I’m starting to really like Facebook. I like seeing what people are up to, even if it’s just what they want me to think they’re up to. I like reading the articles they post and watching the video clips that they like. I would have no idea where to find all this stuff without them, so it’s like I have my own personal army out there mining the Internet for content. Man, what a time saver! The trick is to carefully construct a filtering policy so that you only click on the stuff that you’re going to want to see. Here’s mine:
The first hurdle is my personal compatibility with the person who is posting. In the same way that you trust certain people for movie and book recommendations, you need a little experience to vet whose video clip is going to delight you and whose is going to leave you wishing you had your four minutes back. It doesn’t take long to determine which of your Facebook friends has a similar sense of humor to yours and which has a fondness for posting videos of dogs being tortured. I scroll past friends who secretly want to overthrow the government, those who have proof that the end is near and those who think kittens are intrinsically comedic. I’m no intellectual. I like to roll right down the middle.
The next most important factor is the length of the video you’re about to watch. As a general rule, I will not watch anything longer than four minutes. If you can’t get it done in four minutes, maybe it didn’t need to be done at all. Time is money here, people. This is 2013 and, I hate to brag, but my four-minute attention span is thirty seconds above the national average.
I also won’t watch video clips of people’s kids. It’s not that I don’t like other people’s kids in person, but the Facebook community doesn’t generally post bloopers of their kids missing fly balls or tripping in their prom dresses (I’d love that!). Instead they post sort of annoying clips of their kids playing the violin or performing on Broadway or unloading the dishwasher without being asked. In short, things my kids don’t know how to do. These videos make me feel bad and are often too long anyway.
People try to entice you to click by leaving a little comment above the video they’re sharing. Consider this comment to be a warning label. For example, I don’t read anything that’s been marked with “OMG, watch this, it’ll make you cry!” Even if it’s less than four minutes long. Why in the world am I going to risk the click, watch the thing, and then find myself slumped over my computer, crying? Do people have any idea how many hours a day I already spend slumped over my computer, crying?
If you tell me it’s funny, provided it’s less than four minutes and you haven’t let me down in the past, I’ll probably watch it. But you’ve got to mean it. A video accompanied by “this is funny” might not be compelling enough. Lots of things are funny, but I’m guessing that if this wasn’t funny enough for you to use even one exclamation point, I’m not going to like it. For my four minutes, I’m looking for a recommender that confesses to losing bladder control.
I have a hard time not clicking on meaningless lists, no matter who posts them. I see the words “Five Things Happy People Know” and I’m rendered powerless. I’m happy, I think, I bet I know all five of those things. I go ahead and click, smugly, only to find out that I am not in fact happy at all. Or “Twelve Things Your Husband Doesn’t Want You to Know.” Shoot. I can only think of four – click. Likewise for “Ten Signs You Probably Have Cancer.” How can you not click on that? It’s practically medical care. And I don’t want to freak you out, but if you experience occasional bloating, well, never mind.
Here’s what I will watch: Justin Timberlake doing anything, the first four minutes of any Ted talk, videos of people who just lost over 200 pounds, people being reunited with their military loved ones, amateur flash mobs, and marriage proposals gone wrong. It’s a good thing I don’t let Facebook waste my time.The Week on November 21, 2013
My husband flips back and forth between the NFL and home-style cornbread stuffing, mesmerized by the way these TV chefs prepare elaborate meals in perpetually clean kitchens. I suspect he thinks an onion comes finely chopped and in a perfectly sized glass bowl. I don’t want to burst his bubble, but as Thanksgiving nears and I find that none of my vegetables chop themselves, I’d like to see a little more reality on this reality TV network.
The programming is pretty much the same every year. The food celebrities invite us into their shiny kitchens and urge us to take it up a notch. Why not make a mosaic out of fresh herbs under the skin of your turkey? Why not use a blowtorch on your apple pie? Or my personal favorite: Why not take three different kinds of birds, debone them and tie them all together, separated by a thin layer of stuffing? This, the hauntingly named “Turducken,” signals the fall of civilization.
Just for once, I’d like to see the army of choppers, measurers, and cleaners that seem to disappear just before the cameras roll. If you’re telling me to add my 40 cloves of garlic, I’d like you to acknowledge just how long it takes to peel 40 cloves of garlic. I’d like a bunch of kids to run into the kitchen tracking dirt and blood and Fritos while you’re slicing the pancetta for your stuffing. I’d like to see Ina Garten look kind of annoyed because she just found out that she has a vegetarian coming for Sunday dinner. I’d like, just once, to see Giada De Laurentiis stand there with her 24-inch waist and eat and entire portion of her cheesy mashed potatoes. We can see you, Giada. We can see you.
But what I’d really like to know is exactly what Bobby Flay’s been up to behind the scenes. In fact, I’d pay $69.95 to see the fight that preceded his most recent show. Recently, he invited us into his kitchen to watch him prepare breakfast in bed for his wife. Shhh, he reminded us, she’s still sleeping upstairs. He started by making homemade sausage and biscuits. By homemade, I mean he started with meat bits and flour. Then he made scrambled eggs, homemade doughnuts, and homemade strawberry jelly. From actual strawberries.
How early do you have to wake up (or how late does your wife have to sleep?!) for you to make homemade sausage for breakfast? Pretty early, I’m guessing, and Bobby confided to the audience that he always makes this breakfast when he’s “in trouble.” Trouble? What did he do? This isn’t like an I-forgot-our anniversary apology. He actually carries this stuff up on a tray with a cocktail of tangerine juice and gin to wash it down. I’m hard pressed to think of what my husband could possibly do to make him feel like he needed to wake me up with gin. I had to watch the show all the way through to the credits because I was sure the police would be cuffing him at any minute.
The only thing I can think of is that he deep fried a turkey and burned down the garage. I have been mentally preparing myself for this eventuality ever since my husband first watched the Deep Fried Turkey Marathon on this evil network. Deep frying a turkey appeals to my husband in a visceral way. And I get it. The only thing missing from this, the fattest day of the year, is something fried. It’s only a matter of time before I own a deep fryer large enough for a 30-pound roaster, and I’m pretty sure we’re not insured for what ensues. At least I have breakfast in bed to look forward to. Thanks, Food Network!The Rye Record on November 1, 2013
Welcome to cold and flu season! It’s go time for moms, as the children in our houses will take turns being sick during the action packed weeks between Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Our pockets are packed with tissues, our pantries are stocked with Ginger Ale, and we’ve got enough Motrin stashed away to wear down the stomach lining of a large zoo animal. We’ve trained for this, and we can handle it. As long as we don’t get sick ourselves.
Everybody knows that moms can’t get sick. We need to be above the virus so that we can take care of everyone else who catches it. The mom is like the household Wi-Fi in that she is the link to a complex web of critical systems, but no one really seems to notice till she goes on the fritz. Such was the panic in my house last week when I had the audacity to be sick for five days. My family’s cries could be heard across Westchester County: “The server’s down!”
I have to sympathize with them. When I was a kid, there was nothing that stressed me out more than when my mom got sick. It was like the world stopped. I remember walking into her room and seeing her lying in bed (by the way, moms are not supposed to sit, let alone lie down!) and noticing that, to my horror, she wasn’t wearing her signature red lipstick. Mom’s not wearing lipstick, I worried, how am I going to get to school?
Unfortunately for my kids, I’m not one of those stoic sick people who pops a couple of tablets out of the aluminum casing and forges on with her day. I get in bed. I stop making dinner, and I fully engage in the pursuit of rest. I want sympathy and I respond to every email and text with “I’m sick!” I drag myself to pickup brandishing a hanky and a cup of tea as proof. I’m in your face with it.
During the first day of my illness, my children’s reactions were a mixed bag. In no particular order, one came upon me in my darkened room, surrounded by tissues, to ask me for a ride. “I’m sick,” I told him. “I can see that,” he replied, “but can I have a ride?” Another one thought to text me from a pep rally to see how I was feeling. A third actually stayed home with me on Friday night and brought me water and tea. Naturally, each of these behaviors was age-appropriate. (Naturally, I have adjusted my will accordingly.)
After the first two days, however, any sympathy in my house dried up faster than your sinuses on Nyquil. It turns out that I’m only allowed a maximum of two sick days. Once again, I am kicking myself for not reading my employment contract more carefully. After the second day, a sick mom is, frankly, kind of annoying. “How are you feeling?” is replaced by “You still sick?” The tissue boxes, the red-stained Nyquil measuring cup, and my unmade bed were starting to get on their nerves. And I imagine the growing stack of pizza boxes was too.
At the end of five days in bed, I had read a 719-page mystery and had made a full recovery. As a collateral benefit, I had managed to lower the expectations of everyone in my family. My husband gasped when he walked into the house, “You got dressed!” My kids delighted in eating a meal that did not come out of a box in the company of people who were sitting upright in chairs. Slowly, the mystical force that manages the socks and knows how to operate the dishwasher reappeared. The server was back up and running.
It’s mammogram day. My nerves are a stretched thin as I drive to Greenwich Hospital. All of the songs on the radio are either aggravating or by Pink, a color that’s been getting on my nerves since I woke up. I try to remind myself how happy and relieved I’ll be in a few hours. But right now I know this can go two ways. I focus my anxiety outward: Stupid breast cancer. Stupid pink.
The pink-clad lady at the reception desk asks my name and birthday and then sends me to the registration office where I’m asked my name and birthday. My wristband prints out with my maiden name, which I like because it seems like this whole ordeal is happening to a much younger and more carefree woman. She feels like someone else.
I’m directed to a pink robe. I’m not sure if they’re always pink or if this is part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. If you have a TV, a newspaper, the Internet or a kid who plays soccer, you’ve probably seen a lot of pink lately. The amount of money and attention that is directed toward breast cancer research in October is inspiring. The entire NFL looks like a line of girls waiting to get into the American Girl Store, pink gloved and pink shoed. It seems to be a cause that transcends gender and age. Everybody’s been affected by breast cancer in some way. Everybody cares.
But here’s the thing: I am not the target audience of the pink campaign. I am not someone who needs more breast cancer awareness. For me it’s like if I held a month long campaign to raise my son’s awareness about the monster that lives in his closet. Trust me, he’s hyper-aware. And the more attention we give it, the less he sleeps.
I am courteous but suspicious with my breasts, like I am with salesmen who ring the doorbell at dinnertime. I want to be respectful, but I don’t actually know what danger they have in store for me. I regularly thank them for their prior service, what with looking good in the 80s and then feeding my kids later on. And I ask them to stay on my side.
Someone once described a mammogram like this: you place your breast between two metal planks and then an elephant stomps on top to squeeze you into a pancake. I’d like to put that person in charge of re-describing everything that is currently painted in a falsely shiny manner – children’s birthday parties, camping, the prom. Today the elephant’s name is Ellen. She asks my birthdate again and checks it against her records. She asks me to stand in the most awkward possible way and tells me, unnecessarily, not to breathe. Funny, I haven’t breathed since I left the house.
When we are done, I am told to wait for fifteen minutes. I really only have two ways of coping with stress so, as there seems to be no one here to offer me a pink cocktail, I start writing this article. Eventually, another technician comes to get me and wants to know my birthday again. “Are you guys throwing me a party?” I ask. She smiles at me tentatively and explains that she is just confirming my identity. It was a joke, I want to say. I’m freaking out here, I want to say. I just nod.
Next is the sonogram where you can actually look at what’s going on in there as they go. From what I can tell there is not one thing in my breasts that doesn’t look suspicious. She clicks screenshots way too many times, measures way too many black circles. My eyes dart back and forth between the screen and her face, wishing she had Botox so her brow would quit furrowing. When she has finished, she smiles and tells me to relax, the doctor will be right in to discuss my results. Relax? Really?
I am in the room alone for between three and a thousand minutes, I can’t tell. And this is when I allow myself to go there. I play the whole thing out in my mind. I decide how I’m going to tell my family. I know exactly who I’m going to call to find the best doctors, and I vow to walk in the Avon walk next October if I make it through this. In fact, I make so many deals with God that we’ve both forgotten most of them.
And then the kindest thing happens. The door opens and before the doctor has even stepped foot in the room, she says “It’s all perfect!” I am immediately released from this hell of my own creation. (Really, is there any other kind?) I thank her and the technician and the other technician and the pink-gowned ladies in the waiting room and finally my breasts themselves as I get dressed. This was totally worth it.
I am light as I stop at reception to schedule my 2014 appointment. She has an opening on Halloween and I take it. Why not? It’s the scariest day of the year anyway.
The Rye Record on October 11, 2013
Remember how you felt that time you went to the office Christmas party and met the attractive young woman that just started working with your husband? And remember how you noticed for the first time that your cocktail dress, circa 1998, was somehow too long, too short, and too snug all at once? The very next day you barreled in to the plastic surgeon’s office and demanded “the works.” We’ve all been there. I’m pretty sure that’s how the Stop and Shop in Port Chester feels now that the new Whole Foods is opening up right down the street.
You can feel the panic the instant you walk in there. Stop and Shop is in the midst of the fight of its life, and it’s opted for an extreme makeover. With the facelift nearly complete, I have to admit I kind of miss the old version. The pre-op store did a pretty good business selling grocery staples and good-enough produce. It was just the basics, everything you needed. No surprises. I knew where everything was and knew my way around without really even paying attention. It’s possible that I’ve heard my husband describe me in the exact same way.
You can’t blame Stop and Shop for panicking. How are they supposed to sell people a package of Perdue chicken when a mile away you can get chicken that is certified to have been humanely raised? Once I have options, I’ll probably never eat tortured chickens again. I’m starting to wonder if the energy of that poor chicken, blindfolded and marched to his death, has been keeping me down. Poor Stop and Shop. It’s hard to compete with happy chickens and the promise of a better life.
For now, I’m still loyal to my saggy old market, even as it squeezes itself into a younger woman’s jeans. I nod cheerfully at the new cheese section, which houses the exact same cheeses as before, but is arranged vertically rather than horizontally. I overlook the fact that the lettuces are now senselessly located in three separate spots. I want to make this work.
And I’m not alone. The newly revamped store is packed with dazed but loyal customers, pushing empty carts through the now slightly wider but completely mixed up aisles. The nip and tuck has resulted in something unnatural, and the new (dis)order is baffling. We mumble as we try to reorient ourselves: “Why is there bleach here next to the corn chips?” “Where’d the bread go?”
Well, if you really want to know, I’ll tell you where the bread went. While the bread used to be in the center of the market, a location suitable for the staff of life, it is now pushed to the left-hand corner. It’s a corner that feels like a shameful place, where one might keep any other dark, dirty secret. For emphasis, someone seems to have shot out the lights in the bread area, making gluten fiends feel like they’re in the midst of a back alley transaction as they snatch their Wonder Bread and scurry away.
On the opposite side of the store is a brightly lit oasis. It includes two aisles labeled “Natural Foods” which beg the question: what kind of food is in the rest of the store? (This is sort of like when you get your eyes done and then you’re suddenly aware that your neck looks like a turkey’s waddle.) In these natural aisles you can feel like you’re actually in Whole Foods, surrounded by organic almond butter, chia seeds, and six kinds of farro. This area abuts the new natural meat section where you can buy organic chicken, though the butcher makes no claims about anyone’s emotional state.
By the time the scars heal on this nip/tuck, we’ll be used to the new Stop and Shop. We’ll start to appreciate the effort they’ve made and will forgive them for the confusion. But Stop & Shop don’t fret — we’re never going to leave you. Don’t ever underestimate our dependence on routine. And, as alluring as pampered chickens can seem, we still need a place to buy Bisquick, Skippy, and Eggos. You can’t get that stuff at Whole Foods.
The Week on September 26, 2013
The most unnerving part of any flight is when the flight attendant reminds me that if all the air in the plane happens to disappear, I should secure my own air mask before helping my children.
Now, I’m not really worried about the air disappearing, but if it did, the idea of helping myself first seems completely counterintuitive. I can’t imagine saying to my child, “Hey, hang tight and hold your breath while I help myself to this free flowing oxygen…”
We always help our children first. We feed them when we’re starving. We read to them instead of watching something awesome and adult on TV. I’m pretty sure putting them first is written into my employment contract. And yes, the air mask thing is probably logical. How are you going to be able to help your kids if you’ve just passed out from lack of oxygen? I guess that makes sense. But as a mom, I may need to hear it a few more times.
Women are a self-sacrificing breed. It’s innate. We are genetically programmed to say, “What’s that? You want to be born? Help yourself to my birth canal. It won’t bother me a bit.” The kids come out thirsty and we offer them the only parts of our bodies that still look any good. “Have at it, no problem, there’s a painful surgery that will fix those right up.” From the day we become mothers, we’re pretty darn accommodating.
Maybe that’s not so great for our kids. What if they learn to see adulthood as a time of drudgery and self-sacrifice? To my kids, adulthood looks a lot like driving other people to do things that they want to do, and then sometimes staying to watch them enjoy it. Maybe the reason our kids won’t move out of our houses is because they are afraid they’ll end up in servitude to their own children.
I really want my kids to want to grow up, so I’m trying to embrace this idea of watching them struggle for a second while I deal with my own air mask. In fact, I started on Saturday. On Saturdays, I usually stand in front of the stove, off and on, for three hours, preparing made-to-order breakfasts as my children wake up in shifts. Between feedings, I hunt down cleats and drive to the farthest corners of Westchester County. By the time the last child is up, the first one wants lunch. There is no air flowing for me on Saturdays, which is a shame because I spend the day smelling like bacon.
So this week I got up and had my coffee first. I read the paper and went for a run. By the time I was ready to fully engage with Saturday, I was armed with caffeine and endorphins. No one starved to death while they waited, and everyone breathed a little easier.
The flight attendant is always careful to caution us that, even though oxygen is flowing, the plastic bag may not appear to inflate. That’s totally true. My small gasps for air have gone nearly unnoticed by my family. What they notice is that I’m a little softer around the edges and that my good humor lasts until a little later in the day. I’m trying for small things: Did I exercise today? Did I eat something that wasn’t shelf-stable? Did I sit down to write something? If I hit two out of three of these, I feel pretty good.I’m also thinking about becoming a stronger swimmer. I don’t believe for a second that those seat cushions can be used as flotation devices.
The Rye Record on September 13, 2013
My apologies, in advance, to anyone who makes plans with me this month. There’s an 80 percent chance I’m not going to show up. Likewise to anyone who invites my kids to a birthday party, relies on me for carpool, or asks me to perform any kind of simple task. Like someone who’s just arrived in New York City for the first time, I can’t keep up with the pace of the new things being thrown at me. It’s September and I do not yet have my head screwed on straight.
As an illustration, let me play for you the best track on my September’s Greatest Screw-ups album: In 2006, at 9 on a Monday morning, I was in the parking lot of the Stop & Shop when my phone rang. “Where are you?” asked the voice on the other end. I get this question all the time in September, so my answer was ready: “Why? Where am I supposed to be?” It turns out that this was the morning of the Kindergarten class coffee, and it also turns out that I had volunteered to bring all the food for said class coffee. I assured the hostess that I was on my way and raced to the Patisserie to buy all the carbs they had. Miraculously, I arrived at the party just 15 minutes late, a bit out of breath, but seeming like I had everything under control. That is, until I removed my jacket to reveal to everyone in attendance that I was still wearing my pajamas.
In this way, the whole month of September seems kind of like a recurring nightmare. I am either a day late, a day early, or not there at all. I’ll arrive at a cocktail party with cupcakes and at Back to School Night with a bottle of wine. And the reason for my disorientation isn’t that I’m too overcommitted and busy. I am always overcommitted and busy. In fact, busy is my drug of choice. The dysfunction of September is that it looks like all the other months, but all the tiniest details have been changed.
We would sail right into the new school year if it weren’t for the fact that in September everything’s the same but slightly different. If you’re not paying attention you’re lost: library books are now due on Wednesdays; pick up is at the other playground; the spelling words that had to be copied three times on Monday nights into a blue marble notebook now have to be copied four times on Tuesdays into a black marble notebook. They’ve even tweaked the cafeteria payment system, so I apologize if your kids end up buying my kids’ lunch until I’ve mastered that in October.
It’s the small details like these, the ones that can easily slip under the radar, that are my undoing. Success in the housewife/parenting biz hinges almost entirely on one’s ability to put the details on autopilot. We rely on the routine as the framework for the chaos. It’s Meatballs on Monday, basketball on Tuesday, piano on Wednesday. September is the month of reprogramming yourself to know who needs to be where, when, and with what supplies in a world that has shifted almost imperceptibly.
To add insult to injury, this September the high school and middle school will now be dismissed five minutes earlier every day. I’m pretty sure they’re just messing with me. I will pick my kids up at 2:32 instead of the (equally arbitrary) 2:37 that I’d spent a previous September getting used to. There is a logical reason for this that smart people seem to understand, but I am not yet in the know. Maybe next year they’ll pick up the high school and move it six inches to the left.
By the time this is published, we will be 13 days into September, and my level of disorientation will have peaked. I’ll be barking orders at Siri full time. I’m making it her job to make sure I get to the right school on the right Back to School night this year (it’s happened). Between the two of us I’m hoping we’ll be able to reboot my autopilot and get me out of my pajamas and where I need to be.
As published in The Rye Record on August 22, 2013
I’m prone to crushes like some people are prone to sinus infections. As a young person, I had a crush on any boy who took the time to talk to me, and as an adult I still tend to have an overexuberance for people I really like. In fact, if you put all the people that I call my ‘best friend’ in one room, we’d need a fourth bottle of wine. Over the past few years I have developed an entirely new kind of crush, kind of a professional crush, on a writer named Joe Queenan. He writes, among other things, my very favorite column in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. And I pretty much think about him all the time.
Sigh. It’s gotten so bad that I’m trying to write him a letter. When I started writing, I wasn’t even sure where I was going with it. I just wanted to connect, sort of like the way I used to get a rush by calling a boy and hanging up as soon as he answered. Mr. Queenan writes essays about whatever it is that happens to be annoying him each week. He’s a curmudgeon, Lou Grant-style, who takes a topic as narrow as a single word and delves so far into the absurd that I have no choice but to follow gleefully behind him. I’m not qualified to summarize his genius, but trust me, he’s dreamy.
At first, the letter felt like a no-brainer. A fan letter is really just a love letter without the romantic intent. How hard could it be? I’d pile on with the rest of his fans and email him to tell him how I feel. But it turns out he has no website and no published email address. He doesn’t want my letter, and, as per the Universal Laws of the Crush, this makes me want to contact him even more. (On my website there are 25 different ways to contact me. I feel so lame.) His indifference makes me so desperate to write to him that I scour Google to find his home address. Brace yourself: It turns out he lives 15.27 miles from my house. OMG!
At some point in the middle of every crush you invent, an “it’s meant to be” moment like this. Suddenly it was all so clear. I was going to get on highway 287 and take this man to lunch. We were going to become friends. I would no longer have to wait until Saturday to hear what he was doing. He’d e-mail me drafts of his column during the week for comments. That’s what besties do! He’d maybe write a whole column about something I did that he found annoying. And during the course of our friendship, some quality of his would rub off on me, making me a better writer and a more curmudgeonly person. After all, isn’t this the driving force behind any crush?
But my letter is off to a bad start. I mean it’s creepy when strangers look up your home address on the Internet. I’d have to explain to him that I am in no way a threat to him or his family. I consider several strategies to mitigate this cyber-stalking before I spring the fact that I live 15.27 miles away and would like to take him to lunch. I decide to add the phrase “in a public place.”
To keep him reading, I need to let him know how much we have in common. I tell him that I am a writer, and I start to tell him that I write a column too. Halfway through the paragraph I decide not to mention my column at all on the off chance that he’ll look it up. Let’s face it — he’d hate my column. My upbeat worldview would bug the heck out of him. I also leave out the fact that I dream of writing for the Wall Street Journal, thinking I’ll save that tidbit for our third date. I seem to remember that you can get anything past someone on the third date. I spend the rest of the paragraph trying not to sound too perky, and of course I come across false. I have the sinking feeling that I’m totally not his type. (Most of my crushes get to this point too.)
In the end I don’t feel comfortable about how I’m coming across: a potential stalker who’s trying too hard to sound sardonic. I feel the need to establish that I’m married, happily married, which effectively takes the awkwardness of this letter to a whole new level.
I haven’t mailed it. I haven’t even printed it out. But if any of you happen to know Mr. Queenan, tell him I say hi. And to call me!
Everyone says the media’s ruining our kids. They’re given a warped sense of how people should look, how people behave, and what the real world’s going to be like when they get there. We like to blame the media like it’s new, like there’s been a management change on Madison Avenue and the new guys no longer know how to grow young people into wholesome, perfect adults like us. The truth is that the television commercials that were responsible for forming my worldview in the 1970s painted such a wacky image of what being a woman was going to be like that I approached adulthood with some trepidation. Here’s why.
According to the television of my childhood, when I became a wife and mother, the one thing I’d want above all things would be to keep ‘em home for breakfast. I’d stop at nothing to keep my kids from getting on that bus or my husband from escaping with his briefcase. I’d be desperate to keep them home — desperate enough to feed them commercially prepared cake at eight in the morning. Boy was I duped. As a wife and mother I fail to see any circumstances short of a nuclear disaster that would make me want to delay the blessed morning departure of my family. I now wonder what that woman was so afraid of, what was going to be so bad about being home alone. Truly, the only thing that delights me more than seeing those smiling faces return at the end of the day is knowing that they are going to leave again in the morning.
I was also taught that grown women have fetishes for sneaking around the supermarket in hopes of squeezing the toilet paper without the store manager seeing. They actually can’t bear to pass toilet paper without fondling it, and will go to any length to cop a feel. What mad world was I being prepared for? I have (almost) never had any such urge.
Alternatively, my TV told me, I could grow up to be a woman who chose to bring home the bacon. I would then proceed to fry it up in a pan and then do some unnamed thing involving perfume that would never, ever let my husband forget he was a man. I imagine my actual grown self returning from work and wrestling the spatula away from my husband, insisting that I be the one to prepare dinner. In my adult reality, I don’t bring home the bacon and I’m sort of tired of cooking dinner. Is there a perfume for that?
I don’t know what ever happened to Yuban coffee, but these commercials particularly freaked me out. They led me to believe that whatever my career path, I would eventually become my husband’s mother. If he was offered (gasp!) a second cup of coffee, I was to immediately jump in and admonish the hostess: “Jim never has a second cup at home.” Further, should he actually want that second cup of coffee, I was to be personally offended because I was going to grow up to be a person who was competitive about coffee. Not only do I not feel responsible for how much coffee my husband drinks, if I’m going to someone’s house in the evening, it’s not to drink coffee.
You can see why I was a little overwhelmed by all that womanhood had to offer me — the job, the chores, the neuroses. The lady at the nail salon was going to trick me into soaking my hands in dishwashing liquid. All this was going to be some sort of an improvement because, after all, we’d come a long way, baby.
Now when I watch TV, I think: so what if my kids grow up thinking that birth control is something to sing about while performing synchronized swimming routines? The media’s always thrown a lot at us. Calgon, take me away.
The first meeting of the Mothers Organizing Madness (MOM) union was called to order at 1 p.m. by the self-appointed Interim President and Secretary of MOM. Said individual asked for volunteers to replace her in both capacities.
Preamble to constitution and adoption of bylaws:
We, the members of MOM, realize that the struggle to better our working and living conditions is in vain unless we are united to protect ourselves collectively against our constantly broadening job description.
Though we live separately, we are united by the bond of carrying out the same repetitive tasks, answering the same questions, tracking down the same jerseys and driving the same circular route each day. We agree that an organized union is necessary to defend effectively our interests and improve our working conditions, if not our wages.
1. Membership is restricted to moms and male adults primarily engaged in caring for children who wish to provide a better working environment for all. We acknowledge that we have half the vote, all the minivans and, therefore, a right to certain accommodations.
2. While we each have the same number of hours in the day, we all have different skills at our disposal and different demands put upon us. We acknowledge that each of us is just trying to do our best, and we agree to endeavor to cut each other some slack.
3. Hereby forbidden:
i. Making value judgments about other members with regard to those who are leaning in, leaning out, or just downright lying down. This includes but is not limited to: those who have too much help, those who do not have enough help, those who work though they don’t seem to need the money, and those who work for free. We agree to stop second-guessing each other’s choices so that we may have more time and energy to focus on our own.
ii. Gossiping about children, their intelligence, their deficiencies, or their promiscuity. All members agree to admit that they were once children, too, and that their children are not above reproach. The term “children” is hereby defined as anyone under the age of 25. We collectively acknowledge that this increase in the length of adolescence is at least partially our fault.
iii. Wearing UGG boots with short skirts.
iv. Using qualifying phrases that are meant to mitigate bad behavior including, “I know this sounds like gossip but…” and “I hate to be shallow but…” If we are going to gossip and be shallow, we pledge to own it.
v. The worship of Gwyneth Paltrow. We agree to accept her as a member should she be interested in joining MOM, but denounce her as our Queen. We will no longer be disheartened thinking we are supposed to work full time, raise children, track down the ingredients for her complicated recipes, and do it all while wearing a pair of size two leather pants.
As MOM’s first official act, we shall seek to reclaim the most hallowed of holidays, Mother’s Day. This begins with the ban of all sporting events on said day, including but not limited to soccer, baseball, lacrosse, AAU basketball, the NBA playoffs, and golf in any form, televised or actually played. We stand behind our commitment that these events can be played on Saturday and Monday, just as easily as on Sunday. The Secretary of MOM shared that she was forced to eat her Mother’s Day dinner without the company of her middle son due to the scheduling of 3 (that’s three!) basketball games on Mother’s Day. Let it stand on record that her family does not function effectively without this middle son. Awkward family photo was submitted to the archives as supporting evidence.
MOM is grateful to one mother who has offered to find out if the mothers of Carmelo Anthony and Phil Mickelson may want to join our union and help lead the charge on this important issue.
The Secretary made a motion to adjourn at 2:40 p.m. to allow time to beat the rush to elementary school pick up. As the last order of business, the madness of elementary school pick up was added to New Business for the next meeting.
The Rye Record on June 7, 2013
I just saw my 7-year-old neighbor driving his parents’ car down the street. I did what any thinking, responsible adult would do. I rolled down my window, scrunched up my face, and asked, “What the heck are you doing?”
“I got my driver’s license,” he replied.
“How is that possible?” I was being nice because, after all, little kids are adorable.
“I turned 16½ last week.” Huh? He seemed so confident in that statement that I had a fleeting thought that maybe I was the one who was going crazy.
Sixteen and a half? How is that possible? When I met him he was 7, shooting hoops on the Midland School playground. Sixteen and a half? I sorted through all the facts I knew about this kid: the last time I’d seen him he was running down the court as a member of the varsity basketball team. And, okay, he’s 6’2.” His story was starting to hold water. If he’s right about his age, I thought, then he’s nearly half my age now…
Of course, it was that particular calculation that slapped me into reality, revealing what my mind had been hiding from me: If he’s not 7 anymore, does that mean that I’m not 34 anymore either?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m completely delusional. But 34 feels like the right age for me. When you’re a kid, every year comes with some sort of milestone like turning double digits, staying up later, or being able to see an R-rated movie. This constant change makes the years feel distinct. The only difference between me at 34 and me at 43 is one more child, lots more Christmas ornaments and, of course, the cruel effects of gravity. If I stay away from old photos and glass surfaces, I can easily convince myself that I’m still 34.
Seeing that boy driving that car reminded me of so many similarly shocking moments. Like when you ask your high school friend how her baby sister is, and she tells you that she’s on maternity leave from her job at Sloane Kettering. How is that possible? Or when you’re watching a romantic comedy and realize that you have more in common with the heroine’s parents than with the heroine herself. To be overly specific, it’s the moment you realize that you’re never going to date Ryan Gosling. If I was still 34 (and single, and the recipient of a television makeover), well, sure. But not now; not at 43.
My friend Valerie thinks that everyone has an inner age. It’s the age you’d say if someone woke you up from a dead sleep and asked how old you were. Her inner age is 28, though I don’t think this means that she feels six years younger than I do. I think your inner age is just the age you were when the glue sort of hardened on who you are going to be. When I was 28, I was a mildly micro-managing and hysterical first-time mom. The glue was still sticky. By 34, I’d figured a few things out, and, in my mind’s eye, I am still her — adjusted for my well-earned laugh lines and a truly impressive mortgage.
It’s time for a reality check. If I’m going to acknowledge that the nephew that I used to carry around on my hip is nearly 21 and that my 14-year-old son bangs his clavicle into my forehead every time he hugs me, then I’m going to have to wise up to the fact that I’m getting older too. And I’m okay with it. I’ll just start with 35.
The Rye Record on May 17, 2013
J.K. Rowling wrote, “It is our choices that show who we really are.” This is true not only in what we choose to do, but also in how we choose to react to things over which we have no control. On May 15, 109 moms from Sandy Hook Elementary School came to Rye and brought with them a poignant lesson about the power of personal choice. Their motto was the theme of the day: We Are Sandy Hook, We Choose Love.
Like parents across the country, our town watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut in December. We were overcome by the pain and heartache that had swept over a town just like ours, a town that feels like it’s just up the street. Rye mom Cliona Cronin attended the Rye vigil last year and was moved to wonder what she could possibly offer this community to help them heal. A few days later, while walking along Rye Beach, she had an idea — she would offer them the beach.
Cliona gathered a small group of friends to vet her idea. She would invite the moms of Sandy Hook to Rye Beach to spend a restful day of pampering and friendship. It would serve as a much needed nurturing getaway, just after Mother’s Day. “Is this madness or genius?” she asked her friends. They all agreed that it was genius.
With their enthusiastic support, Cliona approached the PTO at Sandy Hook. She assured them that there would be no publicity, no press, no agenda. Just moms reaching out to one another, and a chance for the Sandy Hook moms to get away. The Sandy Hook community has received thousands of generous offers of support from all over the country, but this one happened to be the first mom-to-mom event. Cliona, her co-chair Jannine Moran, and their growing committee were honored when the invitation was accepted.
After months of planning, over 100 Rye moms clad in We Choose Love T-shirts waited for the Sandy Hook moms under an arch of green and white balloons. Many of us were a bit nervous as the buses pulled up. What would we say? What could we possibly say? But our nerves calmed as the Sandy Hook moms greeted us with hugs and thanks-yous. Some were excited to start a fun day; some were a little overwhelmed. Personally, I was both.
The fact that they came to this event at all is truly extraordinary. As the day unfolded, we learned that many of the mothers had struggled with whether they were comfortable being so far away from their children for the day. For some, it was the first time since December. One mother told me that she keeps the private cell phone number of the school security guard with her so that she can check in during the day if she feels anxious. After all they have faced, it was truly a leap of faith to come spend the day with strangers.
Fresh off the bus, the Sandy Hook moms were matched with Rye mom buddies. We ran off in pairs to sign up for massages, kayaking, and paddle boarding. Some opted for Pilates, yoga, boot camp, and Zumba classes along the beach, while others enjoyed knitting, sewing, art, and bulb planting. A relaxation station was set up on the beach, where those who just wanted to rest could read a magazine and gaze at the Sound. Gerber daisies were available at the shore for anyone who wanted to toss one in as a silent tribute.
What made the day feel intimate was that every last detail was attended to by Rye moms – from the massage therapists to the fitness instructors to those who served food and drinks. The committee even recruited a mom who is a public relations expert to handle any press that might have shown up. This idea of the day being strictly mom-to-mom was part of Cliona’s early vision and created a feeling of warmth and safety even in such a public place.
The two hundred-plus women broke for lunch at midday. Everyone had sweated their nerves away, and all that was left was easy banter and budding friendships. Luncheon and champagne were served at elegantly set tables under the Rye Town Park pavilion, where pink and green paper lanterns hung from the ceiling. Our voices all but drowned out the sound of a string quartet (again, directed by a Rye mom).
With the ice broken and the champagne popped, the conversations that we’d started on the beach continued. We all had so much in common, raising school aged children in the suburbs. We laughed about the mundane details, the dishwasher that always seemed to be full. But the conversation frequently returned to the tragedy, the ways in which the moms felt they were coping and the ways in which they felt they were not. Many said that the extra burden placed on them as mothers had squeezed out any time for self-care and exercise. Some shared details of what their child had experienced that day; others did not. There was a rhythm to the conversations, serious then light, serious then light. It was all welcome.
Lunch was followed by the dedication of a bench in honor of the Sandy Hook families. The dedication was officiated by Rye mom Rev. Andrea Raynor, who reminded us of all of the simple moments enjoyed in that park that we likely take for granted. She expressed hope that this Sandy Hook bench would remind us all to be better friends, better mothers and better human beings. She encouraged the Sandy Hook moms to return to the bench for a rest, reminding them that, “not only will we stand by you, we will sit with you.” It was hard to find a dry eye.
Everyone has a story to tell about the day. I was matched with a woman who is the mother of three, the youngest of whom is a first grader. As we walked to her waiting kayak, she told me that her son lost ten friends that day, including a beloved neighbor. I was uncharacteristically speechless, realizing that sometimes there is actually nothing to be said. Later in the day, she won the raffle and gave me her prize bottle of champagne. “Take it,” she said. “We’ll have this between us.” I thought, this champagne won’t last long at my house, but we are both parents of first graders, now friends, just trying to make sense of the world. We’ll have that between us, too.
The day ended too quickly. As the bus pulled away, we waved goodbye to our new friends with both arms — like little kids. We gathered for a few moments afterwards to debrief and take it all in. Some people shared stories, others cried, maybe just a bit overwhelmed by the grace that permeated the day. Looking out at the Sound behind Cliona, Jannine, and their committee, I had the sense that I was in a sacred place, and that we were at the beginning of something, much more so than at an end.
Since our day at the beach, many of us have been in touch via email and phone. One email from a Sandy Hook mom said, “I hope you know that the warmth and love we received yesterday will ripple out among our families – you have given to all our SHS kids too!” I think that was the idea from the start.
Our keepsake of the event is a quilt that was completed during the day. It will hang in the Rye Free Reading Room, wearing 26 hand-sewn stars and the words, “We Are Sandy Hook, We Choose Love.” Through this quilt, we are left with the gift of the Sandy Hook community’s resilience and wisdom and a reminder that in the face of anything, we have the opportunity to choose love.Rye Record on May 3, 2013
I’ve just returned from the Midland School Fair. I am completely dehydrated, my feet hurt, and I am in possession of one partially mutilated cake that my son won at the cakewalk. My youngest son got his face painted, and I’m watching him casually transfer that paint to all of the upholstered surfaces of my home. If I had 15 percent less sugar in my system, I could get up and wash that face.
All that said I consider it a pretty successful day because I got through the fair without acquiring a goldfish.
I have radar for innocuous things that are going to turn out to be my problem. I can see it in the eyes of the lady who is approaching me with a great idea for a fundraiser; I hear it in the voice of my son who’s asking me for a shoebox for a school project. I knew that my husband’s new juicer was going to be my problem before I got all 19 hand-wash-only pieces out of the box. After a month in my kitchen, a crime lab wouldn’t be able to find a single one of his prints on that thing. That juicer is my problem. The school fair goldfish is no different.
I cringed as I watched other people’s goldfish acquisitions replay themselves in front of me all day: the elated child running up to his parent, “I won a goldfish!” The word “won” is a bit of a stretch. For the price of one punch on your fair card you get a chance to scoop a balloon out of a kiddy pool. If you get it, you get a fish. If you don’t get it, you get a fish. This partially plays into our culture of sending everyone home a winner, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that whoever is in charge of the goldfish station doesn’t want to be schlepping 600 goldfish home at the end of the day. That’s really an inordinate amount of flushing.
The parents groan. They know that this little goldfish brings with it a teaching moment on the circle of life. And that moment’s coming soon because that plastic bag prisoner is probably going to be floating by cocktail hour. But they smile and congratulate their child, agreeing to carry that little bag around for the rest of the day. We lock eyes as we pass, nodding our condolences with a sarcastic, “Oh I see your daughter won a fish too!” Echoes of “dead fish swimming” fill the halls.
If you don’t have a floater in your baggie by the end of the fair, you’ve won a fish that lives for multiple years. (I have heard no stories of fair fish that live a few months; it’s either hours or years.) This hearty fish is the one that becomes my problem, and I’ve had plenty. This fish survives any amount of neglect, extreme temperatures, and an extended family vacation. This is the fish that lives long enough to actually finish the container of fish food that we bought on the way home from our first fair.
Of all the thankless things mothers take on, I think the weekly cleaning of the goldfish bowl takes the prize. The fundraiser raises money and the juicer keeps my husband healthy, but I get nothing back from that fish. He doesn’t wag his fin at me when I walk in the house. He doesn’t know any tricks at all. I just watch as he circles the bowl with that impassive (and maybe insincere) kissy face. To be honest, I even get a little bored watching people swim.
Yes, my kids hit the cupcake room more times than I care to count and “won” multiple Woopie Cushions today, but they somehow missed the fish station. My fishbowl is still safely packed away, so I’ve had a very successful day at the fair.
There are a few things in life that I am absolutely sure of: The earth is roundish, the sun rises every day, and I wear a size seven shoe. I am so sure of this last fact that I often buy shoes online or buy unreturnable sale shoes without even trying them on. I am a seven in every brand of shoe from Target to Louboutin. Of this I am sure.
So when I walked into a store I’ll call Local Running Store (I won’t use their real name, I’m not a hater) and asked, “May I please have these shoes in a seven?” I thought things would be pretty simple.
“Would you please take off your boots and run on our treadmill so that we can analyze your gait?” asked an earnest young woman. My what?
Why in the world would I get on a treadmill when I didn’t have to? “No, I’m not going to do that. But may I please have these shoes in a seven?” What she didn’t know is that I wasn’t even planning to try the shoes on, much less subject myself to a medical exam.
“I can’t sell you a pair of shoes without checking your gait.” Again, my what?
“There’s nothing you can do to get me on that treadmill.”
She consulted with her male colleague for maybe three minutes on the subject and returned asking me to just walk to the entrance of the store and back so they could see my walking gait. I obliged, awkwardly, ignoring the voice in my head that was shouting, “Keep walking! Go toward the light!”
When I returned to them, they talked for a while and concluded that, in fact, my gait was normal. “So may I please have these shoes in a seven?”
I felt like I’d accomplished something when she agreed to go downstairs and get the shoes. She returned with two boxes, “I thought I’d have you try the seven and a half because you seem like more of a seven and a half.”
Now I had the giggles. I seem like a seven and a half? How does one give off the vibe of a shoe size? I could see how she might think that I seemed like a person who might be losing her patience, but a seven and a half? How can you seem like that?
Again she discussed it with her colleague and they agreed that I, in fact, seemed more like a seven and a half. I grabbed the box with that heavenly little 7 in the lower right hand corner and began to try on the shoes to prove myself right.
And, guess what? They fit perfectly! I felt terrific!
The salespeople shook their heads. “Those are too small.”
“They feel great.”
“We’ve had extensive training.” The young woman really said that.
And I didn’t want to insult her extensive training. I know what it’s like to have extensive training and have people still think you don’t know what you’re talking about. I was starting to understand that my desire to just grab a pair of shoes and leave was an insult to her education. So I tried on the size seven and a half shoes to be nice.
“They’re too big,” I apologized. I wondered if they’d had to pay for all this training.
And then something happened that I’m really not proud of. It’s the part that makes me pretty sure I might be an idiot. I sat on the little shoe-trying-on bench and I listened to the two of them, in tandem, explain to me why that big pair of shoes really fit. They used shoe jargon and running lingo. And they were so darn sure of themselves. I’d seen Hari Krishnas with less conviction. I thought: maybe the earth is flat. I bought those size seven and a half clown shoes and left.
This morning I took them out for a spin. I have a pretty good blister working on the back of my heel from where my foot slides in and out of the shoe when I run. I’m still asking, “May I please have these shoes in a seven?”The Rye Record on April 5, 2013
There are many baffling questions we ask again and again, hoping that maybe in the afterlife their answers will be revealed to us. Why are we here? Why can’t time fly when we’re not having fun? Where did my waist go? And, of course, there is the eternal question of the missing socks. Where, oh where, do they go? Well somebody ring a bell, because I have the answer: They’re all at my house.
There was a time when socks in my house were found in a sock drawer, in a hamper, or on a pair of feet. Then I had children. There are now socks in every corner of my house. They are under couches, mixed in with toys, and hanging off the fireplace grate. They are strewn on the stairs, as if someone was running from a burning house and had to strip off their socks in order to speed their escape.
I recently said to my reclining children, “I’m going to clean up this room, and I’m going to charge you a dollar for every sock I find.” They replied in unison: “Nyeh.” Nyeh is a response I get a lot. I believe it means, “Whatever you want Mom, but could you please zip it while SpongeBob’s talking?” So I began to collect socks, counting out loud as I went. I made $18 that day.
When I’ve collected and washed them all, they amount to a staggering pile of needing-to-be-matched socks. We are a family of ten feet. I, for one, go through no more than one pair a day, mainly on principle. My husband ranges between one and two. But the others — they don’t exercise such self-control. It seems they need different socks for every activity, and if they make a sock-footed trip outside, they need a fresh pair upon their return. My kids take many sock-footed trips outside each day.
It is not difficult to personify the sock pile. Mine actually has a pulse. It is a living, breathing, growing entity capable of doing anything but matching its own kind. Each week, the Nike and Under Armour socks seem to be breeding and spawning a new race of socks that I have never seen before. There are argyle socks, Adidas socks, and even pink socks in my pile. What could be going on in there?
Which brings me to my big news: your missing socks are at my house. The trampoline is primarily to blame. Every child that comes to my house takes off his shoes and runs out to the trampoline in sock feet. The mud immediately renders those socks squishy, and they are discarded like confetti all over my backyard. It’s actually quite whimsical the way they dangle from the shrubs. The child leaves with just his shoes, deciding he would rather ride bareback than touch those muddy socks again. In this way, my sock inventory has risen by two every day for eight years.
The good news is that I don’t buy socks anymore. The sock supply happily replenishes itself. But the sorting of the socks can be soul-crushing. I imagine my parents sending me off to college and hoping that my life would amount to some higher purpose than this. The black dress socks in particular could make you go blind, holding them up to divine each mate. Some have gold toes, some have wider ribs, some are longer than others. Each time, I wonder: who would ever know if my husband’s socks did not match? Who would even know if he was wearing rainbow tube socks under his suit?
Like Cinderella, I dream of a way out. I dream of a day when I take one (maybe several) large garbage bags and throw out every single sock in my house. Then I go to the mythical Sock Emporium and buy multiple pairs of identical socks for each member of my family. There would be no matching — just five baskets of a single type of sock each. Freedom! Like Cinderella, I do not act. I’m waiting for someone to rescue me.
In the meantime, if you want your socks back, you can come get them. But be warned: they could be anywhere.
The Rye Record on March 15, 2013
Is there anything more awkward than the parent-teacher conference? It embodies all the stress and apprehension of a performance review with the added discomfort of being perched on a teeny tiny chair. Like most moms, I’ve squirmed in my fair share of these chairs, waiting to hear the verdict on how my kids are turning out. Any of my kids’ teachers can tell you that I become a nervous, babbling, over-explaining version of myself. It’s not pretty.
I suspect that my conference anxiety is a throwback to my own elementary school days. My mother was told twice a year, in no uncertain terms, that I was not living up to my potential (really, who is), and that I talked too much in class (hello, I’m female). As with most things, she had a good sense of humor about it, but I took it to heart. As an adult, I am still longing for a few words of affirmation from a teacher.
An outsider might remark that my son’s conference isn’t really about me; that it’s about him. Well, I’ve seen enough slander come home in his backpack to know better. All year, he’s been bringing home writing assignments that could have been penned by Kitty Kelley. They are exposes about what really goes on inside our house. He writes about how his brother got stuck in the bathroom at Thanksgiving, which inappropriate video games he likes best, and how his mom serves frozen taquitos for dinner. Woefully absent from his memoirs are the jigsaw puzzle we just slogged through, the fact that I remembered to sign him up for soccer, and his up-to-date immunization record. I’m a little defensive about whether his teacher thinks I’m living up to my potential.
These conferences only last twenty minutes, and they’re usually running a bit late. I sit outside the classroom, waiting and fidgeting myself into a panic. My kid’s doing fine in school, I’m not really worried that the teacher’s going to give me some unwanted diagnosis. But I dread a line like, “Tell me, is there something going on at home?” What isn’t going on at home? We live in loosely controlled chaos — the love child of over-scheduling and sink-or-swim parenting. I want her to tell me that I’m doing a good (enough) job, and that my boy seems to feel confident and loved. I couldn’t care less how well he’s learning to read. That’s her job, not mine.
I sit in my tiny waiting chair, suddenly aware of my hugeness and wondering at my choice of clothing. Did I make enough of an effort? Or, worse, did I make too much of an effort? Is she going to think I’m a person who spends the whole day blowing her hair dry rather than preparing healthy snacks for the afternoon? Is that why my children are eating frozen taquitos? I decide to wipe off my lipstick and pull my hair into a Good Mom Ponytail.
When I’m called in, I say hello and shake her hand. I have no idea why I’m being so formal, as I see her every single day at pick-up. But here we are alone, with nineteen minutes ahead of us to engage in the school district’s version of speed dating. Her objective is to tell me how my son’s doing in school. My objective is to keep my mouth shut long enough to let her meet her objective. The keeping my mouth shut part proves to be a challenge.
She starts with his progress in reading and nicely comments that she imagines I read to him a lot at home. I could simply nod, but apparently I need to elaborate. I start to explain how I read much more to my older kids when they were little, but now with all the driving to sports in the evenings it’s hard to fit the reading in. I explain how my three sons play in several leagues and how we don’t always all eat dinner together. I cannot stop talking and am on the verge of confessing to sloth and occasional impure thoughts when I catch her glancing at the clock over my shoulder. I conclude with, “Yes, I read to him.” There are now only ten minutes left.
He knows his math facts, whatever that means. I offer, “We do a lot of math at home.” Now I’m just plain lying, and she knows it. No one does a lot of math at home. The only math we do sounds like “If you don’t get your shoes on by the time I count to five…” But I hold her gaze because I desperately want her to forget about the frozen taquitos.
Our conference goes five minutes over, and I find the next nervous parent sitting in the hall in the tiny chair. Behind me, the teacher is scribbling in my son’s Permanent Record, probably something about how his mom talks too much in class.
As published in The Rye Record on March 1, 2013
I had a pretty productive stay-cation over February break. I cleaned out three closets, gained two pounds, and rekindled my love affair with Legos. My 6-year-old pulled out that beautiful old box of colorful bricks, and I heard Peaches and Herb singing “Reunited.” It really does feel so good.
When I was a kid, Legos were pretty much the only things I played with. I could sit for hours and build utopian cities out of these plastic cubes, running my thumb along the sharp edges as I planned where to put the next piece. It was the kind of play that they now give a name because it’s so rare. They call it “flow,” because you are so deeply involved in the creative process that you are unaware of time passing.
I can attribute a big chunk of my adult skill set to the hours I logged with my Legos. At an early age I knew that three was a multiple of 12, mainly because you need three of those little four-top cubes to cover a longer brick of 12. Legos taught me about spatial relations and balance and patience. The best way to learn how to honor every step in a process is to have one poorly affixed brick at the bottom of your tower. You learn pretty quickly to take the time to go back and repair something if you want it to last.
As a kid, building with Legos was what writing is to me today. It is the process of making something out of nothing, something that only you would have thought of. Of course, the Lego bricks and the words already existed, but not the way you put them together. The creation sometimes works and it sometimes crumbles. If it doesn’t work, you tear it down and start again. Eventually, you learn that what you made doesn’t matter as much as the joy you felt in the process of making it. I can think of few things as satisfying.
You would think that this love affair with Legos would have been burning strong over these past 14 years that I have been raising boys. A younger me would have imagined motherhood taking place in an environment that looked more like Legoland than an actual home. But Legos and I had a falling out when my first child was 5. All he wanted for his birthday was the coveted Spiderman Lego set. I was emotional as I bought it, anxious to see his childhood unfold in front of him as he started to play. But when he opened it, out of the box poured all these tiny pieces, specific only to Spiderman. There were webs and hooks and lampposts. There were also a few of the familiar building bricks, but certainly not enough to build a house.
As if to deliver the final blow, my son handed me the directions. Directions?! For Legos?! I was horrified. You might as well have handed Van Gogh a paint-by-numbers set. Why not take Lady Gaga to Party City to buy a Halloween costume? There were 32 carefully outlined steps for my son to follow to create Spidey’s web lair. When he got to step 17, I was despondent. My son wasn’t being trained to think and create. He was being trained to work on an assembly line. From then on, I turned my nose up at Legos the way my mother turned her nose up at store-bought cookies.
Conventional wisdom is that the next economic boom will be fueled by the kind of innovation that comes from thinking outside the box. Some big idea, bigger than the iPhone even, will spur job growth and exports and tax revenue. We are looking to the younger generations, the ones who know how to design websites and upload to YouTube, to create something new. We’ve got to get the directions out of the Lego box.
The discovery of those old Legos made our week. My 6-year-old built a house that was too wide to put a roof on; he built a car that was too big to fit in his garage. He got frustrated and then he started again. He built a basketball court with a trampoline next to it so that it would be easier for little kids to dunk. He put a chair nearby so that old people could sit and watch.
I want to live in a world where little kids can dunk and old people have a place to sit. There are Legos all over my house again, and all is right with the world.
The Rye Record on February 10, 2013
Last weekend I met a high school basketball coach who told me, “We are not here to help your kids win. We are here to help them grow up.” I tensed the muscles in my arms to keep me from throwing them around this man. How did he get so wise? What if he had been around to coach a young Lance Armstrong? From what I’ve learned from the constant loop of Armstrong news on ESPN, the guy’s done enough winning. Maybe it’s time to grow up.
Before I lose you, because I too am sick of Lance’s story, I just want to ask why? Why would a person go to such lengths to keep up the charade of winning? I wonder if his problem is that he never learned how to lose. Losing isn’t really that big of a deal if you’ve done it a few times. I’ve had so much experience with losing that I could teach a seminar. There’s the initial disappointment, the chorus of “it’s not fair” and then the regrouping. You look around and see that the world is still spinning, that you are still the same person you were before the game. And you move on. But to someone who has never dismounted a bike without a trophy in his hand, losing might seem like the end of the world. It almost makes me feel bad for the guy.
It’s no secret that we live in a winning-obsessed culture. I recently saw a grown man at a basketball game jump into the air like an Alabama cheerleader when a child on the opposing team was injured on the court. He is an otherwise perfectly normal man, but the children watching heard the message loud and clear: winning is everything.
At the writing of this article, my 11-year-old son’s basketball team is undefeated. I’m not sure how he feels about it, but to me it seems like a lot of pressure. I just want to get the big loss out of the way so that we can move on with our lives. When you are undefeated, losing becomes something bigger than itself; it’s not just the loss of the game, it’s the loss of perfection.
We like to see our kids happy, and we do everything in our power to keep them winning and succeeding. We stop short of giving them steroids, but we hire tutors, check their homework, and write their papers. Someday they are going to leave and get jobs and have to manage things on their own. I wonder if a little losing might help soften the transition from school to life. Going into the playoffs undefeated is a lot of pressure. Going into life undefeated is probably terrifying.
If you want your kids to have a little experience in losing, try some games you can only win after losing a few times. One of my favorites is “The Morning Game.” The object is to get out of the house with all of the stuff you will need for the next six hours. If you forget your lunch-homework-library book, you lose. As a consolation prize, you learn life skills such as begging for a half-sandwich, making up excuses, and negotiating with the librarian. The player is disqualified from this game the instant his mother arrives at school with his forgotten items. The player who wins five days in a row has mastered a game that he will be playing every single day for the rest of his life.
Another good one’s called “Where Are My Cleats?” It involves two players, the younger of whom is looking for his or her cleats. The older player knows where they are (having previously lost the game called “Who’s Gonna Clean Up This House Every Day?”), but pretends not to. The older player keeps asking, “I don’t know, where do you keep them?” until the younger player finds them and decides that having a dedicated spot for the cleats would be a good idea. Both players will lose during the first few rounds, being late for practice and managing the crankiness of the other. But in the end, both will win. It’s a hoot!
There’s a part of me that wants to turn my kids into serious losers. The kind that knows how to say, “Sorry I’m late” and “Sorry, I forgot.” The kind that has to run extra laps, and leave the library without a new book. Medical science has proven that it’s impossible to die from such losses, but be warned — side effects may include dizziness, nausea, and growing up.
As published in The Rye Record, January 27, 2013
Boy, do I need a vacation. I’m actually on my way to a four-day weekend with my husband, no kids. My normal life doesn’t really generate enough stress to warrant a getaway like this, but the amount of work and planning necessary to leave my boys with a sitter for four days has wiped me out.
It’s not like I’m leaving them with someone unqualified. I’m leaving them in the care of a tag-team babysitting trio of siblings, maybe Super Siblings, the kind that might have been assembled at the Hall of Justice. They arrive in their glory (no capes): a teacher, a nurse, and a genius! If my kids need help with algebra, or have a weird rash, or want to turn our toaster oven into a robot, they’re covered. I am so overstaffed by these three, who are innately more qualified to deal with my kids than I am, that I really should have nothing to prepare. All I should have to do is photocopy my calendar so they know who needs to be where, when. So why did I spend a week compiling a six-page (single-spaced) instruction booklet before I left town? Because my job is much more complicated than it appears.
Mothering is not brain surgery — there are actually schools that you can go to that will teach you how to perform brain surgery. For mothering, all we’ve got is the school of hard knocks. You can apprentice for the job if you have younger siblings, babysit, or watch TV, but it still isn’t enough. Even if you know everything there is to know about diapering, discipline, and dioramas, you may still be totally unprepared for parenthood. What you have to learn, the hard way, is how to parent your particular brood. It’s a sticky, three-dimensional art project, not a science. After 14 years of on-the-job training, I have a lot figured out. And it has very little to do with what’s on my calendar.
You start small in this job, usually with just one child who eats and sleeps. After a few months, you get brave enough to throw in Gymboree on Thursday mornings at 9:30. It’s a big deal. My husband used to say with a mix of pity and envy in his voice, “So what have you two got going on for this week?” I’d reply, as if I was Secretary of State, “Well, you know we have Gymboree on Thursday. Nine-thirty.” What I didn’t tell him is that I was secretly concerned about getting there at all, what with naps, the unpredictable weather and such.
Then you have another baby and you honestly don’t know how you’ll ever get out of the house, get them both bathed, make dinner. But slowly you learn. You get stronger — savvy even — as you gain confidence that maybe you can do this. You know better than to rely on one pacifier. You move your jewelry to someplace where they won’t be likely to grab it, lick it and toss it in the trash. And, as you learn, your brain starts to loosen up. You let go of your expectations of perfection and make room for lots of other information. Thursday is no longer Gymboree day. Thursday is: recycling (remind Kid 1), basketball for Kid 2, library day for Kid 3, and your last chance to feed Kids 1-3 protein before the Friday pizza bender.
My six-page tome to the Super Sitters includes the calendar, of course, but has so much additional information that I worry they are going to laugh at me. But I offer it anyway, because I can’t send them in cold: When you leave for the tutor, take the baseball stuff with you because if you go back home to get it, everyone will take their shoes off and you’ll never get them back in the car. Speaking of shoes, Kid 3 has a tendency to take his shoes off in the car and tuck them out of sight under the driver’s seat. So, before you make yourself crazy (and late) looking under couches for his shoes, look in the car. Kid 2 will text you right as you are coming to pick him up from school on Friday to ask if he can go to Jack’s house. So don’t rush to pick up, it’s a waste of time. No matter how lucid Kid 1 seems when you wake him up in the morning, he’s going to fall back asleep the second you leave his room. Check back ten minutes later.
It takes time to season a mom. A seasoned mom doesn’t react strongly to dirty hands or lost socks anymore. She has her radar up for big stuff and stays in touch with the even more seasoned moms so she can brace for what’s coming. She avoids conversations that involve gossip about children, because she’s learned that her kids aren’t perfect either. She’s got a lot in her head and knows in her heart what pitfalls may be ahead for each child. She knows because she’s been at this awhile.
As I board the plane, I get an email about a birthday party I’d forgotten and (what?!) noon dismissal on Monday. I text the Super Sitters an amendment to the aforementioned document. I have to shut off my phone before I realize that I actually forgot to tell them about the shoes being hidden under the driver’s seat. Oh well, they’ll figure it out.
The Rye Record on January 12, 2013
The other night, I was driving up to my house and saw a man unloading garbage from his car into the dumpster at the construction site next door. Is this a crime? Probably. Am I the Sheriff? No. He turned his head away from my headlights so that I couldn’t I.D. him in a line up, just in case. What he didn’t know is that, at 15 miles per hour, I had a chance to read his entire biography on the back of his car.
The only reason I slowed down to look at the back of his car is that I have an unusual interest in bumper stickers. You could almost call it a hobby. I have a collection of about 50 great ones, all which I find hilarious and none of which are on my car. I’m generally fascinated about how much information people post about themselves on their rear windows. They are mostly for fun (Life is Good!), or for bragging (insert fabulous vacation destination here), but if you’re going to be on the wrong side of the law you should really be careful. I don’t have access to technology that would let me run his plates, Cagney and Lacey style, but here’s the data I gathered in 12 seconds:
His oval RYE sticker identifies him as one of approximately 7,500 males that currently live in Rye, New York. Another sticker told me where his kids go to school, narrowing my search down to 300 dads. The soccer ball on the gas cap eliminated no one, but the sticker advertising specifically which travel soccer team his child played for narrowed the choices down to 12 dads. Now I’m not that interested, but I’m pretty sure that with one phone call I could figure out which of those 12 dads drives a minivan and is affiliated with that impressive eastern university. Gotcha!
The only way he could have made this easier on me is if he had the stick figure family bumper sticker. That thing might as well include your Social Security number and your blood type. I’ve spent a lot of time in traffic marveling at the choices that the driver in front of me has made to identify her family. I’ve even been on the stick figure website to look through the choices, so I know what she’s been through. They replicate your family in a very specific line drawing that you’ve compiled from 3,000 variations. I’m not sure that genetics even gives us that many possible options.
You start by choosing the size and shape of your body and the exact cut of your hair. They want to know if I have straight hair or straight hair with layers. The distinction eludes me so I go on to choose a personal interest for each of us. At this point in the ordering process, I imagine most people just log out. I mean this is a bumper sticker and here I am asking myself existential questions about who I really am. I have a lot of interests. Am I supposed to pigeonhole myself with one and then paste it on my car? I am more complex than that triangular lady with the shopping bag! I like cooking, but not for children; I like the Wall Street Journal, but only on Saturday; I like sports, but only as a spectator and only if it’s not too cold or wet outside. I like bumper stickers, reality TV, and ironing. There are no icons for that person. I’m at once annoyed and delighted that I’m not among the choices for “adult female” on this website.
As I start to design my husband, I’m generous with the amount of hair I place on his head. I can make him a golfer, a guy with a lawnmower, or a businessman, but none of those get to his essence. His likeness would include all of those things, plus a clicker and a martini glass. And he’s only got two hands. I give up at this point, wondering again why I would want the person in the car behind me to know how my husband spends his time.
Bottom line: if you have a tendency to do anything that could be described as surreptitious, you should probably keep identifying markers off your car. Last spring, there were a couple of teenagers that liked to park in front of my house for a smoke before school. They drove a very popular car but with two distinct bumper stickers on the back. If I were so inclined, I could identify them faster than you can say, “Cheech and Chong didn’t finish high school.”
I only have one bumper sticker on my car: Peace is Possible. I’ve chosen this one because I think peace actually is possible and because I believe the message limits the amount of honking and gesturing on the part of the driver behind me when I’ve forgotten to yield at the traffic circle. And if I were ever to be spotted on the wrong side of the law, the witness would have nothing to go on. “I didn’t get her plates, Officer, but she seems to have an optimistic outlook about the future of mankind.” They’ll never find me.The Rye Record on December 16, 2012
Dear Mr. Bernanke,
First of all, I’m sorry to butt in. I know you’re really busy trying to figure out how to massage the economy back to life. There is no amount of money that you could pay me to do your job. But I was thinking about how I could use a little help around the house these days and how even Santa has elves. So, in the spirit of the season, I thought maybe I could offer you a hand. I know you have endless organizations out there tracking non-farm payrolls and sniffing out inflation and whatnot, but I thought I’d give you a fly-on-the-wall view of what’s happening in my town.
I live in a small town outside of New York City. We’ve got one or two Wall Street types among us. OK, to be honest, you can’t throw a snowball around here without hitting a One Percenter. True story: Back in the spring of 2007, I was at a party and listened to a woman recount the mishaps of her family’s trip home from the Caribbean. She said these words: “It was awful! I’m never flying commercial with my children again!” I know. I should have called you then. Those words signaled a turning point, the beginning of the end.
That was the beginning of the Great Financial Enema of 2008. I’m sure you remember it. People in my town hunkered down. One friend’s husband famously admonished her, “If you can’t eat it, don’t buy it.” And that mentality has gripped many of us for years. I waver between buying the organic chicken that costs $2 more per pound and the equally friendly-looking hormone-infused chicken. I even file my own nails. But I’m writing to report that I see some green shoots around here. I’m not saying it’s 2006 again. Or even the misguided months of late 2007. But I am saying there are a few data points that your guys might have missed.
Babysitters are now making between $15 and $20 per hour. And I don’t mean the kind of babysitters that drive and know CPR. Or even the kind that throw away the pizza box after dinner. I just mean a teen-ager who is there to watch TV with your kids so that you can say someone was there watching them. I recently had a babysitter tell me that she charges $17 per hour. (Who wants to come home after a night out and multiply 17 times 6?) That compares to my salary at Goldman Sachs in 1991 of $26,000 per year, which works out to $8.33 per hour for a 60-hour week. Pre-tax.
My street has been under construction for three years straight. The day they finished construction to my right, they broke ground to my left. I know it’s eight o’clock every morning because of the beep, beep, beep of a truck in reverse. Some might find this annoying, but to me a jackhammer is like the sound of a cash register ringing. It’s the sound of progress, industry, and prosperity. I’ll send you an audio recording separately, you’ll love it!
There has been a measurable uptick in the quantity and quality of holiday cards I’ve received this year. People are using a higher quality paper stock and maybe even attaching the separate glossy photo. Many are once again springing for the envelope liner ($135 extra per 200 cards) and the printed return address ($50). But not the large grosgrain bow that costs a bundle and requires extra postage. Again, this is not 2006.
I have been invited to SIX holiday parties this year. That is two more than the total number of holiday parties I have been invited to for the past four years (I could graph this if it helps). I think we can take this to mean that people are starting to feel better, that they don’t mind springing for a caterer with passed hors d’oeuvres. Or at least they are feeling more open to drinking in the company of others. Of course, I haven’t been to any of these parties yet, but if there’s shrimp I’ll let you know ASAP. Everyone knows shrimp is a bull market indicator. If prosperity sounds like a jackhammer, it tastes like cocktail sauce.
Durable Goods Orders
My husband has asked me what I’d like for Christmas this year. The comparison is subtle, but for the past four years he has worded his question: “You don’t want anything for Christmas this year, do you?” I’m still stunned by this new wording, and this year, I’m actually going to take him up on it. I would like a gift — a real gift, the kind that comes in a box too small to contain slippers.
I hope this was helpful. Feel free to share with Treasury Secretary Geithner or the Prez. I’ll keep my ear to the ground around here, and you just keep doing what you’re doing.
And no need to thank me. I’m happy to help.
As published in The Rye Record on November 30, 2012
The daydream is always the same: It’s December 1st and I gently toss my holiday shopping list into the recycling bin. I’d planned ahead, you see, taking advantage of the November lull. I’d walked the quiet malls, collecting thoughtful gifts for everyone on my list. I even found someone to answer my questions at Toys“R”Us. They had no choice, as I was the only one in the store. Then I brought my parcels home and wrapped them with carefully selected holiday paper. I had done it all. Before December 1st. There is nothing left to do but enjoy the holiday season.
The dream may come across with more detail than you’d expect. That’s because I did this once before. Back in 1999 when I had one child, no job, and a babysitter, I finished all of my holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. That year, I reveled in Christmas. I baked cookies that were shaped like seasonal things. I made gingerbread and took my son to see “A Christmas Carol”. My holiday cards contained handwritten notes and were mailed on December 1st. Those cards landed in mailboxes all over the country, horrifying my friends with the news that the season had begun and that I was maybe a little too on top of my game.
You should know that in December of 1999, I was the most annoying person in the world. My sister would call, harried, and ask, “What are you doing?” I’d reply sleepily, “Reading.” Honestly, who reads during the month of December? Now that I have three kids, two jobs, and zero babysitters, I want to smack that show-offy early achiever senseless. Christmas is something that sneaks up on me like a gray hair. I know it’s coming, but I’m never, ever going to be ready for it.
I have approximately 20 people that I buy gifts for. They are not obligations; these are people that mean everything to me and to whom I would like to give the most heartfelt, treasured gifts of their lives. I want to give them something that shows them how deeply I know them and how carefully I’ve thought about their interests. Instead I find myself running through the mall, throwing stuff on the cashier’s counter, and barking, “What’s this thing for? Never mind. If it comes with free gift wrap, I’ll take it.”
The Christmas season feels like a stick of dynamite, with a 25-day fuse. And that fuse doesn’t stop burning because you have two holiday concerts, one Multicultural Celebration, and a cookie exchange to slog through. At Christmas, time is money, and we’re all on a budget.
But here’s what’s interesting: I feel like retailers are starting to bend toward the needs of the procrastinators. For example, last year I tried to get a head start on my shopping and bought my sister a sweater for $129 on December 3. On December 5, I got an email from the store announcing that all sweaters were 15% off. That’s annoying, but what are you going to do? It’s $19.35 that I wasted by getting my shopping done early. Hey, I’d probably save that much by shipping the gift to her by normal mail rather than FedEx. On December 11, when I received the email that all sweaters were now 20% off, I checked to see if the one I’d bought her was still available. Gray, size small: Still available. I’d wasted almost $26, but I’d already been to the post office to mail it. I’d chosen super snail mail and had paid $5.25 to ship the sweater. Using emotional math, I told myself I’d probably come out ahead.
By December 18, they were offering this same sweater for 40% off. What’s wrong with this sweater, I started to wonder? It was too late to do anything about it, but I’d wasted $51.60 and found myself driving by the Post Office to assure myself that there were nightmarishly long lines there. On December 20, they were still offering 40% off, but threw in free giftwrap and shipping, Christmas delivery guaranteed. I was out nearly $57 and an unnecessary trip to the Post Office. Ah, the irony!
This year, I’ve learned my lesson. The retailers have spoken, and I am going to do it their way. From December 1 through 20, I am going to do nothing but bake cookies, light fires, and listen to kids sing carols in church. I’m going to remember to do the Advent calendar and pay my respects to the Rockettes. I’m going to make a popcorn garland and maybe pick up a copy of Good Housekeeping to see what sorts of holiday crafts those kinds of people are making.
And on December 21, I’m going to buy a bunch of stuff on sale and ship it for free. It may sound a little risky — retailers could change the rules on me in an instant. But if I find myself without Christmas gifts on December 21, 2012, is it really the end of the world? Oh, wait…
The Rye Record on November 17, 2012
I’m starting to really rethink this whole monogamy thing. It sounds kind of racy, and no I haven’t met anyone, but in the aftermath of the Hurricane Sandy nightmare, I find myself in possession of sister wives. And I’m not sure I’m willing to go back to the way things were.
I live in a very male household. It’s my husband and three sons and me. The only pink item in our house is a breast cancer awareness pepper grinder. We do not have a single Barbie doll or set of fairy wings. No one notices my clothing or the slightly lighter tint of my hair. No one’s interested in my grandmother’s tea set. If we’re talking, it’s about the Knicks, the Spurs, the Giants and the Steelers. Not one of us knows how to apply mascara properly.
So when my power went out and then was miraculously restored on the 9th day, I had two friends (now sister wives) come stay at my house with their families. In the first few hours we circled the island in my kitchen, not knowing who the top hen was or where we all stood in the pecking order. We didn’t want to step on each other’s toes or be bossy about how things got done. It was my coop after all, and I think they were waiting to see how I operated.
Then one of the sister wives mentioned that she had a lovely chicken dish that she liked to make, and asked if we would be interested in having that for dinner. Gasp! Sigh! Swoon! That was pretty much it for me. I wouldn’t have cared if she was scolding my children or flirting with my husband. The woman came up with something to make for dinner. And then (please remain seated) she left for the supermarket to get the ingredients.
At three o’clock the normal bedlam kicked in, times three. The kids were home, excited to see their new siblings and scurried off to play. The sister wives and I tag-teamed on laundry, took turns driving kids to sporting events and caught up in a slow, meandering way that I didn’t know how much I missed.
I grew up in a household of women. For much of my childhood it was my mom, my sister and me. We had a lot of conversation. We could rehash a dinner party, a sideways glance, or the neckline of a dress for hours. Women talk about an event and how they felt about it. And then we like to go back and describe how our feelings about said event have evolved over time. It’s what we think of as conversation, and this may be why men avoid conversation with women with such determination.
In a house full of boys, there isn’t this sense of rehashing, or just conversation for its own sake. Boys use words to convey information or to make requests. “I’m hungry” or “can you drive me to basketball?” are staples. My boys don’t start conversations with, “You know what I was thinking about today?” or “Do you think my hair would look better if…” It’s baffling.
The sister wives and I drank tea until teatime turned into cocktail hour. We made dinner. We fed the children and the menfolk as they rolled in, one by one. We wondered to each other which of the husbands we’d choose to keep if we really were to become sister wives. This made for a hilarious assessment of all of our husbands’ good and bad qualities. There was a pretty good case for keeping each of them. And we laid out their worst flaws for comparison: 1. makes too many lists, 2. doesn’t know where anything is, 3. works from home.
One of them got her power back last night, and I’m afraid the other might get hers back soon. Life’s going to get back to normal and the testosterone imbalance will be restored. I’m hoping they’ll come back, even when they don’t have to, with tea and wine and suggestions about what to make for dinner.
The Rye Record on October 19, 2012
When people talk about their “guilty pleasures” I’m usually a little underwhelmed. They just seem like regular pleasures to me. They confess to eating two squares of dark chocolate in the evening. Or reading People magazine in the doctor’s office. I buy the 4-pound bag of peanut M&Ms at Costco. And I know the first and last name of the most recent “Bachelorette”. Pleasures, sure. Guilty, not so much.
My actual guilty pleasure is a doozey. It truly makes me feel like less of a person, as if some part of my soul has been chipped away. I’ve seen the bottom of more than one bag of M&Ms, and it has never made me feel this bad. You see, I watch “Hoarders”. I like to get in bed and watch mentally ill people struggle with their dirty houses on television. It feels cathartic even talking about it, and I admit it is the most despicable show on television (unless you are counting “Toddlers & Tiaras”, which I am not emotionally prepared to discuss at this time).
For those of you who value your time enough to have missed this show, “Hoarders” is a reality-style show where mental health and public safety professionals go into hoarders’ homes and clear out decades of newspapers, clothing, and soiled diapers, just to name a few items. The hoarders have amassed piles of stuff so high that they navigate their homes through narrow pathways. They face the threat of having their children taken away from them, because they have cats and other animals burrowing in piles of old pizza boxes. I’m telling you, it’s not for the faint of heart.
The guilty part is pretty obvious. The pleasure? Well, watching “Hoarders” makes me feel tidy. I look over at the perma-stack of clothes on the chair by my bed and shrug, “things could be worse.”
After the fleeting rush of having briefly and with great delusion aligned myself with the tidy people of the world, “Hoarders” always makes me think about the fine line between sanity and insanity. These people are not deemed insane simply because they amass large amounts of stuff. People who hoard money are praised as savers. People who hoard those little spoons from different countries and hang them on special spoon racks are considered collectors. People who hoard people are networkers. The thing that makes the hoarders insane is that the things they are hoarding have no value or use to them at the present time, but they have a true fear that they may need them in the future.
Hoarders seem to play a lot of “what if.” What if they run out of bleach and need the coupon that is buried deep in that old newspaper? What if videos are once again produced for the Betamax? What if I decide to start canning and need hundreds of glass jars? In this sense, I think that we all may have a little hoarder in us, just in more subtle ways.
Just to be clear, I am not a hoarder. When my kids bring colorful drawings home from school I immediately file them in a special blue bin, the one that the sanitation department picks up weekly. I imagine they deposit them in a local storage facility, but I should check on that.
But if you saw my closet you might wonder. Though I tend to rotate through the same six items every week, my closet is packed. I have a pink dress hanging in my closet that is so small that if it ever fit me again, I would immediately check myself into a hospital. But I keep it, not because I can get it over my head anymore, but because what if…what if I had the stomach flu for eight weeks in a row and then recovered to find a worldwide famine? I might need a fancy summer dress in that size. And I loved wearing that dress, back in the days when I had fewer ribs.
I am also guilty of email hoarding. Is it possible that I need all 3,712 previously read emails in my inbox? No. But the hoarding principle applies – they are of no use to me, but I am afraid I may need them in the future. What if CVS starts honoring coupons from 2010? What if that kid who emailed saying she liked my book is the last one to ever like my book? What if the soccer coach stops sending directions to the games? What if I need the order number for that shirt I bought (and returned) from J Crew last summer?
The one act of hoarding that I am most guilty of is the hoarding of my time. Again, the principle fits. I am not paid by the hour and am not scheduled to perform brain surgery at any time today. In effect, my time is worthless. But I’m afraid I might need it. I worry that the second I commit to devoting a huge chunk of time to something, I’ll need that time back. So I’m cautious with it, measuring each hour that I give away and then hoarding a big chunk for myself like so many old mayonnaise jars. What if my 14-year-old son decides to stay home on a Friday night? What if my husband wants to take a walk? What if there’s something good but disturbing on TV?
And, let’s face it — in the future I’m more likely to need a little extra time or a pink Barbie-sized dress than one of those tiny spoons from Portugal.
As published in The Rye Record on September 22, 2012
My sister had an electrician working in her home, and, after a long day’s work, she said to him, “Would you like some farro and chard?” He replied, to my delight, “I don’t know what any of those things are.” She had obviously hired an electrician who was not up to speed on super foods.
My sister’s a foodie. By that I mean that she cares deeply about the quality of the food she prepares. She’s not a lunatic, but you’d have a better chance of finding Waldo in her kitchen than anything containing partially hydrogenated oils. One’s natural inclination may be to tease her about it, but if you saw how great she looks you would (like me) do pretty much anything she says.
Trust me. I’m up to speed on farro. Everywhere I went this summer someone was serving me a heaping bowl of it. And it really is super. In addition to having twice the protein of wheat, farro is rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, lignans, and betaine. My sister serves it to me with kale like it’s medicine. She hands me the bowl with two hands and a bowed head. The thoughtful presentation is accompanied by a knowing, “It’s an ancient grain.” Always grateful to be served food that I did not prepare, I know enough not to remark that in ancient times the people died at like 30.
Farro and quinoa (ancient buddies) have become what sundried tomatoes and pesto were in the ’80s. During that decade it was impossible to order a meal that did not include one of those items. You were sure to eat your sundried tomatoes with a half pound of pasta and, of course, a nice crisp baguette on the side. It was the age of the carb. Back then, the knowing line was “It’s not the pasta, it’s what you put on it…” The ’80s gave way to specialty bread stores and kiosks where you could buy nothing but soft pretzels. All of this was okay as long as any topping was low fat.
With pasta as the food police’s health food of choice, even the actresses were a little heavyset in the ’80s. I’m above naming names, but rent any movie from this era and you will be shocked. Fashion responded by offering us the long bulky sweater that, when worn over our dangerously snug jeans, hid the fallout from the farfalle. Our hairstylists helped balance our hips by perming our hair to give our heads a few more horizontal inches on each side. Plus the jeans rode high enough to catch any spillover, and the legwarmers gave us a nice tapered looked around the ankle. These were kinder times.
The pendulum swung during the ’90s and we became heroine-chic and low-carb. Even beer was offered with low carbs, as a sort of alcoholic health food. It was okay to eat fat again (rejoice!), and even potato chips were sanctioned as long as they were laced with a healthy amount of Olestra and we stayed close to a bathroom.
I’ve noticed that the same big long sweater is back this year. What’s different this time is that it is there for its own sake, not necessarily to hide anything. Sadly, the big sweater has not brought us back our carbs. In fact, the carb crackdown has gotten dramatically worse. At a buffet where someone had prepared a fresh corn salad, I was nudged and admonished by a friend, “It’s loaded with carbs.” Et tu, corn? Thou hast forsaken me!
Wheat gluten, it goes withoutsaying, is out. You’d be better off just chugging a gallon of Red Dye #40 than eating wheat gluten. But if you don’t mind paying for it, you can buy pretty much anything gluten-free. (Farro, you’ll be happy to hear, contains only a particularly weak type of gluten molecule which is much more easily digested.) It seems to me that the gluten-free movement was brought forward by very smart health professionals, but then may have been sullied by some very smart marketing professionals. For example, my supermarket displays a particular brand of water with a sign that reads “gluten-free.” Gluten-free water? What will they think of next?
All this information has made me a bit suspicious. In one day I read two articles citing these nutritional studies: 1. Women who drink seven alcoholic drinks per week have twice the risk of getting breast cancer as those who don’t. And 2. Women who drink one glass of red wine every day have lower instances of breast cancer than those who don’t. Can you see why I can only trust my sister?
As with so many things, it all comes to going with your gut. My gut feels pretty good with a heaping bowl of farro and chard, and even better if I wash it down with a glass of red wine. Spaghetti makes my gut strain against the waist of my jeans until I wish for a really big sweater. See, I can change with the times. Just don’t mess with my coffee.