Friday, October 14, 2011

Melissa's Turn

Tomorrow, October 15, is Melissa's 22nd birthday. It's also my mom's, who incidentally predicted that my first child might be born on her birthday. I profiled my mom last mother's day, so this one is all for Melissa.

Oh, where to start with Melissa? How about this: true to her lifelong desire to get going and grow up, she arrived a week before her due date. I was so happy to be a mom, and to have her as my first child, but that's not to say there weren't struggles.

Melissa was a spirited child. Some would say brat, but it wasn't that she was bratty per se. She was spirited. Everything about Melissa has always been intense. Ask anyone who knows her, and they'll back me up on this. She was that intense as a baby, toddler, child, too. That intensity is part of what makes her the awesome person she is, so I can look back and be grateful for her strong presence. However, many times during her early years I wondered if I would survive. It was like having a 20 year old in a 3 month old body. Very frustrating for her, I'm sure, and way frustrating for me.

But we managed. I know I could have done many things better as Melissa's mom. Can't we all? I spent a good deal of her early years suffering from undiagnosed chronic depression, and I'm sure that contributed to some volatile moments, which I'd just as soon forget. (You can ask David why we had to buy a new phone.) Mostly, though, she had to deal with the same thing all firstborns do: rookie parents. Poor kid.

Luckily for Melissa, we had the good fortune of soliciting advice from folks like Annabel vanRavenhorst, Jennifer Cochern, and other La Leche League leaders and fellow moms, who encouraged us to tend to her needs and not worry about "training" her to sleep on her own, wean, and all that stuff. Otherwise, she would probably be a lot more messed up than she is. (Which is not to say she's messed up at all. At least, no more than most people.)

Melissa has always been eager to grow up and precocious in the process. While I sound like I'm bragging (I am), it's also the truth. She hit all her milestones very early on, learned to read and never stopped.

She's always been in love with history. As a preschooler, we read Laura Ingalls Wilder's books to her, and Melissa got heavily into pioneers. Then it was slavery, especially the life of Harriet Tubbman. Titanic was her obsession for a good long while. And then came the Tudors and everything associated with them. No wonder my self-proclaimed history freak is a history major and talks of going to grad school in history.

I vowed never to take any of my children to soccer unless they pleaded, because I didn't really want to do that. Melissa finally asked, if nothing else I think every kid she knew played soccer. She wasn't that into it, and quit almost as fast. She had a brief foray into volleyball in 7th grade, and was really good at it, but not confident enough (my perspective. I'm sure she remembers it differently) to do it the following year. Sports have never been one of Melissa's passions.

Choir and writing have been and continue to be big parts of life for her. She is really good at both music and writing, and could go wherever she wants with those, although I think she likes to do them for her own enjoyment and take them no further than that.

Melissa is one of those people who remembers EVERYTHING (which is why I have a feeling she will dispute every single thing I'm writing here), particularly the tiniest details. At least if they pertain to her. This trait serves her well in school and lots of other areas, but it also means she will sometimes remember those slings and arrows of life far longer than others, who have adapted by repressing those memories. So she can hold a grudge. Just be forewarned.

The other quirky trait (okay, there are many, to be honest) Melissa has is she's a huge worrier. She worries she'll get bad grades, that she has a brain tumor, that the satellite will fall on her. Sometimes these worries are humorous to the rest of us. Like the time she was sure a murderer had come into our house in the middle of the night and moved the laundry basket. (Yes, the murderer moved the laundry basket.) Or the time in junior high when, after learning about the gurgling mass of underground molten water and rock in Yellowstone and Idaho, she came home convinced our whole world was about to explode and we would die. (No, she doesn't watch scary movies.)

Her many lovely traits definitely override these sometimes irritating ones. Melissa doesn't have hundreds of friends; she has a handful of very, very close friends. If she counts you as her friend, she will be loyal and present for you no matter what. It takes her a while to get to know people and let you into her life, but once you're there, she will be your friend for life.

Melissa's sense of humor is one of her strongest traits. All her teachers used to comment how she was the only one in the class who ever got their jokes. She also sees humor in things others aren't even paying attention to--again, a piece of her intensity that makes her so one-of-a-kind. She appreciates almost all humor, whether it's just silly or highly intellectual. This is one reason she loves Shakespeare--and other theatre as well. She gets subtle humor. (Yes, I know, a lot of Shakespeare's humor isn't really all that subtle.)

One of our favorite challenges among Melissa's friends is to make her laugh when she has just taken a drink of something and wait to see if she swallows, spits, or it comes out her nose. Great fun. (Ask her about the diet coke incident. I don't know if she took a drink on that one, but she laughed a good long time.)

Melissa has tried on many personas at various times in her life, and--dare I say--I think she is finally finding her authentic self. Or at least the beginnings of it.

I could go on and on. It has been a privilege that I do not take lightly to be the mother of this amazing woman. I love to hang out with her, yes even shop with her. I love to cook with her, go to movies with her, chat with her, and drink beer with her. I hope we have decades more time to enjoy each other's friendship as adults.

Happy Birthday, Melissa.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Happy Birthday Peter

On the night of September 26, 1996, there was a lunar eclipse. I sat outside with my 40 week pregnant belly and wondered when this baby would appear. Melissa came 1 week early. Emily came 10 days late.

My midwife had assured me that this baby wasn't that big. He sure felt big. We didn't do ultrasounds or know the gender, because we were doing a home birth with a midwife.

I went to bed that night hoping it would be soon. I was getting tired of carrying this little one inside.

True to his compliant nature, Peter arrived the next afternoon at 1:01. He was 10 lb. 10 oz. Yes, you read that right. It is not a typo. He was a big baby after all. We joked that he was two months old at birth. Amazingly, I had no drugs and no tearing. He was a little hard to push out, but that was more because of his sort of sideways position than his size.

At any rate, he arrived on his due date, and made me really happy to have a boy. He was a pretty mellow baby, lovingly attended by his big sisters. Melissa especially like to be a little mommy and sing Peter to sleep. Emily became his best playmate as he grew.

On September 27, 2011, this baby turns 15. Whoa. He is now almost as tall as David, wears a size 11 shoe (still growing, it seems), and sings bass in choir.

It's kind of hard to describe my relationship to this really cool son of mine. When he was little, he loved to have me play with him. We did puzzles, played with his Barney figures, his Buzz Lightyear figures, and his dinosaurs. He liked to ride his tricycle around and around the block. He grew up with dogs and rats and hamsters and guinea pigs all around, and his special dog is Ginger, the one who showed up on our doorstep five years ago with Peter.

Peter was my cuddly boy. Even as old as 11 or 12, we would sit together before he went to bed. We'd talk, play games, read. I remember many a hilarious game of hangman. (Mary Poppins, Peter.)

Once Peter got "too old" for that, I felt a little lost. How does a mother connect with her adolescent son? But we soon found other things that connect us. We love to watch comedians together, and we have a few favorite TV shows, like our latest: "How I Met Your Mother." He's trying to bring me into his world by getting me into Dr. Who. Mmmm, not sure I'm quite there yet.

I love many things about my son. One is his sort of off-beat, weird sense of humor. Or the way he loves to tell me about whatever his passion of the moment is. As a little tyke, it was dinosaurs, then Pokemon, Digimon, Bakugan. Now it's Dr. Who, Munchkin, and computer coding. I often have no idea what he's saying to me, but I'm glad to hear his enthusiasm and joy over stuff. I also love that Peter loves music. It's almost a requirement in this house, but he has a genuine love of percussion. He has excellent musical skills, which I'm sure are partly genetic, but also hugely due to the constant stream of music happening in our house all the time. I am so glad at least one of my children is still in band and wants to do band in high school.

One of the most awesome things about Peter is that he is totally okay with himself, unafraid to be weird or geeky or even creepy. He likes "nerdy" things like chess, computers, band, scouts. He learned how to make creme brulee and homemade bagels. He took a gardening class and tells me what I should plant with what. A teenager with this kind of self-assuredness is a delight to be with.

Peter has the messiest room I've ever seen. His sisters will back me up on that statement. We call it the black hole. But he is happy with it for now, so we just shut the door and agree not to take it too seriously. Peter's personality is that of a leader, someone who likes to take charge, be on the top of the heap, and help others coming up behind him. He is smart like his sisters, outdoorsy like his parents, a pyromaniac like his dad, and sleeps and eats like any teenage boy.

I truly enjoy my son. Oh sure, he can be annoying at times. Like when he is "Mister Literal." That's when he takes everything you say literally. He has been known to write up contracts in order to make sure we all agree on something. He is also not so keen on doing chores or working on anything unless he wants to. He drinks far too much soda. But, you know, overall, the kid's okay. He is one of the good ones. Someone we can count on. Someone who works and plays and relaxes in equal measure. He's respectful when he should be and kind to others. In short, someone I like hanging out with. And he seems to like hanging out with me, too. I guess that says a lot more about our relationship than anything else I have written. So I'll stop there.

Happy Birthday to my favorite son, Peter Christian Jensen

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

In the past, I’ve sent out my “Christmas” letter at various times of the year. Since my birthday is upon us, (not looking for gifts or anything—wink, wink, nudge, nudge) I think now is a good time. Especially since much is going on in the ever changing world of the Jensens.

So…here’s what’s up with me. I mean, it is MY birthday, and my blog. I spent 1 ½ years getting certified to be a secondary English teacher, only to be looking during the worst recession in decades. Not to mention our loony state superintendent of schools has pushed through some disturbing legislation that makes our schools less effective, and in the process, eliminates quite a few teaching jobs. I’m sure I’ve posted about it before, so feel free to read those rants in other posts. I kept substitute teaching for a while, but it just wasn’t the same as having my own classroom.

So…I went back to my freelancing work, which has taken off quite a bit. Gee, maybe it has something to do with that recession? People not having enough money to hire someone full time, but just enough to hire freelancers? What do you know? I just might have found my niche. With the rise of self publishing (shhh, don’t tell anyone I said that word), more and more companies are sprouting up to help people publish their fiction (and non-fiction), and they hire me to edit for them. So I am basically doing all the fun parts of editorial without all the crappy meetings, financials, and corporate stuff I hated.

I did work for about six months at my favorite indie bookstore. (Shout-out to Rediscovered Books.) It was a supremely part-time gig, with the biggest benefit being the employee discount on books. Needless to say, not much of my paycheck stayed in my bank account. I liked it, liked the people, loved the customers—especially the Saturday morning folk who came down to the farmer’s market. But it was just not really helping me achieve what I wanted. (Except to own more books.)

So…I have been focusing my efforts more on writing my own fictional works (in addition to the afore-mentioned works of others). I have one novel completed, one just about done, two more in the writing phase, and several others in various stages of planning and pre-writing. The one I’m about to finish will be going out on submissions this fall, so wish me luck. As part of my writing life, I am an assistant regional advisor for my region of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. That role got me on a cruise to the Bahamas (it was a working trip, I promise) and to LA for the 40th anniversary conference. I also spent a week in Salt Lake City in an intensive class with Ann Cannon and a group of incredible writers. I keep learning amazing new things at every turn.

Music is still very important to me. I play my flute anytime someone asks. I play in my recorder group. Right now I am learning alto recorder, which is in a different key than the soprano/tenor voices, so it is a challenge. I am planning to start up bag pipe lessons this fall. Just had
an urge to try it. And I am in the handbell choir and the orchestra at our church.

In other news, I am still on my weight loss journey. Year one produced a 30 pound loss. Year two has been sort of a stall. I haven’t gained any weight, but I haven’t lost any either. However, I must be getting firmer or toner or something, because I keep buying smaller clothes. And I’m in no rush. I am a firm believer that the slow weight loss will be a long-term weight loss. I know my body. It does not respond to much of anything in a fast way. I say it is like a glacier. Change happens VERY slowly. So, I am being a lot more active, eating a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables, and thoroughly enjoying my food. Odd, isn’t it? Food is my friend, not my enemy. I can enjoy it all I want and still lose weight.

Life in our home has changed quite a bit, now that both Melissa and Emily have moved out. Melissa moved out about a year ago, and is living in her own apartment. Emily moved out not long after, and is sharing an apartment with her boyfriend, Isaac, and another friend of theirs. And she recently got an adorable kitten named Luna. (After the Harry Potter character.)

So our house is quieter, cleaner, and less crowded. Fortunately, both girls are still in Boise, so we see them often. Peter still is at home for at least a few more years. He took over the girls’ room with his drum set.

David is busy, busy, busy at work. His associate moved to another company, so his work load is heftier. Hopefully he will get another one soon. David won an award this year from the Idaho Bar for service to the bar. You can ask him about it if you want more details. Apparently it had something to do with lending codes. Fascinating, right? The nice part of that was going with him to Sun Valley to receive the award. He is loving his role as a Boy Scout leader, going camping every month, backpacking, and watching Peter become a leader in the troop. David also ushers at church, which I think is just a gig to get out of listening to the sermon. (But hey, I do orchestra to get out of singing the hymns, so I guess we’re even.)

Melissa is a senior at Boise State, majoring in history with a minor in political science and a potential second minor in art history. She plans to go to grad school in history, although the details of that are still up in the air. She still has three semesters to go, even though she's officially a senior. She's taken a lot of classes, but still has some requirements to meet her major. She is also a voracious author, having written five or six completed novels. And a singer.

Emily graduated from high school in 2010, took a year off after taking something like 10 AP classes her last two years and feeling slightly burned out. She was planning on going to New Mexico Tech, but she has a boyfriend here who is awesome and would certainly move there with her if she asked. But she decided to stay here and go to Boise State. Partly because of the guy, but mostly (so she says) because she wanted to also do some languages that NMT does not offer. So she is majoring in physics, minoring in engineering, and taking Chinese. Her plans are to go on for a doctorate in astrophysics. She hopes to be an astronaut if they still have astronauts by the time she gets to that point. She is also working on her pilot's license and will solo soon. She, too, is an author with several novels under her belt. As well as a composer and pianist.

Peter is a freshman in high school. He is a drummer in band, loves Boy Scouts--will be Life this year--and is taking driver's ed. Yikes. He is also into chess, tennis, and possibly golf. He thinks right now he'd like to go into some form of engineering. He loves computers and reads coding manuals for fun?! He is pretty much your typical 15 year old boy--likes fire and exploding things, doesn't talk much unless he gets excited about something, ignores most of what I say, and eats primarily sugar and grease.

Our old dog Frodo is really showing his age, which we estimate to be around 13 years, give or take. But with the wonder of drugs, we keep him going. He doesn’t chase squirrels anymore nor can he withstand long walks. But he sure acts spry when food is involved. The “puppies”—Ginger and Dodger—are five now, but crazy and frenetic as ever. Also very cuddly, so they snuggle with me a lot. There are no rodents as pets in the house at the moment, and I don’t anticipate any. Melissa loves Emily’s cat and plans to move into an apartment that allows pets next year so she can get a kitten or puppy. Our pets are a big part of our family, and incredibly, they are less messy than the humans.

So as I enter the final year of my fourth decade, how I do I see the world? Myself? Do we really need to ask these questions? As many people do as they get older, I see that things I once felt were of vital importance really aren’t so important. I care less and less what other people think of me or my kids, what my credit score is, how messy my house is, or whether I’m doing a good job as a parent. I care more and more about enjoying my life, being helpful and compassionate to others, making the world somehow better for my having been here, and continually challenging myself as a writer, musician, and person. I won’t apologize for the amount (or quality of) television I watch, having a cookie when I want one, or routinely forgetting things. I look forward to spending the second half of my life with David, being silly old people together (our fantasy is to live in an assisted living center growing medical marijuana—JK), and making our grandchildren laugh at our antics. I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Random Musings (or: Heat Gets in My Brain)

It's July. Where did that come from? What happened to the happily middle ground of heat and cold called June? It was cold, rainy, miserable. And now it is unbearably hot. Really? Come on. If you don't believe in climate change, let me just invite you to peruse our spring weather here in the "desert" of Idaho.

My brain tends to go in random directions. So if you're not in a rambling mood, please desist immediately.

It occurred to me yesterday that we spend more of our lives as parents of adults than we do as parents of children. Granted, childhood seems very, very long when you are the befuddled parent of three small children. but now that I've been parenting for almost 22 years, I am really enjoying parenthood more and more. Because the hard part (I hope) is done. They are transitioning into adulthood and doing well at it. They like to hang out with me (mostly because they get free food/laundry/gas if they do, I'm not naive), and I like to hang out with them. So it seems to me that fostering a close and pleasing relationship with our children is the most important thing we can do as parents. Yes, yes, we want to instill in them strong values, a good work ethic, and a drug free lifestyle, but really most of those things are a result of living by our own values. You can't beat that stuff into your children. And no matter what kind of grades they get, if they drink before they turn 21, if they hang out with the wrong crowd, if they don't share your religious or political beliefs--none of that matters in terms of parenting. What matters is can you talk with them as equals? Can you find common interests. Can you stand each other? I can happily answer yes to all these questions. So the future of parenting for me is looking good so far. That makes me feel great. After all, they're the ones who have to take care of me in another 40 or so years.

On a related note, living in a house with a pre-menopausal woman and a nearly 15 year old boy is not always congenial. I have determined that I think 15 is the worst of the teenage years. My son Peter will turn 15 in a couple of months. He is often surly, grouchy, hungry, tired, unmotivated, and irritated by everything. I've been through this twice before, so I don't take it personally, but I'm older now. I'm also tired, irritated by everything, etc. You get the picture. However, at least I have the experience to know that engaging in arguing or pointing fingers does no good. I usually just wait until a better mood finds its way into Peter's psyche. Usually when he's talking about Dr. Who, has been watching comedians, has just had a large caffeinated beverage, or I'm taking him to Burger King. Then I can broach the subject of the pile of crap he needs to do. Nevertheless, we do have a close, similar-interests kind of relationship mentioned above. We both like comedians, camping, and other stuff. So I think we'll make it. Until the hot flashes hit. Then it's every male for himself.

Speaking of males, tomorrow is my oldest brother, Mike's, birthday. He's a LOT older than me, just to clarify. (No offense, I just want to emphasize what's left of my own young years.) So, since I've profiled my mom and dad recently, I think I shall briefly comment on Mike. Mike was always kind of removed from my life as a kid, since he graduated and left home when I was in 4th grade. I do remember his hippie years fondly. How my grandma Ruth commented, upon seeing his long, long curly hair when he returned from Spain, that he looked like a girl. High five, grandma. I remember how he hitchhiked to and from college. My mom worried like crazy. Our family liked to play games like Monopoly, hearts, and Risk. It seemed to me that he always won. He was kind of a ruthless competitor.(Okay, not "kind of." He was a mean ruthless competitor.) Being the little sister, I often finished out these games in tears. He liked to argue. (Who of the McClanahans doesn't like a good argument?) Again, being younger and not as world-wise, I usually ended up in tears. As we got older and I became more liberal in my politics and religious views than Mike, we had a frequently contentious relationship. Even so, he has always been my big brother and I looked up to him. Even if he did royally piss me off. Several years ago, though, Mike made a move to forge a closer brother/sister bond. He reached out to me and began calling once a week. We talk on the phone now more than we ever talked in many years. We still don't agree on quite a few things, but we can manage to talk and share of our lives together. Happy birthday, big brother.

I think that's all my brain power for now. The heat has zapped what else I might have had.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad

It's father's day, and I just wanted to share some memories of life growing up with my dad, Lester McClanahan. He's still with us on planet earth, but I don't get to see him very often.

One memory that occurred to me the other day was Sunday afternoons with dad. We lived out in the country, and didn't have much on the tv, except sports. While our Sundays were often full of football or baseball on tv, much of the time, we relaxed. One favorite of mine was playing the card game War with my dad. As you know, War is one of those games that can be over in a minute or can go on and on for an hour. We sat on the living room floor and played and laughed.

Our Sunday morning routine was to stop on the way to church to pick up the paper. Since we had a 13-mile drive into town, my dad would toss me the comics which I read while we drove to town.

When my family moved from New York City out to South Dakota, my parents decided that is where they would retire. They promptly bought a gorgeous 23-acre ranch and proceeded to spend every Saturday for the next decade preparing it, building a house, and digging a well. My dad had this old jalopy of a Jeep pickup truck. On Saturday's I would sit in the back and we'd drive up to the ranch. At first, we dug post holes for fence. Hard work, so I am pretty sure I helped out for about five minutes then went off to explore the hills. Then we dug the well house. Same story. Then the house. We all put in a ton of hours on that place. As a teen I sort of got tired of spending every Saturday up there. But those are fond memories of bouncing along the dirt roads in the back of the pickup.

During the summer when I was home from school, we would eat lunch together. We would have a bologna sandwich (or maybe fried spam or peanut butter--I know, right?) and listen to Paul Harvey on the radio. Then he would watch a soap opera and take a short nap. Then he'd go back to work. How many kids watched lunchtime soap operas with their dads? Not many, I'm guessing.

Coming from Irish and Scottish stock, my dad had a temper, and it was best to stay on the good side of that. But he also was quick to laugh and paid attention to his children.

I remember routinely getting off the school bus at Wind Cave and going into my dad's office to just say hi. It was really cool that I could do that. Just pop into his office.

When it was time for me to go off to my sophomore year of college, I transferred to Carleton. He drove me out. I don't remember a single thing about the trip except that it was cool having a road trip with just me and my dad.

I am always glad that I had the privilege of having my dad walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. I have known many women whose dad was already gone by that point. I am one of the lucky ones who got the joy of my dad by my side on that special day.

When my first child was born, Dad would hold her in his special grandpa hold and sing "Clementine" to her.

Dad and I have had many differences throughout the years, but he is always my dad. He always is proud of me and will always listen to me. Like many of us do, Dad has mellowed with the years, and nowadays he is more ready to apologize when things get tense. He cries when it is time to say good-bye because no one knows if it will be our last good-bye or not. He gives big bear hugs. I know my dad would have done anything for us, because he did. He worked hard and he took his role as dad seriously. Lots of fathers were not very present, but he was.

I love my dad. And I wish you the most awesome father's day today.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Mother's Day Tribute to Wanda

My mother, Wanda McClanahan, deserves all the best things this Mother's Day. I've been wracking my brain trying to think of what to give her. David, the husband, always useful, suggested that what she would like most would be a poem or something written by me. I'm not much in a poem writing mood, mom, so I'm writing you a blog post.

My mom and I have not always had the best relationship. Once I hit puberty, she probably wanted to send me far, far away. And as I recall, I would have happily gone far, far away. I have to confess, I wasn't much better as a daughter when I hit adulthood. I had a lot of issues, none of which are her fault. But I spent a good many years thinking she was at fault. I'm sorry. That was unfair.

However much I complained, fought, blamed, my mom never gave up on me. She always supported me in every way, never told me to go to hell (which would have been perfectly understandable and deserved if she had), and always told me how proud she was of me.

Here are some of my best memories of life with my mom. My earliest and favorite memories of my mom are of curling up next to her while she read to me. And she read to me a lot. I had this one book about a silly witch who had a haunted house and some people bought it and turned it into a tea room. I loved that book, along with the one about the muskrat children who didn't get along and Miss Twigglie's Tree (I think that was the title). These memories are cozy, warm, and loving. What a great thing to give me. Thank you mom.

My mom was an efficient production unit, sewing all our clothes, canning food she either grew or picked, and doing all kinds of community work. I remember really early on, when we lived in New York, she would go sew sheets or something for needy people. I got to tag along because I wasn't in school yet. Later on, I tagged along when she went to every farm within 50 miles and picked corn, beans, berries, and all kinds of yummy food to be canned at home. I'm sure I complained a lot about that, but looking back, it is a good memory. I especially liked picking wild berries with my mom. She never let a berry bush go by unpicked. We picked gooseberries, chokecherries, raspberries, everything. She transformed these into delicious jellies we ate all year long. I'm sure I complained about all the icky home canned vegetables, but now I wish I had paid more attention and learned how to do it myself.

I have fond memories of coming home after school in August and September to the smell of pickling spices. It's a very vivid sensory memory.

Because we lived in the country, Mom had to drive me into town for every thing I did. Swimming lessons, band practices, girl scouts, everything. This she did willingly. I know I was glad for the day I got my driver's license, and I'm sure she had mixed feelings of relief and terror at the thought of me driving myself along those windy roads into town.

My mother tried to provide the stability and safety to her children that was lacking in her own childhood, and I never understood this until much later in my life. She doesn't talk much about the hardships she faced growing up, but I admire her tenacity and the choices she made to make a good life for her own family.

We did have a good life. In those days, moms told their kids after breakfast to go outside and play. When your playground is a national park, that's the best. We spent all our summers playing outside, hiking, pondering, mulling, and otherwise occupying ourselves. It was the best.

When it was time for me to go off to college, I wanted to go out of state, and to a private school, no less. At first my parents weren't sure that scheme was feasible, but Mom eventually realized it was what I needed, and she supported me in that choice. I'm sure it was a hardship financially. But they did it. When I wanted to transfer after the first year, my mom's main concern was that I not drop out. She really wanted me to graduate from college, because she did not. Thank you mom.

I am not an easy daughter, and I wish my mom had had a daughter who was kind, respectful, easier to raise, and appreciated her more. All in all, though, I feel that my mom gave me a great start in life, and I think I'm pretty okay. After 48 years, I find myself appreciating my mom more and more all the time. And I just wanted to let you know. There have been times when I've been downright horrible to you, mom, and you did not deserve that. I am sorry for those times. I hope the good things have overshadowed those times. These memories are precious to me and I hope to you as well.

I love you. Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Let Me Just Say This About That

So, most of you who know me know I went on a cruise to the Bahamas last week. Sounds glamorous, right? Not really. I have to, in all fairness, state right up front here that I was biased against cruising before I even went. I've never, ever felt interested in going on a cruise. (So why, then, did I go on this one, you ask? Well, it was all paid for and it was with a group of people with whom I volunteer, and we got a ton of great information during our meetings.)

My idea of a great vacation/trip is one in which I can be far, far away from other people. Ideally, I should not see another person besides my family. Barring that, I should see minimal amounts of people. Or at least have somewhere I can go to get away from the madding crowds. In short, I'm not fond of vacationing with hundreds, or thousands, of others. Cruising is like the antithesis of that. You cram 3,000-4,000 people on a floating high rise hotel, complete with disco, casinos, bars, shops, coffee, and liquor. You see them everywhere, in all their horribly touristy glory. You see them in their spring break drunkenness--so attractive. You see them in their leathery-from-spending-too-much-time-in-the-sun skin, sagging out of the bikini they wear to show off their multiple tattoos. You see them stuffing their faces with endless piles of always-available food. If you aren't a little sick right now, then I guess you might like cruising.

Another element I like in a good vacation is plenty of peace and quiet. Preferably with the sounds of the natural world all around me. Again, cruising does not equal that ideal. I mean, you might imagine that you'll have the sounds of the waves, the breeze blowing through the palm trees, or the call of some native bird. No. What you get is constantly piped in bad 80s music. Unless, of course, there's live music, which is usually louder and worse. I wanted to sit out on the deck drinking my pina colada (okay, there are some nice things on the cruise, namely tropical drinks) and reading my book. But the live band was so loud, there was nowhere on deck you could escape from the booming bass. Even when we spent the day at the beach, piped in music and/or live music (which was a little more tolerable, since it had steel drums and a reggae beat, which at least felt somewhat in the spirit of the surroundings). The only place I could get away from this constant drone of bad music was in my cabin (more on why that was not pleasant soon) or on the fabulous sea kayaking excursion I went on. Now THAT was my kind of thing. Out on the water, no music, lots of sea life. I wish the whole trip was like that. (And yes, I am strongly considering a return trip for just that purpose, minus the cruise.)

I was hoping that getting off the ship at Nassau would be a delightful moment to see what a real Bahamas town was like. Oh, so naive. Can you say tourist trap? We walked through a port area with so many people hollering at us to sell us water, photos, tours, hair braiding, and total junk, it almost made me cry. A local friend showed us to the straw market, which is supposedly one of the really cool things in Nassau. Why? I don't know. It's a giant tent spanning about a city block. Inside are hundreds of vendors with products piled up to the roof, and they are all hawking their wares at you, all at once. The aisles are only wide enough for one person to pass through, so it is slow going--all the better to sell you something. Most of the items are pure junk. This is supposed to be special?

I took off on my own after that. I did see a really wonderful museum exhibit on slavery. I saw the many historical buildings, some beautiful churches, and the Nassau public library, which had once been a jail. The parliament, supreme court, and other government buildings were all a pastel pink color, which I thought quite amusing. But then I stumbled back into the fray of tourist-town, where shopping was the name of game, and duty free was the theme. I tried to get away again, finding myself walking through vast stretches of very depressing, empty or burned out buildings. Aside from the touristy crap, what I saw of Nassau was really sad. Now, of course, there's a whole lot more to the city than that, but I would venture to say it is not pretty, which is why tourists don't get there.

My lifestyle has never been about luxury accommodations, and I'm just as happy in a bunk in a yurt as in a resort suite. So our broom-closet-sized cabin did not bother me. It was actually kind of fun to see how small they can make a bathroom and have it be still functional. (Answer, about three square feet. I suppose I exaggerate a bit. Maybe four square feet.) The nice thing about our room was QUIET. Room service was fast and tasty. (And free, with our group package.) Everything about it was fine, except for the lack of window and the smell of mildew. (which might explain why I am now sick after returning home.)If I am going to sleep on a hard surface with no space to spread out, I might as well be in a tent in the mountains, preferably next to a river.

Finally, my life is so not about stuff. It's more about experiences. (And let me tell you, this was some experience.) So it really turned me off that every three seconds, someone is trying to sell you something. Whether it's an upgrade, a drink, a tour, a bingo card, or whatever. Even my massage (which I did indulge in--see experience) therapist wanted to sell me hundreds of dollars of products.

Another turn off was the sense of being in a herd of cattle, from the line to check in on board to the safety drill to the disembarkment routine to the buffet line. I felt like just one of the many other cows being guided into the corral.

Despite all this, I had a wonderful time. Why? Because of the exceptionally fabulous people I was with--the SCBWI regional advisors and others. What an amazing, creative, funny, and hard working group. It was all worth it. And we did enjoy making fun of the oddities of life on board.

The one day I dreaded most of all--the private island belonging to the cruise line--turned out to be the most fun. We sat around no the beach chatting, then kayaking, all the while finding it odd that bulldozers were planting palm trees, which are not native to that island. It was surreal.

I probably won't be cruising again anytime soon, but some sun and sand was a welcome respite from days like today, with gloomy skies and sleet. And meeting all these wonderful new friends will be something I will always treasure.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Benign Neglect as a Parenting Strategy

I realize there are as many parenting styles as there are parents. And of course, we usually think ours is the best approach. I can definitely say as the parent of three kids that one method does not necessarily work for every child. My three children are all cut from their own cloth and respond to things quite differently.

Overall, I think I've been a pretty good parent. Some probably think I'm way too lenient. I think they're way to strict. Some think I let my kids run all over me. I think I listen to them. In the end, the measure I use is this: as my children move into adulthood, do I like them? Do I want to hang out with them? Are they the kind of people I respect? Are they good, compassionate, helpful, kind? And here's the other piece: they all seem to want to hang out with me. Now, I'm not stupid. I realize that this is in part because they need money. But it's more than that. We have forged a relationship that holds meaning beyond the parent-child spectrum. We genuinely like one another. (Most of the time.)

I have often described my parenting style as one of benign neglect. Or laziness. Benign neglect sounds better. But here's the thing. It basically boils down to letting the kids deal with whatever consequences arise, unless I think they are putting themselves or someone else in serious danger. (Which has never happened yet.)

So when my child wants to stay up all night, I merely ask that they keep it quiet so I can sleep. They will discover tomorrow that they are tired, don't feel well, can't stay awake in class--whatever. And they almost always learn they don't enjoy that. Same with drinking a gallon of soda. I don't lecture them on nutrition. They've heard all that before. But when they don't feel good the next day--they know why. I've never censored television, books, movies, music, or anything else. They have proven that they have enough sense to self-regulate. I mean, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that most of tv is just trash and not mentally satisfying in any way. So they give up watching it.

I know friends who think I'm a wuss. Who think I'm not willing to stand up and be a real parent. Who think that I should learn that I can't be their friend. But here's what I notice. They are the ones struggling with their children. They are the ones whose kids continually go down the path their parents don't want. They are the ones who can't get their kids to talk to them.

My main goal as a parent of teenagers is to be the kind of parent who is approachable, who they can talk to about anything without being afraid they are going to get into big trouble. I would rather know where they are and who they are with and what they're doing so that I can help if things get to the point where someone is in danger: drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever. If they won't talk to me, they could get into big trouble that is difficult to find your way out of. Those things are way bigger than if they stay up too late at night or get a bad grade in a class.

My children know the expectations, though. They know that if they commit to something, we expect them to honor that commitment. They know we expect them to take school seriously--but not too seriously. Peter, our 14 year old, has some pretty awful grades right now. Instead of grounding him or lecturing him, we talk to him about it. He already felt bad, already made a plan to bring up the grades. We knew they were mostly a result of missed assignments, and that it will all come out in the wash by the end of the quarter. Peter knew he wouldn't get in trouble, so he knew there was no reason to hide his grades from us. He knew we expected better, and what's more important--HE expected better of himself.

That's really why I find my benign neglect strategy to be the best one for us. Our kids learn to think, plan, make mistakes, redo, and try again. They don't respond well to lectures or punitive actions. And I thinks that shows that they already know if they messed up, they already figured out what to do about it, and they know that for the really big mess ups in life, we are here to help them out.

I'm not putting this out there to say my way is better than yours. I'm just saying that I'd rather make sure my kid, say, uses birth control than have her be afraid to ever talk to me because she's worried I'll just ground her or something. I'd rather have my kid talk to me about drugs than to find him shooting up in the alley because he's worried I'll kick him out (for example).

And it seems to be working. None of my kids hesitates to talk to me about all manner of things. And none of them engages in dangerous behaviors. Why? I think because they only have to look around at their friends' lives to see how messed up drugs make you, or what crappy jobs their non-college-degreed friends are stuck in. They've mostly learned to think for themselves, rather than doing only what they know won't get them in trouble. I value that very highly.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Love Story

Happy Valentine's Day.

I don't need big diamonds, fancy dinners, or weekend trips to romantic beaches (although I would not turn down any of these) to know how much my husband loves me. He shows me in a hundred different ways each day. Like when he makes a quick trip to the grocery store because he knows I hate grocery shopping. Or when he empties the dishwasher to surprise me. He has been the primary breadwinner in this household for nearly 27 years. Wait, I take that back. For three of those years, while he was in law school, I was. But I digress.

I know Valentine's Day is mostly inhabited by those of us in the throws of young, excited, blooming love. That is a wonderful time of life. I feel more deeply in love with David all the time, but it is not always that fluttering heart kind of love. It's a love that knows anger, heartbreak, hurt, sickness, depression, and pain. It's a love that has been forged in a fire of living. Raising three kids. Making dumb financial choices and having to dig ourselves out of it. Muddling along together as a team, as partners. The kind of love that "does not alter when alteration finds." (I hope I quoted that correctly. I'm too lazy to look it up right now. If you catch me in a mistake, please comment with a correction.)

So I feel compelled today to tell a little of the story of my love affair with David, the man I've loved for 33 years. (Yikes.) Just a little.

My first memory of David is from second grade. That's right. We grew up in the same tiny South Dakota town of Hot Springs. My first day of second grade, a new kid in school, I remember seeing him across the room. Then I don't remember him at all until sometime around middle school. Our families went to the same church, so we were in youth group together. He also played flute in band--poor little thing. He was not a very good flute player. And he had to compete with me!I remember jr. high youth group trips when he and his friend Doug Tinaglia would sit on the bus or the van or whatever we were in and recite Bill Cosby routines. (Reminds me of my son, Peter, who now does the same with today's comedians.) They would pull silly pranks in restaurants. And in general be typical middle school jerks.

Another good friend of David's was Al Twocrow. We were all in debate, band, and almost everything else together. When there's only 400 kids in your whole high school, everyone has to be in everything. So we knew each other very well before we ever dated. In sophomore biology class, I could tell David kind of liked me because he sat right behind me and he would tease me. How mature. But it worked. I took notice.

I remember our first date. It was a dance in the city auditorium. I had spent the day downhill skiing and was really tired and sore. Dancing was not really what I wanted to do. But we went. He was very nice and asked if it was okay if he danced with other girls since I was too tired. I said okay. But I really didn't want him to. Despite that rather lackluster beginning, we went to many more dances, movies, and whatever else one could find to do in Hot Springs--some of it not so wholesome.

We ended up being debate partners our junior and senior years. We made a really good team. And we won lots of tournaments. I think I first knew I loved David when we were at debate camp in Denver. Spending two solid weeks together, even if was in such an academic environment, was wonderful.

David and I have always liked to joke about who is smarter. I was a valedictorian of our high school class. I had straight A's. He had one B in all of high school --in shop class no less. I studied harder, but he probably was more genuinely brilliant. He became a National Merit Scholar.

We started out at separate colleges, but I ended up transferring to Carleton where he was. Yes, mostly because he was there. Sounds sappy and hopelessly romantic, but I've never been good at being apart from my other half. Carleton was a wonderful place where we got to be total academic geeks and theater nerds. We got married two weeks after graduation.

That was nearly 27 years ago. It's really unusual for high school sweethearts to still be married. Although I have to say, it is probably because David is a practical and reasonable person, while I am more ruled by my emotions. I wanted to get married after high school, but he wanted to wait. Obviously, he was right. Who knows if we would still be together had we married at 17 or 18? But here we are.

There is so much story that goes with our lives together, but the main one is this: I love David because he is an honorable, loving, kind, considerate, smart, and noble person. Heaven knows why he loves me. I feel very lucky. He always has a comment to lighten the moment with humor, and that has made a huge impact on our lives. If we can laugh at ourselves and our situation, then we can probably get through it.

Happy Valentine's Day to my adorable, funny, loving husband.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Random Musings

My mind is in a whirl the last few days, so I am going to unload here. If you want cogent, thoughtful commentary, I suggest you look elsewhere. However, if you want an insider's view of a crazy person's mind, keep reading.

Okay. For starters, 14 year olds are difficult to raise. I'm in the midst of that with Peter, who is usually an even-keel kind of person. But he IS 14. As such, he has his moments. The last few days have been one giant moment. As far as I can tell, there is nothing of any major catostrophic urgency that is wrong, but that doesn't matter when you're 14. It's ALL catostrophic at this age. Thank goodness he is my last child. I am getting too old for this. I am sympathetic, and at the same time annoyed. Patient, but agitated. My children don't seem to realize that long after their problems have resolved, a mother's heart still carries the hurt for a while. We will get through this and many other times ahead, I know. It just sucks when you're in the middle of it.

Speaking of sucking and being in the middle of things, we have officially become the sandwich generation. David's dad has been in the hospital for a month with pneumonia. He was in ICU for two weeks, and finally this week, things seem to be going in the right direction. His white blood count continues to fall, he has a little more energy every day. David and his siblings have taken turns flying out to Oregon to help out. David is on his second stint this week. I hate having him gone. I have been very lucky in life that my husband has not had a job requiring travel. He is almost always here. And even for mundane things like teacher conferences or dentist appointments, he has always been available. I hate having him gone. Did I say that already? Oh. It's because I hate having him gone. Oh, I manage okay and stuff, but we are such a team that it's very hard to lose half your team for a week. He will be home Sunday. And I don't begrudge his dad the attention and care of his children; certainly he needs to be with his dad.

So my dad's birthday is next week. Wow. (So is David's dad's birthday, actually. Their birthdays are two days apart.) Happy birthday!

Living in a very conservative state like Idaho can be tough when you're a liberal like me. Frequent letters to the editor will use the word communist or socialist to desribe anyone more to the left than the right. I don't care if you're a centrist, independent; in Idaho you are a commie. Which makes me realize that my opinions are confirmed; most people don't think. At its base concept, communism is just the idea that everybody puts into the pot and everyone gets out their fair share. It's not really intended to be a centralized form of government. It works better in small community situations--kind of like Jesus and his disciples. Feeding of the 5,000 was communism. Living in community strikes me as a great thing. Really, that's what a family is. Out of five of us, only one makes a livable wage. The rest of us throw into the communal pot what we have. But we all get out what we need. Very fair and rational.

When you think about it, what is the system we have now. We all pay in taxes, varying levels depending on our income. Those taxes go out to various places, often in the form of someone's level of need: medicare, medicaid, welfare, social security, education. I'm okay with that. What is so bad about us all chipping in to make all of society better?

Then I think about facism. In my understanding, that is where the corporate world pretty much owns the government. Hmmm. Think it's not how it is in the good ol' U S of A? Think again. Look at all the lobbies in Washington. Who's lobbying? Monsanto. Tobacco companies. Pharmaceutical companies. Look at how many former Monsanto employees now work in the agricultural agencies of the government. Coincidence? Not at all. Look at the votes congressmen and women are making, then look at who is contributing to their campaigns and try to tell me with a straight face that the government is not beholden to the corporate world. We in the US like to think of ourselves as so wonderful and advanced, but we're not. I think most of the rest of the westernized world has a better grip on things than we do. Of course, we have a huge country and they don't. But still. I would rather have individuals paying taxes to help out fellow citizens than have my government owned by the corporations. If that makes me a communist--why, then, hello comrades.

I don't even want to get started on our own state government. It is so messed up I have lost all hope. Our superintendent of public education, whose name I will not print here in order to keep a little dignity on my blog, is such a lunatic that he wants to force high school students to take two classes a year online--not by choice, but by mandate. He thinks this will improve education. Yikes. Guess who contributed to his campaign? Educational software and related companies. Hmmm.

Lest I come off as uber curmugdeonly, let me say that I am heartened almost every day by the spirit and effort, mostly of young people to make their world better. I am heartened by my dogs' tail wagging every time they see me. I am proud that my city gave us all enormous recycling bins so that I can fill it up and leave my own garbage can barely filled at all. I am heartened by the aborist who came out to tell me how he could make my trees healthier and his love for what he does. I am thrilled that Emily loves her gas-saving car. I like working for people who believe in small, local businesses and making connections in that community. And I am in awe of the farmers and local businesses who deliver me a bunch of delicious stuff every week and every month. People right here, down the road a ways, who I can talk to if I want. Real faces, not corporations. See, I'm not really that much of a downer, am I?

Of course, I haven't opened today's newspaper yet. Don't even get me started....