Time to Say Goodbye to Summer

It’s Friday at twilight and Jimmy has just brought in the chairs and umbrella. It is our last full day at the beach and we intended to spend most of it outside, enjoying the gorgeous weather and soaking up every minute we could. We went in for lunch, decided to have a short quiet time and next thing I knew, the boys were napping. It happens rarely these days, so I let it continue; the result was that we forfeited the rest of our afternoon outside.

It’s OK. We’ve had a great time, spending hours each day outside, taking evening walks and relaxing. I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. Some of it is due to the usual angst of leaving the beach and ending vacation, especially when we won’t be back for 10 months.

Most of it is due to my worry that we didn’t maximize our time here; you know, sucking the marrow out of our beach week and all that. We didn’t play in the water as much as we would have liked. We didn’t collect as many shells. We didn’t spend as many evenings chatting into the wee hours while the ocean breezes blew. The truth is, we were tired. It has been a busy summer of work projects, home projects and camp, and I think the three of us were relieved to sit (the adults) and dig in the sand (Daniel).

The end of this trip also symbolizes the end of summer. School will start in a little over a week and we will have a kindergartener. Our lives will begin to revolve around a calendar again; June and August will take on significance beyond “summer” and “hot” as “school” creeps in and takes over.

Time passes and all that.

Maybe I should focus on all the things we did do. Daniel had ice cream every night. He tried crab cake and lobster bisque (sadly rejecting both). Jimmy found a sandwich he loved (a bigger deal than it sounds for my sandwich-rejecting men). We added 6 new starfish and a clamshell to our starfish family. We ended each day sandy, salty and tired. It was a good week.

Now it’s time to pack up and go home. Wash the beach clothes and start organizing the back-to-school items. And maybe one day when the nights are crisp, I’ll put on a shirt I wore at the beach, inhale the scent of the beach and find myself back here.

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What’s Your Story?

Lately, everywhere I go, everything I read, emphasizes the importance of storytelling.  It shows up in articles and blogs I read online. It even shows up at a data conference I attended in a session on visualizing data and using it to tell a story for stakeholders.  Dashboards used to be the buzzword; now storytelling is on the rise.  Headlines encouraging you to tell your story, share your story, tell the story.

The question is whether storytelling as a concept, as a tool, is truly on the rise or if I’m just more attuned to it.

It’s more likely that I am experiencing the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, the experience of encountering a new concept or thing everywhere after you learn about it.  I could call it by its more prosaic name of “frequency illusion,” but I think Baader-Meinhof is jazzier.

Storytelling.  I used to think of stories and the telling of them as something for children. It certainly wasn’t something adults do (we call that “blogging” or marketing if you’re in business). Stories are something we outgrow as we move from board books to novels with longer, more complicated plots. Stories are instructive, tools for molding behavior and character.

Ever since the spring and our two Listen to Your Mother productions, I’ve been thinking a lot about stories and storytelling. It’s likely because we had two cast members this year who work with stories, their structure, their form, their history, and their power. And I began to see our production as an important part of the storytelling process, giving our local readers – adults all – an opportunity to share their stories, to have the audience learn from them, and to learn from each other.  I found myself learning lessons from each one: the futility of control, respecting myself as worth a place at the table, learning from our children, flipping roles with our parents. I learned from them and internalized those lessons as I hope Daniel learns from the stories we read him.

It turns out that storytelling isn’t so childish after all. One of the most profound books I read this year was Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz.  In it, Newitz explore prior extinction events (spoiler alert: there have been many); the rise of humans; and finally, what we might face in the future.  The “Remember” part of the title refers to storytelling and how it is not merely something fun to do around the fire or at a party but is in fact a powerful survival tactic and evolutionary development. As Newitz writes, “Over the past million years, humans bred themselves to be the ultimate survivors, capable of both exploring the world and adapting to it by sharing stories about what we found there.”

And this:

It could be that one small group of H. sapiens developed a genetic mutation that led to experiments with cultural expression. Then, the capacity to do it spread via mating between groups because storytelling and symbolic thought were invaluable survival skills for a species that regularly encountered unfamiliar environments. Using language and stories, one group could explain to another how to hunt the local animals and which plants were safe to eat.

And this:

…people could figure out how to adapt to a place before arriving there—just by hearing stories from their comrades. Symbolic thought is what allowed us to thrive in environments far from warm, coastal Africa, where we began. It was the perfect evolutionary development for a species whose body propelled us easily into new places. Indeed, one might argue that the farther we wandered, the more we evolved our skills as storytellers.

Storytelling saved lives and may have even assisted in our evolution. I can’t think of many things more powerful than that.

***

Speaking of stories, this week the videos from the 30+ 2014 Listen to Your Mother shows became available on YouTube.  Here’s the link to the main LTYM channel with all the shows. And here’s the link to the Raleigh-Durham videos. And because I’m not above a little shameless self-promotion, here’s the link to MY reading ;-)

I promise that you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll learn. Enjoy.

 

Happy Place

By last weekend, we were counting down the minutes to beach trip #1. Sunday finally arrived and we were on our way. Great weather so far, and we’re having a great time. Daniel has already “found” three starfish, and Jimmy and I have loved sitting outside and talking until the stars came out. We’ve also spotted Mars & Saturn. It truly is our happy place and we are thrilled we are able to return in two months.

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Lustrum, Pentad, Quinquennium

Sweet Boy,

Lustrum, pentad, quinquennium…those are fancy words that simply mean five of something, and I used them because you have 5 of something: you have five years. You turned 5 on Monday, and I hoped all week to write something about it but as happens too often lately, life has been wild for our little household.

We are so proud of you. You have worked so hard this year in Pre-K and have learned so much. You are soooo close to reading, and each week daddy and I have marveled over the weekly work sent home. Last week you came home and informed us that your favorite planets are Mercury and Neptune. You ask questions about everything, with “Why?” being your favorite follow-up to any answer I give. You have learned a lot about religion this year. Last week you asked me why the soldiers hurt Jesus as I chugged my coffee. Today you told daddy that Jesus would help you find the missing Lego piece you sought. We might need to work on this.

You still love garbage trucks, but you have broadened your interests to include any construction vehicle – our kitchen looks like a Bruder factory exploded in it. Earlier this year, you put together your first Lego set (a garbage truck, naturally), and now the kitchen overflows with Lego trucks of all kinds. When you started building the Lego sets, daddy helped you quite a bit but now it is amazing to watch you follow the instructions and put them together with little assistance. I have a feeling this is only the beginning of a Lego phase, which is great except that Legos tend to go everywhere. I even found a tiny one in my bed. I felt a little like the Princess and the Pea that night.

Your imagination is growing by leaps and bounds. Your starfish talk – quite sassily (and loudly)! You’ve given your trucks and Legos creative names, most of which we have no idea where they came from. You still dislike your name and want us to call you something else, something that changes frequently: weekly, sometimes daily. You rename us too. We had to draw the line at renaming the cats because something in the house has to remain consistent. There are days I can’t remember what my name is! It isn’t unusual for you to turn the couch into a pretend garbage dump or to see your starfish, trucks and Toy Story figures playing together. You love Toy Story and Jessie is your favorite. I like to think it’s because she looks like me, but that’s kind of Oedipal, so I’ll stop.

 

Sweet Boy, you are full of sass & stubbornness & curiosity & humor. You make us laugh every day. Earlier in the week, we had to avert our faces because you declared “whatever” with enough attitude that we had a peek into your teenage years. You have a hearty laugh, and your guffaws are rich.

You are also sensitive. When you are chastised, you hide your face, and it breaks my heart. You find so much beauty in our world, be it weeds or trash. To you, everything is a treasure as you demonstrated last weekend when you wanted to water all the weeds. We struggle how to reconcile your love for every living thing while we tell you that things like weeds will not be allowed to survive.

Recently you have started making friends with the neighbor children in the houses closest to us. It has been quite a process and your anti-social parents have experienced lots of anxiety. But it has been great to hear you refer to them as “my friends.” And I promise that daddy and I will back off one day…when you are 20!

I don’t mean to imply that there weren’t hard times because there were. No one is perfect. I swear you talked non-stop in January and February. There were tantrums and stunning selective hearing and infuriating defiance. Sweet Sir, you have a stubborn streak that has been evident since infancy if not before!

I think the bottom line is that I can’t believe you are 5. FIVE!! How did that happen?? Five truly is a milestone year. Age 5 makes me think kindergarten and the final removal of baby things. You will start your elementary school journey in August. College feels only minutes away.

And I hope that we are good parents to you. We try hard, but I worry it is not enough. As time goes on, I begin to accept that you will likely be our only child and worry that I haven’t done enough or been there enough. And I worry that every decision is wrong because there will be no do-over.

Whew. Feels like a lot of worry and doubt to place on your small shoulders. Sweetheart, you are awesome. So many people love you, and I cannot wait to see how you develop even if it is bittersweet.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Boy

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Whirlwind

Somehow, in this whirlwind of a year, the Listen to Your Mother season has come and gone. Raleigh-Durham held 2 shows last week, and they were both sold out and amazing. I can’t believe it is over. It felt like we had just gotten started and that we were building the show, meeting the wonderful women who comprised our cast and conducting the first nervous reading. I took a breath, closed my eyes for a second and months passed while I wasn’t looking. But both shows were amazing. The cast and audience were electric both nights. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

*** 

The two weeks leading up to Listen to Your Mother, I thought a lot about storytelling and what it meant to be a storyteller as I prepared for various media appearances (doesn’t that sound grand LOL). I don’t consider myself a storyteller.  As I have said before, I wasn’t the creative writing type of English major; more the analytical, critical type. I dissected stories. I analyzed stories. I did not tell stories. Even doing theater, the stories I shared on stage were not my stories but merely my interpretation of them. Call me a conduit maybe.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone with something to say which is a little absurd given that I have been blogging for roughly 6 years. But I consider my ramblings and musings to be simply that…ramblings and musings. Surely not storytelling. The bards who spread Beowulf were storytellers. The Native Americans who shared myths around fires and ceremonies were storytellers.  I’m just a woman rapidly approaching middle age in North Carolina with an Internet connection. That’s not a storyteller.

But as my 2014 cast mate and new friend Joy commented on Friday in our Facebook group:

People become the stories they tell about themselves. Rather than having to write at a certain quantity or quality to call ourselves writers, it is through telling the story of us being writers that we call ourselves to the page.

Isn’t that so true? And when I think about it, I’ve been telling stories even when I haven’t been using words.  I morphed from English major to web developer, finding enjoyment in coding and databases. I told people that when I coded, I was using language to create pictures and stories, something that I was unable to do otherwise.  While I code rarely now, I think the same can be said for what I do with data. I say I play with data, but what I’m really doing is figuring out what story the data is telling. It isn’t words being shared in a great hall, but it is story telling nonetheless.

***

Our cast is amazing. Last year’s cast was amazing. I truly consider myself privileged to know these people. I got LTYM last year, but this year I think I truly got it. I have a background in theater, so sometimes I forget how nerve-wracking it can be to be on stage. But it is, especially when you aren’t shielded by someone else’s words but exposed by your own. I am in awe of these women and their bravery as they shared their stories. And how as they shared their stories, they heard the gasps of recognition, laughter, sobs, and thunderous applause.  Listen to Your Mother is important because it gives average, normal people a microphone. We aren’t celebrities or elite. We just are, trying to get through each day as it comesThe power is in the epiphany, the “me too” moment. The empathy. The catharsis. That is its gift.

We are a week out from the final show. I sort of picture it like the final scene in Ocean’s 11 in which each member sort of fades away after coming together to do something amazing. It hurts not to see these women every day. But I also love how the camaraderie continues. Writing groups are being scheduled. And we are planning to get together.  Also, TWO of our cast members had their pieces published in the Huffington Post. How amazing is that? I am SO proud of them and so proud that I am part of something that enables such opportunities.

Bravo, ladies. The second Raleigh-Durham show was amazing, as you all are.

NIAW: Resolve to Know More About Surrogacy

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week and here I am posting at the end of it (non-conformist!). I struggled with wanting to post but having no topic and then having a topic but no time. The resulting post may seem useful or not. Happy or not. So here are a few thoughts I have about surrogacy.

  • You will realize the degree to which our stories about motherhood revolve around the physical: morning sickness, weight gain, stretch marks, contractions, labor, tearing, healing, nursing, leaking, hormones. Despite having a baby, the end result, there will still be times in which you find yourself mute and still unable to participate in conversations.  Articles, stories and conversations about the first few weeks of motherhood almost always revolve around the physical transformation and realities of being a new mother.  I get it – the majority of women who become mothers will experience pregnancy, labor and delivery. But it stings for those of us in the minority – will we always be on the fringes?
  • You will need to develop a thick skin as pundits, trolls, ethicists, attorneys, anyone with an Internet connection and half a brain (or less) debate the ethics of the method you chose to build your family and declare that you bought your child, took advantage of an economically disadvantaged woman and are pretty much a human trafficker.  You try to ignore these comments and opinions because they know nothing of your life and what it is like to live this. To actually make these decisions. While these comments rage on, you look at your little boy playing on the floor in the kitchen and feel incredibly blessed for the gift of him.
  • You will cringe as articles that could do serious harm to the already complex reality and confusing perception of surrogacy gain wide-spread media attention.  The latest is, of course, the rise of social surrogacy and whether it’s OK for women to choose surrogacy in order to avoid pregnancy or avoid harming their careers or if they are selfish beasts who don’t deserve to parent the children they wish to pursue. I have mixed feelings about social surrogacy, but it makes me wonder if it reinforces a belief some may secretly hold that I and other women who went the surrogacy route are selfish and didn’t try hard enough. At the very least, it hurts surrogacy’s perception and causes tongues to cluck.
  • As scientists publish about epigenetics and the role the uterine environment plays in subsequent generations, you will have heartburn and anxiety, wondering if your inability to conceive and carry a genetically-related child will end up changing the genetics of that child and future generations. At the very least, let’s just say guilt over whether you are being a good parent starts very, very early. 8 cells early.
  • You feel exhausted thinking about trying to have a second child because that means finding another gestational carrier, starting the process over again and spending a lot of money. You will wonder if going through the process is fair to your first child and if he deserves the resources and time you would spend more. You will again envy people who have second and third children easily, even if it includes popping down to the clinic for embryo transfer. And you aren’t proud of that envy.

But then you realize how your child has pervaded every area of your life. His art is on the refrigerator. You spend more on his clothes than your own. You obsess over his diet and agonize over school choices. You wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without a plan for his nightly routine. His smile & sunny mornings set your day. Frowns & tantrums make you want to hide.

But he is here and he is wonderful. I thank god or whoever for science Every. Single. Day. I am immensely grateful for the technology that allowed me to overcome my severe infertility. I’m forever indebted to the scientists who pioneered and perfected IVF because without them, we would not have our son. And we are forever grateful and humbled by our amazing gestational carrier who went on to carry a 3rd surro baby.

I am in awe of science and stunned, thrilled that it made me a mother. My experience is why, frankly, science can do little wrong IMO.

Surrogacy is unusual. I get that. But you never know what you are willing to do & accept until you are in that position.

I guess my message for NIAW is that surrogacy isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

I wouldn’t have my son otherwise, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Bring on your comments and debates. I welcome them.

Because you don’t know until you are in that position & that is something we would all do well to understand.

Party Tricks

I need a little levity because one of our cats is very ill and we may need to make some uncomfortable, adult decisions this weekend :-/ Note: sometimes being an adult sucks.

Let’s talk party tricks. I have three:

  1. I was ecstatic when Mel posted last Friday that her daughter is becoming very interested in royalty because *I* have been a devoted regiphile (is that even a word?) for decades and can chatter ad nauseam about the British monarchy from William the Conqueror to present, including spouses and fun facts.  I cannot explain the obsession except that deep down in my black, liberal soul is a long-held desire to be a pretty, pretty princess or queen, preferably in more despotic times. I think I’d be a good benevolent despot!
  2. Thanks to taking Old English for my English degree at Meredith, I had to memorize and recite “Caedmon’s Hymn.” A lot of people think Shakespeare is Old English when it is actually modern.  Chaucer is Middle English (we had to memorize and recite part of the “Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales too), so it can be amusing to recite it for people. And pretentious. And I don’t do it much because who cares about a poem written by a supposedly illiterate cow-herd in the 7th Century?
  3. I can stand on my head. My history with dance could be described as tragic due to my body’s inability to demonstrate coordination, grace or a basic sense of rhythm.  However, one class as a preschooler required us to do a routine that included standing on our heads and doing a few movements with our legs. And I could do it! I can still do it!  OK, I admit I haven’t tried it recently although I threaten to, but I bet with a little practice this old body could still do it. Maybe. And hopefully not have a stroke in the process.

There you have my three party tricks! Of course we’d need to leave the house for me to be able to show them off *at* parties.

What are your party tricks?