Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shades of "Wicked"

Bubba's out of town this weekend so I decided we were having a Girls' Weekend.  I found some tickets to "Wicked" that weren't crazy ridiculous expensive and made a reservation at a nice restaurant.  The girls were excited to get dressed up and head out for a night on the town and going to see a musical sounded a heck of a lot more thrilling than going to yet another movie theater to eat overpriced popcorn.

After a fantastic dinner of Spanish tapas followed by pumpkin flan (have I mentioned how much I appreciate the girls being adventurous eaters?!), we walked the two blocks to the theater.  None of us had ever seen "Wicked" before, and we had pretty good seats with no NBA-size humans blocking our view or sniffly patrons sitting next to us.

Eve sat in the middle, being a little stranger-phobic, so it was intermission before I could check in with Lola to see what she thought. She is typically very thoughtful at shows, not revealing any outward signs of appreciation or distaste, so I fully expected to have to wait until the show was over to get her full assessment.  The only thing she asked was if she could switch seats with me for the second act so she could get a little better view.

Eve, on the other hand, was thrilled. She repeatedly turned to me with her mouth hanging open in reaction a hilarious moment or a particularly good solo. She was obviously having a ball. When we arrived home waaaaay past bedtime, I asked Lola for her full assessment.

"It was okay. It wasn't the best, but it was good."

Did I hear that right?
Carefully, so as not to make her feel bad, I asked her why "it wasn't the best."

"I wanted her (Elphaba) to hurry up and get wicked. I wanted her to be bad. I kept waiting for that."

For anyone who doesn't know the story of "Wicked," it is the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West from the "Wizard of Oz." It cleverly and artfully tells the real story of Elphaba and how she got to be so hated and reviled by everyone in Oz (if she actually was hated and reviled by everyone in Oz).
Turns out she wasn't all that evil. A lot of it was bad press and how she felt about herself all folded in with some misunderstandings and a bit of entrapment.

Enter the land of Moral Ambiguity.  Of course,  this is the land we all live in, but it doesn't often rear its head in entertainment. Kids' programs are rife with Good v. Evil, Hero v. Villain.  There is very little moral ambiguity or compassion or striving to understand why the bad guy is the bad guy and how he got that way.  When your child is two or three or four, the world is explained to them in terms of can and can't, yes and no, good choices versus bad ones.  It's faster that way and easier for them to understand.  But at some point, this world view comes into question and doesn't serve any of us anymore.  Unfortunately, it makes things a lot murkier and more challenging to understand, and I think Lola is wishing for the simplicity of that black and white Universe again. How the heck do you know who to root for when Glinda the Good Witch isn't all good and Elphaba isn't downright deplorable?

The Girls' Weekend wasn't all tapas and theaters.  Earlier in the day, the three of us decided to work on a project I've been wanting to start since we moved in June.  We made it about 10 minutes before the girls' opinions clashed like two cymbals, sending reverberations through my brain and chest.  Lola, having chosen not to eat breakfast, lost her mind like she always does when her blood sugar drops, stomping down the hall and slamming the door to her room, throwing herself on the bed and screaming into a pillow over and over again.  Eve rolled her eyes and made some comment about how she was clearly in the right here.  I decided to cut my losses, abandon the project and go start some laundry.  As I walked away, Eve exploded.

"Oh, so just because she won't compromise I get punished? You just walk away from me?"

As I stopped a few feet away and turned to face her the diatribe continued.

"She ALWAYS does this! She NEVER wants to think about what anyone else wants!"

Deep breath. In - two - three - four - five. Out - two - three - four -five.

I opened my mouth to refute the claim that Lola is the poster child for selfish behavior.  "That isn't true and you know it. She is very generous and thoughtful --"

"HA! She is not! Every single day she is mean and whenever I ask her to compromise she throws a fit!!"

I had to choke back laughter. I am not sure who she was talking about, but Lola is not anything like Eve was making her out to be. Unfortunately, Eve was on a tear. She had crested the top of the hill and was steaming down the tracks 120 mph. No way I was standing in front of that thing with my hand raised. She was not about to listen to anything I said that didn't fit neatly in to her idea of how evil and wrong her sister is.

Thankfully, five minutes later she had run out of steam. I let her sputter to a stop and sat down.  I pointed out that Lola had likely been sitting around the corner in her bedroom listening to every single nasty word about her that came out of Eve's mouth.  I suggested that maybe hearing her sister characterize her as a selfish, mean-spirited, hateful person just might feel pretty awful.

"If she hears you saying those things about her, she just might believe you mean them.  The fact is, you were both inflexible and you both got angry. There is no one of you that was being the Angel to the other one's Devil."

Huge eye roll. "Oh yeah? She is the Devil! She is! She is so mean to me every single day!"

Clearly we aren't done here.

"She isn't. I can point out to you dozens of times when your sister thought about you before thinking about herself.  I know it's easier to remember the times when she was mean or pissed you off, but if you're being completely honest, you have to admit that there are more times when she treats you with love and respect than there are times when she is nasty and mean. And I truly believe that she is taking your hateful words to heart right now. That she is probably feeling really terrible that you think she is 100% awful and unlovable."

"I was exaggerating, Mom! I was angry! I didn't really mean that she's that bad!"

"How does she know that? She's upset, too, and There is no Right person and Wrong person. There may be times when one of you is more willing to be flexible than the other, but that doesn't mean one of you is bad and the other one is good."

Of course, so much of what the girls are experiencing in the world right now is about this sort of black and white thinking.  While I am doing my best to not vilify anyone, it is often difficult for me to not paint political candidates in shades of Right and Wrong.  And even if they aren't getting it at home, the radio and television (and the neighborhood yard signs) are full of polarizing slogans and messages that pit candidates against each other in the most oppositional of ways.  We are fully soaked in A vs. B, Good vs. Evil until Election Day and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed.  On the one hand, I'm with Lola, that if there is a clear choice between Glinda and Elphaba, I feel better about making a decision. But I'm old enough to know that nobody is all bad or all good and I wish it wasn't human nature to characterize each other in that way so as to justify our own actions and reactions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

May Be Just the Nudge We All Need

to start eating more actual food versus the convenient, prepackaged stuff that comes from a laboratory somewhere.

Normally when I see headlines in the vein of, "8 Ingredients You Never Want to See on Nutrition Labels," I get a little smug and assume that, due to the food allergies in our household and my constant efforts to buy more whole foods and cook most of our meals, I am not likely to need this particular advice.

Huh. Consider this article I saw this morning. (Don't worry if you don't particularly feel like reading the article - while it isn't long, I will definitely be paraphrasing parts of it in order to make my point).

Item #1: BHA -  a chemical that is used to prevent foods with added oils from going rancid. Okay. But (and I quote), "BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) has been shown to cause cancer in rats, mice, and hamsters. The reason the FDA hasn't banned it is largely technical--the cancers all occurred in the rodents' forestomachs, an organ that humans don't have."  Me talking here: I don't have fur or beady eyes, either, but a lot of things that cause cancer in rats have been proven to cause cancer in humans. Cancers are not that picky about which cells or organs they attack. 

I'm going to skip right over items 2 (parabens), 3 (partially hydrogenated oil), 4 (sodium nitrite) and 5 (caramel coloring) in order to get to the one that has me the most stumped. Please, by all means, read about the ways in which you can get cancer from the aforementioned ingredients, but for my purposes, I am far more intrigued by

Item #6: Castoreum - generally labeled "natural flavorings" by food manufacturers. I'm thinking probably because (and I quote), "Castoreum is a substance made from beavers' castor sacs, or anal scent glands. These glands produce potent secretions that help the animals mark their territory in the wild. In the food industry, however, 1,000 pounds of the unsavory ingredient are used annually to imbue foods--usually vanilla or raspberry flavored--with a distinctive, musky flavor."  Now, let's break this down, shall we? 

  1. Whose idea was it to MINE A BEAVER'S ANUS FOR FOOD FLAVORINGS? And why? If we can make synthetic banana syrup in a chemistry lab (I know we can, I did it in Organic Chem 101 my first year in college), WHY, OH WHY would someone CHOOSE to get a "musky" flavoring from the hind end of a beaver?!? (The little devil on my shoulder taps me on the head and says, "Duh - if they did it in a lab, they couldn't label it "natural" flavoring.) True dat.
  2. What happens to the beavers after their scent glands have been mined? Is it a process like taking your pug to the vet to have his anal glands aspirated? Do they keep these poor creatures in a cage and extract "musk" from them multiple times? Or, instead, do they capture the beavers, surgically remove their glands and then either release or, ahem, retire the critters?  Inquiring minds want to know!
  3. How many beavers does it take to yield 1,000 pounds of secretions? 
  4. Does this mean that even foods that bill themselves as "vegetarian" or "vegan" cannot accurately do so if they contain castoreum? Methinks so...
  5. Most importantly, HOW MANY OF THE FOODS IN MY PANTRY CONTAIN "NATURAL FLAVORINGS?" I will be purging them immediately.
Item #7 is food dyes. I will also skip right over this one since we have heard stories for years about how food dyes (especially red ones) are known carcinogens.  I hope I don't unwittingly have any of them in my house....

Item #8: Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein - sounds fairly harmless.  I mean, when I hear that I think hydro-water, lyzed - broken, vegetable protein. No big.  Until I read this (and I quote), "plant protein that has been chemically broken down into amino acids. One of these acids, glutamic acid, can release free glutamate. When this glutamate joins with free sodium in your body, they form monosodium glutamate (MSG)....When MSG is added to products directly, the FDA requires manufacturers to disclose its inclusion on the ingredient statement. But when it occurs as a byproduct of hydrolyzed protein, the FDA allows it to go unrecognized." WTF? So after all the work I do to ensure that myself and my kids are NOT getting gluten in any form, the FDA has decided that this particular little gem can hide in foods I buy? I can't tell you how many times I have felt rotten, as though I somehow got gluten in my diet, but couldn't figure out how that was even possible. It happens from time to time and makes me feel as though I'm crazy, suffering symptoms when I can't locate the source.  

The more lists like this come out, the more I realize that we are slowly poisoning ourselves by looking to chemists and giant food companies to figure out how to feed ourselves.  For centuries, we have known how to grow good, healthy food while keeping the soil healthy enough to sustain us over time.  We are intelligent enough to understand that letting nature take its time to grow its bounty in the way it was meant to yields nutrition-rich whole foods that won't give us cancer or heartburn or grow salmonella or listeria faster than we can contain them. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go mine my pantry for beaver scent sacs.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Birthday Stream of Consciousness

Today is my dad's birthday. I said that to someone who hasn't known me for long and she brightened, "Oh? How old is he?"

"Well," I paused and closed my eyes, "he died five years ago, but he would have been 70 today."

Later, I thought about whether or not I should have phrased things differently. Maybe it's not his birthday anymore. But it is. My entire life, Dad's birthday was on October 11. It still is his birthday. To me, it always will be.  And as the child who was always vying for his attention and praise, I reveled in sharing a birthday month with my Poppy. Like it was some special, exclusive club we belonged to and our privileges couldn't be revoked. I mean, you can't change your birthday, right?

Last week I started thinking about how the UN has declared October 11 "Day of the Girl." Wondered what that means cosmically - that my dad, who was a macho, manly-man of the first order shared his birthday with such a designation.  And while I remember him being a chauvinist, it is tempered with the knowledge that he was a product of his generation and upbringing.  While he resisted my efforts to do 'boy' things like play soccer, he ultimately came around and taught me how to wax a car and change the oil, he supported my desire to go to medical school and married more than one bra-burning feminist (not my mother).  By the time I was a mother, he was firmly in the camp that believed that my girls could accomplish anything and ought to be afforded the opportunity to try.

And then, just fifteen minutes ago as I filled out a fax cover sheet (who requires fax communication anymore, people? Honestly, let's just go to email, can we?) I realized that the full date today is 10/11/12. To me, the numbers speak of a moving forward, an inexorable march of progress.

I know that these are completely random observations, but I can't help feeling that there is some congruence, some magic about today.  Maybe it's my way of conjuring up my dad once again and finding ways to honor him and his growth curve.  He truly went from being one of the most rigid, wounded souls I have ever known to a loving acceptance of himself and the people in his life in the span of the 35 years I knew him.

Happy birthday, Poppy.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Forging a New Path

My heart aches, is raw from sadness as I watch someone I love dearly struggle to find solid ground on which to put her feet, roots to curl her toes around as she weathers a storm of her own making.  I long to reach in and grab her by the nape of the neck and whisk her out of the howling wind, tuck her beneath a cape that is soft and warm and protective until the gale passes.  And yet, I know the cost of such a maneuver. I know that it would make both of us feel relief. I know that this path, well-worn and familiar to us both, needs to be abandoned, it's trailhead adorned with yellow blinking lights and CAUTION signs.  While it beckons like the seductive aroma of coffee in the dark dawn, irresistible and redemptive, it carries with it a punch that is only felt much, much later.

Doing my best to justify my inaction to my sister-in-law the other night, I felt the blood in my wrists begin to move faster. I felt that urgent sense of desperation to convince her that I care.  That my resistance to get involved does not signal selfishness or indifference, but a desire to do the right thing. To let this other friend find her own path, learn from the experience, raise herself up and feel empowered.  My pulse beat with a mix of love, despair and self-preservation.

She, my sister-in-law, no stranger to such decisions of action and inaction and powerlessness in the face of suffering, nodded her head and understood.  And then she said the most profound, most giving, most wonderful thing:

"Sometimes you can use all that energy with the best intentions and not make a bit of difference."

I was instantly absolved.  Because I want to make a difference. I want to use my energy, my love, my intentions wisely and to some good end.  I want to effect change.  How many times have I acted out of discomfort on my own part - "it's too hard to watch her suffer/go through this/repeat this pattern" - and only succeeded in wearing down the same old path and not making any substantial change?  Too many to count.  How many times have I instead sat by and held the power of light and love for her, trusting that her path is her own? Not enough.  But when I do, what I discover is that she doesn't feel any less supported in the long run.  When I show her that I care and that I trust her to find her way she is frightened and a little resentful, but she also feels empowered and begins to believe in the notion of unconditional love.  We, both of us, had to be taught how to accept love at face-value, divorce it from our actions and intentions or anyone else's assessment of our worth and believe in its absolute existence.  We are both still in need of reminding.
"I wasn't especially happy as a kid, and if you don't get the hang of it when you are young, you're never really good at it." Linda McCullough Moore 

And so I sit and close my eyes, imagining my love pulsating out in waves of golden light, from me to her, surrounding her, lifting her and reminding her.  I love her. I wish only the best for her.  That energy feels directed and tangible.  The cape scenario feels muddled and messy and unpredictable.  When I focus on the energy imprint of the two alternatives, I am certain, settled, positive that sending love and light is the most effective response.  

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Let Sleeping Mobsters Lie

I heard snippets of this story as I drove home from dropping the girls at school the other day.  Someone said they saw Jimmy Hoffa's body being buried under a shed somewhere in Detroit in 1975 and the hunt was on.  The shed removed, the earth dug up, soil samples taken and sent to a lab for analysis because they didn't actually find any bones or other obvious items.  One detective said that he thinks it is highly unlikely anyone would have been stupid enough to bury someone in a residential neighborhood and erect a shed over the site, but they spent the time and money to investigate it anyway.


Who authorizes this shit?

Who decided that the resources of the police department, including the lab personnel, ought to be put to this use?  In a city rife with violence - some of the worst in the country - that anyone would deem it more important to spend God knows how much  money and time digging up someone's yard chasing ghosts instead of putting those resources to use in the community, either on ACTIVE, RELEVANT cases or on PREVENTION of further violence is beyond me.

I say let the urban myths remain. We have more important work to do and it doesn't involve solving nearly 40-year old mysteries like this.
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