Sunday, January 31, 2016

Six life lessons from Mr. Rogers

The other day the "ending" song of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood popped into my head.  It must be because Juliette watches a cartoon made by PBS which uses the same melody (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood).  And even after all these years, the lines seemed to come back to me so clearly (give or take a few words).  

It's such a good feeling
To know you're alive.
It's such a happy feeling:
You're growing inside.
And when you wake up ready to say,
"I think I'll make a snappy new day."
It's such a good feeling,
A very good feeling,
The feeling you know
You're alive.


And I realized that even at nearly 42 years old, these words ring very true and are frankly a good mantra.  It seems I am not the only one out there who is inspired by old Fred either.  Other bloggers have been inspired by him, too.

Say what you will about his obsession with cardigans and the 70s home decorations, Mr. Rogers was ahead of his time.  And he had a lot to teach us.

1.     We really are lucky to be alive.  These are the first lines of the song above and excellent ones to remember at any age.  We need only watch the nightly news to realize we are the lucky ones today.  We’ve got a roof over our heads (even if it is a rental), we’re healthy and absolutely spoiled compared to most of the world’s population.  How revolutionary that this simple message of counting your blessings was being sent out to young children by his show.  

2.     Keep work and home separate.  You know how he always took off his work jacket for one of his cardigans?  Then he took off his street shoes for his Keds.  By these simple acts, Mr. Rogers is shedding his work persona and getting cozy at home.  Today it’s increasingly difficult to keep work out of our home lives, with emails and texts which can arrive or be answered at any hour.  We should take a page from Fred’s book on this one.  Plus, cardigans ARE cool.

3.     Your imagination is vital.  I loved when Mr. Rogers went to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to make the voices for King Friday and Henrietta Pussycat.  How cool was that to have a trolley in your living room that went to an imaginary world!  He reminded kids how essential imaginary play is.  I still value imaginary play today, with my daughter, and sometimes I use visualization exercises to calm myself as I go to sleep or get out of a funk.  By this focus on the imaginary, he was also encouraging creativity.  In our world of ready-made apps and games for kids, let us not forget a healthy dose of imagination.

4.    Talking about your feelings is key.  In some versions of the ending song, Mr. Rogers says something to the extent of “you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about/I will, too.”  But he also says we can choose to share our feelings, or not.  It’s still an important message today for us all.  Talking it out, sharing our emotions is the only way to hash things out.  He also reminds us simply that it’s ok to have feelings, that those feelings are our own.  

5.     Neighbors and friends make the world a better place. In the beginning theme song he says “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” and “won’t you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?”  We need neighbors and friends like we need oxygen.  Without our circle of people and connections, we’d be lonely and down.  People with more friends and social contacts live longer, too.  Communication and sharing experiences helps kids and adults build a fuller life.  I know friend time sure helps me get through those tough moments.

6.     It’s in our hands to make it a “snappy new day”.  I like this idea of a snappy new day.  It sounds optimistic and fun.  It also sounds like I can snap out of a bad mood and it’s my choice.  That is a powerful message for anyone.  It’s about waking up with hope that today will be a good day and that we are the authors of our days.  

So as the winter doldrums set in, let’s make tomorrow a snappy one and hold friends and neighbors close to our hearts!  And don’t forget your cardigan.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why we cry when good rockers die

I will never forget hearing the opening chords to David Bowie’s  Little China Girl in front of a sidewalk café in my French town.  The twangy chords stopped me in my tracks.  A cover band was doing a damn good job on it, as they did on other 80s songs they played that night as well.  
It was 2008 and I was eight months pregnant and my friends Caro and Karine had invited me out for the annual fête de la musique, always held the first night of summer.  Remi was at a wedding that my very pregnant self didn’t want to attend.  So in the warm summer evening, my girlfriends and I walked the town and sampled the various concerts , but I wanted to stay on that street corner and dance all night.

It’s just one of many times David Bowie was part of my existence.  In the background or just to dance to.  

I didn’t cry when I heard David Bowie died.  But I was sad.  I was driving to work listening to the classic rock music station when I heard the news and I just felt bummed out.  The rest of the day I felt a little blue.  

I wasn’t the only one.  Facebook was covered with posts honoring his musical genius.  My mom wrote me an email titled “And then David Bowie died” as it was already a somewhat exasperating week for her.  I wouldn’t call it a full-blown depression but it was a blow to me and many others.

It might seem silly to “mourn” for rockers and celebrities I’ve never met.  But when we’ve heard their voices in our ears since our childhood, when their melodies have accompanied our parties and outdoor concerts, they are a part of us.  They write the soundtracks to our lives.  They make us dance, and they make us dream with their lyrics and videos.  

And somehow we feel they should always be with us.  After all, David Bowie’s songs were with me all my life.  And when these mythical rockers pass on, I am reminded of my own mortality.  If they can die, then we know we will too, one day.  These people may have seemed larger than life, but something as ugly and base as cancer can bring them down, too.  

The first rocker I remember dying was John Lennon.  I was just six but I remember the news reports.  I had been brought up on Beatles music by my parents.  I knew who he was.  The fact that he was gunned down so brutally made an impression on my young mind.  

Then there was Marvin Gaye when I was ten.  I knew his songs, and though I’m sure I didn’t get all the innuendo in Sexual Healing, I liked his music.  Again, I remember the tragic aspect, being killed by his father, and then the tribute songs after like Nightshift and What’s Going On.

Of course, it’s not just rockers passing on who affect me.  There was River Phoenix’s all-too early departure that rocked my mom and sister and me especially.  Still hard to believe someone so young left us tragically.

As a sophomore in college, I remember Kurt Cobain’s suicide and how it cast a strange atmosphere over my college campus.  I wasn’t a huge fan but I can still recall going to English lit class the day after and thinking about it.

More recently there was Heath Ledger’s death.  I was pregnant with Juliette and remember thinking it was such a shame that we wouldn’t be seeing his youthful, impish face in any new movies.  

George Harrison- another one felled by cancer.  Amy Winehouse- victim of her addiction.  Michael Jackson- dead in his wonderland from his overmedicated way of life.  Cory Montheith from Glee- overdose. 

And just last week, Alan Rickman, the soulful voice of the mild and constant suitor in Sense and Sensibility.  And now Glenn Frey from the Eagles.  

I just can’t take any more good guys leaving us.  After Remi’s grandad, a few French celebrities, and even one of my neighbors, January is turning out to be rather glum.  

But life goes on.  The music goes on.  Just this evening I heard Bowie’s Life on Mars as I drove home.  Hearing his voice again, it almost sent a chill through me.  His voice will always be with us.  It’s called his legacy, and as we keep on trudging along in our lives, there will be music and films to buoy us.  As another of my all-time favorite rockers, Neil Finn says, “a host of every day distractions/most of all it’s music taking me.” May there always be sweet music to lift me up. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fifteen reasons you might be a hybrid

It hits me when I am least expecting it.  Little things remind me that, once again, this country messes with my head sometimes.  Like last week I read online that the new female character in Star Wars, Rey, had a British accent (don’t worry, this is not a spoiler).  How did I miss that, I asked myself?  I didn’t recall that at all.  

Er, that’s because I saw it in French!  Strange how my mind just skipped over that fact.  But that wasn’t all.  I didn’t even know that it was called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because I was so used to seeing Le Réveil de la Force (the awakening of the force).  

I must face facts.  I am a hybrid.  It’s the term my expat friends and I often use to describe ourselves these days.  We have subtly changed in so many little ways that we don’t even notice it anymore.  We watch movies in French because maybe we can’t get it in English and don’t even know the real English title.  

But being a hybrid extends to just about every domain, from cooking to parenting.  Here are just a few examples of how I am morphing day by day.  Read on to see if you are too.
Even the French are on the hybrid bandwagon.

1. You use French words in an English conversation without even realizing it.  Sometimes it’s just easier to use the French word, especially if it’s some government acronym or expression like: “sécu” for health insurance or “smic” instead of minimum wage.

2. You leave up your Christmas tree till at least January 6th because, hey, everyone else is doing it while eating king’s cake for Epiphany.  I just took mine down January 9th.  It’s kind of relaxing not to have to pack it all up on January 1st.

3. You decide whether to hug or cheek-kiss your friends based on their nationality.  Sometimes you do a combo hug and kiss because you don’t know where you are anymore.  Check out this British comic’s hilarious and true take on the famous cheek kisses in France.

4. You describe your parenting style as North American/Parisian.  You consider yourself stricter than some American parents but laxer than most French ones.  Especially when it comes to snacking.

5. Your bicultural kid eats diced beets and grated celery root at the cafeteria but snubs her nose at Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese.  She still knows all the ingredients in s’mores though and asks for them by name.

6. Your grocery list is in Frenglish and includes oatmeal and fromage.  Lots of fromage.

7. You do a little dance in the supermarket when you spot Dr. Pepper or French’s honey mustard but you still love you some goat cheese on anything. And you have become a bread snob
8. You celebrate Thanksgiving but it might be before or after the actual date.  You also celebrate Epiphany and Chandleur and any French holiday involving pastries.

9. You rehearse what you want to say in French to cashiers and civil servants even when you go back to your home country and are about to speak English.  Then you feel silly.

10. You start conversations in one language and finish them in another.  And so does everybody in your household except the cat.

11. You sometimes can’t remember words in your native language and realize that some French expressions just don’t translate in English. 

12. Your dress code is continental and casual at the same time. 

13. Your family and friends back home think you have a European accent now.  Your new countrymen say you’ll never lose your American accent when you speak French.

14. You don’t know all the titles of the latest movies in English and you can identify the French dubbing voice of Julia Roberts from a mile off even when it is used for a different actress.

15. You miss your home country and the food. And your family.  But you also feel somewhat at home in your adopted country.  And you're not sure how you feel about that. 

So if you are a hybrid, embrace your mixed status.  It keeps you on your toes and never gets boring.  And maybe we’re like hybrid cars- the wave of the future in a world that is more and more international.  Beware though- we tend to be a little high maintenance.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

How many heartbeats?

Last Tuesday one man's heart stopped beating.  It had been beating for 90 years, after all.  It had started beating between the two world wars.  Its heartbeat no doubt accelerated while he lived during WWII as a young teen.  It fluttered when he met his wife, had his child, saw his grandchild and great grand child.  It beat all those years, without fail.  While he slept, while he worked in his garden, to the very end.  But 90 years is a long time for a muscle to stay so strong.  And it had to stop one day.

If you live to be 80 your heart will beat over 3 billion times.  That's a number we can't even fathom. Add a few more million if you live to 90.  Maybe the number doesn't even matter.  It's what we did during all those heartbeats, all those milliseconds that piled into minutes, hours, days, years.

In this man's case, my husband's grandfather, he led a full life.  He worked till his late 50s, retired, travelled Europe, then puttered in his house and garden.  It was a good and long life.  Much longer than some can ever dream of.  An exceptionally long life for a man, too.  Despite all that, it's still hard to say goodbye.  He might not have been my granddad, but in the last 13 years living in France, he became my surrogate one.  I lost my own grandfathers when I was a teenager.  I lost my paternal grandma in 2004 and my maternal one two years ago.

You could say I adopted Dédé, as we called him.  And he would call me, "ma fille", an affectionate term.  When I first arrived in France I couldn't understand all his jokes or his local dialect.  When my French got better I started to realize some of his jokes were frankly a bit off-color, so I pretended not to understand them!  And in the last few years his speech had become very slurred, so communication was tough again.

But even in the end when it seemed more like air coming out of his mouth than sound, or when he would nod off in the middle of our already broken conversation, I could see some glimmers.  He still recognized us and I noticed his eyes lit up especially when Juliette was there.  He would reach out his hand speckled with age spots to touch her or try to tickle her.  His laughs were heartier when she was around.  For her it was harder to see her great grandfather as such with his haggard face and crusty eyes.  I told her Dédé wouldn't be around forever and he was happy to see her.  Both were true.

So Dédé breathed his last breath, and his heart beat its last beat.  But along with my already departed grandparents, he's in that better place.  Another pair of eyes up there to watch over our family.  And as it always is after a death in the family, I'm more determined to make the most out of my heartbeats.