The Other Side of the Mountain

As we gathered by the bus at 6:15am, a student turned to my husband and asked, incredulously, “You ski? I thought you would spend your weekends at home reading a book or something.” Zach replied with dignity: “Yes, I ski,” while I snickered behind a mitten at the boy’s uncannily accurate description of 95% of our weekends.

Let’s be honest: the closest we’ve come to adventure recently was purchasing a 75 cent memoir by an unfamiliar author at the public library’s book sale, (which, by the way, turned out to be a bad decision). So we can’t complain if anyone appears surprised when we voluntarily participate in semi-athletic events. Zach is actually quite good at skiing. He keeps pace with me out of the goodness of his heart, but I suspect he could have handled much more difficult trails on his own.

The the first and last time I went skiing was over two years, on a very special day that I wrote about here. Perhaps it was beginner’s luck, or maybe Cupid’s cherub’s were watching over me to make sure Zach’s proposal plans weren’t interrupted by a trip to the emergency room–either way, my first day of skiing was AWESOME. Rather, I was awesome:  I was bold, if not quite fearless, and I remember grinning madly the entire time.

But my luck wore out on Saturday. Perhaps I was thinking about it too much, or maybe the lingering pregnancy weight affected my momentum; either way, I found myself with too much momentum and too little courage. Not practiced enough to adequately control my speed, I varied between two different approaches: tedious switchbacks and a full-throttle beeline to the bottom. The first technique frequently led to mishaps. Not turning sharply or smoothly enough often left me face-first in a snowbank, butt in the air, with one ski skidding down the mountain ahead of me, like a disdainful teenager trying to lose his parent in the crowded mall. The beeline “technique” always led to a combination of prayers and cursing as I sped past the contemptuous eight-year-olds with perfect form, screaming through clenched teeth “SCARED! I’m so SKEEERD. Oh, God, TOO FAST!” Fortunately, I never completely wiped out after one of those, though I did question the sagacity of getting back on the lift after God had already granted my less-than-eloquent prayers for survival.

I did get back on, though, and I kept going until the falling snow stung my face and made it difficult to see. People who ski regularly invest in equipment like goggles and face masks–I understand the value of these items now. But I don’t think I’ll ever fall into the category of people who ski regularly. Don’t get me wrong: Saturday’s excursion WAS fun, despite my lack of grace, and I’m grateful that I was invited to tag along on Zach’s school’s trip.

I just prefer to enjoy the outdoors more privately. To me, the trouble with skiing is everyone else. While I’m hugging an unaffectionate pine tree, attempting to reattach my ski to my boot, I don’t appreciate the audience of pitying passersby, and I certainly don’t appreciate suggestions shouted down from the chairlift churning overhead (even if they’re right and you DO have to push the latch down in the back first). When I sit down on my skis and weep while scooting my way down a sharp incline, I’d prefer to do it without witnesses. 

But my preferences don’t count for much. You can’t ski unless someone else has already invested millions in developing a mountainside into a series of trails and lifts. And those millionaires won’t get much of a return on their investment if they only sell a couple of tickets a day. I get it. I do.

Maybe I’ll give it another shot in a couple of years. Perhaps my inner equilibrium will be stronger by then. Or perhaps my pride will be less prone to bruising. And maybe, in a few more years, I won’t be a little disappointed when the day doesn’t end in another proposal. After all, the best day of your life can only happen once.

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Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!

The best part of my job teaching high school English is that I am forced to reread a handful of classic books every year. Without this incentive, I would rarely re-read the old favorites–with so many new books on the must-read list, who has the time? Fortunately, it’s part of my job to make the time for revisiting a few. Recently, my 9th graders finished Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. 

I first read this play in Mrs. Bye’s 8th grade English class. I still have my copy of the text from that unit, complete with mundane annotations in bright purple ink, but I’m afraid that the only instruction I can remember is an embarrassing conversation about how we mustn’t think that Romeo was up to no good when he wakes up in Juliet’s chamber in Act III scene v, because he did marry Juliet properly, even though that part happened off-stage. Overall, though, my first impression of this tragedy was dominated by a profound sense of doom. Those two kids had so much working against them: they didn’t stand a chance!

I encountered the play a second time just after the end of my sophomore year of high school. Taking the advice of a beloved history teacher, who swore by the mystical power of “Shakespeare Dates” to revive the magic in romantic relationships, my boyfriend and I went to a production of R&J performed in St. Louis’ Forest Park. The plan backfired, though. When faced with Juliet’s heart-rending display of devotion, I admitted to myself that I would NOT  commit suicide out of despair if my boyfriend died. Acknowledging that my feelings for him would never measure up to that tragic standard convinced me that the relationship was going nowhere. I dumped him after the show. (It would be some time before I understood that killing oneself is not, in fact, the ultimate display of affection.)

That was over ten years ago–(which means that my 10th high school reunion will be NEXT YEAR! So stressful!)–and I managed to avoid a serious rereading of the play until this recent unit. What a difference 10 years can make! My perspective on these characters has altered dramatically, as well as my understanding of Shakespeare’s overall message. Romeo and Juliet aren’t doomed:  they are agents of their own fates just as much as the rest of us. And the point isn’t that this tragedy was unavoidable and necessary for reconciliation between the Capulets and the Montagues; No, the point is that it COULD have and SHOULD have been prevented, and only a series of consciously wrong choices allowed it to happen.

Both Romeo and Juliet experience moments of foreboding and voice their concerns that “Gee, I get the feeling that if I crash this party/drink this sleeping potion, something really bad is going to happen.”  But they do it anyway! And did I mention that these star-crossed lovers spend a grand total of 20 minutes together before vowing eternal devotion and sneaking off to marry each other? An impulsive, rebellious  marriage smacking of a rebound (remember Rosaline, Romeo??) carefully orchestrated by the well-intentioned Friar who excuses multiple deceptions because he just wants everyone to get along: Can this be true love?

As an eighth grader, I found their declarations beautiful and inspiring. Ten years later, I find myself shaking my head and sighing “Oh, children…” as they cavalierly offer to strip themselves of their very names if only they can be together. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, all right, but for completely different reasons than I originally thought. I’d love to juxtapose this unit with The Crucible and assign a comparative essay on the significance of names.

How have your re-reading experiences altered your thinking about a certain novel or play?

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by | 01/31/2012 · 9:38 am

In The Club

When I was chatting with an expectant friend recently, she said, “I knew that getting pregnant would introduce me to the ‘Mom Club’, but I was not prepared for how opinionated other mothers would be! About everything!”

I had a similar experience during my pregnancy: feeling overwhelmed by the polarized literature on everything from sleep schedules and diaper options to inoculations and comfort objects. But even though joining the Mom Club means participating in these great (and occasionally awkward or ridiculous) debates, it also provides a connection to a universal support group, full of empathy and good advice.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of all the girls I knew in my childhood and teenage years, and how our varied life choices have led so many of us to the common path of motherhood. My best friends from the DuBois years–whose news I get through their mother’s Christmas letters to my mother–both married young, and are now well on their way to growing big, Catholic families. The young ladies from my youth group in St. Louis are now scattered across the United States, but many of them have multiple children now or are starting families like I am. Bound by a common history and a common faith, we can still speak to one another’s hearts from time to time, even if we’ve given up on remembering each other’s birthdays.

I’ve also been thinking of my hallmates in Olds dormitory, my freshman year of college (over eight years ago, now!).  Four of the women on that hall are among my best friends today, but most of them have drifted out of my range of awareness. (Remember Melissa? Whatever happened to Melissa?) But despite several degrees of separation, I still hear news from time to time. Those twenty four girls are all 26 or 27 years old now, and many are married, though many are not.  At least one has suffered a miscarriage. At least two of them have had abortions. At least three are pregnant. Several already have children.

When we were unloading our suitcases and plastic storage bins in August 2003, struggling to stuff our belongings into 2 x 8 feet, motherhood was the farthest thing from our minds. We were desperate to find someone to walk to Saga with us and nervous about the “gentlemen” from Galloway who occasionally defecated in the courtyard.  Looking around at one another, we saw primarily the differences between us. It certainly didn’t occur to me then, or at all–if I’m honest–during my college years, that many of us would one day be part of this universal club. Yet here we are, raising up a new generation together.

That is why my own heart was wrung out when I heard the story of one of these women—Jennifer—who very recently endured one of the most harrowing experiences a mother could imagine. Her story, which she shares on her blog, is one of grief and loss, but also one of remarkable faith. Jennifer and I were merely acquaintances in college and we haven’t spoken in years, but because of the shared experience of carrying a child, I can imagine the devastation she must have felt when she learned that her baby wouldn’t live long. Please lift her up in prayer.

Jennifer’s situation is exceptional, but even the most ordinary of mothers in the most ordinary situations rely on the Mom Club for a boost from time to time. I’m grateful for the more experienced mothers, like Simcha Fisher (mother of nine. NINE) whose excellent article validates the common difficulties new mothers face, as well as assuaging the fear that each additional child will make life exponentially more challenging. Newbies like me live on this kind of reassurance.

Having motherhood in common isn’t necessarily a recipe for instant friendship, of course; every mother is different just like every child is different. But each mother’s heart has been shaped by her child and the infusion of love that accompanied it. I guess that’s where we recognize one another.

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Nope.

I tried.

I really did.

But, as it turns out, doing One Thing At A Time does not agree with me, my lifestyle, or my hobbies. It’s an impossible mantra to adopt at work: managing a classroom, lecturing, supervising activities, grading, and keeping up with endless emails (all marked “urgent”) demands that I keep multiple trains of thought on the rails at once. However, it IS helpful to discipline my mind to concentrate on one task at a time during my office hours. The grading goes much more quickly when I’m not switching Pandora stations every ten minutes.

At home, I found that doing One Thing At A Time was, quite simply, too impractical. Sam doesn’t nap as much as he used to, and so I had to choose 2 out of 10 different chores on my list to complete during those precious hours of peace, leaving little time for things like yoga or writing. Last weekend, I caved and spent most of the morning on a multi-tasking-baby-food-making binge: steamed carrots, baked sweet potatoes, boiled green beans, and microwaved spinach. Cooked! Blended! Packaged! Frozen! Bam! It was exhilarating. (In a lame, Martha-Stewart kind of way).  But though efficient productivity had never tasted so sweet to me, it apparently left a bad taste in Sam’s mouth: he’s been fussy about eating his meals ever since. Go figure.

So though this experiment has proven that I’m not cut out for (or interested in) such a high degree of concentration all the time, it has helped me teach myself  to give my complete attention to Sam when we’re playing together. And there’s so much to attend to these days! He’s learning to use his arms to pull himself over the slippery wood floor now, and is slowly figuring out that his legs have something to do with mobility. He knows how to wave and will do so in response to every “Hi!” He’s nervous around machines, it’s true, but is slowly becoming reconciled to the CD player (yes, I still own “compact discs”. Shut up.) My favorite development is his new love of story time: we read at least a dozen of his little board books a day. And while I wouldn’t personally choose to learn the collected works of Sandra Boynton by heart, I love hearing him squeal out his little version of “bee-bo!” whenever we read The Belly Button Book.

Getting to know Sam, and watching him learn and grow, has give me more perspective on and greater grief over the unheeded holocaust of abortion in our country. Knowing that, while I was pregnant, millions of Americans regarded my son as a mere collection of cells and would have encouraged me to dispose of him if I didn’t want to be a mom, makes the horror of this practice infinitely more personal. I’m saddened even more to think of the toll this terrible blight is having on Sam’s generation: will his classmates, his best friends, his future wife survive? Today is the 39th anniversary of  the Supreme Court decision that declared abortion a “fundamental right” for all women. If you have a moment, I encourage you to take the time to read this article and say a prayer for the unborn, their mothers, and our government.

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One Thing At A Time

Sometime in between the arrival of Yahoo Instant Messaging and my 11th grade statistics class, where I taught myself to write notes to Meg while looking intently at the instructor, multi-tasking developed from a skill into a way of life. Americans have always prided themselves on efficiency, so the prospect of getting more than one thing done at once is deeply attractive to us. As a stressed out high-school student with GPA-worries, musical rehearsal, basketball practice, and crushes on boys, the ability to do three things while thinking about seven other things was essential to surviving those harrowing years.

Lately, though, I’m starting to think that this is getting out of hand.

For example, my laptop is usually out and open on the kitchen table, so that on my way from the sink to the stove, I can see instantly if someone emailed, messaged, facebooked or commented on my blog (I LOVE THE COMMENTS!). Rarely does my browser contain only one tab. On my days home with Sam, you can often find me juggling a book, a cup of tea, a laundry basket and a water bottle (gotta stay hydrated) while attempting to pacify the baby at the same time. I’ve been known to answer the door while in the middle of a skype conversation and to make a phone call while changing Sam’s diaper (a distraction which he protested in the messiest of ways). As a result, my mind is rarely on what I’m doing. Plus, it’s impossible to get things DONE.

This is not efficiency. This isn’t even respectful. What’s worse, I’ve realized that I’m putting Sam in a situation wherein he must compete with my cell phone for my full attention. (Maybe that’s why he keeps trying to eat it when I’m not looking…) No baby, no BODY, should have to fight that battle.

So, today I begin an experiment: the One Thing At A Time Challenge. I’m going to resist the urge to do multiple tasks at once and will try to focus on one. thing. at. a. time. Obviously, this challenge allows for things like emptying the dishwasher while the water boils and having story time simultaneously with the running of the washing machine. Automated tasks don’t count.

I’ll let you know how it goes. At the moment, the only other tab open besides WordPress is my email, and that’s progress!

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

One is Not Enough

For some reason, obvious truths always seem twice as profound when a small child points them out. You know what I mean: people collect books of pithy remarks delivered by five year olds and pastors routinely interpret a child’s childishness as revealing a deep spiritual truth. And kids CAN remind us of important truths or offer refreshing perspectives. I don’t doubt that. What I’m wondering, though, is what sort of take-away I ought to be gleaning from this:

What’s the message here? Gluttony will get you in the end? Multi-tasking is NOT such a great idea? Pursue simplicity?

How would YOU interpret this one?

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What Are You Searching For?

One of my favorite features of WordPress is the statistics page. There, in neatly ordered charts, graphs, and lists, you can discover fun facts such as how popular you are (or aren’t) in the internet community, which posts get the most hits (you’d be surprised), and who comments most frequently on your blog (my mother.) (Thanks, Mom.) But my favorite part of statistics is that you can see what phrases people searched for that led them to your blog.

Some of the best:

- “something nice to say to a pregnancy”

- urukhai with baby

- what is the american childhood annie dillard all about

- csap proctor boredom

- stumped face

- patron de strapless (what?)

- “extreme parenting to the max”

- janet schamp (my mother)

- catholics and lilacs

- Jumpsuit strapless shorts

- I can count my friends on just one hand

- can a newborns arms go over their heads?

And, my favorite, winning hands down with 69 hits

- “Grossed Out Face”

So, what do you think? Did they find what they were looking for?

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