Monday, March 30, 2009

Frozen This, Frozen That

Normally I have a lot of energy to plan and prepare excellent, nutritious, delicious meals for my little family. I like to try new recipes, like clam and potato chowder; invent new recipes like baked macaroni with spinach and artichokes (which was not actually horrible, per se, but will not see a reprise); and experiment with ethnic selections like Persian saffron rice, or arroz con gandules.

But sometimes, like when I've had bronchitis for two weeks and breathing still hurts and I'm still waiting for the antibiotics to kick in, I get a little desperate. What ends up on the table for dinner is whatever takes the least amount of energy, like oatmeal, or pancakes, or soup from a can.

So last night I had five hungry people, and not enough time to heat up the frozen lasagna. What to do? Here's the smorgasbord of random frozen foods we ended up with:
  • clam strips
  • breaded fish fillets
  • french fries
  • spanakopita; plus a little nod to nutrition:
  • applesauce
  • orange slices
Have you ever served a lamer dinner?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

R.I.P., Coral the Goldfish

I'm sad to report that Coral the Goldfish has gone to that happy goldfish bowl in the sky, after only 32 hours as a member of the Peevie household.

Last night, Mr. Peevie and I were out dancing the night away and mostly refraining from drunken bidding on frivolous baskets of goodies at the fundraiser for C. Peevie's school. When we arrived home, C. Peevie presented us with the sad news that Coral the Goldfish was either a) on his last fins or b) deceased.

"I prayed for Coral with M. Peevie," my tender-hearted boy said, "but I think it might have already been too late."

Even though it was almost midnight, M. Peevie was still awake when I went into her room to check on the presciently-named Coral (Nemo's mom, Coral, was devoured by a barracuda early in Finding Nemo). "Where's Coral?" I asked, trying to keep the concern out of my voice.

"He's sleeping over here by me, on the bottom," M. Peevie said confidently. "Mom, do goldfish sleep with their eyes open?"

"I don't know, M.," I said.

"Well, I hope so," she said, "because he's laying there with his eyes open. I think he's just sleeping, but C. Peevie said he might be sick."

I had a sinking feeling, but I didn't want to deal with a hysterical eight-year-old at midnight, so I let it go. "Let's just check on him in the morning, M. Peevie," I hedged.

Of course, in the morning, Coral's condition remained unchanged--but M. Peevie clung to denial and hope: "Maybe he's sleeping in!" she suggested.

"No, M.," I said, as gently as I could, "Coral is dead. I'm sorry."

M. Peevie's face fell, and she was quiet for about 35 seconds.

"That was the best name, too," she said sadly, but then she perked up. "Can I get another goldfish, Mom?"

Ah, the optimistic resilience of youth.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Coral the Goldfish

We have a new family member at the Peevie homestead: Coral, the goldfish.

For career day in the second grade, Mr. S. talked about owning and operating a fish store. Not the kind you eat, but the kind you look at behind glass. Living Sea Aquarium is a cool place, with a shark habitat, a stingray habitat, living reefs, a turtle pond, 6000 gallons of fresh water fish and 10,000 gallons of salt-water marine life.

The second-graders were thrilled when Mr. S. ended his career-day presentation by giving each of them a coupon for one free goldfish. The parents of the second graders had no illusions, knowing that the "free" goldfish was a clever marketing ploy to get us into the shop to spend money.

M. Peevie has been begging for her free goldfish since the day she came home with the coupon, so I saw an opportunity to motivate her to get her landfill of a bedroom cleaned up. I promised her we'd get the fish after she'd cleaned her room to my satisfaction and kept it clean for three whole days.

This was harder than it sounds. M. Peevie is, apparently, physically allergic to picking up after herself. Every day she removes at least three or four outfits from her drawers, mixing and matching tops, pants, skirts, leggings. She makes her selection and gets dressed, always with fashionably coordinated accessories--but the clothes not picked remain in the middle of the floor until I remind her to clean them up, at which point she tosses them into the back of the closet or into a pile under the loft bed.

During the day, she'll change outfits at least twice more: once after school and once again before bed. She's a fashionista, and if she gets a fashion idea in her head, she needs to implement it then and there. The discarded outfits end up...on the floor.

The next day it all happens all over again, until eventually her drawers are empty and there are piles of wrinkled, unsorted, clean and dirty clothes crammed into various corners and crevices.

"MAAAAHHHHHAAAAHHHHHMMM!" M. Peevie hollers. "I don't have any clean clothes to wear!" So I'll head into the Zone of Crap and Clutter and start pulling clothes out until there's a huge pile in the middle of the floor.

"Here, M.," I tell her, sometimes in a slightly testy voice, "Sort these into clean and dirty. Put the dirty into the laundry and put the clean into your drawers." Eventually, we end up with drawers filled with clean clothes--until the next time she forgets that she doesn't have a full-time valet to pick up after her.

The toy situation just adds to the chaos. Barbies, baby dolls, doll clothes, doll accessories, art supplies, miscellaneous game pieces, books, magazines, random scraps of paper ripped out of magazines--it all gets a little bit overwhelming, and sometimes I just want to rent a bulldozer and push everything out the door, down the stairs, out the back door and into the garbage. I think to myself, "If I could just start over, with one kid, and no crap, I wouldn't let it get this bad."

Anyway, long story long, she/we cleaned up her room. She kept it clean for three days. Every single day she'd tell me how many more days she had to wait before getting her free goldfish. She tried out several names, but didn't like any of the names I suggested: Roald (as in Dahl), Barbara, Chlorine, and Moby.

M. Peevie was filled with questions when we were picking out her new best friend at Living Sea Aquarium. "How big will a goldfish get?" Depends on the size of the bowl, we learned. She bought a one gallon bowl, and the fish wrangler (who looked a little like Carmine Giovinazzo from CSI: New York, only cuter) said her fish would get about two or three inches long.

How should we change the water? How often did we need to change the water? How often should we feed it? Is it a boy goldfish or a girl goldfish? she asked.

Carmine answered all our questions (you can't really tell the boys from the girls, BTW, except when you have a bunch of fish together, the boys chase the girls), but his best advice was, "Don't overthink it." He obviously does not know M. Peevie, because overthinking things is her forte. She is the queen of "What Ifs".

When I was in college I tried having goldfish pets, but I decided that I was endangering the goldfish population by continuing to purchase them and then inadvertently killing them, so I just quit. Their names were Onesimus, Luke, Philemon, Four, Five and Six, may they rest in peace.

Here's hoping that Coral the goldfish lives a long and prosperous life, perched on the top of the bookshelf next to M. Peevie's bed.

Our free goldfish ended up costing us $32.96.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Desperation and Potential Insanity

Here's how desperate I'm feeling about finding work: I'm thinking of taking A. Peevie and M. Peevie out of the Lutheran school and...wait for it...homeschooling them.

Remember in January when I homeschooled for one morning, and I was so happy when it was time to take them to school for the rest of the day? Yeah. I'm not sure that our major medical will cover that much mental health treatment. Do they still do electro-shock therapy?

Even though this solution would save our family about $8,500 in expenses for the year, I do not envision myself as a homeschooler. I do not have the patience, wisdom, patience, creativity, patience, or desire to home school my two younger children--and yet, what are my options? Sending them to the local public school? Not gonna happen.

I'm not opposed to public schools in general--just under-performing ones, where my kids won't get the right combination of challenge and support. The school within walking distance from us is one of those. I've helped the neighbor kids with their homework from that school, and it all looks like lame-ass busy-work to me. In 2005, for example, only half of their fifth graders met the state standards for reading. The school's numbers are improving--and good for them; but meanwhile, I want my kids in a place where they will be expected to perform well above the state-mandated minimums.

The only way to continue sending them to their friendly, mostly wonderful Lutheran school is for me to build my freelance writing business (I've been trying--I expect to receive my Professional Resume Writing Certification any day now) or get an actual job. The job situation is tricky. If I'm going to get a job outside of the house, it probably needs to be part-time during school hours. Does that kind of job even exist?

My creative friend Mrs. D'Onofrio suggested that I find a job as a part-time astronaut or possibly a part-time runway model, which made me start thinking about all sorts of other interesting vocations that I could pursue part time: carnival game operator, brain surgeon, criminal defense attorney, financial advisor, professional television watcher.

My blog and I are open to your suggestions. And meanwhile, if you have a friend who is looking for a writer with mad skilz, please give her my name.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Typhoid Peevie

An African elephant is sitting on my chest, flogging my head with its trunk. When I cough, it hurts down to my toes, and I believe my lungs are actually in danger of turning inside out, trying to produce jelly bean-sized lumps of phlegm. I think I have cracked at least two ribs, and pulled muscles across my back with the force of the cough.

But, life goes on. Kids need to get to school, lunches must be made, inane conversations must be had. Like this one:

"Mom," said 8-year-old M. Peevie, out of the blue, "Does your insurance company forgive your first accident?"

Girlfriend watches WAY too much TV. "M. Peevie," I said, "I am so far past my first accident that I need 35th accident forgiveness." I used to have a car accident approximately every two months. Usually it wasn't my fault. Also, in almost every case, the other driver did not have insurance.

Meanwhile, back to typhoid/tuberculosis/black lung disease. I have had the unique privilege of attracting the attention of the Center for Disease Control (CDC)--oh, you haven't heard that story?

I had been coughing up a lung for two or three weeks, and my doctor did not know what to do with me. He tried antibiotics, chest x-rays, inhalers, everything. I went to see him so often that his staff put my birthday on their PDAs--and made me wear a surgical mask when I entered the office. No other symptoms--just the Cough That Wouldn't Quit.

I had a trip planned to Phoenix with M. Peevie, who was excited to be traveling to The Land of a Million Swimming Pools. We were planning to visit my friend Q and her family, who had rudely moved there several months earlier. So M. Peevie and I were waiting in the airport about a half hour before our flight boarded, when Mr. Peevie called my cell phone.

"Your doctor called," he said. "He wants you to call him right away." OK, that's ominous, right? I called him, and they put me through to him right away--another Sign of the Apocalypse.

"Um, E. Peevie?" he said, because by now we were on a first-name basis, "I have some bad news. You have pertussis. Whooping cough. You need to be quarantined."

"Quarantined?" I said. "Pertussis? I'm about ready to get on a plane for Phoenix."

"I do not think that the CDC would appreciate that," he said. "I've already reported your case. You need to go home and be under quarantine for six weeks." Also, he told us, everyone else in the household would need to be treated with prophylactic antibiotics.

So, instead of spreading my infection any further, I went home. But I have to say--although that cough was bad, long-lasting, painful and convulsive--this one is just as bad, or possibly worse. Hmmm. I wonder what exciting CDC-relevant illness I might have this time: Legionnaires' Disease? Drug-resistant Streptococcus Pneumoniae Disease?

Not that I'm a worrier. What's the worst that can happen? I already feel like shit. So I get a diagnosis and have to go to bed for a few days? Sounds like heaven.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Special Ingredient

I was starting to cook dinner for my family plus three guests. On the menu: corn and wild rice chowder with smoked sausage. I've written about the corny, smokey goodness of that soup before, but this time, I added a special new ingredient: my fingertip!

I started chopping the first ingredient of the first course, the sausage. I'm generally very careful with knives, and I teach my children proper knife-handling techniques in the kitchen because I want to avoid trips to the emergency room. I was in a teensy bit of a hurry because I had gotten a late start on the soup. I was hurrying--and yet, oddly, the slicing of my finger seemed to happen in slow motion.

I could see the knife approaching my finger-tip, and I almost had time to scream at my finger to get out of the way before the skin fileted. A bright red stripe opened up above the first joint on my left pointer, and then blood started flowing in real time.

"Aaaahhhh!" I hollered, because it rilly, rilly hurt. I quickly made a field bandage from a paper towel, and applied pressure, while walking in circles and grunting. Meanwhile, C. Peevie arrived on the scene.

"Mom," he said, all sweet and worried, "Are you OK? What happened? What did you do to your face?" My face? I was holding a bloody bandage around my finger, and he was asking about my face?

Apparently, somehow I had smeared some sooty black gunk from I-don't-even-know-where on my face, along with a gory swath of blood. I looked like an extra from the set of The Towering Inferno. (Ooo--remember that movie?! I LOVED that movie! And talk about a towering cast! "Don't you think you're suffering from an edifice complex?" Heh.)

Anyway, I gave C. Peevie the short version, and he went running for Mr. Peevie, who immediately started panicking. Not because of my mortal wound, mind you, or because my finger was hemorrhaging, but because we had people coming over and WHO WAS GOING TO COOK NOW?

Mr. Peevie leapt into action, madly typing away on the computer.

"Um, sweetie?" I said, checking my wound, which immediately started gushing again. "What are you doing?"

"I'm trying to find the Amishes phone number," he said. "I need to call them and tell them not to come over." It was 4 p.m., and the Amishes were set to arrive in about an hour and a half. He dialed their number, but got no answer. (Even though they're practically Amish, they do have a phone--but apparently they're still using dial-up internet access.) The third guest did not have a listed phone number.

Not being able to reach the dinner guests pushed Mr. Peevie's anxiety into overdrive. "What are we going to do?" he moaned, "What are we going to do?"

"I don't know, Mr. P," I said, "But do you think maybe I should go to the ER?"

He paused and considered. "I don't know. But what am I going to do about dinner? People are going to be here in an hour and half, and nothing will be ready!" He started hyperventilating. "You'll go to the ER, and you won't be back until 10:00!"

I think his main concern, besides the food, was how to make small talk with dinner guests without me in the room to monopolize the conversation. But my feeling is, what good is a liberal arts education if you can't even carry on casual dinner conversation?

Meanwhile, C. Peevie was hovering around me while I continued to apply pressure to my stub. I checked it a couple of times, and both times it grinned a cheerful red grin at me before the blood started gushing like that SNL skit where Julia Child slices her artery during a cooking show.

The irony of Mr. Peevie's misplaced concern was not lost on C. Peevie. "I don't know why Daddy is the one who's all panicky when you're the one who's injured!" he said loudly, his arm around my shoulder.

In the end, I drove myself to the ER at Lutheran General Hospital, driving past at least two other closer hospitals on the way. I'm giving them a plug because even though there were 50 people in the waiting room, and ten more people came in the door behind me, I was in and out of there in less than an hour.

Here's what my finger looked like while Nurse Practitioner Pat was putting three stitches in.

When I arrived home with my finger stitched and splinted, soup was bubbling fragrantly on the stove, the corn casserole was hot out of the oven, and best of all, there was a glass of wine waiting for me. There was no anxiety or distress in the air. Somehow, Mr. Peevie had pulled himself together, because, he told me later, I had picked out recipes "that a monkey could follow."

Mr. Peevie might lack all sense of proportion in the anxiety-response department, but he always comes through in the end.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Freelance Woes

I'm looking for freelance writing jobs, scouring the Internets, visiting job boards, and generally bemoaning the economic conditions that have put me into a state of virtual unemployment as an independent writer for nearly eight months. Where is my stimulus package?

I've even submitted a love poem to a greeting card company. Now that's desperate, because I am the least sentimental person you will ever meet. Wanna know how bad it gets? Here's the first line:

Our souls touched long before our eyes met.


But hey, I've read the drivel on greeting cards in the drug store, and someone's making money on it. It might as well be me. I can write sappy love messages with the best of them.

Another way I could make some money--if I didn't have a conscience--is by writing college essays, book reports, and term papers. I would like to hear from you--anonymously, of course--if you ever paid someone to write a paper for you in college. Did you have any qualms about it? Did you get a good grade? Does it bother your conscience today? Would you want your own child to pay for a term paper? How do you justify it--or don't you bother?

Ironically, the companies looking for writers of term papers have strict guidelines about plagiarism -- and some offer their clients free plagiarism reports along with their research paper. It's a whole industry based upon cheating! Incredible.

One company is looking for a gullible fool to write articles for $3 per article--plus a bonus dollar for real good quality. Another one offered two cents per word. A 300 - 400 word original article, including research, would take a minimum of 2-3 hours. That means these writers will earn anywhere from $1 - $3 per hour. Who is willing to work for these kinds of slave wages? Are they freaking serious?

And yet, these jobs have dozens of bidders. One writer, a former newspaper reporter, is willing to write 30 five-hundred-word articles for $30. I...I...I'm speechless. I made more money 30 years ago when I was cleaning houses during the summer.

And finally, a former client just offered to "hire" me to work on a grant proposal with him--but he can't pay me unless he actually gets the grant. Seriously. Not only does fundraising on a contingency or commission basis violate the ethics of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, but he is essentially asking me to be willing to work for FREE, with only the possibility of a paycheck sometime in the future.

If I'm going to work for free, I'm going to blog--and someday, my blog and I will RULE THE WORLD.

So there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Book Review: Joker One

Joker One by Donovan Campbell is a love story, a war story, a leadership guide, and a Marine recruitment narrative. It's a military memoir, and a little bit of a faith memoir. Joker One is an amazing true story, brilliantly told. I have never before read any memoir like it, and I urge you, when it comes out on March 10, to pick up a copy, read it, and pass it along.

I received my copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer (ER) program. In the past, I have had mixed luck with the ER selections I have snagged. This book made up for the duds.

Donovan Campbell completed the ten-week Marine Corp Officer Candidate School ("ten weeks of uninterrupted screaming") as a college junior, after which he swore that he would "never, ever join the Marine Corp." He graduated from Princeton and promptly joined the Corps, looking for "a pursuit that would force me to assume responsibility for something greater than myself, something that would force me to give back, to serve others." This earnestness struck me as a little too heavily played--but not for long.

Campbell's compelling story begins in the middle of a firefight, just after a rocket attack on an abandoned hotel that Campbell and his men were using as an observation position. Surrounded by rubble, choking dust, and pieces of exploded rockets, with a friendly machine gun firing full-bore a few feet away, Lieutenant Campbell calls in his position, burns his fingers on the still-searing-hot hockey puck of a warhead, and eventually discovered that the enemy had failed to kill or wound a single Marine.

That's just the first six pages.

Campbell's memoir covers the seven months that he spent with his company in Ramadi, Iraq, plus the four months of pre-deployment training at Camp Pendleton, California. He introduces fifteen men, the main characters in his deployment drama; and over the next 300 pages we learn to love and admire most of them as much as Campbell himself does.

Yes, most of them. Campbell uses real names in most cases, but two characters remain anonymous: Ox, the arrogant executive officer, with an astounding lack of self-awareness; and the inexperienced platoon sergeant who, "in theory...should be a lieutenant's right-hand man." Early on, Campbell described a field exercise which "highlighted the Ox's greatest strength--his unthinking, unhesitating aggressiveness--and his greatest weakness--his unthinking, unhesitating aggressiveness."

Campbell writes like a philosophical memoirist. As he tells the story of the baby-faced, inexperienced soldiers heading into what would turn out to be fierce and unrelenting guerilla-type combat, he takes time to examine the challenges of platoon leadership and his own evolution from a green, book-educated lieutenant with "zero real-world infantry experience" to a battle-experienced leader who had earned the love and respect of his men.

Before the Marines even boarded the plane for Iraq, Campbell describes a discipline dilemma which highlighted "the tension between justice and mercy, and, to some extent, between respect and love." As the officer responsible for a Marine facing discipline for the charge of under-age drinking, Campbell understood the need for consistency and accountability in the situation; but he also believed that

there are moments when simply following the letter of the law is a cop-out, and ultimately hinders your efforts to pull the best out of your men. ...the latter requires a love founded on humility, self-sacrifice, and in some cases, mercy.

Campbell wages an internal philosophical debate, asking himself, "What, then, should a young officer do to navigate the delicate tension between justice and fear, between mercy and love?" (Just the fact that Campbell even asked this question made me shake my head in wonderment. This to me displays a rare level of self-awareness, decency, and humility to which all of us should aspire.)

"The way to satisfy both justice and mercy," Campbell concluded,

is, quite simply, to take the hit for your men, to divert whatever punishment they may rate onto your own head if you believe that mercy is warranted...If you wear the bars on your shoulders, then it is your job to practice the greater love principle.

The "greater love" principle, if you're not familiar with it, is a reference to Jesus' words in the gospel of John: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." It's not the only time Campbell references a Biblical principal, and in fact, his narrative describes a faith journey almost as much as a military journey. "Deep in my heart," Campbell writes,

I believed that prayer would work without fail, that if together Joker One prayed long and hard enough, God would spare all of us...What I know now, and which didn't occur to me then, was that by praying as I prayed, and hoping what I hoped, and believeing what I believed, I was effectively reducing God to a result-dispensing genie who, if just fed the proper incantations, would give the sincere petitioner (me) the exact outcome desired.

There's plenty of shooting, swearing, exploding, bleeding, and sweating in Joker One--but it contains far more sensitivity, humility, and tenderness than you would expect in a book about soldiers and war. It's kind of a military memoir for girls, really--except that in the best of all possible worlds, these characteristics would be honored and admired in men as much as in women. This book must feel like a gift to the men of Joker One and to their families. It felt like a gift to me--and I'm grateful to Lieutenant Campbell for his service to our country, both as a soldier and as a rememberer.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

24: Free Will and Moral Responsibility

OK, so I'm no Nostradamus: Jack and Agent Freckles did not kiss in this week's episode of 24. However, they did have a tender embrace, fraught with sexual tension, and he did have his hand on her hair. That's the next best thing. I'm calling it a near-miss. The kiss probably ended up on the cutting room floor, and we'll see it on the DVD extras.

But the real topics for today's 24-related post are free will and moral responsibility. We can't avoid this subject when we're talking about 24, because the characters are constantly saying things like, "We don't have a choice" and "I wish there was another option" and my favorite, "Whatever happens [if you don't let me torture this suspect] is on you." The correct responses are, in order: yes, you do; there are; and no, it's not.

Let me explain.

Human beings are free moral agents with freedom of choice and moral responsibility for their own choices and actions. This is a debatable philosophical point of view, but we have to start somewhere, right? And I'm guessing this is not the sticking point for the Jack Bauer sympathizers who stand with him in favor of using torture in interrogations.

I submit (to my vast Green Room audience) that every time we make a decision, we have a choice. If we're not aware of making a choice--in other words, if we act by instinct, without awareness--then it can be argued that we do not have a choice. In those situations, our actions and choices are products of our subconscious, our biology, our nurture, our environment.

But if we are aware enough to claim, "I don't have a choice"--we do indeed, every time, have a choice. It might be a very difficult one, or there might be more than one option--but we can never claim, as Jack Bauer does several times per hour, that we have only one choice.

I believe what Jack is really saying is, "Every other choice is untenable, indefensible, and unacceptable." But let's look at this assumption a little closer. Take the situation where Jack had a suspect who ostensibly knew the location of the next terrorist attack. Jack was in the middle of torturing the guy to get the information out of him when the president and her chief of staff stopped him. Jack was pissed.

"He was almost talking!" Jack insisted. In other words, let me keep breaking the law and making an immoral choice so that I can prevent something bad from happening and protect innocent lives.

Preventing bad things from happening and protecting innocent lives are both good things--but is it necessary or even acceptable to condone immoral and unlawful actions in order to accomplish them? This question presumes agreement with the proposition that torture is both unlawful and immoral. Here is a transcript of a FrontLine debate on the Torture Question, and here is the key article in The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War:

Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms ... shall in all circumstances be treated humanely...

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.

Whether or not you admit that torture is in every case immoral, it is most certainly unlawful. And getting back to the point at hand--Jack Bauer does have a choice, and so do you. The example from 24 that comes to my mind is from several seasons ago. Jack is dealing with a terrorist who has ordered him to execute his own colleague or he will unleash a deadly virus that will kill hundreds or thousands of people. Just before shooting Ryan in the head, Jack shakes his head mournfully and says, "I wish I had another choice."

OK, this STILL bugs me even though it is FICTION and a PLOT DEVICE and it was several years ago. OF COURSE he had a choice. He could choose to not comply with the terrorist's demands, not kill an innocent man. (It was a great scene, however, and the guy who played Ryan Chappelle, Paul Shulze, acted the crap out of it.) In not complying, he is taking a risk that more innocent people will die--but not by his own hand. It is also possible that the trigger mechanism will jam, or that the terrorist will get caught before releasing the gas--or any one of a hundred alternative possibilities.

In other words, you cannot justify an immoral action by saying that the result of not taking it is untenable--because you technically do not know with certainty what the result will be.

One problem with allowing ourselves to say, "I don't have a choice" is that we start to believe it. We start to believe that we are trapped by our circumstances and have only one option. We even feel trapped--but the sooner we can step outside of the circumstance in which we don't have a choice, the sooner we will see that we do have choices. This process is often known as therapy. Get some.

Another problem with the "no choice" mentality is that it makes a morally objectionable choice less objectionable. We essentially separate ourselves from our moral responsibility, and assert that the circumstances are to blame for our actions. We don't have to feel guilty about our actions if we didn't have a choice. We don't have to take the time or make the effort to try to figure out another option if we don't have a choice.

We need to take this phrase right out of our vocabulary, starting right now. And I would appreciate it if the writers of 24 would attempt to deal with the issue of moral responsibility, instead of letting my little velvet-voiced Jacko get more and more thuggish with each passing episode.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Frozen Pasttime

The sky is a dirty cotton sheet dropping dandruff on the shoulders of the city. The snow is blowing sideways, there are 17 degrees outside, and it's that time of year again: time to sign the kids up for Little League.

I find it difficult to think about baseball when I'm still wearing a parka, my fingers feel numb from frostbite, and there is ice forming on the inside of my windows. But alas, that is the lot of a sports-mom in this frozen tundra we call home. The first game will be May 9--which seems as far away as the Cubs' next World Series title.

This year we're back to three kids playing ball. (Hooray for the multi-player discount! It saved us $60.) A. Peevie and M. Peevie both took a season off last year, so we only had one set of practices, games, uniforms, team snacks, and injuries to deal with. There have been times in the past when we've had three kids in three different games (in one park) at the same time. Parents who juggle multiple baseball schedules deserve presents.

Meanwhile, M. Peevie was a little conflicted about the whole baseball thing until we told her that she could sign up for softball if she'd prefer. Being the inappropriate, pushy mom that I am, I have my dreams for her, namely that she will be the first woman in Major League Baseball. (That was my dream for myself, but then reality set in. Damn reality.) If she switches to softball so soon, it might diminish her chances, and then who will be supporting me in my old age?

As I have noted in a previous post, this girl has mad skilz, so I'm looking forward to her inaugural softball season almost as much as I would have anticipated seeing her showing the boys how to play baseball.

A. Peevie has decided to play again, although within four hours of Mr. Peevie putting the money on the table, he was already having second thoughts. "You didn't sign me up for Majors?" he whined. "Then I'm not playing." Majors, even though he's the right age, would have chewed him up and spit him out. He is smaller and far less experienced than the gigantic ringers that coaches recruit for majors.

A. Peevie was so distressed and obsessed about his "demotion" to the Minors (even though if he went to the Majors, he'd actually be skipping an entire level of play) that he was starting to get hives. Or maybe that was me getting hives because I'm allergic to whining.

I attempted to convert his thinking through logic: A.P., I told him, you have to take the leagues in order. You can't skip minors, and go straight from Bronco to majors! He would have none of it. "I'm old enough and I want to play in majors," he said. I think he just liked the sound of it: Majors. It just sounds better than minors.

I knew it would be a tough sell, so I skipped the fear strategy ("You might get hit by a fastball!") and went straight for bribery. "A. Peevie," I said winningly, "How can I help you feel better about playing in the minors? How about if we institute a reward system?"

His waxy ears perked up. "What if I said I'd give you a prize if you hit a single?" I said, knowing full well that I was heading down a dangerous road called Precedent. "Like maybe I'd take you out for ice cream if you got a hit?" Well, rewards is a language that A. Peevie is fluent in. He rushed to his room and drew up a detailed contract of prizes for offensive and defensive successes.

As I signed on the dotted line it occurred to me that he might not make it to the real MLB as a player--but he has the nascent skills of an MLB agent. Nothing will give me greater pleasure than buying him a book for hitting a double--but I did salvage my parenting reputation by reminding him that I would reward him just for going out there and giving it a good try, learning some new skills, and not being the kid in the outfield watching an ant lug a dead roly poly across the dirt.

C. Peevie, on the other hand, does not need external motivation to give baseball his all. He's been waiting by the front door with his glove since the season ended last August. The other day he asked me to go outside and have a catch (or "play catch," if you're not from my beautiful neck of the woods in the most beautiful county in the USA, Bucks County, PA) . Temps were below freezing, and I declined.

So stay tuned for the stories of summer baseball in Chicago--which cannot come soon enough. And in the meantime, you can catch up on my previous stories on The Little League Coach.