Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Full Of Unlimited Potential *Possibilities!

I mentioned in my last post that we recently attended a friend’s memorial service. Our friend Esme was murdered on New Year’s Eve. That loss has colored everything since. Lots of other people have written powerful things about it… this is just another little something from pretty far afield, to join the constellation of rememberings that are spackling the internet. And because I didn’t know her well, I’m writing mostly about me. I’m sorry about that, because it would have been great to know her better. But grief is always about the griever in any case, so here it is.

Esme was super awesome. No, really, she was, I’m not just saying that out of deference or with my rosy hindsight glasses on. If you’d asked me about her before, I’d have told you the same then. I’d have sighed, smiled, and said, “Oh yeah, Esme. Isn’t she so awesome?” She had hundreds of friends, acquaintances like me, deep connections with many others, and all of us feeling that she genuinely loved us. If someone aimed to send this city into a howling tailspin, taking out Esme would’ve been tactic #1. And that’s basically what happened. We’re all still reeling. Though I doubt the person who took her life realized it would have such an effect – and wow, what a giant shit-pile of bad karma he landed in, didn’t he.

Esme was the Ultimate Fan. She was the girl in the front row, grinning and rocking out. I knew her as a music fan and an enthusiastic karaoke singer – she came to a bunch of our Karaoke Underground shows over the years. Kaleb and I have always said our favorite thing about KU is that it brings together people who aren’t afraid to be seen having an all-out irony-free good time, and Esme did just that. She was a great duet singer, getting people up on stage, pulling them into the fun.

I don’t know why it’s so uncommon, so remarkable, to be openly enthusiastic and warm and welcoming, but I know I don’t do it, and I know Esme did. It was kind of magic, but also the simplest thing. She just loved. The overriding feeling I have in reaction to this mess is a desperate need to become awesomer, to spread that love, to be less selfish with myself. What does it take to smile, to let people know you appreciate them as they are, to get right up next to the stage and let the band know they’re rocking it? I don’t think it is magic, actually. I think it takes a tiny little risk of the ego, and a habit of just taking that tiny risk, over and over, until it becomes you. I’ll be working on that.

Know what else I’m going to be working on? Finding ways to make the world less *actually risky* for women to exist in. It’s not just about getting one guy off the streets – it’s about making ours a culture where violence like this doesn’t happen. My raging feminist has been reawakened, and I don’t even know where to aim her.

Well, there is one obvious direction, actually. Esme worked with Girls Rock Camp, an amazing organization you should check out if you’re not familiar with it. She poured herself into it, touched a lot of young lives in the process, and changed the course of things a bit. Me, I went to the showcases and cheered on the bands, but I’ve never volunteered, because I didn’t think I rocked enough. Clearly, I was missing the point.

At Esme’s memorial, so much love was given voice. My favorite story was from Emily Marks, remembering when Esme started as a volunteer with GRC and the camp staff had a policy of not referring to the campers as “cute,” but instead commenting on other facets of the girls’ awesomeness. Esme was into that idea, but confessed she had some trouble implementing it because “Dude, they’re all so adorable!” and declared they needed a code phrase. To this day at GRC, if the urge to point out a girl’s cuteness is too strong to suppress, you’ll hear “she’s just so full of unlimited potential!” Favorite new phrase of all time.

A person could get pretty angry thinking about the unlimited potential that was wasted when Esme was killed. And that anger would be righteously justified. And also… it’s a heavy, and light, thought… Esme’s own potential is us, now. We’re all full of unlimited potential. We always have been, but now that she’s gone…

Dude, we’d better get to it.

* UPDATE: I got my P words mixed up. Like Gerald from the Jimmy Castor Bunch, only backwards. (How do you say P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L? POSSIBILITY!) This is to say that the phrase is Full Of Unlimited Possibilities. Oops. I was alerted to this by the creation of the Esme Barrera Unlimited Possibilities Scholarship Fund, which you should donate to right now.


Nudist Colony: Pop. 1

A version of this has been hanging on our fridge for a couple years now. It’s Sylvan’s signature Venn diagram. There’s really not much more to say about it.  Who am I to get in the way of true happiness?

The Hair Issue

Sylvan’s hair… It’s remarkable. As in, lots of people remark upon it.

At birth, he had a head of dark brown hair. All the new growth, though, was light blonde. When we’re out and about, people often ask me if his dad has blonde hair. Nope, dad’s hair is boring brown just like mine, and Sylvan’s will probably get darker too as he gets older. I hear his uncle Jacob was towheaded until puberty struck, so maybe that’s the genetic blueprint. I’ve had this conversation dozens of times.

He’s often mistaken for a girl, I assume because his hair is long. Or sometimes because of the hot pink sneakers he picked out at Savers. (Last month a maybe 8-year-old kid at the playground heard me using male pronouns, looked him up and down, and asked me directly, “Oh, is she a boy?” a phrasing I found genuinely delightful.) Or it could be because I call him “Sylvie” sometimes. In any case, being read as a girl doesn’t seem to bother him, and I hardly notice anymore. I don’t usually correct people on his gender unless it’s our first meeting and we may see them again, and then it’s just because I don’t want them to feel dumb or angry later when they find out.

More than just long for a boy’s hair, though – Sylvan’s hair is also tied in knots, matted, sticking up all over the place like chicken feathers. People don’t usually comment directly on that, though I can tell sometimes they’re noticing the mess, and usually when they comment on his hair color (“it’s so blonde!”) there’s the “and unkempt!” addendum lurking unspoken. One recent remark took the high road, “He seems like a kid who knows what he wants.” That he does, yes. And at this point in time, Sylvan is quite sure that he does not want his hair to be brushed.

The tangled hair has been something of an Issue for me lately. I used to be able to persuade him to let me brush it out every now and then. He even let me trim it a few months ago. On our big road trip up north this fall, he agreed to let me detangle the mess so he could use the hair dryer on the hotel wall. But since then, no dice. I even bought him a hair dryer for Christmas, hoping the allure of electric wind would get me permission to do some regular brushing. He dried my hair with it a few times, but lost interest when he realized my ulterior motive.

So every day I stewed, and wondered when he was going to let me fix his hair. I’m sure that every day I asked him some form of that question. I snuck up on him with conditioner in the shower, which helped some, and he didn’t protest too much. But I kept wishing I’d get a chance to Fix the Issue.

I talked it through with Kaleb, to get at what the Issue was, exactly. His hair is clean enough. It does get in his eyes some, so there was kind of a pretense of an excuse there, that maybe he could see better, play easier, if it were brushed and trimmed. But really, when it came down to it, I was embarrassed. Embarrassed by the hairstyle choice of my 4-year-old son. Worried that strangers would judge me as weird at best, neglectful at worst. We make some unusual parenting choices, and I do ultimately trust our process, but I’m sensitive to judgment. I give it too much sway, I concoct imaginary defenses against it, and I feel it as a vague potential danger to our family. The word “neglectful” conjures up demons of CPS files, and while there’s currently no Hairstyle Police, the thread of fear leads me there. Following my fears to this very unlikely end did help some. But I couldn’t shake it completely.

The turning point came at a friend’s memorial service a couple weeks ago. We didn’t bring Sylvan along. It’d been years since either of us had attended a funeral, and we weren’t sure what this one would be like. We didn’t want to confuse him, or disrupt the proceedings chasing a squirrelly (unkempt!) kid, so he played with his neighbor friend and we just brought the baby with us. Almost as soon as we arrived we wished he had come, and resolved to include him more in important stuff like that.

But that’s fodder for another post. Back to the turning point for the Hair Issue: a musician stood up with his guitar to sing a song in honor of our friend. Kaleb turned to me with a quiet chuckle and whispered, “His hair looks just like Sylvan’s!” And suddenly there was revealed a possibility in living, human form: Sylvan all grown up, with a mess of brown tangled hair. We both giggled in relief as we realized the other fear that had been behind the Hair Issue: “what if he never brushes it?” Well, so what if he doesn’t? Apparently it’s possible to survive as an adult in today’s society with your hair all messed up. One could even become quite successful in a number of fields despite (because of?) such a style choice. This guy was doing all right. He was a loving enough, smart enough, mature enough human that he could write and share music with a grieving community. That’s a pretty high bar, actually. Did anyone there judge him for his “rat’s nest” or tut-tut under their breath about a lack of hygiene? Nope, at most they noticed it, as they might a jacket someone wore. I’m guessing most of them didn’t even notice, because it didn’t matter. Our friend was dead, and we were all alive, and jeez, why the heck would I ever nag my kid about something as stupid as brushing his hair?

I still occasionally catch myself wanting to mess with Sylvan’s hair, but when I notice that thought, I reply in my head with something like this:

His hair is a visible sign of our love and respect.

Makes me smile and back off every time. A couple days ago, really feeling that thought, I rested my hand on his head and asked him, “When are you gonna get your hair cut?” just as I used to. He didn’t swat my hand away, he just said, matter-of-factly, “Tomorrow.” Huh. Turns out he meant the kind of tomorrow that’s always ahead of today, not the kind where you schedule a date with a comb and scissors. But I’m ok with that.

A Tale Of Two Days

A sunny, windy Friday morning. Cozy woke me up, I got her a fresh diaper, and we sat snuggling and nursing on the couch. Sylvan woke up and staggered over to snuggle with us. After a few minutes piled up there, blissfully shrugging off sleep, we decided we’d take the bus downtown to the children’s museum. We hadn’t been since they’d changed exhibits from golf ball ramps to dinosaurs, and I thought the dinosaur exhibit was due to end soon.

We ate breakfast as I looked up the website, thinking I’d bite the bullet and spring for another annual membership, ours having been expired for a couple months – but there I found a dinosaur costume contest! Make a homemade dinosaur costume, take a picture of yourself wearing it in the dinosaur exhibit, submit it, ask all your friends to “like” it, and win a year’s membership. There were only two entries so far… and the contest ended in less than a week! How lucky! We had just begun a new budget with the new year, so money was on my mind. This could save us a good chunk, and be fun besides.

Excited, we got into making dinosaur masks to take with us. Sylvan decided on a triceratops with paper plates and staples for me, a generic spiky-headed one for baby sister, and a fierce green-glittery paper bag T. Rex for himself. He proudly carried the bag full of masks the half-mile to the bus stop and into the children’s museum, which we had practically to ourselves. He explored and played for hours with me following along, the baby slept and nursed and slept some more in the Ergo. We had a lunch picnic in the lobby, found some magic growing dinosaurs for $2 in the gift shop, and got a great snapshot of him in his scary mask, staring down a model of a baby T. Rex. I submitted it via email that night as he slept. I felt like supermom. What a Perfect Happy Day.

Paper bag mask vs. museum's baby T Rex

totally the scariest

Later the next week, a similar morning scene unfolded… but on this morning, Cozy and I were still in the bathroom when Sylvan woke up. So instead of cuddling and cooing at his sister, he headed straight for the laptop in the living room and began a Busytown Mysteries marathon on Netflix. When I’d finished getting Cozy dressed, I made him a tray for breakfast and sat next to him on the couch with another laptop to check email. We each stopped now and then to bug the other one, or take a bathroom break, or feed/play with Cozy, and were drawn back to our separate screens.

Then he said, out of the blue, “Did we win the dinosaur contest?” My heart sank as I realized I had forgotten all about it over the busy weekend, hadn’t even checked the site, hadn’t asked our friends to like his photo… with a groan and a grimace, I clicked it, and we had missed it by one day. There was Sylvan’s photo, with two pity votes from strangers. A cardboard triceratops had come from behind and won, just like we’d planned to.

Just like I’d planned to. He was only in it for the fun. But that thought came too late. He’d already seen my reaction, and he burst into tears and ran out of the room.

With a fierce pang, I realized we’d spent all morning on parallel trajectories, disconnected. Topped off by me making him cry over my petty disappointment.

Argh! The agony of getting it all wrong! It stung so much more because it contrasted so exactly against that other day, the Perfect Happy Day. The day that I’d just managed to ruin retroactively by making it all about something other than the awesome fun time that it was. I went after him with hugs to apologize for being silly, to say that his costume was definitely the best, and didn’t we have so much fun exploring with the dinosaurs? and he seemed ok with it again, but it still felt awful. I texted Kaleb with a howl of Stupid Me, and he replied… that I should just love Sylvan and love myself.

With another pang, I realized it was noon and I hadn’t eaten anything.

It’s simple, almost ridiculously so – be present with love for myself and my family, and it all works so smoothly, so easily! It’s as if we were all made to do this! But if I let that simple beauty slip to the background, let something else come into focus for too many minutes, lose too many opportunities to connect – then my blissful hike in the woods is interrupted by a tree branch smacking me in the face. Mothering is a hard gig some days.

My takeaways:
– I just gotta eat breakfast. As a nursing mom, I should probably eat it twice.
– I was willing to pay outright for the museum membership from the beginning. Why and how did it become such a disappointment? and transferred momentarily to the 4-year-old, no less? My expectations and my lack of flexibility, combined with a good dose of forgetfulness (which is all over everything these days) created the problem.
– Inertia is important. Beginning each day with a plan – or even just the seed of an idea – can make a big difference.

Post Navigation