Retipuj, Sneerglaw (and Other Backwards Things)

Being from Jupiter was never easy on my social life. It’s kind of like how people grow up speaking a different language, then try to learn English. No matter how fluent they become, native-born Americans can always detect the accent. No matter how much I studied and tried to behave like the other humans my age, people just always seemed to sense that I was…different. As though everything I do has an accent.

Over time, after many peer rejections, I stopped trying so hard. I just gave into my weirdness and decided to like what I like and love myself, quirks and all. I spent much of my time absorbed in books, often re-reading my favorites. I watched movies and inserted the quotes into normal conversations whenever I could. I checked out music albums from the local library and built up an eclectic repertoire ranging from silly folk songs to classic rock. I amused myself with silly pastimes, like reading signs backwards.

“Look! Walgreens spelled backwards is sneerglaw!” I would say, cracking up laughing.

“God, you are so weird,” my siblings would tell me, rolling their eyes. I just shrugged and hunted for more signs to read backwards, which for me, came just as naturally as reading them forward. Tixe! TramK! Rouqil! Atoyot! It was my own private language; words that no one else could understand, which held magical meanings for me. It could be terribly lonely, though, to understand things on a level that wasn’t common to those around me. But that’s life when you’re from Jupiter.

Backwards words

Once in a great while, I would find someone else who kind of got it. At least, to some extent. Like Sabrina in middle school, who understood the deep pleasure of living through good books. And Jason, who acted normal in real life, but in private, sang along with me to every single Madonna song in existence, including the B-sides, in harmony. Then Chris Y., who always won when our history class played Jeopardy, and who just quietly seemed to “get it,” whenever we talked about any serious subject in depth. Maybe they were from Jupiter, too. Who knows? 

Jupiter

Then in college, I met Valarie. It took maybe seconds for us to realize that we were kindred spirits from some far away world. We were so much alike, although she had the smooth resilience of obsidian, and I was basalt, riddled with small holes that let everything in. We both read obsessively. Sang along to music that our families had never even heard of. Spoke with the same bubbly energy (although my accent was decidedly more California valley girl). It never took long in any conversation for one of us to spit out a quote from a movie or TV show, and the other would spit out the next line without missing a beat. 

“Want to go shopping at Tegrat?” I would ask her. 

“Sure,” she would answer, as though this were a perfectly ordinary request. “Then afterward, we can go grab some lunch at Synned.”

The connection between us was so rare and powerful, that we were inseparable friends. That is, until we decided to work at the same Girl Scout camp one summer. Valarie told a lie to the director that ended up putting me in a very uncomfortable situation. I was hurt, very hurt by her betrayal, yet still, I forgave her.

But she couldn’t forgive herself.

After that summer, she disappeared from my life. Stopped taking my phone calls. Wouldn’t respond to my letters. I moved to a new town and attended a different college, and didn’t hear from Valarie again until 2008, when we both began to use Facebook.

“So what do you think about Harry Potter?” she asked me when we reconnected. And it was like the last decade had never happened, and we were great friends all over again. We obsessed over the Yrrah Rettop series, and argued over whether Stephen Fry or Jim Dale was the better narrator (Jim Dale, hands down, though Stephen Fry got much better by Year 5). We swapped recipes, debated politics, and spoke in the language of literature and movie quotes. 

A year later, she disappeared again, with no warning, and for no reason. At the time, it was sad, but not the end of the world, since I had two other very close friends who also “got it,” even though they weren’t quite as into my backwards-speaking tendencies. When I lost them, too, thanks in part to my own poor choices, I was devastated.


It took 7 years before at last, I connected with another kindred spirit. “Z,” the man I dated for awhile in 2017, was a kind of miracle for me. No, we didn’t speak in movie quotes, and I never did get around to confessing that I read everything backwards and forward, literally. But we clicked in so many ways, on a deep level, as well as shallow. The core of me had been thirsting for a kindred spirit like him, and I drank him in like retaw. 

Then he left. (And ah, here come the saert, right on cue). He left, and one year, three months, and almost three weeks later, my heart still aches, and I would do anything if he would just reappear, and be my good friend. But maybe he, too, detected my alien accent, and didn’t understand.

The human world is so easy with relationships. They preach of how people come and go, and how one must let go, move on, make new friends. But their language is as foreign to me as backwards-speak must be to them. Maybe they are all obsidian, like Valarie, able to let it all roll over their surface. While for me, it’s different. True connection with people, and the love I feel for them, gets deep inside my pores, and can’t be extracted or forgotten. 

Or maybe, like my odd way with words, other humans have it all backwards. For so many centuries, people lived clustered together in small, tight-knit communities. They stayed together despite their differences, because that was how humans survived and thrived. People didn’t come and go from your life until someone died. Good and bad, perfect and imperfect, they remained together, and strengthened connections. No one mysteriously disappeared from your life, unless they got dragged off by a bear. 

Maybe the modern concept of relationships coming and going like freeway traffic is the real alien here. A sort of human devolution. We were never meant to break connections the way we do.

I would love to have a chance to discuss this with the people who still live deep inside of me. With my former best friends. With Z. And with Valarie, wherever she may be now. I don’t know if they would agree with me, but I think they would really get it.

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Viva la Vida Virtual (aka: Be There)

Our Wi-Fi stopped working yesterday for like, five whole minutes. In our house, that constitutes an emergency. “Fix it, Mo-oooom!” groaned my kids, who are convinced that I can now fix anything computer and network-related. “I was in the middle of a video game/homework research/Skyping with friends!”

tech addict kidsI’m pretty sure my household isn’t the only one like this. It’s a fact of life; we now live in a society that is oversaturated with tech. Wearable tech, smartphone tech, computer tech — it’s everywhere. And thanks to the IoT (Internet of Things), all of our millions and billions of tech devices can even connect to the internet and communicate with each other.

Ten years ago, when the internet had made the leap from a cool new trend to an everybody-has-to-have-it necessity, we all marveled and said, “We are more connected than we ever have been before.” Which was true. Only now, we are more connected than ever to the 100th power.

Or are we?

looking at cell phone

What does it mean to be “connected?” Is it really about the invisible streams of data — the googols of imperceptible bits flowing through the air, linking one computer to the next? Is connection the ability to trade emoji smiles and offer virtual {{{hugs}}} when someone is struggling? Are we more connected because of the speed with which we can post a pretty photo or meaningful quote, then click like on that of another fellow human being? It is amazing, isn’t it? We are now so connected, that we can share every bit of our lives without ever being in the same room. We can be there without being there.

And we forget.

staring at computer screen

We become so absorbed in our virtual worlds, that we lose sight of what it means to live a full and rich life. We’ve created a new kind of normal, in which we stare at silent photos of nature scenes and drool over plates of well-presented exotic foods. We huddle in groups, hunched over our phones, each chuckling at some private joke which doesn’t exist beyond the screen. We forget how he throws back his head as he laughs, eyes catching the light. We stop noticing the light and airy way she walks, as though dancing on tiptoe. The tiny details of the real world are faded, like an Instagram photo with a vintage filter.

We forget what it means to be there.

There, in the moment. When the dark clouds peel away, revealing a fiery red sunset. And the air smells so damp and rich with fresh rain that you breathe it in. And not for a moment do you think, “I must take a photo of this gorgeous sunset to post on Facebook!” Because you are too busy being there. Tasting that spicy shrimp, drizzled with garlic butter. Holding her hand as you stroll through the city, paying attention to the lines and curves that form each building. Listening to your daughter as she tells a funny story about what happened at school that day. Leaning forward, drinking in the details about the people who surround you. The fragrant smell of soap, mingled with minty toothpaste. The scuffed shoes, worn hands.

real connection puzzle piecesThe good parts of life that stoke your senses and settle in your memories don’t translate well across a fiber optic underground cable. They don’t always appear on screen. Ten years from now, you won’t remember the goofy cat video your brother-in-law’s cousin shared on your Facebook wall. Your text conversations and virtual adventures will be forgotten as quickly as PDAs. The things that will matter then are all around you now — live, and in 3D. Imagine! You can travel to countless new locations anywhere in the world. You can get up close and have face-to-face conversations with real, live people. You can be there. You can connect with the world at real-time speed, with no lags. What’s more, you won’t even need Wi-Fi.

real people talking over coffee

Plugged in and Disconnected (aka: Connecting With Kids)

“I’m baking poppy seed muffins!” I call out from the kitchen. “Who wants to join me?”

Sometimes my youngest son or my daughter stops whatever they were doing to join in. Sometimes no one. Which is actually fine, because let’s face it, it is much easier to bake poppy seed muffins or cakes or cookies by myself than with one of my kids. But that’s not the point.

I flop into my favorite chair in the living room. “So, what are we watching for movie night?” I ask the kids. Because at least twice a month, we have a movie night. Sometimes we rent from Redbox or so what’s on Netflix or pay-per-view. Sometimes we watch a comedy, or something thrilling or adventurous. Very rarely do we watch one of my favorite types of movies, but I don’t mind.

That’s not the point.

It’s about connection. I love spending unplugged time with my kids. By unplugged, I mean that the portable devices are off, the computers are off, and the only video games allowed are the ones that we are playing together. If I didn’t make a conscious effort to spend moments like these with my three kids, then they would probably spend a great deal of time “plugged in and disconnected,” as I like to put it. But  I want to teach my kids that connecting with people — really connecting, is the thing that adds value to life.

Plugged in Kids

It’s not always an easy thing to connect with kids. Each one is so different, with different interests and ways of communicating. My 9-year-old, for example, is an extrovert. He really gets his energy from being with other people. So to connect with him, I have to really be “in the moment” with him, actively listening to his stories and giving feedback. My daughter, whose personality is most like mine, is happy to connect in a variety of ways, from going for bike rides to cooking meals to reading teen novels together and discussing our favorite parts. My teen is a little trickier, as he prefers to withdraw beneath his headphones in his world of music, video games,  and YouTube videos. But sometimes I flop down beside him and stare at the screen along with him while he explains what’s so cool about it. I’ve also found that my teen will open up and talk about his life while the two of us engage in a game of table tennis or Nerf Ball catch in the living room.

 

 

I don’t always make a big deal out of connection time. After all, human contact is supposed to happen naturally. But in this odd age of electronic entertainment, sometimes our kids need a little nudge to pull away from the virtual world and reconnect to people in the real world. As do I.

connecting with kids

GREAT WAYS TO CONNECT WITH KIDS

1. Read a book or series of books together as a family.

My kids and I have enjoyed the Harry Potter Books, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the Pendragon series, among others. Sometimes I let my kids suggest the book, and sometimes I do the research to find something that we can all enjoy. Stumped? Try Planet Esme — I’ve used her children’s book suggestions for years with great success. Older readers? Hard to go wrong with the American Library Association’s suggestions.

2. Have a regular Family Movie Night.

In our house, Movie Night happens on Friday Nights, often with popcorn, cocoa, or homemade pizza. It isn’t always easy to find a movie that will suit everyone, so occasionally someone will opt out of Movie Night, and that’s okay, too.

Connecting with kids in nature

3. Find a reason to head outdoors together.

Hiking, biking, kicking around the soccer ball, flying a kite, tossing a frisbee, playing tennis in the park — there are so many great things to do outdoors with kids. If your kids are the hard-to-motivate type, then make hiking fun by passing around binoculars, setting up a nature scavenger hunt, or trying out Geocaching (more on this to come in a future post).

4. Root for a Team Together

I am still trying to make this one work with my kids. It’s tricky, because I am the only real sports fan in the family. But maybe one day…

5. Travel Together

Part of the fun is in the planning. Weeks in advance, I get my kids involved in helping to decide where to stay, what to do, and what to eat during our trip. When camping, I let them help to pick the spot, plan the meals, etc. The more involved the kids are, the more the vacation becomes “our trip” and not just mine.

6. Try New Hobbies

This doesn’t always mean together. After all, my kids and I share pretty different interests for the most part. But if my son decides to get into advanced yo-yo tricks, then I am happy to connect with him by watching his tricks, suggesting sources for learning new things, shopping for yo-yos, and cheering him on as his skills improve.

7. Explore New Foods

My kids and I have gone through a variety of international cooking phases, from Thai to Indian to French cuisine. We enjoy exploring ethnic markets for interesting foods, picking out restaurants, and, of course, tasting. Some foods turn out to be total flops, but others become family favorites that we return to time after time.

8. Grow  a Garden

For us, gardening is a family affair. My kids and I have built a raised bed together, studied garden books, planted, and cared for our small vegetable garden for years. This year, we are planning to continue our tradition at a community garden. It is a great way to connect with each other and with nature while growing our own healthy foods.

9. Family Game Night

This can mean a rousing group game on the WiiU or a good old-fashioned game of Checkers, Connect Four, or Monopoly. My kids and I recently discovered The Game of Life Zapped Edition, which uses an Ipad to turn a great family classic into something extra-special.

10. Make Something Together

This can mean woodworking, model kits, Lego structures, baking a cake and decorating it creatively, making handicrafts, or whatever sounds fun. You don’t have to be talented or skilled. The public library is brimming with how-to books that kids and parents alike can benefit from.

Goodnight iPad

Other good resources for family fun together:

Spoonful

http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/842477/50-family-fun-night-ideas-for-families