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Archive for May, 2013

Oklahoma

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

When I wrote and scheduled Tuesday’s post the tornadoes that gripped central Oklahoma on Monday afternoon had not yet hit.  We had no idea what was to come.  When my post went live on Tuesday morning and I gave it one final proofreading it felt inappropriate to be discussing such things as happiness when so many in my home state were completely devastated.  But the post was already written and at that point I wasn’t really able to process the magnitude of the catastrophe anyway.  I let the post stand.  And as I think about it now that a few days have passed all I can think is, “How lucky I am that I have the option to choose when I will fully process this catastrophe.”  The people who would most like to turn a blind eye to it are exactly the ones who must face it head on.

As I have intermittently followed the coverage of the tornado aftermath I came across this post by Jennifer Rowe Walters in which she candidly admits that Oklahoma is not known for much – one Broadway musical, one bombing of a federal building, a couple of Senators who are currently eating crow, and – for the truly ignorant – the impression of oil rigs and teepees on every corner.*  Having spent several years on the East coast Rowe Walters is all too familiar with the fact that people outside the region see her (my) home state as a collection of archetypes and disasters.  She knowingly foretells that this tornado will likely be added to that list.

I suspect that the accuracy of her prediction will be uncanny.  New Orleans is still known today predominantly for its post-Katrina existence, and it had a rich identity to begin with.  Oklahoma, which to many people who live elsewhere is quintessential flyover country, will forever struggle to be known outside of the region for more than the major moments (largely negative) which have periodically brought it to the forefront of the national conversation.**  The thing is, though, that Oklahoma does in fact have a culture all its own.  It is a culture that doesn’t really fit me as a person anymore, but there is a culture there.  And it is a culture that is valued and treasured by the people who live there.

Unfortunately, tornadoes are a big part of that culture.  Rowe Walters comments that there are no better armchair meteorologists in the world than in Oklahoma, and she’s right.  I know a wall cloud when I see one, and what does and does not classify as green and when talking about the color of a storm front.  She recalls, as I can, hunkering down in interior school hallways with our hands folded behind our heads during tornado drills.  I recall, as I’m sure she can, hearing sirens blare at noon on sunny Saturdays as the tornado alert system was tested.  I was carried to our basement in the middle of the night dozens of times as a little girl.  And somehow I’ve never truly been impacted by a tornado.

Perhaps this is why I’m having such a hard time coming face to face with the aftermath of this storm.  (Given the level of devastation it seems somehow dismissive that tornadoes aren’t named as hurricanes are.)  I have some guilt about it.  I have an incredible amount of gratitude – no one I know personally was impacted (although one more degree of separation changes that).  But I left Oklahoma more than a dozen years ago and in moments like this I feel a bit like a defector.

Absent the ability to go down and reconstruct buildings with my bare hands, I am doing what I can.  I changed my Facebook profile pic to the image above (largely irrelevant).  And I will make a donation to charitable organizations who are supporting the disaster relief (much more meaningful).  And if you have the means I would encourage you to do the same.  The following organizations (among others) are all taking donations:

Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma

Red Cross Disaster Relief

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Salvation Army

Most of the time I have mixed emotions about my home state.  But right now I feel nothing but sadness and sympathy for it.

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*When I was a little girl my father once hosted a business client from the East coast.  While in Oklahoma he wanted to see two things, an Indian (his term…) and an oil rig.  Lovely.

**It’s too bad the Thunder are out of the NBA playoffs.  A national title, while trivial in the grand scheme of things, might do a lot to lift spirits.

Happiness Is More Than a Rolls Royce

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

As I ushered the little boys (as JDP and SSP have been termed in our family) out onto the church playground after collecting them from the nursery we approached two much older boys (probably nine or ten) who were playing some sort of game with a disconnected tether ball.  While we waited briefly for a break in their game to walk through I heard Boy #1 say to Boy #2, “You can be a skin doctor, or you can be a heart doctor.  You make a lot of money as a heart doctor.  You can buy a Rolls Royce if you’re a heart doctor.”  I cringed when I heard it and we quickly traipsed through their game. 

I find it sad to hear grade school kids already vying for careers that will put them in a particular tax bracket.  And yet, I know that by age ten I was well aware of who had money, who didn’t, and how its presence or lack thereof shook out in the playground pecking order.  So I don’t suppose I should have been surprised that these two boys (one of whose father is in fact a physician) would be just as aware of it as I was at the same age.  Money is an easy way for kids to measure the merits of a career.  Things like whether a job is engaging, challenging, rewarding, satisfying, or meaningful to the greater good are much harder to evaluate for yourself and to communicate to other people.  It’s much simpler just to make a lot of money and drive around in your Rolls Royce, isn’t it?

I thought about this moment again yesterday morning as my buddies at NPR told me that there is now a course in China for the offspring of billionaires and other very wealthy parents.  It is run by China Britain Financial Education, has been dubbed a “mini-MBA” and focuses on teaching these kids – who will likely never have to work – how to do things like raise money for charity.*  These children are clearly very aware of their privileged circumstances, as evidenced by one girl’s response to the question of what her ideal future would be.  She responded, “I want to become a princess. I want to have a castle, and I will have lots of servants. I won’t do anything, because I’ve got lots of money, so I just buy whatever I want.”

The NPR piece goes on to explain that large scale wealth (China now has the world’s second-highest number of billionaires after the U.S.) is a relatively new phenomenon, and that the incredible focus on money (described as the “be all and end all in modern day China”) has created something of a morality vacuum which is present at all points along the socioeconomic spectrum.    Paul Huang, head of R&D at China Britain Financial Education comments that “For the wealthy family, their problem is they don’t know and don’t care where money comes from, and they spend money in a disgusting way to other people.  For children from poor families, when they grow up, they try to do anything to get money. They don’t think it’s right or wrong. That’s another problem.” 

Presumably if you’re reading this blog you’re an adult.  And if you’re adult you probably know someone who is wealthy and miserable.  You probably also know someone who is scraping by and yet lives a full and happy life.  If you’re an adult you probably know well enough that money is not a one-way ticket to happiness.  I do not begin to deny that money can accomplish all sorts of wonderful things.  It can eliminate the incredible stress brought on by things like unpaid bills, cars that break down, lack of health insurance, or untended home repairs.  It can also add immense pleasure to life by enabling things like vacations, date nights, pedicures, or a new tube of lipstick even though you don’t need it.  So yes, money is certainly a big contributor to happiness.  But it is only one component of a happy life.  Other factors include meaningful work, physical health, satisfying friendships, a strong support network, and enriching interests and hobbies.  In actuality, this is a much taller order than mere wealth.   Kids don’t see that, though.  They see castles and servants and Rolls Royces. 

I would be lying if I said that earning potential wasn’t a factor in my choice of career.  (If it weren’t I’d probably be a horse trainer of some kind.)  But it wasn’t the only factor.  I also wanted a career that would allow me to help people in some way.  I wanted a career that would be intellectually stimulating.  And I wanted a career that would be compatible with my family life.  I have a career that meets all of those needs and I am grateful that I wake up every day in a life that makes me very happy.  I wouldn’t take a Rolls Royce today if one were parked in my driveway because I couldn’t fit all of my kids in it.    

Back to the boys on the church playground.  Someday my boys will be in that same position, bouncing a ball on a playground and puffing up their little chests about what they want to be when they grow up.  Right now they are four, two, and one.  The little boys have no concept of money whatsoever.  IEP’s conception of it is vague at best.  But I know that window is closing, and probably by first grade he will be well aware of the markers of money.  And when that day comes I will work to impart upon him (and the little boys in time) that money is just money, and the only thing that matters is what you do with it.  By and large, you will be happy when you decide to be, not when you have a Rolls Royce. 

*The great irony of this is, of course, that it bears absolutely no resemblance, even on a kiddie scale, to an actual MBA.

Bright, Shiny Moments

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Yesterday morning I boarded a flight for my first business trip in more than two-and-a-half years.  And while I was sad to leave my boys behind for a couple of days, there was a certain excitement about the fresh start implicit in this trip.  As I neared the end of the jetway I saw the sun glinting off of the silver body of the airplane, through the dingy window of the jetway, and straight into my eyes.  It seemed fitting for the moment.  I felt bright and shiny.

It made me think about my first flight.  I was eleven years old and we were flying to Southern California to visit my aunt and uncle, go to Disneyland, drive up the coast, and experience the wilds of  the coast.  My excitment for the trip was huge as there were near countless things to look forward to.  But my excitment for the flight was particularly intense.  Most of my friends had flown somehwere before, so there was the eagerness to shed my self-consciousness at not having done.  But in my mind, whether from movies or books or stories from somewhere, flying was a glamorous thing to do.  I wore a dress because I couldn’t stomach the thought of not dressing up for my flight.  And when we reached the gate area I ran into a friend from summer camp, making me feel very worldly, and our parents swapped seats so that she and I could sit together.  It was a big day.

As I made this little trip back in time it dawned on me that none of my sons will have any recollection of their first flight.  IEP and SSP were both roughly 10 weeks old when we flew to visit my parents during my maternity leaves.  JDP was just shy of his second birthday when he flew home from Korea.  They will never remember those moments.  Further, they will never remember a time when boarding a flight was something exciting (the flight itself, that is - not just the destination at the other end).  It made me a little sad.  But then, why should it?

I don’t remember my first ride in a car, and I feel no nostagic hole where that memory should go.  I’m sure that when I was about two days old I was loaded up into a car and driven home from the hospital.  And I’m sure that I’ve ridden in a car nearly every day since.  A car ride doesn’t need to be something exciting for me.  Perhaps the same is true of my kids and air travel.  Perhaps my sense of loss over a memory that will never exist for them is a bit like someone much older feeling regret that I don’t have memories of my first call on a touch-tone phone.  Some things don’t hold the same meaning for one generation as they did for an earlier geneartion.

When you get down to it I think the thing that matters is not the excitement for boarding a plane.  What matters is the excitement at a big moment in your life.  For me, because I was old enough to have built up a great amount of anticipation around that flight it was a big moment.  This morning, because I’m excited about my new job and the opportunity it holds, my first trip with this company was a big moment.  As long as my kids still get excited about big moments – anticipate them, relish in them, and never take them for granted –  then I think we’re probably doing okay.  For me, my first flight was a big moment.  For them it wasn’t.  But something else will be.

Not For the Timid or the Proud

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

I will probably never learn to water ski.  My husband will probably never learn to snow ski.  There are some things you just learn to do as a child.  It’s not that I couldn’t learn to water ski or my husband couldn’t learn to snow ski.  But at this point we have settled into a life that includes neither and the chances are that absent some concerted intention we will never have cause or opportunity to change that.  We’re both okay with it.

But what if that thing – the thing we’d never learned to do as children – were something more, shall we say, essential? What if we’d never learned to swim?  What if we’d never learn to ride a bike?  Well, if we lived in Washington, D.C. I might have an easy answer for you.  The answer?  We would take a class.

As it is, I learned to ride a bike (a pink one with brown flowers and a banana seat) when I was six years old on our dead end street with my dad running behind me until my balance was sufficient for him to let go.  I have vague memories of it, but I’ve seen the pictures so many times that whatever holes were left by my memory have been filled in by photojournalism.  But for people who didn’t have a pink bike, brown flowers, banana seat, and eternally patient father, there is a class that teaches adults how to ride a bike.  I find the very premise of such a class inspiring.

Old dog/new trick clichés notwithstanding, there is something about learning to ride a bike as an adult that is surprising.  For most people is is something learned as a child, or not at all.  And yet there are apparently many adults (enough to sustain a class) who never learned as children, and are willing to subject themselves to the process of learning it now.  They start on balance bikes (no training wheels, no pedals, and propelled only by “kicking like a frog” with both feet) just the way little kids do today.  I have to imagine it’s not the most distinguished feeling.  And yet they want to learn and are willing to do so, regardless of however foolish they may feel in the process.

In thinking about this I find myself impressed and inspired.  I also find myself reminded of the fact that learning something new is typically not a graceful or glamourous process.  Whether it’s riding a bike, driving a car, playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language, cooking, or painting – in order to learn we must first admit that we don’t know what we’re doing.  We must make our shortcomings and inadequacies transparent to another person; a teacher.  And we must let that teacher point out everything we are doing wrong without defense, all in the name of learning.  Learning is not for the timid or the proud.

There are many things I don’t know how to do that I wish I could: speak French, crochet, grow another two to three inches.  And there are skills that I once learned but have since become rusty from disuse: playing the piano, playing golf, speaking Spanish.  But if I want to quash any of my inadequacies I will have to cop to them first.  My age is not really the thing that precludes me from this.  It’s the busy existence of a working mom with three little boys whose life doesn’t feel the least bit empty for the lack of these skills.  And perhaps that is exactly why the old dog/new tricks maxim so often rings true.  It’s not that we can’t learn as adults.  It’s just that we’ve built a life without something and so we don’t know what we’re missing.  This isn’t to say we must all learn everything as adults that we never learned as children.  It is only to say that we can.  If we want to, we can.  If we need to, we can.  Our ability to learn is as strong today as it was 20 or 30 years ago.  We have only to come to a place where our eagerness is as well.

No Duds

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

I am finicky when it comes to chocolates.  I’m a big dessert person, but not a big candy person.  If I’m going to indulge in something so unabashedly rich and indulgent, I want to really love it.  If I bite into a chocolate and discover orange crème (ugh…) I throw it out.  Not worth it.  (Also, orange crème is kind of gross.)  My favorites are Russell Stover’s Roman Nougat and Teuscher Champagne Truffles.  Those I will eat until I hate myself.  Anything else gets a lukewarm response out of me.

IEP’s approach differs greatly from my own.  In his world it’s quite simple.  There are no duds.  Period.  All chocolates are wonderful.  All chocolates are treats.  No filling – not cherry caramel, not coconut, not even orange crème – yields disappointment.   

I first noticed this back in December when my mother included a one-pound box of assorted chocolates amongst IEP’s other Christmas gifts.  (And I was reminded of it again when she gave him a much smaller box on a recent visit.)  He eagerly made his way through the box (with some help, of course) without expressing a single concern about what he would find inside.  I’d never seen anyone pick chocolates out of a box without even asking about the filling.  It was a complete nonissue.  I was astounded.  Perhaps it was because in my family growing up finding sneaky (and always unsuccessful) ways to investigate fillings before committing to a chocolate was at least common practice if not full-throttle sport.  You did not want to bite into something without knowing first whether it was going to be good.  But in IEP’s brain there’s no reason to even ask what’s inside.  It’s candy.  Of course it’s going to be good.

It’s a mindset that many of us would do well to apply to our lives more often.  Many of us struggle to maintain such a strong sense of positivity and we too easily find what went wrong in a given situation, rather than what went right.  To a great extent we choose how we experience the world arround us.  Choosing to see the good can go a long way in our enjoyment of many things.  Sitting down to read a book is always a treat (even if we get interrupted).  Going out to a movie is always a treat (even if the show wasn’t that great).  Eating food that someone else prepared is always a treat (even if it wasn’t precisely what you were in the mood for).  Getting out for a nice long run is always a treat (even if you take more walk breaks than you wish you had).  And eating a chocolate is always a treat, even if there’s orange crème on the inside.

Optimism and positivity can also run amok.  When we constantly proclaim that everything is good, nothing is ever wrong, and we only see joy and happiness everywhere we look we cease to see the world honestly.  We must allow space for the real and genuine admissions of the things we find disappointing, hurtful, or lacking in some way.  But given how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole of all that goes wrong, I think that for many of us (myself included), a course correction to IEP’s “there are no duds” philosophy could be a very good thing.

I expect that someday my son’s approach to chocolates may become more conventional.  Someday he may develop preferences that lead him to poke a hole in the bottom, bite off a corner, or slice a chocolate completely in half before popping it into his mouth.  But in the meantime I will applaud his open-mindedness and optimism.  And I will try to adopt it myself.

Four Months Later…

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Did you think I’d totally forgotten about this blog?  I wouldn’t blame you if you did.  Four whole months ago I made a passing comment about extending my holiday blogging break due to some craziness in my professional life, and haven’t been heard from since.  Poof!  I was gone.

I’m really sorry about that.  I have a collection of loyal readers and I know that my absence here has been disappointing to many of you.  (Some of you have even flattered me by telling me so.)  And now that I am back I feel that I should provide a bit of explanation.  As you will read below, my head has not been entirely above water these past few months, and something had to give.  Actually, a few things had to give, and blogging was one of those things.  Sometimes real life steps in and demands to be lived rather than pondered.  This was one of those times.

So here’s how it all went down…  (Because I will not try to fully recap four months in one blog post, I’m giving it to you in bullets.)

  • Late November – Writing energy flags as my creativity is channeled into Christmas gift ideas, party planning, and other holiday merriment.
  • Early December – ADOPTION REFERRAL!!  We were matched with a child and spent the rest of the month scrambling to file immigration documents, referral acceptance paperwork, and many other forms which we hadn’t completed since we weren’t expecting to be matched until spring or summer.
  • Late December/Early January – Work demands ramp up to an incredible level.  I pull many 15+ hour days which are (if I’m being diplomatic) “unpleasant.”  Post-holiday blogging return gets postponed.
  • Mid-January – The flu hits our house and fells both GAP and me in consecutive bouts over the course of about 10 days.  We concurrently pester our adoption agency about our wait time to travel to Korea.
  • Late January – The mayhem of my work life continues.  I leave my job.  We continue to push our adoption agency to get our travel approval granted expeditiously.
  • Early February – I kick off a massive job search with the hope of uncovering as many opportunities as possible before we bring our new son home.
  • Late February – We travel to Korea for a week to get our son.  He is two years old, completely adorable, and will be known on this blog as JDP.
  • March – JDP works hard to overcome jet lag, learn English, learn sign language, adapt to life with brothers, make his peace with many new foods, accept discipline as a regular part of life now, and gain his footing in a completely new existence.  I interview with several companies.
  • Late March – I get a job offer!  I accept it!
  • April – I try to enjoy my final month of downtime at home, continue to help JDP settle in, and tie up many loose ends before returning to work.

And that brings us to today.  I am now back at work and trying hard to resume our normal routines.  Many of those routines have changed as we adjust to being a family of five, but we’re getting there.  And part of that return to normal includes a return to blogging for me.

Now that I’ve explained the reasons for my little disappearing act, I want to say that the past four months have impressed upon me that blogging is an incredible privilege.  The time, inclination, and resources (mental, emotional, etc.) to wax philosophical about the world around me are not available to everyone.  I am lucky that nine days out of ten they are available to me.  But since the start of 2013 they have not been, and that has prompted me to appreciate more than ever that blogging is – as I might tell my kids – a special treat.

I’ve had many ideas in the past four months of things I’d like to blog about – ideas that, sadly, have come and gone.  No matter.  There will be new ideas and new blog topics.  I plan to resume my twice weekly posting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I hope you will come back, resume reading, and offer your thoughts on anything I write.  The dialog, after all, is much of the reason I do.

I’ve missed being here.  And I’m very happy to be back.