LSS: Whale of a vacation

Having a whale of a family vacation is a lot like the rest of life.

It requires a fine balance between planning and spontaneity.

If you carry too much with you, you’re limited in what you can do. If you try to do too much, you’re too tired to enjoy or appreciate where you are. If you do too little, you’ve missed the opportunity and feel like a lug.

By shear chance, we found the perfect balance between planning and spontaneity this summer. The key for us was to plan things for the beginning and the end of the trip, leaving a few open days in the middle. In the first days at our destination, we listened, read and learned about the good stuff we didn’t know about or consider before we came. A few key calls along the way helped tremendously with being able to do things we wanted to do. Years ago, I learned the hard way, that canceling reservations is much easier than getting them at the last minute.

Case in point. Last Sunday morning while on vacation in the San Francisco Bay area, a friend and hostess was reading the morning newspaper. She said, “Oh look, they’ve been seeing lots of whales around Monterey.”

Having a 12-year-old whale fiend daughter, I was curious. I read the short news story that said local naturalists weren’t sure why numerous Blue Whales, the largest animals ever known to live on earth, had arrived during the week. 

Not being an early riser, my first inclination was, “ I’m sure the trips will be sold out by now.”

I almost let it got at that, but decided to give it a try. Two days later, my daughter and I set sail on a three-hour tour.

On that day, the sea was like glass, as opposed to the time nearly 20 years ago when my husband and I took the same expedition and encountered giant waves that tossed the 42-foot boat around. Memories of what that trip did to his landlubber stomach prevented my husband’s joining us.

Barely 30 minutes into the trip, we spotted Blue whales lunge feeding on krill. One of the naturalists became overjoyed when she spotted a giant reddish splotch on the surface.

“It’s whale poop,” she screamed.

Our boat headed straight for the poop to take a sample for university scientists to study. One of the deckhands lowered a big bucket and brought up sea water/whale poop, and we were off again.

All in all, we saw 18 Blue whales, more than a hundred Risso dolphins, a Minke whale and a dozen Humpback whales. One of the Humpbacks came right up to the boat. It even sprayed my daughter and me, along with seven other whale watchers. (Whale breath stinks something fierce, by the way.) The naturalist said Humpbacks are naturally curious, and the behavior was not unusual. We could see barnacles, the whale’s eye, mouth and the rest of her body up close.

It was so peaceful – almost a spiritual experience. We couldn’t have planned it better had we tried.

LSS: There are places I remember, all my life

I spent last Saturday night with Paul McCartney.

OK, it was along with 40,000 other people.

As lagniappe during our family vacation, a friend gave us tickets for Paul McCartney’s first San Francisco concert since the very last Beatles 1966 public performance in Candlestick Park.

The fog was thick. The night was cold. Much a surprise to our Louisiana bones, we snuggled under a fuzzy red blanket in AT&T Park and felt lucky.

During a few mind-bending moments, the thousands of arm waving, screaming fans filling the outfield between Paul and me faded. In those moments, I didn’t even notice the very happy man smoking a funny-looking cigarette two rows ahead.

Twelve songs in, Paul – still wearing a black Beatles jacket – took time to explain that he wrote the song he was about to sing for his late wife, Linda.

And, he launched in to “My Love.”

It sounded just like it did on the radio all those years ago, and a tear sneaked down my cheek.

Singing his 68-year-old Beatle heart out while the audience has a past-tense experience must get a little old for Sir Paul. The sheer quantity of lyrics and tunes this man has written and sung shaped so much perspective for so many.

That night, I totally got what all the fuss had ever been about The Beatles.

The concert was like a conversation. Fifteen songs in, McCartney started talking about the American South and back in the 1960’s how he read about the racial strife and fight for equality.

“So,” he said, “I wrote this song.”

And he sang “Blackbird.”

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

I had no idea of the genesis of that song and will sing it with a more reverential heart now.

Then, he talked about the importance of speaking the truth to the people you love when you’re able.

“I wrote this song for John.”

And he gave a very emotional acoustic performance of “Here Today,” the song he wrote after John Lennon’s death.

And if I said I really loved you

And was glad you came along

Then you were here today

For you were in my song.

Then, McCartney took a ukulele that George Harrison gave him and sang “Something.”

You’re asking me will my love grow,

I don’t know, I don’t know.

Stick around, and it may show,
But I don’t know, I don’t know.

Forty songs that man sang — plaintive, mournful and full of spirit.

Much of the evening had the feeling of an elegy – not just for McCartney’s loved ones, but for things lost along the way for all of us.

Holding back tears, for me, was impossible. Even crusty old men were crying.

The proof of the timelessness of the music showed as my whole family swayed to the beat and sang the words – music my husband learned on a 45; I learned on an 8-track, and my 12-year-old learned on her IPod.

She hooked the IPod to the car speakers on our trip home, and we all sang along.

Long Story Short: Parenting and basketballs

I bought my eight-year-old a basketball today.
It’s a replica of the first basketball I ever owned. You’d know the type if you saw it. It’s red, white and blue striped.
The fact that she might want a basketball struck me just this week – and I can’t explain the joy the realization brought.
Parenting is a funny thing.
There’s a strange moment that comes when a mother realizes that she and her child are two separate beings. I remember gently offering Greer, my older daughter food when she was a baby. I would mindlessly go through the motions of chewing the food for her. Catching myself chewing invisible food was my first moment of grasping that she and I were two different people.
Time passed.
She grew.
She likes to draw maps like me. She likes to laugh at jokes the same way her daddy does. She loves theater and many things. Recently, she’s taken up horseback riding, but beyond that, the child does not do sports. I encourage her, and she’s still open to trying things, but she’s just not into sports.
Having grown up in a home where sports ruled, realizing that my daughter was not going to be an athlete did not come without some sadness. Sports were good to and for me. I wanted that for her. (Yes, there may come a day when she finds another sport she loves and wants to practice, but for now we’ve decided to focus on other strengths.)
With that realization, I, inadvertently, stopped the whole sports bug at our house. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t consider that my eight-year-old daughter might be different — seems like such an obvious parenting blunder. But it’s what I did. I’ll do what I can to correct it.
I realized the error of my ways while visiting cousins this week. Piper, our eight-year-old, started playing basketball with them. Much to my surprise and instant delight, she enjoyed it.
Today, we bought a basketball.
She named it Lily.
As I type, she’s dribbling beside me. The thought-bubble rising above my head, says, “She could be a natural-born point guard.”
As silly as this may seem to those who’ve never known the bliss dribbling a basketball can bring, I’m bouncing off the walls with glee.
To be sure, I’ve been blessed to know loads of joy – both in childhood and as an adult. I’ve known more than my share – joy that’s come in many forms and through many people. Yet looking back, I can’t help noting that some of the most fun I’ve ever had, some of the deepest joy I’ve ever known and some of the strongest relationships I ever developed happened on or around a basketball court. (Some sorrows too, but those seem to fade with the years.)
If tonight is the last night she ever dribbles, I’ll be OK. I’ve known parents who lived vicariously through their children’s activities and pushed too hard to play longer and harder than was wise. I won’t do that.
But…should that child continue to play basketball, I’ll take my place in the bleachers with a broad smile.

LSS: Viva la revolution

Right on cue, my 12-year-old is looking for independence.

As with any effort toward independence, the thick of the struggle is nothing to celebrate. Like colonies breaking away from a mother country, both sides state their positions frequently and loud. We’re all left to wonder if anyone else is listening.

In our case, declarations of allegiance or sovereignty are rarely well received. The mother country would prefer that the situation not spiral completely out of control. I want to maintain peace and prosperity for one and all, preferring everyone to remain civil.

Still, battles are fought.

Even the battles are not the orderly affairs this mother would prefer. My 12-year-old daughter, Greer, is developing guerilla warfare tactics rebels so often use. The occasional sniper attacks hurt.

In true form, both sides are looking for allies.

My husband and only solid ally says her bedroom is a scene any Hollywood-set designer tasked with recreating what it would look like if there had been a disastrous explosion at an over-stocked Goodwill store would want to replicate. Her bedroom has been the major cause of discord between my primary ally and our home’s rebel camp.

The bedroom is, without question, reminiscent of trench warfare. Booby-traps are strategically positioned. Clothes bombs have exploded in every direction. In efforts to keep my ally content, I do what I can to build resolution between the two and improve living conditions for one and all. I encourage my daughters to think of cleaning their rooms as their obligation to the Crown, consider it a sort of tax, if you will, for food and shelter. The room is such a sticking point and battle ground that even though Greer generally sees her younger sister, Piper, wearing a red coat, there are moments when they both join the rebellion.

On a few occasions when I’ve asked my pre-teen to clean her room, she has persuaded her younger sister to take the role of Paul Revere. Walking toward her bedroom to inspect the quarters, I’ve heard Piper screaming, “Mom’s coming. Mom’s coming.”

With no Hessian re-enforcement, when I make my way to her territory, it’s as if there is a “Don’t tread on me” flag standing proud in the corner right beside the Taylor Swift poster.

While both sides profess to use the Common Sense approach, we interpret the mindset from two different perspectives.

There are moments when I see give-me-liberty-wheels turning in her eyes. Maybe she sees the issue as taxation-without-representation. I’m willing to compromise. I believe we both want to work toward peace. If a treaty will do the trick, I’m up for it.

Even though she often sees me as the enemy, the truth is that I’m rooting for her. In the throes of this revolution, my goal is to stay the course and maintain diplomatic relations.

History tells us the American Revolutionary War lasted about eight years. I fear the revolution in our home has just begun and could last as long. The bottom line is we all know which side eventually wins.