Friday, November 2, 2012

Turning Pistols into Crystals

There's a story I sometimes tell left over from my days as a summer camp counselor many, many years ago. About a villain named Poncho Villa and the punch line involves puke. Probably all the details you need to know right now...
And even though she had only heard it a few times, and always in a group setting, my 4-year-old recently told the whole story in a way eerily similar to how I tell it using my exact phrasings, intonations and facial expressions. Except she unknowingly changed one key detail.
Every place in the story I had used *pistol* my daughter used the word *crystal* instead. As in, "He said, give me the gold. What could I do? He had crystal, I had nothing, so I gave him the gold." A turning point in the story is when the *pistol* flies out of the villain's hand and the narrator retrieves it. Again, my daughter referred to it as a crystal.
I like the story much better with the magic crystal. Which I can only assume shoots fire or something equally imposing. Although maybe it just makes one dance like a chicken non-stop. That might be a big enough threat to hand over the gold...
But aside from just entertaining me, her retelling got me thinking. She had clearly imagined a *crystal* as opposed to a *pistol* when she heard the story. A much more politically correct weapon really. And I remembered that when I had told it recently, it had crossed my mind whether telling a story involving an armed robbery with a pistol was even appropriate. (Not to mention that it involves eating puke). But I told it because it's a funny story. And I wanted to make the children laugh. And as it turns out, if a child has no context to understand an armed robbery, or doesn't know what a pistol is, then they are likely to just make the details fit what they do know and understand. And if they happen to like Dora, that might involve a crystal.
Sometimes as parents we stress over many small details. We want to make sure everything is appropriate all the time. And we want to create magical moments and memories. My 7-year-old this past fall break said her favorite part of our Grand Canyon trip was the hot chocolate. Awesome. Glad we spent all that money to fly across the country for hot chocolate.
Now, I'm not saying we stop taking trips or trying hard to stage appropriate fun for our children, but I am saying we can relax a little while we're doing it. Not worry so much about every detail and word. Because if we interact with our children with an open heart and simple motives (like trying to make them laugh) they will provide the magic that makes it perfect. They will transform the pistols into crystals...
footnote: discerning readers may know my kids are no longer 4 and 7. I wrote this last year. But I like it. So I recycled. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Please find me.

Another random thought I had today: the fun of hide-and-seek is not in the hiding or the seeking. Crazy controversial, I know. Stay with me here...

Owning The Little Gym of Huntsville over the past 5 years, I've often been amused at how much the children enjoy playing hide-and-seek in our gym. There really is no good place to hide. I would chuckle as toddlers would literally stand with their whole bodies exposed "hiding" with just their eyes covered by the bar.

And it's not just the really young kids that enjoy playing it there. The kids 3-6 seem to request it all the time. And they run, hide behind one of the 5 or 6 mats big enough to get behind, and they laugh and laugh when they are "found." Then they want to play it again.

And last week on a field trip with my 5-year-old, I watched in amazement as she and her friend played hide-and-seek on the bus. Yes, on the bus. In the seat. They were literally just taking turns "hiding" by putting their head in their lap. The other would say, "found you" and they would laugh. And they are both average to above average on the intelligence scale I promise you. So why was this fun?

Well, I've figured it out. It's the finding and being found. Genius I know. Next I'm going to tackle the theory of everything. But for now, let's stick with my hide-and-seek revelation...

Of course the kids at the gym like playing the game there. It is easy to be found. Who wants to sit in a good hiding spot unfound? In fact, when I gave it some thought, I remembered playing hide-and-seek as a kid in places where one really could "hide." If too much time went by, (and for me that was like 30 seconds) one would cough or peek out or in some way alert the "finder" to one's presence. We wanted to be found. We wanted to laugh and run back to base.

And if someone did manage to find a good place to hide, and managed to keep still and quiet, chances are good they got forgotten. The rest of us would start a new game or even go on to a new activity. And when this expert hider would finally reappear, I don't remember anyone ever congratulating them on what a good hider they were. We didn't care. That wasn't the point. Now, if we were playing Battleship and you could hide your boat, clearly you were a mastermind. If you hid yourself for too long though, well, that was strange.

Somewhere along the way to adulthood, I forgot that. I'm ashamed to say I even recently told my staff at the gym to not play hide-and-seek so often because I saw no value in playing it in a place with no hiding spaces. As if the value in that game comes from some intellectual challenge of hiding or seeking. The kids like being found. They like laughing with their friends when they are found. What could be a more valuable experience?

And they should experience that as often as they can as children. Because it becomes a lot easier for adults to hide well. And we do. And we sit for too long in hiding spaces silently gloating at our impressive skills. And then when we reappear, there is rarely  adoration or celebration. Only people who continued on with the game or moved on to another activity.

So I suggest we adults start organizing nice friendly games of hide-in-seek in big open spaces. Experience the joy again of being found. Cough like crazy or shake the tree till the finder comes. And then laugh. And then start the game all over. Who couldn't use a little finding?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wish - fulfill - celebrate - repeat

Post from my facebook page:
During the process of making one of those animals you stuff, Cherub J made a wish and blew it into the lining of her new cat. After the construction was complete she named it Sweetie Pie, and then says, "Yes! My wish came true."
She had wished the cat's name was Sweetie Pie. And then she named it Sweetie Pie. Wonderful wishing strategy really. Wish for things you have total control over... and then make your wishes come true.

Watching the naming of Sweetie Pie in real life, I chuckled at how enthusiastically she had said, "Yes!" Like it was a total surprise to her the cat would in fact get the name she wished for it. Then later when I documented the moment, it hit me. Hey, she should have celebrated. It's not easy to make wishes come true. Especially when you have total control over the situation. 

I make "wishes" all the time. But I know how to disguise them. The folly of my failure would be too obvious if I just said, "I wish I could eat less junk food." Don't need a fairy godmother to make that wish come true. Just a spoonful of self control. Wish I had that... oh, wait, there I go again...

So my wishes magically become goals or resolutions: "I'm going to cut back on junk food." "I will exercise everyday." "I will watch less tv." Because somehow unmet goals and failed resolutions still sound less heartbreaking than wishes that didn't come true. Unfulfilled wishes are the stuff of tragedies. And country music songs. I like my bubble gum pop goals. "Let's get physical..."

I read an essay more than 15 years ago that has stayed with me.  Robert Fulghum's "It was on fire when I lay down on it." It starts with a true anecdote of a firefighter finding someone laying in a burning bed. When asked how the fire started, the person replies, "I don't know. It was on fire when I lay down on it." Fulgum reminds us that although that seems crazy, and it is easy to smugly laugh at the foolish person, we all lay down on burning beds. "I knew he was trouble before I even started dating him."

Truth is maybe we can avoid burning beds. Maybe we can make our wishes come true. I smugly laughed when my 5-year-old made her own wish come true and then celebrated. Truth is though, if I wished I'd exercise tomorrow, and then I exercised tomorrow, I should shout "Hallelujah! My wish came true!" And maybe if I did, the hallelujah would feel so good, I'd try it again. Wish for more exercising the next day. Maybe the kid was on to something. 

Wish - fulfill - celebrate - repeat.  

Now, if you do this, and someone asks why you are suddenly so happy, please tell them you follow the writings of one random angel... 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My daughter will not be a princess

Since we've been talking about names, (and by talking I mean that I wrote a post a couple days ago that you may or may not have read) I thought I'd entertain you with a tale about naming our first child.

The year was 2003. My husband had recently begun his career in the aerospace industry. He had then, and has now, an interest in flight and space. Don't worry, that's not a random fact- it will be relevant to my story.

If you've ever had a child, or even if you've ever had a pet, you probably know the weight and responsibility that comes with choosing a name for a living creature. Or maybe the obsession over making sure the name has no overt connotations just lies with adults with names like "Angel." Perhaps if your name is "Sophia" you didn't lose hundreds of hours of sleep when choosing a name. I can't be sure. I can only own my madness...

So, back to my husband. First name he suggests to me to for our unborn child was Ariel. Lovely name. Conversation goes like this:
 Me: What?!? Like the Little Mermaid?
Him: What? I didn't know that was the little mermaid's name.
Me: Well every woman and child in America does. That would be like naming her Cinderella. No.

Few weeks go by. He suggests a second name. (he's slow at brainstorming) Aurora. Clearly he was going for a flight/space themed name. Again, lovely name.
Me: What?!? Aurora is Sleeping Beauty's name!
Him: What? I didn't know that.
Me: Well I do. No. No. princess. names.

Few more weeks go by. Third name suggestion. (I'm given to exaggerate to make points or even get laughs, but when I say these were the names he suggested, and the only names he suggested, it is the literal truth.) Ok. Third name suggestion: Jasmine.
Me: Jasmine?!?! That's Aladdin's girlfriend!!

Needless to say, we did not name her Jasmine. We gave her a blank slate name. One that would fit if she aspires to royalty or joins a biker gang. No songs with her name. No famous stories. No famous people. Familiar enough that people can pronounce easily, but not so common she runs into others with her name all the time. Ends in an "a" to sound better with our last name that starts with an "H." I could go on. But I'll stop with that glimpse into my madness...

And as for my husband, he swears he had/has no unconscious Disney fascination/fixation. But I do watch him closely when we go to Walt Disney World...

oh, if by some remote chance you are reading this and NOT related to me or a good friend, first I'd like to say, thank you. And second I'd like to acknowledge that I get you might want to know what we did name her. And finally, I'd like to apologize for disappointing you. I really don't like to start relationships this way... But I decided to not use my girls real names on this blog. Not because I'm worried about safety. Which I know is a real concern; it just isn't the thing that keeps me up at night. The reason I'm going to call them Cherub A and Cherub J is actually more in line with my madness about the blank slate. I don't want them to be "searchable" on the internet by their names because of my creative outlet.

I want to let her write her own story one day. Biker or Princess. Or Biker Princess. And then a song can be written with her name. The Song of the Biker Princess. And it will be passed down for generations. And then one day a husband somewhere will suggest to his wife naming their daughter this name of my daughter made into a song. And the wife will say, "What?!?! Like the Biker Princess? No."
           And so it was written. By this one random angel...

Monday, October 22, 2012

My blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold...

I was raised an angel. Not by celestial beings. Nothing as cool as that. And to answer the question that I have been asked countless times in my lifetime, I'm not sure if I'm REALLY an angel. Not even sure what that means. But just once growing up when someone asked, I would have LOVED to spread my wings and say, why yes, I am. And then perhaps smite them depending on the level of smugness they had displayed when addressing me... But alas, my story is not a fantasy.
Truth is, as my mother tells it, my father announced at my birth, "My daughter is going to be an angel." And they put it on my birth certificate. No pressure or anything...

Once I passed the "cute angel" phase of childhood, things got worse in my youth in regards to my name. And by worse I mean full of cliches. And sappiness. Most of which revolved around my name. None of which impressed me. Let me share one particularly horrifying moment that stands out from 8th grade. Boy has huge crush on girl. Boy stands up in front of class to make presentation. Boy announces, "Before we get started, let's listen to some entertaining music." Boy plays 'Earth Angel' in some mating ritual attempt. Girl slides under her desk in embarrassment.

(Note to teenage boys: pick up lines (or romantic songs/poems) with references to angels not original when using them on a girl named angel. She's likely heard them a million times. And chances are she will roll her eyes and sigh. Not swoon. Now, if you call her "my angel" or play one of said cliched songs, and she acts like you are a genius at wooing, then you are golden. Clearly she likes you..)

But back to my story. Or rather, my name's story. So I grew to adulthood debating internally (and sometimes with friends) whether or not to change this name that didn't seem to fit. But I never really felt like any other name fit either. And to be honest, all the effort that would have been required to actually follow through and change it, well, I couldn't be bothered. And so here I am, nearly 40, and still Angel.

I've now decided to stop fighting, and just lean into it. Hence the decision to name my blog in honor of my name. And maybe this was my destiny all along. Maybe this is where I am meant to bring my random messages to the world... Nah nah nah nah nah nah
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah
1, 2, 3, 4...