'I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together'


Photo by MZ

I’m not sure what Christmas means to me anymore.
To my children it’s a wonderful time of year filled with wishes and cookies and Santa Claus and sparkly things.
To me, it’s a Dickensian mix of shadows cloaked in chains, bacchanalia, sprigs of holly and Tiny Tim’s enduring hope. Christmas music, particularly Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” and Vince Guaraldi’s  “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” wet my eyes and stir memories of childhood innocence.

In my mind’s eye, Christmas is a room aglow with flickering candles, a crackling log burning in the fireplace and a sparkling tree. It’s waking up to sunlight bouncing off a fresh layer of snow.
In reality, it’s a time when triggers of past hurts and traumas lay ahead of me like a minefield. Tonight, as my family baked cookies and wrapped gifts, I recalled my own family’s Christmas Eve tradition: Midnight Mass. After a heavy meal, gift opening and merry-making brought about largely by excessive alcohol intake, we’d while away the hours until it was time to slip on coats, step into boots and stumble in the station wagon for a quick, dicey ride to St. Something or Other. You had to stay awake for Midnight Mass but there was no rule about staying sober. Just ask the fence.
And thats where the happy memories fade and shape-shift into darker times. That’s where the shadows live.

I don’t want to give up Christmas. My inner world has shifted away from these early constructs. But I need to live in the outer world, too. I just need to make peace with those ghosts of the past.
In spite of my efforts to simplify the present, to make the holiday something meaningful on my terms, much of it really is beyond my control. Whether or not I embrace the religious aspect of the day, it’s a cultural institution and a seasonal rite.

With that in mind, to all of my wonderful blog friends, thank you for this community.

Thank you for making me laugh and making me cry.
Thank you for sharing a slice of your life with me. Thank you for taking an interest in my world.

Some of you are local and maybe I’ve met you a time or two or we’ve become friends.
Some of you are far away and I hope to someday meet you in real life.
Some of you have had a tough year. I wish you well in 2010 and will continue to follow along on your journey.
Some of you lead lives I’ll never know but am fascinated to observe from afar.
Some of you I’ve followed from the beginning. Some of you I’ve just discovered.
No matter what we celebrate or how we choose to do it, we have something in common.
I am he as you are he and you are me and we are all together ….(Lennon and McCartney)

Jolly ChristmaKwanzaHanukkah!

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Street note


'What about fiting in with the kids at the school and what if they don't like how you are dressed?'

As I was loading up the car to go to a birthday party on Sunday, a cluster of papers caught my eye. One was a piece of  lined paper folded in eights and tucked into my fence by the garage. Below it was a crumpled paper bag, a plastic cup and an empty pint of Jose Cuervo Gold. (After reading the note, I wonder if the items are connected.)

I unfolded the paper. Written in blue ink in the penmanship of what looks like a preteen boy with a shaky command of the language is a heartbreaking string of words. Here’s what it said:

“Do you think that it is bad for kids to move? I do because they have to meet other kids and make new friends at the new school. They have to get along with teachers and get use to how the teacher teaches.

If you start the new school in 1/2 of the year that is bad because they might have a test as the end of  that trimester. You miss all of the information at the begging of that. So you’d had to learn the stuff that they are learning now.

What about  fiting in with the kids at the school and what if they don’t like how you are dressed. They can beat you up just for not look cool. What about lunch you don’t know anyone from the school so who are you going to sit by and no one likes you because you don’t dress like them. Maybe that is why no one want to sit by you @ lunch.”

I live two blocks from a combined high school/middle school. The note could be real. I’m imaging a plainly dressed boy in a plaid flannel shirt, a coat with a hood and jeans, sitting cross-legged on my driveway chewing a ham sandwich and writing this note. For one moment I entertain the idea that the boy is washing down his sandwich with tequila shots, but discard that image in the  too-damned-depressing bin.

I imagine the boy hearing the bell ring, folding the note and tucking it in the fence, tossing his lunch bag on my driveway and following the sidewalk back to his personal hell. I wonder if he wanted someone to read it, to know his pain, to hear his soul  cry out with the agony of forced segregation. If that  is true, then here is your validation, sad young man.

Of course, it might be a joke or a class assignment that fell out of backpack. Perhaps a neighbor out walking her dog picked it up and tucked it in the fence in the off-chance that the student might look for and find his note.  But being who I am, I’m clinging to my first impression of lonely new kid eating his lunch off-campus to avoid the pain of social rejection.

I know that one.

My family moved the summer between my sixth- and seventh-grade year. For most of seventh grade I was alone. This was a shock to me. We moved from a very warm, tight-knit community of people who were all about the same economically to one in which there were defined lines of status. Needless to say, we were on the wrong side of the line. That was made apparent on the first day of school when the two girls walking in front of me  kept turning around, eyeing my JC Penney clothes up and down, and whispering to each other. In my old neighborhood, my friends thought my shoes and socks and shirts were cool.

All of seventh grade I managed to find two friends, both of whom were transplants like me. But before I made those friends, lunchtime, gym class and free times were  long stretches of agony.  The new school kids didn’t think my jokes were funny like my old friends did. They didn’t think my style was worthy of praise or emulation, only ridicule and scorn. I’m sure I penned many notes to no one that read much like the one in my fence. I wonder if any blew out of my backpack and landed in a nearby yard?

God, it sucks to be the new kid.

Flannel-plaid-wearing boy with the blue ink pen, I hear your cry for help. I understand. I  wish you strength and courage. It will get better someday. I promise.

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Even scarier than a pack of wild dogs


by Marco Gomes via Creative Commons

I do not like teenagers.

Yes. You read me correctly. I do not like teenagers.

I love my teenager.

The rest of the lot? Take them, please.

To those of you who work with this segment of the population: I admire you. Clearly, you are constructed of tougher material. You are sheet metal. I am onion skin.

Why do I dislike those who dwell in the bizarre world between childhood and adulthood?

  • I live two blocks from a high school. For almost a decade I’ve had to pick up their lunch-hour trash, their abandoned sweaters and shoes and other unidentifiable pieces of junk tossed on my lawn. I have to sweep the cigarette butts flicked onto my walkway and gardens. I’ve bore witness to the manifestations of both adrenaline and hormonal surges. Not since my own youth have I seen such passionate ass-kickings and makeout sessions as those unfolding under our golden locust trees.
  • I live with a teenager. My teen is not so bad. So far, so good. Yet, because she is one of them, I must subject myself to her kind. I am finding ways to avoid this.
  • Being around teenagers is a powerful emotional trigger. It brings forth my own journey from Velvet dolls to the voting booth.  I smoked, ran around with a bad crowd, used drugs, had a shoplifting habit, threw away my grade point average in favor of recklessness, spent a great deal of time in detention, and defied my parents in any way I could think of, including having a serious relationship with the wrong sort of boy. While there were teens who far exceeded my level of rebellion, there were so many more who were paving the way toward bright futures.

The person I hurt the most was myself. My self-loathing and destructive behavior may have appeared to be directed outward, but it was really aimed inward. To all the folks who lived by my high school: Is it too late to issue a blanket apology for my behavior?

Even as a teenager I hated other teenagers. I loathed the relationship drama, the bad driving, the false bravado regarding drinking, drug use, fighting and mortality.

I went to school in an upscale neighborhood. There was a very clear line drawn between the haves sporting their stiff-collared Izod polo shirts and Mercedes Benz convertibles parked on one end of  lot and the stoners in their Led Zeppelin concert T-shirts huddled under a haze of exhaust and illegal smoke at the other end.

I identified with the have-nots. But that doesn’t explain everything. There were plenty of haves who were just as messed up. The reasons were different but the results were the same.  When they threw up, it was expensive liquor on high-quality imported rugs rather than the cheap gut-buster wine on the scuffed linoleum.

You couldn’t pay me to relive those days. Even if you offered me the beautiful skin, the skinny little body and the lightning-quick  metalbolism, I’d rather be blotchy, bloated  and sane than be a teenager again.

So when I found myself surrounded by teenagers the other day, quite by accident, I didn’t react the way many of you might: take it in stride, think nothing of it. I behaved much like a captured jungle explorer would when he finds his fate in a bubbling cook pot stirred by hungry cannibals.

A serious error in judgment  placed me in the vortex of the student parking lot just as the final bell rang. Girl from the West generally takes the bus or I pick her up from a friend’s house later in the day. This day was different: I agreed to pick up my girl and a friend and take them to the mall to shop for homecoming dresses.

Finding yourself in the center of the student parking lot of a huge suburban high school populated by drivers whose licenses still have wet ink on them is probably like regaining consciousness from a blackout and realizing you are on the open range with a herd of cattle bearing down on you .

Within moments, it was a sensory nightmare of  moving figures coming at my car from all sides, swearing, shouting, revving engines, blasting music, thumping bass from subwoofers and squealing tires. I attempted to back out of my parking space and extract myself from the melee.

It was too much to ask them to make eye contact with me, to notice my pleading hand gestures, to respond to my blinking turn signal so that one of them would allow me to enter the stream of traffic. It was too much to hope that the drivers behind me would refrain from their own hand signals, to  lift their palms from the horn for a moment, and realize I wanted out more than they did.

Finally a group of students on foot blocked the flow long enough for me to nose my front end into traffic.

The commotion awakened a sleeping Girl from the East in the back seat, who took in the scene and said: “Momma, they’re being very loud.”

To which I replied: “Don’t ever  grow up, sweet pea. It’s just ugly.”

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Camping and corn dogs and Ferris wheels. Oh, my!


Urban camp out No. 1

It’s Labor Day weekend. What are you doing on the Internet? Get outside and take a walk, ride your bike, surf, skate, swim, or go read a book. Do all of them at the same time if you have that kind of talent. If your community is like mine, there are more festivals than time to attend them all. Pick one.

Get up and walk away from the computer. Unless, of course, you are at work. That might create a problem. Although when I was working, I did see people do that. Just get up and walk out as if they were protected by a union or something. Later they returned smelling funny.  Good times.

Knowing that next week — with its big yellow school buses belching exhaust,  its alarms bleating before dawn, and the let’s-get-back-to-being-responsible thing will be in full force — we decided that this weekend would be for old-fashioned fun. Let’s call it a throwback holiday weekend.

Our itinerary:

* The second urban camp out of the summer, featuring our trusty tent, our backyard patio and our little fire pit. Thankfully most of the neighbors are on vacation and the road crews are on break, so the nights are quiet. Only the crickets, lonely dogs and amorous cats will break the silence. And a bonus: full moon!


* A trip to the Michigan State Fair. It’s not my favorite place. I don’t like seeing cows with Kroger $3,000 stamped on their sides. I mean, could you put a finer point on it? I don’t like the pushing and shoving of the sweaty masses devouring fistfuls of elephant ears and corn dogs. But this year might be the last for the venerable festival honoring all things agricultural. We are going for Girl from the East, who is fascinated with fairs and cows and pigs and Ferris wheels. And (gag) she’ll probably want to eat a corn dog. Everyone has to do that at least once in life.

:en:Singapore Flyer taken from :en:East Coast ...

* I’m participating in my second half-day retreat of silent meditation. I look at it as both a personal challenge and a way to refresh my psyche for the challenges ahead. Yeah, I think a day of silence and a trip around the Ferris wheel ought to do it for me.


Breakfast outside is the best, don't you think?

So, join me in celebrating the closing of summer. Embrace the simpler things for a day or two. See you on the other side.Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Give it up, prairie dog

Sing, dance, shout little prairie dog, but you cannot compete with the Game Boy

Sing, dance and shout little prairie dog, you cannot compete with electronic toys.

I’m not in the habit of snapping pictures of strangers in public and posting them online. But this one, when I found it with my downloaded shots, just begged to be shared with the Internets. The reason I have this picture at all is because I was balanced on a railing, finger poised over the shutter button on my camera, waiting for my little Girl from the East to pop up in one of the viewing tubes.

We were at the prairie dog exhibit at the Detroit Zoo, which is a popular stopping point for the children and a great photo opportunity for parents. The exhibit enables visitors to get close to the perky little rodents of the West and play peek-a-boo with them as they dart in and out of their tunnels. Children, if they are inclined to do so, can descend a set of steps to an underground vestibule with three viewing tubes that place them eye-to-snout with the prairie dogs.

While I waited and waited and started to worry about my girl, I noticed this boy — the one to the far right in the picture.  I saw him at two points earlier in the day. At each encounter, this child held himself in the same way: silent, intently focused on this electronic game device, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. He was with another child, maybe a sibling, and a caregiver who appeared resigned to his behavior.

Unlike the other children, this boy did not look at the prairie dogs. He did not wave to familiar faces in the crowd. He did not tap on the tube or stick out his tongue. He didn’t flatten his nose to the glass or smear it up like all the other kids took turns doing.

Mild panic over the disappearance of my Girl from the East made me forget about this boy. I found my child crouched on the steps, tears welling in her eyes, waiting for me to rescue her. I felt bad that I’d pushed her into this situation before she was ready.

But after finding this picture, I’m glad I nudged her out of her comfort zone just a little. I wondered about this boy. Did he have  a medical condition? Did this explain his withdrawal and seemingly anti-social behavior? If so, then any further commentary is beyond the realm of my knowledge.

If not, I wonder why he is allowed to behave this way in public? Are his parents/caregivers tired of arguing with him about his electronic device usage? Is he going for a Guinness World Record?

It makes my heart sick when I attend a choir concert or other live performance and see parents in the audience allowing their children to send text messages and play video games. This example, of a child so engrossed in a video game that he doesn’t care about the living world around him, scares me.

Are we giving in too much ? Giving up? Are they just following our example?

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