Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Binders Full of Women

*I promise this isn't political. It's just a really clever title (if I do say so myself).

While cleaning out some bookshelves, I came across a stack of organizational binders. They were covered in dust and I had no idea what was lurking inside. It turns out they were binders full of women.

And all the women were Me.

You see, I've gone through many phases in my forty-eight years, and I think I've bought organizational binders for each and every one of them.

With a little hesitancy, I decided to through them. I was surprised by the first binder. It was full of coupons. COUPONS. When did I ever collect coupons? I had no recollection of ever having collected coupons. But there they were, staring me in the face, along with notes about upcoming MOMS Club meetings, playgroups, and reminders about all sorts of things. (One rather ominous reminder was written in bold, frantic letters and said - REMIND JOEL TO RELEASE THE FROGS!!!!)

This was the binder of my Young Mom With Small Children Stage. I'd like to say it was filled with laughter and happy memories, and it was -- a little. But it was also filled with melancholy and regret. Maybe even remorse. Because that was the phase where I was at my very best AND my very worst. It was the phase of unfathomable fatigue, worry, and stress. And immeasurable wonder, joy, and awe.

Coupons. I didn't care about coupons. I was a lonely, often frantic, and completely lost young woman seeking contact with other young women who might also be feeling a bit lonely, frantic, and lost. I attended MOMS Club meetings, scrapbooking get-togethers, and parties where hostesses sold candles and cookware. And obviously, at some point, I went to some coupon-clipping gatherings. (I have a vague recollection of listening to a woman extol the virtues of saving 25 cents on a case of shampoo.)

But all I was really doing was searching.

For myself.

I wanted to crawl into that binder and find myself back in 1999. Maybe I'd say:

Hey Girl - I know you're bored out of your mind. I know you don't give a rat's ass about saving 25 cents on shampoo if you buy it by the case because you're wondering if there's enough money in your checking account to put gas in the car so you can get yourself and your three kids home. I know you wish that lady would shut up about the shampoo and talk about something Meaningful. And Real. 

Like how much you miss yourself.

I see you sitting there in your folding metal chair - YOU - the former fashion design major who ended up with a marketing degree because it got you out of school faster. You're wearing a shapeless blouse designed for breastfeeding and a pair of truly awful mom jeans. You're sadly looking forward to tomorrow because Spin Doctors are going to be on Sesame Street. I know that you wouldn't necessarily even like Spin Doctors if it weren't for the fact that you're so sick to death of Raffi. (I saw you throw that cassette out the window in front of a backseat audience of stunned pre-schoolers because you just couldn't handle Wheels on the Bus....




I know you still dream of leather pants, pink hair, and mosh pits. And that you wonder if it was all a dream. If YOU are just somebody's dream and when they wake up - you'll be gone forever.


I know you feel like you're stranded in an alternate universe where your hair stays nondescript and you're cutting grapes in half so nobody chokes....for all eternity.

Let me tell you some things. 

You will not be listening to Wheels on the Bus forever. The six-year-old at your feet is going to someday text you a picture of Jack White on stage with the message of "Look how close I am, Mom!" She's going to play Franz Ferdinand on her guitar until you think maybe you'd prefer Wheels on the Bus. She's going to go to college on a full music scholarship and play on Big Stages in front of Lots of People and you will clap your hands as your heart threatens to explode inside your chest. It will beat more wildly than it ever did at any rock concert. 

And the boy? The four-year-old? He's going to drive you around in his car, making you a captive audience as he tries to turn you into a Russian pop fan. And you will not get Russian pop.

At all.

He's going to cry tears of joy with you as Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers are simultaneously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. OH MY GOD--YES, WOMAN--RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS IN THE HALL OF FAME!!! Who the hell saw that coming? 

That little boy is going to grow up to be taller than you by a long shot, and he's going to turn to you at a Jane's Addiction concert and say, "Thanks for bringing me, Mom!" And you're going to have a rocking awesome time at the Jane's Addiction concert -- and I promise you that Dave Navarro will look exactly the same as he does today, which is both hot and borderline creepy -- and you won't even mind the migraine you get on the way home. 

And the baby nursing at your breast? He's going to be into Techno. Hardcore Techno. He's also going to idolize Moby and you're going to love him for idolizing Moby. Also? You're going to get tired of Moby. 

I know that as he nurses you feel as if he's sucking the life out of you. Literally sucking you dry until there's nothing left. I promise you that you'll get it all back. For every ounce he's draining, he'll give back tenfold. He's a deep thinker, a ponderer, and he'll be a talker. He'll teach you to think in a new way - and it will fill you up until you think you can't take anymore.

But you can.

He will take the Middle Child Thing seriously - the kid will take getting attention to new and previously unheard of levels....

Oh, wait.

Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that he's a middle child. I'm not sure you can handle knowing that there are two more coming...

In fact, I know you can't handle that right now. But since I let it slip, let me assure you that you'll be BETTER with them. You will be more patient. You will be kinder. You will not worry that everything is permanent, because by then, you'll know it's not.

Everything is FAR from permanent. In fact, it's the opposite of permanent. And you will be PRESENT and ALIVE and GRATEFUL. 

Also? That little dream you're quietly nurturing about writing a novel...you should totally do that. It will be published in May of 2014.

That's what I would have told myself.

I yanked the coupons and calendars and memos out of the binder and threw them away.

It was like exhaling after holding your breath for a decade.

I picked up the next binder and dusted it off. Scattered throughout the pages and pages of schedules and routines and lessons and homeschooling curriculum were articles about dyslexia. There was an article about auditory processing disorder...with question marks scribbled all across the top. This one was (short pause for dramatic effect) the What Are We Going to Do About Joel Binder.

If I crawled into that binder, I'd probably find myself sitting at the kitchen table staring helplessly at a little boy with a bowl haircut. He makes all kinds of noises as he leads several pencils into battle against some erasers. He doesn't use many words, just lots and lots of sound effects. He grins up at me, and I grab the pencils away in frustration. We're trying to do math.

"Let's try this another way," I say, while spreading out four of the pencils. "If you have four pencils, can you give someone six of them? Do you REALLY think you can do that? I mean, dude, look at this. There are four. FOUR. One, two, three, four. You cannot give away six when there are only four."

The boy runs off and returns, happily holding more pencils. "Now we can, Mama!" He slams the pencils down on the table. "Now we can have all the pencils we want!"

I want to tell myself:

First of all, calm the hell down. I mean, I'm working really hard not to call you a bitch here -- I'm giving you the benefit of a doubt because you're short on confidence and heavy on the anxiety. Look at your adorable kid. He's a natural problem solver. A brilliant and creative problem solver. He did just solve the pencil problem, no? Also? There was no effing pencil problem to begin with. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to make it to adulthood without eventually grasping that you can't take six pencils away if you only have four to begin with. There is no emergency situation where you simply must know that by first grade in order to save the universe. You know what will save the universe? Creative problem solving.

Also - you're right about the dyslexia. He's got it. In the words of a diagnostician you'll meet in a few years, "He's got it bad!" And those little question marks you wrote on that article about auditory processing disorder? Bingo. Jackpot. He's got that too. He also has integrative and expressive language disorders. I'm not telling you all this to freak you out or anything. Because I PROMISE everything will be fine. He'll be reading in two languages by the time he's 18 - and you'll understand most of what he says and he'll understand most of what you say and the times you don't understand each other will usually be hilarious. All that stuff in the binder? The sooner you throw it out, the better. The curriculum isn't going to work. You're going to frustrate yourself (and him) by trying to force a round peg into a square hole. Forget about sending him back to school - he's not going. In fact, you're going to end up homeschooling the whole lot of them.

This child is kind. He is thoughtful. He is freaking hilarious. He will sail through his teen years with a grin on his face, surrounded by friends you adore. He is going to be super handsome, insanely intelligent, ridiculously creative, and you know what's the best part? He's going to be HAPPY. 

He's not, however, going to adhere to that ridiculous schedule you've got in the back of the binder. Just ditch it. You know the one...it starts out: 7:30 - Breakfast....

That is never going to happen. 

I ripped the pages out of that binder and set it aside with relief.

The last binder still sat on the shelf. I didn't really want to open it because I knew the iceberg of fear it contained. It's only been about a year since it's melted. It was given to me by a friend during what was probably the worst phase of my life.

I opened it. The first thing I saw was a medical report:

The patient is a 7-year-old boy who presents with moderate to severe hearing loss....

Next up was a radiology report. It had lots of big words in it - but most they all amounted to two words: brain tumor.

The binder was supposed to help me keep organized after Jules' initial diagnosis so I wouldn't be confused by the many doctor visits, lab reports,and appointments of every kind. It was filled with stuff - none of it organized because hello! This was ME. And it was ME in an emergency. That's the very worst kind of me.

In addition to all of the tumor info, there were articles on hearing impairment. And autism.  **I warned myself way back in the first binder that this kid was going to take Middle Child Syndrome to new heights.

This one was hard. I think if I could crawl inside and go back to myself in the Stage of Hysteria, I would just fall apart all over again. I don't think I'd be of any help to myself at all. But maybe I would at least manage to say this:

Jules does not have a genetic disorder that will lead to more tumors. The people you're dealing with do not know what they're talking about. In fact, when Jules has surgery to finally remove the darn thing when he's fourteen - you'll discover it isn't even the type of tumor they're saying it is. This is the one and only tumor, it will be removed safely, and it will not come back. 

The first thing Jules will say when he comes out of anesthesia is, "It's not my problem." 

It's a joke. You'll get it at the time. 

And then you'll cry. 

A few days later you'll leave that hospital wanting to faint from the enormity of the relief.

You're not cursed. You're blessed. Unbelievably blessed.

Now please try to act like it.

I don't have any more binders. My life is contained in folders and files within a phone. Or in files or folders within a laptop. Just like the binders, they're bursting with good intentions and schemes -- with hopes and dreams.

What woman will I be in ten or fifteen years?

Here's hoping for wiser. And ten pounds lighter would be nice too.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Martyrdom: It Can Be Tasty

We went to the beach for a week and now I need a vacation.

I have never been a good Vacation Mom Martyr. I was always like, "Dudes! Get a grip, I'M ON VACATION." My husband comes closer to being a good Vacation Mom Martyr with all of his running around getting this and that for everyone and hammering in umbrellas and EZ-Ups and hauling chairs and ice chests, yada yada--only I'm not sure you can be considered a martyr if you're ENJOYING it. And he seems to kind of enjoy it. I know - weird. Maybe that's how gentiles suffer. Like, he's TRYING to suffer but he just keeps grinning and ruining the effect.

We had a lot of people on our vacation. The official number was More Than Our Condo Could Comfortably (or legally) Hold. We had pads and mattresses spread out all over the floor because having an 80-something-year-old grandpa navigating the floor wasn't already precarious enough. None of my kids will share a bed. Not with each other, and even though we attachment parented and co-slept and everyone said we'd never get them out of our bed, not with us, either. And they won't sleep with their grandfather, probably because they're afraid he'll die in his sleep and who wants to wake up to that? We had to take several vehicles, and my sister's air conditioner went out in her car on the way up. No prob - it was only 106. Also? My sister knows how to suffer. Good lord I thought we'd never hear the end of it.

The first night was Ellie's 21st birthday (GULP HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?) and we went to our favorite little island restaurant that serves up mediocre Italian food. It's a vacay tradition. The service was super slow, so we were forced to drink copious amounts of wine while we waited for our tepid pasta. Turns out Ellie is a mean drunk. Who knew? Anyway, she wasn't going to stay the entire week, but then her grandpa began the ever-so-subtle This Could Be My Last Vacation Talk, so she was guilted into staying. My dad comes by this guilting naturally. My grandmother used to bid me farewell by saying, "The next time you see me, I'll be in the box." I never knew what that meant. I kept waiting to come to her house and find a Big(!) Fun(!) Refrigerator Box(!) but it never happened. Then, at her funeral, my cousin said, "Oh my God, she's in the box."

Back to martyrdom. Martyr Moms are always prepared for any emergency. They give up their own precious personal time that could be spent watching True Blood in order to pack orderly first aid kits and make sure everyone's sandwiches are ready for the next day - God love 'em. My kids were always amazed by the Playground Martyr Moms - those organized moms with the perpetual supply of juice boxes and bandaids. They'd flock to them like seagulls to a chum bucket, hoping to snag the extra box of goldfish crackers or the occasional spare fruit roll-up that the Martyr Mom had brought along in case of an emergency.

I was never prepared. For anything. My diaper bag was basically a trashcan on a strap, nary a diaper or wipe to be found. Rocks, receipts, and melted Burt's Bees lip balms? I had plenty of that and nobody ever wanted it, but I faithfully dragged it around wherever we went anyway.

So you can see why, after twenty-one years of Low Bar Parenting, I'm excited to share my Beachside Healthy Lunches! That's right - while everyone else hurried down to the beach, I stayed behind and slaved over lunch! It was truly inspiring. I was beautiful in my suffering. After slicing, dicing, stuffing, and packing, I'd schlep my burden across the hot sand to the beach and say, "I sure hope I'm not disturbing anyone's fun by sweating beneath this dead weight of hummus pitas I made myself!"

I'm so impressed with my efforts, I'm going to post Actual Pictures and Recipes. HOLD ONTO YOUR BEACH HATS. Here it comes....

We're talking homemade hummus and kale butter pitas with avocados, cucumbers, lettuce and red onion. Once filled, they slid beautifully right back into the pita bag - I just zipped them up and they were ready to go. You can use any old hummus recipe - there are zillions - but the kale butter is what makes it. All you do is steam a bunch of kale, stick it in a blender with 1/2 cup of walnuts, some salt, and enough water to get the consistency you want and whoala! An awesome sandwich spread for any Martyrdom Occasion.

And here we have the ever-so-popular Black Bean Salad. There are many variations on this staple recipe, but basically mine consists of black beans, corn, cilantro, tomatos, red onion, and avocados. A little salt, lime juice, and olive oil finishes it off. I packed in individual plastic containers with screw-on lids.

Finally, I quickly (and with a smile) rolled and folded some pinto bean tacos. I'd like to say the pinto beans are homemade by ME - but the truth is - Jeff (hubs) makes them. These are a staple in our house - he cooks them in a pressure cooker and then processes them until smooth. The kids dip into them with chips, roll them up in tacos, or grill them for quesadillas. And we also keep some whole for those of us who prefer them over rice. Anyway - these beans were spread onto tortillas along with tomatos, guacamole, and pickled jalapenos. Jasper prefers his "plain" so his are the rolls on the left - just the beans and nothing but the beans.

I loved packing these lunches for my family. We're plant-based and we try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. These were relatively easy to prepare (even for a martyr such as myself), delicious, and seriously good for you. Who needs crinkly bags of junk when you can have some truly flavorful om noms?

When we got back to the condo, we all enjoyed bowls of refreshing Chia Mango Pudding. I realize it looks like frog eggs, by the way. But it tastes really great.

4 Tbls of chia seeds, 2 cups of almond/coconut milk, 1 or 2 mangos (diced) and enough agave to meet the needs of your sweet tooth. You mix it all up, stick it in the fridge to chill, and it magically turns into delightfully tasty frog eggs.

I hope you enjoyed my attempt at being a Foodie. I'm not a great Foodie because of the general effort involved, but I'm happy to share my sub-par-ness with you. If I can do it, anyone can! So what are you waiting for? Make some kale butter GOSH. Some of you martyrs are School Lunch Martyrs, right? Get to it! Just think of how you can make all the moms who sent Lunchables feel like crappola! Screw that Homeroom Mom crap - you can one-up everyone with spectacular lunches. I wouldn't know what that feels like because my kids don't go to school and we're pretty much sleeping while y'all are worrying over the packed lunch nonsense - but I imagine it might feel pretty good!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

When We Paddled to the Sea

I didn't think it was going to happen this time. I really didn't.

Y'all remember how I carried on some when Ellie graduated, right? All that blubbery where-has-the-time-gone nonsense? Well, Joel has technically graduated. I say technically because not only has he been homeschooled, he's been unschooled. In fact, I'm not sure he knows he's graduated. *Note to self: Inform Joel he's graduated.

Whereas Ellie desserted me and left for college, Joel will be hanging around for at least a couple of years. In the fall he'll be attending a community college to study Film. Currently, he's lifeguarding and he has Big Plans that include Bartending School because OF COURSE HE DOES.

It's been less stressful than when Ellie graduated -- no testing or application processing or compiling of educational portfolios. Although, the community college website with it's 1,000,000 words in seemingly no logical order and indiscriminate use of the words and and or....THEY DO NOT MEAN THE SAME THING COMMUNITY COLLEGE, I might need a stiff drink. Which is no problem because hey - my son is about to become an Alcoholic Beverage Mixology Specialist. 

Anyway, back to how well I was doing. I was doing spectacularly well with the not crying and the not weeping and the not wanting to sing "Regrets, I've Had a Few...." But then - THEN - I came across Paddle to the Sea while looking for another book. I flipped it open, and dang, the sting hit my eyes immediately.

When I first began homeschooling, it was just Joel. He's the reason we homeschool. Diagnosed with more communication and learning disabilities than one can comfortably store in short-term memory - school didn't work too well for him. And I didn't know how to homeschool him, either. But I knew how to hang out with him. I knew how to laugh and dream with him. And I knew how to read to him. So I did all of those things. A lot.

Paddle to the Sea was our first "school book." It was a time of late mornings and slow afternoons. It was soft, comfy chairs and scratchy green grass...tadpoles and turtles...Batman and soccer games. It was when we slowly gained our confidence--in ourselves and in each other. With a school full of people who didn't know what to do, a specialist who said Joel might never learn to read, and family and friends who questioned our choices, all we had was ourselves in those early days of Paddle to the Sea. And no matter how scared I became, no matter how uncertain...Joel remained a ray of sunshine lighting the darkest corners.

Joel can not only read, he can read in two languages. He's written scripts, won awards for extreme creativity, and he's competed on an international level in creative problem solving. He's made goofy movies with his friends, and he's worked as a Grip in Training on a real short film. He's a certified lifeguard and a black belt in tae kwon do. In short, he's a success.

I did that.

When Ellie graduated, I felt a sense of panic over all the things I thought I hadn't done. Ellie, I said. I didn't take you to enough museums. I should have taken you to more museums.... It went on and on. I don't know why I felt that way. With all of her accomplishments, why did I feel that way? Why did I feel I'd fallen short? Honestly, she didn't seem to need me that much. Maybe it was a relief, albeit a guilty one. Because I was needed elsewhere.

I worked for Joel. I championed him. I fought for him.

And I won.

I looked at Paddle to the Sea with its frayed cover and wrinkled, dirty pages. I could see the chubby, dirty fingers pointing at the pictures. I could feel the little-boy heat emanating from a sweaty, fidgety body. But I couldn't touch that child. I couldn't pick him up and snuggle him on my lap and turn the page...because we've turned a page. 

I'm the mother of a man now. A man who reads the New York Times and drives to work and says, "I'm heading to the coast with my friends -- see you in a couple of days, Mom."

Dear God, I love that man.

But today I missed my little boy. He's paddled off to the sea without me.

I'm forced to leave you with the cutest baby picture IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. And while you ooh and ahh over it, please keep in mind that Joel will be posing for his Senior Pics next week...in a silk smoking jacket. On a bearskin rug. With a pipe.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Remembrancer, Designedly Dropt.

My writing used to be described as one of two things: family humor or inspirational. The family humor appeared as a weekly newspaper column for several years. But it came to end as soon as the kids became old enough to realize they were being exploited.

The inspirational writing - wow. It sounds all sparkly and heavenly and possibly nauseating, doesn't it? It was obnoxious of me, but it was mostly in the 90's and I'm pretty sure that The Entire World agreed we wouldn't hold each other accountable for the 90's.

My stories were published in various inspirational anthologies, and they were sold by those anthologies to various magazines. They were used in newsletters and Actual Church Sermons. (I know because I google myself in private.)

I was all kinds of In Your Face Inspiration.

I don't know what happened, but at some point I began to doubt I was channeling anything other than my own bullshit. The Man-God who I'd thought had been constantly trying to communicate with me via various asinine methods - well - He and I grew apart. (Don't worry - I promise this isn't a Bitter Atheist post.) I came to see a falling star as being a falling star. Not a Message From the Great Beyond. And so my inspirational writing disappeared, along with any ability I thought I'd had to phone a friend in Heaven.

If this were the 90's, I might make a pathetic attempt at making sense out of the Boston Marathon bombings. Or the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Or school shootings. But this is not the 90's and our world is post 9/11 and I'm not that girl, anymore. Heck - even if 90% of you begged and pleaded for me to write something inspirational about the current pain and suffering being experienced in our country, I wouldn't do it. I'm like the Senate in that way.

Me and God - we don't talk so much anymore. But don't despair! I haven't completely hardened my heart. *Oh dear, I either just quoted the Book of Hebrews or Pat Benetar - not entirely sure which.

Sometimes, out of the blue, I'm reminded how fantastic and insane it is that I'm here, at all. That any of us are here at all. It's that sudden awareness, consciousness, or cognizance of my part in the Grand Scheme of Things that just blows me away. Is there a scheme? I don't know. Usually, I dont' think so. But sometimes I get the unexpected feeling that I'm privy to something - just for a millisecond - to something BIG. And my small part is illuminated in a stillness of time.

Yesterday, Jules mentioned he enjoyed the poetry of Robert Frost. Specifically, he enjoyed Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. When he was a little kid, he had a picture book illustrating this poem. I'd read it to him, occasionally. I never thought he'd listened. But he had.

So back to yesterday. Never one to ignore an intro, I jumped on his comment and ran hysterically into my bedroom to grab my Bible - also known as Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. It is so rare that I'm granted an opportunity to talk poetry, you see. I was thrilled. Thrilled, I say! I ran back into the dining room and Jules was still sitting there, so I hastily flipped through the book to come to the well-worn pages of the 6th verse of "Song of Myself." This is the verse where a child has said, "What is the grass?"

I read:

How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark,
And say Whose?

The other day I was driving into town, I noticed something placed in front of me and remarked, Whose? It was silly, really. And you very well might read this all the way to the end and say, "That was weird." But I'll do my best to convey my moment of wonder.

It was a dreary day. One of those days where everything is gray. The highway was gray, the sky was overcast and gray, the landscape was gray and brown. Even the cars on the road were various shades of black, brown, and gray. But then a yellow Volkswagen Beetle passed me on the left. Whoosh!

I watched as it darted in and out of the monochromatic cars in front of me, like a bee skipping from bloom to bloom. It looked as if it had been photo-shopped into a black and white scene. As if someone had placed it there to draw just a bit of attention - to see if anyone would notice, and remark, Whose?

I looked in my rear view mirror at the two lanes of gray, black, and brown cars behind me. And I smiled. Because at that moment I realized I was in a red car.

I felt very much like a remembrancer, designedly dropt. And I admit to wondering...Whose?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's Really Deep...on the Surface

I have a confession to make. Are you ready?

I'm shallow on Facebook.

There! I said it! And I feel so much....better? Dang. I don't feel better. Because gosh, Facebook, I wasn't feeling badly about my shallow status updates to begin with. Because they're status updates and you're, well, you're Facebook. Even though, apparently, there is a discussion going on Out There about how people are not being honest about their eternally happy selves and their seemingly perfect children and locally grown and 100% organic lunches on Facebook.

Someone wrote an article about all of this, and I heard her interviewed on NPR. She sounded super-duper intelligent and I'm sure she's an excellent writer but I just didn't really care about (nor was I surprised by) the whole Facebook Shallowness topic.

The writer was concerned that people are giving false impressions of themselves and their lives on social media. Der...ya think? She felt that people would be sitting around at home thinking their lives were the only lives that weren't perfect. After all - what if you're depressed and unable to leave your house and you have to look at endless status updates and pictures of people hiking, biking, dining out, etc? What if your kids are juvenile delinquents and you're having to look at endless updates about how other people's kids are being inducted into the National Honor Society in between feeding the homeless and qualifying for the Olympic rowing team? What if you're doing good to stop by McDonald's and you have to look at endless pictures of That Girl You Didn't Like In High School's gourmet meals that she made from vegetables she grew in her own garden? I mean, don't you think people should be HONEST so you can feel better about yourself?

For me - the answer to that is a big old NO. Really - don't post a picture of your bunion on my account. I'd rather see a picture of that deer that comes by every morning and nibbles on your honeysuckle.

Let's consider my own Fake and Oh So Pleasant Facebook Life. This is my current profile picture.

I don't always look like this. I am not always smiling happily whilst clinging to my happy husband. I know - you're shocked, right? And this was a particularly decent hair day. My hair is sometimes excessively curly. And not in a pretty way. On curly days, Joel calls me Hagrid. As in this:

I'm guilty of posting a lot about my kids. Yesterday I posted how they'd cooked breakfast and lunch. Before that I'd posted a picture of a freaking perfect vegan espresso layered cake Camille baked ALL BY HERSELF SO THERE. I'm sorry if it upset anybody.

This might come as a huge surprise to you if you think that nothing happens in my home that I don't post on Facebook - but my kids are not perfect. Sometimes they argue, they make enormous messes and refuse to clean them up or they say they'll clean them up and then disappear for the appropriate amount of time they think it will take for me to either forget about it or clean it up myself. They're noisy. They are sometimes listless and don't seem to care about anything. They sleep a lot. They game a lot. They are hungry a lot. But I'm not going to get on Facebook and tell everyone everything they do that isn't made of awesomesauce. It would be massively disrespectful to the children, who are luckily, not using my failures and examples of lack of perfection as their status updates. In fact, I can't post anything at all about Camille without her permission - she feels rather strongly about that. So my lack of My Kids Are Horrible!! status updates doesn't indicate my children are perfect - nor is it an attempt on my part to convince you that they are - it is merely me respecting them and their privacy.

I tend to post when I'm happy. But I'm not always happy. But people are rarely taking pictures of me when I'm in the middle of a temper tantrum. I don't have a picture to post.

I also tend to post when something good has happened. But bad things happen to me, too. In fact, if you know me and this really seems to be the crux of the situationmost of my Facebook Friends do not really Know Me you know that some very bad things have happened to me. I have had family tragedies and financial distress. I've suffered loss and the pain of illness. Is it really necessary to discuss this on Facebook? (And for those of you who suffered my seemingly endless flu posts - okay - so sometimes I do a little public suffering.)

I just don't get the point of the article or the discussion that has ensued in its wake. And there is a discussion going on - I'm seeing it on Facebook. In the past week I've seen several people post about this article while saying something along the lines of, "I'm guilty of this, too." As if  they've done something to feel guilty about by not baring their souls to people they don't really know all that well on a social network.

So what are social networks for? What constitutes a friend if it isn't someone who follows you on Twitter or friends you on Facebook?

Social networks are for networking. They're for meeting people who might share common interests or goals. They're also avenues of expression and means of giving and receiving information and, often, advice. And let's not forget - they're where you can see images of Grumpy Cat at all hours of the day. As to what constitutes a friend - well, a friend is the person who reads your status updates and says, "That's bullshit."

I do think that social networking sites and blogs (!!) can be excellent places to make Real Friends - although obviously - you have to be careful. Have you seen the documentary, Catfish? If not, you should. But anyway, assuming that young female writer you just met isn't actually this guy

you can make some great Real Friends. Two of my very best friends are women I met right here on this little old blog. That's right! Leave me a comment and you, too, can have me and my neediness as your very own endless vacuum of angst all wrapped up with a bow! (It isn't easy being my friend - so be careful what you wish for.) I recently picked up a friend via Twitter. Remember that Twitter Pitch Contest I entered? I didn't win. I came in 2nd. Actually, I was named an alternate but I'm calling that 2nd because it kind of is. And actually there were 2 alternates so it's quite possible I came in 3rd but since nobody will ever know, I'll say I came in 2nd. I could say the other alternate came in 3rd but since she is my New Best Friend and will probably read this, I'll say we Share Second.

I'm pretty sure my New Best Friend is already regretting having met me, by the way. She's thinking She's not like she is on Twitter at all! She's a whiny mess! She never shuts up! She is quickly discouraged and easily downtrodden! If only she'd been more honest about herself on Twitter... I bet that stupid picture of her in the baseball cap is at least 4 years old.  **Not only is it old - it's photo-shopped. Shhhh!!

I don't think most people really want to know more about me than I share on Facebook. And I don't really want to know all that much more about them, either. And whenever I give in and post something political, I've noticed that whatever I post next - be it a picture of my new shoes or a recipe - will receive a ton of likes, as if everyone's encouraging me to behave myself.

Once I received an Un-Friending Threat following a political post - but c'mon people - it was about THIS GUY.

So is this really a thing - this Facebook Non-Reality? Are you concerned about it?

I'm not. I'm happy to hear what you had for breakfast, see a picture of your new car, hear about your kid getting accepted into college. I know this isn't all that goes on in your lives. I know that behind every perfect pie there are many that were total disasters. I know that your kids probably yell at you, that at times you worry you're a horrible mother and you've messed everything up. I know that sometimes you can't sleep at night because of bills, or illness, or marital issues. I think it's because of these things that the picture you posted of the butterfly outside your kitchen window makes me so happy. The butterfly isn't a lie - it's not a false representation of the person who took it - it's hope and optimism. And it's important.

Carry on with your fake self, Facebook. Carry on.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I Request a (Decent) Audience

I'll be watching the Grammys tonight and it has me thinking about performers and their audiences. Is it just me or has audience behavior gone down the tubes? The endless texting drives me nuts, but not nearly as much as when people use those same phones to film entire performances. At the Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts we went to last year (yes - I said concerts - we went to more than one) we stood behind people who experienced the Chili Peppers entirely through their phones. Watching anything on a phone is pretty much an exercise in frustration - so why would you want to watch a band on your phone when they're RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU? Like Life-Size and stuff?

I'm a nervous concert-goer simply because of the audience experience. The concert is only going to be as good as the asshat in front of you or behind you. I always fixate beforehand, wondering what my fellow audience members will be like - or at least the ones in my general vicinity - because they have the power to make it or break it for me.

Depending on the band - I'll expect to either sit or stand. People get very worked up over this particular issue - you have Staunch Sitters who paid good money for their tickets by golly (Staunch Sitters, in my experience, tend to say things like "by golly") and you have those who want to stand and dance no matter what - even if you're in a quaint acoustical setting. I've suffered through both scenarios - having been told to sit down repeatedly and having asked others to do so repeatedly.

With the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you're going to stand and dance. If you don't, the funk will build up to dangerous levels and you'll explode.

I know this is an old photo with John Frusciante instead of Josh Klinghoffer, but I'm still not at a point in my recovery where I am able to actually post a pic of Josh Klinghoffer.

At one of the Chili Peppers concerts, we were lucky enough to be on the floor, fairly close to the stage. I watched nervously as my fellow concert-goers arrived to take their seats around us. The people 2 rows in front of us? A squeaky clean family with young kids. GULP. The guys directly in front of us? Had their phones at the ready to record. DOUBLE GULP and I was already irritated. But the absolute worst was the couple behind us. He had that eager, crazed look of the First Date gleaming in his eyes - and she was overly made up, dressed for a cocktail party, and looking around for somebody better than the guy she'd walked in with.

The show started and everyone jumped to their feet THANK GOD. Mom and Dad put their kids on the chairs so they could see better, and both kids immediately covered their ears with their hands. "What a waste of good seats!" I yelled to Jeff. He agreed. The guys directly in front of us predictably began watching through their phones. I was in awe of their ability to stand so still and hold their arms up like that for so long. Idiots.

The couple behind us immediately began their first date chit-chat, which had to be executed through screaming, so lucky for us, we got to hear all of it. For the record - I was right - she wasn't into him at all. They didn't even remotely pay attention to the band and I wanted to turn around and yell at them that this was THE FLOOR and no place for amateurs, but that didn't seem to be the case. We were in Amateur Central down there, with the families and the phone-filmers and the corporate types. The only person I had an ounce of respect for was the girl across the aisle - she was old-school and never once gave up in her attempts to rush the stage. A Mean Security Guard Man thwarted her every effort, but she never gave up and you have to respect that, you really do.

The best audiences are the ones who love the performers they've come to see - but it's rare to end up in a devoted crowd of followers these days, even in small venues. We went to see Matisyahu at a tiny little theatre - tickets were ridiculously expensive. It was just Matisyahu, a stool, and his guitarist - should have been perfect.

I'm still embarrassed to see him without his beard - it's like he's naked. OH GOD I'M BLUSHING.

But the crowd was so-so. It was a fundraiser so a lot of the people there weren't really fans. For example, when he asked what he should perform for his closing number, the woman behind us (who had talked loudly through the entire performance) screamed out, "King Without a Crown!" triumphantly, to let everyone know she Actually Knew of a Song. Unfortunately (and as Matisyahu, himself, informed her) that had been the song he'd opened with. She either a) hadn't heard it for all of her own talking or b) had no idea what the song sounded like. Add to that a drunk guy in the balcony who yelled at oddly quiet and inappropriate times - and yeah - it could have been better.

The Jane's Addiction crowd was probably the best audience we encountered last year. That concert was also at a small venue - and I could tell immediately that it was going to be a good night.

As the audience poured in, I nodded approvingly. They were all dressed like total freaks - I had high hopes. The guys who sat down next to us wanted to get cozy and immediately began asking us when we'd first heard Jane and what did we love about them and what was our favorite album - they were pumped and I loved them so so so much for being pumped. We had Joel and his friend with us - and I think they enjoyed the crowd as much as they did the band. One guy, who was out of his mind On Something, would turn to Joel and grab him by the shoulders and just scream in his face before turning around to resume body slamming everyone. Joel was only frightened the first time or two that it happened, after that, he was totally into it. His buddy, Austen, spent a good bit of time crawling around the floor because the woman behind us was dancing so hard that her trifocals flew off her head (so we were an OLD CROWD so what?) and Austen, being the nice young man that he is, tried to help her find them.

My seat was the best seat in the house because it gave me a direct line of sight to Dave Navarro. He was right smack in front of me - I had a perfect view - and it made me happy. Dave still rocks the leather pants. Now, there are some guys still trying to rock the leather pants who just leave you feeling sad and empty inside - but with Dave - well, it does other things, none of which are sad. Anyway, so at one point Joel's screaming neighbor moved directly in front of me. He was huge and out of control. But I was like one of those women who gain super-human strength and courage when their children are trapped in burning vehicles - I poked him in his beefy bicep and explained to him that he was coming between me and Dave and the leather pants. He was stunned, at first, but then he moved over. "Can you see now Mama?" he asked. I gave him a thumbs up and he grinned.

In my mind, the Jane's Addiction concert was the best concert of the year - but I think it had as much, if not more, to do with the audience as it did the band.

We also went to see k.d. lang - who I have loved since Absolute Torch and Twang - and we were stuck in the balcony with the losers. The woman in front of us was a texter - and a facebooker - and a tweeter. And she was doing all of those things WITH HER ENTIRE BODY. She didn't just text with her fingers - she flapped her elbows around and bopped her head while she held the phone Way Up High so as to illuminate the 5 rows behind her. She was front-row balcony - and that meant she propped her feet up on the railing - big pointy shoes that she crossed and uncrossed repeatedly. I could see her status updates: I'm at the Katie Lang concert! (That's right - she didn't know how to spell the performer's name), and her texts: I'm in the balcony, where are you?, and her tweets: Having a great time at the Katie Lang concert! SHE NEVER ONCE LOOKED AT THE STAGE. Also - she was wearing too much perfume and with all of the commotion and flurry of her activities - it was wafting up into our faces. Ellie and Camille were with me, and Ellie is scent-sensitive (she's also idiot-sensitive, which was probably the bigger issue) and so we moved to the very, very, very back of the balcony area.

Down below things were different. The devoted fans were down there - so it was just k.d. lang and several thousand lesbians and they all seemed to be having a significantly better time than we were. Even so - when there's a voice like velvet in the house - you can't be completely miserable, even with a Full-Body Texter in front of you.
Pure velvet.

I'd like to say that classical arts audiences are better behaved, but they're not. At piano recitals, people come in late, whisper back and forth, jingle their keys, etc. At The Nutcracker this year, we literally sat behind a family reunion where Grandma distributed Crunch 'n Munch out of a bag by scooping it into paper cups and passing it down the rows to family members who then began to (just like you'd expect) crunch and munch. And when the act with the angels was over - a mass exodus of grandparents began. It's like they said, "I sat here as long as I could - my grandkid is now done - I'm outta here." The problem was, as they painstakingly made their ways down the steps and aisles - none of the rest of us could see the stage.

During Copellia, I watched as people tried to extend intermission into the 3rd act by simply refusing to take their seats. When MY OWN FLESH AND BLOOD made her entrance onto the stage, I couldn't see her because the people in front of us were still standing and visiting, even though the lights had gone off and the music had started and the curtain had risen.

I long for the good old days when people showed up for performances with rotten tomatoes. I know just where I'd throw them..

So tell me - what was your latest audience experience like?

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Other F-Word

So that previous post - the one where I wrote some sort of horrible inspirational dribble about the flu's silver lining - it was total bullshit. Purge it from your consciousness. Because the flu totally bites - The End.

I think I might have believed that nonsense when I wrote it - but that was before we went to the pediatrician for the secondary infections and before he casually said, "I keep seeing people come in with one flu strain only to come back a week or so later with the second strain," and before I dismissively responded, "Wow, that would suck."


I went from type B to type A, which is the nastier of the two strains (I know because I am unfortunately an expert now).

At the moment, poor Camille has it. I'm hoping it stops with her but it probably won't because The Universe is apparently pooping flu on us. When it's all over I fear we'll have no choice but to burn our house down with all of our belongings inside.

I have been well (and I use that term loosely) for about a week. And I still can't hear out of my right ear and I sound like I smoke 3 packs a day. It took Jules less time to recover from brain surgery last summer.

Seriously, people, I do not think I am going to be able to end this post with any type of inspirational/upbeat commentary, whatsoever. It can't be done under the circumstances. Although, thinking of last summer, and the brain surgery and all that - oh dear, here it comes - there are worse things than a house full of otherwise healthy people coming down with the flu. There is a mother somewhere who, at this very moment, would gratefully trade places with me.

I have been that mother.

So listen to me you Stupid Dumb Stupid Flu - you're not as badass as you think you are.

Oh dear God - I think I just issued it a challenge.


Monday, January 14, 2013

A Little Extra Something for the Holidays

The holidays went off without a hitch. And by without a hitch, I don't mean I did everything that should have been done - that could never happen. But there was holiday food bought, prepared and served. Gifts were purchased, wrapped, given, and received.

Gift Highlights:
Camille opening a Taylor Swift ticket.
She stared at it, trying to figure out what it was for a full minute. Then her eyes lifted to mine, she smiled hugely, and made a beeline for me. She hadn't expected that gift - we'd explained to her that concert tickets are expensive and it had been a Red Hot Chili Peppers year..

Jasper and his Mood Lighting and Soft Sheets.
I admit it. I have a set of wickless LED candles I bought at Costco. We have a little half-moon window right above our bed and they look pretty there. The remote control that came with them? BONUS. Didn't even know about it until I got them home. Jeff likes to hit the button and make hubba hubba eyes - and Jasper goes nuts. He fully appreciates the candles AND their handy dandy remote control. I don't know how the candles came to be referred to as "mood lighting" but they did and so for the past 3 months Jasper has been asking for mood lighting for his bedroom, much to the chagrin of his brother who shares the room. He also asked for new sheets - the SOFT KIND. So on Christmas he opened many toys and a few Lego sets but man oh man - you want to make an 8-year-old happy - give him some new sheets and mood lighting to go with it. BEST GIFT EVER. All that's missing now is the bear skin rug.

It was a bed sheets theme.
My dad also asked for sheets for Christmas. He didn't specify that they be "soft" but the old guy likes quality so I headed to Target with the rest of the 99%. They actually had some decent thread counts. I was pleasantly surprised. But the "high quality" sheets with the decent thread counts were marketed as PERFORMANCE SHEETS.

Performance sheets? That gave me pause. Did he NEED performance sheets? What did this mean? Were the sheets expected to perform in a certain manner or was he? And what would he perform? I checked to see if the sheets were possibly the official sponsor of the I don't know...PORN INDUSTRY...but found no such reference.

When he opened them we were sure to point out that they were Performance Sheets. Jasper looked a bit jealous.

Other than that, not much stands out in my memory in the way of gifts. I got my usual array of things I'd picked out and wrapped myself. Jeff did, too. The Joels received their usual gig of Dork/Geek items (including a poster of Vladimir Putin). Ellie was, as usual, delightfully puzzled by her gifts. Salt rocks to remove the negative ions from the air, thereby reducing stress? Um....okay, Mom. Sure. Thanks for giving me VOO DOO. Again.

We had friends (mostly Ellie's/Joel's friends) and family over for New Year's Eve. We snuck in a camping trip on New Year's Day. And the entire time we were camping in the COLD AND FREEZING TEMPS I was looking forward to one thing: Our Anniversary.

Our anniversary is January 4th - and we were only going to mark it with an evening out but man oh man had I been looking forward to it! The holidays are hectic - and we're always the hub of All Holiday Activity - and the camping was basically uncomfortable and had taken a lot of effort in packing, cooking, preparing, etc. So I was really, really, really looking forward to a romantic dinner out where I could relax and regroup with my husband.

Well, our anniversary turned out to be more than I'd expected. We spent the entire day in bed.  A lot of writhing and moaning took place and we didn't even have performance sheets. What we DID have was the flu. Type B specifically.

The children, like dominoes, began to succumb one by one. Only Ellie didn't fall - she has too much self-discipline, I suppose. We were sick on Jules' 15th birthday, and we were still sick the next day on Camille's 11th. We were sick when the day for her sleepover came along, and she didn't even care when we cancelled it. The Flu was The Boss of Us.

We're all just now getting back to normal. I still have that "sick smell" in my nose, and nothing tastes right. There is a lot of coughing and I imagine there will be for quite some time. But it's gone. It just left a mess in it's wake. But you know what? Please don't think I'm crazy but it had it's good points, The Flu did. It's quite astounding when you're of the mindset that you have Things to Do and the world will fall apart if you don't do them and then something slams into you and says that you're basically not at all as important as you thought you were and guess what? You HAVE TO STOP.

I don't stop very often.

It was weird - to stop. But I did. All of the plans I'd made came and went while I napped, coughed, and groaned. Camille and Jasper were in bed with me and we watched cooking shows and read books - all while the sun moved from one window to the other - until the room was orange like it gets in late afternoon - until the room cooled off with the evening air and all became quiet. Another day had gone by - and we'd somehow spent it doing nothing but being. Just being sick. And the rest of the world allowed it - because we had The Flu after all. The world looked at us and said, "Oh well, you have The Flu. I'll just keep going but you stay right where you are, just mark your place for a while. It's perfectly acceptable."

It was, at times, almost nice.

Today we're back to our usual life. The dishwasher is going and so is the dryer. I can hear the television in one room and my teenage sons messing around in another. Ellie has gone back to college - Jeff is at work. I am happy to feel well, and more appreciative than ever of what that means. But also, I'm strangely appreciative of the experience of having been forced to stop.

Maybe, just maybe, I should do it more often. Maybe I should take a day, every now and then, to climb in bed with my babies to nap and read and watch the sun go from one window to the next... and tell the rest of the world it's just going to have to wait.