Poem for my son’s ninth

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You are nine.

I’m trying.

 

To squeeze an extra syllable in

to this a short, short life

that is getting longer by the minute.

 

On knees I pray with willable grin

that you avoid long, longing strife

that your balloon not burst, even with a pin in it.

 

Oh please take time my filial kin

tho each of our hours is rife

with bittersweetness and echoes of the infinite.

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Bees and Bumblers

IMG_4547It is a little self absorbed (even by blogger standards) to think that anyone other than me would be interested in what I wrote 20 years ago in a spiral notebook.  But, hey, it’s Throwback Thursday, I have a 20th reunion coming up, and also my mom reads my blog. So here goes.

The entry is from a notebook I was using for a Constitutional Law class. Prior to re-reading the notebook, main thing I remembered about this class (which purportedly explored the concept of judicial activism as it related to public policy decisions of the early to mid 20th century) was how I had a crush on this guy in the class and I was always trying to figure out how to sit next to him.

Come to think of it, that was like totally wrong given that I was busy writing heartfelt, melodramatic love letters to my long-distance boyfriend at the time.   Don’t worry, I never strayed.  (Obvs! as if a girl who tried to make her move in a Constitutional Law class, would have any clue about that sort of thing!)

Anyway, my notes regarding the actual substance of the course are incomprehensible.  This is not surprising, given that I did not comprehend the substance of the course.  But, then there was this page about a time when we were interrupted…

*****

A bumble bee came into class today and disrupted things.  The professor stopped his lecture and said, “We should get that out of here.”  So we all sat in our seats and watched it buzz around for a while.

It got confused by the lights on the ceiling and it kept bumping into the bulbs.  Someone turned off the lights, presumably to help the bee find its way out through the open windows.  Then the bee started buzzing into the glass, not quite finding an opening.

Then, suddenly, Chris jumped up from his seat and, to the cheers of the students, smashed the bee with his notebook.

*****

I don’t remember who Chris was (or if that was his real name) but I know I have met him frequently in the 20 years since I’ve left college.  He’s a nice enough guy.  He knows how to seize a moment, to take action, to eliminate obstacles. He’s successful.  He can ignore distraction and focus on the project at hand.  Who knows, 20 years post graduation he might be spearheading, an effort to “save the bees.”  He might be hosting several black tie fundraisers in his Tribeca loft to advance this cause.  There are probably plenty of people applauding his efforts.

Still, I feel a little bad for the bee.

Worker bees like the one buzzing in the classroom that day are only allowed out of the hive at the end of their life cycle.  Before they are permitted to forage for nectar and pollen, they must first perform the duties of “housekeeper, nursemaid, construction worker, grocer, undertaker, and guard” (citation here).  So it is a little sad and pathetic that she was smacked down like that (to cheers!)–right when she was finally doing (albeit in a clumsy and incompetent manner) what she was supposed to be doing as a bee.

I know we are just talking about an insect here. But in reconsidering this episode, I see how the tendencies on display here are played out in other ways.  We often cheer on and celebrate those who are “good at what they do” without considering whether “they are doing good.”   It is easy to rally behind winners.  They throw better parties for one, and, “OMG, bumblers can be so annoying!”  

Still, it is important to remember that as awkward and circuitous as their route may be, the bumblers might be on to something.  Even if they are not, and they are destined to spend their lives noisily bumping into a window pane, they could use (and would definitely appreciate) a little encouragement.

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Presents from the Past

IMG_5471 My 20th college reunion is right around the corner.  Therefore it’s fitting that I stumbled upon an old spiral notebook that contained a draft of a letter (or you might call it an overwrought meditation) to my boyfriend at the time.  He was living in another state.  He was the love of my life then, which would explain why a letter to him needed a rough draft.  And this was 20 years ago, which would explain why I was writing a letter at all.

I wrote him a lot of letters over the course of that relationship. (I was a senior in college.  I had yet to encounter the internet.  I was supposed to be writing my thesis. You understand.)  When the relationship ended, predictably within weeks of my moving home to be with him,  I lamented its loss.

Time passed.  We both moved on to other relationships.  Then I realized, predictably, that the relationship had meant more to me than it had meant to him.  Then I realized that those letters–all of those letters!–had probably been discarded.  (Recycled more likely.  He was a neat freak. Also environmentally responsible. One of our bigger fights had been about wasting water.)

As much as I was able to let go of the relationship, I missed those letters.  They were the product of so much energy and effort. They stood for not only what I was feeling at the time but for who I was then: someone at the beginning of adulthood, when I had yet to “do something” with my life, but when I could still “do anything.”  (Except maybe that thesis.)

So imagine how pleased I was when I found this letter which ostensibly was about finding–or, rather, constructing–the perfect present for my boyfriend in 1995.  It captures the essence of who I was then, hopeful, thoughtful, and a little self absorbed.  (Sort of like who I am today.   Exactly like who I am today.)

HERE IT IS. I pulled it from the pages of a CVS brand spiral notebook where it was nestled between jottings about legal realism, heart shaped doodles, and the contact information for my next babysitting job…

*****

There was a blue box on my bookshelf that I thought would be the perfect container for the perfect present I was going to give to you when I found the perfect present.  I wanted you to say, “My, what a perfect present in a perfect present box! What a perfect present giver the giver of this present is!”

So I looked around.

I went to the plaza near the Square where where rows of vendors lined up with their carts offering presents for sale: tropical fish wind chimes, jalepeño peanut brittle, and chia pets.  None of these was the perfect present.

I went to the coffee shop to think, to make a list of ideas.  I passed the old man in shiny trousers who spent days on his typewriter here clacking out pages of the same refrain.  Today he was typing, “Suffice it to say…Suffice it to say…Suffice to say,” over and over.

At the top of my paper I wrote, “Ideas for the perfect present.”

I realized I had no ideas.

I wanted to be the one to give you a “perfect present”: the reassurance that things would work out.  That you would be the one person who could say on his birthday, “I am so pleased to be me.  I am so happy to be as old as I am, to have lived as I have lived, and to be headed where I am headed, and to be doing what I am doing right now, at present.”

I guess I can’t give you the perfect present.  But I can give you a promise that I will love you. I think things are going to work out.  I am pleased that you are you. I am so happy that you are as old as you are, having lived as you have lived, and are headed where you are headed.  I wish you were doing whatever it is you are doing right now, with me.

So obviously, the present isn’t perfect.  Our present may not ever be.  But when I can read this to you in person, someday soon, our present is going to be a lot better.

*******

Reading this now I see that the characters have changed.  The intended recipient is no longer my old boyfriend (who is now married to a purse designer in California) or my current husband (who, not too into recycling anyway,  merits a proper love letter of his own). This is a letter I wrote about finding the perfect present for myself.

I am reminded that the perfect present cannot be contained by a box (or an old spiral notebook).  It is a mood, a state of mind, accompanied by a sense of satisfaction that inspires continued effort.  (I am so pleased to me.  Happy to have lived as I have lived, to be headed where I am headed, and to be doing what I am doing right now.) 

No one can give it to us.  We have to construct it for ourselves from the available moment.  As for me, I don’t expect to find the perfect present.  But I will keep looking.

Suffice it to say…this moment keeps repeating.  Whether or not it ever takes a different shape is up to us.

 

 

 

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Addendum to “What does she do all day?”

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Some Problems are Hard to Solve

I am a math person.   I am not sure how many actual mathematicians would identify me as math person because my “expertise” in math does not extend much beyond basic algebra.  Plus, my 25 year old “A” in Calculus doesn’t change the fact that I turned into a lawyer.  Still, I say I am a math person because I am not “not a math person.”

In addition, it troubles me to hear people say they are not math people.  Like this is an acceptable thing to be.  Like when otherwise intelligent people say they are not feminists.  I am so confused.  I want to say, “That just doesn’t add up!”

Having spent a little time helping my kids with their math homework, I have some insight into how “not math people” are made.

For example, this week my first grader encountered this problem:

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She asked me for help and we were both confused.  The problem seemed to make no sense.  When I looked at the shapes in the “addition sentence,” the shape I wanted to draw was a giant blank.

The problem was, this problem was asking us to address too many problems at once.  Little kids are trying to grasp the concept of quantity   (**** + ** = ******) at the same time they are trying to grasp the idea that the number 4 can “stand for” the quantity ****, at the same time they are trying to grasp the concept that “+” means “add” and “-” means subtract.   Substituting random shapes into the “addition sentence,” confounds these concepts.  It is especially confusing when one of the “shapes” is a giant “plus sign.”

In the end, a six year old solves this problem by following a pattern.  She knows:IMG_4497IMG_4498

so

 

She “plugged in” the trapezoid for the “2” and got the answer “right.”

I can’t say she understood the concept in any meaningful way.  But then again, as a trapezoid who has always felt one giant plus sign short of a parallelogram, who am I to criticize?

 

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2014 Family Update

IMG_4434Happy New Year!

2014 marked an unprecedented time when Matthew (now 8) and Sabrina, (now 6), and I (now 41), were all on the same page: Each of the three of us lost teeth. Not to complain, but the tooth fairy played favorites, reimbursing the kids up to 5 dollars per tooth and leaving me with only a fair amount of pain and a renewed enthusiasm for flossing.

For his part, Ivan held on to all of his teeth. Also, he continued to work full time as a corporate lawyer while maintaining his part-time gig as a personal shopper for himself. This year’s acquisitions were very fedora focused but he assures me that his collection of 25 or so (completely different!) fur felt fedoras is now complete. In 2015, from the look of our most recent Amex bill, I anticipate a trend toward cow hide.

Sabrina, without even one fedora, has pretty much everything.  She has her own room. She has long hair.  She has one grandmother who buys her endless quantities of make up, jewelry, and all things Frozen, and another grandmother who supplies her with countless “Chapter Books” which she reads with a fair amount of genuine enthusiasm tinged with just a touch of “Did you know I can read chapter books?” attitude.

Despite the extensive spoiling she has suffered at the hands of her parents and grandparents Sabrina has still managed to develop a keen appreciation for the value of money as illustrated by the very first use of her allowance when she paid her brother to stop annoying her.

Life is good for 8 year old Matthew, too. He’s doing well in school. His best friend lives in our building. He scored a couple goals in soccer this season and he has become a fearless and accomplished skier. Getting Matthew to acknowledge any of this is a little tricky, however, because he thinks I lost his pencil sharpener and I won’t let him get a turtle.

Matthew still plans to become a construction worker when he grows up but has recently expressed an interest in becoming President of the United States so that he never has to wait in traffic.

I had a good year, too. When I wasn’t visiting the dentist, I was doing other things like going to French class and trying to increase my blog following to over 10 people. In October, I briefly shook hands with Brad Pitt at the movie premiere of Fury. I enjoyed the night, as did Ivan. Perhaps the only disappointment of the evening involved our brief encounter with one of the movie’s producers, who was wearing a fedora. No matter that he was particularly unfriendly, like he didn’t really want to be chatting with some randoms from New Jersey, but his fedora was fashioned from wool felt. In case you didn’t know, wool is a step below rabbit which is a step below nutria. That hat had no business being on the red carpet.

In short, we have left 2014 alive, well, and with our unfounded sense of superiority/inferiority intact.

Wishing you all the best!

Much love,
Molly🙂

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Elsa’s Chilly Reception

IMG_3732It’s Halloween in 2014.  For girls in my neighborhood this is known as “Dress up like Elsa Day.”

According to this report published on CBS8.com, “Frozen” Halloween costumes were the “hottest” this year.  According to this info pic published on the Huffington Post, my home state of New Jersey led the Frozen charge.  Having just gotten back from my children’s Halloween parade I can confirm the accuracy of these reports.  The classes were marching at 50% Frozen this year (as was I, having forgotten to wear a proper winter coat).

Amid this flurry of Frozen exuberance, I have also noticed a related, countervailing trend.  No one who is not a girl under age 9 can say “Elsa” without an obligatory eyeroll and a weary sigh.

When, we wonder, are they going to Let it Go?  

To cope with this Frozen Fatigue, social media has generated a solution in the form of a drinking game. Each time you see a little blonde in frosted blue tonight, Drink!

As someone who tried unsuccessfully to give her daughter an Elsa doll for her sixth birthday last June, I understand some of the Elsa hate.  After hours of fruitless searching, handfuls of my own (dyed) blonde hair were on the floor as I clicked on and purchased: the Elsa juice glass, the Elsa dinner plate, and the Elsa silverware set (i.e. all the Frozen merchandise available at the time).

As a result, I spent more money on Frozen stuff than I would have if the doll had been available.   Worse still, I only managed to fuel my daughter’s desire for the real Elsa doll which, not surprisingly, remained out of stock.  I was reminded of this fact at each Frozen themed mealtime when my daughter (who admittedly did love the Frozen tableware) wondered why Disney managed to make enough Elsa juice glasses but ran out of Elsa dolls.

I wasn’t ready to explain the chilling truth.  We were being manipulated!

In the months that followed, I continued to be compelled by the perception that Frozen items were “scarce” despite their obvious ubiquity.  I purchased Frozen napkins, Frozen stickers, and the Frozen movie in many different formats.  Then finally, finally I bought the Elsa doll herself when she suddenly was made available (and in great abundance) everywhere.

Still not convinced that there could ever be enough Elsa to go around, I secured a deluxe Elsa Halloween costume for my daughter in August, by hiring a friend to make one.

Now of course it is clear that my worry was unfounded.  The girl who was once so “hard to get” is available at all times and for all people.  We have all the Elsa we could possibly want.  So why do we resent her?  Why don’t we want our girls to want to be Elsa?

The anti-Elsa movement is probably inspired by contempt for the Disney franchise itself, contempt which is understandable.  As described above, the Disney corporation is more adept at creating demand for its product than meeting that demand.  Plus, thanks to its so-called “FAST PLAY” DVDs, countless years of the average parent’s life have been sucked away in the vain attempt to get to the feature presentation without watching 30 minutes of previews.

No, I don’t love Disney.  But I do appreciate Elsa.  Of the available cartoon role models, she is a pretty awesome one.  She is cold and misunderstood, yes.  And she almost kills her sister and everybody when she loses her temper etc.  But unlike the other princesses, Elsa is independent, loving, and willing to change.  And, as has been harped upon repeatedly, Elsa is not focused on finding her Prince.

I think there is a little more to the Elsa hate though.  This comes from reluctance in adults to see our kids wanting to be like everyone else.  We want them to be exceptional students, exceptional athletes, and “exceptional,” period.  We want them to be the kid who came up with the creative costume that made all the adults say, “Wow! How original!”

I support the impulse to be unique.  But when kids want to fit in by being “Elsa” who is the closest a cartoon can get to being a modern, liberated woman (with frozen powers!).  I like that too.

It kind of gives me chills.

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