Brain Dump

“I killed me some gophers/moles/voles, whatever the hell they are . . .  I started digging it out again and this little pink snout came out pushing more dirt.  I quickly lit the bomb and shoved it right in his face, quickly covered the hole and ran down, lit the other bomb.  Let’s hope it worked but I think I probably have a whole assortment of critters down there.”

It’s good to have a project to focus on right now.  A lot of my friends seem to be into bread baking.  Others are at it with online exercise or miscellaneous types of remote learning.  Several are volunteering at food banks or various COVID related endeavors.  A few have even figured out Tik Tok. My friend above is channeling her monotony into critter extermination.  I felt a bit sad for the little pink snout being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but no judgement for my friend, who is actually a very nice person.  We must take our little victories where we can in these troubled times.

Clearly people are bored though and looking for projects.  Last week, I received an email instructing me to send $2,000 (in bitcoin) to an unidentified individual within 24 hours.  If I failed to do so, said person would forward all of my (alleged) internet porn activity to my nearest and dearest.  Said person noted that I should not wait to get on this because, “you don’t want people to see what kind of kinky stuff you’re into, lmao”.  He (I’m just guessing at gender here) also warned me: “don’t waste my time by pretending you don’t know how to use bitcoin” (I actually do not know how to use bitcoin, and this could have been a learning opportunity I suppose). My new virtual friend sent me the same email three days in a row.  Then he gave up.  I’m hoping that if my live friends have received any porn related activity involving me, they will let me know.

I haven’t been bored enough to send people threatening emails.  I haven’t been bored at all actually.  I spend my days monitoring the equilibrium in my household and this takes copious amounts of emotional time and energy.  Our family dynamic, on an average day, ranges anywhere between The Brady Bunch and Married . . . with Children. I’m either channeling Carol Brady’s sunny optimism or Peg Bundy’s alcohol-infused maternal neglect and shallowness.  It’s not just the virus. It’s the whole state of things in our country. I think even Carol Brady would be tossing one back just about now.

It’s a unique thing to parent an adult child. I like that we can share a glass of wine. I like that I don’t have to curb my language. I like that I can tell them the truth and have real conversations. I may be an outlier in my demographic, but I’m relieved that their childhoods are over. I spent most of it holding my breath, hoping they would turn out okay.  They turned out better than okay, but the world I’ve forced them into is horrid. My only real job left as their parent is to reassure them that everything will be okay.  Frankly, I’m having a hard time with that one lately.

Since that awful day in November 2016, I’ve been waiting for the grown-ups to tell me everything is going to be okay. The President has either fired all the grown-ups or anyone who dares him to do the right thing. There is an entire news channel dedicated to promoting him – even when he doesn’t tell the truth. If polls mean anything, it seems around a third of the country take this as gospel. The chunk of government whose job it is to keep a check on presidential power, has effectively abdicated its responsibility.  Our free press is routinely threatened by the President. The actions of our Attorney General would seem to suggest that he is no longer independent. Who is left to protect us? Who is left to make it all okay?

I have a close friend who is surrounded by family that not only disagrees with her politically, but thinks the President is doing a great job as a leader.  I asked her how she can still have a real relationship with these people.  Here was her answer: “I turn off a part of my brain when I’m with them”.  So, kids, that’s the answer I guess to living in today’s America.  Turn off your brain.  It is so not okay.

Girls trip with my daughter. Unseasonably warm January weekend. Manhattan. Upper East Side. The Mark Hotel. Strolling in Central Park. Browsing in Bloomingdales. The Strand Bookstore. Moulin Rouge on Broadway. Italian at Scalinatella, Asian Fusion at Tao, French at Le Coucou, sushi at Nobu. “Should we get another bottle?” Pizza. Bagels. Sunday brunch with my beloved New Jersey family. My cousin’s five and eight-year-old daughters singing Lizzo songs.  Forgive me, I just needed a second to ruminate in a favorite recent memory, my last travel event – for this year and the foreseeable future.  I decided to be “present” that weekend and took no pictures.  I won’t make that mistake again.

Someone in our neighborhood decided to paint their house black and another neighbor is not too pleased about it. I know this because the guy called my husband to complain about it.  Jim is on our Homeowners Association (HOA) board, so he periodically fields complaints from well-meaning neighbors. In this case, the aggrieved neighbor wanted Jim to determine if the color was in violation and if so, take the necessary action.

I think the man is greatly overestimating the power of an HOA, or of my husband for that matter.  Jim does have a gold badge lying around somewhere from his 30 years with the Treasury Department.  No firearms though and plus, he’s more of a lover than a fighter.  Also, he’s been in ten weeks of lockdown living with a wife with dual personalities (Carol Brady/Peg Bundy), and loving daughters offering ongoing helpful feedback about: his diet, wardrobe, news sources, personality, diet, communication skills, diet, exercise routine, and diet.  So, he’s a bit worn down.

We checked out the offending house on our walk today. It’s really more charcoal colored and personally, I like it. Assuming they’re a good neighbor, maintaining their home, and not flying a confederate flag, I don’t much understand why anyone would complain about the color of a house.  Particularly at this moment in time when there are much bigger issues to worry ourselves about. Maybe that’s the point though. Focus on what we think we can control. Like the critters in our yards.

Speaking of things that we can control; we have goats in the ‘hood!  For the second consecutive year, hubby has facilitated a herd of goats to take care of brush clearing, thus greatly improving our chances in the event of fire.  There are 400 of them and they will be slowly making their way through our neighborhood over the next three weeks.  I wish they could stay forever.  Just seeing them makes my heart, and my brain, very happy.

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45 Minutes

It was September.  I was 14 and had just started my freshman year of high school.  I was under-developed, insecure, naïve, and a rule follower. I was still trying to find my way both figuratively and literally.  On this particular day, I got lost trying to find my English class. The bell was ringing as I ducked in at the last minute and grabbed a seat in the back row.  The class was chaotic, the teacher already having lost control.  This was the “C” level class.  In my high school they divided us into three groups: “A” classes were for the high achievers, “C” for the delinquents, and “B” for all the rest.  Thinking back to all of those standardized tests that I never took seriously in middle school, it’s no wonder I ended up where I was.

Those movies where the protagonist isn’t paying attention and she wanders into the wrong room, dark alley, frat house, etc.?  That’s how I see it now.  I stumbled into the wrong seat in a class I didn’t belong in.  Their names were Shawn and Michelle.  They turned around to look at me.  I smiled, because that’s what I always did.  That’s what I was trained to do.  “Smile Susie!”  It was a mistake.  Because it made me look exactly like what I was: prey.

I knew who they were.  You don’t live in the same small town your whole life, go through the school system with the same kids, and not know most everyone.  They were a couple.  He was a football player and a stoner.  She was beautiful, but the kind of beauty you expect to see in a 25-year-old, not a high school freshman.  In hindsight, I almost feel sorry for her.  Almost.

They started in on me immediately.  Words that no one could hear above the ruckus in the classroom.  Him keeping it purely physical, telling me what he’d do to me.  Words, that if they were uttered today, would qualify as a rape threat.  Her words were more an overall appraisal of me: ugly, bitch, cunt, stupid.   On and on it went for the entire class period, as I sat there in paralyzed silence.  A relentless spew of threats and cruelty.  I look at it now with a detached sort of wonderment, but I’ve never forgotten how terrified I was in that moment.  How trapped and alone and powerless I felt sitting in that chair.  How it was only 45 minutes, but it felt interminable.

I’ve discounted it over the years.  Played it down.  Justified it.  It wasn’t physical after all.  Only 45 minutes.  Just words. Not like they injured me or anything. They were just bullies.  Everyone’s been subjected to bullying at some point, right?  The experience made me stronger, yes?  Some might ask why I didn’t just get up and walk away?  Because it was 1977.  And good girls followed the rules.  They certainly didn’t leave in the middle of class.  Or I didn’t anyway.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do that.  I’ve raised my daughters differently.

I came home after school that day to a blessedly empty house.  I lay down on my bed and cried and cried and cried.  Feeling desperate because I didn’t know what to do.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone.  Who to tell anyway?  I didn’t yet have the type of close friendships that I’d eventually form.  The thought of telling my parents was mortifying.  School administrators?  No way.  Phrases like “sexual harassment” and “hostile work environment” were not yet a part of our national vernacular.

All I knew, was I had to find a way out.  Years later, one of my supervisors at work praised me by saying “Susan always figures out how to get the job done.”  It has always been something I’ve prided myself on – that I figure a way out.  That experience with Shawn and Michelle, awful as it was, may have been a factor in the honing of my fight or flight response.  That is the sick way I’ve justified their actions over the years.  As if I owe them a fucking thank you card.

Though figure a way out, I did.  I convinced my parents that I was in the wrong class: the teacher was bad, and I wasn’t being challenged.  It wasn’t a total lie.  A call to my guidance counselor was all it took to get me in with the “B Listers”.   After that, I was pretty much able to avoid Shawn and Michelle.  In a school of 1200 students, it can be fairly easy to make yourself invisible, or at least beige.  I did let my guard down once though, and Michelle cornered me in the girls bathroom.  Fortunately, by then I had learned how to walk away.  I did however become extremely adept at restroom navigation for the remainder of my high school years.

Eventually, Michelle and Shawn broke up, and they forgot about me.  A couple of years later, Michelle showed up in my history class.  She demonstrated no memory of me at all.  Rumor has it she was pretty heavily into drugs at that point.  It could have been that or, more likely, I was simply sport for her and Shawn.  Meaningless cruel fun for them, trauma for 14-year old me.

Michelle disappeared after that, didn’t graduate with our class.  I’m not sure what became of her.  Shawn popped back into my life courtesy of social media and then at our 30-year high school reunion.  It was unsettling seeing him. This now grown man who had so affected me as a young girl.  It was odd listening to people comment on what a sweet guy he was. It took only a bit of liquid courage for me to confront him.  Naturally, he didn’t remember me or what he had done.  When I mentioned Michelle, he had the gall to commiserate with me, “oh, I lost a lot of friends because of her”.  Sure, blame it on the chick.

I’ll give him this much – though he didn’t remember anything, he showed some genuine remorse that he’d been the cause of my pain.  And while he probably shouldn’t have said “well, you seem to have turned out fine anyway”, he did apologize several times.  Even had the DJ play my favorite song.  It was something. Or maybe I’m cutting him too much slack.  At the time though, it was cathartic.

After that, he friended me on Facebook.  We had a pleasant banter for a few years even though we were diabolically opposed politically: he was a full on #MAGA Trump supporter.  Still, he would check in with me occasionally just to see how I was; later, I would donate to his go fund me page when he received his cancer diagnosis.  Eventually, the pleasant banter turned ugly.  It could’ve been politics or his illness or just him.  I don’t think he was a bad person.  I think he did stupid things a very long time ago and I was the unfortunate recipient for 45 minutes.  Still, he was now making me uncomfortable, and I was no longer 14, so I blocked him. And, that was cathartic too.  A few months after that, I heard he passed away.

They say living well is the best revenge.  And I’ve lived very well, better than anyone including myself could have predicted when I was 14.  So, I guess Shawn was right.  I did turn out fine.

Raining Lattes

Another transcript of a conversation with my husband on an unknown day. 

Husband: “Wow, what are you doing?”

Me: “What does it look like I’m doing?”

Husband: “I know, I just . . . I’ve never seen you do that before.”

Me: “You’ve never seen me clean a toilet before?”

Husband: (pauses for deep thoughts) “No, I don’t think I have.  I didn’t know you did that.”

Me: “Really, in 24 years of living here, you’ve never seen me clean a toilet?”

Husband: “I don’t think so.”

Me: (pauses for deep thoughts) “Maybe you’re right.”

Husband: (slowly walks away, mumbling to himself) “Wow, how about that.”

For the record, I’ve cleaned lots of toilets in my lifetime.  People who know me will be extremely surprised to learn that I actually did a stint as a housekeeper during high school.  However, for most of my adulthood, I’ve been fortunate enough to employ someone to clean my home.  Ana arrives every other week and I’m always grateful to see her.  She’s worked for us for 21 years and we are continuing to pay her throughout the shutdown.  This made me feel slightly better when I texted her last week to ask her how to clean my kitchen appliances.  When I clean the damn things, they look worse.  Her answer: “soap and water Mrs. Susan, soap and water”.  The simplest solution is almost always the best, so the theory goes.

These are not simple times though.  Armed men yelling at nurses (nurses!).  Women demanding “choice” over their bodies, holding “Trump 2020” signs, completely missing the irony in this.  A president battling his own science advisors and encouraging protesters with his inflammatory tweets: “Liberate!”.  Indeed, please someone liberate us from this madness.  I tell you, it’s enough to make this elitist-snowflake’s head explode.  And this was all before the President’s comments on disinfectant.

Fortunately for me, I get to live in a place saturated with like-minded thinkers.  A veritable bastion of liberal optimism. Raining oat-milk lattes and bleeding hearts in equal measure. I imagine it is frustrating to live here if you’re on the “other” side though.  I volunteered at our local polling station during the most recent election.  It wasn’t hard to notice how some people would avoid looking me in the eye while they whispered “republican” when asked which ballot they wanted.

Despite being raised by their parents, it seems my kids are better able to manage relationships across the partisan divide.  Visiting our daughter at college last year, we attended a party with a few of her friends and their parents.  The hosts were of a different political bent than us.  Before we entered the house, my daughter and her friend pulled us aside to lecture us: “We all hate Trump.  Say it, get it out of your system. We can’t talk about it tonight, ok?  Ok, we’re going in”.

While I’m not as mature as my daughters, I actually do have a few close friends who lean a bit more conservative.  People who feel differently than I do about abortion and guns and religion, though we tend to agree on our opinion of the President. Before I post something on social media, I try to view it through their eyes, and temper my message.  I rarely succeed though.  My posts are the typical panoply of left-wing angst meant to tap into the outrage felt by the majority of my friends.  I truly appreciate it when my conservative pals are brave enough to wade into these waters and question me on something I’ve said.  It doesn’t always feel great, but it forces me to own my words, which is a good thing.  The conversations that have turned really ugly?  Those people have mostly unfriended me – virtually and in real life.  As it should be, I guess.

It’s hard to know when to engage with some people though.  Is it worth responding to the acquaintance who seems to think that JFK is alive and secretly attending Trump’s rallies, and that 9/11 was an inside job?  Do I bother to debate the distant family member floating conspiracy theories by an anti-vaxxer “scientist” (yes, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, pretty sure we’ve determined that)?  Do I attempt dispassionate discourse when these folks claim other alternative facts (no, abortions do not cause breast cancer)?   I don’t have it in me to debate these people just for sport.  They would make for fun anthropological case studies, however.

To end on a corny positive note.  My neighborhood feels like a living thing at the moment.  Different from how it usually feels.  Lots of young families, walking around en masse with toddler bikes and strollers.  People are sitting outside, chatting from a socially acceptable distance.  Basketball is being played in driveways. Lots of dogs are being walked that I hadn’t noticed before.  We’ve passed the same guy and his pup for the past few weeks and for the first time today, neither of our dogs barked at each other.

And, best of all, we now have a Little Free Library in our ‘hood, compliments of a really good neighbor.  This makes me ridiculously happy.  Bookstores were my happy place, my escape.  I miss them terribly.  I have a book fetish that I’m not ashamed of.  I read a lot of stuff online, but I refuse to read my books this way.  You will have to pry a book out of my cold dead hands before I cave and use a Kindle.  Not that the little book box makes up for a bookstore, but it will remain a permanent fixture long after the COVID crisis.  And, it gives me hope that actual physical books might just remain viable in the future.  As a sign of the times, there is also hand sanitizer in the book box.  No Clorox though.

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Try Not to Breathe

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My calendar today shows an appointment to have my hair colored.  Obviously, this will not be happening.  Worse, as if to taunt me further, the facial ID function on my iphone has mysteriously stopped working.  I’m certain it’s sheer coincidence that my own phone fails to recognize me on the very same day that my real hair color starts to make an appearance.  Still, I was a little taken aback.   I felt like saying, “hey, it’s me, I swear!”  My iphone can be forgiven for its confusion though.  As time goes on, and my motivation for self-beautification wanes, my eyebrows alone have me bearing a striking resemblance to my father – or any other elderly male with facial hair challenges.

This pandemic thing is mind-blowingly surreal.  Like most others, I’ve not lived through anything that has had an impact on such a grand scale.  I have exactly two feelings that I vacillate between throughout the day and there seems to be no middle ground.  At certain moments, I experience a heartfelt feeling of solidarity with my fellow humans.

I like this Facebook page called “View from My Window”.   People post just one picture of their view from wherever they happen to be while doing the #stayhome thing.  It’s comforting to be able to commiserate with people from Brazil and Alaska and Madagascar and Bulgaria and Mississippi and Zimbabwe and Moscow.   It’s that whole, “we’re in this together!” shtick that gives me the warm fuzzies.  I get the same feeling when I’m driving and hear sirens, and I observe everybody getting out of the way for the emergency responders.  This is embarrassing, but I always get a little choked up when I see that.  I guess it just feels good to know that when shit gets real, people instinctively do the right thing.

Well, not everyone.  Apparently, a bunch of Kansas lawmakers ignored their governor’s shut down orders so they could go to church on Easter Sunday.  I don’t even know what to say to this, so I’ll just leave here this quote by Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

On the other side of my pandemic mood spectrum, is a ridiculously intense melancholy.  I say ridiculous because I don’t think I have any business being down, and frankly, I’m starting to get on my own nerves.  It’s less the fear of the virus itself though, than a specific feeling I get after listening to the president speak about it.  I feel hobbled.  That is the most apt word I can come up with.  That scene from the movie Misery?  The one where the Kathy Bates character takes her mallet and gives the James Caan character a hearty whack at the ankles?  It’s awful to watch.  That’s how I feel though.  Every time Trump speaks.  A little more hobbled.  The possibility that this guy could be foisted upon us for another four years because a large swath of the populace views him through a different lens makes me so sad for our country.  It would almost be easier to just throw in the towel, go with the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality, and start watching Fox news.  They certainly seem pretty joyful in denial land.

I won’t do that though, because a little painful reality is necessary sometimes.  Once a year, I get a breast MRI.  I do this strictly for early cancer detection purposes because I have a family history of this nasty disease.  I’m determined to get the fucker before it gets me.  Breast MRIs are not pleasant.  They’re like Disneyland rides – if Disneyland were created by a person who was bullied in high school, and is still really, really angry about it.  You lay face down, arms above your head, in a dark tunnel, with a very loud jackhammer like noise pounding in your ears for about six hours.

Actually, it’s only about a half hour, but it FEELS like six hours.  They give you a myriad of instructions before you enter this shaft of doom.  The most eye-roll inducing one being the “try not to breathe” mandate.   This always has the opposite effect on me.   I’m so anxiety ridden by the whole process itself (not to mention the reason I’m doing it and the potential outcome), that I end up with my heart pounding so scary fast and my breathing so rapid that I feel like I’m drowning.   This inevitably leads the young male technician (it’s always a male for some reason), to helpfully advise me mid-ride by saying “try not to breathe so heavily”.  Fuck you son.

I only bring this up, because since this whole Global Pandemic fun house started, I’ve been visited frequently by the hyperventilation thing.  In my more paranoid moments, my head goes to the bad place (shortness of breath?! what’s my temperature!).  The only thing that calms me down is when my rational side kicks in and I remind myself that I feel the same way during an MRI, so I’m likely not heading for the ventilator.  Not today, anyway.

I’ve inadvertently used this time as a weird kind of sick leave.  An excuse to wallow in my manufactured sadness and not do anything terribly productive.  I need to stop.  Because, this shut down is not ending anytime soon.  As if to remind me, I found this random vignette below set up on my kitchen counter.   I took it as a sign.  Gumby standing next to my water flask with my “end gun violence” bracelet.  Gumby basically telling me to snap out of it and get back to the stuff that I claimed to be so passionate about before this all started.  Stuff that will still matter when all this ends.  Gumby would probably also tell me to keep breathing.

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True Stories

Actual transcript of a perfect conversation with my husband on an unknown day.

Husband:  I can’t believe it’s Friday already.

Me:  It’s not Friday, it’s Thursday.

Husband:  No, it’s Friday.

Me:  Are you sure?

Husband:  Pretty sure.

Me:  No, it’s Thursday because yesterday was garbage day.

Husband:  No, that was two days ago.

Me: Are you sure?

Husband: Well . . . I think so.  Maybe not.

I realize that this is not a particularly interesting story, but it is true, and it was Friday.   I’m long removed from the mental haze of new motherhood, and hopefully still far enough away from age-related dementia.  So, the fact that we were having a conversation like this, well, it begs to be documented.  Here are some other true things, or true for me anyway, in these surreal times  .  .  .

Last night I had assembled the makings for two flawless Lemon Drop cocktails:  Just the right amount of vodka.  Juice from a freshly squeezed lemon.  A dollop of homemade simple syrup.  A splash of triple sec.  My martini glasses were beautifully rimmed with lemon infused sugar.  I had all the ingredients in the silver shaker, liberally filled with ice.  It was beautiful.  I began to rigorously shake, pouring all of my frustrations into my efforts.  The top was not secure and flew off mid-shake.  Half of my cocktail ended up in a puddle on the counter.

While I was creating my perfect cocktail, my husband had the news on in the background.  It was yet another press conference.  At this one, before the president stopped the science guy from answering a question, he continued to push for the use of a drug – one not yet proven to work with the current virus.  So, really, a very typical type of press briefing: suppression of scary truths and promotion of false hope.  Just another day at the White House.   You’d think that after almost four years of this, I’d be immune to it.  But at that moment, in my still sober state, looking at my lemon drop puddle, knowing that the fate of myself and those I love is tied to the whims of this man for the conceivable future, I felt such utter hopelessness.

Yet, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and poured the remaining paltry amount of cocktail into two glasses.  The news remained on.  I said to my husband he had a choice.  He could leave the news on, but he had to surrender his lemon drop over to me.  My husband is a wise man.  He immediately poured his drink into my glass and slowly backed away – to retrieve a replacement spirit for himself.

I’m not much of a crier.  It’s probably not healthy.  I tend to let the outrage build up inside of me and then I’ll be by myself and get caught off guard during one of those animal cruelty commercials, and then the tears will come.   Or, if I need the release and it just won’t happen naturally, I’ll turn to one of my “primal scream” movies.   That’s what I call them.  Those movies with scenes that feel so real, you can’t help but scream and cry with the protagonist.  It can be very effective (not to mention cheap) therapy.  My go-to is that scene in Steel Magnolias, with Sally Field screaming “why, Why, WHY” at the downright wrongness of what has happened to her.  Makes me cry every time.   I probably should watch it again soon.  Because lately, I find myself frequently on the verge of drunk texting certain people in my life asking “why, Why, WHY do you still support this president, are you paying attention?!”   Or something equally as productive.  I’m grateful to my like-minded friends who talk me down from my ledge of derangement.

Everything occurring now almost seems inevitable.  I may be an atheist, but part of me thinks that there is a god up there shaking his head and saying, “The only way to make you morons wake up was for me to throw down a global pandemic, you think I enjoy this?  Stop fucking up the environment, quit killing animals for sport, enough with the guns already, stop electing evil and/or stupid people, raise the minimum wage, healthcare is a right and not a privilege, don’t park in the handicap spot unless you’re actually disabled, vaccinate your damn kids, and for goodness sakes, stay home from the mega church this Sunday – you can’t pray this shit away!”   Yes, my god would freely curse.

I guess that’s it for now.  Except this . . . below is a picture of my niece Emily at my wedding many years ago.  She is now a real live married grown-up.  She is also a nurse in Seattle and is pregnant with her first kid.  So, please, for her and all the other health care professionals, first responders, service providers, essential business owners – everybody who does not have the luxury of sitting inside their house ranting online (like me), stay home.  #flattenthecurve

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Rose Gold Linings

I know, it’s supposed to be silver linings. However, I prefer rose gold to silver, so that’s what I’m calling this  . . .  my random musings of subjective positivity.   Key word here being random.

I heard a sound coming from the kitchen yesterday. My husband was out, so I was a little concerned that a stranger was in the house.  No, it was just a daughter unloading the dishwasher.  It’s not a sound I’m used to, but one that’s becoming more frequent of late.  I’ve also noticed that I’m not doing any laundry, but my girls seem to be wearing clean clothes.  They are also cleaning. To think that I spent years feeling bad about my mothering skills because I didn’t have one of those chore charts hanging up.  Through sheer osmosis, my children apparently learned the basics anyway.  Who knew?  Of course, this virus could also be a vast right-wing conspiracy to get young women out of the classrooms and into the kitchen.  I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian fiction, so I’ll leave that thought for another day.

During a dog walk this week, an old-man neighbor did the equivalent of “get off my lawn” by mansplaining to me why my dog should not pee on his private property (ie. the approximate foot of dirt between his yard and the sidewalk). In my BC (Before Coronavirus) life, I would have said to him that he should get over it.  I figure he’s in the demographic that could be dead soon, so I let him have his say, and told him to have a nice day.  But before anyone thinks that I’m growing from this experience, I also muttered a “fuck you” under my breath as I walked away.

Social media still has the ability to make you feel like you’re not doing enough. Even though all that is required of us now is to sit on our asses.  I’m anticipating that, when this thing finally ends, many of us will resort back to feeling like we’re not enough because we didn’t: write that novel, finish those damn baby books, organize the photos, clean out that closet, organize those files, learn to meditate, ramp up our workout routine, practice self-care, stop being selfish, learn a new language, learn how to knit, learn how to play chess, take one of those Master Classes you’re always hearing about, learn how to code, get an online degree, train the dog, finally figure out if it’s “grey” or “gray”.  Actually, that last one I do now know, thanks to a friend who knows how to spend her time productively.

I’m thinking more about my family – the dead ones – my dad and grandfather. How they spent their whole lives not really liking each other, and how it never got fixed, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.  Some family relationships are just not meant to be anything more than a result of biology.  When this is the case, maybe the best you can hope for is to say little, be nice, and then quickly back away.   I’m thinking if people identified this early on, there would be less angst.  Not every brood is going to live up to the social construct of the perfect family.   We would all do well to consider that behind every smiling family photo on vacation in some exotic locale, there could be a kid giving you the finger.  I know this to be true and I have the photo to prove it.   And, it’s okay.

When this thing first was getting only moderately scary, and my mood was just scratching the surface of terrified despair, I said to my daughters, “I’m not part of the Greatest Generation. I’m a cream puff and I’m not equipped to handle this.”  Elder daughter disagrees and reminds me of a particularly trying moment for her and I.  Reminds me how I rose to the occasion and did what I had to do to take care of her on the fly.  So, there’s that.

I’ve mildly worried for years that my being a heathen and openly dissing organized religion was doing a disservice to my children. My daughter, home early from a study abroad program in Italy, spent about a half hour yesterday explaining Christianity and the history of the bible to me.  All from the Italian art history she studied.  She said it might have been easier if she had some foundation for this stuff, but I think the fact that she was such a blank slate, religion wise, she just soaked it all up.  She seems to find it  really interesting.   This makes me oddly happy.

There will be no school shootings in the foreseeable future, because there is no school. However, gun sales have evidently increased. Apparently, there is a segment of the country that thinks they can defeat a virus with a handgun.  So, when this finally ends, there will be even more American households with firearms.  Which means that my volunteer work in this area will still be viable.  Yay for me.

That’s all I have for now, except this.  For the past couple of days, I’ve noticed a hacksaw hanging on one of my neighbor’s mailboxes.  I know, weird right?  I wish I took a picture, but it was gone when I walked by today.  Clearly, someone had borrowed it and was returning it in a germ safe manner.  Still, it seemed a bit risky in these fraught times to leave a hacksaw freely hanging on someone’s mailbox.  But, it gave me hope.  How bad can things really be if some people are still willing to leave lethal gadgets randomly hanging on a mailbox?  That’s a rhetorical question.

Stay tuned (and please stay home and keep washing your hands).

Slacker Mom

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My youngest offspring started her senior year of high school this fall. Her very last “First Day of School”.   Naturally, I marked this most auspicious occasion by seeing her off to school in the best possible way.   I arose early so I could make her a healthy breakfast. I sat and talked with her while she ate, reflecting nostalgically about my own final year of high school.   We went over her schedule together. I checked that her water bottle was filled and that her car had gas. I took her picture, kissed her cheek, and waved good-bye as she drove off, wiping a tear from my eye.

Yeah, that’s all a lie. Except for it being the first day of her senior year, none of the rest of that stuff happened.   My kid left at some god awful early hour to score one of the coveted senior parking spots. All I know about her schedule is that she’ll graduate on time and that her classes are like, really hard. I slept until about 8AM. I drank some coffee, read just enough news to maintain my current level of outrage, and went to a yoga class.

In my defense, I had just flown home the night before, after helping her sister move into her new digs at college, so I was kind of tired.   But, truth be told, I haven’t seen my kids off to school in the morning in about four years. I, my friends, am a slacker mom.

You’ve seen us around and you are probably friends with a few of us, though we hide in plain sight. We aren’t sparkly and we’re usually not the squeaky wheels, but we get things done. In an effort not to appear like a slacker, we are constantly volunteering for stuff.

Usually our efforts pay off, but occasionally not. I was determined to prove my worth as the new Assemblies Coordinator for my kids’ grade school.   For my first gig, I hired a well-regarded Berkeley science professor for a presentation on evolution. His website was impressive. He arrived on time and looked the part: a modern day Einstein.   This will be epic!   He begins his presentation and immediately has the kids engaged and laughing. Well done, I think to myself, and mentally check out.

I’m snapped back to attention when I hear him share this little nugget of wisdom:     “ . . . and that’s why black boys can run faster than white boys”.   My stomach turns. I mouth a silent apology to the principal as she is shooting daggers at me with her eyes. The teachers are visibly pissed off, and they will skewer me later with their written feedback. There’s nothing I can do to stop this train wreck.   I feel terrible and think I’ll be swiftly relieved of my duties. Alas, no. It’s a public school, desperate for whatever volunteer action they’ll get. I can only go up from here, and besides, it’s not like they’re paying me to do this crap.

After my term as Assemblies Coordinator mercifully came to a close, I somehow ended up on the Emergency Preparedness Committee. Although this was in the glory days before active shooter drills, living in earthquake country still gave us lots to work with. After successfully organizing a couple of emergency drills, my confidence was pretty high, and I was eager to share my knowledge with others.

Having cocktails with the neighbors one day, I decided to show off my expertise in fire extinguisher maintenance. I confidently explained how to determine if the canister was still full. My careful analysis told me theirs was empty. To prove my hypothesis, I would demonstrate how to extinguish their expertly landscaped garden, knowing that nothing would be expelled on their greenery.  It didn’t go as planned.   I still feel bad about those plants.

I had some successes, and really the designation of slacker so much depends on your perspective. As a room parent, there is no better way to release any pent-up creative energy then the planning of a class celebration.   Since anything that smacks of a religious holiday is now taboo, Halloween has become quite the to-do. I don’t particularly care for Halloween, and I’m not the competitive type. So, I was always happy to take a back seat to the other room parents that really do live for this stuff (the non-slacker moms).

For whatever reason though, in this particular year I decided to up my game: creating personalized bags for popcorn balls that I had lovingly concocted by hand. I strolled over to the Halloween celebration with my balls, just in time to see a good friend breathlessly arrive. She is a single mom with a stressful full-time job. For her, just getting there on time was a feat of immeasurable proportions. She greets me, and then looks down at my neatly assembled, personalized, popcorn paraphernalia. She gives me a look, which conveys both annoyance and wonder, and says, “really?”

Joking aside, I bow to the non-slacker moms and am grateful when they use their powers for good. And, there is no better outlet for a smart, unemployed, MBA type, then school fundraising.  Every fall, soon after school begins, parents of all stripes shed their summer cobwebs and gear up for another year of raising money. These aren’t the bake sales and lemonade stands of our youth.   This is serious business. This is “we will have to fire a teacher, shorten a school day, kill a special ed program, close the library, ax teacher training, etc., etc., etc.,” if we don’t raise said amount of cash. It takes massive cojones to organize fundraising events, and I’m fortunate to have been in a support role behind some incredible parents.

When my daughters were in grade school, the main fundraising shebang was the annual auction. And, the iconic item each year was the “class treasure”, a homemade bauble produced by each class that was then auctioned off.   And by auctioned off, I mean we parents typically bought whatever item our child’s class was peddling – something we most likely donated money, time and supplies to produce in the first place. Frankly, it would have been easier just to write a big check early on and call it a day. However, we’re big on “community building” here, so there you have it. I’m not as jaded as I sound, just pragmatic. Plus, all that community building was exhausting after a decade or so.

The task of figuring out what the unique bauble should be, procuring the supplies to create said object, and scheduling the time for the kids to actually produce it, falls to the room parent.   I’m not a person who naturally enjoys the creative process that much – I only relax when things are completed. So, when I was able to get the class treasures done on time, I always breathed a sigh of relief. Sometimes, I was actually excited about the item – like the year we had the kids make tie-dyed reusable grocery bags.

The day before the auction, I saunter over to my assigned table and drop off the bags. I’m pretty proud. They look cool and they’re actually practical. I make sure each kid is represented, and the bags are neatly folded. I’m done. Then, I glance at the table next to mine. Clearly, its occupant has spent considerable time and resources at the craft store. There are multi-colored tiers of cloth, corrugated metal display trays, name cards meticulously calligraphed in various shades of ink. To this day, I can’t even recall what the actual craft was, but the display was stunning. I also thought, “she’s precious – she thinks she actually has to market this stuff.”

My tie-dye bags, lounging innocently on the naked Government Issue table, looked positively sad sitting next to this carnival of color.   My neighbor looks over at my “display”, and I almost sense she’s a little offended. It’s like a homeless encampment dared set up next to her gated community.   It must be said that this is a woman whom I’ve known peripherally for years. She is truly very nice and I like her a lot, despite her being unfairly blonde, perky and athletic.   She tactfully asks, “are you still setting up your display?” “No, I’m done”, I say. “Huh”, she smiles, and goes back to beautifying her own display, which to my eyes already looked pretty good.  I’m happy to say that we each were able to sell all of our items.

Over the years, I’ve become better at not comparing myself to these non-slacker types. We all have our ways of contributing. Also, now I’ve got a window into how these types may channel their energies once their kid leaves the nest, and it’s not always pretty. Against my better judgment, I started following a Facebook “parent page” for the university my eldest daughter attends.   I must say, if I didn’t feel like a slacker before, these moms (yes, mainly moms) have sealed the deal for me. To wit:

The mom who evidently feels the need to act as a pimp for her college aged son to secure a playdate. “My freshman son moved with us right before starting school this year. He isn’t looking forward to Christmas Break without his old friends to hang with. He hasn’t met many new kids at school from the area. Anyone on this site live in this area? He’s a fun guy!”

The mom who will likely accompany her child on their first job interview: “My kid is looking for a class – probably online – that he can add at this late date to hopefully get an A in and secure a certain GPA he needs. So an easy class would be ideal here.”

The mom who just wants her kid to wear clean clothes: “My Freshman needs laundry done. Where are the nearest facilities? Any guidance is greatly appreciated!”

I’d like to say these posts are an aberration on this site, but they’re not. Also, it’s fair to criticize me here for being very judgmental (and snarky).   It’s not like I’m on anyone’s shortlist for Mother of the Year. I did miss my daughter’s very last first day of school-morning, for goodness sakes! Still, if these kids can’t advocate for themselves regarding basic stuff like this, maybe they weren’t ready to go away to college? Or, the moms here just weren’t ready to let go. Maybe the thought of their kid floundering, when they could have helped them, is too much to bear. That, I get. Sort of.

The evening of the aforementioned last-first day of school, I check in with my daughter. “How was your day?” Fine. “How’s your schedule?” Fine. She has some adjustments she wants to make to it though and the guidance counselor is slow in responding.   I offer to step in and call him for her. She laughs at this, as if to say, “why in the world would I want you to get involved here?”   I sigh happily and leave the room, forever content in my slacker world.

Keep Calm and Carry On?

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The week that I was born in 1963, an American detective show called “Burke’s Law” premiered on the ABC network.   It was about the millionaire captain of the Los Angeles police homicide division. He would solve crimes while being chauffeured around in his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. Captain Amos Burke was known for dispensing bits of quotable wisdom to his underlings, and then stating, “Burke’s Law”, ergo, the name of the show.

Despite it’s improbable premise, the series lasted several years, and a remake was even attempted in the 90s.   The only reason I know about it is because I was trying to determine the origin of the following quote: “never ask a question unless you already know the answer”. A few sources attribute this to the dashing Burke, while others claim it’s common trial lawyer advice. I think the latter is probably more accurate. The brilliant Harper Lee had a variation of this quote in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and I’m guessing Burke (and probably a few lawyers) pilfered it from her.

Per the book’s narrator and protagonist, Scout: “never, never, never, on cross-examination ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to, was a tenet I absorbed with my baby-food.  Do it, and you’ll often get an answer you don’t want, an answer that might wreck your case”. It’s good advice, even for us non-lawyers.

It was a fall day of yesteryear, the morning after watching election returns. The results of which were thought to be almost as improbable as the premise of a show like Burke’s Law. Sleep deprived and shell shocked, I texted a good friend. I posed a question that I didn’t know the answer to and then, got an answer that I didn’t want. And it wrecked me.

We all have them. That person who’s been in our lives forever – before we knew (or cared) who our friends voted for.   I don’t mean that acquaintance from high school who you re-connected with on Facebook, who has never stepped foot outside of your hometown and thinks that the National Enquirer is real news. I mean your person. The one who was a part of your life when you were becoming you.   Before we all grew up, and made a life, and started paying attention, and formed opinions.

On that November day, I asked my person whom she voted for and, to this day, I still view her answer as a serious lapse in judgment. I acknowledge her prerogative to feel the same about me though, and she will always be my person.   I know who she is and this cannot be summed up simply by her vote.

Still, relationships that straddle the political spectrum are taking a battering. How can they not? The 24-hour news cycle ensures we’re informed of a continuing barrage of assaults: on the environment and healthcare and reproductive rights and women’s rights and civil rights and voting rights and freedom of speech and the free press and gun safety and the separation of church & state and public education . . . and, and, and. It. Never. Ends.  My need to stay informed is in constant conflict with my desire to be optimistic. The latter is losing.

I’ve finally found a way to channel some of my unrelenting rage into something a little productive for the upcoming midterm elections. I’ve been lending my time and texting ability to the senatorial campaign of the democratic challenger in a very red state. My volunteer effort entails texting some 400-800 people at a time, and providing answers to any resulting questions they may have.  My responses are all prepared by the campaign, depending on the topic. We are permitted to veer off script a bit, if customizing our response will be helpful. We are supposed to immediately opt out recipients upon their request or, if they curse. It’s been a very interesting experience and, barring a few exceptions, people are surprisingly civil.

I appreciated the sincerity of the Jehovah’s Witness lady – who said that while she was certain that both candidates were lovely people, only God could be our king. I’m an agnostic, so I wouldn’t know about that. I enjoyed the passion of the guy who insisted that the incumbent was the Zodiac Killer. While I really dislike this politician, I don’t think he’s the Zodiac Killer. He does have an uncanny resemblance to the Grandpa character from “The Munsters” though. Naturally, I received my fair share of “your candidate is a baby murderer” comments.  There is just no pleasing these folks, so I didn’t engage (but gosh I wanted to). And, I have special affection for the guy who said, “I’d like to get to know YOU better sweetheart.”

But, my favorite was an exchange I had with “Earl”.   At first, Earl accused me of being Spam and was rightfully annoyed. So, I ditched the canned verbiage, responded like a human, pointed him towards the candidate’s website, and wished him a good day.

About a half hour later, Earl responded with the following: “Thank you. I respect your right to work for the candidate of your choice. I don’t know you but I hope you are equally willing to respect other people without denigrating them. Both parties seem to care more about winning and being in control than doing what is right for America.”   I don’t think he’s wrong.   I added another plug for my guy, but I told Earl he had a valid point and wished us both luck.  At worst, Earl will be voting for the other guy. At best, he’s undecided, and my not being an asshole and engaging with him lends some credibility to my side of the aisle. Maybe.

Back to my person.  I won’t text her the morning after the next election asking who she voted for.  I learned my lesson.  Besides, no matter how things go this November, there will still be much to do.  The havoc being wrecked during this Trumpian Dystopia we’re living in won’t end any time soon.   Also, I have kids. I think that obligates me to dig deep and be optimistic. Which means that Earl and I aren’t finished chatting.

. . . with Liberty and Guns for all.

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Young gun love.  My little brother.

When I was in high school, my 14-year-old brother Bill shot himself. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds. He was holding his BB gun and it accidentally went off. I was down the hall in my bedroom, not doing homework, when he yelled my name. He was sitting on his bed, a bit stunned, unsure what to do.   Our parents weren’t home and this was in the days before cell phones.   Being the responsible older sister (and enjoying an opportunity for drama), I naturally called the police.   A short while later, my mom pulled into our driveway, greeted by a mass of emergency vehicles.   I can only imagine what was going through her mind as she drove up to that scene at her home.

Family lore has it that the BB just missed a vital nerve in my brother’s hand. My dad arrived home just after the paramedics had patched Bill up, and the cops had confiscated the gun.   Dad and Bill were summoned to the police station for a good old-fashioned talking to. A few reminders about gun safety, a handshake, and my brother was reunited with his BB gun and sent on his way.

To date, this has been the only gun related incident in my life (I think this evidences my status as a gun layperson: a real gun aficionado would probably consider a BB gun a toy). As a person living in the United States in 2018, I think this makes me lucky.

After each gun massacre in our country, I go to the National Rifle Association’s Facebook page and check out the comments.   I’m always curious to see how the other side processes these tragedies.   Sadly, the commentary is never surprising.   Or hopeful. It’s always a take on one of two varying sentiments: “now the democrats will REALLY want to take our guns”, or “we need to arm more good guys with guns.” There is never, ever, ever, even a hint of, nary a scant reference to, what I think would be an intrinsic reaction: how about less guns?

After the headlines go away, during that sweet delusional lull we experience in between mass shootings, I try to understand the mindset of the gun rights crowd.   I try to grasp how two such disparate responses can result from the same set of facts.   Why does the thought of more guns make some people feel safer, and others less so?

To some, it’s a matter of personal security.   A few years ago, my BFF (my “best friend forever” since way before this acronym became a thing) informed me she was getting a gun. She is small, but mighty. She’s also Italian, with a bit of a temper. I didn’t think a firearm was such a great idea. But, I get it.   I really do. Our generation was raised on 70s detective shows. All the greats: Charlie’s Angels, Policewoman, Daphne and Velma from Scooby Doo. I too have entertained visions of myself as armed and dangerous, with really good hair (I also like to pretend I’m Stevie Nicks when I’m in a rockstar mood).

BFF is a real estate agent, and she had legitimate reasons for wanting to be proactive. Right around the time she decided to arm herself, there had been a spate of news stories about female realtors who had been threatened or assaulted, while working alone. BFF is quite fit and more than adept at a verbal sparing.   However, at a petite 5’4’’, in a physical showdown I’d put my money on the bad guy, who likely will have had more recent gun escapades.   I think BFF’s money would have been better spent on a self-defense course (note to self: sign daughters up for self-defense course).

I was mugged when I was in college, walking to the train station in a sketchy area. Some guy grabbed my neck, ripped off my jewelry, and ran away. In terms of crime drama, it was pretty benign. Nevertheless, I’m sure a lot of people might immediately want to walk around armed after that. Not me.   My first thought was that it was pretty naïve of Suzy from the suburbs to stroll through that part of the city flaunting her gold.  I did get some mace from a cop friend however. Never used it, but it made me feel better to carry it around.

Gun culture is a thing, and it’s hard to fathom if you’ve not been a part of it growing up.   I can’t legitimately lay claim to this myself, although guns were always in the distant background during my upbringing. My mother’s extended family hails from the Deep South. If one gives any credence to the stories and photos, it would seem that people were more likely to own a gun than a pair of shoes.   Visits with my aunts, uncles and cousins usually included some gun related activity for the males. Hunting, target practice, general gun fondling, etc. If memory serves, when my brother and my cousin Rick turned 13, they were each gifted one of my grandfather’s shotguns. To my recollection, my girl cousins and I did not receive any such coming of age memento.

My dad, a New Yorker, was always drawn to anything having to do with guns. In another life he was a southern “good ol’ boy” or a Wild West gunslinger. He had a small, yet impressive collection of various types of firearms.   They were kept secured in a closet in my parents’ bedroom. I don’t recall him using them much, beyond an occasional visit to a shooting range, a hobby he enjoyed with my brother. Like any collector, he would take them out occasionally to admire them. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. To my father, guns had a kind of artistry about them.

The gun love did not manifest itself in my own DNA, and my father’s gun stash held no special allure for me. When I was in my 20s though, dad attempted to school me on gun usage. “Suzy, have a seat, I want to show you how to use a gun.” He sat me down, put a gun in my hand and attempted to walk me through the basics. I had a marginal interest, but found handling the gun itself awkward and uncomfortable.   However, I knew it made him feel like he had imparted a necessary life skill, like driving a stick shift (I’ve retained nothing about how to use a gun, but I can still drive a stick shift).

About ten years after that, my interest piqued again, and I invited myself to the shooting range with my brother. I must admit, I sort of enjoyed it. There was some sort of twisted satisfaction when the bullet hit the target. Certainly, it appealed to the vengeance loving part of me: imagining, as the target, a certain political figure or school bully is rather therapeutic.   I get the same satisfaction though when I pound a chicken breast with a mallet. Or when I do a Soul Cycle class. So, I’m not sure I need a gun.

Self-protection and weapons fetishes aside, many of my fellow Americans simply believe that gun ownership is their 2nd Amendment right. Over the years, these folks have given me numerous reasons why losing this right would be a travesty. But it always seems to come down to this: apparently, an unreasonable search and seizure from our own government is just around the corner, and having your own personal militia is the only defense.   To this I say, it’s the 21st century. We are all probably more at risk from a cyber attack than anything else. How exactly is a gun going to protect you from this?

Excepting law enforcement and the military, I really don’t see the need for anybody to own a gun. The basically unfettered access to them in this country seems to do more harm than good. Seriously, just where are all the “good guys with guns” that the NRA is always yammering about? If they’re out there, they’re doing a lousy job.

My eldest daughter, Katie, was an infant when the Columbine massacre occurred. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 26,000 kids under the age of 18 have been killed by gunfire since then. How about less guns, while we work on fixing all the things that are making men want to blow people away? And yes, while not a perfect science, generally they are men, and they are white.

My children have grown up in a country where their right to own a gun is given more value than their right to be alive. As my youngest daughter is finishing her school years, incoming kindergarten parents will likely be preparing their children for active shooter drills. If this thought doesn’t fill you with despair, there is something wrong with you.

Fate has been kind to me so far, but I don’t take it for granted. Last year, as I was helping Katie pack up for college, there was a lot of advice flying around about campus safety, particularly for the girls. No one was suggesting a gun, but I was encouraged to buy Katie one of those little personal alarms. It looks like a toy keychain. You attach it to your backpack and press a little button, which theoretically scares your attacker away. I felt so good when I bought this for her.  About a week ago, I remembered to ask her how the alarm worked out, did it make her feel safer? She looks puzzled.   “Oh that”, she says, “I never even took it out of the box.”  I hope she never needs a gun either.

 

Baby Books and Rug Burns

On the day I gave birth to our daughter, like all new parents-to-be, we came to the hospital equipped with a camera so we could capture this awesome moment.  Jim spent the better part of my 14-hour labor carefully photographing (minus the really graphic stuff) our first-born’s arrival into the world.   The unintentional photo below is the only evidence (besides the baby) that we were even at the hospital that day.   Apparently, we neglected to remove the lens cap. That they let us take home a live human being when we couldn’t manage a simple camera operation is somewhat astonishing.

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It’s 19 years later, and Katie is now a college freshman. Like most parents at this stage, I’m reflecting on how she’s been raised.   Would I have done anything differently?

In the beginning, I was a huge devotee to all of the baby books du jour, strictly abiding by their lists of “must have” items.   I outfitted my medicine cabinet with the $500 worth of goods that every new baby needed to survive, allegedly.   The same lists are available for preparing your kid for college. A friend forwarded me one entitled “The Most Complete First Aid Kit for College Students, Ever!” It is written by a mom/Pharmacist, is four pages long, and includes about 400 items. I considered it for about a minute and tossed it. Instead, I made sure she was still covered by our health plan, threw some Advil and band aids in a kit, and added some condoms for good measure.

In the years between the baby books and the condoms, I like to think I’ve honed my parenting skills a bit.   In my more confident moments, I imagined myself encapsulating all this wisdom into some brilliant tome. Something my kids could turn to for guidance when life gets messy. “The Most Complete List for Surviving Life, Ever!” I never got around to doing this.   Clearly, some parents’ are just more efficient with their time.

We used to get these long holiday letters from acquaintances of ours with kids around the same age. In one particular letter, the mom waxed poetic about her kindergartener, evidently already reading at a 5th grade level.   I’d sigh inwardly and stare at my daughter’s artwork, proudly taped to the fridge. A drawing of our family that only a mother could love. Alien-like stick figures with bugged out eyes, anatomically incorrect.   Apparently, she should have been doing advanced reading. Only five years old, and already behind the eight ball. I’d yell into the other room, “Katie, turn off the TV and grab your book!” For what it’s worth, sadly, the family with the reading prodigy later imploded. So really, no one knows what they’re doing.   Sometimes it’s easiest just to take cues from your kid.

Katie was just over a year old when she figured out how to escape from her crib.   I was a bit dismayed at the time, as I anticipated at least another six months of lockdown. She just waltzed in to the kitchen one morning. No big deal. I put her back in so she could show me how she did it. She scaled the top, like a mini mountaineer, and shimmied her way down. Later that day, I bought her a toddler bed, though she didn’t really stay in that much either. She liked her freedom. She still does.

My daughter thought she could swim, before she actually could, prompting me to enroll her in group swim classes as soon as feasibly possible. The instructor would work with each kid individually, while the rest were supposed to hold on to the side of the pool. The other kids complied, but not my girl. She kept slowly taking her hands away, moving to the center of the pool, and then back. Smiling the whole time. Then she got too far out and couldn’t make it back, so she went under.   The instructor didn’t see what happened. I was holding her baby sister, and couldn’t react fast enough. Another mom jumped in fully clothed and pulled her out. After that, I signed her up for private swim lessons. Her instructor loved her fearlessness, and today she is a confident swimmer.

I admit that sometimes I’d involve Katie in activities simply because I didn’t want her to miss out, versus it being a good fit for her personality. It is the bane of parents’ who were socially awkward as children (me): you will do anything to avoid that same fate for your kid.   I don’t think any permanent damage was done to her, and some amusing times were had.

When the time came, I enrolled Katie in a local Brownie troop. I wasn’t much of a role model in this area, having failed to achieve a promotion to the Girl Scout sphere as a young girl. Nevertheless, I thought this would be a good social opportunity for her. We weren’t a terribly serious troop. Mainly, us moms just wanted the girls to have fun, maybe learn a value or two. Earn a badge here or there.   But, we tried to do a few legitimate “scouty” things, such as organizing a safety lesson at the local fire station.   The girls each had to name a type of burn. When it was Katie’s turn, in a clear voice she shouted, “rug burn”! The other girls giggled. The moms’ laughed in that way we do when a kid innocently utters something with subtle carnal undertones. I choose to believe it was clear evidence of her ability to think outside the box.

I can only speak for myself, but certain moments tend to clarify just what kind of parent you’ll be.   In the early days of Katie’s babyhood, a friend said to me wistfully about breastfeeding, “don’t you just love it?”   It took me a second to collect myself and come up with an appropriately enthusiastic response. “Yes, it’s very special”, I said.   I chose to breastfeed my kids because there was no medical reason I couldn’t. But, my learning curve was steep and there were many anguished, exhausted tears. So no, I didn’t love it at first. I wasn’t going to tell my friend that though. Why subject myself to the potential judgment? Clearly, this was something I was supposed to really enjoy. Who knew?

It was at that instant that I realized there are two kinds of mothers. The kind that is so blissfully caught up in their baby that everything is a love fest. And then there is the kind who, while they love their child, is constantly challenged by their intrinsic lack of maternal ability. Frustrated to the point where they wonder if they’ve made a terrible error in judgment. I fell firmly into the second camp, and knew that I would forever be comparing myself to the blissed out moms.

On Katie’s high school graduation day last year, the texts were flying. Tearful messages of both melancholy and hope.   There were sentiments about not wanting to grow up, latent anger at the college admissions process, and frustrations about the valedictorian selection. These texts were not from my daughter or any one in her age bracket. They were from my friends who also had kids graduating that day. As with the intense adoration I should have felt for nursing, likewise, I guess I should have been awash in sentimental tears at graduation. I wasn’t. I didn’t cry. What I felt that day was a sort of cosmic, prideful, relief. Like I could exhale a little because I had actually managed to parent her to this right of passage (yes, my husband was there, but this is my blog). And, it finally became okay that my path to doing so wasn’t like everybody else’s (I’m a slow learner).

I suppose if my daughter were asked, she might have a few constructive suggestions for things I could have done differently. I don’t know.   Some of my parenting decisions were made with scientific precision; others were of the “close my eyes and jump” variety. They all added up to who she’s become today: a smart, funny, self-sufficient person, who has never been afraid to express her point of view.   I’m not sure if this is because of how she was parented, or in spite of it, but the clues were there early on.

A very young Katie once greeted friends arriving at our home with the following pronouncement: “you shouldn’t say fuck.” She may have known curse words, but she knew you shouldn’t use them. In hindsight, I’d put this firmly in the parenting “win” category.   I can’t imagine why I would have done anything differently.

 

 

Friday Night Lights

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That’s me – hiding, second from left.  My ill-fated run on the Drill Team.

Several months ago, my friend Jennifer called, ostensibly to wish me a happy birthday.   Towards the end of the conversation, she asked me, “how would you like to help out on our high school Boosters board? We just need someone to write a few checks now and then?” In her own sly way, she was asking me to join the board as their new Treasurer – a job somewhat more involved then “writing a few checks”. I knew this, but I said yes anyway. Mainly, because Jennifer is one of those people I can’t say no to (she makes a mean margarita), but also because I was looking for a new volunteer gig. Something outside my comfort zone, that might be a little challenging.

I have a love-hate relationship with sports, and especially with football. My husband no longer allows me to watch games with him. He seriously loves the sport, and doesn’t find my unsolicited remarks entertaining. In my defense, it’s impossible not to make fun of an activity, where the commentators say things like: “it’s all about the penetration”, “the way they squeeze the tight end in there”, “they got him from behind”. The last time Jim let me watch with him, I hypothesized that football is really an outlet for closeted gay men.   He didn’t appreciate my theory and I’ve been banished ever since.

Ironically though, I adore a good football movie, especially those based on true stories: Brian’s Song, Invincible, Rudy, The Blind Side, and my all time favorite, We Are Marshall. It’s the heartwarming account of the 1970 Marshall University football team that perishes in a plane crash, and the subsequent struggle to re-build the program. I’ve seen it numerous times and always bawl through the whole thing.   It’s so good.

I am admittedly jaded when it comes to male athletes though. It seems to me that they are often given special treatment or face no real consequences for their poor behavior. During my high school years, I witnessed a classmate struggling with basic reading.   He was a valued member of the football team though, so he sailed through his classes. Two other male classmates subjected me to a bit of sexual harassment. One instance could be chalked up to the ignorant frat boy mentality of the perpetrator; the other instance was not as benign.   I never told anyone.   Too embarrassing, and who would’ve cared anyway? Again, they were football players: beloved, popular, and crucial to the success of our winning team.

One would not be wrong to infer that I have been disdainful of the sports culture.   So, I would seem to be the last person who should be participating in the Boosters – an organization whose sole mission is to support high school sports. I disclosed as much to Jennifer, without giving her the ugly details of my history. She saw it as just the opposite. Opining that my lack of positive bias would lend to my objectivity. Plus, she said, “Susan, now you’ll be in the power position (sort of). You’ve come full circle!”   Yeah, she was totally playing to my ego, but she had a point.

Everything I know about Booster clubs, I learned from binge watching “Friday Night Lights”, that delicious TV drama about football in a small Texas town.   The episodes involving the Boosters were always the same: a group of washed up former football stars, still sporting their championship rings and letter jackets, the best days of their lives long behind them. Their adult reality never quite matching the glory they had hoped for.

I didn’t grow up in Texas, but football was a big deal in my small New Jersey town. In late summer, we would begin to see game schedules posted on the windows of local businesses.   We had a hugely successful team – Coach Bauer led the Rams to six state championships over his 25-year tenure (his obit made the NY Times). We had a marching band that performed professionally choreographed half time shows. And, perhaps most significantly, we had a well-appointed stadium, with a lighted football field.

Home games were a serious endeavor, and never more so then on a Friday night.   Traffic would back up along Millbrook Avenue, as folks jockeyed for parking spots. Even for a football pessimist like me, there was something a little magical about a Friday night game. I went to most of them. Under the bleachers, I had my first real kiss – with a trumpet player.   At another game, in the bleachers this time, my friend Debbie consoled me after said trumpet player broke my heart.   I barely watched the actual games, but to this day, I remember the words to all the cheers.  When you’re part of a school with a winning team, it’s hard not to feel a little pride.

It was perhaps this misplaced pride that made me think it was a good idea to try out for the drill team. I didn’t make the team the first time I tried out, and that was probably a good call.   I’m not sure why I succeeded on the second try, other then it was basically the equivalent of a mercy fuck. It would be an understatement to say that I was not well suited for large-scale flag twirling. The one time they actually let me participate in the half-time show, I accidently smacked my metal flagpole into the elbow of the girl next to me. The crack reverberated throughout the stadium.

I’m not sure how things are now at my old high school.   But, the current culture appears to be quite different where my daughters attend school.   School spirit doesn’t seem to be tied to sports so much, and athletes are not the rock stars they were in my day. There’s increased academic and behavioral expectations. My perception is that things are more balanced now, which I think is good.  The stellar drama department, the winning mock trial team, less mainstream sports like Golf, these kids seem to be as celebrated as the more traditional athletes.

The playing field, for lack of a better term, feels a bit more level. I suppose an actual high school kid may see it differently, but from my vantage point, we’ve evolved. It may not be perfect, but there is an improved ethic surrounding high school sports, and I like being a part of an organization that helps to promote this. So, I guess that’s why I said yes to Jennifer. That, and the margaritas.

Sadly, there is no lighted football field at our local high school, and thus, no night games.   I’m told it’s due to some ordinance – probably the result of some NIMBYs who didn’t want to deal with the noise, traffic, and potential game night shenanigans in close proximity to their homes (to which I would ask, why did you choose to live near a high school then?).  I get it, I guess. But, I think this does a real disservice to the sport, and is a lost opportunity for community building.

The Boosters should probably get on this.   Everyone should have the experience of a Friday night football game during his or her high school years.   Whether they are watching from the bleachers, throwing the winning touchdown, or being whacked in the elbow with a metal flagpole.   Go Team.

The Last of the Compassionate Conservatives

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My dad, in all his glory.

Don’t listen to me.  I just blew up Thanksgiving.  I told my family in Wisconsin that their vote destroyed the moral fabric of our country.”   I’m paraphrasing a text from a friend shortly after the election.  Although my own personal associations have remained largely intact, I’ve heard so many stories about family relationships strained, some irreparably so.

Lately, I’ve found myself reflecting on how my parents’ operated in the political climate of my formative years, the ’70s and early ’80s.   With family, they generally adopted that old adage of “never discuss politics, sex or religion.” Though I don’t really abide by this approach, I’m beginning to see its’ merits.  Today, the words “Republican” or “Democrat”seem to infer less of a party affiliation and more of a character assessment.   I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. Political leanings were not how my parents’ evaluated people. Are you true to your word? Are you respectful? Unless you violated those basic tenets (or messed with one of their kids), you were fine.

My dad was always very open about his political proclivities, and it would have been so interesting to hear what he would say about current events. Unfortunately, he passed away ten years ago last fall, at the too-young age of 69.   Howie was a pragmatic guy and had always made it very clear that he did not want any of the standard death accoutrements.   Pricey coffins, wakes, obituaries, etc. He wanted none of it. “Just put me in a box and be done with it.” “I’ll be dead – it won’t matter!” We respected his wishes and honored him in a way he would have liked. Just myself, my mom and brother, gathered at the mortuary to say a final goodbye and have a hearty cry. Then he went off to be cremated and we went to lunch at Applebee’s. Trust me, he would have heartily approved.

My father supported Ronald Reagan, loved John Wayne, and was a longtime NRA member.   He was born and raised in New York City, but lamented that he was from the wrong part of the country – and the wrong century. He liked the old west, and had a gun collection that suggested as much (kept safe and secure away from me and my brother). Occasionally, he would take them out for show.   I have a distinct memory of a pearl handled pistol, in a red velvet lined case.   He wasn’t a hunter. In fact, I only have one recollection of him actually using a gun.   A bat flew into my pink princess bedroom when I was little. I screamed, the bat flew out, landed on my mom’s pearly white dining room drapes. Dad took care of it with a bb gun. It’s what a wanna-be old west guy did in 1970s suburbia, when up against a critter.

Howie was fiscally prudent, only spending what he could afford. When we were young, he tried to impart on my brother and I how hard he worked to provide for us: charging us a fee every time we left a light on. Credit was used in a planned fashion and paid off accordingly.   But life was enjoyed nevertheless. We didn’t take a lot of fancy vacations – I didn’t travel by plane until I was 19 – but my parents’ never skimped on the day-to-day pleasures. My husband can blame them for my love of fine dining.

Dad was big fan of pulling your own weight, so he didn’t like the Welfare system, feeling it was abused by those not truly in need.   However, he was an avid contributor to social causes that mattered to him. Whenever we had old furniture or household items to give away, he took the time to find out how to donate them to women’s shelters – long before the Internet made it easy to do this.

Compared to his childhood, mine was easy, but certain things he insisted I had to earn. He wouldn’t let me get my drivers license until I could drive a stick shift and explain to him why an oil change was important. He taught me to drive on his 1974 Ford pick-up truck. It had a manual transmission, and no power steering or power breaks. To improve my shifting prowess, he would take me on hills during rush hour traffic. My teenage self found this highly annoying, but I treasure having this skill now.

He understood, in theory, the need for Affirmative Action, but was justifiably ambivalent about it. He didn’t go to college, but started his career in the mailroom at a major US corporation, eventually working his way up to a management position. By the time he retired some 30 years later, his successor needed an MBA for the job. When other parents in our upper middle class town would ask dad where he went to college, he would smirk and say “the school of hard knocks.” However, when I finally decided to go to college, you’d never seen someone so proud. He quite literally ran into the other room to get the checkbook.

While I think dad mainly voted Republican, he briefly became disillusioned with the GOP, and actually voted for Bill Clinton in his first term.   However, my father was hopelessly devoted to my mother and the concept of fidelity (his favorite occasions were Valentines Day and his wedding anniversary, and he took great joy in filling my mom’s jewelry box with gifts). Clinton’s many peccadillos cost him my father’s respect, effectively ending his foray into democratic presidential terrain.

He was a fervent believer that women should be treated equally and respectfully. He explained the Equal Rights Amendment to me and was a big supporter of it.  When he went into management, he took a lot of pride in being able to promote women. He was also a gentleman, and sometimes this got him in trouble. He came home one day puzzled about a woman whom he had held the door open for.   She got mad, claimed it was sexist.   He thought that was ridiculous, but he was careful going forward.

He was a proponent of the death penalty and also strongly pro-choice. Watching TV one night with my parents, I was around 11 years old when I first heard the term “abortion”. My father was the one who explained to me what it meant, answering me honestly, like always.  To him, I think he viewed it as future knowledge I might need, if I were to be truly in control of my life.

He was raised in the Jewish faith, but was disdainful of organized religion. His life experiences exposed him to more of the hypocrisy versus the good of it. He could never understand why people would see a priest for marriage counseling. He used to say, “why would I get relationship advice from a man who wears a dress and has never had sex?” Before the world became politically correct, this was funny.

Howie was not politically active, but his opinions certainly influenced me.   I voted for a Republican in my first election, less because of ideology, and more because it’s how my father voted. It seemed like a good idea at the time, in the absence of my young self giving it much serious thought.   A rational man and an all around good guy, dad was the living embodiment of the term “compassionate conservative”.   It’s why I’m so appalled when blowhard politicians use the phrase to soften their image, when their actions suggest otherwise.

I’ve been reacting a bit emotionally to the current political landscape. Some of my recent pronouncements on social media: “To me, your vote implies you are okay with racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and sexual assault.” “Get your head out of your ass.” Facebook has become my passive aggressive way of telling my conservative friends that, to put it mildly, I don’t agree with them.   I think my father would be amused and oddly proud of my chutzpah (albeit a cowardly form of chutzpah, given I’m sitting behind a keyboard, but still).

However, I don’t want to become the liberal equivalent of what I mock: someone who insulates themself with like minded people, and ample time to guzzle a constant stream of news that aligns with their political views.   It’s so easy to gorge myself on my own outrage, becoming so angry that I’m suddenly intolerant of any view but my own.  Going forward, I should probably consider borrowing a page from my parents’ playbook.   Am I ranting or delivering a message? Is it necessary? Is it truthful? Is it delivered respectfully?

Upon arriving home from work each day, Howie would unwind with a gin and tonic and the newspaper. Rather then relaxing him though, the news would seem to agitate him. Eventually, the gin would kick in, and the edges would soften, and with a weary smile, he’d say: “our government may be really screwed up, but it’s still the best screwed up government in the world.” I can’t be certain if he’d say this today, but I think there’s a good chance he might.  This gives me hope (perhaps misguided) that everything will be just fine.