The Lady with the Chalk (aka: Heroes All Around Us)

Yesterday, my teens and I watched Unbreakable, a 2000 film by M. Night Shyamalan. It was such a good movie. Super, you might even say. Afterward, I couldn’t help but ask my kids, “How would you feel if you learned that one of your parents was actually a superhero?”

My 13 year-old replies, “If I found out that Dad was a superhero, then I’d be shocked. Like, what the heck? But if I found out that Mom was a superhero, then I’d be like, oh. Okay.” He shrugs. No big revelation there. My daughter nods in agreement.

This has been a long-running theme in our family. You see, no matter how much I try to dissuade them, my teens are convinced that I am either a). A superhero in disguise, b). A CIA operative, just like Sydney Bristow; or c). a super hacker. Or possibly a combination of all three.

“Please,” I say each time the topic comes up. “I am just an ordinary, cookie-baking mom who works in a cubicle at a tax agency.”

“Su-u-ure,” one of my kids will answer. “Perfect cover.”

I’m not sure what led my kids to believe that I am somthing greater than I appear to be. Maybe it’s my hopelessly INTJ prsonality. Maybe it’s my ability to run very fast (though nowhere near the prerequisite superhero speeds displayed by the Flash). Or maybe it’s my steady lack of close friendships. Superheroes know how difficult it can be to form attachments while keeping their true identities a secret.

It is flattering that my kids think so highly of me, I guess. But I would prefer that they look arond them to honor the real heroes that walk among us. No, not cape-wearing comic-book characters with extraordinary superpowers to fight gainst supervillains. I’m talking about the real people who help humankind with their courage, altuism, and sense of duty. Police officers, firefighters, soldiers. Teachers, surgeons, and even regular people, from time to time. The heroes who save lives, offer hope to those who have lost hope, pick up the lost and set them on the right path.

Not long ago, I encoutered one such real-life hero in my own neighborhood. While out for a run one day, I came across something that made me stop in my tracks. A large, colorful chalk design had transformed a section of the sidewalk into a work of art. “You are needed here and now,” the message read. My heart soared with the positive impact of those simple words. As I continued to run, that day and in days to come, I came across more of these beautiful, uplifting messages, as did my daughter, as did other people in our neighborhood. They brightened our day each time. They filled our sails with wind.

And then, one day, we happened to spot the woman who was responsible. She wasn’t wearing a cape or a super suit. She was an ordinary human being, anyone’s neighbor from Anywheretown. She probably didn’t even realize that the offerings she had left had such an enormous impact on the people in our neighborhood. In fact, she seemed surprised, and perhaps a little timid as I thanked her for making such a difference.

Can you imagine what our world would look like if each one of us strove to become a hero in our own small way? No, not a superhero. We don’t need X-Ray vision or Iron Man suits or the ability to fly to save lives, or to make someone’s life better. Maybe all we need is to care a little deeper. To show our compassion for those who are less than ourselves, rather than our disdain. To use the gifts we have been given to do good, rather than to do harm. To offer someone a genuine smile and encouraging words to give them a positive boost. Maybe all we need to save each other, to be something greater than we are, is a piece of chalk and the willingness to make the world a better place for the people around us.

 

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A Hole-in-Eight (aka: Anything But Mini-Golf!)

“Ugh, I can’t stand mini-golf!” I groaned as my kids and I pushed open the heavy wooden castle doors and stepped outside. “Anything but mini-golf!” The sky was filled with dark, billowing clouds, giving the mini-golf kingdom an ominous appearance. Someone was going to suffer a round a bad luck on the course today.

Me, probably.


My kids, however, did not share my sense of foreboding. Brightly-colored golf balls in hand, they raced over to the first hole, eager to face the challenge. It had one of those loop-de-loop obstacles, then a straight line to the hole. My kids each stepped up to putt, giggling as the ball bounced off the loop-de-loop or returned to the beginning. I shook my head in amazement. How were they able to be so at ease when they had played so poorly? Sheesh…almost like I had raised them well.

I stepped up to putt, already accepting my certain defeat. It had been many years since I had even bothered to pick up a mini-golf club. Even now, my mind was filled with the pitying laughter of the ghosts of mini-golf past; a remnant of those futile attempts which resulted in a hole-in-seven, or eight, or ten, when the par was like, two. I placed my neon yellow ball and took my usual backwards stance, as I am a left-handed golfer, and therefore cursed, as putt-putt courses were clearly designed for the right-handed crowd.


Then I swung.

To my disbelief, the ball swirled around the loop-de-loop, then made a beeline for the hole. It dipped around the edge, teasing, then rolled off to the side. On the second putt, the ball went in. A hole-in-two. My mini-golf unlucky streak was broken!

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But then, I began hitting an almost-perfect game. A hole-in-one on the second hole, followed by another two, then another one. With every great shot, I was starting to hate miniature golf a little less and less. My kids, meanwhile, were producing quite the comedy of errors. My 12 year-old son, who plays actual golf, kept overshooting every hole at least four or five times. My 17 year-old son kept getting shut out by the automatic doors on the little buldings. And my 15 year-old daughter, who has never played golf in her life, magically learned how to chip the ball. Which apparently you’re not supposed to do in mini-golf. She chipped her ball into the bushes, into a pond, and over a windmill. She might have chipped one right onto the head of one of the guests playing on a nearby hole if her aim had been a little better.


I did experience one hole that made my newfound love of the sport falter a bit. It looked deceptively easy – a somewhat straight shot toward a small hill, with the hole hidden in a dip in the center. My kids finished their shots, then for the next ten minutes, gloated as they watched me struggle. “Come on, Mom! This hole is simple!” They taunted, clearly pleased to unthrone the queen, if only for a moment.

After a round of 18 mini-holes, I had achieved the impossible — a total score of 57. I had conquered miniature golf! Whether it was due to a serious streak of good fortune, or a course designed by left-handers, I have no idea. I’m also not sure whether I had so much fun due to so many sub-par holes, or due to the fantastic company I was playing with. I just know that I would totally play mini-golf again, and without the moaning and groaning.

“Okay, Mom,” my kids said as we put away our golf clubs. “Now it’s time to go play lazer tag!”

“Oh no,” I said, as my kids shoved me back through the heavy wooden doors of the arcade castle and led me toward the battle arena. “I can’t stand lazer tag. Anything but lazer tag!”

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (aka: Christmas Choices)

It’s nearly midnight on Christmas Eve.

I would love to be tucked into my bed, watching visions of sugarplums dance through my head, but no such luck. Because I’m the mom.

santa-lte-night

The mom gets to sit in the living room, sipping a glass of chardonnay as Smallville plays on the television, and staring down at a pile of metal bars and chains, which, when assembled, will somehow form a bicycle. Afterward, I get to rip open yet another cardboard box and start putting together a second bicycle. Two shiny new bikes for teens who actually really need them to get to school each day.

At least, I’ve convinced myself that they need them.

I like to choose Christmas gifts based on the familiar old adage:

Something they want
Something they need
Something to wear
and something to read.

Pajamas? Check. Books, check. They hardest part is discerning between something my kids desire to have and something they actually need. It is something that many of us Americans struggle with in this culture of excess. We stroll through a Target store, drooling over the shelves packed with sparkling novelties. Coffee makers that produce a perfect cup of joe at the mere push of a button. Water bottles with built in filters to make our clean tap water even cleaner. Powerful tablet computers that fit in a handbag.

Oooh, I need that, we tell ourselves as we fill our red plastic shopping carts with far more items than would fit on our actual shopping lists. But in reality, we don’t. We want those things. We desire those things. But we so easily get what we want and desire mixed up with what we need.

wants-or-needs

My kids probably don’t need most of what is currently wrapped and waiting beneath the Christmas tree. Those are desired luxury items; scented lotions and electronic doodads that will bring moments of excited smiles and happy laughter as they rip open the colorful paper. My children already have what they need — healthy food, clothes that fit, and a mother who loves them like crazy. These beautiful new bikes (once they become bikes) are not a true need. They want bicycles, and I want them to have bicycles to get to school and around town. Could they have lived well without them? Absolutely. They already have.

As we transition into the upcoming new year, I hope to do a better job of separating the things that I want or desire from that which I really need. I also hope to transmit the correct value to these three terrific kids of mine, too. You can’t always get what you want. You shouldn’t always strive for what you desire. Believe it or not, life is better when you learn to be content with what you have instead of always looking to the next Big Thing that catches your attention.

Oh look — it is officially Christmas morning. And there are still these pieces of bike to be assembled. Santa doesn’t get much sleep on such a night. Time to crack open the toolkit and make this Christmas morning a merry one for my family.

I wish the same for all of you. Peace!

bmxmas

 

Summertime Dreaming, Part 2

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about life in the cave for four and a half years. Four and a half! That’s a long time. It is interesting now, to look back on what life was like four years ago, and to see all of the ways that things have changed. Our family. Job. Schools. As always, Time keeps marching forward, arm-in-arm with her sister, Change.

I came across this one post, Summertime Dreaming, which I published almost exactly four years ago. It was amusing to read the fun, mostly superficial summer goals I’d set there. Let’s see how I did:

Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Haha…it has been a loooong time since I’ve had a good real-time online battle. A part of me misses the days of Age of Empires or CyberNations. But maybe I’ve outgrown my thirst for virtual world dominance.

Wear a Bikini

I totally did it! So rad, right? At the age of 36, I hit my weight-loss target and spent my first (and last) summer traipsing around the beach in a cute little two-piece suit, like a true California girl. Now I can happily move on with life and not have to wonder what it would be like to wear a bikini.

summer splash 031

Drink a Beer

I’m proud to say that I have drunk a grand total of five beers since I posted that goal. No, not all at once. Yes, I enjoyed it (though I still prefer a glass of good wine).

Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

Yep, did it. Then we moved to a new house.

Write Write Write

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

writing creative stuff

Setting goals does not always have to mean the big, serious plans in life, like career goals, fitness goals, or financial goals. Sometimes, you can take great pleasure in setting small goals that are all about enjoying life, having fun with your family, or growing and learning in tiny ways. Meeting these little goals can result in great joy.

And now to set some small goals for the Summer of 2016. I would like to:

Do a fun programming project

Maybe design a fun new website for readers of Young Adult fiction, or design a relational database of our family’s book library. Okay fine, maybe this does not sound like summer fun to like, 97% of the world, but it does to me.

Try a new water sport

My kids and I already love kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Learning to surf would be fun. Maybe waterskiing or wakeboarding? Even floating down the river in inner tubes is still on our haven’t-tried-it list.

watercraft fun

Learn to do something new with my hair

I’ll admit it. I am pretty dull when it comes to styling my hair. Wear it naturally curly and short, or wear it straight and shoulder-length. Ponytail or no ponytail. A couple of times, I had it highlighted, and years ago, I even wore it in dozens of mini-braids. But now what? Learn to French braid? Try a hair weave? Dye it some daring new color?

Shop at farmers’ markets

farmers-market shopping

Now that I’ve decided not to grow a veggie garden this year, I would like to make a habit of heading to some of the great farmers’ markets we have in our region. The kids will enjoy this one, too.

Write, write, write

Specifically? Finish something and start sending it off to editors for publication.

Hopefully, whether or not I am still blogging away four-and-a-half years from now, I will be able to look back on this tiny list of tiny goals with a huge smile, knowing that even if I didn’t complete them, I had fun along the journey.

Pompons and Ponytails (aka: High School Cheerocracy)

When I was eight years old, every girl I knew wanted to be a cheerleader. We used to imitate the high school cheerleaders by shaking our cheap dime-store pompons and chanting the only cheer that every eight year-old girl knew:

 

“Firecracker firecracker, boom boom boom!

Firecracker firecracker, boom boom boom!

The boys have the muscle

The teachers have the brains

But the girls have the sexy legs, so we won the game!”

 

cheerleaders cheering

 

I will not even address how that cheer was so wrong in so many ways, although my inner feminist is screaming. I will now duct tape shut the mouth of my inner feminist while I share this next part with the world:

My 14 year-old daughter wants to be a cheerleader.

It’s true. She wants to try out for her high school squad and become a bonafide, short-skirt-wearing, pompon shaking cheerleader. I know. But she has good reasons that, thankfully, are much more valid than sexy legs and popularity. She misses gymnastics.

competitive cheer tumbling

As I shared in another post a few years ago, my kid was once a level-8 competitive gymnast. However, she did not have Olympic aspirations, and I did not have an Olympic-sized budget, and so she retired at the end of a great season. Since then, my daughter has been learning to redefine herself outside of the gym and chalk dust, and exploring new sports, like recreational soccer, cross-country, and track. She enjoys it, but she still grows wistful at the sight of athletes flipping through the air or dancing across the floor. After watching a bunch of high school squads doing basket tosses, tumbling, and scorpion lifts on TV, my daughter came to a decision. She was going to try out for the cheer squad. And so next week, I will join the parents of    other cheer-hopefuls at a meeting, where they will tell us how we will have to sell everything we own just to pay for the uniform and participation fees.

Oh wait, that was gymnastics.

 

cheerteamontrack

 

I once thought I would be more excited to have a daughter interested in becoming a cheerleader. After all, I was once a cheerleading coach.

Oops…my inner feminist just died of a heart attack, I think. Oh well.  Time to free Cheer Girl from my girly-girl closet for a moment and confess to the world: I WAS A MIDDLE SCHOOL COMPETITIVE CHEER COACH! Look, I was in my early twenties, okay? Pre-kids, post-college, teaching Kindergarten at a private school which just happened to need a cheer coach. So I stepped in and taught a group of girls how to do Herkies, and stunt, and do real cheers that weren’t just lame Steppy-Clappy cheers.

(Example of Steppy-Clappy cheer):

“Ready? OK!

It’s hot, it’s hot, it’s hot in here

There must be some Toros in the atmosphere!”

 

This is a Cheerocracy

No, we were much cooler than that. We went to an expensive cheer camp. We competed against other squads who did basket tosses and wore fake curly ponytails. We were the wanna-be middle school version of those snotty teenagers in Bring it On.

 

Cheer stunting silhouette“ONE! We are the Eagles

TWO! A little bit louder

THREE! I still can’t hear you

We are number ONE!”

 

See what happens when I let Cheer Girl out of the closet? Give me a second while I stuff her back in, right next to Elle Woods and the girl from Clueless. But I’ll still keep my inner feminist under wraps until after my daughter tries out for the cheer squad. And maybe until I satisfy this sudden urge to re-watch Bring it On.

Rich Kids Had Disney Channel (aka: I Wanted My MTV)

1980s Television*Old lady voice* Back in the olden days, when boys wore mullets and girls pumped their bangs six inches high, my friends and I were hooked on two amazing new-fangled inventions. No, not the Wheel (very funny, kids). No, not velcro sneakers. More amazing. No, not personal computers…okay, a lot less amazing than that. Give up?

See, back in those days, cable TV is what separated the Haves from the Have-nots. Pretty much everyone watched the same cartoons and sitcoms on network TV, or were maybe lucky enough to subscribe to HBO or Showtime. But at school, we gathered around the rich kids, our envious ears drinking in every morsel of their adventures with the cable channel only rich kids could afford – The Disney Channel. Oh sure, we sang along to Kids Incorporated. But we all knew that it was little more than a shallow imitation of the Mickey Mouse Club.

rich kids Disney channel 80sThen suddenly, thanks to the violent public riots and cries of “I want my MTV!” (Okay, maybe there weren’t any riots. Hard to remember — I was pretty young.) all the not-so-rich schoolkids became hooked on the two best channels ever – Nickelodeon, and his wild-and-crazy big sister, MTV.

At last! At last! We could run home from school and be entertained by green-slime-dumping shows like Double Dare and You Can’t Do That On Television. And…and…okay, that was pretty much it, since in those days, Nickelodeon had super lame shows, like Spartacus and Star Trek the Animated Series. Then at 5:00 each evening, Nick transformed into this kooky black-and-white world of Mr. Ed, The Donna Reed Show, and some show about identical cousins.

So yeah…sadly, those were not Nickelodeon’s best years.

I want my mtvMTV, however, was another story. Back then, MTV lived up to its name. It was all about music, all the time. After school meant the hottest music video countdown with V.J.s like Pauly Shore (Yeah buuuud-dy!), Adam “Amazing Hair” Curry, Julie “Wubba Wubba Wubba” Brown, and the other Julie Brown, who was witness to the great Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun massacre of 1980-something. Our fresh, gold-medal-wearing hip-hop crowd got to jump around the Yo! MTV Raps! And my hard rocker friends and I got to rock out to Headbanger’s Ball. And every New Year’s Eve, without fail, my friends and I would flip on the Top 100 Videos of All Time, even though they always ended with Michael Jackson Thriller.

But now, I don’t think anybody really wants their MTV anymore.

Now don’t take me wrong – I’m not the type to look back on the 80’s and call them The Good Ol’ Days, when everything was better. Honestly, every decade has its share of things excellent and bogus. Just look at Nickelodeon’s glorious conversion during the semi-recent Jimmy Neutron and Spongebob Squarepants era. MTV, however, seems to have lost its soul. Turn it on today, and you’re likely to never see a single music video. Instead, it’s all Teen Mom and True Life reality shows. Will this sad state of affairs lead to another violent uprising led by music-starved fanatics? I only have one response to that.

I don’t know. (Cue bucket of green slime).

* My apologies to you clueless rich kids who were too busy watching Disney Channel in the 80s to get that last reference. Wubba wubba wubba!

Life (and Other Games)

board game pawns dice“Hey mom, can we play a board game?”

Groan. I looked at the eager, shining eyes of my 10yo and pasted on a cheery smile. “Oh boy, a board game! There’s nothing I’d like better.”

“Hooray!” My son bounced off to search for a board game. “Blokus?” he called. “Chutes and Ladders? The Game of Life? Ooh, I know, how about Dogopoly?”

Nooooooo! I wanted to scream. Anything but Dogopoly, which takes the world’s longest, most boring board game and makes it more boring by selling dogs instead of luxury properties. Luckily, our Dogopoly game had mysteriously disappeared, so our family (minus the older teen, who was superglued to the computer, lost in the World of Warcraft) settled down on the living room floor to play Scrabble Slam!

dogopoly_boardYes, it is necessary to write Scrabble Slam! with an exclamation point, to emphasize how fun! And exciting! And fast! This game is. For about three minutes. Then, of course, Mom wins while everyone else is still holding a fistful of cards. Because we all forgot rule number one of Family Game Night in our house – never play word games of any kind with Mom. Or strategy games. Or pretty much any game besides Life or Chutes and Ladders.

 

The strangest thing is that I used to be crazy about board games. When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I played them all the time, whenever we weren’t playing Atari games or little league sports. Pay Day, Clue, Connect Four, and yes, even the dreaded Monopoly used to seem so fun (even though my older sister used to alter the rules in her favor). But somewhere within the past several years, I lost my enthusiasm for board games. Especially games of chance, where it doesn’t matter how talented you are at anything, because any player can win or lose just by getting a lucky spin or landing on the wrong space. Maybe it feels too much like the real Game of Life.

But here’s the thing – even though I am no longer crazy about board games, I am super crazy about my kids. They are like a cup of awesome-sauce with sugar on top. And so, any trace of distaste I may feel for board games is overshadowed by my love for them. For them, I would happily roll dice and dole out fake money. I would pretend to suck at checkers and accidentally-on-purpose forget that I am holding a +4 Wild Card in my Uno deck. I would even – gulp! – play Dogopoly for a few hours, if that’s what they really wanted to do.

family_games_words

Because that’s what you do when you love someone. You jump into their world with them and play the game with your sunniest attitude, even if it’s not your thing. Game on!

classic board games