Saturday, January 30, 2010

At This Rate, I Can't Afford Walmart

I went down to a Walmart this afternoon, and I chose that one because it isn't the scary one at the other end of the boulevard where I never feel safe in the parking lot. I mean, murders have happened at the apartment across the street and people have been mugged going to their cars. But, now this other Walmart is getting too expensive for me.

Let me explain...I pulled into the parking lot and was talking on the phone to my sister as I sat there. A young woman walked over and knocked on my window. I had taken out the keys and couldn't find them to turn on the electricity and unroll the window, so I just opened the door a bit and she launched into her spiel. I knew as soon as I saw her walking over to me that she was going to hit me up for cash. It was a long rambling "We're not from here and we just need some diapers and food ---blah blah. Anything you could give me...please?"

Las Vegas has always been a tough place. Lots of folks come here thinking that there are plentiful jobs in the restaurants and casinos, or that they'll be lucky and gamble their way into some money. But, in reality, it hasn't ever been that easy to get hired in the nicer places and, frankly, since a year ago, Las Vegas has laid off more people that it is hiring. Plus, this store is located on Boulder Highway near Flamingo and that area is packed with those suites apartments, the kind that rent studios and rooms by the week or month. So, naturally, there are plenty of folks in that area who are "in transition."

I knew I had some cash in my purse, but I'd spent all the ones. I really didn't hesitate, and just handed her a ten. She said thanks and then without taking a breath, launched into a new story about trying to get enough money to check into Motel 6 right over there...could I give her twenty more? As if! It was weird. I've honestly never had a panhandler do that before, just instantly assume that if I have ten, I'll have twenty and I ought to fork that over, too. I just smiled and shrugged and shut my car door. I saw her hustling all over the parking lot as I walked in. At a couple of other stores I sometimes go, there are actually regulars--people I recognize week after week. At least they aren't giving me the "I just need ten dollars for gas so we can drive to St. George to my grandmother's" story every single time. Sometimes I give them a buck, sometimes, like at In N Out, I just order two meals and give them the To-Go one on my way out.

So, I did my shopping and one of my errands was to have been stop at the water machines and fill up my gallon bottles. (The water here tastes terrible.) As I pushed my cart through the parking lot, I remembered that I forgot to get change for the twenty in my wallet. (She was right! I had a twenty! But I wasn't going to give it to her!) But, I didn't have the energy to go back in and get change, so I figured I'd just go home and get some quarters from CoolGuy and go down to the water machine after I put away the groceries.

As I loaded my car, a young guy came up. He couldn't have been more than 19. Sigh. But he said, "Can I take your cart back for you, ma'm? I'm just trying to get a little more so I can buy a burger." Hmmm...actually offering an exchange of services, nice. I looked in my wallet and realized that all I had was the twenty. He saw me hesitate and pleaded quietly, "Even a quarter is fine." I unzipped my coin purse and realized that I'd dumped everything there into our JumpRope for Heart jar in my classroom yesterday. He started to turn away.

Yes, so I pulled out the twenty and said, "Here, looks like you're having a rough day. Get a whole dinner." He looked at it, and looked at me and hesitated, "Really? Are you serious?" I nodded and then I added, "See all these carts here in the parking spaces? Take them too and that'll be my pay." "Oh, man, thank you lady, really thank you, that is awesome!" As I got in the car, he was hustling around, slamming carts into each other, getting them into a row and he waved to me.

See? That's why I can't afford to go to Walmart there anymore! I need to go to one in a more prosperous part of town so I don't spend as much in the parking lot as I do at the cash register.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Praise Poetry

I went to a poetry workshop today after school. I confess I was mostly attracted to it because they offered dinner...But I teach writing and it was free and sponsored by the local arts people and a group affiliated with the Kennedy Center (in D.C.) I've been to the Kennedy Center a number of times with students on field trips, and to attend performances both professional and by musical groups in which my son was a performer. So, I signed up. It was well worth my time. I got a number of excellent ideas for my class. I also was introduced to a form of poetry that I realize I have read, but did not recognize as a set form. I learned the form tonight and we were given time to produce our own piece.

First, here's the form for Praise Poetry:
You must utilize the following information in a Praise Poem:
*heritage--something in your family background
*height--in inches or metaphorically relate to it
*color--the actual skin color and/or the color of your personality
*animal--compare yourself to an animal(s)
*nature--compare yourself to something in nature, (tree, body of water, etc.)
*how you walk in the world

The teacher (a professional poet -- who told us some awesome original work -- explained that many of us are reluctant to praise ourselves, having been taught that it isn't becoming or is conceited or wrong. But it is a good thing to occasionally formally recognize one's own strengths and catalogue our gifts. (We were also taught (as teachers) a series of lessons to use with our students to get them prepared for this activity by brainstorming nouns, verbs, color words, and such so that they would have a rich variety of vocab to inspire them.)

Here's my first effort at a praise poem:

I am the daughter and granddaughter of farmers.
I am one who makes things grow: tulips, tomatoes, babies and hair.
I am tall and immovable like the purple mountains majestically towering over the valley of my ancestors.
I am sunkissed pink with fading golden hair striped and streaked with silver strands.
I am capable as a quarter horse. I have stamina and patience; I outmaneuver those determined to escape my guidance
And I can work till I drop.
But if you need speed, just lean into it--I'll fly.
I walk in the world looking for that which needs nurtured--a garden, a child, a marriage.
Smile with me and speak kindly
My fields are fallow and my flock has grown and flown.
But, I still love to feel the soil and anticipate a harvest.

Okay, your turn: praise yourself with poetry.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Biblio-biography: Chapter Five

In 1976 I had my first baby. He was born on his due date (!) and we had a very normal, rather short-labored (12 hrs.) birth. Since CoolGuy was an active-duty sailor I had all my pre-natal care and the birth in the Naval Regional Medical Center, San Diego. This facility was the location of nearly as many births in the USA as Provo, Utah. There were lots of young married Navy families living in the region. (That may by different, now three decades later.) Everything was satisfactory in that we had the baby, everyone was healthy and we were discharged to go home three days later.

Then, we decided to make a second baby after that, and about 1/3 of the way through the pregnancy, CoolGuy read an article about homebirth in, of all things, Navy Wife magazine. He showed it to me, I read it, but my first response was, "Sure it sounds great to you--but I'm the one giving birth." Then I started asking around about homebirth, and then I read some books about giving birth without the hospital system and I began to be intrigued. I went to my prenatal clinic visits and asked questions of my Naval Officer/OB-GYN/Doctor caregiver and his response was consistently negative.

My questions were things like: Can I walk around in the labor room? (Therefore not be hooked up to the monitors, IV, etc.) Could we have the baby room-in? (The mothers were in wards and there wasn't space for the babies in there with us.) Do I have to have an episiotomy, or could we just use massage and support? (Don't be ridiculous.) More and more I began to realize that what they were offering was not the birth environment I wanted.

So now you're wondering, "What does any of this have to do with a book?" Here's the book: Spiritual Midwifery. I don't who gave me this book or introduced me to it, but it was a life-changing read. We had decided to look for a mid-wife. Ironically, in San Diego of 1978 I could have gone to any number of places and purchased weed easily and openly. But getting connected to a midwife was much more complicated. At this time, the authorities were prosecuting lay mid-wives for practicing medicine without a license. So, the homebirth midwives were very careful of whom they elected to take on as clients. They really didn't want to be arrested by an undercover policewoman posing as a pregnant mother.

I worked at a dry-cleaner/laundromat just down the street from an organic food restaurant and the owners washed their linens at my place. They were friendly and, since we often ate there, they recognized me. We chatted about my pregnancy and were willing, when asked, to connect me with a midwife. But, seriously, someone called me, and then I was given a phone number of a person who then had the midwife call me. Each of these calls had questions for me about the pregnancy and my motives for homebirth. Evidently, we passed the tests, because we were then invited to come to her office and meet the midwife and she took me on as a client. Whew.

We attended birth classes at her home/office/ashram t0 learn all about the process, because as she pointed out: we were in charge, and her role was to "catch the baby." We had our back-up plan. If things went badly, we lived close enough to a hospital that we could go there promptly. I'd prayed about it. I read the scriptures every day, and I read Spiritual Midwifery all the way through, and then I'd re-read little bits each day again. I felt calm and comfortable with our decision stay home for this birth. Spiritual Midwifery was important factor in that calmness.

Here's how it inspired me: We'd taken Lamaze classes for our first birth and it worked really well until transition. Then, I was completely astounded by the intensity of the pain. I mean, I'd never even had menstrual cramps in my life. I'd never really experienced pain before, so this was terrifying. Lamaze doesn't help you at that point. You cannot distract yourself for that. But, in Spiritual Midwifery, I read women's accounts of birth and a consistent theme was to just focus on the "rushes" (contractions) and "ride" them like surfer on a wave. Don't fight it---use it, it is a powerful force doing a good thing. So, instead of tensing up and screaming or freaking out and insisting on the drugs after all, I did just what I'd read about and focused so that all my energy was helping instead of resisting the contractions. Wow---it was magic. It still hurt, of course; in fact, some women respond to my homebirth stories by insisting that I must not have had very bad labors. Let me assure you--there was pain. But, it was productive pain, and I had learned to use it instead of struggle against it. Giving birth is a near-death experience in that you are just along for the ride, and at some point in the process, I always felt as though I might not make it--it is harrowing to be in that much pain, and know that you, personally, are not in control of the outcome. What will be, will be.

Now, maybe I'd have had a three-hour labor and delivery anyway, at the hospital, and maybe not. But, luckily, I'd already planned for the midwife to be the one frantically traveling around and doing all the moving. All I had to do was hang out there in my own home and give birth. After she was born, I had a shower, my dear friend (the chef) was there to cook me a bountiful meal (I was RAVENOUS) and then I could lie down in my own nice waterbed and enjoy my sweet little daughter, with our two year son snuggled next to us (no sibling rivalry needed since Mom didn't leave home)and CoolGuy did all the laundry. He was delighted to have us all right there, without him having to find a sitter and go across town to the hospital and then drive home etc. etc.

We had three more homebirths with this same midwife and each birth was a calm, serene event with such spiritual overtones. I was overwhelmed by the sense that the veil was very thin and we were so near to heaven. In fact, for baby #5, our midwife pointed out that I was now violating most of her strict protocols: I was over 30, I had more than 3 births, I was a bleeder (she'd give me pitocin because I hadn't contracted after #4 to deliver the placenta and close the blood vessels adequately). But, she loved to come to our house and participate in our deliveries because it was such a spiritual event when we gave birth. She enjoyed the atmosphere. I was very flattered by her compliment. It was interesting to realize that she felt that too. She was Buddhist with her own understanding of the eternal nature of our souls. "Heaven lies about us in our infancy." (Wordsworth)

Since my experiences with this guide to a serene sense of well-being during childbirth, I've passed it on to many other women. I realize that most of the ammenities we were striving for in 1978 are now routinely offered to women in hospitals, so the concept of homebirth may seem odd to mothers now. But, it was such a powerful blessing to CoolGuy and I to be in charge of this very personal and monumental event that I will be forever a fan of Ina May Gaskin and her contemporaries and thank them for writing my guide through the Valley of the Shadow that leads to motherhood.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy Happy Birthday

When you grow up in Wyoming and your birthday is in January, you know how cold feels. But here in the desert, it was 61 degrees today. Good gift for CoolGuy. Here's a great story he told me about being cold:

He remembers going out with his dad to feed cattle at a ranch on the west side of the valley where we grew up. In fact, this ranch is actually in Idaho because it is down a creek and around the hill from the high mountain valley we both called home. For some reason, it is often even colder as you crossed the imaginary line that divided our isolated community between two governments. I don't know why.

Well, anyway, they went over there one day to spread out hay from a sled that was pulled by a team of horses. His father would have been getting a bit of a work-out from cutting the strings and breaking the bales into a trailing buffet of alfalfa for the cattle jostling along side. But, CoolGuy, who thinks he was possibly four or five, was just standing there in his layers of clothes on the sled. (He would have been too young for Kindergarten and spending the day with Dad because Mom worked as a telephone operator.)

As he watched his dad's efforts, Dad turned and directed him to get off onto the snowy field and walk behind in the sled tracks. CoolGuy remembers being upset about this. It was probably hard work trudging through the snow all bundled up, and he had to jog to keep up with the work team (short-legged boy, long-legged horses.) He was mad and crying and the tears froze on his cheeks.

Yes, it was likely well below zero on that afternoon. In January the mercury frequently didn't creep above 15 or 20 below, even at midday, for long stretches at a time--ten days is one bit I recall vividly. So, in order to prevent those little toes and feet from becoming chunks of ice, Dad made CoolGuy keep the blood flowing with some activity. Dad was fine, he was tossing haybales around, but a little child couldn't help and might get knocked down.

As he got older, CoolGuy skiied and played outside during the winter, even camped, oblivious to the temperature as kids often are. But he tells that story about the frozen tears whenever we talk to people who marvel that we not only survive Las Vegas weather, but frankly revel in it.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Things I Get to Teach

I had a girl come over to me yesterday at school and say, in a very hurt voice, "[Tactless Girl] said I have a moustache." So, I gestured to Tactless Girl to come on over. Then I asked them both, "What color is your hair?" Brown. "What color are your eyes?" Brown. "What color are my eyes?' Blue. "And, " I pointed out, "My hair used to be blond. My point is: now that you're growing into women, you're going to get hair growing in places you didn't before."

I went on to point out that one of the ways you know you are growing up is that hair grows on your face. Boys love it because they get to have a moustache and beard. Girls---not so much. But we get it anyway. I pointed to my cheeks: see that hair? But it is blond because I am.

Then, I asked if either of them knew any ladies that put cream on the skin above their lip. Well, yes, they did. I replied that is was because women don't want a moustache like a man, but we get hair that grows there anyway. Even me! And so we put cream on it every few weeks to get rid of it. Just like ladies put cream on their legs to get rid of hair. Oh, now this was sounding familiar to them.

So, the point is: every girl is going to get hair growing above her lip and some of us will have dark hair and some will have blond hair, just depends on the rest of your hair color. All it means is that you are growing into a woman. So, a kind friend doesn't say things to hurt other friends' feelings. Right? Please be nice. That is all.

This was not in my lesson plan. But, that is the challenge of teaching: flexibility and thinking on your feet. I'm getting quite good at it.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Special Gift

I got a very special Christmas gift from a co-worker on Monday. It was quite unexpected and very thoughtful. We have a school psychology intern working with our regular psychologist this year. We share them with another school, of course, probably a couple of other schools. They have a busy schedule observing, and testing children and, of course, piles of paperwork for documentation. They do home visits and consultations. In addition, we have three regular weekly meetings that they attend and one of those is a committee on which I serve. So that is how I became acquainted with the intern.

She is soft-spoken, very young, really gentle in appearance and manner. And she has an unusual name. One day, after an extra long IEP meeting with a family (where we present the individual education plan that has been labored over by many well-trained people for several weeks, after weeks of recommendations, observations, testing) and explain the extra help that will be given to their child, as well as the official diagnosis of the problem. Frankly, this process is unbelievably elaborate, and burdened by decades of legislation and protocols and layers of bureaucracy--it keeps me out of special education--very intimidating environment. But as the classroom teacher, I participate in the process as just one of the many.

Anyway, after a meeting one day, she and I were walking down the hall and I asked about her first name. She explained that it was Israeli. Her mother is Israeli and they've lived back and forth between the US and Israel. So naturally we ended up talking about CoolGuy's trips there and his fascination with the country and desire to go back there to work or even just visit and how he really wants me to come too. I'd love to go. Then, we laughed about how her parents had decided to spell her name a particular way so it would be pronounced correctly and how that backfired because everyone has to hear it spoken and then see it spelled and then they still mess it up.

But then, I suddenly looked again at her name tag at her surname -- Auel-- (which I guess I hadn't paid attention to much since we adults in schools usually go by first names with one another). I looked again at it and said, "There is a terrific series of books I read years ago written by a woman named "Jean Auel" -- is she a relative?" Yup, her grandmother!! And she is still alive and lives in Portland, Oregon.

Well, after I returned to school on Monday from our winter vacation during which I went to Portland, Oregon, to visit some of our children, Ms. Auel met me in the hallway and presented me with a gift: an autographed copy of The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel. She'd been to visit Grandmother in Portland, Oregon, for Christmas and asked her for a favor for a friend. COOL!

(PS) If you've only seen the horrible movie made from this book, then you should also read the book. It was first published in 1980 and was one of those books I stayed up late to finish.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

My Relatives

The lesson in Sunday School today concerned some important things learned by Moses in the time that he was transfigured and "caught up into an exceedingly high mountain" where he "saw God face to face, and he talked with Him". Two of the points highlighted by the teacher were:
1) God is a being with a face to whom we can converse [however, like Moses, we would need to be in a transfigured state to withstand the glory of the actual presence of the person of God]
2) He called Moses His son, several times, and therefore confirmed that we are the sons and daughters of God.

So the teacher asked us what it meant to us, individually, to know these facts about God. Of course many pointed out how empowering it is to know that one is a literal off-spring of diety, that this diety has a personal knowledge of us, knows us by name, and is concerned for us as a parent.

But I realized one more thing about this understanding that I recognized about myself. Yes, it is personally empowering to realize that I am a daughter of God. But this fact has always affected how I look at other people. They are also priviledged to be His children--even if they don't know it. Even if they don't believe in God. Even if they might be acting hatefully or rudely toward me. I try to keep it foremost in my conciousness that everyone I deal with everyday is God's child and it really helps me to be nice. Or at least to try to be nice.

I read blogs or I listen to people with whom I come in contact daily who are consistently dismissive of many of our fellow humans. They often call them "stupid" or disparage others in big and little ways, attributing (consciously or unconciously) superior intellect or common sense or cleverness to themselves through regular (and now predictable) put-downs of others who do not share their point of view, or ability to be "rational or logical" (by a self-definition).

I'm painfully aware of my own failings in this area. But I am trying really hard to improve. I try really hard to look at people without labeling or ranking them. It is so easy to assume that what one believes or prefers is inherently superior to others' beliefs and preferences. It is easy to assume that because one has been blessed personally with a quick mind and great curiosity that others who appear to not be so blessed are inferior because of their choices or lifestyles. However, smugness is an unattractive quality. It can lead to isolation when one feels that so many others are not an intellectual peer. I've learned that a person can learn a lot from nearly everyone. And I don't mean that old line about learning how not to be. I mean that if we treat people kindly and thoughtfully in a sincere way, other people's good qualities will be revealed to you.

Everyone is a valuable person. Everyone of us is a child of God. Even the ones who don't agree with our political opinions, or who have hobbies we think are crude, or who don't listen to the same music we like, or who dress differently than us, or seem less educated or less curious or less thoughtful. They may not know they have this divine parentage. But, I know who they are and I'm redoubling my efforts to treat them as they deserve to be treated: as a beloved relative.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year From Vegas

On Thursday morning I went to the temple. The names of two women were posted on the bride lockers in the Sisters' changing room. There was the bustle and hum of people with a purpose, and the matrons were moving around with authority as they organized everyone. Cool day for a couple of families.

I just chuckled all the way home thinking about the future when someone asks about their wedding: "You were married in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve???"

The connotation of that comment for most of the world is nothing at all like those couples' reality. Tee hee!