Category Archives: Parenting

Why I Find Comfort in Crime Fiction

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A few months ago I almost signed up for an “urban escape” training weekend. We’re not talking getting out of the city and into the woods though. The course description is this:

While on an international business trip you are kidnapped and held for ransom. or, a terrorist attack closes the business district of your city and you find yourself in a dangerous, chaotic fix. How do you stay alive? How do you get to safety on your own?

This class provides leading-edge skills to civilians who live or work in challenging urban environments or who may find themselves in a destabilizing urban area during a crisis. Topics covered include covert movement (day vs. night), the judicious use of caches, understanding urban baseline movement and urban awareness training, the use of disguises and false papers/identification, lock picking, escaping from unlawful custody, obtaining and driving local transportation, the use of “specialized” urban gear, and instruction on how to develop urban escape and evasion go-bags. A one day urban escape scenario is held the final day of class.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? One of the classes was offered in Las Vegas during my daughter’s spring break, and I suggested we take it together–spend a couple days in Vegas ahead of time for fun, then go to the class to learn some new skills. Great mommy-daughter bonding time, right? She seemed as excited about it as I was.

When I suggested I wanted to do this, my husband was appalled. He didn’t understand why we would be attracted to this kind of weekend. Learning how to escape from being kidnapped? Sure, it would be awesome research for my writing, but I wanted to do it. For me. I still want to.

As I spoke to more of my friends about this, I learned that women were more likely to be attracted to the class than men. As women, we are taught to walk down the street with heightened awareness and actively think about the threats that surround us all the time. Is that man crossing the street toward me? What kind of lighting is there? Can I see who is around me? Who is nearby that can harm me? A class like this would give me some possible skills to use if I am ever pulled into a passing car or a bag goes over my head from behind.

As I rationalized my desire to take this class, I realized my relationship to reading (and writing), and my intense focus on all things scary had to do with coping in life. Crime fiction, mysteries and stories that deal with horrible things provide a sort of comfort to me. It is to many women what Grimm’s Fairytales are to children.

Reading about someone surviving a terrifying situation, especially if they are part of their own escape from it, helps us, as women, cope with the possibilities. It makes it so we can walk down the street knowing others have survived, we can too.

note:
I ended up not taking that particular class because of timing and cost issues. Good thing, too. The weekend I was looking at ended up being the same one where I had an emergency appendectomy. Being locked in a car trunk with an exploding appendix would have not been a good time. I’d still like to take the class sometime…

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(c) Can Stock Photo

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Home Sweet Home

Emma in September as she headed off into the world.

Emma in September as she headed off into the world.

Emma as we got back to Seattle this week.

Emma as we got back to Seattle this week.

We’ve spent the last year plus thinking about Emma and her gap year. (Anyone who knows us is probably tired of hearing about Emma this, and Emma that–but it’s been our LIFE for a while now.) First, we were planning, planning, planning. Then, once she was gone, it was all…watching and waiting. Watching her and her friends Facebook feeds. Waiting for emails,FaceTime, letters and packages. Our limited contact with her gave us the barest of information. After three weeks of no contact, even a single line of an email gave me a sense of calm. “She’s alive. That’s all that really matters.” Going from daily minutia of her life to only knowing she’s alive was a huge change. Now that she’s back home, we’re finding our way into a new way of being, something in between knowing every minute-by-minute detail and just knowing she’s still breathing.

Integrating an adult “child” back into the house is new for us, and it is taking some adjusting for both of us. I’m finding that the change and growth she’s gone through in the last year has truly elevated her from teenager into the adult realm. While she will always be my baby girl, she’s grown into a responsible young woman used to certain freedoms and responsibilities. I’m doing my best to step back and try to see her for who she is now.

As the pictures show she doesn’t look much different than when she left. Her return photo was taken after she’d finished the program including several weeks in D.C. and access to fresh clothes and her beloved leather jacket. She looks like she’s standing a bit taller and more secure in the world to me.

I didn’t feel particularly stressed while she was gone. Logically, I expected her to be safe, but it wasn’t until we got back yesterday that I realized I had been experiencing a definite underlying stress. I don’t know whether it was a generalized stress that will return in August when she heads off to college or a more direct “she’s in far away places doing exotic and semi-dangerous things” kind of stress. That question will be answered in September after she’s been gone on a different adventure for a while. Mama-stress?

For now, I am happy to have her home and engaging in a new kind of adult parent-child relationship. It’s the way it should be.

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Gap Years are for Parents, Too

canstockphoto16603922I can go on and on about what we hoped for Emma while she was on her gap year, but I hadn’t really thought much about what it would be like for me. Her mom. She hasn’t called me “Mommy” in years. While I’ve never thought of myself as a clingy, helicopter parent, I’m realizing how much I was involved in her daily business and how much I did for her. My primary focus is as a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I’m a writer, but that comes second to my family and my ‘job’ as mom, wife, chef, chauffeur, tutor, laundress, book-keeper, scheduler, and valet.

What hit me yesterday was the daily emotional stuff and ‘doings’ of life. While at home, she would look to me for a lot of support in solving problems. I helped her figure out how to get from home to a friend’s house, organized driving lessons, bought most of her food– the kinds of things you do when your kid is still living at home.

With her across the world, we have had limited access to each other. She goes for a week or two without much communication at all–an email here and there. Our last FaceTime together was at Christmas. So, we haven’t “talked” in several weeks now. Most of her emails begin with “I don’t have much time, but I have SO much to tell you…” It can be frustrating at times.

When I get a lengthy email, I savor every word and re-read it several times to make sure I’m not missing anything. A week ago, she informed us she and her TBB traveling companion met “some guy” on the side of a road to buy train tickets in some sort of black-market -like exchange so they could go up to Rishikesh on their independent student travel weekend. A twelve hour train ride. Just the two of them, away from the group. In India. Once there, they had to manage their own hotel and entertainment for the weekend and get back to Jaipur. I barely managed to do that kind of thing in England when I was a couple of years older than she was.

Yesterday’s email came as a response to one I sent her about her brother’s first day skiing. I got a rather lengthy reply, and sandwiched in the middle, after a paragraph about how she’s working out at a gym and her concerns about American-style Big AG was this:

Anyway. The last few days have been insane. Last week I had a bunch of expensive jewelry I had bought (including a gift for you) stolen, as well as all my makeup and my hairbrush and perfume. All the stuff was in two little pouches in my bag…

She goes on to briefly theorize about who and how the things were stolen and jumps into a paragraph about visiting the City Palace and their weapons exhibit.

It was as I re-read the email for the third or fourth time that I realized whatever emotional upset and whatever drama was happening with her, she was relying on others to listen and support her. For her to relay a theft so casually to me means she had dealt with it when it happened and with help from other people. Her program leaders and fellow TBB students are her current go-to peeps. Not me! I’m not wounded by this as much as I am relieved. It’s a parent’s dream to see their child find their way in the world, to find friends and partners they can trust being a big part of that. Sure, I still want her to come to me for talks and advice, but I love knowing she can build a support system into her life with other people. It’s lovely to think “you don’t need me, you’ll be okay out there.”

(c) Can Stock Photo

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Fly, baby, fly…

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Well, there she is. My nineteen-year-old baby off on a gap year. Okay, so it’s not exactly a year, but close ‘nough. Over the next eight months, she will be living and working in Equador, China, India and South Africa. She’ll have “enrichment” weeks like climbing Machu Picchu, visiting the killing fields in Phnom Penh, riding camels across the dessert, and going “on safari” in Africa. For the majority of her time, though, she will be working with NGOs in each location. She’s not doing this alone, but with a group of other students her age and three adult advisors.

Over the last year, we have talked about this trip to countless people. It’s hard to not have to go into some explanation why you need to buy a particular kind of clothing, shoe, or back-pack-like item. We spent ten minutes at the bank talking to the teller before she counted out the one and five dollar bills she needed. (Equador is the first stop and they use the American dollar as currency.) Emma posted about how inadequate and tiring it can be to talk about something in brief snippets in her first blog post.

When talking about the trip,the responses I get from other parents land pretty squarely in two camps. The first is enthusiastic, and the second is a large-eyed dismay covered quickly with a tentative question about how I feel about it. I know I am generalizing here, but the younger a child the parent has, the less enthusiastic they are. It makes sense. If you have a little baby, you can hardly begin to imagine them at a friend’s house for a sleep over let alone sending them around the world. I know when Emma was little, I used to worry about how she would do overnight, let alone for 8 months.

After reflecting on her preparation for this trip, I realize that a lot of how ‘okay’ I am with this has to do with the fact with how ‘okay’ she is with it. Sure, she was pretty nervous yesterday when we waved her off, but it was clear her excitement outweighed her nervousness. Part of this does have to do with her education and how it trained me to accept her leaving in incremental baby steps.

I’ve written about Waldorf education in the past, and most of you know I have a love-hate relationship with it. Her experience with the various class trips she had is something to LOVE about Waldorf. Starting in third grade, she went on an overnight sleep away experience on a farm. In fourth grade she was gone for two nights for their Potlatch, in fifth grade it was the Olympiad, and so on. In high school, they upped the ante and sent the kids on week long back-packing, hiking, and service trips. Each time, the experience got a more difficult or involved. Her final senior class trip included rebuilding a trail in Oregon. Each trip taught Emma something new about herself and how to cope with being away from home, family, and creature comforts. And, each taught me something new about myself as a parent and how to let go.

Am I worried? Yes and no. I know that Emma has the where-with-all and reserves to handle the home-sickness, lack of technology, and various other social issues that will come up. I am worried about the things I can’t control–the unexpected and random stuff that happens. Weather, earthquakes, crazy people, illness–they exist everywhere. The fact that I won’t be around to help her through anything like that…well, that’s the hard part.

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Flexibility, ya gotta have some

20130827-142237.jpgThose who know us are probably surprised by this photo. Yes. It is Eli, OUR ElI, on a bike. My feelings on the whole bike thing haven’t changed all that much. I am not thrilled to have bikes back in our life,but there it is. Sometimes, as a parent, you have to bend a little and meet your kids halfway when their heart is set on something.

Let me back up for those of you who are wondering what the heck I am talking about. You see, a few years ago, my husband was in a pretty bad accident. With multiple breaks and a crushed helmet, he was lucky compared to some. Without the helmet, he likely would have been a vegetable or dead. Sure, we know people who have suffered much worse, but this was more the last straw after a series of accidents over the long term. Bill hung his bike on the rack and that was it.

We were lucky our daughter showed little interest in riding, and she never pleaded the cause. It is easy to say no when no one is asking. Our son is entirely different. He’s been asking for a bike for years. I mean that with the legitimate literal use of the word “years”. We’ve said no over and over again, making it clear to anyone who asks that it is our decision, as his parents, that he doesn’t get to ride a bike.

People’s reactions have been mixed. I’ve had other parents in my face with how wrong it is to withhold the joy of riding a bike from our son. I’ve had other people shrug and look at us like we are lunatics but not say anything. I’ve run into blank stares, as if the concept wasn’t something easy to grasp. And, then there is our son who has been begging, lobbying, and annoying us about it every chance he gets. A couple of months ago, I was beginning to waiver. It was more about the forbidden fruit and how keeping him off a bike and the arguments around the bike were getting to be more a problem then letting him actually get a bike.

Between my own “meh” attitude and the difficult fact that we do not live in bike-safe territory, it is not just getting a bike. It is getting the bike and him to a safe place where he can ride away from heavy traffic. This means bike, plus our time–our time doing something that we don’t really want to do. In spite of the various mental hurdles, I was making preparations to do my own lobbying for a bike for his 11th birthday in September.

Then, a few weeks ago, he went off with his grandparents to Pennsylvania. While there, they bought him a bike to use on the lonely road near the family home. The genie, as it were, was out of the bottle, and my son was smitten. Even after he fell and had bloody flaps of skin on elbow and knee, he was back on the bike right away. He rode as much as he could while there and returned home with renewed vigor in his plans to beat us down.

He started in right away with an overt wailing martyrdom “I love riding, and I’ll never get to do it again….” But, underneath that loud and obnoxious statement, I saw a sincere grief in his watering eyes and quivering lower lip. He had experienced something new, wonderful and freeing. Anyone who’s ridden a bike knows what the sensation is like. I ached for him more once he knew what it was he was missing. The hypothetical loss of something fun and wonderful had turned real. Before, he just thought he would like it. Now, he knew it.

After much discussion, we decided to bend. A lot. I took my own bike in for a tune-up. We bought him a bike. Bill is looking at getting himself a new bike–his old one long ago gifted to a friend. Add in a new hitch and rack for my car to make it easier to get someplace where we can safely ride, and we have a new family activity to “enjoy.” Given that the big girl is on her way out of the country, she can’t really complain that we aren’t including her in something she has no desire to do anyway. That old saying, “If you can’t beat then, join them” is living pretty large around here.

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d’Orsay can you say?

20120708-154542.jpgLast week we had the chance to visit the musée D’Orsay. I’ve been musing on one of our interactions with a French family ever since. A father with three children came up to us because we were obviously visitors and asked if he could speak with us for a minute. His kids appeared to be aged about ten to 17 or so. He asked,”Where are you from?” After we told him he said, “Would you tell my son why you are here? We live in Paris, but he doesn’t have any interest in what is right here.” He turned to his son and said,”See! These people came all the way from Seattle to be here, and you don’t even want to ride the metro a few stops to get here.”

The father was clearly trying to make a point, and I didn’t have enough time to really stop and think through a response that would address the father’s obvious frustration and convey a sense of respect for the teenager. He looked friendly enough but rather embarrassed by a father who is willing to walk up to complete strangers and talk about his lack of interest in his own culture.

After Emma and I chimed in with what it was we were enjoying about the d’Orsay in particular, we added what else we had seen and why we had enjoyed it. We mentioned that it is just different, too. Let’s face it, if you put the Space Needle next to the Eiffel Tower for a side by side comparison, the Paris landmark is going to kick Seattle’s ass. Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle, but it is not Paris. It’s hard to beat the immenseness of the ancient city on any number of levels. Just think of the quick list just about anyone can make about Paris–Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Jardin de Luxembourg, Sacre Coeur, le Louvre. Also, there is l’Orangerie–home to Monet’s famous enormous Water Lillies. Last time I was here with my mom, the Orangerie was closed for renovations, and the time before that I was only 16 and had no clue. Which sort of brings me back to this poor young man who seemed utterly bored and not at all interested in the lesson his father wanted us to teach him. I felt bad for the teen, though. Here he was being displayed in front of complete strangers in his second language. I said something to the effect thaf we don’t always appreciate what is in our own back yard. After all, we were in France not Seattle.

It’s always easier to think of an appropriate response after an interaction, and I would have preferred it if I could have engaged the teen a bit more directly and found some common ground with him rather than ending up being someone jumping on his dad’s bandwagon of cultural pontification. I am guessing that the overall interaction only embarrassed the teen without making much headway with the father’s agenda.

20120708-155606.jpgHowever, this got me to thinking about my own back yard for a bit. I am not particularly home sick because I am still enjoying my trip, but I think it is a valuable exercise to think through the things that I can appreciate about my own place in the world.

I know I just sort of dissed the space Needle, but it is certainly one of the Seattle landmarks that I take visitors to see. We often go to the Locks–especially if the salmon are running. The Zoo, aquarium, the troll, SAM, Boeing, EMP, Seattle Center, and Gasworks Park are all on my offering list. We love Pike Place Market, and we don’t always wait for visitors to get down there. After living in Seattle for almost 23 years, I finally saw the “gum wall.” I don’t think this particularly stinky globular and hideous bit of art is that old, but I hadn’t been in that alley since the days when we went to see a friend who was a regular in Theater Sports. The last time I was there, I was focusing on the disturbed naked man being escorted away by the police. I don’t think I would have even noticed the gum had it been there at the time.

So folks, I would like you to share where you take your visitors–and why if you are so inclined. It’s not necessary to keep it Seattle bound–might as well enjoy the larger discussion of what is not to be missed wherever you live.

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Uhm…Is this really a road?

20120406-074351.jpg I’m sitting alone in the dining room of a quaint Vermont B&B at a table with a coffee next to my ipad. Emma is asleep upstairs in our yellow and flower wallpapered room. Actually, I hope she’s up and getting dressed because the smells emenating from the kitchen are fantastic, and I can’t wait to sample the local supply of maple syrup and the bacon cured at the butcher down the street. (So not a vegan trip this time around.) If nothing else, Bennington, Vermont is beautiful. The town is nestled in a valley surrounded by little hills. (They call them mountains around here, but that’s an East Coast view of the world. Mountains? Come to Seattle and I’ll show you some mountains.) Nevertheless, the view of the valley as we went into town for dinner last night was stunning. The hillside, covered in still leafless maple trees just glowed pink. Emma said it looked like a Waldorf Veil painting. That could be a sign that this place might be the right spot for her, or a warning. We have yet to visit the campus here in Bennington, so we don’t know the answer to that yet. The morning is bright and clear, and the sense of serenity and peace after a few days in Boston provides an interesting contrast.

We flew into Boston on Tuesday. After checking into our hotel, we went for a nice long walk around the Boston Commons and found the Unitarian Universalist Association headquarters at 25 Beacon Street. We just say “We’re going to 25” and know what that means. It is just down the street from the Commonwealth House, a gold-domed building set at the top of the Commons. In front of that was, appropriately enough, a youth-led demonstration against the current plan to raise the cost of the T fair to nearly double what it is today even for youth who can barely afford the current fare. It was low-key with a guy leading chants through a megaphone. Dinner at Legal Seafood was delicious, and we walked around the Emerson College area after eating. Emerson, like NYU is just part of the city and offers no ‘campus’ feel at all.

20120406-082739.jpgOur first visit was to Clark College in Worcester. The commuter rail took about 90 minutes and was relatively painless. Once in Worcester, it’s a 2 mile hike to Clark, so we took a taxi. We got there early in the day so we’d have plenty of time to explore the campus before her class and then the tour/info session. As we drove close to campus, we saw the “Annie’s Clark Brunch” restaurant and decided breakfast sounded like a good plan. (We’d had some pastry from Au Bon Pain on the train, but that was nearly two hours before.) The photo to the left should tell you a few things about Worcester. Look at the prices. Breakfast, which included way more food than we could eat, was only $11. When we walked in, I had one of those really strong smell memories–it was like walking into my grandmother’s cafe in Roberts, Montana. That smell of small cafe kitchen is hard to describe, but I think it comes from the smell of a hot griddle that is used to cook everything from meat, to potatoes, to veggies. I was duly warned that the spicy chili was spicy. The plates were huge, though, and neither of us could even finish.

The people at Clark, or Clarkies, were extremely friendly. The kids in the class Emma took were very welcoming and talked to her at length about their experience. The downside to Clark, frankly, is the location. Worcester is…erm…not pretty. The campus itself is okay and well-kept looking. The dining hall had lots of options, and the buildings were clean and safe feeling. But, it was really just sort of meh as far as location goes. It’s so far outside of Boston there’s little chance to just run into the big city for fun–it would need to be planned out, and there’s really nothing to do off campus near by. I mean…nothing. However, there are things that make up for it–a fine program and a very positive atmosphere.

The next day, we got a car in Boston and drove out to Brandeis. It’s in Waltham and closer to Boston,but we were planning to head up to Bennington straight up from Brandeis. The history of the school is interesting, and the emphasis on Social Justice is right up Emma’s alley, and it has an amazing theater department. Oh, add in thirteen….yes, thirteen…a cappella groups and you have one pretty smitten teenager. Did I mention there’s a quidditch team and a castle on campus? Uh-yeah…definitely the top pick reach school.

Getting to Bennington, VT from Boston was a challenge that had me sweating for a little while and placing quite a bit of faith in the Garmin GPS device I borrowed from my father-in-law. We were driving through on Route 9 and I saw the sign for “Marlboro College” and decided, on the spur of the moment to take a left turn to check it out. Marlboro is also on the “Forty Colleges that change lives” list so I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least just do a drive by. If nothing else, if we thought it looked interesting she could check it out online for details. As soon as I turned, the Garmin said “recalculating” to draw up a fresh route to Bennington. I ignored it until we were at Marlboro’s admission lot looking up at the college. It was…smaller than small. The student body is only 300, and there are no faculty around at night. It’s totally student led administration with a very interesting sort of philosophy. It didn’t take long for Emma to decide that is just too small.

I picked up the Garmin which had been quietly reproving me and recalculating the route the whole time. It said to go straight ahead, not turn around the way we had come. I only paused because what was straight ahead was unpaved road. It looked vaguely forest-service road like, so I put the car in park and took out the iphone. Since there was no service, I decided to just trust the technology in my hand and follow the directions the Garmin had selected from space. As we headed off, and down hill onto the dirt road, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Not only was it not paved, it was surrounded by woods. Not woods like we have, but mostly maple trees. (See the photo above.) It’s mapling season and there were literally thousands of trees being tapped as we drove by.

The Garmin said to continue on this road for 1.6 miles or so, and I did, sweating the entire time. Did it even know this was a dirt road? Was it really a road, or were we trespassing on some maple farmer’s private land? After an old Toyota Corolla sped past me, I relaxed a little. If a Corolla could do this drive, certainly my brand new rental Hyundai Sonata could manage it. We followed the Garmin’s advice and turned when it said onto yet another dirt road. And another. And another. Then, another. After about twenty miles of dirt-roads, I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever hit pavement again or if some crazy programer at Garmin was laughing maniacally. Finally, though, after what seemed like hours but was only an hour of me questioning my blind faith in technology, we were on route 9 and only a few minutes from Bennington.

(—–Later in the day——-Back at the B&B alone for now)

20120406-202754.jpgToday’s visit at Bennington was mixed. As a parent, I felt a strange relief at the obvious safety of the campus. There were no blue box emergency poles, and, unlike at Clark, they didn’t have to go into any detail about how you get an escort from the library to your dorm late at night. And, well, it’s beautiful. The campus is big and sprawling. The print shop in the art building had me drooling with envy. (I counted four presses in passing, and I think there might have been more around a corner.) There is a nice mixture of old and new buildings–the newest houses a UN-configuration for a conference room, and one of the oldest is a mansion turned music department with creaky wood floors and plenty of character. Emma’s classroom experience was not as positive as the one she had at Clark. The students weren’t as overtly friendly or enthusiastic as the ones she met at Clark, and there were distinct cannabis overtones wafting from a couple of the people in the class. She figured that their lack of participation in the class discussion might have something to do with just how stoned they were. (Not a positive for this kid.) The program at Bennington, however, looks to be a good one if reality matches the marketing. Her plan is to grill her freshman friend she is spending the night with to get a better sense of what really goes on once you are a student there. That is, in addition to going to the jazz lounge that starts at 10:00 pm. When did I get to be old enough to think that starting anything at 10:00 seems insanely late?

Any Clarkies, Brandeisians or Bennington grads in my extended network? Drop us a line about your experiences!

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