Honor Your Partner Part 2

Always introduce a new dance class series with the Native American Rain Dance. You need a hook for these poor souls. They were told in no uncertain terms that these dance classes were mandatory and the first person to cop an attitude would face the firing squad. Their eyes are begging you to not make them dance. The only dance they are acquainted with, if they are, is what their older siblings are doing in the dark high school gyms to music that shrieks questionable lyrics at them.

Some of the girls are trying to hide their excitement. They are FINALLY going to get a boy’s undivided attention for a five minute space and maybe even HOLD HANDS. No matter if he was forced at gun point.  He will have to acknowledge her existence and treat her with respect. If only it’s the right boy. Oh no. What if the teacher makes her partner with him?? The other girls are never going to stop teasing. He might even think she likes him if she likes the dance. That’s it. The girls after ten minutes of thought have already decided to dance with the other girls and avoid the whole ridiculous mess.

Well, the Native American Dances have props and everybody dances with his own bad self. Perfect. No one is going to notice if you are dancing “heel-toe” instead of “toe-heel”; they are having too much fun with the drums, bells, and ribbon wands. Who doesn’t love to jump up and down yelling while making as much noise as possible during school? Someone gets to be the rain man in the middle, wear the crazy wig and bang the bongo drums. You should choose the most sullen face in the crowd, the one who is in NO way happy to be there. Four lucky kids are rains from the corners of the compass. They spin clouds and wind back and forth over the parched planting grounds. The rest of the tribe circles the room bringing their energy and their teamwork into play. No one is getting graded here. There will not be a test. The smartest kid is irrelevant and so is the class clown and so is the bully and the kid who still can’t do those rotten times tables. Everyone here is too busy, bringing home the rain.

Toward the end of my tenure, I actually made up a hula dance to a song from Lilo and Stitch. The lesson music was uninspiring, so we ditched it and instead danced a sunrise and palm trees and swayed as a group like the ocean, making waves that rolled from one end of the room to the other. Some music can take the class all the way to Hawaii in their imagination. It’s fascinating when the magic moment happens: the music goes into their ears and dances out from their hearts through their fingertips.

Quite on purpose, we wrap up our lessons with my beloved Virginia Reel. Kids typically won’t go to a “dance” today and return home the better for it. Our over sexed, over loud, over materialized music doesn’t seem to encourage manners.

But a dance, once upon a time, was the place to be civilized. The lights were on and the ladies dressed. Where gentlemen impressed ladies with their athletic precision in the steps, their respectful attitude on the sidelines, and practiced intelligent conversation. Where ladies were gracious and polite and made the subtle flirt an art form.

Every boy in our fifth-grade class learned how to bow to their partner, and every girl learned a proper curtsy. It’s at the beginning and end of every square dance.

They may never have occasion again to use this skill. But I am hopeful that knowing what it looks and feels like to “honor your partner”, no matter who it is and what the next dance may be, will go with them into their future. Prepared for that one moment when simple grace and respect could change the course of their lives.

Honor Your Partner Part 1

“Everybody forward and back!” A banjo picks up the Virginia Reel that will take our class on to new heights of social cooperation and gender tolerance. If you can get a fifth-grade boy to take a fifth-grade girl’s hand for even that one small moment of sashay, you have achieved a major accomplishment. My goal: to carry these kids beyond the worry of social graces and into the pride of performing athletic graceful movements that flow with the music. To show them how the collective movement in a dance makes something much bigger than the pieces that are themselves.

Oh yeah…and to have a really fun time!

I volunteered for many years in my children’s elementary school, most of the time teaching music related lessons, kindergarten through fifth grade. It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I have a lot of stories to share, but today…I just want to dance!

The students are hopping and turning now around large straw hats on the floor. We are dancing the Mexican Hat Dance. The hat provides a buffer between rowdy partners that will fail altogether once we start the music for the Chicken Dance. It’s so much fun to have a reason to move in the middle of a highly structured day.  As the lessons progress, the random sillies and day’s frustrations make way for body awareness and timing. They begin to realize that the rhythms and steps are removing tension from mind and body. And they like it!

Buffalo Gals is the next step up towards square dancing. Only it’s in a circle. A wagon wheel actually. The Virginia Reel is square dancing in two lines. Someday I would like to graduate to actually dancing in a square. It takes more practice than the teacher’s schedule gave me and so in 15 years I still don’t know how to do it. But give me the chorus to Buffalo Gals and our kids will rock that wagon wheel.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOhhhhh Macarena. Seriously. We do the Electric Slide, the YMCA, your basic wedding reception dances. The kids may as well have a nicely rounded education. These are life skills. If you can’t form a Conga line you are missing out. We hold onto the person in front of us by the shoulders, not the waist, and I’m lucky they aren’t pulling shirts off backs. Thankfully, the Bunny Hop allows for more individuality. I try to have them make baby bunny hops, not giant rabbit from hell hops.  It doesn’t always sink in.

Here’s another favorite of mine: the Limbo Rock. You dance it at luaus and who in So Cal is not going at some point in his life to one of those birthday parties? I love this because it is the great equalizer dance. You have the line backers, the track stars, the class jocks who are way too cool to take these dances seriously. Then you have the little guys. The computer techies, the quiet fellows who are taking this all in and thinking somewhere in the back of their minds, “I am so finally going to impress a girl!” And you are SO rooting for them! The Limbo is their shining moment. As the Great Danes fall going under that stick, the Chihuahuas are popping under with attitude and coming up to cheers.

I love my job.

Death of a Champion Part 2

So Tuesday I limp home, and start looking for mechanics. I call Hubby to report. He’s taking it in first thing in the morning himself. I’ve been fired from mechanical maintenance.

Wednesday, the car is repaired by a man whose name I cannot even pronounce, let alone spell, for a “good deal”. Fine. We team tag with the cars and get everyone home and two working cars in the garage by dinnertime. High Five! We had waffles, by the way. Pretty good last-minute meal. Anyhow.

Wednesday night is Bible class, so rush, rush, and all jump in the car for the trip across town. Backing out of the garage was the easy part. Apparently putting it into drive was an issue.

Remember we got the Suburban brand new? We have the “base model”. Translation: every possible thing that we can make of plastic, we will. The plastic expires, apparently, at around 10 years.

I have Tupperware that lasted longer.

The entire gear shift handle has broken off inside the steering wheel column. In his confusion (translation: “WHAT IN THE…?”) Hubby puts it into park and well, we are parked.

At this point, everyone hops back out of the sub and hovers while the situation is assessed. I have pulled out my zen. Big can of it. This is just enough. “Everyone into the Lexus and we’ll figure this out tomorrow.” Yeah, at that point, our huge kids take one look at the parents’ faces and decide they can sit in each other’s laps across town and not make a peep.

We are not going to be held hostage by a big blue bucket of bolts. It can just sit there and think about the error of its ways.

Maybe I’ll get it fixed. Maybe I’ll put it on Craigslist for free. Do you know what gas costs these days? Do they sell mopeds with attachable sidecars?

Today, I am enjoying a beautiful, sunny peaceful day at home. There is nowhere I need to be. The kids are all able to get home from school on their own. I am thankful the car, if it had to die, died peacefully here and didn’t strand us elsewhere.

The sub gave it’s all to the service of our family, took our abuse and still carried entire water polo teams, sheets of plywood, bales of hay, couches, and a group of my girlfriends into Palm Springs for a weekend of birthday fun.

It was the Party Sub. It was the Clydesdale of cars.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Hopefully, I will see you next time around….in a new car.

Disclaimer: This was an email two years ago, and I felt much better after I wrote it. The sub is still among us, a one-eyed elderly retiree leaking bodily fluids into an oil pan in the driveway. You can’t get out of the driver’s door without first rolling down the window and pulling the handle from outside.

It wants to keep us.

Death of a Champion Part 1

It is such a good thing that I hedged my bets and stayed home today. As you know, I took our Suburban in Monday for an oil change. I go to the dealership because they also go over the whole car, hoping to find other things wrong and therefore get to keep it for a week, do a million dollars of repairs, and then pat me on the head and send me home penniless.

So I told Anthony right up front: “Take a good look at this car. We got it brand new 12 years ago exactly. We have 5 kids. They are monsters. There is nothing breakable on this car that is not broken. There is nothing moveable that we have not moved. Permanently. I have a bag full of parts in the backseat that I do not intend to stick back on. Take the car and change the oil. Make THE LIST, and I will go home and look it over (translation: “I will laugh and file it in the round file”) and get back to you.”

So maybe I was just curious about what they would find.

“Oh yeah, and don’t set the parking brake, because the release broke awhile back and I have to thread a shoelace up through it if it gets accidentally set. And sorry about that door. You just put your finger into the jagged hole – gently! – and pull the door shut when you’re ready to drive.” Armrests are for wimps.

I tried to keep the car decent. Sure, road trips and beach sand and meals on wheels occur, but that’s washable. It was when my adorable last-born child keyed my car (it’s the happy face on the driver’s side) that I realized this was the family vehicle; I should just breathe and let it go. After all, priorities, right?

So Anthony changed the oil, made the list, didn’t even try the lecture, and handed my keys over. “One thing,” he says, as I’m trying to slink out the side door, “Both brake shoes on the back are cracked. If you want to fix just one thing, you may want to do the brakes.” Good idea.

I already know about the brakes. My oldest daughter drove all the way to work and back about three months ago, with the parking brake set. How was she supposed to know it was set? It’s broken, right? No one was supposed to set it. So the weird smell and the odd behavior of the car seemed…odd. Sigh. So for three months I stall because we just DID brakes, it seems like, and as long the car will stop, we’ll get around to it. Grr.

Tuesday, two blocks from home, the brakes give way. I have had this happen before if we must be honest, and I swore never to repeat the experience. You are coming up to the intersection, brake slowly, then a car jumps in front of you (or a wildebeest, if you must make the story more dramatic to stave off a furious husband) and you hit the brake hard, and suddenly you hear a *pop* and feel a —-sliiiide—- and the car is simply not going to stop, so you pump the brake while looking frantically side to side for a soft tree to land in, and the car grinds slowly to a stop right where you desperately need it to.

You can’t use the emergency brake in an emergency, remember? You don’t have your lace-up shoes on.

Victoria’s Victorian Secret

I blame Victorian Magazine for starting me down the path of misguided inspiration.

Back in our Diaper Days, I bought one just to admire a living room that wasn’t covered in toys and spit up. It called to me like a siren to a drifting sailor. Not a single thing in that period of my life was “done” or “clean” or “beautiful” for more than two seconds together.

The glossy layout room, however, had clean and coordinating furniture complimented with glossy tables, bouquets in crystal vases, meaningful family photos tastefully framed and artfully placed. The floors had pretty rugs, the walls had faux paint, the lampshades had tiny crystal beads.

Sign. Me. Up.

Where to begin?

Hm. The only space I could find that the kids couldn’t reach was the ceiling.

Except the part over the bunk beds. That had footprints on it.

No problem. Start small, right?

So I took the broom and carefully went around the perimeter of the living room ceiling, getting down a few years’ worth of cobwebs. Instant improvement. Only a little of the popcorn came down. The kids had a snow day. It took the rest of the morning to clean the mess. It took months of staring at that magazine while nursing before I mustered my next ambitious plan.

There came a day we decided “That’s it! We are sick of sagging, ugly second-hand furniture!” We need something rugged yet regal. Sturdy yet sleek. Cleanable yet classy. We brought home the most beautiful set of leather couches you have ever seen. They were the real deal. They were placed lovingly in the room and the plastic packaging removed. They smelled delightful.

They were a presence.

And then the unthinkable happened. A small child, without warning, enjoying everyone’s happy awe, pranced in and sat on a couch. The poor thing could not have known that this was art, not furniture. That it represented a sizable chunk of our family change. That if so much as a crumb or scratch appeared to mar the view, all would be lost, she would never have attempted it.

Accompanied by a fatherly shriek that closely resembled a little girls’, the couch was rescued from this threat on its life. The couches were carefully re-bagged and returned to their rightful owners the very same day.

Gone now are thoughts of wallpaper or using any color of paint on the walls but white.  Deep colors chipped if so much as a nerf dart hit them. Doorjambs collected daily handprint donations of catsup and mud pie. Nope. White washable paint, by the five gallon drum, for every room of the house and applied frequently is how we roll.

On the upside, it’s a very fast clean for a room. On the downside, it takes the average kid less time to muck it up than it took you to prep the job.

If only I had looked carefully at the photographs, I would have discovered Victoria’s little secret to a sparkly perfect house sooner. There were no people in it. I suppose Social Services would have something to say about locking the kids outside. More on that in a later blog.

As I could not have a lovely house and my lovely kids in the same place at the same time, my Victorian Magazine era wound slowly to a natural end. It isn’t about the house after all, of course. It’s about the family that lives and loves and prays and plays in it.

First Things First

My daughters went onto Facebook and played “Which Disney Princess Are You?”

I can tell you which one I am immediately: Dory.

Yes, the natural blue who didn’t recognize the sharks for what they were but had enough empathy, trust, and enthusiasm for the whole ocean.  You will notice how many times she should have died in the movie…..just saying.

Good morning and hello! Welcome to my brand new blog.

I intend to play a little here with bits of writing and hopefully entertain you in the process.

With five kids between 13 and 23 years old, a lovely variety of in-laws and outlaws on the family tree, and a 25 year marriage to my high school sweetheart, there should be plenty of grist for the mill. I may even poke about in your affairs once in a while.

A lot of laughing and loving influences show up in my spinning world on a regular basis and keep me just this side of sane. I would like to pass them on.

I feel a little lost most days. I try not to let it worry me. I just keep swimming.

Thanks for keeping me company!