Thursday, October 8, 2009

Birthday Blurt

I have a love/hate relationship with my birthday as with all things that are supposed to be good, as with sunny days and Christmas. I say I don't care, that it doesn't matter what I do, what people do for me, but then there is a gnawing expectation and resultant disappointment when people fail to do amazing feats on my behalf. Pathetic. I'd rather stay in bed all day and wait until it's done.

Instead, though, I am going to write the blog entry I've been wanting to write, the one that has no overarching theme but that captures all the little snippets, the little hilarious, thought-provoking moments that have inspired the gold stars that might get overlooked because they are not part of the arc of the narrative. It is my blog version of a clip show. It is my birthday, I can do what I want!

First things first. I just awarded a gold star to a former colleague and friend whose parenting I have always admired, whose stories I have listened to with selfish interest in the hopes I may be able to implement similar strategies when I get to that stage. Her oldest daughter, who I still imagine in grade school, has flown the coop finally, gone to college. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about that. She had told me she was headed to parents weekend last week and, today, I asked her how it went. Her reaction was immediate: big eyes, clapping her hands together, she enthused, "SHE SAID I WAS RIGHT!"

Another mother and I cracked up and, at the same time, I think, were totally, absolutely impressed. It didn't even matter what she was right about, the fact that her daughter, nearly an adult, acknowledged that her mother was right about something was enormous, a mountain moved. Hilarious.

She went on. "She couldn't even look at me when she said it, and then she said, 'Can we talk about something else now?'" We laughed. Acknowledging the rightness of a mother's advice on such a big, personal, independent decision as where to go to college was hard, not something to linger on. Admitting you might have been wrong, let alone to parents who might very well say, "I told you so..." took a lot of guts. I gave my friend the gold star, but her daughter deserves one too.

Now, on a totally separate note, I want to acknowledge gold star giveaways to others. First, to the carpenter I met at Parco who recommended I buy at Ikea instead of pay him an exorbitant fee to build custom bookshelves. I had to fight him to convince him that I didn't like particle board mass-produced, that I actually believed in the quality of handmade goods, real wood, especially when it came to holding precious cargo, like books.

"Aren't you shooting yourself in the foot, putting yourself out of business?" I asked.

"No," he said. "It's easier for me to go with someone to Ikea to pick something out, then charge them a small fee to put it together and put it up. I'm thinking I may start a business just doing that. I don't need ALL the money, just some of it. I'm not trying to rape anybody, just to make a little money."

I gave him a gold star, although really I just want to give him some business, allow him to practice his craft. I don't know if I can afford it right now, though, that's the thing. That's the thing he knows. He is being practical, realistic when he refers potential clients to the cheaper competition, when he tries to still cash in on what the Big Box guys are doing. Smart.

Another recent standout is a woman I know who is studying hard, at Bank Street, to be a teacher. Her kids are at my kids' school and I bent her ear the other day asking questions and giving my opinions on education in general, the school where we have chosen to educate our own children in particular. Teaching is a terribly difficult thing, a terribly important thing, but it has been treated in our society as a trade like any other, a job with benefits and a pension. There is so much one has to learn in order to teach others how to learn, let alone actually teach them something. Interestingly enough, though, she was straightforward in her belief that what kids really learn, they learn at home. I couldn't agree more, gold star for her. I tell myself that often when I hear of the amazing opportunities afforded some of kids' friends in private school or at the magnet schools I could switch to if I so chose. My kids will be enthusiastic about learning, about acquiring knowledge and applying it if I am, if I continue to learn and acquire knowledge myself in front of them.

Which brings me to my next gold star. I am writing an article for a friend's new online magazine about an organization, Baal Dan, that helps orphans and street children in India. I interviewed the founder yesterday, an amazing young woman who started out with the idea of helping and just did it, raising more than $200,000 from friends and coworkers at her Dallas ad agency over the last few years and singlehandedly going to India to shop in markets for what real kids really need, for food and toys and underwear, and giving it to them. I cried as I typed, as she told me that "In fact, one person can make a difference, I am living proof." She is right. I am cynical sometimes, eschewing doing things I should because I am stopped by fear that it won't be enough. My new French roommate, a fabulous soul full of idealism, calls me on it. That, and babysitting, is why he is welcome to live in my house for free for as long as he likes.

"Isn't it better to do a little than to do nothing at all?" he questioned me the other night when I scoffed on the pathetic attempts we in Park Slope make to go green, to eat organic. I ranted on for a bit about how my bullshit meter goes off when people make their small attempts, but really, in the end, of course, he is right. If I stop using plastic bags or paper cups, and others do too, the giant reams of plastic bags and paper cups in grocery stores and cafes will eventually get smaller. I know this, but it seems overwhelming. I will have to think about Baal Dan's founder, who advised not to be afraid of scary statistics, to just do your little bit. She quoted Mother Theresa: if you can't feed 100 people, just feed one."
I love that. Gold star for her, for my roommate for young idealists one and all.

Questioning is key, imagining there might actually be answers and that if you think hard enough about it you'll come up with them is crucial. I have to give a gold star, as usual to my kids. First, to Oscar, who screwed up his cute little face the other night at the Chinese restaurant after Eli posited that "everything is made in China." After a moment's pause to come up with why that wasn't true, he said, relief in his countenance: "No! Brooklyn wasn't made in China..." Brilliant.

Next, to Eli, who is nothing if not totally seeking The Truth. As he sat reading next to me in the kitchen the other day, he started a chapter in his Magic Tree House book titled, I saw, "The Universe." The title must have made him think.

"What's it really about, Mommy?" he asked, taking his nose out of the book. "I mean, is it about what we are inside, in here," he gestured to his own little chest, "or is it about everything outside, the Universe? What is life really about?"

I think I took a step back. How semen comes out was hard, the littany of questions sparked by his book about past presidents including whether every single one of them had been good or bad, what communism was, what did paranoia and scandal mean, those were hard too. But the meaning of life? Really? Shit. Luckily, I blog about such things. I simply referred him to a past blog entry, to the rabbi's mention of Einstein's theory of optical delusion.

"Have you heard of Einstein?" I said.

"Of course, duh," he said, reminding me he was in fact 8.

"Well, he said we are all coming at the world from our own view, from inside ourselves, of course, but that we need to be connected to others, to be part of the larger Universe, that's important. So I guess it's a combination?!"

His nose was already back in the book. Maybe Magic Tree House could be more elucidating. "Whatever," he said.

Whatever. The meaning of life, whatever. A new yoga instructor I tried yesterday reminded the class constantly to focus inwards as we went about our practice in the hopes that doing so would help us be more present in the world, to really be able to pay attention to external forces. Another yoga instructor/counselor sent me a link to a website where the writer spoke of remembering to stop and the smell the roses, to pay attention. Today, at 39, I will try to remember that. I have already, in advance of the day, received a fair number of gold stars via Facebook. Thanks for noticing everyone! I am trying and so, it seems, is everyone else, in their own unique, funny ways to find some meaning, to find some answers. Remembering that is the best birthday present of all!

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