Red, Sweet & Wild

To promote adoption from foster care, Lansdowne's Epiphany House is hosting a showing of the Heart Gallery of Philadelphia on April 24th at the Plymonth Meeting Mall. The Heart Gallery offers portraits of waiting children looking for forever families.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

You Don't Know What You Want Till You Know What You Want

I am late for an Easter Egg hunt. Desperate for my kids to get their fair share of plastic eggs, I roar out of my driveway and head for the highway. I hurry to my destination cursing slower, less egg-focused drivers. Once I get halfway to church, I calm down a bit and slide in one of my favorites, Joe Jackson's Body and Soul, to soothe my nerves. The familiar tones of Heart of Ice fill the car and then silence.

"What the f--"

I censor myself and eject the tape. Two seconds in, the tape had snapped.

I am always strangely sad when one of my tapes break. Of course I have made the inevitable transition first to CDs and then to iTunes. Nowadays, I mostly buy singles that I heard on the radio or that I remember from younger days. I rarely purchase whole albums on iTunes. Currently, I walk around with 732 of my favorite hits.

I am no music guru. I usually avoid talking about music because I know next to nothing about it and I enjoy my ignorance. I can get fancy and intellectual about film but I know my musical taste is sugary and wafer-thin and that suits me fine.

I miss my tapes. I miss hearing an artist's misses as well as his hits. I miss playing a tape over and over. I miss the squeal of rewinding to hear Prince's Kiss for the eleventh time.

Last week when we rearranged the bedroom my son James pulled out my box of tapes from under the bed. It had gotten wedged behind the wrapping paper box. My tapes are fragile and sound warbly. I listened to a few tentatively. Listening to my old music in its old format brought back memories of college and terrible boyfriends and laying on my dorm bed. I know I can replace my old favorites. Just the other day, I bought a bunch of Suzanne Vega songs including most of Solitude Standing from iTunes. I love hearing songs that I had not heard since my Vega tape suffered a major case of crushing a few years ago. Yet the experience was different and with each lost tape I lose a memory.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On the Road Again

I am just exhausted. I have been working on art projects and the house has been dangerously slipping into hoarders mode. Lately I have been do laundry, mountains and mountains of laundry. Hopefully I will be able to carve out some time in the next few weeks to relax, to knit, to draw, and to write. I have 60 experimental drawings due at the end of the semester. 60! Wish me luck.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

For an Epiphany House press release, I just finished an interview with the head of the Heart Gallery of Philadelphia, Terry Hirst. Hirst is a photographer that started her own business to have time to take care of her kids when they were young. And now that her kids were grown and business established, she wanted her business life to be more meaningful. After reading an article about the Heart Gallery in New Mexico, Hirst created her own branch in Philly to gave foster kids in need of forever families a voice.

I am so irritable today. In fact I've been pissy for a few days. Transitioning my career is so much more work than I ever imagined. Tonight, I was hastily packing my kids' lunches and snapping at everyone in sight. I have to remember that this is just the beginning. Hirst, with hard work and determination, opened doors at the Department of Human Services and is now helping kids find homes. Right now I am making peanut butter sandwiches and wiping bottoms and yelling at mu kids to wipe their own bottoms, but someday soon I will be a part of my own nonprofit organization and changing more than my corner of the world.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nobody Learned Anything

I was trying to fit my crockpot onto the top of the fridge when down came a toy train. This is a somewhat common occurence in my house so I didn't pay it any mind. James seized it. "This is Max's train," James announced happily. Suddenly I remembered that over a year ago our family went to a friend's Hanukkah party and my oldest son Quincy had stolen my friend's son's steam engine.

Quincy walked into the kitchen, grabbed the train from his brother, and yelled, "Mine!" For the next twenty minutes Quincy and I bickered over stolen property and possession being nine points of the law. Finally I upped the ante with, "What if Max (my friend's son) came to your house and took all of your toys? Would that be okay?"

Quincy promptly loaded many of his toys in trash bag and announced that he did not care if Max took his toys or if the toys went to the trash as long as he got to keep Max's train. Q had doubled down.

Not to be out done by a five year old, my husband Kevin jumped into the fray, "We are driving to Max's house right now and returning his train!" We got dressed. Quickly, Quincy and I fashioned an apology letter that wound up being Quincy's signature, my "I'm sorry," and Quincy's drawing of Max (a possibly naked picture of Max). I added a CD of music from James' baptism to make up for the chipped, stolen train and the nude drawing of their son. We headed over to Ardmore where we completely surprised Rachel, Pat, and Max. Suddenly embarrassed by my devil child, I handed over the bag, apologized profusely, and ran away.

So what was accomplished? Will Quincy be a better person? Has he learned to not steal toys? Are we really going to throw away a big bag of toys that we paid for? I did get my jacket back that I had left at Rachel's house, so that was cool. Max got his train back such as it is. But that was it. Q claims he has given up his life of crime, but he is a stubborn little bugger and I suspect he's faking it. Parenting is just ridiculous. Now what about those toys...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Perfect Moment

I helped my friend with her many babies and she rewarded me with a gift card to the local coffeehouse. I love coffee, but to save money I usually drink homemade brew in my living room while I fold clothes. Today instead of doing the ever-increasing mountain of laundry, I grabbed my gift card and headed out for joe.

Guilt-free, I bought a gignormous cappuccino and a chocolate croissant. Let me take a minute to describe these croissants. These are not those soft squishy half-moons of flavorless dough that a lot of places pass off as croissants. No, the Regency's chocolate croissants are pure joy distilled into a slab of bitter dark chocolate in a flaky, buttery shell of delight.

I sat down with my dessert, my bowl of coffee, my book and my magazine. I read the Affair of the Bungalow and leisurely picked out bathroom light fixtures. I drank my coffee and listened to Modern English. I noticed a woman was typing feverishly on her laptop, a man was making an appointment loudly on his cell phone, and a beautiful couple was very much into each other. Loud man aside, I realized this was a perfect, peaceful moment. No one was asking me for anything, I wasn't finding gummy fruit in my shoe or looking for the next writing gig. I was just being me, unfettered. I licked the shards of pastry off my fingers and savored the peace.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Big Clown Tears

I remember when I first moved back to the Philly area and I joined a writing group that met downtown. I've been writing business articels and reviews for years but my short story skills were dusty. I pulled an old short story off the shelf, worked on it for a bit, and submitted it to the group.
We used to meet in a grungy, but amicable bar and I breezed in to bar apprehensive about meeting new people but confident in my overall creativity. Needless to say, they promptly ripped the story to shreds. I was crestfallen. Later that week, I lamented their cruelty and obvious blindness to great talent to my friend Jaene. In the midst of my tale of woe, Jaene cut in and said, "And all you can do is cry big clown tears?" I cracked up laughing. I pictured one of the ridiculous overwought crying hobo clown paintings you come across occassionally in flea markets and unfortunate homes. Jaene and I talked a bit more around writing and criticism and getting over it, but that image of the crying clown stayed with me.
Flash forward to now. Art has always been a hobby I enjoyed. I never attached a need to excell to it. If my still life looked liked a bowl of apples I was more than thrilled and if my landscape looked like a colorful cave painting I still enjoyed the process. But now at school I am being judged on my artistic ability and it majorly sucks monkey.
A few weeks I brought what I thought was a skillfully rendered example to transparency and color theory. My prof examined it thoughtfully and said, "Yeahhhh, that's not working." After a few more comments he recommended that my best course of action was to pry it off the illustration board.
I was literally vibrating with anger and disappointment. Tensely, I shuffled my overpriced Color Aid papers. Then I remembered my "big clown tears." It is criticism not vivisection. I can learn from it or give it the finger or both but it is still only criticism. I dried my big clown tears and reached for the Xacto blade.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Home Work

A few weeks ago I was listening to a radio interview where parents were moaning about the hellacious amount of homework kids are required to complete nowadays. As I was folding the towels I listened to the broadcast with only half an ear. Since my boys are only four and three years old I knew I was years away from having to think about kids’ homework. Boy, was I wrong.
My sons are in nursery school, and this fall my oldest son Quincy started pre-kindergarten. While there has always been an educational component to the boys’ nursery school schedule, most of the boys’ time was spent on the real work of childhood: play. But I found out this year that pre-kindergarten is a whole new ballgame. The kids in the pre-k class are being prepared to step into school. The pre-k teachers have established a thorough curriculum. The kids are introduced to using computers and each one gets his own notebook. And horror of horrors, the kids also given simple assignments to complete at home. Simple assignments + Completed at home = homework.
It took me a while to get up to speed with this pre-k homework concept. I am taking classes at a local community college myself and I have been struggling to juggle household chores, work assignments, and my own homework. One morning my youngest James asked to wear his favorite shirt and I explained to him that his shirt was in the hamper.
“When can I wear my shirt?” James pleaded.
I looked at the towering mountain of laundry piled precariously on top of the hamper and honestly replied, “I have no idea, sweetie.”
While struggling with studying for my own classes and trying to complete my homework assignments, helping Quincy with his pre-k homework was a low priority for me. Quincy’s first project focused on something to do with family stories. Dimly, I remember glancing at the homework directions printed on his classroom door. Apparently I was supposed to leave some family pictures or something in Quincy’s cubby. I completely forgot about it. The next morning Quincy’s new teacher reminded about the homework assignment. The teacher handed me a specially decorated bag for the family photos. Luckily for me, Quincy’s teachers had found an old photo of Quincy as a baby with my husband Kevin and me hanging in Quincy’s old classroom from a previous art project. They used this old picture for the first few days of school.
Embarrassed by forgetting the first assignment of the year I promised Quincy’s teacher that I would do better. The next morning I remembered the photo just as I was running with the kids out of the house to school. I grabbed a photo of me with the kids dressed in Halloween costumes from the fridge door and tossed the picture into Quincy’s decorated bag.
That afternoon I picked the boys up from school. This time the homework complaint came from Quincy. “Why did you only put one picture in my bag?” Quincy asked in a huff. It turns out all the other children had have four photos in their bags. I hated disappointing my kids. Deciding that overkill was the best solution, the next morning I put a whole photo album in Quincy’s cubby.
The photo album was returned that afternoon with the homework assignment and decorated bag rubber-banded to it. Once again, Quincy was displeased.
“No one else had a book!”
Aaarrrgghh! I can’t believe I am flunking out of pre-kindergarten. Determined to not screw up again, I carefully read the homework assignment. Quincy and I were supposed to select four family photos together. We were supposed to discuss who was in the family photos and what the occasion was in the photos so that Quincy could talk about his family for class.
I finally got it. Quincy’s homework was not just one more thing on my to do list that needed to be checked off. My little boy was growing up and I needed to get him ready for school. Together, Quincy and I looked through a stack of our photo albums together and we picked out a handful of family favorite photos. The boys and I discussed the photos and I prepared Quincy to speak in his class.
Finally after a week of Mommy missteps Quincy’s show and tell was a success. There have been more decorated bags with homework assignments in the cubbyhole since then. Recently Quincy’s class has been working on their reading skills. In honor of the letter A I cut out pictures of apples, acorns, arbors, and aprons for one homework assignment. Quincy decided on the apples and acorns for his assignment and carried them happily to school.
I am still overly busy but I am making a greater effort to be more organized. In the past I have jumped into new organizational plans like they were boot camp. I would buy the latest organizing tome, a brand new calendar, and an over-priced organizer or PDA. Typically I would stay on track for a few weeks. Then I would slack off. And after a few months I would be back to my messy, cluttered, disorganized self.
At this time in my life, I have started the organization process more gently. So far, I have just started with jotting a brief to do list each morning, writing in my journal, and getting a good night’s sleep. For my writing career, I have set up my reference materials and office supplies neatly on the desk in the living room. And for my schoolwork, I have massed my ever-growing cache of art supplies on one side of our sun porch near the sunny table where I create my projects.
For Quincy’s assignments I now take great pains to carefully read all of the directions my son’s teachers send home with him. I have learned from writing and drawing that creativity is a muscle that has to be trained. With time, ideas flow more freely and craftsmanship improves. I realize now that Quincy’s homework is training me to help Quincy be a good student and support his educational future.
A few days ago while I was buckling James into his car seat he asked me, “Can I go to kindergarten?”
I reassured James, that he too would go to kindergarten.
“Can I go to kindergarten now?” James suddenly asked as I was buckling in Quincy. I bumped my head on the car door in surprise.
“Not now.” James became his predictable wail. I cut the high-pitched whining short with a gentle answer. “Not now, but soon.” I got into the car and began to drive the boys to nursery school before I headed off to my own classes. My boys began to chatter about going to kindergarten and driving busses and taking train trips and all of the other silly things they usually talk about. Suddenly I realized that my little boys were not quite so little anymore.