Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ah, Children and Their Choices

As parents, I think one of the things we wish for is to spare our children from making poor choices. I mean, we've made many of our own poor choices, right? So we know what to avoid. Right? So if we could just convince our children that they should avoid making all the dumb mistakes we've made, their lives would be much better, right?

Alas, one of my most important ideals of parenting has been to let my children make their own choices. Even when they were 2 1/2 years old and wanted to dress in horrendous outfits, I let them. When they chose friends who were obviously not good for them, I didn't say anything. When they want to drop three classes, spend four months sitting around, go out with a jerk, or quit baseball, I don't say anything. (Well, so maybe I say something, but I don't judge.)

It's a dichotomy of ideals. I want them to be themselves. But I want to let them learn from my mistakes. But they really have to learn from their mistakes. And really, most of those things they choose aren't mistakes, to be accurate. They're just choices that maybe didn't work out so well. Some of them actually do work out pretty well. But it's really hard to sit back and watch while the turning out happens, because as a parent, you have no idea it the final outcome will be good or not so good.

So what brings all this philosophizing on? Daughter number two, Emily, was all scheduled to spend the coming school year in Belgium on an exchange program. That was actually a pretty recent decision. I think she announced it in March or so that she'd like to take a year and do something besides head right off to college. (She just graduated from Boise High School, top 20% of her class, 4.1 something GPA, AP scholar, thank you.) You see, several years ago, Emily skipped 8th grade, so she has this sort of "free" year she can use and still come out at the end of college at the same age as her peers.

But now, Emily informs us she's changed her mind. Doesn't want to go away after all. Still doesn't want to go right off to college, either. (For the record, she is very excited about her chosen college: New Mexico Tech, where she plans to study astrophysics.) What she wants to do this coming year is finish her pilot's license, which she has been working on. Plus she wants to do some other things she's always wanted to try but never had time for, like learning to draw. She plans to get a job--thank goodness. Probably still take more piano lessons--yay. Probably write five or six novels while she's at it. I'm sure she'll keep busy. And I have no problem with this choice. I don't think it's a mistake.

But, come on. Giving up a year in Belgium? Would you? I told her the story she's heard before. (All parental stories must be retold several hundred times before a child reaches 18. It's in the Parenting Handbook.) When I was in college, I had an opportunity to go to a program in London and attend dozens of theatre performances while otherwise partying with my friends. And get credit for it. What was I thinking? Why did I not go? It's one of the great regrets of my life. What I wouldn't give to spend ten weeks in London studying theatre..... Sigh. But even after a moving rendition of that story, she still chose to spend her year her way.

It's taken me a few days to adjust. I think the main thing was I had emotionally prepared for both my daughters to be out of the house in a couple of months. Not that I'm in a big hurry, mind you, but you prepare yourself for these things. Now she will still be here. Frodo, her dog, is most happy, I think. He would sorely miss Emily, and he still will when she goes to college. In the meantime, he has another year. Peter was not so happy at the news. He wanted the Xbox to himself. Somehow he got the crazy idea that I was going to let him have it in his room. Right.

Well, this post was supposed to be about choices. Emily's graduation speakers talked about following your dreams, not necessarily doing the expected thing. I guess Emily took that to heart, because flying is one of her loves, and she hopes the possession of a pilot's license will be one step toward her ultimate dream of becoming an astronaut. Gotta love those independent thinkers. That's how I raised 'em.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Crosswords and Comedy

In our family, summers usually seem to end up having some kind of theme, completely unintentionally. For example, years ago, Emily and Melissa played a game they invented, which they called Dark Volleyball. A few years back, the kids and I got hooked on "Whose Line is it Anyway?"--a funny improv show that aired late at night, causing us all to go to bed late and sleep in late. Like we needed an excuse, right? After Emily's freshman year, she and her friends roamed and slept at one another's houses. I dubbed them the nomads. Some years, it's the vacation theme: the Oregon coast, the family reunion.

So this summer appears to be developing the theme of Comedy Central Presents, to which Peter is now addicted. He's watching all 200+ episodes, alphabetically, and is currently on the D's. I watch one now and then with him. Then, too, there is my present fling with crossword puzzles. I'm not a big crossword puzzle fanatic, mind you. They usually irritate me--I end up feeling either stupid or annoyed at their cryptic clues. But so far, I have done several in the past week or two, mostly because I am procrastinating all the stuff I'm really supposed to be doing. Hey, it's summer.

Of course, this summer could also be themed Moving Out, since both Melissa and Emily appear to be doing just that. No physical signs yet, but the chatter confirms it. Or it could be Desperately Seeking Employment, which is where I've been for over a year and a half now. The weather seems to be going for the Coldest Summer on Record. (Mind you, I'm not unhappy with soft breezes and temperatures below 80.)

I guess if I wanted to, I could make this the Summer of the WIP Completion. Or the Summer I Lost 20 pounds. Both well within my reach. Hmmmm. What about the Summer the Backyard Gets Transformed? Too much. Gotta keep those goals within realistic reach. Maybe the Summer I Convince David to Get Rid of All His Unnecessary Stuff. Right....

Okay, crosswords and comedy it is.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tribute to Paul Aitken

We just returned from a trip to New York to participate in and be audience members for the New York premiere of Paul's work "And None Shall Be Afraid." This is a five-movement piece of music, the text of which is from five different religious traditions' prayers for peace. It is stunning musically, spiritually, emotionally--every way possible.

I've heard this piece many, many times. I never tire of it. It always lifts me up and inspires me. It makes me want to be a peacemaker.

All throughout rehearsals, Paul kept telling his choir members (two of which we children of mine)that his main goal was for the text, the words, to really come through. He really wants this piece to advocate for peace in the world. Even up through the dress rehearsal, his constant direction was "more text." The singers like to tease Paul about his "more text" admonitions. He takes it well. That's the kind of guy Paul is. He doesn't mind being teased, and he gives as much as he gets.

When performance time came, the text shone through loud and clear. I was transported. Really. Some music is so familiar, so common now that it has to be extra special in performance to transform me as a listener. And even though I've heard this peace so many times I can almost sing it through to myself in my head, this performance was transporting. It lifts my heart. It makes me want to stand up with a loud "Amen." (Which I am happy to report, I did not do in the middle of Carnegie Hall.)

And here's the thing about the music: it came from the soul of Paul Aitken. I pondered this for some time during our trip. What is it about the music that truly takes one to another level? Paul put everything of himself into this music, that's what. It contains all of his theology, all of his world view, all of his life and love. I know I'm sounding pretty cheesy and corny here, but it's true. What else would make hundreds of singers and their families pay tons of money and time to go to New York to sing this piece? It is something about Paul that makes people want to participate in these adventures with him. It is his ferocious fearlessness to put all of himself out there in order to create a musical experience that will inspire others to do the same. He lives his life with constant conviction that we can each make a difference.

And just so you don't think this is all groupie worship, let me just say I've been friends with Paul for a number of years now, and he is no saint. He has plenty of human faults and failings, which I won't go into, because anyone who knows him is well aware of all these. But his soul is full of good. His music is, as I recently described to my brother-in-law, fresh, classic, and global all at once.

I want to thank my friend for bringing this music into being. For being willing to put it all out there. For lifting up the hearts of so many. And for daring to make a difference. My daughter Melissa has said that music is my religion. I don't deny it. It is how the highest of spiritual experiences can best be expressed. "And None Shall Be Afraid" would be the statement of faith for my music-based religion. Thanks, Paul.