Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Burning up

So, it's not my story and I'm generally reluctant to talk about things that aren't my story, but it's true that here in Colorado the past few weeks have been filled with heat, smoke and a general feeling of lameness for those of us lucky enough to be able to go about ordinary life. Wait--is it really okay to go out for yogurt? Isn't there a benefit dinner somewhere that we should be going to instead?

Every morning this week I've woken up before dawn and the temperature outside is within a degree or two of the hot stuffy temperature inside. I go for a run in the orangey burnished light and when I have a view of the mountains I squint and see if I can see anything (I can't. The Colorado Springs fire is so enormous it looks like a cloud and the Boulder fire still looks like a hazy smear on the northern horizon and the High Park Fire outside of Fort Collins is just air pollution by this point.) And then I come home and go about my day of ferrying kids and editing paragraphs.

And I pray and hope for rain (which doesn't come). And I feel a tiny pang of relief that the seasonal question of fireworks is off the table for this year. And I smile indulgently when Silas says longingly, "I want it to rain, for like two weeks." To dampen down the forest and make it less of a tinderbox and hopefully help prevent more homes from going up in spectacular plumes of flame? Uh, actually, no. "So we can buy FIREWORKS."

Well, not this year. No marshmallow roasting, either. Perhaps no camping at all, a tragedy, although the reason is less fire and more baseball.

Kind of a bleak, hot, smoky, head-down kind of life, and yet I'm obviously thankful. We're in our home. Our lives are not disrupted. Things are good. Or good enough.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ramona and me

I've been reading the Ramona books to Helen, and other than the pleasure of remembering scenes and phrases I've been turning over in my head for over thirty years and a slight irritation with how long the chapters are, what keeps gobsmacking me every time I turn the page is how free ranging these kids are. Okay, yes, it was the fifties, and yes, I get it, it's fiction--no one evvver exaggerates in fiction--but still. Nine-year-old Beezus looks forward to her Saturday art class, when she can leave preschool-aged Ramona to play by herself in the sand pile at the playground while she goes in and paints. Meanwhile their mother is--what? Learning to dance the mambo, presumably, or working on her novel, or running a political campaign out of her home--I mean, the mind boggles! What couldn't be accomplished, if your kids were free to just go ahead and take care of their own needs, unattended by you?

It hit especially hard, since while we read Beezus and Ramona I was trying to firm up summer plans and furtively googling latchkey kids and legal age home alone. (Spoiler: the law in Colorado still trusts parental judgment on this one, thank god. Unlike Illinois, where it is apparently the law that no one under the age of 14 can be left home alone--I mean, can you imagine? What the hell? There are states where you can get married at age 14.) I wanted to be able to drag the book out as a kind of living proof that kids used to be thought more capable than they are now- how once upon a time we parents weren't expected to be in constant doting attendance on our offspring. And how that offspring had a chance to develop on its own as a result. Kids used to be able figure out how the world worked on their own, I argued to imaginary juries. Or imaginary authority figures. Or imaginary other parents. I'm not sure whom I was arguing against, here, and frankly, the range of what parents are able to tolerate in other parents in this corner of the world, separate from Internet Crazytown, seems pretty reasonable.

In any case, I happen to disagree with my argumentative self on the last point, anyway. I think kids still independently figure out how the world works. The most helicoptered kids in the world still come to an independent assessment of cause and effect, and it's probably one over which their parents have little knowledge or control. Sigh. Which is the other reason I love reading the Ramona books. They give a little insight into what's happening behind the scenes when you ask, "So, how was school today?" and they answer "Fine" or "Good I guess" or my particular favorite, "I don't remember."

Even in Ramona, though, no one ever sends kids off on the bus to baseball tournaments alone (well, nobody HAS baseball tournaments. Still. If they had them, kids would be driven en famille. Probably.) Which is what I'm thinking about this weekend as I juggle 2 kids, 3 baseball games, a birthday party, a swim meet, an overnight, and a playdate as a solo parent, as M's in Utah for work. I'm getting by with a little help from some friends--not my friends, since I don't really have any in this set--but my kids' friends. It's quietly insane.

For what ultimate purpose? I don't even know, but we seem pretty committed to it, whatever it is. Must be good.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Children of empire

Helen's swim team had their team photo shoot Monday morning, which involved 40 or 50 well-fed children standing around nearly naked in the morning chill, jumping up and down and squabbling manfully as their well-dressed parents looked on. The team pool is at the heart of a wealthy housing development, and its infrastructure has a Grecian/ Roman element in its architecture, which may or may not have prompted my sense that we were taking part in some sort of bracing childhood initiation rite, in which the privileged children are ritually mistreated, a la British public school, in order to strengthen the ruling class's hold on power.

Or perhaps I hadn't had enough coffee and was a little irritated that on this, the first day of the first full week of summer, my carefully balanced house-of-cards daycare arrangements were already getting scrambled by team photos and breakfast in lieu of, and two hours earlier than, usual team practice. I mean, come on, people! Some of us have jobs to get to! We don't have time for this!

In any case, it fit in with reflections I've had lately as I rushed around from kid event to kid event, irritated, harrassed, burdened, and more than a little proud. I grew up thinking of American culture as the bubblegum-and-grease dregs of the civilized world. I was very Humbert Humbert in my snobberies, and while I don't still think that my prejudices were fully justified at the time (although it WAS the 80s), I think to dismiss American culture as slick and shallow and brainless is even more incorrect today. These kids, they're professionals in training. Right up until the moment they fall on the floor and refuse to do one single thing more, of course. Or right up until the moment their parents declare bankruptcy. These kids born into the culture of power, or even on the margins of it, they get a lot thrown their way. Toys, training, classes, attention, angst, electronics, and while on some level it all seems to be the same thing--iphone 4 with the deluxe monthly data plan or four solid months of strength training workouts, daily practices and weekly tournaments--you have to admit that the training element is impressive. Even if it is merely bestowed upon the passive vessels of the next generation, it still demands quite a lot of them. It surely says something about our culture's expectations for itself, even if I'm not quite sure what.

Which brings me back to Greco-Roman-British rituals and how every culture has a constellation of daily practices and how, on one level, these practices reveal that culture's soul. The stiff-upper-lipped Brits of the Victorian empire, with their ice water baths and their full cream teas in mush tents all over the globe. Mid-century Germans and their master race stuff, the purification rituals, the cult of strength. Nineteenth-century American Yankees, with their can-do spirit and inventiveness and their tendency to look behind the curtain. The French and their Culture and their million and one cheeses.

What are our daily practices?

TV and frozen dinners, might have been the answer once. Cars, commercials and Big Gulps. McDonald's and Hollywood.

Wrong, wrong and wrong, I'd say from my own provincial experience. Our daily practices are swimming at ninety thirty and ten fifteen, followed by Lego camp (for a little subtle product placement) and then two hours at the batting cage. The daily practice of the people who live around me, and with whom I coordinate for playdates and volunteering, is nonstop activity, most of it physical, most of it structured, most of it involving shockingly expensive polyester uniforms and specially designed haul bags. Most of it requiring professional team photographs at some point, although not usually involving stripping in 50-degree weather.

And what does all this say about our soul?

We have activity, structure and lots of recording for posterity. Not brainless, not at all, although there is relatively little self-reflection or spiritual development, and a sort of bewildering disconnect between training and self motivation. There's a lot of exhortation to "have fun" and also to "kick it" and "be hungry for the win." A lot of talk about skill building; a lot of actual skill building, in fact, although many kids seem to arrive with their arms out, ready to have their skills built for them, if that's what you wish.

It's not exactly bubblegum and grease. But some of the kids, my own included, seem to be biding their time with this training stuff until they can get back to what they really want to do and not be bothered. And that, whatever it is, is where their soul lies. Is it bubblegum, in their bedrooms with the doors half closed and the lights dimmed? Maybe. I can't really see in there. All I can see into is my own confused soul, which longs with a fierce intensity for a summer of long lazy days spent poking through the woods or puttering around the house and then turns around and signs up for eighteen different educational and sporting activities in the suburbs. Maybe that's what we are: confused souls, all of us, wanting one thing and then rushing out and buying another.

What was my point, again? Oh, yes, the ritual mistreatment of treatment to consolidate the ruling class's hold on power. I actually don't think having to stand around in a swimsuit for fifteen minutes, even if it was below 70 degrees, counts as mistreatment, and furthermore, I think that most of the moms and dads at the pool that morning lack what is needed to carry through on ritual mistreatment. And yet nothing says power like a million-dollar house such as most of these folks live in. So I don't know what I think. Are we as a culture losing our hold on power? Probably. Is that really a bad thing? I kind of doubt it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Si's last day of 5th grade was yesterday, and while I am making a determined effort not to get too wistful/ slide into a sea of despond, I must remind myself that it's okay to own my feelings on the subject. Which are:

1. Iiiii want to sleep in, tooooo.

2. What the--didn't we take photos of his first day of kindergarten/ first day of second grade (which is when he started his current school)? I could have sworn we did. Honestly. Who's the record keeper in this family, anyway? Where are they? WHO CAN I BLAME FOR THIS.

3. Ack! Summer's beginning, and here I am, still trudging off to work.

4. We forgot to get a teacher gift, didn't we? Losers, man.

5. Everything ennnnnddds.
First day of 3rd grade, which is apparently the best I can do on the memory comparison front.

Close to first day of kindergarten with bonus Viking chain mail.
Close to first day of second grade with bonus broken collar bone (Sand Dunes).
Last day of 5th grade. You'd hire this guy, right?

Friday, June 1, 2012


Well, that was May. It kind of just... evaporated. Personally, I blame aliens, or maybe the Management. There really is no excuse for this sort of time removal. I need to make a ribbon, or a twibbon, or perhaps a gribbon (awareness ribbons on loud monkeys).

Alternatively, I could blame Camp, the search for and/or the lack of satisfactory alternatives thereof. Do you like camp? Did you like camp, as a wee thing? I did, once, like it, mostly, but I also hated its lunchbox smell and the way I'd be thrown in for a week or a half-week or a week of half-days into a pool of strangers. Which is why every time I would comb the Denver Post camp directory and make a conscientious list of all the awesome camp possibilities for kids 7 to 10 and narrow it down to two or three that might really interest the kids, weren't an hour's drive away at rush hour, and were within at least a zip code or two of affordability, I dithered, and minimized the screen, and vowed to come back later, and then never did. Until last week, when in a fit of panic I bought, like, three camps, and also subscribed to a babysitting service. Augh.

My real problem with summer activities is that I want to be home with the kids. I want two and a half months of healthy discipline (daily swim team, mathbooks, reading), fun adventures, popsicles, playdates and hikes. Only I work, so that's not really possible. I can hire someone to be my proxy, but I have to admit that this is what I'm doing.

Two weeks ago I finally articulated this and felt very relieved and like my summer camp block had finally been lifted. Then I spent two weeks procrastinating. Now I lack both relief and any and all excuses.

The sunburn he came home with is spectacular. We need to work on sunscreening skills.
But! we now have camps. And babysitters. And grandma days. And season passes to Elitches (for days with Aunt and Cousin). And I still have my job, which I'm grateful for, especially as all this Proxying is not exactly free.

On the plus side, I have been writing a lot. So that's good. See here. And here (paywalled, for the time being).