Friday, April 19, 2013

Strangers Among Us

Today's ponderings is peculiar, a different voice if you will. I guess I'm venturing away from the whimsical a bit in order to release this pensiveness that seems to be hounding me since the tragedy in Boston, the explosion in Texas, the vote by our NRA-owned Senators with regard to background checks for guns...
My heart sits heavy this week; like an anchor.
But forge through it with me, for the end will leave us with a small gift.
The gift's called Hope.

On the Stranger Side of Things

If there was ever a week to deviate from my usual subject matter for just a few  paragraphs or two, it was this last one. What do ya know?
A race. A city known for social activism and charity. A celebration. A stranger(s).
One family waits at the finish line.  And then the stranger decides to change their lives and the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people in a push of a button.  Happens every day, somewhere in the world, just not on our soil, damn it.
Hard to understand. Complicated.  And the painful aftermath is a stinging heartbreak that, for so many, will cut deep for a lifetime. 

There are as many solutions as there are people offering them. Opinions I have read, voice sentiments ranging from “All we need is love.” to “Pray for the victims.” to “Jesus is the answer.” to “Find and kill the bastards.” 
In the day, I truly believed in number 1; Love is the answer.  All we need is love, John Denver and pretty daisies growing freely in an open field.  But I suppose time has left an edge of rust or crust on me and though I love to love, I no longer believe it is the only answer.

An inventor named Charles Kettering once said, "Keep on going and chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it.  I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down."  We need to stumble on some solutions. As I'm writing, it's becoming quite clear that this kind of mindset, and it is a mindset, begins with me; begins with me not sitting down but rather getting my ass up and making a difference. Simply reading articles on Facebook about all the harms, injustices, violence in the world, and then reposting those articles, isn't enough.  For me, I can't just fall to my knees, put my palms together and pray for God to save us all and bless America, especially 8-year olds watching a race in his own city.
For me, I can't simply complain to anyone who will listen, or write a letter to the editor of my local rag or a meaningless blog...  I must swing my front door wide open and run, not walk, out into this world and take action!
I must speak up every time. I must donate my money to the causes I believe in and not donate my money to representatives that do not represent me. I must make phone calls.  I must...We all must.
Because history tells me, that's the only way to create change. And I must remember that all strangers are not bad people.  That we must not give up on humanity as a whole, even though small parts are evil.
We're taught as children, don't talk to strangers. Of course, for so many, the boogie man or boogie woman was not in fact a stranger, but a known "friend" or family member. But nonetheless, there was a conditioning that strangers could and would potentially harm us. And look what happened in Boston. They can. They do.
But what if the strangers that pass us on the street, stand next to us in a grocery store line, wait on us at our favorite restaurant...what if they are are rare gems, loving individuals? And what if we actually took the time we think we do not have, to extend ourselves to them? 
This last week, when strangers were hurting strangers in Boston and all over the world, I had two incredibly meaningful encounters at the gift shop where I work part-time when I'm not doing my nanny gig. 

Shelby browsed for well over 2 hours. (she had to move her car twice 'cuz she was parked in a one-hour parking space) She asked really lame questions and didn't appear to have a need to buy a damn thing.  In my mind, I was irritated with her and I could have come across as slightly chilly.
She (finally) came up to the counter with a few items and out of the blue she compliments me on my ring and asks if I am married. For some reason, that probably has to do with being the smart-ass of my family in order to make a point, I replied, "Sort of."  Her smile was anything but stranger-like.
The next hour (she had to move her car one more time) was spent talking, laughing, crying (no joke) revealing refreshing and intimate tidbits of our passions, our beliefs, our life-stories, our feelings on religion, politics and other human stuff...
She paid for her items and I bagged them up.  As she was leaving, she took one item out of her bag and she gave it to me.  "I want you and your partner to have this so you will always remember how valued you are as a committed, married couple." 
The item was a pair of origami figurines that signify marriage.
She had bought them to give to her fiancé.

Renate is a German woman in her mid-70's.  I've waited on her before and we have talked genealogy, tea and travel. Superficial shit.  But it was always surface chit-chat and, prior to the other day, I hadn't the desire to ask her name.  When she came in this time, her aura was noticeably heavy and sad.  I could feel it across the store but hey, I'm no therapist.  I sell tea.
So, I continued working and left her to her own business. Besides, striking up a conversation with a stranger, especially one that appears forlorn or down, takes effort and desire, of which, I didn't think I had either.
At some point, I noticed her eyes.  They were dull, colorless. I noticed that and I also noticed the way she held her handbag; tucked way into her side, almost clinched with both hands as if her purse was her security blanket.  I'd label her "fragile."
"You look like you could use a cup of tea. May I buy you one?" Those words came out of my mouth and I actually surprised myself.   We sat on two wooden chairs, sipping our tea.  She seemed hesitant, so I didn't ask anything. I simply babbled about the slowness of my day, the dusting that I've been putting off and the fierceness of the wind outside. 
She didn't say much at first; just forced a smile and sipped her tea.  Finally, she spoke in a whisper- voice, "My husband was just diagnosed with two kinds of cancer, both Stage 4. And my daughter, in Berlin, is getting a divorce. I wish I could be with her but I can't leave my husband right now."  (This shit is real, I thought.)
She kept her face down, stared into her cup of tea.  I could tell she wasn't used to telling a stranger her most personal sadnesses.  The next half hour or so was like a waltz; a perfectly executed waltz in which our conversation flowed back and forth with precision and grace; a timely balance of hesitation and forthcoming.
She reminded me of my mother.
When I hugged her good-bye, I hugged her as if she were my mom.
Then I noticed that some of the dullness in her eyes had lightened a bit.

Sometimes strangers are worth knowing.

On the Lighter Side of Things

The Cousin is a bit shy and needs some coaxing when she encounters a stranger that has "friend-potential."  Miles is 3 years old and lives across the street from her.  Miles has absolutely no problem making pals.  Yesterday, The Cousin and I were on her front lawn soaking up the rays while Sweet Pea was napping, when a cheery and confident voice calls out from across the street, "Hi! Do you want to come over and draw on the sidewalk with chalk? I'm drawing a ship!"
So, what does The Cousin do?  She immediately retreats behind my left thigh and grips my pant leg.
I always attempt to ease her mind. After a comforting "nanny squeeze" I yell,
"Thank you! We would love to see your ship!"  We head over to meet the little stranger.  After some time, The Cousin feels at ease and the art flows out of her like water from a sink's spicket.
She especially gets going when Miles has to depart for daycare.

Artists are born when the Sweet Peas of the world are napping.  It's a great time for The Cousin and I; forty minutes of "let's see what we can make, create, explore, solve together."  It's lovely until it's time to share again. Share the nanny.  Share the toys.  Share the cookies.  Sharing is an exceptionally difficult concept for The Cousin to grasp. ( I can't wait until her bro or sis arrives!) However today, she exhibited occasional signs of cooperation.

We hit the pavement running after lunchtime and it didn't take long for both of the munchkins to crash. THANK GOD!

When you gaze at them in this state, you have to ask yourself, "How could anything be more perfect?"
And you know what? Nothing is. This is pure perfection, folks. 
So is their laughter.  And like the meaningful connections we make with strangers, who are not the bad guys, but the good ones;
The sweetness of these two babies has left a "forever-mark" on my heart.
And so did Renate, the German woman who I hope will find me again. And so did Shelby, who has a heart as big as The Atlantic Ocean and whose intelligence and compassion is selfless.  And let's not forget Miles, who hasn't (yet) been tainted by people who are unkind.
All of these individuals, and their acts of connection, offer me respite from last week's tragic events.

I'm mushy today.  It is what it is.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"I'm Back" אני שוב

An ardent reader warned me; double trouble is hanging in wait.  Soon you'll have two again.
I must admit it's been a smidgen easier with just Sweet Pea these last few weeks. I'm either getting very old or 2 kids under the age of two is more exhausting than the Boston Marathon,
or both.  But readership, The Cousin did return.
She returned from The Dead Sea with rock salts, shells and a whole lot of bi-lingual gibberish; speaking English mixed with Hebrew and waving her hands around like a yenta.  Sweet Pea and I were perplexed to say the least.  We squinted and pretended to look interested, but really, we didn't know what the hell she was talking about.
She's back and she's clingy.  Very clingy and there's a part of me that digs it. I can't lie to you. I mean it feels fantastic to have her smile so big when I walk into her house. Then she reaches for me and says my name with such clarity and warmth.  And of course she wants me to carry her EVERYWHERE rather than walk.  Melts my heart into a puddle. And did I mention that I think she's gained a couple of pounds in her 3-week tour of the Holy Land?   I'm sure it was all the falafel and hummus she ingested. I guess she had some sort of melt down at JFK on the way there.   She evidently threw Kitty to the ground and then she threw herself down on top of her. Like "tantrum sisters" in solidarity, the two of them pitched a huge screaming fit.
It all happened as they were preparing to board. Right smack in the middle of the boarding line.
If I had been a passenger on that flight, I would've shot a glare at her parents that would have required sunglasses. Then, I'd pray to the Aviation God that she wasn't sitting near me.

The Cousin is almost two. Need I say more?
Her world envelops only a few "select" people: Mom, Kitty and Herself, and not necessarily in that order.  Me, Myself and I are where she's at...and there ain't no changing that.  The parentals are working hard to prepare her for what's to come. And what's to come is a doosie.
When the mom let me know, I wanted to pour myself a Vodka Gimlet at 9:00 a.m.
"I'm pregnant" she casually mentioned to me in between the Curious George theme song and instructions for the lunch time meal.  I about shit.  And after much coaxing and prepping, mommy asked The Cousin, "What's in my tummy, sweetie?" The Cousin replied, "Food."
Clearly exhibiting her denial.
Well, I'm in denial too. Big time. Obviously my threat to walk if there were ever 3, wasn't an effective birth control tool.
And then there's Sweet Pea.  She and I bonded in the last 3 weeks and we were used to our own special rodeo.  When her mommy dropped her off yesterday, the first words out her mouth were, "Well, she's been up all night sneezing and coughing. I think she's getting sick."  
Now isn't that f@*!ing fantastic?   Great.  I could see it.  Her eyes had dark little circles under them and her nose had that all familiar glossy fluid that runs freely down and becomes an integrated part of the mid-day snack.

She didn't let it get her down though. She held on for a good 8 hours, but in that final hour, the 9th hour when I'm barely coherent, she finally had had enough.

Wednesday was this amazingly warm day in Pacific Grove.  One of those rare days that comes along about once every 275 days.  It was fog-free, wind-free, cold-free; totally sunny-ass warm!  And the girls and I decided to do some gardening.
Sweet Pea digs dirt. Hell yes!  She just goes for it; hands, feet and mouth!  She's a girl after my own heart; not afraid to get dirty.  The Cousin on the other hand, has trouble participating in anything messy. If there's a piece of lent on her finger, forget about it.  She has to have it wiped off before she can enjoy herself. I know adults like this. They can't relax, dive into a project if their house needs dusting or a load of laundry is in the hamper.  The Cousin needs to feel organized and clean at all times.  You can only imagine how much prompting was needed to get her to shovel soil.
"Got dirt?"

"Let's see if I can dig the hole without touching the soil."
"Do we have any hand sanitizer?"
The Cousin is all about hygeine.  We enjoy brushing our teeth together and we always sing
"The Toothbrush Song"... When you wake up in the morning, it's a quarter to one and you want 
to have a little fun, you brush your teeth CHHHH...CHHH...CHH..."  
Here she is flossing.

She's not only serious about hygiene, but she is serious about being tech savvy.
I'm not shittin' you.
I purchased my first Iphone last week. Shut up. I know it's 2013.  My partner and I were in the damn store for an hour and 45 minutes because I was experiencing technical difficulties. The sales"boy" who was all of 22, was extremely patient with me. I'm certain his thoughts we anything but patient, however, he didn't let it show.  When we left with our new phones, her an Iphone 5 and me a 4S (whatever the hell that is) she was so excited she could hardly keep her feet on the pavement. And me?
I had a stomach ache.
Anyway, texting is a total wash for me right now. Locating messages, voicemails, attaching photos all feel complex as well.  But The Cousin assisted me with some apps and even the camera.  Speaking of the camera, here's two shots I took when I didn't intend to take any.

I also attempted a video and somehow turned the camera on myself instead of the girls.  So, for about 13 seconds, I was videoing myself, close-up. The Cousin was as patient as the young man at the store and that was most appreciated, but in all honesty, I haven't fallen in love with the "all-supierior-all-knowing-ever-popular Iphone".  Not yet anyway.
The world's changing readers, and I get that.  The thing is, I'm changing too. And part of my evolution is slowing down, smelling the roses, sipping the grape, reading the poetry, enjoying the music that's being played at grocery stores because I know all the words.  And yes, I did actually really like my 4 LG Slider phone! It felt comfortable and familiar like a typewriter and I loved those too!

I also like a good old-fashion picnic.

And a good old-fashion "tp-ing" a house.

Not to mention, a good old-fashion sit down at the table together for a meal.

And sometimes, just a good old-fashion nose picking.

Or an insistence of riding the bike our own way.

Whether you're old-fashion or a modern hipster, I think y'all agree that we just gotta
laugh about it.
So, I'll leave y'all with this 'lil ditty of a video. This is what's it's all about...
Truly I think so.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Where There's a Will There IS a Way

Now this is an Easter Bunny that I can believe in.
Cute, isn't she?
But bunnies, eggs and holy moliness are not the subjects of today's ramblings...
What I really wanna talk about here is confinement.  Constraints.  Incarceration.  
Sweet Pea doesn't do "house arrest" very well.
If you think I'm joking, try strapping her in her highchair during a quinoa and broccoli luncheon. 
She ain't havin it. Well, that's not totally accurate. She'll have it for a limited amount of time. She'll have it while she enjoys the flavors of her meal; the basil, the olive oil, the steamed, puree'd vegetable medley infused with organic grains...but when she's done, SHE'S DONE!  

The Cousin's still in Israel, probably walking on The Sea of Galilee, turning water to wine and charming all the serpents with her infectious smile.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sweet Pea and I are making the best of it.  
But let's return to the confinement issue.  Sweet Pea has this strong will. I saw it from the moment of our introduction and it seems to be growing as quickly as the weeds in my garden.  Her blatant refusal to be strapped in to her highchair, her stroller, or placed in a playpen, shit, any kind of baby contraption, is slightly annoying to say the least. And although I encourage kids, especially girl kids, to be strong, independent thinkers, this took a sharp turn last week and left me wishing for a passive, demure Sleeping Beauty-type.

Off to a good start
"Spoons are for sissies."
"I've about had enough."
I was forced (because of her refusal to not play in the grain mess) to put her in her pen in order to clean up the quinoa disaster all over the floor. She was pissed.

"I'm pissed."

But for a child approaching the ripe old age of one, compromise is not an option.

Sweet Pea has this obsession for the dirty diaper pail. I swear she dreams about it and spends her waking moments trying to figure out how to get in it when I'm not looking.  She can't let it go.  And there is no stopping her.  The more times I remove her, the stronger she becomes.  She returns again and again and each time her grin gets wider.  SHE KNOWS SHE'S F@!*ING WITH ME!
"Keep your distance."
"Yes, I can!"
"Don't give me that No thing."

My second grade teacher at Curren Elementary, Mrs. Chapin, told me "Where there's a will, there's a way."  She said this to me when I was struggling with learning to read.  I've thought of her and those words many times over the years and they slapped me in the face last week with regard to Sweet Pea! Her determination could prove to be an advantage for her, that is if her parents survive.  In these types of "willful" situations, I tend to go into distraction mode. 
First, we played dress-up...
"I wanted the pink one."
"NO to the damn hat."

Next, some tub-fun...
"What do you mean I can't drink this?"
"I won't be needing any assistance getting out."
And finally, "we" had to get the hell out of the apartment. A nice long walk and a trip to our neighborhood organic cafe and canning company, Happy Girl Kitchen, for a piping hot cup of Assam tea, where Sweet Pea once again demonstrated that she cannot and will not be fenced in.

(Note: Change of clothes due to insistence of using a grown-up cup not baby bottle)
All in all, it was a terrific day; the kind of day country songs are made of, I suppose.

It was close to quittin' time, when there was a knock at the door. Woo Hoo!
We had a visitor!
"Weirdo, that's a bucket."
For all you fans of The Cousin, don't you cry.  She'll be back with us next week!
Take it easy y'all!
~ tpg