Mork Calling Orson

In an attempt to pull myself out of my writing slump, I recently re-read Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. There is a chapter called “The Ordinary and Extraordinary,” and in it Goldberg describes a trip she took to the Hopi land in Arizona to see the snake dances.  The snake dance festival is a ritual for the Hopi, and Goldberg describes the event as extraordinary….miraculous, even.

As I am reading this I am thinking: Ok….so there is a serious lack of Hopi dances in the suburbs of Philly.  So what do I write about?  Phoebe’s Friday afternoon tap and ballet?

But then Goldberg writes:

It’s not that we need to go to the Hopi mesas to see greatness; we need to view what we already have in a different way. If we see their lives and festivals as fantastic and our lives as ordinary, we come to writing with a sense of poverty.  We must remember that everything is ordinary and extraordinary.  It is our minds that either open or close.

I read this over and over, because I loved the idea of it – that something in my life could be seen as miraculous or extraordinary.

But I struggled with really believing it.

The truth is, ever since Phoebe started kindergarten I’ve been feeling a little…lost. Irrelevant. The what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life kind of feeling. I tried to fight it by being proactive. I committed myself to writing more, and volunteered to be Phoebe’s class mom.

But while I think about writing constantly, the actual act of writing seems to get lost somewhere between grocery shopping, laundry and car-line.

And as for the class mom gig – well, I suck at it.  I can barely organize events for my own two kids, much less 13 of them. This week I sent out an email to the other parents about the Valentine’s Day Ice Cream Social, and it took me two days. I re-read it ten times: checking and re-checking the email addresses, adding and deleting exclamation points.  How many smiley faces is too many?  It’s kindergarten, there should be smiley faces, right?  I am still recovering from dropping all the orange juice in the parking lot the morning of the Boo Breakfast. Right before I slammed the trunk of the car on Emma’s head.

My daily life as something extraordinary? Uh…I don’t think so. Except on the days I change the sheets on the top bunk bed. Completing that task without self-injury is nothing short of miraculous.

The minutia of motherhood aside, my inner writer was committed to the task of finding the extraordinary in my seemingly mundane life. But I needed a different angle, another point of entry, a different perspective. I needed to put myself in the shoes of a distant observer. But how?

I brainstormed:

I could pretend to be a stranger from another country, sent to observe a typical day in the life of an American stay at home mom…or better yet…

I could pretend to be an alien from another planet, sent to Earth to observe the behavior of an average, run-of-the-mill Earthling.

That’s a great idea!

Wait a minute…

That’s Mork and Mindy.

So I did what any wannabe writer committed to the art of procrastination would do: I downloaded the entire first season of Mork and Mindy.

I watched Mork and Mindy as a little kid, but all I remembered from it was Nanu-Nanu, Mork’s awesome striped vest, and Jonathan Winters hatching from an egg.



Mork was sent from the planet Ork to observe the emotional behavior of Earthlings. His mission was not to feel emotion, but observe emotion. But at the end of each episode, when Mork reports his weekly findings back to Orson (the leader of Ork), it becomes clear that Mork is not just watching life, he is living life. He becomes immersed in it. And he is super hot for Mindy.

Mork notices that Earthlings tend to immerse themselves in the business -and busyness- of life rather than life itself.  And what is life itself?

Virginia Woolf wrote about the  state of “non-being” that threatens to dominate our lives. We go through the motions of life, distracted, not fully present – embedded in “a kind of nondescript cotton wool.”

I spend a lot of time tangled up in the cotton wool. Why? Because so many things make me sad: dead leaves blowing in the wind, bare winter trees, most Johnny Cash songs, rain in January.  So I sit parked in car line glued to my phone rather than admire the statue of beautiful Mary standing outside my window, because Mary statues make me feel weepy (I’m not as loving as Mary! Mary would never drop the F-bomb in the Whole Foods Parking lot with Jesus in the car!). Also, I don’t want to be the Mom That Cries in Car Line.

But as Anne Lamott points out: “The bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief (or sadness, or loneliness) will give you.”

Life is determined to rid me of my black and white thinking.

For the last week or so, I have tried to become a Mork in my own life: innocent, observant and open to simply noticing. Some findings:

IMG_6079Ducks like to ice skate on frozen ponds.

IMG_6075Emma holds Phoebe’s hand when she thinks I am not looking.

IMG_6115Bare trees make room for pink skies.


Our shadow-selves have longer legs than Gisele Bundchen’s regular legs.


Maybe I am not as irrelevant as I thought.

Some of these extraordinarily ordinary moments made me a little weepy, but feelings of melancholy were overshadowed by intense gratitude. For just being alive. Being alive is an extraordinary thing. Even when you are dropping orange juice and giving your kid a concussion before school. Even when you feel lost or stuck or like a general waste of space, it helps to stop and look around. Because the world is trying to show you that you are exactly where you need to be.

This is Jessie, signing off, until next week. Or maybe until after the Valentine’s Day Ice Cream Social. Nanu, Nanu.







South To Drop Off, North To Pick Up: Adventures in Car Line

mr momIt’s the Great Parenting Challenge that no one tells you about: The Car Line.  A cross-section of parenting personalities condensed into a .3 mile auto-obstacle course. No matter how organized the system, even the most tightly run car line can go horribly wrong. Because there are people involved.

Let’s say you have never been in car line. You might say, “What’s the big deal? You are just picking up your kid at school.”  And then the rest of us would laugh at you. Not with you, but at you, maniacally, because car line makes you mad as a hatter.

With the school year coming to a close, here are a few of many examples -from my observations – of the “types” that make up this unique demographic:

The Competitor: The parent that treats car line like an army bootcamp. She arrives in car line at 2:30 – the bell doesn’t ring until 3 – so she can get “her spot” in the left lane.  She secretly makes her children do timed practice drills at home.  As she pulls up, fear registers on the faces of her children. They race to the door their crazy mother has climbed over the seat to open.  Bags are thrown in the car, children dragged in by their armpits. The older child chants: “GO! GO! BUCKLE! DOOR!” The younger child is crying: “Yelling scares people and it doesn’t work!” They pull away in silence, spent, sweating. The hands of the Competitor are bleeding.  Older child comments: “I think we shaved 2.4 seconds off our best time.”

little_miss_sunshine01Captain Compliance: The parent who thrives in a controlled environment but lacks street smarts. Always prepared, her bag is filled with wet wipes, bandaids, and Goldfish snack bags. Captain Compliance always follow the rules, but when the rules change, she is paralyzed. Scenario: A bus breaks down, but Captain Compliance won’t move, she’s a deer in headlights. Her face panicked, she mouths through the glass: But you’re not supposed to change lanes! A tornado could be barreling toward her car full throttle, but she will not move, because You are not supposed to exit your vehicle! Which brings us to….

The Hiney Honker: (aka. The Butt Beeper) The Hiney Honker is a subset of Captain Compliance. Despite the fact that her preschooler is incapable of entering the vehicle and securing a seat belt unassisted, the Hiney Honker will not exit the vehicle. Instead, she climbs over the back seat to buckle the child, and in the process honks the horn with her ass. She then freaks out, thinking she is in trouble: “Who is honking at me?? I’m following the rules!” Her 2nd grader, with a roll of the eyes, says, “Mom, that was you, you butt beeped again.” Ok…I might be the only person in this category. Speaking of honking, that brings us to…

The Taxi Driver: If the Taxi Driver is behind the Hiney Honker, all hell can break lose, because the Taxi Driver loves to lay on the horn and will reflexively honk back. To the Taxi Driver, car line is no different than rush hour in Manhattan. Typically male (but not always), the Taxi Driver has no patience for idleness and slow-moving people, even if the “people” are kindergartners or senior citizens. He consistently throws up his hands in disgust, mouthing the words, “Awwww, C’MON!” or “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS,” or “ARE YOU F*$#ING KIDDING ME?!” Note: Sometimes the taxi driver actually is a taxi driver. 


The Early Ejector: A close cousin to the Taxi Driver, the Early Ejector drops his child off at least 100 ft away from the designated drop-off zone. The Early Ejector’s schedule is of paramount importance, and he just doesn’t have the time for all the rules/safety nonsense. His attitude is: I need to BE somewhere, People.  While his kid bear crawls up a grassy embankment and rolls down the other side, landing directly in the line of traffic, the Early Ejector DOUBLE EJECTS by saying “I’m blowing this taco stand” and cuts through the right lane, over the orange cones, and speeds to freedom. Speaking of the orange cones…

Scan 19The Cone Dragger: (aka. The Curb Jumper).You know the orange cones that mark the zone of safety for your child? The cones that create THE LANES? Well, say goodbye to the left lane because the Cone Dragger just dragged it around the corner and left it by the baseball field. Always distracted, always on the phone, the Cone Dragger is a charmer, often feigning shock/innocence, as if the cone attached itself to his/her tire. He/She mouths “SORRY!!” to the irate traffic director without ever getting off the phone.

The Clown Car: This is the mom who is picking up for every house on her street. A line of kids pile in to the black hole that is her mini-van. Is there a mini-van that seats 13? She either lacks logistical planning or the ability to say no. She realizes she bit off more than she could chew when she leans in and says, “Oh Billy…do you still use a booster?” Yeah, like Billy is going to fess up to that, and risk being called Booster Billy for the entire summer.

The Lady’s Maid: The parent who forgot to dress their child at home and instead does it in car line.

The Smother Mother: You will see them at 3:00. They are going to school, not Afghanistan. No more kisses.

carline_ kiss and go

The Rearranger: The parents who feels carline is the appropriate time and place to examine the contents of her trunk. Even after the children have already exited the vehicle, the Rearranger can still be seen rolling up her yoga mat, moving her cold grocery items into her new insulated cooler bag from Trader Joes.  Oh, what’s this?  It’s Katie’s math book! “Katie! Wait!!” She turns around to the other cars, avoids eye contact, and holds up a finger, “Just one minute!” Which brings us to……

The Deserter: The Deserter is the curse of the car line. Not only does the Deserter break the cardinal law of car line -Don’t Leave The Vehicle – but then he/she NEVER RETURNS.  This triggers a reaction in every other car line personality: The Competitor is losing precious seconds off her time, Captain Compliance is stuck behind the Deserter’s vehicle but is paralyzed with fear (“Her flashers aren’t on! I can’t go around!”).  The Taxi Driver starts honking, the The Early Ejector can’t take this sh*t, he’s out of here, The Cone Dragger can’t hear his conference call, so he finds an alternate route, dragging the right lane with him. Pandemonium ensues.  Traffic backs up onto a major street. Fender benders occur, people are late for piano lessons, blood pressures rise, gas is wasted, the air is polluted with fuel and fury. Basically the car line Deserter messes with the entire ecosystem. The whole planet suffers.

True Confessions:  I am a Competitor/Captain Compliance.  My husband is the original Cone Dragger.  Which car line personality are you?