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Totally upgraded

The Maiden came home from school the other day with a bag full of dragons.

Drawings of dragons, that is. They were elaborate and interesting and artistically pretty good, and I told her so. But apparently that was not what she wanted to hear.

“These dragons, Mommy? Don’t you think they’re totally upgraded?”

Me: “Totally what?”

Maiden, shaking her head: “Oh, Mommy. It’s just, like, a thing.”


It’s happened. I said it wasn’t going to happen. I believed it wasn’t going to happen. I snickered at my parents because it had happened to them, but I would be immune.

Then she pulls this “upgraded” thing and upgrades the rug–or downgrades, maybe–right out from under my feet.

I always planned to be the cool mom, hip to the slang the kids were using. Totally with it. Do kids still say “with it”? I don’t know. I’m not cool anymore.

I tried to salvage my dignity. “Yeah,” I muttered, hoping to sound cool. I just sounded tired. “Totally upgraded.”

The moment the words crossed my lips, I knew it was a mistake. They tasted of vinegar. They tasted of compromise. They tasted of clueless parent who has no idea what’s, like, totally upgraded these days.

Geeze, it’s a stupid expression.

It’s going to take me some time to crack the code of pre-tween technoslang. What does “totally upgraded” even mean? It’s illogical. “Upgraded” means it has all these bells and whistles and apps and functionalities that are so complicated and confusing that by the time you get them figured out, it’s time for another upgrade. That doesn’t sound cool to me.

Then again, I’m clearly no longer cool myself.

How do you even make a “slanguage” out of wireless technology?  Since when are kids talking in terms of flat little boxes of wires and circuits that create expenses for mom and dad? If something cool is totally upgraded, is the opposite “Wow, this class is a big crack in my iPad screen?” Maybe it is. I could be onto something here.

What happened to the rad stuff we used to say in the ’80s and ’90s? Has it gone the way of “Good golly!” and “Jumping Jupiter!”? This is so totally, like, bogus. Something needs to change.

Back in the day, we had grand dreams. We wanted to ride the big waves and throw back our hair and look awesome and be Californian. At least our language did. We were relaxed. We were cool.

Now we’re not.

I feel out of the loop. I hate being out of the loop. Can you take classes in this stuff? Shouldn’t it be part of continuing professional education for parents–something to help us keep abreast of the latest developments in the dumb expressions kids use?

Now that would be, like, totally upgraded.


The game

Last night I sat in the dance studio, waiting for the Maiden to finish her tap class and scrolling through yet more online drama as the elections coverage began.

And maybe it was the cold studio, or the fact that the Maiden had just come out for a water break, snatched my drink, and glugged the whole thing down, but I was feeling slightly snarky. I wanted to post this as my status: “Thank goodness the elections are almost over. Then we can get back to our usual civil discourse on breastfeeding, circumcision, and vaccination.”

Maybe not.

And yet, maybe so? Continue reading

Seven months later

Last spring–just seven months ago–I had made a list. Not your traditional to-do list, with its pay the electrical bill, buy cream of tartar, replace the light in the dining room. This list was a big one, full of huge unknowns as we prepared to make a cross-country move that summer. I didn’t know the answers and I didn’t know how we’d find them. The anxiety consumed me.

And yet at the same time, as I packed away our sweaters in anticipation of milder temperatures, I realized that I also needed to pack away my worries. For whether I fretted or not, all those pressing questions and fears for the future would be resolved by the time the weather turned cold again. In just seven short months, I would know the answers.

That was late March.

Now it’s November. Continue reading

And it was good

So here we are, on the other side. The rain’s petering out. The wind’s died down. There are leaves and twigs scattered around the neighborhood. Kids are home from school, but stores are starting to open again. Our family has power and we made it through “Frankenstorm” safe, warm, and dry.

Earlier yesterday evening, I was surfing the web in a last-ditch attempt to make maximum use of the internet in case we might lose it when the worst of the storm hit. As usual, The Atlantic had some great photojournalism going on. I scrolled through the shots tracking Sandy’s progress.

Haiti and Jamaica and Cuba. Destruction and peeling shacks. People standing in their one-room coastal houses as the water rises around them. Old men poking through rubble. Kids running the devastated streets.

A surfer riding the big waves in New Jersey.

I stopped. I stared.

Do we have any idea–any idea at all–how incredibly lucky we are up here?

I am by no means making light of any damage suffered by victims of Sandy here on the Eastern seaboard. Believe me. I’ve dealt with hurricane damage back when we lived in Florida. It’s scary and exhausting and even heartbreaking.

But There. Is. No. Comparison.

We get flooded out, we have trees fall on our houses or cars, we have to evacuate, we have power lines downed and boxes ripped off the wall and electrical fires and whole cities shut down.

But in the midst of it all, we are still so much luckier than half the rest of the world.

We can afford to buy canned goods and stock up before the storm. We have stores that can get sold out. We have the luxury of fighting over generators.

Do we have any idea how lucky we are?

We follow news coverage to track the storm’s path and the minute-by-minute forecasts. We snap photos and upload them to citizen journalist sites and keep tabs on the rest of the community. We text friends to check in on them, and even when we lose power we grab our charged phones and post Facebook status updates to let our family and friends know we’re okay.

Do we have any idea how lucky we are?

How many people in other countries face a disaster situation without communication, cut off from neighbors and the larger community? How many have to wait it out and just hope they make it? Hope they don’t get washed out to sea? Hope they can pick up their lives and go on?

Who can’t even imagine a place whose “devastation” and “destruction” and “brought to a standstill” is better than their everyday?

A place where we pull out DVDs and iPads and craft kits to entertain our kids. Where we can afford to joke about boredom or stuffing ourselves with junk food or riding out the storm with a bottle of wine. Where we dance outside in the rain and heck, even go surfing on the storm surge–because deep down, we know it’s going to be okay.

Because the sun will come out and the work crews will swarm in to clean up our cities and restore power. The kids will be back in school. We’ll repair the shingles and replace the screens and call the insurance about the damage to the shed. We’ll smile and get back on the interstate and the world will be back to normal.

We’ve endured discomfort. We’ve endured inconvenience. We’ve grumbled and shuddered and agreed with the screaming-loud headlines announcing devastation.

But the truth is that even in the worst of times we have everything, and we don’t even know it.

It’s how you play the game

A week and a half ago, a horrible, horrible thing happened. My computer died.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. It didn’t die, it was killed–think negligent homicide. And there was more than one bad guy in the story. Continue reading

Truth fairy

“A long time ago, a little girl was sad because her beloved tooth had fallen out. And so her Mommy and Daddy tried to cheer her up with a beautiful story: a tale of a special fairy who took that tooth and placed it as a star in the heavens above. The fairy brought money or a little treat in exchange for the tooth. And that was how it began . . .”

That is how it began a few months ago, and that is how it will begin this evening when we sit down with the Maiden. But even the sweetest tales must eventually come to an end, and tonight this book will be closed. Tonight we will say “Good night” to the tooth fairy. Continue reading

Good neighbors

My favorite Americans.

Two hundred years ago, there were neighbors who were friendly enough. Then they looked over the fence at each other and frowned. They argued. They fought. They burned stuff and attacked each other and created a big mess, but it never really resolved anything. So they went back to borrowing cups of sugar and watering each other’s plants, or whatever good neighbors are supposed to do.

Fast-forward to 2012: the neighbors are joined under one roof, and together they’re navigating the ups and downs of a dual-nationality house. Continue reading

Good morning, good morning

I am swimming.

Submerged in the depths.

Utterly still. At peace.

But then–a stab of pain. A sharpness, a sudden sharpness that drags me up through fathoms of darkness toward the searing light above the water. No! I must stay deep below the waves. Downward I struggle, desperately seeking the place where it cannot reach me, but I am weak. I am losing the fight. Steadily, angrily, it drags me up, up, up–past layers of heaviness and ringing and frothing brightness–until I can no longer resist the screaming in my head, and the noise and light consume me.

Then I reach over and hit the alarm clock. Time to start another day. Continue reading

I love the city, or why we only camp once a year, Part II

You decide to escape the insanity of suburban life and commune with nature by way of a camping trip. So far, it hasn’t been going well . . .

“Smile for this picture or else.”

You shut off the propane lantern and dive into the tent before you can be followed. Then you try to sleep under the stars.

Because you are actually sleeping under the stars; the tent roof is made of mesh and the over-cover makes it too stuffy, so you’re really out there. It seems all romantic until you realize that there’s not a whole lot between you and nature and rainstorms and bear claws and things that go scritch scratch slash yum yum in the night.

You roll over on the uncomfortable air mattress, which has deflated quite a bit. It’s either roasting hot and burning cold, and the scratching on the edge of the tent sounds dodgy. You manage to doze off but are awoken by a mosquito whining about your ear. You jump up to try to kill it and somehow fall against the side of the tent, rocking it dangerously. The flashlight clatters to the ground as the 4 am birds start singing. Your child sits up and eagerly asks whether it’s morning.

It isn’t really, but the early sun streaming into your tent convinces your offspring otherwise. Sweaty, grimy, and sleep-deprived, you crawl out of the tent to face the day.

But with a smile, for today is going to be the Day You Get Camping Right. You decide that the best antidote to a bad experience with nature is spending even more time with nature.

So you try hikes.

You start out with a super-simple trail to see a waterfall. Your child’s enthusiasm wanes after the first five feet into the trail. She’s tired. Can she go back to the campsite? Can she have a snack? What can she have after she’s finished the snack? After that? Geeze Mommy, don’t you have any good snacks?

You distract her with nature: “Look! That’s poison ivy! Beware!” Which lesson your Real Camping Child takes so much to heart that she plants herself in the middle of the path, screaming that she can’t move or the poison ivy will leap out and throttle her in its three-leaved grasp.

She refuses to move from her spot and you think you might have to airlift her out, when a ranger comes along and very kindly explains that poison ivy won’t bother you if you leave it alone. Also, the rest of the group is half a mile away, so would you like to catch up?

Finally she’s convinced enough to press on to the waterfall, which is pretty much nondescript after all that effort to hike one measly mile. You try to take a family picture, but the younger side of the Camping Family is already trying to head back to the air-conditioned visitor’s center. To be honest, you kind of sympathize.

The visitor’s center seems like the perfect mix of nature and civilization, until you realize that it supports its conservation of nature by plying bored camping children with the promise of stuff for Mommy and Daddy to buy them.

Inevitably the quaint dome becomes an arena where you valiantly attempt to learn about nature while fending off requests for books, yoyos, and yet another stuffed animal. The problem is that you’re exhausted from simple living and not up to the fight. In other news, we now have a new member of the Kaleidoscope family, a bear most creatively named  “Smoky.”

By the time you leave the center, you know a little about nature and a lot about your breaking point. You wonder what to do next, but everyone is tired and cranky and hungry. It’s time to head back to the campsite for another burned meal and sweaty sleep.

But fear not: you’re living the simple life. And the next day, when you return to your house and crank up the AC and glory in refrigerated drinks and ovens and laptops and TVs and even CD players because that’s the only electronics Mommy will let you have–

Well, you’ll have a renewed appreciation for the complicated life.

And maybe that’s what camping is all about!

I love the city, or why we only camp once a year, Part I

The good part of camping.

Every year, the Man and I look around the living room and cringe. The piles of paperwork and laundry and books and toys and the crap the Maiden left in the entryway again are lurking in the shadows. The garbage needs to be taken out and the fridge cleaned and the leftovers frozen before they turn moldy, but first the dishwasher has to be emptied because the sink is so full of dishes and dang it, I need to make the Maiden’s lunch for tomorrow and the whole process of living feels backed up like traffic on I-95.

And so we get two stupid ideas. First, that the solution is to abandon it all and experience the simplicity of nature by taking a camping trip. Second, that this time it’s going to go much, much better.

Continue reading