Archive for May, 2009

Why it’s Bristol Palin, of course.

I’m at the grocery store yesterday, stocking up on celebrity gossip groceries, and I find myself inevitably drawn to the vision of Bristol Palin on the cover of People Magazine, wearing both her graduation gown and her baby….

Just a couple of months ago, Bristol was chatting up the failures of abstinence with Greta Van Susteren.

Today, the daughter of Alaskan royalty has become the most visible spokesperson for the “just say no (to sex)” movement.

“Think about the consequences,” she’s telling teen girls via the People story (because teen boys, as exemplified by the Palin situation, don’t need to bear the burden of parenthood.)

I’m just not sure that pictures of a pretty teenager and her adorable baby are the right medium for this particular message. She is, after all, a teenager raising her baby outside of the sanctity of marriage. In my opinion, Bristol has taken on one of the very hardest jobs available today, that of single parent.

And I’m not sure that pointing to her baby as an “ooops – I did something you don’t want to do at all” is the right message for any mother to be saying about her child. That’s a tricky road to navigate, frankly.

And I honestly don’t know how she does it. According to the People story, the Palin family has no nanny – but the girl has the time to take care of her baby AND study for finals too.

(With both Sarah and Todd working, I do wonder who’s minding the children, with no nanny or parent around to supervise at home….)

Certainly, with interviews on Fox and a cover story in People, it seems like Bristol’s post-high school career is taking shape – talking about the downside of having a baby, with her own baby on her lap. We wish her and her baby the very best.


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The NY Times had a piece the other day called “Happy Like God,” which I read, because it would be a pretty awesome thing to be happy like God. The essay is by a philosopher named Simon Critchley who appears to be a fan of floating on water. His focus on happiness centers around a quote from Rousseau’s autobiography Reveries of a Solitary Walker. Here is the Rousseau quote, for context:

“If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul.”

Rousseau is describing here his experience of floating in a little boat on a Swiss lake, and how nearly perfectly happy it made him feel. I’ve been to Switzerland and it is certainly landscape that provides much food for the soul. Mountains soar to the heavens; the lakes are a blue that only God could create; the air in spring is crisp and clear. It is certainly a place where you can fill your soul with the beauty found on earth.

Critchley finds Rousseau’s quote to be “as close to a description of happiness as I can imagine.”

I, on the other hand, find myself stumbling over the words “where time is nothing to it,” and realize that clearly, Rousseau was never the caretaker of small children. When you care for small children, there is never a moment when “time is nothing.” As a parent, time is full. Very full. Full of work deadlines and registration for school next year and soccer in the fall and searching for a key photo that was placed somewhere it wouldn’t be lost – and thus is lost…

Then I googled Rousseau and discovered that he had such time for such reveries in nature because he had persuaded his lover to hand over their children (five, I think) to the foundling hospital after their birth.

And I think that happiness defined by a man who abandoned his children is not very real at all.

I think about solitude and the lack of it in my life – and the occasional yearnings I have for a bit of time to think, to ponder, to empty myself of all responsibility. Then a little voice asks, “when are we going to go up and play a game, mom?” Or, “I’m hungry, what can I have for a snack?” Or, “I’m stuck on this math problem, can you help me?”

I’ve come late to motherhood, so had time to think and philosophize before the rigorous demands that come with that job. And though I love floating in boats on calm, tranquil lakes, I’m not fond of doing it solo. Silence is golden, but the sound of my children’s laughter is my treasure. (The sound of their fights – another story, for another time…)

I’ve had my moments when I think of how my career would be propelled by having more time to devote to it – but a child calls – she is sick – she needs my attention – she needs my love. My son has a performance at school tomorrow – he needs me in attendance – and I want to go to watch him, to support him, more than anything.

And I think about Rousseau – and his happy state of being all alone in his little boat, tuned into nature, to the world, to God.

And I think time is full, when a parent and solitude is very rare. Life as a parent is full of all sorts of things that Rousseau never knew or experienced, because when he became a parent, he decided to give his children away.

I’m not a famous philosopher. I don’t have time to be one. I can’t ponder the elements that add up to happiness because I’m too busy right now.

I’m old enough to know, however, that what Rousseau defines as “a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life,” is to me something very rich and very wonderful. In my life, the things Rousseau threw away – children – certainly intrude on my ability to pursue my solitary endeavors – but I know with all the depths of my soul that because of my children, I’ve been granted “a complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul.”

Something the great philosopher Rousseau would never experience at all.

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…But this is not a story about the winner of the contest.

This is a story about the evacuation of retirement villages that happened tonight so that AI could bring us some interesting entertainment.

I mean, come on! Let’s take a look at who we saw tonight:

-Rod Stewart, whose first album was in 1969 and whose sinuously sexy movement has stiffened into the creakiness of an old man…

-Carlos Santana, who performed at Woodstock – in 1969…

-Lionel Ritchie, whose career also began in 1969, when Nixon was president (the first term)…

-Kiss, who leaped into the limelight in 1972…

-Queen, whose lead singer, Freddy Mercury, died almost two decades ago… (were they auditioning Adam for lead singer, I wonder?)

-Cyndi Lauper, whose career was launched during the Reagan administration (though pairing her with the red-headed Allison was a brilliant combo)…

-Steve Martin, born in 1945 and looking as if he yearned for the adult company he finds on SNL…

Queen Latifah brought a kind of a youthfulness to the event – though she’s almost 40…

Back in the 1960s, the fact that Fergie and the Black-Eyed Peas are all more than 30 years old would have made them untrustworthy among the under-30 crowd, but today, in 2009, they’re the freshest, hippest and most happening act on AI tonight…

It was interesting, because in a show that imposes an age limit on the contestants – they can be no more than 28 years old – most of the performers on the finale had established careers long before the very oldest AI contestants were born.

And for a show that seems to want to capture the youth market, they seem eager to provide gainful employment to people old enough to retire. Talented folks, for the most part, but a strange collection of musical artists that upset all expectations I had for the show.

Are there no young people in the American music industry? Or do youthful musicians reserve themselves for the challenge of AI?

And what about that upset? Kudos to Kris!

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So I came home a bit late one night last week (working out!) and Aidan is AWAKE, ABUZZ, A-MOVING in his room. The light is off, but he’s no where near asleep. I go in – he POPS UP, TURNS THE LIGHT ON and MUST SHOW ME SOMETHING.


So I protest, “it’s late,” but realize I need to look. It’s a note, wrapped in paper.

The note is in code, I am told.

It’s wrapped in paper so the girls in his class can’t read the coded note.

Apparently, the boys are writing in code these days and the girls are speaking in sign language. So one of Aidan’s friends, a hearty boy fond of football, decides to check out “Ten Days to Be A Girly Girl” (or something like that) from the school library. And he’s now figured out the sign language used by the girls.

The girls are SO MAD to have been deciphered that they’re doing whatever it takes to read the coded notes written by the boys. Thus, this note must be wrapped like an enigma in a riddle to prevent the message from getting into the wrong hands.

Spring has come – seems early, no?

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Shortly after my girls were born five years ago, I was given a gift certificate to 1154 Lill Studio, a fabulous boutique in Lincoln Park where you get to customize a purse by selecting fabrics and a design of your choice.

Immediately after I received the certificate, we moved out of the city to the ‘burbs and the certificate languished in a drawer for four years, forgotten. I found the expired certificate a couple of weeks ago, called the store, which made the delightful decision to honor the certificate anyway, despite its age and expired status.

Last week I headed into the city with my daughters to utilize the gift certificate. A field trip to the old sod, Chicago, a city I had called home for 20 years before moving to the ‘burbs.

(In all honesty, suburbia had not factored prominently in my life’s goal, but three kids tipped the scales in favor of a move out of the city four years ago….)

So I went back to the city, back with my daughters, who were just six months old when we moved. We had a good time at the purse studio, picking out a new purse (after I realized I needed to seat the wild things known as my daughters and have them utilize their energy drawing lovely pictures of hearts and flowers.)

We had lunch at the Athenian Room – and then I decided to give them of a tour of my life before babies. We drove by my first city apartment – and Nora, my sweet, emotional, intuitive Nora asked me, “Is that where you lived back when you was real, mommy?”

Her question caught me off-guard. (more…)

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Leaving church on Mother’s Day, a representative of the church presented me (and all the other moms in attendance) with a lovely red rose.

Immediately following this kind gift, as I headed into the rain, one of my daughters presented me with a used kleenex.

Yin/Yang. The rose and the used kleenex. Two offerings in one moment that provide a perfect summation of what it means to be a mom.

The tasks of motherhood are not always pretty, but there are times when we get to step back from the tough duties and enjoy the beauty and fragrance of the rose.

And then, to remind us of the work that remains to be done, the damp kleenex gets stuffed into our hands….

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A flash of pink flies by – a little girl in a pink fleece jacket races out of view to help her father in the garden.

A girl in a purple fleece jacket sits quietly on the porch – on her big brother’s lap. He drinks root beer out of a bottle; one arm draped affectionately around his sister, securing her on his lap.

She sings; he sips. They are quietly happy.

My view from from the kitchen window today….

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