Tag Archives: expert

The Cult of Parties: Staying Focussed When Planning Children’s Birthdays

26 Mar

When I turned six we went to Showbiz Pizza and there exists only a simple Polaroid picture of me wearing a crown.  For my fifth birthday I remember getting a tricycle that was tall and red.  For my fourth birthday my mother made me a strawberry pie and I got a peacock-blue paper parasol.

There were no big party stores selling aisle after aisle of themed paper products back in the early ’80s.  There were no goodie bags handed out as guests left the celebration.  And we all know there was no Pinterest and Instagram. (If you’re like me, then you are particularly irked that you had to plan an entire wedding without a virtual pinboard and had to haul around a scrap-book.)

These days parties are color-coordinated creations full of photo-ops and party favors.  Starting with the very first birthday, they include an elaborate spread where all the food, cakes, plates, and straws match each other.  Striped straws, to be exact, preferably in little glass milk-bottles filled with the perfectly colored beverage (sans food-coloring, naturally).  We create backdrops, not only for this optimal display of edibles, but also for pictures of all the gorgeous, exceptional children attending.  For more flare, we even use photo props as well, like a little gold-glittered bow-tie on a stick to hold in front of a toddler (he will lick it). We have hand-crafted party games complete with costumes and take-home gifts.  The cakes are covered in fondant and the pictures of the darling Little eating that cake?  (It’s called a “smash cake”, by the way). They were taken two weeks ago in an antique high-chair in the middle of a pasture, bathed in golden sunlight.

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Most of the Talents Are Ones I Don’t Have

9 Oct

I have always wanted to play the piano. That’s not true — not always — but since being a teenager I have. I wanted to be at the bench, pounding away while singing into a microphone and making people want to dance (more Jerry Lee Lewis and less Tori Amos). Every time I hear Elton John, I see myself gingerly bringing “Honky Cat” to life. Exploiting all the jangly glory of those keys. On the softer side I hear Chopin and envision myself swaying passionately from side to side in a sweeping movement while being intertwined in the melody of “Fantasie Impromptu: Opus #66”. It’s closely related and only marginally tailed by my other dream of dancing. Without really thinking about it, my imagination’s eye starts rolling film of me — all bendy and powerful — dancing in the fashion of the 80’s “Fame” movie. It’s intense in my heart. Like the feeling you get when you start to really think about your favorite desert: it’s so good and so real you can almost taste it, but outside your power to create, or recreate.

My dancing career began and ended when I was six, though, on account of the high cost of lessons, and the work of taking me to a class (I also think my propensity for booty-shaking versus more ballet-type moves made my mother less motivated for me).

But the piano was always in the house. We always had our lovely, antique upright with a bench full of music. I spent a good deal of time playing around on it, and even had a lesson or two, but I backed slowly away. My sister was a masterful, self-trained pianist (still plays keys professionally), who could recreate Beethoven melodies on her own. In my elementary years I came under the impression that my instructor preferred teaching my sister (at this age I can’t recall if I “heard” her say that, or if I misinterpreted something else that was said), and I requested to no longer take lessons. I had such difficulty with my practice, that it seemed very plausible to me that I was equally difficult to teach. It seemed to disambiguate and simplify everyone’s life for me to definitively claim that I was not musically inclined, so I did, and so I’ve been.

It’s my nature to back away from other people’s passionate interests, or their lime-light. That’s not to say that I don’t eagerly leap into any unoccupied lime-light, but I find no pleasure in stealing another person’s thunder, as they say. I enjoy attention and recognition, but I don’t enjoy competition. The best way to avoid competition is to find my own — my very own — interests. Also, competing with my sister was paramount to competing with Beethoven himself, in my child’s mind: certain defeat.

As an adult, though, I just can’t deny that I love the piano. Maybe I’ll never get around to mastering that Chopin piece, but I believe I could learn enough to bring me satisfaction. I believe I could be good enough to sing along to. I’m not sure where to start…

With so many things I have this burning desire to “become…” but I just can’t see the first step. I’m tired of riding on the waves of life (like a flag tossed about by every wind), and only impulsively finding new adventures. I want to get There from Here, intentionally.

As for the dancing dream, I just need an empty warehouse and some awesome song blasting from the tape deck of my nearby VW.

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30 Mar

… Just because I’m an expert doesn’t mean I’m perfect.

Today Young G rolled off my bed with a thud.  I covered the ten feet between us in a bound and had him in my arms before he could let out the first wail, but oh my, did he wail!

My heart raced and my head spun thinking of the pain his whole little body must feel from the two-and-a-half foot drop.  I held him close until finally my thoughts calmed enough for me to inspect him. No blood.

He began to nurse quickly and I checked his limbs. His skull seemed intact.  His eyes weren’t unfocused.

Dear Jesus! Protect my child in spite of me!


27 Mar

I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent trying to make a simple DVD for my parents.  It’s not very complicated; I’m using the software on our Mac to put it together.  But for some reason  — perhaps it’s the size of the contents — nothing is burning properly.

Often I feel like I know just enough about something to frustrate me, but never enough to expertly finish anything.  I can crochet, sew, … write.

Graduate school was a personal study in just how difficult I find becoming an expert.  One professor saw me for who I am well enough to compare me to sparse, long-range synapses in the brain.  He said there is some activity which covers a short distance, making quick, rapid-fire connections between neighboring neurons.  These synapses carry detailed information to fine-tune a process.  Then there are the synapses of which I am one: they carry information across long distances, connecting seemingly unrelated neurons by sharing necessary, but general information.  This long-range firing of activity then sets off a new set of dense, rapid-fire connections in the new area of the brain.  This professor said I was good at making connections (he spoke of interdisciplinary observations as I attempted to form my own degree combining the psychology and linguistics departments.  I didn’t succeed and the one professor who Saw me moved to Australia), or carrying information from one party to another.

Which might imply I’m not necessarily any good at making sense out of the information myself, just in transferring it.

So this is what makes me  a good teacher, I suppose.  This is what helped me counsel my students, too, because I could connect them to ideas, people, and information that answered their questions.  I never really had to have the answer.

I think this might be what helps me be a good mother. Young G has begun to notice he has hands.  He’s begun to develop expectations, anticipation, and delight.  If I can connect him to the good things in the world I’ll be a good mother!