Monday, October 28, 2013

Anchors

Dear Little M,

When I was a little kid, I was ridiculously nerdy and I LOVED parent-teacher conference day.  As an adult, I like annual performance evaluation day?  Why, you ask?  What about an evaluation process would appeal to any normal person?

Well, I'm not normal.  You knew this.  Let's start with that.  And I like evaluation day because school and work are the only 2 things that I was EVER good at.  Being good at something makes it a lot more fun.  Trust me on this one.

(and you've suffered through enough attempts of my "cooking" to know that hating something and profoundly sucking at it are also very closely related).

So, I was really excited for your first real parent-teacher conference.  I was so proud to hear of how you're learning and growing and treating your friends.

Apparently, you're a go-with-the-flow child who gets along with everyone and doesn't hang in any one particular group.   You're interested in just about everything.  You love to explore.  You love to see new places.  You fall, you dust yourself off and you get back up.   Sometimes, you prefer to just hang with your own damned self.   You love to daydream.  You love to express yourself on paper.
You've never met a good cause you didn't like.  Your eyes give you away.

It turns out that you are a good bit like me.  Who knew?

A huge part of me loves to see little pieces of me show up in you.  We don't look alike.  Let me be honest here....I had hoped for something different for you.  Something, you know, BETTER.  Something EASIER.

There's a term for it, little girl.  We're floaters.

Floaters.

Being a floater is a good thing---well, mostly, anyway.  We will generally get along with everyone we meet.  We'll find something to talk about with just about anyone.  We'll have groups of friends with vastly different interests and who run in very different circles, and we'll learn from all of them.  We'll have lots of friends. We're pretty open minded and we'll have our own vast array of interests.   We'll explore the world with wide-open eyes and gaze in wonder at what we see.  The more we see, the more we'll want to see.  Chances are, we'll never stop learning and never stop wanting to learn.   We'll have a unique perspective because we'll see that there are so very many different ways to live a fulfilling life.

We're patchwork quilts.

We'll be afraid to stick to just one thing, and will be especially wary of anything that claims to be the "one right path".   We won't drink the Kool-Aid.  These are all good qualities, too.

For the most part, it's a pretty cool way to go through life.  Exploring is, by nature, pretty damned cool. We floaters are a little bit of everyone, everything, and everywhere we experience....and that's pretty awesome.

The problem, you ask?

We're floaters.   We float.  We flit.  We wander about.

We don't have anchors.  You can't really expect to float while anchored.  It just doesn't work.

Anchors are pretty cool, too.  How great is it to have a group to reel you in and to ground you?  To claim you as one of their own.   To be part of something...an integral part of something.   To be part of the team and part of the pack.  To have roots.

Great qualities.  No doubt.

I've given a lot of thought to these concepts recently.  I love floating.  It's how I'm wired.  I'm generally happy and I wouldn't trade my experiences for the world -- I so deeply value them and they just work for me--but something I wish I'd realized sooner is that if you choose not to choose any one thing or any one group, you're probably going to be excluded from things.  Often.  You will find yourself being the 11th person when only the Top 10 will get invited to the party.  People will forget to include you in events.  People will like you, but won't claim you as their one of their own.  People will tire of your inability to attend events and stop inviting you.

Those parts are a healthy helping of double-suck.  It sucks when it happens to you.  And it sucks even more when you realize that you can't blame anyone for that predicament but yourself.  That's part of the deal.  You can't expect to have an anchor at the ready when you yourself are wired to float.

Tricky, right?


I live my life like you live yours- in a state of perpetual motion...collecting people, collecting experiences.  Something I have been asking myself recently is "What was I missing when I was so busy trying not to miss anything?"  Maybe this is one of the very best questions to answer.  Oh, and I don't know the answer, but I figure that I'm on the right path if I keep remembering to just ask the question.  


This would be as good a time as any to tell you that I have no idea what this all means.   NOT.A.CLUE.  That's okay.  We will figure it out.  Together.  We can float together....and from time to time, we can slow down and stay in one place just a little bit longer than what comes naturally.  Temporarily anchor, and then float, and then anchor and float.

We'll figure it out.  This much I know.

We all float on,


Monday, September 9, 2013

Anthem


Dear Little M,

You did everything I asked you to do.  You cleaned up your playroom, you brushed your teeth, you got dressed for school, you even kind of combed your hair.  We were not-that-late leaving the house, which in itself is a small miracle.  You did everything I asked of you, and then we hit too many red lights and no longer had time to make a pit stop at Dunkin Donuts.

You screamed that “life isn’t fair.”  You were right---entirely, completely and unequivocally right.

Life isn’t fair. 
Life isn’t fair and that totally sucks. 
Life isn’t fair and that totally sucks and it makes no sense whatsoever.
Life isn’t fair and that totally sucks and it makes no sense whatsoever and it only gets worse, not better, as you get older.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, I will acknowledge that I’ve thoroughly depressed both of us in the process.  The concept is easy to explain, and so hard to accept.  So very, very, very extraordinarily hard.  Brutally hard, in fact.

I suppose I was na├»ve and thought that this little life glitch would have worked itself out before I needed to explain it to you, but no dice.  As a parent, it’s very hard to explain a concept to your child that you yourself think is a load of complete BS.  I would much rather tell you that if you work hard, and stay disciplined and do the right thing, good things will routinely come your way.   That’s how it should work; but, if you haven’t already noticed, today’s theme is LIFE’S NOT FAIR.

I want to scoop you up, protect you from every harm and shield your precious little beautiful heart from all of the hurts and injustices that the world offers up.  More than that, though, and more importantly, I want to prepare you for the big, beautiful, flawed and (sometimes) scary world so that you can effectively function within it- and that you may function in it with dignity and with grace.

The world speaks much of power and money, and so infrequently about dignity and grace.  With all due respect to the world, I think it kinda has it backwards here.  People will resort to all sorts of crazy means to preserve their money and their power---their place in the social order, if you will—and that makes sense when you really stop and think about it.  People protect things that can be lost, taken or otherwise revoked.  Think about it.  Bullying.  Corporate politics. Racism.  Other forms of bigotry.  All of these things stem from a fear of someone else taking away what one has already claimed as “theirs”.

 But dignity?  And grace?  Dignity and grace are completely under your control, little girl---they always were, and they always will be.  How great is that?  Whether you have a dime in your pocket or $572 million, you can always choose dignity and grace, and once chosen, they’re yours to keep.  To quote the late prophet Whitney Houston (okay, to quote her pre-Bobby Brown lyricist, anyway), “no matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.”

Yup. I just used Whitney Houston as a parenting tool.  I went there.  There has to be an award for parenting of such excellence.

Life’s not fair and it never will be.  How life’s not fair will change and evolve over the course of your life:

  • Right now, life isn’t fair because you did all of your chores and didn’t get the donut (there’s evidence of my good parenting again) you were promised. 

  • Later down the line, you may have an awesome tryout for the soccer team or the school play, only to not get the roster spot you wanted because the coach’s/director's daughter’s best friend was promised a spot on the team, sight unseen.

  • You’re a girl, so I’m guessing there’s a good shot that middle school is just going to be patently unfair, pretty much across the board.

  • One day, some of your girlfriends (the ones that you’ve watched cry and suck their thumbs and play with dolls) may decide you’re not cool anymore and turn their backs on you.

  • In high school or college, some vacuous moron (or even worse, your best friend) will get the affection of the person you love.

  • At some point, you will pour your heart and soul into a game….and still lose at the buzzer.

  • At another point, you will give your heart and soul to someone who is first reckless with it before breaking it completely.

  • Some day, you will get a job and you may watch people with less work ethic, less skill and less credentials be promoted for reasons that no one can explain.

This is life.  None of these commonplace things are fair, but these heartbreaks don’t hold a candle to true injustices like having a child diagnosed with cancer, or a spouse killed on active duty or in a car accident.   Should you ever need some perspective about life’s injustices, take 5 minutes and read a caringbridge.com page of a child who didn’t live long enough to even have a chance to have their heart crushed in middle school.  Perspective.

When life isn’t fair to you, when you don’t get what you want, when you watch someone else get what you so desperately wanted or when someone unjustly hurts you, it sucks.  It hurts.  It hurts and sucks a lot.  Trust your old mom on this one.  I know what it feels like to have my heart crushed and I know what it feels like to sit back and watch my dreams shatter.  I know.  And, I reiterate, it sucks.

(**and should you choose not to believe me, I have a collection of notes from middle school and high school saved in the basement that I saved all these years which say such charming things as “do us all a favor and kill yourself” and “you’re so ugly, just kill yourself” or “you’re such a ****ing loser, no one would ever love you, just kill yourself.”  Teenage girls- such a lovely lot:)   Oh, and you might notice that I am still here—I’ve never particularly skilled at responding favorably at being told what to do. I survived and while I will never say I am thankful for it, I will say that I am better for it.  I am also convinced that I grew up to have decent boobs because the universe wanted to give me some small trinket for surviving 7-10th grade.  So, there’s that…)

Yes, little girl, this all sucks. Sometimes, your life may get all jacked up, and you won’t have even had a vote in it.  It may just be that it simply happens to you, or around you, and the only option you’ll have is to deal with the aftermath.  

But amidst the sucking, each and every time, you are presented with an opportunity and with a choice.  You have a choice to face the disappointment by retaliating against it and everything else you view as being in your way with all your might, or you have the choice to face it with dignity and grace.  I hope you choose the latter.    You own your emotions.  Don’t let them own you.

I will warn you that choosing dignity and grace may very well test every bit of resolve that you have.  It’s not easy, nor is it automatic, to gracefully accept defeat, loss, disappointment, or flat out cruelty.  It isn’t easy to show the world and to show yourself who you really are what you are made of.   I can assure you, though- it’s worth the effort. 

Remember this—what happens to you and around you may not necessarily be your choice, but how you react to it always is.  Always.  100% of the time.

Let me give you a few examples. 

The first example is hypothetical.  Let’s say that one of your friends did something really rotten and really hurt you badly.  Do you seek to settle the score?  Get even?  Level the field?  Yell and scream?  Passively take to Twitter to make your point?  Or do you try to work it out, rationally---with dignity and with grace?

Here’s the problem with retaliation.  If someone is mean and provokes you and you react with something mean in response?  Newsflash:   You’re mean, too.  And you’re perpetuating the cycle of meanness.  There’s nothing particularly dignified or graceful about that.  What’s more, I’m guessing that after a year has passed, you will feel worse about being mean than you ever did in response to being on the receiving end of it in the first place.  That foul will be on your conscience.  That’s a pretty terrible feeling.  I may know a thing or two about that, too.

The other example comes from our real lives.  When I was pregnant with you, most of my friends were suffering through various stages of infertility hell.  I was a walking, talking (and might I add, large) reminder of their struggles.  They were all so dignified and so graceful through the entire process, and that could not have been the slightest bit easy.  One of those friends had become pregnant and miscarried while I was in labor with you.  She was also the very first person to call after your were born and was there to meet you in person almost immediately.   The only words that really fit a situation like that are grace and dignity.  It was an honor and a lesson, to be in the presence of grace quite that large and I doubt I will ever forget it.

Which example will you follow?

I’m sure there are people out there that will tell you that choosing grace is a nice concept but that it doesn’t work in real life.  That you’ll never get what you want without being aggressive.  That you’ll be a doormat.

Let me be clear, M.  I am in no way advocating that you should accept being mistreated.  I hope that you conduct yourself is a fashion that commands respect and even demands it at times.  But I am saying that you can show good sportsmanship, and you can command respect precisely because you show it…to yourself and to others.    In other words, I am basically just asking you to try to not be a jerk in your dealings…even if others act like jerks to you.  The world is not a jerk-off where the biggest jerk wins the grand prize at the end. 

It strikes me that I might want to reconsider my word choice there.   Or maybe my word choice was spot-on.  Not sure which.  Actually, the world kinda is a big jerk-off sometimes.  I’m sticking with it.

You may also be told that being graceful while you’re hurt or angry will make you a fake.  A phony.  Insincere.   Remember that I’m not asking to you effuse praise and joy and to shoot rainbows out of your rear.  I’m asking you to just have some class and react simply but honorably and in a way you’ll be proud of in six months.  Also remember that the world doesn’t really care what you think (at least I sincerely hope it doesn’t), but it cares quite deeply about what you DO.  Have a few short and simple expressions at the ready.  “Congratulations”, “good luck”, and “good game” should suffice.

By the way, I’m totally screwed if we are judged by what we think.   The things I think would make sailors blush.  Pretty much every single day.   Most of that venom stays in my head.  Note that I said most.  Sometimes, some of that stuff makes its way into a journal, and sometimes some of that stuff comes out as venting to a neutral party.  

I try very, very hard to be dignified, but there are plenty of times where I just fail.  Like a capital F fail. Where I'm graceless.  Undignified.   There are plenty of times when I am a big, fat mean jerk after I’ve been provoked.  I have a sharp tongue, and there are times when I just use it.  It’s not particularly pleasant to be called “rotten to the core” or an asshole or a bitch---and it’s even less pleasant when those statements are true.  And those statements were true—all of them--Little M, or at least they were true at the moments that they were said.   Even though I try to behave with dignity, there is plenty of my own behavior that I’m ashamed of, even more that I’m not pleased with, and still more that I knew I could have handled better.

The good news is that grace gives you lots of tries.  Oodles and oodles of them, in fact.  If you mess one of those chances up, try to get it right with the next one.   Grace. Dignity.  Unlike so many things in this world, they’re available in abundance.  Let that be your anthem.

It starts and ends with you,



Monday, August 26, 2013

Twerk This!!

Dear Little M,

Apparently, your parents are the only two people in the Western Hemisphere who did not see the Miley Cyrus spectacle on the VMAs last night.  How were we supposed to know that by watching Cars 2 on DVD instead, we were depriving you (and ourselves) of several teachable moments?

We'll start with the fact that I had no clue what "twerking" was, even though my Facebook feed was completely littered with the word, thus implying that everyone else on earth knew what the hell it was.  So, I did what any reasonable person would do in such circumstances and consulted the infallible reference library that is Wikipedia... which, incidentally, was no help.   Describing twerking as "the most popular dance move since the Dougie" really did not clear matters up for me, Wikipedia.  I know exactly one dance move, which I have dubbed the "Drunken Karaoke Pantomime", and I'm sticking with it.  It's not exactly like other wedding attendees moonlight as judges on "So You Think You Can Dance", so I'm not terribly concerned.

Since Wikipedia was a dead end, I had to resort to YouTube.  YouTube scares me.  The only time I've ever used it was when you were a baby and you would stop fussing whenever you saw that Godawful McDonald's Filet o' Fish commercial that is played during Lent.   You know which one I'm talking about...heaven knows, we can both sing it left, right and sideways....

Give me back that Filet o' Fish
Give me that Fish
Give me back that Filet o' Fish
Give me that fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiish

I had exhausted my other avenues, so I researched "Miley Cyrus" and "twerking" on YouTube.   In summary, I'd like to bleach my eyes, and my brain, and quite possibly my ears.   I now understand why my own mother forbade MTV back in the olden days of the 1980s, but seriously.  Seriously.  As compared to this spectacle, 1980s Madonna looks like a futuristic cousin of a character on Little House on the Prairie.   These are words that I thought I'd never say, but I long for the wholesome times of the late 1990s when an underage Britney Spears tramped it up in a Catholic school uniform.  I shudder to think about what you will wistfully compare Miley-gate to when you have children.  Sadly, for you, these probably are the good-old days when things were relatively wholesome.  In other news, societal devolution marches on.

Well, anyway, I think I now know what twerking is.  I'm still not entirely sure how the lewd integration of both teddy bears and foam fingers factors into the art of twerking; however, I am entirely certain that I definitely don't ever, ever, ever want to know that piece.

In response to that spectacle, I could spew venom...more or less ad nauseum...about the over-sexualization of young girls, about how young girls exploit themselves, and make Miley Cyrus a representative example of all the things wrong with the world, but I won't.  Not because better minds than mine already have, but because Miley Cyrus is someone's daughter.  She is someone's little girl just like you are my little girl... and I would knock the ever-living lights out of someone who verbally assaulted my little girl, no matter how poor her decisions were.

Think about this, though, sweet Little M...not only is Miley Cyrus someone's little girl, there is a really good chance that someday she will be someone's mother.  Teachable moment #1--before you do something particularly outrageous or graphic, think about your future children watching it someday. Forget about your parents watching it.  Think of your children.  Could you imagine any circumstance where you found a video of me prancing around in vinyl underwear and shaking my ass in the air and not being completely horrified????

The real teachable moment, though, is so much bigger than the VMAs.  It's seen pretty much every single day in every single person's life.

I want you to think about what you're trying to say and what you are trying to actually accomplish after  you get someone's attention.

Yes.  I want you to be thoughtful in your actions so that you achieve what you intend to achieve.

You are 5 years old.  This probably makes no sense to you and that's okay.  This concept doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense to most people at 30, or 40, or 50 either.

As a culture, we've devolved to the point that we spend so much of our precious time trying to get the attention of others---only the problem is that most of us stop trying once we actually get that attention.  Think about this for a second, and think about it like a 5 year old.  When you are in school, you raise your hand when you want to get your teacher's attention...and when you do, you are expected to actually SAY or DO something.  You are expected to accomplish something.  THAT'S how this is supposed to work.  

So few of us, particularly the adults, actually remember this.  Attention is the conduit.  It isn't intended to be the final destination.   Somehow, as a culture, we have forgotten this.  We attempt to outdo each other and we outdo ourselves trying to get attention in increasingly outrageous ways.  We scream louder and louder when a whisper would suffice.  We bang on tables, and call each other names, and throw magnificent tantrums...each one louder than the last...so that we're "heard".  It's gotten so far that we often ignore, or simply don't hear, those people who still attempt to behave and conduct themselves reasonably in a world gone mad.  We call those people "boring" with a level of contempt and disdain normally reserved for people who commit violent crimes.  We'd rather be showboating assholes (albeit, colorful showboating assholes, but assholes nonetheless) than boring.  Who would ever want to be boring?

I like boring.  Boring rocks.  Boring is cool. Guess what?

I want you to like boring, too.

Boring is knowing what you're trying to accomplish and acting in a civilized way to achieve that goal.  It's asking the question "is my behavior bringing me closer to what I actually want, or is it bringing me further away?"

Let's use the VMAs as an example.  Miley Cyrus got certainly got the world's attention last night, but what do you think she was trying to achieve?  Was it to be considered a creative, innovative artist?  Was it to be a respected public figure?  Was it to remain in the limelight just a little bit longer?  Instead, she has the world talking, and very little of that talk is good and even less of it is kind.  I can't imagine that's what she wanted.

And let's look at some real world examples.   When some people are hurt, instead of telling the offending party that their feelings are hurt, they will yell and scream and name call.  When some people receive the wrong order in a restaurant, they will bash the wait staff, the kitchen and the management of the restaurant.  They will put the offending party "in their place."

Here's the problem- putting offending people "in their place" in the form of a spectacle may certainly get attention, but more often than not, the original problem still remains after the fact.   You can call someone an asshole, or an incompetent asshole, or an inconsiderate asshole all you want, but that won't get you the right dinner order, and that won't prevent someone from hurting you again.

Be boring, Little M.  Know what you're trying to accomplish and make that your focus.  And always remember, you already know the proper order of things:  the important part happens AFTER you raise your hand and AFTER you get called on.


Friday, July 26, 2013

It's getting cool in here...


Dear Little M,

Today, I received an invitation for your new student social to meet the other kids in your Kindergarten class.  Kindergarten!!!  Somehow, this snuck up on me, which is kind of baffling considering that I already sent in the tuition check, but what can I say?   Sometimes, I need to be slapped in the face with the obvious. 

(**For the record, this is not an open invitation to slap me, no matter how dense I may be.)

I’m mostly excited about your next chapter.  You’re going to learn so much and have so much fun….and I can’t wait to be along for the ride.  I know you noticed that I qualified the statement and used the word “mostly”.  Since I am incapable of shutting up, I will explain.

I’m nervous. 

You’re going to walk into that Kindergarten classroom as a sweet, kind and gentle kid…whose primary (if not sole) influences are your parents.  Those aren’t perfect influences, but at least we know what we (and you) are dealing with.

With each passing year, though, your sphere of influence is going to increasingly broaden.   Mostly, that’s a good thing.  Mostly. 

There I go with that “mostly” word again.

New experiences and knowledge and wisdom often follow new influence.  That’s the good part.  That’s what I want for you.  I want your life to be extraordinary and your experiences to far exceed mine.  I think that’s what every parent wants for their child.

The problem is that your influences will largely be your peers, and not all of those influences will be good.   I know you haven’t seen it yet, but kids can be mean, and girl kids can be meaner.  Most kids, at one point or another, will become highly concerned with the concept of being “cool”.

That last part worries me the most…largely because I don’t know one damned thing about being cool.  Nada.  You live with me.  You know this.  I spend virtually 100% of my time with me, and I know that cool doesn’t live here.   My own father affectionately calls me “Captain of the Nerd Herd”, for crying out loud.

Yes, I just said “for crying out loud”.  If that’s not evidence that I have no idea about cool, you also have an issue with identifying the obvious.  It’s not your fault.  It’s hereditary.

Since I am inadequately prepared for teaching you the nuances of cool, I’m going to employ some major-league parental license.  I’m old, so I’m allowed.  I’m playing Webster and I’m redefining cool…so when the day comes where you are concerned with it, you are at least chasing a slightly enhanced definition.

So, here’s the deal.  You were put on this earth for a purpose….to do something and to leave a mark.  Cool is figuring out what that purpose is and working hard to accomplish that purpose.  Cool is being inclusive and being kind and being honorable.  Cool is helping others and leaving the world in better condition than how you found it.  Cool is finding inspiration in others….to be good and do good…and inspiring others to do the same. 

You might notice that “cool” doesn’t have a damned thing to do with being pretty, or having lots of money or cool clutter, or being a good athlete, or getting good grades (which I know sounds funny since I am basically the academic police and school was the only thing I was ever really good at).   Pretty and speed and money—these things can all be taken from you, either through the aging process (trust me on this one), or just, you know, because.  The things in life that are truly cool are those things that you do.  The good thing about attributes like kindness and hard work is that the supply never truly depletes and no one can take them from you.

Cool is honoring the gifts that you were given while remaining humble.  It’s not squandering what you’re given, and it’s not exploiting what you were given to overpower other people.  Everyone else has their own unique purpose, too.

An interesting thing about life is that everyone (and I mean everyone) wants to feel important.   Another interesting thing is that everyone actually is important.   What matters, and what defines you as a person, is how you choose to actually be important.   There are some people who believe that the best way to be important is to deliberately exclude other people, or to make fun of them, or to make them feel as if others are somehow less and they are somehow more.  There are some people who believe that if they are prettier/faster/richer than you, they are somehow more important and will choose to let that be known. 

Before you come down too harshly on them (and heaven knows that I have, repeatedly and with some level of creative venom), remember that they’ve not been shown that there are better ways.  You have been shown, and that means that you carry an additional responsibility.  This isn’t a bad thing.  It gives you a special superpower.   You know that making someone else inferior isn’t going to make you feel any better about yourself in the long run, and instead you will know that the best way to feel good about yourself is to do and inspire good.    That’s powerful.

(***and let it be known that if you ever come home and say you were invited to a party where “everyone who’s everyone” got an invite, I’m going to first knock you into next Tuesday, and then I’m not going to permit you to go.  That’s not how we roll here.)

There’s a difference between being “exclusive” and being “unique”.  There is a difference between being in a clique and being in good company.  No one is ever going to bend over backwards to impress me, but I can honestly say that I’ve always been in good, cool company.  My friend A has collected over 10,000 pounds of food for the food bank, and is always volunteering (in a freezing cold meat locker, in pantries, packing boxes) to make sure that others have enough to eat.  My friend M provides a safe haven and a sounding board for kids who are gay.  My other friend M has never met a good cause she doesn’t like, and is constantly saving animals, collecting for food cupboards and women’s shelters, and supporting local businesses.  She also has basically turned her home into a perennial open house where everyone feels welcome.  My friends A and T have served our country in the military.  My friends C and T were dealt a hand that was so patently sad and unfair, and not only are the most faithful people I know, they are also doing everything in their power to make sure that other families aren’t dealt the same hand.  I could go through a list of all my friends and tell you about the wonderful things they do to help others.  It would take all day.

This means that I am lucky.  This means that I am in good company….and that’s cool.

Little M, be good company and be in good company.  This is what I challenge you to do.  Be kind, be purposeful, be patient with people and be forgiving.  Give people who aren’t initially kind to you a second chance, and then a third (maybe not a fourth, though)…by being kind yourself.  By being an example.  By giving them a chance to see the amazing person you are and reminding them, through your example, that they are amazing, too.  Trust me.  This will make you feel sustainably good.

Now, Little Miss, have at it.  Go be extraordinary.

Love, 

Mama Nerd

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cinco de M

Dear Little M,

You are 5 years old.

Holy shit!  You are 5 years old.  How did this happen????

As a parent, you hear the expression "you blink and they grow up" about a million times.  Cliche as it is, this statement is undoubtedly true.  Don't get me wrong---the first year of your life seemed to take for-freaking-ever as I learned what the hell I was doing on limited amounts of sleep and changed about a kazillion diapers and doubted myself at a rate of once every 2.4 seconds---but the four years that followed seemed to go by in a flash.  Mind if we slow this process down a bit?

Here's the funny thing about being a parent.  Everyone tells you about how much work parenthood is---and it's true, or at least it's not untrue--but no one really mentions how much fun it is.  That's right.  FUN.  It is FUN to be your mom.  It is FUN to see things through your eyes.  It is FUN to hear the completely outrageous things you say and it is FUN to see the chaos that you are capable of creating.  I wouldn't say it was necessarily fun to clean up the poop birthday cake you made for me when you were two years old, but it was hilarious to hear your logic and to hear you tell the story with such passion.   It wasn't necessarily fun to scour the entire downstairs and to scrub the sofa after you painted your entire body (including your hair) in greek yogurt because you wanted to see how it felt to look like a ghost, but....wait.  That was actually fun.  You're creative.  You're entitled to make a few messes. What's more- life is messy.  Laugh at it, clean it up, tell the story and move on.   Being a killjoy doesn't make you more credible.  Remember that part.  It's pretty important.

It is quite possible that I'm having more fun than you are and I'm definitely enjoying my second chance at childhood more than I enjoyed my first.  I have no complaints about my first crack at it, either.  It's a do-over with the wisdom of experience--plus, no one can ground me anymore and I'm allowed to use curse words without consequence.  WIN!

I catch some flak from time to time about my "questionable judgment", outright "poor judgment" and "irreverence"when it comes to raising you, particularly when we are having fun or when I choose to have a sense of humor about what life brings our way.  Those words sting, and I am trying to see the constructive parts of those types of criticism.  I occasionally succeed (and other times, I employ a little technique I call "creative profanity" in my own head).   I have to believe that those people who call me out on this only have your best interests at heart, and that's an extraordinarily good thing.  You need good people advocating on your behalf, and I'm glad that you have them.

(**Let's also get it straight that when I hear these types of comments, it's usually because I let you make a catastrophic mess that will require a solid hour in the tub to scrape the crust out of your ears, hair and nostrils.  It's not like I gave you a crack pipe, a lighter and a Ginzu knife.  Jeeeez.  Priorities. )

But this isn't about them, sweet M.  This is about you.  At the end of the day, I don't care if every single adult person I know thinks that I am not taking parenthood seriously enough.  I do, however, care quite profoundly that you think that you have a good mom.  It's an audience-of-one kind of deal for me, and I think that you and I are square on this.  We both know that I take nothing more seriously than you and what I need to be doing so that you grow up to be an adult of character and of substance.   So long as you know it, I'm good.  Better than good, actually.

Some of my favorite times are our "woman-to-woman" discussions on the stairs where I dispense those tiny nuggets of life wisdom that may serve you well somewhere down the line.   I usually leave the heavy lifting of life's profundity for spiritual gurus like Pink, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift (never underestimate the power of pop music lyrics!), but I've had a few gems of my own.  If you remember nothing else I've ever done or said, I hope you remember these little nuggets:

1.  If a boy can't be bothered to wear shirts with sleeves, you can't be bothered with him.
2.  If a boy makes you walk on the street side of a sidewalk, you kick him to the curb.
3.  If someone in your company is rude to a waiter/waitress or doesn't say "bless you" when you sneeze, you don't walk away.  You run.
4.  You can tell everything you need to know about a person's character by how they react when their luggage is lost, their flight is unexpectedly cancelled or they receive the wrong dinner in a restaurant.
5.  In the long run, manners and respect get you further than tantrums ever will.
6.  Until you can consistently wipe your own ass, complete world domination is slightly out of reach.
7.  There is nothing more fun than dredging your hands through your birthday cake with your very best friend.  Mischief+good company=lifelong memories.
8.  Choose your friends wisely.  Spend your time with girls and boys of quality.  I know you know what that means.  Forget quantity.  Forget good-time friends. You may notice that your Aunt M just started cleaning up our house that was destroyed by 40 little people without being asked.  That's a real friend.
9.  Drama is something you watch on TV and not something you live.  It most certainly isn't something you start.
10.  Find something you love .  Do it sincerely and to the best of your ability. Raise the bar on yourself. Hold yourself accountable and find someone else to hold you accountable.  This is the path to success.

This is useful stuff, little girl.  It may not be profound, but it's certainly useful.

Happy birthday to my go-with-the-flow, sassy, effervescent little sprout.  I love that we are growing up together...




Sunday, July 14, 2013

Over The Bridge

I have a list problem.  I love lists.  I may even be a little bit in love with lists.   Or a lot in love with lists.  I love the sense of order and completeness they provide and I love that little burst of accomplishment after I complete an item.  Lists are comforting to me and they're somewhat soothing--map out the steps, follow the steps, complete the tasks and POOF!!!!  A sense of purpose! A sense of control in an uncertain world!  What else does one really need, anyway?

I would totally bash my OCD---and you still may--but the fact of the matter is that my OCD basically pays the bills, puts food on the table and puts my feet in a pretty fierce shoe collection.  I may be borderline certifiable, but I'm also a loon who looooooove my shoes.   When the nice men come to haul me away to that much-deserved white padded cell vacation, I'm going to run away with the superlative for best shoes in the (looney) bin.  I've always wanted to be the best at something.  This is my chance. A victory is a victory, people.

I spent the entirety of 2012 committed to completing a good deed and having a new experience each day.  At the time, I thought it was so rewarding because I was forcing myself to actually live, but now, upon some reflection, it also makes perfect sense why it was also so comforting.  I spent every day of last year with a LIST.   I spent every day of last year with a PURPOSE.  AHHHHH.  I love lists.  Lists make everything so easy.

Here's the tricky part of coming off a year-long list challenge.  You enjoy it for a minute, you take a little breather, and then you need to figure out what the HELL to do with yourself after you've checked off every item on your list.   You need to figure out what (the hell) comes next.

Yikes.  What comes NEXT?

It's an interesting letdown, actually.  Kind of like the day after Christmas rolled up into the day after finishing a marathon you've trained 6 months for.  (Full disclosure:  I know what the day after Christmas feels like, but considering that I get tired after driving 26 miles, I don't exactly know the day after a marathon feels like.  But i can imagine).

So, I managed to set myself up pretty nicely to kick off 2013 in an interesting state of letdown, under the best of circumstances.  The problem is that I didn't end 2012 on some euphoric high after completing the challenge.  Oh, I lied and made it sound like it was great and even did it in writing, but the truth is I ended 2012 pissed off, shaken up, and thinking that I spent the entire year completing a challenge that was ultimately for NOTHING.

For this statement to make any sort of sense, I need to tell the story of the bridge.

The bridge was the Walt Whitman (which I've driven on a few thousand times) and the bridge happened on December 16, somewhere around 11:45 AM.   The bridge was on the eastbound downward side.  The bridge happened in the span of 10 seconds, or 10 minutes and I've been replaying it for nearly 7 months.

It was my mom's birthday, and we were driving to take her to brunch.  By some small miracle, we were actually going to be on time, which never happens.   Like never.  If I ever think I'm going to be on time, I manage to squeeze in an extra errand or two that will ensure that I will be at least 10 minutes late and racing to my destination.  Maybe I will ponder that one later.

But we were on time that day.  I wish we had just killed time at Target like good, non-punctual, Americans that day.

There was a black Jeep Liberty in front of us.  It was new.  It was really clean and shiny when everyone else's car had the sheen of early winter dust on it.  There were two men in the car.  They looked to be about 40.  I had noticed the car earlier, and I wasn't sure why.  In retrospect, I realize I was being warned.  Oh, foreshadowing.  Great in movies.  Not so great in real life.

Out of nowhere, and so quickly, the passenger door opened and the passenger dove out, head first, and landed head first, in a heap and with a thud you'd expect for someone who dove out of a car at 50+ miles and hour.  I can still hear that thud.  It happened less than a foot away from our car.

It was probably a series of small miracles that prevented it from being even worse.  My husband was driving that day and we were in his car, which is much newer and more nimble than mine.   We're not even going to talk about how much better his reflexes and reaction time are than mine.  There was no one in the left lane to hit us (with our 4 year old in the back seat) when he swerved to miss hitting the body.  He still only missed hitting the body by a matter of inches.

I have no doubt that if I were driving, or if we were in my truck, we would not have been able to avoid hitting him.  And THEN what?

I'll be deliberately light on details...because it was awful. I honestly don't know if it was a blur, or so clear that I can see it happening again.  Think CSI.  The pulling to the side of the bridge (did I mention I'm afraid of bridges?).  The frantic 911 call trying to explain it like an useful witness.  And the worst of it---the walking up the bridge to the scene itself to talk to the police.  The stream of blood that extended for at least 12 feet and ran down the bridge.   The heartbreaking wails of the man who was the driver of the Jeep as he tried to explain what happened to someone on his phone.  I won't ever forget what he said...ever.  The sight of the motionless and bloody person just lying on the asphalt.  Peering over the side of the bridge, looking down, hearing the noise of the ambulances and the police and the screams and the cries, and realizing that I was never going to cross that bridge again (and I drive it frequently), without remembering what happened that day.

Suffice it to say, no one was terribly hungry at brunch.  Of course, we were late.  Oh well.  The bar of expectations was already set pretty damned low in that regard.

It didn't take me very long to realize that the bridge was really bothering me and I really couldn't shake it, try as I might.   I kept on seeing it replayed---every time I closed my eyes, every time I saw a Jeep Liberty on the road, every time I saw two men driving together.  I knew I probably wasn't okay---but I also knew the only way to get okay was to dust it off, put one leg in front of the other,  get busy getting busy and wait for time to take care of it.  Wait for it to go under the bridge.  You fall, you get back up immediately, and you move on.  That's life.  And least, that's life done right.  No excuses.

I also realized pretty quickly that talking about it wasn't going to be much help.  What would I even have said?  That I saw something horrible happen to someone else, but I was actually unharmed?  What kind of weak crybaby talks about stuff like that????  I'm GERMAN, for shit's sake.  Germans just deal.  

Add that all to the fact that pretty much everyone I know is insanely busy, with much bigger and more pressing problems than mine.  Trust me- I'm not complaining that my life is basically a perennial bake sale.  I know I'm lucky, and I also know that I don't want to be the winner of the "World's Shittiest Life" competition.  It just seemed kind of tactless to talk about something like this to someone who was busy...with real problems.

And then there's the kicker.  I realized that I was angry at the guy who jumped.  Not sad, not full of compassion for what caused him to do it in the first place....I was straight-up angry.  I felt horrible for the man who was with him, and horrible for his family, but the man who actually jumped?  ANGRY.  Angry that he came out of nowhere, on a seemingly innocent day, and jacked it up.  Angry for the flashbacks.  Angry for the fact that if my husband wasn't able to avoid hitting him, my husband would have to live with that guilt for the rest of his life when he did nothing more than being in the wrong place in the wrong time.  Angry that if I were driving, I'd be the one that would have to live with that guilt.  Angry that my child was in the car.  Angry that all it took was one unstable person to royally jack up people who were previously stable.   Angry that I had spent 350 days at that point doing freaking GOOD DEEDS which I thought were some sort of insurance policy, only to have that exercise end up being utterly pointless.   Angry that every time I saw a Jeep, I'd feel a crazy fight or flight response.  Angry to have the efforts of a year's worth of trying to restore some level of good and order in the world end up in complete, unstable chaos.  Angry that my list was worthless.

Angry.

Yup.  You can't really tell people that you're angry at someone who dove head first out of a moving car on the highway without sounding like an asshole.  Go ahead and judge.  I have.  More times than you can count, actually.

I did finish off the good deeds of 2012---largely because I had committed to it, but I no longer believed that it meant anything.   I no longer believed that it had any purpose.   And when 2013 started, I decided that my "now what?" was going to be doing the basics, and nothing more.   I was going to get up, show up and handle my business, but I wasn't going to take on any more risk or more effort.  Oh, and I started to really notice how interdependent people are, and I don't necessarily mean that favorably. I started to really notice the number of times things slipped through my hands, even when I did everything my lists told me to do, because someone else came through with a bigger issue that required immediate attention.  I was rapidly becoming completely bitter.  I decided that my lists were pointless.  I stopped writing lists.  I never thought I'd stop writing lists.

Until, one day, when I realized that I missed my lists.  That I missed the sense of purpose.  That I missed the sense of implied hope that were associated with those lists.  When I began to reconcile that "good will prevail in the end" and "life's not fair" weren't mutually exclusive and that they had to co-exist for life to really mean something.  It's easy to have hope when the results include only good outcomes.  To be able to accept that you can hope, and you can execute and the end result might still be bad, and you choose to hope anyway???  That's where real courage kicks in.  And I'm there.  I'm really there.   I'm not sure what my next list will include, but I'm going to enjoy the hell out of writing it and seeing what happens next.

It's funny.  One day last week, someone commented that they considered me to be "bulletproof" because they thought I could take anything.  That's quite a compliment- one I might treasure for the rest of my life, actually--but it's not entirely true. It's actually not true at all.  I'm not bulletproof.  I feel every single bullet that I take, and most of them hurt like hell.  But I can take those bullets.  Every single one of them, I can take and get back up.  For me, it isn't so much about avoidance, it's about being able to take them, deal with them, and carry on while missing as few steps as possible.  It's not waiting for things to go under the bridge, it's about finding a way to cross that bridge and move on to the next.  I think I like that...a lot.  Can't lie, though- still a pretty cool compliment.  I'm taking them these days.