The Battle of the Light Switch

We are staying in a hotel room for a few days. The room is nominally a suite. When you first walk in the door, if you don’t turn sharply left, you’ll run into the little kitchenette: mini-fridge, microwave, sink, coffee maker. After turning left, you enter the main room. There’s a couch along the left wall, a small desk and windows along the next, and two queen beds on the third. The fourth wall has a little alcove and a TV. The alcove has a sink at the back, a closet to the right, and the bathroom (shower and toilet) to the left, with a door – making it the only true additional room in the suite.

This room has a quirk. There’s a motion sensor light for the bathroom. You might initially think that’s handy. Get up in the middle of the night, it’ll light up for you as you get close. But there’s a few problems with it.

First, in the hypothetical middle of the night scenario, if you are particularly considerate of your roommates, you might want to wait until you are in the bathroom with the door closed before turning on the light, so as not to disturb them. Can’t happen in this room.

The bigger problem has to do with where the sensor is located. It’s not in the bathroom. It’s out in the alcove, next to the bathroom door. The first morning, as I took my shower, which included a thorough leg shaving, the light went off. I waved my arm out of the shower, not yet knowing where the trigger was. That didn’t work. I actually had to open the door to get the light back on. Not all that convenient when there’s shampoo running down into your eyes.

Not only is the location a problem, but so is the sensitivity. We both rolled over at the same time early this morning. Guess what? Yep. The bathroom light flicked on. See, that closet door across from the bathroom? It’s mirrored. That’s why opening the bathroom door was enough to get the light back on during my shower despite the door opening in and being on the same wall as the light sensor – the mirror reflected the movement. Our bed is also across from the mirror. So as the light in the room became less than pitch black, it was able to reflect our movement on the bed and trip the light.

There is a button you can press to force the light off but that’s apparently only temporary. I pressed it last night so I didn’t have to wait for the timeout to get a dark room for sleeping in. That didn’t keep it from turning back on when we rolled over this morning.

The sensor looks a lot like the ones at work, which I know can be programmed by certain patterns of pushing the button, but I don’t know the programming and I’m not sure the hotel would appreciate my modifications.

I guess a little tape over the sensor at night might do the trick. Some duct tape? We are at Destination Imagination Global Finals after all. Or, wait, like all DI folks, I should probably revisit my solution for improvements. Maybe I should just shut the bathroom door at night. Then it can turn on and off all it wants and I can still sleep in the dark. And wake my family up before I shower so their movement can keep the light on for me in the morning. Maybe that’ll work.


The Middle Child

My kids may have all come from the same parents but they are certainly not cut from the same cloth. Some of this, I know, has to do with birth order, but not all. For example, Jane and Hal have quite a few similarities. They talk more in general than Daryl (although he’s not quiet by any means). They are also more expressive and show their love in more obvious and physical ways. They are also Daddy’s Kids.

Daryl is my Momma’s Boy. He’s also the most reserved. He’s more likely to keep his feelings and thoughts to himself. His hugs tend to be brief and almost embarrassed. He’s less likely to ask for help. He “needs” us less and, quite frankly, thinks about us less. As an example, when we dropped Daryl and Jane off to ride the bus to Tennessee for Destination Imagination Global Finals, Daryl took off. I mean, out of the car, onto the bus, out of site, no farewell, gotta go… I heard there’s wifi and plug-ins on there…

Jane, on the other hand, sought us out after claiming her seat and gave us long, endearing hugs, as if storing up all the mom-and-dad energy she’d need to get through the next few days. I had to hunt Daryl down on the bus and make him stop his video game prep long enough for me to mockingly scold him for not saying good-bye and then extract a hug from across the seat between us.

Throughout the week, he might look pleased to see me when our paths crossed, but usually he was just taking in the experience. There’d be time enough for mom later. When I’d ask him about stuff, he’d shrug and make non-committal kinds of responses. I couldn’t tell how excited he was about any of it. He just had a cool and confident air about him.

By the time we got to the last day, Jane was asking to spend time with us. Daryl was still blowing and going. The top ten finishes (usually more than ten teams because of ties) get recognized at the award ceremony. Daryl’s team made the top ten in their category. I was elated and tearful and I could barely wait to see my young man.

I stood eagerly at the top of the stairs to his section and watched his team wait for a chance to exit. When he made it to the top, I was rewarded with a true understanding of the depth of his emotions during that moment. I pulled him into a bear hug and he hugged me back fully. None of this single-arm, distracted stuff I normally get, but a full, heavy-body, can’t-get-enough body wrap. I thought I could hold him forever and he’d hold me back. Nothing existed in that moment but the two of us.

I get these hugs from Jane all the time. And fairly frequently from Hal too. I don’t want to belittle those experiences at all because they are incredibly special to me and I need them desperately. But Daryl so rarely lets us in. I know he cares but he rarely surrenders to the moment; he rarely lets it show. Yes, I was crying by the time I reluctantly released him so he could join his team who was now exiting the building.

Sometime after that, I saw some pictures the coaches had captured in the moments after they saw their team name on the JumboTron. One showed Daryl holding his head with both hands, overcome with excitement. In another, he’s facing the camera and his face is so full of unreserved joy that my heart burst when I saw it. No filter, no protection, no desire to look cool. Just raw, honest, open Daryl. Such a beautiful sight.

When I showed the picture to his big sister the next morning, I was rewarded with something else I rarely see: her deep love for him. Just looking at his smile in that picture made her break into her own unprotected, genuine smile of joy. She got it. She saw how precious that moment was for him and how rare it was for him to let it show. Any rough edges in their relationship were temporarily gone. She loved him and she loved that he had had that moment.

I am truly a blessed woman.

The Great Elevator Chase

We finished breakfast our last day in Knoxville after the Destination Imagination Global Finals closing ceremony. Hal was eager to return to the room – actually, he was probably just eager to return to the elevator buttons. It must have been heaven to be the only child at the hotel all week (the other two being at the dorms with their teams) and having no contest on who got to hit the buttons.

Jane was now with us, preferring to ride home in our company rather than on the bus. The three of us full-size folks headed down the hallway to the elevators. Someone was getting out so we stepped in. But Hal was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Hal?” I asked, suddenly unsure whether I’d seen him run off specifically down this hall or maybe some other direction.

“He’s on the third floor,” my husband responded confidently. This didn’t sit well with me but it seemed reasonably likely that Hal had decided to make the journey to our room on his own. I entered the elevator and rode to the third floor. Once there, I stayed in the elevator while my husband checked the hallway. No Hal.

“Ok, I’m going back down to the first floor,” I said, pressing the button. Just as my door was closing, I heard the other elevator door open and saw Hal dart out of it. I stopped my door from closing just in time and, probably not in a happy or relieved voice, asked, “Hal! Where were you?!”

I was confused on how he could have gotten in an elevator before us and arrived after. Or if he hadn’t been ahead of us, how he could have caught up that quickly. And I was annoyed at how close I had been to searching the bottom floor fruitlessly until (presumably) being called back to our room.

Hal was equally flustered. He was obviously upset with us, and my apparent unhappiness with him was simply too much. He didn’t quite cry but it was obvious he needed a hug. So I hugged him, assured him it was all ok, and eventually extracted the rest of the story from him.

He had, indeed, headed to the elevators ahead of us. And he had, indeed, secured an elevator and entered it. He attempted to hold if for his slowpoke family but the door began to close against his wishes. He then tried to push the button that would open the door, but he pushed the wrong button and the door completely closed.

That’s when we walked up and the other elevator happened to open and deposit a family onto the first floor. They walked away and we entered the elevator, discussing the possible whereabouts of Hal. As our door began to close, Hal had managed to get his elevator to return to the first floor (if it ever actually left, I wasn’t quite clear) and to open its door.

It opened in enough time for him to hear us getting on the other elevator. He didn’t have time to catch our attention nor join us, although he apparently tried. Fortunately, he’s a bright and resourceful young man, who quickly returned to his elevator and arrived at the third floor right behind us.

It was a comical moment. One that Hal and I were both able to enjoy immensely after the stress of unplanned separation was overcome.

One Shoe

We are participating in a joint garage sale with some other families from our Financial Peace University (Dave Ramsey) class.  I didn’t think we’d have too much stuff to sell but that’s before we made a trek into the attic late one night.

We haven’t added anything to the attic in probably a decade so I guess I thought there just wasn’t that much up there.  Boy was I wrong!  We found oodles and oodles of stuff – only some of which had been destroyed by nesting mice, other critters, and the passage of time.

It cracked us up to find a huge box labeled “Garage Sale”.  But the best find, by far, was the group of 3 or 4 tubs and boxes of Jane’s baby clothes.  Everything from tiny little newborn up through about 3T.  And some cute little shoes!

20140712_074959They were lined up so nicely at the bottom of the box, each with their match… except for that lone white Ked.  And here’s what I love about my kids.  Half joking, I held it up in the air and called out, “Who wants this shoe?!”

Quick as lightning, Daryl’s hand shot up in the air: “I do!”

This caused Jane to retire her own hand that was making a belated attempt to claim it.

As I handed it to my ten year old son, his face beamed and he said, “I’m going to paint it.  It’s going to be so cool!”

“I was going to plant a tree in it,” Jane said forlornly.

“Well, maybe you can plant the tree in it when he’s done painting it,” I said, thoroughly impressed that my kids were showing their Destination Imagination credentials by so quickly finding a use for a lone tiny baby shoe.


Made in China

One of my favorite skits at our Regional and State Destination Imagination (DI) competitions this year was by a team from our town. The characters in the skit were residents of an aquarium: a snail, a crab, some fish, some kelp, a plastic mermaid, and some other plastic object whose identity I don’t quite recall – just that it would express emotions and the others would remind her that she wasn’t real.

The plastic mermaid seemed to believe she was a Chinese philosopher and would make wise Confucious-like sayings. At one point, the other not-real object said, in an exasperated tone, “But you aren’t Chinese! We come from the same pet shop!” To which the mermaid replied, “Oh, yeah?! Tell that to my birth stamp!” She then thrust her arm out, clearly stamped “Made in China.” The audience loved it.

At Global Finals, I watched a Chinese team compete. The skit involved people in a submarine looking for something in the ocean. They finally found the treasure – a large vase, and brought it back on the sub. Someone noticed something written on the bottom. “Made in China!” they announced. Again, that audience died laughing.

I wondered as I laughed if this was the same group of Chinese teens I had encountered in the souvenir area earlier in the week. I was looking at DI-stamped USB bracelets and similar objects when the group walked up to the table. One of them picked up something from the table, showed it to the others, and then read “Made in China.” They all started laughing. I thought it was amusing at the time although I wonder now if it was indeed the submarine team, then perhaps they found it even funnier because of their skit.

And then shortly after I returned home, I listened to this story on NPR about a U.S. teacher held in a Chinese prison. He was being held on charges of theft. He was given a cup and a toothbrush and put in a racquetball court sized room with roughly thirty men. No beds, no chairs, no pillows, and most had no sheets. Most had to lay on their sides to fit in there. He stayed for 280 days, most if not all of that, before pleading guilty.

During the day, they sat in their underwear on the concrete floor and assembled Christmas lights. For upwards of 10 hours a day. One of the guards would sometimes use strands of lights to whip prisoners into working harder.

The story reminded us that while labor in prison is not unheard of, this was uncompensated forced labor for people who had not yet been convicted of anything. It made me sick.

We often joke about the prisoners or the young children who assembled some Made In China object we have. It’s become light-hearted and fun. A joke. As can be seen in the audience laughter at the two skits I mentioned above. I don’t know that I necessarily feel all that badly about laughing – the scenes were funny and well done. But the story coming so soon after those moments (I had already been thinking about blogging about them) sobered me considerably and changed the closing tone of this post.

I fear that when you are around something wrong enough and make light of it enough, it perhaps becomes too easy to brush aside its harsh reality. Unlike slavery and segregation in this country, which was easy to see, the problems of child labor and forced labor in places like China are so easy to ignore. They are far away. It’s easy to imagine that it doesn’t really happen. It’s just a story. Not real. It’s even easier to not think about it at all.

The Chinese people I met in Knoxville, TN that week were very nice and friendly. We stumbled through brief conversations in simple little phrases and hand gestures and smiles. I think such events are valuable and I cherished the opportunity. It troubles me though, to think we might get comfortable in those moments and then forget about what’s going on away from the spotlights.

I love Christmas lights. They are perhaps my favorite part of the decorations. But maybe this year, I’ll take the now freed prisoner’s advice and light candles instead. Assuming I haven’t shamefully forgotten by December.

Up and Down and In and Out

My boys have a rather strange obsession.  Actually, they have two obsessions, both related to hotel occupancy.  The first is the desire, no… the need, to push elevator buttons.  The second is to use the room key to open the door to our room.  Both were on fine display while we spent the week in Knoxville, TN for the Destination Imagination Global Finals.

They will fight to a rather ridiculous degree over who gets to do what and try to rush past each other to beat the other to the button.  Hal has even been known to burst into tears because his brother pushed the button.  Pushing it after it is already lit up is not satisfactory.  They each have to be the one that actuates the button.

My husband came up with a rather nifty compromise.  On the first day, he declared one the button pusher and the other the door opener.  He explained that they would alternate each day.

This worked for… oh, I don’t know… approximately half a day.  And then Hal couldn’t stand to let his brother push the button in the elevator.  He rushed in and pushed the button, apparently deciding that asking for forgiveness was better than permission.  As such, he was told that he would be performing neither activity for the rest of the day.  He was devastated, his brother quiet.

The fights baffled us.  I mean, it’s just a button.  The fights began to spill out to the crosswalks as well.  Sometimes we didn’t know whether to laugh or scream.  And then one day, we found ourselves alone in the elevator.

My mom and her boyfriend had taken the boys to the zoo.  After eating lunch with them, we returned to the hotel for some much needed down time.  We walked into the elevator and then both stood there silently. Eventually, he asked if I was going to push the button.  I startled and glanced at the panel, surprised that the button wasn’t already pushed.

I laughed at the stark difference the lack of children made.  Who was there to push the buttons?!

Watching a Movie with 10,000 of My Favorite People

This past week, we were in Knoxville, TN for Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals.  DI is a program that teaches creativity, problem solving, teamwork, and public performance to children.

On Friday night, they were premiering James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge 3-D documentary out in an open field.  They were targeting the right group of people.  The place was packed.  It was an interesting opportunity to observe human behavior, particularly when it comes to crowds.

We arrived about 30 minutes early to see a line disappearing out of sight.  We had come from a different direction and paused, wondering whether to walk to the end of that thick line or not.  We weren’t sure there was a safe place to stand as the line snaked down to a busy street.  We decided that maybe we’d just stand there and wait, not in line at all.

Plenty of other people were doing the same and still more were coming from the same direction as us.  Before long, a new line had branched off in the direction we had come from.  The leaders of this new line were sort of de facto merged into the existing line.  With the sheer number of people present, I didn’t find this to be a problem.  The new line was nearly as long as the original and there simply wasn’t room for all those people to trek past the first line to find its end.

A man in the original line, near the point of the merge, found it quite objectionable.  I caught his raised voice berating the family near him: “The line goes back there!  You need to go back there.  Fine.  Go ahead.  What a great example you are setting.”

I looked at the family, intrigued.  They weren’t moving to follow his orders and didn’t look particularly put out or embarrassed by his rant.  They just stood there.  On the one hand, he was technically right.  It wasn’t fair that they were closer to the gate than all those people farther back in the line.  On the other hand, there were already at least a hundred people lined up behind them.  For them to move would not resolve the man’s problem; it’d just change which people were benefiting from the split line.

When the gate finally opened, a woman started handing out pins to the kids.  As he walked by, he asked for one, actually, sort of demanded one.  She remarked with a wry, humorous rebuke, “Wow, you must be one of the University participants.  Your voice sure is low.”  He indignantly muttered he planned to give it away.  I couldn’t help but think that her non-confrontational rebuke of him had been considerably more effective than his attempted guilt trip of the others.  And also illustrated that any time we get up on our high horse, we are quite likely to be knocked off it.

We merged with the two lines shortly behind him but made it to the viewing area first, since he realized he had left his family behind and had to look for them.  We quickly grabbed seats on the edge of the front row of seats while people with blankets filled up the area in front of us.  It was a madhouse.  There had to be thousands of people there.

The people between us and the screen.

The people between us and the screen.

At first, there was a thin walkway between the ground sitters and us.  People walked through constantly.  The woman next to me began to get agitated.  “If they are going to do this through the entire movie, I’m going to have to move.  I can’t handle this,” she said.  “I’m sure they’ll stop when the movie starts,” I said.  I was frustrated too but her attitude was oddly calming to me.  She was being ridiculous and I didn’t need to join her.

She pulled her chair forward and crossed her legs, thinking it would discourage the traffic.  It did not.  Eventually, she gave up and joined her party on a blanket nearby.  Soon, a family with a towel plopped down in front of us.  (The number of hotel towels and blankets present was amusing).  People still walked by.  Then a group of girls sat down on a trash bag.  People still walked by.  Eventually, as I predicted, the traffic stopped as the movie started.  Some people still moved about but it was not particularly bothersome.

Before that, though, I saw a young boy, maybe 11 years old, plop down a chair next to ours.  He commented to us, gesturing toward the back, “I was all the way back there and couldn’t see a thing!”  He settled into his chair, pleased with himself.

I pointed to the large crowd of blanket sitters that he was now in front of.  “It’s going to be hard for them to see,” I said.  He looked back, disconcerted, and then moved his chair a little closer to ours.  Not my concern, I decided.

A woman and group of boys found themselves trapped in front of us and she asked if the vacated chair next to me was available.  I indicated it was.  She cried success and plopped two of the boys in it and then she and the other two inexplicably found space between us and the towel family.

After some introductory remarks and loud music, with everyone on their feet dancing and cheering, and a huge group selfie moment, we prepared to settle down for the movie.  A young girl was standing slightly in front of me, turning about.  She was looking increasingly worried as it became clear that the lights were about to go out and she was alone.  I could see in her face that coherent thought was gone, replaced rapidly with panic.

I reached for her arm to draw her toward me.  “Do you need some help?” I asked.  She nodded, apparently only needing that level of interaction to snap her back to reality.  She began moving toward the edge of the crowd where I saw a woman waving her arms over her head.  I pointed to the woman and the girl nodded.  Crisis averted.

The view behind us (note the woman with her fingers in her ears).

The view behind us (note the woman with her fingers in her ears).

The movie was loud.  I mean, extremely loud.  I watched much of it with my fingers in my ears.  I had seen how far back the crowd went though and resigned myself.  After all, if you sit in the front, you’ll see well but it’s going to have to be loud in order for the people in the back to hear at all.

A group off to the right was not so relaxed about it.  I eventually heard a hubbub over the movie volume.  People were standing and chanting “TOO LOUD!  TOO LOUD!” in an attempt to get it turned down.  I smiled at the attempt to mob control their problem.  I also smiled at the fact that they were thinking only of their own ears and not of those in the back.  I couldn’t help but think they should move if they didn’t like the volume.

Then the chair dragging child on our left started shouting at them to sit down.  This nearly had me laughing out loud.  Not only did he fail to see that one young boy could not possibly be heard over both the crowd’s chanting and the movie, nor that they were not directly impacting him at all, he primarily failed to see the irony of him trying to help the viewing angle of the people behind the standers while wholly unconcerned about the viewing of the people behind him.

As we approached the end of the movie, I wondered if some people would attempt to sneak out early to beat the traffic.  They did.  Not many but some.  The ones that cracked me up were the ones that stood, waiting for their group, blocking the view in the meantime before awkwardly squatting back down as they realized their group wasn’t ready.

All in all, it was an enjoyable movie.  And an enjoyable opportunity to sit back and watch people in a crowd.  My conclusion was that many people are inclined to get indignant when other people’s action negatively impact them while failing to notice neither 1) how their own actions impact others nor 2) how those people aren’t trying to be a bother.  For the most part, we are a remarkably self-centered lot, we are.