Wings (aka: Two Poems on a Winter’s Day)

Ode to a Caterpillar

 

Oh little caterpillar

who brought such color to the world!

How I remember

tiny fingers grasping

heavy Mason glass

swift

ready to catch, to observe

the free ones

the ones with wings

the ones who flew.

So much you learned, as you curled

safe

in your small, loved home

until today

fragile walls tearing loose

open crack of wide, wide blue

cupped in hands

to test new wings.

Oh butterfly

this world is yours.

caterpillar-to-butterfly

 

Night Angels

 

Eyes lifted toward darkened skies

strapped warm in leather womb

hushed voices mingle with

steady drone.

There I see it

flash of copper light

brief sight of wingless angel

flying in the night.

Warm sigh

fingers pressed, cold against glass

until

once more the darkness lifts

and angel glows.

One by one

on tall, steel legs

they dance

across the stars

halos burning in bronze glory

as my lashes droop

beneath watchful eyes.

street-lamps-shining

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!

Unsinkable: Snapshots of a Failed Marriage

sinking shipThere was once a carefree little girl who spent half her time happily devouring books, and the other half watching Nickelodeon and trading Garbage Pail Kids. Then suddenly, without warning, life picked her up and threw her into adolescence – splash!

Unfortunately, no adult in her life had cared enough to give her swim lessons. But luckily, she was strong. After the initial icy shock, she managed to teach herself to swim.

Fast forward a few years

The day after her 19th birthday, at a university Christian group event, she met the man who would later become her husband. Her journal is filled with happy expressions and tiny hearts. She made a new friend. A nice guy. A Christian who is crazy about God, just like her. No, they don’t really like the same music. He doesn’t read. He’s not into sports. Only average intelligence. But who cares? He’s nice, and he’s into her, and he’s reasonably attractive. One day, he asks her to be his girlfriend. She is super excited. Her first college boyfriend!

Sometimes, her journal is filled with worry. They spent a summer working at different camps, and he didn’t write her even one letter. And afterward, she begins to realize something – they never go out on dates. Sometimes, if she really pushes, and pays his way, he will go to see a movie with her. But he does not ever initiate anything. He does not call her; she calls him. She gives, he takes. But still, he says that he loves her…

“Why do you love me?” she asks him.

“Because you love God,” he replies.

But lots of people love God, she thinks.

Four months after her 21st birthday, they are married. She wears a white gown with a long train and feels like a princess. Everyone has come to celebrate the union. They have built a big ship together – an unsinkable ship, they are convinced, and they have set sail. It is a perfect day.

They are both virgins. They are both excited about finally exploring sex together. But sex turns out to be very painful and difficult for her.

“I’m sure it will get better with practice,” she says.

It doesn’t.

One year later, she still hates sex. It is awful all the time, but he wants it all the time. She gives in, like a good wife. It hurts.

She works full time at her job, supporting him while he finishes university. She is exhausted when she returns home. The house is messy, dishes unwashed, bed unmade. He is playing computer games. She straightens up the mess and cooks dinner for the both of them. She asks him to help clean the house and wash laundry, but he doesn’t know how. She does it all, because she hates to nag a grown man. She resents it. There are holes in the ship that they did not notice before.

One day, she takes a bus to visit relatives in Seattle, and attends a job interview there. They want to hire her. Her husband says no. He doesn’t want to leave California. She considers going without him. In the end, she stays.

Two years later, they buy a house, and their first son is born, followed by their daughter, and then another son. She is so, so happy to be a mother. She stops working and becomes a homemaker, cooking, cleaning, and raising babies. She loves every moment of it. Her husband is now the one to work all day, and she takes pride in doing everything else so that he doesn’t have to. She also runs a home business, which brings in extra money to help make ends meet.

Her husband still spends every moment of his free time playing video games. But she doesn’t mind. Her time and energy is spent raising children. She still hates sex, but she tolerates it to keep the peace. They attend church as a family, go to social events, and take family trips, which she carefully plans. The holes are still there, but they patch them. Most of them. The ship still slowly fills with water, but she tries to ignore it.

When her youngest child is in grade school, she returns to work as a teacher.

“Good,” says her husband. “Now you can pay the mortgage, and I can spend my extra money on whatever I want.”

“Don’t you mean our extra money?”

“I earn it. So it’s mine.”

Despite the extra income, money seems to disappear before the bills are paid. He accuses her of overspending. She accuses him of the same thing. They fight. A lot. He accuses her of abandoning the children by going to work each day and not being there to pick them up after school.

“They are your children, too,” she reminds him.

The husband dominates the conversation. He talks on and on about the lack of sex. He wants the counselor to explain what he needs to do to make his wife have sex more. He keeps trying to get the counselor to side with him.

She quietly answers the counselor’s questions. She tries not to cry.

“There is a lack of coupleness about the two of you,” says the marriage counselor. “A failure to connect.”

She is depressed and lonely. The holes in the ship have grown too big to patch. Her husband has been hospitalized twice for psychosis caused by mental illness. She has no friends, no support network. She stops going to church.

“You don’t love me,” she tells her husband in a matter-of-fact way. “You don’t even know me.”

“Of course I know you,” he says. “I know you better than anyone.”

“Okay,” she says. “Then what’s my favorite song? One of my top five favorite bands, books, or movies? One of my top ten? Favorite sports teams? My favorite food? Favorite flower? Any of my life goals?”

He does not know any of these, even though most of the answers were on her Facebook page for anyone to see. They have been married for nearly fifteen years.

Although they have sex 2-3 times per week, he begins to seek out prostitutes. The first time he did, it was her birthday.

She is not even jealous. She is disgusted, but in a strange way, relieved. Now she has an excuse not to have sex with him anymore.

“You have to have sex with me,” he said. “It’s a biblical requirement. God says so.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “And fuck your god, too.”

He beats her for those words. He begins to punish her for her lack of interest in sex. He accosts her during random moments. He calls her names and makes false accusations. Although he is the main wage-earner, he refuses to provide money for groceries, clothes, or bills. She is forced to use credit cards to pay for the family’s necessities. The bills begin to mount.

He attacks her verbally every day. He follows her around town, certain that she is having an affair. He makes threats. She feels unsafe, and moves into their daughter’s bedroom. She hates using their children as a shield. She wants to leave, but does not know how. He forces her into positions in which she must defend herself, mentally and physically, then tells anyone who will listen – even the police, that he is her victim.

The ship has already sunk. She realizes that she has been treading water all this time, and so have the children. By staying with this man, she is putting them all at risk of drowning. It is time to become their life preserver.

Once upon a time, there was a strong, independent woman who learned to build her own ship. She put her three children in it, and they sailed away toward safety, toward a hopeful future, toward happiness. She left behind the man who was once her husband and does not miss him or their life together at all.

She returns to college to work toward a more fulfilling and lucrative career. Her children are healthy, joyful, and thriving. Although she still yearns for good friends, she realizes that, for the first time in many years, she is mostly happy and content with her life and her choices. No ship is unsinkable, she has learned. But that doesn’t mean she has to sink with it.

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.

Headbanging and Combat Boots (aka My Love for Rock Music)

My first love for music was not awakened by rock. In fact, my family pretty much never listened to rock music, and pretty much thought I was a freak for enjoying that style of music so much. I grew up in a household full of sisters who regularly blasted the albums of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and lots of 1970s funk bands from the family stereo. My first love for music began then, as I learned how to dance The Rock, The Cowgirl, and the Hustle in my living room. (This, of course, was eventually replaced by The Snake, The Cabbage Patch, The Pac Man, The Robocop, The Running Man, The Roger Rabbit, and the Electric Slide, though I digress).

1990s grunge footwear

I loved my combat boots. In the 90s, I pretty much wore them with everything – even dresses.

Guns N Roses

Guns N Roses

But at some point in the middle of the 80s, probably about the time that Push It and My Adidas took over the airwaves, my love for music began to shift onto its own course. Yes, yes, I will admit to crushing on teen pop, like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, and I never gave up my love for Madonna. But starting in 8th grade, I began to fall hard for the long-haired hard rockers like Poison, Bon Jovi, and Europe. Next thing you know, I was turning toward the less effeminate “true” hard rock ways of Aerosmith and Guns n’ Roses. And by the middle of 9th grade, I was a hard-core, black t-shirt wearing, authentic metal rocker wanna-be. I wrote METALLICA, the right way, on binders, on my locker, and on my razor-slashed blue jeans (because that just proved how cool you were). I watched Headbanger’s Ball on MTV and banged my head to the rhythms of Megadeth, Slayer, and Ozzy Osbourne.

METALLICA

The RIGHT way to write “Metallica.”

So what made me renounce my Rocker ways? Two things. First of all, when I refused to say cuss words and drink blue Kool-aide laced with whiskey at Heather the Stoner Queen’s house one afternoon, she turned against me and told everyone everywhere that I was nothing but a poser. Ouch! There went my reputation. Then, I became a Christian and made it my personal mission to tell all the rockers how evil and satanic their music was. After that, every rocker in my high school avoided me as if I had announced that I was now a New Kids on the Block fan.

Eventually, I returned to rock music. But a I matured, so did my tastes. I learned to love different types of rock – the progressive sounds of The Cure and Depeche Mode and  the groundbreaking classic rock of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and The Eagles. When the 90’s grunge rock scene appeared, I traded in my death metal t-shirts for flannel shirts and combat boots and sipped espresso to the tunes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. These days, I am more likely to sip earl grey tea while relaxing to smooth jazz or nuevo flamenco music. But I am still a rocker at heart. Though I have long since given up the combat boots, and headbanging now gives me a headache, I can’t resist the occasional urge to turn on Bohemian Rhapsody, strum my air guitar, and rock out in my living room.

Rites of Passage (aka: Why I Want to Send My Kids to Camp)

Summer Camp Kids Backpacking Every year, as summer approaches, I am consumed by the overwhelming urge to send my kids away to summer camp. No, silly – not as a punishment. And not because I seek time alone apart from my kids. Honestly, they are terrific kids, and I enjoy spending time with them. Summer camp is the opposite of a punishment. It is a treat. An American annual tradition. A rite of passage for school-aged kids. And in my own personal memories, a heavenly oasis in the middle of an otherwise dull summer vacation.

I was discussing summer camp the other day with my kids while my younger brother happened to be visiting. The conversation went something like this:

Me: (Sigh).          Wasn’t YMCA Camp Ravencliff the best?

My Brother:       Yeah. We had the best time.

Both of Us:         Y-M! Y-M! Y-M-C-A! C-A! C-A! C-A-M-P!

Y-M-C-A C-A-M-P, Y-M-C-A C-A-M-P!

Y CAMP, Y CAMP, Y-A-A-A-A-Y Y CAMP!

Of course, my kids were stunned speechless by our sudden outburst. I then took advantage of their speechlessness by gushing about how awesome YMCA summer camp was. Well, okay, the powdered milk was not awesome. Nor were the water ticks that stung like bees while we swam in the warm, green Eel River (yes, I think there were eels in the Eel River). But the cabins, and the crazy games and campfire skits, and the wacky counselors, and the songs, the songs, the plethora of silly and significant songs which millions of other children have learned during their own summer camp experiences – those were the things that made camp great. 3 kids at summer camp

But, like many great things in life, summer camp is dreadfully expensive. For this reason, my kids have missed out. Well, that isn’t entirely true. My oldest has been to summer camp twice, and loved every second. And all three kids have had opportunities every year to go away to outdoor education camp with their classes at school. We also go camping as a family at least once every summer. So no, they have not exactly missed out. But still, I am dying to send my daughter to one of the girl scout camps where I was once a counselor, where girls her age can go backpacking, sailing, kayaking, and horseback riding. I would love to send my younger son off to his big brother’s camp, where he can learn archery and try out the ropes course. But it is oh, so expensive.

So I will wait. And this time, perhaps do a better job of saving money just for the purpose of letting my youngest kids experience one year of summer greatness. One week to observe the great rite of passage that is summer camp, so that when they are adults, their eyes will light up as they launch into the camp song that warms their memories, as my camp song has done for me, for my siblings, and for so many other children across the country.

Maybe some people will read this and think that it is not worthwhile to spend hundreds of dollars so that my kids can enjoy a week of silly games and songs. But it is so much more than that. For me, summer camp was my first foray into the world away from my family and those who knew me. It was my first opportunity to grow and get to know myself and my place in the world in the absence of that which was familiar and safe. I grew more during those seven days of camp than at any other point throughout the year. And I will always keep with me the special, magical feeling that came when, every evening, when the sky was black and brilliant with stars, I sat before the bright, crackling campfire, surrounded by other campers – my instant friends for the week. Before us stood the camp directors, one gently strumming a guitar, and the other leading us in our nightly song. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, seeking peace and comfort, I return to those nights, and that song, which guided us back through the woods to the safety of our cabins, where we would await another day, ready for the next day of adventure.

Peace I ask of thee o river,
Peace, peace, peace.
E’re I learn to live serenely,
Cares will cease.
From the hills I gather courage,
Visions of the day to be.
Strength to lead and strength to follow,
All are given unto me.
Peace I ask of thee o river,
Peace, peace, peace.

summer-camp-campfire

Down Down Baby (aka: Exploring Children’s Folklore)

girls playing games It is a part of nearly every childhood. It is passed on from one generation of children to the next, and from one side of the country to the other.  From the outside, it looks so innocent: clusters of little girls clapping hands together and singing songs on the playground. So sweet, right? Surely they  are singing about rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns.

Completely wrong. Chances are, those little girls were singing something like this:

Down down baby, down by the roller coaster

Sweet, sweet baby, I’ll never let you go

Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, shimmy shimmy rock!

Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, shimmy shimmy rock!

Ooh chi chi wa wa (a biscuit)

I found a lover (a biscuit)

He’s so sweet (a biscuit)

Like my candy treat (a biscuit)

 Or perhaps:

 

Uno dos ciento

East to west

I met my boyfriend at the candy store

He bought me ice cream, he bought me cake

He brought me home with a belly ache…

Passed down through the ages

 

What’s that you say? These little girls are singing about finding lovers and meeting boyfriends? But they are only children! Well, it is not so unusual. When I was studying child development in university, I came across a number of interesting books chronicling children’s folklore throughout the decades. When one looks at the songs, chants, games, rhymes, and stories shared by children, and passed down from one generation to the next, one thing becomes glaringly evident: childhood is not completely innocent. Children’s folklore is filled with adult themes of violence, sex, racism, and classism, because they see and experience these things, to some extent,  in their actual lives.  Through childish expression of play, music, and games, children often explore and attempt to make sense of the issues which confuse, worry, or frighten them.

These examples which I have shared are fairly innocuous. Truth be told, I am too embarrassed to publish some of the blatantly racist jeers and games that were common among groups of children for many years (“Open the refrigerator, take out a Coke” may ring some uncomfortable bells for a few of you). A number of other rhymes and songs were disturbingly violent.

On top of Old Smokey, all covered with blood

I shot my poor teacher with a .44 slug…

 

Fudge fudge call the judge

Mama has a newborn baby

Wrap it up in tissue paper

Throw it down the elevator…

 

And a larger number of these rhymes and games were based on issues of sex and promiscuity.

 

Apple on a stick, makes me sick

Makes my tummy go two-forty-six.

Not because it’s dirty, not because it’s clean

Just because I kissed a boy behind a magazine.

Hey boys, wanna have fun?

Here comes ______ with her pants undone.

She can wibble, she can wobble, she can do the splits

But most of all, she can kiss kiss kiss!

 

Mama’s in the kitchen, burning rice

Daddy’s round the corner shooting dice

Brother’s in jail, raising hell

Sister’s ‘round the corner, selling fruit-cock-tail

hand clapping games

 

Children’s folklore has been documented for many decades, and in countries around the world. Though there are often variations from one town to the next, it is interesting to note how little the rhymes and games have varied over time. If you were once a child – especially a young girl growing up in the USA, chances are you recognize at least one of the rhymes I have listed here, and probably a few more which you would prefer to forget about. Of course, our own children are much more sheltered than we were as children. Much more innocent, too. Surely, they only play innocent games and sing about rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns.

Resources on Children’s Folkore:

One Potato, Two Potato: The Folklore of American Children by Mary Knapp

American Children’s Folklore edited by Simon J. Bronner

Children’s Folklore: A Source Book by Brian Sutton-Smith, Jay Mechling, Thomas W. Johnson, and Felicia R. McMahon

Children’s Folkore: A Handbook by Elizabeth Tucker