Monday, March 24, 2008

Back for Thirds

A former student of mine just showed up in my office, which usually give me a moment of panic.  Will I remember his name?  What class was he in?  What does he want from me?

But I remembered this kid, no problem.  He took my class right after Addie was born, and always teased me about the crib I had in my office for days she came to work with me.  He was a pretty average student, pulling a C, but a good kid, participated in class, friendly.  A few weeks before the end of the semester--four years ago--he came to see me because he was about to be deployed for Iraq and was having to withdraw from class.  From all his classes.

The same thing happened two years ago.  He stopped by my office to see if he could finish up my class via an independent study.  I said that would be fine, but he got deployed a second time before we could get it figured out.

And today, again.  Wanting to know if he can finally do that independent study, this time from Iraq, where he is headed for his third and final tour.  He has one year there, then one year to finish here, then he'll hopefully graduate and start something looking like a normal life.  "At least, that's what I hope," he says.

A lot of if's in there.  He has to survive this next year in Iraq (over 4,000 Americans dead there now, and maybe 90,000 Iraqis).  And then when he gets back, he'll have to fight like hell to get his GPA back up, which has taken a beating from all of these deployments, and from his struggles trying to re-acclimate to civilian life.  "I forget about obvious things that happen here, like Christmas," he told me.  "We don't have holidays in Iraq.  Time moves so much slower here."  He didn't go out to eat for his first three months back, asking his ex-girlfriend to pick up take-out all the time because when he went out on the road he kept hearing IEDs and going into convoy mode, on accident, on the freeway (which seems to involve running cars that might cut in front of you off the road).

So he'll also probably need some psychological help, which the army doesn't seem to be too super at providing at the moment.  And then an employer will have to take a chance on him, what with his shitty gpa and the fact that he's a little twitchy.

I didn't ask him what he thought of the war, generally.  That doesn't seem a fair question to ask someone who has given up the better part of four years and withstood general craziness.  I didn't want him to think I was baiting him into criticizing the world he has to go inhabit now for another year.  Maybe I should have asked, given him a chance to tell that story.  But I didn't.

It'll probably all work out fine.  At least, that's what I hope.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Redeeming Easter

Didn't think I was having spring fever, not really.  Probably because of the trip to hot, hot India plus being so busy that the weeks have been running together, like one of those night-time photographs of a freeway, where all the carlights are blurred into long streaks.

But I've got it now, boy, and how.  We woke up this morning to a skiff of snow on the ground and, for the first time in months, I felt downright surly about it.  I mean it's Easter, right?  Buds on the branches and dew on the crocuses and everything?

That's such a lie.  I don't think I've ever really associated Easter with spring, or with anything, for that matter.  Easter has been such a non-event, for forever.  As a kid, it pales in comparison to Christmas, right?  And tights in spring are so itchy, so wrong, bound up underneath those Easter dresses.  I've even spent Easters in the near past cursing them for being just another way to sell candy and cards.  And then there's the whole Jesus dying for our sins and then rising again thing.  I mean, totally implausible.  A holiday for dupes and religious nutjobs.

But this isn't the whole story, I don't think, and today I had some healing around the Easter bit, and am thinking about embracing it, the whole egg-dyeing kit and caboodle.

Surprisingly, despite the taste of boredom and cynicism in my mouth around the idea of Easter, the memories I do have of it as a kid, for the most part, are good ones.  My favorites were when I would stay at my Dad's house for the holiday weekend, and his wife Gloria would haul everybody's ass out to some cold hill outside Nampa for sunrise service.  I don't remember for sure, but I can bet you a million bucks I hated getting up that early on a Sunday--I was an inveterate sleeper-inner (still would be if it weren't for my varmint offspring).  But I have fond memories of sitting huddled on a blanket, watching that sun rise, singing "Nearer My God to Thee" or "Onward Christian Soldiers" with a bunch of other shivering people.  Everyone seemed happy, and I liked feeling as if something momentous was happening, like I might actually have some religious bone in my body calling me to Christ in a meaningful way.  That bone never actually materialized, but it felt sometimes on those hills like I came close.  Plus Gloria always made biscuits and gravy when we got back to the house.  Yumma.

I know, I know.  It's easy to be cynical about the commercialization part of it.  Easter's often on the tail of Valentine's Day, and I don't know too many twenty-somethings who feel super-gracious about that holiday every year, so there's probably some conflation between the two going on.  Having kids seems to redeem all of the crap around these holidays, though.  You get to create something new for them, and in doing so leave a bunch of your old baggage behind.  I liked filling up the kids' easter baskets with books and chocolate and other little treats.  We didn't spend much, either.  We had saved the baskets from last year's Easter, when nana and papa sent them, and I went to the kid consignment store for fillings, good as buying stuff at Target.  I refrained from wasting money on a bunch of plastic crap, but did get some chocolate bunnies and cookies.  Addie had a field day with the whole thing.

[Aside:  I'm having some guilt about my and my kids' chocolate addictions, but that's fodder for another post.  Let me just say that the words "child slavery" make the chocolate taste a little less good].

Anyway, the best thing about this Easter was going to unchurch for a little tune-up.  Because of a crazy string of travel and weekend commitments, I hadn't been in over a month, and I've been feeling it (see the last post on being an uncontrollable grump).  Given that I got about three hours of sleep last night thanks to the kids taking turns waking up every five seconds and Eric being out of commish because of a sinus surgery, I almost didn't go.  But thank the ungod I did, because it kicked ASS. 

The church was filled to overflowing--literally--and I ended up sitting on the floor in the foyer with about a hundred other people.  But it didn't matter.  The choir was big today, bigger than I've ever heard them, and they rocked the George Harrison and the Italian opera and I got chills from how beautiful it all was.  The good Dr. Roger delivered a talk on reading into the metaphor of Easter, a time of recommitment to values.  It's not about reading the story of Jesus literally, he said, it's a teaching story Jesus (as teacher, not son of God) used to remind us that it is only our beliefs that stand in our way, and only our beliefs that can set us free.  Rising from the dead is about refusing to be afraid of death, about using fear as a partner in our movement forward and not a mountain in our way.  So Jesus threw death off like a cloak, refusing to be diminished by it, just to say, "See?  What do you have to be afraid of?  That's just little old death over there!  Now watch, while I move this big-ass rock out the way!  Damn!"

And this is how we should live!  We should use this moment to recommit to our values, to throw off stagnation and fear.  To recommit to what we really value.  And then he, Dr. Roger, got really going like he gets sometimes and I got so fired up.  Because he said you know, we sometimes forget what we value and we serve other things, like money.  He said the United States was doing just that right now.  The Dalai Lama has been exiled from Tibet for over fifty years, he said, due to the brutality and human rights violations in China.  We in the United States have the power to do something, as we've done elsewhere, and yet we do not because we wish to continue trade with China.  To exchange our dollars for their goods.  And aren't we better than that, he demanded?  Aren't we as Americans better that to turn our backs in this way?  (Phew.  Glad I didn't buy the plastic eggs).

Oh, man.  I sound completely crazy, I know.  But, my God, sitting there in that sanctuary, I felt like my heart was going to burst.  I cried through the whole talk, and I sang loud, loud, LOUD during all the songs, and I clapped my hands and I danced at the end, and hugged people and shook hands.  Because there was just some healing that happened there today, around Easter, and that deserved some rejoicing.

So I'll feel a little differently next year about this holiday, I think, and will reflect on Jesus's rising not as a reminder that I am cloaked in some sort of sin, or as evidence that some religious folks in this country are completely crazy to think it's all true and evidence that Jesus is the only way, truth, light, whatever.  But as a reminder that we all get to recommit, to take our hands from our eyes and see again.  There's always that amazing grace.  Easter bunnies, crazy, rock-throwing, death-cloak-shedding Jesuses, crocuses and all.  Bring it.  I'm ready.

Kay.  I can't resist.  This is from one of my favorite websites (Jesus of the Week).  It's supposedly the image of Christ.  In a dog's ass.  All I can say is God is everywhere.  Tee.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Got To Say It Was a Good Day

A colleague and friend just popped in my office door, cheerful and kind, asking how I was.  I opened my mouth and found myself spewing a fountain of ridiculous complaints.

Stop the record.

I'm sitting here a half-hour later, wondering why in the world I did that.  I'm surrounded by extraordinary blessings and moments of grace every five seconds, in my job and otherwise, and when I open my mouth out comes the stream of self-involved, over-processed bullshit.  I'm happy, for chrissakes!  I'm having a great day!  Why did I bitch and moan?  I just manufactured a whole bunch of drama out of nothing.  What is that about?

True, things have been tough at work lately, especially before spring break.  I had a little meltdown, I think, caused by not taking enough care of myself, working too much, and making dumb choices divorced from what I really wanted.  But a big chunk of that unhappiness, I realized today, has been manufactured by me being on bullshit-spewing autopilot rather than reacting to the present that happens to be around me.

So, how am I doing today?

Fantastic.  I had a great interview with the editor of my favorite magazine in the world, an interview I'll be able to use in a research paper I'm getting to work on.  I'm sitting in my cozy little office with a cup of my favorite tea doing research I'm really excited about--research about global warming, and the role of action and hope.  I was in a great class this morning.  The sun is shining.  It's the first day of spring.  I get to go home tonight to my incredible family who, when I walk in the door, scream "MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA" as loud as they can, and practically fall down weeping to see me, like I was Elvis or something.  We're having new friends over for dinner--friends with kids!  I get to crawl into bed tonight with my incredibly sexy husband.  There's a candidate running for office who makes me weepy every time he opens his mouth.  Many parts of the world (our own included) seem to be going to hell in a handbasket, and still there is beauty and grace everywhere.

I'm good.  To quote Ice Cube, Today was a good day....  And that's the truth, Ruth.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Glossary of Terms
What You Need to Know to Understand Nolie

BOCK!:  I'd like a glass of milk, please.

Bock:  Read me a book, please.

BOOSH!:  I'd like a glass of juice, please.

Cacka:  Give me a cracker, or I'll break your arm.

Dadadadadadada!:  Dad

Daddy:  Addie

Go away!:  Go away.

HUG!  Pick me up, NOW, bitch!

Hungee:  I'm hungry.

Mamamamamama!:  Mom

Nini:  Nolie

No ni-ni:  Don't even TRY to put me to bed right now, or I'll make your life a living hell.

No way!:  No way.

Tank oo:  Thank you

TEES!:  Oh, my God, look at all those trees out the window!  Holy cow!  I'm going to scream "TEES" all the way to school!  Just in case you are missing them!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rocking Nolie

Nolie is wanting me to rock her to sleep again, a habit she had fallen out of before we left for Idaho, but got used to while we were gone.  I have mixed feelings about it, of course.  On the one hand, it's nice to be able to lay her down in her crib, say "night night" and then go enjoy some free time before I pass out myself.  [Note:  by "free time," I usually mean do the dishes, or pay bills, or catch up on work.  Sometimes love on husband].  Like last night, we had a few friends over, and it would have been great to chat with them instead of be trapped in the nursery of darkness, rocking, rocking, rocking.

Then again, it is perfectly lovely, this captive time with her.  Nolie still barely fits into my lap, her knees curled up, her head nestled up under my chin.  Her eyelashes flutter against my shoulder while she fights off sleep, and she whispers goodnights to all of her loved ones (ni-ni d-Addie, ni-ni Dada, ni-ni Mama, ni-ni Gigi, ni-ni Pru-Pru, ni-ni Papa...).  Then she goes limp and her heaviness sinks into my body while I murmur to myself at the gorgeousness of it all.

I was thinking, too, last night, of a time in the future when she won't want to be rocked by me, when such intimacy will be flatly refused, as it should be, as she grows up.  There will be plenty of time to talk with my friends then, to fill the space my girls will have left in their processes of individuation.  It will be interesting to deal with their own suffocation rather than my own.  For now, I'll breathe Nolie and Addie in when they crawl into my laps, and be glad they choose me for comfort.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Excuuuuuuuse me! for not posting in half a decade.  I had to fall off the grid for a while, or else succumb to the demons of office politics, overwork, and constant obligation.  Also, we went on a familial junket to Idaho.  We're back now, and it's spring break, and I am only now bringing myself to check emails and post on this blog.

We got home, with both me and Eric having wicked sinus infections, and I slept a good fourteen hours.  Traveling with kids is never not exhausting.  But it was a great trip, for many reasons:

1.  It's such a gift to spend time with the kids away from the responsibilities of housecleaning and work and toddler birthday parties and all the other things that keep us busy (and happy, usually) here in Denver.  I felt like I got reintroduced to my babies, learned that Nolie knows a ton of words and that Addie has a wildly vivid imagination, mostly involving birthday parties, baby sisters, and princesses.

2.  Seeing Addie and Nolie bond with all their papas, nanas, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Here's Addie with her Uncle JB:

3.  Having absolute epilaughtic fits over the fact that Chuck Norris has two speeds:  walk, and kill.  Thanks for that, Uncle Jade.

4.  Learning that, right in the middle of dinky old Twin Falls, Idaho, is a beautiful gorge that has been carved out by the heft of the Snake River.  How did I grow up in Idaho and never see this?

5. Getting a dissertation from Addie on the definition of "smooch":  "It's a BIG kiss, mommy, like this!  With a big smack and a squeak.  No, like THIS!  Bigger!"

6.  Having Nolie race around Nana Debbie's house, chased by her grandpa, and yelling "No tickle, gampa!  No!"  Then dissolving into fits of laughter when he caught her.

7.  Staying up late with my sister and her husband, pontificating on how hard it is to raise kids, and how they break our hearts every other second, and how it's the best thing in the world.  I'm pretty sure I drank an entire bottle of Yellow Tail by myself, and then got rug burns ON MY FACE when I tried to show the kids some yoga breakdancing moves.  Oh, well.