Monday, October 31, 2011


I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'm not a particularly romantic person, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. It's been hard to admit that I'd rather get a new vacuum as a gift then a diamond necklace. In general, my gut reaction when Mark would do something like bring me flowers was "Why did he spend all that money on something that will die in a few days when I would much rather he save it?" To me, a gift that is meaningful and romantic is something that sees a need specific to that person and fills it, and it gets bonus points if it's on sale. Maybe for some people that's jewelry or flowers, but for me, it's an appliance.

Mark and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary yesterday, and it was great. We've always seen our wedding anniversary as not just about us, but about the beginning of our family. Obviously there's a time and a place for us to connect as a couple, but our family was born on the day Mark and I agreed to love and honor each other for the rest of our lives, and as such, we've called it our "familaversary." We spent Sunday morning in our regular routine at church, then had a rehearsal for the choir we're both in, then we celebrated by going to Fred Meyer and picking up a Wii. As befits our tradition and particular gift preferences, we wanted something that would be useful for the whole family. We spent the afternoon laughing hilariously at MarioKart and after a nice family dinner out and bedtime for the kids, Mark and I stayed up late playing Wii tennis and bowling and eating really peppery bacon. Now, I realize that this might not be everyone's idea of romance. But when I put on FB that this was the reason I got married, I wasn't kidding. Last night was perfectly romantic, in our own special brand of romance.

There is a lot of focus in our culture on love, at least the brand of it that it values most. And don't get me wrong, that particular brand is great. But it's often actually infatuation - the heart pitter-pattering, short of breath, I-have-to-be-near-this-person kind of feeling. Like most relationships, we definitely started out that way and we still have our moments after 10 years together. But love is so much more than that to me. It's wanting the best for the other person even when its not convenient. It's sharing deeply held beliefs. It's being there in the dark times, or worse, the boring times. It's being able to be alone together. I knew I was in love with Mark when I realized that I could be with him 24 hours a day without experiencing the typical introvert reaction of feeling like I was "on" around others. I could be "off" and it was ok. I could just relax into him. And when I looked forward to a life with him, days like yesterday were what I envisioned. Days filled with routine, family, and just being by each other.

I guess that's where the vacuum fits in. Giving something like that shows me that he sees not just the dressed up me, but the real, every day me - the one that cleans up and keeps the house from being totally overrun by stuff, that takes care of his kids and handles the day-to-day routine - and that he values that. That he's happy he chose me to share this humble life with, and would do it again.

Now, that's romantic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ode to a duck

We had a minor crisis in the Leen household this morning. Emily, Sam's well-loved duck friend, went missing. She wasn't in her usual hiding places - the side of the bed, the car, the couch - leading me to privately worry that we'd left her in a restaurant or somewhere else outside the house, possibly lost forever. I didn't share the entirety of my fears with Sam, but he was understandably distraught and went off to school this afternoon on the promise that I'd keep looking.

Emily joined our family when Sam had just turned 3. We were visiting my mom down in Portland over the summer when she was incredibly ill, and we were all staying in a hotel room close to the house so we wouldn't disturb her. It was becoming apparent that we were headed toward the end. I was stressed and Sam was likely feeling it, too.

One night, we went out for pizza at Papa's Pizza, a sort of local version of Chuck E. Cheese, complete with that grabber machine where you pop in some coins and operate the claw in the hopes of snagging a prize. Bless their hearts, they'd rigged the machine so that it was almost guaranteed that each kid would get a prize (can I hear a hip-hip-hooray for local businesses?). Sam came running out of the restaurant at the end of the night with Mark, having captured himself (with some daddy help I'm sure) a prize duck. When I asked what he wanted to name her, he chose to name her after our family friend, Emily, a little girl who was 5 at the time and with whom Sam had been spending a lot of time playing on our trips. I noted at the time that this was the first time that a stuffed animal had not been given the descriptive name "Lion" or "Cow." This duck clearly had personality.

And she had quite the style sense, too. At Sam's insistence, her hair tuft on the top of her head always had to be done just so, coming to a perfect point with the help of some Sam spit. As one can see from the picture, all this styling has taken its toll on the body and volume of her hair.

We also discovered over the next few years that Emily had a, er, unique voice. She spoke in whistle tone of the likes only very young vocal cords are capable of. One step down from dog whistle range. And she usually has a lot to say, especially at bed time.

When Sam asked for Emily last night after discovering she wasn't in his bed, we put him off a bit, not wanting to put in the work to look, and he eventually fell asleep as he sometimes does without her. When it became apparent this morning that she was missing, a low-grade panic took hold. I called Mark, and together we brainstormed where she could be. Did we leave her at Ivar's when we had dinner there on Sunday? Mark Emily. Did she somehow travel somewhere in the car and fall out? I was heartsick at the thought of Emily sitting somewhere in a puddle. Finally on a hunch, I unpacked the Halloween bags we took to the Halloween party at the community center yesterday, and found Caroline's purse , zipped up and containing something soft and squishy. Unzipping it, I may have actually let out a sigh of relief. There was Emily, folded in half and packed into the pink Hello Kitty purse. Caroline, who is also starting to be won over by Emily's unique place in the family, had packed her in there for an adventure.

Holding her, I dialed the school (yes ,really). I asked the teacher who answered to please tell Sam that we found Emily and she's at home. I hung up, thinking that the teacher probably thinks I'm a little crazy, or hovery, or over-involved. But I know Sam, and I know he's been thinking about her on and off all afternoon. And I didn't want him to worry about her any longer than he had to. So if I take a little flack from a teacher about calling, so be it.

And now, I'm going to take a very well-loved duck to meet her Sam at school, and all will be right with the world. Special childhood friends make it so.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why I Hate Sleeping Beauty

I hate Sleeping Beauty. Hate it with a passion. Maybe it's because I've had to watch it about 7 times in the last few weeks, but the plot....well, it leaves something to be desired.

The movie opens at the birth of Aurora. Happy, happy day. And these parents choose this day, the day they know an evil witch will most likely be on the hunt to ruin their happiness (remember, they didn't invite her?) to do something really subtle. You know, thousands of people waving flags, screaming high C's in a song that INCLUDES THE GIRL'S NAME, the usual. Seriously, why don't they just hang up a big banner that says, "HEY, MILLEFICENT! COME ON OVER AND DO SOMETHING EVIL!"

And of course she obliges, in the middle of a wish-giving session. Which brings up, who exactly sets the rules for magic here? Is there some authority? Only one wish per little witch, can't undo the curse but can change it, only bring joy and happiness? As the crabby little blue one says, destroying Millifecent would bring her some pretty serious joy and happiness. Sounds like a reasonable loophole to me. No go, though.

Which brings me to the overly specific and complicated spells. For some reason, Millificent doesn't just kill the baby right there. Probably because killing babies in a Disney movie wouldn't fly. But really, did it have to be that complicated? Wait until she's 16? Prick specifically her finger on specifically a spinning wheel? Because that's not at all easy to get around by destroying all the spinning wheels. Seriously, Millificent, why don't you just invite everyone to your volcano lair where you'll unveil all the details your plan before you destroy them all? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, the witch shows up and everyone's like, "O noes! You mean you're not mad?" Of course she's mad, idiots. She's an evil witch.

And the little witches come up with a truly brilliant plan to hide a baby in a cottage in the woods. Because a baby with three old ladies who suddenly moves into some deserted cottage in the woods wouldn't draw any attention.

Fast-forward 16 years. Now, we're missing a lot of what happened in between, and Disney tries to rectify this by cramming everything that could have gone wrong during those 16 years into ONE DAY, the day of her birthday. Because of course, for the entire 15 years and 364 days leading up to this everyone was on high alert and all was peachy keen, but on the last day they actually have to keep their schmidt together, everyone engages in massive group FAIL.

First, the little witches. I am supposed to believe that this is the very first time they were EVER tempted to use magic? Didn't they raise a baby? I mean, she's a princess and all, but there are still blowouts, colic, and tantrums. And potty training. Good God, I don't know a single parent who wouldn't want a little magic for that. But they're stymied by a CAKE and a DRESS? They've really never done either of those things before? What did they do on the other 15 birthdays, play with rocks and sticks while she wore a potato sack? And then, of course, they send her out by herself on the day Milleficent will be the most desperate with a "LALALALA and don't talk to strangers!" Yeah, I'm sure that'll work.

And Milleficent. You disappoint me. Up until now, you were at least a head above the others, in spite of it all. But NOW you figure out that your minions have been looking for a baby the whole time? You didn't think to ask maybe once in the last 15 years how their search was going for a toddler? A 5 year old? A 10 year old? Consider me let down by your poor management of minions. At least the crow is on the job now (a crow, I might add, that is eventually turned into a statue by Little Crabby Witch, in spite of the whole "only bring joy" thing from earlier. But I digress).

Let's take a look at the parents. Who knows where Mom is. Probably frantically cleaning or doing her hair. Having your daughter taken away by fairies as a newborn has got to do a trip on your head. She's probably popping pills. But Dad....hoo, boy. Your daughter has been missing for 16 years. You're about to see her again for the first time in that long. Not to mention that an evil witch is after her and, as I mentioned, I would deduce that she's getting desperate. So what do you do? What's that? Get drunk with your buddy while singing some stupid drinking song that includes a word no one actually uses or understands? Ding, ding! Way to go, Dad. And Disney. As you learned from Dumbo, drunk idiots in a children's film are never not funny.

So then, the little witches smuggle Briar Rose to the castle BEFORE sundown. Because that's not inviting trouble. And then they're all like, "Let's leave her by herself! Nothing bad will happen!" How do you people manage to walk around without padding? And we trust you with magic?

Of COURSE Milleficent gets her. All you idiots really dropped the ball. And it was THE LAST DAY you had to pull off your cunning little plan. I think she's better off sleeping off the rest of her life if waking up means dealing with all of you.

So, there she is, waiting for the prince in a coma. And of course, her hair is perfect. The three little idiots come up with a plan that actually might work....rescue the prince, point him in the right direction, and tell him to go to there. And they give him weapons because, although they can't change spells, they can conjure weapons out of thin air. Magic Rules, section 105b.

And then we find out something that really makes me mad. Milleficent can turn into A FREAKING DRAGON. Wouldn't this have come in handy sooner? I mean, perhaps she could get her lazy rear out of her castle and do a couple fly-overs instead of depending on pig minions? Maybe she could have just torched the castle and all the inhabitants at the very beginning instead of waiting 16 YEARS? The stupid. It burns.

But not as much as the fact that, in spite of being a witch AND a dragon, she is, apparently able to be destroyed by a sword that THE FAIRIES MUST HAVE HAD THE ENTIRE TIME. Are they too small to lift it? Needed to give it to a human first? Who knows! THEY'RE FREAKING MAGIC, PEOPLE, AND MAGIC HAS RULES!

Anyway, Briar Rose wakes up as Aurora, marries the prince, and dances happily among the idiots, no doubt ignorant of the fact that she should have been destroyed as a baby or in the intervening years if everyone had their crap together, and that it was through sheer luck and MAGIC RULES that she is even currently living at all.

Probably better if she doesn't know.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The roots of empathy

I remember reading that it is right around the age Sam is now that kids start to develop empathy. Wikipedia (which is never wrong) states: Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion.

There is such a journey that kids have to go through to get to empathy, and eventually compassion. When we think about that journey from an infant who, at least it seems, has no concern for others in their need for sleep, love, attention, and food, to a full-grown adult who (hopefully) is able to feel what others feel and act on those feelings, that path is pretty extraordinary and full of pitfalls.

I think every parent of every normally developing child wonders at least briefly if their beloved offspring is some kind of sociopath. And yeah, they sort of all are. Sociopathy is defined by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentricity, and deceptiveness. If this doesn't describe all two and three year olds to a tee sometimes, I don't know what does.

Both of my children have always been sympathetic. Both have peppered their pretend play with dolls getting hurt with the attending "awwws" of sympathy as they are getting their band-aid. And I'll never forget soon after Sam was born when I had a full-on meltdown while he was crying, and he looked at me as if he understood that we were both so sad at that moment, that I was feeling what he was feeling. Being able to recognize feelings in others, simply that others have feelings, is important, but not the end of the path.

We were at the Museum of Flight last weekend when I saw this particular corner start to turn with Sam. We'd sat in the dark theatre to watch a movie about exploration of Mars (Sam is obsessed with space and space travel right now), and the film started with a brief piece about the first Mars rover, Spirit. Several scientists talked about its construction and launch, the hopes they had for it, how had exceeded those hopes, and how much the project had meant to them personally. The section ended by highlighting Spirit's last transmission before it died, and then there was a retrospective of pictures that it had sent to earth with some rather moving music. I glanced over at Sam to see what he thought, and he was tearing up. I asked him what was wrong, and he looked up at me with his tear filled eyes and said,

"It travelled so far, Mommy. And now it's all by itself."

I never thought that seeing Sam be moved to tears would involve a robot, but I'll be darned if that's the first surprise I've gotten during this whole parenting deal. I reached over and grabbed his little hand, and he squeezed it tight. We watched the rest of the movie together that way, and when it was over he said with determination,

"When I grow up, I'm going to be a scientist and go to Mars and go get it."

Oh, son, I love that you love that little lost spaceship, and that you imagine that it's lonely and scared out there on the red planet. Not only that, but that you are actually feeling yourself what you imagine it is feeling, and I love that you want to grow up and go get it and make sure that it's ok. I love that that part of your heart and mind is starting to open.

I'll need to keep in mind, though, that empathy can be a blessing but it can also be a heavy burden, especially when you're not used to it. Things get tougher in a lot of ways from here on out. Feeling what other people feel can be overwhelming. I'll do my best to help you navigate all of these new feelings as they come up, and to let you know that what you feel is ok and good. And I'll do my best to model it for you.