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Love, Part Three: Risk

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First let go of life. Finally, take a step without feet.

-Rumi

Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.

-Erica Jong

One day I was driving my kids to school and almost got sideswiped.

Mortality hits you hard in moments like that, but so does the vulnerability involved in love.

If those two little people were taken from me, I would never be myself again.

That’s the risk of love.

The risk of giving over completely that most of us are not willing to take.

It is, though, the most important risk of all. More important than any other kind of success in life — there isn’t even a measuring stick for it, it’s so big.

I’m not suggesting loss of identity, or self, or boundaries, or anything of the sort. I believe that love is one of the healthiest things we can have to develop those things.

It’s fear that leads people to believe loss of self is inherent when you give over your self to another.

I think it’s cultural, a peculiar American fear, of a loss of individuality. We are nothing in this nation if we are not individuals out to get what’s ours and hold onto it with our cold dead hands.

Coupling is put down as a falling into one another, as dependency, as though receiving connotes weakness, and giving loss. As though a measuring cup is inside each of us, a finite amount of self parsed out to others.

When I had my kids I gave myself completely — I took a step without feet and didn’t even really know I was taking it until after the fact — and surprised myself by becoming more of who I am as a result. Two pieces of my self-love puzzle clicked right into place with what felt like no effort at all.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m the overly self-righteous type who took all that was missing in my marriage and loaded it into my kids like software. I’m not a natural caregiver, or a nurturer. Nor am I virtuous. I think virtue is a construct, and I’m not describing altruism here. Just human love. Human energy, willingly exchanged.

I have had glimpses of this feeling with other adults. But I’ve not been willing to be vulnerable enough to other adults to really have the scope expand outward,  a true personal shortcoming.

What’s the benefit of the risk? A contradiction. That scary but incredibly fortifying knowledge that your life isn’t complete without the other. That the other continually surprises you with their beauty, intellect, their being. That other who makes you want to be a better version of yourself — not different, just better, but without power games.

Sounds scary. And necessary. All at the same time.

Tonight I found myself thinking about the song True Colors by Cyndi Lauper. Actually, I’m pretty sure the song itself was written by Prince.

She’s So Unusual was the very first CD I ever had, purchased in 1985 along with our family’s very first CD player.

A very old, good friend of mine used to work in large concert venues and used Time After Time to test his sound system, claiming it to be acoustically perfect. I listened to it once on his way awesome sound system. It was pretty perfect, along with his system. I could really hear, and locate, all those different wavelengths (not a technical term, just one I use) the song moves at.

So I thought, ok, paltry digital music system that I have here on my laptop, I want to hear it right now.

I popped into MySpace (still where I go to find music) just to see if there might be a cover I liked better than her version. I know there are other versions of her stuff, including a pretty amazing ballad version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Greg Laswell:

Anyway, I ended up downloading the album The Body Acoustic.

True Colors on this album is amazing. Gorgeous. 80s pop reconfigured to be good music. Cello. I realized as I listened to the opening bars, this is a song I learned to play on the guitar.

All Through the Night has Shaggy (a name I do not know outside of Scooby Doo, sorry) and it’s pretty damn awesome. And Money Changes Everything – is a waaaaay better song here. She has really done a fantastic job.

Even if you found her stuff too poppy in the 80s, this album is worth checking out. Even if you can’t understand why Puffy Ami Yumi is on it, look, Ani DiFranco is.

And the Puffy Ami Yumi song is Girls Just Wanna Have Fun — ska acoustic! What fun.

People I Wanted to Be

When I was younger there were several people – well, ok, characters and/or actresses – that I wanted to “be like.” This phase started when I was probably 11… I can’t say when it ended, really. I just stopped thinking that emulating or wishful thinking were good things.

This is  a really weird mix of badass women and supremely graceful, classy women. Intellectually speaking, I suppose Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich, Betty Friedan and let’s not forget Erma Bombeck — they are harder to find on YouTube…

In no particular order… Chrissie Hynde for her rawness:

Holly GoLightly… what girl didn’t want to be her?

Katherine Hepburn, in any role on any day but more as a human being… this is the first movie I ever saw her in… you old poop!

College days… Anaïs Nin. I remember why — it was mostly for the passionate way she lived her life, even if there was tremendous pain, too.

Ripley, from the first Alien movie:

My kids… have cell phones

I used to think giving kids cell phones was akin to baiting them with nicotine addiction. Here, kiddies. Have a gadget. Start small. Gateway drug.

So 5 months ago, when I walked into the AT&T store and let them pick out the phone they wanted (within reason) I … well, I wasn’t unaware of the hypocrisy.

But I had good reasons for the reversal.  I wanted my kids to feel as though they could call their father or me, without having to ask the other parent. I wanted them to have access to us without feeling any weirdness about the “other parent” as my ex and I marched through our divorce.

Then I noticed some interesting things about how they used their first piece of communications technology. Worth noting.

At first they behaved much like I did with my iPhone when I first got it. Changing ringtones, playing with features, adjusting menus. Asking me how to do things, like teach them how to send text messages.They lovingly plugged the charger into it each night, next to my iPhone. They checked my iPhone to make sure I had their numbers in my Favorites list, which is about the shortest Favorites list anyone has ever seen.

When I went away to Seattle for a few days I exchanged several texts a day with my daughter – some of them were real conversations.

Then the toy lost its novelty. None of their friends have them – so much like my Google Wave account, their phones are kind of limited in scope and application.

At some point in July, Jackson lost his phone for three weeks without noticing. Now, if that had happened to his DS, he would have torn the house apart. But the phone? Meh.

How they use their phones now – well, battery conservation fiends that they are (after a lifetime of Mom saying, “Did you turn that off? Don’t waste the batteries!”), they turn the phone on to make a phone call. If they see other messages they check them. Then they turn the phone off and plug the charger back in.

Wow. They don’t carry it anywhere with them. It stays in the house. It’s a device with a discrete use for a very short period of time. They are the same way with the computer. They’ll cruise around YouTube and watch weird cat videos. They are each dabbling in online research for homework. Every now and then they decide they want to send an email. But for the most part, the computer is there for discrete tasks. Not for getting everything, anything done. Not for communicating with the world. Not for work.

Technology, it turns out, is not as big a part of their lives as I might have thought.

To wit: every single night I’m with them, no matter what we have going on, I still bust out their old-fashioned paper books, and we read. Right now, Jackson is reading Swiss Family Robinson and Camille, Scalawagons of Oz (yes, a follow up to the original Wizards of Oz) and a really cool book called The Underneath. If I don’t read at least ten pages from each book to them, it’s a serious problem.

The real kicker is that the house rule around computer and phone usage is for me. That’s right. We have limits on computer and phone time … for Mom.

Getting Older

When I was eight years old I moved to England. I entered the third grade not knowing how to write cursive, but almost everyone in my class already knew how to do it.

I had to use the images posted around the room of the correctly formed cursive letters for the better part of two months, teaching myself to write cursive, that year.

My teacher’s name was Mr. Steinbeck. I swore up and down for many years that the John Steinbeck had been my teacher.

One day I asked Mr. Steinbeck, who taught me not only cursive but how to endure the hell that is long division, what it meant to get older.

I believe my parents were 29 and 30 at the time.

He lifted his hand to my face. He pinched the skin on his hand and pulled it up. He let the skin go and slowly, like a deflating souffle, the skin went back into place.

He told me to do the same to my skin. It snapped back into place like a rubber band.

That’s what getting older is all about,” he said.

Put. The Phone. Away.

The most recent cover of The New Yorker shows children trick or treating at the door of a home as parents stand at the end of the sidewalk looking at their mobile devices, which cast an eerie glow onto their preoccupied faces.

I wonder how many kids feel as though when the iPhones come out, they disappear (or any other mobile device). “Yes honey. That’s great, honey.” Tap, tap, tap. Download another app.

The device becomes the eyes, ears, and mouth with which we sense our world, creating such distance between ourselves and our lives.

In 1999, when I was working with people who loved their tech gadgets, the coolest thing to have was a Motorola Razr. It was a phone. Phone calls. That’s all it did.

There was only so much time you could spend on a phone. Even though I had two phones and a pager, I didn’t spend eons checking or using them. Even sending text messages becomes annoying after a while, so the phone can be put down, charged, walked away from.

But is the iPhone and its ilk just as dangerous to the ability of people to connect to one another as the widespread use of the internal combustion engine is to the environment?

Judging by what I see around me, I’d say yes. They are tools for further self-absorption that we just don’t need.

(Oh, I know, I know. Mitigating circumstances. “What about the time when I… or when my kid got hurt…” I’m not talking about those things. I’m talking about daily business of life stuff.)

That New Yorker cover kind of makes the whole thing hit home. Not only are you supposed to be out having fun with your kid, but you can’t even disconnect from your device long enough to watch them say trick or treat? Aren’t Halloweens supposed to be something you mark time by in your child’s life?

Shouldn’t you be there for it?

And by that, I mean, not just standing there – but recognizing the moment as special? Recognizing this time with your kid as special?

And quit it with the camera phone! Just look at the world and have the experience.

What happened to focusing on the task at hand?

Don’t we all feel harried, hurried, harassed enough from being connected all the time, from being pulled in all these directions? You’d think we would welcome the relative down time doing one thing at a time offers.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that when I’m trying to do four things at once, not a single one of them is done well or completely.

For my kids there is a time to use computers (or any electronic device). They use the devices to complete discrete tasks. Think about how different it is for us. The computer and internet are literally part of nearly everything we do.  My kids have their own cell phones, too, and I have made them such battery conservation fanatics that they will use their phones and turn them off until they are ready to make another call. Hm. They may have something, there.

//End Rant//

So crafty I made people

When I need to gather strength in myself, I remember being pregnant and giving birth to my daughter.

I got pregnant at 26 due to basic inattention to certain protocols that should be followed by a healthy, fertile female should she not want to get pregnant. At the time, my career was just taking off. I was working crazy hours on a huge redesign at a dot-com and living in Manhattan. My ex started out at one company, got fired and started working on Wall Street, making next to no money. And now, a baby on the way.

It took a fair amount of strength just to be pregnant in that situation.

6 months pregnant in Central Park

6 months pregnant in Central Park

It was then that I started doing yoga.

I started planning my birth, as women are told to do. I had it in my head that I would give birth completely naturally. My body, I read, was made for this. I considered water birth, hypnosis.

I did this crazy ice cube exercise where you prepare for the levels of pain becoming more intense by holding ice cubes in your hands until they’ve melted.

It was all very Baby Mama.

When I was 8 months pregnant I moved from New York to DC. It was a sweltering, 90 degree August 31 in Manhattan and I was carrying boxes of books way out in front of my giant belly, getting looks from passers by for doing such a thing while pregnant. By the time I got into the truck to drive to DC and the cats started vomiting and crapping in their kennels, I had just about had it.

Actually, I think I was kind of lucky I didn’t go into labor right there at 32 weeks from the stress.

I continued to commute to New York two days a week — leaving the house at 4:30 AM and returning at 11:30 pm — for the ensuing six weeks, only stopping when I told my ob-gyn about how I was thinking that if I went into labor on the Metroliner I’d be ok, right?

Oh, I said when I saw her arched eyebrow. I guess I should maybe stop.

Then the actual labor and delivery. After 14 hours of labor I was dilated two centimeters. I was falling asleep during contractions, doing pretty well, I thought.

At 4:05 pm on October 25, 1999, the midwife discovered that my daughter’s heart rate was decreasing at the end of each contraction.

“We have to get this baby out now,” she said. Dr. Gupta appeared a minute later to explain that my natural birth plan was about to go sideways.

A flurry of doctors and nurses appeared. They turned me on my side. As a contraction hit me, they were telling me I had to stay still for the epidural needle and sign the consent form at the same time. I wasn’t scared until I saw my mother’s face. She was white, scared. So then I got scared.

As they wheeled me down the hall to the operating room, I said to people who weren’t looking at me, “I can still feel my legs.” I knew from the three epidurals I had before for knee surgeries that I should be numb and unable to move my feet. “Look,” I said. “I can still move my feet, too.”

No one was listening.

In the ensuing minutes I felt my stomach being cut open, my entire body being pushed and pulled all over the table as my uterus was yanked out of my body and put on my lap, at which point I asked if it was ok for me to scream, and then I think I passed out. Pretty normal response to that kind of pain, I imagine.

When I woke up shortly after 4:16 pm they told me it was a girl. I saw her – screaming, red, crying, purple fingernails from oxygen deprivation… but she was out, and healthy. I think I passed out again.

So whenever I feel like I need to remember that I’m stronger than I think, that’s a pretty good story to go back to. I had reserves to draw on that I didn’t know existed. Still do.