Saturday, April 28, 2012

words & stats: love is 11, hate is 1 and water

I love statistics. They tell a story, paint a picture, give a glimpse. 

They can also be manipulated, I know this. So can people, but that's beside the point. Let's move on. 

The point is that if I keep the search simple, then I get simple results. Clean and unfiltered results, like Colorado spring water running off a mountainside or dripping into a rocky gorge into a pool below. Nice, huh?

I have found, through my own little blog statistics here that my most-read content is about neutral-to-positive, life-relatable experiences: parental observations, stories from my youth, moments of learning and glances at my world, the day of toothpaste shopping and that shopping cart from hell. The posts about politics, local stuff here in my 'hood, sadness and troubles don't get as much traffic. I understand that: it's hard to read about sadness when you've got your own stuff going on.  It's important and nice though, to know you're not alone. But of everything, it's the most-human aspects that I write about that seem to generate the most interest amongst my readers. While I experience sadness and write about it, I always endeavor to have you laugh a little, to show you that a smile is more than a crack in the sadness: it's an anchor in the storm.

Equally nice and beautifully telling, are the results I got on a very simple search of positive words versus negative words and how often they appear on the Internet.

Now, remember: earth's population just hit 7 billion strong. Sometimes we feel crowded and squeezed out. Sometimes we let our sadder, heavier emotions get the better of us. Sometimes we feel we can't keep up. That's hard. What's good about this though, is that we can learn through every supposed mistake, that we can go on, that we can get smarter? No. Stronger? No. I don't think life is about getting smarter or stronger. It's about getting better. Treating ourselves better which in turn, means we treat others better.       

When there are 7b people on this rock, I'm guessing not all of them have Internet access. Even in the U.S. we have only broadband 60% connectivity. Click on this link to go to a site that tells the latest story. 

So, what I'm about to show is pretty freakin' awesome if you ask me. (Even though you didn't.) I am happy to say that Love does conquer (at least on "The Google" as a dear friend and I like to call it) and it makes me happy (which also conquers). 

I searched the following words and here are their "hits" results: 

Love: 9,240,000,000 (9.2b)
Hate: 871,000,000 (870m)

Happy: 3,790,000,000 (3.79b)
Sad: 1,010,000,000 (1.01b)

Joy: 769,000,000 (769m)
Fear: 627,000,000 (627m)

Gentle: 45,600,000 (45.6m)
Harsh: 130,000,000 (130m)

Soft: 1,500,000,000 (1.5b)
Tough: 2,350,000,000 (2.35b)

Open: 6,500,000,000 (6.5b)
Close: 5,940,000,000 (5.9b)

Heart: 3,050,000,000 (3.05b)
Brain: 630,000,000 (630m)

Soul: 1,120,000,000 (1.12b)
Mind: 2,100,000,000 (2.1b)

Peace: 931,000,000 (931m)
Dread: 61,700,000 (61.7m)

Now here's the deal: you can massage these stats any way you wish. We can simply state that this data reflects the usage of these words on the Internet and leave it at that. We can do that. If so, thank you for reading. 

But I'm me. A little out-of-the-boxish. Sure, the counts reflect the usage. But to me, they also reflect the sentiment. They tell me that people prefer love and that if love wins on an Internet statistic where only the people / institutions who use the Internet are sharing their words and intentions, then there is enough of it to go around for everyone on this planet. 

Confession (I'm always honest if nothing else): when I wrote down my columns of the words to search (see the picture below), I had a + and a - to differentiate. Lo and behold! Facepalm!: despite all my years of therapy and all my attempts to be more "soft & vulnerable" as my most awesome therapist ever challenged me (the day before he left for a month-long vacation) to consider being (the memory of that challenge still makes me barf a little in my mouth, no joke), I put "tough" in the positive column and "soft" in the negative column today.  A few key friends and people I used to know are savvy to that story. 

I guess I still have some work to do. But you know what? So does the Internet because  "tough" outnumbers "soft" by ... a lot (Thing 1's at soccer, so my instant math stats genius is gone). What those stats show *me* is that while usage of "vulnerable" is higher than "invulnerable" the lower comparisons tell me that usage of strength over weakness is higher.  

So apparently I still value my toughness. My parents used to call me "Toughy Turner" and while to them it was a term of endearment, it shaped me and I began to understand that "toughness" was valued over softness. And to a kid growing up with a fair amount of chaos, from which I am constantly recovering, I suppose it only bears the truth that the Tough not only survive but they thrive. Softness connotes vulnerability to me (notice I didn't search that on my card above) and well, I don't know anyone who admits to be OK with feeling vulnerable. Now, that doesn't mean we don't try to go there, it just means a lot of yuck. But it's important. 

Ok, fine... here's the comparison of (it's hilarious to me when I imagine you all raising and eyebrow and saying, "C'mon... you have to go there now..."): 

Vulnerable: 117,000,000 (117m)
Invulnerable:  3,980,000 (3.9m)

Strong: 2,050,000,000 (2.05b)
Weak: 286,000,000 (286m)

Neediness: 1,510,000 (1.5m)
Autonomous: 59,700,000 (59.7m)

If you still don't think words matter, check out the work of Masaru Emoto who conducted FASCINATING experiments about the weight of words and their effects on water (I knew I'd get back to that Colorado mountain spring somehow...). 

Masaru Emoto conducted hundreds, if not thousands of experiments on the power of words on water; which make up 70% of our planet and our human bodies. So, pay attention to what you say and what words you use on yourself and others. 

But y'know what's the best part of this whole thing? That "Love" had the most hits of all the words I searched. That's awesome. So share the love, spread the love and be the Love. 

So yeah! Words matter, and feelings matter.   

One more thought:

thank you.   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

River Bend Park: Hunting like the Algonquians

Today, on a sparkling clear low-70s fantastic spring day, I went on a school field trip with Thing 3 who is eight to River Bend Park with his class to learn about long-ago Native Americans in our region. He is an inquisitive little guy, articulate and sweetly awkward. He's on an accelerated intellectual path and he gets dreamy and cozy with his big ideas, speaking to me tenderly about his designs and thoughts about how the world works. While he's dreaming big, emotionally he's still tender about being asked to "come back to us," and he struggles to articulate the feelings he experiences and why he has them.  I like to equate this stage as similar to when little kids fall down: because they're short, they don't have far to go; but to them, it's still a distance and it can be hard on them, a surprise. Optimistically speaking, the younger we catch these snags, the softer the reaction, the more "in the moment" we can inspire them to be. 

He absolutely loves field trips. He loves nature and being outside as much as he loves legos and his DS and video games. When it comes to being in the moment, he loves it; loves to live there and for the most part that's OK. And he's quite flexible about social experiences. When we were at lunch at the picnic tables, he was delighted to sit and gaze softly at the river, calmly focusing, sort of taking it all in, his hair gently lifting in the soft breezes that licked our forms. It was still a little crisp, but undeniably lovely outside. We all were happy there. 

I observed his classmates in all their different flavors and styles, races and mannerisms. I was delighted that it seemed to me that Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a colorblind society is growing closer every generation. Girls were not considered weaker or slower or smaller or softer than the boys. As a mom of only three boys, I was over the moon to see that a boy's tenderness or perceived slowness or clumsiness or were not the subject of criticism. Competition existed on a skills basis only. One girl shot a bow and arrow more than 30 feet and it cleared the tarp that was supposed to catch it. No one said, "great job for a girl!" They all said, "Wow! That was amazing! Way to go, Sally!"

At River Bend Park, Thing 3 enjoys the view from the deck my tax dollars built. 

I strolled with the other parents and children under the dappled sunlight streaming through the breaks between bright, translucent leaves that popped three weeks early. My feet landed silently on the powder-sand soft, multimillennia-old pathway of this amazing park today along the Potomac River.  I listened to the sing-song conversations of the kids; grateful for the moment to "record" in my memory as one when the children are still untainted by social anxiety and inadequacy worries. They were all about the environment. All about each other, about what they saw, ladybugs and butterflies; remembering the snakes sunning on the banks of the river, and what they heard, crows ca-cawing and bees buzzing. Every once in a while I'd hear "fart" talk or "poopy" but that was about it. The kids were in the moment, happy to be away from their desks on a wonderful day with parents all around them. If the parents weren't their own, they were parents of a good friend, familiar loving people were all around.

Our guide, who had an unusual British accent; sort of Swiss and British in one, took our group to a clearing just before the path forked. I was showing my friend who is moving soon what poison ivy looks like as the guide talked about the botany and native animals of the area. Walking forward a bit slowly now, she talked about the ancient Algonquian people who lived in this area 15,000 years ago and about the tribal children in a comparative sense of the children whose attention was now rapt, hanging on her every word about the very enthralling topic of hunting and gathering. Even more exciting for them all was when she talked about what "animals leave behind them..." and the kids said, "food!" and "farts!" and one little girl said, "I know the answer, but I don't think it's polite to talk about." 

Our guide kindly laughed and said, "Yes, it's OK to talk about. Poop. The animals leave behind what we call 'scat' or what you know as 'poop'." The kids laughed in an uproar, easily frightening all the fauna to beyond a mile's distance. 

Once the laughter subsided, our guide explained how the Algonquian used their senses to hunt. Slowly and more quietly with every sentence, she explained that total silence was essential to be a good hunter. The best hunters listened to everything with all their might. Did we want to be good hunters like the Algonquian? She whisper-spoke to the group. Heads nodded in assent and children hushed, "yesssss" in reply. 

She had us. We were ready to hunt.

In order to get us into the zone, she asked us all to put our own feet very close to each other and stand still, like a pole. The ground was so soft and quiet, like a pair of fantastic and well-loved mocassins, that standing there, in this idyllic place, with all this breathtaking scenery and its gentle, nearly silent breeze was an indulgence for we oft-harried Fairfax County people. Next, she said, I want you to breathe slowly through your nose if you can, and then close your eyes and listen to everything you hear. Keep your eyes closed for one minute to take in all sounds, and breathe deeply and slowly because as an Algonquian, you would be able to smell your prey as every creature has its distinct odor. Listen for the breezes and the snaps of twigs; and of the wind rustling through a hawk's feathers kiting overhead. And so we were ready, especially the parents, waiting, desperately for that command . . . 

Close your eyes and listen. 

We heard everything: woodpeckers di-li-gen-t-ly lo-ok-ing for b-u-gs, cardinals and sparrows singing out, "wittow-woo! wittow-woo!" and "tweet-woo! tweet-woo!" for their mates; ducks on the water to the east dipping their necks and ruffling their wings as the chilly rivulets ran off, squirrels leaping from "swoosh!" branch to "swoosh!" branch, the wind rustling the leaves just so. . . on and on went the wonderful melody that is nature. And then an airliner. And then she told us to open our eyes. 

In unison, we parents looked at each other, our eyes if not our words, expressing: "Wow . . . that's it? Can't we go back? That was wonderful! Must we stop now? It was so good. That wasn't a minute...." 

We were tricked! We didn't care about the airliner. We were totally fine with that foreign sound, we could cancel it out, disregard it, not mind it... can't we go back? C'mon, let's try  . . .  even the kids seemed a little disappointed; their little Walter Mitty moments as hunters broken. A collective consent and compliance took over the group. 

No. Keep the line moving. 


So bummed. You could see an entire class of 20 parents just deflated. I wanted to kick a rock or flick a beetle. We were in a momentary nirvana -- I mean, all of us were there, man. Timothy Leary or not, we were there. 

We continued on the path, blah blah blah. 

Who cares what happened next. The kids shot a bow and arrow at a tarp, then they used some other device to throw a spear. Whatever. We were interrupted. 

What I realize now, as I type this, that while we were all slightly disappointed that we were brought back to reality before our 60 seconds were up, we could take ourselves back there any time. Even though there's something special, something seemingly better about going there, under the trees, along the river, on the path, near the bugs and the birds, where the Algonquian did it, we all can "go hunting like the Algonquians" anywhere, anytime.  We just have to remember to let ourselves go.  

thank you.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Go With Your Gut or What Happens When You Don't

Go with your gut. Your first reaction. Your first instinct. Your first impression. Go with it with everything: a car, a ride with a friend, a woo-woo person you saw, a job interview, a job you want, a book you started, a song you heard, something you tasted, something someone said, a first date. Go with it. Don't second-guess your reaction and for goodness' sake, don't make exceptions (this is really for me).

What does this mean? For starters: everyone's gut reaction is their own. Yours doesn't have to agree with mine, but if it does, then that's more reason to heed. To me (probably because I haven't learned enough yet), it doesn't mean you must act on it; it just means you retain it, keep it in the hip pocket, or like a tip sheet for future use, for those moments when you will inevitably (due to human nature) go against it. 

We all do this -- we all go against it. They wouldn't be called "first impressions" if there were no second ones and third ones... Maya Angelou has a famous phrase, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them." Lots of people think this phrase can be meant as a warning system, and I'm sure that's its main intention. 

On the opposite side of the same coin though, is that it's also an "it's OK" system too. If your first candid impression of someone is as lovely and tender and sweet, then go with that -- even if they show you something different later -- because you know it is there.  I wouldn't be married to the man I am if I ignored his tenderness the first time I ever met him (that said, he has never shown me another side). So if your nice person is snarly, it's probably because something's wrong. Then, listen to your gut to help root out the problem. 

Going against the gut instinct is not a sin or a character flaw or a symptom of stupidity (even though it feels like it sometimes); it is that instead we rationalize, we go with our hearts or sense a familiarity / redolence from a previous and precious pattern that we used to know; we used to exist under. Sometimes these familiarities manifest themselves like a hangover. "Hair of the dog" might take away the symptoms but it sure doesn't stop your drinking problem. 

Spock never had to really rationalize.

Going against our gut, and going for the familiar can create problems and waste so much time: I would have never dated as much as I had and I would have never learned the lessons I learned if I had always gone with my gut (I would have saved myself a lot of heartache and woe, but hey, I'm not Spock). This is part of life. We buy the wrong car; we talk to the crazed person we saw scream at traffic; we take the job and it doesn't work out; we gloss over the tone when we heard someone say something ... we overcompensate, we rationalize. 

Wouldn't it be nice if life or people came with red flags?: 

This is so funny and true. 

Maybe they do. Maybe they do come with red flags and we just y'know, ignore them. But y'know, when you do go against your gut, you will learn through trial and error and trial and error and trial and error until you don't anymore. You will experience so many "face palm" moments that you might create an impression in your forehead. 

That's OK. Don't judge yourself, but DO know that it won't stop -- these face palms, the "not again" moments until you stop. Until you see the light at the moment you're really meant to. That when all the data is lined up, and you've learned all you need to know -- about the book, or the song,  or the person you saw screaming at traffic or the job interview you had -- that your Gut Instinct will be there, waiting and saying, "Welcome back, normal-thinking self, that person we spent so much time in therapy trying to find, we missed you."  

But even though we've learned that last "not this time"-time, sometimes we repeat behaviors, actions, relationships again in different iterations. We Rationalize Again: one person's drama is just slightly different until it really isn't anymore and then, it's your fault. You fell asleep at the wheel and the fork in the road takes you closer to hell or back to clarity and you're about to crash. You need to wake up, rub your eyes, slap yourself in the face, turn up the music, open the window, ANYTHING!, course correct and Don't Repeat. And it's until those "don't repeat" moments manifest that we will repeat. 

I experienced yet another rationalizing relationship. I went against my gut.  I saw all the flags. I saw all the body language, all the inconsistencies, heard all the weird stories both community-based and this-person-based. I ignored. I compartmentalized and rationalized myself into oblivion. I set boundaries I thought this person could respect. I was clear. But in the end, it went wrong. The boundaries were eventually a mockery because this person has no boundaries; everything is everyone else's right? If it's on the Internet then it's all up for grabs, out in the open. The relationship was never sane because you can't have a unsane myopic, self-absorbed person with a sane, open-minded and continually-seeking self-awareness person. The see-saw isn't balanced and the see-saw always sways toward the unsane (I know it's "insane") person because that person is flailing its arms and throwing molotov cocktails and putting rocks in pockets and distracting and flagrantly violating recently agreed-upon boundaries, victimizing and overcompensating and needing and crying or not crying, and calling and drawing you away from what you know is Real. And this was an ADULT. Ohmygawsh, are you tired yet? (I know, most people would be like: "Dude. Seriously? You put up with that shit?")

But it took me a third time (that IS the charm, they say) to finally see the light. And it was so bright and clear and clean; and the biggest irony of all?: 

This person was actually the beacon. The light of this person's self-created convenient truth was so bright you could land planes by it. This person was all "check out how freakin' nuts I can be and watch me warp truths and like, invoke other people and not own any of my responsibility in any of this because I'm like, all like going rogue and like WILD and FREE, baby and it feels  gooooood..." 

I have to be honest: I saw that light, but I wore the same dark shades I wear on the water when I row. I put on hats... the same racing hats I wear when I row that have a black liner under the bill to absorb the light and reflection off the water. I did all I could to look Joe Cool and totally together when my insides were screaming, "OMIGAWD! Leave! Get out of here! Do NOT do this AGAIN! Are you NUTS?! Boundaries Shmoundaries! There's poop all over them! Again! Someone, call her husband!" I over-performed and did anything I could to keep everything stable and keep the light under cover because I knew that when I saw that light again, it meant I won the "schmuck" award.  My kids even said so. Ouch.  That bright, flickering light (no matter how creepy) showed me everything that was always there and so much more and this time: I was ready to see it. And that's growth and that's OK. Sometimes we have to take two steps forward and one step back a few times before we can ever go at our pace. But I should stop here 'lest I risk narcissistic bathos. 

I'm not trying to sound glib or like Stuart Smalley (all self-help is OK until it enables the continued practice of errors that are so rooted in our subconscious that staying asleep to them is simply selfish: at one time or another people, we have to grow up, definitely including me); because positive self-affirmations can have real and lasting benefits when they are actually believed. Because if we believe, as Stuart says, that we are "good enough and of value and people like" us then we don't act needy and do reckless things trying to curry favor with people who work reeeeally hard to keep their acts together.  Trying to be mellow and kind, and running damage control when the molotov cocktails are flying is hard. People start to look at you like you've gone bye-bye too. And that's when ya gotta pull the chute cord. If you don't Get It by yourself, you'll Get It by peer pressure. 

So then the trick is after we finally Get It, to not beat ourselves up too much for not Getting It in the first place. It's OK if you stumble and ignore your Gut.  There's a phrase "against our better nature" that comes to mind. I personally dislike the use of "better" because it is judgmental; it implies that we should know "better." Sometimes, as in matters of the heart, we simply Don't Know Better. Until we do.

Just don't beat yourself up while you're learning -- and more importantly: don't let whatever you're learning about beat you up either; don't ignore the flags, apparently they are always waving.    

And then when we do figure it out... Hot diggity, Woo-hoo and Allelujia, it's a good thing and Lesson is Learned. You have FINALLY Gone With Your Gut. Now it's time to Repeat! The wisdom from the lesson ... NOT the lesson. 

thank you. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

About Last Night - Building a Relationship with Local Government

I am going to try to channel my father's time-tested and proven ability to be efficient in writing this post. Usually I go on with descriptions because I love to describe. My dad, however, is a writer, with at least four decades under his belt of being paid to write. He's got a solid following. He's a known person within his circles. He's interviewed and investigated sitting presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, union bosses, criminals, felons, sometimes convenience has combined a few of those into one person (we're from NY). Me? I'm hoping to raise senators and not felons. Me? cue harp music:  Oh, I write without payment, except for the glowing satisfaction that I leave a legacy for my children and anyone who dares to continue reading my stuff ever. cut harp music.

Still here? Good. Grab a chair. I'm going to tell you about last night. Last night, I became an official televised activist for a cause to slow down drivers on behalf of our world's greatest asset: Kids who still can't tie their own shoes. Kids who need help opening their chocolate milk. Kids who show you the toothless gaps in their smiles. 


Thing 2 was home sick so I had to stay home and miss out on lunch with a friend. While I was home, I decided to prepare for this event. I toiled all day putting together a PowerPoint presentation as part our address to the forum. The presentation was cohesive, it flowed, it had pictures. It was brief. It ultimately didn't matter. It didn't matter because the conversation we ended up having with the forum in response to the first speaker, whose comments were so woo-woo out there abstract "how does one define 'satisfaction'?" he asked, I dunno, by smoking a cigarette afterward? By holding up a "10" sign?, that we tried to refer to the presentation, but halfway through, we gave up and spoke off the cuff.  

We live in Fairfax County, Va. We pay a LOT of money to live here. We're something like the 3rd most affluent county in the country. And that makes us probably third in the free world (notice that I excluded Dubai). 

I took this picture at 8:00pm, eventide. We didn't leave until 12:02. 

My co-pro-anti-death-on-the-parkway activist neighbor and I drove together to the relatively new county government center to stake our claim on Rational Thinking. We pull up, park and walk in.  This place is lovely. (Although it's much bigger than that picture.) Oodles of free parking, mahogany, marble, brushed steel, milano glass, leather comfy chairs for all the peeps behind the mahogany and marble, super-quiet vacuums for people listening to the peeps in the chairs, HD jumbotrons, HD cameras, cable access, etc. It looked like Mission Control.  

Our mission was to speak on behalf a task force we're on to request that the county do something to slow down drivers who careen past our children's barely visible, above-grade, underground 30-year-old school at waaaay over the posted speed. In a six-month period in 2010, the Five-0 wrote some of Fairfax's coolest soccer moms 408 tickets for speeds averaging 57.8 mph on this road (that's just below reckless driving) at all times of day and I'm certain, during the AM and PM traffic shifts at our school. So for me, this is very simple: slow down. That's the bottom line.  My oldest who went to the "EduCave" as my brother calls it, is now in 8th grade, so I've been energized about this cause for nine years. So as parents of these students, the speed reduction is our claim on Rational Thinking. 

Believe it or not: there are people who oppose this "speed reduction" action. No one in the room last night opposed it; but the persons who were sent as minions of The Grand Opposer from FCPS were carefully thrown under the school bus because I bet even they couldn't really believe some of the words that were flying out of their mouths. I've met The Grand Opposer; I'm no longer vexed by his antics because Rational Thinking will prevail. 

Background: This task force is a great group. It was created about 16 months ago. For seven straight months we met for for 90 minutes every three weeks in a tiny room next to one of the neighborhood pools where we enviously craned out the window to vicariously enjoy the pool goers' mirth. While they were squirting and splashing we were talking about how to improve pedestrian and motorist safety around our school and greater neighborhood. After those initial months, we met monthly or so. 

The task force was spurred on the heels of a piece of activism prepared from photos a friend shot in the fall of 2010, accompanied by music we didn't create (lawyers tell me to say this). The pictures showed all sorts of pedestrian risks and driver disregard at the pick-up and dismissal times. The video, a letter, and copies of signed petitions were distributed amongst local and state-level legislators. Momentum continued. We didn't really know where to start or whose door to knock on but we had to start somewhere. An online petition for the same cause had more than 200 signatures in the fall of 2010 (when I was PTA president at the school). This tidy package of activism was so compelling that people literally could not ignore it anymore.  

After that content went around, John Cook, our newly elected Board of Supervisors rep for our district, who also received the activism video package, held a community meeting about five months later because what this community endures on a daily basis is PLAIN WRONG. Cook has been on the job a short time, but he reminds me of one of those classic 1940s "this is your government" people in that he truly empowers the local citizenry to work together with appointed public service people to collaborate and create solutions. So far, it's working on the road outside the school: we've got some improved signage, we've won a federal grant to expand a median strip to 8' wide, they put in a sidewalk infront of the school and other things are on the docket. We all know we're no where near finished. Regarding the school though, we could be once we get the signs we're after.  

At this first long-ago meeting, we went round and round with the rhetoric ripe and juicy on both sides. At one point, a very dear friend of mine, a US Marine daughter, a USN wife, mother of 4, a totally efficient person with mad laser-like executive skills and an extremely fair head on her shoulders stood up during that meeting to say to Cook, "You agree with us? Then do something about it! Create a task force!" and so, here we are. This friend? She's not on the task force. She's no fool. But she's busier than a bee and has been instrumental in so many other ways for this community that she's allowed a pass on this one. Me? I'm in. I jumped on it and I've become That Person. I'm the bee that won't stop buzzing. The bee that hummmmmmmms and hummmmmmms around you and your paper plate at the picnic and wants to land in your can of soda, Mr. The Grand Opposer and sting you into accepting Rational Thinking.    

The task force has about eight regular citizens and about eight civil servants, including police officers and The Grand Opposer. 

So much for the best of intentions in being efficient and brief. But it just occurred to me: my father has copy editors. 

I'll cut closer to the chase. In the midst of these 16 months, we've had a changing of the guard at the school board which includes more tolerant, open-minded members, including members who actually have children enrolled in the school system (that's always a plus for me). The task force also had a major victory: vehicle and pedestrian traffic conditions outside the school at the intersection of its entrance and that of the shopping center across the street warranted a four-way red-yellow-green stoplight! An actual stoplight! We couldn't believe our luck and we thought: OK, well this is great. I was personally opposed to it, but it was a start or perhaps it would be the finish. 

We were told that Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) would convene with FCPS (uh-oh, yup) to determine next steps for installation and implementation (these lights costs about $350,000 each to install) and that we would hear results of yet another "feasibility study" by July. On September 14 we heard over e-mail: FCPS killed the stoplight. It was The Grand Opposer. The rationale: a new and improved kiss & ride design.

It's at this point that I determine that The Grand Opposer is treating us (the task force and now the community) like how a "drive thru" treats Leo Getz because just when you think you're done, or you have what you need, you realize later or when you get home (if you're Leo) that things are not as you'd been led to believe:

Thanks to The Grand Opposer, I can think of another phrase than "kiss & ride" that I'd use to describe what happened behind the scenes. 

The new kiss & ride design is part of a $16.6 million renovation process that recently began at the school. The kiss & ride lane design is so ambitious and downright kamikaze-inspired, that most people can't imagine it ever working or being safe. Because of this design, we found an opportunity to include the costs to install the reduced speed school zone signage as part of the renovation.

The first concept drawing for the new kiss & ride.

This is a more recent concept drawing for the kiss & ride.

Today, about 16 months later, we're getting somewhere. Nothing has happened with the renovation yet. No ground has been broken. We're still in the design and implementation stage. 

Two months ago, Cook held a required "County Land Use Meeting" to discuss the renovation with the community. This meeting was also an opportunity for us to make our request for the school zone reduced-speed light because at these County Land Use Meetings, no relevant proposal is absurd. The meeting was held and the request was taken into consideration and included in a staff report.  

About a week ago, the task force received the aforementioned staff report which details various concerns raised by residents at that land use meeting (and for a few weeks after during a comment period). These concerns are known as "conditions" and they must be discussed before the Fairfax County Planning Commission (PC) at a public hearing to authorize the work to begin. One of those conditions is "Condition 11" which speaks directly to our school zone reduced-speed light request.  

Fred Flintstone-feet your car to last night. We're in the room at the big mahogany and marble building before the 14-member all-white mostly male PC on the public hearing for the school's upcoming renovation. 

It turns out that "Condition 11" is so vague, so ambiguous that it's basically untenable. I personally have decided that any proposal made by anyone I know that doesn't make sense will be heretofore known as a "Condition 11." 

Here's an example: "Hey Mom, I was wondering if you could give me money so I can buy a laptop that I won't give you access to so I can watch Harry Potter Puppet Pals videos on YouTube all the time and when you want to take it away or use it for something, I'll run up to my room, slam my door, demand money and then give you a computer I made out of Legos." That's a Condition 11.   

"Condition 11" was so What the What and "we are at war with Eurasia / we are no longer at war with Eurasia" that The Grand Opposer's poor minion could not speak from his heart. Suddenly, he was like a woebegone Looney Toons character. You pick... I'm out of gas. If he were able to speak from his heart (because he has one), he woulda said this, "Your Excellencies, Fine People of The Mahogany Desk and Marble Fixtures, give these people what they deserve, what is right and what is Rational. Give them the reduced speed zone and flashing lights. Save me from being heckled and pelted as I leave This Place." 

But that's not what happened. Instead, he was trying to say the words The Grand Opposer taught him; but his Cyerano was nowhere to be found. The devil on his shoulder was asleep because it was five minutes to tomorrow (today) when we wrapped up. The minion could not get it together. His tie was a mess; his shirt was rumpled; his hair was frenzied; his verbal pace was inconsistent and his mannerisms were random and jagged. If there were an open bar in that auditorium, I'd swear he had hit it while no one was looking. He could not answer common sense inquiries and he could not articulately explain his motivations his opposition BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T HIS OPPOSITIONS. No one knows why The Grand Opposer opposes... 

We were all yawning and I think the chairman of the PC said, "Let's get going on this, I want to go to bed." So a great thing happened: our area representative from the planning commission said, "I propose a resolution to adjourn and resolve at the May 3 meeting..." HOORAY! 

But I feel confident we will win. The May 3 meeting is not public so we're off the hook there. But we're preparing documentation and doing what we can to rally the team and I know Just What to Say on my documents now. . . stay tuned. 

thank you.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dear Things 1, 2 & 3: Don't Tell the Neighbors, but Your Father Lives

Today, we hit a new low in our family and it's only Tuesday. The children (all three boys) have systematically and in their birth order elected to replace their father's incidental existence with their own respective surrogates.

Last Sunday, Thing 1 who will turn 14 shortly, asked a neighbor if he could join the neighbor at work next week for "Take a (Your - emphasis my husband) Child to Work" day.  He didn't ask his own Dad if he could go to his work because a) he already did that last year, and b) he knows he doesn't want to do what his Dad does. 

this is Thing 1 tinkering on his birthday wish last Sunday.

These seem like reasonable responses to a reasonable query. So I was satisfied. Dad was not satisfied. He was a little disappointed that his son didn't ask him about it and that he had to learn about the shift in fatherhood from the neighbor (who also has a freakin' awesome super-black Corvette G6) in a "hiya neighbor buddy, how's it goin?" sort of way. T1 and our neighbor will be flying driving the Corvette on the "Take Your Neighbor's Son To Work" day next week. The neighbor is actually a super-decent fella; married, a dad of his own two sons, and a recently retired marine who honorably served our country overseas in more than a couple conflicts. Now he works at an engineering firm where they ride around on moon rovers and get paid to blow up stuff, so T1 should have a good time. Frankly, I think my husband wants to go instead of T1. 
I've known the man for almost 22 years, and have been married to him almost 18 years and I gotta tell ya: I don't know what the what he does. But if I have a kid who knows he doesn't want to do that, and I do have that kid, it's hard to argue.
Next ...
Also on Sunday, Thing 2 (11) and his father canvassed the county in what we call Dad's "Old Man Car" (OMC) -- the chameleon of all large import vanilla-seeming sedans in that it's got a crazy responsive 287hp engine with tiptronic and comfortably seats five plus a year's supply of Geritol -- in search of a Lego Avengers Superhero set to no avail. They must've hit all the big box stores, except apparently the one where it was.  

this is Thing 2, last Saturday (day before the quest) under an umbrella
 with a sprinkler spraying inside it.

The build-up --- from the set's retail debut (last Tuesday), to the pandering and scheming and relentless verbal waterboarding to acquire the set: "whatcanidomomtogettheset?canidosomechorestogettheset? momdidyouknowthesetcameouttoday? canicalldadatworktotalkabouttheset? isawthesetonlineit'savailableattargettoysRuswalmart..." to the frenzied moment he was ready to catapult himself like a fighter pilot ejecting from a fiery cockpit into the cavernous back seat of the OMC, to the utterly sad lower-lip sucking in and blowing out tear-streaming grief upon return from the unsuccessful quest to the three huge stores to purchase the set --- has taken a toll on my ability to form sentences and know my own name. Dribble cup please. 

Resolution to the sadness came in the form of another neighbor who witnessed T2's weepy return from his traumatic travails to acquire the set. She text messaged me this morning about her intent to purchase a set for her own son. After various exchanges on the matter, I came home from coffee with a fabulous friend I haven't seen in months to a bag on the front stoop.  It wasn't for me.  It was for T2. It was the Lego set that our neighbor bought for him because she picked it up today in 10 minutes flat.  Upon T2's discovery of the set in a bright yellow plastic bag emblazoned with the Red Lego Logo (say that three times fast), Thing 1 looked at me with an accusatorial glare and shouted above T2's glee-fueled shriek-squeals and said, "What the what, Mom? Why does he get a gift when my birthday is coming up?!"  

I am officially a jerk.

And not five minutes ago, Thing 3 (8) asked me to call our neighbor's son, 16, whom he considers a professional skateboarder for lessons to skateboard.  When I optimistically and, clearly naïvely, suggested that he call to ask his father who was quite the mop-topped skate rat in his day for said instructions, he said, "OK." 

This is how that conversation went down: 

T3: Hi Dad, uh, I want skateboard lessons. Do you think I could have Malachai teach me?

Dad: Skateboard, huh? Cool! I could teach you. 

T3: Yeah. Uh, you could teach me on the days Malachai can't. 

Dad: I could teach you too, tonight even. I mean I know how to skateboard...

T3: Well, I was thinking on the days that Malachai is at crew, you could teach me. 

Dad: Uh, oh. OK. I guess, sure. But you know, we want to take the training wheels off your bike. So before you do the skateboard you -- 

T3: Yeah. Dad: uh, that's not a skateboard.        

Dad: (laughing) You're right bud. It's not. It's a bike. Can I talk to mom? 

I pick up the phone, take it off speaker and we start laughing about the irony of the week, which of course inspired me to write this post. 

Kids say the darnedest things...

Dad just stepped in, while I was composing this post and he asked me to mention to you all that he scored a goal last night during his "Old Man" soccer team's game that started at 9:30. They play on turf. The lights are on when they play. This way, they can see the ball. Many men (my husband has the best legs) run around in shorts under the lights on a turf field to kick a ball into a net.  Yay! Actually, he loooooves soccer. He's coached our kids' soccer teams (stops when they hit teenagerdom) and he's so glad he still gets to play with some top-notch men. Even if they are mostly neighbors. 

I think in some ways, Dad feels a little bummed he's not able to spend more time with the team; he does have to go to his job to do whatever he does and make the bucks that pay for the very computer I'm tapping on and we value his awesomeness.  He's a terrific father, the most mellow man my mercurial spirit could ever hope to nab, and an absolute peach of a guy. He knows how to play piano but doesn't play as much as I'd like (naow I saound layhke my mather), he sings lullabies to the children at bedtime, he wakes Thing 1 and fixes breakfast for him before the sun is up, he leaves work to meet at the hospital at the drop of a hat, he loves his parents, he's got a bunch of sibs, he buys the boys trash cereals because they crave them, he loves and supports me . . . he cooks when it's his night to make according to the menu (like tonight: chicken pot pie! yum!) and we are so so so SO lucky to have him. So what if his job is boring to the kids, he can't find a Lego set to save his life and he isn't considered a first consult for skateboard lessons? He's our dude.

Of all the team, T3 hears him the most tonight, because before I post, this most serendipitous and providential event was happening just outside my office window: 

God, thank you for that moment. I love it when you scheme with life to remind me of what it's all about.  Blogging is great an' all, but well, life is what happens when you're away from the keyboard huh? 

And after uploading: the rear tire just flattened! That bike's been through three Things and now the skateboard lessons commence just as his work BlackBerry chimes in its tone we collectively call "Coldplay!" We love you, Dad of Things 3.

thank you.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"let's talk like worms" / the silent treat(ment)

as i write this, i'm listening to a mix on iTunes i made for my mom one year for her birthday that i named, "mimiTunes." the current song, "Old Man River" from Gershwin's "Porgy & Bess" inspires me to tell this story... 

before i do, consider this quote from Sai Baba, 
"Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true? Does it improve on the silence?" 

. . . . . . . . . . .

when i was little, my mom used to play a game with us. we didn't always like the game but we bought into it being a game and because games are supposed to be fun, we were in. we are super competitive if nothing else and thus raised to win. that doesn't mean we do actually win...

one summer day (of many) on our way home from a jaunt (also of many) up to Niagara-on-The-Lake in Ontario, Canada, my brothers and i were existing too loudly in the car while my mom was trying to drive. 

my mother was what i could only describe as a "deliberate driver." she had this habit of slowing down, almost to a stop, and veering hard right when oncoming traffic approached, even under the best of circumstances, so how we didn't end up in the Niagara River upon any of our visits is a mystery. 

Niagara-on-The-Lake is a super-cutesy tourist trap, comprising ice cream shoppes, federal-period architecture, restaurants, apothecaries, and a healthy influx of American greenbacks (back when our money had value). it also had one of the best Irish stores in a 70-mile radius, so because it was summer, and my brothers and i could not be trusted to not burn down the house without her there, mom had to take us in tow as she purchased Irish fishermen sweaters to amplify her already robust stock that she'd amassed during the school year. she didn't fish and she wasn't a man. but that didn't matter. 

we hated to go there because the trips were always about the sweaters, Coach handbags, first-edition books, or designer scarves. seldom was Niagara-on-The-Lake about ice cream or playing in the Queen's Royal Park that looked over the mouth of the glorious Lake Ontario as it feeds into the Niagara River (that flows northern to reach Niagara Falls).   

"i know!" mom effused from behind her tortoise-shell 1/4"-thick framed, andy warhol-inspired prescription sunglasses. her grip on the steering wheel of our swede supposed-car also known as "bil som spelar ingen fungerar tillförlitligt" (which is "car that doesn't work reliably" in swedish) resembled that of the white-knuckled variety so often seen on grandmothers about to ride in the car with their newly minted teenage grandson drivers on the way home from mah jong from the community center across town. mom was about 41 at the time.  "let's play a game!" she continued.

"yay! a game!" my brothers and i sang in unison a capella, unless bounce-slapping the red, sweat-sticky faux leather seats, >shhh-smak! shhh-smak!< counts as percussion. this was our first time learning of this game. 

"let's! let's! what's-let's-called?-it-let's!-called-play-how-it-do-you-play-it-game-this-game?" we sang again, this time not so melodiously, clearly already elbowing and angling for best position to win. we didn't know anything about the game but we were NOT going to lose it.

suddenly, only inorganic sounds were heard. the car's engine and the scratchy classical music barely streaming from the AM station a good 60 miles away were it. the paper speakers installed in the doors (we had broken off the antenna) made anything sound like a band of dying crickets. 

my mom had us. we were SILENT. she was already in the lead.

"the game," she said.

"yeah... what's-how-it-do-called-get off me-start-rules-play-it-put-that-DOWN!-play?" we asked, this time overtaking the engine's drone. 

"it's called ... 'let's talk like worms!' doesn't that sound great?!" she begged, eyebrows arched, seeming eagerly hopeful. 

note: worm with closed mouth.

i scanned her smoky hazel eyes in the rearview mirror, now unsheathed from the glasses. she was engaged in transition mode and this was a critical operation at the moment: as she stopped at the light, she deftly swooped her artist's hands to grasp her thick, mid-shoulder-length ash-blond hair as she slid one of the two-dozen size 64 putty-colored rubber bands from amongst the 14 silver bangles on her wrist to make a tight bun. she was clearly executing  Leadership Mode and the efficient up-do was evidence of her determination. then she slid her Mondrian print silk scarf from around her neck to adorn her turbo coiffure. she was nothing if not well dressed; the woman has seriously good taste in classic fashion. something i apparently never really inherited...

she donned this new scarf as a helment. my brothers and i were four-years apart (eight years between my younger and older brothers). despite her refined demeanor and breeding, we were maniacs. we grew up with very little rules and oversight, so when she put down the hammer, which was seldom, we didn't know what to do with it: do we respect this or do we laugh at it? we did a little of both, truthfully. we were loved, in the best way our parents knew how, but we were pretty much considered full-fledged adults with no restrictions as soon as we could put on our own socks. hey man, it was the 70s and from the cheap seats i inhabit as i watch "Mad Men" what my parents did was nooooOOoooOooo different from any of my peers' parents at the time. (doesn't mean it was riiiiight...)

"ok! sounds-ok-fun-like-yeah!fun! we-like-play-WORMS?!-good-idea-not-understand-worms-how-do-you-worms-play-game?" 

my older brother, who is a very successful banker now, elbowed one of us and hissed, "SHHH, i'll TALK" to me and our younger brother.

the light turned to green and the car started up again. TH-TH-UNK-UNK-UNK. we all slammed back into the back of the benchseats. i think she loved doing that. lurching and slamming as she pretended to drive along the Niagara Parkway.  

"how do you play it, mom?" the would-be banker asked. the way he'd demonstrated his finesse and interest in rules and regulations, it seemed as though a signing bonus and performance commission were riding on the outcome. 

so there we were: the three of us in the back seat area; my little brother and i rapt with attention, our very beings trembling with anticipation on the edges of our sweaty seats. i'm sure i slapped and pinched my baby brother at least a couple times due to my own inability to contain my excitement.

"well, it's simple, and there's only one loser." she said, with a native lilt.

"huh?" asked my older brother. 

"how can there be only one loser? there are three of us. there has to be one WINNER. you mean, ONE WINNER, mom. not ONE LOSER." he was about 11.

"no. i'm not wrong. one loser, sweetie. that's what's so FUN about this game," she said, now fake giggle-speaking, no doubt to incite enthusiasm which had quickly evaporated from the kids in the back seat of the car and who had been replaced by her new three children Apathy, Grunting and Agita. "what's FUN [smiling voice] is that the first person to DO something LOSES." 

good feeling's gone.  

"the first person to do anything?" my brother asked. 

"well, no. the first person to break the only rule loses," she clarified. 

"Only One Rule! i LIKE this!" i said, refusing any longer to be kept silent by eventual 1%.  

"the one rule," mom said, "is that you talk like worms. and how do worms talk?" 

"they. don't. say. any. thing." growled my big brother. 

"RIGHT! so ready, we're gonna start. . . . NOW." 

"but..." said the baby brother. 

"haha! YOU LOSE! LOOOser"my older brother shouted and pointed at my younger brother, who was possibly all of 3 years old and henceforth destined to be part of the 99%.

however, being the third of three, he was quite intellectually mobile due to his witnessing of his older siblings' shenanigans. these days, he sings for his church and has become an ordained reverend professionally, so he's got pipes. and if he's part of the 99%, he's got God on his side, so i'm good with that.

so my little brother lost all the time. it went on for years, his losing at Let's Talk Like Worms. his losing was met with such hearty worm shrieking due to the loss of the game, that i wonder if my mom ever thought she won the game. . .

note: hysterical worm.

mom probably thought she was gonna get the silent treat(ment) that she sought. that if we were serially quiet enough, she'd get a decent ride home.

as i look back on her instituting the "Let's Talk Like Worms" game, i laugh at its cunning design. last night, my Things and i were preparing for the cleaning ladies Thing 2 (11) proposed that we play the "let's CLEAN like worms" game. Thing 3 (8), who'd never played the game was schooled by his brothers, but he held silent. they were silent for several minutes and i was beginning to think, "this is pretty cool..." however, it was so quiet that i wasn't aware of the fisticuffs going on behind me as they all (even Thing 1 who is almost 14) wrestled each other to the ground over a Lego piece. ironically, the Thing 2, the one who proposed it lost consistently three times in a row. then the Lego fight and then screaming. sometimes silence ain't what it's cracked up to be.

today during yoga my teacher read the quote at the top of this post by Sai Baba that struck me as profound given what i'd experienced last night with the kids and the Lego piece.     

sometimes the silent treat(ment) is a LOVELY experience. there are those of us who are silenced by fears, by memories, by oppressors or worst of all, by ourselves. the thing is, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all; when we choose silence, we take back our power. y'know, like in Ghostbusters, don't think about the Stay-Puft marshmallow man and he won't appear. but that doesn't always work out; sometimes, we must speak up, we must stand up. and then there are time when we must speak up for those who can not speak for themselves; they do not know the harms in their path and while there ain't never anything wrong with standing up and speaking up and being true to you,

i propose again: "Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true? Does it improve on the silence?"

but if you're ever not sure: just talk like worms.

thank you.