Monday, September 19, 2011

The Place of Whoa!

As my family and I were coming down the Moffat Tunnel trail, three preschool-age kids were rushing ahead of their parents at a moderately steep part of the hike. One of the little kids, who looked to be about four, was chugging along as fast as his little legs would carry him up the hill. With wide eyes, he excitedly told his friends, "We're almost through the place of woe!"

I started to giggle at the unlikeliness of a four-year-old knowing about "the place of woe." The adults who were bringing up the rear smiled knowingly.

Just what is this place of woe, and where did such a youngster come across it? At first I thought it was some Tolkien reference, and that maybe he and his buddies were pretending to be Sam and Frodo running away from Orcs. That seemed unlikely. I didn't read the trilogy until a few of my fifth-grade classmates told me it was better than the Nancy Drew mystery novels I was wasting my time on. They were right, though this is the first time I'm publicly admitting it.

Talking about the Place of Whoa! was definitely more age-appropriate. But why would anyone be excited about coming to the end of the Place of Whoa!? In the context of hiking, the Place of Whoa! is a gorgeous visit, made all the more gorgeous because it took some effort to get to it. Witnessing a huge thunderstorm through the safety of the picture windows in our living room is another Place of Whoa! Or waves crashing to shore after a storm is also Whoa!-worthy.

I googled "place of woe" and got nothing related to LOTR. There was the Fissure of Woe, a GuildWars Wikia, a game he might have played. Though probably not. There was also this link about play structures, but I doubt even this brainy little guy would have found this site very interesting.

So he probably just made it up, putting snippets of words together in the original way kids do. It reminds me of the book our son Geoff published in kindergarten. The subject was what he wanted to be when he grew up. This was his dinosaur phase. He lived and breathed everything dino-related. So did he want to be a doctor or a teacher or a writer or a bricklayer? Nope, he wanted to be a dinosaur, and not just any dinosaur, but the most bad-ass of all dinos, Albertosaurus.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Work Is

Last week I was working the deli counter at Cheese Importers. Two women came up to order coffee. I recognized one as the mother of my son's teammates. We made some Momtalk as I made their espresso.

"How long have you worked here?" she asked. When I said I'd worked there for a year, she said, "That's good of you."

I smoothed over the strangeness of that comment by keeping the chatter going and the coffee coming. As soon as she left, my co-worker said, "What the hell kind of comment was that?"

I asked him if he thought her remark was condescending. He shrugged. "Who else is going to make her coffee?"

Who else, indeed? Perhaps she might have felt more comfortable if a pimply-faced twenty-something had handed her a coffee, instead of someone who has children the same age.

There are assumptions embedded in her remark, namely that I'm at an age where I should be doing something to improve the world. Something more personally prosperous. Or maybe I just can't cut it in the world of competition and industry.

Her remark prompted a memory of nearly thirty years earlier. My then-boyfriend and I were driving up the coast to San Francisco when I mentioned that one of my sisters was dating a man whose family owned a tire dealership. He snorted and said, "Why would anyone want to own a tire dealership?"

"It just so happens," I replied, "that the car you're driving has tires. I'd say that's filling a need."

I could have told her that ten years of raising my children was industry enough for me, and that Rip Van Winkle-like, the print and publishing industry I had been part of for the previous ten years was unrecognizable to me. I could have told her what better contribution to civilization could I have made than to raise well-adjusted, warm-hearted kids. I could have told her I'm lucky to have a job at all in this economy, much less at one of Longmont's main attractions. I could have told her I'm a yoga teacher. A writing coach who helps people tell their stories in the best way they can, something I never could have done when I worked as an editor. I could have told her people everywhere are making whatever contribution they can, and that she could stand to update her attitudes about what constitutes valuable work.

I think I'll let the words of our country's current poet laureate, Philip Levine, carry the day.