Another g-word

Tonight was a very special book club because we had the author of this month’s book come and speak to us. We read I, Too, Have Suffered in the Garden, by Jennifer Hritz. As a writer , though in a different league, I was compelled to attend and ask her all kinds of questions about how to write, despite the fact that I am leaving on a 10 day international adventure tomorrow and had not yet packed a thing. This is really not so unusual for me, I have been packing, or not packing like this for a good 15 years (since my first international trip where I got bit by a fierce travel bug and haven’t really stopped since), but still, as a mother now, there are a LOT more things to organize before leaving town. Before I digress on the trip, which is taking up a lot of my brain-space right now, let me get my point out about the book.

First point: it’s really good. You should read it. Jennifer is a local author (plus), she self-published (really supporting HER when you buy it more about this in a sec), and you can support the local and independent bookshops by purchasing it, unless you buy it on amazon, which is fine too, because you are still getting a great book and still supporting a lovely author.

Second, and actual main point: We heard Jennifer’s trials of finding an agent for her book, which had actually won a good handful of awards. Under normal circumstances, a book that wins a bunch of awards is an easy sell to an agent. But the circumstance around this book is this and just this: the book’s narrator is a gay male. It’s about his life and yes, he’s in a gay relationship. Shocking? No, not really, right? Well, due to this, she was not able to find anyone who would represent her and her book – some wouldn’t even read it. I know – I read the papers, well, no I don’t, but I hear things and see headlines about continued discrimination, but that’s for policy / marriage kind of stuff (and it’s maddening, btw). Are we really still in a space that, as the agents say, not many people are interested in even reading about gay relationship? I am of very liberal mind and San Francisco is my kindred city, so perhaps I don’t have the most secure grasp on the ‘average’ person’s feelings around sexual orientation, but I can’t help it, I am still shocked. I get that it might take someone to take a little risk in the publishing business, but it feels like we are at a point where someone might be willing to do that. Nope. Not even gay agents.

So, she self-published, and I think the world is a better place for it. The book, while centered around the gay narrator and his life, is about human struggle – death, honesty, self-destruction…but also about life, hope and moving on. The fact that two men are going through all of these themes together seems almost secondary, but not. It’s like Bill Cosby wanting people to notice that the Huxtables were black. I think Joel (character in book) might have wanted people to notice that they were gay. Getting a glimpse inside a gay household, even or especially set inside a fiction novel, may make people realize that it’s shockingly similar to their own. And commonalities are what, eventually, brings everyone together. So, yea Jennifer, for putting the book out there. Now go read and be merry and accepting and bright.

Ps. Leaving for a 10 day trip (London and Norway. Yes, I am spoiled). I really really really hope to be writing and posting along the way, but I know better – the world is not AS wired as we would always like it to be (hmmmm, kind of a theme here), so if you don’t hear from me, I have not abandoned my blog, I am just soaking up more of life’s adventures so I have something to blog about later. Thanks for understanding.

It’s a School For The (ssshhh, lower your voice) gifted.

I was speaking with my sister today, explaining my preschool woes that I am having with my almost 3 year old. Like sisters do, she got a little annoyed at one point in our conversation, and made it evident with a comment. I am trying to get my daughter into the same school her brother goes to – it’s a school for the gifted. At this point I am guessing you are already siding with my sister. Rolling your eyes, “oh brother(which was how her comment started)…a school for the gifted for a 3 year old?”

Or maybe not. This very well may be purely my own hang-up. Whose hang-up it is probably isn’t important – I’ll drag everyone through my train wreck of a thought process to make peace with it all. It’s kind of long – sorry, but this is what happens when I’m hung up about something.

So, my hang-up with other people’s potential hang-up is just that – it’s a school for the gifted. You have to say that by first pinching your nose and then using your most royal voice – probably with a British accent. It just sounds…snobby. Now I am going to tell you that my son is only 5 and that he started at this school when he was 3 and your eyes will roll another twenty degrees. All right, all right, now I have to admit that we named him Maximilian Alexander  – like he really is some kind of royalty or something and now we have to send him to a school for the gifted to live up to his name. But seriously, that is his full name. It’s catchy, right? It rolls off the tongue, in a mouthful sort of way. Particularly if you go nasal and use a British accent. But I digress.

My current woes are around a little pre-requisite to get into a school like this one and it’s called testing. This is typically where people are generally so annoyed, they can’t keep their eyes from rolling to the back of their heads, even standing in front of me. They casually try to understand, “so, you are putting your 2 year old (almost 3!) through an IQ test?” they say with same skepticism and concern as if I just reported that I was locking her in closets while I pop out to Starbucks.

And I get it. They picture two high-achieving parents, wringing their hands, standing outside of the testing area, perhaps clutching one another with the hopes that this will be the first of many tests aced, culminating in Ivy League acceptance ~ 15 years down the road. They feel the pressure that two highly achieving parents might put on an almost 3-year old, and it seems abusive. And it seems a lot to expect from an almost 3 year old. On this last point, I might agree. But let me explain the story of the two parents standing outside of that door.

One parent was a gifted child when he was growing up. He wasn’t particularly social – he felt different from most other children. To compound that, his Germany parents moved him to a new country (France) when he was 3, then again (U.S.) when he was 8. So he had lots of reasons to feel like he didn’t fit in. He was smarter than most others, and that is, ultimately, how he coped. That and he hung around adults. He didn’t have many friends. He was lonely – his behavior and grades reflected the boredom and lack of social connections at school. He doesn’t have fond memories of childhood. Like we all do, he overcame all of his childhood woes to turn into an upstanding, not to mention brilliant, guy with a hot wife (eh-hem), and adorable children. Now, what does he want for his children? A chance at camaraderie and joyful learning from the youngest of ages. (Fact: Giften children are often UNDER-performers in school because they are bored to tears.)

The other parent, while bright and at the top of her class, was not “gifted” growing up. She relished in social connections and friendship. That’s what school really was for her. She overcame other childhood woes (we all have them) to turn into an upstanding adult with a hot and brilliant husband and 2 adorable children. And then her first child started pre-school, age 2 ½ (sister on the way). It was a Montessori, which espouses the values of independence, love and respect. It was a tough transition for a very shy and sensitive child, (hate to label, but sorry, he really was) but for ~ 6 months, it went pretty well. And then he transitioned into the 3-4 year old room (I know, most Montessoris are 3-6, but this one was not….I know, not really Montessori but too long to post about). There were 25 other 3-4 year olds in the classroom and he could not tell his mama the name of a one. He started hating school and he screamed and cried every single day. “It’s so boring!” he would cry. Mama had to admit, when she looked around the classroom, it seemed like stuff he had outgrown a year ago. But look at all of these other 3-4 year olds – THEY like it! She said to herself and, sometimes, in exasperation, to him. It ripped her heart out every single day to drop him off at a place he did not seem thrilled to go. She spoke with his teacher about it – “he does well” she said, “there are 3-4 students who get a little overwhelmed from the classroom and they hang out with one another. It’s normal”. The magic word – normal. It must be ok, then, she thought. But the crying and upset at drop-off grew worse every day. At the 3-year old check-up at the pediatrician’s office (which didn’t happen until 3 1/2 – oops), she asked him if he had any friends. “no” was his own reply. The pediatrician looked to mama to see if this was true. She raised her eye-brows and shrugged, portraying that she needed to know, “is this normal?” “If he doesn’t have friends by the time he’s 4, we need to talk.” Ok. We have until 4. By then things had been put in motion for Max to attend a new school – the aforementioned “school for the gifted.” They were starting a new 3-year-old program and he had miraculously passed the test (the miraculous part was that he interacted with a relatively strange woman, on his own, for nearly an hour. The test is just a sequence of games – he loved it.) When school started that fall, the companion-less child came home within his first couple of weeks, talking about “all of his friends” at school. His teachers spoke about how social he was and that he loved to play with all of the children, although he also had his favorites. This mama wasn’t looking for him to fit into a school for the gifted, she was just looking for a school that fit him. She just wanted a son who was at peace. Who had friends. Who could jump down from her arms when they walked into the classroom, eager to spend time there.  He’s still shy with new people and adults, but he has friends. Friends! (Fact: gifted children struggle socially b/c they don’t connect with their peers)

So now this mama wants the same thing for her daughter. I don’t care if she goes to this school – even if it would be terribly convenient to have my children at the same location. But what I do know is that I see similar patterns. We’ve had trouble with drop-off at her Montessori school (a different one from her brothers) since she started. She doesn’t talk about the other children in her classroom. If you ask her who her friends are, she is more likely to answer the names of her brother’s friends – the ones she hangs out with and plays with at home and on the weekends – ones that are 2 ½ or more years older than her. My particular tribulation that I was explaining to my sister is around the fact that she won’t speak to the tester (we have made two attempts).

This is where, I believe, it gets the most prickly: The testing. I get it. It seems strange to be able to tell anything about a person’s IQ at such a young age. I can’t explain it, but I leave it to the experts in the field and trust that their decades of IQ testing and research have led them to a place where they are certainly not harming anyone and that they have scientifically backed data proving that the testing is effective. Fine. Then there’s the perceived pressure for the kid. “Testing” is a hard word to use with a young child. I think people imagine them being drilled with flashcards with said evil tester sitting by checking and marking after every answer, chuckling at wrong answers. The “test” is actually a series of games – blocks and such – that a kind woman (who loves children) administers. Oh, and there are those parents outside the door, wringing their hands. You already heard about those damn achievement-pushers. The last prickly part of testing, I think, might be that there IS a test. It wreaks of elitism, or at least exclusion. It’s certainly not the first school to have an admissions test, but particularly at this age, this just doesn’t sound inclusive, or then, friendly. We don’t like exclusion in our culture. Thus, my hang-up, or your hang up, or…you know what I’m trying to say. But their mission is to support and nurture gifted children. How do you know when a child is gifted? Testing. Refer above. It’s actually that simple.

So my daughter won’t talk. She’s strong-willed. She’s a little shy. Maybe she just doesn’t click with the tester. Maybe she does feel pressure. Despite all of the conversations about it, I don’t know. She’s just refusing to talk, and even I can see the humor in it. There are plenty of children her age who DO participate in the test (including her older brother who was probably more shy than she is), so it’s not really a flaw in the process. Whatever the reason, it has left me wringing my hands a little. We can go to a different school – if this wasn’t Austin and you didn’t need to be on a wait-list for 2 years to get into every school that I’ve found that I truly like. So, it’s a little stressful. I’m not tied to her going to a (use the voice) ‘school for the gifted’, but I am tied to her having a happy preschool experience. We are on the wait list for a couple other schools, so I am sure it’s all going to work out in the end – it always does. Deep breath.

My sister ended up apologizing for her annoyed comment. It’s OK, I said – it’s hard for people to understand. I guess I’m hoping that maybe now, a few more people will.

The Perfect World

I went to a movie last week, in the midst of my blahs. I went to see I Am – The Documentary (not to be confused with I Am – the Movie). It’s a film by Tom Shadyac (movie director who ‘discovered’ Jim Carey), who, after an injury to his head, came out with a lot of clarity about what is important in life. There is something kind of funny about, literally, being hit over the head here, but it was very serious, so I’m going to refrain. He realized that making gobs of money was NOT the important part. It didn’t make him one iota happier. So he did what he does best, and he made a movie about it. He approached the documentary setting out to answer two questions: What is wrong with the world and how do we fix it?

It’s not exactly original, if you’ve seen What the Bleep Do We Know, or dare I mention, The Secret (I know, I know, lots of controversy around that one, but there was a definite ‘connected’ theme), and he uses a lot of similar sources – examples in nature, spiritual anecdotes and a lot of quantum physics – to come up with answers to his questions. But what it might lack in originality, it more than makes up for in the importance of the message – especially being put out there from a Hollywood funnyman icon, like him, in order to attract a wider audience. The movie starts broad – pointing out the insanities of our society and whittles down to the idea of connectivity – that we are all (everyone on the planet) connected, and how we live, how we have set up our societies tends to be very disconnected. Agreed, Mr. Movie Maker. By the end, the message is boiled down to one word: Love. All we need is love. (I think I’ve heard that somewhere before). Well, love and a little action. Not action as in snogging in front of the television, but action, like, show love and compassion to your neighbor. To everyone, really, but at least to your neighbor.

With messages like this, not only as a Buddhist, but also just as a human, I have to give the movie a thumbs-up. But here’s where I am potentially finding a tiny bit of fault. And this is where I am going to go into some pretty crazy philosophical musing, so bear with me.

What if there isn’t anything wrong with the world? What if where we are at, as humankind, is actually – now brace yourself – perfect. On my own spiritual quest, I have come to understand that everything is perfect. Me? Perfect, in my imperfect way. Life? Perfect, in it’s imperfect way. So, if we project this out, and everyone is perfect in their imperfect way and everyone’s life is perfect in it’s imperfect way, then isn’t everything perfect, in it’s imperfect way?

Wait, wait wait! Before you close your browser or flip over to something less crazy, like, Desparate Housewives of Orange County, give me one more chance to explain. I see it. It’s not right. The greed. The poverty. The violence. The wars. The killing…oh, the killing (my heart bleeds). The insanity. The abuse. The illness. The disparities of basic living comforts, let alone living luxuries between countries. Between people. The homelessness. The gluttony. Lord, do I see it. And it pains me. And it must change. But you know how, in life, when you go through some tragedy? When things are so hard, so heavy, you think you might break? When you feel hollow and think that you are being testing on that ‘God/The Universe only gives you what you can handle’ piece of advice (I love that one of my closest friends has dispelled that one by pointing out that plenty of people have nervous break-downs, though, admittedly, that isn’t dying so maybe it is still, technically, ‘handling’ it)?  Well, I talk to or read about very few people who don’t come out transformed on the other sides of those tragedies and rough times. Not that they would ever want to re-live them or anything like them, but that they can see how that period in their life changed them. Usually, they report that, in the end, it opens their hearts. And that, I am going to argue, is always a good thing.

So maybe, just maybe, global humanity is going through a really freak’n hard time right now. Like, we are really being tested here – the pain, the suffering, how can it be?? It definitely looks like we are headed to a breaking point. Sometimes, it SEEMS like people are turning a blind eye. BUT are they? Didn’t Mr. “living the life” movie-maker see the light? There is more and more out there, raising our consciousness. I mean, Oprah just created her own NETWORK to espouse this stuff. Right??? Even the natural disasters? Lordy, this stuff makes my heart hurt, but doesn’t it also open our hearts? Empathy drives home at least one thing: that we are all… connected. And so it goes. One of these days I think we’ll get it. All of this heinousness is leading us into really really getting it. People are changing, and even if it’s one person at a time, eventually that makes everyone. We will save ourselves and I think we are going to come out on the other side a transformed, globally connected society.

You were warned – crazy philosophizing. I could be totally wrong here and we are all headed for hell in a handbasket. But in case I’m not wrong, in case I’m right, remember where you heard this first…from the Bumpkin. Then put me on a pedestal and throw gobs of money at me. Just joking.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you wonderful, fantastic mamas out there! Yeah for us!!

Mine was really quite wonderful, crafted mostly, by yours truly (all mothers know that if you really want something, you must be forthright in the request). However, I feel my son’s school did not completely think through the seemingly sweet and thoughtful gift that they had the students make for thier mothers – earrings. Yes, you read that right. My 5-year-old son made me earrings. They are cute. Perfect for Cinco de Mayo or Mardi Gras – any brightly colored festival where red, purple and green actually come together in harmony for a day. They are, of course, precious because he made them. He reported that it took him “TWO DAYS of WORK” (he didn’t actually throw his head back with the back of his hand, but with the way he said it, it was implied). He was very excited about giving them to me. On Friday, when he brought them home, he kept wagging the bag in front of me saying, “you can’t open this until Sunday!” By Saturday afternoon, after having moved the bag to 3 different locations, looking for the best one so that I wouldn’t forget about them, AND after whispering to everyone that he could find what was in the bag, he finally said, “Do you want to just open this now?” He was so incredibly proud when I finally opened them this morning- those child-eyes beaming, the smile a mile-wide, a Mother’s Day moment to remember, for sure.

I really do love them…because he made them. But here’s the dilemma and where I wonder if the teacher thought through this project. I already foresee a line of questioning every single day, whether I am going to wear the earrings, why not, and when will I be wearing them again. I particularly see this happening when I’m getting dressed to go out somewhere or for a client meeting – any occasion when I would be least likely to wear them. Oh, you KNOW I’ll be wearing them frequently, more frequently than there are colorful holidays. But I also see myself heading down a road of deception, wearing the earrings out with my real ones in my bag, and that already makes me sad. Like a lip-stick smudge on my collar, I’ll arrive home without them on, and he will be hurt and confused. I see it ending badly.

But I shall not let this little dilemma dampen my day – as I am sure it will unfold just as it is meant to. And so I turn in tonight with colorful earrings and the memory of my daughter (3 next month), holding a big bouquet of roses as I came down the stairs and saying, “these are really heavy for me – can you take them?” Gladly, my dear, glaly.

Happy Mother’s Day, again and again.

Lush: Not me, the Store

Lush, the Fresh Handmade Natural Cosmetics store from London, just opened in Austin. Not by accident, I am sure, given they are a cosmetics candy-store equivalent, they placed themselves next to an Austin iconic sweet treat institution, Amy’s Ice Cream. Now, while children pacify themselves with their youthful splurge, mums can do the same next door. Very convenient.

I like Lush, having visited in other cities, London and San Francisco. I wasn’t dying to run in, but my kids were pacified with an Austin iconic sweet treat (Just Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles), so I was, of course, drawn in. I was actually in need of a face cleanser, so I walked in with purpose and a surveying eye. One of the young girls (yes, I am officially old) approached me with an incredible spring in her step, a cheery smile and a voice in the octave of peppy, giving away her potential not so distant past where this same voice may have been yelling, “Ready? OK! Give me a C….!” All of this, I was trying not to hold against her, but the greeting was a little over the top.

“Hello! Is this the first time you’ve had a chance to come in since we opened?” she immediately asked. I was simultaneously impressed and annoyed at her perceptive questioning. I must have had that look on my face – a slight concern – have I landed in a place called Oz? I actually love the look of the store (and believe it’s the look and not the actual products that is at the root of it’s success) – it’s bright and cheery and makes you salivate, even though you wouldn’t eat any of they products, well, I don’t think… maybe, given how fresh and organic and natural they are, but no, you wouldn’t really eat them. But honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if munchkins worked there.

“It is” was my brief, but laden with a skeptical, ‘I really don’t want a spiel’ toned reply. Brushing off my less than enthusiastic tone, she added, “Are you excited?” Her eye-brow shot up on the word excited, like the brow itself, was. I was startled by the question. Excited? THAT was a bit much. I am nearly 40 and somehow this over-zealous sales-person’s presumption that my life is so lame that I must conjure real excitement over new store-openings suddenly rubbed me the wrong way. Well, to be fair, I’ve been very excited by store openings in the past (Zara in San Francisco, the news of Trader Joe’s coming to Austin) but not this one. So, to balance out her peppy cheerleader-of-Lush persona, I countered with an air of the ‘older woman aristocrat’. I am not an ‘older woman’ nor anything near haughty – I am as informal as they come – so I’m not sure where it came from, but she was evoked from me. I call her Carmen Victoria Marianna vonMaster, the third.

I held my head a little higher, I looked down my nose. I held my handbag as hoity as I could, and I answered, “I am interested”, and I stressed “interested” as a rebuttle to her ‘excited’. Women of my stature, clearly, would not be ‘excited’ by a Lush opening.

And this was how we carried on. She never wavered on her zeal, me never on my bristle. When she wanted to saunter around the whole store, explaining every minute detail about every bright garden of a table, grown with soaps and muds of circus colors, I would cut her off and look around, as if to say, ‘good god, what is of all of this?’ I would purpsefully move to my next area of interest or backtrack to glance out the door at my children, still enjoying their ice cream, but with an air of, ‘I have more important things to worry about than fresh organic cosmetics’. I did end up buying something. It was the “proper” thing to do. She gave me samples of the other things she tried to sell me but which I expressed an aloof, ‘I am not interested in that right now.’ It was nice of her to give me samples, but honestly, the packaging that they waste in giving samples far outweighs any benefits derived from using fresh, natural fair-traded, fair-grown, fair-bred, fair-flared ingredients.

Overall, I like, but do not love the store. I am somewhat pleased with my cleanser, but they are never the miracle products they are promised to be. The girl was nice and I am happy to say her perk never faltered – if it had, I would have let up on the airs. I am just way too nice, and my intention was never to make her feel demeaned, but just some strange universe-balancing act of off-setting too much verve from one source. I left on good terms having spent ~ $15 more than I wanted, which is also by design, and so I, Lush and Lucy (I don’t recall her actual name) all got what we needed.

um, Cute Kid?

I LOVE seeing pics of people’s kids on Facebook, BUT, using them as a profile picture creates something unsettling for me. Does anyone else think it’s kind of weird when there’s a picture of a 10 month old next to some strong political opinion or some current event? Like, “oh, cute baby!” right next to “God Damn the Tea Party”, which is of course is followed by that person’s friend’s comment right next to his 3 and 5 year old blonde haired smiling angels that says “Who are you to criticize, asshole? Why was I ever friends with you?” Followed by a reply from 10-month old chubby cheeks that says, “Actually, we never were friends, I only accepted your invitation to be NICE”

For those of you who clicked over from Facebook, who are now thinking, that’s nice Carmen, but YOU have a picture of you and your child as your profile picture, I say, It’s different. I don’t have strong political opinions, unless you count the one thing about women not being in power, and anyway, I don’t make my opinions known on Facebook, you actually have to click over to my blog which looks like a serene Buddhist’s writing playground, but turns out to be a sharing of some insane specifically unenlightened thought of the day. Like this one. It is different- the satirical humor of it all is subtle, buried. Perhaps not ever found. So you can just say, “oh, cute kid!” And move on with your life.