February, 2010 Archives
by Jan in Uncategorized
Last week as a skier came flying down one of Whistler’s steepest slopes, one of the Olympic announcers said, “She’s said what she really wants is to be a part of an Olympic montage.”
She was not ashamed to say she wanted to have one of those moments – when her country, or perhaps even the world, could embrace her? The flag-draped smiling image could also serve to freeze a tiny slice of her youth. It would be one of those pivotal moments that speaks volumes and is about more than skiing faster or jumping higher.
Who wouldn’t want to have one of those moments and be part of an Olympic montage?
Defining memorable moments aren’t reserved for the world’s greatest athletes. Sometimes, even parents of non-Olympians recognize the moments that the rest of the world will never see but serve as defining moments of our children’s lives and our relationships with our children.
The rites of passage.
The thrill of victory.
The agony of defeat.
Last week when I returned home after nearly a week away with my 8-year-old daughter, I noticed that my 12-year-old daughter looked older, more mature. She was just back from a very non-Olympic figure skating outing with a friend. Complete with the tiny earphone wire dangling from one ear, she had crossed some adolescent threshold.
In the time since I returned home, she and I have talked a lot about her plans for this weekend. She’s taking a much-anticipated trip with her church youth group. It’s a trip that has some international flavorings slightly reminiscent of an Olympic village, but none of the flair. By the time you read this, she and her youth group and their leaders will have spent two nights sleeping on the ground in less-than-luxurious conditions in the mountains of Arkansas completing the Global Challenge at Heifer Ranch.
Heifer Ranch is one of the educational branches of Heifer International, the non-profit organization whose mission it is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the earth. Heifer does this by providing appropriate livestock, training and related services to small-scale farmers and communities worldwide.
Each of the Lafayette teens, almost-teens and the adult chaperones will spend the weekend with meager accommodations that resemble the conditions various third-world poor, perhaps from Guatemala, Thailand, Zambia and places closer to home, face on a daily basis. Resources are limited and require some sharing. The adults step back and let the youth handle the decision-making and the responsibilities of finding and preparing food and doing other necessary chores. The goal of the challenge is that participants will develop self-esteem, problem solving and teamwork, while connecting with a community working to end hunger and poverty. The experience has the potential to change lives and create more global cultural awareness.
For me, the best part of the Olympic experience is the opportunity for a similar shared global cultural awareness. Watching the international community come together and share a moment.
by Jan in Uncategorized
Four years ago, I brought my then 8-year-old daughter, Greer, to New York City during the week she was off school for Mardi Gras holidays.
Four years later, I find myself back in the city of all cities – this time with Piper, my younger daughter who is now eight. Greer, now 12, was happy to offer words of advice about how to get the most out of her time in the Big Apple. Her primary advice to her sister was, “Just hold Mom’s hand. Don’t let go.”
In the passing of four years, so much has changed. Both my husband and I have different jobs. Our family’s lifestyle has gone from two parents who worked far too much to two parents who have a much better balance between working and the rest of life.
The other thing that’s different about this trip to New York and the one four years ago is the number of people we know in the city. Piper and I have been able to visit with friends who now live in the city. Seeing a city with people who live there adds dimension to a visit. In that sense, Piper will have a different understanding of New York than her sister.
While Piper and I have done our share of tourist activities like Broadway shows and romps through Central Park, we have done some not-so-typical tourist activities, as well. For one thing, Piper wanted to spend as much time as possible exploring Chinatown. When we adopted Piper from China seven years ago, I knew that I wanted to do what I could to encourage her understanding of Chinese culture. What I couldn’t know at the time was that Piper has her own internal cultural orienting.
On Wednesday, Piper and I were able to spend time with Lingjing Bian, a UL graduate and Chinese native who we met in Lafayette in 2004. Lingjing now works as a reporter for a Chinese-American television news network. She went to Herculean efforts to meet us, take us to a great restaurant and give us a tour of Chinatown. Though Piper hasn’t seen Lingjing in five years, the two connected almost immediately.
Walking through New York streets with Chinese signage decorated for Chinese New Year, Piper took it in. During dinner, she was full of questions for Lingjing and me about the hows and whys of the course of life in general – and her own life in particular. Piper goes through phases of trying to make her personal details and path of international adoption make sense.
Fortunately, she is innately happy – the happiest person I know. But there are aspects of her life that leave her with questions. I don’t have all the answers for Piper, but I do believe that love can conquer a whole lot and lead to some level of understanding. In that spirit, in terms of advice to my young daughter, I echo the sage words of our resident 12-year-old, “Just hold mom’s hand. Don’t let go.”
by Jan in Uncategorized
For years I was the go-to girl in my family when it came to technology. I remember back in Christmas 1980 when my uncle, ever on the cutting edge, got one of those hi-tech fancy gizmos called a VCR. Our extended family sat in his living room and watched the ever-blinking EE:EE like we were in a trance. We knew of the proclaimed possibilities, but we weren’t sure we believed it could possibly do all of that.
Record television shows while no one is home?
At any rate, I decided to figure it out and spent Christmas afternoon setting the clock and programming it to record All my Childrenfor my aunt and Magnum PI for my cousin. My uncle watched and smiled. It was like the whole thing was beyond him.
My uncle acted like I was a wizard and made me feel smart and special. Given all he had done for me, I loved being able to do something to help him.
At one point, he said, “It’s like she just knows how to do this. It must be a generational thing.”
Several years later when my parents got one of the amazing video recording contraptions, we repeated the scenario. For the next decade every time I came home, the VCR would be blinking EE:EE, and I would set it. Once I bought a magnet (that still graces my mom’s refrigerator) that reads, “How can I be expected to cope with life? I can’t even program my VCR.”
When she and my father used a screwdriver to “make” a disc fit into a computer a few years after that, I knew all hope was lost. In as many ways as my parents are fit and fine, they never would be hip to technological trends, gadgets and gizmos.
I felt like their technological savior, and I’ll admit it – I may have been a tat smug about my savvy.
I had my own children.
One of them turned 12.
And instantly, she knew how to hook everything up. She knew how to program every technological gizmo, no matter how large or small. She can set the time. She can make my phone perform an opera. She can make my laptop dance.
The scary part is that she does it with the same smugness I now realize I used to have. At one level, I am irritated. At another level, it is bliss. I don’t mind being at her mercy. I’m tired of following wires and finding plugs that coordinate.
She loves fixing and connecting. It comes easy to her.
It must be a generational thing.
And so the torch is passed.
At least, this is a positive way for her to exert her independence and say, “Hey, I’m not just that little girl who likes popsicles and spaghetti. There are things that I can do better than you.”
Just like a generation ago, this is a win-win for us all.
by Jan in Uncategorized
Fair-weathered fans have always gotten on my nerves.
I prefer to stand along side the people who have gone through the trenches with me — the people who have known the depths of my despair.
But in this week that was total Saints mania, if I’m honest with myself, I have a confession. By my own definition, during this magical football season, I have become a fair-weathered fan.
In my family’s Mississippi living room, I grew up watching the Saints lose Sunday after Sunday. I vaguely remember watching when the half-footed Tom Dempsey kicked the longest field goal and the announcer lost his mind.
But mostly I remember watching the fans wearing paper bags. I remember watching a stadium dotted with scattered clusters of spectators, passionate about having a good time, but generally apathetic about the game.
From my Southern underdog perspective, I eventually recognized that at some level, many of us probably believed we didn’t deserve anything better than a team that won a few games every season.
But we were good at hoping – and imagining the party we would have some day.
We dreamed of the day when the Saints really did go marching in – and everyone else stood up and took proper notice.
Staying with the Saints through all those years of heartache required a special spirit. Like so many of you, I had it – way back then.
But somewhere along the way – unlike many of you diehards, and I’m not proud to admit this, I lost that spirit.
I got tired of hoping.
I grew up and moved away. For a number of years, I lived outside the South. I realized there were other teams easier to root for. Winning was, in fact, a lot more fun.
Sure, the Saints always had a piece of my heart — like anything that you love as a child will always have, but I spent my energy on other things.
This season revived childhood saintly hopes and dreams. I forgave the fair-weathered nature of enthusiasm all around (including my own).
The last two weeks have been such a lesson on how what happens on a sports field is sometimes more than a game. Sharing joy in a common cause with so many others builds kinship and creates common ground organically.
In middle school, this is about the little kid who knows more about the New Orleans Saints football team becoming the hero he’s never been before. At the office, this is about people who have never had much to talk about reliving the overtime on a Tuesday afternoon. At church, this is about a jazz quartet playing the final tune of the day, “When the Saints go Marching in” and a minister delivering a homily with the theme of “Who dat?”
This is about building community. More people feeling a part of a community is good for all of us.
Win or lose, Saints mania has been a beautiful thing.
This is about childhood hope rekindled.
This is about believing.
by Jan in Uncategorized
On Jan. 23, I volunteered for the Haiti relief concert in downtown Lafayette at Parc International.
My job was simple. I poured beer.
From head to toe, I dressed for the occasion.
I wore an old pair of shoes that I haven’t worn since Sept. 3, 2005.
No, I don’t remember the “last date worn” for every clothing item – and I try not to keep clothes I haven’t worn during the last two years.
But those shoes were special.
First off, I bought them in Dublin on a cold, rainy day in June – when all I had with me were summer sandals. They weren’t what anyone would consider pretty shoes. They were sturdy, sensible suedes with hard rubber soles good for walking.
The second reason is less tangible. When I was a reporter, I wore those shoes to New Orleans after Katrina. I walked in that water in those shoes. I knew I should throw them away. I knew they might be toxic. I tossed the rest of the clothes I wore through the mud and muck of post-Katrina New Orleans the day I got home, but there was something about those shoes. For whatever reasons, they sat silently in the back of my closet for more than four years.
Just before I headed downtown to volunteer, I debated which shoes to wear. I decided the Dublin/Katrina shoes deserved another shot. They looked fine and would certainly not mind spilled beer.
Thirty minutes later, I was learning the fine art of pouring from two fellow volunteers, Ian and Neal from Rotary North. I enjoyed serving folks who were enjoying the music. About an hour later, I stepped on something wobbly with my right foot. I looked and saw something hanging from my shoe. I tried to kick whatever it was off, but it wasn’t cooperating.
I looked closer and realized my sturdy shoes were decomposing right beneath my feet. The soles were turning to mush and coming off in chunks. The best I can figure is when moisture crept its way over the sidewalk and reached the shoes, something reacted. They began to come completely apart in a most disconcerting way. It was not a case of simple dry rot.
The longer I stood in the growing shoe slush, the more I got the creeps. When a friend headed my way, I showed her the spectacle. She remembered my time in New Orleans and shared my concern over the decomposition of soles. Fortunately, she had a pair of shoes in her car parked nearby.
Moments later, I was wearing someone else’s shoes and mine were in the trash.
Truth be told, I’ve avoided watching coverage from Haiti. I didn’t think I could take it. In my sub-conscious – as well as my conscience, I believe there’s a reason I wore Katrina shoes to a Haiti benefit.
None of us has walked in their shoes, but many people in Louisiana have a link to Haiti that goes beyond the French connection.
by Jan in Uncategorized
Since I typically only post on this site on Sundays, there’s usually a predictable pattern to the number of hits. Lately, the pattern has changed some, with more hits coming from outside the South than before. I’m wondering what has sparked the new readers. If you’re inclined, send me an e-mail as to how you heard about this site — new or old. I’ve never done much of anything to promote the site and the traffic would be considered somewhat dismal by most, but I’d love to hear from you at any rate!
(Random fact of the week): Last week I sort of broke up a fight at the school where I teach and now the students don’t mess with me no mo. (It’s not my general inclination to break up fights, but I really thought they might seriously injure a student. So, I stepped in.)
All the best.