Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Obama: Give Me "Cool" Any Day

I just read a blurb in my fave news magazine, The Week, that President Obama (herein referred to as The Big O because I am in that kind of mood) is "cool." So obvious is his coolness factor that Karl Rove's American Crossroads Super PAC has focused its strategy on using it against him, calling him a "celebrity" and attempting to turn coolness into a political liability.

What the hell is the matter with people? So our country's leader likes music. He likes to sing Al Green tunes and jam with blues musicians on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and most likely other, less public, venues. He was interviewed on The View, where he gently but astutely corrected Elisabeth Hasselbeck's erroneous assessment that he and Mitt Romney basically held the a similar view of same-sex marriage (tsk, tsk, Liz...journalists should always do their homework or risk looking like amateurs). He also admitted to not knowing anything about the controversial best-selling sexual/bondage/S&M adventure, Fifty Shades of Grey, but jokingly assured his lady friends that he would ask his wife about it. The Big O also plays a decent game of hoops and seems to get his groove on by spending time with his daughters. Wow. Shame on him, right? How dare the President of the United States behave like...a regular guy.

I for one find that quality entirely refreshing. I love that my country's president behaves in ways that might embarrass his kids now and then. Perhaps because I have been both complimented and chastised for acting like the person I am regardless of where I might be or who might be with me, I totally appreciate The Big O's blurry boundary between the private and the public self. I respect the way that both he and his wife have redefined their roles as President and First Lady, not by pointedly doing anything to be different from their predecessors, but precisely by just being themselves. Yes, they have brought a certain flair to the White House. But it's more than that. They have brought a youthfulness, a vitality, a quality I would almost describe as joyful to their duties. Yes, they take their jobs seriously. But no, they're not going to take themselves too seriously.

I can see why the GOP is a bit unnerved by all this "coolness." Mitt Romney is to being hip what I am to being traditional. He reminds me of a paper doll, whose commitment to various stances is about as flimsy. He will never be cool, hip, groovy. He does not put off a fun-loving vibe. He is, actually, quite wooden. Great teeth, perfect hair, that whole Ted Danson-forehead/eyebrow thing...but I can't imagine him letting go and cutting loose. He seems so tightly wound, so...starched shirty and focused on what everyone thinks of him (though, admittedly, he was not too concerned about that when he drove around with his dog strapped to the roof of his vehicle).

I am not saying that being cool makes a man an effective president. I am saying that being cool doesn't automatically make him an ineffective president. It should not matter one iota if The Big O wants to jam the blues or if Mitt wants to...flip-flop on the issues. Oh, no wait. That latter part actually does matter. 

My point--and I do have one--is that being cool is not a reason to judge someone negatively. Don't like his politics? His performance? His beliefs? Fine, that's your prerogative. Don't vote for him. But don't hate on him because he leaves Mitt in the dust when it comes to personality.

This is a guy who created more private sector jobs in 2010 than his predecessor did in all 8 years in office. He extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. He signed the CARD Act to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive credit card practices. He enjoyed a 96.7% success rate in winning congressional votes his first year in office, an unprecedented achievement. His list of accomplishments is long and varied.

I'm confident that making Mitt Romney look even more stiff is not intentional; it's not a political ploy. It's just a bonus.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In Search of the Perfect House

It doesn't exist, this perfect house I've built in my mind. 

Rick and I have been house hunting now for months. We need to choose one and be done with the search. The only other house I've ever owned was in Windsor, Colorado. I knew it was the house I wanted to raise my kids in the second I set foot in it. There was never any question; 900 Juniper Drive was home.

Finding the house we want is proving more difficult this time around. For one thing, Rick and I come from vastly different backgrounds. In all honesty, I could live in a primitive log cabin and be perfectly happy. Do I love the jacuzzi?Absolutely. Do I like living on the water? More than I can say. Is having an elevator in my home a necessity? Ummm, no. It moves at the speed of smell, as Max would say.

But my relationship with luxury is relatively young, and at 47, I know this about myself: I prefer the simplicity that comes with not having much in the way of material things. I would like to have room for a piano. I need a functional, brightly lit home office. And I want--almost more than anything else I could ever think of--a big porch or deck. No one uses a porch more than I do. Seriously...if it has a cover, I will likely live on it. If not, I will likely live on it. That would be me, bundled up in layers, boots and gloves covering my appendages, sitting on the porch swing or rocking chair in the middle of winter. I love the cold. I love the snow. And I love swingin' and rockin'.

We have toured homes of 5000+ square feet, and we will tour one this weekend that is just under 3000 square feet. We have walked through homes in the woods and homes on the water. We have admired the views from expansive backyards and lamented the absence of wood-burning fireplaces. We have appreciated functional floor plans and questioned decorating tastes (What were they thinking, installing pale pink seashell-shaped sinks?). We have toured a home built in 1901, one constructed in 2007, and many that were erected sometime in between. After seeing about eight houses, we can remember aspects of each one we saw and put them together to build the perfect house for our family.

But the reality is this: No one house is going to provide everything we'd like to have, be that desire big or small. We can build on or install those aspects of a house we truly want if necessary. We can knock down walls and add skylights. Rick reminds me that what will make our house special is turning it into a home, and he has faith that I can make that happen in any setting. His confidence makes me smile, because I know that what makes a house a home is the sound of laughter, the squabbling of siblings, and the knowledge that within those walls, we are all beloved.

Yeah, I can do that.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2011: An Evolutionary Year

Wow. Time passes so quickly when you're immersed in living. I last posted a column several months ago, though I've thought many times to myself, "Oh! This would make a great essay!" as an intriguing idea or topic coursed through my brain. Unfortunately, I'm still trying to acclimate to waking at 6:00 almost daily; by 9:30pm, I'm wiped out. And those hours in between are spent working, ferrying kids back and forth, fixing meals, shopping for meals, or trying to keep up with this giant house and its many needs. I, a voracious reader, have not cracked open a book in weeks. That's criminal.

But it's almost my birthday, and that is the time of year at which I look back and take stock of my life. I will turn 47 this weekend. Forty-seven! That's almost 50. That's almost a half-century. That's almost...old. Older. Kind of old. I am grinning as I type because no matter how I word it, 47 is older than I ever thought I would live to be. I'm sure if Dad is reading this, he can remember when I, in all seriousness, declared my certainty that I would not make it past 19 because everyone on the planet annoyed the shit out of me. I am returning that favor to my teenagers these days, who find me obnoxiously annoying simply because I draw breath. I've tried to accommodate them by experimenting with ways to inhale and exhale (read: live) without actually opening my airways. Fun Fact: It's impossible. And so...I annoy them.

But seriously, as I recollect the past 365 days of my existence, I marvel at how different my life is now compared to then. When we are actually in the moments that comprise our days, it is nearly impossible to recognize those that will eventually be acknowledged as life-altering. But reflection offers crystal-clear magnification; it allows us to view our lives as a sort of slide show. Oh, look! There's Becky and Tavia holding up the Christmas tree that wants so badly to fall over, and hey! Here come's Tuck through the front door to save the day. 

Another slide reveals a surprised and visibly elated Tuck as his eclectic group of friends surround him in celebration of his 15th birthday in what Tuck eventually described as the best party he's ever had. 

And in another scene, there I am, packing boxes and crying because I'm thoroughly exhausted and torn between needing to move on and not wanting to move my kids from the only home (and community, and friends) they've ever known.

I watch as the kids and I make the monumentally difficult decision to let go of our beloved Oliver, whose seizures claimed his canine dignity and comfort. We surround him with love there on the vet's office floor as he takes his last breath and gently lays his head in my hand. We say goodbye.

In my mind's eye I see myself growing more frustrated and beleaguered as I try to maintain the house I sacrificed to stay in all those years, the one I lovingly painted and decorated and made into a home. I can't physically do it alone. I can't stay there, being told that it's not really my house anyway, that somehow, all the sweat equity I've accrued over the 12 years means nothing. I weep, for all the disappointment and loss. And then I resolve to keep my splintered family together because whether these kids know it or not, we are strong enough to start over somewhere else and create something wonderful. Different, yes. But wonderful nonetheless.

My brain cannot think of the most challenging moments without also conjuring memories of those most rewarding and enriching. I see myself in Mexico with Rick, where we slept late and indulged ourselves in whatever way we felt like indulging. Time ceased to exist, and we just enjoyed basking in each other's company. The breathtaking sunsets and crashing waves of the Caribbean didn't hurt, either.

I see Rick again, reaching out to my kids with patience and a genuine desire to make them feel comfortable. He knows it's a tough crowd. My kids are loving, but they're products of my influence: They say what they think and they aren't exactly in a place of great trust. I watch as he gently enters the sphere of this family in a manner that is at once cautious and yet oddly confident. He recognizes the importance of building relationships with my children; he knows I value their feelings and opinions. He understands that to embrace me is also to embrace my tribe. As weeks pass, I watch them accept him, welcome him, tread easier around him. He is with us when he can be, and we always look forward to his arrival.

As the year winds to a close, I see us pile into the van: Max, Tuck, Bella, and I (Tavi stayed in Windsor a few days longer), along with our two remaining dogs, Kya and Scout. We drive 2000 miles across the country and I marvel that the trip is so uneventful and, well, smooth. Ok, as smooth as it can be with four people and two dogs in an enclosed, moving vehicle. All in all, that trip could have been a nightmare and was pleasantly not.

Then there we are, Max having left for foreign shores, the three kids and I searching for our place in this new community. There are good points and bad, and in my most recent poll, I am told by all three that they would not choose to be living in Colorado now. Yes, they miss their friends. Very much. Yes, Bella misses her dad. Yes, school is better in some ways, worse in others. Typical issues that accompany a typical move. I miss my friends too, achingly so. I miss my old office, which was beautiful and bright and the only space I've ever occupied that felt like it was truly and only mine. 

But we are adjusting and finding things to appreciate: Bella and I especially love the ocean that sits right outside our front door. We love to go down to our pier, where I relax and she explores, showing me her found treasures. Tavi marvels at how quickly she's made friends, good friends, and how easily she transitioned into her school. Tuck has arguably struggled the most, but he also was the one who left the most behind, being oldest and having just embarked on a music career. But even he has found a core group of friends and has begun performing publicly. And we are all lucky because those people we love visit us. Our dear friends Jennie and Tim stayed for a few days. My sister was here to help us with the move. The girls' dad has visited once. Tavi's friend Ali just spent a week with us, and Tuck's friend Dakota will be here on Friday. I'm pretty certain to see Wendy and Tami here in Vacationland before 2012 comes to a close, and the girls are going back to Colorado for the second time in four months this weekend.

We are learning a lot. The move, which foisted our little gang into unfamiliar territory, brought us even closer. We have relied on one another in ways we didn't before, and I realized not long ago, as we sat around the dinner table and laughed and sang and talked, that my kids are friends. A stranger remarked on this phenomenon a couple weeks ago, when Max was visiting and we all were out together. She was amazed at how much my kids seem to like each other, and how much fun they had just talking with one another. I think our self-imposed exile from all that we had known made us appreciate each other more, even as we continue to fight and argue about things we one day will look back on and wonder why.

I also believe that this leap of faith has served to show my children how resilient and strong they are. What they did was not easy, and each has exacted a toll from me in his or her own way. I accept that, because what I essentially did was ask them to trust me, to believe in my wisdom, to blindly go far away. I asked them to think back on their own lives and consider if I had ever let them down or led them astray. I asked them if I'd ever lied to them, or even put my own needs or desires ahead of theirs. They knew I had not, and so they reluctantly took the leap with me. And ever so slowly, their new lives are unfolding. And whaddya know? Those lives aren't too shabby.

It's been a tough year. A tender year. An evolutionary year. A year that serves to remind that we are never too old to change, to grow, to risk. It's been a year that underscores the value in staying true to oneself, in recognizing a good thing when you see it and holding onto it. A year that reminded me that struggle is part of the glory, and trusting my gut is always the right thing to do. 

And so I embark on my 48th year with gusto and a belief that the good I put out into the world is coming back to me in spades. I have the love of a solid man and love him back like nobody's business; my children are good, interesting people whom I adore; I get paid to do something I love, which in turn helps keep my family going; and I find something to laugh about every day. I wake up to the sound of sea gulls every morning and coffee brewing in the kitchen. I regret little and have much to appreciate.

I am joyful.