Tuesday, June 30, 2009

this is new for me ?

Call for Guest Bloggers

Tag, you're it! I know each of you have your own "third places" and I invite you to share them here. I've established the rhythm for this dialog, now it's your turn. In my "third places" the emphasis often tends towards observation of others. When talking with some of you about the "third place" concept I've heard ideas such as a being on a bicycle or anyplace you can pick up a guitar. My last post was about airports, I know everyone has perspective and insights about that subject. Restaurants, parks, blog sites, you name it, I'm interested in your take on the "third place". You know who you are, get in the conversation, this isn't an essay contest, it's just for fun. I hope to hear from some of you soon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Airports fascinate me. They have much in common with Disneyland. Crowds, lines, food, shopping, visual and sensory bombardment of all sorts, at prices which make your head spin.

Disneyland was fun when I was a kid, in part due to lack of concern and responsibility around calories and costs. Airports were also fun, I felt pampered and awestruck by the experience of flight. The magic of flight still captivates me but the sense of being catered to is long since gone. A very strange mix of anxiety, thrill, frustration, and amusement overtake me at the airport. There may be a plan in place but the sense of adventure comes from what is unpredictable.

In typical "third place" fashion I immerse myself in daydreams and people watching. Usually I keep a close tab on time, but when I'm alone there have been instances where I've had to make a mad dash because I lost track of different time zones. Every type of behavior can be witnessed by fellow travelers at the airport.

Minnesotan's are great to watch arrive at the airport in February. We arrive at the airport when it is 20 below outside already dressed for the beach. You may see us sneaking the down coat into the suitcase or it will come on the plane to second as a pillow or feet warmer. (On my cousin's most recent flight she found a frozen banana on the floor next to her feet!) Shoe choices provide a similar amusement, especially at airports. The reality is, unless you are in a wheelchair you must walk, or run and sometimes for quite long distances. Apparently this does not occur to many airport travelers based upon their footwear choices. The full spectrum of outfits are also on view, with regional variations, you see everything from business suits to beachwear and pajamas. This gets even more interesting or embarrassing when people make their way through security. To see people publicly disrobe is already odd. In this context it seems like a scene from a police station. Once again the pragmatist, I wonder at the belts, buckles and assortment of things that come out of peoples pockets, did they not know they were going to the airport?

Baggage has become complicated in recent years. Now there is a charge per bag, so this has shifted what constitutes a "carry on" item. I only flew a few times as a child, now many families fly with children of all ages which translates to strollers, car seats, baby bags, etc. I used to feel a great sense of luxury on an airplane, now it has the ambiance of a bus station. The stewardess (today's flight attendant, once upon a time was very solicitous, handing out airplane "wings" introducing kids to the pilot, passing out pillows and blankets and making small talk. Today they are the enforcers, "seat up, table up", mumbling "watch your hands" when they slam past with the food cart. Packing the plane is a science, I've heard people discuss the simulation studies conducted to figure out the most efficient method of loading people. Whatever the results of the studies, we human cargo are not easy to transport.

I have never flown first class, nor have I purchased a new car. In my reverse snobbery, I scrutinize the 1st class passengers as I make my way past. I experience seat envy and mean thoughts such as "why are those two little kid bodies in 1st class?" Then, looking at the passenger behind them seated next to the children's mother I feel smug, "nah, nah, you may be in first class but you still came up with the short end of the stick." Yes it is a roll of the dice when it comes to seat assignments, it isn't just a question of who is seated in your row, but who is in front or in back of you, or even in your generally vicinity if their behaviors are really disruptive. The parent kid dynamic is painful. Children have all the power and everyone knows it. There is no possibility of immediate consequences, so parents and all other passengers just pray that the stars have aligned and babies will fall asleep, siblings will be separated and that children and their parents woke up on the right side of the bed. The question of aisle seat or window seat is another thing to ponder, if a person is very confident of their lack of need for a restroom during a flight it is likely they will want and perhaps be able to choose a window seat. If , however, the person at the window seat is 8 months pregnant, as was the case on my last flight, expect to get up and down several times as the one in the adjacent aisle seat. I actually don't mind this because for the most part I welcome the chance to stand up and stretch the legs and since I cannot sleep on planes I'd much rather be the one asked to stand than the one climbing past a sleeping passenger. I marvel at how long some people's legs are and I find the whole sharing of armrests to be problematic, but overall once settled in I welcome the guilt free opportunity to read.

Despite flying in and out of many big cities, I have never been aware of being on a plane with a celebrity. Some of the most revealing conversations occur during the course of a 2 hour flight. Yesterday I heard the filmmaker Mr. Klein describe his flight sitting next to Malcolm X and the opportunity it created for his access to Cashis Clay. So, you never know. If, like myself, you enjoy and seek out serendipity then the unpredictable aspects of airport travel can be seen as a positive side of the adventure. In truth when all goes smoothly on trips the stories are not nearly as memorable or noteworthy. If you allow yourself let go for the ride, it can be fun to be temporarily knocked our of your usual orbit. These experiences, even the trying ones, allow us to reenter our normal orbits with fresh eyes and a new appreciation.

Disneyland is no longer my idea of fun, but despite two delayed flights that got me home late last Monday, I'm already eager for my next visit to the airport.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Friends School

For much of ours lives, our "third place" is school. Today my daughter graduated from the school she has been attending for 8 years, since first grade. For some, school is a bit like a jail sentence, but Elena has always loved it. From an early age she has enjoyed her independence and school has been a perfect place for her to claim her own realm. We call her our extreme extrovert, and with 3 house mates who are generally introverts, she often seeks out the company of others. Her farewell speech, along with those of her 14 classmates, was delivered with confidence and poise. Elena has a foundation of memories and relationships where her individuality was celebrated and learning was communal, fun and stimulating. These are the best of times.

Early parenting is fraught with decisions, and school is a big one. We hemmed and hawed about whether to try Spanish immersion at the public school or to go with the Quaker Friend's School. Each addressed different yet similar values towards education. The decision was made for us, she was not excepted to the Friends School. I was a bit relieved about no longer facing the dilemma of choosing and off she went to Adams. She had a ball there, yes there were imperfections, such as the fact that half the kids already spoke fluent Spanish at home and then were asked to spend the day learning how to say " Donde esta el bano? " Or, when I would go in to volunteer at the beginning of the day and find that Elena was off in the cafeteria with friends having donuts, the free breakfast program intended for those who didn't have a meal at home. Elena's kindergarten teacher was a fabulous teacher, but she had 32 kids with very different needs. Two other concerns were that the principal didn't speak Spanish, and the first grade classrooms had no windows. Mid year we were given a call from the Friends School saying they might have an opening in first grade and would we be interested? More decisions, ugh. Elena was settled in and happy. Despite my concerns, why rock the boat? I delayed, waiting as usual for divine intervention to solve the problem. As luck would have it Elena took a summer clay class and became fast friends with a girl named Liza from Russia who happened to be listed in The Friends School first grade for the following year! They were kindred spirits, my sign, I told myself, and promptly accepted the spot a The Friends School.

Elena took the news without much fuss and after the first day at school in my attempts to draw forth the evidence of my success masterminding her future, I asked the obvious question, "How was Liza?" "Oh" said Elena, "she went to another school". Needless to say, I was speechless. However, the stars were aligning because that same week we had the tragedy of 9/11 and I knew then that the school was the best fit for our family. The school community sentiment around that event mirrored our own. The Quaker values of Simplicity, Integrity, Community, Equality and Peace seemed more important than ever to have reinforced in a variety of venues outside of the home. Today in each of the speeches given by the graduating class a common theme emerged, in the word's of Thich Nhat Hanh, the seeds of compassion were sown. In a humorous moment when a few of the girls were crying, the row of kids passed tissue to those in need. It was perfect, a symbolic testimony to their bonds of friendship and proof that their speeches were founded in experience.

Hindsight is 20/20 but there is no doubt our second child, Ian, would have despised Spanish immersion and a large school and I would have hated the logistics of having 2 different schools and splitting up the kids. So the Friends School has become a third place for Elena and Ian, and also for me. We have been there for 8 years for various plays and potlucks and have volunteered in many capacities, from teaching watercolor and putting in a tile mosaic at the front entry to being a cashier at the plant sale and spreading fresh mulch over the playground. As any parent knows there are no shortage of needs to make a school function. If only we would recognize as a culture the investment payoff of a great education, and quit the business of war, perhaps we would all prosper. Every child deserves a great "third place" that is their school.