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Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Ready or Not

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Little by little it’s all becoming quite real.  IEP has moved out of the nursery and into his good-boy room.  My FMLA paperwork has been filled out and will be submitted to HR this week.  Last week Nanny laundered all of our newborn and 0-3 month baby clothes.  And over the weekend I took IEP’s vast collection of 2T polo shirts out of the nursery closet and hung his former collection of newborn footed sleepers on tiny hangers.  Tiny hats, socks, and onesies fill the dresser.  Newborn diapers will be ordered this week.

This baby is coming.

People ask me if I’m ready.  The nice thing about having a second boy, and a second November baby is that from a logistical perspective, I’ve been ready for three years.  We have all the gear, all the clothes, and all kinds of knowledge we didn’t have the first time around.  This should be a piece of cake, right? …  I’m not so sure.

I have no experience in parenting two children.  I have never tried to care for a newborn while also caring for a toddler.  We have never been a family of four.  And this adventure, much like the first one, will be a case study in lessons learned the hard way.  For that is the only way to figure these things out.

And so I look at the logistical end of things.  I am pre-registered at the hospital.  IEP’s birthday party is planned and booked.  Christmas shopping is about 85% complete.  We have made arrangements for Nanny to be on call for IEP should I go into labor in the middle of the night.  I still need to stock my freezer with my preferred post-partum menu of homemade soups, and stock up on batteries for all of the bouncy seats, swings, white noise machines and other baby paraphernalia.  But beyond that, I’m ready.

And beyond that, I’m ready.  I’m ready to meet this little guy.  I’m ready to see what IEP is like as a big brother.  I’m ready for the ligament pain in my spine to dissipate.  I’m ready to roll over in bed without having to wake up and adjust multiple pillows each time.  I’m ready walk away from my job for a few months and indulge my mind in the mental vacation its been craving for weeks now.  And I’m ready to burp and swaddle and snuggle the newest love of my life; to smell that new baby smell; to hear the sweet little grunts that are only made by a nursing baby; and to watch my life fill up again beyond anything I ever could have imagined.

This baby is coming whether I’m ready or not.  Lucky for both of us, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Good Boy Room

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Several weeks ago, in an effort to begin preparing IEP for big brotherhood and to keep him excited about being a little boy after the baby arrives on the scene, I started talking to him periodically about all the things that ”big boys” get to do that babies can’t do.  (Think: go down slides, eat ice cream, play with trains, tickle Daddy, go to gymnastics class, etc.).  However, after months and months of telling him after various outings and adventures that he behaved well and was a good boy, when I started regaling him with the glories of being a big boy he corrected me.  “No, no, Mommy.  No big boy.  IEP good boy!”  (Note: he doesn’t actually refer to himself by his initials…)  And so it was in that vein that this past weekend’s major project was not moving IEP into his Big Boy Room, but rather into his Good Boy Room.

The process was bigger than GAP and I anticipated at the outset and ended up absorbing the entire holiday weekend.  Tasks included:  Select and purchase furniture.  Select and purchase bedding.  Select and purchase family meal from KFC.  Move all adult office furniture out of heretofore home office and into heretofore guest bedroom.  Reroute all computer, phone, and internet cables.  Realize cell phone is missing.  Vacuum many dust bunnies.  Select and purchase wall paint.  Paint bedroom walls.  Go out to breakfast because the house is completely devoid of any basic provisions.  Unsuccessfully shop for draperies.  Successfully shop for drapery hardware.  Select and purchase two file cabinets.  Drive to two different warehouses to collect said file cabinets.  Realize cell phone was left at first furniture store two days prior.  And on, and on, and on.  It was an incredible drain.

Nevertheless, the weekend contained some significant bright spots.  I always enjoy weekends at home with my boys, but weekends like this one remind me of how much I appreciate them.  I appreciate that even in exhausting and stressful circumstances GAP and I navigate life together without snapping or fighting.  I appreciate that IEP is a trooper, happy to tag along on errands and (for the most part) keep himself occupied and out of trouble.  And somehow, it is during trying times as often as happy ones that I recognize how truly thankful I am for the life that I have.

As for the Good Boy Room project itself, we got it all done.  The office was successfully relocated.  The new bedroom furniture will be delivered tomorrow.  The walls are painted.  The bedding is washed.  And IEP has slept on his Good Boy Bed every night since Saturday (we were able to bring the mattress home without the rest of the set).  Drapes have been ordered.  I’m still looking for a rug, but other than that we’re very close.  I’ve been amazed and impressed with how easily my baby has handled this big change, and I find myself quite proud of the little boy he’s become.  Each night when I tuck him in he goes down with a smile and I’m sometimes taken aback at how much he simply isn’t a baby anymore.

As for babies, IEP’s move into the Good Boy Room means that the nursery is once again vacant.  And somehow – as if being seven months pregnant weren’t tangible enough – seeing that room sit empty has made it quite real to me that we have another baby on the way.  I am easily transported to the weeks leading up to IEP’s birth, when the nursery was complete but the pregnancy wasn’t.  Many evenings I would walk in, sit in the glider, and stare at the space that had been so carefully filled with the stuff of a baby, but was yet so empty for lack of an actual tiny person.  I thought to myself, “There’s going to be a baby living in here soon.”  But no matter how many times I tried to envision it I really had precious little conception of what it would be like when that statement came true.  Now, with our second go around, I make the same statement in my head with much more knowledge of what the future holds.  What I don’t know, though, is who this baby is.  Is he a good sleeper and a good eater?  Will he nurse quickly like his brother or slowly?  Does he like to be swaddled?  Are the hours from 5:00pm to 7:00pm hard for him?  Much like meeting any new person for the first time I know both much and little of what to expect.

What I know for now, though, is that IEP is a Good Boy, with a Good Boy Bed, in a Good Boy Room.  For the past nearly-three years he has been as good a boy as I could ever have dreamt of.  I can’t imagine loving anything else as I much as I love him.  But then again, before he was born I never could have imagined loving him this much either.

My life is stuffed with blessings.

30 Down. 10 To Go.

Monday, August 29th, 2011

30 weeks down.  10 to go.

75% there.

Glass three-quarters full.

Six months and three weeks along.

Two and a half months left.

All of those things are true about my pregnancy today.  But only one of them makes me feel like I’m really getting closer to my due date.  I’ve been pregnant for 30 weeks.  I have only ten weeks left.  That feels like an accomplishment.  Every other version of the same math leaves me feeling as though the end is still not in sight.  So I’m focusing on the first countdown method, because I find myself needing a little pick-me-up in the attitude department.

I should be honest here.  Pregnancy is pretty easy on me.  Other than third trimester heartburn (which mercifully hasn’t set in yet), I get virtually none of the miserable side effects that often come with pregnancy.  I am keeping up with my usual routine, and while I’ve had to dial back the intensity level of a few things, for the most part I feel pretty normal.  So I feel a bit selfish admitting that I’m counting down the weeks to delivery, because I know I could have it a lot worse.  Nevertheless, I miss feeling like my old self.

Wishing these last few weeks away could be dangerous, though.  These are IEP’s last weeks of being an only child.  They are my last weeks of having only one little boy who needs me.  My last weeks of being able to devote myself entirely to him.  GAP’s and my last weeks of outnumbering our children.  Whether or not we are ready, big changes are coming and I would be remiss not to stop and cherish the life that we have had and loved for the past nearly-three years.

I’ve remarked to GAP many times recently that I never imagined that parenthood would be this much fun.  I thought I would enjoy it, but I have been surprised and delighted at how truly fun it is.  I believe that adding to our family will only add to that level of fun.  I will find joy in watching IEP take up the mantle of brotherhood.  I will get to be tickled all over again with the many milestones of the first couple of years.  And I will be able to look around at my life, never having envisioned myself as the mother of two boys, and recognize how much I love it and how well it suits me.

However, there is much about my life as it is that I love.  Aspects of that life are going to end, and I’m struggling with that.  From this vantage point I can easily see what I will lose when our second son is born this fall.  But I can’t yet see all that I will gain.  So I am left to take it on faith, to trust, and to believe, that what I give up will be outweighed by what I gain.  After all, it was because we are so head over heels in love with IEP that we wanted to have another child.  I know it will be hard for a while.  I know we will be in over our heads.  I know that there will be stress and hormones and tears.  But I also know that the moment my second little boy is born I won’t ever again be able to imagine my life without him.

Paging a Creative Solution

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

My favorite page

I suppose I think it’s a shame.  I’ve been mulling it over for several days now, trying to decide what, exactly, was my stance on the decision of the House of Representatives to end its 200-year-old page program.

I was never a page, so I don’t have any personal nostalgia attached to the news.  Nevertheless, I feel a bit sad about it.  I read that, “After nearly 200 years, the House page program that allowed high school students to serve as messengers and learn about Congress is ending, rendered obsolete by the Internet and email in cost-cutting times,” and it took the wind out of my sails a bit.

Apparently the program costs around $5 million per year to run.  And apparently with so much communication delivered electronically now (including the news that the program would be ending), the House just didn’t feel it could justify the cost.  I get that.  This is not a time to be wasting money solely in a nod to tradition.   But why not find something else for these eager and civic-minded kids to do?

I’ve read one after another article in recent years about how today’s teens and college aged kids are narcissistic and utterly self-absorbed.  If that’s really true, doesn’t something like the page program seem like a perfect antidote?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful for these kids to continue to have the chance to get away from home for a summer, become a part of something much bigger and much older than themselves, and learn a lot about how our legislative branch works?  So what if they aren’t needed as errand boys and girls anymore.  That doesn’t mean there’s nothing for them to do.  I wish that, rather than chuck the thing altogether, someone had come up with another use for the pages.  I’m not a Washington insider, so I haven’t the foggiest idea what needs are unmet, but I can’t imagine that there’s nothing in Washington that a group of smart, motivated kids couldn’t tackle.

It’s not that I’m advocating keeping the page program out of some sense of hanging onto the past.  Perhaps there is a token of that – it’s always sad to see something that once thrived wither and die on the vine – but more than anything I think it’s a lost opportunity.  It’s a lost opportunity not only for the kids who won’t get to serve, but also for our country which is giving up on an opportunity to inspire young people.  (Despite the fact that this summer likely wouldn’t have been a very inspiring one on Capitol Hill…)

Congress has proven many times over recently that creative thinking isn’t their forte, so perhaps it’s asking too much to suggest that they come up with a better use for the pages.  But I have a hard time believing that all the value that changed hands through the page program (in both directions) over the past 200 years can be wholly captured by e-mail.

The Mother of Invention

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Apparently I should challenge myself more often.

I enjoy cooking and I like to think I do a pretty good job of it.  I make dinner from scratch nearly every weeknight (although pregnancy has seen me slack off a bit more than usual) and I’ve developed some decent culinary skills in the past 10 years.  However, I’ve come to realize that I’m in a bit of a rut, and that rut has been enabled by weekly grocery trips.

Last week the Family P skipped town for a few days.  We’d been planning to escape the heat and enjoy a change of scenery.  So our usual Sunday grocery trip was significantly curtailed and only included a few basics that we needed to get us through Wednesday.  I took it upon myself to create dinners for Monday and Tuesday nights from things we already had on hand.

I’ve given myself this challenge before and it doesn’t always pan out so deliciously.  I’ve ended up eating cottage cheese, baked beans, and leftover biscuits.  Blech.  But last week I guess I was inspired.  On Monday night we had a pasta dish with broccoli, chicken and a white wine and mascarpone sauce.  On Tuesday we had BLTs on challah with homemade fried okra.  Both meals were both wonderful, and wonderful departures from our typical go-to menu rotation.

Wednesday evening as we left town I got to thinking about my culinary adventures from the prior nights.  They didn’t require any more time or skill than dishes I normally make.  They didn’t require that much more creativity.  But there was something about them – something about the challenge at hand – that made them more fun, both to prepare and to eat.

I’m not usually one for extrapolating broad meaning out of specific situations, but this one got me thinking about other ruts in my life.  I wonder if there are other aspects of my daily routine that I would find more rewarding if I broke out of my normal patterns.  What if I hopped on a rowing machine at the gym instead of the elliptical?  What if I took the back roads to work instead of the highways?  What if I turned on some music when I got home in the evenings?  Some of these changes might not delight me as my menu shake-up did, but others might.

The old maxim goes that necessity is the mother of invention.  Last week I experienced that very phenomenon.  However, I am very blessed and rarely find myself needing anything I don’t already have.  It isn’t often that I’m called up to invent.  But my kitchen adventures last week made me realize that perhaps I should force myself to invent more often.

The Prenatal Trade Deadline

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

This is a busy time of year for baseball fans.  The mid-season trade deadline passed on July 31st, although with some finagling teams can continue to execute trades until the end of this month.  It’s unnerving if your team loses a good player (as mine did…).  It’s exciting if your team picks one up.  Either way, at this time of year when the weather is hot and miserable, the season is feeling sluggish, and the postseason lineup is still debatable, the mid-season trade deadline injects a bit of excitement into the game.  And, in a strange episode of life imitating sports, I just made a swap of my own.

Yesterday, at 26 weeks and change into my second pregnancy, I switched to a new OB.

That single sentence represents a complex web of emotions for me.  It represents the frustration and anger I felt with my old OB.  It represents my disappointment at having to reconcile myself to the fact that I was in the wrong hands.  It represents the triumph of knowing that I took control of the situation and made the right decision for me and my baby.  And it represents the warmth and comfort of a friend who talked through my situation with me, recommended her OB without hesitation, and called her doctor’s office on my behalf to help ensure that I could get an appointment.

Being an adult is not always easy.  Actually, more times than not, it’s really difficult – especially if we want to do it well.  Confrontation, both of people and of situations, takes courage that can be hard to muster.  After the deal-breaker appointment with my old OB I sat with a pit in my stomach for five days without telling a soul as I came to grips with the change I needed to make.  I wrestled with myself, working hard to determine if my convictions were rooted in reason or prenatal hormones.  And eventually I knew that I had to do something very hard.

The act of leaving my old OB (whom I’d been with for 10 years and 1.5 pregnancies) was easy.  I didn’t even have to tell him my reasons if I didn’t want to.  All I had to do was sign a piece of paper releasing my records to my new doctor and be on my way.  But I didn’t want to do it that way.

My last appointment in his office was with another doctor in his practice (scheduled as such before I’d made the decision to leave).  Since my new doctor couldn’t get me in right away, I had to keep that last appointment, knowing that when I went in I likely wouldn’t see my own doctor unless it was in passing.  Aware that I might not have the opportunity for a verbal explanation, and fearing that I might dilute my feelings in a face-to-face encounter, I wrote a letter.  I hoped to give it to him myself, but he was out of the office and I had to leave it with his receptionist.

In it I told him the reasons for my transition to a new doctor – namely the fact that specific aspects of his treatment of my pregnancy made me question the quality of the care I was getting.  I told him in detail what he had done to make me doubt him.  And I told him that his actions were entirely preventable.  I told him that while I defended him after IEP’s fraught delivery, I didn’t intend to let something go wrong again just because I didn’t have the nerve to abandon a doctor who wasn’t giving me his full attention.

He hasn’t contacted me, and I’m not surprised.  Frankly, I don’t need him to.  What I need him to do is take my words to heart and consider whether he’s being the kind of doctor his patients deserve.  If my departure can solicit that kind of self-evaluation, then it’s worth it to me.

I’ve only had one appointment with her, but so far I like my new OB.  She had read my transferred records before seeing me.  She listened as I explained the circumstances behind my 26-week switch.  She asked pointed and astute questions about IEP’s delivery, and tried to assess (as best she could without having been there) why it was so problematic, and what we might do to prevent similar problems with my next delivery.  She was warm.  She was kind.  She seemed genuinely concerned about what I’d been through to this point.  And she seemed committed to giving me a better birth experience with my second delivery than I had with my first.

Being an adult is sometimes hard.  Doing it well is frequently hard.  But I’ve found in my life that I have more regrets about skirting confrontation than I do about facing it.  I have a son to raise.  And before too long I’ll have two.  I want them to see me be honest and forthright.  I want them to see me do things that are hard because they are right.  I want them to learn by example what it means not only to be a good adult, but to be a good human being.

No one wants to admit that a doctor they’ve been with for 10 years is asleep at the switch.  But I have a family to take care of.  And in this case, taking care of my son meant doing something hard even before he is born.  I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate it now.  But it represents a trend I hope to continue throughout my kids’ lives; a trend that I hope they will appreciate one day, provided I continue to do it right.

Beyond the White House Lawn

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Yesterday I heard from a commenter asking if there were any news on our missing babysitter.  This prompted me to realize that others of you may also be interested in an update.  We were relieved to find out a couple of weeks ago that she is fine.  She was in a bad car wreck that put her in a neck and back brace preventing her from using her computer to return e-mails for several weeks.  She has since gone through a rigorous physical therapy program and was recently cleared by her doctor to resume normal activity.  Thanks again to each of you for your concern and advice.

Fabulous arms and stunning collection of belts aside, there is much about Michelle Obama’s life that I do not envy.  Specifically I do not envy her obligation to walk the very narrow path of what is determined to be an appropriate level of involvement for a First Lady to take in public causes.  For the most part she has walked this path adeptly.  However, there have been times when even I – in spite of my sympathy for her highly visible but poorly defined role – have found myself judging.  Her pet cause of nutrition has been a big shortcoming in my mind.

This is not to say that I don’t agree with her stance.  Quite conversely I think that nutritional deficiencies (and the multi-billion-dollar-a-year health problems they cause) are grossly overlooked in our culture.  Yes, we idolize slender celebrities and bemoan the percentage of our population that is overweight and obese.  But have we really done much of anything to solve the problem?  This is where my beef with Mrs. Obama comes in.  I have always believed that her organic garden on the White House lawn was a wonderful symbol, but it is only a symbol.  How many people can it feed?  Not many.  It was never enough.

The First Lady got out of my dog house recently, though.  Last week she moved beyond the White House lawn as she was joined by a collection of representatives from major food retailers to announce their commitment to open or expand a combined 1,500 stores in designated food deserts.  In February of last year she initiated the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, and now that project is producing some real results.  Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and other major players in the retail food sector have pledged to begin offering fresh produce and other groceries not typically stocked at the locations in question.  This is a huge step forward.  It means that millions of people will now have access to fresh ingredients where before they may only have had access to fast food.  This is the beginning of making a real difference.

Why just the beginning?  Because it’s only half of the equation.

The documentary film Food, Inc., briefly profiles a poor Latino family of four.  The father has Type 2 Diabetes.  He, his wife, and their younger daughter are all overweight.  His diabetes medications absorb a sizeable chunk of their monthly budget, and so they find themselves unable to purchase the foods they would like to buy at the grocery store.  The cameras follow them through the produce section as they look longingly at heads of broccoli, apples, and other fruits and vegetables that are out of their price range.  They face similar frustrations in the dairy section, where the mother comments that a two-liter bottle of soda is on sale for less than half the price of a gallon of milk.  They believe that their dollar won’t go stretch far enough in the supermarket, and so they get in the car and drive to Burger King where ten dollars can fill all four of their bellies for the rest of the day.  It broke my heart.

This is why a lack of fresh food in urban areas is only part of the problem.  There is an education problem at play that must be addressed simultaneously.  Many (most?) of the people afflicted by food deserts have no idea how to shop for or prepare raw ingredients.  And it’s not their fault – they’ve never had the opportunity to learn.  As I watched that scene in Food, Inc. I thought “Where are the dried beans?  Where are the canned tomatoes?  Where are the eggs?  Where is the frozen spinach?  Where is the rice?  Where are the ham hocks and chicken wings?”  These are inexpensive items that can stretch a tight budget for miles.  Cooking from raw ingredients (which doesn’t always mean fresh produce) on a budget is not hard, but neither is it intuitive.  It is something that must be taught.  Without some educational programming at the ready, these newly stocked grocery stores won’t make a difference.

Fresh broccoli, apples, and blueberries are wonderful additions to a person’s diet.  But they are pricey indulgences for people with limited income.  And without some serious training that’s all they will ever be – occasional treats.  If we’re going to make a difference in the health of low-income families, we need to help them change the way they eat all the time, not just now and then.

I applaud Mrs. Obama for all the work that she is doing in this arena.  I just hope that she realizes we’re not to the finish line yet.

Many thanks to Big Little Wolf whose Sunday post on the topic of buying healthy food on a budget, coupled with the news about the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, inspired this post.

Grounded

Monday, July 11th, 2011

This post was originally published in April 2010.  The shuttle program’s final mission lauched on Friday, so I thought it timely and appropriate to offer these thoughts again.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been listening to various newscasters mention the impending shuttering of the NASA shuttle program.  After 30-some years of space exploration, the program is being disbanded, and surprisingly, I care.

I am not a science buff.  I care very little about space exploration, rockets, moon dust, and the like.  It is all so far away, so abstract, and has so little bearing on my daily life.  Other than the disasters, all of our space exploration has captured very little of my attention.  Nevertheless, the romance of it resonates with me.

I can imagine the 1960s.  I can picture the race with Russia.  I can understand the sense of incredible national accomplishment of Neil Armstrong’s small step that was for our country a giant leap.  And I can understand how the realization of President Kennedy’s dream fostered pride in Americans and a drive to keep striving for more.

My life has never existed without NASA buzzing about somewhere in the background; shuttles preparing to launch; satellite photos showing up in National Geographic and Time magazines.  I was born into the country that won the space race and wore that badge proudly.  As a product of the seventies I have never seen America’s superiority legitimately challenged, and there’s a certain level of braggadocio that can develop as a result.

But now we’re sitting down for a few years.  We’re going to have to hitch rides on a Russian shuttle while our own program is in time out.  Granted, there is a new program on the horizon, but it will be several years before the Constellation program is actively launching anything.  And there’s something about this that makes me a little bit sad.  It’s reassuring to know that your country’s best and brightest are behind the wheel, doing things that you will never be smart or brave enough to do yourself.

When I say it like this it feels silly.  Much as the shuttle program didn’t affect my daily life during its lifespan, its ending likely won’t either.  And if I gleaned any sense of security from our space exploration it was probably unfounded.  I suspect that subconsciously I liked to believe that if we had the time and money to be bouncing around space, then things here on the ground must be in pretty good shape.  But I don’t have to read too many headlines to know that’s not true.

I guess what it boils down to is that there is something romantic and powerful about space travel.  And walking away from it – even if temporarily – feels like we’re taking a step backward.  Once the newness of this change has worn off the topic of our space exploration program will probably return to the outer recesses of my mind.  But when it comes back, I’ll be cheering for it to be better than ever before.

The Promise of a Better Life

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Last month the nation took notice when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas announced in the The New York Times Magazine that he had been living in the U.S. illegally since the age of 12.  As a follow-up to that article he was interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday; an interview that I listened to with rapt attention.

Of all that was fascinating about Vargas’ story, the element that most captivated me was the one that I felt was most overlooked – the circumstances under which he left his home country.  In his NYT piece Vargas describes it this way:

One August morning nearly two decades ago, my mother woke me and put me in a cab. She handed me a jacket. “Baka malamig doon” were among the few words she said. (“It might be cold there.”) When I arrived at the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino International Airport with her, my aunt and a family friend, I was introduced to a man I’d never seen. They told me he was my uncle. He held my hand as I boarded an airplane for the first time. It was 1993, and I was 12.

In the NPR interview Vargas elaborated that he has never left the U.S. since his arrival here in 1993, and has not seen his mother since the day he left her.  He commented that he understood from a very young age that his future lay in America; that he did not know how or when that future might begin, only that some day it would.

But back to his departure from the Philippines.  I cannot fathom it.  For starters, having been lucky enough to be born in a developed nation, much less into a happy, educated, and stable family, I cannot entirely wrap my head around what it must be like to grow up knowing that everything around you is something you’re trying to escape.  Further still, I cannot imagine, at the age of 12 – old enough to understand the magnitude of what’s happening, yet not old enough to control any of it – being shipped off with a stranger with no prior warning and very little explanation.  And yet the way Vargas tells it, this was not by any means the most poignant moment of his journey as an illegal immigrant.  But I would imagine that this kind of thing happens all the time.

The promise of a better life, that’s what motivates these often-heart-wrenching stories.  Vargas beat the odds – most illegal immigrants do not go on to work for the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and the New York Times.  (Even the most advantaged journalists struggle to compete for those jobs.)  But in spite of the odds of any notable success being slim, those odds are perceived as an improvement over a person’s status quo.

So I wonder, does the promise of that better life offer enough hope to assuage the pain of being ripped from your mother at the dawn of your adolescence?  Are those wounds that can ever heal?  In his NPR interview Vargas didn’t speak about there being wounds there at all (which isn’t to say that they aren’t there and were perhaps just too personal to discuss, or simply not the point of his story).  But if this story were mine I can only imagine that that August morning in 1993 would be a pivotal moment in my experience, rather than merely the introduction.

I wonder if he thinks it was worth it.  I wonder if the promise of a better life – a promise which for Vargas was actually realized – was enough to offset what had to have been a traumatic moment.  Even more so I wonder about the people who do not end up as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists – the people who end up picking fruit or cleaning hotel rooms.  For those people was that promise, which America maybe didn’t make good on, enough to soothe the loss of what they left behind?

Realistic, Flexible, and Tolerant

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Last year I was something of a New Year’s Resolutions maven.  I laid out my resolutions on January first and lived up to each of them all year long.  It was incredibly satisfying.

So far, this year has been different.  At the moment, I’m one for nine.  (I have actually been pretty good about carrying reusable grocery bags.)  Here we are, more than a third of the way through the year and I have only one victory to my name.  I still have plenty of time to make good on most of my promises, but there’s one in particular that has been a real struggle and I have a strong suspicion that it’s not going to improve.  My nemesis this year?  Reading.

This particular failing hits me hard because my reading goal for last year – to read more nonfiction – was a smashing success.  I devoured one nonfiction title after another.  As a lifetime reader of novels up to that point I was both invigorated by and impressed with my ability to find such strong affection for a new genre.  Not only did I like trying something different, but I liked having a reading goal for the year.  I established a new reading goal for this year – to read literary classics – and was eager to replicate last year’s success.

By this time last year I’d finished about five books within my goal category.  My tally this year: none.  I’ve been 20 pages into Anna Karenina for about three months now.  Every time I pick it up I enjoy what I read, but can’t seem to plow through more than three or four pages at a time and finally stalled out completely a month or so ago.  It’s completely depressing.  I’ve had some big distractions lately which make my failure slightly more tolerable.  Nevertheless, I’m still disappointed in myself.

The silver lining to all this, though, is that I’m about to permit myself a paradigm shift.

I don’t like not reading.  And for whatever reason Tolstoy, Cather, Dickens, the Brontes, Shakespeare, Proulx, and Franzen aren’t doing it for me right now.  As long as I keep myself boxed into this category, reading just doesn’t appeal to me.  Since not reading at all is not a path I’m willing to take (that would be a bigger failure than merely flaking out on my classics goal), I’ve decided to change tack.  And I have my new niece to thank for that.

I flew out to the West coast last Friday to visit my sister’s tiny and darling lump of a baby.  Since I wasn’t especially enthralled with the book I had brought along I started perusing her shelves when I got here.  Without much thought I picked up her copy of “Prep.”  For reasons I can’t adequately articulate, but which almost certainly relate exclusively to misperceptions about the quality of the writing and the relevance of the subject matter, I didn’t read it when it hit the bestseller lists about five years ago.  Something about being in vacation mode permitted me to indulge myself of a book with a pink grosgrain belt displayed across the dust cover.  But within the first 10 pages I was hooked.  Not only did I quickly discover how brilliant Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing is, but I remembered how great it feels to get lost in a book.

I bring this all up today because in the life of this blog I’ve been a big advocate of goals.  I still am a big advocate of goals.  I think it’s important to identify the things about ourselves that we wish were different and earmark them for improvement.  However, I also think it’s important to be realistic, flexible, and tolerant when we fall short of our ambitions.  In this case I’m choosing a lesser of evils.  Better to read what engages me (within reason, of course – no Danielle Steele around here) than not to read at all.  Perhaps later in the year I’ll find myself with renewed vigor for the classics.  But for the moment I’m happy to be devouring something unexpected, fun, and wickedly clever.  For the moment it was more important to renew my vigor for reading in the first place.