Thursday, July 20, 2017

19 Lessons from My Boys

My tenure as a parent can, generously, be called a continuing on the job training program. And after almost twenty years on the job, I can confidently say I'm still in an entry level position. There are many muted Etsy visual renderings of quotes celebrating that kids are the best teachers; though I am not 100% on board with the qualifier, I certainly have learned a lot from my boys. Here is a partial list:

Lessons from Boys
  1. Put your clothes anywhere, at some point someone will get annoyed enough to move them.
  2. If the dishwasher is closed, it must be off limits.
  3. If Mom's in the house, she's assuming the risk of servitude.
  4. At some point procrastination will obliterate duty.
  5. Baskets of clean clothes and baskets of dirty clothes are indistinguishable; so they must all be dirty.
  6. Lost items are never my fault.
  7. Most things are Mom's fault.
  8. Parents never answer their phones or text with with the immediacy dictated by current social norms.
  9. Parents' priorities are
    1. Kids
    2. Pets
    3. Chores
    4. Duty
    5. Hopes & Dreams(though this category is obviously a sum of the previous four)
  10. Guilt applied at the appropriate focal point of parental exhaustion can be fruitful.
  11. Parents must be trained to knock at all times
  12. Parents should be clothed at all times because knocking is for chumps...and parents.
  13. No matter what parents are in the middle of, it can wait.
  14. Saying 'Thank you." relaxes Mom more than wine.
  15. Admitting they were right comes at a cost, best not to do it at all.
  16. Doing a chore without being asked once a quarter buys you a lot of leeway.
  17. Apparently parents will love you no matter what.
  18. But they're still too clingy.
  19. Organic apple juice sucks.
It is true that actions speak louder than words, as most of the above lessons I have learned by observation of habits formed as a result of co-habitating. Many of these same lessons could be applied to any roommate set-up. These are the quick jokes. Here are the lessons that I keep learning:
  1. Be here, for no particular reason. It's just good to know.
  2. I'm never going to like chores.
  3. I'm never going to like homework
  4. Sometimes bravery looks the same as getting out of bed.
  5. Being a dick around you helps me avoid it elsewhere.
  6. Just feed me, it will solve 75% of my problems.
  7. Trust me.
  8. I heard you. What you said 37 times is somewhere in my head.
  9. I need you but don't want you to know that I need you; so, just know when I need you.
  10. Sometimes I'm gonna want to talk to Dad instead. I still love you.
  11. Sometimes I'm gonna need the dogs more than either of you.
  12. I do notice everything you do. The only reason I don't do it is because I don't care about it as much as you do right now.
  13. I don't want to be the reason you worry, that's why I don't tell you everything.
  14. Read my mind, like know when I need deodorant, but don't assume you know me.
  15. I want to feel in control too, that's why I pick fights.
  16. Making you really laugh, not fake "I 'm encouraging you" laugh, makes me feel grown up.
  17. Life lessons will be learned, you don't have to make an after-school special about it.
  18. Apparently parents will love you no matter what.
  19. Organic apple juice sucks
As my job training continues, I will keep trying to rise above cynicism, to Alan Turing their code, remember that learning requires failing and lay off the organic apple juice. Maybe one day I'll make it out of the mail room. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I Want You to Know Everything

Dear Boys,

I want you to know everything. Or at least everything that I know, which is far from everything, but it is more everything than you know, even though you're convinced you know everything.

1. It's okay to want something. Not stuff, but something that suddenly and momentarily reveals your meaning of life. Yes, there is danger in wanting something because:

     a. you might have to work for it
     b. you might not get it right away
     c. you might not get it at all

I promise you this, going for what you want and getting what you want will never look the way you thought, but the pursuit is oxygen and sustenance and defining. (This is basically my Oscar speech, which could still happen).

2. It's okay to give a shit about something(s). People. People and somethings. Yes, there is danger in giving a shit. Caring about stuff is a big old sloppy mess. It is thrilling, and panic-inducing, and gut-wrenching, and has the potential to beget great joy as well us ugly, snot pouring from your nose sobbing. Not caring is even more dangerous; easier for sure, but the risk of becoming a Cylon is too great. Remember the heart is a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. Don't settle for a flabby heart. Don't be a Cylon. Give a shit.

3. It's okay to fail. Not just okay, it's inevitable. You will fail. More than many times. Failure is not bad, it is just a universal truth. Don't fear it, be curious about it, welcome it, become friends with it. Suffice to say, how you embrace failure will determine your own unexpected path to what is possible next. I've already failed 34 different ways in writing this paragraph.

4. Bad things are going to happen. Most of them are beyond your control. For the ones that aren't, be a human being: own them, apologize for them, learn from them. Bad things happening will make you feel sucky to varying degrees from being kind of a bummer to the aforementioned snot pouring from your nose sobbing. It's okay to feel bad. It won't last forever, and when it doesn't, it's okay to feel good again. Han Solo is going to die, but two years later Episode VIII will be released.

5. It's okay to ask for help. It's imperative to ask for help. Not asking for help is not a sign of strength, it is stubbornness, and shyness, and fear of the truth being found out. You know, that truth that you don't know everything? Because you don't. Some people know more things than you. And you know more things than other people. Everybody needs help, but only the strong ones ask for it. Batman needs Alfred, Sherlock needs Watson, Jason Bourne needs....never mind.

6. Know your audience. Be who you are, but know your audience. They matter as much as you, and more so when they disagree with you. You are not perfect. That doesn't mean you're wrong, it just means that other people can be right too, and it is ok to allow yourself to be altered. Pay attention to Atticus Finch's advice and walk in another man's shoes.

7. Read To Kill a Mockingbird.

8. Keep laughing. Life is absurd. Take it seriously enough, but not too much. Most importantly, laugh at yourself. We are all ridiculous and lovely. Laugh with not at. And always remember, comedy comes in threes; I don't care about A's and B's, but do not violate the rule of threes.

9. It is not your responsibility to make people happy. Be the hand on their back, the shoulder for their tears, the listener they deserve, and the truth they need to hear. Let their happiness be their achievement.

10. Do what needs to be done, not just what's good enough. Not because it will get you fame and fortune but because that is the only way to live.

11. And now in rapid succession:

  • Do not get emotionally involved with other drivers
  • Put the seat down every time
  • Give someone a sincere compliment every day
  • Don't leave your whiskers in the sink
  • Never let your bank account get to zero
  • Be illogical sometimes
  • Go to a movie by yourself in the afternoon
  • Never swim in the ocean alone
  • Make your bed, you'll appreciate it it at bedtime
  • Don't be a loud eater
  • Let other people talk sometimes
  • It's ok to eat a donut
  • Try new things
  • Say excuse me every time you burp

12. I will always worry about you. Even when nothing is wrong, I will worry. It is never because I don't believe in you, it is because I give a shit about you. You are not responsible for my worry, that is my shiny medal to show off. It will make me say and do stupid things (reference 1-11 above). It is part of the privilege of love; and in its purest form, it is a true indicator that we are alive.

13. Appreciate the past, look forward to the future, but live in the moment.

14. This list will never be complete.

15. Never get rid of my VHS of the original Star Wars: A New Hope. I saved the best for last.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Candy Coating Not Guaranteed

This is not candy coated.
  1. Teenager #1 is stressed beyond proportion.
  2. Not willing to deal with that stress, he is channeling his panic into obsessing about getting a new car, or the fact that his face is drying out due to the three showers a day he takes, or which dog he wants to buy.
  3. Teenager # 2 is stressed beyond proportion.
  4. He has inherited my proclivity for Target therapy, and is, therefore, dealing with his stress by coming home with pointless crap and novelty underwear (the differentiation is important as novelty underwear is never pointless).
  5. Neither teenager wants to work on their problems.
  6. They refute every suggestion with the disdainful wisdom born of the certitude of their staggering years walking the earth.
  7. They are both in pain.
  8. I am certain I caused this.
  9. I am uncertain of everything else
It's not about me. It's NOT about ME. IT'S NOT ABOUT ME!

So I double down on the whole "trying my best" thing, much to Yoda's chagrin.

My anemic attempts to help them navigate include making a lot of egg and bacon sandwiches, saying unpopular things like "Maybe we should try talking to a professional," and "Just do 15 minutes of SAT prep," and "Let's start with moisturizer before we go to the dermatologist," and "Would you like another egg and bacon sandwich?"

Epic fail on all accounts.

It's like the universe is not even trying to make this easy at all. I mean, shit, we made people, what else do you want from us? Compassion, devotion, patience, wisdom, humility, strength, selflessness and no whining to boot? And when all that fails what next?

I am looking at the past twenty years of my life and fearing I have done so many things wrong and very few right. I know this is just me caught in the shit whirlpool that plagues us all from time to time. So, I am writing to you, dear reader or two, not for pity or reassurance, but simply to stand in front of you, shit covered, and let you know that if you are nose deep in it too, you are not alone. To shout from the rooftops once again, that this business of guiding another human being or two or more to live as fully as possible is harder than making a reliable pancake from scratch, crafting a workable health care act, or convincing that telemarketer that even $10 a month is impossible due to the amount of eggs and bacon I buy on a weekly basis.

I promise to try to cast off the shackles of shame in my own ineptitude and double down in the trenches with all of you to be the hand on your back, the breath you can't catch and the candy coating you sometimes find lacking.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I'm OK With Being Idiot

My assumption that I'm an idiot is absolute.

No, no, no. No naysaying please. And please put the eye rolling on hold for a minute.

Here is why I believe I am an idiot:

  1. I do not read voraciously
  2. My kids do not take all honors classes
  3. I watch more prime time than cable tv
  4. I often feel ill-equipped to have informed conversations with adults
  5. My children will not get massive scholarships to college
  6. I am easily swayed when someone tells me why I'm wrong about movies, music, books, and everything else
  7. I say yes too often so that people will not be disappointed or inconvenienced
  8. Besides knitting, I have no real idea what I'm good at
  9. The majority of my accomplishments have been fueled by an intense desire not to be discovered a fraud
  10. I am an optimist
  11. I think I'm an idiot
I have spent an embarrassing amount of my life doubting my value with less arrogance than Hamlet, less intelligence than Larry Sanders, and no where near the charm of any Emma Stone character.

Here is how believing I'm an idiot has lead me to discover value:
  1. I work my ass off lest I be discovered an idiot
Okay. Maybe that's not the best motivator, but it has certainly lead to some interesting outcomes.
  1. Because I work hard, I pick up a lot.
  2. Because I work hard people have come to rely on me.
  3. Because people rely on me, I get asked to do cool stuff.
  4. Knowing that I do not understand how to do cool stuff, I work hard so people won't fire me from doing cool stuff.
  5. Because I know that I'm an idiot I expect mistakes and do not fear them with the same intensity I used to.
  6. Because I have worked hard trying to learn how to do cool stuff, I have learned how to do some stuff.
  7. Because I know how to do some stuff now, I feel less like an idiot, until the next time I am asked to do new cool stuff.
  8. Because I keep doing this, my kids are hopefully learning that you do not have to know everything all the time (Though being teenagers, they assume they do know everything all the time, except when they don't, which is when I here them mumble-yell "Mom ?!)
  9. Because this works out more than it doesn't I have been able to stay an optimist.
  10. Because I am an optimist I believe that one day I will no longer feel like an idiot.
  11. Which only confirms the previous absolute that I am an idiot.
My assumption that I'm an idiot is, like any superpower, my greatest weakness and my greatest strength. It holds me back and propels me forward. It keeps me humble and strangely bold. It helps me relax and keeps me active. It forces me to be emotionally present by confronting my perceived inadequacies and asks me to remain endlessly curious to overcome my perceived inadequacies. It allows me to enjoy a cookie simply because it tastes good and is not a pathway to self-destruction.

Is this the healthiest way to walk through life? Probably not, but that could just be the idiot in me talking. The daily pressure from within and without to strive for perfection is omnipresent. It is an ideal that is personally subjective and unattainable because it will never be enough. Accepting less than perfection is an assumption of the presence of flaws; beautiful, unique, messy flaws. I would rather be uniquely flawed than impossibly and vulnerably perfect. 

And that is why I'm ok with being an Idiot.

Now you may resume eye rolling.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dread, Hope and Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker

I got my period on my 49th birthday. This filled me with dread and hope.

Dread because, enough already, I'm ready to not have my period anymore.

Hope because, hey, I'm still getting my period, that means I'm still on the young side of the hill.

Who's grossed out so far because I have now mentioned my period four times?

Well buckle in 'cause we're not done.

It is quite possible that this harbinger of my 49th birthday is a cliched Nicholas Sparks symbol of the passage of a life.

As a preteen, we young girls, for the most part, can't wait to get our periods. In hindsight, I'd like to call myself an idiot for this wish; but, at the time, I couldn't wait for what it heralded. All the excitement of young womanhood, make up, bras, proms, combs in my back pocket, Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker, to be taken seriously; this smorgasbord was promised on the other side of getting my period. Never mind the reality of rummaging around in the linen closet looking for what I was supposed to use, and not telling my mom, because she had never prepped me for this moment, so it was not a part of our mutual lexicon. Never mind any of that, I was on the cusp of womanhood.

Again, what an idiot.

The lesson quickly, if unconsciously learned, is that womanhood is complex. It comes with cramps, the need to think and pack your purse ahead of time, a 28 day reminder of a lifetime of responsibility and consequence, and the assumption that we can handle it and nobody wants to hear about it.

Then you hit the milestone of purchasing your first feminine hygiene product. As you walk up to the cash register, how you hope and pray that the clerk is a woman, and it almost never is. So you both act like it's no big deal as you fumble in your pre-packed purse for your wallet, all the while never making eye contact for fear of confirming what you both know: that you currently have your period, are about to get it, or are just a sucker for a good sale. You exit the store relieved that that moment is over and struck with the discovery that being an adult is not nearly as sexy as you imagined.

You meet your old friend at the drugstore a few years later when you buy your first pregnancy test, once again averting eye contact to avoid judgement, because you both know in that moment that you're hoping for a no on the stick. You are hoping beyond hope to be back the next day buying tampons and fumbling in your purse all over again.

Some years later, you greet your friend again at the cash register, this time making full on eye contact as you buy your second pregnancy test. He doesn't seem as excited as you about your hopes of becoming pregnant, but perhaps that is because he is still working the cash register at CVS after all these years.

Soon you don't even notice you're buying tampons with the gift card for your son's friend's 5th birthday and the Monistat triple pack because your husband never really just wants to give you a back rub. It's all just a matter of routine, like when you reach for a pen to endorse that check to deposit so your cable bill won't bounce and you grab that forgotten slightly crushed and weathered reminder of your womanhood instead. At this point you don't even feel like a person, much less a woman.

A few more years tick off and things start to get weird. Your trips to CVS become less predictable since things start happening more frequently and less frequently, and you go through a homeopathic phase, and your old friend at the cash register plays it cool because he never really knows what to expect. He remains neutral as you grow your hair out, and cut it short, and test the rarely successful waters of skinny jeans as you spar with time from your body's now sporadic reminders that though time is infinite yours is not.

And then on your 49th birthday, you plunk down a box of Tampax and a peanut butter Twix, take a deep breath, smile ambivalently and pay cash. Because you now live in the world of "of course."

  • Of course you got your period on your birthday. 
  • Of course life isn't always fair. 
  • Of course life is still possible. 
  • Of course change is the only constant
  • Of course 49 is no more significant than 48
  • Of course this poor guy still hasn't made manager (see of course number 2)
Being a woman is a burden and a privilege. It is complicated and rewarding. It is gross and routine. it is full of dread and hope. It is so much better than my Bonnie Bell fantasies. It requires a fortitude I often take for granted and do not celebrate because everyone assumes we can handle it and nobody wants to hear about it. 

In five days I will take part in the Women's March on Washington in Philadelphia. I cannot go to Washington because I have to work that night and I'm 49 now and get tired faster. I'm going because not only can I handle it but because it's time people heard about it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Will Not Let His Win Defeat Me

Eight years ago I was inspired by hope and shed tears of joyous astonishment.

Today I woke up with the headache that I fear will not go away for the next four years.

I join the many people who are looking for what to say to their children. How to explain the unexplainable. How to make sense of the how. How could someone of such questionable character be elected, someone who is the opposite of everything I am trying to raise them to value? The only answer I can find as the dust settles is that I will not let his win defeat me.

Though I am terrified, I will not act out of fear.
Though I am baffled, I will not resort to blame.
Though I feel shame, I will fight to find forgiveness.
Though I am offended, I will not succumb to bitterness.
Though I am disgusted, I will not forget my humanity.
Though I am heartbroken, I will still lead with my heart.
Though I am angry, I will not give in to cynicism.
Though I feel defeated, I will not submit to resignation.

I will disagree.
I will show up.
I will lean into the difficult.
I will be human and humane.
I will get off of the couch and down from my high horse.
I will focus on what I can do, dream and dare.

And I will do it with my friends by my side, optimism at full blast and some extra chocolate in my pocket.

And in the words of the great Lin Manuel Miranda:

Let's go.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Olive Garden vs. Ego

I'm not sure if I am too exhausted to live up to my potential or if, in fact, I am deluded about the scope of my potential and have, in fact, reached it. In which case, that should be a relief. Right? Job well done, time to head off to Happy Hour. But what if my potential is far less impressive than I originally assumed? What if my potential is the necessary adequate by which extraordinary is measured? What if I am Olive Garden?

Olive Garden's not bad. It's right there between Sbarro and Bertuccis. It's affordable. It can be found in Times Square. It's portions are generous, it's breadsticks addictive, its soup bottomless. There's usually a waiting list to get in. The first time people try it, they usually become instant fans. Olive Garden is a decent, serviceable, reliable choice.

But it's no Trattoria Eccellente Della Giornata with its tin ceiling, farmhouse tables, locally sourced food and made fresh daily crusty bread served with rosemary infused olive oil accented by a single drop of squid ink.

I find myself constantly at odds with two passionately peddled lifestyle theories:
  1. Follow your bliss
  2. Be happy where you are
To strive or to settle. Should I be happy to be Olive Garden or should I strive to have squid ink in my olive oil?

Let's begin this earth shattering query with an anecdote.

Occasionally my dad would show up at my bus stop and drive my sister and I to school, an unanticipated perk of divorce. As we got out of the car for another day of high school he would send us on our way by saying "Brilliance will be adequate." It was his charming wordsmithy way of telling us to work hard and that he believed in us. It planted the seed that perhaps brilliance was within our grasp. And I would finally like to take the time to say to him: thank you and no thank you.

At what point must I accept the truth that my reach exceeds my grasp? That my brilliance is not as brilliant as I thought? That my breadsticks are actually pretty generic. And how do I assuage the shame of not being brilliant?

By getting the fuck over myself.

Who cares if my breadsticks are critically acclaimed? Nobody but my inner Narcissus. My god, the time I've wasted pondering my own worth is an abomination. The reality is, that at which I've truly excelled has been that which has engaged my curiosity, and has driven me not to achievement and mastery but to simply know more about this particular wondrous breadstick of the moment. The comparative paradox the nature of labels of excellence presents is not so much incentive or validation nor is it a helpful way to order the universe into palatable and unpalatable breadsticks; it is an unwieldy motivator which clouds intention and sours achievement until there is no breadstick good enough, no olive oil inky enough, and no trattoria hip enough.

And let us not forget that even having the opportunity to follow one's bliss is an absurd privilege enjoyed by a lucky few. It is not a given that your bliss will pay your bills or help your kid with homework or a crappy 7th grade social hazing, or ease the pain of an ailing loved one, or cover the cost of your insurance deductible. Bliss must occasionally take a back seat to life.

If you are lucky enough in the wee small minutes of reflection afforded to you before you drift off to sleep, the question remains, which lifestyle theory to adopt? Both. Follow your bliss in the present moment fully and dimensionally until it leads you to the next moment with fascination rather than agenda. And if your bliss is more Olive Garden than Trattoria, more Sbarro than Olive Garden, more DiGiorno than Sbarro, than so be it and bravo. Your unique engagement with the world is not only good enough, it is vital because it has left its inky mark to engage the next diner which could lead to a result more brilliant than a single ego could possibly envision.

So if you'll excuse me now, I have an inexplicable craving for breadsticks.

Olive Garden out.