Earlier this week Tumblehome Talks went on a service project trip with a group of middle schoolers in a local city. The mission: plant a garden at a homeless shelter for families with young children.
The school requires that each advisory of 12-14 students plan at least one service project during the academic year, and that the students help decide on and plan for the project.
I save every paper cover and recycle the rest. That is the deal I struck a few years ago when my beloved carted boxes of full issues down from attic and informed me that there is something called the internet now and people don’t save New Yorkers and National Geographics like they used to. I’m still happy I get the paper version and I’m even happier that people actually fight over it when it comes in the mail.
Hit the reset button. I love May. It’s certifiably spring now and this year in a fit of nostalgia I made some May baskets. Times have changed so I won’t go around leaving them on doorsteps and ringing doorbells (wouldn’t that be a sight, me running down the country roads to escape discovery) but the sentiment is the same. And now I am singing all of the beautiful hymns to Mary in my head, too.
I’m not afraid of that boy. (Like Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe, I don’t want to give his name any more visibility by typing it here.) I followed the news about him like most everyone else but when I heard that officials transferred him to a federal facility that I drive past every day (unknowingly, until now), it rankled me more than I expected. He’s just a kid. A wounded, misguided, dangerous, vulnerable criminal of a kid. And the cell in which he sits is walking distance from a school where kids like the one everyone thought he was study, work and play every day. One of my children is his age and she is only just beginning to understand what it means to be out in the world, away from family. He could have been at that school, with her. It is possible to imagine things like that now.
In my dreams I picture that boy walking through the woods from the school to his prison and wonder what could have happened along the way that turned him from an assimilated immigrant to a jihadi terrorist. Much as I despise him for what he did, I hope that we are not healing him in that medical prison just so that we can make a martyr of him by putting him to death. If there is no satisfying answer to why he destroyed lives (and there isn’t) then we cannot counterpoint his treachery with treachery of our own. Perhaps it is this near occasion of sin that nags at me.
And ironically, almost at the very moment he arrived, spring decided to come to this part of New England. In the last few days the leaves and the blooms have burst forth, scrambling to cover the gloomy gray and brown of late winter.
On the morning of April 15, we spotted four fox kits romping outside their den behind out house. We have not seen them since. Last night we heard a fisher cat scream mercilessly outside the same window though which we viewed the foxes. We told ourselves over early coffee that the family must have moved on to larger, safer quarters. As I drove past the prison this morning, there was the CNN truck, lying in wait. Tonight we will listen, hopeful, for the sound of young foxes, yapping in the dusk.
Note: The blue tee shirts in the header are from Life is Good, and all of the profits from the sale of the Boston shirts go to One Fund Boston.
A happy post script on May 1: The screaming continued and there were multiple voices in the conversation – an internet search turned up evidence that it was the foxes making the racket (it’s common, I guess, for them to mistaken for fishers when they are vocal in this way).
Even for those of us who no longer live and work in the city, it has been a long, harrowing, surreal week. There is a lot to say about events of the last week, but I am too tired to say any of it right now. Silence might be what we need most of all.
This month marks the 70th anniversary of one of our favorite children's books of all time, the beautiful, contemplative novella The Little Prince. To celebrate the book's legacy (and to encourage any parents currently dragging their feet to get it for their little ones), we've put together a list of 25 essential books that every kid should have on his or her bookshelf growing up.
1. It’s April and it’s still not over.
2. The Coach at Rutgers. Call it the Bobby Knight defense. The excuse for not firing him in November when videos revealed him verbally and physically abusing his players? They didn’t want to risk losing their invitation to the Big Ten.
3. The Coach at Florida Gulf Coast University. USC didn’t even wait until the tournament ended to hire him away. You can’t blame him for following the money, but what about the team he leaves behind?
4. The money. See 2. and 3. to learn about the millions – millions – more coaches earn than professors. Coaches should be listed on the University balance sheet as resource development staff.
5. Lots of money means lots of corruption. The NCAA has lots of rules about not giving the players a piece of the action but the trough is open to everyone else who turns a blind eye toward the education that isn’t happening for the kids who don’t make it to the NBA.
Okay, I’m done now.
P.S. I love Bill Littlefield - the best voice in sports.
Autism Acceptance Month includes Light it Up Blue day, and people find themselves reminded, pummeled and delighted by blue lights everywhere. It’s hard to know how to feel about the hoopla when we try so hard not to let autism dominate our lives. That’s why I moved my autism posts to their own blog. To be honest, though, those were the posts that got the most hits when I began writing Lettershead back in 2009. Much as it would lovely to be vastly popular and widely read, Lettershead is about trying to keep some perspective and focus on ideas that are not directly informed by autism.
Autism casts a long, blue shadow, however. Sometimes it feels like I spent my early years escaping the shadow of alcoholism only to turn and face autism. It was good preparation, as it turns out. An anxious person by nature, living with an alcoholic taught me to be flexible and to live with a specific kind of uncertainty about what each day would bring. In recent years I discovered that if I replace the word “alcoholic” with “autistic” in the Al-Anon daily meditation book, it works beautifully, if not in exactly the same way.
The most dangerous thing I allow myself to do is look back and see the years in my between alcoholism and autism and idealize them. I think everyone indulges in this during a standard-issue mid-life re-evaluation. We see high school, college, single life, some point in our youth as something that slipped away accidentally rather than as part of a progression to a fuller life. George Bernard Shaw had it right: youth is wasted on the young. What I’ve come to appreciate by looking back is the value of the cumulativeness of my experiences. For all the randomness of my choices, they all seem to have prepared me for the life I have now, unexpected and unpredictable as it is.
Laurie Anderson said in a great interview with the New York Times that she has “zero time for nostalgia,” and that is a phrase I keep in my head because the world is changing so rapidly that I want our kids to know what the world used to be like without getting myself stuck there. In the process of talking about the past it also occurs to me that for all the good experiences we try to create for other people, we have no control over how they see or will remember it. I have no idea what my parents were thinking half of the time they were raising us, but it’s clear to me now that regardless of their intended blueprint, my own memories were built by me and there isn’t a lot they can do about it now. The reality of a large family is that there are as many versions of the truth as there are people. Our children haven’t even left home yet and they are already constructing versions of their childhood that bear little resemblance to the one I thought we gave them.
And autism? It is a changeable, petulant child all on its own. The disorder I learned about in 1998 is unrecognizable to me. I was not a refrigerator mother, my child’s brain is not empty, limited eye contact does not mean a lack of engagement, and we enjoy a level of love and empathy we were told was impossible. It morphs and changes along with the boy, advancing and receding on a schedule known to no one. It’s a cat, a bowl of Jell-O, a dish of mercury, a block of granite. I will follow it, chill it, contain it, haul it around, chip away at it – whatever it takes to deny it center stage. That’s the job, that’s my job, and every day it will change and still be the same. It’s not something I planned for, but I know it’s what I was meant to do.
It’s a rare but beautiful thing: An unexpected gap opens in your otherwise overbooked day. You realize — with disbelief — that you're actually "free" for a short window. No one's hair is on fire and there isn't anything urgent to take care of right now. Maybe the baby who never sleeps finally closes her eyes or your spouse takes the kids out on an errand or you’re between conference calls.