Sunday, July 29, 2012

Resilient in our complacency

Last Friday morning I opened my eyes, looked at my phone and learned a young man had shot up a Denver-area movie theater with a semi-automatic weapon, killing 12 and wounding 58 others.

My reaction probably was not unlike your own.

There's that sinking feeling -- a moment of horror and disbelief -- followed by hours and days of watching the news. Waiting for information that would make me feel better about what had happened.

Explanations, no matter how dissatisfying, tend to put me at ease. Words to file: Loner. Brilliant. Psychopathy. It won't happen to us.

We humans are resilient this way.

Of course, for a while we read and write and yell and keen. We'll wonder what's happening in the world. We'll look to place blame. We'll try and find solutions.

Mostly, though, we just tend to point fingers. We talk about the need for more mental health services despite being aware of the sad paradox: even if it reaches all who need it, therapy doesn't always provide relief.

We rekindle the battle over gun control. People on one side calling for a ban of certain kinds of guns and ammunition; and people on the other side saying we need more fire power.

Soon we'll shake it all off our slickers like rain from the cloud of personal responsibility. Then we'll simply hang up this old coat in the closet of our pushed-aside thoughts, semi-forgotten, until the next time it thunders.

Sad, really.

Because eventually we'll accept this tragedy as we have the many that have come before it and we'll move on.

We'll focus on dangers to our children that don't have such clear constitutional protections and we'll hammer away at those:

We banish the BPA lining our water bottles because of mounting doubts about its safety; we jettison the drop-side cribs that endangered our infants, the trans fats clogging our arteries and the cigarette smoke causing our lungs to be diseased.

Some will yell “Nanny State!” But we won't listen. “ I'll see your Nanny State and raise you a Car Seat Law, my friend. … Go on … tell me how that's infringed on your inalienable right to be a negligent parent.”

The discussion on gun control (and increasingly any regulation) rationally these days seems impossible. Even talking about creating tough guidelines and restrictions for those attempting to buy military-grade weapons -- is somehow blasphemy against the framers of the constitution.

I'm not sure who shaped the argument, that no regulation is preferable to sane regulation, but my guess it wasn't the good, law-abiding gun owners who value safety and education above easy access and mayhem.

Ah … But you've hear it all before.

You've said it.

You've railed against it.

You've even voted for more than one person who'd promised to take on the opposition, whichever camp you opposed.

But nothing changes.

Perhaps they are right: People who want to hurt people will find a way to do it. Why not just fight gunfire with gunfire on a level playing field? Eye for an eye.

Or perhaps it's time to let bygones by bygones, ye pacifists. Whatever will be will be.

Either way there will be other causes to cling to once this whole tragic event is behind us. We could start out slowly by banning midnight movies and work our way up to sanctioning shyness, higher education and the lack of an internet presence.

Anything so we don't become complacent.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Road food

Tiny ears can hear the tinny sound from miles away, like a whistle only a dog can hear. I know this because my children usually clamor for money long before the mangled music emanating from the ice cream truck even reaches my radar.

It's always the same:

There's usually a panicked rush to find pocketbooks and piggybanks, followed by a temporary terror that the truck has turned toward another neighborhood. The music always sounds squashed, like it's coming from a warped record or a dented loudspeaker. It could be coming from or going toward anywhere. Ominous … like the Pied Piper.

“It's creepy,” my husband says as a drab, gray truck -- colored only by photographs of artificially flavored confections – practically screeches to a stop as it nears our house.

The man behind the wheel knows where all the weak links are in his territory chain.

Our house might be the weakest.

The kids have hauled pockets-full of nickels and dimes to the curb, depositing it on the window of the van and then stepping back to see the menu and make their choices.

They bounce back and forth in a familiar dance of indecision, made even more long and drawn out of a performance by the fact that Rocket Pops are out of stock.

Ittybit, innocently enough, will settle on the most expensive treat the man in the paper hat has to offer. The Champ, ironically, will want the head of a superhero on a stick. As the driver sweeps their money into a chocolate smeared apron and settles back behind the wheel, they will declare this the best ice cream they've ever tasted.

“Blasphemy,” my husband huffs in disgust. He can barely believe he has sired children who would rather eat frozen milk and artificial colors from a battered truck than make the pilgrimage to the mecca of locally sourced homemade ice cream just a few miles up the road.

There's no sense reasoning with him.

He claims he doesn't understand the draw of bad food.

He's not the type of man who despises McDonald's just on principal; he'd rather have a root canal than eat a McRib sandwich. “Special Sauce my eye teeth … it's just sugared-up Thousand Island dressing,” he grumbles.

That horror show of an ice cream truck is almost worse than the freak show that is road food,” he says from the comfortable cocoon of his front-porch hammock.

The kids mostly ignore his self professed high-brow tastes until rivers of neon blue, green and red start to trickle down their arms onto their sneakers.

It's hot and their truck treats are outrunning their tongues.

While I will protect this artificially flavored and unnaturally colored rite of summer passage, I won't put my white capris in harm's way. The only thing worse than an uneven cone is a rainbow colored stain on stark white clothes.

Out of desperation, they offer him a lick.

He turns up his nose at first, grousing that he'd rather eat a sponge that had been backed over by the garbage truck than taste even a single lick of a trademarked spongey character (who ordinarily lives in a pineapple under the sea, but in ice cream form has gumball eyes). Then, with a great, thespian gesture, holds out his hands to accept the horrific chore.

To watch him you'd think he was eating poison. He sputters and gurgles and bobbles his tongue.

They watch each lick with squinty eyes.

“Ok … okay,” The Champ tells his father forcefully. “That's enough. I can take it from here.”

They know their father. They know he doth protest too much.

“Listen,” I tell him as he reluctantly relinquishes the treats. “I think I hear the demonic music of the ice cream truck headed this way … . I'll buy you a frozen sponge pop with gumball eyes. I'm sure the ice cream man will be happy to back over it with his truck if you insist.”

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An infrequent victory

He always wins.

It's just how it works.

She may start out with the advantage, but eventually his strategic maneuvering will overtake her in the end.

She usually doesn't make a big deal of it; don't want to be a sore loser, you know.

You can probably picture the scene:

A family of four is gathered around an out-of-the-way table at a local public house, or pub for short. It's the early dinner hour, and aside from a few patrons at the bar the place is quiet.

The kids have reached the limit of their summer-time imaginations. The parents have had it “up to here” with the stressors of the day, including their now unimaginative kids. Everyone is hungry and tired and antsy. The last thing either of them feel like taming is dinner. Even strangers can see that this is the make or break moment.

The waiter appears bearing menus and jokes that only add heat to the tiny pressure cookers bouncing around in the booth. How long before they turn from tender to falling apart is anyone's guess. The mom, out of character, orders for everyone. And they wait. The smalls beg them to play a game of checkers, which the smallest of the smalls runs off to retrieve.

When he returns he is trailed by his sister who is collecting the debris of pieces left in his wake. He didn't bother to notice that the clasp on the box was broken.

He extracts the checker board and she dumps the handful of red, plastic disks (some of which she fished out from under the booth of a couple who, up until then, had been trying to have a quiet meal.

I call girls against the boys,” she hollers, after she shimmies out from under their table and runs for “game central.” She imagines the girls have an edge.

No such luck. The boys win.

What was lost in the game, however, is made up in timing as the food arrives as the last checker is swept from the board.

They eat. They chat. They consider how long they have until the meter runs out on this the smalls talk them into playing just one game of chess, citing an often used legal maneuver: The “you promised” clause.

This time the boy offers his game plan.

Boys against the girls.”

But the rule of chess prove daunting. After three moves, the kids become disinterested.

The girl goes to ladies room.

The boy turns his attention to his fortune cookie, the pub's official, and complimentary, dessert.

He asks for a quarter for the candy machine, dissappears and then returns, with M & M-gooey hands, to climb Mt. Concentrating Dad.

Unsurprisingly to everyone but the mother, who knows her husband to be unshakable in his stratigic skills, he blunders forward.


She takes advantage. How could she not?

And ends up winning.

For the first time. ...


She is stunned, amazed and perhaps the happiest she's been in recent memory.

Happier than the time she found a parking space in the first-swoop of the supermarket's clogged parking lot or when she found pine nuts on sale.

Small wonders like these always make her smile, and talk to strangers ...

Because who knows when this will happen again.

He's not the type to let her win.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The cicada of life

“I want to keep it for a pet,” said The Champ, his attention split between me and a rather large, prehistoric-looking insect that had just emerged from the earth near where he'd been digging in the backyard.

I'd seen the hollow, amber-colored shells affixed to trees where the cicada nymphs had left behind their childish things and flew off with new adult wings to sing their songs, attract a mate, lay eggs and start the whole, long process of life underground again. Yet, with such long spaces in between sightings, a person tends to forget in the meantime.

After all, no matter how amazing these creatures are, cicadas have a face only a mother -- and it would seem a boy, newly five -- could love.

“I will name him Clorindo Ramindino Insectivorianda, and he can sleep in my room.”

Honestly, his declaration surprised me a little, having just hours earlier responded to five-alarm shrieks demanding that a tiny beetle and a slightly oversized cricket – neither of which were close enough to touch him – be inducted into the insect relocation program.

Though perhaps the attraction is something he inherited. As I watch him study the insect's almost iridescent segmented body, it occurs to me that so many big moments in our lives as a family have been marked by the reawakening of these gentle giants.

On our honeymoon, hiking in New Zealand, my husband and I tramped for miles along the coastal track of the Queen Charlotte Walkway as the cicadas made a wall of noise almost as impressive as the scenery and twice as memorable.

After Ittybit was born, five months after to be exact, we travelled to D.C. smack-dab in the middle of the cacophony that was the awakening of the 17-year-cicadas. Everywhere we went, golden hulls and red eyes followed us. It was an event that rivaled the emergence of cherry blossoms a thousand times over.

These bugs – harmless to humans – are found all over the world and are “born” in their own time. Although some are annual, most live underground for years, growing incrementally as they feed on the juices of roots. Once mature they burrow to the surface and shed their skins revealing transparent, veined wings and luminescent bodies. In the five or so weeks they live as adults, they are busy. The song the males sing to attract a mate comes not from air moving through a throat but vibrations bouncing around resonating chambers in their abdomen. The female deposits hundreds of eggs into slits she makes in tree branches. Six or so weeks later the eggs hatch and ant-like nymphs burrow into the ground where the life cycle continues.

It's no wonder they are seen by many cultures as symbols of longevity, love and renewal. They connect the past with the present.

The Champ has heard this all before as has Ittybit, who's been assured we will return to D.C. in May of her 17th year to meet her cicadas' sons and daughters.

She's got a while to wait.

The Champ can't wait another minute. He runs off to find a box, comfy pillow and fleece for his new pet. And returns to heartbreak.

“Mah-meeeee!” he wails. “You need to get rid of the dog. Clorindo Ramindino Insectivorianda is dead and she ATE him. Look, she sucked him right out of his shell!”

“Ah … honey. She didn't eat Chlorine Ramona Insectivous-er-whatever. He's just gone off to find a girlfriend. And guess what? Maybe, when you are 12, you will see his children. Right here in our backyard.”

Blank. Stare.

“He's going to have babies?!!! Here?!? Ewwwwwww.”

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The best part of any movie will always be talking about it afterward

“What was your favorite part, Mama?” she said between mouthfuls of steamed dumpling and bites of broccoli.

We had just seen “Brave,” and were seated at a table in the restaurant next door to the theater, debriefing. I use the word “sitting” loosely. Neither Ittybit nor The Champ could contain themselves. Eyes flashing, mouth chirping, she was practically levitating off the seat. Swashbuckling with chopsticks, he was attacking his meal with the ferocity of a wee Scottish lord.

“I really liked the witch's workshop,” I said, explaining that I loved looking at all the animated carvings and listening to the way they clanked together as the hero of the story, Merida, blew in following the mysterious “wisps.”

“Oh, that was good!” she exclaims. “Yeah, that was good,” echoes her brother as he tries to spear his meal. Truth be told, however, more than the work of foley artists, the thing I loved most was that its hero is a girl.

I loved that “Brave” is all the things you could want in a lifetime let alone a movie, whether you are male or female. It has lush landscapes, a loving family, action, adventure, humor, ingenuity, failure and redemption. And it is as much about acknowledging duty as it is about breaking tradition.

Things we wrestle with for all our lives not just for 90 minutes in a darkened room filled with the rich smells of popcorn.

Most of all, though, I loved that girls as heros won't be as novel a concept to my children as it was to me when I was their age. And that girls don't have to become boys to find or measure their worth.

“What was your favorite part?” I say a little too loudly, drowning out the bagpipes in the soundtrack of my imagination.

“I liked when the free brovers ate all the cupcakes. They were like free little pigs. That was funny,” said The Champ, his own mouth full of dumpling.

“Oh … I liked it all, especially the part where she fixes the tapestry and everything goes back to being the same only better,” Ittybit says.

“But that's not … what happened … not exactly ...” I stammer.

“Sure it is. She didn't sew very well but it was good enough,” she says with conviction.

“It was more than just a ripped picture. It was the relationship between mother and daughter that had been damaged; the tear was just a symbol of that bond. They actually had to fix their relationship.”

“That's what I said.”

It's interesting to watch movies with my kids. To see the symbolism sail straight over their heads, where it will hang around (once the movie is released to DVD and I fall prey to little pestering) until one day they see it with more mature eyes. And something else clicks.
And as much as I want them to see what I've seen, I know we all experience the world a little differently. We come to our understanding with filters … some I've installed … some friends have installed … some they've discovered themselves.

“You know what I really frink the best part of the movie was?” says The Champ, moving on to the fortune cookie portion of the meal.

“Let me guess?” replies his sister. “The sword fighting? The horse? The boy who had a tattoo on his face?”

“Nope. I liked that the mom didn't die. … These movies always kill the mom.”

They both start to laugh, and it strikes me: The best part of any movie will always be talking about it afterward.