Summer used to mean trips to the library, at least once a week and usually more often. Books had to be gathered from under beds and behind car seats and children rounded up and loaded into those same seats, wiggling with anticipation over the new stories they’d discover and bring home.
Often we’d get sidetracked and end up grabbing a shave ice from a local teenager sweltering in a temporary shed covered in plastic raffia. I used to keep baby wipes in the car so sticky tiger’s blood wouldn’t dot the new book covers.
But now things are different. Last week my 14 year old daughter asked if I could take her to the library. I turned away from my computer, blinking. It’s the middle of July and I haven’t had a single strawberry shave ice. We’ve driven by the library a zillion times. Why haven’t we stopped in?
Oh, man. Does this mean I’m a terrible mother? My kids are not reading this summer. They are going to fail their SATs and end up addicted to video games and living in my basement until I die, a cold Diet Coke clutched in one hand and a dusty library card in the other.
Quick! How many books do they have to consume in the weeks before school starts to catch up? 10? 20? We’ll give up tv. We’ll give up sleep. We’ll—
“Mom? Did you hear me? Can we go to the library? Or can you at least recommend something from your eBook collection? Since I can’t pick up the books and check the back, I don’t know what’s good.”
Oh, yeah. EBooks. Between gifts, subscription services, and purchases, there are thousands of books in my digital library for the kids to choose from. “Son,” I yelled up the stairs, “what are you reading?”
The 16 year old peeked over the railing. “Last week I read Brandon Sanderson’s newest. Yesterday I finished the entire Sherlock Holmes collection and I’ve started on Terry Pratchett.”
“So you don’t want to go to the library?”
He waved his smart phone at me. “Whatever for?”
My daughter said, “Well, I want to read The Fault in Our Stars.”
“Mom’s got it,” he replied. “Check her Amazon account.”
“I also wanted dystopian.”
“Mom’s got the Legends series.”
“I want books.”
I get where she’s coming from. There’s something about holding a book, measuring your progress through it, trying to slow down when you know the end is coming up and you war with yourself over wanting to prolong the journey as much as you want to find out what happens.
I also know that eBooks are immediately available and infinitely more portable.
At the library, I wasn’t surprised that when my daughter borrowed Legend by Marie Lu she had to put her name down on the wait-list for the next books in the series, Prodigy and Champion. It’s popular and there were four or five kids ahead of her. I also wasn’t surprised when she came to me at 11 pm asking how to download the final two books.
The desire to know what happens next crushed the book purist in her.
And now I fear I’ll have to find new excuses to make summer shave ice runs. But the kids are reading. Won’t have to finish the basement after all.
After many years of thinking of myself as a feminist, I’ve realized that I’m not. That definition has become too loaded with baggage I don’t want to carry any more. There’s a particular brand of feminism that proclaims if you’re a feminist, then you’re for everything womyn and against everything male. Modern feminist rhetoric lost me when their pendulum swung so far that it’s no longer about gender neutrality, but feminine superiority.
That’s just swapping one form of tyranny for another. If you haven’t picked-up on it yet, I have a low tolerance for bullies.
Now I absolutely support wage equality, shattering glass ceilings, and social, economic, educational, and political parity. Ain’t nobody gonna put Baby in the corner, right? So if that’s how you define feminism, preach, sister, preach.
In my head, what these ideas have in common is that they’re all about how groups of humans work and live together. I think most of us would agree that the rules, expectations, and opportunities in a secular society should be gender neutral.
However, it’s at the individual level where much of what modern feminists beat their drums over loses me, particularly when they start placing value judgments against women who choose differently than they do and claim that all differences between men and women are irrelevant. A lot of feminists groups are drawing hard lines in the sand and to my surprise some of those lines exclude me.
If being a modern feminist means fitting into a narrow definition and being anti-male, I’m going to have to pass.
Besides, some of the finest human beings I know are male. It’s not gender, it’s attitude.
“But Lehua, where is your Christian charity? We should welcome everyone with open arms. You’re judging and that’s wrong.”
Or words to that effect. It’s a PG blog after all.
Charity is something I take very seriously. I feel that as someone who has been given much, I have a responsibility to give back in continuous and significant ways. I give generously not only in money and goods, but in time as well. And unlike many of the people who disagree with me, I’ve also traveled enough to know what real need looks like. This isn’t it.
To the Christian (or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or Flying Spaghetti Monster) charity proponents, I’d like to point out that the Rainbow Family is composed of people who are choosing to come here and break the law by camping longer than anyone else is permitted to and without paying required fees or even providing for modern sanitation services. These are not people fleeing a natural disaster, military coup, or economic downturn. These are not down on their luck, brother can you spare a dime panhandlers. Regardless of whether or not you believe in their message of peace, love, and dubious hygiene, they are lawbreakers amassing in a number that allows them to act this way.
We have another name for people who think they are special like this: bullies.
Funny, we spend a lot of time and energy teaching children that bullying behavior is wrong. We tell them that it’s not okay to simply take what they want. We teach them to take responsibility for their actions, to think of others, and to understand that might does not make right. To do other than this is to act as a selfish elitist.
No matter how much the Rainbow Family preaches love, tolerance, and acceptance, by their actions you know them for what they truly are: bullies.
I’m not going to welcome them and encourage this behavior. It’s the equivalent of telling a child that it’s okay that the bully takes his lunch money. He needs it.
That’s not charity. That’s victimhood.
I’m calling a bully a bully, and if that makes me uncharitable in your opinion, fine. Don’t expect me to be handing out sandwiches or spare change or giving away blankets or coats this summer to the panhandlers who have already hit me up.
I’m giving my charity to people who really need it.
I’d always assumed if I was paying for a party, I’d at least get to pick the guest list.
I am soooo tired of special.
This year, the Rainbow Family has chosen Uintah National Forest for their annual gathering. It’s a pristine chunk of federal land that starts just a few miles from my front door. It’s breathtakingly beautiful up there. Being so close, I’d always wished I could park my camper in a prime location and run back and forth all summer long, but there are laws that don’t allow camping in one spot for more than 14 days. Rangers keep track of who’s camping where and if you’re out fishing or hiking when they stop by, they’ll thoughtfully leave notes telling you how many more days you can stay. To camp in the Uintahs all summer, you have to break camp and move at least five miles every 14 days. That way everyone gets a chance to enjoy the area.
Unless you’re the Rainbow Family.
You see, they’re special. The rules don’t apply to them.
Let me tell you a little bit about the Rainbow Family. They claim to have no leader or leadership; if you have a bellybutton, you’re in. Call them counter-culture, hippies, or alternative life-stylers, nobody applies or signs a permit, pays a fee, or is accountable for the group’s actions. Through magical group consensus—maybe it’s a homing instinct—a place for their annual gathering is selected about two weeks before the big shindig. You know your town’s the gathering place when they start showing up. The media takes care of the rest of the invitations.
In 2014 the only town near their gathering place is my town, a rural high-desert valley community of 12,000 residents misnamed Heber City. Heber’s small enough that the tellers at the bank, checkers at the grocery store, waiters at the diner, and the guy who takes the movie tickets know me well enough on sight to ask how my daughter’s soccer team is doing. We’re also remote; our nearest neighboring towns are 30 minutes away in different directions through winding canyons at freeway speeds. We’ve learned to watch out for deer, elk, and the occasional moose crossing.
Living on the outskirts of Heber on the main road to the Uintah National Forest, my neighbors and I have never locked our doors. Seriously. When the sheriff told us we had to start locking up our houses, sheds, garages, and barns because Rainbows are opportunists, we all had to run 25 miles to the nearest Home Depot. In my case after 15 years, we couldn’t find a key. Many of our garages and sheds don’t have closing doors. Hell, half the cars and pick-ups in the valley are left unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Yes, Virginia, there really is a place like this in 2014 America.
Conservative estimates think we’ll get 10,000 to 15,000 Rainbow Family members, although they admit some gatherings have been as high as 30,000. The big event is July 4th with most arriving before July 1st and staying through July 7th , but some stay all summer. The Rainbow Family Council started showing up mid-June and selected their main campsite June 15th. Like busy beavers, they’ve been setting up satellite camps since.
June 15th to July 1st to July 7th to…wait a minute…
But it’s okay. They’re really nice people with just a few bad apples giving the group a bad name; we know because they say so.
I’m calling shibai. Here’s the real deal.
The Rainbow Family has held yearly gatherings since the early 1970s. They are fully aware of their impact on small communities—in fact, so aware that they target them. Like modern day locusts, they descend waving flags of free speech, the right to assemble, and freedom of religion while thumbing their noses at laws that govern the rest of us. They gather in such large numbers with no advanced warning that communities are overwhelmed. They camp on federal land which is under Federal, not local jurisdiction. The only way to enforce the laws already in place is to send in the National Guard to root them out. No Fed wants pictures of flower-wielding, kumbaya-singing hippies forced at gunpoint to break camp splashed across the news. So the Federal attitude is live and let live. Besides it’s not like they’re camping on the steps of the White House.
As hopping mad as we get, Heber City’s 12,000 tax paying residents simply do not carry much juice with the Feds. We’re not even a rounding error in their calculations.
Heber City and Wasatch County taxpayers will be left picking up the tab for everything from the trash Rainbows leave behind—I don’t care if they claim to bag it all up, somebody at some point is going to have to haul it out of the mountains and pay to put it in a landfill—to the overtime cost for EMT, police, fire, and all the other civil services needed to manage a double or tripling of our population. Of course, there’re also softer costs like vandalism, petty theft, theft of services, unpaid hospital visits, and drains on the local food pantry and disaster relief services. Rainbows are quick to point out that local business benefit from their arrival, but the math doesn’t add up. Previous Rainbow Gatherings have left behind bills of more than $500,000 in services alone—that’s more than $4,000 per resident in Heber City—bankrupting already thin county coffers. This is not an exaggeration. During last year’s gathering in Montana the governor issued a state of emergency to help defray the fiscal impact. Look it up.
And the Rainbow Family knows this.
And they don’t care.
So don’t tell me how wonderful they are. Really wonderful people pass the magic hat and pony up impact fees, group permits, stay no more than fourteen days, and pay for porta-potties instead of digging slit latrines. Yeah, that’s right. Their waste management plan is slit latrines and campfire ash. Don’t even think about the fact that a human creates about .8 lbs. of solid waste a day. With 15,000 people, that’s about six tons per day. In pristine wilderness. A day.
But I have to give them credit. Next time I want to camp on federal land all summer and dump my black water into a slit latrine instead of hauling it to a sewage treatment facility, I’ll just tell the Ranger I’m with the Rainbow Family.
After all, I have a bellybutton, too.
Tilting at windmills is exhausting.
I should know. For the last few years I’ve been waving my sword at giants, huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf, certain in the rightness of my cause. There is no drug or drink as heady as righteous indignation, for when you are certain that you are right, that you are the only person who can see the truth through the fog that surrounds everyone else, anger pours out like honey, a thick amber goo that seeps into the cracks of everything it touches and sticks and sticks and sticks.
It’s comforting to wallow in how the world should be, to bemoan the state of things, to think that if people would just shut-up and do it my way, they’d see the light. Honestly, the world would be a much better place if everyone just did what I thought they should.
When it’s put like that, it’s much easier to see the pride and arrogance for what it is. In my case, I think I had to run out of steam before I could finally stop and stand there, panting and wiping the sweat off my brow, suddenly realizing that those giants were really windmills. Not only was it impossible to defeat them, defeating them was really not the point.
I’m not going to go into long explanations about my particular windmills—at least not here in a blog post. I will say that a leaky jar of honey can spill over from one area to another until everything is a sticky mess. I worked up a full-head of steam of righteous indignation that finally got me so mired in despair that no progress in any direction was possible—the very opposite of what I was so desperately pushing for.
A hard truth about life is that there are some things we cannot change. Rather than weeping and wailing, gnashing our teeth at the injustices, and demanding that the world accommodate us, I think we need to step back. You can’t stop the ocean waves, but you can figure out how to avoid rolling up the beach spitting sand.
There’s a freedom that comes from ending the pursuit of control over the uncontrollable. It allows you to take the reins over what is in your power even if it’s only your own reactions.
When you stop fighting the waves or tilting at windmills, you give yourself the power and permission to surf.
Didn’t think of that didja, Don Quixote?
I need a new car. In our family, a new car takes years to purchase. My husband researches, test drives, compares. He considers the possible uses we’ll put it to—road trips, pulling horse trailers or boats, or simply running around town—and he figures out which models will work best. He reads all about the upcoming developments, the power train ratios, mileage, traction, and braking systems, and basically overwhelms me with spreadsheets of facts, figures, and options. I say uh-huh and ignore it all until he narrows his list down to one. That’s when I finally break down and say let me drive it.
My list is shorter. Do I like the colors inside and out? Is there a convenient place for my drink? When I stomp on the gas and turn sharply, does the back-end break loose in a plume of smoke and handle like I stole it?
Yeah, I care about the go. Don’t talk to me about fuel efficiency, warranties, the sound system, or on-board navigation. When I have to merge on the freeway, I don’t want that pause in the engine, that I think I can moment, to get in the way of the zoom.
If I drive it and like it and it’s on the lot, I buy it. My husband knows this, so he manages the test drives very carefully. If it’s not on the lot—wrong color or missing a key feature—we’ll order it. Salesmen like that about us until it comes to the negotiation. One foolish dude once said, “I can’t believe you’re walking away over a $300 difference!” I snapped, “I can’t believe you’re losing a sale over $300 you’ll get back in dealer incentives.” “What incentives?” “If you don’t know about your own current corporate pricing structures, get me someone who does. And no, I don’t need oil change coupons, either.” My husband’s research is annoyingly thorough and it makes him laugh when I’m the one going toe to toe with the big bad dealership. But that’s another post.
So we need a new car. It’s been fourteen years since I bought my decked-out Durango RT. That’s another thing about our family. We buy new and keep them forever. We’ve had other cars since, but not one that’s mine.
After several years, my husband’s narrowed it down to a diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee, either a completely loaded Limited or a Summit edition with a tow package. While we were waiting for the Grand Cherokee’s brand spanking new diesel engines to hit the showrooms, I test drove everything in its class from a Porsche Cheyenne to an Audi Q5 and Q7 to a Volkswagen Touareg. He’s right. I like the Jeep Grand Cherokee best. It’ll do everything I need it to do and more.
And this is where the mid-life crisis comes it. My eyes are wandering to the cute convertible VW Bug in candy white outside the grocery store. At the park I ran over to check out an orange racing-striped convertible Mini Cooper and swooned. Then there was the sleek deep green Jaguar parked in front of a restaurant. When I was supposed to be looking at Grand Cherokees at a Dodge/Jeep dealership, a Challenger SRT8 in classic plum crazy purple whistled at me. How ya’ doing darling, he said.
Hellooo, big boy! I called and trailed a finger across his hood while he purred.
My husband shakes his head. No way he’s driving a girl car like a VW Bug or Mini Cooper. Might as well get a Prius and take away his man-card. He says if I want a convertible, let’s check out a BMW or maybe a used Audi.
We’ve had convertibles and I loved them for about four months out of every year. In our souped-up Miata I’d drive with the hard-top off in winter, heater blasting full blast, ears numb by the time I got where I was going. But too often I had to drive with either the hard or ragtop up, more because of where I was parking in the city than the weather. Hate, hate, hated dealing with the tops. And all that rear wheel power made it tricky in the snow. A few times during record snowfalls, we had to wait for snow plows to clear our street before we could make it up the hill to our house. Unfortunately, we live much higher in the mountains now. Snow and icy canyons and hills are a sucky fact of life.
Plus convertibles are low slung. Sexy, but hell to climb in and out of on my bum Achilles’ tendon.
When I mention the Challenger, he’s wary. But you hate sedans, he says. You’re always complaining about the seat belts getting tangled in the doors and the trunk’s never quite what you want it to be. He’s right. Sedans make me twitch.
I also know he’s right about the diesel Grand Cherokee. It does have great zoom, cargo space, and sits high on the road. There’s enough space for a couple of adults to comfortably road trip in the back seat. It could tow a boat, small horse trailer, or even the ultralight camper. It’s easy to handle, park, and if I turn off all the annoying auto-driving helpers and chatty navigation systems, I’ll probably like it. As much as the cute, sporty, and outright muscle cars are whispering their siren songs, I know it’s a mid-life crises.
But this time I’m insisting on Deep Cherry Red. A girl has to have some standards.
You ever get the blahs? It’s like being hungry but nothing looks good on the menu. Blah. When I feel that way, phrases like a change is as good as a rest and only idle hands make bored minds rattle around in my brain. The voice is my grandmother’s. It also says things like if you think you’re bored, I have some chores that’ll wipe bored right off your face.
Grandma is a no-nonsense quit-yer-bitchin’-I-survived-the-Great-Depression-walking-uphill-both-ways kind of lady. She has no patience with blah.
I don’t either, but I deal with it more in a stand-in-front-of-the-fridge and futz-around-on-the-computer way. I’m hopeful something good will magically appear in the five minutes since I last scanned the shelves or clicked a link.
Yeah, not so much.
Grandma’s right. I really should clean the house. It’ll sweep cobwebs both metaphorical and literal out of my life.
Oh my, &*(^&^@#%^!!! It’s SNOWING again.
I bought little cute sandals, capris, and tee-shirts. I got my toes painted a sunny orange-creamsicle. There’s a tube of sunscreen in my day bag and even a fold up hat. The calendar says spring—winter should be over.
But now it’s snowing big, fluffy, Christmas card flakes that are rapidly piling up outside my window. I haven’t seen more than a hint of sun in a week. Writing at my desk in shorts with the space heater on isn’t cutting it. I think the real reason so many writers commit suicide is because they can’t all live at the beach. People think the world will end in a fiery ball, but I know the truth. It will end in ice, in frozen wasteland, in snow.
Snow. Worst four-letter word ever.
The calendar says first day of Spring, but the snow flurries are flying. In defiance I’m wearing my new summer capris and a t-shirt, but in the space heater under my desk is on. The sun peeks through bare branches to shine hazily through my office window. I know in a couple of months I’ll be longing for frozen ice pops and air conditioning, but right now a little heat sounds good.
Until then I’ll shiver in my slippahs and try to soak up the weak winter rays that trickle through the slatted blinds. Staring at the computer screen, I’ll dream of the taste of saltwater in the back of my throat, the tightness of too much sun across my shoulders, and the sand-kiss hiss of shore-break as it marks the changing tides.
Maybe tomorrow the trees will bud and the snow will melt.
I’m not sure if it’s his hands on the steering wheel or me in my seat, but the rain is turning to sleet as we wind up the canyon. I give him side-eye, my son now taller and broader than me with his shiny new driver’s license tucked in his wallet. His arms are relaxed, but I can see the tension in his jaw, the same line his father gets when I remind him about trash or the need to buy horse feed.
Pushing my foot through the passenger floorboards, I’m stressing him out.
I take a deep breath and count to five, but it comes out as a sigh.
His eyes get squinty and his shoulders hunch forward.
I count to ten this time and try not to breathe too loud.
When did I last check the tires?
“So you excited about speaking at the conference?” he asks.
“Really more trying not to throw up,” I say.
“You’ll be fine,” he tells me. “Want to stop for Coke or something? It might settle your stomach.”
When did we switch? Aren’t I supposed to be the one driving the car, reassuring, and giving dubious medical advice?
On one hand, there’s a maternal pride that I have shepherded a fussy, unwilling to nurse infant into a capable young man.
But I’m a really crappy backseat driver and the trickiest s-curves are coming up.
“Roads are getting a little slick,” he says. “I better ease off the gas a little.”
I count to three and think about daffodils and spring. It’s gonna be fine.