Thursday, October 28, 2010

Old Dog, New Tricks

If you know me, you know that I used to be overly involved.  In everything: my kids' school (oh how involved I was in room parenting, PTA, fundraising, email communications and everything in-between), their activities (soccer team mom, snack bar volunteer), my friends (coffees, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, emails, long chats on the phone, yoga classes, fitness classes, parties, book club, consulting with one another on local gossip, hot topics, nail polishes), my family (special occasions, who needs to bring what to said occasions, gift giving, picnics, birthdays, holidays), my house (redecorating, remodeling, thinking about planting new colors in the garden, wanting to buy new sheets or pots and pans, repainting one room, then another)... on and on.  I could write a long laundry list (yes, I forgot to add laundry), but it would bore you.  And me.  I can't do it anymore.

I'm learning to say "no."  It's hard to admit this, but I think I had to move away from my own life -- physically, geographically -- to gain perspective.  

Yes, I've volunteered to be in Marlowe's class one morning each week.  And I'm one of Emme's room parents, which has taken up a lot of time this week.  But these activities directly impact my kids and that makes me feel like it was okay to say "yes," this time.

However, when a new mom-friend of mine at the school said that they were looking for someone to be a yard supervisor in the afternoon -- just for a half-hour, paid -- I heard myself say "NO!" before I could stop and think of a nicer way to put it.  But I couldn't bear to not be heard or understood.  Watch a yard full of 1st to 3rd graders for a half-hour?  No way, Jose.  In general, I don't even like other people's kids, not even if the job entails an orange vest and a regulation whistle.  It would be another commitment and I'm not that person anymore.

As my dad, a born-again Texan, would say, That dog won't hunt.  No sir, it won't.  THIS dog is busy learning new tricks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oh No, She Di-int (And Oh No, She Won't)

Emme, Marlowe & Serena (Picture by Marlowe)
Last night, I snuggled up to Serena before bedtime and asked what was new.  We talked about gymnastics and her teacher and the 4th grade trip to Sacramento in the spring.  Then I remembered that Raf told me she'd mentioned having "a thing" with one of her new friends at PE -- the friend called Serena a "show-off" when she did a cartwheel -- so I asked her about it.

Now, every day when I walk Gibby around the neighborhood, I try to listen to a podcast and yesterday I happened upon a recent one on This American Life called "Frenemies," detailing how we befriend -- and maintain relationships with -- people who are overly competitive, push and pull us, and are generally abusive in ways that are both subtle and overt.  One surprising detail, mentioned at the very beginning of the podcast, was a scientific study that found that nearly half of all of the subjects' relationships caused great stress and anxiety, even the relationships that the subjects had with people that they love (BFFs, family members).  The study charted the blood pressure of its subjects over the course of three days throughout EVERY interaction they had with other people.  The finding? That blood pressure rose much higher when they interacted with "frenemies" than with actual enemies or people they just didn't like.  Hmmm....

So, back to Serena... 

I asked her about the incident and she sort of shrugged and recounted a few other times in which the girl (I'll call her Annie) and another one (let's call her Betty) were blatantly unkind.  Rather than being shocked or upset or crying, she was methodical and observant.  She told me about an incident a week ago in which she was sitting at a lunch table with the girls and Betty told Serena to go sit at the other end to "block the view of an ugly guy."  Serena thought she was joking, but after a few minutes, she did so.  Annie, who is also sort of new to this sort of mean-girl behavior, finally said, "Serena, come back and sit with us." But Betty told her not to, which confused Serena, especially if Annie and Betty claimed to be her "friends."  

After I considered the situation a little more -- and keeping in mind that I could dismiss it as "girl behavior," which I've heard time and again, but which rankles my core because I disagree with it -- I finally told her, "That's bullying.  It may not seem like it and I doubt Annie and Betty understand that they're doing it, but now you know it and you can choose not to be a part of it."  Serena, unfortunately, has had some experience with girl bullying, and I knew that word would inspire her to see the situation more clearly.  After I said that, Serena told me there is another girl in her class who was the "slave" of yet another girl... And it was clear to me that Serena knew what that meant and why it was pitiful.

The good thing is that these girls are not the only game in town.  There are several other sweet girls in Serena's class and these two may actually wise up and get tired of their own in-fighting and be sweet again, too.  But that's not my concern.  My concern is raising a strong, confident woman who does not sway to the whims of a weaker person.

And so I've decided not to even let this moment slide.  After school, I'm going to mention it to Serena's teacher, kindly, not asking for anything, just allowing myself to share an observation that may help keep other girls from wasting their self-esteem.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Life Happens

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine relayed the story of an unfortunate event that happened last Friday and consumed her time and energy for the better part of the weekend.  I don't need to tell you the details, because all of us have those moments when illness or tragedy or heartbreak or financial woes or disappointment or what-have-you gets "in the way" of life.  I was about to say, "I'm so sorry that you had to go through that" or "Yikes, bad luck," but instead what tumbled out of my mouth was, "Wow, you had a big bunch of life this weekend."

She smiled at me; she gets it.  Not every day is the one where you get a phone call from someone saying you've won a trip to Hong Kong.  Some days you're more likely to get a call from the school nurse announcing that your middle child has lice.  And then you still have to go home and help everyone with homework and dinner and maybe you'll watch a good TV show together before bed and you'll hug each other good-night and it will all start fresh again in the morning.  Some days are good and others are so-so and others make your eyes red from tears.  But this is all part of it.  

Raf and I were laughing last night about how, in our 20s, we are waiting for our lives "to begin," and now, in our late 30s and early 40s, we are scrambling with the knowledge that our lives have ALWAYS been... and now how do we make the most of what life doles out to us?

For instance, last week I took Emme to see Broken Bells, one of our favorite bands, at the Wiltern.  It was a late birthday present and we were anticipating it for weeks.  We left early enough to go to Fred 62 for dinner (French toast and mashed potatoes for her, pho noodle soup for me) and then we were rounding the left turn from Western onto Wilshire when she told me she had to puke.  No, really.  After I finally parked and we entered the Wiltern, and went back and forth to the bathroom three times, wading through the fabulous older hipster crowd (utterly my peeps - I even saw one of my yoga teachers), I texted Raf: "WHAT DO I DO?"

He replied: "You'll do the right thing."

Which meant leaving during the opening act (Autolux, another KCRW fave) so that Emme could throw up, unashamed, in the comfort of our own car.  With no traffic and her stomach settled, we could talk about the things that matter.  She told me about missing her Uncle Max and we talked about the beach house.  "Maybe we weren't supposed to have it anymore," she said in her 10-year-old wisdom, understanding the complex nature of the universe more profoundly than most elderly people.  We both came to realize that maybe the anticipation of going to see a concert alone with her mom -- something she wanted so much -- was too powerful and made her too nervous to handle.  Instantly, she felt at ease, knowing I wasn't disappointed in her and that we had already had a nice evening together, even without the "main show" of the Broken Bells.

My friend, the one who had the big bunch of life last weekend, said, "I'll bet that if you'd actually seen Broken Bells, you wouldn't have had that moment with Emme."  

And that's exactly what I mean.  Maybe it's not the "main attractions" that we're supposed to experience, but the smaller, quieter moments that come before, after or in lieu of the main shows.  I wonder, also, if sometimes those main attractions -- with their fireworks and sparkly lights and pomp and circumstance -- merely distract us from the sweetness of the not-so-attractive bits of life, which are unheralded but just as significant.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays

I am not generally a rainy day person; this is probably evident in most of my blog posts and I'm sure you've guessed it by now.  I would probably not make it through a winter -- or any other season -- in Seattle.  I am happiest when the sun is shining, regardless of whether it's hot or cold outside, even though I do have a kick-ass pair of black-and-hot-pink striped rain wellies and faux-fur-lined Kamiks for chillier wet days. But I'm changing, a little.

When we lived in the Valley, on "the grid," I used to dread rainy days... the bewildered rushing water in the suburban gutters, the puddles in the cracks of the asphalt, the pool flooding, the precarious way that we Angelenos drive in the rain.  I could never find a working umbrella -- I am somewhat known for throwing broken ones back into the umbrella bucket in the garage when the sun comes out and then scrambling to fix the sharp spokes when the next rainstorm hits -- and my kids have never owned rain jackets.  Even during that crazy El Nino year when my oldest girls were in preschool and we had to practically wade through a flood to get out of the car for two weeks, I didn't get the hang of living in the rain.  I hate being wet.  I hate the dark, cloudy days.  I hate the perpetual Monday morning feeling of rain.

Until now, that is.  This morning, I had to take the dog on a walk.  He drank a ton of water before bed last night and wouldn't go outside when Raf opened the door... and I figured a wet morning wouldn't kill me.  Quite the contrary.  It was quiet and smelled fresh and clean outside.  Gibby and I quickly got the hang of the weather -- he's a Lab, after all -- and I was surprised by how much I loved the sound of the rain dropping from leaf to leaf above us in the trees that we passed.  27 minutes later, we were home and I had to send my apologies to the late great Karen Carpenter.  Rainy days no longer get me down.

Now, I'll turn my attention to Mondays.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Twelve years after our own wedding, I think Raf and I are happy to attend weddings without the stress of it all.  I was my own version of a Bridezilla, wanting to do everything by myself.  Raf and I spent hours stringing wires around Mason jars to hang in the trees as candle holders, we made bows for each and every invitation, I wrote a poem for him and a loooooong-winded program that were printed on vellum and placed on a table at the entrance.  I sewed feathery fake butterflies to my veil and hand-picked a band to play 1960s soul music.  The effect was beautiful and exactly what I wanted.  But by midnight, the party was over and my bridal daydreams turned back into pumpkins, which have become now become three little pumpkin pies for whom I will one day play the Mother of the Bride.  Happily.  

Over the weekend, we attended the wedding of my youngest cousin, Julie, the daughter of my beloved Aunt Carolyn.  Julie is luminous on a daily basis -- one of her nicknames is Tinkerbell, among many, many others -- and her 1930s-inspired wedding was just another opportunity for all of us to bask in her light.  Her husband, Shane, glows as brightly, and it was a pleasure to celebrate the world that they've created.

When the wedding began, it was hot in the sun, so many of us decided not to sit "on the bride's side," preferring instead to sit behind the groom's family.  Inadvertently, I got a beautiful view of my Aunt Carolyn (in the bottom left of this photo) watching her youngest child at the altar.  I love this picture because Carolyn is crying happy tears and Julie is looking at her future, in Shane's face.  Once I was in Julie's place, and someday I will be in Carolyn's place.  

No wonder I always cry at weddings.