Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's Complicated

For many years now going out en masse as an extended family to a movie on Christmas evening has been traditional in our family. It's always interesting trying to find something that will appeal to everyone and compromises are always made. This year my youngest daughter and one of my more morally conservative cousins were the ones who found themselves compromising. We decided - and mostly agreed - on 'It's Complicated'. (and we didn't actually make it until the day after Christmas, but that's neither here nor there) It was a cute little flick and a big ole check in the win column for middle-aged women. Plus, Alec Baldwin is kind of like John Travolta for me - old, young, fat, trim, it's all good... (And for those of you who saw it - we're having Croque Monseur and mixed greens with a balsamic viniagrette for dinner tonight with warm chocolate croissants for dessert. I have high hopes.)

As the love lives of our heroes became more and more complex (as the title of the film implies) I thought about how all of us could probably take that title and apply it to our lives. In my case, my love life is blissfully uncomplicated - so my story would be different - but no less complicated.

My girls and I are babysitting this week. We're watching a thoroughly delightful toddler. My youngest has never spent much time around people smaller than herself. She asked, after our first day, "So - taking care of a toddler is really just about making them happy all the time, right?"

I told her that there were basically three priorities:

1. Keep them safe.
2. Make them happy.
3. Keep them happy.

Nothing complicated about that. I remembered when my own girls were that age and those were my priorities. So simple - but it didn't always feel simple. Uncomplicated doesn't always equal easy.

Keeping my girls safe and happy are still my priorities; things haven't changed that much I suppose. Just like when they were toddlers, the things I need to keep them safe from are often the things that hold the most appeal for them. Just like when they were toddlers, when I stop them from doing something potentially dangerous, I am bad and mean. Quite often - just like when they were toddlers - there are tears. (sometimes the tears are even theirs...) Sometimes - just like when they were toddlers - keeping them safe precludes making them happy in the short run.

Unlike when they were toddlers, though, I can't keep an eye on them all the time. They spend more time every year out in the big wide world where I can't keep them safe and where they're free to make their own happiness. I have to trust that I've taught them well enough to make good choices. Sometimes they show me that I have - and I am so proud in those moments. Sometimes, however, they make decisions that horrify me. Does this mean that I haven't taught them well enough? Or does there come a point where their decisions are a reflection on them alone and not on me and my parenting skills? I imagine if there is such a point, it's not yet. They are still so tangled up in me and my identity is still so tangled up in them.

Keep them safe and happy.

It's simple.

It's complicated.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Don't Be SAD!

There's nothing like holiday cheer to offset devastating seasonal affective disorder

I saw this on someecards (What a fun, fun site, by the way. If you're not already killing time and/or sending ecards to your friends from there you should be) and thought - "Well, yeah. That about sums it up." After Friday's whinefest and the overwhelming support I received I thought I'd go ahead and share publicly what I shared with a few of you privately. It's SAD (seasonal affective disorder) pure and simple. It starts every year right around this time and hangs out making things as miserable as it can until the sun sees fit to shine more brightly on a more regular basis. It affects me every year, yet every year it manages to catch me by surprise. Once the beast has been recognized and named, it is easier to deal with (a little) but that first bout with it always throws me for a loop.

So in the midst of wondering how I'm going to accentuate the positive while minimizing (if not eliminating) the negative, Allyson at Magnolias and Mimosas gave me this loverly award.

Now some of you may be saying (and quite justifiably so) "Hey! *I* gave you an award! Ooooo weee - what up with that? What up with that?" (if you really did say/sing that, I would seriously have been so impressed...) Truth is, I proudly accept most awards and post them to my awards page, but rarely comply. It's the passing on part. I hate the passing on part. But this one asked the recipient to list ten things that made them happy, and I thought, given my recent sad SAD indulgences that that would perhaps be a good exercise for me to attempt. Besides, it has cupcakes.

So, without further ado, ten things that make me happy right now (because if I were writing this list yesterday or tomorrow, it might be different) in alphabetical order. Because that makes sense to me.

* Blank journals
* Books that make me cry and movies that make me laugh
* Good tequila
* Laughing so hard you forget exactly what you were laughing about
* Muscle cars (That does NOT, by the way, make me a car chick, Tom)
* Someone else doing the dishes
* Spring flowers in the winter
* Sunrises
* Swedish fish
* Tight guitar solos (that go to eleven)

And while we're counting and smiling, here's a little ditty about censorship and counting that my daughter shared with me this morning. Not that censorship makes me smile. It does not. But this video did.

Did I skip out on the passing along part? Oops! It would appear I did! Here's the thing: as I said, I hate the passing along part. So if you would like to share ten things that make YOU happy right now, consider yourself tagged!

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm Not Like This

"I wasn't always like this." Thus spake Gilbert's mother in the great 90's classic What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The scene, should your memory need a refresher, was the one in which Gilbert Grape - a young broody Johnny Depp - introduces his new girlfriend - a young and gloriously weird Juliette Lewis - to his morbidly obese mother. In what is perhaps one of my favorite movie scenes ever, Miss Lewis' character - young, slender, offbeat and sweet - responds, "Well, I wasn't always like this, either."

I love that scene.

None of us 'was always' as we are now.

I had a clear flashback this morning to an incident - a moment, really - that took place some twenty-five years ago in a bar. On this particular night, the bar had exotic dancers early, then just became a regular dance club later. My friend and I arrived just as the 'entertainment' portion of the evening was wrapping up. I went to the ladies' room and one of the dancers was in there changing into her street clothes. She had changed into jeans and sneakers and was throwing a flannel shirt over breasts still adorned with pasties when I walked in. She turned to hide herself, ashamed of the nakedness we both knew she'd been flaunting moments earlier on the stage. As she pulled her hair into a ponytail she looked at me for the first time. Her look conveyed, more clearly than any words ever could have, "I'm not always like this."

I spend a lot of time trying to convince people I'm not what my appearance conveys.

I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself I'm not what my appearance conveys.

When I was in college, I had a serious boyfriend. We dated for four years. After the third year, we got engaged. His mother was against it - not because of our tender age, but because (and I quote - because you don't quickly forget being told something like this) "we might date people like that, but we don't marry them." At the time I thought she must be referring to religious differences because, superficially, that was all I could see. We had the same socio-economic status. Our education levels were identical. Yes, I told myself, it's the religion thing. That explanation worked for me until he married a girl a year or two later - with his mother's full blessing - who shared my religious background. Something else, then. But what?

Je ne sais quoi. Something. Some thing defines class, culture, breeding. It isn't money alone, although money helps. We all know (or know of) people with plenty of money and no class. Perhaps we also know people with no money and miles of class. So money isn't the single defining characteristic.

I look in the mirror and see a heavy middle-aged woman with a stringy non-hairdo and bad clothes. I see the sort of woman who could incite ridicule and judgment based entirely upon her appearance. I see a woman who doesn't go to Walmart - ostensibly for politically valid reasons, but also, just a little bit, because she's afraid if she goes to Walmart looking like she does, it will only be a matter of time before she is immortalized as a 'People of..."

I tell myself I'm not that woman. Clearly I don't think I am - I used the third person to describe 'her'. That's not me - that's someone else. Someone who, from time to time, shows up in pictures next to my husband and kids.

And sometimes I think I'd just be happier if I stopped fighting it. March - or waddle - into Walmart, buy myself an oversized Tweety T-shirt, some leggings, and a pack of Marlboro's and call a spade a spade.

Now. As I am not as stupid as I might look, I can almost hear you saying, "Get over yourself! Get yourself a nice haircut and some nice clothes and - while you're at it - get yourself some exercise! Hair, clothes and weight are issues we have some control over!" True words, to an extent. Money does make a difference with the clothes and - in my case - the hair. As for the weight - ugh - I don't feel like rehashing all of that. It all sounds like rationalizing - even to me - but it is a hard truth. Dieting and exercise have failed me miserably and completely. I have wasted enough of my life being obsessed with them.


Do I deny my reality, like the stripper, or try to explain it away, like Gilbert's mother? I've tried each of those tactics and have been wildly unsuccessful with both. Obviously acceptance is the key. But how can I accept something that feels so false?

Today is my adoption day. Maybe that's why I'm so obsessed - today - with figuring out who I am. What is nature and what is nurture and what just is?

Do you guys need me to continue my blogging hiatus until I'm in a better mood?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Time for the Good Stuff

So I asked my daughter to make the salad last night. Surprisingly, she happily complied. She likes feeling useful in the kitchen, I should use that to my advantage more often... Anyway. She's chopping the romaine, then calls to me in the next room, "I think I'm done."

"You THINK you're done? Are you done or not?"

"Well, I chopped all the good part and I'm down to the part they send to the school cafeteria to put in the kids' lunches."

Oh dear.

Time to stop chopping.

I wasn't cooking or (you may or may not have noticed - my poor self esteem forbids me from speculating) on the computer, because I've been making myself busy. This holiday funk I'd been experiencing needed to be broken through. I don't have much money, but I have two sticks and some string. For those who have never lived with me, that means I've been in a full on knitting frenzy for a couple days. That tends to happen this time of year. I'm missing you, my internet friends, of course, but I need to jump into the yarn stash with both feet for a couple more days. Give or take.

Time to knit.

Yesterday? While my daughter was making the salad, and I was knitting my husband walked through the door with a HUGE poinsettia for me. Now the last time this man brought me flowers was - I think it was when I told him I was pregnant with Liv. You may remember that Liv celebrated her twelfth birthday a week or two ago. So, yeah. Not a big flowers guy. And he not only brought me flowers, he brought me HUGE, BEAUTIFUL flowers! They fill the whole room, they feel festive, they - they made me want to get off the couch and make things nice to match them. Then he suggested we open a bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Time to be grateful.

My screen saver says, "Never let that which matters the most give way to that which matters the least."

Time to reflect on what matters.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mad Pimpin'

Today I have a couple things I want to pimp. I know you'll indulge me, too, because I do it so rarely rarely rarely. And because you know I'd never steer you wrong.

First: A week or so ago The Badass Geek asked if I would be willing to contribute to a new project he's got going on. I checked it out and decided that I did indeed want in. In addition to his wildly entertaining main blog (which, if you're not reading, you certainly should be!), he has started another project called Fiction 500. Fiction 500 is a place for anyone to post a short fictional piece. But there's a catch. Short means 500 words or less. In his own words:
Telling a story in just 500 words forces the writer to get to the point and decide what the most important things to say are, and what parts of the story can be left up to the reader to come up with on their own.
I think this project is so exciting and have contributed a few stories already. (I've got a couple more that I'm working on...) Staying within the 500 word parameter has been challenging, sometimes frustrating, and always fun. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. What have you got to lose? You don't even need to post under your real name!

So do me a personal favor and check it out. Commenting on my stories wouldn't break my heart, either. And if you are currently writing fiction or have ever toyed with the idea of writing fiction, this is a great place to test the waters.

Second thing I want to pimp is the giveaway Mama-face has going on over at Blog Ignoramus. (Another blog which, if you're not already reading, you really really should be! Mama-face is as real as it gets and I am a huge fan of the real...) She is giving away a set of handmade greeting cards that are simply gaw-geous! (And you know I love you, because passing this information along to you decreases my odds of winning just a little bit...)

What's that you say? Oh, you're most welcome, I'm sure.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Single-Tasking in a Multi-Tasking World

A couple months ago I went to Walgreen's. I picked up a few items and took them to the register. The woman who rang me up was on the phone. She acknowledged me with a nod while she rang up my order, talked on the phone, and straightened out a display on the counter. When she hung up, there was a big smile on her face. "Always multi-tasking, that's me!" She was clearly very proud of her ability to do so. I was not as impressed as she expected me to be. Why? Because I was one of those tasks, and she was only giving me one third of her attention - probably less, when you figure that she also probably had some stuff running all around in her brain that wasn't immediately visible to the casual observer. I was only getting a third of her attention that I knew of.

Now I can multi-task too, and certainly have when the situation dictates a need. Everyone can. It's not a particularly impressive skill, it's just a necessity of life sometimes. She may have been in just that situation and I don't judge her for that. I wasn't bothered so much by the multi-tasking as I was by the evident pride she took in it. I thought about how differently I would have handled the same situation. I would have hung up the phone and said (to the actual living customer in front of me) "I'm so sorry about that!" Then I would have been sure to give them my undivided attention for the remainder of the transaction. Which took, like thirty seconds. Are all of these other things so important that you can't give another human being thirty seconds?

Ok, this was a small, tiny incident and maybe I'm being too hard on the Walgreen's clerk for not giving my chapstick and band aids the attention they deserved. Or maybe I'm being self-important - expecting a clerk to drop everything and actually wait on me when I come to her counter. But wait - isn't that her job? She was so proud of all of the things she was accomplishing at once that she neglected the real live person in front of her.

She was a clerk at Walgreen's and I was a customer. It didn't put a real strain on our relationship. But think about how often we do this to our friends, our spouses, our children. If my feelings were hurt when the clerk at the drugstore couldn't offer me thirty seconds of her undivided, think about how it feels to our loved ones when we can't step away from our oh-so-important chores to give them our undivided for a moment or two.

This seems to become a lot more exaggerated during the holiday season. We're trying to accomplish a million things at once and not giving our full attention to any of them. Maybe it's time to slow down. Maybe it's time to pay a little less attention to the shopping, the baking and the decorating and a little more attention to the people who are right in front of us. Will they be more likely to remember the perfect tree, or the conversations you have when you're doing nothing but listening to them? Which would you be more likely to remember?


It occurs to me that I may be feeling the need to write this because I do not have the perfect tree or the perfect decorations. I have not and will not bake the perfect cookie. I will not be giving anyone the perfect gift this year. But I can listen. I can give a little time. I can find a way to make that time undivided. I can do that. Maybe this is my way of convincing myself that that's good enough.

Please don't tell me I'm wrong...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bon Jovi Mom

I've already regaled you with the Bo Bice incident, it may be time to share the tale of Bon Jovi Mom.

Picture it: Smalltown, Pennsylvania. 1986.

My hair was big and permed on top and shaved tight up the back, save one gloriously long rat tail. My jeans were acid washed with a paper bag waist. They were separated from my brassiere - I mean - my crop top - by about an inch and a half. My boots were white, leather, and fringed. They matched my jacket. And there was a life-sized poster of one Jon Bon Jovi on the back of my bedroom door. Oh yeah, and I was 24. Arrested Development wasn't only a canceled before its time sitcom on Fox.

Fast forward.

Picture it: Stupid Suburbs, Ohio. October 7, 2006

My eldest daughter is in fifth grade. She has decided that she is too old for a lunch box. She has also rejected the love notes that I like to stuff into said lunch box. So we compromise. She gets to brown bag, and I can write lyrics on the lunch bag. Awesome. Every morning I go to Today in Rock and Roll History and find a relevant band or song - then I quote her some lyrics (dude). On this particular day, Tico Torres' birthday in case you were wondering, I quoted her some old school Bon Jovi.

And the silly child forgot her lunch.

I realized this well before lunchtime and took it to the school. I left it for her at the office. The next time I visited the middle school office (and it wasn't much later - she forgot things a lot...) I was greeted by the whole office staff with variations of: "Hey! It's the Bon Jovi Mom!!! Hey Bon Jovi Mom!" It was the same thing every time I visited the office. Every freakin' time. "There's the one I told you about!" they'd say, one to the other. "She's the one that writes Bon Jovi lyrics on her daughters lunch bag every day!"

"I don't..."

"Hey Bon Jovi Mom!"

"I'm not..."

And they would stop me for conversation if there was Bon Jovi news. And between the two girls, I had almost four more years at that school. Luckily my youngest doesn't forget much...

Rewind just a little.

Picture it: Stupid Suburbs, Ohio. Approximately 2002.

A Bon Jovi video comes on the TV and I am busted paying attention to it. "That's your mom's boyfriend...Mommy loves him."

"But, if Mommy loves him, why did she marry you?"

"Because, sweetheart, Daddy was the first long-haired guitar player from New Jersey who looked back at her."


Fast forward.

Stupid Suburbs, Ohio. November 23, 2009. Dentist's office.

The whole family had dentist appointments. Lea is with the dentist, I am with Liv and Tom in the waiting room. Ellen is on the TV and, you guessed it, Bon Jovi is on Ellen. Tom and Liv both put down their books to look at me. The hygenist comes out to make sure I saw it. Because Lea spilled all my stories. Bon Jovi Mom rides again.

On a steel horse...


He is very good looking...