Faking It

Faking It

“Change is the only constant in life.” — Heraclitus

I have two sons, a teenager, and one soon to be. When they were younger, sometimes the only way I knew to how to show up was to just stone cold fake it.

Whether it was pretending that I wasn’t terrified of flying in order to get my then five year old  to board a plane, or acting like the toddler classes at My Gym were fun, and not actually the tenth fucking ring of hell, IMAGE_My_Gym_Children-s_Fitness_Center_4_mediumfaking it has always been a useful strategy in my mommy tool box.

People say little kids can tell when your lying, but I’m happy to call bullshit on this  myth because my boys fell for all of it.

Thank god.

Pretending I was relaxed and in control allowed me to be what I thought was a better version of myself, and I wanted that for my kids.

But lately faking it has started to feel, well, fake.

Last weekend, for example, I drop my oldest off at his sex-ed class, you know, like you do.

(I’ll for sure be writing more about the whole sex-ed thing. It’s a great program you can learn about here.)

Anyhoo…

Afterwards, I’m in the car with my eleven year old, who’s using my phone to find an age appropriate educational podcast we can listen to on the way to the park (not really – he was playing Doodle Jump), when a text comes in. It’s the teacher of the class, a friend of mine. From the back seat, 11 reads it to me. “We need fifty condoms, asap”. Apparently there was some kind of game planned for class that day and they were short a few supplies.

“Tell her I’m on it!” I chirp. I am the go-to mom, I think to myself, with satisfaction. Yep- cool and capable, that’s me.

On a roll, I decide to take advantage of the teachable moment and make sure 11 is up on all things condom. I keep it real matter-if-fact, like they tell you to, explaining to him in simple but accurate language, how they are used and why.

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I’m doing great, I think to myself.

But as we get out of our car and enter Rite Aid, I start to feel the tingle of something like embarrassment creeping up on me. I try to shake it off. Buying condoms is a life skill, I tell myself. “Come on, let’s make it quick, kiddo!”

(Time out— Just so you know, I am not usually hung up about sex stuff. Seriously. It’s probably one of the few hang-ups I don’t have, but I haven’t bought condoms since grunge bands were a thing, and apparently I am a little out of practice.)

So after going up and down every aisle, passing right by all the normal mothers who are there for sunscreen, or Claritin, we finally find aisle seven, now more aptly known (by me) as The Sex Aisle.

“What are those?” My son asks.

“Condoms,” I answer brightly, “like we were talking about in the car.” No biggie, I think, perusing the vast array of choices.

“Why are there so many kinds?”

Clearly, I am a what they call an “askable” parent. Awesome! But I ignore his query for the moment, and dig around in my purse for a pair of readers.

“Back up honey,” I say, “Mom needs to see.”

Someone passes behind us. Did I imagine it, or was that a snicker? I feel my face flush. I just need the cheapest, biggest box, and I need to get it before anyone comes and judges me for being all sexed up and desperate for rubbers at two in the afternoon.

Peering over my shoulder to get a better view of the merch, 11 asks, “Do they mean the skin of an actual lamb?”

Reader, I’m totally down with this conversation. I read Meg Hickling’s book, and at the right time I am capable of answering all these questions and more, but at this moment, I am feeling fifteen years old and I just want to get the goods and get the hell out of there.

I lift the plastic door of the case to grab some Trojans (brand loyalty is alive and well) when–DIIIIINNNGGG! An alarm sounds, making us both jump.

“What’s that?” 11 asks, but I’m busy reading the box I’ve snagged. Twenty-six, not nearly enough. Shit. I go in again.

DIIIIIINNGGG!!

“Are you stealing?” My son asks, as I frantically search for a bigger box, knocking something called a Pleasure Pack to the floor. I’m intrigued, but need to stay on task.

I reach in and quickly try to put it back—

DIIINNNGGGG!!

For the love of all that is holy,  can a person not just buy fifty condoms without the world knowing??? With sweaty palms, I fling open the cabinet, and try for a different box.

DIIIINNGGG!!!

“Security check on aisle seven!” blasts over the store intercom.

“Let’s get out of here,” I hiss.

As we make our way to the registers, I grab a few other things— index cards, pencils, Us Magazine, just to round out my haul.

“You dropped these,” 11 says, handing me a supersize box of Stimulations Ultra-Ribbed. My eyes dart around as I shove them in my basket.

At the front of the store, the cashier on register #1 looks a little judgey to me. Reguster #2 is some poor high school kid, so I opt for the zoned out woman on the end, and casually place my items on the counter for her to scan.

11 is watching me with a smile that says, “who are you trying to fool?  

I have to laugh

Once again, I’m trying to fake being cool, but he sees right through the act.

And you know what? It’s a relief.

The last thing my kids need is yet another person in their lives who is pretending they have everything figured out. Life is awkward, and strange, and sometimes you get embarrassed even when you know you shouldn’t be. Being myself is the only parenting trick I have left, and it’s no trick at all, which doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

The automatic doors slide open and we leave behind the frigid air of the pharmacy, plunging into the warm afternoon sun.

Just for a moment, the change takes my breath away.

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Do It For Yourself

Do It For Yourself

There is an article I read recently about  how this generation that has grown up on the internet has a real problem creating art for art’s sake. You can read the entire thing here but for now let’s just look at this:

“Hobbies are now necessarily productive. If you’re learning piano, you must try to record the jingle for that commercial your friend directed. If you develop a curiosity about a niche topic, you must start an online newsletter dedicated to it, work to build your audience, and then try to monetize the newsletter. If you have a nice speaking voice, you must start a podcast. We’re encouraged to be “goal-oriented” and rewarded with outsize praise for everything we’ve accomplished, and so we feel that we need to turn every creative pursuit into a professional one.”

When I read that, I not only recognized a creativity trap I’d fallen into, but one I’d set for my kids as well. Not a proud moment, but a true one.

When my son was about nine, he got into making things out of duct tape. He sat forever watching YouTube videos on how to make wallets, belts, book covers, etc. At the time, lots of kids were doing this.

I thought he was brilliant.

And I wanted him to know I thought he was brilliant. I thought that was part of my job.

I bought a bag full of duct tape and shared pictures I’d found online of cool duct tape stuff. I swooned over every new object that rolled off his assembly line and commissioned a cell-phone case in colors that matched my purse.

Now he was an entrepreneur and it was totally his idea! (Kind of.)

He was proud when he made his first sale and, of course, he was having fun. He loved my praise I mean, my attention I mean, making stuff out of duct tape.

A few years later,  he attended a week long day camp where a little rock band was formed. The kids, middle schoolers at the time, had a blast playing Joan Jet covers and writing their own songs. When they shared their music with us, the other parents and I could hardly contain ourselves. They were The Beatles and The Stones rolled into one. We clapped and cheered like groupies for our little musicians.

Then their teacher set them up with a free gig at a pre-school fundraiser. The band loved it— who wouldn’t? Lots of applause and free snow-cones, after all.

Next, their fan base (read: parents) made t-shirts and they played at a local Mexican joint, opening for their band teacher, a talented guy who’s devotion to music was total and who, by the way, had worked his ass off for decades as a musician.

The kids were so proud of themselves. We could see it in their faces. Well, we would have seen it, if we weren’t so busy schlepping their shit, selling their merch and buying them burritos.

One night after playing a few sets at a bowling alley, the band broke up in a blaze of hormonally driven pre-teen glory.

WTF?

I stood over a box of now worthless t-shirts and stickers feeling, I’ll admit, just a little bit pissed.

My son said he just wasn’t into it anymore, but I couldn’t help but think he was making a mistake. Maybe after years of having me as his personal concierge, he took it all for granted.

Didn’t he get how lucky he was?

Later, driving home, I got to thinking about the summer of 1980. I was fourteen and wanted, with a red hot passion that fueled all kinds of shenanigans, to be an actor.

After reading about an open call for the sitcom The Facts of Life in the Sunday paper, I called Unknown-2Alex, a friend from school and the only guy I knew who had his own camera. In exchange for a pack of clove cigarettes, he set up a makeshift studio in his basement and took a picture of me wearing my best peasant skirt and tube top. I heard somewhere that you needed a resume, so I pounded one out on my typewriter that consisted of summer camp drama classes, baton twirling and, knowing me, a bunch of made up shit. I stapled that sucker to my picture and caught the bus to meet my destiny.

The producers were in Nashville looking for a southern teenager to add to the regular cast, and the waiting room at Talent and Model Land was packed with girls like me. Not knowing the drill, I did what they did: signed in, looked at my script, and checked out the competition. Most of the girls were dressed a little better, some had professional photos and hair done up with hot rollers. When my name was called I teetered into the room on my sister’s hand-me-down Candie’s, said my lines to the camera while blushing scarlet, and caught the bus home.

I waited by the phone for days, but they never called. I was crushed.

And I couldn’t wait to do it again.

A snapshot of that day might have shown a girl who needed a grownup’s help (maybe rethink the  three inch heels, Mag), but pan out and it’s a different story.

I’m as proud of that Facts of Life audition as I am of anything I accomplished in my twenty years as a working actor and it happened without an enterage. It marked the beginning of a long rocky road and even though I’m no longer interested in acting, I still call on that sovereign girl with her yellow highlighter and harebrained schemes whenever I want to try something new. (She’s the one who started this blog.)

I’m not saying I’m done supporting my kids when they’re going for something. I’m just done doing it without being asked. And I’m definitely done being the one who does the most work.

I shared my (better late than never) epiphany with a good friend who has raised a couple of  kids of her own. She told me that when her daughters were growing up and in that “look at me” phase, she would watch and smile and say, “I’ll watch once, then you need to do it for yourself.” Wow.

Do it for yourself.

That actually used to be a thing.

The other night I was walking by my son’s bedroom and from behind the door that is so often closed these days came the sound of him playing a song on his guitar that I’d never heard.

It was so beautiful. Did he make it up himself? Were there lyrics? Wait, let me get your Dad…

And that was my cue

to keep on walking.

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Stuck. I Had My Reasons.

Stuck. I Had My Reasons.

Hi.

What’s up?

Let me just get something off my chest so I can move on, ok? Here is a list, in no particular order, of reasons I haven’t been writing here for a while:

  1. Trump got elected and, overnight, my blog seemed so dumb and pointless that all I wanted to do was stuff it deep in the trash, like way down under the coffee grounds, Valpak coupons and empty containers of Nosa blackberry serrano yogurt .
  2. Trump got elected, which was not normal, and I felt I should be using every bit of time I could to fight racism, fascism and willful ignorance, not blogging about our family’s road trip or my period. You know, priorities.
  3. I’ve always had the feeling that there is something wrong with a person who feels the need to share her private thoughts publicly. Desperate plea for attention, right? If the shoe fits…
  4. I pretty much ran out of ideas.
  5. I found myself so happy when people responded well to a post that it scared me. I knew I was way too attached to getting a positive reaction and that I would start bending over six ways from Sunday to get more. Of course this could only result in shit writing, which made me want to quit.
  6. I have a sister who I don’t talk to. (Long story). She found my blog and it made me feel exposed, vulnerable, and like I didn’t want to write here anymore.
  7. I thought I should stop spending so much time writing and spend more time on…well, I wasn’t exactly sure what, but something that either brought in a paycheck, or was, like, a “good mom” thing. For example, I could learn to play Dungeons and Dragons, or that game my kids call “Awesome Possum,” which I’m not sure is even a real game but wouldn’t a good mother at least know those things???
  8. “First world problems.” This phrase is fucking poison. Thanks to self-righteous Facebook posts it got in my head and I’ve let it stop every idea or creative impulse I’ve had for months. I believe it is the mother of all censors because it goes for the jugular and tells us that what we have to say is meaningless. Translated, it’s “sit down, shut up, and let the grownups talk.” 
  9. I followed the rules. Second to listening to the voice of #8, this was my biggest mistake. The rules I followed were: you post every week, you post on the same day every week, you use lots of visuals, your posts should be 800-1200 words, you have a searchable title, you deliver the same kind of content every time. All the rules were a major buzzkill and pointless too, since my goal has never been to rule the world through blogging. My goal is to make you like me! (Oh, I’m kidding. My actual goal is to have my ex-boyfriend find me through a Google search and see how successful I am, which is why it would be really awesome if you could just say something  in the comments like, “hey, Maggie, congrats on the book deal!” TIA)
  10. I was scared of becoming obnoxious.

So those are the reasons I stopped, and imbedded in each of them are the reasons I’m starting again. Creative blocks are intense, and first world problem or not, I’m committed to pushing through.

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PS- I’m sorry that my blog probably won’t do a damn thing to fight Pussy-Grabbing-Anti-Intellectual-Environment-Destroying-Nationalist-Batshit-Crazy Trump. I wish I was that kind of writer. But for now, I’m just me, and I’ve really missed showing up here.

PPS- I might write less and shorter blog posts these days because it is a new ballgame, thanks to Agent Orange. This site helps me prioritize action items.