Archive for May, 2010

What are the magic beans you need in order to grow your ideal life?

I am finding that rather than driving my own life, it seems like I have more recently been a passenger along for the ride.  Yesterday my husband was ruminating on the recent past and marveling that the school year will be over in less than 3 weeks.  “Where did this year go?”, he asked.  I keep talking about things I would like to do, places I would like to go, things I would like to see, but what have I actually done to make those things happen?  Where does all the time go?  What beans should I be planting?

I have no clue about the answers to those questions.  I mean, I’m sure I have some sort of vague, generalized idea, but I haven’t really sat down and thought about it for quite some time.  Ironically, we are encouraging our oldest child to do exactly that.  He has a trip he would like to take, but at the place he is in life right now, taking this trip is going to be sort of a rite of passage.  He is just starting to figure out what beans he is going to need to make his trip happen, and seeing him realize the obstacles he must overcome in order to get what he wants is making me take a closer look at my own obstacles.  I very much want him to be able to take his trip, but at the same time, I know that, in order for him to be able to grow as a result of this experience, I cannot help him.  I can encourage and support his decisions, but I cannot make them for him and I cannot facilitate his preparation or travel.  This is one of those things he is just going to have to do by himself and figure out how to make it work.

I also have a trip I want to take, but in order to make it work, I am going to have to do some fancy footwork.  I would be gone from my family for longer than I ever have.  I would be with a group of other people, and because of that, I will not be fully in control of my expenses, which is worrisome in this economy.  I have to find the money for the trip.  I have to arrange for time off from work.  I have to make sure that I have enough vacation hours stockpiled so that my family will not suffer a loss of income because of the trip.  And despite all of the obstacles I have named here (and others I have not mentioned), I feel a calling to make this trip.  Don’t get me wrong.  It may sound selfish to want to go off for a week without anyone else, but I guarantee this trip would be anything but a vacation.  The purpose of the trip is to assist in housing construction for Hurricane Katrina victims in southern Louisiana.  Nothing like working in the sun, doing construction, for free, for a week, to put a damper on the concept of “Holiday”.

But that is just a drop in the bucket.  When I was in my 20’s, I had all kinds of grand dreams about the kind of life I was going to live and how that was going to happen.  Of course, I did not grow up to be stunningly beautiful, married to an independently wealthy man who dabbles in investment banking, not because he has to, but because he just wants to have something to do when we are not traveling.  I don’t have the excessive house on the estate.  I don’t get a new car every year because last year’s color is “out”.  My children are not extremely polite all the time, and they most certainly have never shown up for dinner wearing a suit just because they thought it would be appropriate.  OK, so I am not living the dream.  I don’t even know that dream anymore.  Nowadays, I dream of having a day without, “Mommy, come in here, I need to poop!”  But I still believe it is not too late.

I might not be able to have the estate, but by taking baby steps, I know that I can make changes to my home to improve it.  I also might not have the car, but by being prudent and patient, I know that I can be in a “new-to-me” vehicle before Christmas.  And I know that I will never be married to anyone other than my husband (and he will never be an investment banker or independently wealthy), but that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out a way to travel.  Maybe not a huge vacation every year, but a little jaunt here and there, and then maybe bigger trips every few years.  And, after all, he does have a steady income, which is more than a lot of others can say right now.

So, the bottom line is this: I need to go seed shopping.  I will be spending some time looking at all the seed catalogs, browsing the farm supply stores, and checking out the farmer’s markets, but I am going to plant some beans!

I was recently going through “memorabilia” I had set aside to scrapbook, and found several newspapers my husband brought home from a business trip to Ottawa, Canada.  Looking at it, I was struck by the differences between American media and Canadian media.  Now, assuming it was not just a slow news day, the cover stories on the paper I picked up included coverage of a memorial for the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Air-India flight 182, a gathering of dragon boat crews in Vancouver (all of whom were breast cancer survivors), and a controversial museum display to be exhibited in Toronto.  No murders.  No robberies.  No “bad” news.  The closest they got to bad news was coverage of a US Supreme Court decision that ruled against the “little guy” in favor of the government and that the Canadian government had issued a travel visa to relatives of a hard-line Syrian general so that the general’s grandchildren could be born in Canada, and thus being able to claim joint citizenship.  Amazing.

I thought maybe it was a fluke.  A slow news day.  So I looked at the other papers my husband had brought home.  A new artistic director for the National Ballet of Canada.  Breast cancer survivors fighting for a new drug.  The Conservative party in the government fighting a bill in Parliament.  A former immigration minister accused of “misdeeds” by handing out travel visas to friends and relatives of staff members.  This was, by Canadian standards, shocking.  But, by far, the most intriguing story – on the front page, no less – “Don’t ostracize convicted killer, criminologist warns”:

Convicted killer [name excluded] risks falling into the wrong hands at the “margins” of society unless Canadians help her rebuild her life when she leaves prison, says a group helping ease her re-entry to society.  Attempts to ostracize [her] when she completes her jail sentence in less than 12 days could backfire.  “Someone who’s banished is more vulnerable to all sorts of influences and all sorts of people.  She is not sheltered from that.  She would be at risk.”  It is not in the public’s interest to marginalize [her] no matter how distasteful people find her, or how much revulsion they feel about her crimes.

The article did not mention anything about the crimes for which the woman was imprisoned, so I had to look her up.  That, in and of itself, I found to be interesting.  Read any story in your local paper about a trial or sentencing of a criminal, and the story will include a “recap” of the crimes in question.  It turns out that this woman had served 12 years for manslaughter for her part in the most heinous sex-crimes murders, with multiple victims, in recent Canadian history.  But no mention of the crimes in the article at all.  Nothing to remind the public who this person was.  I could only assume that the public needed no reminder.  And yet, here were professional criminologists, on the front page of the Canadian national newspaper, urging their fellow citizens to accept that she had served her time and was rehabilitated.

Based upon what I read out on the internet, the woman is very lucky she is a Canadian.  The crimes she was accused of were so vicious that any prosecutor here in the “States” would have sought the death penalty, and there would have been no problem with securing that sentence.  But what amazed me the most about the story was that, even though this horrendous monster was about to be released, the professionals involved with the case were not warning the public, but chastising them.  Several communities had already voiced their displeasure at the prospect of this woman relocating to their vicinity, and a home that had been under construction for her by her parents had been burned to the ground before the building was complete.

It made me think of the vast differences between our society and that of our neighbors to the north.  Statistically speaking, they have about 100 times the number of guns per capita than the US, and yet gun crimes are almost non-existent.  The vast majority of the population lives in very close proximity to each other within 200 miles of the US-Canadian border, but still familiarity does not seem to breed contempt as it does here.  Everyone is just so nice.  No greater example could be made than the display of Canadian hospitality and warmth during this year’s Olympic Games in Vancouver.  Maybe courtesy and gentility are not dead, just a little further north.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on being the “Melting Pot” of the world.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  I wonder, did the “wretched refuse” of Canada end up here?  Maybe that is why the only headlines we see in our American papers are sensational ones.  Corruption!  Murder!  Bombings!  Conspiracy!  Scandal!  Have all the good folks left?  Are the only ones still here the “homeless, tempest-tossed”?  The optimist in me says, “NO!  WE ARE STILL HERE!”

I have to believe it is true.

I bought a new CD recently of music of India.  As a rule, I am always open to new music, but generally I will not seek out anything beyond my realm of experience without some sort of push.  I happened to hear part of the CD one day when I was out and about, and liked what I heard enough to go ahead and buy it when I found it.  I have been listening to it in the car, and the more I listen, the more I realize I really like this CD.  Don’t worry, I am going to stop here on the gushing about the CD.  This is not a commercial and I am not endorsing that you need to go buy a copy for yourself.  Just wanted to give you the context.

The first track on the CD is a song about the strength of women and how, historically, women of the eastern countries have been repressed and oppressed:

Behind every great man, there is a great woman
But as Jasmine never blossoms in the shade,
So woman’s potential can be left to wither away,
Unfulfilled, when standing in the shadow of man
Still, women of the east have stood strong
and fought hard throughout time.
The determined intelligent strength of a woman,
emanating from the inside out.

This got me thinking about how I have downplayed my own potential in the past, and how my choices have affected my life.  Sort of the “Knowing what I know now, if I had it to do all over again, what would I do differently” dilemma.  I think everyone has, at one time or another, asked this question of themselves.  It is very easy to ask the question.  It is far more difficult to answer it honestly, no holds barred.  That requires that we take a long, hard look at ourselves and the mistakes we have made in the past.  Were the lessons that we learned from those mistakes valuable enough to justify the pain we caused ourselves?  Were they valuable enough to justify the pain we caused others?  Could we have learned those lessons in any other way?  One that would have been less excruciating?  And if we did, would the lessons have meant as much to us?  Would they have made as much of an impression?

I know that, if it weren’t for the experience I had during my first marriage, I probably would not be married to the man I am married to now.  The “bad” experiences we each had in our first marriages prepared us and taught us what we should look for in a potential mate.  It also taught us what to avoid.  I think I am ultimately happier now, even when “bad” things happen at home, because of the difficulties I had in my first marriage.  Would I have preferred to be able to learn those lessons without the “benefit” of my first marriage?  Of course I would have.  Would the lesson have meant as much to me?  Probably not.

On the flip side of all of this, I am watching my older children, on the threshold of adulthood, preparing themselves to make some of the same mistakes I made when I was about their age.  On the one hand, I can see the mistakes looming ahead of them, and I know the potential horror awaiting if the wrong choice is made, and I want to spare them any pain I possibly can.  I want to tell them they are about to make terrible mistakes, and I want them to actually listen to what I have to say about it and hear the dangers ahead.  On the other hand, I know that the chances of them listening are slim and none, and Slim has moved to Marrakesh.  I know that, without falling down, they will never learn how to get back up on their own, and I know that without severe pain, they will never be able to truly appreciate the great joys that life can offer them.  So, I am going to do the only thing the situation will allow me to do.  I am going to talk to them until I am blue in the face.  Even when they are frustrated and disgusted and tired of listening, I am going to keep talking.  I am going to tell them all the mistakes I made and the consequences of those choices.  I am going to pray that even a small fraction of what I say will actually sink in and have some effect.  I am going to buy stock in tissues and wait for the day they come home, awakened, disillusioned, and defeated, and I am going to tell them that “This, too, shall pass.”  And knowing all this, I just wish, in a very selfish way, that I didn’t love them as much as I do, because seeing their hearts breaking will kill mine, and no matter how much they hurt, I will hurt 1,000% more, because I knew it was coming.  And, until then, I am going to pray with every ounce of my being that, this time, I will be wrong.

Every afternoon, there is a moment when I have to broach the subject of “nap” with the 3-year-old.  The target time is 2:00, but sometimes it can be as late as 3:00 before he finally goes in to lay down.  This afternoon was typical – The Negotiations started around 1:40 and concluded at 2:30 when we finally went in to prep for nap.  Included in the daily Negotiations is the toddler’s choice of “nap buddy”.  This has evolved from a time when he was ill and the only way to console him and get him to rest was to have someone cuddle with him.  Now, in order to take a nap, he must have someone to snuggle with.  Sometimes it is Mommy and sometimes it is Daddy.  Today, Daddy had already gone in to lay down.  He contracted the mother of all head colds and has been feeling terrible for two days.  The toddler was finishing up his lunch, and chose that time to make his opening move in The Negotiations.

Toddler: Are we going to take our nap?
Mommy: I don’t know about “we.”  You are going to take your nap.
Toddler: Are you going to come in and lay down with me?
(Mommy is distracted and doesn’t answer within the first four seconds.)
Toddler: I’ll take that as a “Yes”.

When a somewhat common phrase in adult communications issues forth from you child’s mouth, it causes you to stop and reflect on what you say during the course of the day and how much of it your child is really absorbing.  Needless to say, that process is terrifying.  You think of all the things that roll oh, so easily, off of your own tongue, and discover that, the same verbiage expressed by your offspring would be entirely mortifying.  You vow, then and there, that you will police yourself much better in the future.  You will be the parent that other parents aspire to be.  You will be the best role model you child could ever have.

I was in the middle of this reverie when my child tried to hop down off his chair after finishing his lunch.  In doing so, he caught his foot, and ended up falling.  It wasn’t a big fall, and he wasn’t hurt.  It was, however, enough for him to turn his head, glare at the chair and say, “dammit!”

Still going to try and police myself?  I’ll take that as a “Yes.”