Thursday, May 29, 2008

Geneva Convention conveyance of human rights, interrupted

It always starts here, in the cute place.

I know you read that title and expected a long, deep post. You aren't going to get it.

In fact, this post, which is not be about politics or world affairs at all, is actually about mommying. More specifically, it is about Persistence, whom I adore, but who is also hmm shall we say in an extremely challenging phase that I am extremely challenged by.

Persistence's pre-school ended nine days, three hours, and 22 minutes ago. That would be three weeks before public school lets out. It has been hell on earth ever since.

I realize I should be overflowing with the joy of uninterrupted quality time with my precious child who I adore more than life itself, but pretty much I wake up and within ten minutes am humming, "I wanna new drug." I'm counting minutes until her father comes home by 8:30 a.m.

This is because Persistence is THREE, also known as the Cruel and Vicious Age. People tell me five is worse, but I lived through Patience at five and did not actually fling myself out the window---which has felt very tempting at least twice in the last couple of week---so I live in hope that People Are Mistaken.

I have my doubts, though, because I really do not recall falling off the deep end this way with Patience.

Persistence is, and always has been, a completely different ball of yarn.

Recently, she decided---in a manner not unlike immature and self-centered adults in major leadership positions---to toss out the Geneva Convention. Her rationale appears to be that the pursuit of her goals (which are unnamed and vague, largely due to her not really being too sure what they are, largely due to there not really being any goals, largely due to the fact that in all honesty she's really just acting out of her prevailing emotion, which largely seems to be Peevish)...

...where was I?

Oh right, the pursuit of her current state of Peevishness supersedes everything else, including that middling matter of human rights.

So, as I sit in the preschooler's equivalent of Gitmo, I have had a few minutes to ponder the situation and I have figured out a few things.

The charges against me include: not giving her what she wants even when I give her what she wants, and lack of superhuman powers to make the impossible happen just because she wants it so. Lesser charges include: existing, breathing, being a convenient target.

My torture includes Incessant Recitation of All the Ways in which I Fail to Meet Expectation, threats, tantrums, hissy fits, destruction, public displays of threeness, and an incredible imitation of Gladys Kravitz.

I realize that as a three year old her job is not to make my life easy, but it also behooves her to not make it this hard---a point I am trying, unsuccessfully, to press home.

I also realize this is a phase and this too shall pass. We just left a lovely phase, which I didn't full enjoy because I know enough about parenting to have a part of me waiting for the shoe to drop, which it now has. I am also not fully suffering in this phase because I know enough about parenting to realize it's of limited duration.

Don't think I don't know how to handle this or parent. Often griping leads to Unsolicited Advice (read: Assvice). I'm really just seeking sympathy, you know, "You're a good mom Julie, your kids are fine, you'll all get through this with some hair left on your head and your teeth enamel not damaged beyond repair."

Inevitably, you wind up here.

Here's a sample of one of many moments in our day:

P: I hungry.

Me: You ate ten minutes ago, how can you be hungry? (This is me, resisting fixing meal number 12 before 10 a.m.)


Me: Okay so do you prefer a bagel or a cheese stick with apples?

P: NO! Those is YUCKY!

Me: Did you have a food in mind?


Me: Okay, bagel with cream cheese and apples.


Me: Hmm okay a little while ago you said you loved apples. If you don't want them now, how about an orange.


Me: So just the bagel then. Okay let's go make it.


Me: Are you really hungry for food or do you just want attention? Do you want to play a game? Pet shop?


Me: I'll make a bagel and set it here. I'll put milk here too. You can get it when you want it.


Me (losing patience): Okay. Not a bagel. You come look here in the kitchen and see what you want.


Few minutes pass, ruckus of some sort continues

Me: All righty, here is your bagel, as ordered.

P: A BAGEL! NO! I HATE BAGELS! I'll throw your flowers on the ground, mean mommy!(shoves plate to hit flower basket, I catch both)


Persistence is very, very angry right now. She is angry because her school is over and she doesn't want it to be. She wants her class and classmates every day just like always. Nothing is ever right because I can't fix the problem and give her what she really wants. No amount of fun events---such as special playdate and birthday outing with her cousins yesterday---redirection, attention or similar will make her happy until she really adjusts to this change of pace.

She loved school, loved her teacher, loved her buddies and loved her routine. The days now are unstructured, unreliable, inconsistent (read: not just like school). I can do as much as I can to help her during the time, but I can't change how things are; school is over, that's that.

She has fun at the pool, enjoys the playdates, but under it all is a sort of sadness and irritation because she'd rather be doing these things at school, and every day she is reminded of school because her sister still goes.

I hope that by the time her sister gets out of school, Persistence will have adjusted a bit and with her sister home too, the sense of injustice won't overwhelm her quite so much.

I keep guiding her to good behavior, keep rewarding good behavior and do my best to keep myself as the Grown-Up in our interactions, but oh they do get weary, these mommies do get weary, wearing that same old shabby mantle, waiting for some tenderness.

In the meantime, I am speaking through gritted teeth by 10 a.m. and am asserting my rights: my right to remain silent, my right to not be silent, my right to a Time Out, my right to be spoken to kindly, my right to be the parent, my right to not be hit, my right to laugh out loud at the Gladys Kravitz impression, my right to call her father at 9:30 a.m. and simply say AAAAGGGGGGHHHHH.

So far, if I resort to Extreme Parenting (e.g., time out in room instead of on stairs, grounded from morning TV show) I can buy a few hours of relief: she's relieved there are still boundaries that will be enforced in her life, even without school and I am relieved we can have a little bit of fun and good time (my standards for that, by the way, are really low right now, so basically I qualify any period of time that doesn't include my darling daughter yelling that I suck <-- paraphrasing there; we don't actually teach our children to curse).

And I wait...

If you're lucky, you end up here.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Inspirational, Motivational --- the Hump Day for May 28, 2008 guys are going to share something from the Blogosphere or Internet that inspired you and tell us where it lead you next...

I can't wait.

Seriously...I am really so looking forward to your stories.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

'Whatever' is not an actual salary and it really doesn't buy the groceries, either

Teaching my girls how to pull the rope for themselves.

It was a pretty innocuous mother's club meeting, and we were talking about babysitters. I don't even recall why it came up, the talk about babysitters. Conversation unrolls so organically in these meetings, these times we get together, without children, and get to just talk.

But sitters came up in conversation and the turn of that conversation surprised me. Greatly. Apparently around here it's bad manners to quote an hourly rate for one's babysitting services.

"You know what gets me?" a mom said, "You know what sitters I prefer? Who I pay the most to? The ones who say 'oh just pay me whatever.'" She went on to explain that (and this is my paraphrase not her exact statement) to her, it came across as very forward, rude even, when these sitters said they charged X dollars per hour.

My mind rolled that concept around for a minute: it's cheeky and rude to state upfront how much you charge if you're a babysitter.

I looked around the room, seeking the people who ducked their heads to avoid disagreeing or the people shaking a no with their heads, and waited for someone to say, "Well for heaven's sake, it's a business. Of course they need to---and should!---tell you in advance how much they charge! How else will they learn to value their own worth and services? How else will they learn to deal with people and money? How else will you be able to figure out how much to budget and how much cash to have on hand for the time?"

But not one person did. Not one ducked head. Not one shaking head. Not one verbal alternate perspective.

I did, however, see a fair number of nodding heads, and then a couple of moms chimed in with verbal agreement.

My mind rolled that concept around for a few more minute.

Do many people feel this way---and do girls believe that if they are passive and vague they'll get paid a fair fee? Do they learn that they are powerless when it comes to receiving payment, that it's always in the other person's hands? Do they build up this expectation in a lifelong way?

I was stunned---stunned that girls do this (what? are you kidding? NAME YOUR PRICE!!!). I've had a few sitters pull this on me and I instantly morphed into my father, delivering a lecture about the importance of developing key business interaction skills. I put my own twist on it, of course, and tried to soften the lecture, but I gave the lecture anyway: you offered a service and that's worth payment, and it's okay to tell me how much your rate is.

One young girl I told this to pulled out the same tired line in response, "I just don't feel okay, you know, asking for money, it just seems wrong for some reason."

I have absolutely never ever understood this sensation.

I feel very, very good asking for money. And I feel even better when I get it.

I told her that she needed to practice and she'd be great.

...actually, I wasn't sure what the monetary exchange rate was currently for a 'whatever.'

It's not only the young girls, either. I negotiated for a sitter with a sitter's mother one time and asked, "How much does she charge per hour?"

The mother said, "Oh just pay her whatever."

I said, "Oh, hum. Well, umm. What does she charge other people?"

The mother repeated, with a wave of her hand, "Oh you know, whatever."

I bit back an irritated response that actually, I wasn't sure what the monetary exchange rate was currently for a 'whatever.' Instead I said, "I'll pay a buck an hour...does that sound fair?" It sounded ridiculous to me and I thought the mom would get the point.

"Yeah, that sounds fine! Thanks!" the mom said.

I mentally banged my head on the wall. I paid the sitter the going rate around here, which I happen to know because (a) I use sitters with some regularity and (b) last year I hosted an open house for moms and babysitters.

At that event, I created a spreadsheet and fed in data about each sitter who attended: name, phone, age, experience and skills, preferences or comments and...hourly rate. Half the girls put "whatever."

"You put 'whatever' in the hourly rate column," I said, "What do you charge per hour, you know, a number? You need to let the moms know your rate so they know how to budget."

"Oh no, I totally don't know," the flustered girls cried.

"Here," I said, "Look at the sheet, here's how much the other sitters charge for one child, and here's their rates for two and also for three or more kids. It's good to have a scale like that. Do you want to use the same numbers these girls use?"

But they demurred and my spreadsheet has a column for rate that has 'whatever' for half. I never call any of those girls. I only use the ones who know what they're worth, the ones who let me know how much to budget.

I admit it: the other ones seem flighty on some level to me.

I'm not a fan of 'whatever' as an answer for anything.

At the mom's meeting, I stated this opinion. "I am the absolute opposite," I said with a little uncomfortable laugh---here we go again, Julie the hard head freak mom, the one they all shake their heads about---and added, "I don't prefer the wishy washy girls who say 'whatever.' I like to know their fee so I can budget, and anyway, they need to be able to discuss money."

I got the sense a second head---maybe shaped like an ass---grew out of my neck just then, based on the looks I got.

Imagine that! Expecting these girls to name a price! Demanding they use a degree of professionalism in their babysitting service. Who do I think I am. Cheeky. That's what I am.

The majority clearly felt it was really out of line, and preferred to discreetly slip whatever amount they wanted to over to the babysitters.

I was stunned and stymied to learn I was in the minority---or maybe all by myself on this one. And there I had gone and told all my sitters to put on their big girl panties and name their fair hourly rate for childcare.

I wondered how many local girls I ruined with my apparently untoward advice. Hopefully none. Probably not one listened to me. Ten years from now they will probably be disgruntled coworkers who earn less than their cohorts. They will probably be angry friends who don't get paid the going rate or on time because they don't invoice properly. They will be frustrated adult women who don't know how to talk about money because they never learned and on top of that were given the impression that it was wrong---dirty? naughty? out of line? unfeminine?---to discuss fair pay for services rendered.

A very long time ago the very rich and the very oppressed women never discussed money. To do so might reveal a need or quest for money, which might mark one as bourgeois or trade. I can promise that the vast majority of us are in fact quite bourgeois and are frequently on a quest for needed money.

So why is it still considered so tacky to so many to be on a quest for money and expect to be paid for services rendered?

Do men feel this too? Or is it truly largely just women?

Is the objection simply because the sitters are girls? Would a male sitter stating an hourly rate come across as too forward? Or is it because they are youths, not adults?

I truly think it is a matter of both factors: young and female.

They see flighty and silly valued and rewarded.

My husband imagines that here at my blog I will probably find some people who think and believe as I do, but he also thinks that the vast majority probably find any money discussion uncomfortable and prefer a big fat "whatever." It stymies him too, this preference for wishy washy whatever, but he also thinks few people ever feel comfortable placing a dollar value on the things they do.

Babysitting can be such a valuable life and business lesson: how to learn the fair pay rate for your field, how to determine the appropriate pay for what you offer, and how to negotiate fair pay.

But we aren't all on the same page. Not all people---male or female---believe girls need to be equally and adequately prepared for a full professional and personal life. Not all people believe women need to be strong and assertive.

I'm ready to see our society accept confidence, assertiveness, directness as well as politeness and kindness from women. I'm ready to see our society allow women to value themselves, even if it means requesting fair pay for services rendered.

But I'm also ready to see our society respect a variety of approaches and styles to achieve this end. I don't think it's right that we need women (and men) to fulfill a stereotyped gender role that is predominantly accepted in our professional culture: the "masculine" way of doing things.

The babysitters don't need to be aggressive, but passive aggressive shouldn't be the technique either.

I'd like to see it no longer be necessary that girls put on a silly act in order to be accepted.

And believe me...although I think that the discomfort is real and quite a few girls truly and sincerely feel more comfortable ducking their heads, shrugging their shoulders and saying 'whatever,' I also truly think at least an equal number would feel okay saying, "I charge $7 per hour for two kids."

But teens aren't stupid---they have picked up on the idea that people are not quite comfortable with an assertive young woman. They see flighty and silly valued and rewarded.

They put a dimming drape over their light to try to accommodate, until they find the rare person who will accept and value their style, even though they are a girl.

Apparently, I am the only one who is surprised to find out that this is such a concrete concept, shaped all the way into a more, where moms expect sitters to say "Oh whatever" when the payment discussion comes up.

We're teaching them who they can be during these key teen years. Shouldn't we be teaching them it's okay to be all they can be?

What do you think? Are you comfortable talking about money? Do you ask for fair pay? Are you okay with it when people who do work for you ask for fair pay? How do you think this affects women down the line in the working world? Do I have a second head shaped like an ass?

Note: Remember the Hump Day this week---a day earlier than you think it is because Monday was a holiday!---is about a blog, blog post, blogger or something you read on the Internet that inspired you. Tell us about the inspirational thing and then tell us where you went from there.

ETA per Mad's request: In MA we paid an average of $12 per hour for sitters, most of whom were from one of the two universities that flanked our town. I say an average because some local teens were $10 and the university students were about $15. I tended to use sitters who were 16+ years old. That seemed to be who I had access to through a variety of contacts. The average age was 18. I noticed rate per hour increased as the sitters got older. I noticed a surcharge for babies and diaper-wearers. I felt that was fair. In MA I had one child, so I'm not sure how much more than one child cost.

In SE Texas we pay $4-7 per hour for two children. I tend to use very young teens, mainly 14 year olds. I'm comfortable with this because my children are older and pretty independent. I haven't tapped the university so I'm not sure what they charge, but I expect it's $7-10 per hour. I tend to pay $5 per hour, which I think is fair because in general, the teen sits (read: sleeps) on my couch while the kids sleep upstairs. Also it's easy to add by fives in my head.

In all honesty, I prefer the 14 year olds. The younger teens have done a great job of being serious, focused on the kids, and available.

Not one male came to our babysitter open house party or has signed up for babysitting here. I don't know anyone who has a male sitter. From what I've heard I don't think they would get much work.

So yes, our entire directory of babysitters is exclusively female. We also have a community newsletter where teens can advertise as workers. They are usually babysitters and always girls. If I knew a boy and felt comfortable with him as a childcare-giver (my same criteria for girls BTW) I'd use him.

I didn't discuss the exact amount of money in my post because the point to me isn't how much specifically so much as it is to be specific.

But I agree it would be interesting to compare across regions.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What it looks like in one of my happy places (a Sunday short post)

My kitchen in the afternoon...

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The winner of the drawing!

My extremely cute and talented assistant, Persistence, drew the name for me.

In case you can't read it, it's Stephanie!

Congratulations, Stephanie! Stephanie's post for the Hump Day Hmm grabbed me from the get-go when it began with a quote from The West Wing.

By the way, for reasons I cannot disclose, I happened to have Regis and Kelly on the other morning. To the guy who did not know Josh Lyman's name? Four words: Buy it on DVD.

Also, for more reasons I cannot disclose, I admit to possibly being the only person in the US who did not want Josh and Donna to get it on together. I thought Josh was a mess, and Donna needed a pulled together guy. Yes, I was emotionally invested.

Wow, I really miss that show.

Dear TV Executives, I would actually tune in and watch your stations if you had ANY show on that was not crime or hospital based. I miss The Cosby Show. I miss The West Wing. I really miss Keen Eddie. Twin Peaks---I hear the funky weird supernatural is really popular right now. And yes, I miss Star Trek--The Next Generation. By the way, the Parker Posey show sucks rocks and I cannot express my massive disappointment about that. I don't know what happened to comedy but I fear the funny has been hoovered right out of Hollywood. Also, I'd like to know which publisher pays enough for a book editor to live in a multi-million dollar loft in Manhattan; my publishing friends are also clamoring to know. Basically the book editors I know are pinching pennies to cover the cost of new socks and milk, which pretty much takes the entire paycheck. Sincerely, a former TV Junkie who now gives her dollars to Barnes and Noble.

Now, a question for Stephanie: clowns or humor in your book?

Drop an email when you get a chance: j pippert at g mail dot com.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Out of stride Wednesday: Hump Day Hmm for May 21, 2008

Walking out of stride...posts we all want to read!

Old or new posts about walking out of stride welcome. Just link here then add in your link to the widget below.

And remember, all participants will go in a drawing to win either a clown or funny book (winner's choice).

If you can, take a few minutes to keep checking back and visit the other blogs who link here. I think one of my favorite things is going from blog to blog to read all of the different perspectives.

Feel free to make a topic suggestion at any time.

Next's all about the other guy. One of the greatest things we all say we find in blogging is community. What post, blog or blogger has inspired you? It could have been a comment, a post, something someone did. Perhaps you've become friends. Big or small, if it moved you and caused you to take action in your own life, tell us about it. Tell us what inspired you, and then let us know the story from there---your story.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Please, no, really, don't send in the clowns, I'm serious (with a GIVEAWAY!)

It can't just be me: that's wicked creepy, isn't it? Someone else, please, say yes.

So as it turns out I am not that great of a juggler. I sort of figured as much when---upon considering subsequent education after graduating high school---I immediately struck off clown college. Not only couldn't I juggle but I really can't stand clowns. It's not fear, it's something else. I get to see a lot of clowns as a parent and every time, I think they sense my whatever-it-is feeling that is a lot short of "YEA! a CLOWN! Woo hoo! I LOVE clowns! They're so FUN!"

I don't like them and they know it. They smell it or see it in my eyes, no matter how jovial or polite an act I put on.

Patience is the same, I think. I can see it in her eyes.

I hope no boyfriend ever takes her to the circus.

One time I was dating this guy and he planned what should have been---would have been for any other woman---a fabulous date: the circus.

I was horrified. Seriously.

Trapped animals caged, then brought out and whipped at for my entertainment plus crowds plus clowns = Julie's Fourth Worst Date Ever. (Feel free to ask about the top three at any time, but I'll warn you---it took my husband 15 years to pry the number one worst one out of me, and that makes him person number five on the planet who has ever heard the story. For the record, it is funny not tragic, although I spent my entire senior year of high school feeling definitively on the edge of tragic about it, as, I'm sure, did the boy---if our managing to avoid speaking to or making eye contact with one another for an entire year is any indication. And that? Is the end of the hints.)

So there I sat, at the second worst date in my life up to that point, at the circus, being hounded by the masses and clowns.

"He doesn't know me at all," I thought, "I'm just some idea to him. This relationship is never going to work."

Yeah, I was right, even if I did perhaps simply fulfill my own prophecy. He was nice and all and I bet has made someone a fantastic husband. Someone who likes the circus, I hope.

Because I don't---not the performing animals, nor the clowns. I don't limit my dislike to circus clowns, either, it's really any sort of clown, including unofficial ones or mimes. All that jollying about in painted faces.

Maybe that's it: all that fake joviality.

Clowns. Hmm. I may not like them because they are the walking embodiment of the fakey fake nice and happy act I feel a constant pressure to put on.

So clown school was off the list. Although upon reflection, perhaps that was hasty. I may be giving away the milk for free on that one.

Racing school was, ironically, a little slower to get marked off the list.

And those are seriously the very odd things I think sometimes.

So now that I've confessed to being utterly out of stride with the rest of the world with regard to what is considered fun and funny...

I've been out of stride with reading and commenting to blogs, hence the opening line about juggling.

I'm sure other people live simpler lives because they choose to, and I'm sure I could (a) simplify my life and (b) simplify my thinking if I wanted to but clearly I don't really prefer it. I imagine I'll live a nice long life due to my love of drama and inability to leave until I know the very end. I want a lot out of things and by golly if I don't get a little richness here and there due to that.

But it also means that everyone in my life sees a bit of a blur of me sometimes.

There are calls to me in other areas of my life just now that mean I read in Reader but rarely have the time to click through and comment as I'd like. I read, I mark "keep unread" and I save, most of all, I care. I am sure this summer will bring long lazy (read: desperate) days in which I hound you to write more, please, dear God, I beg you.

I hope this doesn't mean you'll forsake the Hump Day Hmm. I will read all the Hump Day Hmms and comment and hope you will too.

I've been feeling a little err verklempt (?) about the Hmms lately so I want to up the ante and get as many people as possible (you did get a week's notice!) to participate.

The Topic: Walking out of stride---how do you walk out of stride, or do you? What's it mean to you? (Click here to read my post about it.)

The Mission: Write your own post, link here, and add your link to the link list for others to follow and read. Due tomorrow, Wednesday.

The Reward: Feeling good about it all. Okay okay fungible, tangible, whatever. A GIVEAWAY! One clown or funny book coming the way of one lucky winner, drawn from the list of Hump Day Hmm participants. I'll let the winner choose between clown or funny (yes, they are distinct to me).

And if you are interested in following me virtually, I am, as always at MOMocrats and Moms Speak Up. If you haven't been by MSU lately (or ever) come by. We've got that ball rolling with some fabulous new contributors....some of whom you know.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What you don't know about wildlife field trips could harm someone else's child

"Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn't have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standing by"
Don Henley, "The End of Innocence"
Oh those days will remain long and rolling under blue skies if I have anything to say about it, and as it turns out, I do.

Because Patience is and always will be Our Very First Baby Precious Angel Love of Our Life, she is going to have to put up with a lot of parental freak outs---an unduly unfair number above and beyond what her sister will experience.

On the flip side, Persistence will have an unduly unfair number of parental exasperations above and beyond what her sister will experience.

So it all balances out.

Last Thursday Patience got to experience yet another parental freak out, although she had no idea her father and I were totally melting down. We have mastered the art of hiding it well.

But I must say...her father melted down WAY worse than me, for the record. He melted down so badly he took off a day from work and did not go into the office. In fact, I only saw him texting his office four times total the entire day. And he didn't even take or make a single phone call

That, my friends, is one freaked out dad. He couldn't even stick in his workaholic gear.

What happened last Thursday?

Patience had her very first field trip. On a bus.

This of course necessitated massive parental tactical planning and preparation, and a few antianxiety homeopathic remedies (Bach's Rescue Remedy fits easily into pockets, for what it's worth.)

It all seems so sweet and innocent, a field trip to the gardens.

The day before: I stopped Patience's best friend's mom at school. "Are you going tomorrow?"

"Oh my God of course!" she said.

The night before: I slept poorly, wondering if, in the end, I could put Patience on that bus. I don't know that driver. There are no seatbelts. Buses have accidents. Patience is precious. But it was important to her and she was giddy with excitement about riding the bus. So I accepted as best I could that she'd ride the bus. With her friends. And without seatbelts. I kept my panic to myself and even managed to channel it into fake excitement. This involved hopping in a circle with Patience in the afternoon. It was a good way to explain my rapid breathing.

The morning of: Over breakfast I drilled Patience over and over, "You stay in your seat, bottom down, no wiggling, no sliding off the seat, bottom down, back against the seat, no standing up, no moving around. Promise?" I may have gotten a little shrill because Patience stared at me like I'd lost my mind, but solemnly swore to be very safe.

What's not to look forward to---the flowers, the animals, the excitement, and the experience! A field trip to the gardens---it's idyllic!

When I got to school, I was relieved to see that the vast majority of other parents were there too. We were practically man-on-man instead of zone we had so many parent volunteers. The teacher was very relaxed and pulled-together. But the parents all got sort of strained looks when we understood we'd be responsible for someone else's precious child.

Patience's buddy---the someone else's precious child we were responsible for keeping safe and okay; in other words, our job was to ensure that she was not ruined in any way, shape or form and returned home in better condition than when she left---was an adorable big-eyed little girl with black corkscrew curl ponytails.

All the parents waved gaily to the children as they filed to the buses, and then we stood there, a little frozen, or lost, or stuck.

After a minute, a few people got moving. Two other moms from the class walked over to me and Jon, and Patience's best friend's mom, and said, "Come on, ride with us, let's save on gas and cars."

We said thanks and piled in. That mom was one hot driver. We tailed the buses, staying in back, driving alongside, peering into the bus to see where the kids were, how they were doing and if they okay.

We all jokingly shared laughable versions of ourselves and our anxiety.

The driver trumped us all, though, when she confessed, "This is the first time I've left my baby. Ever." I pictured her round little infant, her kindergartner's little brother.

"Ohhhhhh," we all murmured sympathetically.

"He's still nursing," she added, "Often. And he won't take a bottle."

"OOOOOHHHHHH," we all said with even more sympathy. Then we sat silent, the weight of needing to say something comforting heavy on our heads.

"You'll get through this," the more experienced mom said.

I mean, who doesn't want their kid to get to see poisonous frogs up close and personal?

The real adventure began when we reached the field trip destination: Moody Gardens in Galveston, a really neat park a little south of our town. It has a beach, an aquarium, a rain forest, and more. We were only visiting the two pyramids: the aquarium and rain forest.

We met the kids as they got off the buses and quickly found Patience and her Pal. Patience was excited to have her parents there, and was ecstatic about the adventure ahead.

We started with the aquarium, where Patience's chatty Pal told us all about her family (don't worry, Pal's mom, I never heard a thing she said, it never happened), her house, her pool, her swimming, and more. We quickly learned that she was one of those children who liked to run from thing to thing dragging whichever one of us had her hand.

And that's when it happened.

It started with the crabs.

"Mrs. Pippert, Mrs. Pippert, what are those crabs doing," Pal asked.

I walked over to the tank and peered in. Oh. My. Stars. It's springtime. You know what was going on.

"Ummmmmm," I said, stalling, "Ummmmmm...."

"Why is that crab on that crab moving back and forth like that?" Pal asked.

Parents around me snickered and then scattered like frightened birds.

"I think he's trying to hitch a ride. Maybe he's tired of walking," I said, finally.

"Oh, okay!" Pal said, satisfied.

"Mrs. Pippert, Mrs. Pippert, what are those seals doing?"

"Frolicking in the water," I said.

"What does frolicking mean?"

"It means having a good time, but you know, I think they are wrestling, oh yes, look at that, that's what they're doing, wrestling! How fun!" I said, finding that this whole evading the truth thing got easier as I went along, "Aren't seals such good swimmers?"

And on it went, from tank, to tank, to tank.

Even the turtles weren't immune. (What---you don't think I took that photo, do you? This is a PG blog, you know! Go somewhere else if you want to see that sort of "muskrat love.")

At lunch, we ate outside in the park, by the playground. We were quickly swarmed by seagulls, who swooped more menacingly than gracefully towards us.

"Mrs. Pippert, Mrs. Pippert, what are those birds doing?" Pal asked.

I turned to look. Good GRIEF. Moody Gardens was like an animal kingdom orgy.

"Piggy back rides!" I said, brightly, "Birds just love to get piggy back rides! In fact, maybe we should call them birdie back rides!"

The kids giggled and begged to go feed their crusts to the birds.

Okay, so maybe I did take one. You explain this. In fact, as I was posting this photo, Patience walked in, looked at it and said, "Mom, what are those birds doing?" It. just. never. ends. (As it happens, she decided they are hugging. Yes. That's it. They're hugging.) (And this was one of the tamer moments. Trust me.)

When we all grouped back together at the visitor's center for the second half of the tour, I grabbed the teacher, "Umm, things are a little frisky with the inmates, if you know what I mean," I said, "I'm getting questions. So...just so you know, crabs and birds give piggy back rides and seals wrestle under water, okay?"

She snorted with laughter, "Good answers. Yeah, we try to keep the explanations very, very G at this age, if you know what I mean."

"I do," I nodded.

"It could be worse, you know," she said, "We could be at the zoo. Very active there this time of year."

I nodded, newly grateful for small favors.

Two little parrots sitting in a tree...K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Lipus interruptus, not appreciated by humans or feathered friends. Apparently a camera click earns the photographer a Death Glare. I did hustle myself along rather quickly from there, because I know how sharp parrots beaks are.

The teacher guided us in to the rain forest exhibit.

Where more animals were feeling the season, if you know what I mean. And I think you do. Other animals were feeding more basic instincts, if you know what I mean. And I think that you do. Picture: a room full of very large snakes (in tanks, my God, in tanks! Sealed tanks!). Picture large bulges in their bodies.

Pal ran from tank to tank, her feet barely touching the ground. She paused by the boa constrictor, that appeared as long as my house.

"Mrs. Pippert, Mrs. Pippert, what is the snake doing with the cute little white bunny?"

"HOLY CRAP!" I said.

"What! What!" Pal and Patience said.

"Ummm, I mean wow, what a very long snake."

"But what is the snake doing with the bunny?" the girls persisted.

"Umm, the bunny must be his lovey. See, even snakes have lovies."

The girls swallowed that one whole.

No pun intended.

I ushered them quickly into the main part of the forest.

"Mrs. Pippert! Mrs. Pippert! Look at those parrots! Do they like to have piggy back rides too? That looks like it hurts!" Pal said.

I staggered back and fell hard against my husband, "Oh my God," I whispered to him, "Will this field trip never end?"

As with all good things, even all trying things come to an end. We watched the exhausted children climb onto the bus, and we got into the car to head back to the school.

Nothing phallic...or...

...any kind of innuendo to see here. Move along please.

So to recap, birds and bees may do it, but that's not what I tell someone else's precious child.

I lie like a chicken shit rug to someone else's child. case you are Pal's mom:

Birds give piggy back rides, and so do crabs. Seals wrestle, and snakes have lovies.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sometimes it's a cabaret, old chum, and that's fine, too

Image of Syesha Mercado from TV Guide online.

My husband and I are invariably behind on watching American Idol. First, our time is pretty tight, and we prefer to watch together. Second, and maybe more importantly, our heart's just not in it that much, any more. The singers we began really excited about---the ones we thought would be really good and who somehow captured our interest---never really delivered the goods and were slowly picked off, one by one, leaving two singers we don't really like, and one who we think is very talented, but a really iffy proposition in this showcase.

Nevertheless, we watched the show last night, only one day late (we don't know the results, so please, no spoilers).

When Syesha Mercado came on to do her second number---the song she picked for herself---a few things finally clicked in my mind.

"What is that?" my husband asked, after her interview, "That super Southern voice, and all that arm waving and clicking? Who is this girl?"

"Well she is from the South," I said.

"I've never heard the deep South in her voice before," he said.

"She's in character, that's what she does---characters. She's an actress, remember. I think she's not very comfortable being herself up on the stage. I don't think Syesha is who she wants to portray for people while on the stage. So tonight she's got a slightly sassy Southern Belle persona."

"Ah ha," he said.

"Well, I mean, I'm not saying she isn't any of those things, necessarily, or that she's faking, I just mean she's, you know, playing up one aspect, like a caricature, a little," I said, feeling very annoyed I couldn't find a way to say what I wanted to, or couldn't say it without sounding judgmental, which gave me pause as to the worthiness of the words in the first place. In truth, I felt more than a little hypocritical, too.

My husband wisely kept quiet.

"I don't really dislike her or her singing," I said.

"Really? I thought you didn't like her. You've been rooting for her to get the boot since the beginning," my husband said.

"I know, but that was unfair of me. She's got talent, just not per se the talent this show wants. So I keep looking for that in her and it's not there. She's not a pop singer. She's too much of a mimic for that."

"What is she then?"

"You know...a Broadway performer."

"Yeah, that Broadway week really clicked it all in for her."

"But then she stayed in Broadway mode and they hate that."

My words proved true. The judges were lukewarm on what was otherwise a really enjoyable performance.

"We don't know who you are," Paula said, "We need more Syesha."

"It was good," Simon said, dismissively, "But just good cabaret."

That's when it clicked for me. I clicked pause on the Tivo.

"I hate that," I said.

"What?" he asked.

"Okay first, that's what she is and why Syesha has managed to stay in the show. She's a performer, a presentational singer. She's all about the performance. She just asks that you enjoy the show. She's giving you the performance, and just wants accolades in return. There's no deeper exchange. A lot of people like that; they just want to be entertained, not have to work or do anything deeper than that. Just enjoy. I mean who doesn't want that sometimes? We all do. So...Syesha is still in because she entertains."

"What other kind of singer is there?" my husband asked.

"Representational. Emotional exchange. That singer loves the music, the lyrics, the emotion, wants you to have the same experience. It's a deeper exchange. It's about the emotion; the singer is trying to give you a sort of mind and heart trip. Sometimes it's more work, but it's also catharsis, and who doesn't want that sometimes? We all do. That's why David Cook is still in."

"He's talented," he said.

"I agree, but it doesn't mean he's better, just a different kind of singer, and all right, maybe better for this venue, this show. That's the part that bothers me, actually."

"Which part?"

"The cabaret comment. Simon called Syesha a cabaret singer, and he said it scathingly as if there's something wrong with being a cabaret singer. I like cabaret singers. I like singers in musicals, too. It might be a performance, but I bet she'd do great getting the audience to relate to her character, feel the story, enjoy it. That's the point there. And nothing wrong with being a cabaret singer. I wish Simon would quit say "singing on a cruise ship," "wedding singer," and "cabaret singer" as if they were insults. That's what some people are, and that's fine."

"I agree, excepting some cruise ship singers and wedding singers. Some are really, really bad," he said.

"I know, but the good ones can be great at what they do. And we all like and want those types of singers---the good ones," I said, anticipating his caveat, "Why do we have to hold up 'modern pop singer' as the standard for excellence and achievement? It's got a lot of superstars who earn big bucks and fame, but why is that the only point worth appreciation and respect? Not many people get there. The others, even the cabaret singers, are worthy, too, valuable too."

My husband agreed, and we both sat quietly for a minute. Then I turned the show back on, and we watched to the end.

"What do you think?" my husband asked.

"I don't know, not sure I care," I said, sort of weary of the competition, overall. The three remaining singers are so different it's not even apples to oranges; it's potatoes to oranges to blancmange (and fans know which one I mean with this one).

"It's just down to arbitrary now," he agreed.

Even our fanhood of David Cook has cooled. We tried to figure out why; maybe it's us. Maybe we're just tired of seeing too much around us that's a competition to the last man standing. Maybe we're just tired of it seeming like, no matter what they go on to do, those cut are done. Maybe we're tired of thinking that those cut aren't good enough or aren't the best, and only the best are worthy. Maybe right now we're both in competitions, professionally, and---having lived through tight times like the current ones---we both know all too well the struggle to stay in the competition, and what it means to get cut. Maybe it's just not fun, anymore, to watch this type of thing.

"I'm just tired," I said, as an excuse, "But I'm also tired of such a narrow definition of what's valuable coming at me from every media source. I think it's like when you say the same thing over and over and it becomes meaningless, but ingrained."


Sometimes it's a cabaret, where you find your spot, and that's the kind of singer you are.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Walking out of stride

Photo of Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult in About a Boy from and Universal Pictures.
BADLY DRAWN BOY "Walking Out Of Stride"

You and me we could never hide
Too busy walking out of stride

You and me could never hide
Too busy walking out of stride
Take 1,2,3 then 4 or 5
People talking keeps us alive

You and me could never hide
Too busy walking out of stride
Take 1,2,3 then 4 or 5
People talking keeps us alive

What does it mean to you: walking out of stride?

Does it mean at cross-purposes with yourself, or is it more of a cross-purposes with the norm, with general expectations? Is it a light issue or a deep one? Do you embrace walking out of stride? Endeavor to stand out? Or are you more the type of person who does your best to keep pace, remain part of the anonymous crowd?

It's said that the desire to stand out from the crowd is innate. When I researched this, I found just as much written about the other side of the coin: the fear of standing out is innate.

I thought about this for a while and it really is two sides of the same coin in my non-PhD in any social science whatsoever mind.

Does standing out equal extraordinary? Or is it just a flash of attention?

Is that what we really desire: attention, or is it something more significant?

I think that we all really desire something more significant, but settle for attention. Like a snack cake, though, it provides a momentary delight but isn't fulfilling in the long-term. That's because I think many of us want to be extraordinary, because then we'll be valued---and at heart, I think that's what we really desire.

It seems like a lot of us feel out of stride with this sense of being valued, and I wondered why that is. Is it truly that culturally we are out of stride with valuing the ordinary?

The valued people, it seems, stand out from the crowd, and are extraordinary, so it's natural to think that's the path to follow.

I believe that we are conditioned to expect that we will each stand out from the crowd in some way. It's reinforced for us that we should---that each one of us personally has the potential to stand out.

Then some percentage of us seek that while the other percentage endeavors to hide from it---and yet, either way, it's all about thinking that we have the potential to stand out.

Yet, so few of us ever really do stand out, and those who do stand out, rarely do so for a prolonged period or in a extremely significant way.

Our attention, as always, is focused on the masses, on the big time---our name in lights somewhere.

It's possibly all a desire for meaning, for reason, for significance---why do we have life, if not to achieve something? Then, of course, our culture is so attached to the idea that only Grand is a true achievement. We watch, riveted, as people do things that seem extraordinary to us, even if only because it is outside our own experience or perceived capability.

Have we ever valued the ordinary or the middle?

I've been thinking about this a lot, as a person and a parent.

I spent my life up to this point thinking that each of us had a gift, something that made us extraordinary, and somehow, in my mind this translated to standing out, receiving acclaim. I believed the cliche that we all get fifteen minutes of fame. Fame is huge, and it often goes along with fortune.

With such an ingrained cultural notion forming my mind and principles, and a father who was typical of the time and who believed the best way to make me my personal best was to remind me how much more I could and should be, how much further I had to go, how where I was simply wasn't quite good enough...I've been struggling with the middle.

I've felt very out of stride recently.

What is it, exactly, that I'm supposed to be striving for here, and when do I know I've done as much as I can?

I've gotten a bit high and mighty and snappish about the issue.

My husband was assuring our oldest daughter the other day that she could be anything she wanted to be.

"Pssst, pssssst," I hissed at him, gesturing like a crazy woman, "Come here!"

"What?" he asked.

"You can't tell her that!"

"What? Why not?"

"Because it's not true!"


"It's. not. true. None of us can be anything we want to be. I can't, you can't, she can't. We have to wait to find our gifts, our thing. Even after we find it, we might still just be average. It's good to try---you know, to find your thing, and then to try your best at it---but we're not all made equal or extraordinary. We don't all have the same aptitude. I just don't...I don't want to set her up that way. Then one day she'll be nearly 40 and wondering how to adjust her expectations from success to just getting by, and how to keep from being broken-heartedly disappointed and geez louise just...I want to try to keep her therapy bills lower. I want her to be okay with just being herself. Even if that is just average."

My husband looked at me pityingly. He does that when he thinks I've lost my mind. So...once or so a day?

It's true, though, isn't it? Not that I've lost my mind but that perhaps I've found it. The odds of any of us shooting to the top are pretty slim.

I'm not even sure that all this Olympic parenting does us any favors, either.

It's possible we are preparing our children for average and ordinary, but I can't see that we're stunting them. Patience is 6; if she had some savant ability it seems like it would have reared its head by now. She's been exposed to music and pianos, in a family of musicians. She's had art classes, nature classes, regular school, soccer, and more. So far...she pretty much prefers to create recycled art, write stories in little flip books, and play Barbies.

I'm satisfied with that, too.

She's not the top cat in any category society values, that we know of.

To us, though, she is amazing. I imagine that's the most any of us can ever hope for: that we find people we love, who love us, and we all find that and recognize and value what makes each of us special, if not extraordinary. Somehow, we have to help our children find a measured stride for that idea, though, that they are amazing to us, but perhaps not all people will find them so, and that doesn't diminish her importance, where it matters. Somehow we have to make this about being special, not better than. And possibly there are those who will shake their heads at this, secure in the belief that providing a sense of entitlement will enable their children to crush their way to the top. Maybe they are right, but to be honest, I'm not sure the top is really a goal for me. Any longer.

I'm more concerned that my children find their stride and walk comfortably within it.

It takes time to find your stride, with yourself and with others, and it's rarely a life with an even pace. It takes time to figure out what is special about a person, in general.

I'm reminded of the time in 8th grade when a popular girl, who sat next to me in language arts, stared at me for a while, and I simply ignored that, and her. Finally she said, "Huh. You know, if I look at you for a while, I see you're actually kind of pretty. I always thought you were sort of plain. But you've got some nice features---heart shaped mouth, good cheekbones. Huh. Who knew."

Two other girls nearby gasped, "Oh my gosh, that's a horrible thing to say!" one said.

I didn't worry about it, though, because I knew already: we rarely take the time to look at someone close enough to know their beauty, what makes them special.

Few of us possess attention-catching personalities, eye-catching beauty, ear-catching musical ability, or one of the other showy and obvious talents that we don't have to stop and think about to understand and admire.

The rest of us, though, still have that innate desire to be seen. Yes, I think so, even the ones who fear it.

I do think we all want to be appreciated, and that, at heart, is what it is.

So, as a parent, I endeavor to make my children feel valued, admired and appreciated. That's what moms do. I want them to feel seen in their family, understood. Okay.

As a person, I want to do that with the other people around me, too.

In Nick Hornby's novel, About a Boy, the main character, Will Lightman, is an ordinary man trying to be both important and invisible, a little choked under the yoke of his father's reputation as a wonder, even if only a one-hit wonder.

Isn't that the case for us all, a little bit? Even if it's not our direct parent, but simply an overhanging idea or ideal?

Like Will, maybe we learn that it's a balance, and that appreciation is like happiness---more of a way point and highlight, rather than a state of being. Contentment---walking in stride with contentment. Maybe that's the best gift we can pass along to our children.

So...what's your stride, and your take on this?

Think about it, and then write it up for next week's Hump Day Hmmm. Link to here, and come add your link in Mr. Linky. I'll be back in stride with the Hump Days next week. I promise. Ordinarily.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
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Monday, May 12, 2008

Intersections---the point at which different perceptions and realities collide

Photo by Chris De Lucia, "Tiny animal tracks criss-cross the dunes early in the morning, before the midday winds blow them away. Clearly mice or some other diminutive sand-dwellers had a lively night."

The children had finished eating and asked to be allowed to leave the table. Their request granted, they hopped out of the chairs, and the younger ones played a "rescue the toy" game beside the table. It was the second time in as many days that we were eating out, and at a place that, although it appealed to families, wasn't specifically designed for families.

We had chosen an outside corner table. If we get a choice, we do our best to opt for something where we aren't adjacent to other tables on all sides so we have a little "private" area the kids can use. I don't expect kids my children's ages to be able to sit at a table as long as adults who have come together to socialize will. It was a buffet brunch and we all took our time with multiple courses. We were there nearly two hours. We chose a family-friendly restaurant in anticipation of this. We chose the corner, by the grass area in anticipation of this. It was perfect. While waiting for dessert, we all leaned back, stretching our full bellies. I took the chance to move my attention from my own table to the other diners.

As it was Mother's Day, there were many, many children. Most children belonged to multiple families, together for the special occasion, all crammed around multiple tables pushed together to accommodate the parties of 8 or 10 instead of the more typical 4.

One of the tables near us held a couple, no children. I had the sense that they were in a routine because they seemed very comfortable, very settled, needed no explanations of the buffet by the waiter. I imagined that they had brunch at this restaurant every Sunday. I remembered the days before children, how we had routines like that too. I remembered how after lunch we'd run do some things we wanted or needed to do, without a care. I watched this couple reminiscently, a little fondly, thinking how enjoyable a day we were all having in our own different ways.

Then she turned and, not seeing me at all, shot That Look at the children. You other parents know the one I mean: the "may your tongues fall out and your vocal chords freeze and your legs and arms quit working because your mere existence is irritating to me and I shouldn't have to tolerate you" look.

My my my, I thought, so she's annoyed because, from her point of view, a bunch of breeding interlopers have changed the atmosphere of her favorite brunch spot. Apparently we weren't all enjoying our days in our own different ways.

I tried to study the children from her point of view, tried to think back to being childfree and how I felt about children in public then. I can't remember ever being annoyed by the mere sight or sound of children. I accepted that public space was public and we all had to share it, somehow. I also couldn't see that the children were being anything other than pretty good. They stayed by our table, no racing through tables, bumping waiters or anything obnoxious like that. They played with one another nicely, sharing a toy Patience brought, and chatting and laughing.

I could only think it had to do with unrealistic expectations. Sometimes, you want what you want, with no idea if that is at all reasonable as an expectation. Someday, you just might be in the other position, lesson learned, and understanding, now, later, how out of line it all had been.

I suddenly remembered a flood of times I had thought things along the lines of "when I'm in that boat, I'll always....or I'll never..." not catching that the absolute should have been my first clue that the expectation was unreasonable.

Sometimes you know you are probably asking too much of someone, but your need or want overwhelms that.

That's the intersection and is when the perceptions collide.

I've been noticing a lot of intersections, lately. Some have to do with children, some have to do with other parts of life, such as politics, how to drive on the road, how to balance the different areas of life, and so forth. In the end, it's all about how others' expectations of us waltz with what we can do or will do.

It can be a struggle, and I have begun to theorize that you hit more intersections during transition times in life. I think that's why I've been noticing a lot of intersections lately.

By coincidence, or maybe not, last Thursday my husband and I were talking about work, and work expectations, and I stated that I believed, in general, that people can tolerate things they don't like from the beginning better than having those things come out later on. Because then, I said, it's a change, and we really don't like it when people seem to change, especially if we don't understand why.

We talked this idea through, pondering that it is about change and new expectations, and having to find a way to adjust to both, to new boundaries. We considered some obvious and general examples.

"People call it the terrible twos," I said, "But I've yet to meet a parent who doesn't think three is a much more challenging year. Why do you think two gets such a nasty rep? It's because it's a big change. It's the time when babies suddenly grow from mostly pliant* little bundles to sassy, walking talking oppositional people, people with needs that differ from what their mom and dad say or want. You hit the first big conflicts, and even though it may not be as deliberate as three, and so not as challenging, necessarily, in general, it's the first big intersection."

(* I know babies aren't pliant, really, and assert their needs, but honestly it's not like dealing with a two or three year old, or even older. With babies, it is mostly about needs. Later, that will comes into play, those wants, those differing opinions.)

It seems cliched and a statement of the obvious, but I think life is very dynamic. I can't say whether it is more so these days versus in the past, but it does feel a bit like that. It seems like we move around a lot more; big moves, as in from house to house, but also among expanding different opportunities. There's just so much we can do, so many chances we can take. Our culture tells us to grab opportunities when they come, and so we often do. I think we crave it, too. But somewhere, deep down, we also crave stability.

This just might be the biggest intersection of all.

I think the more intersections we reach, the more chance we have of collision. I'm not sure what I think of this.

What intersections have you noticed lately?

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
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Friday, May 09, 2008

The Duggars and the Mother's Day Ferris Wheel

To find a perfect example of disproportionalism in life, look no further than motherhood.

Motherhood: that state so many of us desire, and yet, despite 8th grade health lessons, is not so easily achieved.

Motherhood: that somehow oh-so-public state that drives people to ask intensely personal things

Motherhood: that state held up for public commentary---sometimes idolizing, sometimes demonizing

Michelle Duggar is quite the mom. We watch her and her family like ants in a habitat: how does she do it? 16 kids! We discuss and dissect her methods. 16 kids! Can it be fair to any of the kids! "Another Duggar on the way," said the Discovery Health email I received this morning, "Happy Mother's Day!"

Of course, I thought, she can have as many as she likes, healthy and lovely, whenever she wants. It was much more matter-of-fact than you might think. I have accepted---mostly---that life is not fair, is disproportionate, and this includes fertility and motherhood.

When---after a little over five years of marriage, and the end of our 20s---my husband and I decided to make the leap into parenthood we expected it would Just Happen. That seemed to be the way it went. So, expecting it to Just Happen, we started making plans and decisions based on the Expected Event. The trying part took a lot of years, pain, heartbreak, money, effort, indignity, strength, courage, procedures, people, science, art and more.

I can't think of too much that offers such a preparation for parenting. Infertility is the parenting trial by fire.

We had so much time to think about becoming parents, the sort of parents we'd like to be, why we wanted to be parents, life as parents and how open we were to different paths we could take to become parents.

The funny thing about a disease is that we all expect a cure, and, once allegedly cured, we expect to leave it behind us. Infertility is a disease. Like any disease, it doesn't have a perfect cure rate, and is not really something you leave behind.

We knew better the second time around, were better prepared, but it didn't make it sting any less.

To this day, fertility and fecundity initially hit me like a slap. I recover faster and brace myself less, but still, the immediate assumption that our family planning is normal and public can hurt.

Because we have two girls, we are often asked if we are trying for a boy.

No, we aren't, we just thank God every day that we got two beautiful children. I cry in my mind. We long ago lost the arrogant assumption that we could ask and receive. We are more like beggars who are not choosy.

I don't know if we would have been choosy about the baby's sex. I wanted a girl for me, I wanted a boy for my husband. But we let loose of that ages ago. When the doctors told me I was losing Patience, I did not ask God for anything other than to not let that happen. I was greedy: I begged him for a baby and then I begged him to let me keep her and when that prayer was answered, I begged him to let her be healthy and know a joyful life. I even offered myself in exchange.

That is motherhood, and it is the first moment I knew it.

I first knew motherhood in anxious hope, in joy, in fear, in greed for my child, in selfish dreams and selfless offering.

There is no better preparation or description of motherhood than that.

Five days ago I went shopping. In the checkout line the clerk deduced from my groceries that I had a family. This feels like an invasion of privacy. We all do it, that covert stare and quick speculation based on the contents of someone's shopping cart. But it's meant to be secret. We don't let others know we have them figured out, at least on this level. In the grocery checkout line I prefer to keep it impersonal---the weather, the local goings-on---while the items that tell who I am, who my family is, roll by on the conveyor belt.

But there is always one, and five days ago, I got her. She quizzed me as she scanned items. "You like organic, huh, is it worth all the extra money?" she said, whizzing my plain organic peanut butter and hormone free dairy across the scanner. "Oh, on a diet, huh, you look fine to me," she said, quickly swiping my Lean Cuisines. "How old are your kids?"

"6 and 3," I said, feeling a little put out, but unwilling to be anything other than friendly.

"What do you have?"

"Girls," I said, biting back the snarky children I half wanted to say. I knew where this was going. I have heard it enough times.

"Oh are you gonna try for a boy?"

"We're very happy with our girls," I said, definitely biting back the but my body won't work, and we wouldn't dare think to be so arrogant as to expect the exact sort of baby we want.

I suppose you might think I ought to be kinder, more generous in my understanding. I suppose you might think I ought to be over it by now. I'm cured, I have my girls.

It doesn't work that way, if for no other reason than nothing is that simple. Life isn't fair; fair is not a state of being, it's a place you go to ride a Ferris Wheel. Once you've been on a Ferris Wheel you don't forget the sensation or the motion, and after a while, you begin to realize that life is like one long Ferris Wheel: little jerky sometimes, starts and stops, ups and downs.

"I'm pregnant," friends cry, and sometimes, you cry too, especially for how it happens for some people just like they want it too. Even though you want that for them. You don't wish your journey on anyone.

Even though you don't really unwish your own journey. I don't, not really, because that is how I got Patience and Persistence.

When the last doctor told me it was over, there would be no more trying, I grieved. Lost hopes and dreams are as real a loss as anything else. With time, though, I have adjusted and am happy with just two, just girls, just the four of us plus the dog. I am happy baby times are behind, although sometimes I can't resist a round baby cheek. I am happy for sleeping through the night and independence, although sometimes I see a certain sort of little toddling girl and I get a bit wistful. I am filled with joy to have two girls, that my girls have sisters, but now and again someone says, "My son..." and shares a story of boys, and a little corner of me remembers the dream.


That part of my journey is behind me, and I'm at peace with that. Mothering my girls is ahead.

So when Mother's Day comes around, I try not to think about how hard it can be and has been: how hard it is for me to mother, personal challenges I have to overcome to mother as well as I'd like to, and the difficulties I had becoming a mother.

But it's impossible.

I do think of it. I think of how many days I wondered if I'd ever get to celebrate being a mother, and how ecstatic I was on my first mother's day...until I saw the lady at the nearby table staring at my baby, and my heart broke. I knew that look, the one from the broken aching wishing heart. Her eyes teared up and the couple quickly left, food barely eaten. I felt equally glad I was beyond that and equally sad someone else was suffering. Overjoyed and guilty, as only a survivor can be.

Each mother's day is a little bittersweet. I think I am a little more grateful than the average, and a little more aware. I thank God that I get to experience the complex and beautiful state of motherhood, and I say a little extra prayer of hope, strength and mourning for the women who ache to be mothers but still have empty arms.

So..this Mother's Day...happy day to all the mothers, fathers and children who make up the many combinations of families there are, the many beautiful families.

And to the people who are still wishing...hopes and wishes to you, too.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Mystery of the Running Blackberry: How nature teaches lessons about learning and the benefit of plants

Image from SurvivalIQ Handbook: Edible and medicinal plants---raspberry, blackberry and dewberry

The bush along the bike path to school first sprouted bright red berries about a month ago, right when the rolie polies came out in force. My children, naturalists of course, spotted them immediately.

They also immediately wanted to put them in their mouths.

"Raspberries!" they shouted, grabbing at the bush.

"Wait!" I said, uselessly.

"Ouch!" they said, stabbed by thorns.

"YUCK!" they said, spitting out the partially chewed berries, and as much taste as they could.

"Sigh," I said, as usual wondering when they'd ever learn to listen to me and why the entire myth of natural consequences began.

"Step back from the bush," I said, "Close your mouths and open your ears."

They hesitated, and looked back at the bush.

"Before you grab at any plant or bush, you need to know what it is. Some plants can make you sick or give you a rash."

"I know what that bush is!" they said, "It's a raspberry!"

My children are like most children: they believe that what they assume is what they know, and they also believe they know it all. "I don't need tap lessons," Patience said to me the other day, "I already know how to tap, see?" She shuffled her feet. I sighed and tried to explain, for the 10 millionth time, that nobody is born knowing how to do anything. We all spend our lives learning and that usually means learning from someone who does know, for example, in a class. Patience gets it now and again, especially when it comes to reining in her perfectionism, so I have hope.

"That's not a raspberry plant," I said.

"It looks like a raspberry plant!" they said, betrayed.

"Does it? Did the berries taste like raspberries?" They narrowed their eyes, looking for the trick. "Look at the berries, they are smooth. Raspberries have little hairs. And are sweet, not yucky."

The children pondered.

"Hmm," said Patience, "That's true. They are also harder, and a different color of red."

"True," I said.

"So what is it!"

"I don't know," I said, "But I know who to ask."

I believe it's important to live by my words, and admit when I don't know something, then model how to find out. So when we got home, I called my neighbor. I described the bush and its fruit, and she immediately knew what I meant.

"Dewberries," she said, "They're coming ripe now. My daughter and her friend picked so many in the woods today we have enough for jam and pie! You can find wild bushes all over the place."

"How are they to eat?" I asked.

"Not as sweet as raspberries, about on par with blackberries. It's all the same family," she said, "But don't eat the red ones. Dewberries turn black when they're ripe."

I told the children what I'd learned, and we did a little more research online. Dewberries are also called running blackberries. The children loved that---a plant that runs. They giggled and joked. Also, we learned that most of the plant is edible. Brewing the leaves into tea treats diarrhea. You can eat the shoots (if you peel them) and the fruit.

"That's so interesting," Patience said, "I never knew you could make drinks from plants, or that you could eat more than fruit off of plants!"

The next day, after school, we stopped by the dewberry bush and looked for ripe black berries. "Here's one!" we kept calling to each other, this time mindful of thorns as we picked, and selecting only high berries. Leaving low berries means less chance of well, animal urine, among other things, and also makes it easier for birds and squirrels to get fruit, too.

This is more advice my friend---the real naturalist---provided.

Our excitement around the bush attracted other children, and we told them what the bush was and what we were doing. They dared each other to try the berries, and the brave ones reported the taste the others, who also stepped up to try it.

"Dewberries," they said to one another. "Watch out for thorns!" "It's like a vine, more than a bush," some observed. "It's sour!" "No, it's delicious!" "Only the black ones!" "Watch out for that spider web!" "Don't hurt the spider or web, they eat mosquitos!"

I thought about how my friend and others worry about kids being so separated from nature. It's a small thing, one thing, but in that moment, kids were right in with nature, seeing what it offers. And that made me smile.

That's also why my daughters and I were so upset yesterday when we walked our bikes to the dewberry bush and found it...gone. Chopped down at the base.

"It was a weed," the landscaping guy said, "We didn't plant it there."

I wondered if he or his crew had ever gone dewberry picking in the early summer, in the morning, on the way to school. I thought that maybe if he had, he would have carefully skirted the bush, leaving it for the kids and woodland creatures.

Later, we'll go look in other spots and try to find a new dewberry bush. An adventure to follow a mystery, solved.

Note: You'll notice it's Wednesday, and I have no Hump Day Hmm. I just didn't get it pulled together this week. If you have interest and/or suggestions, please send them my way. I'll try to get it going again next week if you like. :)

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Goddess versus sex goddess: It's all in the vision

Do you ever wonder whether you've been a little trained, like Pavlov's dogs?

I do. I get so used to the pat and stock things that usually I accept them, unquestioningly. But when a moment comes that I do pause and ponder, I wonder why this idea or this image is supposed to be so representative, either of a concept or of something I'm supposed to like or want.

It happens all the time in marketing and advertising. Every day I'm bombarded with images and messages directed to me (the marketing bucket of me, anyway: middle-class, practically middle-aged mom with two kids and buying power): laundry detergents that power through stains, clothing that makes me look hot, cosmetics and creams that make me look young again, ads about weight loss, and so forth.

I wonder, which came first: the chicken or the egg? Did I look at my teeth one day and wonder about their color or did an ad tell me I needed to whiten my teeth?

TV, radio, billboards, Web sites and yes, even magazines. All of these bundle their pleas to my buying power with attractive and appealing packages that are designed to capture my attention and interest. Sometimes the appeal is through information, and sometimes it's through images---images that just might be designed to titillate my prurient interest.

I have it, and so do you, this prurient interest.

But what I am is fatigued by a constant barrage of appeal to it. It's not my only or my chief interest, it is merely my base interest.

I'd so much rather my other interests appealed to, on the whole.

But we seem stuck in this mode of appealing to prurient interest, and from there I think we forget to think. We're back to that trained dog feeling I get every now and again: where I'm just meant to react and not think.

It's probable that the first time some phrase was used or image was shot that it was unique, interesting, original and mind-expanding. That success, though, launched a formula, that after a while might end up as meaningless as a cliche. So people keep trying to think of ways to freshen the formula, push the boundaries of the formula---never quite grasping that they've trapped themselves inside a box of an idea and that what is really called for is fresh ideas, not fresh angles of the tried and true but stale formula. That pushing though, means that eventually the formula might be deployed harmfully.

I think that's happening a lot right now for young people (ignoring the issue for children right now), as clothing, ads, images, and so forth has pushed that "bring sexy back" formula onto them. We forget that or wish to forget that these young people are so much more than sexual awakening.

We limit the face and dimensions of them, and thus, forget to think of it. We forget that growing up and maturing is much, much more than emerging sexuality.

I wonder if this is what happened to Annie Liebovitz. Has she gotten as caught up in the idea of "quintessential Annie Liebovitz" as her fans and employers? Has she gotten so caught up in it that she didn't even see the individual in front of her---the unique person named Miley---and instead saw only a commodity, with a whisper in her ear from the magazine that skin sells? That sin sells?

Did Miley---bombarded her entire life with the message that sex sells---have any idea that there can be bad publicity, and that a suggestive post-coital-implied photograph might imply something well beyond her age or stage of maturity? Did she have any other example before her, something to hold if she wanted to say no, "No, I don't prefer a sexy shot that's exploitative, I don't think that's the way I want to grow up for America and appeal to a larger audience. I'd rather show another side of myself, an accomplishment..." or some such.

Are we all guilty of the same thing?

I argue that we become so used to---so comfortable and familiar with---the ideas and images continually placed in front of us that we forget to question their value, their worth. We no longer wonder what they mean---we simply, unquestioning, or desiring to not "make a big deal" accept them, at face value.

In fact, a number of people told me it was simply a provocative photo, rather than exploitative and suggestive, as I said in my recent post. Plenty of people told me it was simply an artistic photo that captured the transition from girl to woman. Because I try to keep an open mind, I paused and pondered.

As I did so, I ran across the exquisite art of a local artist. I was meeting with her husband and he showed me his wife's art Web site to demonstrate a point, which I sort of missed because I had instead tuned in to the eye candy in front of me.

I give you an original, truly exquisite piece of art that really captures that time when girls mature into women:

The Making of the Blue Goddess by Mele Florez-Avellan

This is art. It's evocative; it both asks for and gives emotion. We have the amazing pure line of youthful skin, uninterrupted, but it is backdrop, texture, a means only beauty, nothing more. You have a sense that this girl is not insignificant. You have a sense of this young lady, an idea---right or wrong---of who she is, because so much of her is in the piece.

I see a girl who thinks and feels, in fact, possibly so much so that she keeps a journal. Despite the seriousness in her face, I see laughter, also. Her mouth is straight yet light, upturned slightly in the corners, as if used to smiling. I want to ask her questions---find out what makes her gaze off in the distance, what made her choose this pose rather than the more typical "gaze at the camera and tip her head with a smile only the young have" sort of pose. I want to know if her soul is truly as old as her eyes imply.

I'm curious why the artist, Mele Florez-Avellan, who knows this young lady, opted to obscure one eye and make the eyes less prominent, while opening her mouth slightly and putting more color to it, drawing our eye there, instead.

What is so powerful about her mouth?

In short, it's a powerful piece.

That's a goddess, my friends.

That's artistic.

Mele Florez-Avellan does it again with this piece:

A different subject and a very different portrait. I have yet another, different sense of this girl. I have the sense that the artist caught a moment that this girl rarely allows people to see. I see a girl who shows a light face to the world, a face that doesn't reveal too often how deep the mind and heart behind it go. Letting the artist see that implies a trust.

Revealing one's soul is so much more intense and trusting, so much more evocative, than revealing one's bare back.

The art says as much about the subject as the artist.

This art makes me want to pick up a magazine and read a story because they are so individual and unique, and I expect, then, that the story will be equally personal and personalized.

Step back from mass market and pause and ponder---is something truly beautiful, or merely technically proficient and what we've been trained to like and expect?

Does it capture your eye, and from there engage your heart, and then your mind?

This art does that for me. It is significant, not trivializing.

(I included a few links to the artist. If you like art, click over and scan her site. She has quite a range, but all in her own style. I find it fabulous.)

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.