Sunday, August 31, 2008

Still Working out this Empty Nest thing

Is the world still turning on its axis? Because it feels like my world has stopped. Every landmark in my town brings pain. Jim said "B__ V____ park! Remember when we used to take the girls there?" Seeing a little girl with her mother at Peet's was painful. We ran into the owner of the children's bookstore that holds so many memories for us. We loved seeing Jodi and hearing about her new endeavors, but knowing we'll never take our girls to story time again seems sad. Church is painful. We first starting attending this church when I was pregnant with Molly. My friend Linda is going through a similar struggle, sending both her girls off to different places. It was good to collect a hug from her. We don't spend a lot of time together, but we are almost always on such similar journies that I feel that she shares my heart. Must send chocolate. Another friend, Paul, said "It's not over. It's just different." But, see, I don't like the different. I like having the kids around every day. On the one hand, I love the people they've become so it's easier to let them stand on their own. I trust them, and know they will do well. On the other hand, I love the people they've become, so it makes me even more eager to be with them. And I'm not with them.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The End of an Era

Kelly and Molly in Molly's newly-dorm room

On the way to Convocation.

I should not have gone into her empty room. And I should not have sat down on her stripped bed. Her room, which has NEVER been this clean seemed so dead and lifeless. It is truly the end of an era. I will never be a mom in the same way again. Yes, they'll come home and visit. Yes, they'll still love me. But I won't be actively mothering them on a daily basis. My last baby has grown up, and my heart is splintering into a million pieces.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Saying "Adios" twice

Molly's dorm

Molly and her room mate as they begin to move in.

Brenna left for El Salvador last Tuesday, and I've been so sad I can't even blog about it. I believe in what she's doing so much, and I'm enormously proud that she would give up the comfort of life in the US, leave her boyfriend and spend a year trying to help others. Selfishly, she feels very far away. I think I’ll feel better if she gets steady Internet access and can write, or if she has a phone and I can call. It’s the being out of touch that hurts. Once she starts sending back great stories and blogging, I’ll be happier. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

We’re now taking Molly to school. I am also enormously proud of her. She is calling all the shots and doing a great job. She did all the packing, and organization. She knew to arrive at 7:30 am and avoid the long lines and traffic that formed behind us. There were all kinds of students from sports teams and sororities to help us move in. We were done unpacking in a few hours. One of her room mates who arrived later said (not about Molly’s room) “Dad, make my room look like that!” Jim thinks the parents of college students are getting younger. This is a huge difference from taking Kelly to school, when WE were the younger ones. We made the requisite trip to IKEA to pick up stuff, and had lunch. Then Molly said “I’m ready to be on my own now.” And in almost every way, she is.

This picture is symbolic to me because when Molly was born, our physician, (and good friend). and Jim sat around eating Oreos while I was in labor. It seems apropos that he's eating Oreos as we cut the umbilical cord once more.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

No wonder the World thinks Americans are Crass

Is anyone else unhappy with the cultural insensitivity of the US commentators at the Olympics? China is an amazing country of fabulous wonders and amazing people, and the reporters seem to seek out stories that are demeaning, rather than complimentary to the Chinese.

For instance, they commented about how New York cabbies would think Manhattan was Mayberry compared to driving in Beijing. They don’t talk about how beautiful the city is or how friendly and kind the Chinese people are. The media representatives are GUESTS there, in a culture that is so eager to gain the world’s approval. What do you gain from laughing derisively at your hosts?

In a later segment they showed the Great Wall. One of the great wonders of the world by any measure. But did they comment on that? No! One of the athletes is pepper dancing down the stairs on the wall. The Chinese woman behind her is just trying to get down the steps, but the crazy American keeps weaving from side to side, so the woman can’t figure out how to proceed. So they circle the woman onscreen and mock her!! In China they revere older people, and this set my teeth on edge.

China has the most delicious, and wonderful food, but the reporters have sought out only the weirdest foods like seahorses on a stick, duck feet, and scorpions. They leave the impression that China has only bizarre foods. The woman last night said “I FINALLY found something good here.” What about beef and broccoli or spicy green beans? I loved all their fresh vegetables stir-fried to perfection, and their fish was to die for. It’s like they sought out bad food, and then complained that Chinese food is horrible, when delicious food is available at every turn. But the Chinese are such good hosts—they even provided a fork to eat it with, which I didn’t know existed there. To scorn China for its human rights record or its treatment of Tibet would be fair, but to criticize Chinese food and driving just seems tactless.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Goodbye Aleksandr Solzenitzyn

Author Aleksandr Solzenitsyn seems like someone who should be immortal. I haven’t thought about him for a long time, but when he died last weekend I realized how much he impacted my life. I am a strong believer in the power of the written word, and his tales of life as a prisoner exiled to the Gulag Archipelago revealed the evils of communism in a powerful way. Living in Palos Verdes, I always felt like a square peg in a round hole. I couldn’t compete with the girls who had live-in seamstresses, and mothers (or servants) who bought them the latest shoe styles and accessories. I wasn’t athletic, didn’t write for the school paper, and couldn’t sing well enough to get a part in the school musical. I didn’t fit in anywhere in this materialistic and shallow world. But when I read The Gulag Archipelago, it revealed a world to me that I had never seen in my insulated town. There were people out there who were suffering for what they believed?! There were people who felt lucky just to be alive and to not receive any broken bones that day? There were horrible atrocities perpetrated on other human beings? The issues he brought up seemed really important, and I began to see that perhaps knowing how to put on make up perfectly or being able to lead cheers at football games was not the most important thing in the universe. Having compassion and working to make positive change in the world began to seem much more imperative. I still felt out of place in Palos Verdes, but Solzenitsyn made me think less about the kids who were handed shiny new cars, and more about the kids in Russia who had no say in their future.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Adventures are Over

In my town, an excellent children’s bookstore, Adventures for Kids, has gone out of business. Having brought my first grade students there on field trips, then taken my own three children, and also worked there myself, I am grieving its demise.

Reluctant readers would come into the store, dragged by a parent, and leave with a book like Chocolate Fever and be back the next week for another “like that one”. Kids were able to find books on slugs or the Amish, or a biography of Levi Strauss for reports for school. The staff loved to read, and loved to make sure children had just the right book that would inspire them. Books weren’t widgets to be sold at a profit, but dearly-loved treasures to be shared with special people.

My children grew up going to the Tuesday story time where they got to sit in a wooden boat and hear stories read out loud and sing Raffi songs. When Kelly taught herself to read at age three, Jodi, the proprietor, was one of the few people who encouraged her, instead of lecturing me about how I was pushing her too hard. Jodi encouraged the staff to read, and I had a clear bin I brought home filled with new treasures to read the girls when I worked there.

And the authors we had visit the store! The store was a little wild when we had Maurice Sendak. We had a big tea party with real china for Madeline L’Engle who signed her books with special messages like “tesser well”. Once, a publisher called to ask if we would host Brian “Jakes”. We said “yes”, and hung up the phone to research who he was. OHHHH! Brian Jacques! The line was out the door and down the street as he signed his Redwall series. We had J.K. Rowling when she had published the first Harry Potter book. Every time an author came I swore I would only buy one or two books. Then she would come and tell about why and how she wrote the book, and I fell in love and bought all of them.

There’s a Borders in every medium-sized town in America. And an Old Navy and an Applebees and a Best Buy and a Blockbuster. But there are fewer and fewer independent businesses, and these add richness and distinctiveness to a city. Every place is starting to look the same, even overseas. In Istanbul there are sixty Starbucks. Where’s the individuality? I was working at Adventures for Kids when Barnes and Noble came to my town. People would come in to ask us for great recommendations for books for their kids, and then buy it at the chain store because it was cheaper. The big store bought in huge quantities, so they could make deals with the publishers that weren’t offered to the independent booksellers.

We have lost a true treasure, and my town is a little poorer for it. Excuse me while I go off to a corner with a box of tissues and The Baby Blue Cat who said “No”.