Monday, August 27, 2012

Books for Boys

To begin my post with the beginning of my post, I record that my daughter has finally finished David Copperfield

For those of you who were not literature majors, the above is a humorous (I hope) allusion to the opening of that famous and famously massive tome. Dickens' semi-autobiographical novel was my teen's summer assignment for high school freshman Honors English.

If you ever want to hear a fourteen-year-old piss and moan, make them read a 950-page book written in long-winded nineteenth century language, during their vacation. The pool is open, the beach may beckon, but — alas! — throughout our town, young people were mired in the sooty streets of London, trying to keep track of countless characters with names like Clara Peggotty, Uriah Heep, Tommy Traddles, Wilkins Micawber, Steerforth, Ham and Little Em'ly.

Help! It's enough to make you throw in the towel and watch Pretty Little Liars on demand.

If the school's purpose was to separate the academic wheat from the chaff, then they may well have succeeded. We already know at least one girl who had qualified for and planned to take Honors English but is dropping out.

Sadly, if their plan was to permanently dissuade students from ever picking up a Dickens volume again, they may have accomplished that as well. Wouldn't these, already acknowledged bright, kids have been better off reading a shorter option (Great Expectations comes to mind)? Wouldn't they have appreciated it more if they had waited until school started so that a teacher might have guided them through it?

I am seriously annoyed that an entire generation will view the writings of Charles Dickens as an ordeal to get through rather than the incredibly rich — and often quite funny — masterpieces they are.

Nevertheless, the assignment was the assignment and my little scholar persevered. Out of curiosity, I looked into the required reading for sophomore, junior and senior years to see what future summers had in store. Here's what I found:

Freshman Honors English: David Copperfield
Sophomore Honors English: Dracula
Junior Honors English: Slaughterhouse Five
Senior Honors English: Heart of Darkness

What's conspicuously missing from this list? Books by and/or about women.

Across the country, female high school students are "overrepresented" in Honors and AP courses. This is particularly true in subjects that are humanities and language-based. I did a quick local reality check with my daughter.

"Are there more girls or boys in Honors English?" I asked.

"Girls, duh," came the eye-rolling reply.

So, why all the macho material? I am reminded (painfully reminded) of the way Hollywood approaches the funding of feature films. The major studios claim that they have to produce more male-centric films (despite the fact that women represent more than 50% of moviegoers) because:

"Women will go to men's movies. But, men won't go to women's movies."

Extend this theory to the summer reading list. I can only assume that the list is heavy on the testosterone because teachers or school administrators or the state believe that girls will read boys' books, but boys won't read girls'. 

Remember, these are not so-called "reluctant readers" who must be coerced and bribed with graphic novels. These are high-achieving high school English students. Would it really hurt for the (minority of) boys to read about a woman's life for a change? Clearly, no one is worried about the girls throwing a hissy fit when they must read hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of pages about the opposite sex. Why are we coddling the boys? And why are we ignoring so many amazing works by women?

I think my only option is to create an adjunct English literature reading list for my daughter. I'll fill it with Jane Austen, the Brontës, George Elliot and Mary Shelley. She will read these classics and love them and know that men weren't the only ones writing great works.

Assuming that, after her long drawn out and deadly dull date with Mr. Copperfield, she ever cracks a book again.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Technology and the Teen

You should have great sympathy for my teen daughter. As she frequently reminds us, she has the oldest laptop in our family. Here's what I'm tempted to say ...

"You think your laptop is old? You should have seen mine when I was your age! Oh wait, you couldn't have because laptops weren't invented yet!!!"

Or, more to the greater point ...

"Wah, wah, wah! Your life is so hard, you should call Social Services. Here, I'll dial for you."

The thing is, my daughter contributes the least (as in nothing) to our household's financial well-being. In fact, she is a savings succubus. While she deposits zilch, she withdraws beaucoup. Her cost of living is arguably the highest of anyone in the family. Not to mention the cost of living of her horse! Neither my husband nor myself has a hobby as expensive as hers, let me tell you.

Her laptop is F-I-N-E. Fine, fine, fine. In fact, until two years ago, I ran a successful ad agency from it. When I upgraded, it became hers. And, as I'd like to remind her, she was ecstatic about it at the time. In fact, if memory serves, she was extremely pleased with it for at least three or four weeks.

Then came the lure of the new, the call of the upgrade, the siren song that emanates from that temple of technology ... the Apple Store.

It doesn't matter why, when or for how long we are at the mall. When we walk by that glowing retail cube, time seems to stop. My daughter, who generally walks at a quick clip, lingers and meanders. She continues our conversation, but in a slow, liquid way like a somnambulist. Her eyes never leave that big rainbow apple.

Don't get me wrong. I also like the Apple Store with its clean lines, post-mod white space, and free WiFi. Really, I have loitered there more than once in between meetings in order to check email or review ads online. Much more reliable than the Starbucks in the same mall. Best of all, the Apple Store has those helpful "geniuses." There's nothing like getting advice from someone half my age with twice as many piercings.

And, they also have many many laptops.

For once, however, I'm holding my ground. Like it or not, a new laptop is simply not in the budget right now. My poor daughter is stuck with her four-year-old PowerBook. (It's practically an antique!) We are going to install a new version of Microsoft Office to get her all set for high school, but the hardware stays.

Am I making a huge mistake? With my luck, here's what will probably happen. She will flunk out of her freshman year of high school and have to build a career for herself in the wonderful world of fast food. She will be the only almost fifteen-year-old in town, in the state, in the country — nay, in the world itself — who has to wait ten seconds for YouTube to load. She will be ostracized by her peers, wind up friendless and homeless, and go postal one day at the local Best Buy.

Or, maybe she'll grow up and write a blog about how terribly terribly terrible her childhood was. Oprah will find it and make it an overnight multimedia sensation. Bravo will create one of its oh-so-unrealistic reality shows in which my daughter (now, tearfully reunited with her penitent mum) visits other spoiled suburban high school teens to commiserate. We will be rich, rich, rich and famous. 

Then, and only then, my darling daughter can buy as many shiny, new laptops as her heart desires.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


A few years before I was born, my father was on Broadway with the famous acting duo Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The play was The Visit by Frederich Dürrenmatt. We read it when I majored in drama at college. 

The story, set in the depressed town of Güllen, begins with the arrival of a wealthy woman, Claire. Claire grew up in the town and the mayor hopes she will help it with a sizable donation. She agrees to and goes further, offering each individual citizen a huge cash settlement — with a rather shocking provision. Someone must kill respected townsman Alfred. Years earlier, we learn, Alfred seduced and abandoned Claire. Pregnant with Alfred's child, Claire fled the town, delivered and lost her baby, and was forced into prostitution.

Although the town and its officials righteously reject the proposal, Claire knowingly stays. Soon, the entire town is making purchases on credit. And Alfred realizes (as does the audience) that his days are, shall we say, numbered.

My father played "the Athlete," who at the end of the play with the support of the entire town, strangles Alfred. (It was a particular thrill to see a photo of my own dad in one of my college textbooks!)

Although The Visit is really more about personal morality and money's ability to corrupt it, the feminist tones are clear and strong. And this week, as our country continues its outlandish archaic debate on what does and doesn't constitute rape, I remembered reading it.

"But wait," you say. Claire wasn't raped. She herself admits that she was seduced, that she was in love. Besides, we know she wasn't raped because she became pregnant.

"If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Thank you, Senator Akin for this obscenely unscientific information.

What this gross misconception leads to is that if a woman claims to have been raped, but the rape resulted in pregnancy, then it doesn't count. If she's pregnant, she must have wanted it.

Sounds an awful lot like: if she was wearing that skirt, she must have wanted it. If she was at that club, she must have wanted it. If she was drinking beer, she must have wanted it.

This is the latest in what has become a frighteningly systemic attack on women's health, women's rights and women's freedoms. And, just as the story of The Visit (produced, by the way, in 1956) depicts, when a woman succumbs or is seduced or raped (although remember, it's not a legitimate rape if conception occurs), it is she and not the man who has fallen from grace. In Claire's case, she had to become a prostitute. In today's argument, the woman loses the right to her own body. Her act (or the act of a man whom, we have already established, she secretly wanted) forfeits that right.

You cannot convince me that there is no war on women. As the mother of a teen girl, I read the news and shake my head in wonder. How can we have lost so much ground?

But, the platform is missing a key ingredient. Why not, as in some other sexist fundamentalist societies, offer the rapist an opportunity to marry his victim? Wouldn't that solve everything?

"He raped her. Bad."

"He's offering to make an honest woman of her. Good."

"What a sweet couple."

Bonus! Then the baby — if not the rape — would be legit.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Little Stinker

Last night, for the first time in weeks, it was cool enough that we didn't need to have the air conditioner on.

We slept with the windows open and a small electric fan. At about 1:00 am, I woke up to an overpowering smell.


Now, we knew what had been digging up our front lawn for the past week. Ew!

While I tried to go back to sleep, I remembered another close encounter of the stinky kind that happened more than ten years ago.

My husband had just started a new job and he was on a business trip (for some reason, I think he was in Dallas, but it doesn't really affect my story). I got up early, fed our miniature dachshund and let him out. A few moments later, I heard him shriek in terror.

With my heart in my throat, I ran to the back door and opened it. The tiny dog raced past me and I immediately knew what must have happened.

He'd been skunked!

His eyes were swollen nearly shut and he reeked. I mean, he REEKED. Before I could stop him, he had run into our TV room and rubbed his fur all along the carpet, the base of our couch, then up and onto all the throw pillows.

I finally corralled him and got him back into the kitchen, which I gated. Too late though. Our TV room was drenched in eau de skunk. By now, it was time to wake up my daughter and get her ready for preschool.

Positioning the whole thing as a game ("Let's eat breakfast in bed, sweetie!"), I brought fruit and a bagel up with me. We got ready without going down into the back of the house or anywhere near the kitchen. We left through the front door. After depositing her at preschool, I headed home to try to deal with the mess. First, I opened all the windows and stripped everything out of the TV room, propping up pillows out on the patio in the hopes that they might air out. Next, I ran across to our neighborhood's gourmet grocery and bought 6 large bottles of tomato juice. I had heard somewhere (actually, I think I once saw it on The Partridge Family) that bathing in said beverage would get rid of the smell. I filled the kitchen sink and plopped our poor pooch in the stuff. 

Trust me, you have never seen a canine so miserable in your life. The whole scene looked like something out of a horror movie. Weiner Dog Bloodbath from Beyond.

And once my beloved little dog was rinsed and dried, he still smelled like skunk. Now though, he smelled like skunk cocktail. It may have worked for Keith and Laurie, Danny, Shirley, Tracy and Chris, but not so much for us. Thanks, anyway.

The dog wasn't the only one who smelled ... er ... less than fresh. When our babysitter went to pick up my daughter mid-afternoon, she noticed a rather ripe odor. "It smells like skunk," she told the preschool teacher. "Shhh ..." came the response, and the woman mouthed and pointed to my girl, "It's her." So much for getting out of the house unscathed.

Eventually, some significant time and money later, we were able to eradicate the skunky smell. The process involved, steam-cleaning, dry-cleaning, and some additional (tomato juice-free) baths for the dog. But, the memory, if not the scent, remains.

Some memories are sweet. Some are sad. Some simply stink.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ten Years, Ten Pounds

My brother went to film school. One of the bonuses of this is that we get wonderful little home movies when he comes to visit. Another is that I now know about "Ten years, ten pounds."

A couple of years ago, we were all at my mother's for Thanksgiving. My sister and I, feeling particularly festive and chummy, asked my brother to take our picture. He agreed, but had to do a little art direction first. He arranged us sitting together on my mom's bed, then he stood and prepared to shoot us from about a 45-degree angle above. I asked why.

"Ten years, ten pounds," he explained.

Wow!  It turns out that if you shoot someone from slightly above, they lose the aforementioned ten plus ten.

I repeat. Wow! The picture looked fabulous. 

Now, I can't swear that it works all the time. A 98-year-old woman might still look 98. A 9-year-old girl probably won't appear to be minus-one. But for a couple of (then) 40-something sisters, it was better than a tummy tuck or day at the spa.

Of course, I immediately filed this little trick away for future use. (Thank you very much, NYU Film School!) From then on, any time I've had my picture taken, I've urged the camera person (usually my husband or teen daughter), "Shoot from above! Shoot from above!" As you can imagine, there is much eye-rolling. But, I am generally satisfied with the results.

Now, compare my carefully choreographed posing to my daughter's pictures. She takes thousands of them. Literally, thousands. She has two cameras plus an iPhone plus a Mac laptop with a photo booth app, so in reality, she has four cameras. Plus, she's never shy about shooting with my phone, my husband's phone or our iPad. 

You get the picture. And, so does she. All the time.

A typical afternoon with friends includes dozens of "selfies" (those are the self-portraits millenials take by holding their phone at arms length and smiling at it). I was so proud of myself when I first learned the term: "selfies." I probably used it a bit too much ...

"Stop saying that word, Mo-o-o-om!!!"

Anyway, my daughter and her BFFs shoot themselves and each other all the time. Running, jumping, lying around. From above, from below, from the side, from the back. They pose fully clothed; they pose in bathing suits. (This has nothing to do with sexting. They are just happy teens who are comfortable in their own skins.) If they're going to the pool or diving off a pier, why not capture it for posterity?

I wish I could be that un-self-conscious. I'm afraid those days are gone. I think if someone took a picture of me in a bathing suit now, I'd probably shoot them. 

And, I don't mean with a camera.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pass the Popcorn: The Odd Life of Timothy Green

My family, living in New York City and working in the entertainment industry, gets a lot of tickets to VIP previews and screenings. Here in my little New England town, half an hour up the coast from Boston? Um, not so much.

That's why we were very excited to get an email inviting us to a preview showing of the new Disney movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Seats were "extremely limited," so (even though I'm an advertising copywriter myself and know that you should never assume that what you read is true) we quickly responded. The event was two days away and we arranged to bring one of my teen daughter's best and oldest friends along.

Getting to the multiplex that was hosting the screening was a little complicated. (Right, as if this should be a surprise?) It was a workday and I had several conference calls lined up. I then had to rush out to collect my daughter at the stable. Then rush back so she could shower and change. Then rush over to the BFF's house. Then rush to the theatre, several towns away. Rush, rush, rush. Do we see a theme here?

But, we made it and I persuaded the girls to bypass the discount shoe superstore and go right to the box office counter with me. Alas, the lovely young girl with the lip and eyebrow piercings explained, there was a mistake in the email invitation we received. The preview was actually scheduled for the following week. She would be happy to give us tickets for it in advance and to treat us to a free movie that evening.

The girls considered their options: Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man in IMAX, The Dark Knight in IMAX. They chose ...


We were, after all, in a mall and we suddenly had a couple of empty hours to fill. Being the sucker mom you all know me to be (and being way too tired to think of something more intellectual, healthy or enriching), I agreed. In fact, we shopped not one but two malls that night. The girls were in their glory and all was well with the world. 

A week later, we again did the mad rush to make the private screening, and this time our efforts were rewarded. Not with stonewashed day-glo lime green shorts (yes, really), but with a very satisfying little movie.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is the story of a young couple who desperately want a baby. When they learn that they are finally out of fertility treatment options (and most likely money), they imagine their perfect child. They write all of his or her qualities on scraps of paper, place them in a small wooden chest and ceremoniously bury them. Lo and behold, a wild storm hits that night and a small boy emerges from their garden. He is (as you probably guessed) Timothy. And, he is wonderful in every way — except that he has leaves growing out of his legs. 

Nobody's perfect.

This being a feel-good family film from the "house of mouse," Timothy and his parents learn how to be a family and teach everyone else valuable life lessons before the magic is all used up and Timothy has to return to that great greenhouse in the sky. Not to worry, the happy ending is as predictable as most of the rest of the movie. And we all left feeling a little teary but decidedly warm and fuzzy.

The movie is 100% pure formula schmaltz, but it is about as well executed as it could possibly be. It's like a junior Forrest Gump for a crowd that doesn't want to have to think too much.

We all loved it.

On the way home, the girls talked with me about the movie. Let me stop here for one moment to impress upon you the rare and wondrous nature of two words in the above sentence: with me. They didn't exclude me from their comments. They didn't bury their faces in their iPhones. We actually had a con-ver-sa-tion about a shared experience. OMG!

That, my friends, was well worth the price of admission. (And would have been — even if we had paid for our tickets!)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Five Again

I just spent a delightful afternoon walking down memory lane. My five-year-old niece is visiting. 

My niece and my teen daughter are very close. They are both only children, so they refer to each other as "sister cousins." Now to some, this phrase may evoke a backwoods clan with a rather loose interpretation of intermarriage. But, for all of us, it just reinforces a special bond the girls have despite nearly ten years difference in their ages.

Alas, my daughter is in the throes of an extended date with one David Copperfield. Yes, Charles Dickens' autobiographical novel was assigned as Summer reading for ninth grade Honors English. (There's nothing quite like lugging a 7 pound, 950 page book to the beach, is there?) 

So, what's a visiting sister-cousin supposed to do? Play with her doting aunt, of course!

There was no need for me to plan ahead. A sentimentalist at heart, I've kept many of my own playthings not to mention my daughter's. It's not entirely my fault. Our school district's thrift shop won't accept toys anymore and neither will the local children's hospital. So, they sit here in fairly pristine condition, safely housed in labelled storage boxes, just waiting for young guests.

First, I got out the paper dolls. I adored paper dolls as a girl, spending hours cutting Betsy McCalls from my mother's magazines, then setting up a boarding school for them with decor and accessories clipped from the Sears Roebuck catalog. (Remember that massive tome?) My daughter was less than interested, despite a fairly impressive collection which included Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg from Little Women, great scenes from the ballet, Madeleine and Mary Engelbreit, among others. Which classic figures did my niece immediately gravitate towards? Barbie! Yes, that famous blonde's infamous curves are available in paper as well as plastic. And, her outfits? Let's just say that she should be able to make an excellent living on the Vegas strip.

When the paper dolls ceased to amuse, I sent my niece up to the little playroom under our eaves where my daughter keeps her American Girl doll collection. My niece insisted on undressing and re-dressing each doll, piling up elaborate hairdos and then putting them to bed. I surveyed the chaos (the room had been perfectly organized mere minutes before), and sighed with satisfaction. I firmly believe that toys — even overpriced "collectibles" — should be played with.

Next, we moved on to coloring books. We happily decorated flowers and fairies. Until, she found a fabric crate filled with Polly Pockets. The one in black boots and cropped blonde bob was Gwen Stefani. The rest of the dolls were her backup singers. I kid you not.

From there, we made necklaces and suncatchers with a never even opened tub of Perler beads. For the record, arranging the little plastic beads on the pegboard is a challenge for fifty-year-old fingers as well as five-year-old ones. And, the instructions say to iron the finished design for ten seconds on medium. Ha! Through much trial and error, I am here to tell you that it's more like ten minutes on high. 

Finally, I pulled out a card deck and we played "War." It's a quick and easy game, and a great way to reinforce counting and math basics. (For the record, she whooped my sorry butt — then laughed her little head off because we said "butt.")

At this point, I was fairly wiped out. My daughter needed a break from Mr. Dickens and I happily handed off my charge. The last thing I saw was the two of them, curled up on the couch with goldfish crackers watching Scooby Doo.

My niece is a bright, verbal, energetic little thing. She can exhaust her parents with the best of them. But, while my brother and his wife were probably happy to have a bit of a respite, I had to warn them to treasure every minute. The time does fly.

And, whether they believe it or not (and I'm quite certain they do not) ... it's going to get so much harder.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Note to Self

My teen daughter had a friend sleep over last night. I'm not sure how late they stayed up (my husband and I were out long before they were), but rousing them was even more difficult than usual. I had to go in twice and ended up losing whatever cool I thought I had (which, trust me, ain't much). The girls are acting as junior counselors at the riding camp at their stable, and their eager little protégés would be there waiting at nine. We had to go, like ... "Now!" Finally, they came downstairs, looking puffy and rumpled and more than a little pissed off. 

On a small post-it note by the door, I had written "H2O." My daughter looked at it quizzically.

"It's so I remember the bottles of water I put in the freezer for you to take," I explained. It's been hot this week and the girls need to stay hydrated. Had my daughter been less tired, she might have made some remark about how lame it is that I write myself notes. Sometimes fatigue is a good thing.

That's what I do, more and more these days. I write myself notes. You see, if I don't, then I almost certainly forget to remember whatever it is that I needed to remember but forgot.

Some say it's middle age. Some say it's stress. I personally think it's because I am always trying to do five things at once. Something's gotta give.

A yoga teacher of mine (a particularly serene and lovely yoga teacher), explained that we should all try to do just one thing at a time. This, she explained, would help us live in the moment. I've tried, really, but my "to do" list is simply too long. At the same time, I recognize that I'm probably not saving any actual time.

For example, if I spend ten minutes trying to do five things simultaneously, each action item is only getting twenty percent of my attention. This means that any given task is going to take five times longer than it would if I focused on it and it alone. If I did the five tasks in sequence, but only one at a time, I would end up with everything completed at the same time as I would if I did them all together. And, I would be calmer, wouldn't I?

Oh sure, it all makes sense (especially if, like me, you were once on the math team). But that's not how my brain is wired. We talk about multitasking as thought it's an enviable skill. I think it's a deplorable necessity. And one that is robbing me of my short-term memory as well as my beauty sleep.

Thank goodness for post-it notes!

I would worry about my memory loss except that I hear all of my peers complain about the same thing. Doctors actually say that people with real cognitive impairments (like early onset Alzheimer's or dementia) complain less than people who are simply overworked, overtired and overstressed. They also say that the type of forgetfulness we experience indicates whether we need to worry. For example,

You don't have to worry if you go to the grocery store and forget to pick up sugar.
You do have to worry if you go to the grocery store and forget how to get back home.

For now, at least, I'm not so worried. Annoyed, irritated, inconvenienced ...  yes. But, not worried. Nevertheless, I will probably mention it to my doctor when I have my next annual checkup. I'd better write myself a note so I don't forget.

Now, if only I can remember where I left those post-it notes ...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Olympic Star: Sweat, Blood, Tears and Hair Gel

Every four years, gymnastics programs across the country (across the world, maybe) experience an admissions surge. That's because no one captures the imagination of little girls quite like Nastia Liukin or Mary Lou Retton. (Or, in my own childhood, Cathy Rigby.) 

While my daughter took gymnastics, the Olympian to watch was Carly Patterson. There were posters of her all around the gym and the girls made "Good Luck, Carly" cards to send off to Athens. 

Now, there's a new star.

Earlier this week, 16-year old Gabby Douglas made history when she became the first African-American to win the gold medal for all-around women's gymnastics at the Olympics. (She's only the third American of any color to do so.) As you can imagine, she's also all-around the Internet. But a considerable amount of the cyber buzz isn't about her floor routine (described by the Bleacher Report as "One of the most clutch performances ever").

It's about her hair.

Say what?

If you Google "Gabby Douglas hair," you'll get 182,000 hits. That's 182 thousand stories, posts and tweets that are taking the spotlight off her fantastic achievement and inspirational story, and shining it instead on her head.

Serena Williams, world champion tennis player (who has also been criticized for her abundant, at times unruly locks) called the debate, "Ridiculous." I agree.

There are two issues here. One is that Gabby is African-American. Her hair doesn't naturally adhere to the perfectly smooth (perfectly Caucasian) bun we expect on our gymnasts. So, her hair looked a little unkempt when she was up on the podium (after, need I repeat, making Olympic history). Should she have stopped mid-routine so a hairdresser could add some gel? Sheesh. 

The other issue is that Gabby is a woman. Our society demands that even supernaturally gifted athletes, who happen to be female, look neat and tidy and "pretty." Can we stop with the superficial objectification? And, will someone please tell Michael Phelps to find a comb?

Gabby Douglas has an awe-inspiring background. At a very young age (even younger than her current very young age), she was determined to make it to the top of her sport. She left her Virginia Beach home to work with renowned trainer Liang Chow in West Des Moines, living with a host family there.

After her win, Gabby, also known as the "Flying Squirrel,"  explained her success on The Today Show:

“I just want people to know it took a lot. It took a lot of hard days in the gym and determination, passion and drive. Gold medals are made out of your sweat, blood and tears, and effort in the gym every day, and sacrificing a lot that you have to do.”

Are you listening, little girls?

Here's the bottom line. Gabby is not a hair product model; she's a world-class competitor. Let's all forget the do and focus on this radiant young woman's achievement. You can relive her exuberant performance here. You may notice that she has an Ace bandage on her ankle. 

If you can take your eyes away from her hair.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fantastic Falls

When I was a girl, our family used to watch a sports magazine show called, ABC Wide World of Sports. I can't remember any of the highlights except for the opening titles. Each week, a dramatic announcer would say:

"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport ... the thrill of victory ... the agony of defeat ..."

The clip used to depict the aforementioned "agony" was a spectacular ski crash, the poor skier tumbling many times off the ramp before finally wiping out. Week after week after week, we saw that fantastic fall. (Legend has it that he was Vladimir "Spider" Sabitch, the skier who was infamously shot and killed by actress girlfriend Claudine Longet. But, I digress.) 

Defeat is agony. All athletes, old and young, professional and amateur can relate. And, guess what? So can their moms.

The first time my daughter fell off a horse in a show was a sobering experience. I didn't actually see it, because she was deep in the woods, halfway through a cross-country course. It had been a difficult day. It was hot. There were delays. Several (older and more experienced) riders had already wiped out in front of us. And, there were bees in the woods, which made for nervous riders and ponies alike.

She had come in first place in dressage (a wonderful occurrence) and after about a 90-minute break had set off on her cross-country course. She cleared the first couple of jumps and then we waited because the rest were out of sight. Suddenly, I heard an urgent voice coming from one of the judges' walkie talkies. "Rider down, loose horse, loose horse."

Since my daughter was the only rider on the course at that moment, I was pretty certain I knew who they were talking about. Sure enough, about a nanosecond before my heart attack, my daughter walked out of the woods, rubbing her backside but otherwise no worse for wear. Her proud steed, meanwhile, had run back to the trailer about a mile down the road. He had had enough.

It used to be hard for me to watch my daughter jump fences. One trick I learned early on was that if I videotaped them for her (she liked to go back and analyze her performance), it wasn't as frightening. Of course, that meant that the few times her horse refused or, worse, she fell off, the recording took on that fragmented, scary camerawork of the Blair Witch Project. Not so much anymore though. She's improved and I've chilled. As long as she and her horse are steady, the camera is too.

Results of three-phase eventing, which comprise most of the shows she does these days, are partly based on the skill of the rider and partly based on the errors of the competition. Dressage comes first. It can be stressful to watch my daughter and her friends go through their routines (and there are sometime tears when a judge is particularly critical), but I've never seen anyone get hurt. Scores are posted and riders are ranked. After that, the only way you can move up, from say a yellow ribbon to a red, is if you manage to earn less penalty points than the others in the following events, stadium and cross-country.

The stadium course is mapped out and girls have a chance to walk it with their trainers in advance. Hopefully, each rider is competing at the appropriate (read: safe) level and she and her pony can clear the fences. Nevertheless, we've seen girls fall sideways, backwards and forwards. We've seen rails clipped but somehow stay up. We've seen two-level "oxer" jumps come crashing down under the weight of both equine and equestrienne. More than one of my daughter's friends has had to take time off because of a concussion.

(This is when I wish my daughter played the violin.)

Cross-country is even trickier. There are an awful lot of things that can spook a horse when it's outside the stadium. There are logs and "coops" and rails to jump. There are water obstacles and drops. There are very nervous mothers waiting at the starts and finishes.

Last weekend, my daughter competed in a three-phase in another part of the state. It was a particularly tough show with higher fences (and stricter judges). As we watched the girls do their stadium jumping before her, a couple had "refusals" (penalty points) and one fell off (elimination). All of these snafus helped my daughter's ranking. And yet, I sat there crossing my fingers and holding my breath for each rider. One of my daughter's teammates saw me and thought I didn't get it. "You should say 'Yay' when someone else falls," she said. I explained that, as a mother, "You want everyone to do well. You just want your daughter to do better." 

This week, mothers all over the world have been holding their breath and crossing their fingers. For some truly fantastic falls, take a look at the Olympic cross-country crashes here.

Maybe there's still time for those violin lessons ...