Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I like to stare at the ceiling at 1 am.

"Do you promise?"
"Say it?"
"Yes, I promise."

So simple. And so easily said. Yet those words form a complex system based on trust and follow-through. Those three words can sum up a belief system, a vocalized feeling, and maybe even a future action. When I was younger it seemed so much easier to just believe a person when they said 'I promise'. There was no guilty ache in the bottom of my heart, no rising-sick-feeling in my stomach. I just believed.

Maybe we hooked pinkies, hugged on the deal, or made a vow, but no matter what we did, my friends and I knew our promises could be kept. There was no concept of lying to each other-- sure, we lied to our parents when we wanted to do something we approved of, but there was no lying to friends or other loved ones.

"L'innocence", Centre Pompidou, 2010

Now I find myself making promises with people, hoping they keep their word; wondering if they will come through in the end; wishing my innocent belief systems would come racing back into my life. It's hard to trust others when you've been disappointed throughout your entire life. That's not to say your own life itself has been disappointing, but there are certain times to look back on and wish for a brighter outcome.

How can you be 100% sure another person truly has your back? I guess you never really can. Children believe people have their back because, for one, they usually do, and two, children don't know any better. They don't realize that people lie, deceive, torment and hurt others. Children don't realize that one day, they too will lose the wonderful ability to trust with no hesitation, to love without fear, and to believe in everything.

My guess is that the magic starts to wear off once they find out Santa isn't real. Or that the tooth fairy is really just a parent who leaves a quarter under their pillow and places their tooth in a special box stored in the basement. I honestly hope I never have to lie to my children, that they never realize the tooth fairy isn't real, or that the Easter bunny didn't really bring them the best jelly beans in the city. I hope that they continue to make pinky promises with me, their friends and other loved ones. And I hope they have faith that everyone carries through on their promises. To know how much I've been through, and how hard it is to breathe at night sometimes while I lay awake worrying about the validity of what I hear from a person's mouth, I would never want to subject my children to such a nightmare. I would never want to strip them of their innocent and wonderous belief system.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Miss Rita from Lebanon

I have always hoped to find a neighborhood where everyone knew each other, where everyone genuinely cared for one another. Most of the time neighbors just make small talk, but every once in a while a glimpse of who someone really is comes out during one of those conversations.

Last night I met Rita, Susan and a couple of other neighbors while they were sitting by the pool enjoying a couple of drinks to let off steam from the hard work-week. Stepping out onto my patio, they greeted me warmly, surprising me a little bit with their shouting. "Hi neighbor!" And, "Yes! Hello neighbor how are you tonight?"

I had a towel on my head-- having just stepped out of a long shower, and wore only a black tee-shirt. When I realized I wasn't alone on this steamy August night, I made sure nothing was revealed from the bottom of my tee and replied with a warm, "Good evening! I'm just fine, how are you doing?"

And then came the small talk; the exchanging names, apartment locations, etc. I knew I would see them again so I didn't try my best to remember their buzzed and slurred names. They asked me about Merlin, and I told them he was my husky, staying for the night. Mentioning how much they all loved dogs, they promised mum was the word when it came to the Leasing office. And so our bonding began.

Leaving them to their evening, I couldn't help but smile as I stepped back into my apartment, the cool air conditioning sweeping over my face. Little did I know that the next afternoon I would see Susan and Miss Rita tanning by the pool as I taught Evan how to dive. More small talk was exchanged but the surface layers rubbed off and I found out Miss Rita and her family had been here for almost seven years and each member was brought over one by one by her brother, from Lebanon.

I've never known much about Lebanon and I felt humbled talking to a woman who I had assumed to be of Latin or Hispanic backgrounds. After she taught me about Lebanese children learning multiple languages from a very young age, Miss Rita asked me if I was American, American. Of course I said yes, and then that I was born in Saint Louis. A wide smile took over her face as Miss Rita giggled and excitedly said, "Oh my goodness a real American, that's so great!" I have never in all my life seen such a wonderful reaction when I've simply said I was born and raised in America.

It's probably hard for me to understand where she was coming from because I was born in the suburbs, never had to immigrate and I didn't grow up in an area with a ton of immigrants. Needless to say, I felt honored that Miss Rita was so excited to meet a born-and-raised-in-the-States American.

I'm not sure how much I will see Miss Rita, her sister Susan, and the rest of the family, but I can be sure that when I do, I'll say hi and ask how her niece is doing with her ping-pong competitions and if she's met any more "pure-blood" Americans.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's all in the fun.

The trick is to merely soft-boil the eggs. If you over boil them, then there is very little point to using le coquetier. To the French, hard-boiled eggs are actually just American eggs. What we call hard-boiled or diced eggs topped with salt and butter, they just consider another American "delicacy".

The real art rests with the soft-boiled egg. It's really very simple if you think about it.

1. Boil water.
2. Place egg into boiling water.
3. Wait 2-3 minutes.
4. Remove newly soft-boiled egg.
5. Place newly soft-boiled egg into le coquetier.

But then the fun begins. This is one of the first meals a child is able to eat all by themselves, fork and knife in hand. Once the hot egg is placed in its holder, you cut off le chapeau, or the hat of the egg as the French call it, and eat the top of the egg white off the inside. With most of the egg white still concealing the inner yolk, a small piece of baguette is used to break the seal and dip its way into the core--soaking up the runny yolk.

Now it's not just any old baguette. This baguette has been thoroughly salted and buttered and ripped into many small pieces...and is usually just placed on the bare table for anyone to share. Crumbs litter the table top and bits of salt find their way to the floor. But as soon as the baguette bit hits the yolk, the butter melts into the heated center and the process continues until the liquid center has been absorbed.

Luckily, the coquetier holds the egg in place. I'm sure one reason Americans choose to hard-boiled their eggs and then smash them to bits is so that parents don't have to worry about their children handling a hot, rolling egg shell. Or maybe French children, like Julien-Francois are just more sophisticated than their American peers.

As a nineteen year old exchange student, learning this common mealtime activity was very humbling to say the least. But Madame Dru walked me through every step, showing me how to cut the chapeau, prepare the baguette, and even explaining to me that because bread was once impossible to find, it is now for everyone...a major reason they just break bread and pass it all over the table. I found it a little funny when comparing it to the American practice of everyone having their own Pilsbury croissant sans another's germs.

After soaking up the precious yolk, a thin delicate spoon is used to remove the insides from the shell. The pieces of egg-white along with the occasional over-cooked egg yolk are scooped up, sometimes placed on more pieces of baguettes and slipped into the mouth.

Want to know what the typical first joke a French child tells?

When they have finished their soft-boiled egg, and all that is left inside le coquetier is an empty egg shell, they will wait until their mother's back is turned. Quickly, they flip the egg shell over, hiding the open top, revealing an unbroken side and yell out to their mother,
"Regarde maman, je n'ai pas mange mon oeuf!!"
(Look momma, I didn't eat my egg!)

And of course the mother plays along saying,
"Oh lala, c'est mal. Pourquoi est-ce que tu n'as pas mange ton oeuf?"
(Oh no, that's bad, Why didn't you eat your egg?)

Giggling with every word uttered, the child takes the small spoon and cracks open the shell, shouting with excitement,
"Je blague!"
(Just kidding!)

Well thought out, kid. Sure makes Why did the chicken cross the road? look a little silly, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thessalonian Mornings

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. --1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

I must admit, I don't know much about the Thessalonian Scripture, but I think this piece of it pulls a lot of weight in today's world. Too often people concern themselves with gaining the respect of others without realizing exactly what it means to gain someone's respect. Acts of kindness lose their beauty when the doer shouts about them in the streets. Quiet acts of kindness go much further and are probably more often noticed by outsiders than anyone realizes.

What interests me about this scripture is the beginning where the ambition should be to remain quiet in the background, hard at work, and in turn a profitable life will be led. There is no mention of happiness following the hard work, but in my mind, if you gain the respect of others for being a hard worker, then happiness should take care of itself. Hard work leads to high productivity, which leads to a prosperous outcome. And I don't think many people are unhappy with an outcome such as that.

The final words so that you will no be dependent on anybody sticks with me as well because too often in today's world people depend on one another to get through life. We are first born alone in this world, and while we may die with people sitting at our bedside, we physically die alone as well. I think that during their lifetime, people take advantage of the help others are willing to give. An act of kindness turns into years of aid. People take niceness for granted and independence has taken on a new meaning. Today, people think independence means making your own decisions, taking control of your life, but not necessarily being independent from others when it comes to the necessities of life. But if a person works hard, and maintains their own life before helping others, they won't need aid when it comes to food, water, shelter, and transportation.

I think the beginning and end of the passage speak loudly in many realms of everyday life. Obviously it applies to working hard at a job, but I think it also can apply to getting an education. If you study hard and make sure you do what you need to do to succeed, it will pay off. Helping others can only come after you've helped yourself. Having only worked in a middle school for two semesters, I have very little experience with today's secondary students. From the observations I have noted, I see students who depend on their teachers to give them every answer, form the words in their mouths before they utter them aloud, and expect their aid on exams and written assignments. There is very little autonomy among today's youth and I'm not sure what caused this change in the world. Simple writing and arithmetic skills have been lost, and asking for manual labor is completely out of the question.

I am all for helping people in need, for helping people who are too far lost to help themselves, or who have felt so low for so long, but I am disgusted when I see people begging for help when all that is required is a bit of thinking on their part. If we can't help ourselves when life is easy, how can we expect to get anywhere when life gives us lemons?