Category Archives: family

Family Mythology No. 1: Exiles from The Shire

About Family Mythology: It’s good for families to inhabit common psychic terrain. We do, but sometimes I think it stops at the boundaries of our property … maybe extends to the park a few blocks away, certainly to the kids’ schools … but there’s a whole lot of “TBD” out there, owing, in part, to the various life experiences and viewpoints we hold. (I was thinking “To Be Determined” when I typed TBD, but let’s change that to “There Be Dragons.”) For instance, I like church, and he likes football (both kinds, American and what the rest of the world means).

So anyway, about The Shire: Back when I first read The Lord of the Rings I longed for the mythological terrain of Middle Earth, with the cozy rightness of The Shire, and the epic landscapes beyond its borders. Somehow (that’s a quick gloss over of a lot of literary criticism) Tolkien created a world that seemed realer than regular old life. And all that place-based magic and meaning – how did we lose that?

Fast forward a decade, and I’m married. A couple more decades, and I’ve realized that he, too, is an exile from The Shire, and really wants little more than to hunker down in a hobbit hole with a cup of tea in a rocker by a fire. In his case it’s more personal. Economic forces uprooted his family when he was 15 from his home in Oxfordshire, and swept them across the Atlantic, inland, to the remote and barren terrain of West Texas.

We’ve had some lovely trips back over the pond, in which many of our country rambles on footpaths trod by Romans and earlier inhabitants of the isle lead to country churches that were there when William the Conqueror did his inventory way back when. Luckily no village is complete without a pub, as all that tramping builds up a thirst.

Now we live on the edge of the Great Plains of North America. It’s not as green as The Shire, but it’s got that ever-so-humble homey quality, low-key but tightly woven community — to quote nerdily from LOTR, “deep roots are not touched by the frost.”

Other truths “we” hold to be self-evident: The Sex Pistols have redeeming qualities. James Bond is a minor deity.

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Connections Revisited

One of the things I really appreciate about the high school that my daughter has chosen to attend is that she’s in school with some of the African immigrants and / or their kids whom I first met while working with our local refugee community. When I switched lines of work I was worried that I’d become totally out of touch with the African community. Now I see them dropping off kids and at various school functions. HooRAY for good public schools.

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Rites of Passage

A nine-year stage of life has ended. As of today, neither of the kids in our household attends the elementary school that is half a mile south of our house. I didn’t realize till later that my walk to and from the “fifth-grade celebration” would be the last time I’d enact that lovely ritual, at least as an active parent, for … ever? Many kids, parents, teachers, and school administrators were getting teary, including my son and me. One of the dads asked me how I was doing and I said I deliberately didn’t wear mascara that morning and he said he didn’t either.

What’s truly sad for my son is that a good portion of his close buddies will be going to a different middle school. This is life. It’s not a huge city but when you’re a kid and you don’t drive it really does affect your ability to see your friends. Of course now there’s texting, Xbox live, and much more.

Saw the daughter for about 30 minutes total yesterday. She had two celebrations after school, arriving home on foot with a buddy around 10 as prearranged, and then quickly finagled a sleepover at the buddy’s house. I’ll pick them up after theatre today. She seemed happy and calm. Independence seems to do her worlds of good.

The grownups on our street gathered for a block party, with fifth grade grads and their visiting parents making up a big chunk, and lots of littler kids filling in the spaces. The weather was perfect, clear and not too hot. We are very lucky to have such nice neighbors.

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Probably Edits Bathroom Walls

Both kids show signs of being able to proofread. Reading the pre-movie countdown, daughter said, “‘One minutes till movie.’ What kind of crap grammar is that?”

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Dueling Siblings

Every stage of life has its theme song(s). A few years ago it was Thomas the Tank Engine. Those cheery little can-do rails from the Island of Sodor ran through everything. Before that it was We Sing and Skinamarink, those whacky, happy Canadians that got us through some very sleep-deprived mornings.

Now, from the shower emanates j-pop (Mom, that’s a Japanese import), if it’s daughter, or Sponge Bob, if it’s son. That Goofy Goober song is very hard to extract from the skull bone once it penetrates.

These days I’d have to peg the theme song as Hot Cross Buns, blasted out on the trombone, dominant by virtue of volume, simplicity and repetition. Tonight the dreaded simultaneous practice occurred, separated by only one wall. There is no reason why they couldn’t be separated by one or more floors. Daughter practiced singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” from Jesus Christ Superstar, and son practiced Doctor Rock and Hot Cross Buns on the trombone. Neither gave in.

We gave thanks, quietly.

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Emerging

Our family just finished a full seven days of “no recreational screen use.” We had a lapse and a bribe, but generally accomplished a fairly major reduction in TV watching, videogame playing, and all the social networking and manga consuming that teenage girls do. My son and I played several games of Operation during the week. He rapidly became an unscrupulous doctor if he was also the specialist. I introduced the term “conflict of interest.” My daughter and I had more conversations than normal, even if many of them were about why she couldn’t use screens and that it really wasn’t a punishment. She is nothing if not eloquent in defense of her lifestyle.

My husband came to bed earlier and got up earlier. I focused more, possibly due to the lack of psychic static from excess electronic activity, or more likely due to not wasting an hour or two a night surfing.

This morning son and I took dog for a walk through a nearby park. It was snowing. He’s amazingly observant and tuned in to his turf, our little place-based human. He anticipated a couple of icy spots because he had enjoyed the puddles a few days earlier. He even cleared the half-inch or so of snow fluff off so that subsequent pedestrians would not go base over apex.

Dog was completely exuberant when we got to the unleashing spot. Did several high-speed victory laps. On the way back we noticed an odd low-flying cloud moving fairly rapidly from south to north, pretty much across our route. It got notably darker and more humid and the snow got sleetier. We saw some big black birds — ravens? — chase off a hawk, and we heard a woodpecker high in a hollow tree.

We saw another set of dog-walkers who recognized our dog and remembered her name. “Bassadors” are distinctive.

Retrieved daughter from sleepover after (monthly appearance at) church. I feel very lucky that my eighth grader has a well-defined group of a dozen buddies whose parents and values I like so much. They had a sleepover party at one house for New Year’s, and at our house last month for daughter’s birthday. This one was in honor of one of their members who is visiting briefly while spending a couple of years with her parents in another country.

Anyway, it feels like we’ve turned a corner from the darkest part of the year. It was actually warm enough Saturday to go running outside and that felt great.

Interesting coincidences in reading: Am reading Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, just past a story about weaving webs of story, and am reading Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, by Elaine Pagels, all about early Christian interpretations of the creation myth(s) and their bearing on sexual mores. Anyway, my dad sent me the first part of a book he’s writing, and it mentions webs of fate, spun to entangle us, and also includes several other creation stories. Can’t wait to read more.

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Fresh Pot of Primordial Holiday Soup

I got on the stairstepper today and stepped along to the whole Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat recording. I love the rhythm of story, and story set to music is even better. In the past I’ve been to spinning (stationary cycling) classes and to bellydance, and just got some hiphop adbs DVDs, all of which give me ideas for movement combos that I did on the stairstepper. Good job no one was watching. This would really have been one of those moments where the sheer existence of a mom could embarrass a teenage daughter. I am also threatening to put a video of me hula hooping to the Time Warp on You Tube. It would be from the back and no one would know it was me. Anyway, the exercise and connecting to various rhythms helped me regain a sense of autonomy again.

The past several days I melded happily into family stew. My parents were visiting and we Had Christmas. The kids enjoyed their surprises as well as some expected biggies. We were, as one of my friends put it, all geeked out. On the up side, we have attention spans. On the downside, sometimes we have to remember to talk to each other.

Went to a Christmas Eve service with my parents. The music was fabulous and we all enjoyed singing. I was particularly glad to greet the Sudanese guy who leads Nuer worship at church.

It’s icy here. My mom barely left the house, being suitably cautious, and the rest of us moved very slowly. Dad and I took the dog for some nice walks. We lit a fire on Boxing Day and cozied up with leftovers, gadgets, and each other.

This time of year, going way into family space and barely entering the outside world (yes, it’s an education-based pattern), is like whatever happens to a bulb underground, anchoring us, gathering our energies, getting ready to poke, shoot, and burst forth when the time comes.

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