Friday, July 17, 2009

The Capacity of Hope

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I just went to the funeral of a five-month-old boy, the baby brother of one of my favorite students. I don't know the parents well, but the part of my brain where that fact is stored wasn't consulted when dread arrived on the scene. Between the day I first heard the news and the moment I arrived at the funeral home, dread had settled in, unpacked its bags and made itself good and comfortable. I've never exactly looked forward to a funeral, but there's a special brand of apprehension when it's the funeral of a child, a funeral no one should have to attend.

I set my brain on Hi and I waited, and hoped. I hoped that if I thought long and hard enough I might find words that would offer solace, but those words haven't been invented yet. I hoped that if I really tried to imagine their pain, I might come up with a gesture that could ease it for a moment, but again the bar was too high. So I headed to the visitation with a goal I thought I could actually pull off: Just be there so Ahkeem knows I love him. That, I could manage.

My brain had done its homework and ushered me into the funeral home well-prepared. The air was heavy with sadness, tears, impotent words of condolence and offers of help that would never be fulfilled. All the things I had been braced for. The open casket threw me a curve ball, but I cried only the appropriate amount and managed to get out without saying anything regrettable.

My brain, however, was unarmed for the task of prepping me for the funeral. It could find sadness and loss in its files, but what was coming at the church was not a part of the database. The funeral was held at a black Southern Baptist church. I am currently submitting applications to become Southern Baptist, and black. It, was amazing.

My only clue of what was to come was the line in the obituary where the family requested that guests wear bright colors, not all black. Now, it makes perfect sense: this was not an occasion for mourning, it was a celebration of life. The music, the words, the atmosphere were all laced with jubilation. There was sadness, sure, but the degree to which it was offset by joy was totally unexpected. How could there be anything in this room but grief and misery? I pre-set my dial to Grief and Misery mode. But this, I didn't even have a setting for.

So I sat back and watched, a marshmallow bobbing feebly in a pot of boiling hot cocoa. I watched the family, so numerous they filled the entire center section of the church. When the preacher said they shouldn't question God, their agreement was unanimous. When he said God had a plan, their acknowledgment was loud and clear. When he said they'd see their baby again in heaven, they shouted their belief so wholeheartedly they left no room for doubt. And that's when I understood.

I went just hoping to give Ahkeem a hug.

I left with a completely different hope: I don't believe in heaven today, but I hope by the time I need to, I will.
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Monday, July 13, 2009

A few things I learned coming up in The Depression

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A friend of mine has decided to start pinching her pennies. Something about the economy . . . blah blah blah. My ears glazed over at that point. All that economy stuff. Bor-ring. Anyhoo, she asked for some tips to help her save money. Why she's asking me I don't know. I'm not an especially frugal person. It just happens that some of my character traits end up inadvertently saving money, so I guess people confuse that with frugality. Perfectly normal things, like:

1. Patience: Most people just can't keep it in their pants. (I'm talking about their wallets, Mom. You have such a dirty mind.) They have to have the latest greatest thing yesterday. I'm good with tomorrow. Or some time after Thanksgiving. Where's the fire, people? If you can just hold tight for a few months, the movie's exactly the same at the fifty cent matinee as it was in the fancy schmancy first-run theater for $8.50. They don't change the ending or cut out the dirty parts or anything. All they cut out is $8.00. And the cleaning staff.

You can also take advantage of off season or off hour bargains. Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock, for example, offers a P.M. Swim at about half the rate of going during the day. So there's a little more pee in the pool. There are also fewer UV rays in the air. A little pee in your mouth is a small price to pay to avoid skin cancer.

2. Humility: I had a really sweet car for a few years there and you know what, it only raised my insurance, not my self-esteem. If you get off on driving a status symbol, bully for you. We all have to do what makes us happy. But at our house, we park our hubris at the door and drive away in these:

Combined they cost under $9,000, cash. That's a lot of leftover latte money. If I bought lattes.

3. Pragmatism: This is my husband's cell phone:

He lovingly calls it his Phonosaurus Rex. I think his mom got it for him in case he ran out of gas driving to the prom. She's good like that.

This is my cell phone:

Because whatever you have to say to me, it can wait till I get home. (See item #1 above.)

4. Stamina: Malls are for pussies. Everything you need, reliably and attractively arranged in one place for your shopping convenience? Hell, where's the challenge in that? I don't mean to brag, but it takes an intrepid shopper to completely outfit a family, equip a house, and satisfy every gift-giving obligation from Christmas to Mother's Day out of the discarded crap strangers toss on their lawns every Saturday morning.

That, my friend, is dedication.

5. Courage: Before I added a hyphen to my last name and a dependent to my W-2, I was a free spirit in more ways than one. There were years when I traveled back and forth across the continent without benefit of airfare. Sadly, the days of creative travel are probably gone forever, at least for me. Instead of trying to stowaway on a plane or in a stranger's car, you might settle for stowing cocktails into places that would prefer to sell them to you for roughly the price of airfare. Might I suggest . . .

For the lady:

Or the popular unisex Beer Belly:

If neither of these solutions appeals to you, I can also recommend simply removing the vacuum pouch of your favorite wine from its box and slipping it into an emptied sixteen ounce Cheetos bag. Shhh . . . it's our little secret.

6. Adventurousness: I don't even want to know what you people are forking over for your fancy pool memberships. I personally can't imagine a bigger waste of money when there's a perfectly refreshing creek just right down yonder. And as long as we're out of there before sundown, we hardly ever see any Cottonmouths.

7. Tolerance: People have gotten too soft. Everybody's all comfort this and pleasure that. It would do us all good to toughen up a bit. I say, if it's 95° outside, 90° should feel pretty good by contrast. So there's just no reason to set the thermostat any cooler than that. You know those drastic temperature swings are nothing but bad for you, right? And in winter, there's no law that says you can't wear your coat and hat inside. Set that thing at 50 and find somebody to snuggle. Al Gore thanks you.

8. Traditionalism: I like electricity. I'm a big fan of sliced bread. And I'd totally like to shake the hand of whoever invented indoor plumbing, figuratively of course. But there's one convenience modern Americans can't seem to live without that I just can't wrap my head around:

$8.18? For water? Not a month's worth of showers and clean clothes and tended lawns, but three bottles. Of water. If I'm paying $8.18 for three bottles of something, then I better be drunk by the time I finish them. Otherwise, I must have been drunk when I bought them.

9. I'm sorry. I really intended to come up with a nice round ten for you, but I just have to stop now. Like most people these days, we generate our own electricity by peddling an exercise bike and my thighs are killing me here. Why don't you guys take over and do the next two. I could actually use a few tips to start saving money. It's not really something I've ever thought about.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Pandora's Xbox

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When Bill Gates was in the eighth grade, his school started a computer club. He found himself instantly addicted and his little obsession, as you might have heard, turned out pretty okay for him.

So what's my problem? Why am I actively discouraging my child from having the same experience? I've never been there, but I'm relatively sure Mrs. Gates isn't living in a 1207 square foot 1950s ranch with Formica countertops. Even if she's dead, I bet her ashes are in swankier digs than our house. I should be duct taping my kid in front of the computer every time he tries to go out and piss away another afternoon with the neighborhood ne'er-do-wells. Tire swing my ass, kid. How exactly is that going to translate into a cush job?

But I don't. Instead, I keep a steady stream of daylight between my boy and video games. I just don't quite trust them to keep their sneaky little hands to themselves. I was a kid once, too, don't forget. I remember how innocently it all starts. A little Pong after school with your buddies. Next thing you know, you're moving up to Tetris . . . just at parties, of course. Then it's Donkey Kong and Frogger and before you know it, you're messing around with email right in your own house and your parents still don't suspect a thing. You've got it under control, nothing to worry about. But you drop your guard for a minute and some friend turns you on to Facebook. Next thing you know, BAM, you're on Twitter. And that's all she wrote, people. You're hooked and there's no getting out. I want a better life for my kid, is that too much to ask?

The other day, I caught a few of his friends experimenting. I don't really want to be the one to narc them out, but I'm really pretty worried about them.

Mostly, what worries me is exactly how hard these kids are going to kick my kid's ass in the job market fifteen years from now. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000-Hour Rule: how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve total expertise in any field. The Beatles, Bill Gates, even Mozart didn't really start knocking folks' socks off until they'd clocked 10,000 hours. These boys started computers while they were still in diapers. By the time they're in middle school, they'll be inventing Microchip Mascara or something, so people just have to blink their thoughts to each other.

And my boy?

Well, nobody rocks the Winnie the Pooh slippers like he does. I'm seeing a catwalk in his future. And an endless supply of school yard ass whoopings.

sigh . . .
. .