Sunday, 31 March 2019

Riffraff

On Thursday afternoon I dragged my hefty, ancient TV/VCR up from our basement for a movie night with friends. I half-heartedly dusted her off, created a catalogue of my VHS collection, and after all our babes had gone to bed, the four of us hunkered down for a trip to Agraba -- by way of Memory Lane.
ALADDIN: the story of a good-looking, heart-of-gold underdog who uses his cleverness to rescue and woo a beautiful and socially repressed princess, retrieve an important magical object and defeat a malicious enemy. The grateful ruler sees the harm caused by his nation's archaic marriage laws and offers instant political reform, allowing our hero to win the day and the girl. Much smooching. 
ALADDIN: the story of a good-looking, well-intentioned, lucky chronic liar who uses his cunning to rescue and woo a beautiful and recklessly rebellious princess, garner the praise and esteem of a whole society by increasingly precarious personal deceptions, abuse his power in three different master-servant relationships and eventually defeat a malicious enemy that only rose to extreme power thanks to our hero's irresponsible handling of an important magical object. Two days after meeting this young man as an outlaw and a thief in the streets (and mere hours after discovering the sham of his alleged royal pedigree), the princess declares herself "in love" with the scoundrel. The ruler revokes a long-standing traditional law that would ensure political security for the nation, and immediately gives consent for his only daughter to wed the imposter prince who should have already been arrested for theft and ought to be investigated for fraud. Much smooching. 
This is not the first time I have revisited this particular Disney classic as an adult. I've lugged this old TV around with me through many life stages and living situations, and I've watched and rewatched each of the films in my collection dozens and dozens of times. I know every beat of the music, the words to every bantering exchange. I love them.

But this was the first time I've revisited my childhood as a parent. It's a bit jarring to acknowledge how much the experience of motherhood has already altered my worldview. Once I saw only romance in this story -- risk, yes, but mostly the triumph of true love over long odds and unfortunate circumstances.

This time I saw only a steady stream of unsafe and unwise choices being made. I grieved over Jasmine's affectionate yet vague and neglectful father, who hardly seems capable of leading his own family, much less a kingdom. I found the pace of the core relationship truly alarming (almost all of the princess stories happen over the span of a long weekend). I was troubled -- and to the probable irritation of my viewing company, I made my feelings known throughout the show. (Note, if you're a peanut gallery hater, good luck dodging me at the cinema. I have opinions and jokes, and I can't help myself.)

Don't get me wrong, I have no intention of boxing up my collection and sending it off to Sally Ann. In fact, the whole reason I'm running these movie nights is to avoid feeling like Marie Kondo is staring over my shoulder at the untouched crate of the 50+ cassette tapes in my basement. Even through this new parental lens, Aladdin still sparks joy for me. I've probably been quoting the Genie since we met back in 1992, and I hope I'm still making obscure Disney references when I'm 92 years old.

Probably my TV/VCR will give up the ghost well before that I'm planning on running her into the ground on Thursday night at a time. And maybe I'll learn to balance parental criticism and romantic nostalgia as we go, travelling within Sherwood Forest, through the Hundred Acre Wood, to infinity and beyond.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Circus Life

I have long been fascinated with people who can juggle. Even the three-ball standard party trick can capture my attention. I've tried a few times to learn the rhythms of the toss-and-catch, but not with any sustained will to practice. I've attempted other things in a similar way (solving a Rubix's Cube, cracking an egg with one hand, knitting) dabbling just enough with each to recognize that art and skill lie behind most party tricks and that I don't really want to take the time to learn. Instead, I marvel at the people who practice enough to make it look effortless. I marvel at their discipline, as much as the final effect.

While I can't physically juggle, but I'm a master metaphorical juggler.

That is, I'm a master in the metaphor of juggling.

I'm not the first one to work on this idea, of course (phrases like "she's got a lot of balls in the air," or "dropped the ball on that one" are familiar enough), but I think what is missing in our cultural understanding of these idioms is a discussion about the aforementioned balls themselves.

Typically a juggler tosses objects of similar weight and size. Not so in life. Every responsibility that is placed in your hands has a different level of importance and requires from you a varied amount of energy and attention. Here's my bag of tricks from last year, as an example:

Making art / writing stories: baseball
Hosting friends: tennis ball
Feeding myself and Ben: softball
Household duties: volleyball
Church duties: hackysack
Other volunteering: another hackysack
Physical activity: ping-pong ball

Most of the time I didn't bother much if my ping-pong ball had rolled into a corner somewhere. It wasn't a big deal to me, and other things needed my attention.

Then I had a baby.

Having a baby is like having a ten-pound bowling ball hang off your spine for a few months before it is excruciatingly removed and then thrown with significant force back at your face. In that moment, all you can do is desperately cling to the slimy, incomprehensibly delicate bowling ball in your hands. It's so bloody heavy that of course you drop all the other balls. Someone else can pick up the hackysacks and take over the softball, etc. Nobody needs to think about ping-pong when their arms are full of a brand new baby bowling ball.

But in time, those limp, noodly new-mom arms get a little stronger. You start to toss your bowling ball up just a little bit -- toss and catch -- higher and higher. Ever so slowly, you start adding balls back into your routine. Then one day, you're a juggler again! It feels so good. Maybe your capacity is lower, maybe your dexterity improved, who knows. You're doing an incredibly impressive act. Let your security guys deal with the hecklers and the peanut gallery fools; keep your focus on your balls. You got this.

I'm currently raising one seven-month-old bowling ball, but I have a sister with two, and here's what I've learned: every kid is a new bowling ball. When you have / care for another baby, life is throwing you another bowling ball. It takes time to re-work your act. You will drop all the balls again, but this time you can't put down the other bowling balls for very long, if at all. Just hold them until you adjust to the new weight. It's okay to just hold them.

Some people are juggling so many bowling balls. It is so far beyond me how those women have anything else in the air, ever. LOOK HOW STRONG YOU ARE, YOU DESERVE EVERY ROUND OF APPLAUSE EVER.

If you are a person with a juggling routine that has room for a little growth, borrow a bowling ball from one of your people. If you don't have people with bowling balls, GO FIND people with bowling balls. Make us your people. Our arms are so very tired, and we need a break so very much. You love will give us the time and energy to tend to some of the other things we are (or want to be) juggling.

And if you have bowling balls in your care, remember that nobody can juggle 24/7, no matter how light their balls are. It is important for you to find people, too. One day I'm hoping to have a little collection of these hefty ten-pounders, and I could probably take on a couple more from time to time in the meantime. Work up my muscles so that when the time comes for a permanent second catch, these arms of mine a little prepared.