The pervasive carelessness of “you don’t matter”

Superheroes say they defend everyone, but the clear message from the current crop of superhero movies is “you don’t matter”. The carelessness anyone but the central characters are dealt with is extreme. Anyone can and does die, and no one mourns them. The entertainment as a viewer is getting to feel above it all, as if we are one of the main characters, privileged to leap from one often-insensible crash-bang to another, and then walk away. This is also true with much of what passes for crime drama on TV. What is particularly insidious is it is also the message coming from our government representatives and media outlets. The poor, the powerless, “undesirables” (read: the old, infirm, unfortunate, ugly, intellectually challenged, etc.) and the less-than (women, gay, people of color, etc.) are all disposable, especially as any individual racks up membership in these categories- and then can be dispatched by those in power with self justifying sadistic pleasure.

The wave this point of view is experiencing is not limited to the U.S., just as nothing is bound by nationality in border, funds, or belief anymore. It has become a global phenomenon.

Very effectively, all people have become so afraid for themselves and those (whom or what) they love that it takes very little to make an individual feel threatened, afraid, at risk. A camera watches you everywhere, from the sky, a lamppost, a local grocery building, or your own computer. Our infrastructure is crumbling, and those entrusted with the general welfare are as afraid as the rest: police, fire, political, and medical workers are clearly taught that they must care for themselves, and that their time and lives are worth little, so gaining financially from dubious acts is par for the course and their due. The ethos is sold to us: to feel superior, and believe you can outsmart and “out play” everyone else is your privilege. As a recent popular sci-fi show put it, “That man there had an ax. Now I have it.”

If you do not go with the flow, you can be destroyed financially, medically, or in any way possible with very little effort. Anonymous is not you, and does not work for your concerns. The Klan, Black Panthers, Occupy, and various groups all have something in common- they are watched, and essentially powerless. If they attack anyone but the wealthy elites (and that is a very small group), then it is just an advantage. Divide and conquer has been around a long time for a reason: it works. And in most cases, there is very little needed but lies and whispers to start a divide. It grows of it’s own accord, and in the present social media age, becomes “fact” very quickly.

Getting any traction to collaborate, or care for long term goals of community (without a monetary reward or religious shibboleth which just causes a superficial pretending to care with a well indoctrinated language) seems difficult. Getting anyone to care about international issues is almost impossible- it’s “over there” somewhere and any resources ought to be focused on taking care of me, and my local issues.

High stakes testing in both schools and at work seek openly to sort. An array of statistics and correlative data justifies giving what dwindling resources exist to those who are intellectually deemed “worthy”. The rest will just have to work it out for themselves. The consequences of this sorting pits people against each other as they scrabble for a vision of security and safety (“helicopter” parents are all too aware), attained by the right educational institutions, programs, and jobs. This keeps people very busy, scared, ignorant, and too tired to think about the big picture. It also creates mid-level sadists who get pleasure from creating new ways to manipulate others, even as they know they will only get small, but consecutive cuts of the profits. It is ugly, and it is pervasive.

Scientists have learned well what possibilities of beauty and accomplishment exist. They accept tracks in academic institutions and industry, which grow ever smaller and more constrained. As higher education is slowly starved by legislatures, they are made the hands of private industry. Data, studies, or opinions that differ from the agenda of funding sources are disappeared or not funded at all. A hamster wheel of looking for funds to support research while at the same time being careful not to prove or discover anything that might threaten one’s position makes our best and brightest myopic and afraid.

Our military has been well shaped to the rhetoric of religion, and absolute authority. Young people without options have been told it is a route to access healthcare, education, and security. Sadly the opposite is the case, as private organizations such as the ever-morphing Blackwater/Xe/Academy become privy to military concerns, but without oversight making them the perfect real army, and sponges for federal dollars in the name of “efficiency”.

This is not news to anyone around the world. Each region has it’s own version of this picture, with varying degrees of violence and unrest. Our own government has made “civil unrest” a top priority, providing military tech to local governments, and funding studies about how to identify and control such unrest. What is not clear is if the real causes of social unrest will be addressed, or just the consequences so that the benefit of a few remains.

Meanwhile, we entertain and work ourselves to death, because we feel safe for the moment living this way or think we have no options. Our focus becomes smaller and smaller, and many of us turn from the din of media, live day to day. Some build bunkers; some build networks they think will help them. It is a patchwork of desperation because all of us want not to be the “innocent bystander” inserted via CG that gets blown to bits and is not seen again. That nameless individual no medical worker will materialize for, one whose plans and projects will fade, who will have their life insurance subverted on a technicality, whose grave will go unmarked.

2014 and Change Happens

Well it’s 2014.  I know I drank deeply of alcohol infused liquids and shoved 2013 out the door this past week.  It was an extremely difficult year, but we all survived and by that I mean at least one of us would have been dead this past Christmas but for a rather random catching of a life threatening condition.  Getting what turned out to be very serious surgery and treatment, then starting recovery took up most of the year from late July to the present, and monitoring must continue for life.  But suffice to say I still have Husband, and am very grateful I do.

There were other horrible, shocking, and unbelievably trying events that occurred. This past year was one of the most depressing I have ever experienced, and it is no exaggeration to say toward the end I was not sure I had anything left in me to cope.  Maybe I’m still not sure, but I accept the false rituals of a new year to give me something to celebrate.

I got a new paper calendar (yes it may seem luddite-like, but it is tangible and won’t evaporate if batteries die) and filled in all the set dates of the new year.  I also started a to- do list, and already feel overwhelmed.  There are times having a family is a positive distraction, it makes me focus on the present (even if annoyingly so) and get on with things.  Money is tight, time is valuable, and the circle of people I know genuinely love me, love us, is considerably smaller.  I can’t say what the new year will bring.  I hope- my raggedy, worn thin, unreliable state of hope- that I find a job.  I hope Husband continues to recover well.  I hope our evil neighbors find something other to do than torment us.  I hope my children stay healthy and dodge the backward blockages of culture and curriculum at school.  I hope my extended family stays healthy and maintains a state of happiness.  I hope the citizens of this country start to pull their heads out and become civil.  I hope those with extreme wealth and privilege realize they don’t live in a bubble and must start taking responsibility for their lives and wealth.  I hope the people who let their cats run wild in my neighborhood keep them in, get them spayed or neutered, or get rid of them.  I hope the song birds come back to my neighborhood.  I hope the frogs, snakes, and newts do too.  I hope my garden is healthy this year.  I hope I can keep going, and have the energy to be a good mom, wife, daughter, relative, friend, and community member.  I hope we find a way, a path, a start to leaving this place.

I hope we are safe.  I hope we are healthy.  I hope we find moments of happiness and laughter.  I will do what I can so my hope is not in a vacuum, not static and passive.  I will live for as long as I am able.  I will try.  Welcome, 2014.  Another cycle around the sun, another 365 days.  The kids feet will continue to grow, gray hair will replace color, and what ever losses occur I hope they are small ones.  Happy New Year.

Thoughts for the kids II

Don’t be afraid to be eclectic in your tastes. Sample widely, consider the structure of the things, of the gestalt as well as the parts. Then decide if you like it- in food, music, art, and opinions of all sorts. Know how to listen, then how to express yourself with grace, authenticity, and directness.
Try not to put things into your head that will only make that space darker. Feasting on violence, horror, (in films, books, etc. even if “just” fiction) or the often overwhelmingly bad world news, is an indulgence that decays your heart and mind. Know what to not watch or read- what will only add to a sense of powerlessness, distress, or imaginary possibilities of destruction. Think about what will truly make you bigger in spirit as a human being, and more capable of empathy and what is just destructive mental trash. It’s not always obvious either.
Know the difference between being bold, taking a calculated risk, and being risky or reckless.
Dance with abandon regularly, and sing open throated.
Don’t ignore personal hygiene. Brush those teeth well, floss, and gently scrub all your nooks and crannies every day with a mild soap and water. Keep your hair and beards trimmed, even if to appear shaggy- make it a plan, not an accident. Know your body so if you get a truly odd mole, or something hurts, you know where, for how long, and can describe it to a good doctor. Never settle for a mediocre general physician, and make sure they have all your information.
Clean your messes.  Know how to use tools, often and correctly.  Drills as well as spell check.  Know the difference between tools and toys.
Be careful what you consume. While you may have access to many different ingestibles, many of them are not worth consuming. Read labels. Drink lots of water. Stay physically active in body and mind.
Moderation is usually a good idea in all things. An old adage that is still useful.
Learn to do a couple of things that make you feel flow. That focused intensity of purpose, and the subsequent satisfaction it can bring.
Always appreciate the people who are crafts persons about what they do- the cooks, the wait staff, the post people, the plumbers, electricians, teachers, mentors, accountants, etc. Your life will suffer from the bad ones, and be considerably better for the really good ones. Even if you don’t always notice. Learn how to tell the difference, and appreciate explicitly.
Don’t be afraid to give people compliments. But know when personal boundaries are appropriate.
Make a few good friends, and know when a friendship is no longer tenable. Be direct about it too. Know how to trust and love, and have fair self protective strategies as well.
It is never out of style to be generous of spirit, or to look out for those weaker or more in need than you. You choose your character every day from the small to the large in thought and actions. Save civil disobedience for really important moments. You should not be breaking the law but for an accident, or intent. Intentional reasons should be really, really good and be prepared for what consequences may exist. Authority should be earned (not conferred, or handed over by privilege) and not all rules are good. Question, and calculate your actions.
Cut yourself some slack- everyone makes mistakes. Perfection is impossible and sometimes the best surprises come from our mistakes. As Bill Watterson said, “Art is knowing what mistakes to keep and what to throw away.” Don’t let mistakes not worth keeping in your head rot there.
You will get hurt. It will make me miserable to not know how to help you sometimes. Learning how to bounce back, how to think about what happened without ignoring it, is a big part of living. Be good to yourself, and don’t forget that you matter.

Why does now matter?

I wrote this for my kids. I thought it was worth sharing:

Why does now matter?
Because whether or not there is any sort of afterlife is unknowable and not relevant.
Because now is tangible and real, and whether or not we cause ourselves or others pain is something we can reasonably consider and act upon.
Because what happens after now interacts with lots of variables, some of which we have no control over. A little considerate planning over the ones we do have control over makes a big difference to what comes next, but so does knowing how to react when what comes next is a complete surprise.
Because while we have laws, enforcers of laws, communal beliefs about morals, and religions that espouse to regulate and enlighten about them, all of that is constantly in theoretical and practice based flux, and usually socially corrupt at some level. Knowing yourself and choosing to live life as a thinker, learner, and choosing to be kind and open minded is the hardest road to walk. It makes what you do in the moment matter, or just reactive (without being able to trust that you have character to rely upon when needing to react).
Because you will forget. We all forget. The textures, the colors, the tastes, smells, feelings, impressions, sensations, it fades very quickly. What remains are fragments, and we are lucky when those fragments are happy- because so many of them that get lodged into long term memory are negative, for protective reasons our brains do it, but it tends to blot out or take up the space so to speak of a lot of the random happy.
Because it is all we have. I look at the sky and I know life is short. Very very short. There is so much left for me as an individual, and part of a collective species, to know. Or to even begin to grasp. And I know I will never know even a small part of it. It is terrifying and awe-inspiring. And belittling. To know enough to know how short, small, and unconnected to the big picture this time is.
Because despite all that, we have humor. We have the ability to laugh, and to recognize our own absurdity and that of others. It saves us from disappearing into the vastness of time, as much as being truly known by others does. It makes the moment matter because it can be light, as much as it can be dark.
Because it is now, and can be imagined without strict boundaries of measured clock-time, but as having elastic boundaries of what now means.
Because now offers the constant new opportunity to love, be loved, and to care. Even in the smallest way.
It’s all we really have to be certain about, I think.

The Long View

Being in the middle of any progressive line is an interesting point of view.  In school having a last name that started with a middle of the alphabet letter always seemed to get one in the middle of the line.  Not the first, not the last.  For example, one could watch the mistakes of others and learn, or envy those who got to choose an object or activity first.  With regard to age, being in the middle brings many new shocks- invisibility in some arenas, a sense of purpose in others.  What I see others experiencing ahead of me is the long view.  It is the distance time and age gives most people, the ability to look back and around oneself and see the world with a complexly measured eye.  Certainly there must be humor with this perspective.  There also must be some regret, some pain, and some relief. Also an understanding of humanity, and how little things really do change.  People are still motivated by the same things, still yearn for the same things, still feel pain, and the world seems to make the same mistakes over and over, just with a veneer of new paint.  Maybe that is part of what lets people let go slowly.  I don’t want to live in fear or apprehension, like so many older people do.  But I can see how the long view allows those of advanced age to shake their heads and know what they are leaving is hopefully in some small measure momentarily better for their having been there, still can offer pleasures, and will go on as it will after they are gone.  The feeling of powerlessness many of us in the middle face, the knowledge that we are so small, have so little real time, and can affect the world for the most part in such small ways- that sensation that haunts us in the middle has, by the time we are toward the end, become something else.  At least I hope so.

The West (and the rest of the world is starting to adopt this bad habit) has a way of disregarding older people, of finding them taxing, a burden.  Instead of knowing age for what it is, instead of having any interest in it (other than a crass, commercial investment in the money to be made from the aged in health issues and other arenas), we culturally accept that age is something to be avoided, and remain ignorant about.  I think this is to our detriment in a very big set of ways.  Primarily, this attitude robs us of the comfort of the long view, of seeing it coming and learning from those who are plumbing it’s depths.

For now, I am in the middle.  But I see so many others entering into the long view, some accepting it with grace, some fighting it with joyful humor, some with fear and pain.  There is much to be learned from all of them if we would only bother to ask, to watch, to see, to consider.


Roger Ebert died today. He was a journalist, a midwesterner, a U of I alum, and a gracious human being when I met him. I didn’t always agree with his reviews, but I am so very grateful that he lived, and for all his work. He joins Studs, Nels, Mike, and other big souls of Chicago I have read, listened to, met and deeply appreciated over the years. You’ll be sorely missed R.E.


Another October is upon us.  Of course those of us who think Halloween is the very best holiday of the year are thrilled (and simply without any of the guilt of Christmas or Easter, unless you count sneaking your kids tiny Twix from his booty pumpkin).  We have the big box of old costumes to play in, and the boys have been discussing what they want to dress up as for this Halloween since the last one came and went.  I never know what they are going to say, and it can deviate over the course of the ensuing months.  Yet, Segundo seemed to know with great conviction last winter that he absolutely HAD to be James Bond and asked every other week if I had gotten his “tuxedo” yet.

I am not such a fool as to show the entire Bond film collection to children under ten.  But for Christmas last year the family got all the Sean Connery Bonds on DVD and watched them over the course of several weekends.  They are just tame enough, just campy enough, not to be taken too seriously on the scare and sex and violence scales.

The allure of an adult spy with a wry sense of humor and lots of cool gadgets and cars is a no brainer; I was not surprised that Segundo (who is a wry and bright child) finds Bond so much fun.  Husband even joked that Segundo’s good female friend go as a Bond girl (something I do not think her progressive Mennonite parents would approve of).  A funny mental image, but I know Miss E would demand her own water pistol and think of herself more as an Emma Peel type (especially given her behavior at the boys last birthday party when she and Segundo played spies ALL day together).

The tiny tux was an easy Ebay find for under $30, and it included a shirt and slim bow tie.  The shoes are still hiding in some thrift store waiting for me to find them.  The water pistol is spray painted silver, and I hesitated at adding a small plastic martini glass- junking it up and going too far, no matter how momentarily cute.  Besides, the new Skyfall posters have no glasses (and thankfully no cigarettes like the old Connery posters).  Segundo is excited and is just waiting to transform.

Primo at first wanted to be Q from the Bond series, then changed his mind.  He figured it was too much like the mad scientist he went as last year.  After Thor came out on DVD, he was mesmerized.  Segundo cottoned to Captain America and Primo to Thor, as the super hero thing goes.  Their good friends took on Iron Man, Batman, and Spider Man, so all is well.  No competing duplicate heroes on play dates!  SO! One cheap Thor winged helmet and foam Thor hammer from Amazon, a red cape from the costume box, a breast plate from an old knight costume, black sweat pants, a long sleeved grey shirt I painted the lattice work black lines on, black rubber rain boots and viola! Mighty Thor for Primo!

We have been through a bee, dinosaur, ghost, cowboy, Frankenstein’s monster, Indiana Jones; a chef, robot, The Scarecrow (from Wizard of Oz), Dumbledore, The Man in the Yellow Hat (from Curious George), and mad scientist.  The boys have seen costumes on friends of juice boxes, a bag of candy, video game, etc. but they tend not to be interested in inanimate objects and go more for characters.  It is so fun to see them in any get up, but Halloween is special.  I think it is a time when we can take on alter egos, and feel brave (or naughty, or anything other than what we usually feel) and go out into the world.  I know I wish I could dress up with abandon again and just for a little while pretend.  It can get very weary being an adult, and I want to encourage my kids to use their imaginations to experiment with being whomever they can be and see how it feels, test those boundaries, and play out what it means to be “the good guy” and “the bad guy” in different, safe ways.

Schools don’t usually celebrate Halloween anymore, but have a “dress up day” some where in the weeks before Halloween as a concession to the holiday and the primal need for dress up play.  The boys will wear their costumes and have a trial run, getting home after school and gabbing loudly about who wore what.

I don’t go over the top decorating, and wish I had the energy to throw an old school Halloween party.  But again this year I’ll have to just enjoy giving out candy at the door and seeing all the wonderful children in costume.  I’ll put some scary music on the stereo and the pumpkins that the boys carved the week before will be lit (and maybe me too if I can grab a glass of wine), the plastic skeleton will hang from the tree out front and the fake headstone will poke through the front herb garden.  Husband will probably arrange to meet up with Other Dads down the street and walk the gang of kids from door to door.  Our neighborhood still revels in Halloween and people drive in from other neighborhoods to walk our streets.  Porches are decorated and lit, and streams of children run around noisily from five to nine p.m. going house to house.

People will stop and converse, neighbors touch base.  When the night is done and the kids are washing off any chocolate and make-up, the plastic pumpkins emptied and the goods sprawled on the kitchen table, I’ll walk out and extinguish the candles in the pumpkins outside (if the candles have not already melted out by then) and look at the sky.  Some years there has been a moon, some years just clouds.  A cool breeze usually blows, and bats flutter around streetlights to get at the last of the bugs.  Some teenagers will still be lurking around, the pre-driving years types; looking lost, caught between being a kid and being a full-on teen.

Yeah, I’ll sneak a Twix or a tiny Snickers and will quickly sort out the gum and odd candies from the loot and put it into our leftovers bowl for Husband to take to his students the next day.  The rest will get bagged and put into the pantry for the next several weeks’ worth of treats.

We will watch the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and will have watched The Nightmare Before Christmas as part of our Halloween Eve ritual the night before.  The costumes will go into the dress up box, and discussions of what to go as next year will begin.

The holiday let down will happen, the decorations scooped up and taken to the basement the next day.   There will be a pause, the weather will get colder, and Thanksgiving will come and go.  The weekend after Thanksgiving the Christmas decorating begins, and Halloween will slide into memory again.

I adore the old Halloween decorations from the early twentieth century, and the old animated Disney Halloween films (easily visited on You Tube!).   The idea of carving a root vegetable (the original “pumpkin”) comes to mind every year, and jumping over a fire pit (but at my age it’s not a wise thing to do!); scaring away the fears that haunt us about the future, and making peace with our dead and the fear of death (I like the mashing up, the blurring that is occurring with the Latin Day of the Dead and Halloween).

Here comes fall, autumn, the harvest, the time of hunkering down and getting through the winter.  Happy Halloween out there, and if you get a chance- put on a costume and play.

The Long Transition from a Gypsy to a Rose

Roses Turn (the re-invention anthem, out of order on purpose):

 Mama’s talkin’ loud.
 Mama’s doin’ fine.
 Mama’s gettin’ hot. 
Mama’s goin’ stong.
 Mama’s movin’ on.
 Mama’s all alone.
 Mama doesn’t care.
 Mama’s lettin’ loose.
Mama’s got the stuff.
 Mama’s lettin’ go.
 Mama’s got the stuff.
 Mama’s gotta move.
 Mama’s gotta go.
 Mama? Mama?
 Mama’s gotta let go.

 Why did I do it?
What did it get me?
 Scrapbooks full of me in the background.
 Give ’em love and what does it get ya?
 What does it get ya?
 One quick look as each of ’em leaves you.
 All your life and what does it get ya?
 Thanks a lot and out with the garbage,
 they take bows and you’re battin’ zero.

Ya either got it, or ya ain’t.
 And, boys, I got it!
 Ya like it?
 Well, I got it!

 Some people got it and make it pay.
 Some people can’t even give it away.
 This people’s got it
 and this people’s spreadin’ it around!
 You either have it
 or you’ve had it!

Well, someone tell me, when is it my turn? 
Don’t I get a dream for myself?
 Starting now it’s gonna be my turn. 
Gangway, world, get off of my runway!
 Starting now I bat a thousand!
 This time, boys, I’m taking the bows and

everything’s coming up Rose!
 Everything’s coming up Roses! 
Everything’s coming up Roses
 this time for me!
 For me! For me! For me! For me! For me! 
For me! Yeah!

 The general patriarchic summary of the stage play “Gypsy” often describes the mother, Rose, as a self centered harpy- but as I watched once again with an older, and more nuanced eye I saw the subtlety and wit that would make Nora Ephron (RIP) proud.  There is a reason the character of Rose can be on stage for almost the entire show and still be engaging.  If she truly were a one-note character largely made up of a self-centered harpy the show would not work.  The greater themes about parenting, aging, and the necessity of adapting are what keep us engaged as they play out in a larger than life woman and her relationships with those she loves.  That Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurent got it right is really impressive (and that some of their other work is such schlock makes me think they both might just BE versions of the Rose character).  Clive Barnes understood the psychological and entertainment brilliance of Rose when he said she was one of the few truly complex characters in the American Musical (Thank you Wikipedia for reminding me of this review: Barnes, Clive. ” ‘Gypsy’ Bounces Back With Zest and Lilt”. The New York Times. September 24, 1974).

While Rose is deeply and uniquely gendered, I think the character and the struggles she experiences (warts and all) as well as the impulse for reinvention goes beyond gender and is a truly humanist construction.  For decades swaths of people in LBGT communities have been drawn to the story of theater, parental conflict and the character of Rose.  So much so, fandom of Rose has become a sort of “hair pin”, and I would like to think I can make a claim to affinity for Rose without the hair pin, and reappropriate her for middle aged women.

I am struck by how well the tension between Gypsy and Rose captures the continuum all women face.  We start out as young women, exploring our lives as sexual beings, “pretty girls” (if you recall the mirror scene), resisting the objectification that comes with that time of life, and fashioning our presence as our own.  Slowly, over time, we grow and change and there is an epiphany many, many of us go through when we sing the “Rose’s Turn” song in our own way as we become a Rose, and leave Gypsy behind.  Oh, and all that “Mama’s getting’ hot”?  Layered meanings, folks- and the multiyear wind up to menopause is in it.

The necessity in middle age of taking stock and reinventing ourselves is not special to women, but can play out in very different and gendered ways that “Roses Turn” deftly captures.  What superficially may seem grasping, even delusional, is not.  The song is fully self-aware and instead of devolving into self-pity, asserts the character as adaptive and open to a new time in life with fierceness, intelligence, charm, and gusto (but does not avoid the attendant sadness and regret either).  We should all be so lucky to have the bravado of Rose!

I am still on the continuum, shifting.  I think of all the Red Hat ladies who designated women my age as “Pink Ladies”, not yet old enough, not yet ready to wear the brash, assertive red.  Aging and parenting can have dark, cruel, cruel sides for women.  Marketers count on that.  But it is the infinitely creative, funny, and strong presence of all the Roses I have known that provide my texts as I advance, and a bulwark against the all too common reductive, diminishing, and dismissive forces of culture towards middle aged women (in arenas of employment, entertainment, health care, and journalism especially).

I took great pleasure in watching Rosalind Russell belt out “Roses Turn” today.  Pleasure of a complexity I never had before.  I can’t help but think so many of the women who stump and squawk about issues that force women into untenable corners (healthcare and abortion rights as one example) and are on the side of regressive, suppressive policies might gain something from watching Rose, and start to recognize the Rose’s in their lives, and in themselves.

There have been many extremely stressful, unasked for corners in the past few years and I am deeply grateful for the love and support of my husband, friends, and family.  Huge holes in this blog are one example of the collateral effects.  But today, this morning, if just for a little while, I am humming and singing to myself,  Mama’s talkin’ loud.
Mama’s doin’ fine.
Mama’s gettin’ hot.
Mama’s goin’ stong.
Mama’s movin’ on. . .

Thank you Rose. 

All you Roses, thank you.

To my peers, lets start to shimmy a little and get loud. . . 

Curse you tooth fairy!

I knew Primo would need braces at some point.  His teeth were coming in at such strange angles, behind other teeth; it seemed like the tooth fairy had visited him drunk every time.  But really- top level of severity on three dimensions?  Three?  Bottom jaw juts out in an under bite like a bulldog, side to side is way off, and the top and bottom are tilted off one another in some strange axis.  Oy.   Our kind, gentle dentist told us as sweetly as possible Primo needed a consult with an orthodontist soon, that at this age they can plan and begin a process to help him.  She handed me the referral, saying at some point they may even need to pull some teeth if his jaw does not grow significantly in the next several years.  But, she added, on the bright side, Segundo just has a slight under bite, and they both seem to have strong, healthy teeth and gums!  Thanks Doc.

Growing up, braces were like saying you wanted a pony; so far outside the margin of possibility that they were not even worth thinking about.  They were simply too expensive.   While prices have come down and the technology involved has become more sophisticated, it is still a sting to the pocket when considering the years and degree of difficulty involved with Primo.  But I have seen the problems Husband has had with chewing, sleeping, all sorts of functions I take for granted and if we can alleviate those issues for our kids, then I would like to try.

I wonder at the genetics involved.  How did both my kids get my Husbands mouth?  Did they get his whole head?  Did they get his propensity (and his mother, and his grandfather) for a bad back?  Segundo certainly got his hair.  We joke that if he had been a girl she would have been a hair model, it is so thick and straight and beautiful.  Segundo hates for us to wash his hair though, it is so thick it makes it difficult to get to the scalp- yet he will not get a buzz cut again, he says it makes him look dumb.  Primo cares little about his hair and clothes most of the time, and is the easier going of the two.  He seems to have hair more like Husband, but not the carbon copy straight shot Segundo got. 

Did they get anything from me?  I worry that they may have only gotten deficits; did they get any of the scary cancer genes we suspect run in my mother’s family?  Or did they get the extreme longevity of my father’s side?  They have eyes similar to mine in color, but it is also the color of my mother-in-laws eyes.  Both boys got the wonky toenails of their father (who has had to have nail surgery for extreme in-grown nails- are they related to the teeth problem somehow?).  I hope they got his nose, not mine.  I hope they got his even-keel personality, his wit, and his creativity (whether by genes, modeling, or a combination of both).  We both have big squishy hearts, which is evident in the boys.  Whatever neuroscience and genetics has said lately about attributes of altruism, empathy and the like I would like to read.  The boys have these qualities in spades and would probably make good research participants.

I know kids grow and change.  I know Primo’s jawbones and head (which already takes an adult size M-L hat!) will grow more in the coming years.  I know they will expand their already barrel chests, wide shoulders, and long legs and the proportions will shift and exaggerate like a fun house mirror over the years.  But it would be good to see them at some point and know visibly they have something of me in those cells, something written in the DNA that is not a deficit.  Time will tell.  In the mean time I have to put a slit in an empty coffee can lid and start saving money for braces and what ever else the dental magicians have come up with for Primos mouth.  I trust the words, songs, jokes, and ideas that come of it- now I need to learn about and trust the hands and appliances that will go in.

Assateague Island

Going some place I have never been is a pleasure.   Looking at maps, searching for information about an area, it’s all more than planning; it is part of the discovery process.  The drive or flight is compared to whatever I have learned before the trip including matching and developing a sense of distances, encountering unexpected obstacles, and putting the topography into my mental map.  I adore travelling.  I do not regret any of the travels I took in my life, but do regret not having done more.

We have been searching for a trip we could make as a family every year.  A place within a certain one-day drivable radius from our home that would not cost us a fortune.   A place we could take the pop-up camper, and enjoy a week or two.

We have been to the Outer Banks, but for us it is only livable during the off-season, between November and March.  Yet, we liked the beach (not so much for the sun exposure, but for the ocean in all the natural awe it offers).  I had never been to the barrier islands of Assateague (in Maryland and Virginia) and Chincoteague, and it looked like an interesting area to explore.  We got incredibly lucky, and a five-day camp site opened up at the Maryland State Park in Assateague (check the internet site every morning and you might get lucky with a cancellation too; otherwise they are booked up to a year in advance for summer slots.  Oh, and try to make Sunday through Friday reservations, as traffic into the area is bumper to bumper on Fri-Sat, and bumper to bumper OUT on Sunday; the opposite directions are very open!).

Our site was paved, and backed up into a sand dune.  It was also about 150 ft. from the main dune that separates the rustic campgrounds from the beach.  The sound of the waves and wind were constant, and wonderful to hear at night.  The bathhouse (each small loop of sites has one) was clean, if somewhat worn from years of use, and has hot and cold running water for the showers and sinks.  Our particular campsite loop held mostly pop-up campers (and families at that), and thankfully NONE of the noisy, obstructive, gigantic RV’s so common to campgrounds.  The absence of the behemoths may have been due to the fact that most of the smaller loops do not have water and electric hook-ups, which was fine for all of us with propane stoves and water tanks in our popups.  The pop-up and tent crowd also know to bring large round water coolers, and food coolers, and cook out on the fire rings when one can.  It is worth it to have quiet, and low profile neighbors!

The barrier islands are wonderful, even the famed ponies (I am not a horse person, never was.  They are animals no more fascinating to me than the rabbits, unless they start adapting to eat seaweed like the sheep on North Ronaldsay island, Scotland) only annoyed our camp site once.  For people, especially women of a certain type, who have romantic ideas about the wild horses it is heaven.  I leave them to their cameras and fantasies, as there are many other things worth paying attention to on the island.

We were tempted only once to drive up to Ocean City to the north, by curiosity more than anything else.  We drove the main drag and noted that it reminded us exactly of Virginia Beach (with the requisite homeless population, drug addicts, prostitutes, con-artists, and tacky signage, over-built landscapes, and noise levels assaulting the senses).  We quickly turned around, and drove back the parallel road and over the bridge, laughing “Run away!  Run away!” as we drove highway 50.  But before getting out, we were lured into a large restaurant (Pirate Petes/Hoopers Crab House/Sneaky Petes was printed on the cups and we were never sure which one we were in) that hung into the bay.  Husband said, when the overly tanned waitress with blue eye shadow started huckstering about the small plastic cups for $5 (refills, if one did not buy the cups, ran about $3) we ought to have gotten up and left.  The requisite steamed crabs covered in old bay, with steamed corn on the cob for two ran $60 (the kids fish and chips, crab cake sandwich and fries fed them for about $12 each), when down on 611 we could get them for a dollar each at a crab shack.  We choked on crab shell bits AND the price, considered ourselves thoroughly made chumps, and tossed Ocean City in the Never Again bin with Las Vegas, Dallas, Virginia Beach, and various points in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida.  It was exactly as we had feared and expected, adding to the weird Stephen King sense when seeing the looming landscape in the hazy, far distance from our beach.  It could be one of his deserted, post-apocalyptic urban centers, which only adds to our sense of not wanting to visit again. 

Luckily, the Assateague State Park is as far away culturally as can be from Ocean City.  The park rangers are wonderful, and the small visitors center that serves both the National and State parks was very interactive.  The kids earned their Junior Ranger badges from the center, and had a lot of fun doing it.  The National Park is adjacent to the State Park, but completely different.  The bathhouses have only cold water, and pit toilets pervade.  Many day travelers use the National Park, and it was crowded with people and dogs.  We were grateful that there were no dogs at the State Park when we were there, and pets seem to be discouraged.  The National Park is also popular with the “deep” campers, the backpack and tent crowd who hike into sites where no autos can go.  Maybe twenty years ago we would have done that (pre-kids perhaps), but the pop-up serves us well for now.

Flying kites, collecting shells, swimming in the Atlantic, having picnics, taking walks, riding bikes (the paved trail is great), and so forth are all wonderful things when one has small children.  The nature center was next to our loop, and had activities all day for campers, and at night some movies were shown with a marshmallow roast.  The camp store is adequate, and the ranger station always had a supply of ice and firewood for sale.

The small village of Berlin is about fifteen minutes from the park, and offers a wonderful place to do laundry, get groceries, and grab a meal.  It is a town that has taken good care of the historic homes, streets, and beautiful city parks.  The Wednesday and Friday farmers market offers fresh clams, oysters, crabs, and various seafood, vegetables, and fabulous peaches to take back and make meals off of at a campsite.  The Baked Dessert bakery and café ( had the most amazing, fresh, hot crusty bread that we went back several times to purchase said loaves and some local sausages and cheese too (do not ask me about the cupcake bread pudding, peach tarts, or other desserts.  Just don’t do it.  I will cry).  The proprietresses are equally warm; as were all the villagers we met at the various shops, galleries, stands, restaurants, and parks.  It makes Assateague even better having Berlin to escape to from time to time.  Oh, and while we could not be there for the bathtub races, it seemed like something we ought to try to get to next year! 

Not much can be said of our foray to the southernmost part of the peninsula barrier islands, or Chincoteague.  Wallops Island NASA center, on the way to Chincoteague, has a good little museum but the underfunding of NASA is woefully evident and made us depressed. The National Seashore has a wonderful old lighthouse, remarkable for being open to the public (most along the east coast are closed to visitors).  The beach is crowded, and the swamp leading to it of interest biologically, but for little else.  The town of Chincoteague was all tourist trap, and the camp grounds abysmal combinations of homeless shelters (the sheer number of permanent residents in RV’s is overwhelming.  I think stats on this population, which are often older persons, needs to be examined in the wake of the economic collapse of the oughts) and country-pop loving, smoking, and drinking vacationers.  We moved campgrounds twice (I particularly warn anyone against Toms Cove campground for their horrifying bathrooms, policies, tiny sites, more than half “permanent residents”, and other issues), and were told by one woman we spoke with that the campgrounds attracted, as she delicately put it, “a certain type of person”.  Point taken, Madame.

We cut our visit to Chincoteague to twelve hours total, and headed down the peninsula to the undulating bridge/tunnel engineering wonder that gets people from the tip of the DelMarVa (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) across the bay to Norfolk, VA.

Our last minute addition of Busch Gardens, Williamsburg to make up for the shortened trip was literally a wash- thunderstorms kept shutting down the park and after four hours and only three rides, BG refunded our money.  We drove home between flash floods and thunderstorms, wishing we had stayed a few extra days in Assateague.

Still, as a foray into the unknown it was a good trip, and gave us a place to escape to in the future.  Now I’ll have to start plotting a back roads course for the next visit.  Maybe I’ll finally find out how Assawoman got it’s name, too.