The Perfect Timing of Books

Reflection #4

I’m pretty certain that every time I have prepared for a move, I have packed my books first. Partly because they are the easiest things to pack into boxes and I feel like I’m making real progress as they disappear from the shelves. Did I mention that I hate packing?

Packing up the books also forces me to purge the titles that are no longer serving me. I do believe that books are intended to serve us. As C.S. Lewis states, “We read to know that we’re not alone.” Books are so critical in ushering us through so many phases in life, even if it is merely a phase of complete and utter boredom.

In order for books to be of service, they must come into our lives with perfect timing and that they do. I love those moments when I’m talking to someone about something going on in my life and they say, “There’s a great book I read about that.” or I’m sitting on a train and I see someone reading a book that resonates and I know I’m supposed to have it. My next stop is usually the bookstore. The synchronicity of books is a beautiful thing.

While I was packing up my books this time around, I had an unexpected, yet perfectly timed, magical moment with an old book. A book I read about twenty years ago, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron is a course in recovering one’s creative self. The first time I read it, I was in my mid-twenties and really cannot remember what motivated me at that time. Now, as I’m facing a huge life transition, including a career transition, this book could not have found me at a better time. I felt like I ran into an old friend.

To anyone reading this, I’d like to invite you to have a little fun. Go to your bookcase or your local bookstore and allow yourself to be led by the things weighing on your spirit. Or if you’re sitting on a train or a bus, look around and see if anyone is reading something that catches your eye. Allow yourself to be open to the perfect timing of books. If you are so moved, share a comment on this post of what you found.

And if you’re not a reader . . .well, here are some words of wisdom that may get you to reconsider. . .

“If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t f**k them. Don’t sleep with people who don’t read!”–John Waters

The Irony of the World Cup in the Era of Trump

Reflection #3

Fortunately for me, the drudgery of packing has been against the backdrop of the World Cup. For Americans, the arrival of the World Cup is a bit like Girl Scout cookies.  After finishing that last Thin Mint from April’s month-long cookie binge, life goes back to normal and the brain moves on to other priorities. Then, January comes around and you catch a glimpse of that cookie order form and it’s as if Girl Scout cookies were the most important thing in your life.

So it is with the World Cup. The drama of the most recent World Cup ends and we go back to our sports cycle of baseball, football, hockey, basketball. . .rinse and repeat for three years. Then, the world flags start to emerge at the local bars, the commercials start to play(Volkswagen really nailed it this year) and we’re sucked back into the excitement as if it had never left us.

There is a bit of irony to this World Cup as it is the first to take place in the era of Trump. For starters, for the first time since 1986, the United States Men’s National Team did not punch their ticket to the show. The road to defeat started with a loss to Mexico in the November 11, 2016 qualifier.  .  .a mere 3 days after Trump was elected as the President of the United States. Given all of Trump’s bloviating about Mexico, its citizens and the like, you might say karma acted pretty swiftly. Trinidad and Tobago landed the knockout punch about a year later.

The more poignant irony is that while this wonderful celebration of the countries and peoples of the world is going on, the US President is taking brown children away from their families, criminalizing their mothers and fathers as if neither they nor their children have a meaningful contribution to make to the world. It’s beyond disgusting. I spent my days cheering for Iran, Mexico, Iceland and Nigeria and my nights in tears seeing the trauma that was being inflicted on these babies by my own nation.

And beyond the celebration of the diversity of nations that the World Cup inspires, the cultural representation on many of the leading squads is a sight to behold. The French team alone has players with roots from the Congo, Mali, Algeria, Senegal, Togo and Cameroon, to name a few. Athletes that hail from countries that Trump would consider “s**tholes” are bringing joy and beauty to one of the few sports that unites our nations. Perhaps Trump will send our own USMNT player, Jozy Altidore, packing next year; he is the son of Haitian immigrants.

My point is pretty simple. Xenophobia and racism are just stupid. They don’t make any sense at all. And thank you to London for that big Trump baby balloon and your spirited opposition to hosting a racist and a monster.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in a Masters program overseas that included a cohort of people representing 17 different countries from 6 continents. I was just texting this morning with one of my closest classmates, a German woman married to a Pakistani man living in London. They happen to be visiting one of our other classmates in Singapore right now. We were discussing how cool it is that there will always be somebody we know wherever we go. It really is a gift. But she said it best when she said,

“If you only know your own front steps, you’ll never get over your fear of change and people who are different to you. Only exposure and friendships can bring us closer.”

Maybe it’s not possible for everyone to travel the world, but a tournament as spectacular as the World Cup really does say it all. And if you find yourself cheering on Lukaku or Pogba, but you don’t want their brethen crossing your borders, then perhaps you’re not getting it.

Now on to the Final!!  Allez Les Bleus!!!

Reflection #2: Longing for the Days When We Held Music in our Hands. . .

Longing for the Days When We Held Music in our Hands. . .

Reflection #2

I am unapologetically a Generation Xer. Born in 1972, I take tremendous pride in being a part of the generation that straddles the divide between the Baby Boomers’ tumultuous sixties and the Millennials’ digital era.  I remember the struggle of dialing a rotary phone and having to get up from the couch to change the one of seven channels on the television. Out the door first thing on a Saturday morning and back before it was too late with our parents not having a clue where we’d been.

But the coolest thing about us Gen Xers is that we have been on the frontlines of music’s evolution throughout the decades. Our early years were defined by vinyl records in cardboard jackets. Some were our own, most were our parents. Either way, we spent hours learning how to lay the needle just right on the record and then we’d sit with the jacket in hand and read the lyrics or scrutinize the artwork. I remember when my friend Christy got the The Family album, Prince’s first project band with Paisley Park. They sang the original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and we would pass that record jacket back and forth to catch every lyric or to try and style our hair like the female lead.

We were adolescents and teenagers when music ushered in the portability of the cassette tape and the emergence of the boom box. Now we could bring Prince, Duran Duran and Madonna every where we went and even though the cassette jacket was reduced in size, we still read and reread it to get the story behind the music.  From the jacket, we learned that even though MJ became a solo act, his brothers sang back up vocals on his Thriller album. All was still well in the Jackson family.

The compact disc changed our lives. We said goodbye to all of that rewinding and fast-forwarding and were introduced to the concept of “shuffling” on a multiple disc platter. Oh, the joy!!! But even though the technology got a little more sophisticated, the jewel box was still everything. It was thinner, sleeker and it brought the artwork from the cassette back to a respectable sized booklet. The jewel boxes also made such a cool clicking sound when you rifled through them at the music store.

It was actually my long neglected collection of CDs that prompted these meanderings. As a middle-aged Gen Xer, I’m down with Pandora, Spotify and iTunes. Most of the forty-somethings I know seem to have weathered music’s transition to the Digital Age pretty well. So much so that I had an entire debate with myself on whether or not to pack the CDs. I knew that I could access any song in that collection with some keystrokes and a click of a button. . or if I was really lazy, I could just say, “Hey Google.”

But, as I picked them up and started to look through the booklets, I remembered how good it feels to hold music in my hands. I began to remember where I had been when I bought certain CDs and why. The mad dash to Tower Records, trying to get that stupid sticker off on the side so I could open the jewel box. The best was discovering a song on the LP that hadn’t yet been debuted on the radio and realizing that IT is the best song on the album.

Some of my best memories are of driving into New York City with my dad to go to J&R Music World. It felt as big as a city block and I would just watch him walk around looking at records, reading jackets, talking to salespeople. At first, I didn’t understand why he would drive 40 minutes into the city for music, but I quickly learned that walking around a music store, holding that music in his hands allowed him to slow down, to savor the art and to share it with me.

There is a novelty to sitting at a computer and creating the ultimate Spotify playlist of 90’s R & B hits or perfect songs for a cookout. And the convenience and speed with which we can do it is amazing. But, perhaps there is a cost to how we create and appreciate music today.

I don’t know for sure.

I do know that I am not much of a consumer of popular music these days. Between all the garbage that is put out there, there is some real talent. . .Adele, Bruno, Kendrick.  But there’s something missing. Now, it is possible that this is the start of a Gen Xer’s slow drift into grumpy old person phase.  But I have to say, downloading a bunch of songs just doesn’t compare to holding an artist’s work in your hands. Records, cassettes, CD’s. . they made us slow down and listen and look. They gave us a space to connect with our friends and our families. . .even ourselves.

I decided to save those CDs.

Cheers to all of you fellow Gen Xers out there with your dust-covered vinyl, tapes and jewel boxes. I see you.

UP NEXT: Reflection #3: The Irony of the World Cup in the Era of Trump

Reflection #1: The Inventor of the Stuffed Animal was a Genius. . .and 4 other reflections while packing up our stuff.

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The Inventor of the Stuffed Animal was a Genius. . .and 4 other reflections while packing up our stuff.

Once one commits to making a move, the dreaded reality of packing soon follows. I decided to get an early start on my packing so that I wouldn’t experience that last minute frenzy that typically comes with moving. It is funny the thoughts that come to mind when we grudgingly put the things we’ve collected along the way into boxes.

Reflection One: The stuffed animal industry is the most brilliant racket EVER!

You’ve been there. You’re at the zoo or a museum or a street fair and you find yourself being stared down by a cute, little furry animal with those button eyes that make you melt. You pick it up and squish it and pet it and make high pitched noises because of the cuteness and next thing you know, you’re at the register buying yet another stuffed animal for your kid because they have to have it. . .because it’s so cute and what better way to remember that you saw a hammerhead shark at the Georgia Aquarium with Grandpa than to buy one.

And how sweet when your kid names it “Sharky” because he names all of his stuffed animals by their actual animal name. . .”Mr. Bear”, “The Other Mr. Bear”, “Orcy”(the killer whale), “Snakey”..the list goes on and on. (We ran into a little snag when we got a second shark, a Great White . . .Sharky was taken, so he named it Whitey. . .problem solved). I shook my head every time I heard him say how much he loved Whitey or that he was going to play with Whitey or how much fun Whitey was. These just aren’t things you expect to hear from your six-year old Black son on a daily basis.

But it was okay because he looked so cute nestled up to Whitey in bed, surrounded by all of his other animal friends. Big ones. Little ones. Famous ones. Well-worn ones. Friends representing all of the adventures he has had in his life or a souvenir from a stop on his father’s Spearhead tour or a hand-me down animal from family and friends.

But, then he turns 13 and suddenly, all of those adorable animals are relegated to the top bunk, never to be hugged or pet again. Just like that. And in a fit of denial, you find yourself making your son hug Mr. Bear and Sharky because they are probably lonely. (Yes, I actually did that and Emmanuel was certain that I was crazy). After having traveled through all of the other stages of grief, you finally get to acceptance and go animal by animal with your son deciding which ones to keep and which ones to give away. It’s heart wrenching.

So, the inventor of the stuffed animal was a GENIUS. . .and the biggest con artist. How cunning to create these adorable, furry, lovable replicas of animals to lure family and friends into spending hundreds of dollars on them without ever letting on that one day, your kid is going to grow up and be like, “meh”.

I did not see it coming.

I’m sure in an effort to appease me, Emmanuel decided to keep about 6 of his stuffed animals to ship in the move. He even took Sharky with him to California. The rest are in bags ready for the Goodwill.  I have not mustered the will to drop them off yet. I contemplated throwing them in a box and surprising Emmanuel with them when he joins me next year, but I’m afraid that just might push the boundaries of my crazy with him.

People, if any of you have kids in your lives that are still of the stuffed animal buying age, it’s too late for me, but save yourselves.

And if you can’t resist that adorable limited edition, vintage Pooh Bear that you know is going to be released in conjunction with the upcoming Christopher Robin movie, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

TOMORROW:. . . Reflection Two: Longing for the Days When We Held Music in our Hands


Parenting Out Loud

As I prepare for this great adventure, it’s not lost on me that the other side of this “mom”bbatical is the reality that my son’s father will be actively parenting our son full time for a year. It’s one thing to have your kid when he’s on vacation and free from the demands of school and friends and the other random stresses that befall a thirteen-year old boy. It’s another to manage his wants, needs, moods, messes and smells on a regular basis. Sometimes, a teenager can be nothing more than an annoying roommate who doesn’t pay any rent.

In the midst of confirming the plans for the “mom”bbatical, Emmanuel’s father texted me saying “If you have any thoughts, feelings, advice and/or experiences to share about him, the door is always open, Tara. I wish it was in a Zip drive that I could load in my brain. . .info to help me better support his growth.”  I found it to be a very humble and gracious sentiment to communicate as he reflected on what he was about to undertake.

Of course, there is no way to download every experience, insight or challenge, but I did offer him this:

“My secret is that I parent out loud. I’m totally vulnerable and transparent with him in my process. . so he knows I’m not trying to front like I have all the answers. I think it has helped us to stay close…”

I’ve learned over the years that vulnerability in parenting has been so critical in my relationship with my son. It has opened deeper levels of authentic connection and trust between us and has provided the space for honest communication about everything.  And let’s face it, kids can usually sniff out the BS anyway.

One of our most memorable exchanges came courtesy of his fifth grade health class. One day, Emmanuel walked in the door from school, dropped his backpack on the floor, looked at me and said, “We learned about oral sex in health class today.” That was his lead in. No “Hi Mom.”, no hug…just the words “oral sex.”

My response: “Uh, okay. Give me a minute, Emmanuel. I’m not quite sure what to do with this one.”–Poor kid had probably been thinking about this conversation his entire bus ride home.

Emmanuel: “Why would anyone want to do that?”

Me (sweating): “Well, it may not make sense to you now, but it’ll be something you’ll understand when you’re older.”–Oy vey. 

I did my best to spare us both from some ridiculously uncomfortable lecture about sex, oral or otherwise, but I had to acknowledge it was a legitimate question and I was grateful he came to me with it, as opposed to going to Google.

But, I have had less refined authentic moments.

When the George Zimmerman verdict was announced, I went into a rage. I was on the phone with my mom, dropping the F-bomb here and there, completely oblivious to Emmanuel’s presence in the next room. I just couldn’t accept that this young man was harassed and murdered for walking in his neighborhood while Black and there would be no justice.

When I emerged from my room after my rant, Emmanuel looked at me and said, “You used a lot of really bad words, Mommy.”

I don’t remember my exact response to him and I’m certain I was raggedy as hell with it, but I owned up to it and I let him know that sometimes things happen that are so outrageous, those words just come out. And then the door was opened for us to have “the talk.” The “talk” that Black parents have to have with their children about racial injustice and how we are perceived in the world. We hate that we have to have “the talk”, but if my moment of unbridled anger helped my son see and understand my commitment to advocating for him and our own, then let the f-bombs fly.

Telling our kids who to be, what to believe, what to do or not to do only goes but so far. When they can see us as our authentic selves, we give them the space to be theirs as well. And when we have the courage to make mistakes and tell them that sometimes we have no idea what we are doing, we free them to become the beautiful, imperfect humans we all are.

I’m proud of Emmanuel’s father and of the humility he is bringing to this process. I know it will be a beautiful journey for both of them.