Sunday, May 22, 2011

For The Good Guys

If you’re a contestant sweating your way into Final Jeopardy against a former history teacher and a Harvard Law student you might hope for one thing when Alex Trebek announces the category of question on which your fate (or cash winnings) will ride. That is, if you’ve been making your living as a translator.

And that one thing is just what Sandra Alboum got:

“Official Languages”

When she heard that announced as the Final Jeopardy category Sandra said to herself, as she explained to me in a recent interview: “There is a God.”

This Language is an official language in around 30 countries second only to English.”

Sandra picked up her stylus and quickly wrote “Spanish” on the flat screen in front of her.

That was too easy, she then thought. And wasn’t Africa, after all, full of former colonies?  And the question described the language as “an official language” not “the official language”.

Before time ran out, she changed her answer.

(If you’ve been humming the Final Jeopardy tune to yourself, it's time to wrap it up and find out what happened.)

The history teacher, it turned out, wrote "Arabic".

The guy from Harvard (smart but no Ken Jennings, in her estimation) had written "French".

She’d written French, also, and she, too, was correct.

But unlike the law student, Sandra had wagered enough to win.

She won one more game, and eventually walked away from her stint on Jeopardy with enough after taxes to save a bit and to finally buy the really nice dining room set her husband had said was too expensive.

But a life of translation is not all fun and game shows.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

(It's been) 366 Days of Eric: A Sister's Tribute

“Today is April 26, 2010, four months and 18 days ago Eric died. I still don’t like to think of him in the past tense. Eric is my brother.”

Liz and her younger brother Eric,
many years ago....
Elizabeth Reitman Waller typed those words, the first entry in her blog, 366 Days of Eric, twelve months and twenty six days ago. It’s now nearly a year and a half since her thirty-two year old brother collapsed while running a half-marathon, bled into his brain and died. And, as of this week, nearly 366 blog posts later.

Readers of Lunch Box Mom might remember my interview with Liz last summer. She had just started her writing project, still months away from a few painful but anticipated passages of the ensuing year: Thanksgiving, the December date on which Eric died, and what she hinted would be, sometime several months later, the birth of her third child, the first who would never meet his uncle.

“...I started the blog because I felt like I was in a fog,” Liz told me recently. “All I could think about was Eric and no one knew or appreciated it. I felt stuck. I definitely don't feel stuck anymore, the fog has lifted.”

Friday, May 6, 2011

Listen To Your Mother

Shortly after Tom Hooper, the director of The King’s Speech, accepted his academy award, Ann Imig took to her Facebook wall to announce a unique connection. “Listen to Your Mother”, the advice of the Oscar winner, was also the buzz in mom blogging, as Ann in Madison, and her team in four other cities, prepared a series of live performance by the same name.

Listen to Your Mother” is Ann Imig’s theatrical creation. As National Director, she oversees what the website describes as “live readings by local writers on the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood, in celebration of Mother's Day. Born of the creative work of mothers who publish on-line, each production is directed, produced, and performed by local communities, for local communities.”

Performances in Austin and Los Angeles ran last weekend, but it’s not too late to head to the Saturday performance in Valparaiso, Indiana, or this Sunday’s performances in the towns of Madison, Wisconsin, or Spokane, Washington, depending, of course, on where you spend your Mother’s Day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reality: The Cure for a Royal Problem at Home

Paper hat fashion fit
 for a royal wedding
 Three weeks ago, at approximately 1:30pm on a Sunday afternoon, while sitting in the back of a New York City taxi en route to Penn Station, my daughter caught wind, thanks to the TV embedded into the driver’s seatback, that a prince was getting married.

Years of diplomacy with the pink and scantily clad emissaries from Disney went down the municipal drain. The tenuous treaty by which I’d allowed these highnesses into my house in small numbers and with sufficient caveats was blown by the revelation that one of my principle statements was a lie.

“Yes” I admitted, like an outmaneuvered Secretary of State on Meet the Press, “there’d been a cover up.”

Sometimes, a Prince really does find his Princess.

I’d been less than forthcoming about that rare but possible scenario not because I didn’t allow for the possibility of regal love, but because in the context mermaids, sleeping beauties, dwarfs and glass slippers—the world in which many parents and their young children often navigate, marriage is the cure to a damsel’s distress.

Sure marriage is the “happily ever after” conclusion to a lot of literature—Shakespeare’s comedies included--but until they make a line of Midsummer Night’s Dream sippy cups, and my daughters beg to dress up like Bianca from Taming of the Shrew, it’s the princesses and their intoxicating romances that I have tried --sometimes unsuccessfully—to downplay.

“Heidi,” my husband said to my six year old, hoping to help me, “have you ever heard of the Magna Carta?”

Nothing grounds the allure of a royal wedding like an introduction to the seeds of constitutional law, but it was a man doing back flips on a pogo stick that soon took over the TV screen and, thankfully, my daughter’s imagination.

But, more news of the wedding could not be avoided, and finally, on Friday morning, we watched highlights of the ceremony and the recessional and carriage ride through the city streets.

And, amazingly, I finally felt free of the oppression of princesses.

We saw a Prince, groomed, it was clear, to control his emotions and salute or wave to his audience with practiced form. And, there was Kate, or Catherine, as she may be called, but Bonny Kate still the same, looking in her white gown and veil like a young woman more grounded and at ease with her new role than he with his. And, in the bursts of emotion that escaped his disciplined containment, it was clear that it was the Prince who was overwhelmed by his good fortune in marriage.

In the parlance of fairy tales, a spell had been broken in my house. And as is so often the case, it was broken by truth.

Yes, the groom looked handsome in his uniform and chivalrous in his manner, but the spectacle and accompanying scrutiny put fantasy in the hands of reality.

The carriage with horses rode down the street.

“Is this almost over?” my six year old asked.

She’d had enough.

She will probably, like her mother before her, never forget the day she watched her first princess get married.

But, now there’s a real person associated with the word "princess"; a real castle-- looking a bit stern and austere from the outside-- and the real test of the values promoted by the marketers of the princess myth: integrity, honor, discovery, friendship and love.

Perhaps my daughters and I will now turn more to Princess Catherine and less to Snow White.

If so, that’s progress.

The next step will be to continue in this process, and to learn more about actual people, less defined by myth and status, who manage to show integrity, honor, discovery, friendship and love, without a tiara, and without, necessarily, a prince.

Photo credit of royal carriage: Robbie Dale : Wikimedia Commons