Lessons From A Five-Year-Old

Published in the Ferndale Record, January 29, 2014

In what could be considered a bold move, a five-year-old at school approached me after I’d bandaged her finger. “Maybe someday, when my parents are dead and I’m grown up, you and I can be friends.”

The whole “parents are dead” thing made me cringe a little, but then I remembered the mind of a child, and the unusually active and fertile mind of this particular child, and instead of recoiling, or explaining age differences and logistics, I smiled and said “OK.”

Then she said, “Maybe we can have a sleepover.” Again, my mind gravitated to that grown-up place of stark reality, but I quickly found my inner kindergartner and said, “Maybe we can.” She closed her eyes, hugged me tight and ran to class.

The itty bitty ones live life, play and love hard until someone or something, completes the siphoning of his or her original spirit – and they eventually morph into what others think they should be, not who they really are. It’s hard to watch.

In adult land, we normally don’t say it right out loud. There’s a kind of dance, some posturing, image to consider. And it’s true, asking someone – even a platonic friend you like a lot, to have a sleepover is well, kind of odd.

I guess the question is: Should it be? Is it really so socially askew to say what we’re thinking, especially if it’s kind, complimentary or loving?

I read a book once about a gutsy woman who decided to “never suppress a generous thought.” I get what she meant, and I think that’s what children and truly genuine people already do. No hating or bashing allowed. Go with the good stuff.

It’s like giving kudos to your best friend on her new haircut because you really love it and it doesn’t even occur to you that this declaration might make your own hair any less stunning. Or, maybe telling a coworker that you saw a thing he did when he handled a tricky situation with grace, without being afraid this compliment will make you sound like a doofus.

If we get over ourselves, our egos and insecurities, handing out generosity makes us feel great, and doesn’t diminish who we are, but connects us to the people around us, and the world in general. We become shareholders in a giant community of givers, and the perks are endless.

Can we really learn all that from a five-year-old? That, and more. One day as she was leaving the school, my pure and vocal little friend began gushing to everyone. “I love you lunch lady! I love you office lady!”  No one thought this was too much or inappropriate. It was simply a manifestation of who she is.

People sometimes back away when others emote. Most of us have been in a room dripping with emotion, and it made us squirm. But choosing to forego deep feeling exacts a price on our capacity for happiness. We don’t have to express it like a child might, but if we want the accompanying joy, express we must.

Someone once said “Everything I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.”  I would argue it happens before that.

Changing Plans, Trivial Pursuits And The Color Yellow

Published in The Ferndale Record, October 24, 2012

Sometimes, even when things don’t turn out like you want, they still turn out pretty good. Sometimes, the outcome is simply excellent.

When my children were little I was like a lot of other parents and had ideas about how it should go. I would rock and sing them to sleep at night. We would read books together early and often, graduating to advanced literature along the way. We would listen to classical and sacred music. We would go build homes for the poor in a third world country, and my children would shun pedestrian forms of entertainment in favor of more poignant, meaningful fare. OK, there’s some hyperbole in there, but you get the point.

Fast forward a few years up to last week. I sat in Buckley’s in Belltown on 2nd Avenue in Seattle with two of my children, a niece, a nephew and a close family friend where we participated in a Simpson’s trivia contest. We blew away the competition and went home with a cash prize.

How did our family evolve from that idyllic scenario I dreamed about to well-seasoned, lowbrow comedy wizards? It was a surprisingly short trip.

To be fair, we are contributing members of society. Some of us attend the symphony, we’ve all read books that don’t even mention The Simpsons, others graduated from prestigious institutions of higher learning, one is a classically trained pianist, some are athletes, we are gainfully employed, and bathe regularly.

Although we’re also a diverse group, one of our common denominators has been an ironic sense of humor, and recognizing clever when we hear it. Our attraction to the longest-running, animated prime-time series in the history of American television happened quickly in the early seasons of the show. For most Simpsons aficionados, the show jumped the proverbial shark somewhere between seasons five and eight.

A few questions at the contest, most having to do with those later seasons, stumped us. But we came away victorious in our general knowledge of nothing important to mankind, and were paid for our efforts.

For my two sons, it was also a moral victory because they won the competition last time, and were looking to retain the crown. These boys are ringers. They know The Simpsons well, obscure details and all. And while the rest of us contributed minimally, they delivered the goods.

Why does any of this matter? I’ll tell you. If it’s not a sick, twisted secret or behavior that unites a family, it can be a good thing. And on a Wednesday night in October, when each of us could have been engaged in any number of other meaningful, important activities, we were bound together by something trivial. Other family members in far away places posted good luck wishes on Facebook and anxiously waited to hear results. We were all on board.

When I held tiny babies and mused about lovely things, The Simpsons weren’t on my radar. But that’s where the whole flexibility thing comes in, I guess. Quoting choice lines from the show at just the right moment has become a badge of honor for us. It’s something we do well together, no matter how different we are in other ways.

For me, the switch from what I thought would be, to what is, is even sweeter. I got another childhood all over again, only this time with people who included me when they didn’t really have to. I’m lucky that way.

Wednesday Gravy: Olympic Passion

When my first born was a wee pup, crawling all over me as I watched Nadia Comaneci score perfect 10s in the Montreal Summer Olympics.. the onscreen drama must have seeped over into my psyche which I promptly conveyed to my baby via osmosis. Or something like that.  He’s been an Olympics lover ever since.  He says one of his fondest childhood memories was me dragging him and his sister out of bed to watch the spectacular televised closing ceremonies at the 1984 Los Angeles event.

We speak of the Olympics often. We talk about the athletes, he and I. We muse on performances past, and wonder about future achievements.  During each Olympics, we have one “all-nighter”..  an evening for staying up ridiculously late and eating large amounts of naughty food.. all while watching the athletic competition unfold.  Of course, we toss out phrases like, “I could do that, but I don’t wanna.”

Last summer, the boy and I, not to mention other family members.. enjoyed our fete while watching Michael Phelps win that spectacular race in a gazillionth of a second.  It was a crowning moment in the games made even more extraordinary by all of us experiencing it together.

A few months ago I was missing my boy as mommies sometimes do–even, maybe especially, as they get older.  He’s a husband and father.. and well, he’s actively involved in everything inherent in that busy life.  I asked him for a favor.  I asked if some time, whenever he and his family could manage it, if he could come and spend the day with me.  Just him.  Not that I don’t adore his wife and babies—-I do.  But, I needed some boy time.  Just me and him.

He called a few weeks ago saying that he was working on it and would let me know.  That was good enough for me.

Last Saturday, on a whim, the boy and his family came to visit.  These kinds of visits bring palpable pleasure.

During casual conversation, he mentioned he’d  like to plan our one-on-one day.. but that it wouldn’t happen until February 2010.  Well.. he’s got stuff going on.. I’ll take it, I thought.

Then, he told me the rest of it.  I needed to provide the transportation, he said.. and he’d supply the tickets.  Tickets? What?

Turns out our mommy-son get-together will be to an Olympic hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  Just the two of us.

The revelation dawned.. and I’ll admit my emotions grabbed me by the throat.  Not only did he pencil in a day for me.. he decided to make it something once-in-a-lifetime special.

He warned: “Now, of course, we can’t depend on it being anything spectacular..  It probably won’t be another “Miracle On Ice” moment.”

My response?  Doesn’t matter if it’s Czechoslovakia vs. Tasmania. How could it not be spectacular?  It’s the Olympic Games.

We’ll drive or catch a shuttle over the border.. we’ll employ air horns and foam fingers.. we’ll have a real, live, Olympic adventure together.  No words illustrate this joy, yet I’ve tried to use them.. and probably not very well.

Meanwhile, I wait for February 2010 and ponder the gift.. and what it will mean for us—for me and my boy.

Monday Gravy: AA Comes Home

My first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was Saturday night.

Beloved daughter was celebrating two years of sobriety and asked Mommy to come to the party.  I was thrilled.

Whoa. It was a room full of tangible love. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Hugs all around.. genuine support.. people of varied backgrounds. I saw quickly there was no one stereotype for alcoholism–it crosses every barrier.  But I think I already knew that.. my attendance at the meeting only confirmed it.

After spending 90 minutes with these people I was astounded.  They were real.. no cop outs.. no pretending.. no excuses. It was an honor to be in the same room with them.. and be part of the ritual not only marking my daughter’s second birthday.. but the birthdays of many others.  Some had 10 years in the program.. some 8.. or 6.  I met one woman who had 30 years there.

After sweet daughter began the program, I read the AA Big Book.  I saw how the implementation of these ideas helped and continues to assist and breathe life back into so many who would otherwise be dead or wishing they were. When I saw the positive roads this journey was opening up for my girl, I began to examine my own life.  The principles are solid.. the success undeniable.

The people I met take nothing for granted. They seem to live each day in joy and possibility.  And when they asked “Carrie’s mom” to speak to the room.. I couldn’t say no.  Instead, I was honored.. and grateful.  At first, it was because of what they’ve all done for my daughter. Then, it became personal. Being there was like having a warm blanket thrown around my heart.  Rapt attention to what everyone said signaled passionate respect.

Funny how my children keep bringing positives into my life.  When I was a young mother I thought I would always be the one supporting, helping and providing insights for my offspring.  As the years roll by, and as I allow it.. my soul reaps the benefits of people, places and things I never would have thought of on my own.

Like AA.

My name is Sue Ann and I am not an alcoholic.  But they invited me back anyway.

I intend to accept that invitation.

Dave’s New Gig

Well, it’s official.. David Letterman is no longer single.  Truth be told, he’s been attached for a long time.. but until the final vows were said, I considered him fair game.. the mother of his young son notwithstanding.

I’ve loved him forever.. as long as I can remember knowing who he was.  And true, in later years, he’s become more cynical and even bitter at times.. and well, older.  But I forgive him for this because he’s brilliant. He doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator like Jay Leno, and his wit is dangerously sharp–still.

A man with a sense of humor has always caught my eye.. but one who’s also flawed and a bit deranged is irresistible.

You know that gap between his teeth?  Perfect!  His skewed charm, his flirtability.. all fodder for years of my dreams.

Dave said he avoided marriage partly because he felt other men saw him as sort of “the last gunslinger”.. a man who’d escaped the trappings of that convention.

Hmm.. well.. maybe other men are disappointed.  But I’ll tell you what.  David Letterman’s new gig only makes him more attractive to women–at least this woman.  It only sweetens the deal.

His purple tie, his gray socks, the goofiness.. it’s all part of the love.

I’d wish him good luck, best wishes and all of that.. but I’m still smarting from the news that he chose someone else instead of me.

Never mind that he never met me.

Unrequited adoration?  Probably.

It’s still great to know that he’s in the world and making funny stuff happen.  That has to be good enough for me.

The Top Ten Reasons I Will Always Love David Letterman

10. He’s a sexy doofus.

9. He rarely dumbs it down for his audience.

8. He stocks his mom’s fridge with Colt 45.

7. He loves the doggies.

6. He always wears grey socks.

5. He and Paul Schaffer have been close, personal friends for over 75 years.

4. He’s nuts about his little boy.

3. He’s nuts.

2. He took a fruit basket to GE.

1. The gap in his teeth.