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It turns out I do ask a lot of questions, or at least I ask five questions to a lot of people, in my new podcast, aptly named Five Questions.
I ask questions such as:
- If you could switch places with someone for a day, who would it be and why?
- If you could witness a moment in history, what would it be?
- What do you believe in?
- What is your favorite smell and why?
- If you had a museum, what would you put in it?
I invite you to listen to it here: http://betsyrosso.podbean.com. I’ve published five episodes so far, and more are in the works. Look for a new one every Sunday.
If you would like to be the next person to answer my five questions, let me know! Interview spots are in demand, but I will always make room for you.
M: “You need to take your medicine so your ear infection doesn’t come back.”
Z: “No, I’m scared of this medicine. It’s disgusting!”
M: “Well you need to take it anyway, to stay healthy.”
Z: “I can’t take it, it’s disgusting.”
M: “You can chase it with any kind of juice you want.”
Z: “No, it’s too disgusting.” [curls into ball and hides face in the couch]
[repeat 10-20 times]
M: “You can have an Oreo afterward.”
Z: “OK.” [downs medicine in one gulp]
Z: “What’s for dinner in the crockpot?”
Z: “That sounds disgusting.”
M: “Zeke, that’s really rude. The dinner I made is not disgusting. Those are all ingredients you like. You’ll like it. The dinner I made does not taste like your medicine.”
Z: “Oh. OK. Sorry!” [smiling sweetly]
Z: [sees dinner on plate] “I don’t like this food, I’ve tried it before and I don’t like it.”
Zoe: “Zeke, it’s delicious! Try it! It’s tofu and spinach and peanut butter! You like all those things! Try it!”
Z: [leaves table to play with fire station] “I’ve tried it before and I don’t like it.”
M: “You know when I was little I didn’t like certain things, like tomatoes, and chicken salad, and then I tried them a few more times and realized I loved them!”
Z: [plays with fire station]
Zoe: “Zeke, it’s delicious! Try it! It’s tofu and spinach and peanut butter! You like all those things! Try it! Just try a bite! Try it! Come on! Try it! If you don’t eat it you won’t get dessert!”
Z: [tries one bite, looks as if he’s going to throw up, makes horrible noise.]
M: “Are you ok? Are you going to throw up? Can you swallow?”
Z: [almost in tears] “Yes I can swallow it. But I don’t like it!”
M: “OK, at least you tried it. Thank you for trying it. Do you want some soup?”
M: “Minestrone or lentil?”
Z: “Minestrone, please!” [eats entire can of minestrone soup]
Z: “What’s for dinner in the crockpot?”
M: “Beef with broccoli and carrots and peanuts. Served with rice.”
Z: [sees dinner on plate] “This is the best food EVER!”
Z: [eats one bite of beef, one spoonful of rice, one peanut, all broccoli and carrots] “Can I have more carrots?”
D: “Eat the other food on your plate, then you can have more carrots.”
Z: “But I don’t like the other food.”
D: “Just eat a little more of the other food.”
Z: [eats one more bite of other food] “Can I have more carrots?” [eats carrots, repeats 10 times]
D: “I’m cutting you off before you turn the color of a carrot.”
Scene: our bed, Saturday, 9am.
Z: [in the bed between us] “Get up! It’s morning time! Get up! Wake up! Get out of bed!”
Z: “Get up! It’s morning time! Get up! Wake up! Get out of bed! Get down and walk on the floor!” [repeats 10-20 times]
M: “I’m going to get up in a few minutes. I’m not ready to get up yet.” [wonders why Zeke always asks her to get up instead of Daddy]
Z: [pokes M in the nose]
M: “Zeke, please don’t poke my nose. I’ve told you I don’t like it when you put your fingers in my face.”
Z: [pokes M in the nose again] “But Mommy I actually like doing that.”
Like the daffodils and cherry blossoms this winter
sometimes we bloom unexpectedly
And it’s lovely
And then it snows
and buries us
knocks us flat on the ground
forces our fragile petals off the branch
Sometimes we open ourselves up to the world
and we are warmly welcomed
Other times we are frozen out
We risk showing ourselves
Hoping someone will shine on us
to a dark and unforgiving world
like the undaunted daffodil
we push ourselves up through the earth
again and again
Method Daily Shower Cleaner, ylang ylang scent, smells just like my Nana’s Aqua Net hairspray. This provides the best ever incentive for me to clean my bathroom. When I spray this stuff on the sink or floor or toilet (why confine it to the shower?) I am transported back to my Nana’s bathroom in the house on Chestnut Street in High Point where I watched her get ready for church.
At the time I did not think her hairspray smelled particularly good, or particularly bad. I just ducked out of the way to avoid being caught in the aerosol draft. She was not using the hairspray to create any kind of fancy ‘do, but rather to cement in place the curls she had created the night before with those little pink foam rollers and bobby pins in a ritual that I did not quite understand but enjoyed observing.
I did not even know what ylang ylang was until I happened to buy this shower spray, and I’m positive my Nana didn’t know her hair spray was scented as such. Ylang ylang is apparently prized for its aphrodisiac properties, among other virtues. An obvious choice for a bathroom cleaning product, right?
For Hanukkah last year Zeke received a Paw Patrol washcloth that was mysteriously scrunched into a tiny block that you drop in water and watch expand. It was packaged with a little bar of handmade green soap that smells just like my Papa. I have no idea what the scent is. The soap wasn’t labeled and it was made by a small business whose name I don’t remember. But I love washing my hands with it. I also have a little bottle of English Leather cologne that belonged to my Papa. When I need a fix I uncap the wooden stopper and put a few drops on my fingertips.
Coming across these smells unexpectedly is like when Harry Potter sees his long-dead parents in the mirror of erised. They’re right there, smiling, waving, with their hands on his shoulders, but no more alive than they have been for a decade. But it feels like they are right there. Tantalizingly, reassuringly present, however fleeting. For me it’s an olfactory comfort fix.
Now excuse me while I go scrub the sink and wash my hands.
Every time you press record,
Lay yourself bare
Wide-eyed heart exposed
Without saying a word
Or singing a note
Send your soul into the world in a small plastic box
That’s likely to crack
Sliding the tape into the car stereo
Driving to your destination along a new musical route
Carefully mapped out for you
The soundtrack defining a moment
Serendipity when song matches sky
Read into each lyric what you want to hear
Or wonder what it all means
Or if it even means anything at all
Unspooling of a feeling, of a story,
Of a shared past or hopeful future
The surprise of an old favorite
Curiosity of a fresh find
Comfort of the perfect tune
Ease of the right flow
Joy of a good beat
Energy of a track you rewind and repeat
and turn up and up and up
This is the text from my reflection today at church, in a service led by my friends D and Diane, called Self-Fulfilling Prophecies.
When my daughter Zoe was in second grade, her friends all started reading Harry Potter. I was thrilled, because I am a serious fan. I was one of those people who would go to the bookstore at midnight to get my hands on each of the seven books as soon as it was released. So when Zoe decided she wanted to read the books aloud with us, I was even more excited. For the past few years, we have read Harry Potter at bedtime almost every night and we have had so much fun exploring the wizarding world together.
This past summer, in the midst of the sixth book–Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince–I rediscovered Felix Felicis. Also known as liquid luck, Felix Felicis is famously tricky to concoct. It is banned from use before athletic or academic competitions. During the first potions class of the school year, Professor Slughorn offers a vial of Felix Felicis to the student who can correctly brew that day’s assignment in his or her cauldron. With the help of notes written in the margin of his secondhand textbook, Harry unexpectedly succeeds and wins the prize.
It turns out that Felix Felicis conveys to its user something closer to courage than simply luck. The first time Harry almost uses it is when his best friend Ron is plagued by self-doubt before a big quidditch match in which he’s supposed to play keeper. Harry only pretends to pour some of the potion in Ron’s pumpkin juice at breakfast, but that’s all that’s required for Ron to gain the confidence he needs to play the best match of his life.
Harry actually drinks some of the Felix Felicis to help him convince Professor Slughorn to reveal a memory that will enable Harry to make progress toward his defeat of Lord Voldemort, who, if you haven’t read Harry Potter or seen the movies, is the bad guy.
As soon as the potion hits his bloodstream, Harry heads out to accomplish his mission. What he immediately decides to do seems completely counterintuitive, but he feels certain it’s the right thing to do. “I have a good feeling about this,” he says to his incredulous friends, and of course it turns out he’s right.
Reading these books a second time, this time as a parent and most recently in such a fractious political climate, I was struck by the appeal of not just having a bottle of Felix Felicis at my disposal (and it’s hard to come by—the potion takes six months to brew) but wondered what it would be like to live my life every day as if someone had poured a few drops of Felix Felicis into my juice in the morning.
What would it be like to be assured that whatever decisions I made would turn out to be good ones? I’m not asking for the kind of luck that turns up a winning lottery ticket or makes me famous. I mean Felix Felicis that guarantees courage and confidence in the small moments—the ability to live what you believe and not shrink back from your values because it’s a little scary or inconvenient or unpopular.
At the beginning of this service I read my statement of belief. I wrote it not long after the election, in the covenant group that D and I facilitate together. She had suggested that articulating what where we stand, especially in the face of bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, and just plain meanness, would help us stand up to those oppressive forces. I was surprised at how empowering it felt to write, and speak, what I believe.
Where my desired dose of Felix Felicis comes in is embodying those beliefs every day.
For example, extending generosity without condition or expectation of reciprocity. Not wondering what will happen with my contribution or whether a person or cause is going to do the right thing with what I have freely given. Not concerned with whether I get a thank you.
For example, showing kindness not just to people I love, but to strangers. A couple weeks ago I was sitting in this sanctuary during our standing outside the season service, seated behind someone who was weeping. I had seen this person at church before, but I didn’t know her. I didn’t even know her name, but I really wanted to put my hand on her shoulder or rub her back. But I didn’t. I worried maybe she wanted to be left alone, maybe she would jump back in alarm when a complete stranger tried to touch her. I agonized about whether or not to try to comfort her. In the end, she turned around to comfort my friend with whom I was sitting, who was also quietly crying. I immediately saw from her smile and her action that she would have welcomed my touch.
For example, turning to wonder instead of accusation when I don’t understand a person or situation. It’s a hard world out there right now, but it doesn’t get any softer if I vilify people whose beliefs and actions I don’t understand. Especially if I’m accusing those people of doing the exact same thing.
When my husband and I got married, in his toast to us, my dad talked about my husband’s and my commitment to tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world. We are both still at it, with a far greater sense of urgency now.
It is easy to wonder if I am doing enough. When this worry bubbles up to the surface, I have to remind myself that tikkun olam for me is also raising two children to be kind and generous. Tikkun olam is creating and giving myself to the many communities of which I am a part. Tikkun olam is doing something nice for myself so I have the energy to care for others. Tikkun olam is being able to laugh with my husband when things are not going well.
My bottle of Felix Felicis would help me brave and openhearted in my efforts to heal the world. I know I will make mistakes, I will question my decisions, I will fall short. But just a shot of Felix Felicis could remind me, in the face of what seems like utter powerlessness, that I do have the power of my beliefs, and the strength to live them. What would a few drops of Felix Felicis do for you?
Always We Hope
~ Lao Tzu
Always we hope
someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time,
it will turn out.
This is it.
No one else has the answer,
no other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.
At the center of your being,
you have the answer:
you know who you are and
you know what you want.
There is no need to run outside
for better seeing,
nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being:
for the more you leave it,
the less you learn.
Search your heart and see
the way to do is to be.
Reprinted with permission. After George Ella Lyon.
Where I’m From
By Zoe Rosso
I am from chocolate bars.
From Trident gum and Izze.
I am from the Legos on the floor. Small, big, and painful when stepped on.
I am from the rosebushes,
And the big trees we can’t climb at school.
I am from unwrapping Christmas presents at the Winterblatts’ house,
And not noticing the milk two inches away from my nose.
From Rosenblatts and Jennings
I am from the naps on the sofa,
And forgetting things till the day before they’re due.
From; ‘Just have two bites!’ and, ‘settle down!’
I am from lighting the menorah for eight days and shrieking 50 times when I go downstairs on the 25th.
I’m from Arlington, and Scotland, and Italy.
From large diet cokes and Frosties.
From the time Zeke ate a plastic baby and the time Zeke pulled down my pants in front of my family.
I am from millions of pictures on the walls reminding me of when I was little, flooding me with happiness and the want to relive that moment.
What is possibly my favorite Twitter meme of all time is #TrumpBookReport, which took hold online after someone observed that Trump’s answers to questions during the Presidential campaign often sound like a kid who didn’t read the book trying to give a book report. I read a few (see examples here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2016/10/20/donald-trump-twitter-trumpbookreport/92464476/) and was inspired to write my own.
- That old lady whispering hush? Nasty. The bowl of mush? Disgusting. Even those kittens are pathetic. Sad. That moon? WRONG! #TrumpBookReport
- Those willows can’t stand up to some wind? They’re weak! I have more stamina than those willows. I would own the wind. #TrumpBookReport
- The wild things are working for ISIS. Build a wall to keep out the wild things. Then use nuclear weapons ’cause why not? #TrumpBookReport
- Those wrinkles in time were nasty. Disgusting. Time should get botox. Who wants to look at that? #TrumpBookReport
- That caterpillar was so hungry–constantly eating. He was disgusting. Nasty. If I were in charge I’d tax fruits and leaves. #TrumpBookReport
- Gone with the Wind is a total lie, because climate change is a hoax, but I’d grab Scarlet because only I could save Tara. #TrumpBookReport
- 7 habits? That’s nothing. I have all the habits. The best habits. No one else has habits like me and I’m bigly effective. #TrumpBookReport
- That Dora asks too many questions. And she’s only a six. What, she’s only six years old? No problem. I’ll date her in 10. #TrumpBookReport
- That girl Harriet–I would not date her–she is not attractive. And she’s a spy for ISIS. I know it. You know it. #TrumpBookReport
- You know who’s terrific, radiant, humble, and some pig? I am! Not Wilbur. He’s nasty. #TrumpBookReport
That nasty woman says she’s Sam. But she’s not. I am Sam. She doesn’t know anything about Sam. And I have the best green eggs and ham. Bigly. #TrumpBookReport
She’s a nasty woman w/a scarlet letter. But I have the best letters. A and all of those other ones. #TrumpBookReport
That kid Oliver just begs for handouts. He’s a Mexican crimical. His gang was hired by Hillary to pickpocket at my rally. #TrumpBookReport
You know that garden? She says it’s secret. But I know about it. I know all the secrets AND I have the best gardens. #TrumpBookReport
If you’re lucky, you can tag your spouse at 3:30 or 4 in the morning and tell him it’s his turn to attempt to placate your miserable three-year-old. He’ll be surprised since he only slept a few hours since his last shift but he’ll willingly take the boy from your arms. You will fall back asleep on the nearest clear surface–your bed, the guest bed in your tiny office, the couch or recliner downstairs. You don’t even remember how many times you have rotated among these locations, or the glider in the kids’ room, throughout the night, in attempts to soothe the boy with a change of scenery or a snuggle position that will somehow bring him relief.
The next day you will feel completely disoriented, leaving the house in the morning only for medicine that you pray will be an acceptable flavor. You also get chocolate, thinking this may serve as an incentive and reward for swallowing the medicine if it proves to be offensive. The chocolate is met with enthusiasm and devoured even though it turns out bubble gum Benadryl is not so awful. But somehow the chocolate causes distress and there is rushing to the bathroom where no one throws up but rather drools and dribbles m&m residue and refuses to drink water or milk and he becomes generally hysterical.
What seems to be the only way to distract him from the itch is movies, so naturally you let him watch age inappropriate films such as Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2, which you bought on iTunes (in a bundle with the new all-female version) because he’s been obsessed with Ghostbusters for months based solely on seeing the Ghostbusters Lego sets in the Lego catalog which he read so much it completely fell apart. Ghostbusters is much worse than you remember it being, but he likes it. You observe that Bill Murray is ageless. Then you watch Annie (the version starring Quvenzhané Wallis) which all of you have seen at least a dozen times but it’s easier to take than Ghostbusters and big sister needs a chance to choose.
Sometime during the film fest he rallies enough to ask for you to high five his feet, and at last he consents to let you spread on the baking soda paste you whisked up, which seems to help at least a little and it makes you feel better that you’re actually doing something useful for your sick child.
You play Legos at his request even though you are weary of playing good guys vs. bad guys and would rather just build. Sometimes he will build with you but today he just wants you to be a bad guy farmer while he is twin Iron Man brothers teamed up with a mini figure you made at the new Lego store that you named Frank. You wonder how on earth you can disinfect all the Legos.
You check your phone so much that he actually starts tapping your arm to get you to put your phone away. You feel bad that you’re looking at the phone, although to be fair you’re spending about 25% of the time you’re on it looking up information about coxsackievirus or texting people at school to tell them to be in the lookout for signs. The rest of the time you’re just distracting yourself from the unpleasantness at hand, or trying to feel a connection with the world and other grownups who are out living their lives since you and your husband are at home unable to leave the side of your child except to do dishes or laundry to fetch medicine or ice packs or wash your hands approximately 500 times. You notice that you’re running out of soap.
Eventually you and your daughter leave the house to get Five Guys, which later you regret. But while you’re there hurriedly shelling peanuts and quizzing her on Virginia geography for her upcoming social studies test, you feel gloriously liberated. Even circling through Clarendon for 15 minutes to find a parking spot–you completely forgot it was Saturday night when you left the house–isn’t so bad because you and your daughter can listen to Harry Potter.
Thankfully your son is hungry and thirsty at last and eats a little dinner and drinks some water and some milk. At one point you go into the bathroom with him and he sees the rash all over his mouth while he’s washing his hands and looking in the mirror. He is, understandably, dismayed, but he doesn’t cry.
You change your clothes a few times because he’s been desperately rubbing his face and hands and feet all over you throughout the day. You strip the pillows and wash all the blankets. You wash your hands another 500 times. You check facebook and get sympathy and advice from other parents.
You worry that your daughter will catch it. She worries too and she meticulously avoids touching his legos or other toys and brings down sheets and a comforter and her own pillow to lie on the love seat where he has been lying. This is actually pretty smart, you think.
Finally both children are in bed. You enjoy listening to your husband practice mandolin. You do a little cleaning triage. You know you should just go to bed but it is lovely to be awake when no children are awake, for just a little while. You hope, hard, that everyone will sleep through the night and that tomorrow brings healing.