Month: October 2016

Ruined Dinners, Reading Assignments, and Raising Adults

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Joe and I many years before it was time to grow up

Against my better judgement, I joined a book club today. I swore I would not do it again, but when the opportunity presented itself I found myself unable to say no. The book that pulled me in? How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. Like many people over a certain age, I was raised by parents who expected me to pull my own weight from early on. They didn’t hover or harass me to ensure I was doing my job as a child and a student. I was expected to work hard, earn high marks, and contribute at home. They didn’t make me breakfast or fix my school lunch. They didn’t know I was eating Suzy Q’s and french fries when they weren’t around because they weren’t obsessed with my nutritional intake. They didn’t ask me about school projects. If my chores weren’t done, I was grounded. If my grades fell, they didn’t know about it until the report card showed up and then there would be consequences to bear. When my own sons arrived early and small, I started down a different path than my parents traveled. I was actively involved in every aspect of their young lives and I always knew what was going on with them. When Joe started his freshman year this August, it at last hit me that I have four years to turn this kid I manage into the kind of human who won’t need to call me to fill out paperwork in a doctor’s office, remind him of his phone number, or prepare food other than microwavable, plastic trays Yakisoba. Yikes.

The bookclub book, written by a Stanford University’s dean of freshman for helicopter parents invested in getting their kids into Ivy League schools via endless hovering and helping their children with grades, extra curriculars, and volunteer hours over more practical life skills like actually managing themselves, seemed like something I should read. Not necessarily because I am that helicopter parent. I’m not. My sons’ diagnoses with developmental and learning disabilities quickly curtailed my grandiose dreams of them attending Harvard and then perhaps Yale Law. Sure. Those things are still possible for them. Statistically speaking, though, those dreams (already a long shot for the brightest of typical children) become an even more unlikely possibility for my sons dealing with ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia. All the hours and dollars I invested in those Baby Einstein videos could not have changed my sons’ brains. They are different, and I now can honestly say I am grateful for that. I’ve also found peace with the notion that they may attend community college or trade school instead of a traditional four-year university. And they may need to live in my basement a bit longer than my friends’ children as they mature and find their own path. It’s all good, though, because their issues have forced us all to be more resilient, more patient, and more understanding of the uniqueness of each person’s life path.

Even with all this, being the parent of children with “issues” has required a different type of helicopter parenting. I’m not pushing them regarding straight A grades or sports scholarships or college-application-worthy community service because the mere act of keeping up in school is hard enough for them. My challenge with helicopter parenting comes from years of having to be their voice surrounding their disabilities. Once you accept that your child is not typical, your job becomes finding ways to make them feel typical. Your days are spent creating a level playing field for them so they have the opportunity to experience the same feelings of success their peers experience. You take on tasks they might do themselves if they were a more typical child. You fill out their forms. You set up timetables for their school projects. You manage their schedules and make sure they get places on time and with the right materials because you know it’s hard enough for them to remember to put on two socks and clean underwear. And sometimes it’s hard to know when to back off and let them fall again once you’ve worked so hard to lift them up.

Because of my divided attention, I let go of some things I might have otherwise insisted upon if my sons were more typical like I was. I’ve been a little lax about regular chore completion. Luckily for me, despite my lack of regular follow-though on chores, my kids often remind me of my short-sightedness and present me with situations in which I must rise to the occasion. Last week, Joe saw that I was preparing a skillet dinner (you know…one of those dishes where all the ingredients touch each other) and he promptly lost his shit. He yelled that I had “ruined” dinner by allowing pieces of potato to mingle with pieces of sausage. Oy. The minute those words came out his mouth, I felt sorry for him. I blinked a few times and told him to leave the room. At that moment, he caught on to his colossal error and apologized for being an unappreciative creep. After a deep breath, I told him that I had a solution to his meal problem. I was going to offer him the opportunity to plan and prepare a few dinners so he can better understand what it is like to try to feed four people with different food issues. (While hubby will eat anything, Luke eschews veggies, I am currently gluten, soy, and dairy-free due to food sensitivities, and Joe is not a fan of meat.) Good luck, buddy. 

Tomorrow night is Joe’s first dinner night. Tonight he gets to research and plan his menu. Tomorrow after school I will take him shopping and leave myself available to field recipe questions and provide help with cooking utensils. I’m a little nervous about what I may end up having to ingest as part of this lesson in adulthood, but I have to admit that I am kind of excited too because this step is right in line with my book club read. It’s a growth opportunity for both of us. And it’s appropriate and right on schedule at a time when Joe is both capable of taking it on and in a safe place for a lesson because, if the meal goes south, we have peanut butter and jelly on hand that he can prepare instead. If you want to raise an adult, you have to be prepared for some missteps. As a teenager, I once made a batch of brownies using Pompeii Olive Oil (not even extra virgin) in place of regular oil. We all gotta start somewhere. Today, I start letting Joe learn what it is to be a functioning adult. I bet he’s really sorry he didn’t keep his mouth shut last week.

Where’s Your Smile, Sweetheart?

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You’re a lot prettier when you smile, sweetie. Oh yeah? Screw you! Well, not you, Buddha. 

“Where’s your smile, sweetheart?” As innocuous as this question may seem, every time I hear it or one like it my skin crawls. Although the words themselves are free of vulgarity or outward violence, what lies beneath is an implicit notion that as a woman I am expected to smile even when I have no reason to do so. There have been too many occasions in my life when an unknown male has uttered these words to me as I politely tried to discourage his uninvited company. While my one or two word replies to his advances didn’t clue him in to my discomfort, apparently my facial expressions took over. And now, those few words serve as a reminder that it’s my job as a woman to put on a happy face for him because women are supposed to be demure, sweet, and accommodating. Woohoo! It’s my lucky day. Someone finds me attractive enough to encroach on my personal space and make me feel small, vulnerable, and ultimately unsafe. I should make sure to smile about it. Don’t want to seem like a bitch.  

The release of the Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump and his lewd remarks has dredged up all sorts of uncomfortable emotions and thoughts for me over the past week. It doesn’t have much to do with the fact that it is our Republican nominee for President that is making the sexist, rape-y comments. Mr. Trump lost my respect eons ago, sometime during the early seasons of The Apprentice, and there isn’t a thing I could learn about him that would surprise me. If he unzipped his orange-skin suit and revealed himself to be a lizard-faced alien, I’d mutter “Of course.” The effect of that video tape goes well beyond disgust for me and millions of women because it is an in-your-face reminder that sexism is alive and well. It’s a visceral souvenir of times in our own pasts when we were assaulted, either verbally, physically, or both, by someone like Mr. Trump who still views women as chattel. It simultaneously baffles, scares, and disappoints me. It also makes me breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have a daughter who I have to explain this shit to.

As horrific as Donald Trump’s words were on the tape, what bothered me more was Billy Bush’s comments and behavior which, while not quite as overtly crude, were just as creepy and demeaning. When Bush first spied actress Arianne Zucker who was waiting to meet their bus, he exclaimed, “Sheesh. Your girl is hot as shit!” Did he just say “your girlas if she belongs to him When they disembarked the bus and Billy suggested she give Mr. Trump a hug, I shivered. Women are continually expected to offer personal physical contact upon request, whether or not it makes them uncomfortable. It’s just what we’re supposed to do. Did Billy Bush embrace Mr. Trump when he met him that day, you know, as a precursor to all the male bonding and “locker room talk”? I keep flashing back to that uncomfortable hug with an anxiety reminiscent of PTSD. If Ms. Zucker had refused to comply, she would have opened herself to a smile, sweetheart-like comment meant to belittle her for overreacting and not giving in, or a what-a-bitch remark for her non-compliance, or perhaps forcible physical contact such as a hardy grab of her genitals as a reminder of who holds the power. Sick. And. Wrong.

I find myself checking the calendar a lot lately. Are we really in 2016? While I’ve long known we’re still a sexist society in which no woman is truly safe, I think I had somewhat deluded myself into believing we had made some sort of forward progress. Maybe the nomination of the first woman to be on a presidential election ballot buoyed my sense of optimism. But this election, with its female candidate and her harassing and demeaning male counterpart who is constantly referring to her as Crooked Hillary, has made me downright depressed. Secretary Clinton has more experience than anyone else has ever had for the position of Commander in Chief. Like Donald Trump, she has a negative reputation and scars from thirty years in the public eye that she has to overcome, but she also has sexism to rise above. And this sexism is not only from males. There are women perpetuating sexism against her as well, although I’d like to believe that sexism is so deeply buried in a dark place they’ve been conditioned not to realize exists that they have no clue that is what is behind their hatred of her. While I may not agree with some of her choices, words, or actions, I can’t help but admire Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is fearless. She has taken every type of abuse imaginable and she keeps marching forward unabated. She may or may not make a decent president, but I admire her balls. It’s crazy how brave she is to believe she is smart, capable, and level-headed enough to be President of the United States in this day and age. Perhaps more people might approve of her, though, if she would just smile more.

The next time Donald Trump is scowling on the debate stage behind her, I hope Hillary employs her balls. I hope she turns around, grabs him firmly by the genitals, and tells him to smile about it. It’s what powerful people do. And, clearly, he’s been asking for it.

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More Birthdays = More Birthday Cake

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” ~George Burns

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Slightly younger me

Midlife is weird. You never think about it until you’re in it and by then you don’t know what the hell hit you. Right around the time I turned 40, I began feeling this sense of urgency, like life was heading into its final stages and I was running out of time. I became stressed out by the act of aging. Every day I would notice something new in my body, a twinge of pain in my wrist or a soreness in my toes as they hit the floor in the morning. I wasn’t so much young anymore. My body was in slow decline, and it became the focal point of my attention. So, I went at life like a bat outta hell. I had things to accomplish before it was too late and I was too old to do all the things. I put exercise and eating right at the top of my list and became so concerned about them that they morphed into a job rather than something to enjoy. I would compare myself to others my age to see how I was holding up. It was all about not looking or acting my age, as if my age were a brick wall I was swerving around. And, in that fog of temporary insanity, I traveled through ages 40-46, too busy crossing things off my to-do list to be in the moment and too tired from doing all the things to enjoy every other part of my life. I missed tuning in for some of the best years of my sons’ lives by being too focused on silly, self-imposed goals that in the end didn’t bring me as much satisfaction or joy as I expected they would.

Partially because of the disappointment of not finding what I was looking for during my furious race to be everything I was supposed to be in my early forties, around age 46 I entered the who-gives-a-shit-because-I’m-just-gonna-die-anyway phase. During this phase, my husband and I started sharing complaints about our bodies and how they weren’t acting the way they used to. It went from a general noticing into a full on festival of physical misfortunes. Despite our constant complaining about them, our aches and pains weren’t getting any better and our sharing these details (while making us at least momentarily feel better in our not-aloneness) kept our focus on them. This, in turn, led to a depression of sorts. If the period between 40 and 46 was my Bust-It-Out phase, the two years between 46 and 48 were my Give-It-Up-Already phase. I mean, it’s not as if twenty-somethings couldn’t tell by looking at me that I was old, at least by their standards. I wasn’t fooling anyone, so why bother? I swung right from busy and focused on outward appearances to sluggish and apathetic about everything. I ate too much, drank too much, and checked out, trying to come to terms with the knowledge that I would in fact die at some point, whether or not I had everything checked off my bucket list. And who the hell would care about what I had accomplished or not accomplished anyway?

I’m 48 and midlife crisis is mostly finished with me now. My friends who told me I would feel much better on the other side were right. The shoulda-coulda-woulda thoughts are gone. I’m not wasting another minute feeling bad about something I want that others think is inappropriate. I’m on the precipice of IDGAF, which is pretty freeing. I’m not running around trying to accomplish goals, nor am I just sitting around thinking my best days are behind me. I’m living my life where it is now, grateful for the opportunity to do just that. What I’ve learned in the past eight years is that midlife crisis is an evolution. If you’re lucky, you go through it all the way and don’t get stuck either too busy with the future or too depressed about the past to live life in the present.

I’ve been observing older people recently, looking for those who model what I would like to become now that I’ve emerged through the rebirth canal of midlife. What I’ve found is that, like most things, aging largely comes down to attitude. If you think you are old, you are. The minute you start putting labels on what you can or should do at your age, you are screwed. Age is a number. What comes with it, a natural slowing down and some measurable physical changes, is unavoidable. But how you approach those changes is a choice. I have seen 65 year olds who seemed 85 and I have seen 85 year olds who would pass for twenty years younger. The older people I admire most are grateful for their journey. They work at seeing the good around them. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They aren’t afraid to try new things. They don’t care what anyone else thinks. They take care of themselves but they don’t obsess over it. And they never put unnecessary limits on themselves. They are comfortable in the wrinkly, saggy skin they’ve earned by treating their body like the soul vessel that it is and they don’t let its appearance stop them from putting on a swimsuit and getting into the surf. They know life isn’t over until it’s over.

These days, I find I’m not as concerned about the number of candles on next year’s birthday cake. I’m just excited about the possibility of cake. img_2535