Wednesday, December 31, 2008

T’was The Season…

It is with regret that I report that the 2008 holiday season has passed without incident. No family blow-ups, inappropriate questions or personal offenses. Not even a lingering resentment to keep me warm on the cold nights ahead. Even on the home front things were quiet, with only one minor flare-up manifested in two harshly worded emails and a trip alone to the bookstore before all was forgiven. It’s as if the holidays didn’t happen at all.

Because really, where is the joy in everyone getting along? Thanksgiving was such a pleasant affair that we weren’t even able to come up with a post about it. Who wants to hear that we sat down at 4p to eat, spoke with ease on a range of subjects and disbanded around 9p after sharing pumpkin pie? Even Sooz, who can usually be counted on for at least one fit of rage about how she does all the work and no one appreciates it, went silent this year. The sisters know how to really work me up but the baby sister is now big and the big sister has a baby…neither status conducive to the slur-flinging, hairbrush hitting fights of yore…

Christmas was spent with my in-laws, an experience that traditionally gets my back up a good week before we even arrive. I spend days carefully planning my responses to snarky comments and bait my husband into plotting a full spousal defense strategy. (My brilliant plan this year involved responding, “That’s interesting,” to pretty much everything.) Imagine my disappointment when the days passed with nothing more than several nice presents and one “We’re so glad you came.” Even our tree was well-behaved, refusing to spread those pesky needles all over the house, despite being withheld water for a week.

Perhaps this underwhelming theme of peace was brought on by healthy doses of Xanax and white wine. I fear it is because somewhere along the way we all decided to grow up. To grin and bear those probing questions and strong opinions, to choose a common conversation over a controversial one and to remember these people are family and thus deserve our best and brightest selves. How very mature. How very boring.

New Year’s Eve is tonight and we’ve planned to have dinner alone and then drive to a friend’s house for a small party. The friend lives far away and if we drink, a car will definitely have to be left for pick-up tomorrow. I don’t want to leave my car overnight. My husband doesn’t want to leave his car overnight. I smell a fight in the air. Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lotta Rock in Little Rock

This past Monday, the airplane I was on almost went down due to turbulence.

I realize that no airplane (at least in recent history) has been taken down by turbulence, but every time it hits, I’m convinced it’s over. In this instance, the bodies would have landed in Little Rock, Arkansas, and as we bounced and swayed our way towards Atlanta, my central thought was: I’m going to die and it’s been seven days since I’ve seen my husband.

I was coming back from a weeklong trip to Vegas and like most business trips, it was a lot of work with a little fun. You can take on a revised persona on a business trip and while I was in Vegas, dancing into the early hours of the morning, I felt young and pretty and even a bit adventurous, which anyone who knows me can refute. (I could tell you what I’m going to do on a Tuesday a month from now. I hate adventure.) But on that plane home, rocking back and forth and wondering if I could clench the hand of the stranger next to me, I just felt…weary.

Yes, the world’s an exciting place but what’s the point if you are forever bound to see it with those that you send the most emails to, but who don’t know that you can’t do simple math and only learned to use (okay, handle) chopsticks 4 months ago? Something continues to build inside of me and I’m finally starting to pay attention. I want a smaller world.

I don’t mean small as in the politically correct eco-sense of “we’re all neighbors and I buy my Chapstick from a woman who makes it in Mongolia” small, I mean actually small. (Not that I disagree with being neighborly with the world, but I get my Chapstick from the CVS.)

How tedious yet reassuring to spend my days picking up the dry-cleaning from Rebecca and her dog Angel, then swinging by to the Italian take-out place to grab dinner. (And possibly say hello to the manager who after 8 years has finally deigned to recognize me.) “The boredom! The boredom!” some of you are shrieking. But I see only calm – a plain backdrop on which to manage life’s real problems.

There is a book I admire even though I can’t remember the name or the author but the crux of it is that a woman who traveled frequently spent her flying time writing letters to her children. Touching and smart. For me, however, the only letters I plan on writing will be those I send to my children’s summer camp. And the rest of the year, when the children are tucked into their own beds, I’ll be right there with them telling a story. “Once upon a time your mom and your dad traveled everywhere and met some very smart and semi-famous people and saw the world and felt energized and exhausted all at the same time.”

Once upon a time indeed. As the plane made its final approach into Hartsfield, my heart hummed. Home sweet home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homeland Security

As I love to do as often as possible, this last weekend I spent some time with my two year old granddaughter. (An aside: apologies to any of you who have two year old daughters, nieces, siblings or granddaughters because I have to say that MY granddaughter is the cutest, sweetest, smartest and most wonderful two year old in the ENTIRE world. She really is.) Anyhow, as we were playing with lots of toys strewn on the floor, Sweetums tripped and fell down hard. She wasn't hurt, but it certainly startled her and was quite enough to set off some loud wailing. Her mommy scooped her right up and began soothing her, but the crying continued, loud and clear. But between the sobs, I heard her making a request...."I want my blankie."

And so begins another generation of blanket love. Before my first daughter was born, I had been warned not to allow her to get too attached to one blanket as that presented all sorts of problems for laundering or loss. That seemed like an easy problem to fix.... I bought TWO blankets for her crib. Little did I realize at the time how quickly she would form an attachment to BOTH. Although my original plan had backfired, when little sister came along two years later, she surely couldn't be given less than the first baby, so again two blankets. And again, quick attachment to BOTH blankets. Now, don't get me wrong, my children were not at all Linus like-- the blankets were for home use only and were not dragged along every time we left the house for an errand. But for sleeping, or comfort, or just hanging around, those blankies were a MUST. And not to seem like a slow learner, but ten years later, guess how many blankets were given to the new baby? And guess how many she loved? Right..... two.

I never made a big deal about when it would be time to say goodbye to the beloved blankets. We got rid of pacifiers when baby teeth started being misaligned. We said adios to bottles when ear infections set in. Stuffed animals were loved for awhile and then deserted in favor of something new. But not the bankies, as they were called in our house. Years passed and they were still with us. The blankets went on vacations. They went to overnight camps. They went to sleepovers. They went to college. They showed their age becoming filled with holes and worn on the edges. Still, they were loved.

My youngest daughter had to retire one blanket when it became too "fragile" but she still has her other. It resides on her bed at college and is almost always found wrapped around her neck as she studies or watches tv. As far as I know, none of her friends have ever teased her about the banky; it's just a part of who she is. Smash still has both her blankets; her blankets are of heartier stock -- both waffle weave. Smash travels with only one blanket -- too risky to have both -- and after a particular scary incident of lost luggage, the one making the trip always goes in carry-on. Smash tells me that after a particularly hard day at work, she will come home and put her face into her blanket until the world looks a little brighter. Smash's husband has accepted the blankets as part of their lives. My oldest daughter has put away her blankets, but they are still on a nearby closet shelf, ready if needed. And it is her daughter who, when hurt, sad or tired wants her blanket. The torch has been passed.

I've often asked the girls how their blankets make them feel. What about them lend that sense of comfort and well-being? None of them have ever really given me an answer and I really do want to know. I want that feeling. I too want to have that special something for the times when anxiety is creeping up or bad news is settling in. I think it's something we all could use. I want my blankie.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

For Your Eyes Only

Several months ago, when Smash and I first discussed starting a blog, we encountered a bit of skepticism from my husband-- let's call him Joe. Joe opined that he would expect to see the blog up and running just about..... never. Granted, a blog did have the sound of a new "project" and I'll be the first to admit that some previous endeavors didn't quite work out. But how can anyone finish crocheting an afghan after the pattern somehow goes askew and the shape becomes decidedly not rectangular? Who says that membership in a pricey fitness club translates into actual daily (weekly or occasional) exercise? And I AM still working on getting all the old photographs into albums. So there. But Joe took us seriously enough to mention the proposed blog to our college-age daughter who immediately got her back up and declared she knew that the only reason we would write a blog would be to write about HER! After that reaction, I thought it best just not to mention the subject to my oldest daughter, who, by the very nature of being the first-born, might call foul for not being included. Other than to Smash, I never spoke of the blog again, and I assume all memories of the original discussion are long forgotten.

I haven't told anyone, family or friends, that Smash and I are actually writing. I'm not sure why. Smash tells me that she has eagerly shown both friends and co-workers. I don't know why I'm reluctant. After all, I surely don't plan to write anything hurtful or derogatory about the people I care about. So why the hesitation? Perhaps it's a holdover from the years spent keeping secrets. Not big, important, or hurtful secrets.... just those little nothings that are shared by each daughter with her mom, little things that seem big at the time, hopes that may or may not turn into realities, realities that might make someone else feel hurt or envious. I listen, I process, I keep quiet. Other people's secrets are not mine to tell.

Still, it's unusual for me to have a secret of my own making. My life is for the most part the proverbial open book. Any blog entry even hinting at mystery or intrigue would most decidedly not be about me. I want people to read the blog. I hope they will find what Smash and I have to say both entertaining and interesting. I hope they'll comment and initiate new discussions. But unlike many of the blogs I myself read and enjoy, I can't make my entries a journal of my daily activities. Trust me, that would be sleep-inducing. So, instead I'll try to offer up things I think about, things that strike me as funny, things that drive me to distraction. And maybe, after awhile, I'll tell someone about the blog. But, for now, it's just our little secret.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Things That Were Lost

My mom actually does have a gold watch, or had one many years ago when we lived in Wisconsin. It was lost when she let me hold it and I dropped it down the wagon's heating vent. I don't recall why I did this. I do remember that she was less mad and more stunned.

Several things have been lost through the years. There are the intangibles, such as the belief your parents know everything, or the conviction your children are perfect. (Certainly the watch incident ruined that illusion.) And then there are the actual things that went missing. The less precious ones are too numerous to count - sweaters, softball gloves, retainers...But there are a few key pieces which are missed so much, they've become part of our family vernacular. In 7th grade my mom packed me off to a school bake sale with an enormous (and apparently one-of-a-kind) Tupperware container. The Tupperware was never seen again, and to this day when I allude to anything being misplaced, my mother will shriek, "Tupperware container! Tupperware container!" She never even mentions the cameo earrings from her 16th birthday that the plumber stole off my dresser top.

My sisters are equal offenders. The younger one loses so many things that we all cringe when she opens something nice at Christmas, knowing it will be lost by the New Year. The older does less losing and more misplacing. She provided many an evening's theatrics standing in front of her closet screaming accusations about some stolen skirt or belt. The obscenities stopped only when I, with courage unprecedented in a young child, stepped into her abyss and located the article front and center on the rack.

Despite such shaky beginnings, now as an adult I don't lose anything. (I refrain comment on the sisters.) Instead, I've married someone who loses everything and it infuriates me.
Daily from him: Where are the keys? Where are my vitamins? Where do "we" keep the stamps?
Annually from him: Where is the car registration? Where is the grill lighter? Where are the tax receipts?
Occasionally from me: WHERE THE HELL ARE THE 2006 TAX RETURNS?

Except for the things he loses (i.e. tax returns), I have a running mental inventory of everything in our lives. To a fault perhaps, because unlike my mom I hold a grudge when things go missing. There was a spoon three silverware sets ago that my roommate took to work and never brought back. And I'd like my copy of Jodi Picoult's The Pact returned, thank you. And to my nearest and dearest husband, could you please locate the turquoise towel I've had since college that belongs with its mate in the linen closet?

I realize this trait is unattractive. Last year I had a bad slip and carelessly left a treasured necklace in a hotel glass. Room service collected and the necklace was gone. I immediately called my mom, crying. (Side note: If we post her phone records her claims that she is no longer needed by her children would be quickly refuted.) So, I'm on the phone sniveling and Sooz, always a fan of straight talk said, "It's just a thing honey. That necklace is just a thing. You shouldn't be so attached." "I know, I know," I sniffed.

And I do know. I still really miss that necklace but nothing too great was lost when it was. I am lucky that the things I have lost have been, for the most part, things. And trite though it may be, we do have our memories and we have each other. Now where is that turquoise towel?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Not Even a Gold Watch

Thirty-three years ago after four years of marriage, a move to a new city, and a total lack of desire to hunt for a new job, I decided the time was right to have a baby. I was undeterred by the fact that we lived in a one bedroom rental, had only a minimum amount of money in the bank and no secretly stashed savings -- not to mention that I knew absolutely nothing about babies and childrearing. Why would these little things matter? I'd learn. We would survive. It would all work out. And within the year, our first daughter arrived. I left the hospital, headed (baby in arms; no carseat in those days!) for home and my new career: motherhood. Sure I faced a stiff learning curve, literally learning how to diaper (once again olden days-cloth diapers), feed, bathe, and care for my precious infant by reading the baby book and following the diagrams. There was no baby nurse, no mother, no mother-in-law to help. It was just me and my husband (while he wasn't working), but it didn't matter. I had found my passion, my calling, my career. I was a mother.

Two years later our family of three grew to a family of four with the birth of another daughter.
And as the years sped by I surrounded myself with all the trappings of my well-loved career -- a station wagon, carpools, volunteer jobs in the schools, Brownie scout leader, chief cook and bottle washer. Some days were harder than others; this career path definitely had some bumps along the way. But I loved it all. Despite my dedication and best intentions, I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. There are so many occasions that are still painful for me to remember and how I long for a do-over. But I did the best I could at that particular time. The damage was minimal (I hope) and my girls thrived. So did I.

A decade sped by, and suddenly my husband and I realized that the babies we adored were babies no more. A meticulous planner by nature, surprisingly once again I made a snap decison. We would have another baby. And that's just what we did. Daughter number three joined her then twelve and ten year old sisters. Practice had certainly not made perfect, but experience had helped, and I felt as though with the third, I hit my stride as a mother. The next six years were busy ones, with three kids, each at a different point in her life, in the house and needing mom's attention. Then one was off to college, a quick two years later followed by her sister. But, no worries, the "baby" was still there. I was not put out to pasture.

So, how could it be that in a blink of an eye, I was waving goodbye to that baby, as she stood in front of her college dorm? For thirty, THIRTY!, years, there had been a child in my house. Someone who needed me. Someone who required my care and attention. Someone to mother. But with that wave goodbye, I was forced into a retirement I didn't want. There was no retirement party, no golden parachute, not even a gold watch. It was over without fanfare.

My husband, whom I still adore after almost forty years, and I quickly fell into a pleasant childless routine. We enjoy each other's company. We go to movies. We eat in restaurants. We do as we please. There's no one to wait up for. There's no one who needs a ride. There's no one who needs a meal. It's an easy life. I see friends, work part-time, keep up with chores. I'm sure my life appears to be quite ideal. What is not visible is the floundering, the wondering who I am if I'm not someone's mom. My daughters have grown into lovely adults. They are smart and competent and building lives and families of their own. Just as it should be. Athough I
expect they would say differently, they really do not need me any longer. They know that; I know that. My job is done. That career, motherhood, is finished. So what comes next? After all, being someone's mom is all I ever wanted.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pressing Pause

My mom’s post made me laugh. First, despite a certain dedication to the online panda cam – she does not spend endless hours on the computer. She’s never at home when I call, always out working, at appointments, at the grocery store and more and more, out of town visiting her father. Secondly, “fast-paced demanding career” makes my job sound much more important than it is, though when (in disbelief) I read the phrase aloud to my co-worker, she actually agreed with it.

So maybe there is some truth to it. Certainly my weeks fly by in a haze of conference calls and emails, fires to be put out and coworkers to pacify. To be such a presence in my life, it certainly started very innocuously. Like my mom – I am exactly like her despite early resistance – I went to college, met a boy, fell in love and got married. Unlike my mom, who early on joyously settled in to homemaking, I became a working girl and now, nine years later, am a working woman.

The crazy here is that I have always hated work. It cuts into my day and requires me to be awake hours before my choosing, with clean hair no less. This dislike, however, does not affect my work; I take it very, very seriously. As a person who aims to please, I spend hours making sure my work is perfect and even more hours worrying that it might not be. When things do go wrong, I call my mother and her advice is always the same, “Fire someone.” It’s meant to be a joke, a little phrase to make me get some perspective. It hasn’t yet, but it does make me think. Think about the fact that I’ve become someone who checks her Blackberry at stoplights. It’s not all doom and gloom though. I love the people I work with, my business trips border on glamorous and I make good money.

These days it’s with equal parts dismay and delight that I can say while I still hate working, I love my job. It affords me a life I really like and it is only when I am extremely tired (overwrought, my mom would say) that I think about the downsides. I examine the numbers beyond the paycheck and the frequent flier miles. What do I mean? Well, with this job, dinner gets pushed back to 9p, friends get seen once a month, families are visited twice a year and babies are delayed until my mid (maybe late?) thirties. On the day-to-day, I’m okay with these figures and so is my husband. So we go and go and go. But some days I’d really like to just press pause. Maybe rewind. Maybe push stop, and play something new.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Beginning

For a while now my daughter and I have been talking about creating a blog. I volunteered to set it up.... after all, I waste endless hours on the computer while she spends her days in a fast-paced demanding career. I have no idea why it took me so long to sit down and go through the simple steps. But at last it's here. Sometimes the thoughts will be my daughter's. Sometimes they will be mine. Often they will be the same. Because we are simpatico.