Archive for July, 2008

Virtuous Hip Hop

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

One late Thursday night a few weeks ago, we were flipping through the channels and happened upon “America’s Best Dance Crew.” We had gotten hooked on the dancing genre of reality shows so we were interested in watching “Dance Crew” to see if it was a “Dancing With The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” wannabe or if it brought some originality to the mix.

“Dance Crew,” or “ABDC” as they refer to it on the show, is certainly similar in format to the other two dance shows. For instance, it also has a panel of colorful judges ““ more about them in a minute ““ and crews are eliminated by a combination of the judges’ opinion and who receives the fewest votes from viewers calling in.

However, I really didn’t know anything about hip hop which is what “ABDC” is all about. I was familiar with the styles of dance on the other shows, such as ballroom, jazz, and contemporary, so it was easy for me to appreciate the quality of the performances. Hip hop and all its variations? Not so much. As a middle age suburban mom, the only breaking I was familiar with was dropped dishes. Krumping sounded like what happened the last time I dented the car. And B-boy? Isn’t that the kid who puts the groceries in the bag at the check out line?

But once I got attuned to the lingo, I saw that “ABDC” celebrates the same qualities as our other favorite dance shows. The sheer athleticism of the dancers on all these programs is amazing, but the real reason we enjoy watching them is because the competitors show such character ““ especially as the competition progresses and more and more is demanded of them emotionally and physically.

The dancers who pass the audition and make it onto the show are incredibly hard working and dedicated to their art. When voting puts them in the bottom and they are in danger of being eliminated, they don’t wallow in discouragement but instead redouble their efforts in order to come back stronger.

Whereas the other dance competition shows are more about individual achievement and star quality, “ABDC” is also about teamwork. Each week the crews of five or six have to work together to choreograph a routine that can showcase a member of the group who has mastered a particularly unique or difficult move but also not have all the focus drawn to strongest dancer of the group. The originality of the routines that these groups choreograph within a week really shows how talented they are.

I can’t talk about “ABDC” without mentioning the judges, JC Chasez of *NSync fame, dancer and choreographer Shane Sparks and rapper Lil Mama. They are every bit as serious about the purity, technicality, and precision of the dancing in their critiques as their more stuffy British counterpart on “Dancing With The Stars,” Len Goodman.

They just have a more distinctive way of telling the dancers they did a really good job and their performance was very entertaining. Some of our favorite phrases from “ABDC” are: “Y’all killed it.” “That was dope.” “You brought it hard.” “You represented.” And the most puzzling compliment to date from Lil Mama: “You slept on it.”

Though the meaning of the words can be a little confusing at times, I think that Lil Mama’s way of talking is so lively that I’m going to start incorporating some of her signature phrases into my everyday speech. So the next time Steve and I score a new assignment in a business meeting, instead of saying, “That went well.” I’m going with “That was sick!”

Not only do we have a good time watching “ABDC,” we get inspired by the perseverance, determination, and creativity of the competitors and I come away energized by what they achieve in their performances.

And one side note about “ABDC,” it’s on MTV, the network whose programming is usually about glamorizing vice over virtue. “The Real World” and “Jackass” come to mind as stellar examples of the antithesis of the positive qualities that are personified on “ABDC.” I hope that the popularity of “ABDC” indicates that MTV’s audience really doesn’t want to swim in a cesspool of immaturity all the time.

Shopping Vacation

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

As soon as school was out, my daughters wrote up a wish list of “Places to Go in the Bay Area” during the summer. It is not surprising, since they are 16 and 12, that most of the destinations on their list involve shopping rather than exploring remote hiking trails or dusty historical sites.

But that’s fine with me; I really enjoy people-watching at a mall more than communing with nature. And from my mom practical point of view, back-to-school shopping is going to need to be done at some point during the summer and like a lot of other families, the depressed economy and the high cost of traveling means we’re staying close to home this summer, so why not combine shopping with an outing into the city and call it vacation?

That’s what we did yesterday. The girls and I tackled two of the places on their list: San Francisco Centre and Japantown. We were sorry that a crunch deadline meant that Steve had to stay home but he wasn’t all that disappointed. He’s a wonderful companion when we’re only going to be window shopping, but he knows that if the excursion includes waiting while Valerie tries on jeans in the juniors’ department, unless he’s brought provisions to set up camp on a bench just beyond the sale racks, he’s happier at home getting some work done to pay for their haul.

So why San Francisco Centre and Japantown? I think Valerie was born under a shopping star because Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale always begins on her birthday. And since the Nordstrom store in San Francisco Centre is the largest one between here and the mother-ship in Seattle, that’s where she wanted to go to spend her birthday cash. And she wasn’t disappointed.

It made sense to visit Japantown in the same day as San Francisco Centre since they are only a mile and a half apart according to Google maps. However, given my sense of direction, times that number by ten. But I digress”¦the reason Japantown was on the girls’ list is because on previous visits to San Francisco Centre, they discovered a store among the Juicy Coutures and Calvin Kleins that had stuff they liked and could actually afford. It’s a very tidy yet filled-to-the-brim Japanese stationery store called Maido. Whenever I leave there, visions of little-tiny erasers shaped like sushi are dancing through my head.

The girls had hopes that Japantown would be like a mall full of Maido stores. They were looking forward to the kind of merchandise that Maido carries: rows of adorable stickers that are so small you practically need a magnifying glass to see them, pencil cases with silly Japanese cartoons on them, beautiful origami paper, and notepads with little bear and bunny characters.

Well I found that Japantown hasn’t changed much and certainly hasn’t been cleaned much since I visited it more than 20 years ago when I first moved to San Francisco. Valerie described it as a Japanese “Pike’s Place;” kind of down-at-the-heel and past it’s prime. But there was an authentic Japanese book store  where for less than $10 the girls were able to satisfy their need for something “super kawaii” which as Gwen Stefani says, “means super cute in Japanese.” They each bought two miniature food sets that are amazing in their detail and size. When looking at these, the only possible response is, “That is sooo cute!”

I think Valerie’s shopping radar is really getting sharp because somehow among the mostly junky souvenir shops in Japantown, she managed to find the one store that carries designer clothing from Barcelona. Never mind that the name of the store is Harajuku. Like a heat seeking missile she went right to the $140 t-shirt that has two of her favorite things on it: sparkles and cats. The size looked big so I thought I could nip the possibility of her buying it in the bud by suggesting she try it on.

Unfortunately, it fit perfectly. I was wrestling with how to help her make a decision about buying it without being an overbearing mom and just flat out saying, “Are you nuts spending that kind of money!” when Steve called. He rationally reminded Valerie that we don’t live in the 90210 zip code and $140 is too much for a 16-year-old to spend on a t-shirt. Once again, I saw how some strong male leadership was needed. Crisis averted.

We headed home with the girls’ sale items from Nordstrom and their mini Japanese food. Our day was actually better than a vacation; we got to sleep in our own beds last night.

Sibling Revelry

Monday, July 14th, 2008

This summer, my two daughters who are 16 and 12 are enjoying each another’s company in a way that Steve and I haven’t seen before. As a mom, it’s wonderful to see Jennifer hanging out in her older sister’s room and hear them laughing at a joke they are sharing. And though it’s impossible to know how they will relate to each other next summer, one thing is for sure, they are going to grow and be different young women than they are now and their interests may take them in different directions; I think this is a very special and unique time in their relationship as sisters.

Before now, the four-year difference in their ages often meant that they didn’t have the same capabilities. Although they have both always loved drawing and craft projects, it was difficult for Jennifer because she was always comparing her work to that of her older sister.

Or as Valerie was moving into being a teenager, she felt that if she associated with her younger sister, she might still be seen as a little girl.  We laugh about the photo we have from Valerie’s sixth grade promotion. She’s standing at least a foot away from Jennifer, sneering at her little sister as if still being in elementary school was a contagious disease.

And especially during the school year, the interaction typically between our kids is the same as it would be if they were strangers living in a boarding house; they pass each other in the hall and occasionally find themselves across the dinner table from their sibling but the only time that they speak to one another is to complain about who got into the bathroom first in the morning and why the other one needs to vacate it immediately.

So when our kids treat each other like friends who want to spend time talking and doing things together, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate. Well, at least two out of the three of our children like being with each other; it may be another decade or so before our almost 20-year-old son is willing to be seen in public with his younger sisters.

Back to the girls”¦it’s really the small stuff of life that Jennifer and Valerie bond over. Jennifer is old enough as an almost-teenager and Valerie is still young enough ““ in the sense that she isn’t driving yet, she doesn’t have a boyfriend, and leaving home for college is still a couple of years away ““ to enjoy many of the same things. For instance over the past few weeks, the performances and judges on the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” has been a major topic of conversation between them, as well as dialing up clips of the show on YouTube and watching them together.

And during the day, the girls constantly monitor the activity”¦or lack thereof”¦of our orange cat, Nigel. I often overhear one of them saying to the other, “You have to see the adorable pose that Nigel is in.” And they have both spent a lot of time drawing Nigel in their sketchbooks. It’s so nice that they are at a point in their lives that they can appreciate each other’s talents without feeling superior or competitive.

Even though Jennifer would probably like many of the same things that Valerie does, it’s really Valerie’s presence that makes the difference for her. Being home all day isn’t boring for Jennifer if Valerie is home too. Going swimming only sounds fun to Jennifer if Valerie is going too. Jennifer would far prefer to see “Hellboy” with Valerie than see the American Girl movie without her older sister. And what I’m grateful for is that Valerie doesn’t feel threatened by the closeness and attention of her little sister.

As I said at the beginning, I know things will change between them as they move onto the next phase of their lives. Circumstances will be such that they won’t always able to be so close. But I’m confident that the love that has grown between them this summer will be meaningful to them for the rest of their lives. 

Awakened to What’s Important

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

I’d have to say that the two pieces of machinery that I rely on most in my life are the washing machine and my car. If there is an indication that I might have to do without one of these for any amount of time, it registers pretty high on my mom crank-o-meter.

So last Tuesday when I met Steve for a quick lunch at Starbucks and he said that the “Service Engine Soon” message was lit up on his dashboard, I managed to keep the growl to myself, but in my mind I was bemoaning the adjustments that I would need to make if we were going to be down one car. And because I’m always thinking on the bright side, I was certain we were also in for a major repair bill.

To cut to the chase, it turned out that there wasn’t anything wrong with the car except that the gas cap wasn’t screwed on until it “clicked.” I rejoiced that we had been spared the inconvenience and expense of having to take the car to the shop.

Life seemed pretty darn good right then. What’s better than finding out that a car ““ which seems so essential to my life ““ is still running dependably and I can go about my business as usual?

I’ll tell you what’s better: having a dear friend make an almost miraculous recovery from a very scary situation. She was rushed to the ICU due to severe hemorrhaging but within 48 hours she was back home and feeling remarkably normal. And there was no diagnosis of something more serious that would require surgery or further testing.

That kind of news ““ that the life of someone I love has been spared ““ tends to put car and washing machine repairs into the category that they belong: minor headaches of life that come and go hundreds of times. But being able to have more time with my seventy-something friend who is a role model to me because of her spirit and amazing energy ““ that is a huge gift.

It took being reminded that life is fragile to help me appreciate how good I’ve got in some of the most basic areas of life. Steve and I are healthy, our kids are healthy, we live in a safe place, we work for ourselves out of our home, and”¦the list could go on and on.

The serious situation that my friend went through gave me the proverbial wake-up call; it helped me broaden my perspective and reminded me not to take any of the good things I enumerated above for granted. God doesn’t guarantee that tomorrow will be just like today; but He does promise that no matter what happens He will be there with me.

It’s not hard to feel thankful now while the experience is fresh in my mind. However, the challenge for me is after I have been woken-up; not to hit the snooze button and go back to taking for granted the major gifts that are a part of my life everyday.