Imperfect Serenity

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Best Mom Ever"

Some of you got a kick out of my ice cream cake update on Facebook, so here’s the full confession (Last year's cake pictured):

My son only wanted two things for his birthday: a DSi and an ice cream cake shaped like an M&M. We decided we didn’t want to buy the DSi ($169 electronic devise, though he is allowed to save up for it himself). He was a good sport. Still, that made the ice cream cake seem pretty important, so I was feeling like a mighty lousy mother when I left that till the last minute and then couldn’t find the kind of M&M shaped cake we got last year. I rushed home from the supermarket empty-handed to meet the school bus, brought both the kids to my daughter’s orthodontist appointment, and then to a different supermarket in the hope that they would have the M&M cake. They didn’t. Birthday boy was still being a good sport, so when he picked an ice cream cake a little bigger than we needed for a family of four, I relented, even though I secretly harbored doubts about whether there was room in the freezer since we never ate all the ice cream guests brought for Easter.

Indeed, there wasn’t enough room in the freezer, so after dinner the cake got shoved into the fridge, on top of the box of left-over pizza. I had intended to dig out some freezer space once everyone got settled with their homework, an intention I remembered the next morning when I opened the fridge and found a huge puddle of melted ice cream weighing down the pizza box, “Happy Birthday” still legible. There was a moment when I thought the birthday boy might melt, too, but his sister helped save the day. When I told them that this was a special morning because I was going to let them eat ice cream for breakfast, my daughter grabbed a spoon and started scooping the mess into her mouth with great enthusiasm and smiles. Soon birthday boy realized this was funny, and our family huddled with spoons around the soggy pizza box.

There’s a special pleasure that comes from making lemonade out of lemons, and not just because of the sugar, though I’m sure that helped cheer up my kids. Later that day, I told the story to a friend who declared, “You’re the best mom ever!” Hardly. But every once in awhile I get a glimpse of our family giggling around the pizza box, and I think we’re all doing OK—four people trying to love each other and make the best of life’s little puddles.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Today's paper has this piece which fits nicely with yesterday's post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Our Tomorrow

In honor of tax day, I want to be a contrarian. I want to speak in defense of taxes. No, I’m not thrilled that our money helped bail out AIG, but so far today I’ve seen three public complaints against taxes—one from people on the left and two from people on the right—using April 15 to raise questions about government spending they don’t like. Fair enough. There’s plenty I don’t like, too. But I think in the past decade or so conservatives have succeeded in making “taxes” a dirty word, as if the whole idea of people investing in the common good via our government was just a big scam.

A few things recently have reminded me of the importance of investing in the common good. One was the film “When the Levees Broke,” which I recently rewatched. Although the colossal failure of government regarding Katrina (except for the Coast Guard) might make people cynical about government, to me the film was a reminder that there are things we need our government to provide, such as adequate levees, which the Army Corps of Engineers clearly failed to do. There are things people cannot provide for themselves, like well-maintained highways, fair courts, and emergency relief.

This morning Quaker educator Joan Countryman (whom I interviewed for my book The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change-and When to Let Go) had a “This I Believe” essay on NPR. Best known for her work as Interim Director of Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls, Joan talked about the importance of education and shared how when she was interviewing prospective students for Oprah’s school one South African girl described an education as “my tomorrow.” Education could just as accurately be described as “our tomorrow,” and it’s not one of the things we can count on families to provide for their own children. Although I am well educated myself, I am completely unqualified to teach my daughter science, her favorite subject. To give her the potential to cure a disease someday, I need a trained science teacher to open that door for her. In fact, we all need good teachers, at some time or another—not only the people who taught me and those who teach my children, but those who maybe now are teaching the people who might take care of me someday should I land in a hospital. Most people get their teachers in public school, so investing in public schools seems to me to be a clear case of investing in the public good.

Could our money be invested more wisely? Sure. But when doing my taxes this year, I was glad to see that most of our money was going to the city and the state, where human needs are most likely to be met. I don't mind paying those taxes. It's an investment in our tomorrow.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


My son will be ten in a few days. As if to drive the point home, he has been listening to Metallica and wearing black nail polish. His sister meanwhile has been teaching me to play poker, which only goes to reinforce the fact that we are in a new phase of family life. I thought about that last weekend as I dug up the flagstones in our tiny back yard and found traces of sand from a long discarded sandbox.

Our yard has had several transformations in the ten and a half years we have lived here. When we first moved in, it was very shady, over-run with ivy of all sorts, and contained a few small animal carcasses, confirming my suspicion that no one had gardened there for years, though the random tulip that popped up in the spring bore witness to the fact that someone once had. Pregnant with my son, I ripped up the weeds and molded the first few feet of land I’ve ever owned into a tidy little shade garden, full of hosta, fern, and bleeding hearts. The shade grass I planted never took, and the turtle sandbox we put in the corner didn’t get used as much as we expected, though my son insisted we keep until it was full of mud and bugs. When the sandbox was finally hosed out and given away, I decided to built a patio and used the remaining sand to level the flagstones. It was back breaking work, I remember, which I did myself because we couldn’t afford to hire someone who knew what they were doing. I also collected as many of the flagstones as possible from a distant friend who bought her property with a random pile of stone strewn on the edge. The stones weighed down the Ford, possibly contributing to its premature demise during my son’s last year of nursery school. I was very proud of that patio, even though it wasn’t quite even, and the stones didn’t match.

Our yard is testament to the fact that nothing stays the same. We got new neighbors a few years back who trimmed their overgrown Mulberry enough so the front of the yard was suddenly sunny. (In the trimming process, a branch fell in our yard, and a few of our flagstones got broken.) That corresponded with the closing of our community garden, so we rescued some raspberries and asparagus and planted them where the striped hosta had been. Last summer the same Mulberry fell across our yard on a clear day, landing on what is now a small forest of raspberry shrubs and reminding me how unpredictable life is. Our partly shady garden was now full sun, so in the fall, I gave away most of the remaining shade plants, which are now popping up in other people’s yards. We never ate on the patio as much as I had hoped, and I’m sure we won’t in the sun, so I’m ripping up the stones—with my son’s help—to finally plant some tomatoes and basil. In the course of digging, I’ve come across the sand, the already decomposing roots of the Mulberry, and the small bone of an animal that most likely died before we arrived. My son likes the digging and is proud that he can lift the flagstone. Both he and the garden remind me that life is constantly changing, even if I don’t see the changes as dramatically in myself. I put my shovel to my little piece of land, but it’s an illusion that I control it. My garden, like my son, has a life of its own, and it’s a wonder to watch it unfold.

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