Come On Get Happy! Road Trip 2016

Come On Get Happy! Road Trip 2016

Our family is about to embark on an epic road trip where we will explore as much of the western half of this country as can be done in two weeks.

“Now’s the time,” friends have told me. “Once they’re teenagers, it will be a much harder sell.”

Old Faithful!

The Grand Canyon!

Quality Time and free continental breakfasts for all!

It’s going to be great.

Except, you know how some horror movies will begin with, oh, say, a nice family packing for a summer vacation, and it all looks so fun but you KNOW it’s all about to get very scary?

I’m kind of flashing on that, y’all.

First of all, I’ve got two boys, each of whom get carsick on the elevator to their 5th floor orthodontist’s office. Because of this, a road trip feels just a tiny bit risky.

And of course, there’s the fact that they are eleven and thirteen, the age when kiddos really turn on the charm.

(You feel me, moms?)

Then there’s my husband and I.

We have been married fifteen years which he always points out, in Los Angeles, is “a pretty good run.”

Such a romantic.

And while Chris and I are all good with the daily routine, exploring the road less traveled (especially if it’s crammed with tourists in socks and sandals) with all it’s novelty, can sometimes bring out the worst in us.

You know, just a little.

One thing about C. is that he truly wants to make his family happy. (Side note: I am proud to say that, while very tempting, I have never used this to my advantage, as evidenced by the fact that we have neither a chicken coop, nor a manny.)

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I also have a thing about making my family happy, albeit with slightly more of an edge than my husband. Oh yes, I want to make them happy and keep them happy, by god, or die trying!!

In that way (and a few others), we are all batshit crazy.

So a family road trip with us could look something like this:

Four hours into a seven hour drive, one child might whimper, “I don’t feel so good.”

I hand him a plastic Subway bag, to which he responds, “Don’t Mom, you’re making it worse!

They ask how many more miles, and does the motel have a pool.

Four hundred ninety-seven and no, it does not.

T. asks for more room in the backseat, prompting C. to poke his older brother with a fruit roll-up, which inspires T. to fart, then blame the fart on C., forcing C. to retaliate with, what else?

More farting. (Did I mention he is eleven?)

I unroll the windows.

“Look over there!” My husband says then, pointing to an awesome rock formation which looks, you gotta kind of admit, a lot like the last awesome rock formation. “See that??”

Busy licking orange dust out of an empty Doritos bag from three states ago, the little darlings don’t respond to their father, which leads to a very slight tensing of his lower jaw, invisible to to the naked eye unless, of course, the naked eye is my super-human-bionic -mother-eye.

It is then that some very ancient neuron in my brain, buzzing from too many pecan logs and Snapples, fires, and I, for reasons I am not wholly conscious of, set about “lightening the mood” with a friendly game of License Plate Bingo. I crank the audio version One Hundred and One Native American Folk Tales (educational and fun!) and take another family selfie.

#Blessed!

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When both my boys were preschool age, I went to an amazing therapist. (If you read this blog then you know I’m no stranger to the couch.)

I went to her because I was feeling anxious during the long hours I spent alone with my son and newborn baby, and I couldn’t figure out why. Like many new moms, I thought that all I wanted was for my kids to be happy. (This was before Facebook and articles like this that, like a good freinemy, are both helpful and shaming. Now we know better—then, we were totally fucked up.)

No matter what I tried, C. would still have long crying jags in the middle of the night and T. flipped out when riding in his carseat. Everyone else always seemed to be enjoying themselves. What was wrong with us??

“It just feels like someone is always upset,” I said. “I don’t know what to do.”

“So,” she began, all casual-like, “What would a good day look like, for you and the boys?”

I tried to figure out what the right answer was. I knew I needed therapy, but I desperately wanted her to think I didn’t. “Well, I guess if everyone’s happy, then it’s been a good day.”

Nailed it, I thought.

A single mother with two grown kids of her own, she smiled and said, “You might need to rethink your definition of a good day.”

She told me that when you’ve got two kids under five, a day that ends with everyone in one piece might just be as good as it gets.

One kid crying in my arms with a fever while the other watches yet another episode of What Not To Wear in his bouncy seat? Good day.

Honey Bunches of Oats for dinner while wearing our pajamas. (From yesterday?) Good day.

Staying at the fancy Children’s Museum in Beverly Hills for thirty minutes before having to leave with two sobbing kids because C. pooped in his rain boots? Good Day.

My feeling ok had been dependent on their smiling faces and let me tell you, that shit can drive you nuts. Realizing that I do not operate the on/off switch for anyone’s happiness, and changing my whacked idea of what a good day looks like was, ironically, the key to happiness.

My own, anyway.

And it’s probably also the key to

a totally awesome road trip

a super fun road trip

our road trip 🙂

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This Post Is Not Clickable or Funny or SEO Friendly

This Post Is Not Clickable or Funny or SEO Friendly

I could not come up with anything to write last week.

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I guess it’s more accurate to say that, although I did come up with something last week, I could not stand to publish what I came up with last week.

I could not stand for one more minute, the sentences beginning with I,

the licking out of every corner of my mind.

And then presenting it for you to read?

Unthinkable.

“If you don’t enjoy doing it, don’t do it,” my husband sometimes tells me.

“But I am. I am enjoying it,” I tell him right back.

I enjoy learning that what catches my eye isn’t always the shiny thing, like it was when I was younger. At fifty, I’m not afraid to reach in and pluck the dark moments of any given day. Writing about them, I find they are like berries, the darker the sweeter.

I even enjoy the things about blogging that make me want to take an ice-pick to my computer screen.

Things like software issues, algorithms, SEO optimization and grammar zealots. Last week, after I posted this, I got an email from someone telling me that I should get a proofreader, as I had misused it’s and its several times.

And you know what?

I loved her for that.

In another situation I probably would have gotten shitty about her comment. “That wasn’t the point,” I might have shot back, in defense of myself. I might have made her wrong to whoever would listen, only later taking a bath in my own shame, thinking, it’s true. I’m not smart enough to do this. Everyone sees it.

But because I want to improve my writing more than I want to bubblewrap my ego, and because she was absolutely right, I corrected the mistakes she pointed out (there are many more, I know) and gave a silent prayer gratitude for her suggestions, and for my own surprising ability to not be a jerk about it.

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So yes, I love writing here.

Then what’s the problem? Why am I so worried that I’m taking up this tiny bit of space that should be given to someone else?

Sandra Cisneros gave this piece of advice: “Do not write about what you remember. Write about what you wish you could forget.”

It is Christmas afternoon and my mother is yelling at me that the gifts I made for her and my father were an embarrassment. I had not taken the time I should have, she stands over me and yells, to make sure they were done well. She tells me that I am selfish, thinking I could give him that awful ashtray with “Daddy” painted in red over blue paint that had not yet dried. The paint smeared and looked muddy.

Slapdash.

Mama is furious because, even though I am in third grade, I should know what is high quality work and what is not. That plywood I had been so happy to find under the house, on which I painted a picture of a fish and a ferris wheel for her, was still rough, she yells. It should have been sanded, goddamnit. I should be ashamed, she says, before slamming her bedroom door.

And I am, because she is an artist, and my mother, so she knows.

I never told anyone this story because it always seemed both too sad and also not sad enough to make for interesting conversation, but eventually, I shared it for the first time with a therapist. I couldn’t understand why this quick scene wrecked me when I thought of it.

“That’s must have hurt when your mother said those things,” she said.

“Yeah, but she had a point,” I smiled and shrugged.

“What do you mean?”

“I could have done better.”

“You were in third grade and these were gifts you had made. For her. Who cares if you could have done better?”

“I know, but I knew the paint was wet,” I reason. “And I should have sanded the edges of that painting. She was right.” My therapist looked at me a long time, the way they do. My mother’s words, like a splinter, were in too deep.

Then decades pass. I have not seen my mother in many years. When she is hospitalized, I go to clean out her apartment, where I find stacks of her sculptures, and an outside storage unit filled to the ceiling with even more.IMG_6571 (1)

Taped to many of the pieces are notes describing how they could be improved. Some read like passionate letters of apology, full of frustration and plans of how to make it right next time.

She was in love.

She was in love with the process of creating but her work,  precious in her own eyes, was never, ever good enough for the eyes of others. So she packed all those sculptures away until she died.

The healing of shame is a lifelong process, and the shitty part of it is that the only way I’ve found to heal shame is to let myself feel it.

To write the sentences that begin with I.

When the time came to post on this blog last week and what I had to say seemed half-baked, I picked at that scab a little bit.

Amateur.

Uneducated.

Bored housewife.

This week I wrote what you are looking at right now. I could (part of me thinks that I should) just put it in a box labelled “Proofread. Needs work.” I could leave it to the real writers, wait until my boys are grown, until I get an M.A. (or even a B.A.), or some other permission slip from the People On Top. Until I learn, once and for all, the difference between it’s and its.

Instead, I’m giving it away.

Fuck it.

Because that’s what a personal blog is all about.

Oh, heads up, the edges are a little rough.

 

 

Holding On To My Grudge

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For the past three years, I’ve been holding a grudge. I have tried to rid myself of it, I really have.
I went for the straightforward approach first. You know, the grown-up schtick, where I talked directly to the person, suggesting we just forget “The Thing” happened and move on. It did not go well, I think because this method of conflict resolution requires not only that I forget the unforgettable, but that the other person admits that “The Thing” actually happened at all, which I think is the first, and most important step to forgetting “The Thing.”

(Stay with me, people.)

I went to plan B.

“Kill them with kindness,” was what a good friend told me to do, and though I’m sure that works for some people, when I am in full on grudge holding mode, it’s just not a realistic approach.

(Let me just say that it’s super tempting to tell you “The Thing” right now, because there’s nothing a grudge holder (me) loves more than nice people(you) saying they are right. I want to share the whole story so your jaw can drop and you can tell me that it’s totally ok that I can’t forget “The Thing”, who could, after all? So hungry is my grudge for validation, that I am actually walking away from my computer right now, so that I don’t go there.)

Ok, I’m back.

That was close.

As time passed, and my grudge still nagged at me, I decided to do a little research. Tich Naht Han wrote a whole book on anger. In it, he suggests we “take care of” our anger:

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.
Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother
to embrace him. You are the mother.
Embrace your baby.”

 

The idea of embracing my feisty little anger-baby, stroking it and singing it Beatle’s songs, sounded like a nice change, but also kind of creeped me out, though I can’t exactly say why.Unknown-1

I decided to give it my own spin and, with props to Tich Naht Han for the inspiration, came up with this mini-meditation hack for when you can’t let go of being pissed. (It’s similar to another one I wrote about here, for when I’m anxious. Good times!) Feel free to play along:

First, I close my eyes and imagine my grudge. Not the person I’m holding it against, but the actual anger, the whole fiery, dangerous, white hot thing. My grudge is roughly the size of my son’s Nerf basketball, or one of those mini-watermelons that seem like a good idea, but are totally not worth the money. Anyhooo…

I hold it in my hands and see that it is beautiful,

orange and red and yellow.

I feel its warmth.

I don’t try to cool it down or make it smaller.

I don’t try to make it be nice.

I take care of it.

Holding it in my hands reminds me that it isn’t part of me, it’s a thing I am holding:

Anger.

Grudge.

I could choose to put it down, if I wanted to. But for now, I don’t.

I am a beginner person.images

(If you are doing this meditation and decide to put your grudge down, you are doing way better at life than me. Please leave your tips and suggestions in the comments section, following this post. Thank you.)

So, that’s pretty much it. After that meditation, a few deep breaths, and a piece of cheese, I feel so much better. It gives me a bit of relief from that feeling that my grudge is controlling me.

And reminds me that I could, if I wanted, put it down.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, it’s looking like I might have to spend some time this summer, in a small group setting, with the person against whom I am holding my grudge.

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I know.

Some friends have said that this is The Universe offering an opportunity for forgiveness and healing. To them, I say, with great affection, “bitch, please.”

(Ok, I don’t actually say that.)

What I actually say is that maybe they are right, but in that case The Universe is going to be sorely disappointed because I don’t know how to forgive this person. Like reading the Qur’an, or toning my upper arms, if it was that easy, I would have done it by now.

So here’s my plan: I’m going to take my grudge along with me this summer. I’m going to wrap it safely in its own cozy little beach towel and let it ride shotgun with me, heading North on the 101 freeway.

Because grudges are needy, it will need lots of help applying sunscreen and want the crusts  cut off it’s sandwiches. It will demand the radio be tuned to it’s favorite station,

AM talk radio, of course.

I’ll give it all these things because, even though this grudge weighs me down, and has hijacked a tiny corner of my brain, when I have exactly no corners to spare, it also means well. It doesn’t want me to feel the pain of “The Thing” that happened, so instead,

it makes me feel

right.

It’s possible that eventually my grudge’s needs will get to be too much, and it just won’t be worth it anymore. One day, when it doesn’t feel so goddamn important to be so very-all-the-time right, I might decide to pull over and leave it on the side of the road.

I’ll give it a juice box and wave good-bye, watching it in my rear view mirror, red hot, beautiful, and smiling.

I’ll wish it well.

And I’ll head to the beach,

just in time for the sunset.

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PS–Even with my handy meditation, I do still have a few questions, which I’ve listed below. If you have answers, please advise.

1) Is it my responsibility, as a grown-up, to forgive this person?

2) If I don’t forgive this person, will The Universe keep making me run into them at Trader Joe’s? 

3) Why is The Universe such an asshole sometimes?

4) Do you have a grudge success story? Share it here!

 

The Good Part of the Sad Thing

The Good Part of the Sad Thing

I was planning to write something really upbeat this week

Really, I was!

There’s an idea I’ve been kicking around about why summer camp is awesome and I thought that would make for nice reading, and lighten up the tone of my blog, which may have become, oh, just a touch dark, as of late.

But then I had to kill my cat.

I thought I was ready. At twenty-one, Cash was so old that, unless asleep, he howled almost constantly. He had lost some teeth, spent a good chunk of his day staring at the dryer, his kidneys were failing and something had gone seriously wrong with his nose.

Our vet did what she could, but lately would just shrug, as if to say, what can you do?

When I shared pictures like this, friends suggested that all that crying might be him begging for us to just put him out of his misery, already.13000270_10209513323214648_7111807898188004599_n

So last Friday we called a professional cat-putter-downer, who came to our house and was so kind and good at her difficult job that the whole experience was much less awful than it could have been. After she examined Cash, and reassured me that this decision to put him to sleep wasn’t just an over-reaction to him peeing a river into my son’s guitar, I held my cranky old kitty on my lap and said good-bye.

And then, out of nowhere, a truckload of pain was dumped on top of me.

I knew I would be sad, but I truly did not expect to have that punched in the chest feeling. You know, that bruising that happens when you trip on your own humanity.

Ouch.

After the vet left, with Cash’s body tucked inside a small basket, I thought about how my mother in law had put her beloved cat to sleep a month ago. When my husband told me, I had called her to say I was sorry.

“I’m so sorry,” I had said, and meant it. She loved the cat. It was A Sad Thing.

Another friend lost her dog a few months ago and it pretty much went the same way.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and meant it.

So sad.

But the truth is that in both of those cases, I hadn’t let myself feel their pain at all, really. I was sorry, but not enough to let even a little of their grief get on me.

When the hurt of Cash dying hit me like it did, I was surprised. It shouldn’t have been a shocking blow, but  no matter how my brain tinkered with it, it was.

It’s only a cat. Not like a person or anything.

Yep, that’s right.

He was old. He had a nice long life.

Yes indeed.

He was in pain. It was time.

Still sucks.

Seriously, that smelly cat???

I know.

I have an old friend who is really good at finding the meaning in every bad thing that happens. She can connect the dots like a boss and explain just why that diagnosis was a gift, why becoming homeless was the best life lesson, or why that guy who dumped you and still owes you money was your greatest teacher. She can spin any shitty thing until, eventually, it’s almost unrecognizable as shitty.

Look Ma, no sadness!

But talking to that friend about my heartbreak always feels a bit like hugging a wire monkey. She just never seems to get it. I wonder if it’s because she never let herself.

Like booster shots for compassion, small tragedies come our way all the time, reminding us that we are all vulnerable and that’s exactly as it should be. But the tenderizing effects of life’s curveballs only work if we let them hit us.

I usually don’t, but this time I did and I’m glad.

When I spoke to my mother in law a few days ago, and she talked about her cat, I didn’t try to make sense of why she was so upset. I didn’t think about how it had been a month, and what’s up that she’s still soooo sad about it.

Instead of thinking, I felt some of her sadness with her.We were up to our knees in it.

That’s progress, you guys.

You’re probably thinking this is like Common Decency 101.

What can I say?

I’m kind of a late bloomer.

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Will Prozac Make Me Nicer?

Will Prozac Make Me Nicer?

I’m not sure what’s up with me lately. I’ve felt tired and anxious, with a fluttering heartbeat and a semi-constant sense of dread.

That, plus pissed.

So boy was I relieved when last week I had a complete physical and received the fab news that I am a-ok, health-wise, and that my condition can probably be chalked up to just good old fashioned per-menopause.

The doc told me that several of her patients find that a low dose of Prozac helps with symptoms like mine.
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That sounds so 90’s.

It’s like the Rachel haircut of anti-depressants.

(Here’s where I stop for just a minute and say that I am so grateful that drugs like Prozac exist. It has helped several of my dearest friends out of the dark hole of depression, so I hope you don’t think I’m dissing your drug of choice. I am just a very neurotic and small minded person and I like nice things, even if they come in capsule form.)

Initially I’ll admit, I got pretty excited about my 10 mg of self improvement.

“What are some of the side affects?” I asked the doctor. I’m a smart consumer, I thought, as my hand made an almost imperceptible jerk toward the prescription she was writing.

Act casual, I thought.

She mentioned a short list of issues some people have experienced while taking Prozac, weight loss being one of them. “But you’re unlikely to experience any of those with such a low dose.”

I crossed my arms on the soft flesh of my new middle aged gut and smiled.”Oh good,” I heard myself say, almost convincingly.

My plan was to get the prescription filled and start taking my dolls right away so that I could be a new person by tomorrow. Why wait? My husband and kids would thank me! No more lectures about

Exactly How I Would Like the Bread Package Sealed Please.

Twist hard,

several times

and then fold over and wrap a rubber band around it.

Don’t forget to squeeze all the air out of the bag

and the reason you can’t find a rubber band

is that no one ever saves them

and no one puts them here in this little space

in the drawer,

where I’ve told you

the rubber bands should always go.

Am I the only one who cares around here?

It’s a small thing,

to seal the bag of bread and do you just assume

I will throw that stale bread away and go buy another loaf?

Is that it?

Well is it???

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In line at the drugstore, I had some time to think.

As much as my brain bugs me, what with all it’s shortcomings, I kind of like it.

Or, I’m used to it.

Or at least, I’ve tried to make lemonade, as they say.

I remembered a friend telling me that taking anti-depressants hadn’t changed her personality, it just made her not “stew” on things as much. But who am I, I wondered, if not someone who stews??

At that point, the lady standing behind me had a full-on passive aggressive sighing fit about the long wait. What a bitch, I thought. Geez! People need to get a grip. Talk about tightly wound! 

Wait, where was I?

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Oh yeah, do I or don’t I need some Prozac…

I peered into my phone, reading about other possible side affects, the ones my doctor had failed to mention. Side affects like clenched jaw, sleeplessness, anxiety (what the actual fuck???), cold symptoms, mild nausea, decreased appetite, increased appetite, loss of sex drive, constipation, dry mouth…

Later, I sat in my car, my little bottle of hope tucked in my purse,

and called Jo Dee.

“I can’t decide if I want to take them,” I said, enjoying the anti-depressant effect of  a bag of peanut M&Ms. “I just don’t know if I’m that bad off. When you look online, most people  say the side affects were nothing compared to how bad they felt before.”
“That’s how it was for me,” Jo Dee answered, referring to her own experience of depression years ago. “I just felt so fragile. Any little thing would happen and I would just start crying and go back to bed.”

“Yeah, I don’t have that. I do think I’m pretty irritable,” I say, stating the most obvious thing ever stated in the history of the universe. “I wish there was just something that would take the edge off when I need it. I should have asked her for Xanax.”

“Is that what Xanax does?” asked Jo Dee.

“That’s what a friend told me. She described it like, ‘Oh, it just takes the edge off.”

“But isn’t that what they say about every anti-depressant? That it takes the edge off?”

“Yeah,” I answered. “Tastes just like chicken.”

I went home, threw the bottle in the top drawer of my dresser, the one with my rhinestone jewelry from the 80s and all my boys’ baby teeth, and there it sits, waiting for me to decide.

My guess is that you haven’t heard the last from me on this topic, because I’m just so full of questions.

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Does my tendency to snap when my estrogen ebbs warrant a daily dose of medication?

Will taking a little bump of Prozac each morning mean I won’t get quite so worked up when caught in the incessant dinging of a group text from the parents in my son’s basketball league. DING!- “who’s snack mom this week?” Ding!- “I’ll do it!” DING!- “You’re the best!” DING!-“Thanks!” DING!-“Thanks so much!”

DING!-

DING!-

DING!

I don’t know. It could be that the bar for emotional health and a sunny disposition is just a little bit high sometimes.

Because group texts are annoying,

and don’t get me started on stale bread.

 

Facebook, A Love Story

Facebook, A Love Story

I’ve been thinking about social media lately.

I’ll flaunt my age here and admit that for me social media mostly means Facebook. When I started this blog I got onto Twitter, although I have to tell you, it remains a mystery. I use Pinterest mostly for recipes, and have never used Instagram.

Not so bad, right?

But I’m addicted to Facebook and, the truth is, I’m getting pretty sick of the haters making me feel like an asshole for it.

Phew! God it feels good to get that off my chest.

237b6e36cda5fbf311016fe495a6d611The pendulum does seem to be swinging, when it comes to social media, and it joins reality t.v., Snackwells, and Riverdance in the discarded pile of things that were once thought to be so new and hip and fun and now are at least partially to blame for the destruction of our humanity.

Well, I happen to love Facebook.

But when I get articles like this, or this, it does make me think: Am I wrong to love it? Am I shallow, incapable of real friendships, a voyeur, and to use the word of the day,

a narcissist??

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Image source, Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve thought about all of those questions, even as it relates to writing a blog. It’s impossible to keep posting, week after week, without constantly asking myself why anyone should care enough to read my thoughts on such deep and meaningful topics as midlife menstruation and drinking in my car . I do try to write as honestly as I can about my experience, in the hope of hitting on something that has a wider appeal than just my husband and bestie, but in the end, it can’t matter. Blogging is slowly making me a better, more disciplined writer and teaching me new skills, which they say is the fountain of youth.

Also, it’s fun.

How’s that for selfish motives?

Facebook is different though, which is why I get very defensive when people tell me it’s sucking out my soul.

Here are seven reasons why I love the salty sweet confection, cooked up by Mark Zuckerberg. Why Facebook is my drug of choice, and why I’m not giving it up anytime real soon. (Even though I could, I swear I could, I just happen not to feel like it right now):

  1. It’s a way for me to get my chit-chat on, since I live with three (lovable) introverts
  2. It’s like a cocktail party without the cocktails, which should make the fun police very happy
  3. It keeps me up to date on current events!
  4. It makes me laugh
  5. I get to reconnect with friends from my past (when I say friends, I am definitely not referring to the wives of old boyfriends, because I never look them up. Who does that??? Moving on…)
  6. I find good ideas for blog posts
  7. I love knowing what’s up with my people

All of these are good reasons, if you ask me, but not good enough for the people who say it’s as bad as internet porn, and maybe worse. Here are a few of my answers to their concerns:

Has it broken my brain and made it harder for me to sustain focus? Maybe a little, but given the chance, I tend to focus on things like the bedbug epidemic and whether exorcism is actually a thing, so I consider Facebook a step up, in my case.

Does it foster feelings of inferiority and invite depression when I see the carefully curated feeds of people, with their fancy lives and overachieving children? Actually, it doesn’t, and I don’t really know why. It’s true that I hide the posts of the worst offenders (here’s how), but I have friends who swear that all it takes is a few minutes on Facebook to plunge them into self-loathing or, the less copped-to but equally common, friend-loathing.

Now, do I do a fair amount of eye rolling, as I scroll through my feed? Sure. But I like to think of eye rolling like cursing— a healthy outlet and an effective coping device in today’s world. In fact, some of you might be doing it right this minute, and I say, go for it!giphy

(Feels good, right?)

Doesn’t Facebook encourage narcissism? I can see why this is a concern. As I said, I often think about whether I’m narcissistic. (That’s a joke, you guys. I mean, I do, but not that much. I mean, I also think about how smart cats are and whether I should buy some of those underpants that you can pee in. Go Facebook!)

Look, there is some truth to all of this. I can get too distracted and too self-involved. I could stand to stop multi-tasking and, say, just stir the risotto instead of stir the risotto while also watching my friend’s daughter sing a solo in her Montessori preschool’s production of Single Use Plastic Bag, The MusicalWould it be an interesting experiment to log off for a week or two and see how that feels?

Sure, why not?

But just as I don’t like people to tell me that listening to audio books doesn’t count as actual reading, I don’t want to hear that the connections I’ve made or maintain through Facebook aren’t of value. And if it’s true that laughter is the best medicine, then scrolling through my friends’ feeds can be like a shot in the ass, after a rough day.

Yes, we humans love a bandwagon, and right now it looks like social media is the new gluten. Some believe it is the cause of all our ills, and some people park behind Trader Joe’s and eat shame muffins out of their trunk.

So if, like me, you enjoy a daily dip into the slightly fake slightly fabulous online middle school known as Facebook, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

Because it is comforting, isn’t it, 

the not being alone?

 

(Well, how do you like that? I buried the lead.)

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Dear Diary, Dear Pen

Dear Diary, Dear Pen

I knew it was only a matter of time.

I knew, after committing to writing a blog post every week, that there would be a week where I had nothing.

Nothing to say that hadn’t been said a million times before and way better.

My life? Snore.

Parenting? Whatever.

Writing, aging, personal growth, marriage, friendship– I scrolled through my mental Pinterest board of all the usual topics, and came up empty this week.

Hearing the scrawny bastard critic in the corner sneering, “See? You’ve got nothing to say. Leave it to the professionals, won’t you?” I sat and took a breath.

That shut him up.

Then I looked right in front of me, because someone told me, or I read, or I made up, that you can just write about what you see. The first thing I saw was my journal, the second, my pen.

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was in second or third grade. Sometimes they were picture journals, where I would draw ads for movies I’d seen, or practice my fancy autograph with different last names, depending on my latest celebrity crush.

Maggie Cassidy,

Maggie Osmond,

Maggie Gibb.

It was kind of a scrapbook, really. Since then my personal writing has evolved to serve all kinds of purposes, from list making, to venting, to meditation. I can’t imagine ever stopping.

And so, dear reader, I submit to you a blog post about the humble journal.

I am not an expert on anything, but after nearly forty years of pouring my thoughts onto private pages, I feel like I know a thing or two about what makes a good journal, so how about I share those with you now? Actually, life is short, and you’re busy. I’ll just tell you the best journal and you’ll have to trust me on this.

The best journal is this one, by Plumb Notebooks.81Sj8uFekAL._SX466_ I make no disclaimers, because I really think it is the best and here’s why:

This journal will set you back around $22.00, but I think it’s worth it. It is a beautiful color, with unlined paper that’s heavy enough so ink doesn’t bleed through, and shaggy edges that will make you feel very classy. Also, it’s bound in such a way that it lies flat when it’s open. You don’t have to put your coffee cup on it to hold it open when you write, which is lovely.

One of my favorite writers on writing, Natalie Goldberg, says you should use cheap spiral notebooks for journaling and what I call Writerly Diddling. The idea is that, if you write in a plain cheapo notebook, you won’t be so precious about your writing and the pressure will ease up.

First of all, journaling doesn’t involve any pressure, unless you’re hoping to unearth a memoir or something like that. And, even if you are using your journal as a kind of compost bin for other writing (a great idea, by the way), writing in those sad schoolish notebooks just isn’t as much fun. Maybe it’s the flashbacks from seventh grade, or the way the wire thingy comes uncurled and snags my sweater, but I like a journal that in no way reminds me of Geometry homework.

This one is chunky enough to feel important, and squat enough that it can fit into my purse. (PS: If you find that this journal is too big for your purse, just get a different purse. Someone told me that a big purse makes your ass look smaller, so it’s a win-win!)

I’m a little scared of how I’ll feel when this particular journal goes out of print. I’ve bought a few extra, which should get me through the next year and a half, but that doesn’t do much to calm my nerves around the possibility of having to find a new favorite. For now, I’m just trying to live in the moment.

Since we’re on the subject, and since I’m on a roll and seem to be, if I am not mistaken, actually writing a blog post, which only fifteen minutes ago I thought was completely impossible, let’s talk about the pen.

What’s the best pen?

You might have your own opinions, and if you do, please share them in the comments. Unlike my deep and stedfast attachment to my journal, I’m not completely sure I’ve found the perfect pen. I have, however, found a really great one:

Papermate Ink Joy

55008e8817716-paper-mate-inkjoy-700-rt-ballpoint-retractable-xlI’ve been a big fan of the unfortunately named “Uniball” for a really long time, but they’re a little spendy, and sometimes they smudge or leak onto the seat of my car. I liked the Sharpee pens for a while because they were waterproof and pretty cheap, but they had a drag on them and slowed me down. The Papermate Ink Joy is, in many ways, a regular old ballpoint which of course I love, but it has the smooth speed of a more expensive pen.

So, clearly this is not a post that will change the world. But I do believe that writing at least helps the world, whether it’s a novel, a news story or just a page in a journal.

Not that I go back and read them that often, which makes some non-journaling friends ask, “Then what’s the point?”

Good question, and a good question usually has more than one answer.

I do it because it helps me remember.

And because it helps me forget.

An argument with my husband, scrawled out as fast as I can, pressing down on the front and back of as many pages as it takes is then, like a paper boat, set sail downstream. Most of the time, I never see it again.

Forgotten.

(I believe skillful forgetting is a really good thing in a marriage.)

And as for remembering…

I turn to a page written when we were in Hawaii last summer, and it’s there. The night we went swimming in the pool, my boys and I, and took turns holding each other on our backs, floating around in the moonlight. The stars are there, and also the sweetness of my twelve year old son towing me gently around the pool, his palms on my back. It’s written there, that I felt the tables turn for the first time.

My memory leaks like a cheap ballpoint, and I’m so grateful to my journal for capturing and preserving that moment.

So, that’s what’s right in front of me. What’s in front of you?

Write about it 🙂

 

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Going With the Flow

Going With the Flow

 

You guys, we need to talk,

and it might not be pretty.

If you are squeamish in any way, are eating while you read this, or happen  to have been raised in the south, you might find this post a bit, shall we say, MUCH. You’ll probably just want to scroll on past this post. I promise to write something nice next week.

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Ok, if you’ve read this far, there is a good possibility that we get each other, which is great because I could use a little help here.

Since preschool, I have considered myself a professional when it comes to my bodily functions. I never wet the bed, spewed milk out my nose in the lunchroom, and never once, in three sexually active decades, did I have an unwanted pregnancy scare. But now I find myself at fifty, completely confused by my own female body.

To show you what I mean, I’ll share a conversation I had with my friend Jo Dee, just yesterday:

I’m leaving brunch at a friend’s house. I had to leave earlier than I had planned and I’m not happy about it. Walking to my car, I call Jo Dee.

“Hey,”she answers. What’s up?”
“Oh, just bleeding on myself. You know, it’s the new normal.” I’m referring to my near constant state of menstruation, since peri-menapause came a-knockin’ about six months ago.
“Oh, hon. Did you bleed through your pants?”
“I’m not sure. I’m sweaty too, so it’s hard to know.” I might be whining at this point. It’s mid- April and the LA sun is already blazing. “I’m going home to change.”
“Poor thing. And also, ew.”
“I know. Am I supposed to just always wear a pantyliner now? Is that what people do?” I can’t believe I even have to ask.
“I think so,” JoDee answers, but not in a way that inspires confidence. I have a feeling she’s as confused as I am. “I guess?” She adds. Yeah, I’m on my own here.
“Well then I have to find unscented pantyliners, because the ones I have make me smell like a giant roll of toilet paper. I hate it.”
She laughs. “Gross! Used toilet paper?”
“No, not used, but still. The smell gets all up in my nostrils and I can’t get rid of it.”
“Can’t you get some crunchy granola pads from Whole foods or whatever, with no smell?”
“Yeah, I can get like a coconut-hemp-compostable-diva-liner thing for seventeen dollars a piece.”
“I’m sure they actually do make unscented liners, though. Just the regular kind from Walgreens.”
“No, those are what I have. But they’re not unscented, not really. That’s what I’m saying.”
“I’m going home and smelling mine.”
“Careful, that shit gets in your nose. You’ll smell it in your dreams.”
She laughs. Laughter. It’s my Valium.
I sit in my car, with the air conditioner cranked and pointing directly at my sweaty face. “My body is totally different suddenly. I’m having to learn so much. And I’m buying all these new things, like I have all kinds of tampons now. I have a whole collection, a cornucopia of choices, for every possible situation. It’s ridiculous. They make one kind now, which I’m sure is for ladies in the home stretch like myself, that is huge— it’s like the size of a hamster. For those special days.
“That would just piss me off. You have to spend all this time and money on something you’re not even that thrilled to be going through to begin with.”
“But I am thrilled. I’m not crazy about gaining weight or weird hairs growing on me, but I can’t wait for my period to stop.”
“I know people who say they had a few big gushers and then never had another. They were just done. No problems.”
“Fuck them.” (This may sound harsh, but really, people. Know your audience.)
“Exactly,” she says, and I love her for it.
“But some people accidentally say the wrong thing and it’s really not their fault. I shouldn’t blame them but I can’t help it,” I say.
“Of course you can’t. On account of the the hormones.”
“Like this morning, I’m walking into church and the nicest woman walks right up to me and guess what she says?”
“What?”
“She says, we are having a blood drive next week. Can I sign you up to donate?”

“Oh my god.”

“I told her no way, that I have none to spare, but she wouldn’t give up that easily. She asked if I had ever given blood, and I said actually I’m giving it right now, and if things don’t change I’m the one who’s going to need a donation.”
“What did you say to her?” Jo Dee chimes in. (Oh brother, I say to myself, you’d think she’d know me by now.)
“No, that’s what I said! Those exact words! She looked a little terrified.”
I need to get home and assess the damage to my cute new jeans, but I’m not ready yet. I need to talk right now. As I scrounge under the car seat for a bag of almonds or an old fortune cookie, I imagine JoDee and I in our own Red Tent. We would sit on the straw, sharing stories and binge watching Transparent right on through our moon cycle, emerging only when we were ready to pick up our work again. The caring for the children, the doing of the things. The taking of fish oil and B supplements.

“I saw that you want to start a Facebook group for menopause women and period stuff.”
“Yeah,” I say, tearing into an old fruit roll-up. “I was kind of kidding, but so many women responded, I’m thinking it might be a good idea.”
“There are obviously a lot of us in the same boat.”
“It’s totally selfish on my part. I just want to have a place to ask the nitty gritty questions. I want practical tips. How to’s.”
“You want to know if you’re always supposed to wear a panty liner.”
“Exactly! I want “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” for grownups.”images

We talk for a bit longer, but that’s where my memory fades. Tasting the jelly bean sweetness of dried berries in my mouth, I start the car and head for home, remembering what it was like to be eleven.

Twelve.

Having seen the educational films in health class, and the string that hung between my mother’s legs, I knew what was coming and had a vague idea of what to do.

Sort of.
I had a package of thick pads and a pair of plastic underpants with metal clips that seemed too sharp to wear next to a place so soft. I stole a box of tampons and studied the package insert, chewing on a lock of my hair as I looked at that cartoon of a see-through girl standing sideways.

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I needed more.
I needed instructions from the women who could instruct, and embraces from the women who could embrace. When I was eleven, I looked to Judy Blume and the older girls at my summer camp. Somehow I pieced it all together.
It’s harder now.
I’m a grown-ass woman. I expect myself to know better.
But I’m as awkward as I was back then. I know it will be fine, perfect, even, to unfurl the way nature made me. But the sun is hot, and I am not in control of this.

And maybe,

it could also be

that I know what comes after blooming.

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Mother’s Helper

Mother’s Helper

The boys and I have been involved in a film making project with several other families that has pretty much eaten up our lives for the past few weeks. The kids are learning a ton and having a great time, which makes it all worth it (I think), but the adults are not faring quite so well under the weight of twelve to fourteen hour days and some pretty rough working conditions. I’ll tell you more later, after time has worked it’s magic and I have regained my will to live.

But anyway…

It was my youngest son’s birthday a few days ago, during all this madness, and a twelve hour day was on the books. I got up early to heat up a store-bought coffee cake for breakfast, reminded him, with a big hug, that we’d be having a few friends over for a celebration next week, I love him very much, and could he feed the cat.

Somewhere during the long hot day, I mentioned that it was C’s birthday, and another one of the moms suggested I run out and get some cupcakes so we could celebrate together and he could blow out the candles, you know, the way you like to do when you are newly eleven.

“Oh, that’s so sweet,” I said. “No, it’s ok.”

“But it’s his birthday,” she told me, managing to make it sound kind, not accusing. She was in charge of the project and wanted me to know that it was alright to take a few minutes out, for C.

“Yeah, I know, but he’s fine, really,” I answered, sort of missing her point, now that I think of it. “He’s having a little party next week.” That was true, but the real reason I was brushing her off was that, with all the food allergies and aversions in this group, serving cupcakes, or anything other than an epi-pen, was simply a bigger hassle than I was up for. Plus, I knew we were on a tight schedule and that, by the end of the day, everyone would be more than ready to pack up and go home.

“You’re sure?” She asked.

My youngest son is pretty low maintenance, probably due to having me as a mother. I maintain that this will serve him well, even if it’s sort of a drag in the early years. Some may call that rationalization on my part (BINGO!), but I consider it a public service to raise a kid who does not think the world is his oyster. (Sorry, Louise Hay.)

“Yeah, thanks, I’m sure,” I answered, sucking down some more coffee.

And that was that.

At the very end of the day, we were all sweaty and bleary eyed, when a big tray of cupcakes birthday-cake-380178__180appeared, complete with shimmering candles for my boy to make one special sure-to-be-granted birthday wish. Kids and grown-ups gathered around, belting out the appropriate song to his shy smiling face.

He was so happy.

And so was everyone else. Forget the the loaves and fishes, coming up with vegan, gluten free, sugar-free, nut-free cupcakes at the last minute , now that’s a miracle. For a moment, I had forgotten that it feels really good to sing loud and cheer at the end, it just does, and it feels good to wish someone well.

Turns out, it was just the lift we all needed.

I found the mom, my friend Keren, who had made the moment happen, and hugged her. It was a little thing she had done, sure, but it was also big. Her kindness didn’t reflect poorly on me, far from it. Gestures like that make us all look good.

While men wage wars, we wage community.

We read a lot about mommy wars and alpha moms. The media paints a picture of women who are hell bent on raising the bar so high, the rest of us can only stare up at it, slack-jawed, downing a Redbull with one hand and giving her the finger with the other.200

Oh yeah, apparently, we have it out for each other.

By the way, I get that I’m part of the problem. I write about these very people on this blog.  I do it because it can be fun to laugh at the lengths to which we all go, or won’t go, to be good at momming. I write about it because the stakes are so high and because I am wildly insecure.

Plus, I can be an asshole, so there’s that.

But I just want to make a little space here for the truth. The truth is that, while there was absolutely that time the lady at the DMV gave me the stink-eye for breastfeeding in line, there was also that time when a friend took my son into the waves to play so I could sit my tired ass in the sand with my newborn, feeling that postpartum mix of wonderful and horrible.

Did this threaten me and make me resent her joie de vivre? Hell no! I wanted to give her a foot massage and a Margarita for doing the one thing I just couldn’t, at that moment, do.

Or like when I had the flu, and that mom I thought was sort of bitchy (ugh– how she always finds ways to remind me that “she has a very demanding career”), offered to pick up my fourth grader and keep him all Saturday so I could sleep, a favor my son repaid by barfing all over the back of her Escalade.

Get this– when she told me about it, she was actually laughing. God bless her.

Or how about when I turned away, just for a second, and that mom with the PhD and yoga butt flipped my gasping toddler upside down, and out fell the windpipe-sized Lego guy, and I wanted to mouth kiss her there on the spot? Did I feel like an idiot? Yes. Did I wish she didn’t always have to be all show-offy and super-mommish? Lord no.

I think you catch my drift.

I am so grateful to the mothers who step in when my ass needs saving, and it happens all the time, with problems big and small.

We are so lucky to have each other.

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The Rules for Moms Are Ridiculous. So I Broke One.

The Rules for Moms Are Ridiculous. So I Broke One.

Every once in a while, I over-share.

This might be one of those times.

Against the advice of counsel, I submit to you a recent conversation I had with my BFF JoDee, in which I make a confession, and she reassures me that I am not so special, after all.

 

Me: You know when you break an unwritten rule and suddenly you feel like anything could happen? Like all bets are off because you did the thing you’ve never done? That happened to me just now.

JD: What was the thing?

Me: Well, you know those little single servings of wine? The ones in the grocery store that come in little separate jars?

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JD: Yeah.

Me: I bought one and I’m drinking it in the parking lot while C. is at basketball practice. (she laughs) It’s the driving that’s eating me alive, JoDee. I drove, like, 87 miles today and I’m not even done yet. I had two hours to kill here in suburbia, and I just wanted it.

JD: Maggie, that’s not a big deal.

Me: It’s not?

JD: No.

Me: I was worried the cashier at the store could smell my desperation. It was like when I bought condoms at eighteen, or tampons at thirteen. I had to fill my basket with all this other stuff: cheese, crackers, salami, so it would be like, “oh, look at the nice lady, she must be going on a romantic picnic or something.”

JD: Except that wine totally sucks. No one drinks that stuff on purpose.

Me: Yeah, that’s the giveaway.

JD: But it’s not like you were driving someplace anytime soon.

Me: No, I was parked. Plus, I only drank one. The other little serving I threw in the trash so I wouldn’t be tempted. That’s the new line, I guess— only one plastic cup of crap wine in my car.

JD: I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Me: Have you ever crossed the line?

JD: Sure. One time I was traveling for work and I got back to my hotel room and ordered a whole pizza and, since I didn’t want to drink an entire bottle of wine, I got a four pack of those little stackable wines. I tossed the pizza but I drank three of those bad boys and had to throw the fourth away just to save myself. That was sort of crossing a line, for me anyway.

Me: Maybe a cry for help but hardly a binge, by any standard. And you were in a hotel room, without your kids.

JD: I know, looking back I don’t know what my problem was. I should have just gotten the bottle. Why all the shame? Women need to give themselves a fucking break. If you want one tiny jar of bad wine, have it.

Me: And there must be a demand, right? I mean, some focus group got together and said, yes, people need those single serving wines. The mothers have spoken!

JD: I like how they have those tin foil tops, just like yogurt containers.

Me: Yeah, we moms are good at those. They should just get real and have a logo of a mini-van on the front. You know, marketing.

JD: Seriously.

Me: And why is having one of those any different than a Xanax, or whatever the fancy ladies are doing these days?

JD: It’s not.

Me: It’s totally not! But I can’t just go buy one Xanax at Ralph’s, even if I wanted to. So don’t judge me, you pilates taking, SUV driving mommy, with your socially acceptable pills.

JD: Well, you take pilates.

Me: Yeah, but I fucking hate it.

(Here there is a long but comfortable silence, as I watch the sun set over the San Gabriel mountains and settle in for another hour and a half of waiting. My little cup, empty now.)

JD: I’m sorry you had to buy your own tampons.

Me: It’s ok. Mostly I shoplifted them.

 

I listened to JoDee making dinner on the other end of the line and by the time we hung up, it was dark and I was better.

It was communion, right there in my Honda.

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And now, a very special PS, for those who think I’m one messed up matron:

First off, you could totally be right.

When I wrote this post, sitting around with a few other women at a kid thing (yes more waiting), I expressed my concern that it might not be the best judgment call to post about drinking in my car while technically on duty. After sharing a bit about the nature of what I’d written, they laughed knowingly, which I took as a good sign. One of them, a friend of mine who had blogged for a while and knew a thing or two about how things can be interpreted or misinterpreted, said she understood my hesitation.

But then it came to me:

I have happily given up a lot to be a mother, but I won’t give up my voice.

Shit happens in the trenches, my friends. Thanks for reading 🙂