Category Archives: grown up life

Brussels Sprouts Surprise; or, Not the End of Homeschooling

My 15yo (16 in two weeks!) passes through the kitchen while I am trimming Brussels sprouts—chopping off browning ends, halving them to roast.

“What are we having for dinner?” she asks, grabbing a glass for water, the better to wash down all that Easter chocolate.

“Kung Pao Brussels sprouts,” I say. “Oooh,” she responds. We’ve had them before, and everyone liked them, even though I couldn’t find the peanuts I had Just Bought for the recipe. (I saw them several days later at the bottom of a crisper drawer. Huh?) Everyone also agreed: add tofu next time. So I am.

As I keep slicing, I recall that when I was 15 I would have said “Ooooh” very differently – more of an “Ew!” – when offered Brussels sprouts. Though my kids annoy me sometimes when they get “full” of vegetables and then pile on the bagels and candy, I can’t deny that they are much more flexible, adventurous eaters than I was as a kid. I would not have been suggesting that we eat Brussels sprouts again soon, but next time with tofu. When I was 15 I would never have foreseen cooking Kung Pao Brussels sprouts with tofu for my own pleasure, let alone for the pleasure of children related to me.

In the last 15 (16!) years a lot of unexpected things have happened, after this weekend I’m ruminating on two of the big ones. I attended the Easter vigil last Saturday, the first one since my own baptism in 2002 (the vigil is not a child-friendly event IMHO). For all kinds of reasons, I’m still surprised to wake up and find myself Catholic, which was not a destination I had ever considered until I wound up there.

As for the other thing: On Good Friday, we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a family outing, to see the incredible Habsburg exhibit currently visiting. I was in Vienna just over two years ago, touring the museum from which most of the exhibition’s pieces were taken, and to connect with that again was to wonder anew at the opportunities have fallen totally unmerited into my lap.

But that’s not the other thing. We came home from the museum, my 11yo begging me to take her to Vienna ASAP, and gathered the mail. There we found my 15yo’s acceptance letter to our state arts high school: a two-year program designed to let artistically driven, academically strong students develop their skills in an arts area they are truly passionate about. I was thinking of it as a good test drive for a full-on 4-year arts school.

This was not unexpected. Admission is little competitive: about 60% get in, which seemed safe. Still, it was confirmation that she’d be enrolling full-time in a brick and mortar school in the fall, marking the end of an era that—possibly more than being a Catholic Christian—remains one of my most unlikely detours.

Obviously, that’s homeschooling. The 11yo is already attending a very loosey goosey brick and mortar charter school, and the 15yo is taking half her classes at a community college, so I’ve had a year to ease into the not-a-homeschooling-parent lifestyle. I won’t lie to you: the quiet is nice. And so very very sorely missed.

Homeschooling: the first month

Homeschooling: the first month

Still, homeschooling has so far been the most wild and wonderful adventure I could have taken while staying on the sofa in my pajamas. As I reach the end of this phase, there are so many things I could (and probably will!) say about the transformations and lessons of the past decade, but right now I am just drinking in the last days of this time of life. Sitting with my daughter today watching a video about famous Renaissance thinkers and artists—while the Brussels sprouts roasted in the oven—I could not have been happier. When the lecturer mentioned Petrarch – “pause it!” – Leonardo DaVinci – “pause it!” – or Savonarola – “pause it!” – I was so excited to take the conversation further with her. And she indulges me, because I get pretty passionate myself sometimes, and we all deserve a chance to indulge our passions.

So my time as a homeschooling parent is coming to an end—at least, that’s the plan. But my time as a homeschooler is not. I have a few helps-for-homeschoolers I hope I’ll finally have time to type up and make available: homemade curricula, dos and don’ts, admonitions and encouragements.

Homeschooling -- the end times?

Homeschooling — the end times?

Truly, that Brussels-sprouts-shunning 15-year-old me would be astonished by all of this: the vegetables, the church, the kids, the travel, the homeschooling. The Internet, for Pete’s sake.

And speaking of the Internet: I’m also going to start teaching at Online G3, which was about the biggest homeschooling help we ever found. Jaime Smith introduced me to the idea that homeschoolers are disruptive consumers, and over my years learning about education I believe that is true. Families taking part in innovative or experimental types of education are a small, grassroots market now, but the ideas and tools they generate will have the potential to improve education for everyone. I’m excited to be a part of that, and to find out what surprising turns we all might take in the next 15 years.

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Filed under gifted education, grown up life, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, Twin Cities, writing life

Happy Old Year

I know everyone is saying what a horrible year 2014 was, and we didn’t miss out on all that either. But my friend Heather posted a nice reflection on the past year and it gave me a good opportunity to remember just how many times I have felt ecstatically happy or just thoroughly content in the midst of it all.

I’m posting it here because a) I enjoyed doing it and though you might too, whoever you are, b) my response was way too long to post on my wall, and c) this way I can save it.

Here, give it a try tonight, or tomorrow, or this weekend — there’s no rush. It’s from a blog called Running Hutch, and this is her graphic, not mine.

Year-End-Reflection-by-Running-Hutch

Here’s what I came up with. If you feel like sharing, tell me in the comments, or on Facebook, or on the phone, or whatever.

10 Highlights
1. The whole Listen to Your Mother experience
2. Our Disney one-day marathon
3. Seeing friends in Reno
4. Spending time with extended family in Michigan
5. Seeing Elvis Costello and the visit with our friend Michael
6. An amazing colorful MN fall
7. Some very fun outings with local friends, camping, seeing shows, just chillin (and learning what an appropriate amount of alcohol is after 40)
8. Our SD trip, especially biking the Mickelson trail
9. Going to see the husband’s new band and enjoying having that as part of our lives again
10. Seeing my girls stretch out in a school setting

10 Disappointments
1. Auditioning for a local singing group and being told that I was amazing but not right for the group.
2. Spending a big part of the first few months with an injured finger
3. Getting the flu/pneumonia
4. Visits with my parents falling through due to illness or busyness
5. Not yet adapting to the new school schedule, so that I do more work during the day and have more time to relax with the family at night. (As opposed to being with the kids all day and working at night, as in the past.)
6. Not doing as much biking, camping, and swimming as I’d hoped this summer. Violet’s “summer school” issues and having 2 families with Victoria’s friends on the block move away really made this a bummer summer when we weren’t traveling or having friends.
7. Feeling unable and unsure how to help or make any positive impact on many difficult world events.
8. I didn’t do a lot of the writing that I planned to do.
9. My exercise schemes were constantly being derailed by injury and illness.
10. My time participating in our GT co-op and GT homeschooling group really petered out on a very negative note. This has been a hard one to get over.

3 Game Changers
1. Sending Victoria to school. Just talking about that seemed to open up more thoughts about how we all wanted to spend our days. Much like our first year or two of homeschooling led to lots of thinking about how we choose to spend our time.

2. Stepping down from my last leadership role. I have run something, usually lots of somethings, since stepping out of academia and into the world of motherhood, which is truly one volunteer role after another. This spring when I quit the board of our co-op, that was it – no leadership role in anything. This was terrifying, liberating, and sad for a variety of reasons. I love it and hate it.

3. Starting work with the first brand new client I’ve had in a while (worked with the same old for a long time). It’s a great opportunity to try new things, and also a goad to consider how I see my worklife in its middle third or second half. Funny how you can spend 20 years in a career and then feel like a novice again.

3 Foci
1. Work
2. Homeschooling
3. Procrastinating

3 Things I Forgot
The question is later rephrased as “What are the 3 main areas in your life that you neglected the most?” Based on my disappointments, I think the answers are obvious:

1. My well being
2. Being in charge of my work/writing life, instead of letting it happen to me
3. Saying no

How does this inform my plans for next year:

I am still in a transitional place, seeing about Violet going to school full time next year, thinking about what new kinds of writing work I want to pursue for pay, on the heels of my recent adventures. I also do miss running something. I’ve always liked the excitement of working with others to make interesting things happen, and it’s a good way for me to contribute to my various communities. But I don’t know that I’ve found the place where I want to do that yet. The kids’ schools are an obvious place and yet I feel like I’ve outgrown that kind of organizing.

I’d like to think the first half of 2015 will be about looking at those kinds of questions, while the second half will be about acting on what I’ve learned. It may turn out, however, that the first half of 2015 will be about getting through the end of homeschooling and the second half will be about a second act for me – which is OK.

Through it all, I know better now than I did a year ago that there is no such thing as “no time for exercise,” or for sleep, or for fun. I burned out big time right around my 40th birthday because I ignored these things for so long, and it’s been hard to climb out of the hole. It seems like, for me, right now, it’s never a mistake to prioritize these things over work, homeschool, or anything else.

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Running Notes, pt. 1

To make good use of my time I’ve been running (jogging? straining my hip flexors?) in a park near the high school where my 15yo homeschooler takes a Chinese class. I was thinking about starting a running or fitness blog, the way it seems briefly logical to start a blog to accompany any new endeavor these days.

In the end, I decided not to because the potential for feeling self-conscious or embarrassed seemed too high. I thought photos would make me feel silly, and my slow times and sad intervals would make me look stupid. The first day I added some slow jogging intervals to my walks, I had to force myself to keep bouncing slightly at my snail’s pace every time another Athleta-clad cougar—the kind for whom the phrase “keeping it tight” is not used ironically–came around the corner.

Little did I suspect that humiliation would look more like scraped shins, muddy knees, and several frantic text messages to my husband and daughter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When telling a story, going from beginning to end is not always the clearest route. If this story were a film it would start with me standing outside the shower, finding one twig, then another, then a third, while shaking the ponytail out of my hair. It would show my naked feet, then calves, while I hosed off dirt – and please God not poison ivy – and discovered likely future bruises. The scene would end as I discovered new tender spots and red scratches on my forearms – “Ouch!”

Only then would the story cut back to me running through a wooded park with the dawning realization that the nearest bathroom might not be near enough. A shot of my eyes shifting back and forth, realizing that what had looked earlier like dense brush and thick stands of trees was in fact a sparse collection of reedy branches and fallen logs. A sigh of frustration mingled with the sound of the streams that run under the picturesque bridges of my beautiful walking path. A shortening stride, a determined grimace, and finally, a furtive exploratory dash into a bank of small trees.

But no. I couldn’t do it. Thirty minutes til I’d be at a bathroom, tops. No problem. I emerged from the trees just as an older lady walked past, and I wondered how I looked with my t-shirt full of holes and my ill-fitting fanny pack, clambering out of the woods like an escaped convict. I moved quickly to get ahead of her.

I had started back towards my car at this point, but there was still a ways to go, and moving quickly seemed less and less an option. Finally, I saw my salvation. No, not a bathroom. A turnstile entrance into the nature center part of the park, sure to be less traveled than my running path.

The trees were not much thicker there, but the odds of avoiding another person were in my favor. I crawled back through thick brush and found a clump of thin trunks that might provide some privacy. I tossed my fanny pack aside, took a deep breath and – no. No. I had gone at least 30 years without, well, going in the great outdoors, and I would not break that streak now.

I made my way back to the path, tripping over a fallen tree and pulling a dead branch pointy end first into my chest. Unfortunately, by the time I had run this obstacle course, it was clear I was going to be peeing in that park, on purpose or otherwise. Back into the brush I went, looking for the thickest tree trunk, glancing quickly at the ground cover and thinking “Leaves of three, let it be?” Once more I tossed aside the fanny pack and braced myself for the sense of burning shame that comes only from popping a squat in a park in the middle of one of the Twin Cities’ toniest suburbs.

Reader, I saw a man about a horse. I spent a penny. I came forth from the copse victorious, empowered.

As any writer knows, the walk/run back the car was filled with ruminations on just how this narrative would flow when I got home. It would be the story of a 40-ish woman who found freedom on the trail and said yes to taking her pants off outdoors. Until I got to my car and discovered that my keys had fallen out of the fanny pack.

I’ll spare you that part of the adventure, though it involved me looking once again for likely makeshift outhouses until I gave up and only discovered my keys on the way back. By then my story of whimsical liberation had become the tragically familiar tale of an almost 45-year-old woman for whom perimenopause meant both poorly timed urgency and misplaced keys.

Cut to sweaty pick-up of daughter, an hour late. A shot of an inappropriately amused husband shaking his head. “Did you tell your co-workers that your wife peed in the woods and lost her car keys?” A long, smirking pause. “I’m not going to tell you what I told my co-workers.”

Fade out on a 40-something woman running along a wooded path in bright blue shoes and new fanny pack with an excellent zipper.

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The Sisterhood and My Traveling Pants; or, LTYM 2014

Many people have asked me about my experience reading for Listen To Your Mother – Twin Cities. This is my answer. It is not short.

Side note: I wrote most of it before hearing that Maya Angelou died today, but as the Internet filled with quotations I found this one especially apt: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

The Preparation

I did not practice my piece out loud alone, ever. In fact, even before my audition the only time I read it aloud was on a bench outside the audition venue, where it was about 35 degrees. Why I bother to wear makeup when any exposure to the elements turns me a blotchy pink remains a mystery.

I rehearsed only at rehearsals, briefly wishing I had honed my delivery better before choosing to pat myself on the back for not overthinking it.

I didn’t even obsess about my clothes. For a while I entertained the idea of buying something new, but fortunately I remembered that shopping for new clothes is at least as likely to be depressing as it is to be fun. Better to stick with the familiar: simple top, black pants. I had not seen the black pants in a few months, but no matter, they would materialize eventually. Wash enough clothes, and slowly they would rise to the top of laundry heap. Put it out of my mind.

Until the day before, when I still could not find my pants. Suddenly my pants and their absence were no longer a sign of my devil-may-care insouciance. My pants became the emblem of my unpreparedness for this event, if not for life in general. My inability to rein in or track down a single pair of black cotton-rayon blend pants was starting to represent the folly of the whole enterprise: exposing myself, quite possibly revealing that the emperor has no clothes.

After the drama these pants caused on my Facebook wall for days, I wish this story had a hilariously poignant ending. In truth I found the pants hanging on a hook in the kids’ bathroom, under a Hogwarts robe of the same black shade, the morning of the show, and that was that. Soul-searching time is over. Time to put on the big-girl black pants and read.

All dressed and ready to go

All dressed and ready to go

The night

I’ve auditioned for a couple of things lately, which has given me a chance to come face to face with what a chicken I’ve become. As a young woman auditioning for a cappella groups in college, I was self-confident to (past) the point of obnoxious. When a group groaned and told me they were tired of “Happy Birthday”–the song they told me to audition with–I said “Give me an A” and launched into a full recitative and aria from the Messiah, and then I turned them down when they called back. (Look, I’m just trying to be real here. I know it’s bad. Besides, I had a spot in the better group.)

So I’ve been surprised by the bundle of nerves that springs up when I poke my turtle head out into the world again. I’m presented with brand new, untried hurdles. Instead of “deep breath, best foot forward,” my self-talk sounds more like “she’s better than me, and oh no she’s better than me too, and what was I thinking” and so on.

I had been through this in the rehearsal process already, but the huge response the audience gave each reader made it all fresh and loud again. “My story isn’t that funny.” “My story isn’t that meaningful.” “My writing isn’t that poetic.” “My story isn’t that relatable.” And then, magically, my self-talk changed, and it said “Really, what are the odds that your story, your writing, your delivery are all the worst, that you’re the one who’s going to bomb when everyone else is doing so well?”

And they were doing so well. Every single woman stepped up and delivered the best reading of her piece yet. I was genuinely thrilled for each one, and it was truly like magic to watch each writer grow a little more expressive, a little more emboldened, sometimes a little more sassy. Every audience reaction, to the funny or the sad, provoked a fist-pumping “Yes!” in my heart. Throughout this process, without my realizing it, I had become a fellow bearer of these women’s stories. Their success was my joy, regardless of my individual performance.

I was second to last to read–the last before our co-producer Tracy brought it to a close. There are not a lot of words to say about it. I don’t know how personal or profound my story sounded to the audience. I laid out there, as best I could, a description of a major life transformation for which motherhood acted as the primary catalyst. (Video to come.) Though I think it was mostly funny, it touched lightly on some of the most vulnerable parts of me. And in response, people laughed, and said “ohhh” and “awwww,” and then, at the end, 500+ people clapped and yelled and cheered. I have gotten criticism and praise for my writing and ideas for 40 years, and I have sung other people’s songs for audiences large and small. But being seen and heard and embraced by a live audience, well that engenders feelings I could not have anticipated and can’t quite describe.

The takeaway

That feeling, it’s a big takeaway, but it’s something I can’t even begin to share or even use, because I don’t know how. So here’s something a little more practical and immediate.

As people began to ask me what my experience was like, I wanted to recommend it to them. I told writer friends in cities with an LTYM, “you should do this!” But it didn’t take long to recall that I have really awesome friends who have stories (everyone has stories), but who aren’t writers. Some, no matter how smart and thoughtful, aren’t even all that great with the written word. Yet I wanted for them that same experience of being seen, and known, and appreciated.

I am not as good at that as I would like to be. I do not click “like” on Facebook unless I am really feeling some serious excitement. I am suspicious of exclamation points. In person, I sometimes do not say hello to an acquaintance because I assume they don’t care about hearing it from me. I am surprised how often I think I’ve said something out loud, but it turns out it lived only in my mind. There are many reasons for this: good, bad, unknowable, idiotic.

Nevertheless since my LTYM experience I am resolved to pay it forward, to push past my scruples or decorum or shyness and give out more totally gratuitous recognition of both close friends and acquaintances. Gratuitous, as in it costs me very little to call out “Hi Jen” instead of smiling and looking down, or to comment “thanks for sharing” when someone posts interesting news. Gratuitous, as in no one need do anything especially amazing to earn it. Who they are is enough.

This is the gift I received, thanks to the effort and support of many people, including LTYM founder Ann Imig, and our Twin Cities co-producers Galit Breen, Tracy Morrison, and Vikki Reich. It is a gift I can try to pass on with very little effort at all.

TL;DR:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

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Twenty (Three) Years Ago: Lollapalooza, Pre-Geek Chic, and Love

[The following is an encore presentation. This blog post was previously published elsewhere, but Throwback Thursday photos of a certain leather jacket made me pull it out again.]

Do you remember August 1991?

Twenty years ago I was going to the very first Lollapalooza concert in Chicago. I was working at the Minnesota Daily, and the two other night editors and I decided to go together.

Vocabulary digression: the night editors were the last of the editorial team to see the paper before one of us drove it—drove it!—over to the printer in the middle of the night. A large part of our job was to maintain the integrity of the actual text of the paper once it had gone “Prod Side” (out of the editorial office and into the production office, housed in a completely separate building) and was in the hands of the art directors, advertising people, and other folks who were more concerned with visual appeal than the accuracy of the 4th largest newspaper in Minnesota.

Everyone working on the paper was probably 25 or younger, which explains why it didn’t occur to anyone that if all the night editors left town for the weekend (when the paper didn’t run) and for some reason couldn’t come back by Sunday night, the paper would be in a bit of a pickle.

Luckily, although all of us were brilliant editors and students, none of us were especially wise, and off we three drove in my tiny bright blue Honda Civic hatchback, which had been dubbed The Indigo Chariot by my roommate.

My memories of the trip are hazy, but I have to laugh at the things I remember:

—Chicago Pizza

—Ice-T as a young rapper instead of old actor

—Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction: For most of their set there were 2 girls with no pants dancing lethargically next to Mr. Farrell, as if grinding with a rock star would be the most boring thing they would do all day. I think they did some things that were supposed to suggest they were Maybe Bisexual (ooooh! Edgy!). I remember looking at Perry Farrell and thinking that he looked just like a super-nerdy former high school loser (trust me, I know) who now had the fame and fortune to force models to gyrate next to him in public. It was kind of sad. I’m curious whether they’ve maintained that part of their act 20 years later.

—Living Colour, which I was really into at the time for some reason

—The cute nerdy editor who drove my car a lot of the way. He was a little younger than me, highly geeky, and scrawny in that way that made me feel—at 5’9”, with the hottest, perkiest body I would ever have—more like an older sister than a potential love interest. Still, had I not moved away, who knows? “Geek Chic” was not yet something any sane marketer had considered, but I was totally charmed by this pale, glasses-wearing boy who confessed at the age of 20 that he still liked dinosaurs. (Bitchy young me: “Really? I liked dinosaurs too. When I was FIVE.”) Last I saw he was a city editor for the Onion, so you can see my instincts on the whole “So Nerdy He’s Hot” thing were right on.

—Henry Rollins scolding the crowd for not clapping enough for the Butthole Surfers, who totally sucked.

—The repeated failure of my car to start.

See, you knew where this was headed. In the morning, as we left our hotel bright and early so we responsible young editors could be back in Minneapolis with hours to spare, my car would not start. My beautiful First Car Ever, for many years the only car used among my groups of friends, was dying.

Photographic proof

Photographic proof


We got it to a service station, and their brilliant advice was to drive drive drive drive without stopping, because once I stopped it would not start again without a jump from a kind stranger. So we did just that. We headed out of Chicago and into the prairie until it seemed we would absolutely have to stop for gas. We stopped for gas, made panicked calls to whatever Daily staffers we could find (cell phones? this was 1991, people, there were no cell phones for college students), got a jump, and rolled into Minneapolis just in time for the three of us to do our jobs for the Monday morning paper.

Because we were the very last editorial staff to see the paper, that issue has more than a few inside jokes tucked away referring to our predicament, including a little line art representing my poor hatchback, which needed a fair amount of work before I could drive it off to graduate school a couple weeks later.

Somewhere after midnight we all walked to one of the editor’s apartments and tried to crash there, but we were so wired we stayed up talking all night. I think the other female editor and I flirted aimlessly with Cute Editor Boy, all of us knowing full well that we were the kind of people who went to alt rock concerts and danced like fools, then went home alone to read classic novels and recover from too much smoke and crowd noise and write about it all later.

Sometime before sunrise we walked Editor Boy to his apartment, then went for pancakes. I probably only saw the two of them a handful of times before leaving Minneapolis; there was no point in further developing relationships that were about to end.

The Indigo Chariot was fixed and I drove it, along with my mother, and my step-father and grandfather following in a station wagon, to Ann Arbor. I cried as we drove away: I loved the city of Minneapolis, I loved the music and the theater and the lakes, and I was just starting to figure out, at the age of 21, that there were boys out there who actually kind of liked tall nerd girls. On the way to Michigan, I stopped at the last exit of the Upper Peninsula to call my housemates in my new digs. I lay on my back on the floor of my hotel room and laughed with surprise when a boy answered the phone and identified himself as Eggmaster.

I hadn’t told anyone when I would arrive, so I told Eggmaster that getting him on the phone was the biggest relief of my life, still laughing from exhaustion and now from nerves. “I’m so glad I could be part of the biggest release of your life,” he said, and I don’t know whether he misheard me or decided to mess with me.

I met him a the next day: horn-rimmed glasses, a thin white t-shirt, black motorcycle jacket, black combat boots, long and heavy black bangs covering one of his eyes. I soon saw that his bookcase was full of Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald; I learned that he was a drummer and he loved Rush. Geek Chic indeed, except he was in no way scrawny, and he was —hurray!—a full four inches taller than me. I did not learn his position on dinosaurs. Despite our breathless, giggly phone conversation, we hardly spoke to each other for three weeks, so intense was our shyness and introversion.

Nevertheless, Reader, I married him.

When I read online that today Lollapalooza was marking its 20th anniversary, the incredible sweetness of August 1991, which seems so long ago, came rushing back. Though I am right now listening to my twelve-year-old daughter practice her Bach inventions, I remember another bright young woman who was just waking up to the surprising possibilities life has to offer, amazed that she, too, might have a chance at love, joy, and just a little reckless abandon.

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Not Too Busy

One of my favorite life mentors, someone I worked with at my first church, told me years ago that she had struck the word “busy” from her vocabulary. She told me, too many people – many of them moms – seemed to be in a misguided competition in which a state of near collapse was a sign of winning.

She was going to abstain, helping to make a space where other women could be OK without proving their worth by the lack of unclaimed territory on the calendar. You can see why I would think of her as a mentor.

What she said really struck me, because I was, at the time, always busy. Always telling people I was busy, tired, “crazy,” and often too busy for whatever fun activity they were proposing. I’d never met a volunteer position I couldn’t fill or a freelance client I couldn’t add to the roster.

I tried to take what she said to heart. I really did. But instead I pretty much rode the roller coaster of energy bursts, depression, burn out, guilt, hyperproductivity, resentment, and “yes, sure, I’ll do it.” The only difference was I tried not to talk about it. This did not help.

Sadly that mentor floated out of my life. She took a new job, I moved and went to a new parish, and life closed over that particular connection. But her words come back to me from time to time. Times when I’m saying “no” to everything that matters to me and “yes” to stuff that no longer fits.

It’s not even that the “yes” stuff is bad. Sometimes I’m slow to let go because for a while it was a source of joy or satisfaction. Sometimes it’s because I feel like I must, because it’s expected, whether by people who will be disappointed in me, or by myself, me with the impossibly high standards for what is enough. It turns out, for some of us, enough is never enough.

But it hasn’t been for nothing. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and I’m getting better at pruning to make new and healthy growth possible. My best one, I think, is overschedule the good stuff.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and if you came and looked at my living room you’d know that I do too. Creating space in the calendar is wonderful, but let’s be realistic. If it were so easy for you—you, meaning you who are like me—to keep that space open you wouldn’t be pondering the tyranny of busyness again and again.

Find some new “yeses” to hold that space open. Make them easy, and involve other people, who will hold you to it even if they don’t know they are part of your secret plot to be less crazy. Dessert, wine, coffee, a walk, a tea party, a Wii party. Making apple pie with your kids.

Say you’ll go to a movie even if there’s no time to go. Go for a walk in the woods before you get your work done. You’re hyperresponsible: there’s no way you’re going to miss that deadline, but there’s a good chance you’ll miss a lot of other stuff.

I found my old mentor on Facebook today and refriended her. I don’t know if we’ll reconnect, and it’s OK if we don’t. But if we do, I won’t make lame excuses about being busy.

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In the Wayback: Muriel’s Wedding

There’s circuitous route to how I got the the main subject of this post, but it’ll just take a minute. For reasons I won’t get into I’ve had to pay a little more attention to my teen’s online life. One thing I’ve learned: she will reblog nearly any pro-woman, pro-gay, pro-transgender, pro-feminism, pro-choice, anti-rape post that crosses her path on tumblr, and she will call out female friends who say they are not feminists. I’ve started compiling a list of “feminist films for teens,” so we can watch some together and with any luck even talk about them a bit. (I’ll post it later, but feel free to share any thoughts.) As I’ve been building up my Netflix queue and reading through lists, I’ve also come across lots of movies that I loved as a young woman, to watch again.

Muriel’s Wedding holds up well, largely because of its two lead actresses, Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette. Both have proven in later films and television (“Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara,” for example) that they can really act. So although Entertainment Weekly was right in saying that the movie is flawed because we never really see who Muriel is, underneath, because she’s Toni Collette we instinctively feel there must be something of depth and value there.

There’s far less dancing in the movie than I remembered. I watched it thinking I would see several scenes of lip synching to Abba. There’s one, and it’s fabulous, but apparently I merged my own joyful apartment-bound Saturday nights with my memory of the movie. I would have sworn the girls performed Fernando together, but I guess that was me and my roommate instead.

I don’t know what happens to Muriel at about 1:10, but that’s where her transformation starts. Somehow at 1:33 she’s already a different person, even if she needs the rest of the movie to really feel it.

As so often happens when I watch movies from my past, I can’t help noticing my sympathy shift from daughters to mothers. When Rachel Griffiths, as Rhonda, tells her mom “I love you but you drive me nuts” as she leaves home, I think of my own teen daughter at least as much as I think of my mom, a line of strong, slightly(!) demanding women who love each other like crazy but need their space. If I raise my daughters well, there will only be room for one XX human in this house someday. And Muriel’s mom — well, I’m not sure what I think of that plot twist, but the small, cowed life she lives must be one big reason why Muriel runs like hell in the other direction, however stupidly.

I would watch this one with Violet, if she wanted, but I don’t know if the ABBA obsession would be enough to carry her through, and the idea that a wedding is life’s great prize might not be so much wrongheaded to her as utterly foreign.

Is it “feminist”? I have to put that word in quotes because I don’t know what that means as an adjective describing a movie. It passes the Bechdel test, women in the movie can be sexual without being slutty, Muriel is overweight without it being the focus of her character or the movie: in other words, women can talk and have bodies on their own terms.

But I loved the last scene in particular, where the girls ride away from their hometown of Porpoise Spit in a taxi, first shouting “goodbye” out the window to the mall, the beach, the plaza, and then just smiling at each other. It reminded me–somewhat randomly–of the end of “Valley Girl,” when Nick Cage and what’s-her-name look at each other and smile as they ride away from the chaos they caused at the Valley High prom. It’s a “yeah, we just did that” look and a little bit of a “you and me against the world look.” For Muriel and Rhonda especially it’s an “I love you, too” look, because the prize for Muriel at the end of “Muriel’s Wedding” is not a husband or a boyfriend, it’s a friend who thinks she’s awesome for no particular reason at all. So much so that she can believe it too, even without a wedding.

Wayback rating: Worth the trip

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Filed under grown up life, homeschooling high school, Movies, raising girls