Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the tag “hokey pokey”

Hokey Pokey Diem

If you aren’t careful to associate only with pessimists, your Facebook feed may easily become crowded with adorably well-intentioned memes proclaiming “Live in the Moment,” “Carpe Diem,” and other similar maxims. While the cheesier variety reminds me of when Owlet vomited all over her bed last week (I somehow miraculously escaped unscathed despite my extreme proximity, but cleaning it up was majorly unfun and the smell lingers persistently in my memory), when they are worded with particular grace I have been known to repost them myself.

The initial problem is twofold: (1) reading them changes my impression of myself without actually having changed my behavior, and (2) they rarely seem to stick once I come unglued from the screen and return to the part of my life where I actually need such sage advice.

Only is it sage advice? For me, that’s the larger issue.

Sacrilege, I know! Carpe Diem is as close an encapsulation of America’s shared spiritual aspiration as we are likely to get. From materialism to Buddhism, living in the moment is what all the cool kids try to do, right? However unobtainable, however vexing, we strive for moment-oneness and applaud our sporadic attempts, especially when we are knee-deep in children and somewhat desperately seeking fuel to propel us through each day (and night!) of parenting. “It goes so fast!” the elderly ladies quaver, “Treasure each moment while they are this small.” (The elderly gentlemen are less prone to such statements, have you noticed? Maybe because they went through it all without the rosy hormonal hues of matriarchy, poor souls.)

Living in the moment, in the stereotypical interpretation requiring focus solely on what is happening around/to us at that exact second, is not a plausible goal for all of the moments in any of our daily lives. We need to plan ahead. We need to harken back. To suggest that the past and future are unworthy of thought is to be constantly disappointed: we must be lacking essential mental discipline, or need to get to work (be it in an office highrise or the garden at home) in order to eat later, or something equally reprehensible.

Now, before all you would-be Zen masters get your quibbles lined up, allow me to tweak our definition. Pop culture’s dictionary is, as usual, lacking in nuance and subtlety, but I’ve got a compromise up my sleeve. My damp, spit-laden sleeve. (Platypup might be teething.) I don’t achieve it near-often enough, not by a long shot, but here’s what I strive for, in place of that bizarre state without memories or direction:

Find the love in every action. Of course there are so many moments out there where being in the present is blissful. Washing your child’s gorgeous rippling hair. Inhaling a sleepy cat’s yawn-stretch. Climbing into bed with the first rain of the season for company. And all of us have our favorite forward and backward glances, too. Planning home improvements large and small. Selecting coursework for the new semester. Replaying a treasured compliment over and over. Daydreaming about a wedding day long past. But can I find love for the rest? Soothing a savage toddler beast, scraping the bottom of the inspiration barrel for a reluctant student, hustling the whole family out the door for the third time in one day, missing mom on a rainy Monday while folding undiminishing piles of laundry, worrying my cuticles away over lost opportunities, fretting the future. Can I still find the love? Can I put my whole self into each situation with integrity and grace?

Find the love. Put your whole self in. Hokey Pokey Diem.


Magical Words

There is nothing sadder than a toddler who can say, “I’m lonely,” with an appropriately pitiful expression.

I don’t think she really knows what it means. I think she uses it as a synonym for “sad” when she wants to ramp up the intensity of our response.

That doesn’t make it any less poignant.

Allow me to derail myself before I even begin — why is the phrase “magic word” instead of the grammatically appropriate “magical word?” Anyway…

Owlet’s been saying lots of sweet polite things which, in all honesty, are things that we say to her all the time which become adorable when repeated back to us in her lilting toddler soprano. Among the expected “Please?” “Thank you!” “Excuse me…” “I’m sorry,” “Are you ok?” and the much-prized “I love you,” are my three current favorites:

“I love your hugs, Mommy. I love your kisses.”

“Thanks for giving/doing x, Mommy. That was really nice!”

“So-o-o-o… what did you do today?”

Our method of choice for manners is the monkey-see-monkey-do approach. We try really hard not to prompt for the magical words (although for me, a grey area is to ask that a particularly imperious demand be rephrased more nicely) and trust that they will flow out naturally the way the Hokey Pokey does; i.e., frequently and without any conscious training on our part, other than perhaps to try to be more polite ourselves to better the example we provide.

So far, this seems to be working.

And it’s amazing how magical those words truly are. I remember the pulled-tooth feeling of being prompted for such words as a child, and I simply didn’t understand why a person would bother requesting them the way grown-ups so often did. I mean, it doesn’t change the meaning, does it? But now, when my little one tosses a handful in my direction — oh! The difference it makes. If I’m distracted, she has my attention. If I’m frustrated, she can soothe my soul in a breath. If I’m sad, such healing her little words bring, and if I’m already happy, well, then our giggles dance like an armload of water balloons.

But the usual polite statements aren’t the the only magical words. “I’m lonely” is a perfect example. Because “lonely” is such an evocative word, it gives Thor or I something to latch onto in our reply. So even if Owlet just means to say that she’s a bit down, she’s still getting the kind of response she needs in order to feel better. Or here’s a great example from the little girl I used to babysit; when she was a toddler, her parents were teaching her to say “I’m frustrated” when she was, you know, frustrated, but for the first month or so, what often came out instead was “I’m frustrating!” Now there’s a tension ray-gun, huh? Because when a toddler is frustrated, her caregiver is usually nearly at their wit’s end as well, right? But then the kid goes and says that very thing you’re feeling, not just names it but does it with unconsciously witty panache. Shhhmp. There goes all that negative energy. Vaporized.


Of course, all words are magical words. Try it and see:

A man walks into a library. He says, “I’d like to a book on the Galapagos Islands,” and one appears.

(I’d started with a man walking into a bar, but he’d also need those pesky bits of magical paper…)

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