Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Picture Some Sort of Thelma & Louise Situation Probably

Tomorrow I am leaving for Las Vegas. My friends Erika and David and I heard that an academic conference we like was going to be there, and we were all, "Oh surely we can come up with SOMETHING to say at that thing, we gots lotsa idears." We proposed a panel, it was accepted, and we are Vegas bound. So really it will probably be like Thelma and Louise, if they had had better educational opportunities, and a gayer, better-dressed Brad Pitt, and instead of driving into the void, we'll write devastatingly witty things in our conference notes. "Oh no she DIDN'T just confuse fabula and syuzhet. Bitch please!"

Don't you hate that you're going to miss that?

The thing is at Harrah's, and we're staying there. I have never been to that hotel, and I'm a little disappointed that it's not one of the places that has indoor sea battles or a chocolate volcano or something. I'm sure we'll find some fun though.

Now, the mom types among you know that it is far from a trivial matter to get away from one's home and children for multiple days, when schooling and activities must continue in one's absence and one's husband must also continue to do productive work. Unfortunately, all of my children's grandparents are living their own lives in other places, and Matt will be on his own. He asked me for a written schedule of everything that needs to happen and everything he needs to remember from Thursday through Sunday morning. I'm including every detail and leaving nothing to chance.

And as I was composing this document, it dawned on me that I'll be gone on Friday, when Hank is supposed to wear a green shirt to school for St. Patrick's Day, and Matt will have to be in charge of that. And also Matt is color blind. So I'm leaving my five year-old baby likely to be dressed by his dad in a red or brown shirt and therefore vulnerable to the pinching that the Korean kids probably get. (They're like, St. What?)

So yes, I am laying out the clothing and writing on the schedule, "Hank PE day, needs tennis shoes. Also wear green! Green robot shirt on top of his chest of drawers!" Luckily I will be here to dress him in the morning because tomorrow is school spirit shirt day and Chick-fil-A lunch day, and I just don't think I could leave two separate memos about special shirts. I'm pretty sure it was that kind of needless system complexity that caused the Challenger explosion.

I am also pre-wrapping two birthday presents that I have pre-bought. Each child has a weekend bday party to attend. And Laura has a science project due on Friday (make a model of a cell out of edible materials? why for the love of Pete?) and she has a swim meet on Saturday afternoon, to which I am leaving directions.

They will have a blast, because he is the fun parent. And he really is.

And I bet I will have some fun too. I will pop in on the SubMat facebook page if something interesting happens or if I need bail money. Go "like" me on there if you might be willing to provide that.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

How My Optimism Helps Me Overcome Obstacles

You would not perhaps think that listening to twenty two fifth graders hold forth on Optimism, the mandated topic in the county oratory contest, would be a fun way to spend time. But it turned out to be totally freaking adorable. The contest in the schools was sponsored by, yes, the Optimist Club, and Laura wrote a three-minute speech and beat out her class to make it to the school level competition. It was in the library a couple of weeks ago; I went to watch.

Many of the speeches fell into two categories: How My Awesome Optimism Makes Me Awesome; and Here's A Bad Thing That Happened To Someone I Know But I'm Still Alive. Bless them, many of these kids had sad or intense stories to tell about childhood illness or mishap, someone in their family with cancer, or generally scary stuff. One girl had been a bone marrow donor for both of her brothers, who suffered from an x-linked disease.

There was a lot of ten year-old philosophizing and quoting of great minds. Touchstones were Lance Armstrong, Steve Jobs, and Tim Tebow, particularly his "dream destroying" loss to Ol' Miss in 2008 and his pluck and determination in its aftermath. Also Gandhi was mentioned. And, improbably, Cecil B. DeMille.

One child began an illustrative example with, "Take Mother Theresa." (Please!)

I would not kid you about that. This moment had me leaping to compose a note to myself in my iphone. So did the part where the kid said, "And then I thought about night and day, and how truly different they are from each other." I was just eating all of this up, really.

Some children seemed a bit confused as to what optimism is, because Mark Zuckerberg is a lot of things, but I'm not sure that Noted Inspiring Optimist is one of them. Yet he was praised for "having the optimism to become one of the youngest billionaires ever."  Hmm.

So then Laura got up to speak, and she hit all her marks. Her speech did not seem as deep or intense as some of the more tear-jerking ones, but I thought it was well-structured and obviously in her natural voice. She started with the idea that little kids are naturally more optimistic because they imagine fewer possibilities, which I thought was funny, then she talked about her memory of starting kindergarten, then competitive swimming, then my breast cancer treatment.

I didn't have any expectation that she would win, because I had no idea what the judges were really looking for. But she won first place! Nobody was more surprised than she was when they called her name.

After it was over and I thought about it, it was clear to me that she won because she was one of the few who actually said something to analyze the idea of optimism, namely that: Optimism comes easier when you train and prepare (her swimming example); and optimism is something that is shared among people and mutually reinforced and shored up in hard times (my cancer treatment). That's the nutshell, I will not inflict my child's prize-winning optimism speech on you in any greater length. I know you like me but there is a limit!

Anyway, so she got to advance to the County competition, which was last week. Matt's mom Betty came down to attend with Hank and Matt and me, and two of Laura's teachers were there. It was a big event.

It was clear that all of these kids were their school winners. The speeches were all good. Still plenty of inadvertently hilarious moments, but plenty of lovely moments too. In this crowd, there was a greater sense of self-awareness that perhaps, as ten year-olds, their obstacles had not been too steep, but that we all have our struggles, wherever we are. I truly had no expectation that she would win out of this crowd.

But darned if she didn't do it!

First Place!
When they called her name, her mouth fell open, and her teachers whooped. We were so surprised! She was so thrilled, y'all. The next day she took her trophy to school and was on the morning news, and she generally took a victory lap all around the school. Loving it.

The night she won, after we were behind closed doors, Matt and I were like, "Seriously, why do you think she won? I don't know, why do you think?" Like, we're used to her and couldn't necessarily see what the judges saw, maybe. Height advantage? Her teacher had told me that she thought it was that L comes across as very natural and comfortable, like she's always giving speeches. I was like, "You should come to my house, she really IS always giving speeches." I don't know. Anyway, the fifth graders don't advance any farther than the county level, so her oratorical run is over for now. But it was a sweet and wonderful experience, and I mean it when I say, I was really impressed with all of those kids and their willingness to get up there and do that.

I told her, "Laura, I gotta say, you are really bringing it these days." And she is. And yesterday when Hank did something good in karate and got praised, I leaned over to her and whispered, "See? My kids are winners." And she gave me a massive eye roll. It was very advanced, that eye roll.