Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Little Bit About Me

March 31, 2009

I borrowed these Finish the Sentence statements from a friend, and I thought I'd share them here:

1. My ex.......is a good dad and a good person. He just wasn't a good husband for me.

2. I believe.....in the basic good nature of people. I believe it's important to find a partner who makes you laugh every single day. I believe a kindred spirit transcends time and geography. I believe it's important to teach kids to do good for others even when there's no pay-off except knowing you've done what's right. I believe we cannot control the behaviors of others, but we can control the way in which we choose to respond. I believe in second chances.

3. I love...... my children, my husband, my job (most days), and all of my extended family. For those of you who have read my description of who all I consider my 'family,' you know that probably means you, too.

4. People would say that I'm…… easy-going, diplomatic, verbose, and (at times) funny.

5. I don't understand why people think I am……..outgoing. I still see myself as a very quiet and shy individual who has trouble breaking the ice in unfamiliar situations.

6. When I wake up in the morning.......I hit the snooze button a couple of times before I get up and check out the morning news.

7. I've lost......both of my parents and my brother. That makes me the oldest of my immediate family, which is strange, I think, at my age.

8. Life is full of......people just like me, sometimes on unstable footing, not sure of the next step. Sometimes it's important to remember that no one has all the right answers all the time.

9. My past is........ how I became who I am today. It is filled with people and events who have made an indelible imprint, and I am grateful. I don't believe in living in the past, but I do believe that one has to acknowledge its part in the journey.

10. I get annoyed when people....are too close-minded to listen to others' perspectives.

11. Parties are.....all about a theme (Brianna) or LaserQuest (Nicholas and Danielle). Unless of course, it's a party hosted by Dennis and Val, and then that's something altogether different.

2. I wish.......to live a long, healthy, happy life, surrounded by my equally healthy and happy family.

13. Dogs.........I miss having dogs. We always had them growing up, and someday I'd like to have one join the family again.

14. Cats..........I never thought I was much of a cat person until we met Kelly. Don't tell her this, but I believe she's a cat with the soul of a dog.

15. Tomorrow........is a chance for a new opportunity.

16. I have low tolerance for.........people who are mean. It's just not necessary to go out of one's way to make someone else feel small.

17. If I had a million dollars......there would be charitable contributions involved, but there would also be some vacations as well.

18. I'm totally terrified......that some illness or injury would befall one of my children.

19. My spouse......is a person with whom I can be the best me that I am.

20. The coolest person I've ever met is.......my Great Grandma Martin. She was way ahead of her time. The coolest famous person I've ever met was Bob Hope--got to shake hands with him and everything. Talk about an icon!

My life.......is an adventure, and I am looking forward to whatever's around the bend.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What a Week!

March 29, 2009

I spent much of this week trying to be two or three places at once. There was a flurry of activity in the household--everything seemed to hit all at once--but despite the hectic nature, we thrived on the energy and had a fabulous week.

Danielle ended drama this week, and started softball. That little overlap provided us our first schedule conflict of the week. On Monday, she had a blocking rehearsal for the play from 4:30-6:00, and her first practice for softball with her new coach from 5-6. (She actually had a practice last week, but due to numbers, that team was collapsed redistributed to other existing teams.) I thought that perhaps she could attend half of each, but she was told she needed to stay for the duration of the rehearsal. I went to the ten-year old softball practice without a ten-year old, just so I could meet the coach and let her know why Danielle was unable to attend.

Tuesday's schedule unexpectedly got a little lighter when we discovered that Brianna didn't quite have everything she needed to be able to take her driver's permit exam--apparently you have to already be enrolled in and have a signature from the driver's trainer instructor--so we postponed that event for a couple of weeks. However, we still had Danielle's dress rehearsal and a Dance Rep audition for Brianna. In addition, as soon as I got done shuttling between activities, I had to get home and pack for my trip to Sacramento.

Wednesday and Thursday were relatively mellow days for me, since I was focused on only my task at hand--my annual work on the Item Review Committee for the high school exit exam. (This is an annual trek I make that really renews in me a sense of competency and knowledge which I truly believe helps to make me a better teacher for my students.) Meanwhile, back at home the kids' dad had quite a task trying to juggle all the places they needed to be. Danielle had softball practice, Bree had play auditions and youth group, and Nicholas and Danielle both had Chess Club and Awanas on Wednesday. On Thursday, Danielle also had her first night performance of the play.

Although I love doing the work I do in Sacramento, I was really upset that I was going to miss Danielle's play. Unfortunately, her dad also was not going to be attending. Her step-dad, though, was amazing. Despite the fact that he's been working incredibly long hours these past few weeks, he didn't want Danielle to have no one in the audience, so he was a surprise attendee in the audience. He said that when Danielle saw him in the audience, she almost forgot herself and went to give him a hug. She stopped herself, but still gave him a big smile. How adorable is that? Afterwards she did come find him to give him a big hug, and he loved that he was able to show her that kind of support.

Friday and Saturday were a little bit of a blur. Often when I do this work in Sacramento, we finish up a bit early on the last day of the workshop. That didn't happen this time. I knew I wanted to make sure I made it back in time to see Danielle's six o'clock final performance of the play, but we didn't wrap up until 3:00. Knowing that I had a three hour drive ahead of me, I was praying that a traffic jam didn't cause me to miss it. Luckily, my sister Lisa had come into town late Thursday night with her girls, so she was able to get there a little early to save me a seat. Bill dropped off the Bree and Nicholas to be stay with her until I got there, too. I didn't even have time to stop at home--I drove straight to the auditorium and literally walked in the door just as the principal was beginning her opening remarks. I didn't miss a thing! The play was a fifties-style Red Robin Hood musical, and it was a great deal of fun. It was wonderful for all of us to be able to see the end result of all the hard work she's put in for the past few months.

After the hugs and kisses and pictures, I had to whisk Danielle off to a sleepover birthday party, and the rest of us headed to a late family dinner night. It was Doug's dinner choice, but he had the task of finding something that Lisa and the kids would like too. We ended up at Yukon Jack's, which is always a big hit with our family. We came home and stayed up way too late letting the kids play while Lisa and I chatted until the early hours of the morning.

Saturday we all headed out to Danielle's first softball game at 11:30. She got some good fielding in out in center field, and actually made some contact with the ball in her at-bat. Doug, Nicholas, and I stayed for the whole game, and our team, the Firecrackers, fared well against their opponents. Danielle wants to get a little batting practice in before the next game; she's hoping to get on base next time.

Lisa and the girls were also able to stay for most of the game, but they left a little early to attend a gathering to honor the memory of the mother of a long time friend of ours, Brady. As soon as the game was over, we changed and headed over there as well. It was an informal gathering at Brady's brother's home, and we reminisced and caught up with each other while the kids played in the yard. I have always felt that a gathering of friends and family to remind ourselves of the bonds we have created is a wonderful way to honor the memories of loved ones, and this was certainly that.

Finally, we came home and napped for a bit, and then decided dinner at Me N Ed's was in order. We try to get at least one visit in whenever Lisa and the girls come. It holds a nostalgic throw-back to our high school days for us, and now it's become a tradition for our kids as well. We get pizza and kick back, and the kids throw quarters in the jukebox and sing and dance to their hearts' content. Bill Murray saw our invitation to join us, so he and his kids also stopped by to add to the party. The evening at home was a quiet one (as quiet as can be with that many children), and ultimately everyone settled in to a late night viewing of "Twilight" before bedtime.

This morning, after the hustle and bustle of packing and finding misplaced items, and of course hugging and kissing, we sent Lisa and the girls back on their way home with the promise that we'd see them again soon when we visit at Easter. I also packed up my kids and took them over to their dad's house for a couple of days. I got home to just Doug, and he and I cuddled up on the couch together, house to ourselves for the first time in many days. Sigh...

Thursday, March 26, 2009


March 26, 2009

I'm out of town on a three-day business trip, so I've been pulled a little out of my normal routine. Having the night on my own last night was pretty novel--no homework to supervise, no practices to shuttle kids to, no dinner to have to cook. No, my night was my own last night, and that's okay every once in awhile.

Without some sort of pre-scheduled responsibility, I found myself at the end of the day wondering how to spend my evening. I headed down the elevator of my hotel room, trying to decide on a plan. By the time I got down to the lobby, I had made my decision--my plan would be...no plan.

So I walked out of the hotel with no particular place to go, and no schedule to keep. It was a little after six, so it was still light outside. I walked wherever my feet decided to move, no objective in mind but to enjoy the sights I encountered in an unfamiliar city. (Those of you who know my less-than-stellar sense of direction know that this was a somewhat risky proposition; there was great potential for me to end up completely and hopelessly lost.) Walk I did, though, and as I meandered up and down the streets, I let my mind wander as well.

I don't do this often enough--listen in on the stream of consciousness. Like my feet, my thoughts traveled from one street to the next, one idea to the next. I listened to my inner self commenting on the architecture, the skyline, the quaint little neighborhood I passed through. I found myself looking carefully at the intricate pattern on the roots of a gnarled old tree at the park I passed, and noting the various expressions of the passersby. I took in far more than I usually do when I am headed somewhere with a purpose or a goal.

Because it was just me, I could let my thoughts aimlessly wander across the landscape, attaching my observations to random bits of memory and knowledge and emotion. Incomplete sentences, fragmented ideas, half-remembered experiences, fleeting impressions, seemingly disjointed connections, all bubbled to the forefront of my consciousness, vivid mental snapshots to be filed away later. I suppose we usually take in these images in this way, but we don't always know they're there, because we don't take the time to listen in before they slip into the realm of the subconscious.

Sometimes I let my feet move in the most familiar direction out of habit. They know the path and the plan, and I get where I'm going on autopilot. Honestly, sometimes that's necessary. Routines and schedules and plans are important. But you know, when I let myself go down another path, an unfamiliar one that reminds me take it all in and to listen in on my journey, I remember how much I miss out on when I'm not hearing my true voice. I need to remember when I get back home to sometimes point my feet in a new direction.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Remembering Gary on His Birthday

I wrote this eulogy (with a great deal of input) for my brother Scott to deliver at the funeral of our other brother, Gary. March 24, 2009 would have been his 44th birthday, so I thought I'd post this in his honor:

I got the opportunity to sit down and reminisce with the family about Gary the other day as we were making plans for his funeral. My sisters, Donna, Lisa, and Laura were there, as well as his two kids, Tiffany and Anthony.

Many descriptors came to mind as we were talking about Gary: He was stubborn, boisterous, incredibly loyal to family, intelligent, funny, quirky, protective, playful, adventurous, resourceful, proud, competitive. He was, in short, a Mayes boy.

Gary Ray Mayes came into the world on March 24, 1965 in Midwest City , Oklahoma. He lived there until he was four, when Dad moved the family out to California.

Even from a young age, his stubborn and boisterous personality was evident. His best friend in elementary school, Jiro, took karate lessons, and one day he told Gary he’d teach him what he knew. Gary came home from Cub Scouts that day and told Donna he knew karate, and could prove it. She told him there was no way he had learned karate in just one afternoon.

Imagine my parents’ surprise when they came home from work and found the sliding glass door in shards and slivers all over the back porch. He had done a running, flying kick at the door, and had crashed right through. Gary didn’t worry about the mess or the damage he might have done to himself or to the house, though; he just wanted to prove that he had been right. Still bleeding from various cuts and wounds, Gary turned to Donna and said with a twinkle in his eye, “See, I told you I knew karate!”

His adventurous spirit and quick wit came in handy when we moved to Clovis after Dad got a promotion when Gary was in the sixth grade. Entering a new school can be tough at any age, but in the middle of your sixth grade year, it can be especially difficult.

Gary took it in stride, though, and quickly adjusted and made new friends, many of which he kept when he moved on to Junior High and became a member of Kastner’s first year of students. He went on to attend both Sanger High and finally McLane, where he really found his niche as number 36 on their football team.

After high school, Gary considered his options and decided he’d like to serve in the military. He followed Dad’s footsteps into the Air Force, where he served as a Radar Operator. It was work he was proud of and was well-suited to his analytical mind.

After he got out of the Air Force, Gary worked a number of odd jobs. One of his jobs was working at 7-11. Believe it or not, that was a job that would change his life. It was there that he met Sandi, who would eventually become the mother of his two children. Sandi was working at a different 7-11 at the time. He happened to stop in Sandi’s store to buy some roses for the girl he was on his way to pick up for a date.

He got to chatting with Sandi, and realized they were both enjoying the flirting and the company. Always resourceful, he gave her one of the roses intended for his date, and said he’d be back to ask her out later. As far as we know, the other girl never knew why Gary was late for the date, or if she realized that her dozen roses was one shy. We do know, however, that he went back at the end of Sandi’s shift, and the rest is history. They were both smitten, and they began what would ultimately be a life-long connection.

In his adult life, Gary devoted himself to two things: his family and his sports. The two proudest days of his life were the days his kids were born. As it often does, fatherhood changed Gary. He was one of the proudest daddies you ever saw, and he was fiercely devoted and protective of his babies. When Tiffany was born, Gary couldn’t wait to show her off to everyone. He carried her like a football, head cradled in his hand, little tiny body tucked in against his chest.

He pointed out to everyone the trademark “Mayes nose” that he had passed on. His biggest joy was making Tiffany smile, and as she grew up, he grew up as well. It was when he became a dad that he started to really realize the importance of his own family. He forged new bonds with Mom and with his own brother and sisters, recognizing how important they would all be in helping to create the positive support and environment he wanted to provide for his kids.

When Anthony was born, his joy and pride in his kids doubled in a way that he couldn’t have known. He became even more playful and family-oriented--a very hands-on sort of dad who rolled around on the ground with the kids and cheered loudly for them at all the t-ball games and class performances.

In 1999, Gary moved with his family to Idaho.

His other life-long devotion, of course, was to his sports. Highly competitive, he found outlets to express that competitive spirit in a number of ways. This love of sports also started out very early on in his life. As a kid he was an avid collector of baseball cards, and later that expanded to football cards.

He continued to collect all kinds of sports memorabilia his entire life. He loved his teams and was a devoted fan, win or lose (even though he hated losing): baseball was all about the Cincinnati Reds, his football teams were the Steelers and Fresno State, and LA Lakers were his basketball team.

In addition to following the pro teams, Gary was involved in his own sports organizations. Dad taught us all to play pool when we were growing up, and for Gary, the love of the game stuck. He played pool for more than 20 years. He was a member of the United States Pool Players Association, as well as the Valley National 8-Ball Association. Gary played in many different leagues and tournaments over the years, and even went to a National Level competition one year in Las Vegas.

He often frequented the local pool rooms, especially Classic Billiards. The catch phrase my dad started many years ago at the pool table- -Rack ‘em, Loser--is on Gary‘s personalized license plates on his car.

In April, Gary and I played in a 9-ball tournament in Seattle. His daughter, Tiffany, took pictures. After we got the pictures developed, Gary pointed out to some of the hospital staff that I was “racking” in the picture. This was a clear sign that I lost and he won.

Gary was also a very strong bowler, who played on several local leagues when he lived here in Clovis. He was able to play on some leagues with Mom and Sandi. Tiffany remembers getting to stay up late at Aunt Donna’s house while mommy and daddy had date nights at the bowling alley.

Not too long ago, Gary made his last trip out to California for a visit. We knew it was probably the last trip, and Gary and Donna and the kids got to sit around and chat a bit with the kids, and perhaps get an opportunity to say some things that might not otherwise get said.

Gary and Donna and the kids all went around the room and asked a ‘big question’ that everyone else had to answer. One of the questions was, “Who has made the biggest positive impact on your life?” Gary’s response: The first part of my life, my dad, because he taught me how to be a man, and the second half, my son, because he taught me how to be a kid again.”

The kids both said their dad had been the biggest positive impact. At the end of the day, at the end of a life, that’s all we can really ask for; that we made a positive impact on someone else in this world and left it a better place. When you look into the eyes of the two children Gary leaves behind, you know that he did just that.

Go Go Go...Then Take it Slow

March 23, 2009

Oh my goodness, there's a lot going on in the world of the Lutjens kids these days. Our routine has been thrown a little off kilter because of my recent trip to Sacramento--we've flipped our at-dad's-house/at-mom's-house schedule to accomodate the trip, and we're getting ready to have to do it again this week. The kids are troopers, though, and pretty flexible, so we're just taking it one day at a time. Although I love the Sacramento gig, I'm pretty glad it only happens twice each spring.

So this week, here's what's been happening with everyone:

Danielle had her last week of pre-production rehearsals for her school play, "Do Wop Riding Hood." She's really been loving drama, and was excited to find out that her Aunt Lisa and her cousins are going to be in town to get to see her Friday night performance. We've got her poodle skirt and saddle shoes ready to go!

She also started softball for the first time this past week. She's been talking about wanting to play for a couple of years now, and this year her good friend Vanessa asked her if she'd like to join her team. We got her all signed up, and even went to the first practice Wednesday, and then the coach called and told us that there weren't enough girls to field a team. They all got broken up in pairs and added to existing teams, and luckily, Vanessa and Danielle got placed together. So now they are on a new team, but they're a little nervous because the first game is this Saturday, and they haven't even met the new coach yet. We'll see how it goes! And by the way, can anyone explain to me how it is that baseball SOCKS are more expensive than baseball PANTS? Wouldn't you think the pants would be the more critical piece of the uniform, and therefore more expensive? I don't get it.

As for Nicholas, the talk of the sixth grade classroom is the impending move to Junior High. Kind of unbelievable, actually. His class got to take a 'walking field trip' to the big campus where they got to see performances by some of the elective classes, such as band and choir. Nicholas gets to take an elective next year, and he's debating which sounds most interesting to him. He's been in band, and the fact that his dad's a band teacher makes that elective appealling to him. He's also expressed some interest in the Film Studies class they offer, and I'm inclined to say that might be a good choice for him. He'd love for there to be a woodworking class, but they don't offer that anymore at the Junior High level, so he's out of luck there. I have a feeling that our biggest decision we'll face is whether or not to enroll him in the laptop program. He is lobbying very hard to get to do it, but I'm a little concerned about his ability to remember to cart the thing around with him everyday. On the other hand, it might be just the thing to get him excited about getting all of his homework done, since getting on the computer right now is a privilege.

With Brianna, I am thankful that she's pretty adept at balancing her workload with her downtime. While she recognizes that with the tough classes she's got, she has to maintain her work ethic, she also knows how important it is to let herself relax and to socialize. She's gearing up for the World History A.P. test, and managing to muddle through the dreaded Lunchtime P.E. (I assure you, she won't be signing on for THAT again!). She's also, believe it or not, studying to take her Driver's Permit test this week. In addition, though, she's organizing an almost weekly social activity with a fabulous group of friends who are positive, upbeat, and very outgoing (and also just as concerned about their academic success!) and who love to laugh, joke, and generally make each other happy. I love that about her group of friends. They are genuinely good kids with big hearts. I have always been impressed with Brianna's ability to choose wisely the people she surrounds herself with. It's something that I think will serve her well for the rest of her life.

Our family time was pretty mellow this week--it was my dinner choice Friday, so we went to Weinerschnitzel. (I know--strange choice for the mama to make, but it sounded tasty, and it was cheap, and it WAS my choice.) Afterwards, we shopped a bit at Fashion Fair, and of course the girls loved it. Nicholas groused a little, since shopping is not his cup of tea, but he was patient and stuck it out. Finally, we headed to a late night showing of "Bedtime Stories." Nicholas, who was the only one of us who hadn't seen it before, giggled and laughed the whole way through.

On Saturday, everyone slept in late and got up at their leisure. We cleaned a little and then decided we'd head off to the park around the corner, since the weather was beautiful. We brought Danielle's friend Vanessa with us, as well as little John, an extended family cousin. The kids took turns on the swings, the monkey bars, and on the scooter we brought with us. John and Nicholas played with Nicholas' nerf gun, and the girls blew bubbles. I even ran into one of my oldest friends, who was also there with her kids. We couldn't have asked for better weather. Meanwhile, Doug was at home, and he washed both of our cars, so they were sparkly when the kids and I returned.

Sunday was another leisurely day. We had no plans, no place we had to be. It was a welcome respite from the hectic school days we usually have. Now that softball season is starting up, I have a feeling there will be fewer of these days we don't have to watch a clock. I love that my kids are active and involved, but every now and then, it's good to stop, close our eyes and just...be.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

March 16, 2009

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

I've always been interested in the way people's brains work. I don't mean the scientific logistics of the process; I mean the way in which we process information, and how we select the information we choose to recognize and interpret. In any given situation, two different people will take in a scene and retain differing bits of information.

My daughters' brains tend to interpret information in a similar way to mine. It makes it fairly easy for me to predict the way they might react to ideas or places or experiences. My son's brain, on the other hand, is wired completely differently. His communication style, powers of observation, and his way of perceiving the world are quite different from mine, and through the years, I have adapted my perceptions to be able to more adequately 'see through his eyes'.

Honestly, that idea of getting to get inside the brain of someone who thinks differently is what drew me to this book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. Now, in some ways, Nicholas is the antithesis of Christopher, the protagonist. However, I have to admit that there are definite similarities as well.

Haddon's Christopher doesn't like anyone to touch him, including his own parents. As a matter of fact, they make up their own special gesture for a 'hug' that minimizes contact. This couldn't be further from Nicholas' overly affectionate ways. As a sixth grader, he still hugs everyone (sometimes even complete strangers) with utter abandon. Most boys his age have moved into the stage of high fives and shoulder punches to demonstrate their affinity for one another, and Nicholas' way of showing closeness is now uncomfortable for them, sometimes even eliciting deriding comments or worse.

But though Christopher and Nicholas are opposites in that regard, in others there are parallels that almost make me catch my breath. He is very smart in the book sense of the word, particularly in mathematics and logic. He sees patterns that many don't see. He can also let those patterns and logical thought paths distract him from seeing the bigger picture.

When I read Christopher's attempt to process 'the bigger picture,' it was an ephiphany for me. Well, maybe not exactly an epiphany, since I have been seeing these behaviors in Nicholas for twelve years now, but at the very least a validation of what I see as Nicholas' experiences. Christopher describes his hesitation at going into new situations because there is so much to notice, to take in. He says that most people don't really see everything that's going on around them--they just pay attention to a few elements. This is true of most of us; we note that which we deem important to the task at hand, and relegate the rest of the details to the status of the superfluous. We subconsciously choose not to consciously process that information.

Take, for example, a train station. If I were to go, I would get my bearings by determining what time my train was going to depart, then I'd find the ticket booth and purchase my ticket. Then, I'd simply wait for the train, probably sitting and reading quietly until that time. When Christopher enters the train station in the novel, however, every minute detail catches his attention, from the specific wordings of the various signs, to the attire of each of the passersby, to the variety of destinations and departures available. Every smell, sight, or sound is more information to process to determine whether or not it has any bearing on his impending trip. He doesn't tune anything out; he doesn't know how. In order to cope, he shuts himself down closes out all of the external information. It's an all-or-nothing proposition with him.

Nicholas has found himself in trouble because of this very thing again and again. When he finds himself in a new situation, he has a very difficult time focusing in on the details that are most relevant to him. He doesn't filter the information in the way that many of us do. He can, most of the time, filter information, but it can be a bit random and haphazard. The things that catch and hold his attention may be things that I don't even notice, and might not have anything to do with his particular purpose at that time. I suspect that he fixates on a couple of things in order to try 'quiet' the rest of the noise around him--he doesn't know if they're the 'right' details, but it minimizes his need to shut down entirely.

I have seen him shut down sometimes due to sheer frustration. When he is attempting to complete a big project at school, for example, or accomplish a multi-step task at home, he can get overwhelmed and not know where to start. There's so much going on, so many possible details, that he closes in on himself and can't even take one step forward. It's the mental equivalent of hearing a cacophany of sounds, loud and disconcerting, at every turn, and putting your hands over your ears just to be able to think again. We've worked hard to help him, as best as we can, break those tasks down into manageable, logical, ordered pieces--a pattern to follow, a path with a beginning and an end, through which he can traverse in sequence.

Another way in which Nicholas and the protagonist Christopher are similar is that neither of them is very skilled in reading the body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. This is frustrating to me, because it seems in opposition to the idea of taking in every minute detail in a situation. For whatever reason, people's expressions remain outside of the scope of details that catch Nicholas' (and Christopher's) attention. In the novel, Christopher is taught to make pictures of facial expressions that approximate what one might look like when angry, or puzzled, or relieved, like flashcards, to aid him in decoding what someone might be feeling.

Similarly, we've had to work to remind Nicholas to look people in the eye, and look at their eyes, their mouths, and their posture to determine what their demeanor was. He has even attended a group at his school that practiced these 'identification' skills. He still struggles with making eye contact (and has his whole life), but he's becoming more aware. (The girls, on the other hand, seem intuitive about this kind of thing.) Two years ago, he got into fights with classmates, because he always assumed that whatever his emotion was, that must be how everyone else was feeling as well. If he was in a playful or teasing mood and someone asked him to stop, he assumed that the other kid was also 'joking.' He'd be taken by surprise when the boy 'suddenly' turned on him and pushed him away or called him a name, so often they'd end up in a pushing match. Luckily, as he's gotten more adept at reading other's signals, these altercations have lessened significantly.

Now,. Nicholas isn't always the innocent victim; he certainly chooses at times to ignore signals or to 'forget' about certain details when it comes to completing chores or homework. But, honestly, part of the challenge of teaching Nicholas is figuring out how to re-wire my brain--try to process like he does--and try to figure out the best way to navigate his experiences given the way his brain takes in information, rather than the way mine does. Reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was just a reminder of what a fascinating and eye-opening thing it is to see the world from another's perspective. It helps me remember, when I'm frustrated because Nicholas forgot to write down his homework AGAIN, that that's my cue to help him figure out what works best for him, rather than getting mad because he doesn't do what would work best for me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Movies from my Youth

This is a list of 50 movies that are evocative of my childhood and youth. Often, the memories of those movies are inextricably tied to either a specific time, place or the people I shared the movie with. In some instances, the movies led to lasting pleasant associations, in others, associations that remain uncomfortable. Yet others merely became my first introduction to an idea or a particular experience, or were provacative in some other way. Disclaimer: I don't claim that these are the best works (although some of them are, in fact classics), nor do I pretend to know the order in which they were released. I have them divided up into loose time frames based on my own experiences, rather than the movies' production dates. Like my friend Steve, I have limited my movie choices to those I saw before the age of 21.

These are my early childhood selections:

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"--This is the first movie I remember seeing in the movie theater. I was in awe of the animals who befriended Snow White, and I remember being beyond terrified of the woods at night, when Snow is escaping the castle.

"Escape to Witch Mountain"--This movie utterly enthralled me. I cannot express how much I wanted to be Tia Malone. I saw it at a drive-in in early elementary, and the magic of the kids' mental powers was an incredible draw. I watched the movie not long ago with my own children, and although there are certainly dated elements, it still has that nostalgic pull for me. I am hoping the upcoming remake does justice to the original.

"The Red Balloon"--Absolutely mesmerizing. I saw this in school, and just thinking about it still gives me goosebumps.

"Peter and the Wolf"--This is another movie I saw in school, during music class at Faylane. It was the first time I ever saw a movie with no dialogue, and it was the first time I realized how much the soundtrack of a movie could forward the plot.

"Mary Poppins"--Who didn't want a nanny like Mary Poppins, who could make magic in the playroom and go on outings to imaginary places? In comparison, our babysitters just didn't live up to the standard: )

"Pollyanna"--I have been called a Pollyanna for a good deal of my life, and usually in a derogatory way. However, I remember that despite some really depressing circumstances, Pollyanna was always able to see the positives in both the people who surrounded her and the situations she found herself in. I've never been able to see anything wrong with that kind of perspective.

"Freaky Friday"--I saw this on a school field trip. Really cool concept, not that I ever wanted to exchange places with my mother. I think it was more about the idea of trying on someone else's life--anyone else--that was intriguing. I also thought the remake was worth seeing.

"The Wizard of Oz"--This movie used to come on about once a year when I was a kid, and my mom would let us stay up late to watch it whenever it came on. (Our bedtime was probably 8, and if I had to guess I'd say the movie came on during the 7-9 time block.) I adored Glinda the Good Witch, and wanted to go to Oz just to meet her. The flying monkeys scared me, but the trees that reached out their claws were even more frightening. To this day, I still don't walk too close to trees when it's dark.

"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"--Such an amazing movie! I go back and revisit it every now and again. The fanciful world Wonka inhabits (and Charlie inherits) is pure escapism. And, of course, I love that the good guy wins. I still get a twinge of indignance, though, at the scene where Wonka kicks out Charlie and Grandpa for violating the contract. It's to test Charlie's integrity--and he passes--but it still makes Wonka seem too spiteful.

These selections are tied to my late elementary school days:

"Ice Castles"--I love this movie! I remember when I was in sixth grade, we had a reading contest, and the top three winners got to go to the movies with our teacher, Mr. Fletcher. Derek Woolverton and I tied for first place (I'm not sure if it was total number of pages, or tests we took on books, or what), but I don't remember who the third person was. We went, at night, to see "Ice Castles," and I remember even at the time thinking it might have been less than appropriate. It's probably the first movie I ever saw that had profanity, and I remember wondering if Mr. Fletcher regretted letting us choose this particular movie to see. The ending scene still makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Every time. I also love the song, "Through the Eyes of Love," which came from this film.

"Wait Until Dark"--When we were in elementary school, Mom taught psychology at Sanger High. Every year, she'd have a party at the end of the year at our house where she showed this movie as a 'psychological study.' We got to join in and watch with them. Scared the pants off me! Psychological thrillers and suspense movies are probably the toughest kinds of movies for me to watch--the tension just kills me! To this day, Lisa and I wonder what Mom was thinking letting little kids watch this one.

"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"--This was the other 'psychological study' Mom showed at her psychology parties. Beyond creepy, but utterly fascinating. And the scene with the rat? Oh my goodness--it never ceased to horrify me. And yet I watched it every year.

"Sybil"--Sally Fields' portrayal of a woman with multiple personalities was yet another outcome of Mom's work. I had never heard of this disorder, and seeing the portrayal of Sybil's various personalities was incredibly fascinating and powerful to me.

"Cipher in the Snow"--While we're on psychology here, this one probably had the most impact on me at the time I saw it. I was deeply moved by the cipher, and how invisible he was to those around him. I spent a lot of my young life trying to be invisible, trying to fade into the background--I was painfully shy and didn't want anyone's attention on me.

The ages and order get a little fuzzy here. These are the movies I experienced sometime between my junior high and high school days:

"War Games"--This is Matthew Broderick as the original gamer and hacker. It was pretty cool to think some local 'troublemaker' could be the one to save the world.

"E.T."--I saw this one in the theater originally. It had everything--comedy (drunk E.T. cleaning out the fridge, E.T. in drag trying to hide in a closet of dolls) and drama (the scientists descending on the household, the touching connection between E.T. and Elliot). Loved it!

"Airplane"--"And don't call me Shirley"...that was a line that was bandied about our household often. We could all quote lines from that movie. Remember Ted's 'drinking problem'? That came up everytime anyone spilled something. We thought we were hilarious.

"Blues Brothers"--RRRRRRRRRubber BisCUIT!!!!! Ha Ha!

"Grease"--I saw this in the theater with Mom and my sisters, and we sang all the songs out loud during the movie. LOUDLY. As an adult, when my own kids started listening to the soundtrack, I realized that some of the lyrics were pretty racy--"Greased Lightning," for example. And although I absolutely LOVE this movie, I've never been a big fan of the overall message--you've got to change yourself in order to get the guy you like. Once you do that, you'll live happily ever after. Not so much the message I'm trying to pass on to my daughters!

"Dirty Dancing "--Young innocent girl, sexy older forbidden man, music, dancing....what's not to love?

"Smokey and the Bandit"--I just loved the fast-talking, wise-cracking Burt Reynolds. Classic movie!

"Carrie"--I tell my husband now that I can't watch horror flicks. It's just not in me to sign up for something that's DESIGNED to make me feel bad. However, inexplicably, when I look back on my high school years, I realize that I actually saw quite a few horror films in those days. Maybe I just hit my quota, so I don't ever need to see another one in my life. In any case, there were a few that were particularly memorable for one reason or another. "Carrie" was a story about an outcast--someone who didn't quite fit in--who ultimately had more personal power than all of her classmates combined. Since I was so shy, I often felt like an outcast, and although I never had any desire to, say, annihilate my school, it was empowering to see someone like that stand up and fight back.

"Visiting Hours"--I saw this with Jay in the theater. I was so terrified that I seriously contemplated how I could possibly avoid staying overnight in a hospital years later after the birth of my first child.

"Prom Night"--A classic, of course. What drew me in was the tragedy that grew out of a childhood prank. Everyone makes mistakes, especially children who don't have any concept of consequences that go beyond the immediate. It was frightening to think that something in one's childhood could come back to haunt them later in life.

"Happy Birthday to Me"--This B movie was one of my all-time favorite horror movies. The psychology behind the big reveal at the end kept me thinking about it for days. Sure, it's cheesy and campy, but remember, I was in high school at the time. The scene I remember most vividly involved a scarf and a motorcycle. Still makes me shudder to think of it.

"Back to the Future"--This is one I've watched again and again. It's pure fun, and a great family flick. Like many trilogies, the second installment is dark and nearly unwatchable, but the third one comes back to its roots and redeems itself.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark"--I saw this in the theater with Jay. I remember thinking I wasn't sure if I was really going to like it--I'm not a big action fan. (The movie he had just taken me to prior to this one was "Rambo," and I'm definitely not a Rambo kinda girl.) This one, however, made me realize that action heros could be funny and smooth, and well, they could charm the girl while they were simultaneously saving the world. It didn't hurt that he was a professor, too. Brawn, bravery, and brains? Sign me up! (See my above theory about trilogies--I was sorely disappointed in the second installment, but loved the third.)

"Summer Lovers"--I saw this on a double date with Jay, Shai, and Shai's boyfriend at the time (who also happened to be Jay's best friend). I don't think any of us really knew what it was about, but I do remember everyone being just a bit uncomfortable with watching the love triangle unfold.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off"--Didn't everyone want to be Ferris? Or at least have his ingenuity and LUCK?

"Real Genius"--This was my introduction to Val Kilmer, who, as it turns out, has exactly the same lips as my hubby. (You might not have noticed, but I did.) I admit it; I've always had a thing for Val Kilmer--the intelligent rebel. (Hmmm...also not unlike my hubby.)

"Fast Times at Ridgemont High"--Much is made about the effect on boys that Phoebe Cates had, but I suspect that just as many girls were affected. Everyone wanted to be the girl who could have that effect on the boys in high school.

"The Breakfast Club"--The quintessential high school movie. I think there was a little something in each of the characters that we could all identify with. There was a vulnerability underneath the carefully constructed facade in all of them. I secretly hoped (and really believed) that everyone in our high school had that little bit of insecurity and hope and fear and humanity that we guarded so closely--the movie just showed what could happen if we broke down the walls a little. We actually had a little group we called the Breakfast Club--Shannon McDonald, David Johnson, Nobert Ram, Lisa, and me. We called ourselves The Breakfast Club based on one night's crazy experience being chased down by a couple of enraged guys in a pickup truck when we were headed home from a dance. At one point they came after David's car wielding baseball bats. It was a surreal experience. We weren't all very close before that, but we all bonded through the three hours we spent together that night.

"Pretty in Pink"--I loved the portrayal of the haves and have-nots, and the desire everyone has just to be accepted. It was high school, amplified. Jon Cryer's character, Ducky, was fabulous. And although I couldn't stand James Spader's character, I fell in love with James Spader.

"St. Elmo's Fire"--My life-long love of Rob Lowe began with this movie. And my life-long detestation of Andie MacDowell.

"Purple Rain"--I watched this one with Doug. Doug was a huge Prince fan, so I'm sure he introduced me to both the movie and the soundtrack, which I listened to over and over. The movie was dark and brooding and intense. The soundtrack instantly transports me to my junior year.

"An Officer and a Gentleman"--There is no more romantic scene than when Richard Gere, in full uniform, strides into the factory determined and full of purpose. When he literally sweeps her off her feet, I'm cheering right along with everyone else. "Way to go, Paula--way to go!"

"Big"--I'm fairly sure that part of what makes me love this movie is the idea of trying on, if only temporarily, another life. It's similar to the draw of "Freaky Friday." And never is Tom Hanks more endearing than in this movie. I have to admit, though, as a mom, the scene when Josh calls home to tell his mom that he's okay is tough to make it through.

"Ghostbusters"--I'm pretty sure I first saw this one in the theater too, but it's another one that holds up to repeated viewing. Gotta love the Stay-Puft marshmallow man!

"The Outsiders"--I read this book before I saw the movie, and often that's a recipie for disaster. However, I loved this one. This movie provided breakout roles for so many young actors who would go on to make big names for themselves, and it's really a trip back in time to watch it again after so many years.

"Lord of the Flies"--There are a couple of versions of this film; here I am speaking about the black and white version of the movie. I originally saw it in my senior English class, after having read the novel. This was probably my favorite novel of all the ones I read in school. The symbolism and character study is so beautifully handled, and I love the way the movie illustrates those elements so poignantly. I think it is especially powerful in black and white, as the shadings and shadows illuminate the light and dark natures of the characters. Gorgeous.

"The Wall"-- I watched this one my senior year on VHS with Kevin and Mike as well, I think. I loved the non-linear, striking visual metaphors and the impossibly cool soundtrack. It was different than anything I'd ever seen, and I found it challenging and interesting.

"Footloose"--Obviously, a different kind of musical altogether than "The Wall," But, I was on the dance team, and any movie that celebrated dancing was instantly attractive to all of us.

"Fame"--I think a lot of us in the performing arts dreamed of a high school where we could break out into choreography in the middle of the lunch room or blast our music into the streets, stopping traffic with an improptu performance. The closest most of us ever got was wearing leg warmers and torn sweatshirts.

"Flashdance"--It was "Fame" for the working world--leg warmers and sweatshirts still in tact.

These last few are from early in my college years:

"The Neverending Story"--Doug and I saw this in the theater, the summer after my senior year. Diving into the escapist world of a book, both literally and figuratively, is incredibly appealing. And of course, the picked on kid, gaining strength and confidence to face his fears--well, how could you not get behind that message?

"Children of a Lesser God"--I saw this one in the theater with either Jim or Steve my first year of college The depth of emotion conveyed through non-verbal communication was breath-taking. I became an immediate fan of Marlee Matlin.

"White Knights"--I saw this in the theater with Steve my freshman year of college. Seeing the masterful dancing of Baryshnikov and Hines larger than life on the big screen was incredible. I think Steve actually got mad at me because I was so engrossed in the dancing that I kind of forgot I was on a date. Sorry Steve!

"His Gal Friday"--I saw this in a film studies class at Fresno State. It was probably the first classic comedy that I ever watched. I immediately fell in love with the rapid-fire dialogue exchange, and lamented that we had so little of that style in the present day.

"Chinatown"--This was another movie from the film studies class. It was my introduction to Jack Nicholson, and my introduction to the modern film noir classics.

"Body Heat"--This was the final movie in the film noir unit of the film studies class. A beautiful example of the femme fatale--a spider drawing her prey into her web.

"Princess Bride"--(Last but not least!) This is still my all-time favorite movie. I first saw it at my friend's house after work my second year of college. (Martha and I worked together at Macy's.) I had never heard of it before, but we were ready for a girls' movie night, so I was up for anything. After the first time, I was hooked. Humor, adventure, romance, drama, witty dialogue, and of course, happily ever after--everything a good movie should have. It gets better everytime I see it, and I have seen it dozens of times. (My whole family can recite the movie verbatim.) As a matter of fact, "The Princess Bride" played a part in my marriage. When Doug proposed, he got the kids in on it by telling them to ask him, "Have you the wwwing??" in front of me, just before he pulled out the engagement ring he got me for Christmas. Also, we tried to get our most beautiful friend Carrie, who performed our ceremony, to do the "Ma-wage...is what bwings us togever..." speech (from the Impressive Clergy) at our wedding, but she didn't think we could make it through it without laughing. (If you are unfamiliar with these references, you must go rent that movie RIGHT NOW and check it out.)

So there it is: my self-indulgent trip down memory lane. If you made it to the end, thanks for reading! I'm sure I left off some really great ones. If you have any other favorites from your youth, feel free to post a comment here and share what you love about the movies.