What is the Danger in Loving Too Much?

Yesterday, when I dropped my young son off at preschool, he immediately walked up to another boy in his class and said, "Neel, I like your shirt." His voice inflection went up on the word "shirt," cheerful and excited.

Neel did nothing by way of response. He blinked and then followed the teacher's just-issued directive to sit on the carpet for a story. My son did the same.

Just before I walked out, I turned back to see my son talking to his friend, smiling like he always does. I couldn't help but feel a little sense of worry, a protectiveness. I wondered if the kids in his class smile at him the way he smiles at them. I wondered if they return his kindness and his giving 

I recognized in him my same propensity to love, big and vulnerable.

I've written before about being protective of my son's feelings. This is something every parent experiences and must learn to manage. We wish we could shelter them from pain. We know we can't. We attempt to bridge the resulting gap.

It was two years ago when I last visited the topic, and though my son's sweetness was apparent by then, I didn't know just how big a part of his personality being kind and supportive and loving would be. He is a shirt-off-his-back kind of person.

I wish I could claim some sort of credit for his generosity, but I know I can't. This sort of thing is either in one's nature or it isn't.

Last night I watched him sleeping, spent from a day of playing at preschool and again later with his grandma. I swept the sweaty hair off his face and thought about the name his father and I gave him. His name means "friend," and it's a name we gave him very much on purpose. Last night I thought about how thoroughly he lives up to that name, and how I hoped he will have a life full of friendships with people who show him the same goodwill he so naturally extends to others. I have never once seen him do or say something unkind to another child. I've seen him endure plenty of rejections and acts of thoughtless cruelty of the kind only kids--genuinely unaware of the effects of their actions--are so free with; he always responds with more kindness, more openness, makes attempts to understand. 

I thought about his future relationships, wondering if he will fall into an often-painful pattern of being the one who loves more, who gives in, the extender of unanswered good faith, the forgiver...the sucker.

I thought about something I'd read the day before--one of those "words of wisdom from a woman married 70+ years" kind of articles often posted and re-posted on Facebook. What struck me were these words: "Don't be afraid to be the one who loves the most."

I knew what she meant.

There was a time in my life when I'd come to the conclusion that the world was divided into those meant to love, and those meant to receive love. Most people do both, but some people seem more comfortable doing one or the other. I'd been in a number of relationships wherein I felt like the giver of love. While at times I wished I could sit back and merely receive, giving little in return, I knew this was not in my nature. It's possible I could overcome that nature, but I knew in my heart I didn't really want to. I was and would always be a lover.

Now I understand that not all relationships have this unequal balance. It's possible to be in a relationship where both parties give freely of themselves, allowing each to accept the other's love wholeheartedly. These relationships aren't operating under the mistaken idea that to give love is to lose power. They are aware of the exponential power created by a cyclical, swirling exchange. In such a relationship, fear doesn't even factor in--fear of losing the other, fear of losing the upper hand, fear of putting one's self too far out on the limb. There is just the knowledge that loving feels better than withholding love, and there is the joy at having found another person who sees things the same way.

Having arrived at this place in my life feels nice...I am at peace. But apart from being in an equal-exchange-of-love relationship, I have the sincere belief, now, that it is impossible to love too much or too completely, regardless of what one receives in return. If my heart is full of love, there is nothing to be gained by anyone involved if I decide to keep it to myself. It's not a limited resource. We feel love; we give it away; we make more...and again, and again.

So in that light, I look back at my son and think that I need not worry about his tender heart. My baby's heart is so strong that it can give of itself all the time, as much as he wants, without its foundation ever growing weaker. In fact it is strengthened. Every time he reaches out to another person with a "hi" or gives a gift or flashes his smile, or says some encouraging words to a child who's trying to make something happen, he is adding to the body of goodness in the world. It doesn't matter whether others respond in kind. If he was born to give love, withholding it would be a painful and pointless endeavor. If, in the course of his life, he should happen to find others who return it and give of themselves freely as well, so much the better.

There are so many things we parents worry about and traits we see in our kids that preoccupy our minds. Worrying that my son will love too much should be least among them.


Thirty-Something Woman Seeks Single Floor with a Good Beat for Dance and...Dance

Some people love to dance. Some people would love nothing more than to be eternally excluded from any invitation/expectation to dance.

I fall into the former category.

This hasn't been a my-whole-life thing. Yes, I begged to be signed up for ballet classes (an endeavor that lasted a total of probably 6 months, max). I also begged to be signed up for jazz dance classes at Freddie Finn Studio when I was in middle school, but that was mostly because of the awesome jacket the studio issued its students (at what I imagine was a hefty price), not because I had any particular talent in the dance arena. 

In reality, for 2/3 of my life, the idea of dancing in public was terrifying. I was a shy kid and most definitely not into performing. But extending beyond my lack of desire to entertain, I was loathe to do ANYthing that would attract attention to myself, even positive attention. As I got older, I lamented the fact that finding rocks large enough to crawl under and disappear proved an ever more difficult desire to fulfill.

But something magical happened on a crowded, dim lit basement dance floor in Cleveland, Ohio (of all places). It was there my then-coworkers from Mexico and Peru introduced me to Salsa, Cumbia, and Merengue music. It was there a couple of brave men, undeterred by my impossible tallness and spastic lack of comfort in my own skin, first showed me that dance could be a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Here's the thing I've maintained about dance ever since: Dance teachers should never, ever try to introduce students to a style of dance without first treating them to extensive exposure to the music of that dance.

Somebody could have talked to me all day about the steps associated with the dances (Step step step...pause...step step step) and drawn highly illustrative diagrams. They could have shown me countless YouTube tutorials and walked me through a hundred power point slides. But nothing made me understand the rhythms and the feel of those dances like standing in the midst of a sweaty, writhing dance floor entirely peopled with lovers, knowers of the music itself. Closing one's eyes to absorb a moment like that is highly advisable for the sinking-in, deep down staying power effect it has.

That is how and where I first came to make nice with dancing.

And I was comfortable with those Latin rhythms and the fixed nature of the dances' basic steps. I could master those and then, once in a while--with a seasoned and talented lead--be turned and twirled and whatever other level-up moves I may be able to not distaster-ize.

But what, then, to do about freestyle dance on club dance floors? What about the dreaded wedding reception dance floor?

These were places unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable. These were places where people were watching and evaluating. These were places where you may need to develop actual moves. Moves?

Moves, I could not boast.

I still felt like an awkward wallflower in these settings. I felt a-rhythmic and reluctant. But more than anything I felt a return-to-roots sense of shyness.

Maybe it was alcohol that stepped in a couple of times to help alleviate that feeling, initially. (Liquid courage isn't only good for greasing the hitting-on wheels.) It was probably that. It wasn't enough alcohol to get drunk on or throw all caution to the wind over. Just enough to turn down the critic's volume level a few notches. It was enough to quiet the voice in my brain enough that I could hear the voice in my rhythmically beating heart, as corny as that sounds.

And that. THAT is what it was all about.

It was about letting the joy of feeling my body in motion overpower any fear I may have had about how I was being judged. And, with some experience, it no longer incorporated any sort of fear over how I was being judged; rather, it was a complete lack of interest in whether or not I was being judged at all.

People want to judge? Fine. I can't stop them.

But also, this: they can't stop me.

Published in the Mercury News San Jose Jazz Festival program guide, 2005
And after time in that mode, nothing was needed to grease the wheels because I knew that if I stayed in the present with the music--allowing it to move through me--I would get to feeling intoxicated, even sober as a Quaker. And it was a better sort of intoxication, too. There was no suddenly sleepy side effect, no middle-of-the-night digestive issues. It was just pure adrenaline and joy and the absolute oneness of body and soul. Just writing about it right now makes me wanna jet out the front door and make for the nearest ANYwhere that music is playing.

Which brings me to the present.

Last weekend I went out with coworkers to celebrate a couple of their birthdays and ended up at a club in San Jose. I've been to this place a number of times and found the dancing scene to be okay-fine there. I was having fun for a while.

But twice during the night I had to bust out a move I had never in my life done before, this move having nothing to do with dancing. It was a finger wave in the direction of two separate men who brazenly walked up behind me and put their hands on me while I was dancing. I know a lot of people go dancing looking to hook up. But even if I were looking for that, I might expect even a momentary exchange of eye contact--some tiny signal that I were interested--before being groped. Not cool.

I found myself wishing there were some kind of place to dance where this is not an issue.

My friend Kate had told me about a weekly dance session she sometimes attends called 5 Rhythms. It's a loose, freestyle session where you can just go and do your thing to music, outside of a club setting. She met her boyfriend Maor there after they connected on the dance floor--without even having to exchange words (so cool). I found the nearest, equivalent-sounding thing (Ecstatic Dance in downtown Oakland) last Sunday and checked that out.

The setting was great--a big-windowed, sunlight-filled dance floor at a bona fide old club called Tropicana. It had a lot of promise at the outset: smiling, friendly looking people who danced freely and openly without a trace of judgement or predatory intent. Some did incredible yoga poses on the sidelines. Some danced in interesting and intimate exchanges with occasional lifts. Some took part in the donation-based massages being offered off to one side. There were children, which was wonderful to see.

But ultimately, I couldn't get into it. I wasn't connecting with the music and it was more crowded than I'd anticipated, especially for such a large space. Also, the vibe was a little toooo free flowy for me. I like a little edge, and I got the overwhelming sense that if I were to move in any of the beat-centric ways I might at a club, I'd be upsetting the superflow vibe.

Argh. What is a 30-something, not-looking-to-hook-up, flowy-but-not-suuuuuper-flowy woman to do to get her groove on these days? I wish I had an answer to that. I fear the best prospect may lie at a rave, which I am way too old and anti-Molly for. Maybe it's at Burning Man, but who's got the extra $500 bucks lying around for a ticket?

I truly don't know. All I know is that I hope to find an answer because nothing makes me feel as alive as a good, sweat-drenched evening of dancing.

Kevin's Sketch

So it's been a little while, but Kevin got back into the mix this week with a doodle/sketch he made while listening to a long safety training module in preparation for work at a Lawrence Livermore Lab site. Downside: I was in the room listening to this safety module as well. Upside: Sketch to post!

Q-Bert's Astral Body


You're a "Proud" German, and That's Okay

A couple weeks ago (at the outset of the World Cup adventure) a friend posted a status update on Facebook mentioning that, though WWII is long over, he still finds it unnerving to see large numbers of Germans gathered, cheering and chanting.

He was joking of course, but something in his comment rang true and hit home.

Though my background is half-German (and half-Mexican--a mix my Mom lovingly refers to as "Beanerschnitzel"), most of my life I felt distant from my German heritage. Not only were the relatives on my Dad's side of the family physically far from us, they felt--at the time--unrelatable. When I saw them (once every 1-3 years) things felt strained, quiet, reserved. I contrasted this with the warm, laughter-filled homes on my Mom's side, homes of people we saw regularly, and the result left me feeling, well, Mexican (Chicana anyway, which is the term for a woman of Mexican heritage who was born and raised in the United States).

I was proud of my Mexican heritage and felt drawn to study Spanish, to listen to music in Spanish, and, eventually, to go to Mexico for a summer. But it was more than just my attraction to my Latino culture that caused the divide; there was something that felt kind of...icky...to declare myself a "proud German."

This is what war does to people. These are the lasting, reverberating effects of unchecked psychopathology. Two generations before my birth, one insane failed artist captivated a nation and ordered the genocide of 5-6 million people. Years later my Dad and his siblings--the children of German-born immigrants--were teased and shamed and called "Nazis" at school. And forty years after that I have still felt loathe to fully claim and embrace my German roots.

Let me not come across as trying to diminish the seriousness of the war itself and the appropriateness of people's long memories. The war touched and ruined many, many lives for many years to follow. It is natural that its effects would continue to echo.

But there are few people living who had much of anything to do with committing those atrocities, and my family members are certainly not among them. My family members are also not racist or anti-Semitic. There is no reason why I should not have the same desire to express pride in my culture that is held among so many people all over the earth. 

We of German decent have a dark black mark on our history; it is true. But we can overcome it. We can recognize that the horrors of the Holocaust were real and represent one of the biggest mistakes mankind has ever committed. In recognizing that we can vow to never let such horrors occur again. We can also recognize that the people who were born to this legacy reflect the country's bright future, not its dark past. 

Germans have done amazing things. Their engineering feats are incredible (who doesn't appreciate a beautifully designed and constructed German automobile?). Germany has produced some of the greatest philosophers of the modern era. It gave birth to pioneers in the field of psychology. And Germans are so fucking efficient! So dang punctual. Nobody gets things done on-schedule like a German.

We can also be terribly uptight and rigid. We can be cold and serious. We take up a lot of space and are hairy. We aren't so funny. Everyone (even collectively, as a culture) has faults.

I want to begin embracing all of it. I no longer wish to feel culturally torn between pride and not-so-much. The people of both my backgrounds aren't even so much characterized by the accomplishments of their countries or the (oft-true) generalizations that can be made about them as a culture. They are characterized by the love they feel for their families and friends and their desire to find happiness in this life.

So. Screw it. My loved ones and happiness seekers are German (-American). And I'm proud to count myself among them.

And I will joyfully and without shame cheer for them this Sunday as they compete in the World Cup FINAL. Woohoo!


This Relationship is Not for the Squeamish

When I first learned that the man who is now my boyfriend was a biologist, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Everybody does. When I tell people he works in rivers and in other outdoor spots, seeking and catching snakes and frogs and salamanders and the like, they express happy surprise that a person could actually make a living in such a way.

Kevin is one of the few people I know who earns money doing exactly the thing he loves and was born to do. There is a painting hanging on his son's wall featuring a lizard in the foreground of a thriving river scene, detailed and accurate. Kevin painted it when he was still in high school. Who does that? It's so interesting to me that he still loves to create art that features the creatures he is called to study. So many people spend good portions of their lives in search of their passions; his have been there all along.

I am not called to creatures in the way that he is. I'm not hot on the idea of handling a frog or a fish or a bird or any number of the other things I've seen him so naturally come into up-close contact with. I appreciate animals...just...from a little distance.

I do love, however, that I'm learning so much about animals from Kevin and that my 4-year-old son is, too. Yesterday we were at a shop where a cube-shaped glass case sat atop a table, displaying jewelry. My son said to the shop owner: "Where is the animal? Isn't there supposed to be an animal in there?" I'm guessing he got the idea from these, the four such glass cases in our home:

Tupac, the 23-year-old Horn Frog
Kingsley, the (hiding) California kingsnake
Molly, Baby Jr. and Drag-ron, freshly named fish in the tank Kevin gave to my son on his 3rd birthday
Assorted (mostly hidden) fish in the beautiful 50-gallon tank
I've enjoyed learning about all these animals, as well as Kalima the cat (the first cat I've ever lived with)

She's a sweetheart, otherwise I would have never wanted to share the space with her!
Lately, Kevin's interest has been piqued by a new kind of creature. Out in the field all spring and summer, he encounters many different life forms, and he's been captivated by spiders recently. That's all well and good, except that the captivation sometimes takes the form of collecting. At the moment there are about 20 vials sitting on his desk, each containing a unique spider specimen suspended in a solution (oooh, love that alliteration), waiting to be gifted to California Academy of Sciences for their collections. Still all well and good.

And then there was this...

Last week I came home from work and Kevin told me he had a surprise. He revealed a (very thin, I must emphasize for dramatic effect) sandwich bag in which was kept this "surprise":

Wolf spider, fresh from the fields of Livermore


I can't say I'm super thrilled at the thought of this little dude taking up residence in an old fish tank in our home, but then part of me is. My son saw it for the first time and said, "cool spider, Kevin!" I like that he's getting the early start with the natural world; that was definitely not a part of my experience. We all watched the spider consume a cricket the other day, which was a truly fascinating experience. And I love that Kevin's son, having been raised this way, embraces all things creepy and crawly. 

I may not ever get to that point, and I can't say I'm dying to help him capture more 8-legged friends (though I did catch one and save it for him as a sort of welcome home gift (what a strange combination of words)), but I am learning to be comfortable sharing the living space with other sorts of living things.

Anything that causes me to grow and expand my horizons that is not dangerous or unhealthy is exactly what I've signed up for. Bring it on.