Tag Archives: adventures in normality

Sappy post #1 for 2009

Declan has a friend – a little girl who he’s friends with largely because we are friends with her parents. She was born about three months after he was, and they played side-by-side before they played together. Now that he’s been able to make new friends of his own choosing, I’ve wondered how they’ll continue to get along.

We haven’t seen as much of their family in recent months, we’ve been busy, and they’ve been getting acclimated to life with a three-year-old and a new baby boy. But they came over on Sunday for a visit, and it was the first time Declan and his friend played mostly without supervision.

They were frantically making things up in the kitchen and periodically emerging to present odd toys and bits in bowls to us as “cupcakes.” At one point, Dec shrieked “MOMMY!” from the playroom and I ran to see what damage control I needed to do. The infraction was this:

“S___ made me some coffee and it’s TOO HOT!”

“Maybe you should blow on it to cool it down,” I offered.


He also got a little sad when she didn’t want to sit down and hold his hand and watch a documentary about the 95+ moons in our solar system. Then there was a brief skirmish over the toy vacuum cleaner, but the visit was mostly sweet and easy.

S__ currently has the “Why?” affliction in spades. I don’t think she responded to me once during the entire visit with anything other than that question, which I answered nearly every time, although I’m not sure she cared to hear the answer. Last night, Declan was telling his daddy about her visit.

“I told her I loved her,” he offered. Then, not surprisingly: “She asked me why.”

His answer?

“I told her it was because I love her heart.”

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As I was cleaning on New Year’s Day, an old cookie fortune flittered out of a pile of papers onto the floor. “You’re a perfectionist,” it said, in deceptively friendly typeface. “Don’t spoil it.” I think I saved it because it is obviously the most annoying fortune ever.

If you looked at my house, my car, my fingernails, my life – “perfectionist” is probably one of the last things that would come to mind. Unless, maybe, you know something about perfectionism.

In action, perfectionism doesn’t really look like “a place for everything and everything in its place,” although I suppose that it might for some people. It has more to do with deluding yourself that it’s possible for everything in life to be perfect — you, your environment, your career, your relationships — and punishing yourself or paralyzing yourself when it isn’t.

In my life, this has manifested in simple ways, like letting my desk or the kitchen sink or a room go to mayhem before I put them back in order, because I won’t do anything until I think I have set aside enough time to do everything. (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Miracle of Mindfulness, motherhood and the Flylady* have helped bring me miles past where I used to be on this.) Or sadder ways – I don’t want to go out as often, because I’m not the skinny minnie I once was or because I think people won’t accept me because I talk and think too much about being a mommy. Or I don’t invite people over unless I know their perception of “disaster area” is similar to my own. Or worse.

Writing has always been a space where I’ve felt willing and able to do battle with perfectionism. And I think that it is one place where I’ve managed to whip it more often than it’s whipped me. About a year ago, a friend joked and called me “the great, glorious she-hack” while we were talking, then immediately worried that he might have offended me. Maybe it was because we were in the basement of a Buddhist temple at the time (where ego is often more in check), but I felt, and assured him, that I wasn’t. “I think I might put that on my business card,” I joked.

I think I’ve learned to rein it into something useful in writing and research – a sort of meticulousness or attention to detail that I usually give to the story first and the writing second. Mistakes happen, you cop to them and you write again. But that has been a long, weird and sometimes painful process. I’ve had editors change things for seemingly no other reason than to have done something. I’ve had copy editors edit mistakes into my work and survived the embarrassment.** And I’ve lived with the demands of writing for the space allotted, not necessarily to the story, for much of my career.

If I let perfectionism control my writing, I would never have been able to make a dime doing it without tearing all of my hair out. I would have had to go into academic writing, where there is more editorial control, or become a weekend novelist who made her money in landscaping or as a circus clown. Instead, I have become the “great glorious she-hack.” It’s not on my business card, but it is one of the titles I give myself on my rotating email signatures. If I could make my expectations of life more like my expectations of writing, I think I’d be a healthier person.

My spider senses are up about this because I’m beginning to see signs of perfectionism in my son. Many skills come to him easily, and some of the ones that don’t can give him emotional vertigo. Before the holiday, one of his teachers told me that perfectionism is common in oldest (check!) or only children, who often compare themselves more to adults than to other children. And the two things she told me I could do to help him were to praise the process when he worked hard on learning something and to model failure for him.

As grating as that cookie fortune was, it was fortuitous that it fell down n front of me on the one day when I’m usually consumed by contemplating resolutions and consuming good luck food. And this year, I was feeling like a failure because I was in a terrible, fatigued mental space that did not lend itself well to reflection.

It helped me resolve to not have resolutions this year, because the very nature of resolutions predisposes me to failing – or not accomplishing as much as I would like to – in an ungraceful or unforgiving way. Aspirations, on the other hand, are less quantifiable and forgiving. I can advance a psychic millimeter or a light year – all that matters is that I advance. Or move on if I do not or cannot, because that would be an advancement too.

And so I am figuring out a few aspirations for myself, some of which I will share here in the next few days, or weeks, or seasons. Feel free to join me if you’re so inclined. I’d love for us to help each other to not be so hard on ourselves.

* The Flylady’s prose is a more than a touch precious, but her ideas about managing domestic life in the face of perfectionism are sound. My Christmas tree hasn’t come down yet, but my sink is very shiny. I currently like being in 75 percent of my house, and that’s not so bad.

** Note to editors I work with who read this blog: These things have not happened with anyone I’m currently writing for. Seriously.

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My brain hurts

Last night, Dan and I went out to see Citizen Cope. Since we were told (on what we thought was good authority) when the show would start, we thought we had everything taken care of for our first time out alone together to see live music in ages.

We arrived to a nightclub door still sealed over an hour after it was supposed to be opened, froze in line a for several minutes behind a smoking guy and a spitting guy. (What gives, spitting guy? You didn’t seem to be chewing tobacco, just spitting every 45 seconds.) We got in and looked around at the crowd. Five years ago, at a show like this, we would have known gobs of people. This time, it was two people. We just stared at boys in knit hats and the $70(!) sweatshirts for sale and the malingering guy with the Lowe’s race car jacket. We leaned on the embossed, cracked, gold-painted plaster behind us and shaded our eyes from the illuminated advertisements all over the room.

About an hour and forty minutes later than we were told the show would start, it started. So we stayed for about forty-five minutes and left, having heard several songs we like, save one (sun is misspelled on the playlist – it’s meant to be son):

The bass was too loud. The neighbors were nice enough to babysit, but they have jobs & can’t stay up all night on a Sunday. I know there are people who could tell us stories about the times that shows didn’t start when they expected at my old man’s old live music joint, but he would have apologized. Mostly, I’m old.

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The fideicommissum of my achoo

I’ve been prone since Friday afternoon, when a nasty summer cold walloped me into bed. I missed a birthday party, a couple of nice days and a dog festival, but I saw a lot of television. I watched Olympic synchronized swimming and the movie Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. I think the synchronized swimming was the more surreal of the two.

Obama picking Joe Biden was slightly surreal, but only because I had a fever when I got the text message. In reality, I find this decision so logical it borders on Vulcan, and I say that with confidence now that I’m so well hydrated. And I’m not the only person who has thought about the virtuous connections between Obama and Spock.

Really, yay for Joe Biden. For at least two years, he’s been one of the only politicians I could listen to talk about Iraq without pulling my hair out. And I’m an Ohio voter who went for Hillary (head vote) over Obama (heart vote) in the primary. Put that one on your cafeteria lunch tray, punditface.

Today I’m dry coughing so horribly, I think tumbleweeds might come shooting out of my mouth. And my son just told me that he wants to be the solar system for Halloween, which means I probably need to take a sewing class or three.

This week I have a couple of little deadlines, but right now, most of my job involves looking for more work, which always feels like a lot more work than working does. I should be more unnerved about this than I am. I have a couple of prospects out there that feel like long shots, and yet, I feel like Tony from West Side Story singing “Something’s Coming.” I think I know better than to let Riff and Bernardo fight at the rumble, but I guess there’s no guarantee I won’t be shot down on the tennis court.

Phew. I’ll leave you with this parting thought:

“Your love is like 1000 caucasian carnivores playing mumblety peg with an eggplant. ”

Courtesy of the Surrealist Compliment Generator , which I have been drawn back to every seven months since I first found it in 1997 or so. It restores my sense of balance.

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How to stop an argument

The other day, the husband I started into a spat.

Declan didn’t say anything about it. He just put on a party hat, then handed one to each of us and said “put this on.”

If you’ve ever wondered, it’s hard to have an argument in a party hat.

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Have your cake and be one too

Like a girl in a field being showered with apple cores (or maybe noodles… or slips of paper?) as they are cast from the gallows of a flying submarine, my birthday hit me with a barrage of little surprises. There were several unexpected emails and phone calls and messages, and a visit with a sweet and feisty two-day-old boy – so much like Dec was as a newborn – all of which made it really enjoyable. To be thought of is a fabulous gift. (I also got a non-birthday related award this week.)

The amazing drawing above, by this artist, was my most spectacular material item, bestowed by my mother. Behold! I also received a jazz voodoo potholder and a portrait of my family in cake:

Me, hogging the computer.

Declan, agog at the planets.

Dan, apparently wearing some kind of Mankini.

Better still, it was delicious.

Have a happy Independence Day. Hope to see some of you locals at Doo Dah.

P.S. Those battling mommyblogging factions I mentioned? They seem to have worked things out. Now there’s going to be some giant knitting circle and Magic Garden sing-along at BlogHer in celebration of unity. Huzzah!

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Stopping to smell the roses

We walked through the fragrant pathways of the Park of Roses at its annual festival for Father’s Day. We usually try and make it there on some uncrowded day when the blooms peak, because there’s something oddly calming, and yet completely decadent about strolling around 11,000 rose bushes.

There are other reasons that I feel connected to the place. My great uncle contributed to the growth of the park for many years before I was born. He was a master surgeon and a rosarian – a President of the American Rose Society for many years. Most will tell you he had a lot in common with the brilliant and thorny flowers that he tended so religiously throughout his life. That generation of my family has passed, but many of the things at the festival seem preserved in their time. The people who conceived of this park knew how to take nature and shape it into a field of fantasy, and they didn’t require computer simulations to do it.

One of the first things we saw was a men’s glee club, where the median age was probably somewhere around 75. The group put on animal noses to ham up “Old MacDonald” quite adorably, especially the exuberant duck. Then they took off their hats and held them over their hearts to sing “God Bless America.” The gentle sincerity of their performance caught me completely off guard. Dan and I both got choked up.

Declan fell asleep soon after the performance, missing out on cool things like this wind-catcher, which I might have purchased if it hadn’t been sixty-odd dollars.

In the wind from Tracy on Vimeo.

And of course, being in the city, not everything about the festival is old school. Note the only political campaign on the grounds:

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Cruciferous, cosmic mommy

Declan and I ate at the dining room table tonight. He likes dinner best this way, and seemed particularly thrilled that we had exactly the same things on our plates.

Then he pointed his fork at me and made the following observation:

“You like broccoli, cauliflower and Carl Sagan.”

“And what do you like?” I asked him.

“I only like Venus.”

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
— Carl Sagan

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Spaced out at NASA’s Plum Brook Station

It’s been said in recent years that NASA has lost its luster with Americans, or somehow doesn’t capture or inspire the public imagination the way that it used to. The kabillion** people who showed up for the open house at Plum Brook Station this weekend suggested otherwise. It was the first time the place had been opened to the public in 10 years or so, and likely the only time it will be for another 10 years.

We went, as part of our quest to connect Declan with a scientist or two in his beloved space field this summer. (Next year, I want to find a way to go to this.)

It was overwhelming.
Here he is, in the control room of one of the test facilities. The space shuttle had just lifted off for it’s mission to take a Japanese space lab to the International Space Station and rescue its toilet. We were able to watch it soar into the heavens on NASA TV. And Declan was able to pretend to fill a test tank with cryogenic liquid on the computer. (Or something like that.)
That is the lid to a nearly 200-foot deep chamber where they’ve tested rockets. It hasn’t been in use for a while, but it’s impressive. And kind of scary. (To me, more than to Declan).
Declan wore his “Galaxies fade away, all stars merge” shirt and carried a small space book around with him. His obvious interest drew a few smiles and comments from the very friendly staff. There were so many of them, he was a bit intimidated.
Here we are, in the world’s largest space environment simulation chamber, where a bunch of the components of Orion will be tested before they head moonward.

Given his longtime adulation of the liquid nitrogen geysers on Triton, this cryogenic demonstration was a particular thrill. Purple flowers were frozen and smashed, a balloon was deflated in the bucket that re-inflated as soon as it was taken out, and Declan got to touch a ball that was smoking cold from liquid nitrogen.
He also got to look inside of a manned maneuvering unit and took his own picture of a Robonaut. I have to hand it to the folks at NASA – there are a lot of places that purport to educate and entertain people of every age, but few succeed. The staff seemed genuinely interested in answering questions and offering information to its visitors, be they 3 or 73. (And I’m a tough critic.)

The whole Plum Creek site is so big, they bused us from one part of the facility to another. I wish that we had made arrangements to stay overnight and gone to the open house on both days. I didn’t realize how vast of a place it was, and how much there was to see. If we’d had more downtime, maybe Dec would have gotten comfortable enough to chat with a staff member or two. I suppose if space is still an interest of his when he’s (gasp) thirteen, we’ll know better next time… in 2018.

**Not an official NASA estimate.

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