Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

When I was younger – think, about 7 years old or so – I remember taking an acting workshop. Nothing fancy, just a short class one summer at the local community center, most likely. (Mama can fill in the details.)

The point is, I remember one exercise where we had to come up with a character. We had to decide the age, sex, career, mannerisms, etc. of this persona¬†that we were going to portray. When the teachers (who were probably in their early 20s) came around and asked me about my character, I told them, “I’m a middle-aged woman.

So about how old do you think that is?” one of them asked me.

Oh, you know, 30,” I responded, nonchalantly.

I don’t remember the teachers’ reactions, but I have to imagine that it was either a laugh, a groan, or somewhere in between.

I’ve thought about that character exercise a lot in the past few months, for one very specific reason. And that’s because today, according to my younger self, I have¬†officially become middle-aged.

And I’m surprisingly okay with that.

I loved my 20s – a lot of good things happened. But, as with any decade, there were also a number of shitty things, too – things that I’m not sad to leave behind.

I’ve never really been one for dwelling on the past. I do love old stories, and can get nostalgic with the best of them, but more often than not, I focus on what’s ahead.

So in that spirit, I decided it was time for the birthday list to make a comeback – a little 30 for 30 of the non-ESPN variety.

It’s an ambitious list, but it’s worth a shot. I just hope my newly middle-aged body is able to keep up.

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Western culture especially seems to think of children as needing constant protection. And perhaps there is some truth in that. But, because we are always so careful about what kids do or see or experience, I wonder if we sometimes forget how strong children can be, how resilient many of them truly are. If I’ve learned nothing else from my time in Nepal, I’ve learned that much.

I learned it from the former street children that we visited, who are now in school instead of sniffing glue and begging for money. They could easily have stayed on the street, intimidated by gang leaders, hooked on glue, and unwittingly encouraged by well-meaning tourists handing out food and money. But they didn’t.

They accepted the offer of a refuge away from all that, and they continue to thrive. And when you see them interact with adults, and with one another, it’s difficult to believe that they once led such hard and seemingly hopeless lives. The smile and the laughter and the excitement at visitors would imply a much happier past. But, in truth, it just proves how strong they are.

I’ve also learned about resilience from each and every one of my boys in Umbrella, and from the Umbrella kids overall. In the first month I was here, I would catch myself thinking how much fun it must be to grow up in a house with so many brothers and friends. My boys love each other so much and are so constantly entertaining themselves that it was too easy to forget the circumstances that brought them to Umbrella in the first place.

It was too easy to forget that some of them were rescued from poorly run and exploitative children’s homes – ones that were doing more harm than good. It was too easy to forget that some of them had witnessed a parent take his or her own life – or the life of a spouse. It was too easy to forget that some of them had no parents at all, and no family willing to take them in. It was too easy to forget that some of them served as house servants, a position little better than a slave.

And yet, even knowing all of that, and even thinking it as I look at these kids, it seems like an entirely different lifetime for them. If I had seen or experienced the horrors they have, I imagine I would find it nearly impossible to smile, laugh, talk, or trust. But these kids do that every day.

They are strong and they are resourceful. They are determined and intelligent and deserving of the brightest futures. They are welcoming and friendly and trusting, when they have every right not to be.

These children are more resilient than I could have imagined, and more inspiring than I even believed possible.

I have spent nearly three (short) months learning from them, and I realize now that that’s not even close to long enough.

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Hear me out.

Before you scoff, think about all the life lessons you can learn from the Mighty Ducks franchise. (And by franchise, I mean the first two movies. The third was forgettable, at best.) They may be more applicable than you realize.

1) Ducks fly together. It’s simple, really. Your friends have your back through thick or thin, peewee hockey or the Junior Goodwill Games.

2) Don’t quack at your boss unless you’re prepared to forfeit your job. It’s generally frowned upon in the work place, though I don’t know that for a fact since I’ve been too nervous to try it out on El Jefe. Quacking with friends, however, is an awesome way to get fired up. I’ve debated trying to encourage it on my softball team, but I don’t think it would fly. (Ha!)

3) Contrary to what Will Smith sang, the bad guys always dress in black. The Hawks, Team Iceland – both in black, both bullies. Coincidence? I think not. That said, there’s always hope for them. Even Gunnar Stahl had a nice word for the Ducks after the game.

4) “Two minutes, well worth it.” Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. And be prepared to defend your convictions, even if they put you in the penalty box.

5) Learning in the classroom must be supplemented by on-the-street experience. It teaches you to think outside the box and embrace new ideas – like the knucklepuck.

6) Being called a “cake eater” is not a good thing. To me, this is counter-intuitive. If you call me a cake eater and I’m actually eating cake, I think, “Indeed! And it’s delicious!” If you call me a cake eater and I’m not actually eating cake at the time, well, then it just feels like you’re being a tease and I start thinking about cake. So I probably wouldn’t have responded appropriately to Terri’s insults.

7) And finally, sometimes awkward ducklings really do grow into very attractive swans.

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I was inspired last week after reading this post and realized that I, too, wanted to get back in touch with my inner eight-year-old.

I also realized that it’s probably not too hard.

1) Next time it rains (warm rain, of course), go outside. Splash in the puddles. Take a friend and see who can make the bigger splash. But mostly just revel in the storm.

2) On a non-rainy night go to a park and catch lightning bugs. You don’t have to put them in a jar or anything, but the simple act of chasing and catching is enough to transport you back.

3) Find a hammock. Lie in it. Don’t get up until you absolutely have to. Invite people to join you, if you feel so inclined. (Okay – this one may be harder in a city. Maybe see if there’s a tester at Target?)

4) Run through sprinklers. On a walk to Union Station from the ballpark recently we passed an entire lawn full, and I was sorely tempted. I was, however, being too much of a grownup.

5) Do arts & crafts. For no better reason than spending time with your friends. (I’d add the free food and drink, but that’s not really child-friendly.)

6) Ride bikes. Race a friend or go on an adventure. But while you’re riding, remember how cool your bike used to look with its streamers and spoke decorations.

7) Have bubble blowing contests and see who can make it the biggest – and who ends up with gum on their face. Added bonus: if you can track down Bazooka Joe bubble gum, you get a little comic with your treat.

8 ) For that matter, play with actual soap bubbles. Do it in the park or, at the very least, in the sink while you’re washing dishes. Trust me – it makes that chore more fun.

I’m sure I’m missing things, but maybe I’ll be re-inspired after volunteering with kids tonight.

They always have the best ideas.

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I was sitting in the lobby of my doctor’s office on Wednesday, waiting for my physical therapist to call me back. As I was waiting, playing Words With Friends, naturally, a little girl bounded into the room with her dad, who had obviously just gone through therapy.

She said hello to everyone, told them all that she was five years old, and didn’t have to tell anyone that she was just a naturally happy child.

And then she came over and said hi to me.

Her dad stepped out to change, telling her she could talk to whoever she wanted (which, admittedly, surprised me a little), and she kept right on talking to me.

I learned that she’s an artist. She’s a singer. She’s a designer. And she doesn’t know which one she’s best at because she’s so good at all of them. But designing is her favorite.

And then she walked over to her bag and pulled out something that she’d made.

This is for you,” she said.

Are you sure?” I asked her. “Don’t you and your daddy want to keep it?”

No. It’s for you.

Okay – tell me about it.”

And she pointed to each of the three people, telling me about them. That’s her, all the way on the right, with the very pretty bow in her hair. That’s me, in the middle, with the awesome blue pigtails. And that’s mommy on the left, holding a brush, because mommy brushes everyone’s hair.

Then she signed it, so I have a Naomi original.

Impromptu gifts from children are heartwarming because you know that they mean it. They’re still genuine in their intentions because they haven’t learned how not to be. And they still talk to everyone around them, because they believe in the goodness of people and haven’t had to learn that sometimes stranger equals danger.

It kind of makes me want to be five years old again – or at least act like it.

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When we were younger, we had a slew of tricks that we would use to try to impress the other neighborhood kids. They all centered around the illusion that we could read minds, and I was reminded of one in particular while on a run the other day.

We would explain to our willing participant, “Without you telling me, I can tell you whether or not you like butter.” And then we’d hold a buttercup under their chin, see the yellow reflection, and proudly declare, as though we’d just discovered the most fascinating secret in the world, “You do! You like butter!

And the audience was amazed.

But as I ran by the buttercups the other day, and thought about this “trick” that I hadn’t thought of in ages, I had to laugh at how absurd we were.

Because, let’s be honest: who doesn’t like butter? And, more specifically, what kid doesn’t like it?

On the one hand, you could think, wow, kids are so gullible. But on the other, we were also so open to being amazed and that’s what made it fun – and magical.

So I’ll keep those little tricks up my sleeve and eventually teach them to my children. Maybe they’ll run and show their friends, or maybe they’ll roll their eyes at how corny their mom is being. But either way, I’ll have fun with it.

And I’ll think about how simple but fun those childhood games were every time I run past the buttercups.

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I heard an ad on my Pandora station that said, “Mother’s Day isn’t about celebrating mothers; it’s about celebrating all that your mother has given you.

And while I think I understand the idea behind the line, I respectfully disagree. Mother’s Day is about celebrating your mother. Sure, part of it may be what she’s done for you, but it’s also about what she does for her and who she is.

You celebrate her for…

…being an amazing role model

…her dedication to her own goals, as well as yours

…putting up with your phone calls while you’re driving, even though you know she doesn’t like it

…being as non-judgmental as possible, even when you tell her something that you’d judge if it were anyone else

…being incredibly supportive

…giving the best advice

…wearing the same size as you do, because closet-shopping during trips home is both fun and cheap

Mama and me circa 1992 - in homemade dresses, no less

…always sending something for the little holidays, just so you still get a taste of home

…having a more vibrant social life than you do (even if the night starts at 4:30 and ends after the NCIS reruns are over)

…living a life that you’re proud to aspire to

…being happy

People have extended their birthdays into birthday weekends, weeks, and months. And yet, we give moms a day.

Sure, that totally seems adequate.

So this time, Mama, and from now on, the parade is for you.

I’ll even let you wave the flag and wear the hat.

I hope you know how much I love you, appreciate you, and want to be like you. Not just this Sunday, this weekend, or this month, but every single day.

And if I call too much? It’s just because I want you to be sure of all of that.

I love you, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day Weekend.

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One of the overarching themes of both my history and international relations classes has been the Cold War. We’ve looked at the causes, the threats, the politics, and the effects both then and now. So it’s safe to say that I think or talk about the Cold War on a fairly regular basis. And, as much as I think about it in terms of class and lecture, it also makes me think of middle school.

Yes, middle school.

To my recollection, we didn’t study the Cold War in junior high. We were more focused on Ancient Greece and Egypt and the Renaissance. We didn’t get to modern history until high school. And the Cold War was well over by the time I entered 6th grade, so it wasn’t something that I’d grown up thinking about.

The Cold War reminds me of middle school because of a boy.

I met Griff probably the first day of 6th grade, and shortly after that he became my boyfriend. Basically, he walked me to classes, occasionally carried my books, complimented me, and we sometimes talked on the phone. It lasted all of a month.

He broke up with me by having one of our mutual friends come up to me in class and say, “Griff doesn’t want to date you anymore.” And my little 11-year-old heart was shattered. But I survived.

After the breakup, we didn’t really talk at all, save for group projects, so imagine my surprise when Griff started whispering things at me across the classroom, and in the hall. And it wasn’t just “things;” he would whisper the same phrase over and over:

“The Cold War is over! The Cold War is over!”

It was always in a kind of shouting whisper, like he didn’t want anyone to hear, but he was also trying to make his point.

To say I was confused would be an understatement.

I asked my friend, Lesser, what it meant (consequently, she was the one who had helped Griff break up with me, and she was also going out with his best friend), but she had no idea. I think I even asked my mom at one point, also without a satisfactory explanation.

You might argue that the most productive thing would have been to ask Griff what he meant, but that’s just logical. And how many logical 6th grade girls do you know?

Regardless, I never found out his reasoning behind the phrase. And even when we became friends years down the road, I never bothered to ask him. But now, every time we talk about the Cold War in class I think of Griff.

And I wonder if he would even remember saying it.

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In 24 hours I’ll be en route to wedding number three of this season in the lovely Minnesota.

(Quick side note: I thought that three was a lot, particularly in the span of a couple months, but I’ve learned that I’ll have 5-6 next year, from January to June. Yowza.)

But, unlike the previous two, this is a family wedding. My nephew is getting married. And yes, that feels weird to type – even though he’s only a few years younger than I am.

We’ll be visiting a part of the family that I haven’t seen in years. And I love them, I really, truly do, but I know that I’m going to need all my energy to keep up. This is the always-on, go-get-’em, sleep-what’s-that?, chatty, don’tcha-know part of the family. My dad’s kids from his first marriage and their subsequent families. And the last time I remember hanging out with ALL of them – all the nieces and nephews (4) – we all looked like this:

I’m the oldest here, holding “baby” Kyle – now 14. My brother’s directly behind me, with the long hair that was so popular at the time. And next to him, the nephew that’s older than he is, that’s the one getting married. As for the two girls in the photo, the one on the right just graduated high school, and the one on the left just recently turned 21.

(I bet she’ll be a blast at the wedding.)

But all of this? It makes me feel old. Much older than turning 25 did.

And you know what would make me feel even older? If I couldn’t keep up with my energetic, party animal 40+-year-old siblings and their spouses this weekend – which is, unfortunately, a distinct possibility.

It would really just be embarrassing.

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Well, you asked for it.

Or, at least, some of you did.

I don’t have the video of me shoving gently removing my brother from my path, but I do have one of my first childhood performances – thanks to Mama.

(She recorded it from the TV with her camera, hence the quality, but thanks, Mama! Yes, I’m sure there’s a better way to do this, but I don’t know it.)

Anyway – that’s me, three years old at the church advent party, singing The Friendly Beasts, and not a trace of stage fright.

And notice how there’s no microphone? That’s the most surprising part, because now, apparently, I’m much more like Shy Ronnie.

I miss that fearlessness.

What do you miss about being a kid?

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