Wednesday, March 28, 2012

perfect mother? no. not even close.


Yesterday in yoga, I got a gift. I didn't ask for it; it came to me. The preceding evening, I posted on my facebook walls (GrassOil and my personal wall) that day's events: 

"So it has been a long day. Thing 3 bumped his head hard enough today in P.E. to warrant an ambulance ride to Inova Peds Unit, which I will happily leave all my money when I die, for multiple tests, including CT scan, xray and EKG. He was released around 1pm with a favorable & cautious prognosis: no sign of concussion, but no stunts either. An hour ago, I was hugging him, gratefully, and he said, in his dry way, "Mom, it's late. You need to go now. Turn out my light and close my door." I guess he's better already."

The gift in yoga came from my teacher, who is also a fb friend and a physical, touchable friend offline, on the actual planet we share (I can't go there: "IRL / in real life" - to me, this is all real life).  She openly asked me how I was doing because she had read my status about Thing 3. Her knowing eyes bore through my fa├žade of panache and I said, "OK, now." She explained to the other yoginis (this class is awesome, populated with all manner of women in all walks of life) my status and then paused, with a knowing and loving glance at me to close with, "Molly is the mother of three boys. It's a busy job." 

The women collectively, "ohhhh"d at my experience. Lovingly and without the fruitlessly competitive and dismissive, "been there done that" patronizing tone. They all visually hugged me and graced me with gentle smiles.  With a small smile, I hugged them back and said, "Yes, I am a mom of three boys. I'm a lucky girl" and I meant every freaking syllable of it. 

RANT: Being a word freak, I hate that "been there done that" and "it's all good" response that people make automatically toward other peoples' circumstances. It's so dismissive and isolating. I want to say and believe that people mean no harm, but I have also say, that most people mean absolutely nothing when they say it. In fact, they're saying, "I don't care. Don't tell me your freaking problems because they're not my problem."  In my personally invested mind I say, "No, actually, you haven't 'been there or done that' because you're not me. Your child is not my child. You are not in my shoes and it's not 'all good.' The fear or sadness I felt then, even though things are OK now, have stripped a layer from my confidence; have stolen minutes from the restful sleep I will have in years to come. That my son had to experience a CT-scan which apparently can create conditions where 1:1,200 children can develop some form of cancer is not really... 'been there done that' for you unless you're me and he's yours. Granted the sun can TV can do the same thing, but that's part of a regular existence.  And that 'it's all good' because he didn't have a concussion is really not 'all good.' The kid was terrified of this gigantic machine, so don't go dismissing me with your been there done that it's all good  bullshit. RANT OVER.

The gift was that my yoga teacher Saw Me. She gets me. She Knows What It's Like. 

That same day, I met with my therapist and she heard me recount this yoga experience and what happened with Thing 3.  She wrote down something.  I hate it when she does that. This post is the closest I'm likely going to come to a public indictment of my mother for her parenting style (which was very unique): she was a mix of Augusten Burrough's mother in "Running with Scissors"; "All in the Family's" Edith Bunker and "Roseanne"'s Roseanne.  My mother (who is still with us) suffered from some pretty heavy mental disorders (which were unknown about in the 1960s and 1970s) and her own screwed-up mom. While those disorders and her history do not absolve her of her special brand of caregiving because many of her flaws were avoidable, they help me recognize that her particular style of childrearing was not because of anything I did (this is something that I've only recently begun to accept).  As a result, my style of mothering has been to sorta wing it in reverse from what she did. While I made it and am here, there are parts of my person that are woefully undernurtured and as such, I am tuned to feel exquisitely inadequate, perfectionistic, insecure, snarky and defensive about any error, real or imaginary, I manifest.  To fight those urges requires vigilance.  What's even more ironic is that I am both at times gullible and distrustful, go figure. 

So, when someone Gets Me or Gets You, regardless of your maternal status, it's no small gift. They Get Us because they Too Have Lived Like We Have.  They know how hard we've worked to Just. Get. By.  

What my therapist ended up writing down was this: "She fears turning into her mother."  And that's why she earns the big bucks. That concept is nothing new: I'm sure many women reading this very word right now are guilty of desperately hoping they are not like their mothers. I feel I've cornered the market on that sentiment, but I know in some ways I am very very similar to my mother. It's the anger; anger from neglect as a child.   

this is my mom and me in 2008


Then, what my therapist said to me was this: "You Are Not Your Mother." I've suspected that but it doesn't mean I've quit trying.  Reversing the "be your mother" trend has been tantamount to a crusade for me; an all-out war against myself and my femininity. I am the only daughter in my family, and thus I am the most similar to my mother in my family.  For me to win this war, I became my anti-mother: tough, hard, self-neglectful, realistic, honest and true, stable, openly self-critical and vigilant.  Y'know what? It has been exhausting! 

We're all overcompensating for something... 

My war meant that I'm totally interested in health, exercise, laundry, cooking, playing with my kids and sorta neglecting mySelf.  I don't do the aforementioned with the intention that it pleases me, I do so in the spirit of service to my family because it was so lacking in the world where I grew up. It doesn't mean I don't enjoy the efforts, it's just that the motivation is skewed.  When I exercise, it's to stay fit for my family because my mother never did.  When I run myself ragged running errands it's because my mother didn't.  When I show up somewhere 15 minutes early to pick-up my kids, it's because my mother didn't and sometimes she didn't even show. Or when she did, she was altered.  When I am self-reliant it's because my mother wasn't.  The good news is that I'm finally am OK with what I've become despite it all.  And since beginning therapy, I've learned to loosen up a bit on myself and allow myself to be OK with just being OK.  I'm reading a book, The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love You Missed by Jasmin Lee Cori, which has been very helpful. 


In keeping with the inadequacy theme, I posted someone else's blog on my fb wall last night, "9 Quick Tips for Keeping Your Home Feeling Serene and Organized." It wasn't fiction.  A friend from high school, a great gal whose two younger children are close in age to mine commented, "I need to work on #9" (making your bed). She and I went back and forth for a couple rounds because I sense we both share the same space of trying to figure this stuff out: that a mess in the house means the kids are having fun (really? that's ok?); that dishes on the table mean the family has been fed (doesn't it also mean lazy?); that an unmade bed means someone had somewhere safe to sleep (not that they're getting back in it real soon?); that a dining room table covered with homework means minds are being challenged (not irresponsible from not cleaning up?)... OK whatever you say. (My inner anti-my-mother mother is cringing.) I've got to prepare for the cleaning ladies ...




I grew up with a fair amount of chaos -- our house was forever disheveled but for entirely different reasons than those cited above.  My mother seldom cleaned the house, our cleaning lady, Betty Sortino, did.  She was awesome.  She had tobaccoffee breath, jiggled her leg to rock me to sleep on my bed, shared her Hershey's bars with me, read me bedtime stories and taught me lyrics to "I Shot the Sheriff."  So, the optimistic proposal of a messy home being a happy home leaves me twisting my neck like a confused labrador retriever unless Hershey bar wrappers and Clapton are part of the picture.

Like me, my friend is a Stay At Home Mother (SAHM), which is a misnomer if I ever heard one. I am not a stay at home mother. We are a collective runerrandskeeptheenginerunningdashinforasecondtodropsomethingoffgoingtothemarketthekidsforgottheirhomeworkcanicallyoubackinanhourgottatakethekidstochesstennissoccerbasketballguitarorthodontistfillthetankdogneedsshotssodothecatsgethimtotutoringgottagotothedoctor --oh yeah, what about lunch and a potty break for me?-- mother. 

On the FB thread, my friend said someone she knows suggested that we SAHMs treat our SAHM-ness as a job: that we shower, dress as though for work, do our hair and apply make-up and all the rest, so that we will see our domestic experiences as ... Oh God, what is this the frigging 1950s?! Someone finish this sentence! I am stumped! Can this be true - a female recommended this?! I guess we're supposed to do even more to somehow bring more vapid value in what we're doing to look good when we're doing it even though we may be miserable or lost or battling the feeling that what we're doing is not good enough.  Hey, ladies, if you're gonna go to war with yourself, don'tcha wanna look great?! So the take-away is to lie: to look like we've been at the office all day even though we're not bringing in any extra money because clearly staying in our yoga pants with crazy hair in a ponytail is unacceptable. People can get fired for that.  My friend, like me, also tries to get her exercise in so any attempt at that means the hair and make-up has to wait and exercise for me happens when I make it because I'm not totally organized (in that way, I'm a carbon copy of my mom). 

I said to my friend, "I don't garden, clean, fold laundry, drive all over and workout in pleated khakis and pearls and a double-breasted jacket or workout in Anne Taylor" so, um, her friend's well-intentioned (and completely unrealistic) advice made me feel even more inadequate. I can't imagine a bigger waste of emotional energy, time and effort than to dress for success when you're just gonna go to the grocery store (although living in Fairfax County, I must admit I've seen it).  Maybe I'm wrong. 
  
I added that there are those of us who like to be with kids and are super domestic and eagerly play "tea party" or "army men" under the dining room table with the kiddos. As much as I love those -moments- I'll be honest: I never aspired to engage in them.  Does that make me a bad mother? I don't know.  I'm a big believer in a child's need to develop "independent play" as well as group play and by golly, if I'm gonna be playing, it better involve dice, cards and tokens and cash not tea cups, teddy bears or army men and sandboxes. 

A couple years ago I clipped a Daily OM meditation for the day called "Tending the Hearth."  It quells my nerves and helps me remember that what I'm doing --even if the house is a mess and the clothes are clean but not always put away-- is of value. It puts the brakes on my inner argument that I'm inadequate for the five minutes after I read it until something breaks or crashes and snaps me back to first-responder reality. 

A joke my friend once told me: "I was a great parent before I had children." 

Motherhood, parenthood, whateverhood is tough, regardless of your circumstances. Granted, I'm not a mother in Africa suffering from famine or disease, but stress is stress is stress. I'm not diminishing my stress if I honor the stress of my sisters in Africa. Even though I like my first-world existence, I'm not so sure an African mother would want my problems. Wayne Dyer once said, "you can never make anyone richer by making yourself poorer." I dig that; that's why I haven't given everything away. 

When you are a parent, your unrivaled unbridled love for your brood can only be equalled by the same degree of protection of your sanity and your precious wisftul recollections of the life you had Before Children. Nothing makes a mother or father crave the life they had Before Children than the screaming fights and unrelenting repetitive verbal waterboarding of an insistent 11-year-old child feigning illness and fever who wants to stay home from school because a test is on that day's docket. Nothing will make you second guess your decision to not put whiskey in your morning coffee sooner.

So am I a perfect mother? Hell no. But I'm trying to be less-than perfect. I'm figuring out that I'm doing OK and that book I mentioned above is telling me where I'm screwing up because I see where I'm repeating patterns I learned and observed.  I've also learned to appreciate the parts of my mom that are good because if I don't figure out some good things about her, I'm sorta screwing myself because I am 50% her.... I've become better about liking pink but I'm not a girly-girl and that's totally OK. 

No one's asking for advice, so I'll tell you what works for me: tend the sadness and sorrow from your childhood, allow it because it can't get better unless you honor it; don't dwell, but don't bury it. But if you're a parent, stay aware.  Read books, blogs (here's a blog, sorta sad, but it's clinical about unattentive parents) and learn.  Your kids will forgive you if you ask and honor on your commitment to them to make it up to them.  They won't however, ever trust you if you lie to them about it. Remember: their big brains have a ton of bandwidth and they've got memories like little elephants.  Do the best you can and be the best you can be. Put aside your fears of your inadequacies and remember you can learn a lot from your kids if you let yourself hear them. 

Kids didn't ask to be born into our baggage, our inner wrestlings and inner battles. They didn't say to God (or whatever you believe in), "Hey, gimme that really awesome person down there. Yeah, the one in the Porsche.  She looks like she's had no troubles or sadness. Oh, a person without disappointment, sadness or troubles doesn't exist? Oh. Well, how about that one? She looks soft." So by virtue of that, we must do our utter best by our children.  We must put down the phone, step away from the computer, be patient, be clear, be honest, express our needs, put down the drink, slow down the car, get out of bed, smile when we speak to them and be that person they know we can be.  Be that person they need us to be.  

this is my mom, me and my gramma in 1969.


If your person wasn't there for you to begin with, become the person You've Been Waiting For. 

Thank you. 


Sunday, March 25, 2012

when you're five years old

when you're five years old, you don't know about tomorrow. you know that bump down in the sidewalk when you're in the wagon goes like this: ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum-DUM. 


when you're five years old, you know the path to the park like the back of your own hand. if you cared to learn about the back of your own hand, if you could see the skin beneath the dark gray, dried sparkly dirt. 


when you're five years old, you don't worry about an hour ago. you worry about whether Wyle E. Coyote will catch the Road Runner, big brother says so. 


when you're five years old, anyone over 4 feet tall, with clean hands and brushed hair is met with suspicion until they pick a better hiding spot than you. 


when you're five years old, you don't care about the president. you care about what's your dessert in your TV-dinner. will it be the apple turnover or the cherry pie? you also plan to eat that first because you know they'll make you eat your veggies first if they catch you.  


when you're five years old, you don't care about china. you care about what you'll be for halloween. and if old mrs. neill will give out pennies again instead of candy. you hate it when she does that, even though your parents say it's better than candy. 


when you're five years old, you see everyone's bellies before you see their faces. some bellies are big and you bump into them and others have belts, sashes, purses in front of them. 


when you're five years old, your hands are dirty, sticky sweaty, nimble and strong. they can make mud cakes with your eyes closed and top them with the poisonous red berries your mom told you not to eat. 


when you're five years old, you know which tree branches are the strong ones and which branches are not as strong. you know which branch to stand on for launching paper airplanes to get the best loft. 


when you're five years old, you don't go to school, you go to kindergarten and that's better than school. 


when you're five years old, snow is just like dirt except that it's cold, wet and clean.  snow-cold is never really cold and wet, red hands from soppy mittens don't feel bad until they come off.


when you're five years old, a glass of milk and a peanut butter and bacon sandwich tastes better than candy and you don't care for anything else for weeks. no, really, you don't. even if little brother makes a barfy face. 


when you're five years old, cleaning your room is stupid and under the bed is a secret hiding spot. oh! that's where your bear went! 


when you're five years old, brushing your teeth is boring so swishing your mouth with toothpaste works just as good. 


when you're five years old, ski wax is great for putting up posters


when you're five years old, any blank wall space is a canvas and people look like eggs and don't have bodies; their heads are their bodies and their arms come from where the ears are on other peoples' drawings.  


when you're five years old, a spoon is a shovel and a fork has too many points, so you push part of the fork against a wall to bend a point.  now it works.


when you're five years old, a tennis ball is big. throwing a tennis ball very far is hard.


when you're five years old, a cat's back is as high as your knees and picking them up takes all your muscles.


when you're five years old, the wind outside sounds like a monster. 


when you're five years old, crayons melt on the furnace vent.


when you're five years old, your Big Bird record player makes fun noises when you rub the needle against a washcloth.


when you're five years old, you can't reach the faucet, so you put your stomach on the counter and hold your breath to reach to turn on the water. 


when you're five years old, the attic is haunted and you don't like to pass by its door on your way to your bedroom. 


when you're five years old, a dress over pajamas is suitable for trips to the bank with dad.


when you're five years old, you hold everything with two hands and you stare at it if you're walking with it and it has water in it.  


when you're five years old, banisters are the quickest way downstairs for teddy bears in blankies. 


when you're five years old, the inside curve in the back staircase where you can't be seen from the top or the bottom is the best place to hide when you're gonna get in trouble


when you're five years old, bedtime is for tearing your favorite pages out of your Babar books and sleeping with them. 


when you're five years old, doing your own hair is mandatory. if you don't like your bangs, you just cut them and they are gone. and bangs can never be too short. even if mom disagrees.


when you're five years old, you have your front teeth, unless you lose them during a game of cops and robbers with your big brother when you slip and fall and have to rush to children's hospital to have them taken out. 


when you're five years old, tricycles are for babies. big wheels are for winners. health-tex vested pant-suits are The Best for meetings, mary janes are better than sneakers and speed rules. 


this is me when i was five. 


if you're not five years old, remember these things for your friends who are five years old. maybe they can remind you to loosen up, cut your own bangs and feel how cool it is to be a kid. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

the cost of expectations


"Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise."
- Alice Walker

I have a modest proposal for all parents or parents of incoming babies: lovingly tell your child(ren) to have no expectations. 

My therapist (yes, I went there already, perhaps a new record at just 21 words) once told me a phrase that was new to me back in 2005: “having expectations creates built-in resentments.”  

Ooh, built-ins.

I’m not down on people or the world, but I have noticed lately that if I come to expect kindness, professionalism, decorum out of people in the manner with which I endeavor to conduct myself, I’m a dolt, a bozo and essentially screwed for the rest of the day emotionally because I stew in disbelief at the callousness of people.

This is sort of a rant.  Gentility is dead or at least on a DNR.

Case in point just yesterday with global coffee powerhouse Starbucks. I bought the VIA “ready-brew” packs for a trip. When I opened the packages to prepare for the trip, four of the “sticks” as Starbucks calls them, were pilfered from the packaging.  I paid full price, $7 for two packages of 7 sticks and I got 3 in each package.  The packaging is clearly the problem. In Starbucks’s mission to impart a Green (right, whatever) sentiment, they use austere packaging: a cutesy clear spot of tape here, a special fold/cut to the paper there, soy-based ink on recyclable paper, job-enhancing sustainable agriculture and a perfect cup of joe.  

I contacted their customer relations department via the web (the fact that I had to contact them via the web was annoying; no customer service phone number on any packaging) and detailed my situation.  I gently suggested they use a more resilient type of packing, like a cereal box, that clearly indicates tampering and even went so far as to suggest using maybe those paper “zipper” inspired types of packaging like on frozen fish sticks.  Beyond my frustration level, this was also a matter of food safety.

Starbucks replied within 24 hours, which was great, but the response was woefully inadequate given its impressive financials and global branding imprint.  I could envision the employee sipping from his? (the name was Jasyn, so …?) fair-trade Balinese coffee mug made by indigent children to pay for the goat they were going to share in their village and typing on his ergonomically exquisite keyboard made of recycled aluminum while sitting in his bamboo office chair wearing hemp clothing and listening to Sufjan Stevens (whom I happen to like very much) as he typed his expression of gratitude for detailing my experiences and sharing my frustration and letting me know he was going to pass on my comments to the marketing team.  But I feel confident saying Jasyn wasn’t sitting in a bamboo chair and sipping from a fair-trade mug.  He was likely an overworked denizen of an overcrowded, poorly lit, poorly circulated, cubical farm in India.  He was however, probably listening to Sufjan Stevens or Julian Casablancas because, hey it is Starbucks.

Starbucks made no offer to reimburse my expenses (I wasn’t looking for a handout, just hopefully expectant for a compensation coupon for my trouble) but Jasyn didn’t care.  I figure Starbucks figures they got me by the short hairs because I’m a coffee addict (not) and can’t go a day without their elixir keeping me alive.  Well I’m not and once I finish the two other 7-stick packages I have of their VIA, I’m not buying any more.  In 2 weeks, I am DONE with VIA.  And they can suck it, to quote my friend affectionately known as “C3.”

I’ll go through all my beans they roasted that I have in my house and then I’ll switch to Maxwell House or some other openly dishonest pre-fair-trade, pre-Seattle / consciousness conglomerate like Procter & Gamble who knows how to treat its customers:

Almost 14 years ago, when Thing 1 was very wee (about six months) and I was a new mother, we were out running errands.  He had a diaper on for a longer-than expected (see, there’s that word again) time.  When we returned from our jaunt and I prepared him for a nap, his diaper was massive.  I opened it to change him and I discovered a clear, gel-like substance all over his little pelvic area.  I thought his kidneys had exploded all over himself and that he was in dire need of dialysis.  I thought his pee had crystallized and he was on death’s door with his bright eyes, funny toothless grin, chubby cheeks, dimples, pre-nap chortles and sticky hands grabbing at my necklace that dangled about his face. 

Quickly I called my mom who had no clue because when we were children she had a diaper service so, she couldn’t help, but she did add to my level of panic and primal fear, “Oh, Gad, Mally. It saounds ahwfal.  I think yooo shud caal the haspital.” (She was a Buffalo, NY, resident until her 48th year, so I have to do that Great Lakes accent for you.)

I didn’t know if we were at that critical “caal the haspital” stage yet so I called the 800 number on the box of Pampers.  Within two rings a very mellow woman (I could tell by the sound of her voice) named Maureen answered the phone and asked me what I was calling about. 

With no shortage of pithy anxiety I told her that my son had a clear, springy, crazy goo all over himself and that I didn’t know what was happening.  He seemed fine, he seemed alert, he seemed like himself (YES HE DII-ID, HE MOST CERTAINWY DII-IID, SWEETUMMMS…) but what the heck?

Maureen calmly cleared her throat and said everything was fine.  She asked me if I was a new mom, (D’Oh!) and assured me that everything was just fine, hon.  She didn’t make me fear she was pantomiming “GOT A LIVE ONE!” waving the LUNATIC! flag from her cubicle to her co-workers.  She didn’t make me defensive for wanting to ask for help or feel angry for voicing a concern.  She told me the crazy goo was some form or absorbent property that enables the diaper to take on bodily fluid.  She explained that the release (explosion was more like it) of the material indicated that it had reached its maximum capacity.  So in my best anxiety-induced Star Trek’s “Scotty” impression, I suggested to her that  the diapurr had geeven ahll it cooold, cap’n. shey coooldn’t geeeve nue morrrre and she laughed.

Utterly relieved and grateful for her calm and her stories about her first crack at motherhood, “Oh hon, that was yeeeears ago. My kids are alllll grown up now…” I released a lot of fear and sorta whimpered on the phone, breathing deeply and slowly.  She asked me if I was ok and I said that I was but that I was terrified earlier.  She got real quiet on her end and it was like I could feel her reaching out to tightly grasp my hand, a hand hug.  After a few moments, she said, “Hon, can I get your name and address?  I want to do something for you.”

I gathered my composure and finished up Thing 1’s new, clean diaper, smooched his forehead and put him into bed and closed the door.

I gave her my information.  She listened to me carefully put my infant son in his crib with love.  She sighed and told me the worst of that moment was over.  She told me my son was fine and suggested that I might want to take a nap and relax while he did, that the laundry will always be there, that it could wait. 

One day later via FedEx a coupon for a free case of diapers arrived with some coupons for laundry detergent and other affiliated products and a hand-written note from Maureen thanking me for trusting her and wishing me and my family health and peace.  I don’t care that this massive company wasn't especially earth-friendly, Maureen was Molly-friendly.

These are expectations that I didn’t have: that Maureen would be so loving, so human; that an employee of a huge, HUGE multinational conglomerate would be so kind.  Maureen set the bar that day and yesterday Jasyn ran into it, “clotheslined” it.

So this is what we get when we have expectations.  Expectations that people will hold the door for us, help us out of a car, help us with our groceries.  Expectations that check-out clerks will say “hello” (fellow human being trying to make your way) and “thank you” (for keeping me employed). And to Alice Walker’s point above, if we have no expectations, we get to live frugally on surprise, because we’ll starve if we think the nice random moments from random other people are coming to feed our souls and help us remember what coexistence means.  

Am I in the wrong here? Am I so self-absorbed that expecting someone to treat me with courtesy or kindness or manners or decency is asking too much?  Has FaceBook and YouTube and Twitter and camera-phones and text-messaging and instant gratification and webcams and reality-TV made people SO self-absorbed that they actually believe they will be “discovered” or instantly famous?  Is Justin Bieber our benchmark for talent and fame?   That kid’s a train wreck.  Is "American Idol" an example of what the world really needs? Is anyone entitled to being rude and unkind and all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips –eqsue?  In one of the scariest films I've ever seen -- "Mommie Dearest" about Joan Crawford and her adopted daughter Christina, I was amazed to see that Joan hand-wrote a personal reply to every fan she ever had.  She might've been insane, but she was polite insane.

What happened to not shouting in a restaurant?  Or turning down your cell phone ringer?  What happened to formality?  What happened to hand-written notes?  Is real reality so boring that we have to escape to one-dimensional virtual reality?

Uh oh, I can tell I’m getting tangential. Stay on track, Mol.

So, in my sage 44 years, I have come to understand that we could all do ourselves and our incoming human beings (aka babies) a favor by simply telling them this: “Have no expectations.  Don’t expect things out of life.  You are not entitled to anything.  Work hard, do your best and be good to society because it is right to do.  But, have no expectations.  Don’t expect kindness, don’t expect eye contact (certainly not in a full-grown adult or teenager) or full sentences or for someone to possibly relate to you on any level because they’re too busy thinking about themselves, what's happening on FaceBook, if he's lost at Words with Friends or how to be rich, famous or the next big thing.”

Repeat "have no expectations" throughout their lives reinforced with the beauty of occasional bouts of spontaneous kindness and the fact that being nice just feels right.  The point is not to beat the sweet innocent into submission, but rather to forge and hone a smart person, a self-assured person and someone who doesn’t make insanely poor choices or use poor judgment. As we mature, I would hope it would inspire equanimity and a quiet repose with the phrase of the century, “It is what it is” bolstered with the karma-hopeful reasoning that it's simply right to be a nice person.  Have you ever heard, "Steve's such a weirdo ... he's so NICE to people..." (sullen teenagers don't count)?  I haven't.  But I do have excellent radar for saccharine kindness. That's just as bad as rudeness because it implies you're stupid or gullible too. 

I suppose I sound like Andy Rooney or my great aunt Alshee when I talk like this, but I think they had the Right Idea.  But in my house: Kindness begets kindness and rudeness gets the hairy eyeball.  So if you catch my Things being rude, let me know.  I’ll put them in contact with Jasyn.

Thank you. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

International Women's Day: I'm Late to the Party, but My Roots are Done



Yesterday was International Women's Day.  I wanted to post something yesterday but am late to this party.  I was busy driving my children around to either soccer, tennis, guitar, chess, or basketball. Or I was walking the dog, chatting with and supporting or being supported by friends, remembering to take my vitamins, going to yoga, having lunch with another friend, wishing I could drink coffee after 4pm, cleaning the house, watching the kids play out front so they don't get killed by car drivers, folding laundry, starting a new load of wash, ovulating, unloading the dishwasher, loading it from the dishes left on the table after breakfast and making dinner.  After that, I fell asleep reading a book. 


International Women's Day started in the 1900s which was a time of great cultural change.  Anyone who's watched "Downton Abbey" knows this.  The first organized march of 15,000 women was held in New York City in 1908 to demand shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights.  I look back at what I comprehend of Women's History and I stagger at the tremendous changes that have occurred in the last 104 years since that first march.  I am grateful for the changes those 15,000 women effected: Title IX and ERA are the least political and so I'll stop there. 


Just so you know, it was first called "International Working Women's Day." 


This is fascinating (from Wikipedia): "In many regions, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day."  

So it turns out someone thought they could just mush it into another day of loving us. Not so fast, we might have a headache. 


Turns out there is an International Men's Day.  It's not the Superbowl. 


~ ~ ~


I  have many women friends who are writers, activists, nurses, veterinarians, teachers, yoginis, politicians, therapists, personal trainers, advocates, film makers, maintenance workers, educators, athletes, healers, chefs, actors, lawyers, wives, ex-wives, step-mothers, musicians, artists, poets, doctors, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and mothers.  In my current occupation, mother-woman, I am all these things . . . except the grandmother, ex-wife and step-mother.   



So given that I'm a wife-daughter-aunt-sister-mother-woman, it's perfectly acceptable then that I'd be a little behind celebrating International Women's Day.  What with being celebrated so gloriously yesterday.  I'm just getting around to returning all the phone calls and cataloguing the gifts I received.  Really.   






One of my favorite songs of all time, "Mary" by Patty Griffin is about Jesus' mother, Mary (perhaps you've heard of her), and in it Patty paints a wonderful scene and sums up how it is for a mother-woman (divine or not):


Jesus says 'Mother I couldn't stay another day longer'
Flys right by and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' His praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place



As testament to my mother-womanhood, Thing 2 (11) made a comment yesterday that was innocently oblivious to the International Women's Day phenomenon.  He looked at my hair and said in a tone that could not belie the shock on his face and behind his copper eyes, "Mom! WHAT'S THAT WHITE LINE IN YOUR HAIR?!" 


I wasn't wearing a baseball cap. This is the same child who tells me daily how beautiful I am. He's a charmer (albeit sincere) and anyone with a 9-12 year-old daughter within a mile until he starts driving better prepare themselves because he's a sweetie too.  I had to explain to him that my hair isn't #4N:, intensely natural dark brown, all over. 


Today, I write to you from the cold office that rests upon the front of my home. It's 49˚ outside so that means it's close to 60˚ in here.  Along with shivering in my office, I write to you prompted by Thing 2 and his shock as #4N soaks into the strands atop my head.  I have been going gray since high school.  


Hmm . . . apparently only English-speaking and Spanish-speaking women color their own hair because the instructions are only in their respective languages. 


I'm glad I still have the gloves on my hands because every once in a while I have an itch from the chemicals on my head and I have to scratch it.  I'm a pro though and the color won't get on my keyboard because I've strategically put on a brown sweater that should nicely match the dye that I'll rub on it after scratching my scalp.  In the warmer months, I color my hair wearing a formerly white beat-up Ralph Lauren Polo button-down shirt  which looks like a bird that ate only chocolate followed me around one day outside and compulsively 'shat' all over me.  With the brown sweater, it just looks like I've been pelted with something browner than the sweater.  I love saying "shat"; it's past tense for "shit" right?


This is how I celebrate my womanhood. 


When this process is over, in about 10 minutes, I'll go rinse and then change into clothes for the day.  Along with ability and choice to color my hair, another great thing about being a first-world woman is that I often wonder if what I'm wearing is suitable for my "age." I'm 44 and although I'm exercise regularly I have become distracted of late by a yet another phrase to designate that I don't know what I'm doing: "age appropriate clothing." So along with wondering if my roots need coloring, I'm concerned if what I'm wearing would make children cry or offend the Blue-Haired Ladies of the Order of Sweater and Pearls. 


"Screw 'em," says my inner Eve.  


But then I argue, "Oh Eve, don't be such a rebel.  They're women too. They might have marched in 1908.  We should honor and celebrate them also by dressing appropriately.  Even if they judge me by my hem or my waistline.  They wouldn't do that, would they? They're pro-women!" 


Eve retorts, "Whatev.  Hey. Do men wonder if they're not dressing for their age? Bahhahahah! Never heard of it.  A t-shirt and jeans on a guy is the same as a t-shirt and jeans on a boy kid or a t-shirt and jeans on an 80-year-old.  That wardrobe (mal)function happens all the time. Go for it. I cleared the way.  Adam still wears his grape leaf. "  


So after putting on a hoodie and sweatpants, I'll put in my contact lenes and use a rotating  electric exfoliator brush on my face To Get It 6x Cleaner Than Washing By Hand.  Then I'll give 2 pumps worth of "Intense Wrinkle Repair" moisturizer that I will cover with "Healthy Skin SPF 15" moisturizer with alpha-hydroxy and vitamins.  If I give a damn, which I usually don't, I'll put on some tinted sunscreen that will help me not Deny My Age, but Defy My Age! 


~ ~ ~



I'm back.  I just rinsed out the color and it looks about as natural as that of the alien female crew member on "Galaxy Quest."  My son definitely won't view me with confusion and horror today when he comes home.  






I only just discovered that yesterday was The Day yesterday in the late morning, I didn't get any head's up. I guess my Woman card has been revoked. 


Wait a minute.  If my card has been revoked, what about all the so-called scandalous females?  


A couple years ago, I read Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy,  and I hoped it would be a searing examination of the state of feminism and its progress and challenges.  I also hoped it would sear and indict females who have managed to reduce the entire gender by indulging in the fantasies of the male-dominated media establishment.  Sadly, I was underwhelmed; it was a lot like a blind date.  In fact the book exposed me to greater confusion and overall sense of "waah" than I had when I started it; it told me about stuff I'd never considered.  It made me wish I never opened it.  To me it blamed the state of our collective anti-female woes on all of us.  Why, for not killing the errant females?  And I really resented it.  Levy did talk about how men entice/pay/intoxicate young women to do things like expose themselves and smash face with each other for "Girls Gone Wild" and the like, but in the final analysis, when it comes to sex (as a verb -- not to be confused with "gender"): we are all acting on instinct.  Under the influence or not -- if someone wants to release or meet the pheromones, it's gonna happen without any permission at all. 


If we're gonna go for blaming it on the guys, what better chance of seeing how they really are when women aren't around than by insinuating ourselves into their scene? To this end, I read Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent which was utterly fascinating.  It's a first-person memoir of Vincent's commitment for an entire year to conduct herself outside her apartment in drag, disguised as a man as she engaged in male-only activities with at least three separate sets of male groups.  One group was a bowling team, another was a professional arena where she joined her male colleagues as they went to  strip clubs.  The third scenario was her most trying experience: she joined in men's group therapy.  The book was compassionate toward men and put a lot of my assumptions about men on their heads as well as confirmed things that the supposed sixth sense of motherhood (we all have it, actually, we just need to listen to it) already told me: all children, regardless of gender need to feel safe to express themselves emotionally.  And, at the risk of repeating myself (but I will):  in the final analysis, when it comes to sex (as a verb -- not to be confused with "gender"): we are all acting on instinct.  Under the influence or not -- if someone wants to release or meet the pheromones, it's gonna happen without any permission at all.  Vincent subsequently had herself committed to a mental hospital after writing the book for the emotional toll the experience had on her.  She chronicled her time in recovery in Voluntary Madness.  


What yesterday made me think about was my commitment to the opinion that if we're going to honor women, we can't pick and choose.  We don't get to say, "this woman is worth celebrating, but this one isn't."


So when we celebrate Women next March 8, you need to ask yourself: do we celebrate all women, not just Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Anne Frank, Jackie Kennedy, Condoleeza Rice, the Virgin Mary, Annie Sullivan and Eve? Because if we are to be fair, we have to celebrate all the others: Anna Nicole Smith, Lindsay Lohan, Mary Magdelen,  Lot's Wife (who apparently didn't get a name), Bathsheba, Casey Anthony, Condoleeza Rice (2), Vanna White, Marilyn Monroe, Andrea Yates, The Real Housewives of Wherever, and the evil step mothers in all the Grimms Fairy Tales.  Of course, to make it easier and politically correct, we can be obtuse and just celebrate their "Essence," their inherent goodness, and not necessarily what they've done, committed, achieved because or in spite of their gender.  That's really safest, right?  




If you watch "30 Rock", you should get where I'm going: If we Celebrate International Women's Day, we must celebrate smart and cheese-puff snarfing Liz Lemon and scheming, insecure hussy-actress Jenna Maroney: 



the captions: Jenna (upper): "Admit it, I look 10 years younger."
Liz (lower): "No. Younger even. You look like a fetus." 


What about the transgendered woman/man who had a baby? What do we celebrate there? 


Celebrate all you want, but I still think we've got a long way to go, and I'm not talking about equal pay.  I'm talking about fair treatment of women by women.  Women can be awfully picky and competitive and unsupportive of each other.  Ever hear of conflict between mothers-in-law and their daughters-in-law? How about sisters who fight?  The Devil Wears Prada? Or Death Becomes Her? Where does enmity this come from? Why are we snarky to each other behind each others' backs? Or recall The Jerry Springer Show -- why are we snarky to each others' faces? Did men do this to us?  Is it the media that shapes our opinions of each other?  I wonder if aboriginal women in primitive cultures refer to one another in their vernacular as a "slut" or "bitch" or "stupid" or "fat" or "ugly" or "gold digger" or "useless."  Maybe they do.  Maybe it's not just a first-world problem.  


That's why these days of commemoration confuse the hell out of me.  I choose to abstain.  I celebrate me and I celebrate you, whatever you are.  Unless you're that transgendered man-woman-man that had a baby.  I just can't get my arms around it. Sorry. 


The bottom line is that it's complicated.  I hate labels.  And yes, I both celebrate and blame Eve, that minx. It's all her fault. That snake or legged reptile that was subsequently rendered legless for his betrayal had nothing to do with it.  Right? Oy.


But hey, my hair looks great. 


Thank you. 








      

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

True Story: My Mary Tyler Moore Moment

This is a true story.  It's also completely fresh so I hope you enjoy it.

As an endeavoring writer, I have like-minded talented friends.  One of these friendships has truly bloomed from the craggy earth like a little cactus in a crack between rocks.  Its growth had bumps and hitches along the way, but I feel like we're in a better zone now because as I continue the plant analogy, the first friendship plant died but not before a bird picked up its seed and pooped it on a sunnier spot. 

This friend is far beyond me in the online writing circles.  She has shown me a couple really great blogs and has helped me reach more people by linking to my blog on her facebook page or her own blog. Truly selfless acts from a person who's also writing her own book.

One of these recommended blogs is written by a woman named Kristen Lamb who is a published author and an expert on helping writers use electronic media to get their names and work out there.  (Ahhh... I just had a light bulb turn on . . . perhaps I was baited.  But I think not.  More in a second.)

I've been sick recently.  I'm on prednisone and antibiotics for a nasty ear infection.  I also had been taking NyQuil to help me sleep due to the pain from the pressure of the ear infection.  I hear prednisone can make you insane.  This is important information. 

Kristen's post was about the benefits of failure.  It was a strong piece which detailed the hurdles Kristen has jumped to get where she is.  And it reminded us that even when you think you've finally arrived, there's always something else to learn.  The writer's mind never stops thinking of the next great scene or twist.

Many of the posted comments were brief expressions of gratitude for the lessons or were similar tales of failure and triumph.  Most were short comments, but one stood out.  It was one of the saddest comments I'd read ever on her blog.  (I'd just subscribed to it yesterday, so, um I wasn't exactly a veteran.) The writer sounded truly downtrodden.  She considered giving up her writing to go back to her job in a coffee shop because she felt like a failure and that she'd earned only 2 star reviews on her work and the comments were like poison to her.  She used the word "humiliation" and I hate that word.  It connotes something to be ashamed of.  To me it means your face is already so far in the dirt that it's hard to see out of it, hard to see a lesson or a good thing from the adversity.  It was a sad comment.

I was moved.  I have a big heart, believe it or not. So I decided to comment to her comment, which had to be moderated.  I didn't know this person at all.  I had no idea of what she'd written, but I planned to look into that after I posted my comments. I said this, "I read somewhere that Dr. Seuss was rejected 78 times before he was published. I saw that you used “humiliating” and I want you to know I’m proud of you. I don’t know you. I’ll look for what you’ve written in a moment, but I’m proud of you for writing and publishing and putting yourself out there. Instead of “humiliating” I propose: “humbling.” They sound the same but they mean different things. You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. If you robbed a bank and stole a baby too, that would be shameful. Writing a book and people criticize it? No. People are turds sometimes. This can be a humbling experience where you learn from it. You impress me. The world can be a cold place and the anonymity of the Internet makes it even colder and harsher. You started a book and you published it. That’s more than MANY people (me) have ever done. Stay focused and stay on it. I know this might sound random, but I felt like I was supposed to tell you all this. You are good. Don’t give up. Best wishes and keep swinging."

Then I cruised over to Amazon and checked out her stuff.

She has written many books; at least a dozen.  And many of her books have 4-star ratings.  Their artwork is very realistic and the people on the covers of her books are anatomically correct although the images are shady and highlighted by some sort of shimmer effect on the various parts and obscured by many hands and long hair.

Were these people unwell?  Did they have fevers?  Were the stories about exhausted but loving tribal people in the south who lived in primitive times?  No electricity and air conditioning or light?  And what about the lonely person in the distance behind the people who were closer to the artist? 

One cover showed long-haired, open-shirted men. A healthy blonde woman who was very tired or emotionally drawn or had a migraine because the lighting was low was unable to look at the man behind her. But she was able to lean her weary body against the man's rippled six-pack abs and bulging biceps for support.  Thanks to the NyQuil, I was comforted to know these women were taken care of.

I can't recall the names of the books, but the images are seared into my memory as if they were hot-iron branded on cattle.  Denim and Lace? Could that be one of the titles? I vaguely recall another one about hard hats and leather.  I don't think the people in the stories have a lot of money. It looked like they borrowed clothes that didn't fit them or they simply couldn't buy any to wear.

Apparently the construction workers in her books work out A LOT.  They are clean shaven and get some time in the sun too.  They care about their health because they look nothing like the some of the 5-o'clock shadowed construction workers I've seen who are in need of a shower and who are missing a beer to rest upon their six-pack-made abs.  

I read her bio, and in her "about me" she told us her "likes." She used an acronym I did know, NASCAR, and another one I had to think about: BDSM.  I thought, is that a recent IPO? A new rock band or an airline?  Maybe it's the NYSE ticker for a company. . .  Remember: I was on NyQuil and it was 11 pm.  And then I recalled a Maury Povich show I watched during a percocet-induced haze after my knee surgery.  Maury's guests were in the entertainment industry, they were dominatrixes and it all came flooding back: BDSM = Bondage Domination Sado Masichism.

You know how they say your life flashes before you when you think you're going to die?  My heart rate went from a casual 70bpm to probably 160bpm in sight of 20 seconds.  I felt the surge of adrenaline like the kind that would fuel the rescue a child from a burning building.  Get your mind out of the gutter.  It wasn't because of the cover art in the way you'd think it was from the cover art.

I literally freaked. I had these visions of my full name being linked to this person's comments and I saw everything I cared about being taken away in some John Huston-esque movie scene.  Boxes labeled "my ambitions" and "work in progress" and "Next Great American Novel" were carried out by men like the ones on the cover art.  My children were being tended to by the tired and overheated women on the covers.  I read and re-read my comments.  I realized I had said nothing wrong, but that "keep swinging" line in my comments to her pretty much threw me over the edge.

One day soon, I'd like to maybe get a part-time job writing for someone or a full-time job that allows me to do that from home and I'm actively engaged in conversations to make that happen. The internet is a crazy place and I'd just read a SmartMoney article about how recent Facebook "unfriending" has been on the rise and one of the reasons cited was because of associations with people or activities that might be deleterious to professional advancement.  Turns out there are a few articles about Facebook unfriending being on the rise.


I wrote a follow-up to my comment which was blessedly still awaiting moderation to Kristen saying (remember, NyQuil and prednisone),

"KRISTEN — PLEASE DON’T POST MY COMMENT ABOVE.
MY HEART IS POUNDING. I HAD NO IDEA ____  WROTE LIKE THAT.
i hope she keeps writing, but i … wow. i hope i can sleep tonight. i’m a little freaked out now. my name is attached to that comment and i’m so … wow. embarrassed.
_____ – i just checked out your writing and while it’s not my cup of tea in the least, i hope you find success for yourself and your craft."
  
I contacted my friend who told me about the blog.  She was a little hard to reach, being all writerly and whatnot, and when she found me waiting, panting at her online door to "C'MON!!" she tried to calmly talk me down.  And as the experience wore on, I realized the humor of the situation.  We laughed "LOL!" online together many times about how my comments were harmless but that the blog commenter's writing essentially seemed like lit-porn and my "keep swinging" remark . . .

Nonetheless, I didn't want my entire name attached to the comments because even though I stand by what I wanted to say, I was a little . . . no, a lot concerned that I'd be linked to this person, no matter how obvious and how innocuous my comments. I felt so Mary Tyler Moore's Mary Richards-ish . . . so naive, so embarrassed.  I realize now that Mary Tyler Moore wouldna never made her cover art.  I'm OK with that.

And now I wonder. . .  was it a bait? To go look up the BDSM six-pack abs & lace author and generate inquiries and traffic? Had she bested the blogger? If she had, she'd probably taken her advice somewhere along the line and it worked! No matter, I suppose. 

So Kristen kindly contacted me today about my comment, saying there was nothing wrong with it but asked me if I wanted to delete it. I replied to her with an unsolicited mea culpa and a little more to boot about my motives (carefully omitting the NyQuil, but that didn't occur to me because it had worn off). And oh, just one more thing, a suggestion that if she chose to keep my comments, that she rename me to "Moxie" or something else like that because I felt the writer needed to hear that someone cares . . . just someone with clothes on.

Kristen didn't publish my comments, but she did comment to the BDSM writer with compassion and encouraged her to keep at it (she didn't borrow my "keep swinging" line).  I am glad she did comment to her though because bait or not, if BDSM didn't feel the way she said she did at the time she commented, I've no doubt she'd felt that way at least once as we all have wanted to crawl into a hole and give up.

I told my mom about the story and she howled with laughter as I knew she would.  She said sheepishly,  "You know Mol, that genre is very popular and very lucrative . . . " and I said, "I KNOW! But No."  And we laughed. 

I'm so glad today is my last day of taking the prednisone.

Yeesh.

Thank you.