I Feel the Earth Move (aka: California Earthquakes)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love living in the state of California. There is so much to love about my state – from the breathtaking scenery to the world-class cities, our Hollywood legacy, Disneyland, amazing wines, and even our quirky politics (How many other states can claim that they’ve had both a U.S. president and the Terminator as governor at some point?). Now I know, there are some people out there who are perfectly happy living in cornfields in the middle of nowhere, who think of California and shudder. “But California is so expensive and snooty! And think of the earthquakes!” And okay, yes, you have to pretty much be rich to move here. But I swear that we Californians are not snooty! (Okay fine, maybe the SoCal people are on the pretentious side). But to avoid California for the earthquakes? Come on, where’s your sense of adventure?

“I lived through the Great Loma Prieta Quake of 1989.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I lived through Loma Prieta and the Northridge Quake!”

We Californians wear our earthquakes like scout badges. We love to swap stories about where we were and what we did during each quake. And of course, there are extra points if you managed to ride it out with the same level of cool indifference as the characters in the movie L.A. Story. “Oh please, that quake was barely a 5.0 on the Richter Scale. I slept right through it!”

I have lived through around a half dozen noticeable earthquakes in my life. Most of them were the usual small tremors that strike the Bay Area from time to time, like thunderstorms. Such small quakes did nothing more than cause the walls to shudder and the chandelier to swing back and forth for a few minutes. Big whoop. But then came the Great Loma Prieta Quake. Now that was memorable. Every Northern Californian you meet will have some great story to tell about what they were doing the day of that big earthquake. Epicenter of 1989 Loma Prieta Quake

Let’s see…it was late in the afternoon, and I was in my high school theater, rehearsing for an upcoming musical. Suddenly, the stage floor began to shift, and the lights above our heads quivered dangerously. “Everyone out of the theater! Now!” came our director’s voice. He didn’t have to tell us twice. Everyone in the cast raced outside.

“Wow, it’s like surfing!” someone said. Sure enough, our paved high school corridors were rolling like ocean waves. Forget all that earthquake safety training. We did not drop to the ground and cover our heads. We held out our arms for balance and rode the waves, cheering with enthusiasm. Earthquakes were so awesome! It was almost disappointing when the tremors subsided.  Earthquake Safety Rulesimage

My friends and I headed home on the public bus, chattering with excitement about what had just happened, and singing at the top of our lungs:

I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down…

I arrived home, still smiling, and ready to watch the next game in the World Series. At the time, I was a huge Oakland A’s fan, and I was hoping to see them crush the San Francisco Giants and win the series. However, when I turned on the television, there was no baseball game. It seemed that, while my friends and I were busy surfing and singing, the rest of the Bay Area had erupted into chaos. Candlestick Park had been evacuated. Buildings had crumbled. A section of the Bay Bridge had snapped. And the worst part: a mile-long section of the Cypress Freeway had collapsed, trapping hundreds of drivers in the rubble. Collapse of Cypress/Nimitz Freeway

Just like that, the Big Quake stopped being awesome. There’s nothing fun about seeing people get injured or killed. This was far worse than some quivering walls or swinging light fixtures. It was like Mother Nature had attacked our home with a natural bomb. Luckily for our family, my father, by some miracle, had decided to commute home by way of the Golden Gate Bridge that evening, or he, too, may have gotten caught in
the rubble of the Cypress Freeway. But many other people were not so lucky.

Okay, maybe I am not helping to paint a positive image of California here. Oh boy – killer earthquakes and broken freeways! Okay yes, sometimes…but hey, we still have Disneyland. And great beaches, and redwood trees – mustn’t forget those. And amazing wines – although the Napa Valley, where those wines are produced, was just hit pretty hard by a 6.0 earthquake two days ago. Where was I when that big quake hit? Oh, well, I slept right through it. Extra points for me.

The Unwritten Rules (aka: Young-at-Heart)

image Do you know what I really felt like doing today? Skipping. I mean, there I was, walking downtown in my cute, professional-looking dress, when I was suddenly overwhelmed with an urge to skip to the train station. Why? Oh, I don’t know — because the sun was shining, and the sky was so blue, and because I am still young and coordinated enough to skip instead of walk.But I did not skip. I took a deep breath, then continued to walk at a dull, steady pace, like the rest of the grownups. Because skipping is one of those things that just isn’t done.

As far as I know, there is no grand master list of written rules for things which one mustn’t do after the age of 21. But nevertheless, the rules exist. It is not proper to show up at a friend’s house uninvited. It is not appropriate to grow vegetables and flowers in place of a square, green lawn in many suburbs. It is not okay to go about speaking in a fake British accent (and definitely not in PigLatin). It is okay to feel young-at-heart, as long one does not wear a bikini over the age of 35, or blow bubble-gum bubbles, or eat Lucky Charms cereal, or watch cartoons.

20140711-213602-77762423.jpg

Adults playing

But why do we have so many rules? Why, in order to be accepted in society, must we dress and speak and move a certain way? Now, I agree that some rules are necessary. Rules that keep people safe, for example, or rules created for ethical reasons, or to keep order in society. Clearly those are useful and necessary. But what about the unspoken rules — the ones which tell us what is and is not socially acceptable? I mean, yes, we should all look down on people who wear socks with flip-flop sandals, because ew. So déclassé. But if, while standing in line at the supermarket, I were to break out singing Seasons of Love (and secretly hoping that everyone else would join in, like in Improv Everywhere), then I’m pretty sure I’d get a lot of oddball looks, and maybe even kicked out.

So, I do not break out singing in the supermarket. Or wear flip-flop sandals without socks. But you know what? Tomorrow morning, I may just kick back with a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal while I watch an episode or two of Adventure Time. Because life is short. And some rules are just stupid. And maybe it is the giving in to those occasional bursts of feeling young-at-heart that actually do keep us young. Not to mention happy.

And so, when I stepped off the train today, I chose to give my inner wild child permission to break the rules. I tilted my face up toward the shining sun and blue sky, and skipped, carefree, across the parking lot. And felt a lot better for it.

 

20140711-213602-77762771.jpg

How to Be a Grownup 101 (aka: 38-Going-On-8)

Twenty minutes away from my house, there is a large, high-end shopping mall. From time to time, I enjoy shopping there. I stroll leisurely through the mall, admiring the architecture and design, and visiting a number of familiar, “regular-folk” shops, like Yankee Candle and JCPenney. But there are also a number of shops in that mall that I avoid completely. Designer shops, filled with name brand clothes and accessories that probably fill the closets of celebrities and have price tags higher than the total of all my personal assets.shops better from the outside

Now I know – it’s a free country. I have just as much right as anyone to browse the racks in high-end shops. But anytime I have dared to cross the threshold into such places, I am overwhelmed with the sudden urge to tiptoe, and the paranoid suspicion that the salespeople are keeping their eyes on me, the black woman with the Target store wardrobe. I am hyper-aware that I do not belong there, that my worn-out Sears flats should not be stepping across their plush carpeting. And so, I avoid these shops, limiting my browsing to a quick glance at the window displays as I rush past.

It is not only shops in the mall that produce the sensation that I am a foreign visitor in a land which I do not understand. There are several types of places that I generally avoid – not for lack of curiosity, but due to insecurity and cluelessness. Bars, for example. I have never once been to a bar. For starters, I would not even know what to do if I were to go to a bar. On television and in books, people just walk right up to a bartender and order some type of drink. They don’t, like, study a menu or anything. So how do people know what drinks even exist, or how much they cost? Does the rest of the adult world take a crash course in How to Order Drinks 101? I guess I missed that class. Secondly, I have never been to a bar, because (again, my learning is entirely based on television and books), it seems like people pretty much only go to bars because they are shopping for a one-night-stand partner. Not only am I not even remotely interested in such a thing, but the very idea of being surveyed that way gives me the urge to run away screaming. Nope, no bars. bars are for grownups not me

Another thing that other adults seem to enjoy doing is going out to casinos. I am amazed by the way people discuss weekends in Reno, or Vegas, or the Indian casinos, with as much excitement as kids discussing a trip to Disneyland. I have only ever been in a casino three times – mostly just hurrying through on my way upstairs to the Circus Circus acrobatics shows. Though once, I boldly wasted $5.00 on slot machines (and won nothing), and felt no excitement – nothing but the realization that I just threw away $5.00 and didn’t even get a video game out of it. I wandered around a little afterward; feeling completely overwhelmed by the blinking, flashing, buzzing machines, and the excited shouts of people as they handed over their money and watched the dealers do whatever it is the dealers do. Clearly, they all learned how to play those games in How to Gamble, 101. I missed that class, too. They Make it Look Fun but I dont even know what they are doing

little girl playing dressupIt isn’t just that I feel out-of-place and clueless in high-end shops, bars and casinos. It is also that I feel like a little girl navigating a world that belongs to grownups. I am 38, going on 8 years old. I have the right to enter a shop, a casino, or a bar, but any minute, someone will come along and point to the door. “Goodbye, little girl. Come back when you are older and more experienced and know how to do what the rest of us already know how to do.”

Sometimes I feel utterly clueless about parts of the grownup world.

Sometimes I feel utterly clueless about parts of the grownup world.

Chess, Life, and Other Games (aka: Taking Risks)

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

super crazy stuffI saw this on another blog, to use as a sort of journaling prompt. My mind immediately began to rewind back to a number of crazy things I’ve done – stupid choices and embarrassing mistakes. But then I stopped myself. It is too easy for me to focus on the negative crazy things I’ve done. But what about the positive crazy things?

Some people dive into life headfirst. I’ve browsed through dozens of blogs and social sites showcasing the lives of the brave people who walk among us, or skydive above us, or fly past us on motorcycles, setting the wind on fire, on their way to the next grand adventure. I stand back on the sidewalk, staring in awe, knowing that I can never be that person, but admiring their courage and spark and zeal for life all the same.

I take so few risks in life. It has usually been my habit to think and analyze and research the heck out of every possibility before finally deciding on the safest, most practical path. I suppose it is like playing chess with life. There is no way to avoid being defeated (as every one of us will eventually face the Checkmate), but at least I can protect my pawns, bishops, and knights for as long as possible. Chess is Life Bobby Fischer

Okay, enough with the metaphors. What’s the craziest positive thing I’ve ever done in life? Okay, well, maybe this one is only semi-positive, but here it is. When I was a senior in high school, I worked as a student assistant in the school library. It was a great job for an introverted book lover like me, with access to tons of books and, well, some private student records, too. So one day, I became curious. At the time, I had just turned sixteen, which made me the youngest senior at the school. And I wondered – who was the absolute youngest student in the school?

ninja_girl

It took a lot of research. There were around 2,500 students in my school, and the student records were all on paper, stored in file boxes. Whenever the library was quiet and there was little work to do, I pored through the records, scanning birthdates, until at last I found him. Let’s call him D.W. He was a freshman, and had just turned 13. The youngest in his class.

 

I could have let it end there, having satisfied my curiosity. But that’s when I got a spark of crazy. I copied down his school schedule, then wrote my first note.

Dear D.W.,

You don’t know me, but I am hoping you’d be interested in playing a little game. I know that you are the youngest student in the school. I am the youngest senior in the school. Let’s see if you can figure out who I am.

Sincerely,

A Mysterious Stranger

BU009237

I folded the note into the shape of a frog (because, why not?), then used my student assistant powers to have the note delivered to D.W. in one of his classes. The game had begun. During the days that followed, I had several other notes delivered to D.W. containing small clues about my identity. I also learned that he was friends with a friend of mine (weird coincidence), and that he spent his lunch period playing games with a group of role-play gamers (what!). According to my friend, this kid was very into the game I had created, and was doing everything he could to figure out my identity. Ohmigosh, so fun!

Nerd Games

Eventually, he won my little game. He learned my identity and became an instant friend during the last few months of my high school years. So I guess that makes it a good kind of crazy thing. Of course, it could have ended up completely the opposite, with him getting all creeped out by this senior stalker and me getting in trouble with the library staff for misusing private student records. But maybe there was something about our shared experience of being young, somewhat-nerdy, so-called geniuses that put us on the same wavelength and kept the game in perspective.

So there you have it. Nothing exciting like swimming with sharks or bungee jumping (*shudder*), but definitely out-of-the-ordinary and risky.

Dancing Around the Rink (aka: Black People Roller Skate)

black people skate In my family, like in many other Black families, at least when I was growing up, there were two things that every child was expected to learn without question: how to dance, and how to roller skate. Yes, roller skate. That’s what came from being born in the 1970s, during the height of disco roller-dancing in rinks across the nation. That’s also what came from having two teenaged big sisters who dragged us younger kids to the rink weekend after weekend. The roller rink, with its shiny, polished floor, flashing colored lights, and giant mural painted on the far wall, was almost like a second home. For years, my siblings, friends and I whizzed around to popular songs (including my all-time favorite skate song, Pour Some Sugar on Me). We watched in awe as the jamskaters danced around the circuit, boogying and bouncing and swaying their hips to the rhythm like the skates were just an extension of their bodies. We did wheelbarrow races and the Hokey Pokey and Shoot the Duck contests. Occasionally, the DJ would turn on a slow jam, which meant hand-in-hand skating for couples, and a Slurpee and popcorn break for us wallflowers.skating was part of my childhood

 

My own kids, by contrast, have rarely been to the roller rink. So a few days ago, thanks to some coupons and a surge of parental guilt, I decided to correct that mistake.

“But Mo-ooom!” whined my two youngest kids. “I don’t know how to roller skate!”

“Look,” I said, “You are half Black. And Black people skate. So you’re going.” Like my sisters before me, I dragged my kids to the rink and taught them how to lace up their skates. They hobbled after me to the floor, where I pretty much wished them good luck and whizzed off. My two oldest kids quickly remembered their skills and were soon coasting around the floor with me, having fun. My 9yo, however, turned out to be a wall-hugger, barely budging from his spot. He refused to let me guide him around until at last, I transformed into Meanie Mom and threatened to take away his computer game time for the rest of the day if he didn’t spend the next hour trying to skate. I know, I know – probably not a move that would win me Mommy of the Year Award. But hey – it worked. And by the end of our skate session, he was edging forward without clutching the wall. Reluctant Skater

For the most part, though, we all had a terrific time. And I was so surprised by how little the rink has changed over the years, from the flashing lights to the mural to the music. Of course, now they are playing One Direction instead of Def Leppard, but still. My only complaint was that I had to really work to control my speed with so many little kids on the floor. Once, I actually managed to run over a little boy who cut in front of me. Eek! Luckily, he wasn’t injured. Perhaps one day soon, I will venture out to one of the adult-only skate nights, which are filled with other people like me who remember those early days of disco skate and jamskating, and who still dance their way around the circuit, bouncing and swaying to the music. roller disco

 

Never Run in High Heels (aka: Practical Advice from Horror Films)

My first experience with horror films came at the age of four, when one of my teenage sisters took me to the movie theater to see Silent Scream. Shortly after, thanks to the growing availability of VCRs, I also added to my horror film repertoire such classic gems as The Shining, The Omen, The Amityville Horror, and The Exorcist. While other kids my age were quoting funny lines from The Muppets,  I was busy quoting Tangina from Poltergeist (“Come children, into the li-i-ight! There is peace and serenity in the li-i-ight!).

Poltergeist

Nothing good on this television.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. No wonder I am so twisted/dark/macabre/bizarre. This is probably true. Really, young kids have no business watching Michael Meyers strangle some woman to death with a telephone cord.

"Get off the phone, stupid. Can't you see that isn't your boyfriend? Lift up the sheet!" ~ Me, screaming at television screen

But, warped mind aside, I did learn some valuable and practical lessons from horror films:

  1. Running with high heels is a bad idea. Not only can you trip and break your ankle, but d-uh, the killer will catch you every time. Better to slip off the heels and use them as a weapon.
  2. If you’re a teenager, don’t have sex. Just don’t do it. In fact, adults, too. Sex is a huge common factor in getting slain by an axe-murderer.
  3. If you live on Elm Street, definitely stock up on Red Bull. And coffee. Better yet, just move to a different neighborhood.
  4. The kid with the dark hair and pale eyes is always evil.
  5. If your toy clown goes missing, just let it be. Don’t bother searching for it. Especially not under the bed. Never look under the bed.
  6. Better yet, don’t have a toy clown. They are always evil, too.
  7. If your house tells you to “Get out!” Then get out. Just do it.
  8. Close your curtains at night or that tree outside will come to life and eat you.
  9. Never buy your Halloween costume from Silver Shamrock.
  10. If you begin to hear the sound, “Ch-ch-ch Ah-ah-ah-ah!”  then run. Run fast. Better yet, get in your car and drive far, far away. (But first, check the back seat to make sure the killer is not hiding there).
Do not be fooled by his sweet face. This kid is the Antichrist with the tattoo to prove it.

Do not be fooled by his sweet face. This kid is the Antichrist with the tattoo to prove it.

You see? Horror movies are not all bad. If you pay attention, you just may learn some tips that can help you to live a long and fruitful life.

Links to Make You Shiver:

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/guides/best-horror-movies/

http://www.boston.com/ae/movies/gallery/top_50_scary_movies/

http://www.vulture.com/2013/10/horror-movies-on-netflix-streaming-good-bad-weird.html

Think Positive (aka: What I Love About My Body)

girls and body image “I’m getting so fat,” my 12 year-old daughter complained today, pinching a miniscule roll of fat that has formed around her waist.

I groaned. “Puh-lease. You are not even a little bit fat.” This is true. My daughter is a petite and graceful little thing, like a fairy flitting about on skinny little chopstick legs. It’s just that now that she is no longer a competitive gymnast with rock-hard abs from working out 25 hours per week, her little body  is beginning to resemble those of other 12 year-old girls. Okay, well, maybe 10 year-old girls.

Still, she is not fat.

“Since you are complaining about your body,” I told her, “now you have to tell me something that you love about your body.”

My daughter thought for a minute, frowning. “We-elll,” she said. “I guess I love my long limbs. My long legs help me to run fast, and I wouldn’t want to have short, stubby legs.”

I smiled. “There you go! See? There is so much to love about your body. Now no more complaining about being fat.”

Of course, I am not very good with this. I often catch myself pinching the rolls of fat that form around my own waist and frowning about how fat I am. It is probably just an unfortunate curse of being a woman in a culture obsessed with body image. We all hate our bodies – that is, those of us who were not blessed with perfection, like Angelina Jolie (pre-surgery, that is).

“So what do you love about your body, Mom?” asked my daughter.

Ugh. My turn. Okay, well, I guess I love my lips. They are pretty awesome, as far as lips go. Almost perfect, even. My eyes are just okay. I hate my hair. And my…oops, going in the wrong direction. Think positive, Tiare. Think positive.

I almost blurted out, “I love my body’s incredible resistance to mosquitos.” Well, I do. For some reason, I never get mosquito bites like other people. Seriously. I can stand in the middle of a swarm of mosquitos buzzing around, and then walk away without a single itchy little bump. It makes me feel powerful – like, Olivia Pope powerful. Okay, no one is that powerful. But still. Ha ha mosquitoes

“Do you know what I love best about my body?” I hugged my daughter close. “I love how my body was strong enough to bring you and your brothers into the world.”

“Oh, Mom!” My daughter grimaced and pushed me away. “Too mushy.”

I just grinned and blew her a kiss with my almost-perfect lips.

No Black Brady Bunch (aka: Evolution of Black Family Sitcoms in the 80s)

Diff'rent Strokes sitcom 1978-1986

The only affluent black kids on TV in the early 1980s were the ones rescued from the ghetto by wealthy white people.

Quick! Can you name that black kid from that sitcom around the 70’s and 80’s? No, not the tall skinny ghetto kid who went, “Dy-no-miiiite!” No, not the short, black kid adopted by the rich white family, who always said, “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” No, not the other short, black kid adopted by a white family, either. Come on – who was the good-looking black teen boy from the nice, intact family who lived in an affluent neighborhood? Still don’t know?

Silver Spoons mansion

White kids on TV sitcoms in the early 80s were often privileged and affluent.

It is far easier to name white, affluent teens from the same era of television: Mike Seaver, from Growing Pains; Alex Keaton from Family Ties; Ricky Stratton from Silver Spoons; and, of course, all six Brady kids. Like many black kids across the USA, I grew up watching shows such as these, starring these happy, smiling white families with clean, sparkly homes. Their almost-perfect lives were only occasionally marred by white people problems such as teen pimples, first boyfriends, and naughty little sisters who steal your favorite sweater. By the end of each episode, their problems were wrapped up in some simple, cheesy, happily-ever-after way.

In contrast, most of the kids in the predominantly Black television shows lived in run-down homes in the ghetto. Well, with the exception of Webster, and Willis and Arnold, who were rescued from ghetto life by kind, wealthy white folks (Whatcu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?). Black kids from these shows didn’t care about pimples – they were often too busy trying to help their parents find a way to make the rent that month. The themes were heavy by comparison, as black characters dealt with topics such as venereal diseases, sexual abuse, and wrongful accusations of shoplifting. By the end of each episode, these problems were both solved and unsolved, often leaving deep questions hanging in the air for the viewer to ponder.

And I don’t know – maybe I even learned something about social justice and black culture by watching those predominantly black shows. But mostly, I remember feeling a sense of shame, even at a very young age, that the people on the screen who looked the most like me came from such dreadful circumstances. Where was the Black Brady Bunch, with happy smiling kids and nice, educated parents who helped them solve their problems?

The Huxtables

The Cosby Show was like a breath of fresh air for black and white families alike.

Well thank goodness, when I was nine years old, Bill Cosby changed America’s perception of the Black TV sitcom family. At last, we had a family to represent us on-screen who neither lived in the ghetto, nor was “movin’ on up” out of a ghetto. The Huxtables were a respectable and affluent black family with five children. The mother, Clair, was a hard-working and successful lawyer, while the father, Cliff, was an obstetrician with his own private practice.  The Cosby Show dealt with both the lighthearted and the more serious issues of family life with intelligence, sensitivity, and humor. Not only Black families crowded around their televisions to tune in, as it quickly became the most successful television sitcom of the 1980’s.

Rosanne Family

After the Cosby Show’s wild success, new sitcom families, such as the Conners from Roseanne, began to represent a wider variety of American families

The Cosby Show signified a change in American family sitcoms. Not only was there a wider variety of shows featuring black families, but there was also an increase in the number of blue-collar, not-so-sparkly white family shows, such as Roseanne, which became the number one sitcom in the country from 1989 to 1990, and dealt with heavier topics than most white family sitcoms had tackled in the past. Just as many Black families cheered with the arrival of the The Cosby Show, many white families also cheered at the arrival of a family who perhaps better represented them, too. At last, American television  was veering away from the archetypes that had ruled the airwaves for so many years, and opening the door to diverse families and new ideas. And to that, I just have say, “Dy-no-miiite!”

(How’s that for a cheesy ending?)

Bloom Where You’re Planted (Even When You’re Stuck Living in the Suburbs)

ugly suburbsThe ugliest place I’ve ever lived was in a suburb in Suisun, California. In the 1980’s, suburbs like mine sprang up from nowhere, filling the once-lovely rolling grasslands with boxy, cookie-cutter new homes. As a teenager, I lived in one of those homes, and hated every moment. I hated the buzzing of lawn mowers on Sunday mornings, hated the smells of fresh-cut grass and swimming pool chemicals, and hated the view from my bedroom window, of look-alike rooftops and trees no taller than me. I missed my childhood home in the Bay Area—the heavy blanket of morning fog, the fragrance of eucalyptus and bay laurel trees, and the view of the San Francisco Bay from our living room balcony. Bay Area Bay Laurels

While most high school girls were busy dreaming of college party towns full of pizza restaurants and hot guys, I spent my last years of adolescence dreaming of escaping the suburbs and fleeing to the mountains. And, at the age of sixteen, that is exactly what I did. My first college was a tiny community college in the mountains, with rustic wooden buildings that looked more like summer camp cabins. Most of the students lived in apartments just off campus, and we literally had to hike through the woods just to go to class. It was totally cool, except when I had night classes, and had to hike through the forest with a flashlight, keeping an eye out for bears and skunks, which roamed the same woods in abundance. Still, that year of living completely surrounded by trees, and snow-capped peaks, and fields full of wildflowers had a kind of healing effect on my spirit.

I miss that home in the mountains for its nature, just as I miss my home in the hills of the Bay Area for its nature. And where do I live now? Well, for the past two decades, I have been back in the suburbs. Different town, different suburbs, but same feeling of longing and homesickness whenever I look out of the windows at views of look-alike houses and square green lawns. No, I never pictured ending up here – I always imagined living near the seashore, or a redwood forest, or beneath the glittering stars in some vast rural plain. But instead, college and marriage and jobs led me here, where I have often felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. rose growing in concrete desert

And you know what? It is not impossible to bloom here. There are ways – so many small ways to grow, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. It just takes some work, chipping away at the concrete barriers to expose the earth the sun and rain. And while in my heart, I will never feel at home here, the way I did amongst the bay laurels and eucalyptus of my first home, I can keep trying to build a sort of oasis here in the concrete desert, and feeding my spirit small bits of nature that it may grow.

Ways to Embrace Nature (Even When You Live in the Suburbs)

  • Grow flowers 
  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Create an outdoor living room, then eat meals and read books there
  • Find local nature trails to hike
  • Go walking, running, and bicycle riding
  • Learn the names of your local birds, then go birdwatching
  • Participate in local park and creek cleanup days
  • Fly kites
  • Hang bird feeders or squirrel feeders in your yard (or create some other wildlife habitat)
  • Cook outdoors
  • Drive away from the suburbs and go camping or hiking or stargazing
  • Bring nature indoors (plants, flowers, stones)

enjoy an outdoor room

Feel free to contribute. I am always searching for new ideas!

The Strange World of Kids and Crushes (aka Clueless)

very young lovers

How young is too young for dating?

I feel entirely lost when it comes to the subject of kids and dating. At what age should I allow my children to go out on dates, or have boyfriends or girlfriends? Should boyfriend/girlfriend relationships even be encouraged? What about setting limits on physical affection? What about the inevitable hurt feelings that come with rejection and breakups?

Funnily enough, I did not start to worry on account of my oldest son, who will be starting high school this fall. In fact, he apparently has next to no interest in dating (although he did admit to having a crush on some girl at his school last year). Nor did I begin to think of this subject on account of my daughter, who will begin 7th grade. She apparently has zero interest in boys or crushes or dating. Such a relief! However, I was surprised to learn recently that my youngest son, who is almost nine years old, had a girlfriend at school.

“She is so pretty and nice, Mom,” he told me with the cutest puppy-love expression, pointing out every one of her photos in his yearbook. “And look – she drew little hearts all around my picture. Isn’t that cute?” Half of me wanted to melt into the floor from the overwhelming cuteness. The other half of me wanted to melt into the floor from shock. 8 years old? 8 years old? My brain screamed at me. Surely the boyfriend/girlfriend thing isn’t supposed to start so soon! Well, luckily (for me, not for my son), he will be starting 4th grade at a different school, far away from this so-called girlfriend. teenage_love

I really did not date much during my youth. Partially because I was really never the type of girl that boys wanted to date, and partially because I was scared out of my wits of boys. (It’s true. I pretty much never talked to boys during high school unless they were obviously gay or even more shy than I was). I had a couple of passing crushes, which were rejected (“My parents would never let me date a black girl. Sorry.”). My first boyfriend, my freshmen year of high school, was gay, I later learned. He was kind and shy, and never tried to kiss me or even hold my hand. That suited me just fine, because the idea of kissing a boy scared me to death, too.

kids kissing

I first kissed a boy in eleventh grade. His name was Joe, and he was blonde, blue-eyed, and geeky. He was my boyfriend for three weeks, during which we barely had time to hang out, due to my busy activity schedule, and during which we exchanged perhaps a dozen quick pecks on the lips. Then I dumped him, because I found the whole thing boring and pointless. What was the point of being so permanently attached to someone you barely knew? Where were the dates – the actual dates where two people go out and do things together, like bowling or movies or the batting cages? Was the only point of having a boyfriend to kiss and hug and hold hands like all the sappy, shallow girls around me? Why the focus on exclusive couples during such an age of youthful exploration? Is that still the way things work for teenagers today? I honestly have no idea. Nor do I know what the best advice is to give my kids.

“I think that she seems very cute and sweet,” I told my 8 year-old. “But next time you have a crush, please tell her that your mom says no girlfriends until college.”

“Seriously?” My son stared at me like I was completely nuts. After all, college is probably unreasonable. But then, who knows? I am a great parent when it comes to baking homemade cookies and helping with schoolwork. But the world of dating and crushes is something I never learned to navigate well. For the first time ever as a mom, I do not know the right answer.