Sunday, May 17, 2009

Recycle This

My son, Jack, is the serious one in the family. Don’t know how I spawned a stone face from this pack of clowns, but I am forever on a mission to convert him to the cult of the ridiculous and sarcastic from which I was born.

Today he and his friend, Christian, barreled into the kitchen overflowing with giggles.


Christian: Lisa, there IS!

Me: I know. Dad and I thought we could put it in the corner of the yard to make it convenient for you when you’re playing football with your friends.

Jack: MOM! You can’t do that! That is against the law!

Me: No. People do it all the time. We all have to use the toilet. This will save you time and keep all the kids out of our house.

Jack: I am NOT using that.

Christian: Me either.

Me: Okay then, I’ll make it into a seat. You guys can sit on it when you’re tired.

Jack: Mom, I won’t sit there. That would be so embarrassing.

Christian: Totally.

Me: Guys, we are a recycling family. You know that. So it’s either going to be a toilet, a nice seat for you to sit on or we’re going to put dirt in it and make it into a flower pot. I found a nice spot for it right under your bedroom window.

Jack: No WAY!

Me: Pick one.

Jack: I don’t WANT a toilet under my window! Put it under YOUR window.

Me: My room faces the back of the house. Then no one will see it.

Jack: No one WANTS to see a toilet in our yard.

Me: Pick one.

Jack: All rrrrright I’ll pick the flower pot.

Christian: Seriously, what are going to do with that toilet?

Me: Well, the other thought I had was to wait til the middle of the night and put it in someone else’s yard. Sort of like the Neighborhood of the Traveling Toilet. Whoever gets it will know it means that someone likes them. And then they can put it in someone else’s yard the next night. And so on.

Christian: I don’t think my parents will think it’s a good thing.

Me: No they will. They’ll like it. Trust me.

Jack: Mom, you could get arrested.

Me: Arrested for giving my neighbor a gift? I doubt the police officer is going to see it that way.

Jack: Mom, please don’t.

Me: All right. We can keep it.

Jack: Ya, but I don’t like any of the choices.

Me: Honey, this is the country. A toilet on our front lawn is cool. This will help us bond with people.

Jack: Mom, now I think you’re just kidding with me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Feeling of Home

We’ve all heard the cliché, “Home is where the heart is.” But what if your heart doesn’t feel at home? For almost 23 years, I’ve lived in California. And if you ask me where home is, I would still tell you: Boston.

Anyone who knows Beantown like I know Beantown understands my love for the city. For me, it has little to do with the Red Sox or Patriots or Celtics. It has everything to do with Bostonians and who we are. It’s about the culture I left behind -- a culture of real people who talk funny. People who tell it like it is. People who practice sarcasm as much as their religion. People who say things like, “Put yeh shots on and get in the cah. We’re goin up noth to ride the hoss."

It’s about people who are as salty as the air they breathe. It’s about generations of families who put up with the winters and each other because they can’t imagine being away from one another. Their lives overlap and intertwine.

It’s about neighbors who define “neighborly.” Growing up, I witnessed almost daily acts of kindness. It was natural for people to help each other shovel out their cars. On rainy days, someone in the neighborhood would collect the soggy kids trudging home. When our gardens overflowed with vegetables, we divided them up and left bags on our neighbors’ steps. When someone got sick, parents rallied to babysit and make extra meals and clean house.

What I miss is the sense of responsibility we had to each other. A commitment to our community.

So what’s not to love about California? There’s so much to brag about: almost year-round sunshine. Dry, warm days. Miles of untainted seashore flanked by sandy cliffs. Valleys polka-dotted with orange trees. Green and rocky mountains in the distance. Natural beauty in every direction.

It’s the transplants like me who have a measure of comparison. We realize after so many years that one cannot live on sunshine alone. Something is missing.

Marti Emerald, a local TV news reporter in San Diego, was quoted once about her take on Southern California culture. She called it a “social disconnect.” Aha! I thought. That describes it.

Too often, I have witnessed a lack of connection amongst people. Neighbors will drive straight into their garages, only to be seen when taking out the trash or retrieving the mail. Perhaps it is the absence of real connection that leads to a lack of accountability. No-shows and cancellations are a way of life. I’ve been to several kids’ birthday parties where we were the only ones singing happy birthday to a tearful child at the end of an almost empty table. I’ve seen teachers and community leaders with a skeleton staff of volunteers who take on more than they can handle.

For years I have lived my life looking back at the city I left behind. But everyone knows that when you spend your life in the rear view mirror, you never really see what’s right in front of you. I realized that if I wanted a sense of community here in San Diego, I would have to either find it or create it. So I started a playgroup when my kids were little. I created an online network for parents in Southern California. I give of my time to the local schools. I extend my hand at my kids’ games. I’ve become politically active. And I’ve gotten to know my neighbors.

Little by little, I am doing what I can to cultivate a community for my family. Because in the end, if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.