spock live long and prosper

First star to the left…warp speed ahead…in memory of Leonard Nimoy

I started watching “Star Trek” when I was little and Mama’s idea of quality time was making me watch “Star Trek” reruns with her on Saturdays. I am pretty sure I was the only little girl who was watching a show about the final frontier of space instead of playing with a Barbie. I protested about Mama making me watch it, but in reality, I loved it. Every single bit of it. Kirk was a charismatic leader; Bones was a Georgia boy, and Scotty was everyone’s favorite red shirt. Mama informed me Uhura had a futuristic version of her job as a phone operator. And who doesn’t remember a shirtless Sulu wielding a sword? I even had a tiny crush on Chekhov.

spock leaning on a carBut, if I were to be honest, my favorite was the logical, pointy eared science officer – Mr. Spock. I practiced giving the Vulcan salute and telling people, “Live long and prosper.” They may not have been high on emotional outbursts and undoubtedly would have thought I was silly, overemotional creature, but Vulcans were pretty cool in my book. But watching “Star Trek” with Mama on Saturdays was special – it was our time to watch something no one else in the family watched and was our bonding time. She usually worked a late shift at work and with me in school during the week, I didn’t have a lot of time with her, so “Star Trek” meant the world to me. It was my hour of uninterrupted Mama.

Mama took me to the theater in downtown Athens the summer of ’82 to see the second movie, “The Wrath of Khan.” The theater was packed that hot, summer day and Mama had been looking forward to the movie all summer. I think everyone had been disappointed with the first movie…There we sat, me upset that Khan had put that worm in Chekhov’s ear and running out of popcorn. And Mama was not missing one bit of the movie to go get more. Then, the unspeakable happened. Spock died.

Mama said at one point she had looked over when the movie was a bit scary and I had grabbed hold of the little boy sitting next to me. I was 10 and he was probably about the same age. When Spock died, we both grabbed each and wept, inconsolably. Shamelessly, gut-wrenchingly wept. Both our Mama’s had to pull us apart, comforting us as we parted ways on the sidewalk, even though they were both upset too. I think they may have hugged.

“I had no idea you would be that upset,” Mama said later. I nodded. It felt like the Universe had somehow shifted, and not in a good way. My favorite Vulcan was gone. (Mama’s favorite Vulcan was Sarek – he did take an illogical choice on marrying a human. I’m sure for Mama, that gave her some hope at a pointy-eared husband #3.)

“It shows how much these characters have come to mean to people,” Mama continued. “And showing how important what Gene Roddenberry had tried to create is.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, the beauty of “Star Trek” is there is no prejudice – well, unless you are an air-vent farting Klingon, then people have a problem with you. But “Star Trek” shows people from every planet and species getting along and working together. That little boy you were hugging and crying on was black. I think his mother was just as surprised to see you hugging him as I was but mine was for a totally different reason. I was surprised you took Spock’s death so hard. But, it was a precious example of what “Star Trek” has been trying to show us. We all need each other in this world.”

Mama shouldn’t have been surprised; she has always been so liberal she could make a Kennedy look conservative and she had always preached equality among every breathing creature. And that is how she had raised me. But it was the purity of emotion, the simplicity of how people truly do need each other in this world – and all the others – that drove home that message of “Star Trek” that day.

“What will Sheldon do now?” my friend Pam asked me on Facebook. Thank goodness Sheldon Cooper has the napkin with Leonard Nimoy’s DNA that Penny gave him for Christmas that year. Maybe Sheldon will clone him.

The Universe shifted again today. My favorite Vulcan was gone forever. No more cameo appearances in the movies. No hearing his distinct voice in cartoons and as the voice of Sentinel Prime in the “Transformers.” Just no more. I wondered where my fellow moviegoer from 32 years ago was and if he remembered the two of us crying in that theater in downtown Athens. I wondered if he was crying, today, too.

positive reinforcement

In praise of…well, praise (2/25/2015)

I have often marveled how teachers could do it. Not just the keeping a classroom of children occupied or trying to keep track of how many kids have gone to the restroom, either. I have always been in awe of those good teachers who really inspire their students to learn.

Homeschooling has made me realize there’s even more to teaching than I originally imagined.

Cole’s program is fairly straight forward and he’s able to work fairly independently, asking me questions on my lunch break or when I am done with my work for the day.

Lamar questioned if he was actually learning. I assured him he was.

Until Cole came to me one evening.

“I don’t feel like I am getting the full learning package,” he announced.

“How so?” I asked, concerned.

“I don’t know if this home schooling thing is giving me the whole experience.”

“What do you feel like is missing?”

See, Mama, that master’s in psychology is paying off.

“I don’t know exactly,” was his answer. “Can I have some time to think about it and get back to you?”

I told him I would wait for his response, which came after he watched a new episode of “Adventure Time.”

“I miss the social aspects of school,” he began. “I miss my friends.”

I understood. Even though he is the progeny of two introverts, he is quite outgoing and social.

“And, I miss knowing I am doing good,” he added.

“What do you mean?”

If he meant behavior, I honestly couldn’t ask for a better child. I know he was sometimes reprimanded for talking in class, but he gets that honestly.

“I mean, I miss the stickers and the rewards I would get. And Ms. Robin and Ms. Bowen always told me when I did really well on something. They would…what’s the word?”

“Praise?” I offered.

“Yeah, praise. It made me feel really good. It made my spark happy.”

His spark being his tenderhearted spirit.

“I don’t praise you enough?”

“Mama, you do praise me, but, it’s stuff about I did a good job on a drawing or made you something – I feel like you are saying those things to make me feel better. I want to know I did a good job on something because I did; not because I did it and you’re my mom. I learn better when I know what I did right.”

And isn’t that what we all do?

I mean, honestly, has anyone telling you what you messed up made you do better at it? I have been criticized ad nauseam before; it makes me shut down and paralyzes me to the point I can’t even focus because I am so dingdang scared I will make another mistake again. I even wonder if my breathing patterns are correct.

But tell me: “Hey, this was excellent; I love the way you did this,” and I will know what to do again.

If I were to take a guess, it is probably why the most effective theories in psychology used some sort of reward system, where the desired behavior was rewarded, reinforcing what the individual was trying to repeat.

When mistakes – or the undesired behavior – was punished in some way, it didn’t make the subject perform the desired behavior. It just created more of the same.

Why? Because it’s hard for something good to come from an environment of negativity. It can be done, it’s just not conducive.

Criticism doesn’t have to be bad, but the manner and tone in which it’s delivered can affect its message.

If all someone hears is what they are doing wrong, eventually they wonder why they even try.

If the criticism is presented as ‘hey, this will make what you did better,” it makes the medicine easier to take.

I thought of how Cole responded to my praise in the past.

When I commented: “Wow! Look how neat your penmanship is!” on how his handwriting had improved, it made him beam from ear to ear; from then on, he made a conscientious effort to have neat handwriting.

I’m the same way. I have cleaned once or twice (yes, it has happened, it just sadly hasn’t been witnessed by anyone other than my husband and child) and when Lamar bragged on me, I tried to do better.

Hence the second occurrence. It made me feel like I had done something right for a change.

When I tried to clean for the ex, all he noticed was the spots I missed, which is why I told him where to put the feather duster.

We all are pretty simple people, really. We want to know when we have done something right, so we can do it again. It makes others happy, and that in turn, makes us happy when we know we’ve done something good.

“If I praised you more – sincerely praised you – would that help?” I asked.

He nodded.

“As long as when I mess up you don’t go all ‘Scary Mama’ on me like you do to Daddy when he does something.”

I promised I wouldn’t.

In fact, I swore to myself, I’d find something to praise – instead of criticize – in everything and everyone I could.



Something shiny for his girl (2/11/2015)

I am not by any means a jewelry girl.

I prefer my funky costume jewelry and stones over anything fancy.

Lamar has tried buying me jewelry in the past and only once did he manage to find me something I actually liked.

“The girl at the counter picked it out,” he said.

His tastes and mine are very, very different when it comes to jewelry, and again, I am just not one who cares for jewelry.

“Daddy, what are you getting Mama for Valentine’s Day?” Cole asked a few weeks ago.

“They’re having that again?” Lamar joked, casting a look at me.

I rolled my eyes.

He is the world’s worst when it comes to Valentine’s Day – any holiday that involves buying a gift really – but Feb.14 should be renamed “Lamar’s Annual Near Death Experience Day.”

“Valentine’s Day is every year,” Cole replied solemnly.

Don’t joke about love with my child. He takes it very seriously.

“It’s OK, Cole,” I said. “If your father got me anything, I may fall out from the shock.”

“I got you a good card for your birthday,” was Lamar’s defense.

“Cole picked it out for you.”

He said nothing.

How could you refute the fact your 10-year-old was better at picking out cards than you were?

“What are you getting me?” he wanted to know.

I sighed. Our gift giving is often unbalanced because I will usually put some thought in it and get him something he wants or would like but won’t buy for himself.

Bicycle junk, neat pocket knives, other man-toy paraphernalia.

It is not a gift purchased out of a dreaded panic as he wanders down some aisle to get milk and realizes he was supposed to get me a gift for some occasion.

You know how gas stations sell those gaudy roses and weird little teddy bears holding one Hershey’s Kiss?

They started selling those for men like my husband.

Maybe it should be some consolation there are others just as horrid, but it’s not. It is disturbing. There are other women out there getting tacky, chintzy, nightmarish gifts.

“What are you getting me?” I asked back.

Lord, don’t let him do a load of laundry and tell me that’s my gift again.

I tell him if I have to fold and put it away, it’s not a gift.

“So, you don’t want clothes or linens for any gift then?” is his reply.

I give up. I am destined to either have no gifts or bad gifts. I am not sure what is worse.

The fact Lamar is a terrible gift giver concerns Cole. He wants everyone to have joy, happiness and love.

He also appreciates a well thought out gift.

We went to Walmart to get a few groceries later that day and Cole pulled his dad off to the other side of the store.

I figured Cole was taking him to see the newest Lego-Pokemon-Halo, whatever the latest new toy was, and knew he still had a little Christmas money left over he had been wanting to spend.

As I was checking the expiration date on some Chobani, Cole ran up, beaming widely.

“Happy Valentine’s Day early!” he exclaimed, thrusting a box in my hand.

“What is it?” I asked, opening the box.

Inside was a thin gold chain. I couldn’t tell if it held a locket or was just a chain, but it was lovely.

“It’s beautiful! Can I put a pendant on it?”

Cole looked crestfallen. “You don’t like it, do you?”

“Yes, I do!” I said.

I am not as expression-able about things as he is, and I wasn’t expecting a gift in the middle of the dairy department. But my child is a hopeless romantic and believes in giving gifts, even if Greek yogurt is involved.

“I love it, Cole,” I said, trying to reassure him.

He didn’t believe me for some reason.

I didn’t want to put it on in the store – I was scared I wouldn’t catch the latch properly and would lose it, so I waited to put it on at home.

It was beautiful. Just a simple gold chain that wasn’t too long, but hit at my collar bone, giving just a hint of shimmer. It was not a chain I would put a pendant on, but one that was just a simple, lovely, delicate chain. I loved it.

“Cole, this is beautiful,” I told him.

“Do you really like it?” he asked. “I have the receipt. I didn’t have enough money and had to borrow some from Daddy. I can take it back if you want me to.”

“Absolutely not, I love this.”

“You love it just because it’s from me, right?”

“No, I love this. It’s a lovely, simple gold chain. I needed a gold chain; all my other jewelry is silver.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

Absolutely, I was. It was perfect.

“I can do some more chores here and get more money to get you something nicer,” he said.

“Cole, baby, this is beautiful and perfect. I don’t want you spending your money on me if you feel like it’s not enough – when it is more than enough! I love it. What made you think you had to get me something?”

He sighed. “Because, I know Daddy does a bad job with getting gifts, and I know it disappoints you. You don’t get upset, because you aren’t expecting anything from Daddy. I wanted to get you something nice…something shiny and pretty. You deserve something shiny. ”

I smiled.

Oh, bless his heart.

He was trying to make up for his daddy’s terrible gifts or lack of gifts in general.

I don’t know if that’s even possible, but I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him that.



If only they’d listen (2/4/15)

No one listens to me.

No one.

I kind of know how my own Mama feels.

“Do you ever feel like people don’t listen to you?” Mama asked me one day.

“What?” was my response.

She sighed, proving that giving birth doesn’t obligate one to listen.

“No one listens to me,” she repeated. “I tell people things, and they just look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. Does that ever happen to you?”

Of course it happens to me.

I am a parent myself and I am married. I have two people right in front of me who think what I say is crazy talk.

“What are you telling them they aren’t listening to?” I asked.

“All kinds of things,” she said. “But they always think I am wrong.”

Again, I know how she feels.

I have told Cole to do – or more specifically, not do – something and he will do it anyway.

“Did you hear me when I told you not to do that?” I will ask him.

“Yes,” he will say, upset. “But I thought it would turn out differently.”

“How did you think it would turn out exactly?”

“The way I wanted it to.”

My husband is just as bad at not listening. I can’t tell you how many times I have told him something and he’ll completely disregard my warning. Like when I clean out the fridge and put leftovers in the trash.

“You need to take the trash out,” I will tell him.

“I will,” he will say, annoyed at my request. He forgets, we go somewhere and come home to three guilty looking girls and a floor littered with what looks like a small landfill exploded.

“I bet that makes you want to say ‘I told you so,'” I told her.

It did. She loves to say it, too. She has a roundabout way of doing it, with her, “Well, I am not one to say this but if I were, I would be saying ‘I told you so’ about right now…”

She has a dance that goes with it that is even more annoying but she hasn’t broke either one of them out in a while.

Probably because she hasn’t had the opportunity to do so lately; if she is right, about anything, I am taking it with me to the grave.

“You know what’s worse, Mama?”

She couldn’t imagine. My mother has been on a soapbox for as long as I can remember, spouting off her outrage at injustices and unfairness, promoting what she feels is everyone’s inalienable rights, even when it is something as trivial as to which way the toilet paper needs to hang, so she found it hard to believe there was something worse than someone not listening.

“When someone asks you for advice and then doesn’t take it.”

“Who does that?” she shrieked.

To Mama’s horrors, I told her about people who were always sharing their issues and complaints, their problems, and when given sound, logical advice chose to forego it and not listen.

“That would really tick me off,” Mama said. “If someone asked me what to do and then didn’t listen to my advice that would really make me mad.”

Of course, she has pretty much stayed mad at me since I was four for that very reason, but she wasn’t thinking about this fact and I wasn’t going to bring it up.

“How do we get people to listen to us?” Mama wanted to know.

Good question, I thought.

Cole even admits he doesn’t listen and defends his right to do so.

Once, another student stole Cole’s $5 bill out of Cole’s desk at school.

Cole got his money back, but when the principal was asking him about the money, Cole admitted he had put it in his pocket and forgot to take it out.

“Mama told me to, but I didn’t listen to her,” he told the principal sincerely. “I should have listened.”

“Oh, but you’ll know to listen next time,” she replied.

“I doubt it. I probably won’t then, either,” was his honest reply.

He has even told me, “I sometimes occasionally listen to you, but not every day and not always and only halfway.”

At least I know someone is listening, even if the consistency is sporadic.

“You don’t listen to Nennie,” he said, looking up from his Minecraft game. “So don’t go judging me for doing the same thing you do.”

True, young grasshopper, I thought.

When Mama told me something, even when she was meaning to be helpful, it was irritating, condescending, pandering, as if I was too foolish to know what to do. Her frantic calls and text messages urging me, “It’s raining – don’t leave the house,” or, one that really annoys me is her, “Supposed to be really cold tonight – make sure you’re warm.”

Why that annoys me, I don’t know, but it makes me want to run around in freezing rain barefoot while wearing shorts and a tank top.

Maybe it is some sort of inner child raging and rebelling in all of us – resenting when someone is just meaning to help.

I was considering all this until I heard a crash. I had just told Cole not to leave his plate balanced on the arm of the couch, and what happened?

I sighed and got the dustpan and broom.

If only they’d listen.

But none of us ever do.