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The Spark of Perspective

January 21, 2009

Two days before the inauguration I sat down to really think about the exciting, historic times in which we’re living. I marveled about the fact that we will soon swear in the nation’s first black president — a man who was born before the official end of the shameful Jim Crow era. I felt inspired and prepared to write this column …. when my own microcosm intervened and Graysen’s small voice, insistent, begged me to escort his little self to the bathroom. He gets scared, you know.
As I stood there waiting impatiently for him to finish up I was reminded of how this little guy can pitch his (dirty) socks into his bowl of pasta from four feet away yet cannot pee entirely into the toilet from zero inches.
Then, pee break over, my mind wandered off again and moments later I was watching YouTube in awe as Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his epic speech on a sunny Washington day. His face and those in the crowd were desaturated and softened by time and the slow decay of old video.
Halfway through my immersion in the sentiment reflected by a difficult age, “Graysen’s World” slammed once again into mine. He wanted a banana.
For many months bananas were fructus non grata in our domicile. They made Graysen hyper. Hyper as in “will you please come down from the ceiling this instant before you break something!” hyper. Almost.
But now that he’s older, we’re letting them back into our lives. Slowly. For silly reasons, however (because, as I’ve mentioned before, I am silly) I always preface the banana hand-off with the admonition: don’t get hyper … please?
And he always promises he won’t because, well, he’s silly too.
So with MLK’s dream on pause, I peeled a banana for the boy. Then off he went to play a Lego Star Wars video game with his father, which is ultimately an experiment in frustration for both of them because of this rational equation: collaborative and complicated video game plus 4-year-old-banana-eating boy equals anarchy in virtual outer space.
But that problem wasn’t mine, and with the banana dished out I was off the hook and could un-pause the dream … then settle into one of my own and perhaps, finally, write this piece.
My perspective, however, was lacking. I got stuck in the weird limbo between the macrocosm and my microcosm.
Beneath my writer’s block I knew that despite my general feeling of overwhelm by this life I live at mach 10 … despite constantly making excuses for my general non compos mentis state of being … I still maintain within the depths of my self a small glimmer of that hopeful idealism with which I was born. An idealism we now see growing in our culture.
It is this spark which ignited the life I live today. It is why I am a writer, a designer, a photographer … a mother. This same spark moves through each of my kids, and I see it burning in their still-innocent eyes. I want to tend it, nourish it, ensure it is never quenched. Until they are grown, I am the keeper of that flame, on their behalf.
But we get caught up in the tide of days that move over us relentlessly. Mornings come too soon and I fail to notice the colors that streak the lightening sky when there is cereal to be poured, lunches to be prepped and staggering, fatigue-rattled children to be directed. I refer to our morning routine as the Great Schlep, and the frenetic pace doesn’t slow until I get to work.
It starts all over again in the evenings, when the tide rushes in with the chaos of dinner prep and cleanup and the dreaded homework hour(s). The children are now bringing home math I don’t understand, though regardless of the subject I find myself pulled in too many different directions as they need help and food and endless drinks and bathroom escorts (Graysen) and reminders and encouragement and … perspective.
Just last week Mira became so upset over her math assignment and the prospect of an upcoming test that she burst into tears and nearly started hyperventilating. I sat with her, feeling distinctly uncomfortable myself (how well I remember those numbers that swam upon the page), and tried to find the right sentiment for the moment. This girl of mine is sensitive and overly preoccupied with doing the right thing, which often comes at the cost of her very sanity. And health.
So, offering perspective — about such things as math homework — is where I come in.
“Mira, I told her, gently, “I would truly rather you be less stressed and get an F on that test, than knock yourself out like this and ace it. You are more than your grades.”
She began to relax.
Yes, life is shifting and changing on a national level, but that change will be effective and far-reaching only if it swells on the undercurrent of change within the small corners of our everyday lives. Though Mira’s ability to solve more abstract equations than the one involving the boy, the banana and the virtual Lego space station is important, her perspective about the task takes precedence — lest she become so stressed she can’t learn at all.
That’s when the flame goes out.
For simply, Mira is more than her grades just as people are more than their politics. We are all keepers of the flame, and must continue to be.
From the micro to the macro.

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