Should I be scared?

Recently, my mom mentioned that she might need some help from the family, when everyone is down over Thanksgiving, to move some furniture out of the way and straighten a certain upstairs rug that has become a scrunched up tripping hazard.

After the experience two years ago with the rug in question, a classic testament to what can go very, very wrong when families get together at Thanksgiving, I’m thinking I should be very, very afraid. What say you, blog friends? Should I run screaming in the opposite direction? Should I pre-program 911 into the speed dial of my cell phone, for easy access in the event of bodily harm?

Maia has been begging for an MP3 player lately. But there is no way I’m plunking down hard-earned money on small electronic gadgets for her to lose, when she has a hard time even keeping track of her hairbrush.

But, I love my daughter, and I hate to see her be disappointed. So this weekend I allowed her to buy an MP3 player with HER OWN MONEY, pooled from birthday gifts last month, provided she could find one within her budget.

Creative Zen Stone mp3 playerShe found a 1 GB model for $40, and still had $2 to spare after tax. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier kid leaving Target. She gushed that her dream came true, and she would always remember this day. All over a bubble gum pink piece of technology with no display to tell her what song she’s listening to, and which also happens to be smaller than a pack of actual bubble gum.

Not to mention the fact that part of the birthday money was in the form of an American Express gift card. Which required a signature. And the Target associate let Maia do the signing on the credit card machine since it was her gift card. She felt super grown up making such an important purchase and using the funny electronic pen to sign her name. You would have thought she had just won the lottery.

And I was so excited to see her so excited that it didn’t even feel like work when I stayed up half of Saturday night, copying all her CDs (about 15—spoiled kid!) to the MP3 player while she was in bed. And then renaming the files, at her request, so they would play in the same order as on the CDs, instead of in alphabetical order.

I don’t think Maia’s feet have touched the ground or the earbuds have left her ears in the last couple of days. Except that technically, one of the earbuds has left her ear quite a lot, since she is generously sharing the listening experience with her little brother. While out and about on errands yesterday, Noah did not stray any further from Maia than permitted by the length of his lone borrowed ear bud.

And Noah’s only musical request? Church songs. I’ve got angels. I truly, truly do.

God Bless America

On a sunny weekend in mid-September 2001, we spent an afternoon at Walt Disney World, as we often do, being locals with annual passes. Specifically, we were at Epcot, where my brother-in-law sings as a member of the a cappella “Voices of Liberty” group at the American Adventure.

What made this performance of Americana more special than normal was that it was the first weekend post 9/11, and patriotic feelings were running particularly high. But the moment that brought me goosebumps came when the group sang God Bless America. Just as the first words from this melody sprang forth, Maia stood and began waving an American flag she had earlier been given outside. You would have thought she understood exactly what had happened in our nation just days earlier. But at not quite three years old, there’s no way she could have known what impact the solitary girl standing with her flag would have on the people around her. But she waved her little heart out and I think upstaged the singers that day.

After that, we decided to teach her the words to the song so that next time, she could sing along. A few days ago I stumbled across an old audio clip from my archives of a then barely three-year-old Maia belting out God Bless America. I share it here for your patriotic enjoyment.

Maia sings God Bless America

Red Carpet Movie PremiereHow do you top a dance club birthday party, one year later? Why, you roll out the red carpet, of course. Literally.

This movie premiere was a star-studded event of celebrity proportions, complete with velvet ropes to cordon off the entry path and keep the paparazzi and autograph seekers at bay. The leading ladies arrived at the affair chauffeured by their private drivers, all dolled up in their most glamorous gowns. As they strolled their way down the red carpet, they noted the stars bearing the names of each attendee, in their own Hollywood Walk of Fame. At the door, a full size movie poster announced the private screening of Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

After all the movie stars had made their grand entrance, frenzied fans (a.k.a. Mom and Dad) demanded group photo ops on the red carpet. The dazzling ingenues radiated charm and vogued for the camera like pros. Then the girls settled in for the movie in a decked out, high tech, private home theater that is the spitting image of romantically grand but intimate theaters of the past, from the days before multiplexes ruled the motion picture experience. Meanwhile, the concession stand worked overtime to churn out enough popcorn and drinks to satisfy the demands of 13 hungry moviegoers. And proving that celebrities are no different from the rest of us, there was, like at any public function, a line for the ladies room.

Special Note: The academy would like to thank a pair of very brave grandparents for donating the use of their home for the gala festivities, and also for having the foresight to dream their unused “bonus room” into said private theater—complete with reclining theater seats, wall sconce light fixtures, 110-inch movie screen framed by velvet drapes and a fringed valance, and special rope lighting to illuminate the steps in the dark.

Following the movie, it was time for presentation of the “Maia Awards,” as voted on by anonymous movie critics (a.k.a. Maia) ahead of time. Awards were presented in the following categories, accompanied by small Oscar® look-alike statues, with an acceptance speech or two thrown in:

  • Best Comedic Actress
  • Best Dramatic Actress
  • Best Dressed for the Red Carpet
  • Best Hollywood Smile
  • Best Red Carpet Walk
  • Most Glamorous Hairstyle
  • Most Likely to Enter a Magical Wardrobe
  • Most Likely to Save Narnia
  • Most Likely to Star in a Disney Movie
  • Most Photographed by Paparazzi
  • Most Sparkling Personality

And a few Honorable Mentions for the younger friends and relatives in attendance:

  • Best Performance as a Little Brother
  • Best Performance as a Little Sister
  • Excellence in Adorableness
  • Excellence in Cuteness

The entire group then retreated downstairs for the “after party,” consisting of presents, cake, a little dancing, and much noise.

By all counts, the party was a success. And the most important critic of all, a certain nine-year-old birthday girl, raves: “It was the best party in the history of parties!” It’s a good thing she’s old enough to remember it, because although this exhausted Mom had extreme fun planning this one, I do believe we’ve reached the pinnacle of over-the-top birthday party themes and are now very well stocked in all things Webkins, Hannah Montana, and High School Musical. Next year we’ll be downscaling the pomp and opting for a good old-fashioned slumber party instead. Where, I am sure, no one will actually sleep.

Victory!

I am the oldest of three sisters. Yet somehow, at my wedding 13+ years ago, guests from my husband’s side who had never met my sisters assumed, on seeing the three of us together, that I was the youngest. Considering that my baby sister was only 13 at the time, I didn’t exactly see this as a compliment, but it’s been something of a running joke ever since. (Though granted, she did look quite grown up in her bridesmaid dress, with hair and makeup befitting the occasion.)

Fast forward to 2007. My, how things change! As of yesterday, my baby sister is now a married woman herself. And my attitude about how old I look relative to my sisters has changed considerably. I have been teasing my sister for the past several months that my goal at her wedding is for people to still think I look the youngest. Mostly, my attempts at such levity were rewarded with dirty looks, and I never actually believed anyone would really say such a thing, but still I teased.

Then, on Friday night at the rehearsal dinner, I unexpectedly scored! A friend of my parents whom I had not seen in many years said the magic words when re-introduced to me. “You’re the oldest? You look the youngest.” In front of witnesses, even. Whether he meant it or was just buttering me up is irrelevant. It made my night, and naturally I summoned my sister right over to rub it in. She, of course, wanted to know how much I paid him to say that, but it was completely unsolicited. So it’s official. I still look the youngest. And this time, I’ll take it!

BUT… while I may (arguably) look the youngest, the bride was by far the most beautiful. Hands down. She looked radiant, and her wedding was lovely. The planned beach ceremony got rained out, but the happy couple handled the last minute change of plans well. Besides, everyone knows that rain on your wedding day is good luck. I predict they’ll have a blessed marriage.

Ode to the ordinary

I got a letter today from my alma mater university, and I’m sure it had quite the opposite effect on me from what was intended. The 5-page letter sings the praises of the current freshman class, the class of 2011. There’s a lot to be proud of in this class, and I’m glad to see that my school is attracting brilliant and forward-thinking minds. Makes me feel smart by association. But the descriptions of the accomplishments and collective background of this body of students also left me feeling just the slightest bit unsettled. The class of 2011, at least at my alma mater, is full of brains and diversity and offbeat characters and lofty goals and important causes and confidence bordering on cockiness. But there’s not much at all of just being a nice, honest, humble, hardworking person. The letter left me wondering: What’s wrong with just being ordinary?

Today, I don’t think I’d stand a snowball’s chance of getting accepted into this school. I don’t have a plan to change the world, and I don’t have a plan to spurn it. I’m not the smartest or the funniest or the most politically savvy. I’m not a world or national or state champion in anything. Not field hockey or tennis or female wrestling or spelling or chess or the Irish tin whistle. I’ve never lived in a solar greenhouse in the Rockies or on a sheep ranch in Turkey or at a missionary in Kenya. I don’t speak four languages and I don’t hold any patents and my idols are not female oceanographers. My parents are not Nobel Laureates or famous chefs or CEOs of Fortune 100 companies or foreign ambassadors or in prison. I’ve never turned a piece of classic literature into a rap song or built a catapult to hurl pumpkins 700 feet. I’ve never ridden my bike 22 miles to reduce my carbon footprint. I was never a class president or a valedictorian or a captain of a varsity sports team or an editor-in-chief of my school newspaper. I’ve never been a llama handler or a beekeeper. My favorite book is not the Communist Manifesto. I do not think that the color of my nail polish is a metaphor for the impossibility of perfection. I’m not a left-leaning Buddhist from a conservative Catholic family. I’ve never wanted to be a god in the eyes of my followers. I’m not in search of self-identity. I mostly just want to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage, and to be there for my family and friends. Judging by the class of 2011, this makes me far too ordinary to pass muster with the admissions committee these days.

Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE the eclectic diversity of this class, and some of the stories are truly impressive and inspiring. Some of these students have overcome incredible obstacles to get where they are and they are absolutely worthy of praise. It’s just that, amidst all this standing out and specialness, where are the ordinary people like me? The ones who play the piano and belong to the Spanish club and get voted “Most Shy”? Where are the late bloomers who haven’t known since birth what they wanted to do with their lives? And reading about accomplishment after accomplishment and how everyone is so busy being different and unique, I couldn’t help but notice that what seemed missing was heart and soul. These kids purport to care about the world, but I wonder if they’ll be so engrossed in getting ahead and pursuing global altruism and being “individual” that they’ll forget to care about each other. I just can’t help but wonder.

I don’t really know why this analysis of the class of 2011 struck me the way it did. I suppose it’s partly because I have a hard time recognizing my own 17-year-old self in it. And partly because some of the essay snippets that were shared in the letter seemed so self-aware that it almost defies credibility. And partly because I think accomplishments are sometimes overrated at the expense of happiness and personal contentment as a measure of success.

Some of the happiest people I know might consider themselves ordinary. And that makes them extraordinary. Whether my alma mater agrees or not.

Surgical funnies

Kids are so funny when it comes to anything medical. I had a little minor surgery yesterday, and in talking with Maia about it beforehand, I learned that she “outsmarted” the doctors and nurses the last time she had tubes in her ears. The anesthesiologist had apparently told her that he was giving her laughing gas to help her sleep. But it didn’t really make her laugh, so she fake laughed anyway to avoid disappointing everyone. Silly kid!

But I guess I didn’t do a good enough job of explaining the nature of my own surgery, because when my parents picked her up from school, she wanted to know if I was still going to look the same. You gotta wonder sometimes what’s going through their imaginative little brains.

I also learned something really sweet about my husband yesterday, while we were waiting in the pre-op area. I always knew he was sentimental, which is one of the things I love about him, but yesterday I found out that he’s been carrying around mementos from our wedding in his briefcase for the last 13 years. Yes, I think I definitely landed a keeper.

Proud parenting moment

For quite some time, my sister-in-law and I have been jointly bemoaning the fact that our church doesn’t have much emphasis on children’s programming. Someone must have overhead us, because last night was the launch of Pioneer Club, a new program for the grade 5 and under set. Did we shuffle our schedules to make Wednesday night church attendance a new part of our weekly routine? You bet we did! And possibly the best part is that now Kent and I get to attend a popular adult class taught by a faculty member from Florida Christian College. The class is currently focused on exploring bible history, and we both found it educational and fascinating. We can’t wait to go back.

But really the best part is what happened as we were leaving. In the parking lot, Maia’s Sunday School teacher made it a point to find us and let us know what a pleasure it is to have Maia in his class on Sunday mornings. Having just started third grade, she’s new to the class of 3rd-5th graders, but according to her teacher she already knows more than the kids he’s been teaching for a year or two. He said it’s refreshing to have a student who “knows her stuff” and is eager to learn.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard this type of feedback about Maia’s faithfulness. Several months ago a fellow deacon in our church told Kent that his wife, who occasionally teaches the 1st-2nd grade class, often talked about Maia at home with the same kind of praise. And during the summer the substitute leader for her junior worship service told us she’s the only one who actually took him up on his “homework” assignments to look things up in the bible and came prepared with the answers each week.

The thing I’m most proud of is that she is so engaged despite the lack of other kids around her who display similar zeal. She’s an amazing kid with a heart full of love. Both of my kids are, for that matter. Not to mention that they’re both extra adorable sitting here at the kitchen table in PJs as I type this, silently munching Pop Tarts for breakfast with the glazed eyes of kids who’d much rather still be in bed.

“Migraine alert”

I think that’s what the men who have married into my family want to post on the foreheads of their wives. Because it’s common knowledge that when you put us womenfolk in a room together, nothing tranquil can ever come of it. Just a migraine, if you happen to be a man in the vicinity.

Don’t blame my sisters and me, however. Blame the strange combination of genes that endowed every one of us with hearty vocal cords and loud voices that only get louder when we have to talk over each other to be heard.

Such hullabaloo is not without its comedic effects, of course. The soon-to-be newest member of the family actually attempted the impossible last weekend. He tried to tame us with a “talking stick,” in a woefully misguided (but hilarious) effort to force just one speaker at a time. Ha! He’ll learn. The poor guy will definitely learn what his future brothers-in-law already know all too well—that such experiments can only fail, and their only hope for deliverance is a nap in a very distant, soundproof room.

Apparently I’m the worst, with my already high-pitched voice getting ear-splittingly shrill at higher decibels. For a shy girl, I’ve certainly never had problems with projection. At work, people politely close my office door all the time when I’m on the phone, because of course I have to make up for distance with, you know, volume. So for those of you dear readers who have ever been on the other end of a phone call with me, go ahead and confess that you hold the phone at least six inches from your ear when I’m speaking, because I already know. Here’s my little secret—that’s exactly what I do when I’m talking to my sister. I’ll leave it up to the two of them to figure out which one I mean.

The lesson to be learned from this is that if you are going to be around my sisters and me for any length of time, or talk to one of us on the phone, you’d best stock up on the Excedrin. In fact, it just might be a cardinal rule.

Back in the day when I was a newbie college graduate, carefree and unemployed, poised to shortly begin graduate study in the field that would launch my career, I spent a summer immersed in an intensive Spanish language program at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

While there, I befriended another American in the program who was living with a host family. After I had spent some time in their company, the host mother made a perceptive observation about a crucial difference between the friend, whose name I no longer remember, and myself. She noted that the friend spoke Spanish frequently, but often imperfectly, while I was quite the opposite—not daring to practice my Spanish unless I was certain the words emitting from my mouth would be flawless in execution.

The wise host mother went on to advise that for all my friend’s inaccuracies, in the end she would end up the more fluent conversationalist because she was not afraid to make mistakes and be corrected, while I was hesitant to speak at all until I had worked out and perfected every detail of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation in my mind. With my friend’s way of trial and error, she opened up endless opportunities to learn from those around her. With my self-conscious reluctance to attempt anything less than perfection, I had little hope of expanding beyond what I already knew. In short, the host mother’s point was that I shouldn’t worry quite so much about getting it exactly right.

I often recall this advice whenever I find myself tongue-tied in any conversational situation, and not just when it comes to Spanish. It’s a problem I still struggle with, that fear of revealing what I don’t know. Along with its cousin, the fear of appearing inarticulate when the words and ideas in my head refuse to form themselves eloquently on my tongue. I’m a perfectionist, but remembering this particular story goes far in reminding me that sometimes it’s okay to take a chance on looking stupid, as long as I’m willing to learn from it.

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