The Search for a Theme Song

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Before I had children, back when I was a twenty-something elementary school teacher in New York City and had just started dating my future husband, I used to watch the quirky television sitcom Ally McBeal. Though most of that show has sunk into the mists of my past, one moment sticks with me: the episode when Ally’s therapist tells her to pick a theme song for her life (and Ally spends the rest of the episode bopping along to “Tell Him.”)

This episode confirmed what I’d always felt to be true: Life had a soundtrack.

My life, at least, always seemed to have a soundtrack. As an only child, records (the kind that spun on a record player) filled the silence instead of siblings: Some of my earliest memories are of playing alone while listening to records of classic musicals – My Fair Lady, Annie, The Sound of Music, Guys and Dolls, The King and I. Later, the musicals were replaced by my parents’ old Cat Stevens and Beatles albums.

There were cassette tapes, too, especially after I started school. My first cassette was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. By middle school, we were making and exchanging mix tapes (lots of Billy Joel, as I recall.)

My first CD was the soundtrack to Disney’s The Little Mermaid. CDs remained the primary music media into my Ally McBealdays: We’d buy the latest album by U2 or Sting at Tower Records or Barnes & Noble and listen to it on our stereo or portable CD player. As a newlywed graduate student, I traversed Manhattan to a soundtrack of Tori Amos and Counting Crows.

The Dixie Chicks will forever be the soundtrack of my first pregnancy; Mumford & Sons accompanied my second.

But I worry that I’ve deprived my own children of a soundtrack for their lives.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

“It’s January”

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My 11-year-old daughter, usually my most centered child, was seething. Her hands clenched and unclenched at her sides, her breathing sped up, and she was gnashing her teeth – actually gnashing her teeth. (I’d never really witnessed teeth-gnashing until I had children of my own.)

“I just feel like I haven’t learned anything today!” she spewed out, throwing her pencil to the floor.

We’d passed hour three of our homeschool morning. Thus far, she had watched a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech before writing a short essay about her own dreams; she had read a chapter of the historical novel Johnny Tremain; she had completed a math lesson in which she learned why bees use hexagons to build their hives; she had spent 20 minutes working on her second semi-autobiographical novel; she had read and discussed a history chapter about the early Puritans, including a comparison of the various forms of government; and she had finished a page in her Latin workbook.

But she hadn’t learned anything.

If there’s one thing that parenting and homeschooling have taught me, especially as we enter the “tween” years, it’s that these outbursts are neither logical nor personal. In response to my daughter, I said, “I’m so sorry,” and went about my business.

I decided to follow up later, after she’d cooled down. That afternoon, when I was able to get her alone, I said, “So, that thing this morning about not learning anything? Was that just a blah morning, or was is something more long-term that we should discuss?”

She shrugged. “Just a blah morning. It’s January.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

American Girls

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On the second day of 2019, because everyone else had returned to school but our homeschooling family was taking a full second week of vacation, because our eldest daughter complained that “we never go anywhere,” and because we needed a change of scenery, we packed the minivan for an overnight trip to the Boston suburbs. It was a hastily conceived voyage, designed loosely around the goals of:

  1. Providing some sort of enrichment for our children
  2. Spending time with extended family
  3. Getting our youngest daughter to quit begging us to visit an American Girl doll store

That we were able to accomplish all of those things in less than 36 hours and live to tell about it seems near-miraculous. And it turned out to be a journey through the landscape of the American girl.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column (the first of 2019!) in The Addison Independent. 

Mudroom Mercy

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When we first looked at the house that is now our home, the realtor told us that all other prospective buyers had walked away after they saw it: The house’s layout was just too strange for anybody to figure out how to make it work.

Enter my husband, who, in a fit of visionary-ness, saw how we could make this half-finished house with the wonky floor plan work for us.

In order to make it work, we turned the first-floor living room and bathroom into our master bed- and bathroom. Our four daughters sleep in the second-floor bedrooms, and use the second-floor bathroom. (In our current stage of parenting, this setup provides me excellent exercise running up and down the stairs at all hours of the day and night.)

Our house’s floor plan figures into the story I’m about to tell. The crucial detail is this: The master bathroom is the only bathroom on the first floor, and it – and the master bedroom beyond it – are accessed by a door off of the kitchen.

This is a story about expectations. And I had great expectations that Thursday, a week after Thanksgiving.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” in The Addison Independent. 

Food, Freedom, Forgiveness: A Thanksgiving Meditation

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Well, here we are on the other side of Thanksgiving. A rather counter-cultural holiday, isn’t it? Or at least counter to what American culture has been becoming.

To begin with, Thanksgiving seems to have resisted much of the commercialization that’s hijacked other major American holidays. Traditions may differ for some, but in my family no gifts or greeting cards are exchanged on Thanksgiving. Unless you traffic in turkeys, cranberries, or decorative gourds, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is focused on a meal. Again, traditions differ, but most Thanksgiving celebrations involve gathering family members and friends together around a table to share food – and not food out of a box or a microwave, but food that’s been prepared by hand. For a time, many of those who sit down to a Thanksgiving meal talk to each other, presumably without electronic devices or screens. All of this – the gathering together, the conversation, spending an entire day preparing and enjoying a meal – is radical, because it happens so rarely in our fragmented, isolated, screen-focused, fast-paced society.

And the reason we gather for this meal? It’s there in the name: giving thanks. To sit around a table and feel gratitude for what we have, right then.

How weird is that? At no other time are we as Americans encouraged to say, “Thank you; this is enough.”

In fact, it’s such an uncomfortable feeling that we have to counteract it by making the very next day Black Friday, when all Americans are encouraged to binge shop for everything retailers say we need to feel like we’re enough.

There is a tension to all of this; a very American tension. A good way of uncovering this tension is simply to ask the question: What exactly are we giving thanks for on Thanksgiving?

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Daylight Savings

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“Could somebody please explain Daylight Savings Time to me?!?” my nine-year-old daughter wailed last week. “I mean, I just figured out how Leap Year works!”

We were in our minivan, driving a favorite babysitter home through the darkness that had settled upon us at five o’clock in the evening.

I explained to my daughter that Daylight Savings Time is a little bit like Leap Year: Both are systems invented by people to structure our seasons and our days. Leap Year insures that by rounding our years to 365 days, the seasons don’t get off-kilter with the weather; Daylight Savings insures that the shifting hours of sunlight remain within the working hours of each day (if you’re a farmer.)

As I explained these systems that I’ve come to take for granted, I felt awed by the impressive amount of coordination they represent. For centuries now, most of humankind has agreed to adhere to a calendar and a clock that are really nothing more than manmade constructions. We agree that it’s November of 2018. We agree that if it’s 6 PM in Vermont, then it’s 3 PM in California. Think about that for a minute: In what other realm of life, these days, can we see people cooperating to such a degree? Not many.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Our Newest Addition

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According to our family’s well-loved edition of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Hermes, the “merriest of the Olympians, was the god of shepherds, travelers, merchants, thieves, and all others who lived by their wits.” That’s a diverse set of patronages; the bottom line is that, although best known for zipping around in his winged shoes and winged helmet, Hermes was a bit of a trickster.

So it’s particularly appropriate that my daughters named their new kitten Hermes, since we were basically tricked into adding him to our family.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” in The Addison Independent.