The Butterfly Effect

Long ago (18 years or so), Big Man and I used to cruise around the countryside of Mankato, MN in his navy blue Ford Ranger. We didn't have a lot of money so we often went for rides just to check things out. One thing we discovered on these jaunts were lawn and house ornaments, most of which I hated. The most horrifying and objectional to me were monarch butterflies in pastel colors artistically arranged along the side of someone's house. They appeared 40 times the size of a real butterfly and reeked of plain bad taste. This promted the phrase TBA--tacky butterfly alert, a phrase we still use today. Coming in a close second was a wooden cut-out of a woman who appeared to be bending over with her bloomers cheerfully peeking out at anyone who passed by all the while keeping a sunny bonnet firmly perched atop her head. I didn't get that then and will admit to still being in the dark about it today.

What I realize now that my judgey-judgerson, snot-nosed college self did not, is who can account for taste? Advertisers spend billions to promote what they deem as ideal or good taste, but beauty and the perception of really is so personal.

But I finally hit upon what my real problem is with lawn ornaments yesterday. While driving home through the countryside of western Wisconsin, we spied a regal, life-sized 12 point buck made of iron mounted on a large steel oval in the middle of a yard that was at least a half-acre in size. Mowing around that beast must be a nightmare.

"Committment," I muttered.

"What?" asked Big Man.

"I do not have the abilitiy to commit."

Ahh....for years I have wondered about my gripe with lawn ornaments. Those gazing balls that birds like to pummel into make my teeth start to grind. The butterflies, wooden women, miniature windmills painted John Deere green, and on it goes. Holiday ornaments are temporary--we have a few of those, but if they come out seems to depend on the weather at Thanksgiving. The only certain decorations come at Halloween and even those are losing steam.

My grandmother once had a plaster replica of an African American boy she called her "Little Black Sambo". The little guy was fishing and he looked like something that was straight out of Mark Twain novel--with less political overtones. Say what you will and think what you know to be true, but grandma was committed to that lawn ornamanent. Mr. Sambo lived in her yard for as long as she was on the farm and it moved to town with her until one day, she woke up and it was gone. Grandma was devastated...and furious. She took it upon herself to place this add: Please return Little Black Sambo to 101 Walnut Street. I will not press charges. Thank you.

He was never returned and years later, she would recall him whenever we were touring her yard looking at her plants. Again, we would hear the sad tale of Little Black Sambo MIA and she would conclude with a wistful sigh,"People can be so mean."

Ah, yes. People like me making judgements on those who dare to clearly state their tastes and commit to them. Grandma was not interested in hearing about civil rights and what poor taste her lawn ornament suggested about her-- she just wanted her little guy back.

So...it's committment that is my problem. I have successfully committed to my husband, 6 gallons of red paint, and 2 kids. The committment to the kids seems dicey. I have tried to post them as "free" on ebay in a less-than-stellar parenting moment and it did not work. Everything else just fails me. I buy cheap stuff because I am afraid of changing my mind. I give evasive answers because I don't want to be locked in. I avoid lawn ornaments because I don't want snap, unjust judgements to be made about my tastes, or lack thereof. Or maybe I just don't know if this is the home to make such bold statements. Perhaps I still have one foot out the door even though we've been here for 9 years and there is nothing new on the horizon.

Who knows? And it doesn't really matter to anyone but me. But now that I know what my problem is, I can now gaze upon gargantuan butterflies with newfound respect. "Look at me! I have a home!" they will whisper as I drive by. "Someone loves me enough to hang me here for all the world to see!"

I will stifle a shudder all the while knowing it is me who lacks the ability to take on such a committment. But, there are certain things a person must learn to live with...and without.

The List

2 and half loaves of bread
3 bags of cereal
1 and half boxes of waffles
3 and a half pounds of grapes
1 watermelon
1 cantelope
6 apples
2 pounds of carrots
2 gallons of milk
2 pounds of pasta
2 pounds of hamburger
1 pound of turkey
32 yogurt sticks
1 gallon of ice cream
1 24-pack of popsicles
18 serving packs of pretzels or popcorn
1 gallon of ice cream

There was one night of ice cream out, one trip to the sandwich shop, and one stop at the King of Fast Food Evil, McDonald's.

This is what five kids consumed in four breakfasts, eight legal snack times (much is pilfered without my consent), four lunches, and four dinners. We have three official meals and two snack times to go. Four of these children are boys who can't seem to get enough and I am left wondering--is this normal?

Big Man and I have eaten what we set aside prior to meal time, what can be scavenged away without notice, or on the fly.
I have not purchased pop, juice, or chips except for tortilla chips that will be a part of tonight's taco-fest and yet the bill! I could share the grand total, but that would be ridiculous because those of you with kids KNOW it is costly.

But it's been fun and the output of energy must have a direct correlation to the consumption. Swimming for hours, biking, running, fishing, and staged "battles" that only little boys and one bossy girl really understand.

Narry a nap or a request to "lie low" has been made. Currently, I am holed up in my room staring at a pile of laundry that appears to be around four feet tall. I need to fold it, but blogging hurts less.
These nephews and my kids....I hope they are making some memories. The sting of the grocery bill will fade, but Big Man serenading them awake on his ukelele is a site not easily forgotten (he will use the accordian tomorrow). Giggling every morning and whenever someone toots or has to toot or lets one slip, singing DY-NO-MITE at supper, and the sudden intense focus that appears out of nowhere when the new "rules" of the nightly Leggo contests are announced are all part of trying to weave our family just a little closer together. Only time will tell if it works or not. I guess some things just can't be checked off your list.

Roll Call

There is a gang of 5 here this week. Three cousins have descended upon the Thing's world and so far, so good. All head out for a camp experience before we re-convene for Leggo time and the pool. Here is what our mornings sound like:

"Swimsuits?"

"Check!"

"Sunscreen?"

"Check!"

"Water bottle?"

"Check!"

"Bug spray?"

"Check!"

"Lunch bag?"

"Check!"

"Teeth brushed?"

Silence.

All but Thing 2 run towards the bathrooms and attempt to make up for what they may have forgotten last night. Finally, with a shrug, Thing 2 admits defeat and heads off into the world of "If you can't beat them, join them."

Three minutes later the van is packed and the hooting and howling is loud at 7:45 a.m. And at least it's a happy howl that has nothing to do with bad breath.

Thanks, Ms. Rowling.

All good things must come to an end, and tonight we say good-bye to Harry and Hermione and Ron. Luckily, I will still get to see my son through the reading of most of the books. My daughter will hold as tightly to this series as she does her much-loved puppy who now resembles some sort of sick-looking, once fluffy rag. But, indeed, it is hard to let go.

I have been thinking a lot about why this is such a big deal. At it's most basic, Harry Potter is a good series. By nature, I am not a fan of fantasy, but this series had characters whose insecurities I felt drawn to so much so that entering their magical work did not alienate me. That had never happened to me before. The fact that is well-written restores my faith in our culture when we collectively get on board with something that captivates us and engages our minds and is well-done. This isn't always the case with cultural phenomenons.

JK Rowling, whose journey is mind-blowing even to her, is just like one of us. She has been up front about how the story just "dropped into her head" on one of countless train rides. As a single mother on a train long ago, she kept at that story while pursuing more practical means of getting by. Yet she couldn't ignore what was in her heart and her head. Listening to the art that resides within us is a lesson we can all benefit from. Her situation, while singular in its enormity, speaks to the possibilities of what happens when you follow your those little inklings and ideas.

And of course, there are the countless lessons learned from Harry, Dumbledore, and company- far too many to list. But among the best is we truly we cannot underestimate the power of love. Trite as it may sound, Voldemort just doesn't understand that Harry's mother could have loved him enough to die for him. It is a feeling that he never experienced--true, untarnished, in-your-face love and serves as the ulitmate protection for Harry.

It might be over, but it won't be soon forgotten. Many of us will share Harry Potter with our kids and grandkids and in doing so, keep Hogwarts alive and well for years to come.

Channeling Erma....

I've always thought I was a bit snarky about kids and marriage until someone said I reminded them of Erma Bombeck (HUGE COMPLIMENT-thank you!). I remembered reading columns out of my mother's old Good Housekeeping magazines and finding them funny so I decided to check out some of her books. Among my favorite titles I found If Life's A Bowl of Cherries, Why Am I in the Pits?, Family: The Ties that Bind....and Gag, and A Marriage Made in Heaven or Too Tired for an Affair. I see that what I have to say is nothing new and that women, despite infinite leaps in progess towards equality and opportunities, have guilt wired into their DNA . No matter what the situation, we can and will find something to worry about with neither the time or energy to really figure it out. And if we are like Erma, we will be completely honest about it.

Erma obviously never worried too much about telling all. She survived/enjoyed/endured 40+years of marriage to the same man and made her living by telling the truth from her point of view. I am sure she must have been some sort of trail blazer by just putting it out there. I think in today's world, it can still be hard to be honest, especially about relationships. One particular point she makes is about arguing. Since Big Man and I don't agree on how to argue, I was particularly curious about what Erma had to say."There is something wrong with two people who agree to never disagree. I can say without a shred of modesty I have become quite good at arguing and expressing anger. How? Practice, practice, practice. I have engaged in some of the most dazzling war of words ever spoken in anger." I can relate to this. I feel brilliant and righteous and right when I am mad and this can make my voice boom and my articulation impeccable. How can something so spectacular be wrong? Live theatre at it's finest! But not everyone (Big Man) is comfortable doing that. I maintain that it's just another tool in helping our children communicate expressively. So far it appears we are doing well, and I take lots of credit for it. He is not buying it.

At least in reviewing some of Erma's pieces, I am comforted by the fact that things never have been,nor will they ever be, perfect. Couples don't always agree, children are rarely angelic when you need them to be, and housework truly is mundane. It hasn't just been me! Life and all of its craziness really does lie in the shades and shadows of gray. If we are lucky, we get a few glimpses of clarity, but most of the time we are muddling.

Erma was pretty up front about the lack of definitive answers. She concludes this same book by saying, " I wanted to end this book with a wonderful statement on how marriages work. I don't have a clue." And I like that a woman of her talent and longevitiy can share the same uncertainty that I have and tell the truth about it.

If you get the last laugh, you must have gotten the last roll.

How is it I can reside in house with 4 people for 10 years and be the only one who knows where we store toilet paper?

My kids don't hear me yelling because "Could you please bring me some toilet paper?" sounds no different than "The sky is falling!" or "Your room better be picked up before we leave for swimming practice!" or "Who wrote with a sharpie on fireplace?" It's all Peanuts-like to them, "wah, wah, wah".

But it is maddening. They have nerve to make exclamations with disgust--

"How come we are always out of toilet paper?"

"Gross! Moooooom!!"

"Where'd you put the toilet paper?"

Ok, alright. I will admit only 3 out of 4 of us really cares about this, but the fact remains that majority of us are seriously informed about its whereabouts. I am not the only one with this intimate knowledge, but it feels like it. And yet I never get the last laugh. Why is that?

"Ain't it a trip where heroes come from?"

I was recenly reminded of one my favorite books that I used to teach in a class for students whose main goal in life was to graduate from high school. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a young adult novel written by Chris Crutcher, a great writer for reluctant readers or hardened kids who just can't find time, space, or reason for sticking their nose into any book.



Sarah is a young woman whose face and hands are disfigured due to a mysterious accident. Early on in her school years she befriends Eric, a large boy whose nickname is Moby for his whale-like physique. Eric loves the hard-ass approach to life that Sarah takes and they quickly become defenders of the freak shows in their school. But as they get older, Eric takes up swimming and starts to lose weight. Rather than risk losing his friendship with Sarah and their freak-show status, he gorges himself. Much is discovered about friendship and being your own person along the way and Eric concludes, "Ain't it a trip where heroes come from?"



I concur. Too often we look at headlines and glossy pages and old history books. But this tiny paperback made me lift my eyes up. From that vantage point of being a third year teacher, I could see all that greasy skin and mousy hair and painful acne and be amazed. Each one of those kids was wearing their insecurities in a different way. Maybe it was a redneck flag, a goth flag, a goody-two-shoes flag, the tough-shit flag, the I-might-be-gay-and-I-better-hide-it flag, or the I-don't-need-rules-flag, but no matter. In that moment with that book, those kids were all looking at me and buying into who Eric and Sarah were and offering me a tad bit of their real selves. Teaching this book to those kids offered me this little gift. The walls would melt briefly, the freak flags would lower, and we could just bask in being imperfect clueless humans together.



I am not ignorant enought to think the book changed their lives, though I can hope. But it certainly changed how I look at people.



We all have flown some sort of freak flag at one time or another. Humans by their very nature are quirky, weird, unpredictable. The heroes among us are those who strike out every day with the courage to let others see who they really are, and it is the hardest thing because people can be so judgemental and critical. We tell our kids to be true to themselves, but then we ostracize them, humiliate them, and in some cases, physically harm them.



It's certainly not the kind of thing I would hope for my own kid, experiencing pain, suffering, and ridicule for being who you are. But I have no way of explaining that which does not make sense. Life is difficult and therefore, we have no shortage of heroes.



Keep your eyes up.







Good 'ol summer time....

Steamy days are upon us and I can hardly believe I used to walk beans, detassle corn, bottle feed calves, pick rocks from fields, help sew oats by hand, show animals in August for 4-H and live in a house with no air conditioning for all of 18 years. I have become a wuss. Is that a real word? It seems the most appropriate one because at this point in my life, I do not like to garden, driving in midday makes me cranky, and my heart literally deflated when Thing 2 said he wanted to play baseball. His games are at 5:00 p.m.-- death trap hour for those watching from the sidelines with the nearest tree 2 miles away.

I survived a trip to Cameroon, Africa when I was 22 and remember my joy upon returning home when reaquainting myself with ice cubes and paved roads. I vowed then to not take life's little offerings for granted. I see now I have slipped, and I am not proud of myself.

I can't complain about the hot sun in July when hardy Minnesotans just plodded their way through the longest winter ever. This season is brief! The days are long and have much to offer besides heat and mosquitoes! There are pools and lakes to swim in, balls to throw, gardens to harvest, grass to cut, patios to sit upon, and fairs to attend.

A confidant once suggested that I spend an awful lot of time denying what I really like and enjoy. But while living in this season of abundance and light, it is hard to admit this just isn't your season. So...I will work to remain smiling. Inside my house.

Tiny Protest

Well, I made a small foray into activism. I had this brainy idea of a digital protest against the war. But I needed some help and found it was surprisingly difficult. People either couldn't put themselves out there or simply forgot or whatever. Plus, I am not technologically savvy so the time required versus the skills I had did not line up. But over and over, I kept thinking of what General Kelly said in his article in the Washington Post in February. It's not the dissent he is against, he wrote, it's the indifference.

I hope everyone finds time and space in this long holiday weekend to think about where they stand on the war or marriage rights or other pressing issues and ask themselves, "What can I do?" Nothing seems dissrespectful to those who will live with the ramifications of our inactions.

I don't pretend to have answers. But what is real and true is that I care.

Thanks again, to Winona360 and Kate, for indulging me with time and space and encouragement. "No," said Kate. "Don't give up. This is good. It's relevant. Keep at it." Ugh. Ok. "Well," she said, "we can't to that, but we could do this. Have you though about...?" and back and forth we would go. She was my own little-engine-that-could bringing me over the final hill.

Thanks, also, to past, present, and future protestors and activists. This little experiment of mine gives me new found appreciation for those who doggedly purse causes on behalf of the greater good. It is tough and defeating, and my miniscule efforts barely scratched the surface. Did I give my all? Probably not. But with the time and resources available to me, I made a step and today, for me, this is what matters.


My Tiny Protest
With the utmost respect and sincere appreciation to those who have served and who are serving, I thank you for your time and your efforts and the hours in spent in tedium and danger. It is in my humble opinion that I think you should come home to us and spend some time with your families and begin the long process of acclimating yourself to a life you may have forgotten. And to all of those families who have lost loved ones on behalf of our country, words are pointless. This is my tiny offering of protest and gratitude.