Friday, October 21, 2011

Llamas and Pigeons and Goats, Oh My!

Since Ella was 3 I've been lucky enough to accompany my kids on field trips. I love it. Love every trip. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of most of these adventures, and I even like being chaperoned around town in the school buses when I go on the elementary outings. Really. Ella's first field trip was to Harmon's Farm in Lexington, SC, and since that initial excursion, I've visited no less than one farm a year. Perhaps part of the schools' affinities toward trips that are all-things farmish is the fact that we live in a rather rural state. Compared to the bright lights and big city of New York, South Carolina on the whole is small. We may have a sky scraper and a half in the entire state. Seriously.
After Harmon's, Country Adventures was the most popular children's farm for the kids' teachers to visit, and that place never disappoints. Don't get me wrong, Harmon's is cool. In the fall, they offer hay rides, a jaunt in the pumpkin patch, and a sweet for-kids play ground, not to mention the Christmas trees that they grow on site...however, this always makes me a little anxious in anticipation of the inevitable procrastinating that encompasses me around Santa Claus time. Country Adventures does step it up a notch in some regards. What it lacks in Christmas trees, it makes up for in spades with the farm animals. Kids can pet sheep, cows, horses, and little donkey things (I can't tell the difference between them and mules). They can chase and scare the poop out of the chickens and other odd-looking poultry, and terrorize the bunnies. Poor bunnies.
For Summit's first real field trip (the 3-year-old one was a wash; literally, it got rained out), we were directed to new digs, or sties, whatev. Fox Farms is in West Columbia, and because I didn't realize that there was farm land in West Cola Town, we were late as a result of me following my inner, and historically wrong, GPS. If you're wondering, yes, I have an app for that on my iPhone, and, yes, I was convinced that that app sucked and was misdirecting me, and, yes, I was hugely mistaken in ignoring said app's directions. Again, whatev.
Fox Farms, once we got there after driving through a neighborhood full of 70s style houses (hello? it's West Columbia!), was A-W-E-S-O-M-E, awesome, awesome, to-tally. Since we were fashionably unreasonably fashionably late, poor Summit missed the hay ride. That sucked for him, but I felt more sorry for myself when I realized the photo-ops that I'd missed out on. Luckily, we got there in time for him to be a part of the class picture before the wee ones got off the tractor. Ah, well. He's young. He won't remember not going on it. But, he'll have the picture to help him create a memory of having gone on it. Wait. Is that okay?
Anywho, we quickly caught up with the rest of the class for the tour through the animals. I should preface this with the fact that Summit's class this year is made up of all boys. Wild little boys. Stinky little boys, as evidenced by the smells I was fortunate enough to encounter one fine morning a couple of weeks ago when I was speaking to the fellas about some book that they were all interested in. And, by the way, BARF! I have no idea how Mrs. Dawn and Mrs. Dani endure that grossness. It truly was stomach-churning.
So, on to the animals. Or, should I say the animals visiting the animals. It was precious. Though, when Summit and some of his buddies found feathers, the likelyhood of my son interacting with the feathered friends was gone with the wind. Why? Because he smelled a feather. Apparently, those things stink, and when Summit realized the odor was not his cup of tea, the opportunity to get him to touch a pigeon (yeah, I know; who keeps a thing full of pigeons?), pheasant, or baby rooster was out the door like a republican at the Democratic Convention. It freaked him out. Thankfully, he was down with petting the llama, goats, sheep, weird horned African-looking cow, and ram. Unfortunately for the free-range chickens, Summit and a pal or two thought they would be GREAT to chase.
After the animals, we moved to the final order of business. The owners of Fox Farms had buried a pile of small pumpkins beneath a bunch of hay. On Mr. Fox Farm's command, the kids were to all begin digging through the hay in search of the perfect pumpkin. Great idea, but what a mess. There was hay everywhere, and, thanks to Summit's strange deal with having stuff on his hands, he was kinda wimpy about the whole thing. In the end, he selected a beauty of a pumpkin, and he was so proud of his orange treasure.
All in all, Fox Farms was a smashing success. The kids had so much fun, and I was reminded of how lucky I am to get to experience all of these moments with my sweet Summy. I love him so.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The trendy other things.

When Ella began this year at her new school, I decided to become more hands-on with the functions of the place that provides her with a formal education. Truthfully, before she started second grade, I scoffed at that Parent-Teacher Organization stuff. I never saw myself as the kind of mama who would be comfortable working side by side with the mommies who play tennis and lunch and organize cake walks. I mean, let's be honest here: I don't have the patience to keep my nails beautifully manicured. I don't make it to the salon as often as necessary to prevent my roots from showing (though, based on the ridiculously rude and intrusive gray hairs that I can't seem to fend off with intensive plucking, I'll be visiting said salons more often). I CANNOT accessorize worth a damn; if it's not black and denim or worn to the gym, I'm probably not gonna wear it. And let's not even mention jewelry...I stick to what I know: diamonds. (They are some of my best friends...except those blood ones, of course.) Even more, I sometimes, okay, oftentimes find myself without a filter, and tend to say what is on my mind, regardless of how NOT politically correct it may be. It's something I'm working on, so don't be hater.

However, this year I signed up for nearly every committee under the PTO or PTA, whatever. My first assignment has been to work with the beautification committee, which I rather enjoy. I can wear my workout uniform (again all black) and get dirt under my fingernails. I like that. Also, my hair can be a total hot mess, which suits my style best. I'm gearing up to help particpate in the American Education Week, which I have no idea about at all, and I spoke with Ella's room mom about the Economics week which leads up to Christmas. (Ummm.. What? First of all: Economics Week? Sorry, but that sounds like a total snooze fest for me; I can't imagine what it would do to second graders. And second of all: Economics week right before Christmas...a time when people lose all sensibility about fiscal responsibility and protecting themselves from over indulgence. Can anyone say ironic?)

This week, I've been working with the Book Fair. As a lover of all things literary, I thought that this would be a right on thing to do; being planted in the library is like being folded into heaven. I L.O.V.E. books. I love the way they smell. I love the feel of the pages between my fingers. I love how a book looks when it's brand new to my eyes, and I love even more how it looks when I'm done with it, and it's become a part of me and I've become a part of it. I love folding the corners of pages back to mark my place and taking notes in the margins. I am in love with reading to my children, and organizing their personal libraries at home. Books are my thang. They're some of my best friends, even more so than the diamonds. (This does not mean, Matt, that you should buy me books for Christmas. Just a little FYI.)
So, I've enjoyed doing the Book Fair gig. It's cool to see the kids perusing through the books and making individual selections. A lot of them are excited to get home and get down to the business of reading their new treasures. With that said, perhaps some of the most coveted items are the chocolate erasers, the cell phone erasers, the noodle pencils, and these creepy Halloween hands. They all love bringing in their envelopes and pockets full of cash and making their purchases, and some of these kids have a lot of stinking money. A good many of them come in with 20 or 30 bucks from their parents, buy an eraser and a $2 book and call it a day, and as they peace out of the library, you can almost see the Icees that they'll be able to buy for the next month dancing over their heads.

It's been interesting for me, too, to get a chance to kick it old school, okay not really, with some of the other volunteering mothers. It's not exactly as I expected; they all seem very friendly and, for the most part, down to earth. Of course, everyone is happy to be there, so most everyone is in a jovial mood. I've also learned that I have more of a filter than I give myself credit for. Who'd a thunk that I can be just as polite as the next mom? (Not my mother, I can tell you that right now.) To be sure, I've become schooled in the art of PTA/O mothering. First, they all look amazingly young. Amazingly. And, they all can accessorize with the best of the Real Housewives of which ever city you can imagine. To that end, I've learned that in order to conduct myself in the realm of this particular existence I'm gonna need to: A. Get a stylist and B. start making some regular trips to the salon.

Oh, how times have changed. Gone are the grunge days of my early college years. Gone are the crusty camping gear days of my twenties. (I don't know where I've been for these past few years. I suppose I've been in a holding pattern.) Here to stay are the days of patterned shirts and trendy other things, and I have no idea what those other things are. Holy smokes. I better figure out what those other things are.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Culture of Bullies

With the country gearing up for another slanderous, hate-filled, vile round of campaigns for the presidential election, I'm beginning to dread more and more each day the general climate that will take over the United States. I dread very much the anger and the lies and the animosity and the BS that comes from all sides. It's more than obvious where I stand on all things political, and to all my Republican and Tea Partay friends, I make no apologies for that, just as I would expect you to make no apologies to me for your opinions on issues relating to our government. However, it pains me to know that a certain divide will come betwixt us in these coming months. These very long months. These are the days when all common decency and true integrity seem to disappear like water in a hot, hot desert.

More significantly, to me anyways, is that the decency dissipates not from people who have not had access to what the upper crusts of society know as proper etiquette, but from those people who've received all the schooling in the so-called manners of decent people. It's from these people that the lewd and nefarious behavior originates. Those who've had every ounce of formal education at their disposal and ingrained into their lives are the ones who seem to be the rudest. True colors of this kind shine like the sun, though they are greatly lacking in brilliant hues. These are dull colors, grey colors, lacking in hope and warmth, full of self-service and arrogance.

When our fore fathers founded our great government, they had a certain vision of this country that was based upon ideals of freedom and happiness for all Americans. Once upon a time, people made sacrifices for the greater good of all people in this country. For the ideals that they believed would create a healthy group of citizens. I don't believe that they would be proud of what has become of their intentions. More and more on the news, in conversations I hear people talking about mine mine mine. My money. My house. My cars. My my my. The ideals of the founding fathers have been replaced with the materialistic rights and demands of our current leaders and all others with influence on the governance of this nation. Idealism with the intentions of prosperity for all have been replaced with a selfish desire to fulfill the needs of a few individuals, and unfortunately it is those individuals with the greatest access to opportunity and whose lives have been most blessed and whose individual rights are most looked after.

And this makes no sense to me. How can people actually, and with dignity, proclaim, "This is mine. I deserve it. I don't have to share with you. So, there." When I was growing up, my mother would have sent me to my room and made me think long and hard if I had that attitude towards my family or friends or strangers. That kind of perception or display would never fly in my house. And, I'm pretty sure that it wouldn't happen in the churches of many Americans who vote to protect their own individual wealth over the ideals of happiness and prosperity for all.

So many people proclaim that great wealth and opportunity is available for anyone who puts in the effort and time. Right. I would beg to differ. I would venture to guess that most of those people never really had to come from absolute poverty and destitution, to climb out of nothing to attain what they say is possible, much less be a witness to it. There is a massive culture of underpriveleged people in this country, of all creeds and races, who grow up with nothing at all. Without parents who know how to help them fill out college applications or financial aid forms, who even know what those things looked like or where they would be found. Parents who grew up with the same kind of hopelessness and lack of resources or understanding that their children have. Many have no parents at all. No parents to help them learn what is appropriate, how to speak formally, how to study, to care how they perform on standardized tests. No parents to teach them how to balance a check book or plan for the future. For many people, there is no future with a bright outlook.

I have heard lots of people who I love and admire say that there is always a way, that everyone knows the difference between right and wrong, proper and improper, what is socially acceptable, what is attainable. Sorry, my loves, but this is just not so. Does it happen on occasion? Absolutely. But that occasion is as frequent as children growing up to be rockstars or famous athletes. The odds aren't great. It's an absolute dream.

And, what becomes of so many people, so many beautiful babies who, when they take their first breaths into this world, unscathed by violence and neglect and hopelessness that ultimately awaits them when they leave the hospital for home? The cycle continues, and, they are broken from the start, rejected by the greater parts of society who look down their noses at those they perceive as lazy and unwilling to reach for the stars of an American Dream that's supposed to be available for all. So, they watch, desperately, as the rich and famous and beautiful and cherished are flashed on television, pranced around on stages, paraded about magazine covers. They see what other folks have, all the while knowing that such a fate is far from their reach.

Our society covets these things: wealth, power, beauty, status, individualism. Our society does not covet the standards of the founding fathers, that notion of togetherness and making sacrifices to ensure that all people are treated equally and are provided with the comforts that all Americans so truly desire. We've reverted to a culture of bullies. A culture where people lie and cheat and hoard and belittle one another. A culture where people go on the news and actually boast about dreaming of a recession because they know that they can capitalize on the utter devastating loss of millions of people. (That said people haven't had their asses kicked and handed back to them is baffling.) Yep. A culture that supports bullies. The proof is in the pudding. Simply listen to the news. Take a drive through a neighborhood and check out the foreclosures. Better yet, drive through the "worst" parts of town and see how sad life is for so many people. Observe how we treat our very poor compared with the very rich.

I know so many people who bitch and complain about paying taxes to help this country get out of debt, people who have loads of money and lead extravagant lifestyles, who whine that they worked hard for what they have and they don't want anyone to tell them what to do with their money. Great, that's great. Well, I have a challenge for them. Why not step up to the plate and make that offer of their own selves? Why not DECIDE on their own accord to share their blessings and help out their fellow Americans? They can be the vehicle for the change that this country so desperately needs. We have to stop complaining about how we got to this point. By now the discussion is rhetorical. That horse has been beaten to death. Let's do it now, and get on with being the wonderful country that our fore fathers meant for it to be.

Without more Americans helping to pick this country up out of the gutters, we are nothing more than a culture of bullies.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Any Given Sunday, I mean Saturday

There comes a time in every child's life when she realizes that all that she knew to be good and true about her parents and grandparents isn't. Where the harsh reality of her actual place in the family comes glaring in her face. No longer is she the sun of the familial universe, but a distant and unnamed planet floating somewhere about the periphery of the galaxy. All at once, she is unseen, unheard, unknown. And she feels dejected, let down, devastatingly alone.

I remember when this happened to me. It was a Saturday near the beginning of Fall. My parents and brothers and I were gathered in the playroom that my dad had converted from the carport to give us kids a fun place to hang out. He even put that fake grass stuff on the ground so we didn't have to worry about making my mother mad if we spilled something. It was our room where we spent our time, and when my parents were in there, they would should be providing us with the love and attention children require. But, on this Saturday, that all changed.

As we were spending quality time as a family, I remember my dad turning on the old was one of those ancient things with the dials you had to turn to change channels or adjust the volume. And it was heavy. Looking back, it makes sense that the same TV would cause me great physical pain when it rolled onto my foot in the car as my dad was moving it to another house... for on that autumn day when my world was forever changed, it was that TV that was the vehicle for immense emotional strife. The irony of the fake grass carpet in the room coinciding with this revelation is no longer lost on me, either.

My memories of what followed the powering on of the beastly television set are clear some thirty years later. At once, my parents were detached from us kids. They couldn't see us or hear us or speak to us...except, perhaps, to say "move, Mary Rose." There were these strange creatures wearing weird hats and funny getups crashing into one another and chasing after an oddly-shaped ball. Whistles were blowing, people in the crowd on the TV were cheering and booing collectively. My parents kept alternating between clapping and shouting stuff like, "Come on!" and "You gotta be kidding me!" and "That was holding!"

It lasted for hours. Hours. Those painstaking hours. Life would never be the same for me. And, so it has come to pass for my dear, sweet Ella.

This past Saturday, during the USC/Auburn football game, the truth was revealed to her, and that truth did NOT set that girl free. It turned her into a maddened 7-year-old cheerleader. I listened to it unfold from my spot at the kitchen sink (where I was trying to do anything to not jinx the Gamecocks, and in my voodoo mind, I decided it best to clean up my parents' kitchen). Everyone was gathered about the evil flat machine in the television room, shouting at the screen as if Spurrier and Garcia could actually hear them. ALL of their focus was on that game. ALL.OF.IT. And, none of it was on Ella. NONE.OF.IT. She just wanted them to watch her cheer. She just wanted some indication that they cared. And did they watch her? Was there any indication? No. Nothing. But, did she give up and walk away, dejected? No. Not at all. She just cheered louder. And, it got REALLY loud. REALLY. And, her chanting became erratic and confusing. REALLY erratic and confusing. The more they ignored her, the louder and worse it got. Coupled with Kent, my dad, Matt, and my mom speaking out loud and not in synchronicity with anyone,  it was downright awful. It was exhausting.  

I had to tell  her, though I knew it would alter her life forever. "Dear, Jesus! Please stop that screaming. All of you. Ella, sorry, honey, but when there is a football game on, no one is really gonna care what you have going on if it's not absolutely life-threatening. This is a fact of life, a fact of childhood, no matter how ridiculous and mean it might be. It's just that way on any given Saturday. It was so for me, and now it is for you."