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Friday, November 27, 2015

Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned

Forgive me father for I have sinned, I lied on the absentee hotline. My reasons were pure of heart. I wasn't trying to play hooky with my son and road trip to Vegas to give him a quirky indie-film experience that defines his life and becomes his college essay. My son was, indeed, ill; but his true malady, I feared, would not be accepted by the administration as a cause for missing school. I just did not feel I could say "my son is absent with depression."

So I said he had a sore throat.

Unfortunately depression does not come with convenient symptoms and physical evidence. An abundance of mucous, vomit or a good old rash would make legitimizing depression so much easier, not just for us parents and the absentee hotline police, but, quite possibly, for the world at large. Disgusting symptoms would also galvanize the germ-o-phobes into some kind of action to get depression more actively treated since gooey excretions suggest the threat of contagion. Sadly, no pun intended, this is not the case. Depression has invisible symptoms like exhaustion, self-loathing, loss of interest in anything; and these can often be mistaken for typical teenage behavior.

So I lied.

I do not regret keeping him home.

He rested, watched a little TV, we talked and he even did some homework. We did the same things we would have done had snot been pouring out of his nose

And my guilt actually has nothing to do with my latent catholicism. I feel guilty because I should have had the balls to say he was out due to depression. I should have taken this harmless baby step towards normalizing an illness that walks through the halls of life with its head down burdened by the weight of shame. I should have risked the mess the fallout was bound to create. The phone calls, the unexcused absence, the drop in points of all late homework, the revoking of his parking pass because his absence was unexcused. I contributed to the devaluing of my son's suffering by not standing up and confidently stating that this was the reason he was home. That is my sin.

For penance I could speak out and speak up, but therein lies another sin; a sin against my son. For this is his not mine to brandish and rage against the machine. His privacy, his daily battle, his reckoning with confusion, anger, shame and acceptance that he drew this straw. My penance is to forever remember his load and his strength; to care for him and teach him how to care for himself. To go out in my pajamas at 9:30 at night to pick up a Wendy's Baconator because that what he needs; and if there happens to be a Dunkin Donuts on the way, a coping donut for myself might be called for as well.

So, forgive me father for my sin. I will reflect and try to mend my ways. Oh, and, by the way, It's been about 33 years since my last confession.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Two Things I am Thankful for this Thanksgiving

I've always wanted to do that thing where you go around the table on Thanksgiving and everyone says something they are thankful for. But the eye rolling and clearly translatable sighs deter me year after year. But you, dear reader, I cannot see your eyerolls or hear your "ughs!" So here is what I am thankful for this year:

The Mess
Homemade chocolate chip cookies

That's it. That's right, just two things.

I could list walks on the beach, reruns of Castle, cereal, my family, finding five dollars in my winter coat when I put it on for the first time, blah-dity, blah-dity, blah. The truth is though, they all belong to The Mess, or, more accurately they are all the balance to The Mess. And to be clear, when I refer to The Mess, I am not speaking of kitchen duties in the Armed Services, I am speaking of the glorious Mess that is my, and, everybody's life. It is capitalized because it deserves honor and respect.

What??????

Yes, honor and respect. Many would say that mess is there to be cleaned up, that is creates a sense of chaos, unease and judgement from visiting relatives this weekend. Yes, it can do that. Mess can be feared and swept under the carpet and stuffed in the closet and crammed under the bed. It can be the hidden secret of shame you carry with you all weekend as you smile and answer "Things are good, thanks for asking." Eventually, though, someone is going to go looking for their coat and when they open the closet the Mess will reveal itself.

Mess will always be there no matter how many baskets you buy from Pottery Barn or drawer organizers you pick up at Bed Bath & Beyond or pictures of idyllic familial bliss you post on Facebook. So, here is the thing I love about the Mess: all the cool stuff I find when I sift through it. I love the feeling of relief when I throw things away I really don't need but was convinced I had to hang onto. I love finding things I completely forgot about that make me squeal with joy and surprise. And I love the new stuff that has found a way into my world. I would never experience all of these things if the Mess did not exist.

Yes, the Mess can be ominous and the anticipation of dealing with it is often unbearable, but there are so many interesting things to be found there; wonderful things, hard things, confusing things, things that create more mess. At the end of the Mess though lies a delicious sense of clarity, accomplishment and pride. It is that moment when you know where everything is, where everything goes. And then the mail comes and the Mess starts anew.

The Mess will always be there, and it is not there to be conquered, it is there to remind us of what living is. Life reveals itself most vividly in the midst of the Mess. So I am thankful for the Mess.

And as for homemade chocolate chip cookies, that's self-explanatory.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Epiphany at the Wawa

I have spent the majority of my life assuming I am in the way.

To illustrate I will go to the font of all life lessons, at least in the tri-state area, the Wawa. (For those of you unfamiliar with the treasure that is the Wawa, you may substitute, anemically, the 7-Eleven).

The first sign that I am in the way occurs upon entering the parking lot, the most dangerous place to drive in the world. Forget the autobahn, driving in a Wawa parking lot may be the bravest or most foolish thing you will ever do. Everyone is in a hurry to get something, or, once gotten, to leave. They are most likely driving with one hand, or just their knees, while they sip coffee or cram biscuit breakfast sandwiches down their starving and time-crunched throats. And though I see my spot inviting me in the distance, I cannot get there with any efficiency as someone will always be just pulling out, and turning the wrong way while issuing me a look of condescending disgust that not only have I not reversed out of their way, but that I, in fact, exist at all.

Once parking is secured and I have recovered from the blow to my self esteem, I make my way into the Wawa itself, usually to order a meal for one of my ravenous offspring because I ran out of, well, you name it, and could not make them a socially acceptable meal, because, apparently, a bag of multigrain wheat thins and a recyclable container of cinnamon life are not considered a square meal anymore. Once inside, no matter where I stand, whether it is to pick something to drink out of one of the refrigerated cases or to wait for a specially ordered breakfast sandwich(because, of course, they only like one kind, and if it's not on a bagel or if it has turkey sausage rather than mystery sausage it is inedible and how could I not know that), no matter where I stand, I am in someone's way. I'm in the way of the array of coffee urns. Once that is sidestepped I am in the way of the creamer/sugar island. After I dodge that, I am in the way of the trash. Once that is cleared I try to position myself where no one goes in the Wawa, in front of the "healthy snack" rack, but I seem to be there during the one and only three minutes when the transplant from Northern California is jonesing for a Clif bar, and am, of course, in his way. Even when I make it through the check out, the mere act of me putting my change away in my wallet and my wallet back in my purse, puts me directly in the way of the next customer who also seems dismayed at the fact of my existence.

Then back out to the parking lot where my only goal is to get out of people's way, but the inexcusable act of exiting my parking space puts me directly in the way of others exiting, and still others entering quickly with little regard for human life, to occupy the spot which was just vacated, but not by me, because I am in the way by being there and by trying to leave.

The Wawa is not at fault here; nor are her mighty patrons. And I am not at fault either, though I am faulty. The faultiness is not because I am in the way, it is because I assume I am in the way. It's probably because I was raised catholic, or I'm the youngest of six, or I'm a woman, or, more likely it is my own unique ME-ness that walks into any situation convinced that I am an inconvenience. This has caused me to spend an inordinate amount of my life apologizing for my inconvenience by trying to provide others with what they need before they know they need it and have a chance to question my relevance for not having known it in the first place (see bagel parable above). And I've been so busy doing all that, that I never took time to think about what I want at the Wawa.

Now I'm not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed to be having a self-awareness epiphany based on the Wawa. I'm going to choose proud, because at least it didn't happen in a 7-Eleven(did I just lose some of you there?). Ok, back to the regularly scheduled epiphany. Since I've spent so much time apologizing for, or proving the worth of my existence, I have rarely pondered the possibility that my existence is simply a fact, and my presence is not an automatic nuisance (though 7-Eleven is filing an injunction right now). My presence has the potential to alter the universe, for better or for worse, for large or for small, even if it means someone has to manage a few extra steps on the way to the French vanilla coffee dispenser.

There are two phrases gifted to me by two fabulous people that come to mind in the midst of this decidedly un-Aristotelean epiphany:

The first from a friend who learned when an Italian gentleman, baffled by the frequency with which the words "I'm sorry" crossed her lips, offered a simple alternative, say "I'm sexy" instead.

The second from my father. When bombarded by perceived and concocted doom and gloom he issues this warning: "You must be prepared for the possibility that things could go well."

So tomorrow I will venture forth assuming things will go well, because I'm bringing sexy back to the Wawa. You're welcome Justin Timberlake.



Monday, October 12, 2015

The Last Thing I Want to Use my Phone For

I used to love it when the phone rang. The surge of excitement was palpable. My reactions to the trill of the bell tone were:
  • Who's calling me? 
  • Is it him? 
  • Did I get the job? 
  • Am I invited to that party? 
  • Who finds me interesting enough to want to talk to me? 
When Husband and I started dating the delight of the phone call intensified.
  • Is it him?
  • Will there be a second date?
  • I love the sound of his voice.
  • I can't believe he finds me interesting enough to call in the middle of a busy day.
  • Does he love me? I think he loves me? If he keeps calling he must love me, right?
Honestly the ring of the phone made my heart leap; I had to catch my breath, I sped to answer it, it was even a little arousing. It signaled the unexpected in the routine of a day, and with that came the sonorous hope and promise of dreams fulfilled, prayers answered and existence validated.

Now when the phone rings, or vibrates as the times dictate, my reactions are as follows:
  • Fuck.
  • Who wants something from me?
  • Who's in trouble?
  • Who's dead?
  • Who do I have to pick up now because of that emergency at work?
The romance of the ringing phone is gone, and its interruption in the course of a day feels much more akin to a harbinger of doom.

The weird thing is, I love my fancy phone. I love it for all of its purposes save it's main one. When my Soda Candy Crush game is stalled because of an incoming call, I make sure the person on the other end knows by the tone of my "Hello" that this call is unwanted. Instead of rushing to answer a call, I pause over the caller ID to assess if I have the strength to go through with it. And, ironically, the caller I dread the most is Husband. 

My dread has nothing to do with my affection for him; the simple truth is 99.9% of the time he is not calling to profess his love, he's calling because something needs to be taken care of. And the same is true of my calls to him. We are no longer explorers on the brink of all that is possible and exciting, we are laboring in the midst of the particulars of possible. We found what was possible and are desperately trying to maintain it; maybe in an attempt to prove why we strove for it in the first place or maybe because the dream of what is possible doesn't always include detailed instructions of the how of possible. So, the poor phone call has become the victim of my resentment of all the unexpected hurdles of all those expectations I originally loved about its signature ting-a-ling. 

Yet fear not poor phone call, my hostility is fleeting since the circle of life is not yet complete. There will come a time when I catch my breath again at your tinkling song; when I look forward to the sound of my children's' voices calling from the brink of their possibles, or the obliging voice of my grandchildren thanking me for the $5 on Valentines day, or the friendly voice of the Telemarketer asking for a moment of my time.

Just kidding Telemarketer, my hostility for you will never waiver. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

When is a Bowling Ball Just a Bowling Ball?

Teenager #1's bowling ball came in the mail the other day, and this puts me in the middle of a parental dilemma. It's possible that I may be assigning too much significance to this delivery, but, as the last 18 years has taught me, there is a hidden meaning behind most things which leads to a cause and effect quandary that can be crippling. I'm sure you've already guessed that I will now elaborate.

Teenager #1 spends his weekdays 45 minutes away at school. When the ball arrived I texted him the news in hopes of brightening his day since yesterday was hellish and hideous for him(Hidden meaning #1). His response was to ask if I could bring it out. This seems like a simple logistical question, but, in the immortal words of Admiral Akbar, "It'a a trap!"

My day was busy, but there was a window of time when I could bring it out. Would having the ball in such close proximity, however, create a distraction from work he has to catch up on (one of the sources of hellishness and hideousness); or, would having the ball there give him a little boost and make him feel a little happier thereby making catching up on work a more palatable prospect? (Hidden meaning #2)

What message am I sending though if I take time out of my day to drive this bowling ball all the way out there? Am I telling him that no matter what, I will drop everything and rush to give him whatever he wants creating the sense that his needs are above all others thereby heightening any sense of narcissism and potentially unleashing another Donald Trump on the world? Or am I communicating that I understand and am attentive to his needs and am willing to put in the extra time because he is important, valid and worthy consequently upping his self-esteem and putting the steps in place to provide the world with another Stephen Colbert? (Hidden Meaning #3)

The answer, as it often does, presented itself when he texted back saying he would drive home and pick it up. So I drove the ball out. Why? Why would I do that when he was willing to take it on himself to pick up the ball? Because the 90 minutes of driving back and forth was 90 minutes less for him to do homework.

Cause: I drove the ball out

Effect: As you've probably guessed, not only did he still not do his homework, he also never thanked me. He did not go bowling either.

Status Quo was maintained and the only expense was the time I lost to worrying, scheming and driving. So when is a bowling ball just a bowling ball and when is it a metaphor for the potential for growth and maturity? I have no idea. There have been many bowling balls in my parental history taking on many forms like birthday dinners, timely laundry so the right shirt is ready on the right day, volunteering at the snack table or to sew costumes, and so on. I seem to be obsessed with making sure my kids know I love them; and, as usual, it has nothing to do with them.

Travel back in time with me, if you will, to an era when a self-absorbed teenage girl sat on the windowsill looking out at the backyard as landscapers replaced a huge fallen tree with one newly bought, picked out with loving detail by my mother. The aforementioned teenage brat watched this effort with resentment in her heart because the the acquisition of this tree took priority over picking up my, I mean her, repaired watch, an errand she had been assured would happen earlier in the week, and again on the day before, and again on that very morning. Toss into the mix a recent divorce and the fact of being child number six, and suddenly this forgotten watch was more than just a bowling ball (Hidden meaning #4).

I remember that moment with a fair amount of shame and perspective. Shame at realizing that I, in fact, was just as selfish and myopic as all teenagers; perspective because you just never know when a gesture-small, medium or large-is making a permanent imprint. Loving someone is not easy. Though the reality of the love seems an absolute, there is a difference between knowing you are loved and feeling you are loved. Effort does need to be made, complex algorithms of cause and effect must be calculated, bowling balls have to be interpreted and mistakes and overreactions need to be allowed.

Life would probably be simpler without love and bowling balls. Less interesting, but simpler. Less messy, but simpler. Less time spent driving and fretting, but simpler. Less catch-your-breath-jaw-dropping-heart-growing-three-sizes-that-day-awe-inspiring, but simpler.

I'll take the bowling ball.

Monday, September 7, 2015

I Finally Get why I Have to Clean the House

I am not good at cleaning. I can straighten admirably, but I am only serviceable at cleaning. I have long struggled with the impact this deficit has on my validity as a human being.

According to many marketing campaigns I should not only like cleaning but delight in it. It should add a spring to my step and a song to my heart. Apparently, there are even some brooms and mops whose efficacy is so great they can pull double duty as dancing partners while still buffing the floor to a blinding shine. When I buy these brooms, however, I am amazed at their lack of ballroom experience, and their stark ordinariness in comparison to all the other mops and brooms that are in cleaning supply limbo in my basement. I fall for it though, time and again. I am an easy sell since I will try anything to invigorate myself to battle dust, mold and grime. Time and time again, though, I am left disillusioned and depressed as I am reminded that a sponge is really just a sponge, no matter how fancy it looks; and no matter how hopeful I am, a sponge will not propel itself. No matter how shiny and full of promise the tools of the trade are, I still have to use them.

My resistance to the simple necessity of cleaning is not rooted in any complex psychological darkness or any sense of rebellion against a perfect mother; it simply stems from the fact that I find the whole endeavor interminably boring. There are literally thousands of things I would rather do. And that confession immediately reveals the simple truth that I do get what it's like to be a teenager.

I am petulant in my refusal to clean on a regular or even minimally acceptable basis. I am singularly focused on that knitting project that I have to finish before I mop. I am lazy in my insistence that I will just watch this one episode before I vacuum. I am too tired from work to break out the Endust and the microfiber cloth. I am too stressed at all that is expected of me to engage with the Windex. I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the filth that I do not know where to begin.

Petulant
Singularly Focused
Lazy
Too Tired
Too Stressed
Overwhelmed

Sound familiar?

And of course I feel better once I clean. I feel accomplished and self-righteous and proud and competent and, for a shimmering instant, whole. And I promise myself never to let it go that long again, to never let it get that far out of my control. I vow to do a little bit each day and have a weekly schedule and keep up with the routine. And of course I keep none of my promises; because there are so many more interesting things to do.

So Teenagers #1 & #2, I do get it. I know you think I am full of shit and my cute little cleaning metaphor proves nothing because your life is so much more complicated than Swiffering. And you will never admit that I understand because that might open the door to the possibility of change or the concession that I am right about something. I get that too. But I do get why you don't want to do your homework, and why you don't want to read Frankenstein, and why you don't want to show your work on your Algebra II worksheet.

I get it. But there are things in life that you have to do, even if you'd rather stick needles in your eyes (yes, that's the 3,754th on the list of things I'd rather do than pick up a toilet brush). Have to's will always be there, they will often suck, but they are rarely as bad as you thought, and completing them can actually make you feel good about yourself.

How's that registering on your bullshit meter? About as high as everything else that you won't understand until you do; and then you will thank me silently so I will never know that you know I was right.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Parental School Supply List

School is just around the corner and teachers are busy preparing their rooms for another creative and exciting year of learning for your wonderful children. This year will be chock full of homework that will be left to the last possible moment, tests to which you will assign too much significance, poster board projects which will not insure an early acceptance to Stanford, and standardized testing that will accurately predict exactly how well your child takes standardized tests. In order for your children to have a successful year please refer to this School Survival, ahem, Supply List for Parents to help you survive the next nine months reducing the likelihood of you suffering from teacher stalking, overcompensatory cupcake baking, excessive homework meddling, Parking lot mafia surveillance and massive meltdown by Columbus Day weekend.

Parent School Supply List

  • Tylenol PM for sleepless nights caused by Poster Board tampering in the form of "help"
  • Earbuds and Netflix for when Tylenol PM doesn't work
  • Membership in Wine of the Week Club; might be useful to register for the 'buy one get one' option.
  • Extra socks for everyone, as those dirty balled up wonders hide better than the cat in Alien.
  • Mindless magazine subscription, because the Winter Movie Preview issue may make or break your sanity
  • Getaway car.
  • Snacks. Of course they should be healthy, so...dark chocolate.
  • Extra pencils everywhere; in your purse/briefcase, in your pocket, in the car, in the bathroom, in the cupboard where you keep the dog food. Because quick production of said pencil could be the deciding factor in the ongoing Homework/Xbox Dilemma. 
  • A Happy Place: Figurative when you need to sidestep fruitless escalation of pointless argument about homework consistency; Literal when said argument was not successfully sidestepped.
  • A hobby, preferably portable, but any will do to remember you are more than just Mom or Dad
  • A stress ball, not to squeeze, but to throw at the wall, Steve McQueen-like, while plotting your next escape.
  • A sense of humor. If you do not have one, one can be cultivated by reading David Sedaris & Bill Bryson and watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein, WKRP in Cincinnati episodes, and the entire series of Parks & Recreation.
  • A watch with a date & time feature with two alarm settings: one set for the end of this academic year, another set for High School graduation.
Here's to another Great school year! 

(Actually, that might be overshooting a bit, putting unrealistic pressure on already stressed out students and assuming a predetermined sense of hope rather than letting the year unfold in a rolling-with-the-punches-don't-take-this-too-seriously-but-take-it-seriosuly-enough-to-appropriately-challenge-your kids-without-fomenting-anxiety-while-letting-them-fail-and-succeed-on-their-own-and-trusting-they-will-get-back-up-again-stronger-for-the-hardship-and-still-feeling-loved-and-supported kind of way.)

Here's to Another school year!


PS: Note to self, investigate existence of a Donut-A-Day club.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dear Sundance

Dear Sundance,

First off, let me just say that I'm flattered by all of your recent attention. Three catalogs in ten days?! What have I done to deserve such perseverant care. I daresay, little indeed. Yes, I did place that order during your "Extra 30% Off Sale Items Sale," but alas, that box will be returned next week since neither item fit well, but mostly since I got a recent gander at my bank account.

I will not lie though, your devotion to the chase has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Just the other day, as I sat comfortably in the bathroom, I browsed your artfully crafted pages, which strike just the right balance of repeat items from yesterday's catalog, and fresh additions to your collection. And can I just say, Bravo. Truly your publication, and, in fact, your entire existence, plays right into my particular fetish of lifestyle porn. How often have a imagined living in the Northwest in my artfully casual home strewn with your Kathmandu throw and a collection of your Driftwood bowls. Yes, that's it. Just strolling from kitchen to living room, Cambridge boots softly caressing the Desert Stripe Dhurrie Rug, as I flop down in my Azura Kilim chair brushing my tousled chestnut mane from my eyes as I finger my way through tomorrow's catalog. Mmmmmmhmmmmm. I'm not even aware that my L'Art de Vivre skirt and Mesa Sunset shirt accented by my echo belt and Denim's Best Pal earrings will provide a smooth transition from a day of work promoting my latest best selling novel about a plucky heroine who lives in Portland and stumbles onto a mystery to be solved which reveals both her depth of character as well as her modern Hepburn-esque wit to an evening out with friends on their ranch eating by the creekbed off of their Terra dinnerware collection. Oh Yeah! Then home to nestle into my Alpine Meadows bedding warmed by my Guddri Kantha quilt atop my cozy and quaint Empire Iron bed. Yes, Yes, YES!

Yes, that is the orgasmic lifestyle erotica in stark contrast to my current, cluttered and dust filled twin in Northwest Philadelphia decorated with sale sheets from Target and afghans from TJ Maxx.

Oh, Sundance, how you do turn my head with your Redfordian confidence. I fear, however, that your estimation of my worth is misguided as my annual salary amounts to that which Robert Redford makes in 87 seconds of working on a film set; or, roughly the equivalent of ordering five items from your glorious catalog. I am not strong enough, however, to break off this ongoing flirtation. Though we cannot be together now, that is no reason not to hope that "Someday" and it's perpetual promise of all that is satisfying is a lost cause. I am not ready to give up the thrill of opening the mailbox to your resplendence; and I promise that your efforts will not be ignored. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next week, it may only be when you least expect it, or when you have your annual "40% Off Sale Items Sale," but I will buy those $20 Forever Charmed earrings, and will only bristle playfully at the $9.95 shipping charge.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why Are There No Pictures of Me?

I have noticed when I am putting together photo albums, or when reviewing vacation photos to post on Facebook to communicate how joyful and normal my family is to the world, or when someone just needs a photo of me that I have a hard time finding one. The reason is simple: I am usually the one taking the pictures.

It doesn't occur to Husband to take pictures. I'm not sure if he has mastered how to take them on his IPad. I know he does not know how to take them on his office issued phone. That would require a level of engagement beyond his interests. If taking pictures promised a hastening to the start of Football season or came with a free donut, that would be a different story. Until that time, taking pictures happens only when strangers ask, or familial guilt is successfully dealt.

Teenagers 1 & 2 do take pictures, just not of family members. They take pictures of the dogs, screenshots of a final FIFA score on XBox One, a new pair of shoes, a cool car parked next to our shitty car, a Taco Bell Chalupa, and I'm sure things I do not want to know about. They do not take pictures of their parents as we are not Instagram-worthy. Their pictures are visual anecdotes.

So, there are very few pictures of me. Part of this is my fault as I have not mastered the art of the Selfie. I always look like a giant bobble head version of myself with more chins than I'd care to perpetuate. I am not sleeplessly bothered by the lack of photo documentation, but I am intrigued.

I know, someday, my kids will want a handful of pictures of me when I am long gone, unless of course I do something so hateful in the next few years that they will cut me out of the three pictures that do exist. Barring that potential offense though, they're going to want a picture of me in a CVS frame somewhere in their apartment or guest room of their house. If this is going to happen, it is incumbent upon me to make it happen. I must ask others to grapple with my phone to document my existence. I must make it happen because that is my role.

Every marriage or family has a balance of duties spoken and unspoken and this holds true for picture taking as well. There is the Chronicler and the Experiencer. It doesn't occur to Husband or Teenagers 1 & 2 to take photos because they are in the moment. They are doing it, whatever it is. They are too busy doing it to take the time to recognize that they will want to remember it. Of course the memory is forever theirs, the picture simply shuffles the memory to the top of their mental DVR. And that is as it should be. I'd rather they be doing than just watching.

I'm still not the greatest at taking pictures. I have gotten better over the years at filtering what kind of pictures we all want to look at, though I still take too many picture of the ocean. I don't mind being the Chronicler, though I really need a better title because that sounds like a small town newspaper from an Andy Hardy movie. Still, I don't mind it, because I catch my kids, every now and then, during a commercial leafing through a photo album to the point where they will actually pause their show and call me over and ask me if I remember that baseball game or that day at Universal Studios. They actually take a moment from the boredom, stress and uncertainty of their lives to review evidence of the big and small moments of awe, ahhh, and omg that have shaped who they are and who they continue to become.

So I will keep snapping away despite their protests and glares; and I will find ways to appear, Zelig like if I have to, in as many shots as I can beg off of strangers or my intrepid yet technically clueless husband. And until I think of a better name than Chronicler, I am making myself a cape, because a cape makes everything cooler.




Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Impractical Puppy

We're getting a puppy.

This makes no sense whatsoever.

We have a dog. Rocky. Though I always feel compelled to clarify that he wasn't named after the fictional boxer, but, much less interestingly, after a nickname my then young children had for a Pokemon character. Regardless of name derivation, he is awesome. He snores, he will lick my leg for ten minutes at a time, he drinks his water too fast and sometimes throws it back up, he likes pancakes, he considers skunks the ultimate nemesis, and he likes nothing more than to sit on your lap for hours. He is ten now and he has made us his pack and we love him beyond reason.

We live in two different places. As mentioned in a previous fascinating post, we live in two places so each son can go to the school that best suits them and helps us all maintain an unconventional and acceptable level of sanity. Logistically our lives are complicated. We are not getting a second dog for our second place, though that seems the logical answer. We'd have to pay more rent for that.

We have two teenage boys. They are like most children. They adore our dog, and will never willingly give up free time to do anything for the dog.

We have two working parents with no time for each other much less a second dog.

We cannot afford a second dog. Not because we buy designer dog food and frequent canine salons, but because we cannot afford anything right now.

The new puppy is a male, which leaves me even more outnumbered than before.

See what I mean? No sense whatsoever.

I'm picking up the puppy on Monday.

We've justified it in our minds by saying he will keep Rocky company. We've also gone the morose route believing new puppy will lessen the sadness when Rocky eventually goes to meet my childhood dog Scout in the great doggy park in the sky. These are the stories we tell the world to make the illogical seem perfectly sane.

There is nothing sane about getting a second dog. Not for us anyway. It will make our lives more insane and, let's face it, smelly; and yet I don't care. We need a little impracticality right now.

There's so much to do all the time. Got to get to work. Got to get to school. Got to do homework. Got to get to basketball practice. Got to get to rehearsal. Got to volunteer to help at basketball games and school plays. Got to go grocery shopping. Got to write that blog about the puppy. Got to visit colleges. Got to do college applications. Got to practice parallel parking. Got to finish summer reading. Got to become a better human being. Got to visit my mother. Got to check off all the things on this master list that the world and my own neuroses has prepared for me in order to have a happy and prosperous life.

Only there are so many got-to's to keep track of that there's no time or energy left to recognize happy and prosperous. Because of that the impractical is not frivolous it is vital. It is oxygen.

The impractical shifts focus, surprises us, makes us gasp with awe and laugh uncontrollably, it opens up never considered options, knocks us on our ass, scares us, makes life messy, makes life fun, and frequently gives us a fresh glimpse as to why we live in the first place. It puts the got-to's in perspective and reminds us why we are choosing that particular list of got-to's in the first place.

So here's to the impractical puppy, the illogical vacation, and breakfast for dinner. They bring peace and order to the chaos of got-to.


PS: We haven'f figure out what to name him yet, so suggest away.




Sunday, July 26, 2015

New Blog post about a New Blog

Hello faithful followers. I haven't written in awhile because I've been working on  a piece for BLUNTmoms.com. Lo and behold, they have published my latest. So behold the link below and enjoy.

http://www.bluntmoms.com/fix-fucked-life/?utm_source=BLUNTmoms&utm_campaign=046801663d-Newsletter_Test_110_25_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2c62408aac-046801663d-265270589

Friday, June 26, 2015

The College Essay: More than Numbers on a Page

This is the college essay I wish he would write.

Dear Colleges,

This is the story the numbers won't tell you. Here is my thesis: I am more than the numbers on the page. 

My GPA, my SAT's my ACT's my class rank, they are only one part of my story. They are also the main part of the story you will use to determine whether I should be part of your school. So I am worried; and I will now tell you what you will not learn from the numbers on the page.

  • You will not see my curiosity, which, when peaked is insatiable.
  • You will not see the passion with which I defend a point, theory or thought.
  • You will not see the epic daily battle waged between my intelligence and my brain chemistry. 
  • You will not see the courage it took to simply get out of bed and go to school when the dark side made it's seductively convincing argument about how much easier it is to give up.
  • You will not see the people who needed me to fit in a box instead of finding ways to unleash who I am.
  • You will not see the teachers who made me feel known, who made me see value in myself.
  • You will not see all the times I got up after I fell.
  • You will not see my sense of humor.
  • You will not see how hard I work, because it doesn't have conventional outcomes.
  • You will not see how brave I was to change schools, not because I had to, but because I no longer wanted to feel ashamed of who I am because I couldn't be who they wanted.
  • You will not see my confidence, because I'm still searching for it.
  • You will not see all of me.
I do not look like the perfect student. I am proud of my strengths and stronger for my flaws. I will continue to make mistakes and I will try to recognize the victories. I am my own worst enemy, but I believe I am worth the effort; I believe I am worth my effort. So, I will continue to become more three dimensional with all the challenges surprises failures and rewards that presents. I will strive to define myself not by numbers and labels but by actions, effort and the courage to show up.

I hope I can do this at your school.

Thank you for your consideration of the possible.







Wednesday, June 3, 2015

19 Reasons Why It's All My Fault

Blame is so convenient. It eases any sense of guilt, obliterates the necessity for reparations and absolves all potential sins. Blame insinuates Fault; in fact the two are symbiotic. I consider myself a connoisseur of blame; both in casting it and accepting it. And since becoming a parent, well, let's just say I am the cleaner fish to Blame's Great White Shark. And, since becoming the parent of teenagers, well, there is nothing for which I am not to blame.

So here are the 19 reasons why it's all my fault.

1. I'm a mother

2. I know nothing

3. They know everything

4. I was raised Catholic

5. I do not read thoughts

6. I walked in the room

7. I should have known there would be traffic

8. They're 'just a kid'

9. I push them too hard

10. I don't push them enough

11. I got the wrong toothpaste

12. I should have known they were in a bad mood

13. I didn't sign the permission slip at the bottom of their backpack

14. I should have checked their pockets for pens before doing the laundry

15. I didn't wake them up a fifth time

16. Because the bacon is too crispy

17. Because the bacon is too chewy

18. Because Nike Elite socks aren't the thing anymore

19. Because I have a pulse and I'm not them

It is always someone else's fault because admitting fault is admitting fallibility and fallibility is not an option when you're a teenager. Not because they think they are infallible, it is because they know how fallible they are. And that, my friends, is a fragility most of us still cannot bear. So much feels wrong to them that the relief of placing rather than accepting blame is the very definition of a coping mechanism.

So, I am happy to accept the occasional irrational blame to ease the yuck that is teenager-dom as long as I don't get caught in the Catch 22 of absolving them of accepting responsibility and reconciling with their fallibility.

Ok, now my brain hurts. This is like parental calculus. Know what they sub-textually need and also know what they actually need regardless of popularity. It's like the SAT's all over, eliminate the obvious and then guess. There's always a 50/50 chance I could be right; and there's a 100% chance it will all be my fault.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Car Talk

I spend a lot of time in the car. Blessing and Curse duke it out for shotgun everyday. Somedays I spend up to three hours cumulatively in the car per day. That's a lot of time to think and play out imagined, though possible, scenarios both in my head and out loud.

I listen to music, which often becomes the soundtrack to the trailer of the movie my life could have been. Sometimes the music acts as an accelerant fanning the flames of any emotional spark. Sometimes the music provides inspiration for my next great idea which turns into reality the aforementioned movie of what my life should be. Sometimes the music is all boring and makes me listen to the news.

My main activity in the car, however is either gaining perspective or distorting proportional response; sometimes in the same ride. Three days a week I have an hour commute to work. This commute begins after I drop Teenager #1 off at school. The quality of that five minute ride usually determines the course of the following hour commute. There are usually two responses once Teenager #1 leaves the car:
  • "Well that went well. Good parenting this morning Mary; he's a great kid."
  • "Have a great day ass hole."
And then the hour begins. 

Minutes 1-5: Play out what I really wanted to say had I been strong enough or foolish enough. Remind Teenager #1 about how he really knows nothing and how dare he talk to me that way, and he should get down on his knees and thank all who can be thanked for all I do for him, and does he have any idea how much I have sacrificed day in and day out, and he better find his own way home today because he doesn't deserve to have me drive him anywhere, and it is not my fault that I didn't anticipate that the breakfast he loved yesterday would be the one he loathed today.

Minute 6: Tear up. Breathe. Tear up. Change radio station.

Minutes 7-9: Listen to traffic report. Find least offensive morning talk/pop station as a distraction.

Minutes 10-14: Call husband in superficial attempt at logistical briefing and clarification: who's picking up who? Did you fill the dog's water dish? Is there any milk left? This line of questioning quickly gives way to the real reason for my call which is to passive aggressively share my morning's stress by reminding him how much easier he has it by getting to drive Teenager #2 to school; because we like to hurt and hate the ones we love rather than feel our own pain. Nine times out of ten he doesn't pick up because he's smart, or his ringer is off, or he is being a responsible driver in contrast to me, and I contemplate leaving a text until the morning DJ introduces the next scintillating segment "five scents that drive a man wild-they're not what you think" inviting us to call or text in our response, but remember "don't text and drive." So I don't, because I'm a good girl.

Minutes 15-28: I plug in my phone and listen to my own music. Depending on how the shuffle goes I either formulate a better response to Teenager #1's behavior this morning which balances empathy, respect and appropriate limits and consequences; or I write my own one-act play of how things will go when I see him later in the day. This play often includes poignant pauses filled with subtext, and, eventually, a contrite child who helps me bring in the groceries without being asked.

Minutes 29-39: My mind moves to work. What am I teaching today? Who am I teaching today? Am I prepared for that meeting? How do I stay positive? What am I doing with my life? Could I earn more working at the Gap? How hard could it be to publish a book? I'm sure I could write a screenplay. What if I turned my blog into a one-woman show? I'll start selling my knitting on Etsy. Yes that will definitely pay the bills and satisfy my soul.

Minutes 40-47: I sit in a long line at the left turn signal and check my emails when traffic isn't moving because I remember that DJ's wise words. I switch back to the radio. Shockingly they are still talking about scent # 4, bacon.

Minute 47-48: I think about what I will eat next. I wish it was bacon. It will probably be my granola bar. Why wait. I eat it now. I resent it for not being bacon.

Minutes 48-54: I hate all other drivers and begin to panic that I will be late for my first class. My panic leads to blaming Teenager #1 for slowing down every time I said I need to get to work by 8:15. 

Minute 54: I marvel at my martyrdom.

Minute 55: I am stopped by diligent suburban crossing guard and watch children crossing street on their way to school. I wish my kids could walk to school. Then life would be idyllic like it was in the 50's. Oh, wait, Mad Men. I watch the innocence of this moment and either get over myself or resent the contrast.

Minutes 56-58: I ask myself again who authorized other drivers to be on the road right now.

Minute 59: I rush back to the parked car to retrieve my Diet Coke because survival tools are survival tools.

Minute 60: Breathe. Tear-up. Breathe. Teach.

And of course the act of action clears my head and reboots my hard drive and all is possible once again.

All this time in the car alone with my head and heart alternates between being therapeutic and being, well, the building blocks to so many bad decisions. I'm sure guided meditation or audiobooks or even NPR is the easy answer to a more consistently successful commute. Ultimately, however, this time gains me the figurative and very literal distance that I sometimes need from all things familial. It is captive time alone that helps me process life. One hour does not always end with a tidy epiphany, it usually evolves into dust settling which makes some things stand out in relief, covers others up and leaves others looking unchanged. It is time that has been bequeathed to my by circumstance. I do not always see it as such, and often squander the opportunity it presents. But it gives me the chance to be every part of me there is; the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, the wise, the deluded and so on. 

And the only guarantee I can offer, is that I always signal before I change lanes.




Wednesday, May 6, 2015

You're Not A Shitty Parent

Sometimes I don't like being a mother.

Happy Mother's Day, am I right?

It's true though; and saying it stirs an absolute purity of relief and shame. And the very real fear of the ultimate jinx, that I have doomed my family for all eternity. A tiki doll from which there is no escape Greg Brady.

Still, I'm saying it, because I am certain that I am not the only one who feels it. And it doesn't make me a shitty parent.

So let's break this down.

First, there's the logistics. The constant driving, food prep, restocking of supplies, laundry, last minute paperwork (sports' registration, permission slips, school activity t-shirt acquisition, etc.), haircuts, birthday gift for someone who's really more of an acquaintance but holds out the possibility of future social cred, the nose-wiping-butt-wiping-brush-your-teeth-reminding, the day-to-day of it all can eventually wear a person down to the point of blurting out the impotent cry of "I'm not your slave" in response to "Mom, can you pass the salt?" And yet this is what we signed up for and none of the gentle pastel coated books on parenting warn you about. It's the business end of having kids. The necessaries that make the idyllic slo-mo backyard antics with the dog and Dad's old baseball glove immortalized by many a commercial possible. The logistics are the red-tape of parenting. They're not fun, they're not intended to be, you don't have to like doing them every minute of every day. It doesn't make you a shitty parent.

Second, let's talk about the Time-Suck. You have no time, and it sucks. What about the quality time you spend with your family and dog in the backyard? That happens, it is a rare Haley's Comet occurrence when the planets align and everyone is in the same place at the same time and not gripped by hormonal foul moods. Otherwise, your free time comes at a premium that must be paid back in increments of doing the dishes, helping with homework, letting the dog out in the middle of the night, giving your spouse an equal allotment of free time and lavishing the attention on your children that they want but won't tell you about until you do not adequately supply it. It's ok to be pissed that you have no time, it doesn't make you a shitty parent.

Thirdly, let's visit Fear, Anxiety and Panic. No matter how much yoga, meditation, or wine consumption you practice that trio of doom is always present at some level. And that presence is a constant reminder that despite your best intentions and practices, you have no control over your offspring or, more acutely, the world that is bound to inflict mayhem on them in some way. And the realization that that perfect baby who you swore would remain pure and unscathed, will, in fact, become scathed. And all rationality will leave you when your kid is in a full nelson on the wrestling mat and you will vow to have his opponent arrested while your spouse pats you on the back and tells you this is a good character building experience and you vow to undercook his chicken just a little bit and see how his character builds from that. Fear, Anxiety and Panic are not our friends, but they are our companions on this parenting trek, and like the cousin you wish you didn't get stuck talking to at the family reunion, it's okay to wish you were sitting at the cool cousin table. It doesn't make you a shitty parent.

Next, let's crack this Gratitude nut. Raising safe, independent, responsible kind children is it's own reward, parents do not need kids to say thank you. Bullshit. We all want it at some point; that twinkly swelling soundtrack moment when our kids realize all we've done for them and thank us through the magic of skywriting or a tear-stained letter to the Kelly & Michael show. Let's face it, that's what Mother's Day and Father's Day is all about? Do we need it? No. Because of that whole love thing that never goes away but deepens over time, because of tribulation and in partnership with the complexity and inevitability of flawed humans caring for one another. Do we still want it? Yep. And that doesn't make you a shitty parent.

And lastly, let's talk about guilt. I have been consumed by guilt while writing this entire post. How could I possibly admit out loud-ish that I don't like parenting? That must mean that I don't like my kids, which is code for I don't love my kids, which is code for I am a freakish monster.  Well folks, even your dream job isn't a dream all the time. There's still paper work to file, you're going to make mistakes and doubt your abilities and sometimes the jelly donut you thought was going to make the day better is going to squirt out the wrong side and ruin the dress you paid too much for and are wearing for the first time. I love my kids; that is an universal absolute. And the real reason I sometimes don't like being a mother is because I'm afraid I suck at it, and these extraordinary perfectly flawed, scathed and miraculous offspring of mine will suffer as a result. And that doesn't make me a shitty parent. It just makes me a parent.

So, for this mother's day season I wish you forgiveness, fortitude, and the gratitude that does not come in a floral arrangement or Jared jewelry box, but the kind that whispers to you when you least expect it, looks nothing like you imagined and comes not on a prescribed date but at a random moment in the grocery store or passing in a hallway or during spontaneous backyard antics and reminds you that you are not a shitty parent.

Monday, April 27, 2015

You're Doing It!

So this is weird. In recent days I find myself bombarded with general Facebook posts inspiring the masses to follow your passion, leave that job you hate, move about in the world and make your dreams come true. And I feel paralyzed by the optimism.

Sure it all sounds grand and like the premise for a really successful summer movie aimed at grabbing the 22-35 female demographic, but I seem to be thwarted by the very real need to buy gas, pay for the homeowner's insurance and replenish the supply of frozen pizzas and Jimmy Dean Breakfast sandwiches which are really the only things I have energy to "cook." I would love to follow my passion, but who's going to pick up teenager #1 from school or buy a new concert shirt for teenager #2? Who's gonna buy dog food (because they can really only last on cheerios for so long) and give the bathroom sink an occasional wipe down? Who's gonna chip away at the mountain of debt while I'm off pursuing a passion which, apparently, has no monetary value?

Seriously. I'm asking. Who?

Somehow I don't think the New York Times Best selling author who is posting platitudes is going to spot me the cash it will take for me to follow my bliss. No, I have to go out and earn that through grit and determination and hard work ( or so says the next post on my feed). But wait a minute, that's what I've been doing for the last 25 years. At what point does grit cross over into delusion?

Never Mary! Don't give up on the dream! You gotta believe! Be Brave!

Seriously?

In my 20's and 30's I would have seen all of these inspirational posts and effectively worded quotations as signs that I was on the right path. In my late 40's it just feels like a justification for not seeing the light. I don't think the universe is sending me signs to be patient, I think the universe might be telling me to choose paying the bills over creative fulfillment.

But you can do both! Get out there! Network! If you can dream it, you can do it!

Okay. Sure. You're right. Stay positive. I'll do that after I'm done at my day job; oh but wait a minute, I have to do that other job tonight. Well maybe in between...nope nope, I need to get milk and take teenager #2 to the dentist. Okay, okay, I'll just stay up late and finish that resume, oh, but wait a minute I have to put in time on the marriage thing so husband doesn't feel neglected and unimportant, so I'll just wake up early, except I can't keep my eyes open after the third night of five hours of sleep and my resume looks like a 2 year old just discovered a typewriter for the first time.

All I'm hearing is excuses Mary...If you really want this than you need....

Okay shut up right there. The problem is I don't just want this. I want that, and the other thing, plus a side what the hell was I thinking. I want a life. I want to go on vacation, and I want to have a dog to walk, and I want to laugh with friends, and I want to conquer that level of Candy Crush, and I want to try that recipe, and I want to see that movie, and I want to see my kids graduate high school and have a life too. I want a life. I need a life, so I have something to bring to that silly pipe dream passion of mine. And to have a life to feed my passion I need money to feed my family. I still have to pay the bills, because the life I chose to lead has messy, wonderful, weird, annoying, perfect responsibilities. And some days optimism doesn't make the cut for the to do list.

I love the intention behind the inspirational sharing; in fact my office has many of those same quotes scattered on the walls. I will always be a glass is half full kinda gal, especially if it's full of wine. I still ascribe to the power of Zuzu's petals. But one's bliss does not always remain simple or singular.

So I would like to add an option to the pile of inspiration. In addition to "YOU CAN DO IT!" I'd like to propose the occasional "you are doing it." No CAPS, no graphics, no sweaty well-toned Nike athletes. Just a simple reminder.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Job Listing: Wife Needed

I need a wife.

I suppose I should say "I need a co-spouse" or "partner" or "life companion" or some other Gwyneth Paltrow inspired label. But that is just pretty candy coating to help this bitter pill go down. What I need is a wife; because I am failing miserably. I will concede to this modern world that I do not define wife by gender; we have indeed come a long way baby. No, a wife is no longer defined by gender, but by job description:

Job Title: Wife

Position available immediately. Full time wife needed to maintain household, schedules and sanity of typical (and by typical I mean crazy) family in Philadelphia region. Duties include but are not limited to:
  • Maintaining well stocked refrigerator and pantry
  • Cooking nutritional meals that have a chance of actually being consumed
  • Scheduling all doctor's appointments, confirming said appointments, rescheduling said appointments when the team makes the playoffs, driving to and from said appointments and providing incentives (read-bribes) to appointees to complete said appointments
  • Cleaning the house (rapid stuffing of extraneous shit in closets and doing quick once over with Swiffer, microfiber cloth and Febreeze spritzing acceptable in emergency drop-by situations only; full on baseboard scrubbing, lemony fresh pledge smelling, white glove level scouring required for any and all in-law visits)
  • Driving anywhere at any time for any purpose that fate dreams up.
  • Filling gas tank to avoid spouse's eye-rolling
  • Loading dishwasher, unloading dishwasher, and putting all dishes back; even if you don't know where they go, finding someplace for them other than the middle of the table.
  • Laundry: washing, folding, and putting away. Job also includes tireless discovery of socks under random pieces of furniture in rooms where socks do not tread.
  • Providing appropriate reactions to all in the family from outrage to unadulterated joy and intuiting the calibration of said reactions without the benefit of clues, hints or support.
  • Coordinating all home repairs as well as being present while they occur and knowing when to offer a glass of water without appearing awkward.
  • Providing spousal back-rubs with no personal agenda
  • Maintaining everyone's schedule flawlessly including reminders and the willingness to cancel things you want to do in lieu of last minute vital work, sport, or school functions.
  • Embracing Spock's motto "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
  • Paying all bills
  • Killing all bugs, cleaning up all vomit, tucking everyone in, relinquishing all rights to remote during March Madness (and every other day as well), replacing toothbrushes every two months and anticipating everyone's needs before they do.
Applicant should have experience in doing all of the above with a smile on their face and joy in their heart without a shred of irony or attitude as well as a willingness to take on more duties as they arise without having to be asked.

Hours: endless
Compensation: personal fulfillment-results vary and are inconclusive.
Benefits package: See compensation

If interested, please have head examined and then run quickly away. The Gap almost always has openings, and you get a store discount.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

F*#k College

Teenager # 1 is a junior in high school. The year of reckoning. The year we've been credentialing for since Pre-K. The year of acronyms: SAT, ACT and APs. The year they really look at. The almighty THEY. The THEY we endow with the power to determine our children's' fate, our parental street cred and the rear window decor of our cars.

College.

It is the golden carrot we have dangled in motivational fervor for our kids and ourselves since conception propelling us to achieve the unattainable security of a future unscathed and paved with prosperity. It was the reason for the in-vitro Mozart jam sessions, the flashcards at 18 months, the Suzuki violin lessons at age 3, the meticulously vetted Pre-K decision, the insistence on that first grade teacher rather than the other one, the phone call to the 6th grade science teacher about that B on that test, the hard-won debate about why 9th grade honors English IS a good fit, the backseat driving for that community service project, and the editorial "assistance" on that application essay. College is the holy grail whose elusive acquisition overshadows the original reason for going there in the first place.

I went to college. I liked college. I learned a lot from college. But as the mother of a junior I find this mantra keeps presenting itself to me: Fuck College.

Do I want my kid to go?

Yes.

Do I want him to suffer the pressure, stress, shame, anxiety and mania which feels intensely prevalent in the process these days?

Not particularly.

And the good news is, he does not feel that. The pathetic news is, my husband and I do.

Not because we expect our kid will go to Yale or Stanford or Oxford; not because we expect him to win the nobel prize, not even because we want to brag about it to our vast network of friends we have lost touch with because we've been too busy parenting. Nope, we feel it because he says he wants it, and we want to help him get there, and we all seem to disagree on how to accomplish that.

He sees it as some far off place like Narnia or Oz; a desirable location whose entrance requirements include simple door opening, curiosity or the luck of being near a tornado at the right time. And the urgency of arriving at said fantastical yet totally attainable Eden is eclipsed by the release of the next new history making limited edition pair of Jordans. His response, as is the response to all distant deadlines, "Don't worry Mom, I got this," delivered with a confidence which makes me believe he has turned a corner in his maturity, but is later revealed as a deceptively Oscar-worthy piece of acting.

My husband believes in teenager #1's potential absolutely. And, because of that faith he, admirably, suggests, and encourages, and suggests some more, and makes pacts, and suggests again, and puts down his foot, and threatens summer school, and suggests one more time, and gives up, but not really, because he knows how to help if only teenager #1 would let him help, so he suggests one last time, which turns out to be the proverbial straw for the overburdened camel.

And me, well, I'll try anything. I do what husband does too and help too much. I also do what teenager #1 does and live for days, weeks, months at a time in denial. I also make a lot of food to feed the beast. I also search desperately for moments of calm to introduce potentially controversial subjects like GPA or coming up with a list of colleges, or SAT prep. I also devise alternate plans in my head for the future which often includes a time machine sending me to the future so I can skip over all of this Bullshit.

And then there are moments of alarming clarity for husband and me. Moments when we realize that college is not, in fact, the holy grail. It is not a lifetime warranty guaranteeing success, prosperity and happiness. It is the road more travelled, for certain; a well-paved road with a high success rate, But it is just one route. There are so many others. Some of those other routes actually lead to college in a different way. Some of them lead to trade schools for jobs which will, most likely, never be erased by digital advancement; you know like cooking, cutting hair, fixing a car, fixing a clogged drain. Jobs we rely on and pay dearly for because they insure convenience. And some other routes lead to the opportunity to make a new path. How Robert Frost-ian. And, just like that, College's death-grip is relieved. It becomes just another in an infinite list of choices.

Bearing that in mind, I will amend my previous hostility with my own personal College Serenity Prayer

There are no mistakes, only opportunities
I cannot control the future
My self worth is not defined by the stickers on the rear window of my car
My child's life is his to discover
An SAT score only measures how well you take the SATS
My children WILL eventually move out of the house
Life is what you make of it
Eggs and bacon at 10pm can cure all ills
Panic is not our friend
Fuck College








Sunday, March 1, 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For

I went on a job interview last week. An all day job interview, immersive you might say. And the strangest thing happened, I left feeling like I did really well. So, of course, the next logical reaction was terror...that I might actually get the job.

So then I began to soothe myself by listing all the reasons why I would have to turn it down.

  • My average hours per week would most likely double.
  • The logistics of getting everyone to school on time could evolve from difficult to nightmarish.
  • I might not have the right work clothes.
  • It would mean putting another nail in the coffin of my actual hopes and dreams.
  • I wouldn't be able to go to as many of my son's basketball games next year.
  • Dinner time would morph from its current state of slapdashery into an all out farce.
  • I may not be up to the job.
  • It might mean I am good at something.
  • It might mean I am good at something I never planned on being good at.
  • It might verge on the periphery of what some call success. 

Whenever I set out on a new venture, I am usually propelled by two fears:

1. That I will be discovered as the fraud we all know I am at any moment.
2. That I will do well and have to feel pride in my accomplishments.

And there are probably so many conventionally cliche and weird ooey gooey places this ritual of self sabotage originates from.
  • Catholicism
  • Being the youngest of six and therefore a product of my parents' realization that kids really raise themselves.
  • Being a woman
  • Being a hard worker as opposed to a brilliant thinker.
  • Being married to a successful man
  • Being lazy
  • The complacency of comfort
  • The possibility that there really isn't much under the hood.
  • My mother's self-image
  • My father's success
  • Being me
I have worked very hard over my many years to program the intricate software of my self-doubt for a balanced output of manageable accomplishment and resentment. The constant wrench in these works is that I am also plagued by optimism. Optimism upsets this balance because it drives me to read Marianne Williamson's Our Deepest Fear, and listen to anthemic pop music, and watch Henry V's St. Crispin's Day speech and Hoosiers in its entirety which leads me to possibly the most dangerous outcome--believing in myself.

Don't worry, it doesn't last long because I quickly equate self-confidence with arrogance (see Catholicism above), and resettle into my acceptable version of ordinary. (You literally just witnessed this process since I was sickened by my own declaration of believing in myself to the point of belittling it and blaming it on the Catholic church)

This has been my  life's "To be or not to be." Only its gravitas is not so much the stuff of Shakespeare. (doing the whole devaluing sleight of hand again right here.) The root of this particular evil is simple: I will be discovered a fraud when others finally realize that there is not much of value or interest or capability beyond the obvious good looks and superficial charm. The irony of this particular evil is that is has driven me to make sure my fraudulence is never discovered, which has consequently lead me to develop skills that some now may consider valuable. And how do I reconcile that? How do I accept success (something I want) when I ultimately feel I do not deserve it (something I believe)?

I haven't been offered the job, so, thankfully, I do not have to answer that question yet. I can continue to postpone the possibility of success and the epiphany of self-significance by getting on with the reality of life. And one day, when when I truly crack this nut, I can get on with the reality of living.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Do You See What I See?

I never thought of seeing as being a subjective experience. Perception, yes, but the facts of seeing always seemed to me to be absolute. That is obviously the Grand Canyon, that is the letter A, that is the last piece of pizza. There's nothing hypothetical there. Once again, however, I am wrong and must evolve if I am to survive in the this constantly shifting anthropology of modern motherhood.

Exhibit A:
I left the house on a Sunday night. I'd spent the majority of the day doing laundry for the various humans in my home. I fold laundry, as I do most tasks of tedium, not listening to NPR as most of my neighborhood claims but in front of the TV. After the final load of laundry was put away, I left the empty laundry basket in the living room tucked up against the coffee table; partly because I didn't feel like walking upstairs again, and partly as a test. Yes, General Akbar, it was a trap of sorts. I wanted to see if anyone would bring it upstairs. I left that night to do what I do and I returned Tuesday afternoon to find the laundry basket in the same exact location; untouched by human hands or even toppled by the dog trying to get to whatever crumbs were left temptingly on the coffee table.

I say it was a trap to catch my children and husband in the act of willful laziness, but it was really a trap for good old me. There was a part of me that hoped someone would do what needed to be done, what seemed excruciatingly obvious to me; but most of me knew the basket would be there with its pathetic lonely used dryer sheet still hovering in the corner. And of course I was frustrated. No, I was mad. I actually trapped myself into being mad. My miscalculation came in the assumption that Husband and Teenagers 1 & 2 would walk into the living room from any angle and see the laundry basket. That was, in fact, my fatal flaw Aristotle.

That is when I realized that seeing is subjective.

I walk into the living room and I see:

  • blankets askew and piled in violation of all magazine recommendations
  • empty glasses with juice puddles waiting to be tipped and dripped all over the rug
  • random bottle caps left to find their own way to the trash
  • dirty socks on floors, furniture and draped on the dog
  • jackets fallen from their hooks
  • mail unsorted and neglected
  • clumps of dog hair amassing troops in corners to wage war on my pride
  • An empty laundry basket
In short, I see chaos. Chaos I have contributed to, but chaos nonetheless.

When Husband & Teenagers walk into the living room they see:
  • The TV
  • Places to sit and lie down
  • Blankets to keep them warm
  • a convenient place to find socks
  • remotes
  • a convenient overall location to call out to the kitchen for food and drink
In short, they see comfort.

It is the same with the piles of things on the steps intended to be brought upstairs. Even if I put the new toothpaste box or pile of paid bills, or whatever item belongs on the second floor in the middle of the steps, it is invisible. Until someone actually trips on it and then asks loudly why no one brings things up and just leaves stuff on the stairs, at which point I clench my teeth, roll my eyes and answer them inappropriately in my head.

I want to blame them so badly. I want to point out their insensitivity and laziness and selfishness, but I cannot because I gave them no opportunity to succeed. I tried to enlighten through passive aggression, a ploy universally employed and effective only in the distribution and proliferation of guilt and self-loathing. It really isn't that hard to ask someone to take the laundry basket upstairs. Much easier in fact than trying to elicit gratitude for my efforts by expecting them to read my mind and exhibit compassion the way I want it rather than the way they offer it when I'm too busy generating fury over perceived chaos.

So, I cannot blame or resent them for failing tests they did not know they were taking. I can teach them that a laundry basket is not actually a quirky design choice, I can ask them to help a mother out, and before I expect them to see the world through my eyes, I must remember to look at the world through theirs. Though the lens may be filtered by Call of Duty site scopes and clouded with Doritos residue, I will try to see what they see as I continue to navigate the terrain of this bizarre wilderness.



Thursday, January 8, 2015

Boden & Foreboding

So I haven't written in awhile. You may think it's because I've been so busy being fabulous; and as much as I'd like to perpetuate that kind of magical thinking, that is not the reason for my absence. It's because I am depressed. I know, boo hoo, poor me. I'm disgusted myself, though I'm not sure if that is because of my innate sense of moral righteousness or caused by the depression, which, of course, diminishes the validity of said disgust. As a result, instead of writing witty blogs with a little message thrown in courtesy of a spoonful of my characteristic hilarity, I have been doing what you do when you are depressed but trying not to be.

I've been shaming myself into gratitude since there is suffering far greater than mine here, there and everywhere.

I've been listening to a lot of anthemic pop music.

I've been finding too much hidden meaning in movies like Mockinjay and How to Train Your Dragon 2.

I've been knitting. A lot. For a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

I've been watching too much TV and, having caught up, am seeking out new broadcast addictions.

I've cried and tried to cry.

I've browsed the extra 40% off sale page of the Sundance website frequently.

I've done the same with the Anthropologie website, but they only have 25% off sale items and, even in depression, I am plagued by my practicality.

Boden's sale page is next. (I'm actually looking at it right now whenever I can't think of what to write next.)

I'm exercising regularly because it has been said that helps. It does, briefly until I am done.

I play Candy Crush. A lot. For a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

I search job listings.

I frequent Groupon's travel deals.

I stay up too late.

I've stopped filing my nails.

I practice envy and resentment.

I add to my debt. (Usually by way of Sundance, and, momentarily, Boden)

I confide in my dog. A lot. For a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Why am I depressed? There is no fabulous or obvious reason. Unhappy at work, failure to achieve most of my dreams, lousy parenting, brain chemistry, winter, no marketable skills, no money for this awesome whimsical Boden skirt. Take your pick. It is a decidedly mundane and whiny depression and I am not doing the one thing I should be-therapy.

It's a tricky thing to start therapy when you are depressed. It makes sense and should appeal to my aforementioned practicality, but it actually feels on par with establishing breathable air on Mars or getting my kids to understand the correlation between stiff gummy toothpaste and the act of leaving the cap haphazardly to one side of the tube of Crest. Here is the Mt. Everest I see before me:

To start Therapy I have to first find a therapist. How do I do that? Ask for references from a friend I don't mind telling that I need to be in therapy on the off chance that their recommendation is actually in network(see Boden dilemma above). Or maybe I can search my health insurance's website, make a list and start making calls. Being depressed it takes several days to work up the courage to call an office and talk to a disinterested but trained in empathy intake administrator to explain my reasons for seeking out a therapist all the while sounding like I don't need one because I fear judgement from this stranger. After one call, filled with pride and exhaustion, I reward myself with a cinnamon roll and feel confident I have made enough of an effort and can now forgo any future search or follow-through. I might even make it to an initial appointment in a weird basement office filled with shelves of action figures used for play therapy and role play, only to be further exhausted by not finding the right therapist for me, plunging me into a deeper depression. And then, a week or two later I begin again with the next name on the provider list. It may, in fact take many calls of forced nonchalance and visits to a variety of eclectic offices before I find the therapist for me, and the prospect of that kind of mental health EHarmony is daunting to the point of being defeating.

What I really need to do is start therapy when I feel good. It takes hope to start therapy, and depression and hope are not quirky friends who bring new sitcom-like understanding to the term opposites attract. It stands to reason then that I should seek out therapy during bouts of confidence, just like I should buy jumper cables before my battery dies. So, will I help myself and get into therapy? Yes. but that's not why I write this.

I write this because depression whether it feels justified or petty, whether it is triggered by tragedy or no milk for your cereal is not insignificant, wrong or a sign of weakness. Denying it because you do not feel worthy of or entitled to it does not make it go away. Shame or pride will not conquer it. Treating it seems impossible and scary and an open invitation for stigma. Because, the truth is, we don't want to need help. We've all retained a touch of that stubborn toddler defiance that repeats "No, me do it," time and time again. If I broke my leg though, I probably wouldn't wait to see if it would go away with time. If I had heart disease I might not just tell myself to get over it.

I am not writing to reveal anything new about depression or too shock you with the suffering I feel. Mine is a garden variety depression. And I still feel pathetic and arrogant for presuming I have it. I do not really believe I will make any strides in normalizing or de-stigmatizing depression. But I want to stop pretending everything's okay even though by outward appearances it is. It's not just that I am depressed, I have depression. I'm hoping experts will help with it. I am not asking for you to feel anything about my talking about it. I am not hoping you will solve it for me. I'm just saying out loud(ish) That I have it. Because saying it gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment...

And gives me the confidence to accomplish more.

Right after I add this kicky Boden top to my wish list.