Mother Blue

I photo. I take day trips. I lightsaber battle. I analyze the stuffing out of myself.

Category: Bliss

Cheese Touch and Backpacks

The Cheese Touch. Photo by me.

The Cheese Touch. Photo by me.

I have developed a nervous tic over the last three years. It is not one of those things I normally discuss in mixed company, but a third grader has given me… well… what I can only describe as the twitch that now resides in the back of my neck and relentlessly utters two tiny little words…

I don’t remember exactly when it started. Maybe sometime in the middle of Jack’s Kindergarten year. This small tap on my back and a whisper.

“Cheese Touch.”

I turned around to this sweet face, his blue eyes beaming with delight. He ran on the bus before I could retaliate.

Ah, Connor.

He had just discovered the joy of  “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and decided to unleash this epic battle of wills on our unsuspecting bus stop. If you are unaware of what the Cheese Touch is, it’s the childhood game of cooties modernized for the 21st century kid and immortalized in Jeff Kinney’s wonderful book and film series. If somebody has the Cheese Touch, they will be an outcast until they pass it onto someone else by touching them. The only way for people to protect themselves from the Cheese Touch is to cross their fingers. Yay for kid logic!

At present, our bus stop is tainted with much cheese funk. I think I have been tainted for all eternity.

Everyday it is Parents vs. Kids. Parents vs. Parents. Connor vs. Everyone.

My fingers have been crossed for almost three years, fused together each and every morning as if I was trying to avoid the plague. Connor always arrives at the stop later than most of the other kids. Sometimes a chain of warning cries gets passed along by my son to the other children to the rest of the stop, “CONNOR IS COMING!”; other times I have to keenly tune my hearing to the swish of his shorts or the rustle of his backpack. Sometimes he wears bright orange. Other times its camouflage. I have caught him hiding behind parked vans where his mother has warned me of his presence. Sometimes he strikes everyday, weeks at a time. Sometimes he waits weeks to strike. Three long years.

Sometimes he is almost thwarted…

I was sooooo stealthy that day. I proceeded down my hill toward the stop. I caught a glimpse of a backpack peeking out from behind a telephone pole. My heart thumped in my chest. I felt like I was in the middle of some covert operation. I cut through a neighbor’s front yard, onto their porch, and down their front stoop to reach the other side of the pole where the boy’s view was slightly obstructed. “Don’t let Connor know I can see him.” I whispered these words to Jack as he ran ahead of me towards the other kids. I approached and I reached towards him with pointed finger. And just as I was about to finally touch the tip of his hoodie, I don’t know if I took one too many steps or if Connor became aware of the other parental spectators who were desperately trying to muffle their laughter in their hands, but he ducked and covered with the expertise of a kid twice his age. We all burst into laughter at what almost could have been.

Other times he is nothing short of victorious…

I was standing by the bus line saying “see ya later” to the kids. I did not think he was going to school that day so my defenses were down. He came out of his house like a shot. I heard his familiar swish but I was powerless to stop it from happening. The world converted to a slow motion montage as I was abruptly struck. I could almost hear Adagio for Strings playing in the background. I feigned a defeated collapse in the neighbor’s yard and dramatically punched the ground. I raised my fists to the heavens and screamed “CURSES!” I swore my cry echoed throughout all of the South Hills that morning. I saw his smiling, mocking face through the bus window as he rode off in victory.

I am never safe. Once, while I was comforting my son at the stop he brushed my shoulder while I was in mid hug with my boy. He whispered those cursed words in my ear.

There is a glorious sled riding hill in the park close to our stop. We parents have joked that one day before Connor graduates to the middle school we will finally just have to have an epic “Braveheart” style battle. The children of our Avenue Bus Stop on the hillside, Connor in face paint and kilt leading the charge to the adults down below. “Freedom and Cheese!” will be their cry.

I jokingly tell the parents that one day I imagine Connor showing up at the my nursing home. My hands crippled with arthritis, no longer able to cross my bony fingers. I will be helpless. He will arrive, dressed as an orderly, brush my arm and whisper those words one last time.

And our beloved crossing guard Bob will be smiling down from wherever he is, taking it all in, and laughing at this precocious little boy, our silly games, and our little bus stop family. RIP Robert Rivet. Thank you for laughing with us and finding joy in all of us.

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Night Swimming and Happy Birthdays

Jack and Max, by Cara McDougal

A lot on my mind and a lot on my plate these past few weeks. Not the least of which has been suffocating feel of time progression that seems to get faster and faster with each passing day. My blog entries become less and less even though I still have so much to say. I have got my head in the game, the eye on the prize, and yet time seems to saunter mockingly all the while running at an electric pace. Time, oh no, you have not been a friend as of late.

• • •

The other morning as I was tired from a long night of work, fumbling for my keys, and working hard to get into my car. I overheard someone getting into the car next to me say “We are young” as in the context of “Why not, we are young. Let’s just do it.” For all I know they could have been discussing the possibility of switching from diet to regular soda, or excited over staying up past 10:30 p.m. on a school night (which is usually my version of a leap into adventure). We Are Young. The words hovered in the air for a second. For reasons I did not yet acknowledge in that particular moment, I was left sideswiped and so awestruck by the power of those three little words that I opened my car door and fumbled for something to write on in my overly cluttered glove box. I sat down in the driver’s seat and wrote those words down in big bold letters on the back of a scrap piece of paper (which may or may not have been the back of my registration card.) WE ARE YOUNG…

• • •

My little boy turns seven today. This birthday is the first one where both my husband and I have admitted to feeling the real impact of the weight of his age. A friend of mine encapsulated the reasons for this perfectly. Seven means our little ones are really in the full throes of being a kid. All signs of being a toddler are way in our rearview mirrors. The slow and steady pace of the endurance test that is adolescence to the wretched middle school years and beyond has begun.

 • • •

The photo at the top of this blog was taken last summer by a good friend of mine. Jack is the one on the left. This image took my breathe away when I first saw it. To me, it is youth personified. It is exactly how I see Jack. It is exactly how he feels to me, to us. She managed to capture it perfectly. I had thought of including many pictorial representations of Jack for this particular blog entry, but in the end this photo became the only one because I felt no other image could illustrate Jack more faithfully and beautifully than this image could.

• • •

After scrawling down the words WE ARE YOUNG and tracing over the letters a few times, I turned the key in the ignition. That ear worm of a song “We are Young” came on. I laughed at the timing and the coincidence and knew it had less to do with some magical, cosmic connection with the universe and more because you simply can not turn on the radio right now without hearing it or a station fading into it within moments. I knew everything about this moment was cliché as I was living it, but age and mommihood entitles you some cliché. Not to mention on this particular morning I had completely forgotten to pack Jack’s lunch and had raced over to the school unshowered and unkempt hoping to get his food to him before his foodless panic set in. My penchant for caring about how I looked or what was playing on the radio had pretty much flown out the window in that moment. So I sat back and listened to the poppy tune. Ah youth… that song’s intent was to manipulate the listener into an anthem of experiences of his or her own youth and declarations of living life to the fullest while things are still brand new, or at the very least a vehicle for which us older folks can reflect upon. But I didn’t reflect upon my own misspent or misguided and sometimes intoxicating youth. For the first time I really thought about his.

I mean I really thought about it. He is in IT. WOW. I always knew that this was his time, but I had to remember that it is actually HIS time. He is experiencing his youth right now; not this abstract or voyeuristic perspective I have of his growing up. These are his memories and they are all coming fast and furious while I am sipping my coffee and making my phone calls. His firsts, the life of his own, as a friend of mine put so eloquently in her blog post: I am beginning to watch him run toward something else, and away from me. The stuff I now reflect upon about myself as I get older. It is his slow motion montage that will be played through filtered glasses and “edited for television” at a later date. His journey to be whatever he wants it to be as he gets older, all slowed down and subtle, with all the feelings that those moments emote. The stuff that dreams are made of and car commercials run on.

My nostalgia level is probably waxing more lately not only because of Jack’s birthday, but because I had been working on my son’s elementary school yearbook. I had been logging in quotes and memories of the past school years from the staff and students, and had been pouring over current classroom photos that will eventually meld into “what were they thinking” hairstyles and faded memories. I was seeing and reading all the talk of the “possible” and knowing they don’t yet understand the gravity and weight of their choices, their voices, and their ideas at this stage of their game.

 • • •

The Youth song faded into a muffled and incoherent wall of sound. I left the radio scan for a bit as I journeyed home. “Nightswimming” was half over but I stopped the scan there anyways. My youth began to fade into my mind. I never night swam until I was an adult but the recollections of moments came into play. The simplistic beauty of that song took me back to every first everything, to the point that this whole morning car reflection experience felt corny and overly earnest but not necessarily in a Lifetime movie way. I guess more in the movie montage way or another contrived way that sometimes actually happens in real life when you sit in the parking lot of your son’s school in ripped sweatpants and tousled hairs on a random Tuesday.

• • •

I keep finding more and more reasons to want to be. I am still on the edge of exploring this newfound lust for life that has reared its adventurous head to a woman whose realistic, responsible self usually beats the idealistic one into submission. New people to love and appreciate, kisses to give as the credits roll, hugs to random strangers. I am waiting to go night swimming again and skinny dip off the highest cliff with the ones I love. Right now I am standing on the edge, naked, ready to dive in. I am getting ready to jump.

• • •

Happy birthday my dearest, Pumpkin King. You have made me want to believe that all is possible.

Staring into Snow Globes Makes Me Feel Like a Little Kid

The Ladies Who Lunch.

December 23rd is my favorite day of year.

In fact, the time spanning from December 20th through December 23rd are simply the most… “something…” days of the year. There is an unprecedented “something” in the air that simply can not be described. Everyone is excited. Every moment is cliché. Every emotion is extreme. Everyone is coming up romance, or regret, or worry, or melancholy. Everyone is pushing to get final projects done, or slacking from their work, or daydreaming their December away. Everyone is either making merry or bah humbugging the merry makers. And everyone outside of your immediate family is trying to get one last chance to see you before Christmas eve. Everyone is feeling “something.” And it seems as if everyone’s holiday treat has been laced with ecstasy.

I never really liked Christmas Day. It always felt like a big let down. The commercially fabricated Christmas specials, the emotionally induced high of gift giving and receiving, the spirituality, the evening parties, and all the rest of the “stuff” that was the previous month ends on that day, most likely by 10 am. In the past, I usually spent the rest of the day trying to find a way to recapture the magic 23rd.

Over the last two years, I have been gradually trying to alter my holiday perceptions. I always dreamt of hot cocoa, a holiday medley around the fire, and Vermont style inns. What I usually received was a nice holiday that never quite lived up to my unattainable Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye expectations. (My expectations often lead to excessively elaborate production numbers often involving a piano.)

This year, I have decided to try to make the best of everything that happens or does not happen. I have decided to make my holiday week a week worth remembering. I decided to fill it with fun and little expectation, and I decided to at least try to attend every extended invitation. I decided to make time for moments instead of succumbing to the pressure of the big picture.

View from the Parking Lot.

I headed to the Strip District on Tuesday to meet Sarah Wojdylak and Lisa Toboz on their lunch break. I was struck by the fact I had not really hung out in the Strip since working there many years ago. The smells, sights and sounds of that place both transports me to and makes me long for New York City. I had spent many a day eating crab cakes at Roland’s, fresh fish from Wholey’s, or devouring meatball subs while sitting on the roof of our office building watching the cars drive across the 16th street bridge. Gosh, I love the Strip.

Waiting at Sunseri's.

I saw Lisa’s plastic umbrella emerge through the crowds of holiday shoppers even before I saw the two of them walk towards me. The shape of her umbrella took me back to being a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s one of those umbrellas that takes over the entire upper half of your body when you were a kid. It was always warm inside and your voice sounded modulated from the way it bounced off the clear thick walls. I imagined it as a giant snow globe and I immediately wanted to capture it “on film.” Prior to our meeting, we had briefly discussed trying to find a weird holiday display on this lunch break (maybe even dolling ourselves up in tinsel) and photographing ourselves in front of it; like some sort of weird Christmas card homage. But there were no real cheeky, technicolor-like displays in the Strip. Lisa mentioned an out-of-the-way church courtyard that may have “something” to it so we followed. I was fixated on the umbrella/snow globe. When we arrived we knew right away that we had found something wonderful. We excitedly passed around my shabby Nikon Coolpix point and shoot camera that has truly seen better days but still take great images. Our time was restricted due to their lunch schedules. I could have shot for another hour. I am grateful for these little impromptu sessions. They always reenergize me. I felt like a little kid posing and watching them inside our makeshift snow globe. It gave me that intangible, magical feeling you only get around the holidays.

Lisa's Plastic Fantastic Umbrella.

A friend of mine once described a difficult event in his life as someone “shaking up his snow globe.” This year, mine has been rattled to the point that I am still waiting for the snow to settle to reveal the fabrication inside. I am weirdly humbled and mostly thankful for all that has happened these past 12 months because it has led me to some joy filled moments happening right now, like this one: these snow globes of abstract something. I don’t know what the rest of this week will bring, but for now I leave you with this most recent set of makeshift snow globe moments (below) and I wish you all the merriest of holidays. (Photos by me, Sarah Wo and Lisa T. Thanks for the inspiration, ladies.)

SNOW GLOBES

ICONS

LEAVING

All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Jim Henson… and a few others…

My Path, South Park

Emptiness and rebirth. There is a lot of empty and rebirth going around… (My husband will actually be writing about something similar in his blog this week, as well… funny how great minds think alike.) A few weeks ago, I decided to sit down with my family and watch the original Muppet Movie. There was no particular reason behind this other than that it was my birthday weekend and I wanted to share a memory of something I loved with my husband and son. I hadn’t watched this film in about 15 years, so I was curious if my memories of the greatness of this film truly held up.

This movie marked the first time I fell in love, although (at the time) I did not know I was falling in love. I fell in love with an idea much bigger than myself. My young brain was too immature to process that idea, so I simply collected Kermits and various other Muppet memorabilia throughout my childhood as a make shift shrine to this thing I admired yet didn’t understand. In fact, I still have my commemorative Muppet Movie glasses that McDonald’s handed out in the 1970s when the movie first came out.

To my delight, the perfection of this film from my memories remained in tact. The one liners, the subtlety, the heart, it was still there. Steve Martin in Lederhosen was there. Crazy German Mel Brooks was there. My family listened to my deep-seated Muppet geek references and my general gushing. We all had a great time watching, laughing and analyzing the sheer brilliance of the film.

But I was struck by something I had forgotten. I always, always, always cringed at the film’s ending. If you have not seen it before, here it is:

 

This ending nearly sent my optimistic childhood brain into shock.

How the hell could they end it like this!? All that work. All that struggle. All that, all that to make their dreams come true: the bad guys, the kidnapping, the Instagrow™ pills, the frog legs, etc. After all that, they finally get to Hollywood to make their dream a reality and whoosh, the studio gets destroyed by carelessness and freak accidents. I was devastated. Even the rainbow at the end seemed senseless. It was a true moment among many truths in that movie. A level of unfairness my adolescence had not (as of yet) encountered.

I have spent this past year focusing on my limitations and trying to better the person I am. When I began this journey, I felt I had a limited knowledge of who I really am and what made me tick. I took the dangerous approach of self exploration without a net, or at least without a licensed psychologist.

I suppose I should have made a list of what I considered limitations within, but instead I began to explore my roots, my genetics and how all of that comes into play with shaping who a person is, but more importantly, discovering what happiness IS when you really want it.

After a year of analyzing, kneading, and expelling, I realized something rather horrifying. I have spent my whole lifetime over analyzing my limitations. I have been so busy getting to the heart of my flaws, that I had forgotten how to nurture the seeds that had been planted by my family, my teachers, my friends, my experiences and myself from so long ago until this very moment. And worse, I lacked the foresight then, as I do now on how make them blossom.

Henson was always my teacher. And like the best teachers, I had no idea I was being taught. I was just organically (and sometimes inorganically) learning. He became a father figure to me when I needed some emotional guidance. He taught me straight forward humor and the ability to laugh at myself. He taught me the beauty of imperfection. He taught me to follow my dreams with what is (in my opinion) the single greatest buddy film ever created using these few simple words:

 

They believed in the dream…

Lately I feel as if I have let down my surrogate father of my possible and impossible dreams by traipsing through regret and not bounding gleefully towards the future as much as I really should.

I have been reflecting on these thoughts for some time now, and then Steve Jobs’ passed. And something happened…

Something was set in motion. I was left empty and I did not expect it, but there it was, drifting into my life like a message in a bottle.

Another teacher forging his own path. Another risk taker showing me how following your bliss is the only thing that makes sense in this life. Risk takers have this foresight or at least are able to weigh the risks enough to know what is a “win”. That is a skill set of intuition I am so envious of.

I have a confession. I have squandered bliss from time to time for the sake of responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried to live the life I was meant to live, but compromise for the greater good sometimes took precedence over happiness. I think that happens when your parents leave you young, you either become super reckless or super responsible. I chose the latter.

Upon hearing the news of Jobs’ death, these thoughts came rushing through my brain, both fast and furious:

I need pushed. I need my dreams to not be in vain. My plea is desperate and my soul craves something. 

The restless has been stirring for a long time. I have been stuck in these waters for too long.

I love my family and my art, but I have been treating my life as temporary, as some sort of transitional period for far too long. What I need to do is transition them (and myself) into the “next”.

There are so many quotables from my heroes, but how can you translate that rhetoric into solid life experience and success?

I have been under a false notion, listening to the dissenters for far too long, saying your too old for this, too late for that…

All this clarity happened so abruptly to the point where I can barely type these words out. When I heard the news of Jobs’ death, I wanted to change everything. I wanted to grab the scissors and cut my hair, cash in and/or sell everything and fly off to Berlin, do something, anything. Light a fire and begin living.

So how do you change the world? I guess the better question for me is, how do I change myself and leave the world different? I guess I need to start by changing the way I perceive myself. I need the change the way I perceive my limitations. All my heroes believed they could leave the world a little bit better than the way they found it. They found ways to enhance our way of communicating with each other. One on an emotional level and the other on a technological level.

My first computer was an Apple. I bought it (used) at a time when everyone was buying PC’s. That simple purchase changed everything for me. I began drawing with the Mac Paint program and doing simply desktop publishing very early on. I was curious about layout and design all the while trudging through my journalism degree. I saw fonts and illustrations differently and began nurturing possibilities. I began taking classes in the early Photoshop programs; I began taking desktop publishing courses; I began shaping the person I was searching to become.

My mother bought me that computer. She shaped so much for me in our short time together. We both thought about driving to NYC to attend Jim Henson’s funeral. We never did go for one reason or another, but she understood why I so desperately wanted to attend. My brother and I sang this song at her funeral:

 

___

My solidification of unabashed change came today when I heard of the passing of someone who I attended college with. I did not know him well, but the whole college community knew of him. He was one of those folks you would call a life force. He was musical, both in vocational choice and in the fact he was constantly singing, his voice burst through the halls of our dormitory in a joyous noise. He sounded like Stevie Wonder and wore rollers in his hair. He took in all the “misfits” and made them feel like family. They called him “Mama.” In his short time on earth, he touched so many. I have not seen him in 20 years. I admired him from afar while standing next to him when he serenaded the masses in our tiny ramshackle dormitory elevators:

Monte Smock: Amazing Grace (video courtesy of Gretchen Schock)

Life should not end at 39.

I walked into Starbucks (as I normally do most days). I was thinking about all my friends who were grieving over Monte. The school hallways constantly echoed with his singing; he was always singing. Lost in my thoughts of his voice and my friends’ sadness, the Starbucks workers spontaneously burst into song, the same song, laughing, giggling, having a good time. Everyone in the coffee shop began to smile. I am there everyday (literally) and I have never seen any one of them do that. Normally it is pretty silent and stoic. I was moved to tears. I told them that their impromptu concert made my day and urged them to keep on singing. Monte was special and he served his purpose on this earth. Again, even for me, someone who only got to observe his loveliness from the rafters… or within earshot.

Teachers really do “show up” when you least expect it.

To that end, I have spent the whole day reading the FB memories of someone I wish I would have gotten to know better in life. The lessons I have learned this week are more than I can bear.

My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here. — Jim Henson

Upon this last viewing of the Muppet Movie, I began to understand the film’s ending on a much deeper level. I did not cringe this time. I watched with the knowledge only age and maturity could provide. I realize that your dreams can come true but sometimes they can still be taken away. That your dream doesn’t always turn out the way you had hoped it would, but if you do it right, if you believe in something, if you are truly yourself, that you will be surrounded by folks who stand up for your dream. Jim Henson was a great teacher and he was smart not to candy coat life, even if it was only a movie.

I think we all go through life wanting to be remembered, wanting to leave an impact. It takes hard work, perseverance, etc. But the dirty little secret to success is not just success itself but combining that success with a life well lived.

Life is not for the faint of heart. It is work to find out who you are. I am envious of those who have killer instincts and trust in themselves implicitly. The rhetoric means nothing without a change in perspective. I am still crawling through my path of self discovery. But I think I may be cashing a few things in and starting a new adventure. I owe it to my surrogates, my art, my loyal and gracious family. I owe it to myself.

Rearview