Sunday, October 4, 2015

Older women should be one thing for young mothers and it's not this

If I ever look at a struggling young
mother like this, I hope someone
will tell me to change 

my face immediately
At the supermarket recently, I watched a silent interaction between two women.  They were worlds apart age-wise; one was a seventy-something professional who looked formidable, the other was a twenty-something mother who looked like a good night's sleep would probably change her life.

I'd seen Mom already, moving around the store ahead of me, all business, cart full, kids looking like, if they were phones, they would be down to one bar. Dressed in a skirt and heels, I'm supposing she was employed outside the home as SAHM's only dress like that on TVLand.

The kids were whiney-crying until Mom had unloaded nearly half her cart and then, as though someone had said, "Okay, now!" the four-year-old girl lost it and the younger brother sympathy-lost it. The girl waved a bag of Doritos around which the mother refused to open while she waited to pay for the groceries.

I know this tactic. IF you keep it together and let me get out of here, THEN  I'll open your toy/snack/drink in the car.

And so, Mom wasn't budging. The girl's very loud crying only intensified, her face turned tomato-red, tears traveled down her cheeks and her glazed over eyes were half-closed with fatigue.  

"I want the bag...Mommeeeeeee...(gaspy sob)
"I WANT the bag...(hiccups)

And so on.

At first, I thought, it's four-thirty in the afternoon. It's the witching hour. It's time to pay the Doritos bill. Just give her the bag.

But I know too well that teaching children to anticipate and then cope with stressful situations is a long work in progress. Very often there are special rewards attached to specific goals. There are endless just-outs and next-times. How unfair to both parent and child if all that training must be put to the side, in the best place to practice it, only because people are judging you so harshly you can almost hear their thoughts.  

So I made funny faces at the girl, waved "hi" to distract her and tried to make eye contact with Mom to speak for everyone in the store and let her know we understood. But Mom, wasn't having it. Every muscle in her face was tense. Her eyes were fixed on the cashier.

The older woman, clearly not one of the everyones, wasn't having it either. Face twisted into a scowl, she sighed, fidgeted, and kept her folded arms across her chest.  Just loudly enough for Mom to hear, she hissed the word "chaos," and stared at her. Then she glared at the crying girl, lips pressed together in a straight line, eyes narrow.

At once, she looked at me and shook her head. I gave her a look to let her know I was on the other team.

Mom finished checking out and wheeled her chaos away.

The older woman rolled up to the register and said to the cashier, "Disgusting, ab-so-lute-ly disgusting. That we have to be exposed to this nonsense! This foolishness. This is why kids shouldn't be allowed in places like this," she said, as though she were not buying hamburger and paper towels but being robbed of an exquisite dining experience in an expensive restaurant.

"If I'd ever acted like that," she said to the cashier, "I would have done it only once."

"Uh-huh. Do you want the meat separated from the paper towels?" asked the cashier, which made me like him very much.

I made it to the parking lot in time to catch the mother as she lifted bags into the back of the car. The little girl sat in a car seat eating her Doritos. Her little brother was quiet and busy with a toy.

"Excuse me," I said.

When she looked at me, I could see that she was younger than I'd guessed. The deep stress lines across her forehead looked like she'd borrowed them from someone older.

"You know what?" I said. "You did a good job in there. I know how hard that was."

Her face relaxed. She looked like she'd cry. "I'm trying."

I've changed my own judge-y ways, but I know when I was a younger parent with a strong drive to raise conscientious kids, I would have been (privately) asshat-y had the mother handed the chaotic girl her Doritos. And, while in places "like this" I have only sympathy for the struggling parent, in high end restaurants where I've spent a lot of money to be free of screaming, nap-starved children, I've been judge-y indeed. 

But  in line that day, I remembered myself as I once was, and got a good look at who people become when they lose the ability to remember, who can't soften in their acceptance of others while they are hardening toward them. 

So today, I'll have a little patience with inflexible people and realize they might be struggling to find control in those intractable ways. 

They may be tackling much bigger issues than I am. 

They may be facing a trip to the store later with a tired toddler, and the kind of judgement that is so weighty, it makes it risky to even make eye contact with a stranger who's just trying to be nice to you. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

An extra-small story

With effort, with effort,  I will not buy this for Gus.
But I may need to buy an extra-small dog.
Yes, I am re-posting this because it made people happy and because I'm very, very busy this week trying to flirt with the New York Times again.  

But this week is the last time, I promise.

Here is an extra-small story that you'll like. Occasionally, I go to Petco-where-the-pets-go for the food that Gus, my writer-cat likes as well as filters for his fountain which he doesn't like as much as the faucet.
Usually I pick up a toy or two because I like to think he will be checking for this when I come home. Actually, I know that's not really true, which is why I didn't buy him a Christmas cape in December. 
With effort. With effort, I didn't. 
At Petco, people are allowed to bring their dogs on leashes because, recall, Petco is where the pets go.
The dogs are usually well behaved, some are better behaved than the owners who don't pick up their excited dog's doodies left in the path of cat owners like me. But I ignore this because it's not Petco, where the people go. 
The other day, a clutch of people stood with their leashed and sniffing dogs and chatted about God knows what, because I couldn't eavesdrop from the register. 
But nearby, closer to where I stood, a man the size of a shed crouched  on the floor before a display of glittery, bejeweled collars for "extra-small dogs." He frowned, chin in hand, picked up one collar after another, turned it over, tugged at it for give, put it back. It took a while (I let a couple of people go ahead of me), but finally, he chose a bracelet-sized, black velvet collar with pink sequins. 
With effort, he rose and headed to the register, still looking over his pick. He probably imagined his extra-small dog being excited about the purchase. Maybe he was recalling the dog's reaction to his or her extra-small Christmas cape. 

Even at Petco, where the pets go, people do little things worth mentioning. That one made my day.

Originally posted 2/13/15

Friday, September 11, 2015

Strangers in my heart

At times of transition in my life - after a marriage, after a move, after a baby, after a child leaves, I get lost. I don't worry too much about it, everyone gets lost, but I don't sit around and wait for it to pass either. 

When I'm  sure that no one is listening, I say right out loud to my God, "If I promise to do something nice for someone who's struggling today, can you do me a favor and send down a little clarity?"

Do I know who I'm talking to? No. I only know I have some belief in a presence bigger than my own, and I know that this deal works, as long as I follow through on the fee: let someone go in traffic, compliment a stressed out mother on her patience, leave a 100% tip for a struggling server.

There has not been a time when I've sought the ability to cope, wished for clarity or insight, or wished these things for others, that I haven't found, in a short time, without even knowing when it arrived, that some solace has found me, or someone I love. 

No lights flicker, no clouds stir, no thunder rumbles. 
The cat doesn't run under the bed.
Pictures don't fall off the wall.
There are no spooky voices.

It's just this: suddenly, I'm less judgmental and more forgiving. Hopeful and optimistic, clear-minded and peaceful. One of our children might get good news, change a bad path, recover from an illness. A friend might emerge from a stretch of bad luck to catch a break. 

I don't have a formal religion. But faith, I have. 

It's a many varied thing, faith. How it comes, how it stays, how it goes, who has it, what it looks like.

Since I opened my eyes  this morning, I have been thinking of all the strangers in my heart who lost themselves along with their loved ones fourteen years ago.

"This cross was made from remains
 found at the site of the WTC"
I wonder if for some, and if forever, faith vanished that day. I wonder if others drew upon faith or found it for the first time as they groped their way through that day, and all the days that followed. When I consider what it must have been like to look to the future and find a vast, colorless hole in its place, I wonder what saved them.  

To all the strangers in my heart today, I say this: I have asked my God to deliver you the peace, comfort and hope for the future that I sometimes ask for myself.  I've asked that the lovely things which somehow find me in the shadow of a sad moment, find you, in the shadow of your remembered tragedy.   
Today, you need those things more than I do and I have faith that they will come. 

In turn, with my kindest words, my gentlest heart, I will encounter every stranger today knowing, that any one of them could be you. 

(Re-posted from September 11, 2012)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Us, again

In 2012,  our nest didn't empty but tipped over with the departure of our last two at once. It was a lot of things,  thrilling and disorienting, depressing and joyous to think of our house, empty. 
Drew, ready to go:

Honest people said, "It's scary, to be alone again."

"Pffft," I said. 

I was all about the glass half-full dammit, all about the positive changes we'd make. I reeled in the things we were, and folded them into the things we'd be. 

I understand now, that I didn't know what I was talking about three years ago.

I understand now, that those honest people were right. 

I understand now, that so was I. 


Two things happened this week that made me need to sit down. Sam turned eighteen, and Drew, only home from college until he found a job, found a job and moved out.

So, first, I am now the mother of adult children.  In those cheery, spontaneous conversations I start with strangers in line at the store, I can finally offer that, "My children are grown now, but when my son was that age...( here, I'll point to the toddler who is pulling candy bars off the display)... he used to slap me in the face when I made him sit in the cart."

Second, the last of the fledglings have flown. Nobody will live here again except for my husband and me. Things will change.

We'll use the space in the house differently - new office for him, new work out place for me. 

The laundry room, free of overflow clothes will be spacious enough for me to turn around without moving the ironing board. 

During those stretches when he travels, I will spend more time on my novel. 

We will follow through on all that we hoped would happen when we became this -   us again. We will plan things over the weekend breakfasts he prepares, a future of opening nights at Symphony Hall,  visits to kids in the near or faraway places where they will be filling their own nests.  

In our neater, quieter life, I expect I will notice how much has changed. I will think about how, after twenty-seven years of everything that happened, and everything that didn't, of long distance marriage and independence and individual growth, we are still climbing the same front steps together. I will explain observations like this, and probably compare our relationship to weather, or pool toys or paths in the woods, and if he thinks I'm tedious, he will be too gracious to say so.

That will be us, now. 

The fledglings four
While our family was in the making, I hoped we'd always be close as people, not because we were related and once lived in the same house,  but by choice. I hoped, that after they went in their own directions, our children would hunker down at home every now and then to connect with one another, by choice. 

I hoped they would know when too much time had passed and would connect via phone or text or FB messaging - by choice. I hoped that despite occasional falling outs, clashes of will, or silent stretches they would stay close to the people who would walk into traffic for them.

I hoped, after twenty-seven years of marriage, my husband and I would do the same thing.

Done, done, done, done, and doing.

Choices will pull at us at this time of  "my turn", and it is daunting to come back as new people to the ones who have known us forever. 

But it is liberating too, it is the only choice of many, to be us again.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Debussy and Baseball

Backstory: Sam, a baseball guy, is not a classical music fan. I, a classical music lover, struggle to understand his game.  It wouldn't appear that we have much in common. 

Except that he is my huge fan, and I am his.  

In honor of his 21st birthday, I am posting one of my favorite "Sam" stories.  Happy birthday, Sam. Thank you for teaching me one of the biggest rules for a successful life:  You have to be at bat to score.

From 2011
I listen to classical music in the car which, Sam says, makes his ears bleed. It’s kind of a dance. We get in the car. I turn on "Classical New England". Sam groans and changes the station. I hear “Ridin’ Solo,” and change the station again. Then I make a ridiculous, fictional statement about a pop celebrity, preferably a rap star.
“Did you know that Little Wayne –”

“Did you know that Little Wayne and the one he went to jail with, the one with a T in his name. Mr. T – "
“T.I. And they didn't go to jail together."
“Did you know they both grew up listening to classical music?”
“That’s not true.”
“It’s true. I read it on Rhapsody. And did you know that Lady Gaga went to medical school?”
“That’s not true.”
“You’re right. She went to Julliard.”

He changes the station to JYY and looks out the window, and I turn the station back to classical and tell him if he listened for just two minutes he’d be a fan, and he tells me you can’t do that because with a classical music station, there’s so much silence before and after the song, when nobody says or does anything, you don’t even know if the radio is on which is why it makes his ears bleed and he switches the station to 94.1 where they play California Gurls once every twenty-five minutes. I ask a question like, “Do they spell Girls with a “u” because of copyright issues with the Beach Boys?” He looks at me as though he's not sure we know each other. 

And yet, if he dominates the radio in the car, he’s made no attempt to change the station in the house, where classical music plays 24/7. 

At dinner one night, he looked up and said, “I like this one. What is it?”
“Claire de Lune by Debussy,” I said.
He nodded thoughtfully, then told me something about baseball which I understood after he drew diagrams on the back of many envelopes.

Now that Sam has a license and a vehicle, we’re rarely in the car together and I can listen to as much classical music as I want. Every so often, I feel the tug that comes with knowing my last child is home for only a year plus. When that happens, I scan the radio stations or turn to a disc Sam left behind, select one of his favorites, and listen until the light changes.

Maybe someday, a year and change from now, when he’s far away, Sam will feel a similar kind of tug and if he’s alone, maybe he’ll listen to a classical music station until the light changes and if he’s lucky, maybe he’ll hear Clair de Lune and remember that it’s Debussy. 

Probably he won’t remember the Debussy part. But maybe, soon after this happens, he’ll call home to talk about baseball.

And I will take notes, and remember all I can.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Where do we keep the compressed air?

One of these things is not like the other
My laptop is whirring, which means there is a visit to the Geek Squad at Best Buy in my future, which means my mood is a C+ when it should be an A.
There will be a guy in a white shirt and black tie who, if he's like my last geek, will prefer computers to people. He will be behind the counter helping a customer when I arrive. When the customer leaves, the Best Buy guy will motion me forward with a blank facial expression. 
I will explain that there is a whirring noise and he will look puzzled and say, "What do you mean, 'whirring?'" And then I will have to either mimic the whir with a sound effect or say something like, "You know the sound a car makes when it's trying to accelerate uphill and then suddenly goes downhill again?" And he will say, "So, really, it's more of hum." 
So, thinking about this, I thought I'd first pose a DIY question to Google, and see what it could suggest: 
Why is my computer making a whirring noise? I typed.
Google came back with a few possibilities, including a clean-up of the laptop's backside for which I would need a screwdriver to remove the casing, and compressed air to blow all of Gus's writer-cat hair and my writer crumbs away. 
My husband and I have always been traditional in this way: he has guy things in his workshop I don't want to know about and I have girl things all over the house that I don't want to explain. It's good, it works. 
Our chores fall along the lines of inside stuff and outside stuff. I take care of the inside using products I can find easily, like Pledge and Windex.  He takes care of the outside using  things in his workshop that have dangerous parts and orange CAUTION! stickers that make me uncomfortable.
Back when we were June and Ward and he was traveling a lot, if I'd sent a text asking where we kept canned, compressed air, he would have called me and said "What are you doing and why do you need that?" 
And then I would have explained that I wanted to clean my laptop and he would have offered to do it when he got back and I would have said "No, you don't have to," and he would have said, "No, I have to clean mine anyway," etc. 
But he's traveling more frequently now, and I no longer wait for  many things as a rule, and I wanted to clean my laptop now and I did not want to talk to the geek at Best Buy, so I texted him: "Do we have a can of compressed air anywhere?" and he texted back: "Yes. Look on the shelf in the office." 
We've grown since Wally and the Beav left. 
I've learned something, or maybe I've learned something I already knew, but it is this: 
Life is better when you can do anything for yourself if you want to, and life is definitely better when you don't have to do everything for someone else. 
And life is the very best when you don't have to go to Best Buy.

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.