Funny how seemingly unrelated things can make a connection and stir nostalgia in the wee hours of the morning.
Part 1: M has spent the past year or so learning to write letters and her name. She’s getting pretty good, but she struggles a bit with holding her pencil tight enough so sometimes what she’s written is barely legible because it’s so faint. We were told by her preschool teacher that playing with modeling clay will help build muscle tone in her hands–she said that she actually sees this quite a bit with today’s kids who are not playing as much at the playground and such as we all used to. So we’re hitting the monkey bars and the modeling clay (not Playdoh–too soft) a bit more these days. It’s a beautiful work in progress, and she is nonetheless proud of herself.
Part 2: Over the past year I had read a few surprising articles (like this one, this one, and this one) about how many schools, school districts and/or states are eliminating teaching cursive from the curriculum and often substituting keyboard skills instead.
Part 3: While we were away for a week on vacation, our neighbors graciously collected our mail for us. It was waiting in a tidy pile on our kitchen counter when we arrived home from the airport at 1:30AM. Although M had slept on the short flight, she was tired and clearly needed to get right back to sleep, but first she wanted to make sure all was in order around the house while Daddy unpacked the car. Meanwhile, I idly coursed through the five inch high mail pile to see what we had missed. I sorted it into two piles: recycle pile and keep pile. Now, I am not a letter writer these days myself (and I am well aware that we have some thank you notes that are overdue from M’s birthday), but I was actually sad to see that within that pile, only four pieces of mail were in the “keep” pile: two magazines that we subscribe to, and two pieces of mail from people we personally know. When I saw that all at once–rather than slowly filtering in over a week’s time–it kind of made me sad.
It probably goes without saying, but only one of those pieces of mail was handwritten–a postcard from our neighbors visiting France. Oh sure, there were a few of those pseudo-handwritten charity appeals in there, but we all know they aren’t fooling anyone with their computer generated scripted fonts. And I’m sure soon enough handwritten postcards will go the way of the dodo bird once someone figures out a way to digitize postcards. Oh wait…they already have. It’s called email and Facebook. I’m just as guilty of it too.
It’s just so much easier to upload a thousand megapixels of sand and sea for all of my friends and “friends” to see than it is to track down a postcard, a postcard stamp and a mailbox while on vacation. Does it even matter whether I am sending one stock photo with a few lines of my handwriting, musing about the local weather and eating too much instead of a cache of digital photos showing various stages of sunburn and frizzy, humid hair? If we’re honest with ourselves…it does matter, though maybe not for the right reason. The inner voyeur in most of us is looking through these photos to see whether our lives are as interesting as someone else’s, or more likely whether our friends (and “friends”) have a less than flattering photo that reveals some cellulite or beer belly that usually hides out beneath some flattering work clothes or a photo that forgot to keep the pile of candy wrappers out of the frame. Wait. Did you already see my photos from South Carolina? I digress….
Part 4: The big hubbub about the state of the U.S. Postal Service and possible reductions in delivery days, workforce, etc. Most recently on Huffington Post is this article.
But together all four of these random things became related in my mind as I tried to fall asleep later that night. Funny how being overtired, still jittery from flying and coming off of an Almond Joy induced sugar high will do that.
I am not even sure how I feel about the potential loss of cursive instruction and possibly a different mail delivery scenario. On the one hand, will I really be losing anything? I mean how many Capital One credit card solicitations and Pottery Barn catalogs do I really need on a weekly basis? The sheer waste of all that paper going unread and straight from my mailbox to the recycling bin always makes my blood boil. (Here’s where I will give a shout out to one of my favorite websites: www.catalogchoice.org — it really does work to get off of unwanted catalog mailing lists, although I cannot ever seem to shake Pottery Barn!! They have killed way too many trees in effort to sell me some brushed nickel faucets and other tchotchkes that I just don’t need!) If all I am getting in terms of wanted mail–meaning magazines and occasional notes from friends and family–is a few pieces a week, then really what’s the harm in reducing the delivery schedule (not that I want anyone to lose their jobs over this–though I can’t have it both ways I suppose). I have mixed views about it that are equally tainted by politics and nostalgia. And honestly, when is the last time I wrote a letter out in longhand? Probably college, save for a few thank you notes here and there over the years. No, the computer is definitely my friend here because it can keep up with my tendency to be long winded.
On the other hand….I think of M and her trying to learn penmanship and the possibility of the lost art of letter writing. I think of her earnest efforts at writing “M’s” and all the other letters in her name, and wonder what it will all be for down the road? While I have all of my favorite (and not so favorite) handwritten letters of boyfriends, friends and pen pals of years past saved up in a box in the basement to someday share with my angst ridden teenage daughter in a last ditch effort to relate to whatever teenage saga she is living through, I wonder what she will keep from her youth? Will she have to call Sprint or Verizon to request a printed copy of her back and forth text messages to her crush du jour? Will she be printing out reams of emails and put them in three ring binders? I can already hear myself telling her, “When I was your age I had to use a pen and paper to send a letter!” as I paw through my saved letters shoved haphazardly into a shoebox, and her rightfully rolling her eyes at me in response. And I am certainly not the first person to make note of the virtues of writing letters, as one of my favorite bloggers recently noted.
With handwriting you see emotion. You see when someone’s energy is flagging at the end of a long letter. You can see when they were in a rush or not so happy (like terse comments in the margin from a boss). You see that with underlining they really do want you to have a happy birthday! You can see the person’s individuality shine through their penmanship. You can see their mood change from day to day because it never looks exactly the same way twice. You know that they took the time to sit down, focus and craft something meaningful to say. But on a computer or phone keypad, all you get is some short, choppy statements and emoticons. OMG. WTF.
So as I fell asleep, I committed to myself that if the schools are not going to teach cursive by the time M goes to school, then I will teach her. If the USPS eventually goes the way of the pony express, then we will find another way to deliver her handwritten letters, no matter how quaint it may seem. It’s a lot like how I feel about reading maps and my silent resistance to using GPS despite being directionally challenged. No
vermin Garmin for me–just an old, coffee-stained map in the back of my car. Although it’s clearly easier to plug in an address and follow the eery voice to reach your destination, I want M to be one of the few people who can deftly read (and fold!) a map. Knowing how it feels to receive a written letter among a stack of junk mail, I also vowed to start sending an extra letter or two from time to time, especially to those friends who are not into email and Facebook. It’s not fair to those friends that these vices are the new common denominator for the rest of us.
None of us can rely entirely on technology because it does fail, both figuratively and literally, from time to time. We still need to know the basics and be able to communicate to each other as humans through traditional means, or at least I think so. Perhaps this is why every year I handwrite (rather than type out) a long “year in review” letter to M on her birthday and tuck it away in a special place for her to read once I am long gone. My hope is that, someday, she will get a sense of how I really felt while reflecting on her annual milestones, and understand the purpose behind my small but important effort that meandered over a few leaves of lined paper.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
As cliche as it is, my favorite thing about young children is their ability to remind us older, more jaded folks of what is really important and noteworthy.
This past week we visited the coast of South Carolina on a trip that had us spending time with various factions of both sides of our family in different locations. During one salt marsh boat journey to a nearby barrier island–complete with decommissioned lighthouse–M said something that took me by surprise and gave me some much needed pause and reflection.
We were collecting shells to bring back home for souvenirs. I, of course, was interested in picking up only the perfect, unbroken shells. As M handed me a handful of shell shards and holey fragments to put in our bag, I said to her, “Oh no, M, those ones are broken.” To which she promptly (and very correctly) replied,
“Even the broken ones are beautiful, Mommy.”
Indeed they are. Thank you for pointing out that “perfection” does not always equal beauty or define value.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
Up until very recently, M has not really cared about my morning makeup routine. I’m pretty low key about it all. Moisturizer, a little bit of foundation, a dab of concealer if a rogue pimple appears, brown eyeliner, black mascara and a little bit of blush. Tame the brows. If I’m feeling sassy, maybe some Badger lip balm (colorless of course) and a squeeze of the eyelash curler. Yawn.
I don’t carry makeup around with me. I don’t reapply during the day. I’m not really into “products”. By about lunchtime, I’m sure all of this shows. But it’s my routine just as much as taking a shower is.
Then M caught me off guard a few mornings ago with this question,
“Mommy, why do you wear makeup?”
And then she reached for my eyelash curler to try and curl her eyebrows. Apparently she has not been studying me too carefully.
It’s a good question. And I didn’t know how to answer it. It’s probably only my second gender related discussion with her since she’s been born. The other one was a couple of months ago on the heels of a preschool hazing of sorts, stirred up by the older boys in her class who were advising the younger kids about what colors, toys and professions were “boy” and which ones were “girl”. She and I promptly had a chat about how, despite her little buddy’s sage advice, girls and women can do virtually everything the same as boys and men, except that (1) we have a uterus and so we can have children (if we want) and (2) boys pee standing up, but we have to sit down. The other night I caught her trying to prove me wrong on this second one. The results of her experiment required lots of toilet paper and a plunger. Let’s hope she takes me on my word about #1.
I don’t think I answered her makeup query at first. As I half-heartedly applied my “Ivory #405” foundation (which despite being the palest shade I can find, still isn’t light enough for my pasty white skin), I stopped to think “why do I wear make-up?”
In middle school, the answer would have been “because my mom expressly told me not to”. In high school and college, the answer would have been “to get boys to notice me” (thankfully, E did). For a while after college, the answer would have been “to show my women friends–past and present–that I have not let it all go to pot”. At my ten year high school reunion, the answer would have been “in case I run into my high school boyfriend and he thinks I let it all go to pot”. For a while after being married, the answer would have been “to show my husband’s friends and colleagues that I am not some dowdy housewife and we have not let it all go to pot”. For the first couple of years after M was born, the answer would have been “so I don’t look insane at the pediatrician’s office.”
But what about now? I have the boy. Although our wedding vows did not include the words “in concealer and in dark circles”, I am pretty sure it was implied. I have friends who probably really don’t care if I am wearing Cover Girl’s over-hyped, fashion forward, fall eye color. Considering I live about an hour from where I grew up and went to college, I am pretty sure I am not running into any former boyfriends or school girlfriends when I run down the street to pick up the dry cleaning. I honestly do not consciously think about whether I have makeup on (or even spinach in my teeth) before I venture out into public. I don’t think most of us do. If that weren’t true, I think we’d see a lot more red lip gloss and flawless skin in the produce aisle. And despite my artfully applied eyeliner, M’s doctors still think I am insane for
vaxing on a different schedule, co-sleeping with M until she was 2, not letting M watch any TV before she was 2, raising her vegetarian, … many other reasons.
Some people might say that they do it because it’s fun. I honestly have never really thought that way about makeup, probably because I have never been really good at picking out colors that work with my ghostlike skin. The 16 tubes of lipstick and 13 shades of brown eyeshadow hibernating under my bathroom sink are proof of that. Some people might say they feel more comfortable with it on, but for me at least that is because it is largely the result of a twenty year long daily habit. I’d feel the same way if I stopped having coffee in the mornings. I could certainly do without the coffee, but I like the taste and the caffeine withdrawal headaches just hurt too much–kinda like looking at Kim Kardashian’s makeup.
So what gives? Why am I still putting this shit on my face? And more to the point, how do I answer M’s question? We’re trying to have her understand that beauty comes from within, not from what you put on your face or what clothes you wear. In time, I hope that she comes to realize that it’s all based in confidence–which, arguably for some people does come from what they put on their face or what clothes they wear, although I do not think I am in that camp necessarily–but relating beauty to inner confidence is a tough sell to a 4 year old who just wants to smear your cheek stain all over her face.
I think I answered it something along the lines of “well, when you’re much older, you might want it to accentuate certain things on your face, like your eyes or your lips”. I tried to be as neutral as possible so as not to lead her to think that there is something wrong with the way those beautiful blue eyes and her sweet button nose look all on their own. I also didn’t want to make it about hiding anything, like wrinkles or zits.
Of course her next question was how old she had to be to wear makeup. She quickly suggested 5 years old. I told her 29.
I’m sure as she gets older she’ll figure it out for herself. Since I don’t make a big deal out of makeup, but don’t shun it either, I bet she’ll come out pretty moderate about it. I’m not sure I’ll be throwing away any of my makeup just yet, but I can say that I no longer break out in a sweat if I run out of something in my beige and brown colored arsenal. If I have to go a day or two with people seeing that my eyelashes are not as collossal and Volum’ized (doesn’t Maybelline have spell check?) as is apparently required to be somebody in this world, then so be it.
But the question did help me answer another question that I posed to myself (and my FB friends) recently, about whether to let my hair go grey after 13+ years of dying it. Maybe it’s my age or just not giving a rat’s ass about what other people think about how I look anymore (these are probably not mutually exclusive either), but I am now confident enough in my own Ivory #405 skin to take a huge leap of faith and live with the paranoia that my husband is constantly checking out my roots from his 6 foot tall vantage point. Needless to say, I won’t be buying a refill of this anymore (and my mom will owe me $100 in March):
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
Today we marked the wall to record how tall M is on her 4th birthday.
40 and 3/8 inches.
It’s deceiving, really, to think that she’s only grown just over 3 inches since her third birthday. When I think back over the past year and recall all that she has learned, heard, seen and felt, I know she’s grown so much more.
There are so many examples to choose from, but one of my favorites is the appreciation that I think she now has for what neighbors do for each other and what community means. She knows that it involves an unconditional give and take, one that has prevented our garden from wilting or trash cans from blowing down the street when we’ve been away on vacation. It’s meant receiving a surprise batch of chocolate chip cookies and exchanges of too abundant vegetables. And, in turn, we’ve taken care of some neighbors’ plants and checked their sump pumps when they’re out of town. Though M seems to like having a “job” to do, as evidenced by her constantly reminding us that we need to go check L & J’s basement when she wakes up at the crack of dawn, I think what she really likes is the adventure of going down into their mysterious basement. Perhaps the best gig though, was when we were asked to feed our other neighbors’ cat because that meant some much anticipated free access to her little friends’ pairs of princess shoes. Who knew that preschooler shoe heaven was just a stone’s throw away.
Of course it also meant, unfortunately, that she has had to experience a low, lonely feeling since these same cherished neighborhood pals (and their shoes) have moved on to another place. I’m sure she misses “the girls” way more than the shoes. The gift of two pairs of princess shoes from these beloved pals at M’s birthday party this past weekend seemed to soften the blow, at least a little bit…though I think she’s still reeling from their move as she’s discovering it’s just not much fun to have such shoes if there is no one else to dance around with you.
But despite the moving of her pals, she also seems to understand her value among all the remaining neighbors, despite being the youngest one in the bunch. Whether it be a quick visit from our next door neighbor who wants to see what color I’m painting M’s toes (pink, of course) or being included among the neighborhood grumbling and camaraderie during this year’s blizzards and last week’s power outage, she is given a sense of importance. Her affection for cats is well-known, and so she was treated to a sneak peek of two neighborhood kittens as they arrived home. With these neighbors being three doors down, they could have easily just gone inside unnoticed, yet they didn’t and instead went out of their way to show M their fuzzy new additions.
She now waves to people first and they wave back to her. She knows all of the neighborhood cats, and dutifully scares them away if they’re getting too close to the bird feeders. She knows the rhythms and sounds of our neighborhood, from E’s loud truck and the sirens from the hospital ambulances, to the distant laughter of some older neighborhood kids and that B must almost be finished siding his garage since we don’t hear the “‘struction” too much anymore. She prances around in the yard in her latest tulle fashions–currently, fairy wings, wand and headband–hoping that someone will stop and say hello. She enjoys the post-dinner bike rides around the block with Daddy, hoping that someone might still be outside to see her mad skills.
She knows that there is a little old lady, easily 100 years old, who sits at the back of the elder services van that drops off our elderly neighbor each afternoon right after M comes home from preschool. And that that same woman always looks for M in the front door window or in the driveway, hoping for a wave. M makes her smile every time. Although it’s fleeting, they make a connection, on the street, in our neighborhood.
I think she knows that we plan to be here a while, that this neighborhood is just as much her home as this house is. I suppose each year the circle beyond our house will grow wider and wider, with next year taking her to meet more new faces further down the road. But for M I think this past year in particular has been about solidifying her sense of place and coming to understand how a community works, something that could not really be appreciated until reaching this age. That, like all neighborhoods, we have our cast of characters, from the ones we only see on trash day to the ones who are forever working on their yards, cars or gardens, from the guy with the loud truck to the lady who hardly ever says hello. But that we all have our place here, even the shortest folks among us.
Happy Birthday, M. Four looks great on you.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
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