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The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

“Miss Wende? Can I sing you a song?”

She is five. It’s right before Sunday School is to begin. Due to a flood on the east side of the building, our classroom is engulfed in mildew– I’m frantically moving us up two flights of stairs for the duration. Who knows when we’ll be back in our classroom? God does. And he’s not clued me in, so I’m bracing for the long haul. Pencils? Check. Markers? Check. Paper? Check!

So, I’m a little distracted when she asks, but I have enough clarity to say, “Yes. Just as soon as I get back. I need to run and tell someone something before class begins. But when I get back you can sing me your song.”

And when I get back, she does just that. Our temporary classroom is an old chapel, so she stands in front of the altar and belts out the first verse and chorus of “Let it Go.” Her soft blond hair is coiled into tiny little buns on either side of her head: looking every bit Elsa, singing her heart out. I can tell she’s been practicing. She knows all the words and she’s nailed that little pause before, “The cold never bothered me anyway.”

“Miss Wende? Can I sing that song in front of everyone?” I’m busy keeping 14 kids ages 5-17 focused, so I’m a little distracted. I’ve grown accustomed to the pandemonium. I thrive in it, like wild things thrive in bogs.

“What do you mean? In front of the adults downstairs?”  She vigorously nods her head. My brain quickly reviews the lyrics and then agrees, “Yes. I’ll get you a mic after church. You can sing during coffee time.”  And then we’re off and running. Today, we’re “blinging out” our temporary classroom. Home should feel like home, right?

I’m busy with the older kid table: because their posters need more supervision. The most inappropriate things the little kids tend to draw are superheroes. “No, no batman at church.” I’m certain the Dark Knight wouldn’t want to be hanging in a converted chapel now Sunday School classroom anyhow.

A tug on my sweater: “Miss Wende? My sister says me singing that song is embarrassing. Is it embarrassing?”

Siblings! Why, oh, why must they deflate each other? Most of my class is made up of siblings. And I watch it every week: one rises, soaring into the air like colorful balloons: aloft with some accomplishment. And then a sibling grabs a foot: the proverbial Jacob tugging at a heel. Back to the ground you must go.  Half of my sermons are on God’s love. The other half, a stealthy attempt to encourage the bonds between brothers and sisters: convinced if that’s the only mark I make, then I’ve lived into my call.

“Sweets, the real question is, are YOU embarrassed to sing that song?” Again with the vigorous shaking of the head. “Then, there’s your answer. Here’s the thing: when you’re a performer, or any kind of artist, there will be critics. There will be people who tell you that your art isn’t good enough or it’s embarrassing. That happens. But if making your art makes you happy, then don’t listen to those other voices. Just be yourself. OK?” She seems content with that.

“She’s singing that song in front of the whole church?” A voice from the older table –another of her siblings.

“Yes. And I expect all of you to sit in the pews and encourage her. Applaud her efforts when she’s done.”

“I thought we only applauded when the performance was a good one?” Says her older sister. Sigh. Clearly, I need to work on the message.

“It will be a good performance.”

And when church ends and the adults are milling with coffee I grab a mic: give it a quick test and hand it to this brave five year old for her moment in the sun.

And I beam through the whole thing, because she is soaring. She’s got a death grip on her mic, but she is fierce and brave and everything we want little girls her age to be. Her father sits in a pew with is cell phone poised to capture the moment. Her peers and siblings are also in the pews. Perhaps the message is getting through after all.

When she reaches the line, “I don’t care what they’re going to say” she shoots me a look and begins to smile. We share this secret: we can be artists and it doesn’t matter what the world thinks. The cold never bothered us anyway.

When she is finished, I retrieve her mic. She’s not sure what to do with it. And I give her the biggest hug. “You were awesome! Good job!” There is applause from the pews and from the adults with their coffee. They had grown quiet, to take in this little wonder with a microphone and a message.

A few minutes later, one last tug, “Miss Wende?” I bend down so that we’re eye to eye, “Did I really do a good job?”

“Yes, sweetheart. You were amazing.”

 

Why I’ll Be Watching the Sochi Olympics

My social media streams are lit up like fireworks. With protests and fury over the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia this year. Many of my friends are disturbed by the culling of stray dogs in the town of Sochi and rightly so. For months, Russia’s horrific stand against basic human rights for its LGBTQ people has played out in the news. And while I don’t think we’ll see much “action” during the games, I fear for what will happen after the world turns its attention away in a few weeks.

Then there are the deplorable conditions (both for those who live in Sochi and those who are visiting) of the games. Buildings unfinished. Plumbing, what plumbing? The “don’t drink the water” memos.  Sochi is a hot mess. And the games haven’t officially opened yet. Well, they have, but NBC doesn’t want you to know that until 7:30 tonight. But that’s a different post.

Yes, in its totality, the Sochi Winter Games are a debacle of historic proportions. My twitter feed is likening the games to Berlin and dropping the H word when talking about Putin. The pictures are demoralizing. And I get why many of my friends and social acquaintances are boycotting the games. Either from sheer disappointment or in political protest, it’s just not something they want to invest their time in. I can’t blame them, I really can’t. I get it.

Growing up,  I didn’t have a television. So, when the games would roll around I didn’t get to see much of them. Long before the internet made news instantaneous, I had to rely on my friends  to sum up the events of the previous night. Sometimes, we would be invited to come view the opening ceremony at a friend’s house. And the thing that always stood out to me was the interviews with the athletes. Even as a child, I could hear how excited they were to just BE there.  How important this experience was for them: representing their country, meeting new friends, experiencing different cultures, and knowing that the eyes of their country were upon them. These athletes would talk about what an honor it was to carry their country’s flag. Or their jitters before taking the ice. Or how charming the host city was and how honored they were to be a part of the games. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Their tears heartbreaking. Their smiles. . . electric.

In a world where  being notorious can make you a “Star” Olympic athletes are Super Novas in contrast.

The TV commentators would do back-ground pieces about the host city and give all of us folks back home a taste of this world that was, for at least two weeks, magic. And you couldn’t help but want to be part of the magic. To be an Olympian. And because you couldn’t be — you revelled in being part of the moment.   There are iconic Olympic moments we can all point to: moments that marked a sport in ways we can all identify with. Moments of courage. Moments of determination. Moments of utter defeat.

Moments that those athletes will hold in their hearts forever are also moments we, the audience, witnessed. We watched with baited breaths and cheered with abandon. We wiped tears from our eyes, and mouthed the words to our National Anthem as our athletes stood on podiums and our flags majestically rose. Proud to be American. Or Canadian. Or French. Or Russian.

We rooted for the underdogs. We cheered for the victorious. And we wept with those who came so close. All of them, elated to have just been a part of something special. All of us, privileged to bear witness to the remarkable: Super novas bursting across our television screens.

The Sochi games are plagued with problems. There is even a twitter account to collect all the horror in a humorous way. My heart breaks for the Olympians who have worked so hard to get to these games. I don’t think this is the Olympic Games they expected. So, it is tempting to throw in the towel (I mean, have you seen the freak show of an uniform the USA has to wear tonight? Memo to Ralph Lauren, NOBODY looks good in white pants) and boycott. To not watch. To make a political statement. To side with human rights and dignity.

And you are free to do so, whatever your reason. But I will be watching the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Because every one of these athletes deserves a magical moment. Their handwork deserves to be seen. Their determination deserves to be witnessed. I am so sorry if these games are not all they expected or deserved, but I don’t want to part of that failure. So, I will watch. I will cheer with the victorious. Weep with those who came so close. And I will bear witness to the magic they create: holding the other part of their memory. All of their determination, the sacrifices of their families, their sheer grit and determination to get there was worth it, because their moment was amazing — and I, watching from my living room back home, witnessed it all.

 

Big Dogs, Shopping Carts, and Octogenarians

Big Dogs, Shopping Carts, and Octogenarians

positivelife

All over social media today. Anyone know the original source? I’d love to credit the artist.

 

Tonight I found myself on a milk run. (Why are we always out of milk?) It was one of those “days” and I needed a bit of time with my thoughts, so I told the college student “No, you cannot come with me and study in the car.” That’s his new thing. But that’s a different post.

So, while I’m driving to the store, I pass this woman walking a St. Bernard near the park. Something in the park had the dog’s attention, because his person could barely contain him. His person was petite and she was giving it her best, trying very hard to keep her dog under control. But as I pulled out of sight, it’s anyone’s guess if she managed to keep him from breaking free and tracking down his prey in the park.

A quarter mile later, I witnessed another dog “walking” a person. This time, no potential vermin at play: just a very strong sense of will. Pulling his person forward and up one of the steepest inclines in town. His head down, her arm extended and threatening to detach.

“It must be the national walk your unruly dog day, ” I thought as I drove. But then I found myself in Safeway, with a wayward cart that would only turn left– and I knew, the Universe was trying to tell me something.

It’s funny, it would be easier to put the cart back and get one that will actually go where I need it to go. It’s as if I take this test of wills with an inanimate object personally. I will over-come. I will succeed in bending it to my plan. I WILL make it turn right even if I wrench a muscle or two to do it.

No, easy is never an option. Instead I fight the cart that only wants to turn left– completely through the store. Twice. Because I couldn’t find something and the store has a whole new layout. Let’s call that a work-out.

One of the upsides to attending a church where the majority of the congregants are well past 70 is that there is a lot of life experience in the room. It’s not to say young people don’t have wisdom to offer, but even if you’re young and wise — you still haven’t lived as long as they have. Not even at 40.  At the Bazaar on Saturday, a bundle of this experience (all 80 years of her) sat down at our table and began to talk. I’m not sure how we fell on the subject but at one point, she said to us, “My life is too short for negative thoughts. I don’t have time for them. In fact, if I don’t like a person, well, they just cease to exist for me. I don’t give them a second thought.”

She’s 80. She’s entitled. And while most of us mean that metaphorically, at 80 she’s not kidding around about the time.

We chatted some more, and as I started to tell her that life has been difficult for us lately,  she stopped me to say, “But you’re young. Of course things are difficult, these are growing pains. Everything will work out.”

You see, because she doesn’t make room for negative thoughts. And she has the life experience to back that up. I shut up and really listened.

Because she is right. Wayward dogs, unruly carts, and negative thoughts are a work-out. In the case of my obsessions, exhausting. Who has time for that? Who has time to obsess over the negative noise that surrounds you daily?

I’m not advocating ignoring the injustices of the world or living with a head buried in sand. I’m talking about actively ignoring the petty comments, the gossip, the nastiness of others when it’s directed at you. Participation is optional, remember that.  I’m talking about excising the toxic people in your life and not “giving them a second thought.” I’m talking about telling that voice in your head that says you’re not good enough or things are just going to get worse… telling it to SHUT. UP.

Life really is too short. Whether you’re 18 or 45 or 80. . . life is limited. At some point, choosing to disregard the noise for the beauty that remains is a choice worth making.

So next time, maybe put the wayward cart back and choose one that won’t yank your arm out of its socket.

Out of the Archives: Swimming

Swimming: December 2005

It makes me a little sad to watch you swim. Three short months ago you were floundering around in the pool: human in water, kindred spirit to fish out of water. Your long arms would reach out to form odd angles before falling as heavy thuds into the water. You would forget to breathe. It didn’t dawn on you to use your feet to stay afloat. Swimming was a strange series of stroke, sink, gasp, and stroke again. It was easy to pick you out in a crowded pool–you were the kid who looked like he was going to drown.

Amazingly, you have managed to put together all the steps of this complicated dance in water. Now, instead of skittering to the play area like a crane newly hatched, you stride confidently to the lap pool. You, in your blue swim cap that covers your beloved but chlorine damaged hair. You, with your 60’s inspired tie-dyed goggles strapped snuggly into place. You, in your faded swim trunks that bear the proof of your devotion to your new craft. You have adopted all these swimmerly ways. All those mannerisms of your kind. You adjust your cap and goggles between laps. You blow water from your nose and clear your ears by tilting you head. More steps in the now familiar dance, you seem to know just what to do, just how to enact these rituals of swimming.

In this crowded pool of children splashing and laughing–you alone are intent on swimming UPSTREAM in the lazy river. Perfecting your strokes. Challenging your legs to kick harder. Challenging yourself to be the swimmer you believe yourself to be. And because of this, I can always find you in the crowded pool. You are that solitary blue cap bobbing in and out of the water on a mission to swim against the current. You no longer stand out as a fish out of water but shine in your graceful way of belonging to this water. You are part of it, but distinct even in your belonging.

And me? You can find me where I’ve always been. Watching you learn to swim from behind the thick pane of glass of the viewing room. Smiling and waving when you happen to glance my way. Watching you grow up. Thankful that I can still see the you, you believe yourself to be.

Got Candy?

Got Candy?

halloween2008flowers

I’m dipping into the Archives to reprint this piece I wrote a few years back on  the art of handling Trick-or-Treaters. It’s my take on passing out the goods to all the ghouls and goblins. Enjoy!

Got Candy?

Some of you seem to suffer under the delusion that you have NO control when it comes to handing out candy. That the masses of small children and obvious adults with glandular problems pounding down your door are entitled to harass you. They are not, entitled. They may disagree, but don’t be cowed by tricksters in cheap costumes. “But, but, if I make them angry, they will egg me!” Then, don’t make them angry. Instead, take command of the situation.

I would love it if every child who came to my door was polite and civil. Truth is, only half of them fit that description. The other half are grabby and rude and ridiculously over-aged for the event. So, through the years I’ve honed the whole, “Oh, aren’t you cute!” routine that comes with handing out candy.

First. Never, never let them choose. It’s not their candy. They don’t get to say which one they get or how many. Seriously. These are not YOUR children you don’t have to be democratic in this moment. No, they are guests at your door begging for sugar. And they are darn lucky to get it. So, clutch the bowl against your chest with one hand and with the other hand out the sugar. Do not deviate, not even for cute little princesses in pink.

And here’s the thing with not letting them choose–in most cases, this relieves a great deal of anxiety. My kid has a hard time choosing. And being faced with three options but only being allowed to pick one puts him in a panic. When he was younger he would try to negotiate. Not just because he wanted more candy–because if he’d been offered a piece from just one kind he would have taken it and moved on–but because indecision coupled with greed is almost impossible for small children to navigate. At 10, he won’t negotiate for more, he knows better. But he can stand there, holding up the line while weighing his options. When you consider that half the kids coming to your door are in this indecisive group, you’re doing everybody a favor by taking away the choice and simply choosing for them.

Second. Reward good behavior and creativity. That kid who gets in character, gets more candy. The kid who clearly has a mastery of the word “please” also gets more candy. Why? Because you aren’t the only house on the block that must face these children, and the more reinforcement they get for being polite or using their imaginations the more likely they will continue to do so. But candy is not enough; make sure you reward them with words. Not only will you be reinforcing great behavior, you’ll be providing their parents with future object lesson fodder. Every time a stranger comments on my child’s good behavior, I’m quick make note of it. I tell him how cool it is that he’s using his manners and how proud of him I am. He beams! It means so much to him for people to notice he’s trying. Giving out candy is terrific, but your words will last so much longer.

I can hear the “yes, but” from here. What about the kids who aren’t polite. They’re the ones we have issues with in the first place. Again, handing out the candy and not letting them choose stifles most of the kid aggression. If I find myself surrounded by lots of grabby kids, I just hold the bowl of candy above my head and wait. It’s amazing how still kids will get when the object of their affection is within site, but just out of bounds. Mentally, I’m willing them to “sit!”

And as for those over-aged trick-or-treaters, I deal with it the same way every year. Small children get hand-outs. Older kids have to work for it: I call it, “Let’s sing for your candy.” It works like this.

Ding dong. (that’s my doorbell)

“Trick-or-Treat!” a bevy of obviously 15 year old girls chime.

“Happy Halloween! Wow… you all MUST be over 11!” I say with the sweetest smile. OR I ask, “You’re not 11, are you??”

At this point they know the gig is up and are on the spot. When they confess to their ages and get sheepish I say, “Well, see, here’s the deal. If you’re over the age of 11, you have to sing for your candy. However, if you do, I promise to reward you!” Your tone and presence here is everything. If you issue this as a demand and are creep about it, be prepared to be egged. But, if you can keep your tone light and funny and sorta apologetic, it’s surprising how willing most kids are to accept the premise.

“But, what should we sing??” At this point I will say, I’ve never had a group of kids NOT ask this question. But their tone is usually “oh, dear” not “OH BROTHER.” And watching them set to work figuring out what to sing is half the fun. One year, I got three boys doing The Backstreet Boys… another year a group of girls dressed as the Spice Girls didn’t skip a beat and belted out the first verse and chorus of “Wannabe”.

Once they decide on what to sing… and do, this is the important part: LOAD THEM UP WITH SUGAR. This little gambit will backfire if you don’t reward them. However, if you do, the glee is unmistakable. Not only have they just scored the motherload of sugar, they have had a good time doing it! Typically, I can hear them all the way down the street laughing and carrying on about how much fun that was. And usually, I have at least one group promise to come back the next year prepared to wow me!

As for the adults who are brazen enough to trick-or-treat: they get stickers.

Originally published November 2007

Melting Down

Melting Down

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Hi! My name is Wende and sometimes I melt down. Ok, scratch that. I melt down a lot. 

This week I had several melt downs. And it’s only Wednesday. I thought you might like to read a list of my melt downs. You’ll either commiserate, because you too are a melter-downer. OR. You can go around feeling superior because you never melt down. Either way, I get  bonus points for being helpful.

So, let’s review my melt downs. Shall we? Yes, yes we shall. You’re on my blog you do as I say:

  • Wende melted down in Safeway this week because of a pregnancy scare.

Ok, I’m going to let that sink in. And then I’m going to tell you that it wasn’t really a scare as much as a case of bad math. I get stressed out and I forget how to count the days in a week and kinda  add stuff. When I am stressed there are extra days in the week and that makes me LATE.  Really, really late.

  • Wende melted down this week because she was late and had to meet a new doctor.

I don’t know why I got all worked up about that. But I did. It turned out better than ok and now I feel a little foolish that I let it get to me. Not as foolish as I feel for not being able to count.  And I was so stressed out about meeting a new doctor  that I blew through a case of Diet Coke with Lime and convinced IZ that I could use another case. So we went to Safeway which led to my next melt down.

  • Wende melted down because she’s kinda over caffeinated. And then thought she was having heart issues until she remembered exactly how many Diet Cokes with Lime she’d had.

And then I felt foolish. Not as foolish as I felt for not being able to count or getting worked up about meeting a perfectly nice human being. But pretty darn foolish for googling “heart attack symptoms in women who might be pregnant.”

In my defense, I was late  but not nearly as late at my bad math suggested. And really, the late night runs for pizza and diet Coke should have been a tip off that all was normal.

But, you know and I know that cravings are a symptom of pregnancy and vasectomies do fail. Probably not 10 year old vasectomies, but I was delusional because I was late. So I bought Diet Coke with Lime. And I drank too much of it and forgot how to count and suggested too loudly in the dairy aisle of Safeway,

“You don’t think I could be pregnant do you? I mean, your little swimmers didn’t get ambitions and break free or anything?”

And that’s when IZ melted down. In Safeway. Buying me more Diet Coke with Lime. Because even he thought the late night pizza run was suspicious. I don’t even like Pizza.

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