Friday, January 23, 2009

Lessons of Solitaire

When I was nine, my mom took us to Southern California on the train. Mom, my brother, my sister and me. We spent 24 hours exploring our sleeper car (okay, about five minutes exploring the sleeper car), the dining car, and the other seating areas. The vast majority of our time was spent at a table in the dining car playing card games and eating snacks while we slowly made our way to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Santa Barbara. The trip there was okay, but somehow my Grandma knew the trip home would take twice as long and before we left she slipped a book into my backpack. As soon as we boarded the train for Oregon, I headed to the claustrophobic bathroom to examine my gift. It was a book of card games - solitaire games. It came with a deck of cards, new shiny slippery cards that slid out of their stack every time I shuffled them, and it contained instructions for more than fifty different ways to play solitaire.

On the trip home I became an expert. I played 'Round the Clock, Traditional Solitaire, Spider, Pyramid, and even managed to scam an extra deck of cards so my sister and I could try Double Solitaire. There was something challenging and fun about trying to beat the game and something cleansing about knowing that even if I didn't I could shuffle the deck and start over again. Each game was self-contained and represented a new lease on life. Reading the book, I learned that it is hard to beat the game and the odds are stacked against you, so somehow it didn't bother me when I failed to stack all of the cards in their proper places.

Solitaire became something I would play anywhere - at home when everyone was hanging out in the evenings, in the gate area of the airport, in the lobby of the doctor's office. When my stepfather discovered my obsession, he explained the Vegas rules of solitaire to me and, somehow the thrill of imagining myself losing or making money made it that much more fun. Even though I almost always ended the evening in the red, I was always excited to play another round the next time.

Two days ago, I figured out how to download Solitaire to my phone. I'm addicted. I played over and over again while my daughter was in choir. I've started games while sitting at a red light (no, I don't play while the car is actually moving). I played three games while waiting for the girls to finish school this afternoon. Definitely addicted.

This morning as I waited for Bubba to show up for a meeting with our financial planner, it occurred to me that what I love about Solitaire is the endless do-over. Because I know that it is so difficult to beat the odds, it doesn't bother me when I don't. Because I'm not in Vegas and, thus not digging myself a financial hole every time I lose a game, starting a new game completely erases the memory of the last one and represents a clean slate.

Had I been told that you were supposed to be able to beat the game in Solitaire, I would most definitely put more pressure on myself to win every single time. I would be disappointed in myself for not winning and feel as though I had failed every time I admit defeat and start over.

What would happen if I treated my life as though it were a game of Solitaire whose sole purpose is to entertain me and engage my brain? The odds of a perfect game (life) are so slim that I can't count on it. The most I can do is enjoy this one particular game (phase of life) and play it to the best of my ability. I'm not worrying about the last game I played or the next one I'll deal. I'm just playing this one for now. When I start over again, which I surely will have to do, it won't be with a sense of defeat or a prediction of imminent failure, but with anticipation and curiosity for what is to come.

I'm thinking this will be a difficult habit to establish, but so long as I get a chance to play Solitaire every once in a while, at least the reminder will be there.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lola's Learning Show

I don't have a lot of practice being away from my daughters. Once or twice a year, I get away for a weekend to meet up with other writers and attend workshops and it is always incredibly rewarding and relaxing and, often, a great deal of fun. Every evening that I'm away, I call my girls to tell them goodnight and it's a little like Russian Roulette as I dial the number and wonder whether they'll be eager to tell me all about their day or if they will spend ten minutes sobbing and saying how much they miss me and asking when I'll be home.

It's great to be missed - by your husband. It sucks to be missed in that plaintive, desperate way that a nine year old girl has of covering you in guilt for breaking her little heart. It's even worse when your six year old tells you there is no way she will be able to sleep tonight without a goodnight kiss from you. I often debate whether to skip the call and claim that my battery died or I was so busy writing that, before I knew it, it was too late to call. I always end up calling.

This weekend I spent three glorious days on the Oregon Coast at a writing workshop with Deb. The Oregon Coast is one of my favorite places on the planet and the weather was perfect. Sunny and sixty degrees, windy during the day and still during sunset. We witnessed three of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen over the Pacific Ocean and spent our days laughing and scribbling notes on how to tidy up our manuscripts as we submit them for publication.

Friday night the phone call was rough. I got through it and when 8:00 rolled around on Saturday night, my stomach clenched. My youngest daughter, "Lola," got on the phone and informed me that she had spent the day making signs advertising a show she was putting on and posting them around the house.

"It says to come to Room 11 at 9:00am and I taped a sign on my bedroom door that says it's Room 11 so I won't forget. What time will you be home, Mommy? Can you come see the show?"

"I won't be home that early, Sweetheart, but sometimes they do two shows a day. Maybe you could do one at 9:00am and another one at 6:00pm." Damn! I didn't want to miss a show!

"It's not really a show, Mommy. I'm going to be teaching things. You see, I know a lot. A lot of things that grown-ups don't even know. Like, you know the first star? The brightest star of the night? Did you know that if you stop and look at it, really look at it hard, like for a minute or two, it doesn't look like a dot? It actually looks like a real star. Not like the ones that people draw with a cross and another cross by them, but like a really five pointed star. It is actually a real five pointed star."

"Wow! I didn't know that."

"Well, try it tonight, okay? The brightest star. The one that was first, okay? And then, when you get home, you can come to the 6:00pm Lola's Learning Show."

"You got it, babe."

I raced. I only stopped for one pee break all the way home. Spent the hours between 9:30am and 5:00pm in the car today so I could make it home in time for the 6:00 show. She hadn't forgotten. As I walked into her bedroom I saw three chairs set up. Well, two chairs and an overturned laundry bin, each with a nametag on them for one member of the family. While we waited for her to set things up, she had thoughtfully placed a book on the floor in front of each seat for us to look through.

She did, indeed, talk about stars. She also outlined her schedule of shows for the rest of the week. She has "Elephant Tuesdays," "Big Pickle," "Animal Thursday," and a few other classes we might be interested in. She was gracious, informative, and enthusiastic. She stopped to take questions and explained that Elephant Tuesdays are dedicated to learning about elephants, on Thursdays we can choose any animal we want to learn about, and Big Pickle has to do with learning how pickles grow and speculating about just how that huge pickle she has got into that tiny jar. At the end of our class, she thanked us for our time and reminded us to go outside and look at that star again. The first one. The brightest one.

I'm not sure it's outside. I'm pretty sure it's six years old.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Am NOT Too Old For Bedtime Stories

You know, if it wasn't for my daughters, I would probably not choose to reread some of the books I loved from my childhood. I was a voracious reader and, on occasion, plowed through several books a week and didn't always hold the details in my head.

A month ago, my eldest daughter and I decided to read "The Secret Garden" together. I vaguely remembered reading it as a girl, enough to know that I enjoyed the story, and was looking forward to reading it again.

Chapter by chapter we made our way through, struggling with the Yorkshire dialect as it was written and reveling in the relationship forged between the three vastly different children in the book. We practiced our cockney accents and discussed what we would plant in our secret gardens if we had them.

As we neared the end of the story, I was struck by how different my perspective of the book is this time around. As a child, I remember the thrill of the discovery of a secret place, the pulse-quickening thought of keeping such an enormous secret from grown-ups, and getting lost in the idea that children could have so much freedom.

This time, my attention was captured by the story of Colin, the "invalid" child who changed his own destiny by convincing himself that he was going to live and thrive. His 'scientific experiment' consisted of repeating affirmations and physical exercise. The idea that a child could grasp the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy was fascinating. The final chapter held such magic for me - magic I am certain I skimmed over as a young girl. Magic that didn't speak to me at the age of eight or nine but which seems so blatantly obvious now.

"So long as Colin shut himself up in his room and thought only of his fears and weakness and his detestation of people...he was a hysterical half-crazy little hypochondriac who knew nothing of the sunshine and the spring and also did not know that he could get well....When new beautiful thoughts began to push out the old hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his blood ran healthily through his veins and strength poured through him like a flood....Two things cannot be in one place.
'Where you tend a rose, my lad,
a thistle cannot grow.'"

I wonder what lessons I'll learn from the next book we read together. I can't wait to find out.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Can't Explain

There are tasks, menial tasks, really, that I actively resist. I know that's not an earthshattering revelation by any means, but it does sometimes surprise me. After nearly 15 years of marriage to my best friend, I still ovestuff the recycle bin in the kitchen rather than take the full container the 20 feet to the garage to empty it. Not because it's disgusting (it's just rinsed, recycled stuff, after all), not because I don't feel it's my job, just...out of habit, I suppose.

Bubba doesn't seem to mind. He teases me about it from time to time and it's not as though I never take the recycling out. He travels about 50% of the time and when he's gone, there's only so much I can force in to that bin before I am forced to carry it to the garage. I think he thinks it is weird that I'll empty the stinky, sticky garbage but I resist taking out the recycling. I'll walk all the way across the yard to dump the smelly compost out several times a week, but the recyle bin? It eludes me.

He has his quirks, too. He's excellent about replacing the toilet paper roll on the actual wall mounted fixture, but putting his breakfast dishes (even just his coffee cup) in the actual dishwasher? Nope. He'll bring them to the sink. Right next to the dishwasher. Rinsing them and placing them in the dishwasher, though? Not gonna happen.

Every once in a while the guilt overcomes me and I will spontaneously empty the recycle bin. As I'm doing it, the monologue in my head is going something like this, "Why are you feeling guilty? That's ridiculous! You do all the dishes in this house. Every time a lightbulb needs changing, you're the one who climbs up on the ladder. Remember the time the garbage disposal died? You were the one on your hands and knees under the sink putting all the pieces back together. The recycling is pretty small compared to that."

Of course, by the time I'm done giving myself that pep talk, the empty bin is back in its place in the kitchen, just waiting for me to overstuff it again, and I'm chuckling at my efforts to resist this petty task. But it doesn't mean I won't do it again. Fifteen years of habit is a tough thing to reverse. And I'm not sure I want to. If I did, what would Bubba have to tease me about?
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