Month: April 2015

The Gray Matter In A Black and White World

Why can't we all just get along like the flavors in this cone?

Why can’t we all just get along like the flavors in this cone?

Confession: I haven’t watched any televised footage of the riots in Baltimore. Well…wait. Maybe I did see a few seconds of that video clip that was being passed around on Facebook, the one where the mom was slapping her son after plucking him from a crowd of rioters. And, for the record, that is exactly what I would have done if I caught my son like she did. But, I digress. The reason that we haven’t been watching the news since all the chaos erupted in Baltimore last Saturday is because I’m sick and tired of seeing this situation on television. I’m sick of news stories about African-American men ending up dead in situations that seem to defy logical explanation, and I’m tired of listening to clueless white folks try to explain the resulting violence. I try not to get sucked into the spectacle of the television news because it makes me nauseous. I choose, instead, to read the news so I can eliminate the pageantry and drama of pompous television news anchors who live to hear themselves speak. Yawn.

Last night, feeling a bit impudent, I broke down and turned on the news around dinnertime. I started with The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News and then caught some of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC because that is what I have to do to find fair-and-balanced news these days, watch two vastly different programs and interpret where the reality lies in the space in between them. O’Reilly spent part of his air time trying to blame the rioting on the 72% of African-American children born to single mothers. His assumption is that the breakdown of the nuclear family is primarily responsible for all the trouble in the African-American demographic. That’s one way to view it, I suppose, but I happen to live in a very grey world where things aren’t quite that easily defined. While O’Reilly seemed to have it all figured out, I found Maddow reporting on all the things we don’t know at this time…what the coroner’s report will say about the cause of Freddie Gray’s death, when the curfew in Baltimore will end, when we will know the fate of the six police officers suspended after Gray’s death, and what might happen once whatever is going to happen happens. I turned off the television news reminded once again why I rarely turn it on in the first place. There’s no news in the news.

This morning a friend shared this piece that was posted by Julia Blount on her Facebook page and then picked up and reposted by Salon. In it, Ms. Blount, a Princeton grad who grew up in an affluent home to a white mother and an African-American father, recounts her experiences as a person of color and, as her article title states, asks white people to respect what Black Americans are feeling. She writes of hopelessness, oppression, pain, poverty, anger, and despair. She writes about how fortunate she has been in her life and yet how even with all the privileges she’s had people still treat her differently. I know people like Ms. Blount. Our son’s best friend also comes from a mixed-race background. He lives in an upper-middle-class suburb of Denver where only half of 1% of the population is African-American. He attends private Christian school and has every conceivable advantage in his favor, save the color of his skin. I have no doubt that his American experience, while certainly impacted by his color, will be tremendously different than the American experience of an African-American child being raised by a single mother in impoverished, inner-city Baltimore. Poverty is reality for 31% of single-mother, African-American homes. Despite this statistic and many other statistics that show that African-Americans live in poverty on a far greater scale than their white counterparts, I know way too many white Americans who wholeheartedly believe that all Americans share an equal part of the American pie dream. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps like the rest of us, they think, completely oblivious that it’s a lot harder to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you can’t afford boots. The disparity between us isn’t simply apparent in poverty ratios; it’s apparent in the complete inability many of us white Americans have to notice that we’re better off in nearly every way than any person of color in our country. We’re so clueless that we like to point to Oprah as an example of how the rest of the African-American population should just buck up and get their shit together because it’s totally possible…or at least it was for that one person. This ignorance disappoints me.

Over the past few days I’ve talked with my sons about what is going on in Baltimore. I’ve talked about race, poverty, the staggering number of African-American men in prison, and about the what the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing riots say about our country. Last Sunday, my oldest son and I watched Selma. As we watched, I had to pause the movie repeatedly to field his questions and listen to his comments. Even my thirteen year old could watch that movie and point out how much things have stayed the same for African-Americans despite some advances. We talked about how fear figures so prominently into our racial inequality and how part of the problem is the ignorance white Americans have about the African-American experience. The marches of the Civil Rights movement occurred 50 years ago, but we’re still stuck with immense disparity between the wealth and status of the races and no apparent interest in ameliorating the current situation.

I’ll admit that I have no clue how we can move beyond these now too common situations, but we should probably start first by admitting that there is more than one reason why we’re still mired in inequality nearly fifty years after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and second by acknowledging that there isn’t a white person in this country who understands the frustration, anger, and hopelessness of the African-Americans rioting in Baltimore. When whites in this country stand in judgment without attempting to view things from the other’s perspective, we perpetuate a de facto Jim Crow situation where we are above and they are below, where we know better and they are ignorant, where we are master and they are slave. Sadly, our continued privilege as whites provides us with a podium and a microphone with which to pass judgment, and we continue to do just that. Maybe it’s simply hard for some of us to acknowledge there’s an uphill battle for others when we were born at the top of the hill?

Unload The House And Upload The Memories

Happy boys visiting San Diego

Happy boys visiting San Diego

As my husband and I have gone along together over the past twenty years, one thing has become increasingly apparent to us: we spend too much money on things that don’t matter and not enough money on things that would truly increase our life satisfaction. We try not to dwell too much on money we’ve thrown away on pointless items because…well, it’s depressing. (I mean, seriously. A panini machine? Like we were going to be whipping up Cuban sandwiches on a daily basis? What the hell were we thinking?) We both agree, however, that the best money we’ve ever spent was for traveling or taking classes or participating in events. This is a very real phenomenon. Scientific research has proven that our satisfaction in life is tied more to experiences than possessions. A new possession might make us feel good in the beginning but, as soon as we adapt to it, the thrill is gone and that item becomes just another thing to take care of. As many couples our age are settling into bigger, nicer homes, we have spent long hours discussing our desire to downsize, to reduce the collection of crap we use once a year, to unload our baggage, and to make room in our budget for the things in life that stretch our minds and not our square footage.

Now, I say all this as if it’s going to be an easy transition for us. The truth is the exact opposite. We are long-time early adapters. When the new iPhone comes out, we’ve got it. Our thirteen year old son has already begun asking for the iWatch. We realize that as parents we’ve set a bad precedent, and we’ve got a long road ahead of us if we want to teach our children to be happy with what they have and to value life experience more than shiny, new toys. But we’re heading that direction, and we’re committed to proving to our children that it’s the best way to live.

Everything is awesome at Legoland!

Everything is awesome at Legoland!

To that end, my husband jetted off with our youngest to California this past weekend for a three-day, father-son trip made possible by a small bump in our income tax refund and my decision not to use it for a selfish, solo beach vacation. Luke had been telling us (for about six years) that he wanted to visit Legoland and, as he approached his 12th birthday next month, I realized he might just outgrow it before we managed to get him there. Deciding I could not let that happen, I booked a surprise trip for them. Last Friday, Steve and Luke headed to the airport bright and early to board a cheap, Spirit airlines flight to San Diego for Luke’s first trip to California. Over the three days, father and son visited the San Diego Zoo, Legoland, and the beaches in La Jolla and Carlsbad. Luke took his turn piloting the USS Midway. They enjoyed a harbor cruise. They walked on the beach and nearly stepped on sea lions that were resting in the sand. They skipped chain restaurants and sampled local cafes and coffee shops. As they went about their days, I received texts and photos. Each time a photo arrived, my heart smiled. Even though I wasn’t there with them, I couldn’t help but feel gratitude for their opportunity to experience new things together. And while the Lego set Luke procured at Legoland will eventually be broken apart and end in pieces in a large, plastic, storage bin in the basement, this trip will remain with him throughout his lifetime and will hopefully inspire him to reach continually for new experiences and to voyage to different places.

"Please except this doggy pen." Best thank you note ever.

“Please except this doggy pen.” Best thank you note ever penned by Luke.

When I awoke on Monday morning after their late-night return, I found a small treat they had purchased for me in California, a $5 token of their gratitude for my unilateral decision to send them on a trip they hadn’t planned on. The note, written by my thoughtful, dyslexic son, read: “Dear Mom, I love you and I am so greatful [sic] that you spent your trip money for me and dad to go to San Diego and please except [sic] this Doggy pen.” If I’d needed any proof that our decision to move from possessions toward experiences was the right choice, this was it.

Our sons are growing up so quickly. We’re inches away from the day when it will be woefully uncool to hang out with Mom and Dad, so we’re focusing now on using our time with our sons wisely. At the end of May, I will be taking our oldest son on a mother-son adventure to celebrate our birthdays. We too will be heading to California for three days so we can experience the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a place Joe has talked about for years. We have no plans other than to visit the aquarium and to drive along the coast to enjoy the ocean we are sorely lacking in Colorado. I’m looking forward to living in the moment with my teenage son as we both make discoveries on our own adventure. Hopefully, when the trip is over and only a memory, we will be able to see our lives with a new perspective, one that will remind us that it is not he who has the most toys in the end that wins.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~ T.S. Eliot

The Pelican Brief – A Fishy Tale

This is the kind of goldfish problem I could solve.

This is the kind of goldfish problem I could solve.

And from the Sometimes Things Just Work Out file….

A couple of years ago, someone released a few goldfish into a small lake near Boulder, Colorado. Over time, those few fish turned into a population of approximately four thousand goldfish. These goldfish, harmless though they may seem, could as a non-native species potentially damage the local ecosystem for the native fish and birds, so the people at Colorado Parks and Wildlife began working on fixes to the growing quandary. They had narrowed the possible solutions down to either shocking the fish with electric currents and then feeding them to birds of prey at a local raptor rehabilitation facility or draining the entire lake. As of last Friday, the story, which had been picked up and shared by news agencies around the globe, was still being reported on while officials determined the best way to proceed. Today, however, when folks from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division showed up with trap nets to get a sample of the fish population in the lake, they found 26 green sunfish, two largemouth bass, 10 painted turtles, 18 tiger salamanders, and only four goldfish.

While they were trying to figure out where the goldfish had gone, wildlife biologists observed some American white pelicans feeding on the lake. The pelicans, which migrate to the area for the summer, presumably spied a lake full of bright orange fish calling to them like a neon sign for an all-night cafe on a deserted highway. After the long, migratory trip up north, I imagine they couldn’t believe their luck to find an all-you-can-eat buffet stocked and spread out for them upon their arrival. Ka-ching. 

Without fuss or taxpayer expense, the fishy problem was solved. And now the folks at Colorado Parks and Wildlife can take eradicating the goldfish at Teller Lake Number 5 off their list of things to do. The pelicans, simply doing what pelicans do, unexpectedly made their jobs a little easier. You have to love it when you have a problem and, while you’re racking your brain trying to figure out exactly how to solve that problem, the universe intervenes and takes care of it for you. That, my friends, is kismet.

Still, I can’t help but think how much trouble we humans create for ourselves. Sometimes we carelessly act without thinking how our choice might play out further on down the road. And when we’re not mucking things up for ourselves that way, we’re tangled in the act of solving the problems we unintentionally caused in the first place. I swear sometimes that we’re really not that far off the ape brains we started with.

I am a firm believer that everything we need as a species, everything we have ever needed, is here for us on this planet and we need only look for it. Sometimes, just sometimes, we get a little nudge to remind us of this fact. Today, it was pelicans from heaven.

I Got Old Without My Knowledge

Me and my young friend at The Replacements show. It's amazing I was able to stand up without a walker for the two-hour show.

Me and my young friend, Heather, at The Replacements show. It’s amazing I was able to stand up without a walker for the two-hour show.

The craziest thing happened to me last weekend. I got mistaken for an old person. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, honestly, because I only feel 25. But there I was having drinks at a bar with some friends when our server made a seemingly innocuous remark that sucked the air out of my midlife bubble. As she was taking our order for a second round of drinks, she chose to strike up a conversation.

“It’s getting pretty busy in here tonight,” she noticed. “There must be a show. Who’s playing?”

We told her we were going to see The Replacements. I could see her wracking her young, fresh brain for any recognition of the name The Replacements and coming up blank. My friends filled her in on who The Replacements were while she explained her ignorance of them by commenting that she grew up listening to KISS because that’s what her parents listened to.

Whoa! Her parents? Was she comparing us to her parents? Just how old did this child think we were? Certainly I do not look old enough to be her mother because I’m not old enough to be her mother.

“How old are you?” one of my friends inquired.

“I’m 24,” she replied.

Well, crap. I am definitely old enough to be her mother. I reeled at that thought for a few moments before seizing the opportunity to feel smug that I might be the same age as her parents but at least I’ve got better music taste. KISS? I openly admit that showing my face at a Replacements show dated me (since they officially broke up in 1991 before getting back together in 2006), but I have moved beyond 80s music. I listen to Sirius XMU, dammit. I have at least a modicum of knowledge about the current indie rock of college youth. So there. I’m not dead yet. Truth was, though, that I was a little shocked that she was so young and we were apparently so not young any longer. Then, apropos of nothing, she added this lovely comment.

“Well..I think it’s great that you’re all still getting out.”

There goes her tip.

Oh. My. God. I’m 46, not 86. Holy crap. Are people my age not getting out? Are my friends and I freaks because we can drag our aged carcasses from our homes, have some drinks, see a concert, and stay out until midnight? Am I an anomaly? Out on a Sunday night? I’ve never thought of my concert-going behavior as odd for my age (ugh…that phrase), but now I had to wonder.

We deflected her comment with a torrent of sarcasm. I gestured to extract the arrow from my heart. All the while, my head was spinning and my heart was gushing the last of my life’s blood. Had I really reached that point? Is that how 20 year olds see me? I’m the old lady they spy from across the room and condescendingly think, “Well…good for her”? When the hell did this happen? When did I cross that imaginary line from youth into old age? I’m not quite 50. I’m not yet eligible for AARP. Oh god. Does this mean I look over 50? The horror.

As if to punctuate the fact that I was absolutely not an old lady, I troubled her for a third glass of wine. The beauty of being older is that you can afford more wine, right? And if I’m too old to be out on Sunday night, I must certainly be too old to get drunk anyway. I’d show her. Old. Who was she calling old? I sucked down my wine like I was Ponce de Leon drinking from the Fountain of Youth.

When it was nearly time to go, I tossed a couple twenties to my friend and headed for the bathroom where I stood for a long time having a little come-to-Jesus meeting with my reflection in the mirror. I told myself that I’d rather be the old lady at the show than the old lady asleep at home. I am still at least sort of cool, even if my 24-year-old server doesn’t see it. I recall being a naive twit at 24. Someday, if she’s lucky, this girl will be 46 and some 24-year-old twit will inform her much to her chagrin that she’s now officially old.

In the meantime, I’m disappointedly starting to grasp the saying that inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.

Help A Brother Out…Talk About Man Jeans Today

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is to be honest and talk about things openly, especially when the thing we need to discuss might make us or someone we care about uncomfortable. At some point, however, the truth needs to be spoken, no matter how ugly it might be. To move beyond it, to improve our life and the lives of those around us, we must be brave. We must face the thing that frightens us and remove its fangs so it can gnash its teeth at us no more. I’m here today to open a dialogue about such a topic.

There is an epidemic among middle-age men in this country, an unheralded scourge that has been spreading each year, leaving more and more unfortunate souls in its wake. Each day, I encounter an ever-increasing number of victims who suffer from this disease. Sadly, most sufferers remain unaware of their sickness, unable to identify the thing that is causing women to point and giggle behind their backs. That sickness, my friends, is man jeans. Yes. Man jeans. There. I’ve said it.

Bad jeans all around…but it was 1998.

Bad jeans all around…but it was 1998. That’s my story.

Now, I know there has been a lot of blog time spent on mom jeans. Saturday Night Live lampooned them in a skit back in 2003. Mom jeans, with their nine inch zippers, pleated fronts, and roomy seat are touted to fit even the least active moms and be suitable for any occasion. Yes. It’s true. The post-child female body doesn’t always fit back into those darling, low-slung, hip hugging jeans from our pre-child-bearing days. Sometimes moms need something with a little higher rise to hold in the residual baby bump and to reduce the disfiguring effects of the dreaded muffin top. This is why mom jeans were first invented, and why women bought them. But eventually women began clamoring for something more attractive to wear for the years between Abercrombie skinny jeans and Goodwill-bought, elastic-waist, polyester, granny pants, and clothing makers rose to the challenge. Stores devoted entirely to the purveyance of the best fitting denim for most any shape and size sprouted up, and moms began finding fashion again. While it’s true that with the switch to designer denim we had to give up no-fuss, washer/dryer care, as well as abandon that little bit of pleated expansion space that left us room to sneak off and ingest an extra cupcake or three at the block party, designer jeans made motherhood and midlife a lot sexier. For each woman turned from away from mom jeans, though, the disparity in the denim choices between the sexes grew until we arrived where we are today…with a preponderance of middle-age men wearing man jeans while the women who love them stand by in their fashionable denim, shaking their heads and wondering when they married this old geezer.

An unidentified man and a cute toddler wearing man jeans. The toddler is pulling it off.

An unidentified man and a cute toddler wearing man jeans. Note: the toddler is pulling them off.

I’ve heard it said that many men hit what they feel is the best year of their life and become lodged there permanently. It’s their happy place. Based on the outfit choices of most middle-age men I know (and, unfortunately, at 46 I know a lot of middle-age men), they gave up on themselves sometime during the Clinton Presidency. For those of you in the dark about what exactly qualifies as “man jeans,” let me point you in the right direction by putting it in simple, Jeff Foxworthy-worthy language for you.

If your jeans came with a tag that said “relaxed,” “loose,” or “comfy” fit, you might be wearing man jeans.

If you’ve had your jeans since college and you were in college over 10 years ago, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your jeans came from LL Bean, Kohl’s, Land’s End, Bass Pro Shops, or any outlet store, you might be wearing man jeans.

If you require a belt to keep your jeans up or you’ll end up looking like those “hoodlum” kids you complain about, the ones who wear the waist of their jeans below their boxer shorts, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your idea of shopping involves grabbing a pair of 36″ x 34″ jeans off a wall to fit your 34″ x 34″ body without ever considering trying them on, you might be wearing man jeans.

If there is so much excess room in the butt of your jeans that you could drop a load in there and no one would be the wiser, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your favorite pair of jeans has sparkly embellishments on the pockets, well…then, I’m afraid you might be wearing your wife’s jeans.

I understand that most men don’t like to shop. You hate spending money on clothing, and if I tell you it might cost you $200 for a good-fitting pair of quality denim that will last, you are going to tell me exactly how many beers you could buy with that cash today. But at some point, men, you’ve got to face facts. You’re middle aged. Your pecs have seen better days, you’ve got clothing older than your children, your new boss is ten years younger than you, and the hair on your head is thinning while the hair in your nose is coming in nicely. And, it sucks. But are you ready to cash it in? Should we just hand out grandpa pants, the fetching ones that you can pull all the way to your burgeoning man boobs? Put on a pair of your jeans. Take a good, long, hard look at yourself in a full length mirror and acknowledge that you’re not the man you once were. You’re better. You’re smarter, wiser, and more successful than you were twenty years ago. You deserve designer denim. And if you pick up a pair of raw denim, you won’t even have to wash them for six months. 😀

If You’re Not Hungry Enough To Eat An Apple….

Some fine table manners right there.

Some fine table manners right there, I tell you. Come get him, girls. 

Dinnertime is frustrating for every mom. I think that’s just a universal reality. If you’re lucky enough to belong to a family where your children sit at the dining table and eat all the food you cook (or microwave or pick up at the drive-thru window) without complaining or begging to watch television or texting or playing video games or burping the alphabet, if you belong to a family where mealtime each evening is a pleasant affair where your family calmly and politely discusses the events of their day over the mutual breaking of bread, well, then throw yourself a frigging fish. You’ve got yourself and your family trained better than circus seals.

I spent the first eight years of our sons’ lives desperately trying to make dinnertime a good experience for all. Nearly every evening, somewhere between Luke’s penchant for puking at the sight of any food of which he does not immediately approve (which narrows the family menu down to chicken nuggets, steak, or pizza) and Joe’s ADHD-driven inability to sit for more than three minutes, our dinner routine would downward spiral its way into cajoling, shouting, bribing, and eventually crying, most of the time on my part. Around the time the boys turned seven and nine, I decided that I’d had enough. I’m a slow learner, but I eventually catch on. I gave up trying to make our boys well-rounded eaters who used manners and ate everything on their plates without argument. I figured their wives could figure out how to do that someday. I had less frustrating things to focus on, like teaching them math facts and educating my husband about proper shoe storage. If I take the time to teach my boys everything polite society would have them know, when would I have time to drink wine?

Eventually, the boys did learn to eat more foods just as I suspected they would. And I figured out some meals that I could prepare that all four of us could ingest without anyone puking or swearing or even crying. It has taken me many, many years, but I’ve finally gotten dinnertime running nearly as smoothly and reliably as a 10-year-old Honda. Tonight, for example, I served grilled chicken (courtesy of my husband), pasta for the boys, quinoa salad for hubby and I, steamed broccoli, and fresh strawberries. We had a brief flirtation with polite conversation before Joe spilled his entire glass of ice water all over his brother. Somehow, once that was mopped up, we still managed to have 10 minutes of cordial mealtime. Because the boys are growing and sucking down food with the unbridled ferocity of our Dyson vacuum, our table time is minimal, but I don’t care. When it’s over, if all the food is gone and we managed more than few grunts in between scarfing bites, my goal has been successfully achieved. The kitchen gets cleaned, the table wiped down, and I slink upstairs to our bedroom where I hope to become like the Cheshire Cat and fade into the bed so that I won’t be noticed for the rest of the night. My work is finished.

Or is it? Every night between 8:45-9:30, Joe decides he’s ready for “second dinner.” Now, I never planned to condone the notion of second dinner. Dinner is served just once. That’s how it was in the house where I grew up, and that is how I planned for it to be in our home. Life, however, laughed at my plans. Joe takes medication for ADHD, and that medication is a stimulant that deeply reduces his appetite while it’s on board. Because he doesn’t eat much at lunch, consuming approximately the daily caloric intake of a waif-like, chain-smoking, Diet-Coke-swilling runway model, he is famished by dinner. That hunger is merely pacified by the full meal I prepare at our usual dinnertime, which leads us to second dinner. Second dinner, it was long ago decided, is his problem. By the time second dinner rolls around, the cook has gone home for the night.

Tonight I went down to refill my water bottle and found Joe staring longingly into the stainless, silver box in our kitchen, both doors wide open in an effort to cool the room, apparently.

“I think I am going to make this salmon,” he announced, hastily grabbing a frozen fish steak from the lowest tray in the freezer.

“Ummmm….no,” I replied. “You’re not flash-thawing salmon and then cooking it. That will take about 45 minutes. What other ideas do you have?”

He dropped his head, begrudgingly returned the salmon steak to its home, and closed the freezer door. He then inched his way closer to the open refrigerator side and peered in.

“You could make me some sautéed kale,” he suggested.

“Ha. Good one,” I replied. “I’m not cooking anything. The kitchen is clean and it’s closed.”

“I could do it myself,” he said.

“You’re going to wash and chop kale and sauté it on the stove and then eat it?” I said with a bit too much incredulity.

“I could,” he replied.

“You could if the kitchen wasn’t closed,” I reminded.

I was getting annoyed by this process. Why couldn’t the kid eat a bowl of cereal like his father would be doing in an hour? Why does everything have to be a production? He should just plan to head to Broadway after high school. I’m sure he would fit right in there.

“You know, Joe? Eat some baby carrots. Eat an apple. No cooking.” He stared me down with his steely teenage glare. He’s practicing his intimidation, but he’s not quite tall enough yet for that to be working for him with me. I continued, “Dude, if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry. Period.”

He shrugged, picked his iPad off the counter, and headed up the stairs. Game. Set. Match.

I was pretty proud of my brain for coming up with that appropriate little nugget of wisdom, discovered just this week courtesy of a Facebook meme, and perfectly echoed in this clutch situation. Sometimes, Mom, you’ve still got it, I told myself. Now, if I could convince myself to live by that phrase, perhaps I could be swimsuit-ready by the time pool season gets underway.

Asleep At The Wheel Again…ADHD and Motherhood

The day my 8 year old decided to cut his own hair and photograph it.

The day my 8 year old decided to cut his own hair and record the event. Not his best decision-making moment, but it has made for some good laughs.

It’s laundry day. Well…actually, every day is laundry day, but today I finally decided to toss a couple loads into the washer. As I collected the boys’ hamper, I noticed that Joe had thrown a couple of his jackets in. I hate it when he does that. Sometimes the hamper is replete with clean clothes he tried on but decided not to wear. While I’m grateful that he’s finally learned to put his clothes into a hamper after thirteen years, he now puts everything in there. He often puts his shoes in there. His shoes. It’s much easier to toss everything into the bin than to put it away, right? It keeps the floor clean and then he doesn’t have to listen to me complain about that too. It’s genius, actually. A simple, expedient filing system that gets me off his back, at least for the present moment. And Joe is 100% in the present moment all the time.

Frustrated by the discovery of the jackets, I confronted him.

“Joe…why are these coats in here?”

“I wore them,” he said with typical teenage attitude, eyeing me like I am a moron for not realizing that dirty clothes go in the hamper.

“You can wear a jacket more than once before it needs to be washed. Unless it’s got a stain or it stinks, you should just hang it up to wear again,” I informed him.

He appeared uninterested.

“Every time you do this, it’s more work for me. I know we’ve talked about this before,” I said with the usual tone of parental disappointment that is meant to encourage enough self-reflection and remorse to induce self-awakening and, hopefully, an apology. If you’re wondering if it ever works, the answer is no.

“I know,” he admitted.

“Well, then, why do you keep doing it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t mean to do it. It just happens on accident all the time.”

And, there it is. A succinct description of exactly what ADHD is. Joe’s ADHD includes impulsivity, inattention to detail, and inability to focus. So many times when he was younger I would repeatedly scold him for the same behaviors. Once, before we’d diagnosed his ADHD, I asked him why he kept chewing on his shirts even though we had discussed ad nauseam that he needed to stop doing it. He said he didn’t know why he did it. He knew it was wrong, but he simply couldn’t help it. That explanation was mind numbing. Here was a kid who was obviously intelligent, who could repeat minutiae about different dinosaurs from different epochs, remembering the dates they existed and statistics about their size and weight, but there he stood telling me he didn’t know why he kept gnawing his clothing like he was a goat. As a parent, it frustrated the living hell out of me. How could he be so smart yet so unaware at the same time?

When we had Joe evaluated for ADHD, the psychiatrists at Children’s Hospital explained to me that the frontal lobe of Joe’s brain simply doesn’t work the way mine does, ultimately leading to his greater difficulty in choosing between good and bad actions. As a child, if I was punished for something one time, the frontal lobe of my brain would remind me of that event and help me make better choices the next time I encountered a similar situation. Joe’s frontal lobe, however, simply isn’t as active as mine. The doctors explained that it is as if there is a little man in there whose job is to help him make good choices but that little man continually falls asleep on the job. It wasn’t until much later, when Joe better understood himself and his brain, that he was able to admit that his inability to stop negative behaviors when he knew they were wrong frustrated the living hell out of him too. We’ve spent the years since his diagnosis working to understand how we can help Joe and what we simply need to accept is part of his make up. It’s a work in progress.

I’m laughing now thinking about the question I posed to Joe earlier. I know how he works. I just needed to remind him again and move on. He will eventually stop putting clean clothes in the hamper, just like he eventually started putting dirty ones in there. It’s merely going to take a lot of patience and a lot of repetition. Six years into my understanding of this ADHD world, I am still making silly parenting mistakes with Joe.

You’ve got to wonder when the little man in my frontal lobe started taking so many naps.

Our Nation of Fools, Zealots, and Unicorns

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” ~Abraham Lincoln

“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” ~Mark Twain

You know what makes me tired? I mean, mother-of-toddler-triplets tired? The non-stop, exhaustive, political and religious divisiveness presented in the daily media. With Hillary Clinton’s long-expected announcement about her second presidential bid, things have become even uglier in my world. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics. I am. Like most Americans, I have plenty of opinions about our government and whether we have become the kind of nation our forefathers envisioned when they drafted our Constitution. Most of these opinions I keep to myself because I’ve learned that bickering with people whose minds are made up is a Sisyphean task. People say they’re capable of open-ended, honest, fair, and cooperative discourse about opposing views, but I’ve seen too many dinner parties turn into shouting matches over who is right and who is stupid to believe it exists. And the more polarized we’ve become as a nation, the less likely it seems that we will ever be able to have friendly discussions about opposing political or religious views. It’s a shame, really.

I have a significant number of family members and friends who never seem to tire of political and religious controversy. In the days before I knew better, I got into “discussions” (yes…that word needs quotation marks) with these people about my views. Some of these people wrote me off. The rest, however, made me their pet cause, which has proven to be worse. These people have since made it their life’s work to enlighten me about how misguided I am in an effort to save my soul. This, too, is exhausting. There aren’t enough free hours in my day to read the emailed articles sent to inform me of my inherent and unacceptable wrongness. So, I don’t read them. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I had a choice…I could save established relationships with people who disagree with me or I could spend my life defending myself and my views to them while becoming increasingly agitated about my need to do so. So I chose to let go. The emails sent for my edification go straight into my junk folder where they remain unopened in communication limbo. Every once in a while, I hit delete for the whole lot of filtered messages in a ritualistic, spiritual cleansing.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” ~Abraham Lincoln

Some people think that my unwillingness to go into battle over my beliefs is cowardly. While they proudly spout their views in every possible public forum under the guise of free speech, repeating news-generated talking points or quoting pieces from partisan publications, I remain silent. And my silence merely reinforces their opinion that if my beliefs held any merit I could defend them. It’s a nasty cycle. I suppose I could catalog and save statistical evidence to offer while disputing my detractors, but how would that ever be worth the effort when they are so convinced of their moral higher ground that they would find a way to dispel my proof and continue along in their assertion that I am at best misguided and at worst completely wrong? I’m female and, despite having been raised Catholic, I now identify more as atheist than Christian. I’m an anomaly. According to a Pew Research study in 2012, only 2.4% of US citizens identify as atheist. Of that 2.4%, it’s been estimated that only 25% are women. I’m so far out there right now, statistically speaking, that I’m nearly a unicorn. Some don’t believe I even exist.

Because I am different from the majority and do not myself fit in, I work on accepting others where they are because life is hard enough without creating controversy where none is necessary. In 2001, we bonded over a previously unimaginable horror. In those moments after the Twin Towers fell, there were no labels. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, pink or brown. In those moments, we were all simply Americans. While I would never wish for those days back, I do have some nostalgia for the feeling that, as different as we were, we were all in it together. And I wonder sometimes at how in 14 years we’ve slid so far away from the united in the United States of America. Us versus them is now a continual ideological battle being waged within our own borders. It serves the best interests of no one.

So, I won’t debate you if our politics and religious views don’t mesh. I won’t unfriend you on Facebook merely because we don’t agree. But I won’t support this pervasive notion that any one group has cornered the market on morality in this country. There is no one way to be more intrinsically American than another, and no one group deserves a greater say than another. As a young child in the early 70s, I learned that we were free to be you and me. We were all unique, but we all somehow belonged here together in our differences. Maybe that was really idealistic, but I liked that message. I’m not exactly sure when things changed and we became so intolerant of the value of each individual within the confines of our united society, but I’m not buying into this new paradigm. I’m not defending my beliefs. I’m not kowtowing to the majority you create that leaves me on the outside. And I’m not teaching my kids with my actions that they have to explain why their opinion counts. It just does. They’re free to be whatever they want, and they don’t have to fit in to belong. This is America, dammit. And their mother is a frigging unicorn.

The When Harry Met Sally Question

Twenty years ago before I made him grey.

Twenty years ago before I made him grey.

“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” ~Richard Bach

Marriage is hard. When I think back to my twenties, when most women I knew were dying to find their soul mate and embark on the magical love train of happily ever after, I laugh. We had no clue. In sickness and in health and for better or worse were concepts we weren’t capable of understanding in any legitimate sense. Sicknesses were colds and worse meant having to watch a movie we hadn’t chosen. As I’ve grown older, there have been intermittent days when the vows I took at 27 have started to come into clearer focus. I’ve had occasional oh-shit revelations about what I committed to when I stood there in front of all my friends wearing an off-white dress I hastily purchased off the bargain rack, holding flowers I settled for on a fixed budget, and hoping against hope that the photographer would get at least a couple decent shots. Marriage is serious…heart-attack-bankruptcy-miscarriage-mortgage-infidelity-and-unemployment serious. I don’t think many of us understand the gravity of the lifelong task we’re undertaking when we sign up. We learn about it along the way.

About twenty-two years ago, I went on a double date with my roommate, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s roommate. Walking home from a bowling alley after a couple poorly rolled games and a couple of pitchers of beer, I had a long, admittedly drunken, talk with this new guy. I was six months out of a semi-disastrous “relationship” and not really looking for anything. I was tired of men. I was tired of stressing about love. I was finally content being alone. I told him that I had made mistakes in past relationships when I had given up things that had mattered to me because someone had asked me to. I told him I wasn’t playing that way anymore. If he wanted to date me, he had to take me as I was because I wasn’t changing. I told him I had many male friends that I would not, under any circumstance, be jettisoning. He could deal with that reality or he could walk. It didn’t matter to me. It was his choice. I’ve never quite figured out why he stayed with me after that full disclosure, but he did. And nearly twenty years of marriage and two children later, here we are, grown up but not, still floundering our way through the insanity that is intentional, lifelong commitment to another person against all odds and life’s randomness.

I’ve held steadfast to most of the things I said in that drunken tirade that night after bowling, including maintaining my friendships with men. I am not a girly girl, and I never was. I’m a thinker more than a feeler and, partially because of this, I’ve struggled more trying to keep friendships with women than with men. Many women flat-out don’t get me, and I’ve accepted that. Men seem to appreciate my emotional reticence, my quippy, sarcastic retorts, and my no-nonsense attitude. Some of my male friends have been in my life for decades. Some I’ve met only recently. Some are people my husband has met. Some of them are relative strangers to him. I have male friends I communicate with weekly via text or email and others I see in person every few months at some public location where it’s acceptable for a married woman to associate with a man who is not her husband. Last night, for example, I enjoyed dinner with a male friend at a cool little taqueria in Denver where we sat at a community table and I decided that whoever invented the gourmet shrimp taco was the foodie equivalent of Einstein.

I know that accepting me as I am with my friendships not been easy for Steve, but he has muddled through it because he committed to doing so a million years ago before he knew what he was getting into and because he’s a man of his word. Because of Steve’s understanding, I’ve had exposure to conversations many married women don’t get to have. I continue to learn about the male perspective from multiple sources, and this has given me priceless knowledge about how to be a better human being, as well as a better partner. There is nothing like listening to your male friend talk about his failed marriage to help you see where you might be going wrong in your own. I’m grateful to my male friends for being honest with me about my shortcomings and for not telling me what I want to hear but what I need to hear. I continue to learn about the nature of communication (and miscommunication) and friendship through them. At the end of the day, Steve and I have new topics of conversation that have, as an unanticipated side benefit, created a level of intimacy between us I had not imagined was possible. We talk about our marriage. We talk about what is fair, what is difficult, and what is frightening because we have opened ourselves to what is fair, what is difficult, and what is frightening. We’re constantly negotiating our marital contract and figuring out how to make it better for both of us.

Like Harry in When Harry Met Sally, Steve’s not entirely sure he trusts that men are capable of being just friends with women, but he’s willing to entertain my little experiment because he knows I am not going anywhere. I am as pragmatic as they come. I know there is no man out there who is better equipped to love me as I am than he is. I’m not going to discover a new true love over tacos or at a concert. There’s no such thing as a perfect match, but I’ve gotten as close as I could ever come with a guy who loves me enough to set me free when I need to feel like my own person. I’m far too intelligent to walk away from a deal like that and a husband like Steve.

And, in case you’re wondering, Steve doesn’t have currently have a bevy of female friends. He does, however, have a wife who trusts him implicitly if you’d like to take him out for Taco Tuesday.