Thursday, February 26, 2015

Play it Again, Elise

I just got in from the supermarket, and finished unloading the multitudinous bags of groceries. We’re down to five people from our all-time high of eight in the house, and yet we manage to consume the same amount of food as ever! And one of the five only has three teeth! But there is something different about these modern-day shopping excursions. I now bring my own bags to the store.
Reusable shopping bags
You can’t imagine what an adjustment it has been to keep the bags in the trunk of the car, after so many years of bagging everything in plastic. I feel positively green, and I have Sher and Yaj to thank for the transformation. They are demon recyclers and environment protectors, and I have been shamed into following suit. Not only that, we now compost! Eggshells and onion peelings now go out to a heap in the yard, and Sheridan is threatening to start growing some of our vegetables come spring. Who is this family?

My recycling is extending to my work at church. I keep a file of my children’s sermons, and several times lately I have pulled out, and used, something from 2009. Wondrously, no one seems to remember that I have told these tales before (most of the kids were tiny babies back then anyway, and the sermons themselves do not exactly rival Billy Graham’s.) Last weekend I was the chaplain for the Southeastern PA Lutheran synod’s senior high youth gathering. One of my duties was to assemble a prayer center for the kids to go through, and guess what? I lifted every single station from the Christ’s Lutheran prayer centers I have designed in years
Stations of the Cross--one more time!
 past. It’s Lent now, and for our Wednesday night programs we are following the Stations of the Cross using videos I made in 2007. Why use something that took a lot of work, just once?

“Waste not, want not” was not exactly the Cunningham motto when I was growing up. I have no memory of eating leftovers, we never drove used cars, and my sisters and I didn’t share clothes much (probably because by the time C came along we had misplaced everything wearable). Mom drank her daily 20 cups of tea out of plastic, throw-away “cozy cups” and I recall the piles of used cups all over the house. So I come by my ignorance of salvaging naturally.

However, as I have discovered, it’s never too late to learn better habits. I find myself thinking often about the world our Aiden will live in, a world we humans have done a pretty fair job of messing up in every way.  At times it seems there is little we can individually do to improve the state of things. But re-using, re-purposing, and sharing the items in our lives can really make a difference.

So I am trying to “play it again” as often as I can. And nowadays, it feels pretty good, when people ask me “what’s new?” to say “not much.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Intimidation Game

A few weeks ago I saw The Imitation Game, the story of brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, whose incredible machine (prototype of the modern computer) broke the Enigma code of the Nazis, no doubt shortened WWII and saved thousands of lives. Turing was depicted as a loner, with few intellectual equals. I know the feeling!
The apex of my intellectual career! Downhill from there!

Just kidding! I not only have many intellectual equals, I have countless intellectual superiors. For some unknown reason, I developed a reputation for being smart as a child, and can't seem to shake it. I was an early reader, notorious for checking JFK's Profiles in Courage out of the school library in third grade.  I did very well in class, with many a 99% on my report card ("Nobody's perfect!" Sister Ellen would remind us), but I hit a wall in late high school, and it suddenly felt like I was living The Emperor's New Clothes. I was challenged to the max in French by Madame Kohn, who loved putting us on the spot to read long passages from Le Rouge et Le Noir with a proper accent. There were days I actually felt the gray matter seeping out of my ears.

By the time I hit college, I was drowning in a pool of my own making. Instead of admitting I was not the sharpest tool in the shed, I continued to try to be snappy and quippy and bright at all times.   There were certain phone conversations with brainiac friends (Mike O'Shea, I'm talking to you!) that were so wide-ranging and challenging that I hung up sweating from the effort to keep up.

 My years as a young mother were bliss. I was smarter than my kids were!! I could converse with great enthusiasm about Sesame Street and Barney, and was aces at the times tables at homework time.  At dinner parties, instead of dissecting the political scene and analyzing the works of Noam Chomsky, I gravitated towards the end of the table where the talk was more preschool gossip and favorite recipes than Stephen Hawking and climate change. But at home, I was a genius!!

As the five kids grew to adulthood, my ebbing self-confidence in my brainpower continued. Though I love them beyond words, I am incredibly intimidated by them. Usually when Sheridan and Evan go to town on a subject, I sit there in a befuddled silence. Oh, later I think of intelligent things I could have said, sure, but at the time? Nada.

Evan and Rose--can't we talk about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle again?

Menopause, that notorious midlife scattering of the mind, certainly didn’t help things, and now at 58 I shrink from high-level convos on most subjects. I’m tempted to try that Lumosity website that purports to boost brainpower with clever games, but I fear having my inadequacy confirmed.

I guess I’ll soldier on, keep up the fa├žade as best I can, but honestly? Next time on earth, I’d rather be known as Dumbo, and then surprise everyone when I can string two sentences together. Gotta love those low expectations!