Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Magic of Christmas

We had a magical Christmas. I said beforehand that I thought that this might be our best Christmas ever and it lived up to its billing. Will is three and just getting into the magic and wonder of Christmas and Lindsay is at that perfect age where boxes and ribbons are the most wonderful playthings imaginable. I could not have scripted a better Christmas or week leading up to Christmas. Everyone was happy, healthy, and fully invested into the magic of the season. My favorite moment, though, came at the start of the week, when we were having dinner with several of our friends at our house. Will and his friends were seated at the "kids' table" and Will says happily to his friend Spencer, "Our whole families are here and that's what Christmas is!"

Out of the mouths of babes...I could not have said it better myself.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Thousand Words

Good morning.

Good night.

Need I say more?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Nice Part First

Today Will watched "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" for the first time. ABC is doing this thing where every night in December they air some kind of classic holiday programming. On Monday it was the Grinch; we DVRd it and he got to watch it today.

He knows the story from reading the book and so when he sat down to watch the movie he asked me, "Can I watch the nice part first and then the mean part and then the nice part again?" To Will "the nice part" is the part after the Grinch has stolen all the toys, decorations and food and Christmas day dawns and the Whos down in Whoville still come outside and start singing. Grinch realizes that "Maybe Christmas isn't something you buy in a store, maybe Christmas means something just a little bit more" and then his heart grows three sizes bigger and he goes back down to Whoville and brings all the toys, decorations and food back to the Whos and celebrates Christmas with them.

So that's the part that Will wants to see first, the happy ending. He's three. I'm amazed that this need for the happy ending starts so young. Maybe it's just an innate human trait, to want everything tied up all neatly with a bow.

Will's definitely playing with good and bad these days. Mean and nice. He's very concerned about labelling things as "mean" or "nice". Darth Vader is a "mean guy" and Clone Warriors are "nice guys". Buzz Lightyear and Woody are nice guys; Zurg is a mean guy. And more and more often I'm seeing him struggle with his own perception of himself. Sometimes when he's playing dress up he really really wants to be a "mean guy"; other times he's a fireman or a Clone Warrior and he's helping people, teaching them about how to be nice (that's the job of the Clone Warrior in Will's mind). He was always the cooperative kid in school, followed directions, listened well, played nicely with others. This week he started telling his teachers "NO" when they asked him to do something and for the first time (that I've heard of anyway), he got "in trouble" at school (he didn't stay in the line to wash his hands before lunch and went off to play instead - he got quiet time for that). My little guy is growing up and he's discovering what it means to be "bad" and "good" - and he's trying to figure out where he fits on that continuum I think.

And the Grinch seems to be a metaphor for that. This is the first character I've seen Will grapple with the idea that someone could be both mean AND nice. First the Grinch is mean. He does mean things. Then he learns that being mean didn't make his troubles go away (those noisy Whos down in Whoville sing anyway, despite the Grinch's mean acts) so the Grinch figures that being nice is really the better choice. I think this is a big revelation to my three year old. Good and bad, all in the same person.

I take comfort, though, in his request for "the nice part first." Maybe the mean part doesn't seem so bad when you already know that the story ends well, that the good in you pays off after all. This idea probably wouldn't sell well to the Hollywood types but I'm thinking maybe it's not such a bad idea for my three year old.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Nike was right after all

For several days I've been struggling with major frustration and aggravation on my part, bordering on depression. Every minor incident sends me into a tailspin. My good friend Sheri likened it to going up the down escalator. I am fighting not to make any forward (or upward) motion, but just to stay at the same level. This requires all of my effort and the moment I let up I'm going backwards.

I tried (hard!) to intellectualize myself out of the slump. I had long conversations with my husband (who is very supportive), I reminded myself of all of the reasons that I should, in fact, be happy: health, freedom, great husband, good friends, healthy, happy kids, supportive family ... really, the list goes on and on. But just telling myself that I had so much to be happy about wasn't working. In fact, I think it made me feel worse. How could I be so damn ungrateful when I had so much to be grateful for? What does that say about me?

A few days ago I lit on the idea that maybe I wasn't happy because I didn't have any real goals. I wondered if this was a common reality once you hit mid-life. When you're younger there are all these milestones to reach, goals you set (real or perceived) ... graduate from college, get a job, move out on your own, fall in love, get married, buy a house, have kids .... [insert your own goals/milestones here]. Maybe once you've "arrived" (wherever that destination is), you just get on this treadmill of sameness. So the question is, can we be really happy treading water or is it the going forward towards something that gives us that sense of satisfaction?

I thought I would be happy being a stay at home mom because I thought it would be so great to have all of this freedom. I can make my own schedule, do things when I need to do them, and there's nobody telling me what I need to do when. That's what I thought. Of course that's not exactly how it works and it turns out that a three year old and a baby can be quite the demanding bosses (particularly when it comes to scheduling) when they want to. But I'm getting off track here.

What I did figure out about being a stay at home mom is that I've managed to give up those goals and milestones of my own. Sure I can set the goal of teaching my son to play the piano by age four or potty training my daughter by 18 months ... but the reality is that those kinds of milestones really aren't achievable because I'm not (at all) in control of them. I can no more make my son learn to play an instrument than I can grow wings and fly (and that's not just because I'm not musically oriented). I can bring him to piano lessons, buy him a piano to practice on, play piano pieces while we're driving in the car and hanging out at home, but if he doesn't want to learn to play the piano the simple fact is that I can not make him learn. I am in charge but I am NOT in control. This is the old addage about "leading a horse to water".

So what about setting goals outside of parenting? My own goals? Run a marathon perhaps. Been there, done that. And I don't mean run a marathon (although I have run plenty of those). I mean the setting and achieving the goal part. After Will was born I was bound and determined to reclaim my life, my former identity. As soon as the doctor told me it was okay (6 weeks after my C-section), I started running again. I set a goal to run a marathon as soon as possible - and I did. Seven months after Will was born I flew to Nashville with two of my sisters in law and ran the Country Music Marathon. The funny thing about that was, I didn't feel any better. I checked the box: run marathon soon after giving birth. Done. So either the goal or the achievement of the goal weren't enough or it wasn't the right goal. But if it wasn't the right goal, what is? Can setting false goals and milestones help change your attitude?

Then today, while assembling the Imaginext T-Rex Mountain (which is Will's Christmas present from us), I lit on something that seems resonant. Maybe it's not achieving things like goals, maybe it's just doing something, anything really, that boosts your morale, help you feel like you can get through the rest of the day.

Today I built a T-Rex Mountain.  Sure, that doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment or any kind of measure of success ... but it was amazing how assembling all of these tiny plastic pieces into something actually made me feel good.

I started with a cardboard box of miscellaneous plastic pieces.

I had bought two Imaginext sets off of Craigslist for about 1/10th of the price of one of them new. Good deal. But the bad part of the deal was that the sets were a) all mingled together and b) came without any directions. I managed to go online to Fisher Price (which makes Imaginext) and find the instructions. Kevin very nicely printed them out for me ... so all I had to do was follow the directions (and I LOVE directions). Easy peasy right? Wrong.

First I dumped the box out onto the floor.

Then I sorted as best I could into two separate piles by the color of plastic ... brown and tan were T-Rex Mountain, blue and grey were the Dragon Castle. Then the real fun began ... trying to follow the diagrams, select the correct pieces and put them together. Like most things, the first part was the hardest. It took me ten minutes just to find one of the three parts shown. Then suddenly I kind of got into a groove and after about twenty minutes I had half of the base built.

Then the other half took only about another ten minutes.

But there was something magically therapeutic about fitting those pieces together and assembling the mountain. It is only a heap of plastic, I know, but somehow completing this little plastic mountain felt like I'd summited another more metaphorical one.

I couldn't intellectualize the problem. And I couldn't just change how I was feeling. But just digging in and building a mountain helped me climb over one. Maybe the marketing folks for Nike aren't so stupid after all. When thinking and feeling fail, sometimes "Just Do It" is a good life philosophy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

If you don't like a thing ...

... change the way you look at it. I don't know where or when I first heard that (it seems like it's from one of those female empowerment movies like Steele Magnolias) but it's one of those truisms that I picked up along the way and stored away somewhere in my brain but don't exactly live by on a regular basis.

I was reminded of it this morning, Thanksgiving morning 2008, when, on a rainy, wet, grey morning I looked out my kitchen window and saw this:

A rainbow. This is the same front window from which I can see the hacked up tree that I blogged about a few days ago. Same window, different day, different view. Instead of seeing a hacked up tree instead I see the rainbow. It seems like that's a metaphor for more than just trees and neighbors.

In some ways this also conversely proves what I wrote about the Santa Anas ... out of a gloomy, grey, rainy day comes something so beautiful, one of Mother Nature's many miracles: a rainbow.

So often I focus on the minor irritations and minutia of my life, but things are changing all the time. From one minute to the next, maybe if we looked at the same thing just a little differently we'd see something else. Feel something else even. Maybe if we didn't focus on the minutia, like the chopped off limbs of a tree, we could see the larger world view, the rainbow in the sky.

Perspective matters.

On Thanksgiving people pause and think about the blessings in their lives, the big picture of what really matters. It's not that their view of their life has changed, or that those things that bothered them the day before have gone away, it's that on Thanksgiving they stop and look at things a little differently.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Go and the Sun Will Follow

Go and the sun will follow. If you had to sum my friend Sheri up in one phrase, that would be it. That's her life philosophy. The companion to that is, "There's no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing." That one belongs to Sheri's friend Dan. They're both true and if you had to live your life by just one philosophy, either one would stand you in pretty good stead I think.

The first time I ever heard her say it, it was her birthday many years ago. It might have been the first birthday I ever spent with her. Anyway, it was raining. No. It was hailing. We were headed out to Borrego Springs for a hike. We drove north along highway 67 - in the hail - thinking that this hike was NOT a good idea. Well, I was thinking that. Sheri was thinking: Go and the sun will follow. We stopped at Santa Ysabel at Dudley's bakery on the way. There was snow on the ground. I don't think I even had a jacket with me. But this is what Sheri told us: Go and the sun will follow. So we went. And, if you want to know the truth, that's exactly what happened. We drove over the ridge and down into Borrego Springs - the skies cleared, the sun shone, the wildflowers sparkled orange and yellow in the spring sunlight. I know, it sounds like I'm making that up. But, seriously, that's what happened. And, to topi it off, we had a great hike.

"Go and the sun will follow" is really not a life philosophy about weather though; it's all about attitude. It's a fancier way of saying, "think positive" (but its specificity helps it ring truer). I hadn't thought about Sheri's life philosophy in a while until today when I realized that I had followed it. Sometimes I guess things are just so "right" that you stop thinking about them and just start living them. That's what happened today when we decided to go ahead with our plan to go to SeaWorld even though the geniuses at the National Weather Service said that there was a 100% chance of rain. When we got up this morning the sky was looking pretty grey and threatening and it definitely seemed like the meteorologists would win this round. But we packed our raincoats, donned our boots and went ahead and went anyway. Rain be damned. Another life philosophy applied here (my mom's): "you won't melt."

Needless to say, not only did it NOT rain (at all) today, it was actually sunny and warm at SeaWorld. We had an amazing day. Go and the sun will follow. Check out the pictures below if you need proof. Thanks Sheri.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Addendum to Trees

This morning my three year old, God bless him, was eating breakfast and he looked out the kitchen window and he said to his dad, "Daddy, what's wrong with that tree?"

Maybe I should send Will to go talk to my neighbors.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Santa Anas

It's sort of the irony of the world that something that can cause so much beauty can also wreak so much havoc. In this case, Santa Anas. When the Santa Anas are blowing we have this amazingly clear view of La Jolla from our deck. When the sun sets it shines off of some of the windows in La Jolla, making La Jolla literally sparkle. The smog and pollution that the Santa Anas blow out to sea make the sunsets glow a bright orange red in a way that they don't at other times (assuming we can see the sunset through the marine layer of fog that covers the coast for a great portion of the year). In a word, they're beautiful. Breathtaking even. But there's a downside to that beauty as well.
With the Santa Anas come the winds and dry conditions that not only often start fires here in Southern California, but fuel them and make them burn out of control. And often what's lingering in the air off the coast to make the sunset so fiery red and orange is the smoke from those fires. For a lot of people I know, including myself, the Santa Anas also tend to bring sinus headaches from the change in atmospheric pressure. It seems sort of strange that a weather pattern could cause headaches (not to mention hay fever) but I know so many people who talk about it that there must be something to it.

What is it about trees?

This is the view from my kitchen window, facing the street
This is a close up view. In this picture you see the ficus tree that straddles the property line between two of my neighbors. This tree is not on my property and I have nothing to do with it (except that I look at it from my kitchen window).

Yes, you're right, it's pretty ugly. Hacked up. (Another) One of my neighbors even calls it an eye-sore. Thank you for thinking so. I agree. But neither this tree, nor the fact that it's an eye-sore (right now) bothers me. Truthfully, I really don't care. What bothers me is that the neighbors between whose property it is are fighting over it. What bothers me even more is that they are fighting over it when one of our neighbors is going through a divorce and another is in the hospital with pretty serious kidney problems. It just seems to me that in these times, there are (much) more important things for people to focus attention on.

What is it about neighbors and trees that makes otherwise seemingly reasonable people completely unable to get along? I don't really understand the big problem about trees. If you have a tree and it's in your neighbor's yard, or it's blocking their view, or it's dropping it's leaves all over their yard it seems to me that reasonable thing for you to do is trim your tree. It is, after all, your tree and your responsibility. I think it's reasonable for your neighbor to do the same. Now granted sometimes your neighbor isn't aware that their tree is doing these things - and that's where you come in, asking them politely about remedying the problem. But that's where your role should end and your neighbor's role should begin (or visa versa if yours is the offending tree and you are the clueless tree owner). I guess I just don't understand why your tree should or ever would be more important than your neighbor. If you're weighing two things, tree or person, and you're choosing the tree ... well, that just seems a little silly to me. No matter how much you like your tree. The bottom line is, trees are living things, but they don't have feelings. People do. And I just think that people's feelings, and getting along, and being neighborly are more important than a tree.

I'm not talking about cutting down trees here. Tree removal is a whole 'nother ball of wax. But trimming? Maintaining? And privacy is another valid reason to keep trees at a certain thickness or height and I'm fine with that too. People have a right to a certain amount of privacy. But if privacy is not the issue, then I simply don't understand the problem. If your tree impedes your neighbor and they ask you to trim it I think that you should. End of story.

In this particular case I'm really not taking sides. Both of my neighbors are nice to me and the tree in question has no impact whatsoever on my life so it's not my place to be in the middle of this issue. My point is just that there are so many more important things to spend time and energy on. Being nice to our neighbors who need our help, for one thing (think globally, act locally and all).

We want our politicians to be non-partisan. To "reach across the aisle". But I'm starting to undestand that we want this for our politicians because, if my neighborhood is any example, we're unable to do this ourselves. Obviously God knew that this neighbor thing was going to be tough. He gave Moses two commandments specifically relating to neighbors. That's right. One fifth of the commandments talk about neighbors. That tells you something.