What Is It Good For?
Sunday, May 28, 2006
The other day I was walking down the hall where I work. We have an early education program in the building and the occasional interloper can catch an adorable little 3 or 4 year old lining up for the playground, running into the bathroom with outstretched hands after finger-painting or sweetly sleeping on his or her little cot at naptime. It’s a wonderful thing to work in a building where there are dozens of 3 and 4 year olds running around because no matter what pressures you are dealing with that day, if you walk down their hallway, you are suddenly seized by a great big smile.
Last week walking down the hall after such a seizure, I heard one of the teachers hurrying one of the kids up out of the bathroom for the next activity: “Let’s go – we’ll miss the button war”. I didn’t break my stride but I think my smile might have slipped a little. War. Why would we need to use such a word with a 3 year old – button or otherwise? I know I tend to obsess about some things (as you, dear readers, can attest to), but as I continued down the hall, I thought more and more about using the word “war” with children. Last month I worked in a high school that had a “penny war” as a fundraiser. It was very successful. Other references that we use in play and recreation came to mind, too: the card game “War”, the movie War of the Roses, that guy on CSI. If the only definition is the waging of armed conflict against an enemy (wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn) then why do we need to use it with 3 year olds? I’m just asking…
The following is an essay I wrote 3 years ago at the beginning of the Iraq War. I thought I’d go ahead and reprint it now.
April 12, 2003
I am not a patriot. That’s what I hear on the news anyway, or read in the paper from any number of people who insist that, to be a patriot, I must support a war. I don’t support the war. I don’t support any war. It was bad enough to see on the news every night that my principles were being maligned as unpatriotic, but then co-workers began to look at me suspiciously as I joined in conversations at work. Me – unpatriotic? That had never been called into question in my life. As it was being called into question by anonymous countrymen and women as well as people who actually know me, I decided it was time to take a look at that which I long thought was intrinsically mine – as an American. And I found, both to my dismay and surprise, that I am, in fact not a patriot at all. I am a matriot.
Don’t look it up – it’s not there. Patriot is, of course. The Oxford-English Dictionary defines “patriot” as “one who self-sacrificingly exerts himself to promote the well being of his country; one whose ruling passion is the love of his country; one who maintains and defends his country’s freedom or rights”. And in fact “matriotism” is in the OED as well. “Love of one’s mother-land, alma mater” it said. If patriot is love of fatherland, then I am a matriot – of the mother land. I am of those softer, nurturing qualities that only a mother can get away with and, in addition, I will defend my country’s freedom and rights. I just won’t do it with a gun. What I will do is mourn every single name on the news each night that tallies another life lost. I will turn the TV off when I can’t watch the “tank-cam” any longer or one more inch of footage of an actual firefight. All I want to do is figure out how to bring home the brand new orphans. My arms literally ache when I see another stretcher bearing wounded. Because I am anti-war, it does not mean I am not supporting our troops over in Iraq – or wherever they may be sent. I want them home – all of them. Safe, sound and mowing lawns, preparing tax returns and taking care of their own children. But since they are there, I will pray for them and I will pray for those who stand in their way as they try and achieve their goals – invasion, destruction, death. War for me is not a means to an end, an “operation”, a strategic plan with acceptable loss. It is broken down into hundreds of thousands of individuals, many of them children, who will block bullets with their bodies as heads of state check daily updates from CentCom. It is a tragic event, no matter how I look at it and I can’t help but be sad, as if every single one of those people were my own child. There was no definition in the OED for one who cannot send off those to whom she has given birth, literally or metaphorically, to kill or be killed in a war calculated by men who will never set foot in the place. So I made one up. Matriot – (NOT an antonym to patriot); one who self sacrificingly exerts herself to promote the well-being of her fellow countrypeople; one whose ruling passion is love.
We live in a bounteous nation with such a wide array of natural resources available to us it is almost shameful. There is such beauty in our endless landscapes, unbroken coastlines and glorious mountains that it seems impossible that it all exists between two shores and beholding it is literally breathtaking. The creativity and ingenuity that is nurtured and allowed free reign in this country rockets past conventional boundaries; and our country’s great minds outdo each other in feats of genius and discovery. No, I love my country. I am grateful to be in America. I don’t think many of us even get that the freedoms we enjoy as a nation don’t even exist in many countries. I would protect that, definitely. But I don’t just want to stand up and wave the flag without some substance behind it. And the best substance I can think of is to take care of those who are my responsibility.
If I could go to Iraq right now and help by comforting, holding or soothing, I would, because I sure couldn’t help anyone by bringing a gun with me. It doesn’t have to be an American soldier – it could be a British soldier or even an Iraqi civilian. I don’t want to feel that my loyalty to country is called into question because I don’t condone killing. I simply feel, as a mother, that before – or even at the same time – that Congress approves nearly 80 million dollars for the war in Iraq and its aftermath, that we should make sure that our own house is in order. That our children are fed. And that they are clothed and adequately educated. Could we please make it a priority that our countrymen and women don’t freeze in the streets because they have no homes or that other countrymen and women are denied anything because of race or gender? If 80 billion dollars is available through this government to execute a plan to wage war in another country and then rebuild that country, then couldn’t even half of that unimaginable sum of money be available for children right here in the United States? I only pose these questions because I am a mother. If there is one thing I believe for sure it is that children need to be looked after. I also believe it is our country’s duty to take care of our own. I believe that killing is wrong and that, as Dr. King said, “peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal”. And I am pretty sure I believe all of this without hesitancy because I am a matriot.
The Chickens Are Home
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
“The chickens have come home to roost” – The consequences of earlier actions are making themselves felt.
I dropped my son Chris, 19, off at the airport last month to fly to California. He was going to join my daughter Annie, 25, to help her move back across the country. She and her boyfriend Tony, 26, had decided that, while California was sure pretty, it wasn’t the place for them. Not when both families lived back here. I was in complete agreement.
So Chris went to LA and joined Annie in packing. What they couldn’t fit in the car, they FedExed to their dad’s house. Seventeen boxes worth. The rest they engineered into the car. Chris, as it turns out, is a packing genius. He was available to do this because he stayed out of school this semester and has yet to find gainful employment. Fortunately, he is living at home so there aren’t any bills to pay. Well, actually there are, he just can’t pay them yet. There are a couple of great reasons for this, just not reasons I am interested in listening to anymore. But out in LA faced with a challenge, he came to life. He is not a kid who isn’t willing to work, it’s just that he, like Annie, is in search of the perfect job. Even if it is a temporary job until he decides where and/or when to go back to school. So, meanwhile, out in California he became invaluable to Annie and Tony as far as packing and moving and a huge comfort to Bella and Cali, the cats who were getting nervous about all this new activity. I was secretly glad that Chris would be along for the ride so Annie wouldn’t be alone.
Not that she couldn’t do it alone. Three years earlier she did just that. Annie decided to spend the summer in LA and had a car, so what was stopping her? Not much as it turned out. She found some old school friends who were up to the adventure, so for the first couple of hundred miles she had company. But they had to go back to work and she dropped them off at an airport somewhere around Tennessee and kept moving. The funny thing was she had spent the weekend before she left in Maine, so by the end of that week she had literally driven from one end of the country to the other. Her phone calls along the way were memorable. She was in awe of the landscape and the size of the country. She was also a little alarmed at the behavior of some of the truckstop habituÃ©s, but that’s a whole other story.
They left on a Thursday morning. My two children, on the other side of the country in a car jammed with 2 years worth of California living; a huge television set, a dvd player, a playstation, a vcr and a tivo machine and some clothes and towels, and heading east. My heart was in my throat the whole time. The first phone call was a little nerve-wracking – Annie was stressed and Chris, I think, was asleep. But as the trip wound on, the phone calls were filled with private jokes, laughing and vivid descriptions of the scenery and characters they were driving by. Well, except for that last day when I gave Annie the wrong directions to the hotel they were going to stay in that night. In my defense the directions were correct – I had the address wrong. But she even made it there, having dropped Chris off at a college friends’ dorm with the promise to both of us that he would definitely make it back before midnight!!
And then they were home. Tired and hungry and in need of a shower, but still laughing about references only they shared. And now – almost a month later, Christopher is still without a job (but still with all those great reasons) and Annie is still here, but looking for work in New York City. Bella and Cali are here, too, and getting pretty comfortable I might add. But Tony is already working in the city and they’ve recently found an apartment, so it should only be a matter of time. (This is where my husband usually gives me an exceedingly disbelieving look and says, “really?”). But even though Annie is looking for the perfect job, too, she is reasonable and sensible and knows that she will find that one day. But right now she needs to get into the city and start living her life. And soon the cats and the clothes and the boxes will be gone and it will be quieter around the house. Because even though Chris will still be here, he doesn’t make that much noise. But even he will be on his way one of these days, because he doesn’t want to live in our basement forever. (Right, Chris??)
I am a big fan of Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer. In a recent episode, he encouraged a woman who had finally mastered the behavior of her errant dog to take pride in what she’d done. If you put it out there, the universe incorporates that energy and everyone – even the dog – can feel it. I am not one to take credit for my children. They are a gift that I am lucky to have been given. I’ve always felt that way. But after I heard Cesar tell that woman to take pride, I decided that it would be okay for me to take just a little pride in how I raised my children. Because the pride I feel is just bristling with a strong positive energy and I’d be doing the universe a favor by sharing that energy with it. So from here on out – I am damn proud of my kids. They are amazing and if I had even just a tiny bit to do with it, then I am happy to own up to that.
Flip Flops Over 50
Sunday, May 07, 2006
The Year of Thinking BIG. That is my theme for the next two years. So I guess, more accurately, my theme should be The Years of Thinking BIG, but let’s not quibble over an “s”. As I approach a certain age – and it’s no big mystery – it’s 50, I have developed a philosophy that is not so much dependant on what people think of me anymore. I am much more concerned with what I think of me and how I’ll be thinking of me in the years to come. As I reach an age where people start thinking about retirement and counting up the various nest eggs they’ve laid over the years, all I can think about is how I’ve only laid one big fat egg in that department. Due to various traumatic and irresponsible events in my life, I don’t have a retirement plan. To be honest – I don’t even have a plan, except that one day I’d like to be in that phase of my life. I look at “retirement” as a time to travel, garden, read and just basically enjoy life. I know that sounds like an AARP slogan, but it becomes meaningful to one after one enters their late 40’s. After years of working under conditions set forth by others, it becomes really important to live under conditions set forth by me. And that means being able to sleep in when I’m tired, go up to Maine when I feel like it, not have to drive in the cold and the snow to get somewhere that someone else thinks I should be and basically wear flip flops as my main footwear. If I can’t wear flip flops to a place, then it’s probably not a place I want to go. And I have “good” flip flops – those that I clean up after each wearing and “casual” flip flops – those that I don’t, so I can pretty much have a spectrum of events I can attend. So, that’s my goal – flip flops over 50. I think it’s doable.
Of course that means I now have to have a retirement plan. This blog appeared as the first salvo in the The Plan. The plan is that for the next 2 years, it will be the Year of Thinking BIG. Since I want to work from home and don’t want to run a daycare or start a business on Ebay, and the one thing I can do is well is write then I have to make a commitment to my writing. It must become a discipline and I must make it an important part of my daily routine. That becomes a little difficult at times when one has a nine-to-five/five day a week job. Or as it’s been lately seven-to six/six days a week. But this is the Year of Thinking BIG! I must press on. So there’s that – stick to my writing. I don’t know how I will make it pay for my retirement, but who knows what will come down the pike. I also have a book to publish. I have drawings from my school years which are still cute and have a possibility of addressing a market for education. I am going to get that little project going with the help of my husband.
And speaking of my husband let me tell you how he figures into all this planning. Besides being my partner in book publishing (he’s very excited about that part of the plan, let me tell you. I only let him do it if he promised not to ever roll his eyes when we talked about it) he is also starting his own business. He’ll have to quit his nine-to-five to do it, but we’re working on that. (The Year of Thinking BIG, remember?) So he will focus on his business – and my book – and that’s all! Because he is approaching a certain age as well and it’s way past the certain age that I am approaching! Way past. REALLY way past… I decided since he is so way past my certain age and totally homing in on his certain age, that it was time that I took the lead in feathering our little nest egg. He has spent a lot of years working under conditions set forth by someone else and he deserves to start taking it easy. He is also a native born Italian and when I go to Italy, I will need a native born speaker and former resident to show me around, so I want him to be available.
I have another couple of ideas brewing, too. All have to do with writing and some have to do with education. After all, I didn’t go back to school and rack up 10’s of thousands of dollars earning a Master’s degree for nothing. All in all, I think I might be on to something. Planning for retirement – what a concept.
For a long time I’ve been trudging along the path of “Do the right thing”. I’ve held jobs and paid taxes and registered and insured my cars. I sent my kids to school with a lunch everyday, helped them with their homework and took out loans to pay for their higher education. If I didn’t have anything nice to say, I didn’t say it and if I took a penny, I left a penny. I’m not saying that I would change all that with my new philosophy, but I do think that after almost 50 years of following the rules, I can safely assume that I can be trusted to behave. The way I see it, I am able, motivated, smart and ready. What’s to stop me?