Friday, November 21, 2014

Teaching Awesomeness!

This is the shirt I wore at the girls' second pre-season game. I thought my hoodie covered most of it, but evidently the little sock monkeys wanted to watch the game.

The girls did great, much better than last week. They're in third grade, so they are still learning the fundamentals, like which direction to run and how to not throw a temper tantrum if they miss a shot. They seemed to have a greater understanding of what they were doing out there on the court this week than they did last week. I can see them maturing into a great team.

So we'd better hurry and pick a name. I asked the girls to think of a name, email it to me, and then I'd compile a list so we can each have one vote. Katie asked, "What if everybody picks their own name?" I gave her the same answer I give her to most of the questions she raises during this first season I'm coaching: "I don't know. I'll figure it out."

Just before the game started, the girls and I were in a huddle, talking. I'm sure the other coach was instructing his girls on a strategy or something coach-like. I don't know enough about that stuff yet, so I didn't have anything planned to say. After a couple of have-funs and do-your-bests, my girls and I started talking about team names. 

"I like the Racing Rockets!" one girl shouted.

"I like the Tigers!" another girl said.

"I wanna be the Sock Monkeys!" another voice chimed in.

"What? Who said the Sock Monkeys?" I asked.

The girl who said it smiled like she was trying to cover her teeth, but the smile was so big it looked like her lips were about to pop apart. She raised her hand half way up. 

"You?" I asked, pointing at her in a teasing way.

"Yeah!" she said.

"That name's not even on the list. Why do you want our team to be called the Sock Monkeys?" I asked.

She pointed to my shirt.

"Oh, yeah! I almost forgot. The sock monkeys want to wish you girls a good game! Have fun!"

The refs called them out to the court and I took my place on the bench.

Like I said, they did their best. They had fun. We scored a few, the other team scored more. But the girls know I don't pay attention to that kind of stuff. I want to make sure they're having fun, learning how to play the game, and practicing good sportsmanship. Or, sportspersonship, as I like to call it, but only in writing because it's too hard to say.

At one point during the game I was sitting on the bench with the three girls who were resting and getting ready to sub--everyone is guaranteed ten minutes of game play, although you know me and how time challenged I am. I just kinda rotate the girls in and out, ask them if they feel up to playing or if they want to rest, kinda let it flow, call them in when they look tired. It works. 

While I was sitting on the bench with my three resting girls, a player on the other team jogged up close to me, although she was still inbounds, and half shouted/half whispered, "I like your shirt!" 

I blushed and said thank you. It was the highlight of the game in my book.

The lowest point was when Will had to shout at me across all the noise of the parents in the audience, cheering. He saw me still huddled up with my girls, telling them how great they were playing, assigning positions as if they were gonna go in for one more round.


I looked up from the huddle and saw the other team lined up, ready to slap hands, the parents already on the floor with their coats draped over their arms.

"Oh, sorry girls. It looks like we'll have to play again next time! OK, line up to slap hands with the other team!" I said, as if I had any idea what I'm doing.

When it came time for the other team's coach to shake my hand, we smiled and he kinda laughed in a warm way and said, "Good game, Coach."

"Oh yes it was!" I agreed. "It was awesome."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jesus Is a Pinko Commie

I'm not Catholic, but I sure love this new pope. My mom married into the Catholic faith, and her first four children were baptised in the Church, but she left the Church after she divorced her adulterous first husband and married my dad, a Methodist. Mom still reads The Bible. She still believes. She's the one who laid the foundation for my spiritual beliefs. She just isn't a joiner. We went to church off and on until I was about twelve, but never regularly or with any sort of enthusiasm. Mom doesn't need a holy building to love God and love people, which is pretty much how she summarized The Bible for me. Mom feels the presence of God in the comfort of her own living room, under her afghan, at the tip of her paintbrush, and coming out of the TV.

I had a Catholic girl tell me I was going to burn in hell because my mom and dad had both been married and divorced before they married each other and had me. She called me a child of sin. What a judgy little bitch. When I tattled on her, Mom basically told me the girl was full of shit, only phrased more gently for my second-grade ears. Other than that, the Catholic people I have known have been generous and warm and compassionate.

Still, I didn't used to like their church. I was never one of those anti-Catholic people who enjoy the company of hate mongers in white hoods. If people wanted to be Catholic that was their business. But I didn't like the news coming out of the Church. Abuse. Of power, of authority, for sex, for money, which was used for the Church's hierarchical sickness instead of for treating actual sick people.

For most of my young adulthood I was more on the side of Sinead O'Connor than The Catholic Church. I was one of the fans who still bought her records and defended her actions on Saturday Night Live all those years ago when she held up a picture of one of the old popes and ripped it to pieces on national TV in protest of the Church's silence over accusations of sexual abuse.

People called O'Connor crazy. They called her actions blasphemous. But I thought she was on the right side. The side that wants to see the Church help people and, you know, not fuck little alter boys.

But this new pope, Pope Francis, wow. The news coming from the Church today is so much better than it was with the old popes. It's all about, you know, helping people. Feeding the hungry, serving the poor, mending the sick and broken. The stuff Jesus was all about:

Matthew 19:16-24 New International Version (NIV)
The Rich and the Kingdom of God

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth...

Jesus was always pissing people off like that. Telling them how they can make this world a better place, how they can love people and help people. If they'd only remove their heads from their assholes. Yeah, yeah, Jesus was the Prince of Peace and all, but he also battled the status quo with his amazingly simple words, "go" and "love".

I'm no pope expert or anything, but it seems to me that Pope Francis is way more Christ-like than the other popes I've seen. Take, for example, this brief article from Reuters, Pope to raffle gifts given to him to raise money for the poor.

Don't it just make you want to pump your fist in the air and shout out, "Yes!" to see this powerful man using his status for good. It's a rare thing of beautify in this cruel world.

Just as I used to be judgmental toward the Catholic church, I have a hard time not getting too judgy with rich people. Not all people who have acquired wealth are selfish or greedy, especially when they share it with those who are less fortunate. I know that my distrust of wealth is more psychological than spiritual: it has to do with my daddy issues, having been raised by an accountant who too often assigned more value to money than to people. But come on! I'm not perfect. Even Jesus himself is pretty judgy when it comes to people who cling to their material possessions. Look what he said to his disciples:

Matthew 19:16-24 New International Version (NIV), continued:

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hoffman
image source

When I read that passage I always remember the time when I was an angsty adolesent in the middle of some stupid argument with my dad over whether or not it's ethical to eat fish. My dad grew up on the south end of St. Joe where it smelled horrible, but the slaughterhouse paid a living wage. His dad was happy to get off the farm and work for wages. Dad worked briefly at the slaughterhouse before he went to business college to get his accounting certificate so he could wear a nice white shirt to work and not worry about coming home with blood on it.

Here's about how close to working at a slaughterhouse I ever came: I used to make dinner for Mom and Dad and me when I still lived at home, and sometimes some blood would splatter onto my hand when I attempted to dump the ground beef from its styrofoam bed into a pot on the stove. I'd rush over to the sink and scrub my hand in hot water and soap for about five minutes. I'd shrivel up and die if I had to kill animals for a living.

My point is, when Dad and I got into a fight when I said I wanted to stop eating meat, he was coming from a weird place inside his mind. I bet he felt trapped between the old ways--his father's ways of proudly working at a slaughterhouse--and the new ways--his punk-ass kid mouthing off about not eating anything that has a face, or some shit like that.

"Jesus was a fishman!" My dad shouted. His face was getting red and you could see how fast his heartbeat was by how fast the artery in his temple was beating.

"Jesus was not a fisherman, Dad. He was a teacher. He was the Fisher of Men," I said in the most snotty "no duh" accent of a 1980's-era, white, suburban, middle-class teenage girl.

"My point is, Jesus ate fish. If fish was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for you!" Dad shouted.

I rolled my eyes and ran to my room shouting, "Jesus is a Pinko Commie!"

My remark was in reference to another time when my dad and I got into a shouting match over money and he called me a "Pinko Commie!" "Jesus is a Pinko Commie!" is what I had wanted to say then, but I wasn't brave enough yet to say it. So when I finally got up the nerve to say it during this argument over fish, I'm sure Dad didn't understand me, but it made perfect sense to me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Katie, Inverted

Tonight at the school's chili supper Katie's principal greeted us warmly as if nothing had happened. She smiled and talked to us like everything was back on track. She's either really good at forgive-and-forget or she's got so many other disruptive students to deal with, if a week passes it's off her mind. 

Last week when the principal called to tell me Katie was in her office, I reacted calmly. Which surprises me now that I think about it. I get uncharacteristically practical and focused when I'm called upon to tend to my child. I want as many facts as I can get so I can assess the situation and determine my course of action. The mama bear in me hears her kid's in trouble and she gets to work. OK, what are we going to do? How are we going to fix this?

"She's a good kid," the principal said to me over the phone. "I don't know what happened. It's like she just snapped."

Katie, Inverted

"And it was just over another girl snatching a photo out of Katie's hands?" I asked, amazed my gentle child would do such a thing. Then I remembered that earlier in the month my sister-in-law had reported to us that our sweet little innocent Katie had broken her cousin's sword in a fit of anger.

"Yes, that's what Katie said. She said the girl snatched the photo from her hands before her turn was up, and that's when she remembers losing her temper."

Apparently Katie pushed a desk. An innocent girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Katie scratched her like a rabid cat. Katie was exiled to the Principal's office and broke down crying about how sorry she was. 

When Katie's principal told me this on the phone all I could think of was, oh shit she's inherited my dramatic temper. We're screwed.

But the principal has more faith in us than we have in ourselves. Never once did the principal sound like she was scolding Katie, or me for that matter. She didn't talk to me condescendingly, like she knows more than I do what's best for my child. She talked to me like we're on a team and we're trying to help Katie do her best and find her way.

Will and I picked up Katie from the office. As soon as she saw us walk through the door, her eyes got big and teary. 

"I'm so sorry," she said.

"We know," we said.

We talked about the situation off and on for several days afterward. Katie wrote a letter to her classmates and her teacher apologizing for her outburst and for scratching her friend. It took her a couple of days to build up the courage to give the letter to her teacher, but once Katie did, her teacher read it to the class.

"And then what happened?" I asked.

"Well, she finished reading the letter and then everyone in the room clapped and cheered and I got a SOAR ticket I can trade for, like, a frog eraser or something like that."

After talking it over, Katie mentioned that the girl who had snatched the photo from her hand is the same girl who, a couple of days before, accused Katie of cutting in line and Katie said she didn't but the girl said she did, and Katie didn't know how to resolve the conflict, so she turned and pouted and stomped off to the end of the line. 

"You didn't tell me about that. Why didn't you tell me about it after school on the day it happened?" I asked Katie.

"I dunno. I forgot," Katie replied. She is only eight, after all. And really, even if they did have that tiff in the cafeteria, it's no reason for Katie to freak out. Katie seemed to understand this as we talked it over.

By the end of the week, as Will and I were walking Katie home from school, Katie said, "Guess what?"

We said, "What?"

Then Katie told us that her teacher told them a true story about how when she was a girl she got into a fight with her best friend and she ended up in the Principal's office, "And guess what they were fighting over?" Katie paused to finally take a breath. I've noticed as her vocabulary is building her sentences are getting longer. 

"What were they fighting over?" Will and I asked.

"They were fighting over a stick! Can you believe that?!" Katie said, shaking her head and laughing. After a few minutes of no talking and just listening to the crunch of the icy leaves beneath our feet, Katie said, "It's turned out to be a good week. It started out bad. I lost my temper. I made a mistake. I got sent to the Principal's office for the first time ever. I wrote a letter and said I'm sorry to my teacher and my class and now everybody is my friend again, and you know what the best part of all is?"

"What's the best part of all?" Will and I asked.

"The best part is I'd always wondered what the Principal's office looked like, and now I know."

I laughed out loud.

"No, I'm serious," Katie said. "I always wondered if it was like Miss Trunchbull's scary office, or more like just a desk and chair and stuff like in your office, Mom. And now that I've been sent to the Principal's office, I know it's not scary. It's just a regular office and you just talk about what you did wrong and now everything is back on track!"

Back on track? I think Katie might make a decent principal when she grows up. She's got the jargon down, and also, now, the empathy.

I Said Hustle Not Hush

After our game last week, the girls and I hugged and cheered and talked about how much fun we had, me watching them, and them playing. I was paying less attention to the parents than the girls. I assumed they were just as happy as we were. I noticed one girl who had played that night had already left without sharing a snack with the team, but I just figured they were in a hurry. Now I suspect her parents were disappointed that our team "lost," if you're into that whole score-keeping thing.

I'm not. At one point during the game, one of the girls who was sitting on the bench while her teammates were on court asked me what the score was.

"I have no idea. I'm just making sure everyone is doing her best and having fun," I said.

The girl beamed. I mean, shooting starstuff coming out of her eyes. Like she was saying oh good, you're one of us.

I get that look from kids a lot. Kids at Katie's school. Kids at the public library where I work. Kids in Sunday School. Now kids on the basketball team I'm coaching. People think I like to work with kids because I'm so giving and loving and kind. It's really so I can leech off their inner energy. Kids are so full of wisdom and understanding and love if you let them speak their minds and be who they are. And really, really listen to them.

Since last week's game, a couple of parents have emailed me, offering their help during practice. They want to drill the girls and teach them the basics of offense and defense and, you know, like, teach them how to play the game in a very straight-forward way. But straight-forward is not my way. And while I'm grateful for their assistance, and I want the girls to learn the fundamentals in their own time, I'm a tad insulted.

I know this is my first time coaching youth basketball. I know I haven't played on a basketball team in thirty years. I know I'm old, and short, and fat, and obviously too sensitive. But I'm the one who volunteered when the league asked for help, not you, and I'm trying. Just as the girls are trying too. Give us a chance. Believe it or not, I have a plan. It might look different than yours, but it's the best way I know how to build a strong team: through fun and encouragement. If you want to coach the girls another way, you should have volunteered at the beginning of the season when the league was foolish enough to accept my offer when no one else said yes.

As a coach of 3rd grade girls, my most important job is to encourage them and let the girls have fun. When I spoke to the girls during our first practice, I asked them what they want to get out of this season. The overwhelming majority said, "to have fun". The others said things like "to make friends" and "to do my best". When I asked them what kind of coach they want me to be, they said, "funny" and "nice" and "encouraging."

So that's my goal for the year. I'm going to let these girls have fun and learn how to play a game at their own speed and to their best abilities. I'm not going to focus on winning or obtaining high scores. That's cool and all, but I primarily want these girls to feel confident about using their muscles and being a part of a team and learning to help each other shine.

So, I want to be clear. I absolutely would love some help coaching. But only if the help is positive and uplifting. I don't want parents hollering at the girls or pushing them too hard. I want them to love to play the game because it feels good and they enjoy it, not because they feel pressured to please us.

Since I'm the one who volunteered to coach our team, I have the honor of defining what approach to coaching our team gets. Will has been helping me at practice, and a couple of times I've had to ask him to calm down. No, the girls don't need to run ten laps around the gym. I understand wanting to push them to excel. It's easy to get caught up in the feelings of pride we have when we watch our children play well together. Basketball is a game of balance, coordination, and agility. I want to make sure the kids feel well balanced, both physically and emotionally.

Monday, November 17, 2014

33 Snowfish

Why didn't you tell me about Adam Rapp? That amazing young adult fiction author who writes about homelessness, drug addiction, and abuse. I zipped through his indescribably ugly and beautiful book 33 Snowfish. And let me tell you. I've been too busy lately to read. I'm working at the library. I'm taking care of our kid and our pets and our family. I'm teaching Sunday School. I'm coaching 3rd grade girls basketball. Come on! I don't have time to read.

But I couldn't help myself. Rapp's words suck you in. The story is sick and sublime. Go read it. Now. Basically it's a story of three runaways fleeing their ugly lives. Do not read it if you're squeamish about the dark realities of life. But if you can take it, if you're strong enough, read through til the surprisingly hopeful ending.

So you know how when you've just finished a book and everything around you seems to suddenly be related to it? Things all around you that you never noticed before? That's how it's been for me ever since I finished reading 33 Snowfish. Everywhere. I. Look. It's all I see. Thank God I have PTSD or I might not have learned the skills necessary to tolerate despicable life events. Honestly: I think that's why I'm so emotionally strong. I'm a survivor of child sexual abuse and other generic traumas of growing up in a dysfunctional family. I've overcome so much that my life now feels like a triumph. The better I feel about myself and the better I cope with my abused and bruised past, the better I am able to see others who are going through what I've been through and to find ways to help them.

You're that way too, aren't you? When you feel good aren't you more apt to feel like helping others. And when you feel like crap, aren't you more apt to not even see the misery of others in front of your eyes? Most of us are like that.

But not all of us are. Some people who struggle daily just to stay warm and fed and safe are still awakened to the plight of others. For example, watch this incredibly inspirational video about a homeless man sharing his meal:

Too often in our society people who are homeless are looked down upon by the well-homed. Fuckin' lazy bums. Get off the street. They live in the trash so they are of the trash. They're just gonna spend that dollar you gave 'em on liquor and drugs.

I had the unfortunate luck of sitting next to my husband, who was on his computer scrolling down his newsfeed, when something so hideous and wrong we simply had to stop and look at it flashed upon the screen. Selfies with homeless people. Seriously. Go look. It really is as disgusting as it sounds.

Jesus Fucking Christ! Is Jesus really going to have to come back to earth to set you motherfuckers straight? It is not cool to ridicule other human beings. Homeless people are people. They deserve just as much respect as anyone. The President. The Pope. Beyoncé. Even you. Jesus said stop being an asshole and documenting your fun adventures with a bum and go sell your phone and give the money to the poor. I'm paraphrasing.

But it's not just ignorant narcissists who are disrespecting homeless people. Today I read this bad news about the City Union Mission, a religious-based homeless shelter in Kansas City. I've been a fan of this charitable organization for some time. I've shopped at their thrift shop. I've blogged about the good they do. But now I'm pissed.

They've decided that they will not allow legally married same-sex couples to stay together at their facilities. I'm so angered by this injustice I felt compelled to create this petition. Please sign it. I'd like to deliver it to the decision makers at City Union Mission as soon as possible. If you'd like to contact them directly, here is their info:

City Union Mission
1100 E. 11th Street
Kansas City, MO 64106
(816) 566-5085

Of course, not all religious organizations hide behind their interpretation of The Bible when they discriminate against their fellow sisters and brothers and others. Some groups of religious people go out of their way to try to empathize with people who live without homes.

Recently my church, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, hosted a camp-out for the youth. Only instead of tents or cabins like at scout camp, these youths and their adults spent the night outside in cardboard boxes and tried to imagine what it would be like to never know where you were going to sleep that night. It was literally freezing out. And they survived. They learned to love more and judge less.

GCPC "Homeless for a Night"
photo courtesy of Christy Soule

There are many other organizations around, trying to make life better for homeless people. There's this great organization in Wisconsin called Occupy Madison that is helping homeless people build tiny houses. I don't know if it's a religious organization or not, but regardless, I hope that they let same-sex couples stay in a tiny stable for the night. 

When did it become the way things are that people who follow Christ say turn away your gay neighbors and irreligious government officials say no, you must treat them as equal human beings?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pantser Panic

It's unlike me to prepare for anything, but I figured I should at least skim the coaching manual policies and playing rules a few hours before the first game. I accidentally read that after the end of each game the coaches get rated and that "disciplinary action may be warranted for multiple below average ratings."

Holy shit! I didn't know I was being tested. I can't even remember all my girls' names, let alone the rules. Am I going to be the first 3rd grade basketball coach to get fired from a volunteer gig after their first game?

See, my friends. This is why it doesn't pay to plan. When you just wing it, you don't have time for any sort of pantser panic to set in. Isn't that a great word? Pantser. As in, a person who does things by the seat of her pants. I recently read it and decided it describes the anxiety I experience when I try to plan things. I am a total pantser precisely because I'm an obsessive planner. I get too bogged down in worry and give up too easily if I plan things out. If I show up unprepared, I can blame my awful performance on my lack of preparation and just have fun.

But I guess when you're a supposedly responsible adult coaching your daughter's basketball team it's different. There are so many freaking rules.

Left: Becky, age 13, seventh grade. Right: Katie, age 8, third grade.

I don't remember there being many rules when I played on teams as a girl. I just remember running back and forth across the wooden floor, dribbling, and passing, and catching, and shooting and having a lot of fun. I thought that's what it's all about. Fun.

So what's my plan for the first game? I'm going to try to remember what it was like to be a girl on a team having fun so I can understand how my girls out on the court feel. It's about them. Not me. Not the parents. Not the officials. It's about them, and making them love to work together and have fun.


Katie started crying during a practice basketball game. She said she was afraid the ball was going to hit her in the face. One of her teammates stopped everything and went to her to give her a hug. Then two other teammates went to her and started telling her about how they were scared and cried their first time on a team too. Now they've played a couple of years and they have fun. Katie immediately returned to the game and was laughing and running around having a good time.
I love coaching these girls. I'm going to learn a lot from them.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

This Is You

Our eight-year-old daughter, Katie, handed this piece of paper to me and said, "Here, Mom. This is you."

"Mom" by Katie Carleton, age 8

The first thing I noticed about the drawing is that my shirt says I love daughters, plural. Because I have but one daughter, I wondered if Katie is including an imaginary sister, or if she's including our female pets. Or, is she thinking more broadly, along the lines of my "daughters" being all the girls in the world. It wouldn't surprise me, since I often talk about how we need to help improve the lives of girls around the globe as if I'm a concerned mother. 

Once, when Katie was complaining about having to go to school, I shut down her negativity by saying, "Well, at least you don't live in a country where eight-year-old girls don't go to school because they are forced to marry middle-age men."

Kind of a modern-day clean your plate because there are starving kids in Africa.

When Will and I found out we were having a girl, the first thing to come out of his mouth was this:

"Good. I'm glad this baby will have you for a mother, because you'll raise her to be a feminist."

Beats my own father's reaction to being told I was a girl. My mom said the only two times she ever saw my father cry was when his mother died and when I was born. Dad already had a daughter from his first marriage. His first wife also gave birth to two other girls, and one boy, but none of them survived past the first day or two. When he married my mom, already the mother of two boys and two girls, I imagine he thought he'd struck uterus-gold. But alas, after I popped out of Mom's golden uterus, as Mom and her obstetrician smoked cigarettes and discussed how much damage I'd done to her body, the doctor chiding my mother, telling her that she shouldn't have any more children, Dad was wiping away his patriarchal tears.

When I became pregnant, I vowed to love and cherish our child regardless of how things turned out between its legs. I honestly didn't care if the child was a boy or a girl, or somewhat both, someone with ambiguous genitalia. In fact, my reaction to Will's awesome comment about how our girl would be lucky to have me for a mother so I could raise her to be a feminist reflected how I feel about gender in general. I said, "Whatever. I'd raise our son to be a feminist, too."

More than anything, my wish for all children is to just be themselves. Whatever that means.

My boss started this team-building exercise at work. She posted pieces of paper on the wall, one for each of us in the department. Everyone who walks by is supposed to write a positive description of the person on their sheet of paper. On mine, someone wrote, "herself."

 What is that supposed to mean, I thought. Since we were told not to use any negative descriptors, I did not take offense to the comment, which would have been my knee-jerk reaction to someone describing me in a way I didn't understand. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

"Just be yourself," we're told by people who love us when they want to encourage us to be our best.

Because I like to question everything, I decided to do a little research. I asked Google, "What does it mean to be yourself?" Here's what Google said, "Our true self is who we really are when we let go of all of the stories, labels, and judgments that we have placed upon ourselves. It is who we naturally are without the masks and pretentiousness." 

Oh, I like that. I like that a lot. It reminds me of this head-trippy video Will and I watched recently: 

The second thing I noticed about the portrait Katie drew of me is that, while my hair appears to be long on the sides, I'm completely bald on top of my head. Upon further inspection, my feet have been lopped off, but I focused on the bald head.

When I was about Katie's age, my grandmother told me that when I grew up I'd probably go bald like my dad. "But you can grow your hair out long on the sides," she said, cackling.

My grandmother was not ignorant, just mean. As the owner of a beauty shop, my grandmother knew that female baldness is rare, and that even though my dad started losing his hair when he was in his late teens, and that baldness is hereditary, it's generally only the male children whose bald genes get expressed. I didn't know this when I was eight, so I stared at my part in the mirror for years, wondering when it would start getting wider.

I actually had extremely thick hair when I was child. I remember my mom using "thinning sheers" on it so I wouldn't look so much like Roseanne Roseannadanna. Each time she'd thin out my hair, I'd worry that when I looked in the mirror I'd see Mom had gone full Telly Savalas on me.

She never did. Mom's not mean like her own mom was. Whenever Mom would take out the thinning sheers, I'd remind her that my grandmother warned me I'd go bald someday like Dad. 

"Oh, don't listen to her," Mom would say. The fact that Mom survived her childhood with an abusive mother and she herself turned out to be a good mother was enough for me to heed her advice. She must know what's what.

I stopped listening to obviously mean and crazy people as a kid, but it's taken a lifetime for me to learn to stop listening to anyone but myself. I don't know if it's my innate personality, or the fact that I'm the youngest of six kids and so I've never known what it's like to not be compared to my siblings, but it's hard for me to not judge myself against everyone around me.

I'm getting better. It's taken a long time.

A couple of months ago, I took Katie to a chop-shop to get a professional haircut the week before school pictures. While we were there, I glanced at the ends of my own hair and decided to have them give me a trim, too. I hadn't had it cut in about a year, so it's longer now than it has been since I was in high school. 

"How do you want me to cut it?" the hair stylist asked.

"Just trim it and shape it up a bit," I said.

As she trimmed my hair, we heard the other hair stylist, who was working on Katie's mop, say, "Wow, you have such thick hair."

I remember my mom saying the exact same thing to me when I was Katie's age. I looked around my stylist's station and saw a pair of thinning sheers. I hadn't seen a stylist use them on me in years.

I looked into the mirror at my long hair. I like the way it hangs around my face, accentuating my bone structure. I remember always hearing when I was kid that women over the age of forty were not supposed to wear their hair past their shoulders. Like wearing white after Labor Day.

"Long hair makes an older woman's face look saggy," I'd hear my mom and my grandmother say as if they were discussing sky blue refraction.

I looked into the mirror at my own over-the-age-of-forty face. My face doesn't look saggy. It looks well-defined. I'm going to be forty-four this month, and this is the finest I've ever felt.

Katie's hair stylist suggested "texturizing" her hair so it's not so prone to becoming a tangled mat under the top layer of her hair. I know that this is a modern way of saying that she's taking the thinning sheers to Katie's hair, just like my mom once did to mine.

"Do you want her to thin out your hair so it's easier to brush?" I called out to Katie, across from me in our spinning seats.

"Yeah!" Katie said.

"Does your husband have thick hair?" the stylist trimming my hair asked me.

"Oh yeah. He shaves half of it--in an undercut--and it's still really thick. Katie gets her thick hair from both of us," I said.

"Oh?" the stylist looked perplexed. "Did you used to have thick hair when you were a kid?" she asked.

I put my hand on top of my head and felt my part. It hasn't grown any wider over the years, but now that she mentions it, I realize the reason I like my long hair now is because it has gotten so much thinner that it doesn't grow out like an inverted triangle. I had long hair as a teenager, but I cut it off my senior year of high school because I got tired of fooling with it. In this last year that I've been letting my hair get long again, I thought I was just being feisty.

Women over the age of forty can't have long hair, you say? Let's see about that!

I thought growing my hair out long was primarily in protest to all the people who have ever said it shouldn't be done. But looking into the mirror at Great Clips, I realized the stylist was working on my hair in its current state with no awareness of the ultra-thick hair I once had. I had come to think of myself as a person with thick hair, just as I'm a person with green eyes or a person with blonde hair.

Oh wait. My hair started turning brown when I was ten, and it's gotten progressively darker over the years. Katie calls my hair "black" and I'm always like, really? I don't think of myself as a dark-headed person because my formative years were spent as a blonde.

Similarly, I was a tall kid. Always either the tallest or second tallest in the class. By fourth grade I was 5'3". At nearly forty-four, I'm still 5'3". I was a tall kid who stopped growing early, so now I'm a short adult. I was a blonde kid, but now I'm a brunette, and as the aging process continues, I find more and more silvery shimmers in my hair.

I like the way I look for the first time in my life. I'm myself, whoever that is, and it feels good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr. Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut's U.S. Army portrait

Happy birthday, Mr. Vonnegut! Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers, but he's also one of my favorite humans. Too often I'll have the utmost respect for an artist's work but feel the bile belches coming up my throat when I think about the artist's personal life. See: Woody Allen.

Vonnegut died a few years ago. So it goes. I will forever be inspired by his soul. Especially today and every November 11th, on both Vonnegut's birthday and Armistice Day, the day the participants in The War to End All Wars chose peace. So fitting for a humanist pacifist such as Vonnegut. Here's one of my favorite Vonnegut quotes, from his 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions:

"I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

"It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind."