Tag Archives: self realization fellowship mt. washington

Sticky Fingered Youth

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for this blog.

The end of MJ’s naps hurt my ability to write. Spring break made everything worse. But the near-fatal blow came today. In the form of a pre-schooler. With a weakness for SLRs.

This morning, at one of L.A.’s most innocent, life-affirming, and wholesome events–the Easter egg hunt put on by Mt. Washington’s Self Realization Fellowship–my camera disappeared out of my bag. Stolen.

By a four-year-old boy.

Or so says my daughter, who apparently witnessed said event, although she failed to mention it until later, when I was frantically turning my diaper bag upside down searching for the missing object.

“I saw a little boy walk away with a silver camera. From your chair. Was that the one?” she asked, all blue eyes and insouciance.

“Uh, yes.” I worked hard to keep the exasperation out of my voice. “That would have been the one.”

She nodded gravely. “I saw it. He took it away.”

Shit. Really? And now what was I to do? There were approximately 200 possible “suspects” at said event. As I gazed around at them each one transformed, in my mind, from the innocent young lad they first seemed to be, to the sinister, Dickensian pickpocket they apparently were.

“I’m sure it was an accident,” said Mike. “It’ll show up.”

But it didn’t. Not after I re-scoured the area where we’d been sitting. Not after I asked the helpful woman in the yellow sari at the lost-and-found table if anyone had turned it in. Not at the face painting table, the temporary tattoo station, or the beading area. No camera. No apologetic parents with red faces. Nothing but a lot of sugared-up kids. And their parents taking pictures of them with their very unstolen cameras. Grrr.

There was a moment of hope. We were standing in a field covered with discarded plastic eggs. The age 3-5 hunt had just taken place. I had, momentarily, forgotten about my loss. I’d been lost, instead, in the enjoyment (and mild amazement) of watching scores of adorable kids descend on a field like locusts in sunhats.

Anyway, there we were, standing around, watching our kids rip open packages of sour-patch kids with their teeth, talking about how fetching it all was, when suddenly Myra-Jean lifted her arm, pointed her finger at a young lad nearby and said “That’s him!”

“Who?” I asked, crouching down to her level.

“The boy! The one who took your camera!”

I looked at the “perp” she had fingered. A tow-headed young man, probably four. He was running in and out of the lavender bushes, batting at foliage and ducking his head to look for unclaimed eggs. He appeared innocent enough. Kind of. But actually, there was something suspicious. A meanness around the lips. An entitlement. And his pocket. Was it bulging? Hard to tell.

Dubiously, I looked at Mike and the couple we’d been talking to. “What do I do?”

They laughed and shook their heads. There were several jokes. The phrase “J’accuse!” Nothing useful.

Sighing, I turned back to Myra-Jean. “Sweetie, I need to be certain. Are you sure?”

“Yes. I saw him take it.”

In the end I did nothing. Or almost nothing. I did walk up to a few groups of parents, the tow-head’s included, just to see if possibly any of them had spotted a stray Powershot. They hadn’t, of course. As for my imagined Willy Sutton, he was too busy hoarding eggs to worry about what anyone else was doing. Which made him even more of a criminal in my book. Each child was supposed to get only seven, for Pete’s sake. Where were the authorities?

Anyway. Without the camera it’s gonna be tough. Oh, I’ll buy another one, eventually. Used, on ebay. If you get an older model they can be quite cheap. But first I’ll wait a few days to see if I hear back from the sari lady. She did, after all, take my number. She seemed quite confident that someone could turn it in.

The Easter Bunny could also be real.

If he is, I hope he skimps heavily on a certain kid’s basket. Just kidding. Mostly.

The Same Mountain, Twice

I am that person, at the movies, who turns and glares murderously at the wrapper-crinkling schmuck in the row behind me. Or I was. Back when I got out.

I have a bit of an audio-sensitivity. Loud chewing, incessant small-dog barking, thunderous drumming in small, cacophonous rooms — these things make me homicidal. Or suicidal. Depending on the time of the month. And I think my daughter has inherited my noise issues. She, too, really likes her quiet.

So you can imagine that pre-school is a bit of an adjustment for both of us. With its 25 kids, three teachers, five parents (it’s a co-op), two chickens, ( a co-op near Mt. Washington), and one turtle, (OK, he’s pretty quiet), MJ’s school is many things, but serene is not among them. It’s kind of mayhem, in fact. Organized, certainly, but mayhem nonetheless. I think we’ll get used to it, but for now there are moments when I feel really overwhelmed. I can only imagine what MJ is going through. Sometimes I’m terrified that she hates it. That she thinks I have betrayed her by bringing her there. That I have broken some fundamental bond of trust by dragging her out from our “sacred stillness” into this wellspring of chaos. I know, totally melodramatic. They didn’t call me Sarah Bernhardt as a kid for nothing.

Still, there are times — at the lunch table, for example, when all around her are spilling water, yelling kids, flying food, squeezing bodies — when I feel terrible that I have brought her here. I want to burst into tears. At home, she eats in relative silence. This? It’s not dinner. It’s just a din.

But I know. I can’t do anything about the noisy, messy world she’s merging into. I get this.

I can, however, give her plenty of space and tranquility on the days we have a break from it.

So this morning — a non-school day — we went back up the hill to the Self Realization Fellowship. (After Target. Diapers, alas, still trump all spiritual needs.) For one hour, we walked the paths, poked at moss, put our fingers in waterfalls, listened to the hawks shriek, and smelled peach-colored roses. Of talking, we did very little. Although Myra-Jean did wax nostalgic about the last time we’d come:

“Remember, Mama? We had lots of creatures. I played with them by that fountain. We petted an orange cat.”

All true. It was five months ago, but felt, to me, like longer. We’d discovered a small, quiet courtyard framed in lilies and yucca trees. There was a wee pond, a friendly gardener deadheading flowers, and an elderly orange tabby rolling on the warm slate. Her name? Maybe Tiffany. MJ alternately chased her and played with the dozens of plastic animals she’d stowed in the diaper bag. It was a good afternoon, on a very good day. One of many.

MJ declared, now, that she wanted to see the cat again. We found the courtyard. It was the same as I remembered, but different, too: there were new coy in the pond, fewer ravens in the trees, and an entirely different set of flowers in bloom. The sweet, chained-off little bridge was still there. But no cat.

Finally we saw her, from a distance. She was down below, on a path marked “Private.” When we moved towards her she hobbled away. In seconds she was gone, around a bend, to a patch of sunlight out of our reach.

“I think,” I said, brushing hair from MJ’s eyes, “we’re not going to get to visit with the kitty this time.”

She looked at me with great disappointment.”Why, Mama?”

I shrugged and smiled wistfully. I started to say “Well, sweetie, you can’t step into the same river twice,” but realized that that would just lead to questions: “Why? Which river? Why do you step in it?” MJ is smart, but metaphors are still a bit lost on her.

Instead I simply said “It’s a different day, my love.”  And it was. Very different, indeed.

But also very good.



On the Mountaintop

This morning, knowing it would be warm outside, I decided to take MJ to the lush, shady gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the SRF is a spiritual organization whose world headquarters are at the top of Mt. Washington. I know nothing about their practices, but I do like the spot. It’s beautiful, well-tended, and open to the public. Moreover, I was looking forward to seeing it in its everyday state. We’ve only ever been there once — for their big Easter egg hunt, and on that day it was absolutely teeming with over-stimulated children, frazzled parents, and an extremely earnest Easter Bunny. OK, she didn’t teem. She was very serene. But the overall effect was the same.

On the subject of egg hunts: I have decided that they are, in general, a farce and a travesty. Oh, don’t worry. I’ll still take my daughter. I’m not going to stop her from attending just because I find these events stressful, disorienting, and fundamentally depressing. But let me say, for the record, that it is disturbing to watch a bunch of children descend on a verdant, open, prettily egg-strewn field and — like little two-legged locusts in sun hats — decimate it in seconds. Before having kids I imagined these hunts to be adorable, bucolic, leisurely affairs. Hah! Little did I know that they are over in thirty seconds, during which time your kid turns into someone you are ashamed to know. It goes one of two ways: either they become a ravenous, egg-hoarding glutton, who yells “mine!” while heartlessly shoving younger competitors aside, or they are a hapless wanderer, a dreamer, an egg-close-inspector, who ends up in tears because their basket is empty. Either way, one despairs. Until, that is, one’s husband tells one to “get over it” and one gets in the car to go home, tired, dehydrated, and sunburned. And thinking “me get over it? You get over it.”

But I digress.

Today the SRF was pristine, empty, and spectacularly eggless. The only persons there were its beaming, robe-clad residents, a couple of gardeners, and us. I’d like to say it was quiet, but as one of the gardeners was busy wielding a leaf blower like a Galahad with his Excalibur — protecting defenseless maidens everywhere from dried flora — I am unable to truthfully make such an assertion. It is amazing to me that no one has yet gone postal on a person with a leafblower. I will probably be the first. Only kidding. This is not an online advance confession, OK? Jeez. I would never do that here. That is totally a Facebook thing.

Anyway, in preparation for our sojourn to the garden, MJ had packed a whole basket of “creatures,” her  red blanket, and two books. We soon found a shaded spot near a waterfall and settled onto a bench, there to get cozy and enjoy the tranquility. MJ carefully stood each of her creatures up on her blanket, settled onto my lap, and we read.

It was lovely, especially once the gardener (and his accursed din) had gone. It really is a good spot. I wouldn’t say we left there self-realized, but we certainly did feel relaxed. I even smiled at the leaf-blower on the way out. Maybe I deserve a robe.