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.


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.


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.