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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I Am Malala and We Have Some Work to Do

I would run to rejoin the children. Especially when it was time for the kite-flying contests- where the boys would skilfully try to cut down their competitors' kite strings. It plunges. It was beautiful, and also a bit melancholy for me to see the pretty kites sputter to the ground.
Maybe it was because I could see a future that would be cut down just like those kites- simply because I was a girl. - Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

For about ten years I lived in a small town just outside of Logan, UT while I went to college and later got a real job and bought a real house. It's a beautiful area and I often miss it and wish I could have stayed, but such a thing was not in the cards. Nowadays I go back two times a year. We do a ski trip every winter, and I go to an environmental restoration conference on campus.

It's the second one I want to talk about because I'm not quite ready for snow yet (though I desperately want a lot of it, just piles of it, to come eventually--just not yet) and because it's fresh in my head since I just got back. I knew I'd written about this kind of thing in the past, and not-coincidentally I had a very similar reaction last time, too. Yes. This is another Howie's Optimism Club post.

See, I really needed it. Just under a year ago a lot of us had to do some soul-searching about the state of our country. I don't know why it isn't all of us. I'm just shrugging my dang shoulders over here. The simple fact I have to face is that there are people, a huge amount of people, in this country who are so fundamentally different to me as to throw out everything I thought I knew about people. 

This isn't a new insight. I remember as a kid around Halloween that Nick at Night was having a telephone poll where people would call in and say whether they preferred The Addams Family or The Munsters. Did they prefer a frankly revolutionary show about an iconoclastic family that was profoundly bizarre but still loving and supportive and fiercely, fiercely loyal to one another, or would they rather watch another bland sitcom where all the jokes are the same but the people dress like monsters? Reader, The Munsters won that contest. That's when I should have figured this out.

I just saw a picture of a cute little boy dressed up as Ezekial Elliott for Halloween. He was too little to have chosen the costume himself, I think, and I had to wonder why someone would dress up their child to look like a guy who is just about to (finally, I hope) serve a six-game suspension for beating his girlfriend. The reality is that his family are Cowboys fans, and Zeke is playing great football so they love him. They're willing to forgive a man who repeatedly choked, hit, and dragged a woman because he's on their team. Even still it's hard to wrap my head around. A guy's a dillweed regardless of what uniform he's wearing or which political party he represents.

There is so much about the political differences in this country that make a lot of sense to me. It really is a completely different country for different groups of people. I keep reading articles and books by liberal reporters from blue states embedding themselves in Republican strongholds and coming back so amazed that there are people in there. They go to a church and people there are raising money for refugees and they can't believe that they aren't all dressed in camouflage and confederate flags and literally devouring them instead. Wait, these astonished voyagers in enemy territory seem to say, why is there a library here if nobody knows how to read?

That's never been my problem. All my life I've been embedded in one of the most predictably Republican states in the country in the reddest counties in that state. It's not like I've never heard the argument for trickle-down economics, or for government deregulation, or privatizing public land or abortion or traditional marriage or whatever. I see nice families at the park or parades and have no problem sharing a space with someone who disagrees with me about taxes vs. entitlements or how many green cards we should issue every year.

What surprises me is the continued support of someone who has the temperament and professional acumen of a third grader and the xenophobia, racism, and staggering ignorance of the bad guy opposing coach of a sports movie in which black players are finally allowed to participate. I get that some people thought Obama was a cartoonish villain whose whole goal was to institute Sharia law and create a liberal haven in which the only way to get a job was to be gay and undocumented, but a lot of people just hated his policies. I can live with that. If Ted Cruz had won, I'd be angry every day too, I bet. Maybe angrier because he wouldn't be undermining everything he tries to do with tweets and off-the-cuff speeches picking fights with football players and therefore would actually be passing laws.

This new thing I just don't get, though. I mean, I understand it because we've seen and are seeing it over and over all over the world, but each time it feels like a horror movie where the protagonists consistently make the wrong decisions. It's discouraging and depressing and it makes it hard to get up in the morning. Maybe it's narcissistic but I keep going back to my own words and reminding myself that I need to be consistent. Two years ago I was frustrated by doomsday preppers within my community who were predicting the end of the world because we had a Democrat as president. At the time this is what I said:
Each day the great blackjack dealer in the sky says to us, "Place your bets, gentlemen," and we do. Some of us bet on calamity. We burrow into our basements with ammunition and dry food and prophecies of doom and gloom. We hoard our resources and we dare our neighbors who we have previously been told that we are to love as ourselves to even try to come and get them as we polish our guns. In essence, we spend all of our free time soaking up resources and give nothing back. It's us against the world and what has the world ever done for us? 
Those guys I can take or leave. I like the optimists. The ones who bet on the future. I cried three times watching Inside Out. A Pixar movie takes somewhere between four and seven years to make and costs from $175 to $245 million to make. The company employs around 1,200 people. That's a pretty steep bet. Of course, it made almost a billion dollars back and taught kids that their emotions are not their enemies. That growing up has some sad in it but that the sad can actually be pretty important. It said that it's not wrong to be down in the dumps sometimes but overall there are lots of exciting things in the world.

Great people make great things. They invent computers and smart phones. The build massive bridges. They create theme parks, and gorgeous religious buildings. They save and rehabilitate national parks. They spend their lives protecting endangered species, or restoring rivers, or planting trees. There is no bolder bet on the future than planting a tree. People who bet on the future travel to Haiti to help rebuild a broken city. They create vaccines. They paddle around the flooded streets of New Orleans to pull elderly people off of their roofs. They take seven bullets while blocking a gunman at a university. They do this because they don't know if we'll survive as a society, but they sure hope so
So. Against my instincts every time I open a newspaper or read the day's headlines on my phone, I refuse to fall into the same trap. If those things were true last year they still are. I can disagree with the president and shake my head in bemusement every time he stares at the sun during an eclipse or retweets a white supremacy group or tells kids they can have candy on Halloween because they aren't too fat yet and can't tell two blonde reporters apart. I can also feel my heart break for refugees who were approved to come to the United States after a grueling vetting process and then had that approval revoked. I can do all of that and still have hope for the future.

Here's why: when I go to conferences I see professors and grad students and land managers gather together and figure out what we can do to fix the messes that we are in. Even with a president--their boss--who denies climate change and a secretary of the interior who is actively gutting federal agencies of climate change scientists, the actual managers of the land are using the most accurate science available to them to make decisions that are best for their forests. And including climate change in their models. And there are grassroots organizations helping them. Citizen scientists pick up some of the slack from slashed federal budgets; native tribes gather their elders and their scientists to advise on how to restore ecosystems to match historic records; rural land users partner with federal biologists to improve their own land.

People wake up every day and in tiny ways keep on trying to save the world. Are there enough? I don't know. Is it the equivalent of a little kid trying to stop a wave from crashing onto the beach by stretching her arms out really wide? Are the plants I plant for my job vastly outnumbered by the ones being replaced by housing developments and tech companies and highways? Is our annual refugee sponsorship helping one family while thousands more suffer in under-staffed and under-resourced camps all over the world? Probably. I think we can win, but in the words of George Washington in Hamilton, "Not yet."

There's hope in that "yet."

There's also hope in Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World. Similar to Marjane Satrapi describing the takeover of Muslim fundamentalists in Iran in Persepolis, Malala tells the story of the Swat District in Pakistan as it undergoes a Taliban takeover started by a conservative cleric whose illegal radio show started an internal revolution.


Like with so many stories of people who have watched an ideological fanatic take power, it happens gradually. For Malala, who is 11 when it begins, it all starts with her education. Her father runs a school for girls, and she treasures her education. In a country where it's traditional that girls are married at 12 and education is at best ignored and at worst preached against outright, she recognizes how unique her situation is, and is grateful for a family that values school.

As the Taliban gains converts and supporters, girls' schools are one of their first targets. Why waste money on education when they're just going to be housewives anyway? They pressure the parents of students to pull their girls from school, then threaten them. Then schools start to be bombed or burned. Some are attacked by Taliban fighters, but others are burned by locals after being whipped up in a frenzy after listening to the radio. The Taliban uses natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, telling locals that they are punishments for straying from "true" Islam.

There is fighting in the streets. Machine gun fire, suicide bombers, and IEDs become so commonplace that they start to feel normal. Malala's family can sleep through them. And Malala and her friends are still going to school. Then she starts to speak up. She's interviewed by local news, writes a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym, then is followed by a documentary crew. The Taliban gets driven out of her district, but they fight in secret. People start disappearing, police officers and soldiers are publicly executed. And then one day after school two men board her school bus, ask which one is Malala, and shoot her in the head.

You guys know this part. Miraculously, she lives. Here's a moment that I won't forget. It's right after the Charleston church shooting and we are mourning. Jon Stewart has no jokes. Instead, he introduces Malala Yousafzai. "Her perseverance and determination through that, to continue on, is an incredible inspiration,” he says. “And to be quite honest with you, I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world I would rather talk to tonight than Malala. So that’s what we’re going to do. And sorry about no jokes."

During their interview, she says, "Sometimes we wait for others and think that a Martin Luther [King Jr.] should raise among us, a Nelson Mandela should raise among us and speak up for us. But we never realize that they are normal humans like us, and if we step forward, we can also bring change—just like them." This echoes another Malala quote: "If one man can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?"

Stewart finishes with this: "I have to tell you that you are a wonderful tonic. I felt somewhat despairing today, but I think your single-mindedness has helped lift a bit of that fog for me, and I really thank you for that, even though it is not your responsibility to do that."

Now. Mr. Rogers could read the Applebees menu and I would cry (mostly because of the sodium content), but I'll be darned if this doesn't get me every time.



You see this quote come up every time something horrible happens, and yeah, it doesn't fix things. It doesn't change laws that might make it more difficult for people with a history of domestic violence to have guns, it doesn't do anything to stop the spread of terrorism--both domestic and otherwise--from taking root in the United States. And it doesn't magically solve racism. But it's still true. It is, as Stewart says, a tonic. There are still helpers. There's no reason it can't be us.

I have a tendency to end these posts with a kind of generic "you can do it, too" stinger, mainly because I have such a hard time coming up with endings. This time, I'll tell you how. Girls' education has massive benefits to the world, including drops in infant mortality, increases in child health and nutrition, and a more informed electorate. Educated women are more likely to stand up for their rights, reducing child marriages and abuse. And they are more likely to raise educated daughters who are even more likely to stand up for themselves and be politically active.

You can support The Malala Fund here. The Malala fund is dedicated to providing a 12-year education to every girl in the world.
The International Rescue Committee helps settle refugees in the United States, three-quarters of whom are women and children. Find out more here.
If you're like me and can rarely help financially, consider volunteering. You can volunteer with the IRC. Also VolunteerMatch and JustServe are great resources pairing volunteers with opportunities. A glance at the JustServe page shows multiple tutoring and mentoring opportunities at schools in my community. I bet they have some in yours, too.


The version of I Am Malala that I read is the "Young Reader Edition" that my daughter's teacher kindly lent me. I didn't know there were two versions, but apparently they are different books. According to at least one blogger, the Young Reader Edition is preferable because it "sounds more like the Malala we hear in her speeches."  You can find a better explanation of the differences at that link. I've decided to stick with this one because it's the one my daughters will probably read and I want to be able to talk with them about it.






Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Pachinko Isn't Too Long, But This Title Is

But a God that did everything we thought was right and good wouldn't be the creator of the universe. He would be our puppet. He wouldn't be God. There's more to everything than we can know. - Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
Pachinko, by Min Jin Li is a huge book, which sometimes makes me resentful. This is another weird side effect to writing this blog. Long books still just get one blog post. So then I'm thinking I could have read two books in the time it took to read one and get two posts and that means I would earn twice the money that I earn from this blog. Which is still zero dollars. 

Obviously it's a bad argument, but it's also true about me that I avoid long books. I do this for the same reason I don't watch movies that last longer than two hours. It's not that my time is so much more valuable than the next guy's. It's because I love the power of editing. Readers of this blog will no doubt go into convulsions of mirth at this statement, but I maintain that one can love something not because they are good at it but precisely because it's something they are terrible at. Nobody watches athletes more intently than unathletic men and nobody likes to watch humans type more than cats.

It's also a bad argument because I read Pachinko in like 3 days. It was fall break and I took a couple of days off to "be with the kids." What this translated to was one day where I was very much engaged and we went to the zoo and then had ice cream and then watched Spider-Man: Homecoming (which is literally about the homecoming dance, because it's not like he's coming home to anything else other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe I guess, but he doesn't know that. That's too meta for me you guys) and then watched the end of one of the most amazing football games I've ever seen. And then the next day I spent the whole day reading Pachinko and swatting my kids away like they were gnats and I was a rhino in a nature documentary. Imagine a rhino reading a book. It's pretty funny to do that.

Most of the time I can imagine easily trimming a good 50-100 pages off of a book this size without it hurting even a tiny bit. Movies are like that, too. Even movies based on books where other people get mad because their favorite scene wasn't in the movie (like never telling us that Rita Skeeter is an unregistered animagus and that's why she was getting all those scoops) usually don't bother me (usually). I think this is because I'm an adult and recognize that different mediums have different strengths and weaknesses. Also I mean her name is literally "Skeeter," like a mosquito. Like, she's a beetle, but you get it.

Anyway, let me tell you what this book is about before I get distracted again. It follows Sunja in the fishing village of Yeongdo, Korea, at the beginning of the pre-World War II Japanese occupation. At 16, Sunja makes a decision that will haunt her for the next 60 years: she is seduced by a wealthy trader twice her age who she assumes will marry her. Instead she finds out that she is pregnant, he has a wife in Japan, and her baby's father is a Yakuza boss. She marries a Christian pastor who sees in her an opportunity to be like the biblical story of Hosea, and moves to Japan.



What follows is a story that spans four generations through the severe prejudice, incarceration, torture, and near-starvation of the war; followed by the severe prejudice and prosperity that eventually replaced it in the 80s. Even fourth- or fifth-generation ethnic Koreans are restricted from citizenship and treated as second-class. They are inherently lazy and violent, according to the predominant culture. A culture obsessed with blood and heredity.
You are very brave, Noa. Much, much braver than me. Living every day in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.
Over those years we meet a massive cast of characters, and something amazing happened to me. Usually when I write these posts, I can never remember anyone's names. I often have already forgotten who was who aside from a handful of standouts. This is especially true when I read books about nationalities whose naming conventions are unfamiliar to me. I have little experience with Korean names, but I could remember almost everyone, even characters who had little impact on the final story. It's a testament to the storytelling here that everyone was so distinct and memorable, I have no problem summoning each character's name.
People are rotten everywhere you go. They’re no good. You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let’s see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants.
Not only that, but I just love them. There are no villains, even when some characters exhibit profound cruelty. The huge timescale of the book puts actions into context that would be 2-dimensional otherwise. It's just a feat. I don't know how else to describe it.
Patriotism is just an idea, so is capitalism or communism. But ideas can make men forget their own interests. And the guys in charge will exploit men who believe in ideas too much.
I can't think of anything I'd trim from Pachinko. I actually wanted more. There are tiny subplots in here about side characters, one I can think of lasts no more than one chapter and is essentially a complete short story, that I would have loved to know more about. The themes here are simultaneously so huge and grandiose and profoundly personal. You know how in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Rick Moranis's character says that the majority of matter is empty space between atoms and that you just need to decrease the space between the atoms to shrink an object and also those kids make friends with an ant and their dad almost eats one of them? Most books are like that. Empty space surrounded by a handful of interesting atoms and a lot of dinking around in between of characters going back and forth trying to decide what to do next without actually furthering the story. 

Pachinko isn't like that. The prose is lean and the majority of the themes aren't said outright by a character thinking profound thoughts, but instead it comes through in dialogue. Or actions where you only realize what it's saying while you're in the shower the next morning (Or night, I guess. I don't know when you shower and frankly I'd like to keep it that way). I'm constantly amazed by the confidence Lee shows in what she decides to tell or not. Huge events happen off-screen and time leaps forward. I think other authors would want to dwell on these things, milk emotion out of them, but by having them happen almost as an aside, we're left to grieve almost like we're catching up with an old friend and having to express sadness that we weren't there with them when it happened.
Sunja-ya, a woman’s life is endless work and suffering. There is suffering and then more suffering. It’s better to expect it, you know. You’re becoming a woman now, so you should be told this. For a woman, the man you marry will determine the quality of your life completely. A good man is a decent life, and a bad man is a cursed life—but no matter what, always expect suffering, and just keep working hard. No one will take care of a poor woman—just ourselves.
It's weird to me when my posts actually become book reviews. But darnit sometimes I just want to say that it's books like Pachinko that makes reading more than a hobby. I've got nothing against model trains or golf... actually yes I do and I used them as examples specifically because I think they add nothing to the human existence. It's fine, though. It's fine because golf means fresh air and (some) exercise and model trains are, uh, cool? What I mean is that they don't add layers of complexity to a world I feel like is constantly more interesting like books do. I don't think anything does.




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Separation and a Bit About Cookbooks

People were capable of living their lives in a state of permanent disappointment, there were plenty of people who did not marry the person they hoped to marry, much less live the life they hoped to live, other people invented new dreams to replace the old ones, finding fresh reasons for discontent. - Katie Kitamura, A Separation
I like to cook quite a bit and almost never use cookbooks. That sounds like I'm super rad and so in tune with food that I can just make delicious food from a handful of random things in the pantry, but what I mean is that I use Pinterest a lot. As much as I cook, I still have a pretty vague understanding of what's actually going on in there. Aside from having a couple of Alton Brown episodes under my belt, the actual mechanics of cooking are pretty mysterious. That's me when it comes to relationships too, now that I think about it.

Pinterest usually sends me to cooking blogs, and if you've read a cooking blog, it's the opposite of a Howie's Book Club post. There's a bunch of dumb stuff about the blogger's family and hubs and if hubs liked the food (hubs always likes the food because hubs quit his job to help run the blog) with pictures of their kids and dog and stuff, and then at the bottom there's a recipe, which is all I'm there for. Where on the other hand I'm told when people read my posts they skip the part at the end about the book. Anyway, in the post they probably talk about why the food works, and what the different ingredients do, but I prefer to just put the things in a pot and hope it works out.

Magic

Part of why I like the internet is that it doesn't judge me for how dumb I am. There was one time when I was a teenager and home alone and I decided I wanted French toast. I looked through every book in my mom's cookbook drawer and didn't find a single recipe. Part of this is because most of the cookbooks my mom had were church cookbooks. These are collections of favorite recipes from members of the ward and there is something to prove here. Your name is on those meatballs, and you put Lipton French Onion Soup mix in there.

Nobody puts French toast in a cookbook because everyone already knows how to cook French toast. Obviously in the days of food trucks and Pinterest we're discovering entire new frontiers in the science of pain perdu--including and not limited to savory french toast and probably something with pumpkin spice in it--but these were not those days. The days to which I refer are the days when I put an egg in water and then put it in the microwave for 3 minutes because I wanted a hard-boiled egg. A microwave (and a measure of self-confidence) was ruined that day.

There's a whole food truck here devoted to grilled cheese sandwiches, which is delicious but also isn't that just a melt? Like, a grilled cheese sandwich stops being a grilled cheese once you put a single additional ingredient in there. The last one I had was filled with pulled-pork, barbecue sauce, very thin apple slices, and onions. It was amazing. Yeah, it had cheese in there. But we still call that a pulled pork sandwich. It's like calling a kitchen table a Corvette because they both have chairs in them. This actually drives me crazy, now that I think about it. I'm going to need to take a break.

(15 minutes of Contra III: The Alien Wars later)

OK, that game is hard and I made up two new swear words. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that if I google "how to make a grilled cheese sandwich" there are multiple recipes. This one has 524 reviews and a five star rating. 69 people (nice) have submitted photos of their own grilled cheese sandwiches. It serves 2. It requires 4 slices of white bread, 3 tablespoons of butter, and 2 slices of cheddar cheese.

Wait, what?

Who submitted this?

WHY DID YOU SUBMIT THIS

I have no problem with this. Every time I make hard-boiled eggs (not in the microwave), I STILL look it up. Now if there is an apocalypse, which seems remarkably more possible with every day, I might be in trouble. I am as dependent on the internet for cooking as I am my smartphone for navigation. Daryl Dixon, I am not (Daryl Dixon makes a mean juevos rancheros, look it up!). For now, though, I'm hanging in there.  

Ol' Howie brings it with the Asian fusion though

This is not just cooking, everybody. There are a lot of things that many of us consider common knowledge that can easily be lost after one or two generations. My kids don't know how to use a number 2 pencil to rewind a cassette tape that their off-brand Walkman devoured. They don't know how to tape an edited-for-TV version of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors from TBS, setting the timer to start and stop at the right time because it's on when you're supposed to be in bed. And they've forgotten how to have any hope for a future in which wildlife will still exist and fresh water, gasoline, and bullets won't be the principal forms of currency. You know, silly stuff.

They can also easily lose things that we parents fail to pass on, but are still pretty vital. It's a pretty easy line to draw: grandma made fresh bread a lot, mom or dad didn't, you think fresh bread only exists at Great Harvest and is created by bread wizards who have in turn enslaved bread elves and it's a harsh existence that is morally conflicting but warm bread is also so good with butter on it. My grandpa grew wonderful watermelons, but that knowledge has apparently left our family for good. Like a permanent death for Freddy Krueger at the hands of the oft-tormented Elm Street kids, watermelons elude me. 

This applies to things like budgeting, too. Or resilience to adversity. Or dependability. The one I'm thinking about specifically here because of the book I read is healthy relationships. There are lots of people on this big blue rapidly warming marble for whom the skill of healthy relationships is like me growing watermelons: they've tried a bunch of times but they've never seen it demonstrated. 

Nobody's parents are perfect, and because families are all together during the worst times, we see each other at their worst. My kids behave much better for their piano teachers, sports coaches, and martial arts instructors than they do for me. I think it's because I've seen them be brats, but they still have a chance to impress the black belts. It's like that with husbands and wives, too. We try not to fight in front of the guests, but our kids are always around (like, always). After a while they're going to see a lot. But there's fighting and then there's fighting.

There's also neglect, and sarcasm, and infidelity. There's all the kinds of abuse: sexual, emotional, physical, financial, religious. There are addictions and mental illnesses. Kids who grow up in situations like that are like a kid who never learned how to make French toast, but the stakes are a lot higher and the solutions much more complex. But not insurmountable. The problem is that if those relationships are all you know, they seem normal to you. You don't think you deserve something better, or you don't really believe that there is something better. Everyone else is faking. You don't even know there is a such thing as French toast, and if there is, what have you done to deserve something so fancy?
In the end, what is a relationship but two people, and between two people there will always be room for surprises and misapprehensions, things that cannot be explained. Perhaps another way of putting it is that between two people, there will always be room for failures of imagination.
In Katie Kitamura's The Separation, we are meeting a woman approaching middle age confronted with the tatters of her marriage. She's been separated for months from her handsome and charming husband, but they haven't told anyone yet. When he disappears on a trip to Greece, she's forced to go looking for him. It sounds like it could be a thriller with a title that has "The Girl" in it. But it's not that kind of book. It's hard to put down and full of mystery and some pretty subtle menace in there, but it's more of an exploration of relationships.



There aren't a lot of characters--the hotel concierge, a jealous clerk, the driver who loves the jealous clerk, the absent Christopher, his parents--and so the narrator can focus on them. Making interpretation of their lives makes her reflect on her own, and kind of the nature of love and loyalty and all of that big time stuff.
As she observed him, she briefly frowned, it was one of the quandaries a woman sometimes faces, not just a woman, but all of us: she entrances one man without effort, a man who is undesired, who follows her around like a dog, however much he is whipped or abused, while all her efforts to attract and then ensnare another man, the truly desired man, come to naught. Charm is not universal, desire is too often unreciprocated, it gathers and pools in the wrong places, slowly becoming toxic.
I really liked it. It's so deliberate. It's hard to describe and I've started and scrapped this post from a lot of different angles. There isn't a ton of things that happen, and the things that do sometimes seem random and meaningless, but in a meaningful way, you know? Not every story is a crackerjack mystery with a convoluted conspiracy. Sometimes things happen without a good reason.
In childhood, words are weightless - I shout I hate you and it means nothing, the same can be said for I love you - but as an adult, those very words are used with greater care, they no longer slip out of the mouth with the same ease. I do is another example, a phrase that in childhood is only the stuff of playacting, a game between children, but then grows freighted with meaning.
The narrator spends more time than usual with her in-laws, without her husband as a buffer. She sees the seeds of some of her marriage's problems there. The thing I keep thinking about is that we often don't even know that we're ignorant when it comes to things like relationships, especially but not limited to the romantic ones. I want to learn how to hard boil an egg, there's instructions there. You figure it out. Maybe it's embarrassing, but it's only embarrassing once and then you've got it figured out. But we look at people reading a book about how to be a better spouse or parent and we think, don't they know? The assumption is that if I'm picking up a cookbook, I know how to boil an egg.

It's funny to look through a book of art history. Thousands of years ago people didn't know that tables got smaller as they got farther away from us. That from our perspective everything converges into a vanishing point on the horizon. They were the best artists in the world but hadn't grasped what is now taught to kindergartners. Perspective requires math, some of which wasn't even discovered and implemented until like the 1400s. We don't expect every artist to completely learn how to do their craft in a vacuum, because we've got thousands of years worth of technical discoveries to lean on.

But often we send out a young married couple into life with nothing other than what they were able to sort of glean by watching their parents, who did the same thing themselves. It's no wonder we lose things. It's actually kind of amazing anything works at all, ever. I don't think it's enough to just try to model healthy relationships. We might not even have them, but if we do, we also need to think about why they work. And when we talk to our kids, we point it out. Even when it's happening right then and it's messy.

There's no shame in looking things up. What if you were taught the wrong way to make a grilled cheese, like the person I knew who thought that you make them in a microwave? You can fix that! Look it up on the internet, ask someone you know who looks like they enjoy good grilled cheese, read a book. Get a few different viewpoints, then pick what works best for you. That's how we learn in every aspect of our lives, but for some reason it's not something we think about how to do when it comes to the real basic stuff. (I'm not talking about grilled cheeses here, I'm talking about relationships.)

Let's say you have a Ramona Quimby-style row in front of your kids and they get sent to bed before they see you make up. That kind of thing sticks with a kid, and it's why that scene resonated with several people who responded to my blog post about it. It takes a couple of minutes to sit with them before they're in a dark room all by themselves filled with the same kinds of doubts and fears we have--maybe even more so--and chat about how mom and dad work through disagreements. Or say you saw a scene in a Disney movie that is unhealthy, even if it's portrayed as healthy ("Sweety, we NEVER kiss someone who is literally unconscious, no matter what the little people are telling us). It's the relationship equivalent of saying, "Hey kid, you know how to make a grilled cheese? No? Let's do this."

S/O if you grew up thinking mac and cheese came from a box