It seems to have been a positive development, at least for other people. (Go Carli Lloyd, you are awesome!) For me personally, though, I have to say it’s been rather mixed. Some friends my age have stories of discovering hidden athleticism in adulthood: they’ve found out they love dance, or aerobics, or yoga, or lifting weights. There’s Zumba, there’s spinning class, there’s HIIT. And a lot of people–a LOT of people–seem to love running. Whereas I have a dirty little secret: I am not one of those people. I’ve tried most of these activities and I still don’t like any of them. In this one area, I’m actually kinda nostalgic for the bad old days when I had an excuse.
I did manage to do one sort of athletic thing in high school: the breaststroke. Back then being able to do a decent breaststroke was enough to earn me a slot on the school swim team. Even better, I didn’t have to do any flip turns. I swam two events: the individual 100-meter breaststroke and the breaststroke leg of the medley relay. I usually came in either third or last, but I came in third enough times to earn a varsity letter. I still have that letter, and the jacket I wore it on.
But, except for the swimming test my alma mater, Princeton University, required me to pass as a freshman, and recreational splashing around in the pool, lake, or ocean with the kids, I haven’t really swum in over 30 years. Whenever I set out to try, I’m reminded of several things:
1. Chlorine. It irritates my skin, eyes, and nose, and turns my hair green. Forget contact lenses. One drop of chlorinated water and my eyes are on fire.
2. Cold water. Enough said.
3. Weird strokes that I can’t really do. Three or four of my childhood summers were spent at Audubon and Clearfield Recreation Centers in Williamsville, New York, struggling to learn how to do the front crawl, the stroke that some people refer to as “freestyle” and most people apparently refer to as, just, “swimming”. While I can now do a decent-looking front crawl for 1-2 pool lengths, I still don’t really understand why anyone would want to. (Especially when they could be doing breaststroke, sidestroke, or elementary backstroke.) And I will spare readers my feelings about the butterfly, except to point out that when I attempt to do it I look and feel like a whale beaching itself.
4. Goggles. I’ve never had a pair that didn’t leak or a way to dive in without having them fall off my head. And, see #1.
5. Flip turns. See #1 and #3. Breaststroke doesn’t use them. Another point for breaststroke! And finally:
6. Anxiety. I have anxiety about most aspects of swimming, and especially about being underwater. I enjoy it to a point, but I get winded easily and when I feel like I can’t breathe it gets worse. I got trapped underwater during a senior lifesaving class, and failed it. I still occasionally have anxiety dreams about swim meets, too.
But here I am, in California, in an apartment complex with a pool. The past week I’ve been swimming in the afternoons before dinner, and perhaps surprisingly, I’ve been looking forward to it. I bought some prescription goggles a couple of years ago that I never used in Belmont, and they are surprisingly decent. I can actually see the end of the pool and not crash into it and jam my finger. I don’t dive in off the side or anything so radical as that, but they stay on as I breaststroke back and forth. And they only leak a little bit, in one eye. The chlorine in this pool isn’t too bad, and the water is warm.
I wish I could say I am loving it so much that I am not even hearing the voices that tell me I’m not swimming enough, not doing it intensely enough, that I probably still look like a beached whale, or at least like a dork out there doing these slow breaststroke laps. I even let those voices talk me into some front crawl laps, just to see, but I got tired pretty quickly and went back to breaststroke.
I’m just doing it while it’s fun. When it’s not fun anymore, I stop. And, the pool is especially beautiful at night.
Everyone says that decluttering is supposed to be therapeutic. So why don’t I feel that way? Instead of experiencing the “life-changing magic of tidying up,” I feel like telling Marie Kondo to go stuff it.
There have been some fun, bright spots in the odyssey to divest myself of possessions that I won’t need in CA: the mother/daughter pair who came to get my freecycled collection of vintage Nancy Drew books; the friendliness of the workers at the Hazardous Waste Drop-off (cheerfully taking bleach, paint thinner, burned out CFLs, and no-longer-rechargeable batteries off my hands); the little boy who picked out a new toy car and little girl who fell in love with an artisanal stuffed bunny made out of soft alpaca fur. The prospect of new kids rummaging through an old tub of Barbies and again putting beautiful dresses and little shoes on their funny-looking plastic bodies and feet. Watching the kid I gave an old Connect 4 game to play it over and over with his friend and his mother. I even learned something about landscaping: one woman came to take large old cardboard boxes because she’s using them to cover over and redo her yard, kill weeds, and put fresh soil on top. The processes and interactions that I dread are invariably not as bad as I have made them out to be in the anxious hours between 4 and 5 am. Even disposing of a recalled de-humidifier and getting a check for it looks like it will be relatively straightforward (although it will cost $20 of that check to be environmentally responsible about the disposal).
We went to Boston’s Museum of Science yesterday, a last visit to see a couple of cool things they had on exhibit: the Science of Pixar, Exploring Pluto, and a movie about living in the Age of Airplanes. It was intended as a nice break from moving, and in many ways it was, but the Pixar exhibit also brought me face-to-face with the endless supply of junky plastic movie-tie in toys that I’ve been dealing with over the past weeks.
We haven’t bought a Happy Meal or equivalent in a long time, but the plastic lives on, and there’s something unseemly about the durability, complexity, and ubiquity of the toys. They’re in the basement. They’re in the playroom. They’re in the attic. They’re in tubs and drawers and toy organizers, in bowls and on shelves. Many of these toys are strange creatures or contraptions of one kind of another: body-less heads with big neotenous eyes and open mouths, silly expressions, crazy hair, wild colors. At the Pixar exhibit, you can see exactly how those expressions were designed, made and realized, and even make some yourself. There are complex mathematical and engineering equations describing curly hair, and cheese, and the trajectory of a waving elastic arm. A group of earnest, diverse, interesting people show up on screens labeled “Working at Pixar” to tell visitors about their jobs and how much they love those jobs. These jobs are mainly about pixels and films, animated characters and virtual lighting, but It’s brought home to me that designing those toys must be somebody’s job too, and so is actually making the physical objects. And somehow, because of that, it feels like these toys, junky and ridiculous and missing parts though they may be, deserve a better fate.
I didn’t know what to expect from the IMAX movie, called Airplanes: A World in Flight. As museum members, we had free tickets that we needed to use up, and this movie was showing when we were available, so we went. It turns out that the movie makes a compelling case for how aviation brings us closer together, makes our world smaller, and enhances cultural understanding. “Every age is a golden age,” Han Solo’s voice tells us. “Appreciate the age you live in.” The movie is interspersed with gorgeous pictures of the African Savannah, of Rome, of Las Vegas, and it ends with our future home: the San Francisco Bay area, the City, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, blazingly lit up at night, planes flying overhead, music from James Horner. It’s a beautiful movie, hopeful and optimistic, showing us lovingly and at length the goldenness of our age. Typical for me, I teared up at the ending, which shows a family greeting each other as one of them gets off a plane in the SFO airport, coming home to loved ones from a time away.
The film also had a section on flowers from Kenya being delivered to Alaska by plane. The script followed these flowers from initial cutting to vase on someone’s table in Anchorage. Planes make this kind of thing possible too, and while the movie was careful to maintain a positive tone, I was kind of appalled. These flowers only live 14 days from cutting. All the work, the fuel, the resources spent to fly them to Alaska where, in less than two weeks, they’ll be compost. This kind of thing happens with food, too, and is often discussed negatively: instead of eating out-of-season foods flown or trucked in from halfway across the world, people are told they should eat locally-produced foods bought at farmers’ markets. It’s better for the planet, and for your health. Coming from where I’ve been for the past month, awash in “stuff” that was probably shipped in from another continent and that I would have been better off without, I’m predisposed to think this way. I tear up often these days; it’s embarrassing.
What’s especially hard to understand and process, for my little brain, is what to do with this information now that I have it. Perhaps my tears are about something more than missing Boston. I read an article this morning, shared by a distant friend on Facebook: The Great Grief: How to Cope with Losing our World. “The notion that our individual grief and emotional loss can actually be a reaction to the decline of our air, water, and ecology rarely appears in conversation or the media . . . It is as if this topic is not supposed to be publicly discussed.” I can try to buy flowers locally (or pick them from my garden). I could even boycott cut flowers altogether, since, unlike food, they are not necessary for survival. But in general the whole system is so big and complex, and the supply chain so long it’s hard to even know where to start. If I boycott Kenyan roses, who am I helping? There’s also something wonderful about being able to get roses from Kenya. Kenya is proud of its airline and the people who work there in the flower industry are happy to have good jobs. That choice might hurt rather than help.
I too will be getting on a plane in less than a week. I’ve done my share of flying, for both business and pleasure. My carbon footprint is not small. I have always loved looking out of airplane windows to see the clouds. I took these pictures, of Mt. Rainier and Diamond Head, last year when we were on our way from Seattle to Hawaii for a vacation. That I am one of the few humans in all history who can take such pictures, that I live in such an age, is awesome, humbling, and sad at the same time.