Monthly Archives: June 2009

Woof, Woof!

Speaking of a language barrier:

Coming out of Safeway today, I pulled my cart up to the back of my van, and smiled politely at the nice young lady waving at me from the next car over. Blonde, twenty-something, sun-kissed pretty.

"Hello!" she called. 
"Hello," I said, trying to figure out if I knew this exceptionally friendly person. 
And then she started barking. 
Not friendly little happy barks, but all-out, ferocious barking frenzy. The entire time I unloaded my twelve gallons of milk, four quarts of yogurt, three bags of bananas, and two bags of cherries, she hung her head out the passenger side, paws scrabbling at the half-open window, barking.
Hello, I'm familiar with, but how do you respond to . . . barking? 

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WANTED: Translator

We speak a different language–my children and I. 

They are not dimwitted or diabolical; a language barrier is the only explanation. We grunt the same consonants and vowels, but the meaning I assign to the combination of sounds thereof clearly has an entirely different definition in the children's dialect. Words like clean, folded, sweep, shut, after, before, don't, and NO; phrases like just a minute, I don't know, we don't have any, and any reference to any specific time frame. 
It's like trying to define color to the blind.

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An Open Letter on Benedict Arnold and Love

“Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Presumably He meant that literally.

As in, love one another without any thought of reciprocation or recompense, as He loves us.

But what is the nature of that love, precisely? We make much of the unconditional reach of His love, but certainly it was not without form.

He could forgive thieves and adulterers, but He could also clear out a crowd in a hurry when the temple needed cleansing. There are limits to even the patience of God, else there had been no need for an ark in the days of Noah.

I have been asking this question for some time now. Years. Dissatisfied with the answers I see all around me.

I know; I know that it’s an individual matter we each must decide: who to marry, what storms to weather and for how long, which familial relationships must be nurtured and borne with against all odds and which ones need an immediate cleansing. We cannot judge another’s choosing—whether they have a history of overturning tables, or of meek—or majestic—silence in the face of abuse.

But still, I find myself asking. And occasionally finding answers in unexpected places.

There is a monument on the battlefield at Saratoga that reads, “In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army, who was desperately wounded on this spot, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution.”

The inscription does not name the man.

There is another monument, also nameless, at the West Point US military academy.

Why the anonymity for this brilliant Major General?

His name was Benedict Arnold.

The man was so heroic that even after becoming one of the most notorious traitors in American History, his brilliance merits a monument.

Benedict Arnold and his contemporary, George Washington, both wanted victory for the Continental army—wanted it enough to stare down the enemy and bleed and suffer every kind of privation for it.

They both witnessed the same vicious political infighting and corruption of the newly formed Congress. They suffered physical and financial privations, were insulted and mocked and treated with indifference, ingratitude and slander. They fought and bled and struggled—ostensibly for the same cause.

The things Benedict Arnold wanted were not contemptible—peace for his country and an unsullied reputation for himself—but nor were they possible; not in the way he imagined, and not on Major General Benedict Arnold’s personal schedule. Unfortunately for Arnold, defecting to the British made those things he wanted even more elusive. He knew what he had become, and so did they. His welcome was cold and the course of the war largely unchanged.

Washington remained loyal even when he saw that the men entrusted with leading his country into a new era of freedom were possibly more corrupt than the Monarchy they claimed to revolt against, when his own honor and name were sullied and no amount of gratitude for his sacrifice was forthcoming and the war had no end in sight.

Why the split?

As near as I can tell, Washington and Arnold fought for the same thing—victory—but they wanted it for different reasons. Washington fought for an ideal; Arnold wanted results. Now.

We name bridges, states and monuments for Washington; we can’t even bring ourselves to attach Arnold’s name to his indisputable legacy in the battles of Saratoga, Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain, Ridgefield, and all the hard-won ground between.

What is it that you want?

And what happens when you realize that the ones to whom you look for those things you want are incapable of providing them?

Maybe your mother or your daughter or your best friend or your spouse will never love you the way you think they should. Maybe when you walk into the room you are met with complaints or accusations or agonizing indifference, and maybe you think your only option is to turn away from the relationship completely.

And maybe it is. But be careful of where you turn for those things you have deemed so fundamental to your happiness and consider who it is you will become in the process.

In the early days of the war, Benedict Arnold received a letter from a high-ranking enemy officer, praising him for his skill and valor and inviting him over to the British side.  Benedict was initially offended, but he kept the letter.

And year after thankless, grueling year, Benedict Arnold unfolded the letter and read and reread it; at some point he made a decision.

So go ahead—do some deep thinking; figure out what it is that you really want for yourself and the course of your life. You may very well discover there are changes you need to make to get to where you want to be, but consider the possibility that there exist ideals of marriage and family and loyalty that are larger than your immediate needs for recognition or affection or apology.  Look under those things you think are missing and have the courage to identify the ideal that brought you to the relationship in the first place.

There may indeed be a cleansing in order, tables that need overturning; there might also be secret letters that need burning.

Do not shape the confines of your loyalty and your patience so small that at the end of your life you find yourself in as narrow a strait as the once-heroic Arnold. The one thing I have learned in my thirty some odd years is how large the mold must be if we do not desire to occupy its confines alone.

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Beast of Burden

I have figured it out.

The biggest breakthrough of all time.
Have you ever seen a teenager with, say, a cellphone? They open it. Shut it. Check the ring tone. Send a text. 
Not because they need to do any of those things, but because they can. This is a cell phone. It opens and shuts and sends messages. I will make the phone do the thing it was born to do. Yeah, me!

Doors, buttons, you name it, kids will make them function. Over and over and over. 
When they sit there during the movie opening and shutting the DVD case one million times with an irritating little snap-snap-snap-snap-snap-snap-snap, they are not trying to annoy you to death. They are setting the Universe to rights. A DVD case opens and shuts; they are simply helping it to do that thing it was born to do.
I realized that they look at me the same way. Hey look. There's that big lady that can pour milk and open cracker boxes. Hey, you, fetch me a drink. No. Not in that cup. I want the pink one. Well, clean it then. Now dry it; I don't want water drips in my milk. I want a cracker. I want peanut butter on it. Wait a minute. You can't just walk away like that. Get me a napkin.

Not because they want any of these things–I kid you not, 99.9999% of drinks I pour and snacks I serve are never consumed–but because they are helping me get back on track; to do that thing I was created to do. They feel like they are doing me a favor.
I have one little girl who will get up to the table, rest her arms in front of her, fingertips touching, elbows out, and very graciously inform me, "I'll have a cracker with cheese and a drink of juice."
"We don't have any juice; snack today will be pretzels and grapes; you just threw your breakfast in the garbage and went outside. Snack isn't for another hour. Maybe two."
"Oh. Well, I guess I'll have some grapes."
She feels very magnanimous about this. Directing me, lest I should forget I'm the beast of burden in the true order of things. 
There are some curious kinks in the train of thought, however. . . like why some children take everything and force it to serve one purpose. The child who makes everything into a gun. Blocks, trucks, forks, and if you take those away, he turns to his cheese and his shoes. Clearly cheese was never born to be a weapon, but in his mind all things should have been.
Or the ones who fixate on certain functions and not others. Turning pages, but not paying attention to anything in the book. Slamming a door over and over and over. Flushing the toilet repeatedly, but never actually depositing anything into it. (Do they even face in the toilet's general direction when they unburden their bladders? Is it possible?) 
The key is to get them to recognize different functions than the one they are currently obsessing over, right? Maybe that's how we define maturity, I don't know. I'll definitely be cautious about adjusting their perception of my function–clearly they believe M is genetically related to a trampoline; the moment he comes in the room he is besieged by the mob and they take him down and pummel him mercilessly. 

Worth a more thorough thinking through. But right now, judging by the indignation abounding all around, I am clearly in dereliction of duty. Hee-Haw.

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Buddy Bear, The Sequel

Have been dreading, all weekend, the notebook. The Buddy Bear notebook I'm supposed to write in. The one that comes home with the small stuffed bear when my kindergarten son wins the privilege of taking the plush mascot home for the day. 

He had BB for the entire weekend–and there is an unspoken rule that if you have BB for the weekend, well. You'd better have something interesting to report. 
This morning I (grudgingly) took the notebook out and discovered that I needn't have worried; daughter #1 had taken the initiative and written the Lybbert entry for me:
"Today BB came home with W.  Taking no heed for the future, BB fearlessly leaped upon his gallant white steed and W jumped on his lion. As they took off through the mists of Babylon W pulled a hologram map from his awesome red Converse high-tops and suggested a hunting trip. BB stroked his polyester chin in thought. He gazed at the sky and tested the wind with his limp paw. With Yoda-like wisdom he replied, "Hunting, we will."

Our courageous adventurer argued with the stubbornness only napless kindergartnes have. But because of BB's species, bear hunting was not an option.  Unfortunately W insisted. BB leaped from his mount, flying through the purplish sunset, landing on W. "Work that way, it does not!" he growled. Tattling to mom was imminent so he slowly backed off the small blond boy, grunting, "For monarchs, or home we will go!"  

"Butterflies!" W shrieked, "That's stupid!" He stamped his foot, tears beginning to appear. 

This display did nothing to soften BB's steel heart. "Naughty you are. Bed you will go."  

W's feline mount roared baring his teeth at BB. Both circled, hair raised. For BB did not know the severity of the word bed to the lion. He had some incidents with the thing as a cub and the smell never quite came out of the sheets. 

The noble animal growled as if to say, "Leave him alone!" and backed away.  

BB and W both began to cry. Truly it was a fortuitous time for siesta. Taking his map out ounce again, W led the way through the mystical lands back home."

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In honor of all those who have asked (and I thank you for your concern; it's good to be missed) today we have a choose-your-own-adventure post. Do you remember those books? Reading them with twenty bookmarks and going back, trying make sure you explored every alternate ending?
We'll try to keep things simpler than that. 
Why Kimber hasn't posted for more than two weeks:
  1. Her computer was seized by the FBI after her children inadvertently Googled a random combination of chemicals, electronic components and political ideologies deemed suspicious by the US Patriot Act of 2001. 
  2. After four years of living with just a sub floor, she finally got to order carpet–which entailed a lot of furniture moving, dejunking and reorganization of the entire house. She  spent every other spare moment not blogging but trying desperately just to find everyday objects. 
  3. Her teenagers are building their own computers and spend every after-school minute on her computer researching RAM and ROM and heat sink fans and drivers. And the latest Coldplay album . . .
  4. The "newborns" in her care morphed–overnight–into little people–individual personalities no longer content with full bellies and clean nappies to just watch the world go by and chew on their toes. Now they want Eensie Weensie  Spider, Round and Round the Garden and the like. And so instead of cleaning up as messes and meals happen during the day, all household chores remain to be done after the infants go home. Not that if the computer were on after hours she would get to use it.
  5. The two-year-old population learned to talk–as a group. Something verbose  in the air. Now they never stop. And not only do they want to know everything, they want her to know everything, too. Who did what, when they did it, why, what happened next, what might happen and all the colors of the rainbow and frequency of their bodily functions, wants, needs, desires and dreams.
  6. She caught the swine flu.
  7. She didn't catch the swine flu because she spends her entire day, sunup to sundown, disinfecting things that snotty noses and fingers have touched/sneezed/drooled on/or licked. 
  8. Two weeks ago her husband purchased a bag of fortune cookies and after one hilarious round with made-up fortunes composed specifically for each preschooler who had no way of knowing what the printed fortune actually said, she realized they should have told the children that the papers said things like "One-seven-three-twelve"; or something so equally boring that they would throw the fortune away like the core of an apple, and would never, ever ask again for their little stash of papers to be read aloud. Every day. Twenty times a day.
  9. During nap time, when she used to blog, she is instead preparing her first novel for publication. 
  10. She was just having one of those weeks, that somehow stretched into two, precipitated by certain segments of a 28 day cycle, comments and/or actions by certain genetically related individuals who were maybe having one of those weeks of their own variety, and various alignments or misalignments of the stars.
  11. She has been reading a (very long) thought-provoking book about Benedict Arnold and the Revolutionary War.
  12. All or some of the above. Choose your own adventure.

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