Thursday, August 28, 2008

From the Mouths of Babes

Tonight, we had hoped to get the kids in bed before Obama's convention speech. But just as we sat down for stories, the speech started, so we headed back out to the living room and told the kids they could play while Mommy and Daddy listened to the speech.

My husband was wearing an Obama T-shirt, and, at one point during the speech, the following exchange took place:

My husband (pointing at the TV): That's Obama! I have his T-shirt.

The Girl: Did you steal it?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My House is Better Than Good Enough

The wedding in Bel Air was at what can safely, I think, be called a mansion. It had a movie screening room. It had a library. It had amazing artwork inside. There was topiary art outside. It was on top of hill surrounded by even bigger, unbelievably huge, estates. I have no idea how big it was because I only saw a small part of it. The pre-dinner cocktails were served on a balcony upstairs because the balcony was BIG ENOUGH for all of the guests.

Some of those guests were (clearly) extremely wealthy. Some of them were from the movie industry; some were from other industries. One woman--a beautiful blond in a stunning and glittery dress--looked slightly familiar (an actress, perhaps?), but I couldn't place her, so perhaps it was just my imagination. But what I also noticed about her was the similarity between her face and the faces of some of the other guests--a similarity of physiognomy that seemed to stem from plastic surgery.

L.A. is a strange place, and when I go there, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. When we arrived at our hotel, I heard the concierge talking to a thin, tan couple who said they were looking to have dinner at a stylish place with good food. I didn't hear the restaurants he recommended, but I did hear his suggestion that they walk down Rodeo Drive for some shopping and then have drinks at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

A few minutes later, my husband and I asked the concierge for some dinner recommendations, maybe something close enough to walk to. He recommended the food court at the mall across the street.

Really? The food court? I know I still had my car clothes on, but did I look THAT bad? Panda Express was the best we could hope for? We probed a bit further, and got a great recommendation, but the food court suggestion stung a bit and reinforced my feelings of being a mere mortal in the City of Angels.

My husband and I ogled the Bel Air house and ahhhed at all of its features. But Sunday night, when we got home, put the kids to bed, and settled in to watch the Olympic closing ceremony, we realized that we would not trade our house for the Bel Air house. First, we wouldn't want to live in L.A. But beyond that, I think I might get lost in a house like that. Or I would feel too far away from family members who were thousands of square feet aware from me in another wing of the mansion. My house is 1300 square feet. My two kids love (at this point) sharing a room. If I had a bigger house, I'd just gather more crap. Okay, so maybe I'd love to have a little library/study of my own (or perhaps a sunroom), but I can't imagine family life in the Bel Air house.

My husband and I always talk about how much we like our house, but I was amazed and thrilled to realize that I would not trade it for a mansion in Bel Air. My house is not only good enough; it's great. And it's home. It's not big and beautiful, and I can't dash out for drinks at the Beverly Wilshire, but I'm happy enough to sit in my living room with a sandwich and a beer watching PBS on a 10-year old TV (no plasma or flat screen yet!), which gets its three channels through the antenna on top of the house. Ain't life grand?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It Starts Early

I already see it in my children--the anxiety about perfection. My daughter will cry that her drawing doesn't look good--that her princess doesn't look like a princess or that the door to her castle isn't very good. That she can't draw as good as me.

My son is five years old and usually refuses to sing the alphabet song because says he doesn't know it well enough. He doesn't like to do anything until he thinks he can do it well--or perfectly. We have worked on this with him, letting him know that there is no harm in just giving it a try.

So, on a day like today, when my son keeps getting into trouble, I start to feel as if I'm telling him he's a failure. Granted, he simply may not hit the dog, he needs to behave reasonably well at the table, and if I tell him not to knock over the girl's project, he shouldn't knock it over. But my own anxiety begins to grow when I start to sense that he feels like he's failing. And I'm just not sure what to do about that. At bedtime tonight, he said, "I just want to be a grown up."

Certainly, I try to reinforce the positive. I will try to increase that since, clearly, he seems to be acting out in order to get some attention (whether he realizes it or not). But there must be some other, more specific strategies we could implement. He starts kindergarten next week, and that will have its challenges. He already knows that his teachers will be asking him to hold his pen differently. (He currently holds it in his closed fist, which, so far, has not impeded his drawing talent. He draws AWESOME pictures.)

We expect so much from kids these days. Last spring I read the book Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins, and I felt exhaustion just reading about the lives of such go-getter teenagers. I just want my kids to be happy. I don't care about the Ivy Leagues. But how I do I make sure they feel "good enough" when, so often, their behavior (or whatever) is being corrected by me or someone else?

I will be thinking about this as we head off to Bel Air for the wedding. I'm looking forward to the trip, but I'm sort of sad to leave the little guy behind right now. I'd like to give him some Mommy time. But on Monday, the girl goes to school, and he doesn't, so we can have a special day-before-kindergarten outing in order to have some quality time.

Back on Sunday!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Good Enough for Bel Air?

This weekend I will attend a wedding in Bel Air.

I have not spent much time in LA (except for on the freeways), and every time I go, I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she goes into that store on Rodeo Drive. Not quite so hookerish, but certainly below standard. I am a casual, slouchy linen type of person, and I have been stressed about what to wear to the wedding.

My sister-in-law took me shopping and made me buy things, which is unusual (and uncomfortable) for me. I found a black and white dress I liked, but it didn't feel like my style. The fact that I had to buy shiny, black, strappy heels to go with the dress sort of brought the point home. So today I went shopping again and found a dress made of cotton--a mix of a pretty print and lace with earth tones. Kind of a cross between hippie and surf style. And I think it's also nice enough for an afternoon wedding. If not, at least I won't feel as if I'm trying (but failing) to look like a trendy LA hottie. I will instead feel like a beach shack girl in a pretty dress. A much better feeling (and look) for me, I think.

But I've been so consumed by this shopping problem that I was away from the kids all day, and, on top of that, got no work done and didn't exercise. But now that I have the dress and the shawl and necklace (which I bought) and the shoes and bag (which I already have), I feel more settled. I may get there and not look as good as the film industry hotties, but I think (I hope) I will look good enough for me.

Tomorrow I'll get back to the kids and Plato.

Monday, August 18, 2008

NASA and the Olympics

We are enjoying the Olympics. We like them (even though some parts are boring, and we wish they'd show more whitewater sports on primetime). My brother-in-law, on the other hand, has absolutely no interest. He also thinks NASA is pretty useless, and I think there is a connection.

NASA is about having a vision. It's about going where we haven't gone before or going somewhere again with better technology. It's about exploring the unexplored with the idea that we can learn more about our world and universe. But it's not purism; it's not just about space. Because of NASA, we have learned things, practical things, that have improved our life on Earth. Granted, I'd have to ask my husband what those things are--he's the aero engineer and NASA junkie--but I know they're out there.

The Olympics are similar. The sense of purism is there. You know, doing something just to do it. To push the boundaries. To see what can be done. Going where we haven't gone before. Breaking world records. But there is also the possibility of learning more about the human body, more about what all of us can do or hope for. There are the serendipitous, practical returns. But I guess the true legacy remains with the awe and inspiration. When I see the 38-year old mom win the marathon, I don't want to run a marathon. But it does make me think I might be able to get in a little better shape--that all is not lost in the fitness department.

On another note: I did not know that there was an Olympic trampoline event. When we heard that, we scoffed. But then we saw it. Man, props to the trampoline jumpers and some sick amplitude.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Family Fun Swim

I did not feel "good enough" this morning when I lazed around with the kids watching the Olympics and Beauty and the Beast. I did read the kids a few books. But after hubby got back from surfing, and after some peanut butter and honey sandwiches, we went to family fun swim at the community college where I teach. The water was warm and both kids were swimming like Olympic athletes. Well, maybe not. But they were both putting their heads in the water a LOT, which for my kids, is fantastic. The girl, who is three, was really swimming (so say I). And the boy, who is five, was even doing some flips! I am so proud. And they were SO tired.

Now everyone is asleep while I stay up late to see Michael Phelps swim for his eighth gold medal. Everyone I know is DRAGGING because of late nights watching these events. I stayed up until 1:00am the other night in order to see the gynmasts.

But next week is track and field. Not my area of interest, so I should be able to get more sleep.

Phelps in ten minutes. Time to pay attention so I can watch and wake up hubby so he can watch.

20 minutes later: Wow. He did it. I guess sometimes it's good to be better than good enough.

And what about Dara Torres? I am such a slouch.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Michael Phelps and the GEP

Clearly, the Olympic games, which I have been watching every night this week, demonstrate the antithesis to the Good Enough Principle. “Good Enough” is not gold. But the games also prove the wisdom of the GEP—at least for those of us who aren’t Olympians.

We’ve heard that all Phelps has time to do is sleep, eat, swim, repeat. We hear other Olympians talk about how they’ve been miserable but have tried to become more balanced to escape the misery that came, presumably, from a life narrowly focused on an adrenaline-producing, competitive life.

I have tremendous admiration for Olympians. Michael Phelps rocks. Misty May-Treanor blows me away. I remember watching Michael Johnson run in Atlanta, and his speed and beauty actually made me weep. It was then that I realized how amazing it was for a human being to explore what it meant to do his or her very best. Really, to be honest, few of us really do our very best. Or maybe it’s just me that doesn’t. Even though I have always valued high grades and accolades, I have almost always known that I could do more—that I could be or do better—regardless of whether I was writing a paper or parenting my kids. I’ve come close with a few things—like when I practiced for rifle-squad tryouts in high school, or when I gave birth to my children without pain meds—but really, with most things I have this niggling awareness that I could do, should do, more.

But the thing that the Olympics reiterate for me is that if we are to do (or be) our very, absolute best at something, we often don’t have time to do much else since the resources are all tied up in one venture. And what is our best? Do we ever get there? Many of the Olympic atheletes say that they always feel as if they could be doing better. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor say that they are never satisfied with their performance, and they’ve won 104 matches in a row! Michael Phleps is always trying to be faster in the pool. Do any of us ever feel as if we have done enough?

A few nights ago, my kids were jumping around the living room, imitating (sort of) the gymnasts on TV, just as I did in 1976 when Nadia was my hero. After about 30 minutes of leaping off the couch and doing somersaults, my five-year-old son climbed into my lap and said, “I’m worn out. I don’t think I want to be in the Olympics, Mommy. It seems too hard.”

I am totally with him on that. I can’t imagine all of the parts of my life I would have to trade to be the best in the world at something. Olympians are amazing, and they have my honor and awe. But I’m a dabbler. I like a little of this and a little of that for a full life. Right now, I’d like a little port and chocolate while I watch Michael Phelps do what most of us never will. And that’s good enough.