Thursday, June 25, 2015

Teenagers who DON'T only think of themselves.

The other day, four deep in traffic at a light, I saw something worth mentioning. 

A small woman, white-haired and elderly, was, with all her might, pushing what looked like a hand-cart stacked with blankets and other items across the six-lane intersection. She trudged, head down as though she were pushing a car. As she got closer, I saw what was making this journey so hard. It was not a full cart she pushed but a woman the size of two people in a wheelchair. But for her head, the large woman was buried beneath clothing and shopping bags.

They labored until they reached the right turn only lane on the other side. There they  stopped, stymied by the rise of the four inch curb. While those blinkers flashed to her right, the small woman circled the chair nervously, eyes darting to the traffic and back while the woman in the chair tried without success to lift and propel herself, chair and all, up and over the curb.

With one more push, the small woman gave up. She looked around in defeat and I willed the driver at the head of the line - the only one with safe proximity to her - to not be an asshat and help her out before the light turned. He didn't. 

From the other direction appeared two teenagers on bikes, pedaling furiously toward this scene. The bigger one of the two dropped his bike and sprinted, reaching the woman seconds before the light turned. When the other boy caught up, they lifted and shoved the chair onto the sidewalk, then continued moving it up the hill without a break in stride until the incline leveled off, a good hundred feet away. Then, they jogged back down the hill to where they'd dropped their bikes.  
It's the season of teenagers, they're everywhere. Quiet ones, sulky ones, bored and over-achieving and giggly ones. Teenagers who have graduated, who are preparing to leave home, who will become freshmen somewhere. We will see teenagers in their summer jobs, teenagers hanging around doing nothing. We will see them roll their eyes and hear them mumble.

Not me. When I think of teenagers – any teenager – I can't pay attention to what shows.  I've seen too many whose spirit has been tested, and whose generosity and kindness are too distracting to notice how they text when they should be paying attention, or won't help around the house, or just won't think of anyone but themselves. 
I wasn't surprised by what I saw at the intersection that day. Not at all.

But I do wish upon that asshat, several waits at many lights that he just can't seem to hit at the right time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Party of four

Catering Crew
Last weekend our adult children left their far-flung regions to unite and throw us a little party in honor of a recent milestone anniversary.
They text-managed a schedule of tasks, shopped for and prepared the food, and organized themselves into a catering quartet that seemed to mirror their birth order. (Son to daughter wearing apron:  "What can I do?" Daughter to son:  "Make me some coffee.")  
They had to tell us what was happening (it was our house) but it came with a stern warning not to "help." 
We didn't, and it was a total success from "Where do you keep the parchment paper?" to, "Should I save the salad?"
We never expected payback for the 102 (give or take) birthdays we've staged since they were babies, but we got it. We had not been expecting to be joyful and awed this weekend but we were. 
It reminded me of something I learned recently at the salon, where I attend life school.
I sat a few chairs away from a woman who was my age or older,  for whom the only word was "joyful." Elegant and engaging and animated, she told a long, funny story while the stylist worked and commented and laughed with her.  She wasn't seizing or seeking attention. She held attention because she was just fun to listen to. 
I saw another woman across from me, about the same age.  She was dressed in jeans and flip flops with long wiry gray hair, and a face creased with what looked like too much very deep thinking. She talked quietly with her stylist about some event in her life, and though I couldn't hear the words (and I tried, readers) the tone was unmistakably disgruntled.  Not sad or angry. Disgruntled. 
I thought, what is it that makes us ride life like we do? 
Some consider it the other way around - why does life ride us? - and only try not to stagger under its weight.  
Others appear to argue with it, ever annoyed, ever anticipating the problems life hasn't, but might present. 
Some walk companionably with it, tolerating its flaws and accepting its gifts. 
I want to be that first woman  – joyful, divested of enough hard things to draw a hand across my brow in a "whew" kind of way. Then I want to embrace the easier, surprising parts that arrive like bouquets of gratitude - thank yous from life for enduring and loving and celebrating it, for waiting and hurting through its moody turns, but always believing that every minute is worth the love you give it.
Life reminds me of children.
And bouquets of gratitude that look like surprise parties.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Now to then and back again.

Grief is heavy
If it slows your steps at times
It is  to remember who you lost
Without getting lost yourself.

Two years ago today, my brother Bill died.   
In the still  fog of the days that followed I wrote  this post about grief

June 14, 2013

"I made you laugh. I LOVE when that happens." --Bill Cook (1960-2013)

Grief is a big boulder in the middle of the room.
It can't be budged.
If you push it away  it won't yield
When you aren't watching where you walk, you fall over it
And it hurts
You can't pretend it isn't there
You can move the furniture to walk around it
But it still blocks your view of something
You can try and live in another room altogether
But you have to pass by it eventually to go from now to then and back again
Grief is like a boulder in the middle of the room
It doesn't belong there
You don't want it there
You throw a blanket over it
It feels too big for the room
Too big for your life
You cry

And finally, grief speaks
It says, I might be in your way, but I used to live in your heart
I am your memories
I am your loss, but I am what you cherished for a long time
I am trying to find a way back in
But you won't open it
You walk around me
You avoid me
Open your heart
And I will live there again

You sit next to the grief boulder
Because you understand
You need to fill that space in your heart
To feel whole again.
So you make a deal
You will honor grief
And grief will help you heal.

You let it in.
It feels heavy, hard to carry
But your view is clear
Your travel is unobstructed
from now to then and back again

Without that boulder in the way.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Everyday moments worth forgetting

A photo:
A moment worth forgetting

I am sitting in an airport food court, coming home after a visit with our grown daughter in Cleveland.

It is mid-April, the start of empty nest season when parents prepare to launch first and last college freshmen. God-I'll-miss-them essays are everywhere, including my own recycled pieces on the subject. On my mind today is one that describes the writer's regret over not living more presently in everyday moments of raising children.

I do this too, sometimes regret  what I did or didn't do, usually when I'm already a little sad and my brain decides to tap on the glass by going, as Carolyn Hax puts it, "knock-knock, remember this?"

However, here in this food court, where I am surrounded by yester-mes with small children, I am also being reminded of context, the part our brains leave out.

A family of four has settled at a table near mine.  I am guessing the two children are three and five. The parents are dressed for a long travel day in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. The mom's hair is tied back and she is not wearing make-up.

She leaves the group to stand in line at Sbarro's, and the dad takes out his phone. The five-year old begins to yell across the food court, "Mom! Get Pizza!" and I see the mom shake her head  and put a finger to her lips.

The three-year-old tells the dad he wants to "go see Mommy." The dad frowns at his phone and says "No, buddy. Mommy will be right back." 

The mom comes back and reports that there is no pizza here, and the kids look disappointed and she says tersely, "I know," and leaves to find something else.

The kids start to come apart. They poke, they tease, they whine, they fight and their voices become playground high.

"Guys," says the dad with a glance.

The five-year-old suddenly leans across the table and punches the three-year-old who starts to howl. The dad says, "Hey," puts his phone down, and moves over to console the younger one who is shrieking, "He HIT me! He HIT me! I WANT MOMMY!"

"Okay, buddy, it's okay," says the dad.  "Shhhh." But the three-year-old isn't having it. He scrambles to stand on his chair now, and screams across the food court, "MOMMEEEEEE!!" while the dad says, again, with a bit more urgency, "Shhhhh!"


And now I see Mommy, traversing around stray chairs to get back there,  her place in line lost, her face a picture of What-The-You know what.

Incredibly, with a hopeful face, the dad says, "How was the line?" and I cringe to know what's coming.

"You know what?" says the mom with that tight, public smile that nobody wants to see, "You don't know the half of it, why don't you just go wait for the food."

She sits. The dad stands up and wanders away, phone in hand. The mom picks up the crying three-year-old and says "okay, you're all right."

"See if there's pizza," says the five-year-old to the dad's back. 

A moment later, the kids are coloring but the mom looks like she's still on call for the next fire.

The only thing going on is nothing worse.

Until another couple comes in. The dad looks like a celebrity, the mom is perfectly everything. There are two small children who I'm guessing are eighteen months and five.

The dad looks around, says to the mom quietly, "I'll (undecipherable)," and  heads over to Sbarro, where MOMMEEEE  was a moment ago.  He stands in line, hands on hips, scanning the menu.

Back at their table, "Zeke" sits in a booster seat with a baggie of veggies and crackers and says "I want (undecipherable)." The mom reaches into a bag and offers Zeke a sippy cup which isn't  what he meant.

"No," he says. The mom tries again. "NO!" he says again, and begins to shake his head back and forth, saying, "I want (undecipherable)!" The mom reaches into a bag and holds out a juice box which  he tries to smack out of her hand. Then he throws the baggie at her and begins to yell for the undecipherable thing which the mom and I can't understand, because now she reaches into the bag and just starts pulling out everything:  keys, toys, phone, comb.

With each item that she offers Zeke he shakes his head left-right-left-right saying, "NO!" and with his feet, left-right-left-right, he kicks the table hard enough to slide himself away from it.

The mom stares. "Zeke. What do you want?"

The dad strolls back with food and says, "Hey, Zeke, buddy, okay, I know you're upset, but..." Zeke uses his small hand and forearm to sweep the table top clear of the whole show, baggie, toys, and the full sippy cup.

The mom sits back, a hand pressed to the side of her face.

The five-year-old leans away from his brother's wing span.

Meanwhile, the other dad has come back to his table bearing pizza. In the ten minutes he has been gone, the mom has grown calm and has engaged the two kids with a game on paper, the injured three-year-old on her lap.

And as they serve themselves and begin eating, the dad pauses and looks over at the other table where Zeke's tantrum has peaked and left him tearful and exhausted, and the five-year-old is still looking at his i-Pad and the mom and the dad are looking at nothing.

The pizza dad shakes his head, then looks at his own little one and says, "Hey buddy, your ear's okay now?"

"It's fine," he says.

And here is what I know. Both of those mothers will probably see their sons off to college in sixteen years or so.

In the context of things that are over, they will remember the destination of that trip possibly, but not the getting there. That part they will have to reconstruct. One, maybe both of them, will be wishing she could somehow have been more in the moments to remember them better.  

But I believe we're probably as much in those moments as we can be.

Context is everything.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tuesday nights with Mummy

Mentor Mummy
My mother lives down the road. 
We get together every Tuesday to share a glass of wine and trade stories of the week.
"Hello, Mummy," I say when I see her, and "Hello, Darling," she says which still sounds elegant after all these years. I check to be sure she seems healthy.  She checks to be sure I seem happy. 
She feels lucky to live this close to me, but I am luckier.
She has told me how important these visits are to her, but right now, they are more important to me because I'm taking notes.
It is the equivalent of a walk, a quiet drive, an hour with my own thoughts to spend that hour or so with my mother, because as true as it was back when I was sneaking into the bathroom to cut my own hair, there's nothing that travels through my mind that I can't say or ask her if I choose to. 
She felt lucky to have a daughter, she has said, but I was luckier to be the daughter of the least judgmental parent on the planet.  
As is the way with daughters and mothers, we have more in common as I age.  In her late seventies,  she's seen this movie while I'm still dealing with plot twists and new characters. And every so often, I miss something in the script. Maybe an exchange that raised my antennae, maybe an observation that made me circle back, maybe a throwaway I plucked from the pile of things that are easy to miss but should be noticed.
A comment, a facial expression.
Like a college professor or a favorite boss I might have doorway-chatted with after hours, my mother has done her hands-on and off parenting, and is happy to listen to me talk about mine. Many of our conversations start with, "Tell me what you think about this..."
Mummies don't retire.
They become mentors.
Our youngest child will turn twenty-one in three months. Our oldest child is married with good cookware. My hands-on parenting days are behind me, and most of our children have not just left the nest but are feathering their own.
Some  parents describe a feeling at this stage of a job done, a giant project turned in. But I have learned from my Tuesday nights with Mummy that the longer we live, the more, not less we have in common. That if we talk less, we will probably say more. That the best conversations are about listening and not telling, asking not assuming, arriving by invitation and not force. And, most recently, that whether we live down the street from one another or on opposite coasts, it won't matter.
The best parenting years of all might be the hands-off ones, over an honest Tuesday night conversation, and one's wish to know what is in the heart and mind of the other. 
Mummy and I have more in common than we don't but the most important thing is gratitude. 
She is thankful to have me in her life, but with all my heart, I am more thankful for all those Tuesday nights, as my mother's mentee, Darling.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A tiny little story about love

I love this story too much not to tell it again.

A while back, I co-hosted an event to promote our local Boys and Girls club. I had a chance to catch up with an old friend I haven't seen in at least  a decade.  We talked about where our kids were in their lives and eventually came around to the subject of when our daughters fell in love and how we reacted to the idea of them getting married.

When my friend thought things were getting serious, she said to her daughter, "You'll have to tell me when it's time to love him."

Later, after the daughter and boyfriend had moved in together they gathered with their parents for dinner. As they left the restaurant, the boyfriend leaned over and said quietly to my friend, "It's time to love me, now."

That's what I said, too.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ten things to tell an engaged daughter

It's almost wedding time, and so today, I'm re-posting "Ten things to tell an engaged daughter," the most highly viewed thing I ever wrote anywhere at any time. 

From September 19, 2013:

People think your soul mate is your perfect fit. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.
 -- Elizabeth Gilbert.

Very soon, our daughter will be married. In my life, I have attended only a handful of weddings where I was certain it would last. This will be one of them.

And yet, since we reached the halfway point in the planning, I've found myself wishing to offer some parting gift of wisdom. Not the birds and bees talk of yesteryear, of course. 

More of a nests and hives talk.
An argument has evolved between my mother self which wants to share wisdom the minute I earn it, and my better judgment, which knows that unsolicited advice is tolerated more than it is followed. People in love blaze their own path, thank you very much.

And, adds my better judgment:

We customize our marriages. We rise and fall and stumble and glide through them, trading our coins of love and promise to create a new whole that won't leave anyone's unique self out. 

After nearly three decades, we've had our wins and fails and I could offer as many don'ts as do's. Maybe more, unless you ask my husband, who claims not to remember the "don'ts" because he is very good at marriage. 

And, in a discussion of "what marriage is and isn't",  is it better to caution against the things that are sure to damage a marriage? Or share the discoveries which made you understand that marriage is not just something you have in common with your spouse, but a place where you feel more honored, accepted, understood and loved than anyplace else?

And, as I consider offering any advice at all,  should I consider how much difference do's and don'ts advice made in my own life, which was none?

And, yet, says my mother self:

In three days, I will watch my daughter walk into the arms of her man. Knowledge is for offering, like fine food that you've prepared with your own hands. You put it out there, and whoever is hungry can eat. And so, from the turned down pages of my own manual I offer the ten things about marriage I consider most Worth Mentioning. 

Be who you are. You came to the relationship as whole people, with identities and a purpose in life. Feel complete in your relationship, share your happiness, look forward to everything you'll do together, feel better about everything when he walks in the room, miss him when he's gone. But honor your individuality. He loves things about you that you're not even aware of.

Know your marriage. As you know yourself, know your marriage - why you love each other, what you need, what you have learned to give and take - and realize that very, very little of this is visible to others. When people tell you when to buy a house, or when to have children, or why your marriage should be like theirs, remember how much information they are really working with, which is practically none.

We love differently. People can love each other equally and show it very differently. Women of words can be married to men of action if each knows they are loved the best way possible by the other and wish to stay that way.

Talk. Tiny amounts of honest communication - all the time - even when you're not together will keep you in sight of each other. Absent or lazy communication - all the time - even when you're in close proximity to each other is worse than silence.  

Listen. Learn to listen as much as you wish to be heard. You do this now, but life will get noisy. There will be distractions. Listening is not just making eye contact and waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can tend to something else. That's just hearing. 

Show your belly. There are plenty of times when you should play your cards right, not give yourself away, not expose your belly. But in a marriage is not where to do that.  Show who you are. If it's hard to do that sometimes, you're doing it right. 

Bring it up. Even if you are sure what is in his heart, never think you know what's in his mind. Don't let something go just to avoid "clashing." Give each other a chance to be understanding and allow yourself to be surprised.

Use Humor. When stuff  seizes your attention  that won't matter in a year from now, do your best to treat it with humor. Humor heals, humor binds, humor relieves everything in the world and makes life easier. It also improves your facial expression.

Ask. When you do get upset with each other, start conversations with these words:  "I'm having trouble with something but I think you can help." It's amazing how responsive people can be when they are invited to help you, rather than defend themselves.


The most important thing, what will keep you attuned, what will assure you live within the hearts of each other, as well as in the same house, is this:

If it's happy, if it's loving, if you mean it...

Say it.

You make me happy.
I appreciate you.
I love you.
I'm glad I married you.

And in almost three decades, when you are about to watch your daughter walk into the arms of her love, do what I plan to.

Turn to your husband and say:

I would do it again.

Originally posted: 9/19/2013