Plan B, in Which Nothing and Everything are Accomplished

Sitting in the posts section of my blogger profile is a half-written draft of the post I was working on for this week. As is often the case with me and things in general, and me and blogging specifically, I had planned out the exact 2-hour block of time during which I could finish it and get it posted. It was to happen last night after dinner and my son's bath and story and bed times.

Once executed, my plan would represent a tiny victory of order over chaos; it would help me prove to myself that--in the midst of working full-time and navigating the schedules of two children--I can set goals and manage circumstances and do all the things I want to do, given enough prep time.

I was headed up the stairs to our apartment with my young son when the tiny monkey wrench came softly wafting out of his mouth in the form of a song (no less), tempting me to cast aside all I had carefully worked out in my mind in favor of a spontaneous Plan B.

"Ticket to Hollywood," he sang. "Got a ticket to Hollywood."

"Oh," I said. "I know that song."

The song is from a Bollywood movie I saw a few years ago and which I used to watch over and over again at bedtime when a bootleg, horribly sub-titled copy found its way into my possession.

"Have you seen the movie it's from?" I asked.

"There's a movie?!?!" my son said. "Can we watch it?"

I loved this idea. This idea of us watching this movie together--I knew he would like the songs and the dancing. But the idea didn't fit with the plan. He was leaving for his Dad's the next morning, so if we wanted to watch it it would have to be that night. It would mean the erasure of the two-hour block and the execution of the plan and the proving to myself and the whatnot. It would mean pushing back the bedtime and skipping the books.

And also: it would mean the chance to do something different and fun for my son. For both of us. We could watch it together in my room, in the big cozy bed he would just love the chance to snuggle in for a spell. It would mean sharing with him this goofy movie that has taken up residence in a tucked away spot in the archives of my life experience.

It seems like people, parents, are always talking about trying to find ways to enjoy their kids in the moment. We know the importance of finding these little opportunities to slow down and take them in. We also know it can be a difficult thing to do when schedules and transporting and work and the attempt to maintain consistency are seemingly at odds. Sometimes, the answer just has to be "no." Sometimes the opportunity has to be missed because the details, the things we have to get done really are that important.

And sometimes they're not. And a blog post can hang out in blog limbo for another week. And the kid can go to bed late. And he can have some popcorn even after he brushed his teeth. And the bootleg DVD doesn't play anyway so you have to find it on YouTube except they charge for it on YouTube so you watch a different Bollywood movie that is subtitled (but he can't read) and he somehow is completely captivated anyway, and blissfully snuggly and sweet, and you realize that it's not about this movie or any movie, ever. For him, it's about the chance to be by your side. For you, the chance to have him by yours.


Nowhere to Run...Nowhere to Hide

Last week, on his final day of school, my older son and I walked the two blocks from our place to Tucker's, a best-ice-cream-in-the-whole-land, 70-year-old family-owned business here in Alameda. A couple doors down from our destination, some kids on bikes behind us called a greeting out to my son. "Hey Joe," he said to one of them.

It was the third time in a row we'd been walking down that way and run into somebody he knew from school. And it made me realize that this is how it's gonna be for the next untold amount of time or so: We go out. We recognize and/or are recognized.

It was a strange feeling. I've become somewhat accustomed to anonymity. I've worked at 4 different branches of my employer bank now and none of them have been near where I lived. I've only on the rarest of occasions run into customers outside of work. And I also haven't had a kid in school where I lived before this past year, so I had to go way out of my way to run into other parents I knew.

Then we moved to a city that feels like a town, though we're right smack in the midst of the ultra-populated northern California Bay Area. A lot of people who live here grew up here. Many of them have generations of family dug in.

And then my younger son played t-ball. We sat with some parents at a game we got tickets to through the little league last Friday night, and then two mornings later, no makeup and hastily clothed and in full-on hag mode, I ran into one of those t-ball moms at Safeway. It was 8am on a weekend, and she was in the same haggish mode, so that eliminated the awkwardness, but still it was...different.

I'm used to being able to hag it up at any given hour on any given day at the grocery store with zero fear of run-ins. And it's not that I'll fear these run-ins in the future. But I do have a heightened awareness of their increased likelihood.

This is something I've longed for. In the brief period I spent living in Flagstaff, Arizona, I experienced the feeling of community. My girlfriends Nicole and Kelsi and I always ran into people we knew when we were out, and this gave the town a sense of magic for me. Somehow, every encounter felt meaningful.

I spent the years that followed living in large cities, and while I often ran into people I "knew" waiting for a bus or lightrail in downtown San Jose, they were more likely to be transient folks I'd encountered in that same spot before than friends.

What we sought in moving to this town-y town was a place that felt small. Somewhere our kids could grow up and feel safe, where we could walk to places we wanted to be and where schools were well supported (most important was finding a place like this that didn't also feel horribly suburban and distant from things like public transportation). Now we've found that and I've realized I have to get used to all of what it entails.

Community is not something you can really be selective about. You are part of it or you aren't. You can't know the people who live nearby but then UNknow them when you see them at the grocery store without the proper anything on.

One of my girlfriends moved here from a small town in Kansas and every time she goes back now, she and her husband run into multiple ex-boyfriends and their families all around town. I can't imagine. There is something so wonderful to me about the fact that I'd have to make a truly concerted effort to make physical contact with anyone I went to high school with back in Arizona. And it makes me wonder if our kids will one day want to be as far as they can be from this island where they've come to land.

They'll cross that bridge (literally and figuratively) one day if they need to. For the time being I'm glad we'll be surrounded by other parents we'll come to know. I may even want to work at a branch in this town one day, if I think I can handle the idea of knowing all my neighbors' financial business (which would not be my preference). 

I just have to make the mental shift into Smallsville mode.

And I think it is time to implement mandatory hair combing before any venturing outside the house. 


Grandparenting in Freedom Country

At work the other day, I got to talking with an older Russian customer. The man had one of the thickest accents I've heard and his English was at times very rough. But he managed to communicate just fine and was eager to...so we talked.

At one point he asked me if I had children and their ages. When he learned I have a son his grandson's age, he asked, "but do you spoil the child?"

I contemplated that thought. "Spoil" would have certainly meant something very different to my WWII surviving German grandparents than it means to most contemporary parents. Still, I felt it safe to say that I didn't. "I don't think so," I said. "He doesn't get whatever he wants."

"My son," he said. "He let the child get always what she want. Now...she no get from me what she want? She cry and cry." He made a dramatic tears-falling-from-eyes gesture and described what sounded like a full-on tantrum.

He continued, "then I ask...am I be too hard with the child? He always let her choose what she want. She always the one decide. I think...maybe this okay in freedom country."

I loved that. I loved watching this man in his late 60's--a man who could have certainly been dialing it in at this point--putting sincere thought into the choices he was making as a grandparent and striving to understand the parenting choices of his son. I loved that he was adjusting for the differences in culture and truly considering how they may or may not affect parenting decisions.

And I loved the phrase "freedom country."

It's a difficult thing to make these kinds of considerations, for any parent. It's difficult for me to avoid having the knee-jerk reaction: "this is not okay for my child because when I was a kid... or it must be this way because when I was a kid..."

It would be an easy road to take to simply say: somebody already figured this parenting thing out for me. I turned out fine, so I'm just gonna do it exactly as my parents did and find other things to obsess about.

That said, there is a lot I can learn from how my parents did things. For example, I happen to agree with my customer that spoiling a child is ill-advised, even in a "freedom country." However, if I press myself to say why a child should not get everything he wants, the first justification I want to reach for (the tried-and-true because if he does, he will not learn to accept "no" and will think he can ALWAYS have everything he wants)...well, it comes up short. Aren't we always trying to communicate to kids that they can have everything they want? Can't not taking no for an answer and finding ways to navigate/work the system help a child develop some pretty effective and prized survival (or let's call them "thrival") tools?

The difference, I suppose, is that we want kids to reach for the things they want, not to expect that those things be handed to them.

(Good, we figured that out. I don't have to start spoiling my children on a technicality.)

Nobody has figured out the perfect parenting formula, and no good parent would just kick her heels up and relax with the knowledge that she is doing a good enough job. We will always be thinking and questioning, in many moments and over a good many decisions.

Then one day, as the theory goes, we will launch our children into the Great Unknown and watch like creepers from the bushes and try to restrain ourselves from intervening while they quite blissfully fuck things up for a bit.

And then we will watch with smirks on our faces when they one day begin to obsess over their own parenting decisions. This is just how things go.

I know my folks and my boyfriend's folks have parenting wisdom well beyond the scope of what we can see from our perspectives; they must often see us doing things that they think we should have done differently, and with good reason. I also love that they don't always rush in to share that knowledge, though. They have stepped back to let life move forward.

But I like how my customer reminded me that, even as they watch us from just out of earshot (too far to hear them suck in their breath as we step boldly into the latest colossal parenting error), they are always thinking about us, and our children beyond us...always concerned with our familial contributions to the world that will extend beyond their own lifetimes. I love that he reminded me that grandparents care about us and our babies probably more than we can imagine.

How lucky we all are for that.


We Are Deep...In the Marrow of It


I'll just start with saying that the blog I was working on last week didn't save an update in which I'd made major edits and written the bulk of the content. I was so bummed I couldn't get myself to revisit it. So I'm officially missing a week of the Manzanita Project. I may get to it one day, though the time-sensitive nature of the subject matter (on turning 36!) may prevent that. So there's that. And here's this:

This week I'm thinking about girlfriends. Specifically, I'm thinking about the women in my life who have kept me laughing over the past 20 years and been there for me when I didn't feel like laughing much.

It started like this: for my birthday, my kind and thoughtful boyfriend Kevin surprised me by installing a new stereo system in my car and having a broken speaker fixed. He said he knew how much I love music and didn't like that I did so much driving, unable to enjoy music during all that drive time.

So the new stereo has a USB port, and I've been plugging in my iPod, getting back in touch with a whole ton of music I'd been missing. I love putting it on random so I can be surprised every time and can ensure there is no shortage of variety. And that's how I came to hear my gal Kelsi coming through the speakers yesterday. "Monkey!" I said, "that's Auntie Kelsi singing!"

He took it in.

The song we heard was a now 15-years-old one called "Amazing," which Kelsi  wrote on the heels of returning from Mexico with our friends Nicole and Rachel and me; we'd gone as human rights observers to Chiapas in the summer of 1998. We came back with a friendship solidified by adventure and conflict and soaring, ridiculous dreams.

One of the lines in the song says that our friendship involves "infinite inspiration, language laced with laughter, late-night conversation." I heard that line and thought about all of the above...how much we'd done of it over the years and how much things have changed in each of our lives.

Between us we now have at least 10 kids, including stepchildren absorbed along the way. We've lost track of Rachel (that's why it's at least 10 kids, rather than a final head count), but last we were in touch, she was living in a yurt in Northern(er) California with her husband and daughter, making and selling natural soaps and beauty products. She never was one for convention.

None of us were.

Or maybe I was.

As I sit writing this, I'm listening to this other of Kelsi's albums on Spotify (you can, too!).

There's a song on it that was written about a night we all went salsa dancing in downtown San Jose, one about Nicole's first pregnancy (surprise!), one called Ask Me that is so raw and sad you just want to reach out a give Kelsi a big hug.

It's a musical time capsule. A beautiful tribute to togetherness, and to lack thereof. I love that I can listen to it and remember those unfathomably carefree times in our lives and be equal parts sentimental for them and relieved that things have settled into, well, more conventional patterns.

My gals are forging ahead as they always have, as am I. We have less contact and many more miles between us. Our daily dealings look much, much different than when we all converged on our one-bedroom duplex on 11th street after work at about the same time each early evening and sat on a couch facing the open front windows and smoked cloves and watched the world (and our halfway house neighbors) go by.

We have looked into and summarily dismissed a handful of religions, we have tried on and left hanging outside the dressing room various relationships. We have held numerous jobs, driven a dozen cars, and transitioned into having grown-up discussions about things like health care and women's rights (well, that was always there) and the appeals and drawbacks of homeschooling.

The title of this blog is from a song of Kelsi's called All That:
We are deep...in the marrow of it,
we swim in the richness.I can't get enough of it.
In the case of this song, "it" referred to love. For me, now, it refers to life (words which can often be used interchangeably). We are somewhere around the middle now. When I met Nicole and Kelsi (at 12 and 14, respectively), we were near the beginning.

What will happen between now and the end? How many more changes of address and meeting spots? Will our kids grow up and marry each other after all like we used to joke about, long before there were real life kids to refer to by name? :P

These women are two of the gifts I have been most grateful for in my life. They have caused me to grow in ways they are somewhat aware of and ways they couldn't possibly know (ways I myself can sometimes only understand years later). If they were the only two girlfriends my life had known, I'd consider myself abundantly blessed.

Cheers to my gals. I love you both.