Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason: Pema Chödrön

Here's what I'm watching this morning, thanks to my friend Erica's comment about Chödrön and boundaries on yesterday's post.  Thanks for the reminder that I still hadn't crossed off, "Investigate this Pema Chödrön person" from my personal growth To Do List.  I've been a fan of The Dalai Lama since I discovered his teachings six years ago, so I'm looking forward to some fresh inspiration.


Wow!  I finished watching the interview.  It's wonderful.  Thank you so much, Erica, for reminding me that I wanted to find out more about Chödrön.  This discussion between Bill Moyers and Pema Chödrön is a great introduction to a fascinating spiritual leader.  I'll definitely check out some of her books now.

Here are my favorite quotes from the Moyers' interview:

"You could say that it isn't the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer. It's how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer." -- Pema Chödrön


"I see now, as I look out of my eyes at the world, I see that a lot of us are just running around in circles, pretending that there's ground, where there actually isn't any ground.  And that somehow, if we could learn to not be afraid of groundlessness, not be afraid of insecurity and uncertainty, it would be calling on an inner strength that would allow us to be open and free and loving and compassionate in any situation.  But as long as we keep trying to scramble to get ground under our feet, and avoid this uneasy feeling of groundlessness and insecurity and uncertainty and ambiguity, paradox, any of that, then the wars will continue, the racial prejudice will continue, the hatred against people of a different -- you don't agree with their sexual preferences, you don't agree with their religion, you don't agree with their skin color, you don't agree with their whatever, you know, their politics, it will always continue, because something will keep --because you can't avoid being triggered.  What triggers you can get less and less in your life.  But, you know, it's if you're trying to avoid being triggered -- I read something recently where someone said, that's like becoming a celibate nun, like me, or monk, and then trying to get rid of all the sexually attractive people in the world.  You know, it just doesn't work.  You have to work on your side of it." -- Pema Chödrön

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Selfish Jerk

"I'm a worrier like my mom." 

I heard Katie say this to her friend who asked why she doesn't want to eat snow. 

Oh, please, no!  Don't start comparing yourself to me, child. 

When I was a kid there was no greater insult my mom could sling at me than this one: 

"You are just like your father."  

Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, upon hearing those words I would immediately stop and change my behavior.  It was like parenting pixie dust.  She'd sprinkle a little on my head and I'd magically transform from an insane whirling Dervish into a placid, proper young lady.  Mom didn't say it very often.  She didn't have to.  I understood from a very young age that there was nothing worse in this world than being compared to my father. 

Dad is intense.  He's one of those people who, once he sets his mind to do something, there's no stopping him.  The problem is, sometimes there is stopping him.  Like when a foot of snow drops onto the city and his eighty-five year old ass gets stuck inside his apartment for two days, stir crazy and alone.  Then he decides to call me at work and start guilt tripping me into coming over and shoveling his sidewalk.  

You want me to do what, Dad?  Are you out of food?  Is it an emergency?

Oh, no.  No emergency.  He can't stand to be alone.  "I just thought I'd call my daughter and ask for a little help since I never ask for anything," Dad said.  His voice sounded small and sad.

A few years ago I got another frantic call from my dad while I was at work.  Dad rarely calls me, period, let alone when I'm at work.  A retired accountant, Dad was once the Controller for a big truck line.  It was his job to take his staff aside and chew them out for taking too many personal phone calls at work.  He'd tell us stories at the dinner table about one secretary in particular whose boyfriends possessively kept tabs on her, calling up to twenty times a day.  These were the days before cell phones and text messages.  When bosses like my dad could still yell at you for using the business phone and not worry about facing some type of discrimination lawsuit.  The two things I learned from listening to Dad's stories were 1) never take personal phone calls at work, and 2) never have more than one boyfriend at a time. 

So when Dad called me at work a few years ago, I knew it must be an emergency.

"This is Becky.  What's going on Dad?" I said into the receiver of the phone my boss, with a look of concern on her face, had just handed me.  My boss is awesome and understands that life sometimes interferes with work and that's what you get when you employ human beings.

"Yeah, Becky.  This is your dad.  I need you to come over and help me.  I'm leaving Naomi and I need some help packing my things before she gets home this evening."

Thank God.  I thought he'd never leave Naomi.  He'd been married to her since a few months after his divorce with my mom went through.  Ten years.  Miserable years.  I'd never seen two people fight like those two.

"Sure, Dad, I'll be right over."

It felt weird to leave work to help my retired workaholic dad who never would have left work to help me with some crazy life event.  But I don't want a tit for tat relationship with my dad.  Then I'd end up being a big tit like him.  My dad might not deserve my help, because he seldom helped me when I needed it, but helping him gives me the opportunity to prove that, if I'm going to be like my father, at least I can be an improved model.     

I helped Dad pack and move his things and then I watched as he called his wife's cell phone and left her a message on her voice mail, "Naomi, I can't take it any more.  I'm leaving.  I don't have too many more years left in this life and I don't want to die in misery."

It was the most pathetic, wussified break up I'd ever witnessed.  And yet I totally understood how Dad felt.  I'd have left Naomi a voice mail break up message too.  Don't judge.  You haven't met her.  She's the only person on the planet I've ever met who makes my dad seem charming by comparison.

My own parents rarely fought--Mom would retreat to the bedroom whenever Dad would start yelling--but they still had an unhappy relationship.  They divorced when I was twenty-one, in 1992, after twenty-two years of marriage.  Finally.  Mom first brought up the idea of leaving my dad when I was four and I'd been waiting around for it to happen ever since.

Mom was wife number two.  Naomi wife number three.  Dad now lives alone, in a low-income senior apartment complex.  For two years Dad lived with my sister Glenda, his daughter from Shirley, wife number one.  Their divorce was finalized six weeks before Dad married my mom.  When I was helping Dad pack his things and leave Naomi, he said to me, "I don't know what I'm going to do.  I've been married to someone my entire adult life.  I've never been alone.  But I've gotten to the point that I'd rather be alone than be miserable with Naomi."

So he moved in with my sister.  Unlike me, Glenda is nothing like our dad.  She must be more like her mom.  She's sweet and kind and caring.  She insisted on Dad staying with her until he found an apartment.  Finally, after two years, he moved into his own place.  I would have been as bald as Dad from pulling out my hair if he'd lived with me that long.  I don't know how she did it.

He's actually not as bad as he was when I was a teenager living at home.  I'm also no longer a teenager.  Me at age 42 and Dad at age 85 have come to a point in our relationship where we no longer yell at each other.  I've been practicing mindfulness and blogging about my anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder, which centers me and creates calm in my daily life.  Dad's on drugs.  Finally.  Thank God.  Dad mentioned a couple of years ago that his doctor has him on Sertraline.  So that's why he's mellowed out.  Here I thought it was old age finally slowing him down.  For the most part.  Unless a snowstorm hits and he's stuck at home alone for two days.

"Becky, this is your dad.  I was wondering if you could come shovel my sidewalk?  I need to get out of the apartment.  Glenda said she'd send someone over this afternoon to do it, but I was wondering if, well, I just thought I'd call my daughter and ask for a little help since I never ask for anything, see if you could help an old man out..."

I said no.  

And I felt shitty all day about it.  Unable to help.  Unable to prove I'm better.  My OCD was flaring.  I kept checking and rechecking things that didn't need to be checked in the first place.  I can't help my dad right now, but I can make sure my car door is locked.  I can make sure I put that scrap of paper into the recycle bin and not into the trash.  I can make sure the faucet is turned all the way off so we don't waste water and taxpayer money.  Goddammit.

If Dad hadn't instilled in me such a strong work ethic, I'da been through the library gates, out to my car, and down the street with a shovel in my back seat, ready to shovel an old man's sidewalk.  

Instead, I sat there and answered the library's phone like a good little worker bee and felt like a shitty daughter.  I kept telling myself not to worry about it.  He had food.  He had water.  Someone would be there in just a few more hours to shovel his sidewalk and then he'd be free and he'd forget this ever happened.  It's not an emergency.  Quit worrying.  

But I couldn't help it.  No matter what kind of jerk Dad has been to me over the years, I still feel sorry for him.  I still care about him.  I still don't want him to die in misery.  But is my concern for him as selfless as it seems?  I don't think so.  It's because I see so much of myself in him.  I don't want to be eighty-five years old, holed up alone in my apartment, three divorces behind me, my child too busy to come over and shovel my sidewalk.  

I care about Dad because I'm a selfish jerk, just like him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mama Finally Got Her Frontline Fix: Raising Adam Lanza

I'm still holding a grudge against the Academy for not giving a Best Picture award to Brokeback Mountain years ago. Maybe that's why I wasn't very interested in this year's Oscars. Or, it could be because I only saw two new movies in the theater in 2012:  Brave and Mirror Mirror.  

Obviously my husband and I need to leave the kid with the grandparents and go on dates more often.  The problem is, his idea of a fun date night includes seeing The Hobbit and ordering a slab of ribs at his favorite barbecue joint.  Mine is seeing Silver Linings Playbook and ordering the vegetarian combination at my favorite Ethiopian restaurant.  I think that's how we got roped into only seeing kids movies at the theater last year: we both compromised and gave Katie what she wanted.

Now it's my turn to get what I want.  

I was at work at the public library when I stumbled upon the realization that last year I saw zero movies I had picked out for myself, that I was tired of watching kids' movies with Katie and action/fantasies with Will.  While checking out some videos for Katie and Will I suddenly wanted to get my hands on a DVD of my choosing.  A good ole drama that greases the gears of my critical thinking skills.  

We were getting ready to close the library and I still hadn't decided what DVD I wanted to check out for myself.  Everything I tried to find was already checked out.  There was a big snowstorm approaching the area, the second in a week, and other people who also enjoy quirky, darkly dramatic, plotless character studies had wiped out much of our stock.  I finally settled on a Richard Linklater film that had been on my To View list far too long: Waking Life.

Here's what imdb has to say about it:  "A man shuffles through a dream meeting various people and discussing the meanings and purposes of the universe."

Hells yeah, that sounds like my kinda movie!  Anything with one iota of possible ambiguity.  Something deep and meaningful and not necessarily possessing a happy ending.  I'm so sick of all these good guy vs. bad guy plots that comprise most movies I've seen lately.

I rushed to check it out, helped my co-workers with our closing duties, grabbed my stuff, brushed some snow off my car, and drove home.

But after all that, when I stepped through our front door, I choked back a sob when I looked inside my bag:  I had all the videos I checked out for Will and Katie, but not Waking Life, the ONE I checked out for myself.

After I had checked it out, I didn't have time to go into the back to put it inside my bag, so I just tucked it under my arm while I was running around closing the library. I must have set it down briefly and left it somewhere.  Inside the library that is closed now due to the snowstorm.

I'm telling you, the Hollywood fates are not on my side.

I thought about caving and renting it online, but why bother with Netflix when I can get it free from the public library?  I've waited this long to see it.  I can wait another day to retrieve it from the library.

Although today's an ideal day to watch a movie I like.  We're snowed-in.  The city plows haven't been down our street.  Katie's busy watching the complete first season of Pee-Wee's Playhouse on DVD from the library.  I could watch it with her.  I do love me some Pee-wee.  But I'm not in the mood.  So I moped downstairs and got on my laptop.  Facebook is my TV.  My grandmother used to like to sit in the lobby of her senior high rise and people watch.  She often grew bored with television, but she could sit in the lobby all afternoon and chit chat with her friends, coming and going, waving hi and bye, stopping by to show off the latest photo of the great-grandkids.  To me, that's Facebook.  It's my community center.  My neighbor's porch.  TV is boring.  Real life stories on Facebook is fun.

We don't even have a television that works with broadcast channels.  We just use it to play DVDs, even old VHS tapes Will has saved from his childhood or he's found at trade-in stores for cheap.  We dropped cable a couple of years ago to save money.  Now we catch all our favorite shows on YouTube or other free online sites.  While scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook I noticed PBS had shared a new teaser to an upcoming show.  And then I remembered: I had planned on watching the Frontline episode Raising Adam Lanza last week when they posted it, but I got sidetracked with life devoted to taking care of others.

But this morning I managed to find some me-time.  So, while Will was outside shoveling the driveway and Katie was outside romping around in the fresh, new snow, I sat my butt down in my comfy chair and watched something because I wanted to.  About a mother who devotes her life to caring for others only to get shot with her own weapon by her own son.  

Chock-full of ambiguity, just the way I like it.

Watch Raising Adam Lanza on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Katie's First Fanfic: The Black Cat, Based on the Movie Hocus Pocus

A month ago my friend Cindy came over to babysit Katie.  She brought the movie Hocus Pocus.  Katie has become obsessed with it.  I bet she's watched it ten times in the past month.  Today she showed me her first fanfic:

The Black Cat
by Katie Carleton, age 6
translated by Becky Carleton, age 42
based on the movie "Hocus Pocus," age 20

The Black Cat
The Beginning
By Katie Carleton
(continued from last page) But not the end of this story.

Once there were a cat named Thackery Binx.  He used to be a person.

Because the witches cast a spell on her.  The end of this book. (continued on first page)

Heads Up

When Katie's teacher sends me an email with "heads up" in the subject line, I figure it can mean only one thing: Katie's been yelling at her classmates again.

A month ago I blogged about the first email I got from Katie's teacher about her yelling in class and how we worked through the problem.  I realized that Katie might have learned to yell at her peers from modeling my behavior yelling at the dogs.  So Katie and I struck a deal: I'd try to quit yelling at the dogs if she'd try to quit yelling at her classmates.

It seemed to be working until yesterday when I got another email from Ms. B:

"Katie is not herself today.  She has gotten mad several times and has yelled at classmates.  I asked her if she would want to sit by herself at one of the tables and she said she would.  She told me she was tired.  Just thought I would let you know.  This afternoon has been better than this morning."

One thing I'm learning on my own private post-traumatic stress disorder journey is to not equate a mood with a personality trait.  I'm really bad at this.  Especially when it comes to my daughter.  Because I can't fuck that shit up!  Parenting is a big deal.  I want to get it right more than anything else in the world.  I want to raise my child to be healthy and self-actualized and strong.  The problem is, I've strugged with perfectionism since I was very young, and having a kid just heightens the anxieity that tags along with that disorder.  So when we stumble along the path to health, self-actualization, and strength, I start to worry if we're going the right way.

My child?  No no no!  There must be some misunderstanding.  My child is wonderful and empathetic and caring and considerate.  She would never yell at her classmates!  Would she?

I had to work late, so Katie was in bed by the time I got home.  Will had no idea what was going on because Ms. B just sent the email to me and not both of us.  He said Katie never mentioned anything to him.  He leaves for work before Katie wakes up in the morning, so the job of talking to Katie about her yelling at school again would fall on me alone.  Will and I have worked opposite shifts since Katie was born so we wouldn't have to put her in daycare, so we'd be raising her ourselves like we wanted to.  For the most part it works out, and we're lucky to have support from Will's folks and my friend Cindy when we need a babysitter.  But the downside of our work/home schedule is that it sometimes feels like I'm a single parent.  Which can make it interesting and spicy when Will and I find ourselves with some alone time - it's like we're dating again and, you know, the whole absence makes the heart grow fonder effect.  But on the parenting side of things it's sometimes hard, especially when I find myself having to deal with a delicate situation with no immediate co-parent backup.  I guess the good thing is that Katie doesn't feel like we're ganging up on her, more like we're just having a converstaion.

After she awoke this morning and made her way to the dining table, I set a cereal bar and a glass of water in front of her.  She has a poor appetite first thing in the morning.  She doesn't even like milk in cereal.  I can't complain because I'm the same way.  I'm generally slightly queasy until a couple of hours after I've woken up.  I would like to say Katie's poor morning appetite is not a learned behavior from me, that it's an innate characteristic that is not my fault for passing it onto her, but I don't know why she is the way she is.  Nature or nurture, I just find ways to work around it.  Like offering cereal bars and water and not making a big deal out of how experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I say, listen to your own body and feed it accordingly.

I sat beside her with my own water.  I wouldn't even make coffee for another thirty minutes or so.  Seriously, just plain water is what I want first thing in the morning.  And very little talking.

I'm usually such a stickler for not much talking first thing in the morning.  One of the strangest things I discovered about Will and his family is how they spring out of bed all Good morning! and don't feel like punching the next person who greets them sunnily like I do.  But today I had to bite the parenting bullet and have a talk with my kid before she'd head off to school and start yelling again.

"Hey, Punk.  Is there something you want to tell me about that happened at school yesterday?"  I begain.

Katie looked at me like she had no idea what I was talking about.  Or why I was talking.  She's used to a mostly-quiet before-school mom.

"About not getting along with some of your classmates?"  I tried to nudge her memory.  

Suddenly her face changed like I'd discovered her secret candy stash.  "How did you knowed about that?"

"Ms. B emailed me.  But I didn't get it until after I got home from work and you were already asleep.  So I didn't get a chance to talk to you about it yesterday.  But we can talk about it this morning before school, OK?"  I said.

"OK," Katie replied.

"So what happened?  Ms. B said you yelled at some of your classmates yesterday."

"Yeah.  Alex and Kaylee were bossing me around."

"I see," I wanted to start lecturing her about not yelling at people, but I waited to see what else she had to say.

"And Kaylee was scaring me," Katie had been looking down at her lap as she talked but she raised her head and looked me in the eye like See, don't you pity me?

"Oh, no.  What was she doing that was scary?" I wondered.

"She kept getting in my face and saying, 'Boo!'"

This seemed suspicious to me.  Why would Kaylee do that in class?  It's not Halloween.  They haven't been reading ghost stories or anything.  But I wasn't there and what do I know?  Probably kids today, who don't live with fraidy cats like me, watch scary movies all the time and don't associate shouting "boo" at someone as something you do during the month of October only.

"Is that when you yelled at her?"  I asked.

"Yes.  I wanted her to quit scaring me."

"Well, Sweetie.  She shouldn't try to scare you.  But you shouldn't yell at people either.  When someone is treating you badly when you're not doing something wrong, but then you yell at them for it, you end up not doing the right thing too.  If you're annoying someone would you rather them ask you calmly to stop or would you rather them yell at you back?"

"I know, Mom." Katie said and looked back down.

I didn't want it to be like that.  "Good.  I know you know.  And you're trying.  It's really hard to not yell at people when they make you mad.  Do you remember the things you can do when you start to feel mad?"

"Yes, take deep breaths and count to ten or say my ABCs," she said in a monotone as if she were reading it off a script.

"That's right.  Did Ms. B have any other suggestions when she talked to you about yelling yesterday?" I asked.

Katie looked back up, smiled, and stood up.  "Yes!" she exclaimed.  "She had me jump up and down and pretend I was stomping on the world!"  She jumped up and down and growled like a wild beast.

"Wow, she let you do that in class?" I asked.

"Yeah, over in a corner by her desk.  It was kind of private."

"Huh.  That's cool.  How did you feel after you stomped on the world?" I asked.


"I might have to try this technique.  Next time I'm at work and I'm having a bad day, I can go out to the park and stomp on the world on my walking breaks," I laughed.

"You should, Mama!  It feels great to stomp on the world," Katie said.

I emailed Ms. B and told her about our discussion that morning.  She replied, "It could have been just one of those days. I will be in touch if she is troubled today."

So far so good, but I'm keeping an eye on my inbox.  I'm prepared.  If something pops up and I don't like the news, I'll get up and take a stomp-on-the-world break.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Cafe" by Katie Carleton, Age 6

I think it's cute that Katie goes into such tremendous detail in her artwork, and yet she sometimes writes her Ps backwards.  Here's her most recent in a series of drawings of buildings shown from both the exterior and interior.

"Cafe, Exterior" by Katie Carleton, Age 6
Note the diners inside the windows.  She used her Lego Friends Cafe sign as a model for her sign.

"Cafe, Interior" by Katie Carleton, Age 6
Clockwise from top left: children's bathroom with little seats and sinks, indoor swimming pool with slide and a sandbox, elevator that takes kids upstairs to their bathroom and pool area, women's and men's restrooms, Katie and her husband Aidan and their two children dining together, another family dining together.  I like the marks showing how the elevator goes up and down and how the person riding it looks the same both downstairs and upstairs.

Polly Wolly Doodle: It's Baaaaaaack!

When our brother Pat was dying, other than Camel nonfilters and peppermint schnapps, what he mostly wanted was company and entertainment.  Our sister Kit flew into town and brought along a VHS copy of Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing-Alongs Ragtime Cowboy Joe.  My siblings are all much older than I am--between fifteen years and seven years older.  Kit and Pat were eighteen months apart.  So they remembered watching Alvin and the Chipmunks on TV together when they were little kids in the Sixties.

I don't, but I still had a good time.  So did Katie, even though she too was not nostalgic for the cartoon since she had never seen it before.  Pat, Kit, our sister Jenny, Katie, and I sat in Pat's living room, watching the video together and wiping tears from our eyes.  It was partly due to the heavy cloud of Pat's smoke enveloping us, but mostly it was due to the fact that everyone in my family has an absurd sense of humor.  We cracked up throughout the entire thirty minute video.  Our favorite part was the Chipmunks' interpretation of Polly Wolly Doodle:

For several months afterwards, up until his death in January 2011, whenever I'd talk to Pat he'd randomly shout out, "I'm baaaaaaak!" in an Alvin voice.

Now Katie does it.  After Pat died, Kit gave Katie the Chipmunks video.  We watched it quite often when she first got it.  As time passed, however, we moved on to other videos, and this one got buried under our couch.  So I was surprised to come home from work yesterday and have Katie resurrect it while showing me her latest drawing:

"Guess what it is!" Katie said, stomping her foot as if to let out a little energy without giving in to the full onslaught of jumping from excitement.

"It's someone going on a journey," I guessed.

"Yes!  It's Alvin."  Katie pointed to the sign labeled "soth".  "He's heading south to meet his maiden fair!"

"Oh," I said.  I still didn't get it.

"See," Katie traced along the route with her finger, "He's heading south just like in the Polly Wolly Doodle video."

"Oh!  I'm baaaaaaak?" I said in an Alvin voice.  "That video?  Did you find it and watch it again today?"

"Yes, it's baaaaaaak!" Katie said in an Alvin voice.  

She jumped up and down in full force, clearly excited for me to be home so she could finally share her joke.  Pat might be gone, but our family's absurd sense of humor lives on.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"Find the Missing Tick Tack Toe" by Katie Carleton, Age 6

Before you start judging Katie's poor spelling, I should fess up.  She asked me how to spell tic-tac-toe, and I was too busy doing the dishes to stop and look it up.  People think librarians are so smart.  It's not that we're smarter than anyone, we just know how to do research.  I'm a terrible speller, but I'm usually a good enough guesser I can look up the proper spelling of words as long as my hands aren't too soapy.

Here's Katie's drawing of a house with a tic-tac-toe game hidden within the bricks:

Here's the inside of the house, which Katie describes as the house she and Aidan, their two children, their dog and five puppies live in when she's grown up:

Clockwise from the top left: Katie's and Aidan's bedroom, son Aidan Jr's bedroom where he is playing with his race track, bathroom, stairs to the spare room where the puppies sleep, daughter Katherine's bedroom where she is playing with her doll, living room where Aidan is watching TV, kitchen where Katie is baking a cherry pie.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dark Spiritual Areas at the Golden Corral

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."  --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friends in North Johnson County, Kansas City Kansas, Lawrence, and SE Kansas, don't worry:  Governor Brownback's spiritual leader is praying for our "dark spiritual areas". So we might have to pay more taxes under Brownback's rule, but even if our pocketbooks aren't protected our souls are. Whew!

If I ever want to sell my North JoCo house I'm going to add this to the special features: Includes government-sponsored prayer protection.

But seriously, I don't think I'll be moving anytime soon.  There's a progressive tide in Johnson County Kansas and I'm ready for the ride.  And it's not just in the north.  Sam Brownback's spiritual leader might want to include South Johnson County on his prayer map of "dark spiritual areas".  See #darkspiritualarea on Twitter for a good laugh.

We met Will's family at the Olathe Golden Corral today to celebrate my brother-in-law's birthday.  Golden Corral is the best buffet in the area, in my not at all humble opinion.  You go for the food, not the atmosphere.  It's not what I usually think of as a beacon of rainbow-colored light.  But today, while watching an androgynous teen in a spiffy apron merrily twirl cotton candy for happy customers, I felt like saying to my six-year-old "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more" and stepping outside to see if the building had been whirled off to San Francisco.  

Mr. Brownback, our world is getting more diverse whether you like it or not.  Even at the Golden Corral.  In South Johnson County.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Katie's First Grade Class Picture

Katie brought home her first grade class picture.  They no longer get all the kids to stand in rows together for a group shot like they did when I was a kid.  I was always on the back row.  It would be cool to compare Katie's class picture to my own. To see if she'd be one of the tallest kids too.  But we can only compare portraits of her classmates to the group shot of me standing with my classmates.  Nowadays instead of taking a group shot, they send home an 8x10 photo sheet with each classmate's individual picture printed on it in alphabetical rows.

Still, it's nice to have a photo of her class.  It gives me insight into Katie's experiences when she's away from home.  As she gets older and older, her peers will become more of an influence.  I'm glad.  It's impossible for Will and me to be everything for Katie.  We can teach her what we know, but there is so much about life that the two of us don't know.  Katie's experiences away from home will ultimately make her a more well rounded person.

To me, the most noticeable change between the appearance of Katie's first grade class and my own first grade class is how much more diverse Katie's is.  Katie is one of twenty-two kids, eleven kids with white skin and eleven kids with brown skin.  That's amazing.  I had mostly white kids in my suburban Kansas City, Missouri class until in third grade an Iranian girl moved to town.  We became instant friends.  She moved away the next year.  Then in sixth grade when a girl with a white mother and a black father moved to my neighborhood, I again got to befriend someone who seemed exotic.  I've always been fascinated by people in cultures outside my own.  My friendships with this Iranian girl and this biracial girl were as close as I'd ever come to fulfilling my anthropological curiosity, growing up in such a culturally homogeneous community.

Then my family moved across the state line to Johnson County, Kansas in 1983, the summer before seventh grade.  My brother who had lived there a couple of years prior told me I'd hate it.  "Everyone's a rich snob," he warned me.

They were also all white.  More of the same.  Boring and blah.

I did indeed hate Johnson County, Kansas when we first moved here.  I had no friends, period, let alone any non-white friends.  When I finally did find a group of misfits that allowed me to hang out with them, they were all white kids like me.  I never made a conscious effort to hang out with only white people.  I was simply sheltered by suburbia.

Finally, in my early twenties, I cracked out of my shell.  I met a black woman at a lesbian bar and we hooked up for a few months.  She was bat shit crazy.  She could have said the same about me.  It's the one thing we had in common.  She was so hot and so smart and so funny.  But the bat shit crazy got in the way of any long-term, meaningful relationship, so we broke up and I haven't seen her since.

I ended up marring a white guy, which took me by surprise.  Always bored by convention, I figured if I ever did marry a man, he wouldn't be a WASP like me.  [Like my dad, interjects my subconscious.]  Will's not only white, he's also of mostly English protestant ancestry, just like me.  My surname at birth was Burton.  Will's is Carleton.  Mr. and Mrs. William and Rebecca Carleton.  We sound like puritans.  Sigh.  At least he's ten years younger than I am, so we've got that difference to make things spicy.

Will and I chose to settle in Johnson County, Kansas like good little white couples often do around here.  I never thought when I first moved here and hated it thirty years ago I'd choose to return in my adulthood.  When I first met Will I was living with another ex-girlfriend in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri.  We lived in a building that was owned and operated by a lesbian.  Not all of the residents were gay, but a vast majority of them were.  One of the lesbians who lived there was a young black woman.  I came this close to becoming friends with her, chit chatting in the elevator, in the laundry room, or in the lobby enough I felt like inviting her over for dinner some night.  But then my girlfriend and I broke up, I met Will, and before I had a chance to form anything more than a casual acquaintance with this black lesbian neighbor, I moved back to Johnson County.  Closer to Will.  Closer to work.  We got married.  We wanted to have a baby.  Johnson County has good schools.  It just made sense.

So here my white ass is, living with my white husband and our white kid in the historically all-white suburbs.  At first, I worried about raising our kid in such a stifling cultural environment.  I took her to story times all over the city so she'd get to meet other kids who didn't necessarily look just like everyone else in her world.  We watched "Little Bill," "Dora the Explorer," and "Ni Hao, Kai Lan" together on Nick, Jr.  I brought home books and videos from the library that featured a full array of diverse characters.  We took Katie out for soul food and for barbecue in the inner city.  To the great Indian, Ethiopian, Chinese, and Thai restaurants around us in the burbs.  I did my best to raise our child multiculturally.

After looking at Katie's class picture, it appears as if I didn't need to try so hard or travel so far.  If I had just been paying attention to the changing demographics of Johnson County, I'd have seen the neighborhood we live in looks much different than it did thirty years ago when I first moved here.  I used to think I'd have to move to some place like San Francisco in order to live in a more diverse community.  Now I think I'll just stay put and see what happens.

Katie's Re-Purposed Valentine

Katie had her first boyfriend last year in kindergarten.  His name is Alden.  When I'd volunteer as the reading helper on Fridays I'd catch them holding hands in class.  Well, their free hands at least.  They'd walk from station to station, hand-in-hand, their independent hands busy self-soothing: Alden sucking his thumb and Katie twirling her hair.

Reflecting the extent to which Katie's and Alden's relationship was acknowledged in class, one of her best friends, Patience, made Katie this valentine:

"Happy Valentine's Day Katie"

"I like to see you play with Alden.  From Patience"

As you can see, the original valentine said "Alden".  That was last year.  This year Katie has a new boyfriend, Aidan, our friends' kid who was born on the day we found out I was pregnant with Katie.  She doesn't get to see Aidan as much as she sees Alden since he goes to a different school, but Katie decided that Aidan makes a better boyfriend since "he likes to kiss and hug more than Alden does."  As she explains, "Alden and me still like to play spies at recess, but we're just friends now."  

That's why the other day when Katie found the valentine Patience gave her last year, she changed it so it has the name of her current boyfriend.  It reminds me of my sister Jenny's shoes.  She used to write the name of her boyfriend in marker along the white border of her Chuck Taylors.  Jenny wasn't lucky enough to have boyfriends with similar names, so she had lots of black marks all over her shoes where she had crossed her ex-boyfriends' names out completely.  By the time her feet outgrew the shoes, you could barely tell the border had once been white.

Such young love seems funny to me since I didn't have my first boyfriend until I was sixteen, and even then my love was so unrequited I never felt confident enough to write his name on anything other than my personal diary.  A late-blooming lover, I didn't get married until one month before I turned thirty-four.  But I understand that my way of doing things works best for me and that Katie will find her own way.  If she wants to get all lovey dovey at such a young age, that's fine.  I'm not too concerned about Katie's fickle little heart.   Despite the black rimmed Chucks she wore as a kid, my sister Jenny's been happily married for nearly thirty years to the same guy.  Katie's life will hopefully be long and full of lots of different kinds of love, both ephemeral and enduring.

"A Giraffe" by Katie Carleton

"A Giraffe" by Katie Carleton, age 6

Katie made this giraffe in art class at her public school.  The art teacher stood at the front of the class and drew her own giraffe while the students copied hers free hand.  Katie drew with pencil and then traced over the pencil with marker.  Then she painted the background and the yellow parts of the giraffe, and used crayons to color the brown spots.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Katie's Kid Art: Aidan's House

Aidan's House by Katie Carleton, age 6

Interior, clockwise from top left: parents' bedroom, Aidan's room, bathroom, playroom, stairs, Lilly's room, living room, kitchen, front door

Katie's Kid Art: The Cat

The Cat by Katie Carleton, age 6

Once livd a stray cat hwo the nisiite (nicest) cat in the wirld.

The cat had a urrnfickshinn (urinary tract infection) but no wone take kare of her.

and then she had babys and she had fod (found) a little boy
The End

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Old-Fashioned Electric Hair Dryer

I recently inherited an old-fashioned electric hair dryer.  I decided to try it out today.  

Here goes!

I think I need to get a hair net.  Look at all the wispy pieces that came out of the rollers after I lifted the lid.

But it looks good and it was easy. 

Mister Rogers and Kai, The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker/Internet Hero

Is Kai, the hatchet wielding hitchhiker/internet hero, a modern day Mister Rogers?

This Gawker report (with the best headline evah:  Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker Gives Insane Interview After Saving Woman from Bear-Hugging Jesusstates he's homeless.  Kai himself says he's from West Virginia.  But I don't hear no West Virginian accent.  Sounds to me like he's from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood:

Before I say anything else I wanna say no matter what you done you deserve respect.  Even if you make mistakes you lovable.  And it doesn't matter your looks skills or age or size or anything, you're worthwhile.  No one can ever take that away from you.  -- Kai, just before telling the story of how he whacked a crazy racist Jesus dude in the back of the head with a hatchet

If you have an interest in subcultures or weird news like I do you have to check this out, dude:

In the video Kai states that he killed Crazy Racist Jesus Dude, while heroically saving people's lives, but actually Kai just knocked him unconscious.  Don't worry.  Crazy Racist Jesus Dude has been arrested for attempted murder and is, uh hem, getting treatment in jail.  Talk about making mistakes.  If only Mister Rogers were alive to talk to him about it.  I wonder if Kai would be willing to chat with him after their little hatchet kerfuffle?  To spread the message of forgiveness and respect for all people to this dude he thought he killed?  I bet while smashing Crazy Racist Jesus Dude in the head with his hatchet Kai was thinking even if you make mistakes you lovable.  

I love radicals like Kai.  And Mister Rogers. One is unburdened by societal conventions in dress and language and politeness.  One wears conservative cardigan sweaters and sneakers and is well spoken and mannerly.  But no matter their outward appearance, they're both preaching inner peace.

I'm glad both Kai and Mister Rogers rejected the conventional message from our culture that you're really only as good as your pocketbook.  As Joy Larson, creator of this hilarious clip states, "M[ister] Rogers likes you, but the rest of the world thinks you need to buy some things":

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Katie's Kid Art: The Winter Party

"The Winter Party" by Katie Carleton, age 6

Katie drinking a cup of hot cocoa

One day there were two friends.

The boy had to leave the party so the girl was all alone.

A notre boy came to the party and they play togethear.

The End

Katie's Kid Art: Katie's Fish

"Katie's Fish" by Katie Carleton, age 6

Katie colored this during "free draw" time in school today.  When she showed it to her teacher, Ms. B remarked, "Oh, do you have a pet fish?"  Katie said, "No, that's why I drewed this.  So now I have a pretend pet fish."

Well-Funded Public Schools Benefit Us All

Attention Kansas parents with children in public school:  Bullies in The Kansas Legislature are at it again, picking on the most vulnerable members of our society, citizens who don't even get to vote until they are eighteen.  We must advocate on their behalf.  Our kids deserve our attention on this matter.  People in power rely on our ignorance to push through their selfish agendas.  The Capital-Journal is doing a fine job reporting the news.  Let's do our part to educate ourselves about it.  This article, for example, lays it out pretty simply:

"Less than a month after a court ruled that Kansas schools are underfunded by $440 million, a bill has been introduced in the Senate that could cut millions in funding for at-risk students, hitting high-poverty areas the hardest."

The Lawrence Journal-World is also keeping a check on conservative Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are thumbing their noses at the whole process of checks and balances:

"Conservative Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned a recent order by a three-judge panel to increase public school funding by $440 million. The judges ruled that the Legislature had failed its constitutional duty to provide suitable funding for schools.  But Judiciary Chairman Jeff King, R-Independence, is pushing back at the decision.  He said the committee next week would hold hearings on a proposed constitutional amendment that is meant to thwart judicial review of school funding. The proposal would declare that the Legislature has exclusive authority over state funding of schools."

Parents, we need to know what these people in power are doing to our state's public education system.  I know it's hard.  I know we're all busy and tired and overloaded with bad news.  But there are few things more important than a good education, and most people I know can't afford to quit their jobs to stay home with their kids every day to homeschool them, or pay extra for private school.

Many of my conservative friends like to quote our founding fathers.  Here's one of my favorite quotes from one of them about public education:

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people.  No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance: establish & improve the law for educating the common people.  Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests, and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."  -- Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson's right.  It's not just parents who need to pay attention to what's going on in Topeka.  A wise woman who volunteers at the library where I work once said something that will always stick with me during times like these when our leaders are trying to decimate funding for public schools.  She and her husband are in their seventies.  They never had children.  Her husband is a retired lawyer and she is a retired office worker.  Because of their wealth, they are in one of the highest tax brackets.  And they gladly pay their taxes.  Despite the fact that they never sent any offspring to public school, they always vote in favor of more public school funding.

"People think it's because we're altruistic or that we believe in the power of a well-educated society, which is true to some degree.  But really we support well-funded public schools because good public schools keep the property value of our house up and if we ever decide to sell, we want as much money as we can get out of our house so we can travel the world."

Smart thinking.
A well-funded public education system is a good investment for our entire society, not just the parents of school-aged kids.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is just plain ignorant.

Want to voice your opinion?  Contact members of the Kansas House of Representatives here and the Kansas Senate here.

Earl, Our Special Senior Dog

Earl and Sawyer in their younger days, chasing each other in the snow, Christmas morning 2009

We're out of dog food again.  

Our dog Earl is twelve years old.  He's a Great Pyrenees mix.  He weighs about 75 pounds, all skin and bones.  And fur.  Lots and lots of fur.  Year round.  He's a finicky eater, which I think is weird for a big dog.  He always has been.  Even when he was a puppy.  He never ate shoes, or shit, or any of the gross things puppies are prone to sample.  He has such a delicate stomach he's been known to throw up when Will and I shout at each other.

Earl turns up his nose at most bagged dog food.  After years of struggling to find a dog food he'd eat fairly consistently, I finally found one: Purina Dog Chow Active 7+ for seniors.  I'd prefer something more natural, but I swear he won't eat anything but this stuff.  They must spray it with chemicals that smell like leftover people food, because that's his real delight in life.  He'd rather lick peanut butter off my knife or eat a half-eaten raw carrot left on my plate than a full bowl of Wellness Super5Mix super premium dog food.

I feed both Earl and our ten year old, fifty pound, Beagle/Lab mix Sawyer the same food since they're both in the 7+ category and it's easier than buying two separate bags.  Sawyer is the opposite of Earl.  She will eat anything.  And lots of it.  I could easily free-feed Earl and he'd be the same scrawny dog he is now.  If I left food out 24/7 for Sawyer, she'd weigh 150 pounds and our bank account balance would be 0.

As it is, with me meticulously portioning out their food each morning and night, because they're both big dogs, we go through bags of their food fast.  A couple of years ago I could still find the big bag--32 pounds--at both the grocery store and Petsmart.  Then the grocery store stopped carrying that size, offering the 16.5 pound bag as their biggest option.  Then Petsmart stopped carrying the 32 pound bag.  I can still buy the 32 pound bag online, but with the added cost of shipping it's cheaper to just buy a 16.5 pound bag twice as often locally.

I got to wondering why it's so hard to find big bags of a pretty popular brand of senior dog food.  Then it hit me.  Big dogs generally die much younger than little dogs.  Most senior dogs are little dogs.  Thirty-two pounds of dog food would spoil before a little dog could eat through it all.

I've always known my Early Bird is special.  Now I know my time with him is especially short.  I forget sometimes how elderly he is.  He still jumps up and down like a puppy when I reach for his leash.  He's slowed down some, and I'm practically pulling him along toward the end of our neighborhood walks, but it doesn't stop him from wanting to go.  Same with guarding our house.  The other day a friend stopped by.  Earl had been down in the basement asleep on our futon.  When he heard someone knock on the door he sprung into action, kinda.  He made it half-way up the stairs and then suddenly stopped, stuck.  He'd been barking like crazy until then, and his silence made the situation that much sadder.

"Oh, Earl, let me help you up the stairs," Will said as he gently supported the big guy's back legs, which were trembling.  Once at the top of the stairs, Earl resumed barking like crazy and raced to the door like the badass he still thinks he is.

Goodboy Earl Carleton, age 12, ready to bark at intruders

Goodboy Earl Carleton, age 12, napping on the futon in our basement

Earl, age 12, napping on the futon in our basement

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sick-a Sick N Tired

Home with a fever and a head filled with gunk, after having been sick with norovirus last week, I caught myself singing this lyric from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song Fight Like a Brave, off their album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan:

if you're sick-a sick n tired 
of being sick n tired

I became nostalgic for that April 13, 1988 KU Ballroom show--on Hillel Slovak's birthday, just two months before his death--when I got to see the band live for the first time. It was also the first and only time my hippie-trapped-in-an-eighties-material-world-ass ever slam danced, just me with daisies in my hair and a handmade dress and a room full of my closest punk friends with their lopsided hair and safety pins pinned in the most unsafe ways.  It was profoundly fun and slightly painful, kinda like life itself.

I couldn't find any clips from that show, but the one above, featuring Slovak's last performance, reminds me of that night.  Back when I was cool and rebellious and ready to stick it to The Man rather than old and feverishly wanting to stick it to these microbes getting me down.  These old aches summoned from current aches, reminding me that some aches feel pretty good.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Katie's Kid Art: A House by Katie Carleton

Katie sat alone at the table and announced, "I'm going to draw the inside of a house" while I attempted to scramble her an egg.    Will was off to work already, so it was just us two.  I'm glad she decided to draw something with a lot of detail since breakfast would not be served anytime soon.  I had to wash the frying pan first.  My least favorite thing about cooking is always having to first wash the dishes I never got around to doing the day before.  I spent more time searching for the spatula than it would have taken to just wash the pile of dirty dishes it was under.  By the time I was ready to crack an egg, Katie said, "Come see, Mama!"

Mama?  Ooooh, I hardly ever get one of those anymore from my big first grader.  I had to stop everything and go see.

"Ooooh, nice," I said.  "Tell me all about it."

"Well, it's a house," Katie explained.  "And up at the top is the baby asleep in the crib."

"Is that a mobile above the crib?"

"Yes!" She exclaimed.  Katie likes it when I ask questions.  "It has things dangling on it so the baby can go--"  She demonstrates by staring off into space with her mouth hanging open.

"Ah, yes, I see.  And who is that on the next floor?"

"That is the mom and the dad.  They are asleep because it is night time.  And on the next floor is the sister and the brother.  They are twins.  They are asleep too," Katie explained.  Her diction becomes very precise when we're going over the details of her art work.

"I like the stars," I remarked while Katie took a breath.

"Yeah," she continued.  "And then on the next floor is the brother.  He's playing Final Fantasy 2."

"Is that his little sister?"

"No, that's a doll."  Katie shook her head and smiled like, duh, Mom.

"Is the doll playing Final Fantasy 2 also?" I poked my finger into her ribs.

"No!"  She flinched.  "That's the twins' doll." 

"And who is the person on the first floor?"

Katie kept an eye on my hands, leaning back slightly as she explained, "That's the sister.  She's watching TV."

"I see."  I shoved my hands into my pockets to show I intended to behave myself.  "And is that a dog house outside?"

"Yes!  That's the mama dog and the daddy dog and their seven puppies!!!"

"And what's this over here on the left side?" I asked.

"That's their van."

"Wow, does it hold their entire family?"

"Yes!  And the puppies too!"

"Wow, that's awesome, Punk."

"Thanks."  Katie laid the picture down and rested her hand on her belly.  "Mom, I'm hungry."

I hopped up and walked to the stove.  "Oh yeah.  Let me get your egg scrambled."

I looked down at our little skillet and smiled.  I used to daydream of having a big family too.  Like Katie, I'd draw pictures of my pretend family.  There were always ten children.  I couldn't fathom ever having just one.  But my ovaries wouldn't cooperate and so I ended up having just one.  I was sad about it for many years.  But now I thank my rebellious body.  As challenging as it is for me to feed one child breakfast by noon, I think maybe my ovaries know me better than I know myself.  If I had ten kids, they would surely starve to death.  And even worse, when would I have time to sit down with each of them to admire the detail of their art work?

"Hey, where's the kitchen in that house?" I called out from the stove.

"Right here," Katie held up the picture and pointed.  "Where the sister is watching TV."

Oh, whew.  That's the bad thing about details.  Sometimes I over-think them.  If I actually had ten kids I wouldn't have time to worry about whether or not their house drawings have kitchens in them and if they don't is that some kind of commentary on my lack of culinary skills? Parenting an only child has its perks and is great for an easily distracted introvert like me, as long as I don't self-indulge in the details.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Katie's Kid Art: Sky, Home, Playground

"Katie Looking Out the Window" by Katie Carleton, age 6

Katie drew this while lying on the couch sick with her fifth fever-inducing illness in five months.  In the bottom right corner Katie is looking out the window.  The first star she sees is the wishing star above.  Then she sees the Big Dipper, the Milky Way, and the moon up in the left corner.  At least the germs are not invading her imagination.

"A Little House" by Katie Carleton, age 6

Katie drew this while she was convalescing on the couch, too.  It's pretty straight-forward.  I like the yellow glow of light inside the house coming through the windows.

"Me Playing at the Playground" by Katie Carleton, age 6

Katie drew this one during "free draw" time at school.  Katie is the white girl swinging.  I asked her who the sliding brown-skinned girl is.  She said, "she's my friend" without going into specifics.  I like how Katie is starting to draw figures from the side.  If you're wondering what is the significance of the rainbow 4, all I know is Katie's cubby at school is number 4, so she often puts this number on her work so the teacher knows who it belongs to.  The rainbow is a nice embellishment evoking racial harmony, even if that wasn't the artist's intent.