Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Present of Presence

It’s Christmas morning about 6:45. I’ve been up for about an hour, not because my kids woke up, just because, as mentioned in previous posts, I am a terrible sleeper. The Toll House pie is in the oven. The tree lights are on and the dog is in my lap (creating a challenging typing set-up to be sure). The house is so quiet.

It’s not a creepy quiet either. Usually I find ways to fill the quiet: radio, TV, having children. But this is a welcome quiet, a Christmas quiet. This is what I look forward to the most. The gifts, the laughter, the eating the parties the traditional viewing of Elf and Black Adder’s Christmas Carol, the frenzy of family are all wonderful. Truly wonderful and I look forward to all of them. But right now, in this living room that is clean enough, in this quiet that is syncopated only by my dog’s snoring, there is peace. And that peace is one of the markers of Christmas for me.

Over the years Christmas has evolved for me. As a child, it was all about cookies and presents and my brothers and sisters coming home for Christmas Eve. As a young adult, it was all about the parties I wasn’t invited to and the kicky outfits I always force-fed on the slightest of occasions. As a young mother it was all about making magic, at any cost, for my children, and keeping everyone as happy as possible which often resulted in achieving the ultimate goal of getting my kids to bed so I could enjoy Christmas. Now it has become moments of presence.

Yesterday I found Christmas in the Acme parking lot as I walked back to my car with replenished supplies to give that new dessert a second less disastrous try when a young Acme cart retriever smiled so genuinely it melted the cynicism of my just forming flip and snarky quips about last minute grocery shoppers. And she wished me a Merry Christmas that felt truer than any I’d ever heard.

I found Christmas as Husband and I took the very grateful dog for an extra long walk and, as we made our way home, witnessed flurries in the air. Not a white Christmas in the blanket of snow sense, but it snowed on Christmas Eve. We were in a 1930’s movie with soft filtered lighting and all the promise of promise before us.

I found Christmas at the caroling party two days ago when an eleventh grade boy (not my own) sat down to play the piano because none of the adults could and sang when none of the adults would.

I found Christmas in the late night request from Teenager #1 for some warmed up Chinese food. He may not have stayed at the table when we ate it earlier because, on a practical level, he was not hungry. He may have played way too much Team Fortress II yesterday. He may not have wrapped a single present. But as I left his room after bringing him his food, he said thank you without being asked, and when I said I love you, he smiled as if he really felt it was true.

The Grinch is a visionary, the movies are true, the gloriously corny books get it right every time. Christmas isn’t in a box, it’s not marked by the perfectly prepared meal, it is not the authentic overjoyed reaction when they open that gift you know they’ll love. It is the art of appreciating all of this, of enjoying the moment whatever the moment is (and sometimes the moment is messy). It is the present of presence.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Why Star Trek is like Real Life

For most of my life I have believed that logic is a universal constant, which means that, once again, for most of my life I have been wrong. According to Merriam Webster logic is “a proper or reasonable way of thinking about or understanding something.” Since the essence of proper, reason, thinking and understanding are far from universal or constant, it stands to reason (or does it?) that logic is subjective and mercurial.

My proof? My family.

To me logic is:

            Putting dirty clothes in the hamper
Eating at regularly scheduled times

Knowing that when the gas gauge is on empty, it really means there’s a quarter of a tank left

Meeting deadlines

Getting work done first so play time can be emotionally unfettered

Eating dinner to get to dessert

To my husband logic is:

Categorizing dirty clothes into “still wearable and therefore draped over whatever is convenient” and “full on dirty and therefore on the floor right next to the hamper”

Eating only after he has saved the world, usually around 4:00pm.

Driving to Jersey to fill the gas tank

Creating work to do so he can deserve play

Leaving cereal residue un-rinsed in a bowl, one can only assume as a service to science

To Teenager 1 logic is

Putting dirty clothes wherever he happens to take them off, which, tonight, included the living room and the kitchen.

Eating constantly or not at all, and blaming me regardless

Providing the world with natural gas on a regular basis in the car with the windows rolled up.

Seeing deadlines as an option

Playing first and working as little as possible

Eating Chinese mustard with a hint of eggroll

To Teenager 2 logic is

Putting dirty clothes in clean clothes’ basket that he never bothered to put in his drawers thus keeping Maytag in business indefinitely

Eating cereal, pizza and Entenmanns' cinnamon rolls with a full on expectation that he will live past 17

Doing an impersonation of Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory to remind me that the gas gauge is on empty.

Hating deadlines and losing sleep over meeting them

Playing & working in possibly the most balanced manner of the whole family

Being able to pick any Hobbit dwarf, his beard and his weapon out of a line-up

Logic, common sense, reason; these are all coping mechanisms we employ to make it through the day. Life is chaos, and, as order-seeking beings, we strive to make order out of chaos. And since we all have our own chaos depending on which side of the bed we woke up on and how many pairs of underwear we tripped over on the way to the bathroom where the top is off the toothpaste tube, the seat is up and a History paper is drying on the towel rack, our logic adapts to our surroundings in all its Darwinian glory.

So what’s logical to Spock is not always logical to Kirk, which is why they’re such good friends…and why they drive each other crazy. And that is why Star Trek is just like real life.

And that last statement came from a Star Wars fan. Find the logic in that.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

I'm Thankful for Nathan Fillion

It seems like I should write about what I’m thankful for. Of course there’s the obvious, and true ones, my family, good health, democracy; but those are just the PC, cute little stocking stuffer book answers you find at the checkout line in Barnes & Noble. What am I truly thankful for? I don’t know.

I‘m mostly thankful for little things.

I’m thankful for Castle on Monday nights and in TNT reruns, because, you know, Nathan Fillion.

I’m thankful for knitting, even though my son tells me it makes me look old.

I’m thankful for the Gap Outlet, because sometimes buying a cheap cardigan in a frivolous color actually does make the day better.

I’m thankful for almost any chocolate chip cookie.

I’m thankful for Rhys Bowen’s “Her Royal Spyness” mystery series, because it’s silly and fun counts as reading.

I’m thankful for a movie matinee on a weekday because it feels like I’m getting away with something.

This is only part of my Maria Von Trapp list. And yet it feels like it’s not enough. Like I am missing the bigger picture, or, more likely, avoiding it. I know I am blessed, and the moments when that becomes apparent are often little too, and always unexpected. And I am thankful for those moments beyond expression. They don’t always coincide with a prescribed day of thanksgiving; they often happen on the most ordinary of days, and their sustenance is more filling than mashed potatoes and is rarely accompanied by caloric guilt or the desire to take a nap.

And then those moments pass and I get hungry again, and life’s table sometimes serves cream chipped beef on toast. So yes, I am thankful for my Castle, and my cookies and my cardigans because they are sometimes the turkey and stuffing that get me through the other days; not necessarily bad or good, just those days of undefined significance.

So thank you Nathan Fillion for being my pumpkin pie on those every-day days.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wake Up!

Waking up in the morning; honestly, the difficulty eludes me. I seem to be in a minority about this however. It started before having kids when my husband’s alarm would go off and he would press the snooze repeatedly until the alarm simply stopped trying. This usually took 90 minutes. That’s an alarm sounding every 9 minutes for as long as it took him to muster the strength and motivation to push the snooze button. Until finally he would get up with just enough time to get ready for work and sprint to the train, jumping on just as it was pulling out of the station.

And now my children: Teenager #1 has inherited my husband’s practice of waking up, but with none of his urgency. Teenager #2 has inherited my ability to wake up with plenty of time to spare, but with a touch of superiority, which usually comes out in the car while I am driving at breakneck speed to get to school on time, and, as you can imagine, rarely goes over well.

I am still baffled by the complexity made of what is perhaps one of the simplest decisions we have to make all day, getting out of bed. On the simplest level it is just a matter of practicality and logic: I need this much time to get ready in order to be out the door and to where I need to go by this other time. But, of course nothing is as simple as it seems. Waking up is not merely a physical reality it is the first and most important move in the game of Starting Your Day, some might say the most addictive and perplexing game Milton Bradley never invented.

The object: Negotiate the challenges of the morning and make it to the car before the countdown clock goes off.

Set-up: Each player places an alarm clock within arm’s distance of their side of the bed. One player of a parental nature picks the time to be out of the house. Each player goes to bed and the game begins.

To sleep or not to sleep: There are two paths “To sleep” or “Not to sleep.” The path you choose is determined by a roll of the dice. The dice is an eight-sided die each side marked by one of the following:

Incomplete work
Relationship crisis
Unpaid bills
What is that ache
All caught up
Just finished that book
Feeling loved
Looking good

What side you land on determines your opening path. Once everyone’s opening path is chosen, the alarms go off and the countdown clock begins.

Snooze Crossroads: The two paths intersect throughout the playing board. These intersections are called “Snooze Crossroads.” You must stop at each intersection and choose which path you will continue on. After three consecutive Snooze choices you must head directly to “You Snooze You Lose Falls” and remain there for two full turns before returning to the game.

Challenge Cards: when you land on a challenge card spot, you must pick a card. Examples of Challenge cards are:

            Performance review: go back two spaces and change your outfit
Major Chapter exam: go directly to panic attack whirlpool and freak out

Old Mother Hubbard: Your cupboards are bare, deduct 15 minutes from countdown clock to stop at Dunkin Donuts.

Shower Wars: If you reach the Shower Wars space on your own, you may proceed with the game as normal. If, however, you land on this space at the same time as another player, you must participate in “Shower Wars.” For this you spin the Shower wheel whose choices consist of:
            No hot water
            No more soap
            Soap in your eyes
            Oops I forgot a towel
            Falls asleep in the shower
            Shower complete

Once you spin shower complete, you may move on, anything else causes you to lose a turn.

What Should I Wear: When you reach this space you must undergo a 30 second challenge to find an outfit. You are dealt three cards. You are trying to get one shirt card, one pants/skirt card, and one shoes card. If you get all three in 30 seconds you may proceed. You have 30 seconds to continue picking cards until you get all three. Other cards include:

            Dirty laundry
            Left it in the car
            No matching socks
            Sweat stains too prominent
            You chose a dress and boots-proceed to next space
            You laid out your clothes the night before- skip two spaces.

You must remain on this space until you complete this challenge, regardless of how many turns it takes.

Breakfast Relay: when you’ve completed all necessary challenges you arrive at the final challenge “The Breakfast Relay.” If you are the first to arrive and there is still time on your countdown clock, you may go to “Hot Breakfast Buffet” and take several turns to choose a breakfast and sides. If you arrive second, third, etc, you must join forces in the breakfast relays. This is a physical challenge involving breakable dishware, a full gallon of milk, a mercurial toaster, hot coffee, only one serving of healthy tasteless cereal, and a confined space(all included in game). You and the other players must complete this challenge together. Whoever makes the least mess with time left on the countdown clock may proceed directly to the front seat of the victory car. The loser must clean up the mess and share the backseat with piles of backpacks, and a crying baby.

Winning the Game: There can be more than one winner in the game. You win by making it to the car before the countdown clock goes off. If you do not make it to the car before the clock goes off, you earn 5 stress points for your next game the following morning. Stress points are cumulative and can only be decreased by earning common sense points throughout the game. Common sense points can be earned at “Snooze Crossroads”, setting your alarm clock ten minutes earlier at the start of the game, and for “Sucking it up” at the “Everybody’s Tired” complaint station.

Starting Your Day is not a game you buy to enjoy. It is a game reality hands you to master or fall victim to. I’m not saying it’s an easy game, but I guarantee it is less complicated than Monopoly.

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Use Your Words"

So for the second time in the course of his adolescence my son sent me a text telling me to fuck off. This is upsetting not because of what he said but because he misspelled ‘off’ both times. He left off the second ‘f’ which kind of dilutes the impact and quite frankly the meaning of the insult. ‘Fuck of’ really just sounds like the beginning of the punch line for a dirty Irish joke.

Oh wait a minute…you thought I’d be more upset by what he said. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t thrilled about it. And, if I’m honest, I judged him a little bit, just as you are doing right now. “What kind of a son says that to his mother?” Unfortunately, probably a lot more than we’d all like to admit. And rest assured, there were consequences; I am not so cavalier or so far in denial as to not see the extremity of the moment. But when you come right down to it, he did use his words, like we’ve been telling them all to do for so many years. Not my favorite words; there were definitely more polite and respectful ways of communicating his sentiment at that moment, but few more succinct.

I was shocked (less shocked than the first time it happened), I doubted my parenting, I feared for his future, I sobbed by myself in the living room when no one else was home. And then I remembered, he is a teenager. And sometimes teenagers can be assholes, because being a teenager sucks. So I tried to remember a few things:

How lonely I felt.

How much I wanted everyone to like me, but I was too shy to let anyone see why they should.

How bad it felt to get in trouble.

How bad it felt to get a low grade on a test or a paper or a report card.

How my parents were suddenly strangers and the last people I wanted to talk to.

How hard I tried to look pretty or cool or awesome.

How stupid I felt most of the time.

How nobody understood me.

How badly I wanted a boyfriend.

How badly I just wanted it to be the future already.

I tried to remember all of that. And that helped but it wasn’t good enough, because he’s not me. There are other rocks in his Sisyphean backpack. So then I had to…

Imagine if all I had to do was login and scroll down to see how much more fun everyone else was having.

Imagine if I had to focus on a test while the girl sitting next to me is wearing tights that count as pants because they’re called “leggings.”

Imagine if I had to start up a non-profit by the time I’m a junior if I hope to get into college.

Imagine if I had to have a tutor when other people seemed to be fine without one.

Imagine if there were 3000 channels on TV, plus Youtube, plus vines to distract me from homework rather than 3 major networks, 2 syndicated channels and PBS.

Imagine if I felt all the teachers hated me because I wasn’t good at the things they wanted me to be good at.

Imagine if no matter how adults spin it or positively couch it, I know there is something wrong with me; I feel wrong…almost all the time.

I had to remember how hard it was for me, and then imagine how much harder it is for him before I assumed I had all the answers. I do not have many answers. I do know that saying ‘Fuck off’ is not okay, that is something I can handle. And when it happens again I will:

a)    Try to remember and imagine before I assume the worst.
b)    Point him to a dictionary if it is misspelled again.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Burping, Farting and Virginia Woolf

Okay, burping and farting. I’m not gonna lie, it happens a lot in my house. I’m not a prude about it; I really don’t have that luxury because I live with three guys. So, it happens, and I can tolerate it to a point, but when it becomes so commonplace that the occurrence warrants no vestige of common proprietary remorse, but instead a disproportionate display of pride, that’s when I wish I had my own apartment. Yes Virginia Woolf, a room of my own; except in my case it would be a quaint one-bedroom apartment with vintage appeal and all new appliances.

And in this apartment there would be order. There would not be sweaty socks and sports clothes on the living room floor or wedged between the sofa cushions. The only shoes I would trip on would be my kicky pumps, which were a steal at DSW. I wouldn’t find dirty dishes in odd places like under the bed or behind the radiator. I could watch whatever I want on TV whenever I want. Everyone who lives there would love whatever I made for dinner. I could have flowered sheets on the bed, and lots of funky yet homey pillows that don’t get tossed to the floor and swept under the bed into a morass of dust woodland creatures. The bathroom would not have tufts of shaving cream lingering dangerously close to my toothbrush. The house would smell like the ocean and not a heady mix of ass, Axe body spray, and Chef Boyardee Mini ravioli. It would be an oasis of comfort, quirkiness, girliness and serenity.

I know you think I wish I was single. I don’t. I love my smelly, gassy, messy guys. I just don’t want to live with them all the time. I just want a little Mary Tyler Moore Haven(we’re talking her first cozy personality-driven apartment, not the clinical neutrality of the second) that I can retreat to and pretend life is uncomplicated, neater and smells better.

Yes Virginia Woolf, I need a room of my own, but not for the lofty reasons you originally implied. And, in fact my impressive literary reference is based purely on a cursory understanding acquired through conversations I had no right to be a part of since I’ve never actually read your book.  My need for fulfillment is not to enrich my soul and strengthen my independent voice, it is in fact to selfishly reacquaint myself with peace and quiet and leave all references to Middle Earth, the latest Vine Video and an encyclopedic knowledge of all things football behind in a noxious cloud of burps farts and the general male musk of territorial entitlement.

I do not need this. I do, however, want it. Badly. The allure of being in charge of my own schedule, life, and general environmental aroma in the midst of the beloved and wretched chaos that is a family. Until such a time exists I will find a room of my own wherever I can; in doing a crossword puzzle on the porch before everyone's up, in a glass of wine accented by cheese and bread whilst they feast on fried chicken, french fries, and Orange Crush, in a late night viewing of Sense & Sensibility on the rare occasion when they are all out of the house at the same time. And then I will metaphorically return home refreshed, balanced, and ready for anything for at least a moment until the silence is pierced by the next burp or fart, or that unique symphonic confluence of both happening at the same time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Road Not Taken Isn't Always Paved

I do most things wrong. And I don’t really live in a world of right or wrong. But, empirically, I have made the wrong choice time and time again.

Upon graduating from Northwestern with a theatre degree and then an advanced degree from a prestigious London acting school instead of moving to New York or LA or even Chicago, I went to San Francisco. Why? Simply because I wanted to live there. It was not, in the early 1990s, a teeming metropolis of theatrical activity, but that is where I chose to start my career.

I did eventually make it to Los Angeles to work on a two-woman show with a college friend. When that was over I had a decision: stay in LA and do the LA thing, or move back home to Philly and save some money to move back to Chicago. Guess which one I chose? Fast forward 21 years and my college friend, Ana Gasteyer, who did the LA thing, has gone on to conquer Saturday Night Live, the Broadway show Wicked and continues to tear it up in TV and Movies. Me, I’m still in Philly.

As my “professional” life evolved I chose to specialize in improvisation, which I love and maintain will save the world one day. Now, you’ll notice that I put “professional” in quotation marks. Why? Because by and large, to be a professional means you get paid. And, by and large, to be an improviser means you do not. So yes, I have dedicated my life to an art-form that is “by and large” a volunteer job.

I chose to have children, and we all know how that one’s going.

I chose to marry a lawyer who chose to work for the city, which chooses to make fiscal decisions that prevent even cost of living raises for its employees.

I choose to go to the Acme instead of Whole Foods time and time again

I choose to eat more than one chocolate chip cookie a day.

I choose to knit over cleaning my house or feeding my ambitions.

I choose to read books that I’m embarrassed to recommend to friends because they are on the best-seller list instead of the Pulitzer Prize list.

I choose to feed my kids food with preservatives because they are cheaper and I work for free and my husband works for Philly(which is almost the same thing).

I choose to feel sorry for myself more than I let on.

I often choose ignorance over enlightenment because, quite frankly, I’m tired.

So, by most logic-minded, credential building, agenda-adhering, survival of the fittest humans I have made the wrong choice over and over again. And the thing is, when I made and continue to make most of these choices, logic rarely plays a part (except with the Acme, because Whole Foods really is over-priced). Most of these choices were made because I felt there was no other choice.  Wait a minute. I mean no better choice. On paper most of these choices look wrong, but at every step I chose what felt right.

As a result, I’ve gotten to do a lot of really kick-ass things. I’ve made some remarkable friends. I’ve discovered strength, resolve and vulnerability I never knew I possessed. And yes, I’ve mourned the things I will never get a chance to do.

I often say to whomever will listen (so not my kids then) that we choose the lives we have, the good and the bad. Circumstance and surprise are realities, how we react to them is still our choice, whether intentional or instinctual. They are not always easy; they often lead to the bumpy path not taken; but they are the choices that we can live with, that we are ultimately proud of, and which, by and large, define who we are.

And still there are those days when everything feels wrong, and I often wonder what would have happened if I made that choice instead of this. And then Captain Regret comes knocking. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I invite him in and we have cookies together. But then I choose not to let him stay in my guest room and leave his wet towels on the floor. I bid him a good day and get on with the next choice, which usually involves whether to work out or not.  And you can surely guess which way that one goes.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hot Pink Bra Day

Some days are hot pink bra days.

Not for the reasons you may think. Really has nothing to do with being sexy. That pipe dream’s expiration date has long been up.  No, it’s literally about holding me together for the day, not just any day, but those days when you’re not quite sure you’ll make it through. It’s my fall back when meditation and daily affirmations and pithy Facebook memes and cupcakes don’t work. And when I’ve used up my needy friend frequent venting card. That’s when it’s time to pull out the old Calvin Klein hot pink bra to give me that extra boost, so to speak. 

And nobody needs to know. My strap doesn’t have to accidentally on purpose peek out for someone to notice and be impressed or repulsed. As a matter of fact it’s better if they never know. Better if I can just walk around with this secret. Sometimes I’ll even forget and then remember and smile because I know there’s a part of me that’s fabulous. I may have run out of time to make my kids a decent breakfast, I may have nothing interesting to contribute in that meeting, I might have an uninspiring day in front of the classroom, I might say exactly the wrong thing in trying to get my kids to do their homework or expand their horizons beyond the latest screen that has changed their life for the next five minutes, I might fail to really listen to husband, or accidentally step on the dog’s tail, I might lose my touch in every aspect of my life, but….I have on a hot pink bra.

There is still something fabulous about me. Some part of me that made a bold choice in the face of a day that seems insurmountable from moment one. Not because anything particular dramatic was going to happen, but because so many little things form alliances to test my patience, challenge my long held conviction of my own fortitude, and wink their eyes knowingly at my fantasy that I’ve got it all figured out. When I feel beaten down, I remember the hot pink bra and suddenly my bracelets repel bullets and I can kick ass for another moment.

And of course it doesn’t have to be a hot pink bra. It could be outstanding boots, a good hair day, or a tiara, whatever it takes. Because sometimes the simple act of going through a day is the most courageous and daunting thing we do and hot pink bra is the Agent Coulson to my Avengers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sweet 16

16 years ago today I became a mother.

I know you’re waiting for the “And it was the best decision I ever made” blog post. This isn’t it.

When my husband and I decided to have a child, it wasn’t some epic moment of thoughtful and philosophical consideration of the impact of this decision on the world at large, it just felt right. We both wanted a child. Talk about arrogant and selfish. I want a child. Like, “I want a pony,” or “I want a convertible.” The entire phrase begins selfishly. “I want…” Well, you better get over that pretty quickly, because “I” won’t factor into much more after the APGAR test.

From that moment on it becomes about them and you are white water rafting. There are patches of chill smooth water where you never thought you could be this content and purely happy. But, let’s face it, that’s not usually why people go white water rafting. So, when the rapids hit, you trust your training will kick in and you’ll row together and know which waves to head into and which ones to ride over. And then while you’re enjoying your victory lap you round the corner and you’re in The River Wild, without Meryl Streep.

And your heart beats faster and you scream and swear and cry and try not to vomit. And remember, you booked this vacation, because you wanted to have a child. That’s right, we’re not in metaphor anymore.

So far the first 16 years of this raft ride has been relentless and exhilarating, shocking, gratifying, depressing, scary, tense, exhausting, thrilling, eye-opening, and the hardest and best thing I’ve done. And I’m not gonna lie or sugar coat it, there are times when I wish I hadn’t booked this vacation. They don’t last long, but I’m not going to Pollyanna this. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my kids, it simply means I’m not sure of myself.

That being said, it has also shown me myself. I’d still love a pony and a convertible, but I will give it all up for my kids. There are many things I will never experience in life (actual white water rafting is probably one of them). I will never be an accomplished actress or writer. I will never be 130lbs again. I will never be able to walk into a store and pay full price for a pair of shoes. I will never be a perfect mother, ever. But I will literally do anything for my kids. Including failing and getting up tomorrow and trying all over again.

I had no idea what I was getting into 16 years ago. I have no idea what the next 16 years holds. All I do know is that I still have to figure out what’s for dinner, check homework before bed, and put my life jacket on again tomorrow.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Poisoned By My Metaphorical Claude Rains

Have you ever seen that movie Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman? If not, you should, it’s a great movie. I won’t go into the whole thing, but towards the end, when Claude Rains finds out his wife, Ingrid, is actually an undercover spy sent to get info on his Nazi friends, he is told to kill her by slowly poisoning her over time so it looks like she just has some weird withering disease, until Cary Grant, who’s been denying his love for her comes, in all his smoldering spy glory, and carries her out the front door as Claude is judged harshly by his fellow Nazis.

I feel a little like Ingrid Bergman.

Let me explain.

I have always been an optimist; a glass half full, believe people’s motives are pure, lemonade out of lemons optimist.  Recently, however, I have felt a withering away, a tarnishing of my rose colored glasses, if you will, which has even made me toy with changing the title of my autobiography from “Mary had a Little Laugh” to “Death of an Optimist.”

In full disclosure, I do come from a split family; my dad is an optimist, my mother a pessimist. So there is a genetic pre-disposition for either. But let me be clear, I am not talking about being sad or even feeling sorry for myself. No I just find that I am slowly letting go of or lowering my expectations for hope and am settling into a Switzerlandish state of neutrality.

I realize it is an intricate internal security system that I have installed in my psyche to protect myself from all intruders. I had a beta system installed when I was a kid, which handled softball breaches like boys not ‘like-liking’ me and not making the basketball team and my parents’ divorce. But I have since refined it into a high tech comprehensive protection plan complete with emotion sensors and automatic total lockdown to insure ultimate protection against passive aggressive marital behavior(coming from both parties), the past (and therefore imminent) doom and gloom of my children’s relationship to school, the loss of loved ones, the financial realities of the market value of any of my skills, the disappointment at the empty Entenmann’s box at the end of a long day, and all the other shoes that are waiting to drop. It is, in fact, possible that I have acquired a system so invincible that therapists and Prozac couldn’t even penetrate the first lock let alone the floor lasers, the three-headed dog and the rolling boulder. (extra credit if you can name all the movie references)

I haven’t gone full pessimist yet. I do not expect the worst, but I am not surprised when it happens.  I scan my emails at the end of the day with dread for fear of seeing a teacher’s name and the title heading “Teenager #1 in class today,” or “Missed homework for “Teenager #2.” I am grateful for the communication because I am a parent and I’m supposed to be, but it is like another dose of poison administered by my metaphorical Claude Rains.

I still believe that Cary Grant will swoop in (though he’s more of a saunterer than a swooper) and carry me through the door with my flawless skin and impeccable hair. And I know in this case Cary Grant is hope and I will still fall in love with him and he will break my heart again, and the alarm will be tripped and I will go into lockdown recoup my losses, heal and venture out into the wild again because deep down in my nougat center, that’s who I am. Love and pain and panic and euphoria and anxiety and contentment and fear and pride rely on each other for existence. I get it. To allow yourself to feel one you open yourself up to the risk to feel all. I know to feel is to be alive and life is messy an unpredictable. (BTW my inspirational posters are available on Zazzle)

So I will fight the poison and defy Claude Rains. Not everyday, but I’m still aiming for more than half.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Princess Leia Was Right

Any wisdom I have accrued during my time here comes mainly from two sources. Improv and Star Wars. That’s right, not Joan Didion or Buddha or Socrates; it all hinges on the art of making things up spontaneously and from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. And today’s nugget of insight comes from Princess Leia.

(BTW thank you George Lucas for creating a smart, resourceful, moral female character who can kick-ass and knows how to handle a blaster).

In Star Wars: A New Hope, during Leia’s first encounter with Grand Moff Tarkin after insulting his body odor she offers this in retort to his intimidation tactics “The more you tighten your grip the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Genius despite Carrie Fisher’s out of nowhere British accent in that scene only. So let’s delve, shall we.

Control. Yes we all desperately want it in one form or another. Whether it’s over what we watch on TV or what we wear, or what we do for a living, or how other people in our sphere of influence act, or the outcome of our own and our children’s lives, we want control. And why not? It is the softest blanket of content and the most delicious chocolate chip cookie of comfort. We seek it in every aspect of our lives. How neat is my house? My desk? My Car? (if I’m honest, none of them very neat at all). How can I not get fired? Did I make a mistake? Did somebody else? How can I make sure nobody makes a mistake, ever, for the rest of time? (Seriously, my list of mistakes fills the warehouse where they store the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark). How can I make sure my kids are okay? I’ll monitor their homework; dispute teachers on unacceptable grades; tell them to go to bed…no really, I mean now, I’m not gonna tell you again; read their text messages; give them advice; give them the same advice over and over until they do what I tell them whether they believe it or not; get them vaccinated; have “the talk”; nag them about extra-curriculars and credentialing for college; tell them to brush their teeth until it sends me into therapy. If I do all that and more, their future will be secure, right? Everything will be okay, yeah? Nothing bad will ever happen.

Wrong. Darth Vader will still show up in Cloud City and freeze your boyfriend.

The thing about control is, it’s a bedtime story we tell ourselves again and again so we can sleep at night and keep the panic at bay. If we can control the outcome, then we know what to expect and nothing will ever take us by surprise. And how boring is that?

I’m not recommending never cleaning our houses, and letting the kids adapt a Lord of the Flies mentality (actually in that book it was the struggle for control that led to chaos), but the reality is, we cannot control the outcome. Life is messy and unpredictable and if we avoid it, we miss out on so much. Bad things are going to happen, to us and to our kids, and that’s okay because we learn we can get through them. But you know what else, great things are going to happen too. But if we’re too busy following our prescribed path of expectation we will miss those great things and the potential for un-conceived of joy.

I cannot control what grades my kids will get this year. I cannot control whether they will get in trouble or not. I cannot control whether they will get hurt or if they will hurt someone else. I cannot control if they will let in a goal, or score a basket, or remember the distributive property or to brush their teeth.

I can tell them what I think is important. I can encourage them. I can set limits on tv and games. I can make them eggs and bacon in the morning. I can let them fail. I can believe they will succeed.

So I will try to follow Princess Leia’s advice and loosen my grip on their lives. It will be hard, because I love them so much that I feel it in every cell of my body at all times of the day. But sometimes what’s best for them is what’s hard for them. So I will loosen my grip. And maybe if I do that Han Solo will show up in the Millennium Falcon and take me out for a burger.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Turn Signals

Turn your signal on. Please, for the love of god, turn your signal on. It’s probably the easiest thing you’ll do all day and an effortless way to give back. I am baffled to the point of irrational frustration at those who cannot seem to muster the momentary selflessness it takes to signal before making a turn. Seriously, how bad have things become, how deep into our own bubbles must we be, that this simplest of gestures is routinely ignored because, hey, we just can’t be bothered? The effort is too great, or simply beneath us. Others should know we intend to change directions without notice. Or, if they cannot intuit our every whim, they should simply suck it up and thank us for reminding them that the world truly does revolve around our individual needs.

Okay, sure, I’m overreacting, but am I? This one thing that people cannot do with any regularity is significant. It does show an inherent consumption with our own selves that bleeds into other parts of our lives. If we can’t be bothered to signal, a gesture who’s pure intent is to alert others to our intentions so they can properly adapt and maintain a sense of equilibrium in the universe, then we are truly on a path to chaos and isolation.

Cars used to be so simple; a convenient way to get from one place to another. And you really had to want to get there because you had to crank it up to get it started. Now, all you have to do is push a button. Cool, yes, but really, was turning a key so difficult? And yet, a car's main purpose remains the same. It is not, in fact, intended to be a movie theater on wheels, or a remote wifi hotspot, or a hovercraft.

I’m not gonna lie, borrowing my mother-in-law’s van with the DVD player made many long car trips bearable when the kids were little, who am I kidding, it can make a trip to the grocery store easier. But should it. Why shouldn’t our kids have to suffer through the boredom of hours on Route I-80? Builds character and stamina and leads to the invention of great car games like the Alphabet game, License plate Lottery and the epic Braveheart-esque battles of “He’s on my Side.” Those car rides build valuable life skills like creativity, patience, and upper body strength.

Sure modern invention creates convenience, and convenience is nice (really nice) but it is not a cure-all for responsibility. Despite the James Bondish ingenuity a car’s main purpose remains the same: it is meant to help people get places faster than on foot or by horse or bicycle. Yet the responsibility involved in operating that machinery is awesome and as age and indifference clicks on auto-pilot, we take that grave power cavalierly, and cannot fulfill the most basic duty of moving a lever up or down with the effort of a single finger, because we are too busy talking on the phone, finding the perfect song, or lost in our own terribly important agenda.

I’m not saying we need to go back to the Stone Age. I like my IPhone. I like not hearing my kids killing each other in the back seat. But I call on us all to resist the urge to let these conveniences dupe us into assuming an entitlement that does not exist. We are still social creatures beholden to one another to evolve in a humane way. We rely on each other in so many conscious and unconscious actions over the course of a day, a year, a lifetime. Opening a door, saying please and thank you, compromising on health care, and signaling before you turn so the other ripples in the lake can adjust. This is what makes the world a better place, a simple effort to look beyond our own seductive need for personal convenience. And it’s such an easy place to start. Just signal when you turn and realize that driving is not your divine right, but a privilege you must earn every time you get behind the wheel.

Can you tell Teenager #1 is about to turn 16?

Friday, August 2, 2013


Sleep, you little rat bastard. You fill me with need and then dash my hopes night after night after night You are my Moriarity. I hate you and love you all at once. I defy you and yearn for you in the same breath. I may act coy and aloof as if I don’t really need you. As if I can function perfectly fine without you. I flaunt my indifference to you in martyr-like fashion, adopting an air of superiority. All these other fools seem to fall apart without you, but I carry on steeled in my Joan or Arc perseverance to not crumble under your tyranny. Yes I put on a good show, but strip away the bravado and I am just an exhausted lump longing for you to take me into your arms and cast me under your spell.

And you just love it, don’t you. You toy with me in your feline-ious ways. You taunt me all day with eyes half open, yawns coming almost as regularly as breath, and once I finally put head to pillow, you are no where to be found. Or even worse, you take leave of me early in the morning, like a guilty lover, you slink away too early to be late, and no multitude of sheep or ambient noise machines can take your place.

And what an insidious army of minions you have enlisted.   A husband who falls back to sleep before his head hits the pillow and cannot be roused by his alarm, or the cacophonous synchronicity of his and the dog’s snoring; teenagers who can sleep 23 ½ hours a day; a dog who has to be part owl since he sleeps all day and is awake most of the night, and a mind so filled with to-do lists, worries and random blog ideas that it will not quiet. Only you would turn my very family and my own mind against me. Brilliant, cunning, evil.

Yes, I admit it; you are a master, always one step ahead of me. Without you I am a hideous, impatient, idle wretch. I look forward to your next visit, yet you never stay long enough for us to truly get to know each other. And perhaps therein lies your Achilles heel. You toy with us all, hooking us on your addictive properties, laughing at our inane efforts to court you with dim lights, no electronics, regular exercise, no caffeine after certain hours, the Lunesta butterfly and, of course, the proverbial warm milk. You resist our every move maybe because, like so many men of a certain age, you fear commitment. Perhaps if we get too much of you, we will cease to appreciate you, we will take you for granted and you will become mundane, routine, the least interesting of our basic human needs.

But don’t you know that the more we get, the more we want? Have you ever met anyone who says they are well rested? Is there a single human being who doesn’t, at some point of every day, in response to the query “How are you” say “I’m tired?” Even teenager #1 who enjoys your company for sometimes up to 13 hours, wakes up tired and takes a nap only two hours later. It is impossible to get our fill of you.

So you have a choice, Sleep, you can continue your power hungry lonely ways isolating yourself as something to be loved and reviled, or you can take a seat at the table and stay awhile. I won’t get too clingy, I promise. I won’t pressure you or try to change you; I just want to get to know you a little better.

So I’ve exposed my queen, it’s your move.  Do not underestimate me, you may knock me down, but I will always get up. Can you handle that? Or are we going over the falls together?

Monday, July 29, 2013


I’ve always considered myself a fairly lazy person. When I’m busy I yearn for the time to just sit around and do whatever I want. Turns out I’m not so good at it.

Take right now. Husband is at work. Teenager 1 is at work. Teenager 2 is on vacation with a friend’s family. I’ve had the whole day to myself and I have spent it wondering what I should do.

Most days there’s a list of things I have to do. So I put myself on an incentive program. I make myself do the things I have to do, and then I feel justified in doing the things I want to do. So it was today. I paid bills, took the dog for a walk, sent pertinent emails to pertinent people, put workout clothes on thinking it would make me more inclined to workout (it didn’t). All those things done, I prepared to take myself to a movie.

Incoming text: “Mom can you drop of my compression shorts?”

This task would be in the opposite direction of the movie. Realign plans. No movie today. Drop off shorts, return books to Barnes & Noble, go to Petsmart.

Outgoing text: “I’ll be there at 2:30.”

Incoming text: “Actually I’m fine.”

Oh. Okay. Now the window of opportunity for the movie is closed.

What to do now? I could tackle the list of things I should do. Filing. Prepping hallway walls to paint. Purging teenagers’ rooms of crap. Writing that Star Wars/Improv book. But should doesn’t have a deadline, and I’m not in a should mood. Problem is I can’t do most of what I want to.

I want to jump in the car and go to the shore for a couple of days, but I have a meeting tonight.

I want to drive up and see my best friend in Vermont, but husband would secretly resent that, though he’d be outwardly supportive.

I want to go to the outlets and buy useless things at discounted prices, but I just paid bills today and reality forbids such an excursion.

I want to sit at an outdoor café in a carefree manner with friends and laugh and eat cake, but my friends are at work or in Vermont.

So instead I do nothing as I linger in a limbo of the magnetic fields of Have-to, Should and Want.  I feel I must cede control to Have-to and Should in order to deserve Want.  And so I fill my life with Have-to and Should, because, lets face it, those are the things that make us feel relevant. If I have to do it, I must be necessary. If I want to do it, I must be self-serving. And we can’t have that, despite what the airline guidelines are for affixing oxygen masks. I know the trick is to convince myself that the Have-tos and Shoulds are actually Wants, but lets face it, mopping the kitchen floor and reorganizing the medicine chest are never going to hold the same allure as sitting in a beach chair with my feet in the water while reading the latest Maisie Dobbs mystery.

So I keep my tally sheet of Have-tos and Shoulds until I’ve checked off enough boxes for a free Want. My life has become a Starbucks frequent customer card.  Balance, balance, balance-it adds depth, meaning, and focus to life. It’s what I’ve always done. It’s what I know I should do.

So I bet you can’t guess what I want to do now…

(P.S.: Ironically, now that I've written this I feel I've earned a reward)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Reading

Just kill me now.

My kids have to read 4 books a piece this summer. Just four books. One required book, and then they are free to pick the other three. Free. Wheee.

Does the game guide to Skyrim on XBOX count? 

How about the blogs for how to improve your performance in League of Legends the online game du jour?

The description of the next Dr. Who episode?

The backs of cereal boxes?

Because these are the things my kids want to read, this is what they would like to be  “free” to read. Surprisingly these are not on the list of suggested reading. That list is composed of books 300 pages and longer which is perfect for apparently every child other than the ones living in my house. Because, according to 87% percent of the parents I talk to(statistic is arbitrary and made up) their kids can’t get enough of reading, they love reading, they live for reading. These children, will, undoubtedly, go to Princeton and Yale and, one day, employ me shaking their heads in bemused disdain as I clumsily negotiate the word processing programs that will at that time be implanted in our heads.

I have a confession to make. I hated summer reading when I was a kid and it wasn’t even as strict as it is now. I liked the thought of filling out the progress sheets the library handed out, but often lagged in momentum as the summer waned on and afternoons at the pool ogling cute boys took precedence. Reading was not my go to form of recreation or escape; I preferred reruns of the Bionic Woman and playing Charlie’s Angels in the backyard with my sister.

So now I am in a tricky spot where I have to be the hammer and get my kids to do their summer reading. There is no respite from my school-year nagging for them to do their homework. It is subtly re-named "summer reading" as if putting the word "summer" in front of it implies a sense of playfulness and whimsy. But it is, in fact, my kids’ least favorite thing to do over the summer. They would actually prefer taking out the garbage, loading the dishwasher and picking up the dog poop in the back yard to reading.

And my husband and I did all those things the articles, and books and Dr. Nancy Snyderman told us to do. We read to our kids since they were babies. We surrounded them with books in their room. We read in front of them, modeling I believe the technical-intimidate-other-parents- with-my well-informedness term is. We turn off the internet we still get a paper delivered to the house. We talk about books, at the dinner table. And yet, my kids still prefer any other activity to reading.

If they are truly free to read whatever they want outside that one required book, can’t we expand the scope of what that includes? How about comic books? Graphic novels? A really great article in Sports Illustrated? An in depth analysis and review of Assassin’s Creed? The back of healthy cereal boxes?

I’m interested in my kids being curious and reading the source material that feeds that curiosity. I do believe they need to be pushed to explore things they have hastily written off in order to fully understand and rediscover the things they truly love the most. I mean the whole reason they are drawn to Skyrim and League of Legends is because of the story aspect. It’s not just to win and blow the heads off of mythical creatures and aliens, they stick with it because they are invested in their character’s story. I know this because I have sat and listened to remarkable detail in the re-telling of their latest victory complete with names I will never remember and specific verbal renderings of weapons, armor and foes.

And why do they seek out the next new game, or the next new tweet or the latest Facebook status update? They are hooked on the stories inherent in these medium. How will that flirtation end up? Will he win the race? How can I defeat the dragon next time?

We read to see ourselves in the lives of other characters, whether to escape, or relate. We seek to know what we would do in that situation or to gain validation from a similar choice or outcome, or to see what is the next possible or inevitable. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, Facebook fact or fiction, video game fiction, we are all just seeking to understand our place in the universe and that can happen in a magnificent book, and it can also happen in the collection of stories we find in so many other sources.

Yet until that particular wardrobe door is opened to that strange new world of possibilities, I will continue to bribe, threaten and dupe my kids into completing their summer reading beating it into a joyless obligatory pulp.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cereal Box Wisdom

Kids are expensive, but not in the way you think.

Yes, they eat a lot, want name brand shoes and clothes, want the latest IPhone, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Those are the expenses you expect and commiserate about with other parents at polite dinner parties and barbecues in an Ephron-esque way.

But the expenses they don’t tell you about in “What to Expect While You're Expecting” or whatever book is currently THE book to read when you’re pregnant are the hidden fees and charges. It’s the cost of doctors, tutors, specialists, medication, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, when it turns out that perfect child of yours is “complicated.” It’s not college that’s going to put us into debt; my kid is struggling now, and I can’t buy him out of it, but I must pay the people who can help him through it.

So, I’ll take this job and that job, and my husband will make those 45 calls to find the in network specialist who is also highly recommended, and we will use our credit card checks to pay for the tutor, and I will stop visiting Target for therapy, and I will not spend extra money on organic vegetables, and I will cancel my Netflix subscription because my kid is not perfect, but he is extraordinary in his own right, and he can’t see it. And the world doesn’t get how hard he works each day without even knowing it to survive what seems normal to the rest of us. And if I can help him, than money will be no object.

And we are lucky. There are many who have it unspeakably harder than we do. And their children are extraordinary and expensive in all the ways they never expected.

And that is why I sometimes tear up when I’m choosing a cereal to buy, and I want the Cinnamon Chex, but it is $4.79 and the Post Raisin Bran is on sale for $2.50. But I don’t want Post Raisin Bran for dinner tonight (because now that I’m a grown-up I can eat cereal for dinner if I want), I was really looking forward to Cinnamon Chex, but it would be irresponsible of me not to get the cereal on sale, because that extra $2.29 will surely keep us from bankruptcy.

So I buy the Post Raisin Bran and I feel in control of something, even if only for an instant. An unrecognizable instant that won’t guarantee all good things for my kids, but it’s got eight essential vitamins and minerals, and it was only $2.50, and, in its own small way it contributed to the possibility of all good things for my kids.

So, yes, kids are expensive in predictable and unpredictable ways, but expensive and impossible are not the same things. I’ve learned many things from the back of a cereal box, but who knew that two scoops would make the impossible feel possible.

Monday, July 8, 2013

In Defense of Swearing

So, my kid swears. I don’t encourage it, I don’t reward it, I don’t like it. But it happens. And let’s be honest, he learned it from Husband and I, at least initially.

I’d like to blame the many people who changed lanes in front of me without signaling and my stove for heating up the skillet handle too hot and the grocery store for building its parking lot on a cart-hating hill. But I can’t hide behind the “McDonald’s coffee was too hot defense.” I chose to swear in those moments, and even though I apologized for my language and explained why it was wrong, the damage was done.

Toss in a little locker-room banter at school and a few too many un-supervised movie rentals at friends’ sleepovers, and their education in profanity was complete. They’ve been handed a one-way ticket to Scorcese-ville and Tarantino-Town. Their lives are doomed and my parenting legacy forever tarnished by the anticipated judgment of every other perfect parent out there who has managed to create a Bedford-Falls-like innocence for their cherubic offspring.

Unless that’s all bullshit.

I’ve never warmed to South Park because of the whole kids swearing motif, and I cringe every time my son lets loose with a profanity-laden rant. But let’s be realistic, they know these words. They use these words. Living in denial about it won’t make it stop. Like condoms, drugs and alcohol, we just need to teach them how to use these words responsibly. So here it goes:

1.     Do not swear in front of teachers, grandparents, referees, the police, the clergy, or basically any grown-up who has the power to expel, disinherit, and arrest you or bar your entrance into heaven.

2.     Do not swear in front of children 12 or under. Adopt the PG 13 rule.

3.     Do not swear at your parents in anger if you expect them to continue to feed and clothe you.

4.     When hanging with friends, do not use swear words in a derogatory way about any of their female relatives.

5.     Do not swear on a first date; looks like you’re trying to hard.

6.     Do not swear in front of babies, they pick up everything.

7.     When adults fuck up, do not use that as permission to say whatever you want. We all know you have better judgment than that.

8.     Do not swear to hurt or intimidate. It’s wrong, and you never know who is filming a documentary.

9.     Do not swear on Facebook, it will come back to haunt you in a future Senate hearing.

10. In a pinch have Shakespearean and Scooby Doo swear words at the ready. A well placed Fie, Zounds or Jinkys is charming, creative and scores key restraint points.

11. Do not swear in the Lincoln Memorial

12. If you violate any of the above rules, apologize immediately, show genuine remorse and take out the garbage without being asked for the rest of your life.

I’d like to be the perfect parent, with a swear jar and adorable kids who blush when they accidentally say “Damn,” but reality keeps getting in my way. I’d rather my kids learn responsibility than hypocrisy. They’re in a world where they hear swear words, not just from Husband and me but from friends, relatives, music, movies, Facebook and beyond. They’re going to get drunk on the novelty of the F-bomb at first, but once they emerge from the hangover it is my job to teach them the power of words and intentions and how to think before they speak.

I am not advocating buying the little board book Baby’s First  *#%*!  Curse Words(though if it exists, let me know, because, what a great stocking stuffer). But there does seem to be a middle ground between Leave It To Beaver and South Park where reality meets surprise and challenges us to come up with new options like Teenagers Say the Darndest *#%*! Things.

Sunday, June 30, 2013



It sneaks up on you. And when it does, it is sometimes hard to recognize.

It is not always conventional. It is not always a baby grasping your finger, or a first kiss in the rain, or a long lost sibling returning just as the Folgers starts brewing.

It is not cynical or conditional. It is not permanent or guaranteed. It is not earned or deserved. It is not reliable or predictable.

It is fickle and elusive and seductive and enigmatic. Like a quirky woman in an indie romantic comedy, it is desirable in unexpected ways clothed in flirty skirts and funky boots and playing the intrusive yet intoxicating music of bangly bracelets. It does not quite fit in with the everyday and is terrifying, foreign and hypnotic all at once.

We buy bumper stickers commanding us to not postpone it in a desperate attempt to court it. We believe if we eat more kale, meditate more frequently, read blogs more fervently we can achieve it more regularly. 

Like love and a great job, it often presents itself when we are not looking for it. And then, suddenly, it is there. And you can’t stop smiling and you’re conscious of your breathing and you know this is an uncommon moment that defies description and you want to bottle it and bathe in it every day. And for an instant you feel the unique pleasure of being fully human.

And then the phone rings, and there’s milk to be bought on the way home, and the report card is not as expected, and the dog has fleas, and the check bounces, and that uncommon moment gets smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. And we read the bumper sticker in front of us and snicker cynically as if we had any control in the matter at all.

But we do not give up, because not only did the moment happen, but we recognized it. We felt it. We know it exists. And we vow to eat more Kale, meditate more frequently and read blogs more fervently in the hopes that tomorrow someone will kiss us in the rain despite our Folgers breath and the baby grasping our finger.

Thank you joy. It was nice to see you today.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


What was I Thinking?

Okay, so for the record, I love my children. Literally would walk through fire-fight to the death-make voodoo dolls of anyone who breaks their hearts- love them.

But seriously, what was I thinking?

I haven’t stopped worrying at all for the last fifteen years, 9 months, 9 days, and 19 ½ hours. Sure, the level of worry varies; sometimes it’s practically undetectable, sometimes it’s at the “will they make it through High School” level, and sometimes it’s the “what if they get swallowed whole by an escaped Anaconda while walking the dog” intensity. Regardless of the level, the worry is the constant in this variable equation(a term I had forgotten until I had to re-learn it because I was worried about my son’s math final).

Little worries…
            Did they get enough sleep?
            They don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.
            Did they do their homework?
            Why won’t they brush their teeth?
            Will he get a hit in the game?
Why don’t they LOVE to read like, apparently, every other child in the world according to their parents?
            Did they do their laundry?

Medium worries…
            Are they smart enough?
            Do people like them?
            Are they respectful?
            Do they like themselves?
            Did they do their laundry?

Big worries…
            Will they go to college?
            Will they be able to take care of themselves?
            Will they get someone pregnant?
            Will they be able to hold down a job?
            Will they be happy most of the time?
            Will someone love them?
            Will they ever do their laundry?

Keep me up at night worries…
            Will they wind up in a clock tower?
            Hungry anacondas?
            Will they go down on the Titanic II?
            Will they be stranded on an island after trying to deliver a package?
            Will they ever make enough money to just buy new clothes when theirs get dirty?

Choosing to have children is choosing to worry. Yet another reason why aliens of higher intelligence are on other planets laughing at our lack of evolution in repeatedly making this choice; at least until their spawn crashes the time travel pod after drinking too much Klingon Blood wine and vomits acid on the custom Corinthian leather seats.

Of course we don’t know when we set out to start a family that we are embarking on a life-long hands-on study of the art of worrying. We are blinded by rosy cheeks and the new baby smell of other parents’ children. We revel in Johnson & Johnson daydreams of reading on the hammock with willing tots, of baking cookies while adorably dotted with flour, of homeruns, ballet recitals, and the inevitable valedictorian speech where we are thanked and given a spontaneous standing ovation by all the other parents and the surprise guest Oprah who wants to feature us on the next cover of O magazine.

Of course if we didn’t start out with visions of sugar-plums in our head, the species would eventually die out, because who, in their right mind would willingly choose to worry to this extent? I mean my husband and I willingly chose to make a human being…twice.  A human being.! Not just a good student, or a good friend, or a good reader, or a good laundry-doer; a good human being. I never realized until this moment how arrogant I am to think I am up to that task.

And to throw gas on that arrogance bonfire, my worrying really has little to do with them, and, ultimately, all to do with me. What I’m truly worrying about is “am I doing a good enough job for them?” And, miraculously, they answer that on a daily basis with the touch of a hand when I am sad over the loss of a loved one, with the offer to make me a grilled cheese sandwich because they just learned how, with the way they smile and shake the hand of someone they’re meeting for the first time, and with the way they reluctantly carry their laundry basket down to the washer. Yes, the worry is balanced by moments of incomprehensible joy, and I find the courage to face the trenches again.

Worrying accomplishes nothing. It is an accelerant for a fire on a 97° day.  It is real, and it is not going away. Yes, I choose to worry, but it is worth it, because yesterday he did his laundry.