Archive for the ‘thoughts’ Category

Some people just should not drink

May 24, 2011

When I was in college, I worked a few summers with a darling man. He was tall, good-looking, funny, goofy, immersed in his faith, smart… We shared an immediate and intense friendship. I adored him.

One night, we traveled to a small-town festival a few hours away. Lots of our friends and co-workers were also headed that way, and we had a friend in town whom we all planned to stay with. There would be a lot of alcohol and dancing and eating, and we would return home (back to work!) the next morning.

My beloved friend had only turned 21 a few weeks prior to the festival, and he decided he was going to DRINK. He bought hands-full of drink tickets and passed them out like candy. He downed one beer after another, and it became obvious that despite his towering frame, he had no tolerance for alcohol. Very quickly another friend and I conspired to acquire his car keys, since he had driven to the festival.

The evening progressed in a series of unfortunate and uncomfortable encounters. He would dance only with me, then grew mean and turned against me. He ignored me. He forced me to take drink tickets. He kept drinking long after I and other friends asked, then ordered him to stop. So drunk he could hardly walk, he decided he needed to carry me piggy-back. He was so much larger and stronger than me that it took the intervention of three other friends to get me back on the ground.

After we had made our way to our home-for-the-night, my friend was sweet and contrite and heartbreakingly candid. Or delusional–I can’t say which. He told me he loved me. He asked me to stay and sleep beside him. I sat and told him whatever he wanted to hear. I held his hand. I stroked his face. Finally, he fell asleep. And I, not drunk and well aware that he was engaged, broke every one of the promises I had just made.

A few days later, I tried to tell him what had happened. I tried to make him understand. But I was too chicken to tell him what he had said to me, and I don’t think he fully believed how out of his mind he was. He agreed he had had too much to drink, but was unwilling to avoid it in the future. He would not even promise not to drink at his wedding. “I think it will be expected…” he said.

I have only seen him once since that summer, and I do not know if he drank at his wedding. I just hope that he never went so far off the deep end again. Sober, he is a wonderful person. Drunk, not so much.

Why am I writing about this? Well, I have someone in my life now who drinks too much. She blacks out and she gets mean and she falls down and she makes scary-bad decisions. I really like her (when she’s sober), and I worry about her. And I wish she would stop drinking, but I can’t talk to her about this. I can’t do it at all.


Bucket list

November 14, 2010

Okay, not a bucket list. Just stuff I’d like to do nowabouts.

  1. Read Our Bodies, Our Selves, Of Human Bondage and the Woodstock Craftsman’s Manual–all books that are sitting on my shelf but that I haven’t read.
  2. Submit a piece of writing for publication.
  3. Clear the too-small and never-worn clothing out of the family’s closets and DONATE it.
  4. Repair all of the damaged books and toys the girls have given me to fix.
  5. Finish the sofa cover I started last summer.
  6. Hem the tablecloth I started at the same time.
  7. Redesign and add lining to my black winter coat.
  8. Cut and style my hair.
  9. Send (on time) the gift I bought for my sister’s family.
  10. Apply to and start grad school.
  11. Mop the house.
  12. Read Julia Child’s autobiography.

Kind of an odd mix of short-term and long-term goals, but whatever. These are the ideas that have been preying on my mind. How long will they take?

Writing again

August 5, 2010

I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted anything, but that title really has nothing to do with the blog. It has to do with me, or rather, the rest of my writing.

I don’t know exactly why, but my confidence in my own abilities has been pretty low for awhile. I think it probably has a lot to do with being laid off, then being un- or under-employed ever since. Maybe also the fact that my current “job” is something I’m not terribly good at, so I feel incredibly inept whenever I am working.

This feeling was highlighted by a conversation I overheard earlier this summer. Two under-employed women I know were discussing their job searches and interviews. They were also complaining that their current employers seemed oblivious to the range and extent of their talents. While it is a shame that both extraordinary women are being underused, the main thought I came away with was: how can they both still feel so sure of themselves?

I mean, I’m an extraordinary person, too. I have a lot of talent that has been sitting completely idle. And yet every help-wanted ad that sounds intriguing also feels unattainable. Why bother applying when I know I won’t get it?

Anyway. For no apparent reason, this low-self-esteem season seems to be waning. Suddenly, I am feeling creative again. I’m cooking a lot, experimenting in the kitchen, even if it’s not as much as I’d like to be doing. Several of my stagnating stories have new life. Ideas keep popping into my head. And, quite inexplicably, I’m writing poetry.

Okay, so I still haven’t applied for a new job. But the job I’ve always wanted–writer–has never felt so within reach.

Kids and race

May 19, 2010

So I just read this:

Kids’ test answers on race brings mother to tears

Here’s what I think:

My extended family is multiracial, and I didn’t have a clear conception of “race” until I was at least nine or ten. We didn’t really talk about race, so I thought that those relatives who are not white were just…like that. Their skin color was a part of them, and I didn’t associate it with another, larger group of people. I only associated it with them.

I think the main reason that kids have responses like those in the study is because most people associate with people who look like them. Most white people hang out with white people. Black people gravitate toward black people. (Yes, these are generalizations. Bear with me.) So kids don’t usually KNOW people with skin color different from their own, and people naturally fear that which is unknown and different. It isn’t that kids are necessarily racist (although some do inherit biases), but that they differentiate between what is familiar and unfamiliar.

That being said, there is the contingent of black kids who associated positive values with white people. I think this, too, relates to what they know. Barack Obama notwithstanding, there are not a lot of positive black role models. At two different schools I know, minority kids make up most of the student body, but most of the staff is white. And black people as a group are still dealing with a racial self-esteem issue that goes back to slavery.

What I’m getting at is this: if you’re worried that your five-year-old has a racial bias, don’t try to talk to them about race relations. They won’t understand a word of it. Instead, broaden your circle. Get to know people who are different from you, and let your child do the same. SHOW your child that each person is himself or herself, and differences in hue don’t mean a thing.

Actions speak louder than words, right?

Apathy permission and self-absorption

March 7, 2010

Four and a half years ago, my first daughter was born. Sophia had some complications at birth that resulted in an ~18-day stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. I spent roughly eight hours a day at her side, even when she was in a drug-induced coma and completely unaware of my presence.

For the first week or so, I wasn’t supposed to even stroke her hand, because she was in such constant pain that even that small touch would make things worse. So I sat beside her and talked to her, sang to her, told her stories about me and her family. And I lived for the few minutes a day that she would stir, when her eyes would open and look around before the nurses gave her another dose of whatever kept her unconscious.

As hard as it was to see my baby lying there attached to so many tubes and wires, being away was even worse. The first night after I was released from the hospital, my in-laws took us out to dinner. I could hardly think straight. After nine and a half months of constant contact, my infant was not just out of my womb, but completely out of sight. Out of my control. Apart.

When I wasn’t sitting with Sophia, I was pumping breast milk…every three hours. Or trying to unpack boxes in our new home, 45 minutes out of town. Meals were unsettled affairs, usually in restaurants after Michael had spent some time with the baby. Life was chaotic and exhausting.

In the midst of all this, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

I suppose it can be forgiven that the hurricane barely registered on my radar. I was extremely busy with the unexpected events in my own life. Watching the news was not happening. Plus, I don’t know anyone in New Orleans; I’ve never even been there. And I was extraordinarily preoccupied.

But time passed. My daughter healed, awoke and was discharged to life outside of the NICU. Eventually I became aware of the events transpiring in New Orleans and the surrounding area. I felt I should do something, but I didn’t know what to do.

When I confided this to a friend, he pointed out that we humans can act in two ways: in quantity or in quality. You could go down to New Orleans and help, he said, but that would mostly be an act of quantity. You have no particular expertise; you would be just another pair of hands looking for a job to do. Here with Sophia your actions are full of quality. No one else can be her mom.

Afterward, I felt much better. I felt vindicated in choosing to stay with my baby instead of going to New Orleans.

Today I still think that was the right choice. All babies need their moms, and Sophia needed me more than most. The problem is that, having been given permission NOT to act, I have continued not acting. I have wrapped myself up in my comfortable life, with my husband and kids and stuff, and I have ignored those who truly need my help. And I don’t have an excuse anymore.

My presence and love are still important to Sophia. They always will be. But what kind of example am I, if all I show her is a life of apathy and self-absorption?

New momma advice

January 8, 2010

The wife of a college friend is expecting, and she asked for advice. She actually ASKED! Of course, when I tried to post my two cents on her blog, it kept reloading and freaking out. (Hm…maybe she doesn’t want advice after all.) But having written my thoughts out, I couldn’t just scrap them. So they are, for anyone to read.

My two biggest pieces of new momma advice:

  1. Keep in shape while you are pregnant.

Exercising and eating right are hugely important. They will keep you and the baby healthy. They will give you energy to prepare for the baby’s arrival (and to stay awake!). They will give you the stamina to endure labor, give birth and be a momma 24 hours a day. I cannot stress this enough: stay in shape!

As far as asking for help…I always have a hard time admitting to my friends that I don’t have it all together (as if they don’t know). I have a hard enough time getting things done without a baby to care for; trying to do so with a little one is almost impossible. There are days when getting dressed is a huge accomplishment!

The greatest new mom gifts I received were gifts of time–when my mom took the baby for a walk around town so I could nap, when my sister came with me to the first baby check-up, and when my in-laws kept big sister overnight so Michael and I could bond with the new baby.

(And the diaper service. I love the diaper service.)

Often people–even the ones who love you dearly–are clueless about what you really need. And before the baby arrives, it’s easy to pretend that it won’t really be that hard.

It will be. At least in the beginning.

Ask for help. Ask your neighbor to cook you dinner. Ask your best friend to do your laundry. Ask someone else to pick up groceries…and let go enough that it doesn’t matter if it isn’t the brand you usually buy, or if she used an odd-smelling detergent. These are small things in the aftermath of a new arrival.

I promise your friends will help. You just have to show them how.

The two faces of Hope

December 11, 2009

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:24-25

In eleven days, my daughter is supposed to have surgery to remove two small branchial cleft remnants on her face. Immediately afterward, before she wakes, she have a bone conduction hearing test to determine whether and to what extent her right ear works.

I am consumed with worry.

I am not, however, worried about her hearing. At least, not today. Today I am more-or-less at peace with her ear. Whatever will be, will be. And I have known many people who thrive with partial or total deafness, so even if her ear is completely nonfunctional, I know she will be fine.

I am worried about the general anesthesia she will undergo as part of the procedure. I am worried that she won’t wake up from the anesthesia–1 in 250,000 people don’t, and the risk is higher in infants. I am worried that we’re taking an enormous risk for a mostly cosmetic procedure, since the hearing test can be done with a much milder (but still general) sedation.

The doctors tell me that this isn’t just cosmetic, that there is a chance of infection or other problems with the remnants. And we should do it now, while she’s young, to minimize scarring. But I still can’t shake the feeling that the doctors are influenced by traditional ideas of beauty. Or, failing that, just expectations of how people “should” look.

My daughter is adorable. She has two little bumps on her face, but they are just bumps. Who cares if she has bumps on the edge of her face?

Here is where I admit that I am a hypocrite. I don’t want to care about physical beauty, but I do. Because I know that the wider world does, and I don’t want my daughter to feel inferior because she has bumps on her face. After surgery, her face will be different. No bumps.

I want to teach my girls that it is what is on the inside that counts. I want them to know that real beauty cannot be seen with the eyes. If I make a decision to alter Hope’s appearance, will they believe me?

The point

December 3, 2009

When I was a college freshman, I had an argument with my mother. I don’t argue with my mother much, truly. But at that time, in that situation, we had such a huge difference in perspective that I still think about it.

I was registering for classes, and I wanted to sign up for International Studies II: Romania. Never mind that I did not take International Studies I. The course sounded intriguing.

My mom asked what degree requirement it would meet.

“It doesn’t meet any of them.”

“Then you’re not taking it.”

“What? Why?”

“Because it doesn’t meet any of your requirements.”

“So what?”

“So you can take a class that does.”

And so on until I hollered, “I thought the point of going to college was to learn!”

My mother’s response? “The point of going to college is to get a better job.”

Eventually, we compromised. Undergraduate degrees do require a certain number of elective credits, so International Studies II became one of mine. But I puzzled and puzzled over what she said. Why did we have such different ideas about college?

Only recently did I finally put the pieces together.

My mother is a first generation college graduate. She started college after high school, but left without finishing her degree when my father’s job sent them to another state. When I was ten, she went back to school. She received her degree a year or so later. She has been working in school libraries ever since, which is what her degree qualifies her to do.

I grew up knowing that I would go to college. It was never “if we can afford it” or “if you want to”. I was going, period. And I did.

When my mother was starting college, achieving a degree really did give you an edge when you applied for a job. Which I guess is still true, but the impact of having a degree is blunted by the fact that everyone applying for white-collar jobs these days has one. Plus, aside from certain fields like medicine and teaching, college degrees don’t fit you for a particular job anymore. It’s just important to have a degree in something.

For me, college was almost like an extension of high school. You have a certain number of hours to fill, so you sign up for classes that fit your interests. I have a wide variety of interests, so I was never at a loss. Band, choir, foreign language, journalism, art–I wanted to study them all. College offered an even bigger smorgasbord. Why wouldn’t I sign up for International Studies?

Eventually I obtained degrees in magazine journalism and German. Since then, I have dabbled. A few language courses, a few seminary courses…but I haven’t settled on a field or degree program. I flirt with law and theology and education, but I don’t commit. Why?

Every program I consider prepares its students for a specific career. And while I may be interested in the job, I am not certain the nuts-and-bolts courses will hold my attention. In the specific instance of teaching, I like to teach, but every education class I have ever taken was so chock-full of “duh” that I’m not sure I can stomach a degree program’s worth of them.

From my perspective of education for the sake of learning, it seems disingenuous to enroll in courses I have no interest in. And if I don’t enroll in those courses, I won’t achieve a law degree or masters in divinity or education.

Hm. Maybe–in this instance–my mom was right.

My fridge…she is full

November 24, 2009

And I’m going out of town in three days! Augh!

What can I make with:

  • half of an enormous pumpkin,
  • two dozen chicken eggs,
  • milk,
  • sour cream,
  • chestnuts (still),
  • yogurt,
  • scallions,
  • leeks,
  • half an enormous zucchini,
  • figs,
  • underripe pears, and
  • green garlic?

Augh! What can I make with all of this that my leetle family will also EAT in the next three days?

I already made last week’s pumpkin lasagne (instead of cannelloni–much faster), lamb kebobs, zucchini fritters and cranberry-orange bread. And Michael cooked the chicken last night for an early Thanksgiving with his parents, which means I still have a bag full of parmesan rinds looking for a home.

Poor little parmesan rinds.

On the menu tonight is the Swiss chard and sweet potato gratin I didn’t get around to last week. And I suppose we can still have the maple leek salad with it. Maybe I’ll throw some figs and chestnuts in there, too.

But still leaves half of the foods on my list! Augh!

You know what this means. It’s time to get creative.

I could make angel food cake and lemon curd. That would take care of my egg infestation. (Wow, that sounds gross. Perhaps egg invasion would be better.) But do I really need to make more dessert when we already have leftover Grape and Almond Frangipane Tart and Pumpkin Pie with Brown Sugar-Walnut Topping? When both are delicious beyond words? When we’re already planning to make a new kind of pecan pie and maple cream pie for the trip?

Perhaps not.

I could whip up some pumpkin butter, but I don’t have any bread to spread it on! So, okay. Start with bread. Or something bread-like, anyway.

Smitten Kitchen is no help. All I want to do now is make soft pretzels, which is not exactly a great idea when home alone with one’s five-month-old daughter, no matter how cute she is.

Looks like we’re going with the old stand-by: zucchini bread. Whether this will meld well with pumpkin butter, I do not know. It will be tasty with the gratin, I’m sure. Maybe we’ll skip the pumpkin butter and use the pumpkin for Tuesday’s dinner.

For Tuesday night: pumpkin curry with vegetable biryani and a yogurt-green-garlic-and-scallion sauce to cool. And, of course, naan.

Leaving…ooh, I think just the pears! Well, we can just take those with us if my husband doesn’t finish them off with his lunches between now and Wednesday. Yay! Kitchen success!

But what will we do with the leftovers?


November 18, 2009

Sincerity is such a tricky wicket.

According to wordnik, sincerity is “the quality or condition of being sincere; genuineness, honesty, and freedom from duplicity.” All good things, right?

Yet in this snarky, self-concious, hipper-than-thou culture of ours, it is cool to mock everything.

I am, I think, a painfully earnest person. (“Marked by or showing deep sincerity or seriousness”–I love you, wordnik.) I take what people say at face value, responding seriously to the most ironic of comments and embarassing myself tremendously in the process.

One of my closest friends rarely passes a moment without engaging in heavy sarcasm. I knew her FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR before I decided that yes, she did like me, and she wasn’t just putting up with me for a mutual friend’s sake. She is that snarky.

Therein lies the rub. Like most of my generation, I think sarcasm and irony are funny. I love The Daily Show and Tom Lehrer. I try to be quick-witted and smart-mouthed at parties, because that is entertaining to me and my circle. Sometimes I even feel my face burn when a quip goes awry, especially in the presence of my second-snarkiest friend, whom I have for some reason never stopped trying to impress.

And yet. And yet.

I feel vaguely guilty and hypocritical when I’m sarcastic. Especially when it’s mean sarcasm. (To be honest, when is sarcasm not mean?) It’s hard for me to meet anyone’s eye when I’m snarky.

It’s a vicious circle. I’m not a sarcastic person. But I enjoy sarcasm, or perhaps I just enjoy the company of people who do. So I employ sarcasm. But it doesn’t come naturally to me, so I embarass myself. And the whole time I wonder if I’m doing something wrong, acting so blase and snarky about things and people I really do care about.

Too sincere for sarcasm, I think. Does that make me boring? Does it matter? Perhaps I should stop trying to be something I’m not.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” — Galatians 1:10