Friday, December 9, 2016

When adult kids go other-home: what worked for me

Four people and a cat on a couch
who mean the world to me.
Here is a holiday moment you'll understand if you're the parent of grown children.
Your kids, all living independently this year, file in for the holidays, and you have a fantastic time. You're struck by new awe over who they've become. You smile to see how they enjoy each other more all the time. It hits you that even if they are dissimilar people, they have their independence and confidence in common. Their bond is strong. 
You didn't see quite this much of that last year. 
They leave, and while you put the house back together, you reflect on sweet holiday moments that you'll store like fancy dishes in your brain attic. The sky turns gray, snow flies, and you're nostalgic, but not exactly the way you used to be, because this time they didn't leave to go back to work or school, they left to go other-home. 
You didn't see that last year at all because you were still paying tuition. 
You have to be careful with nostalgia. It's healthy until it becomes engrossing, the way a Facebook newsfeed is interesting until everyone seems to have a more interesting life, even if you wouldn't recognize many of the "everyones" if you tripped over them.
You also have to be careful with nostalgia because right after it makes you feel grateful for where you are, it can evolve into melancholy, that icy patch of knowing something is over that you kind of wish you could do again, or do better, or just wish might have lasted longer. 
You might have seen that this year.
I'll share an attitude adjustment that worked for me after I had my own spills on that patch. 
Knowing that we like to see things in life as true or false, better or worse, good or bad, it helps to remember that most things can all be true but not at the same time.  

It is true that you raised children to become successful, loving adults who are making unique and precious contributions to the world. It's probably also true that after you did that, you found your next life where you come first again and don't have to remember to pick up hot sauce on your way home.    
And, it's true that as you consider the life that grew within and beyond the walls of your home, and all you gave of your heart, you will have trouble picturing anything as vitalizing or affirming.
Melancholy is a bummer.

Melancholy is useful.

But not at the same time.

Trying to drive away post-holiday blues when post-holiday blues are trying to be useful can fail because in your brain attic, there is only one chair.  If your hopeful future tries to sit there while your adult children are wheeling their luggage to the door and making you sad, your melancholy present will push it off and you'll be left there on the floor saying, "Oh my God. I'll never do anything as meaningful again," which is not true at all
It worked for me to remember that awareness of  things that are over can be the first move toward visualizing a "next" future, if for no other reason than to get off your own nerves. Even if the picture of that future looks like a swirly watercolor and not yet a horse or apple tree or house in a field, it is in this state of need that we open to possibilities which require our qualities as a human being more than our skills as a person. 
And melancholy, if it doesn't drag on, can be a bench at the bend, where you don't just remember how life was before, but feel it again, to make sure your memories live as well.

The only thing better than being surrounded by children you've raised to be happy and healthy and who love you unabashedly is nothing. And the only thing worse than having a nostalgia hangover that you didn't see coming is failing to allow it the time it needs to wane on its own and set you free again. 
Both are true.

I saw that this year.





Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rescue

Here is Abby. 

My husband found her on a rescue site and fell in love, and because I love my husband, I am to be a dog person again. 
Abby is ten months old, sweet and smart, and was found wandering in Texas, emaciated, with a too-small collar. She'd been spayed. Someone had taken care of her before she lost them. 
Now she's ours.
But for very good reasons, she's especially mine. 
We  had a dog years ago, when I wasn't yet  a "dog person," and did not yet understand that if dogs seem needy, they also reflect your ability to give, and more pointedly, receive love. 
My capacity to be giving in the years of raising small children with a husband who traveled was tested to say the least. But Bonnie lurked around the edges, lying asleep on the kitchen floor when I cooked, nudging me with her nose when I stared into space, thinking about one issue or another. As our kids grew and I wondered where my post-parenting life would take me, Bonnie often came to sit before me quietly, as if she needed something, or, more likely,  as if I did. She had amber eyes that looked right into my soul.
Bonnie urged her way into my world more every day, until she became a constant ally that I talked to like someone who had known me forever. When she developed a serious kidney illness in her last year, I sat on her bed with her. I cooked for her every night, asking her to "Please, just eat this." I would have fed her Twinkies if she'd wanted them. 
By the time she left us,  I'd gone from not being a "dog" person to being, simply, a better person. I connect with kind beings instantly. I love more easily. 
I give reflexively. 
I like to think that Bonnie has come back around in spirit. I like to think that Abby, with her own amber eyes is coming to us, but mostly, coming back to me. 
She's ours, and we will make her life wonderful. 
But for reasons I like to think Bonnie would understand, she's mine for all good reasons

On her way.
.



Thursday, November 24, 2016

It's Thanksgiving: Leave your politics in the driveway. They'll wait.


Twice this daughter could not be with us on Thanksgiving. She's here today, 
thing that is more important than anything - even politics.
Near my computer I keep a doodle page. I decorate it with swirly designs when I'm in thoughtful conversation with someone on the phone. Other times, I write down true, clear things that come from nowhere. 
The other day, I wrote:  
"You can't write with reason and balance about a thing until your passion has been captured by the next thing." 
Since the election, I've been reading stories about relationships – some lifelong – that have ended, or will, over the way people voted  two weeks ago.  
One couple moved their wedding to another country to make it financially out of reach for their family members. 
That sort of thing.   
Those stories of broken relationships captured and saddened me for days. To imagine how friends or family who have known and loved each other forever could estrange over the election was beyond my powers of empathy or imagination. 
Today, it is Thanksgiving. My children are home. It is the next thing, and I am captured again. 
These days are precious to me. We are apart geographically, now, and often too immersed in our own daily lives to catch up. 
And I have missed them.  I have been craving their company, their stories, their voices. I'll get those glimpses of how they've changed since we last gathered, I'll hear of other people they've encountered who changed them, maybe enlightened them. 
Our kids took serious interest in this election, and some of us were immensely disappointed over Hillary's loss. Reflexively, I tried to offer some explanation of why others might not have shared that choice. With one daughter's help,  I realized that everyone deserves to own their  disappointment, however sprawling and angry it gets, and for however long it takes for the next thing to capture them.
But we need Thanksgiving.  Had it been necessary, I would have extracted a promise from every individual to leave their politics in the driveway, because politics won't disappear or run away, while people will if they have to.
I hope others can find a way to do this today.  
Because rage will quell. The craving to lash out will pass. 
And mostly,  next things will continue to happen. 
Our lives will change, end, and begin.
Our elderly will leave us and our babies will arrive. 
We will fall in love, and we will be claimed by illness. 
We will fall into stretches of terrible luck and we will shine with good fortune.
We will drive into telephone poles, lose our homes, get fired, get arrested.
We will get fantastic job offers, become engaged, marry, divorce. 
We will be joyous over bigger wins, and disappointed over bigger losses. 
The longer we live and the more next things that happen to us, the more we will wish to be near the ones who have known and loved us from the start.  
Won't we? 
In my house, and in my world, the next thing is here. It's Thanksgiving today and my kids are home, where they will  forever be more important than anything – even politics – for a few precious days. 
Love to you all. 
I wish you glorious next things, and mostly, loved ones to share them with.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pet Peeves #5: featuring an overzealous TSA agent

This is not a cartoon of me, and 
my TSA agent was nothing like this one.
Last week, I attended a two day workshop in Dallas which is 1,817 miles away from the loft where I write, listen to classical music and run word choices by my writer-cat, Gus.

Travel for me is two things: Stimulating, because I am fascinated by strangers, and strangers don’t come to my loft. And, anxiety producing, because I couldn’t be more out of my comfort zone if I were to wander into a country music festival and not be able to find a way out. 

But this trip was fortuitous on a couple of levels. It was almost time for Pet Peeves, the chips and dip of my blog offerings, and I needed an opening peeve. I was presented with the perfect contender in an overzealous TSA agent who helped me lighten my bag on the return trip.
My TSA agent was
more like this.

Herewith, Pet Peeves #5

1. Overzealous TSA employees who make your life more difficult than necessary because they can.  When my bag stalled in the danger-tunnel, my TSA made a show of yanking it from the belt, then motioned me over with a jerk of his head and side-eyed me dramatically while he searched my things with a wand. He found a bottle of water I'd forgotten about and some toothpaste. Holding the half-flattened tube aloft he said, "Uh-uh. This won't make it. You have a choice, you can surrender this, or go back out and check your bag. Up to you." 
  
2. Country music. There are people I love who love country music, and so I have tried to be friends with it. But I struggle. There just are too many recollections of "Ha-skewl" shananigans. Often, women are depicted as treacherous or adorable in their man shirts and ponytails. Very often, men are straight-talking, and whiskey-drinking and prone to getting teary in bars. I haven't been able to evolve beyond Alan Jackson's "Remember When" and I'm told that one isn't even  considered real country music. Last year, when I heard  "Cleaning this Gun," I wanted to flee the way I want to when I am exposed to...

3. Scented candles. Fragrances meant to simulate the actual aroma produced when one bakes cookies, brews herbal tea, or simmers a cinnamon stick never, EVER smell like the real thing. And how did it become a thing to create a fragrance for an experience that doesn't even have a fragrance like a winter day, or a moonlit night, or a joyful ride in the country (without the music)? Not only that, candle fragrance lingers for hours after the candle is snuffed. Who wants to wake up at three in the morning in their man shirt wondering what that experience is that they're smelling?

4. Emails you receive that are selling things you don't need, or announcing things you don't care about, and which tell you you are receiving them because you asked to, which is not true. It's not true for two reasons. First, nobody asks for the Terminx online newsletter, even if they do feature a "Bug of the Month" column. Second, you've already unsubscribed, several times in fact, each time dedicating so much time to locating that "unsubscribe" link at the bottom in 3 point font you were barely left enough time to view the video someone sent you because now videos come with long, and insufferably loud...

5. ...ads that appear before the video. I get it, ads. But more and more, we're sitting through 30 second spots which feature car buyers or women in their man shirts and ponytails using Clorox wipes to clean the counter like they never have before from the look of astonishment on their faces.  There is always a child in a high chair, there is always a sunny day outside the window, and the outfits they wear are the same ones they wore in actual television ads that I used to watch when my now-millennial children were napping and I was on break watching General Hospital. 

Where are the stay-at-home dads in their man shirts?  We have those now.

6. You're not a bad person if you say "equally as," but you're breaking a law somewhere on some level. And if you're adding "very" to stand-alone words like unique or excellent, you are guilty x 2 and in danger of sounding like Donald Trump. 

Wrong:  Donald Trump was equally as shocked as half the country to be elected .

Right:    Half the country was shocked when Donald Trump was elected. Donald Trump was equally shocked. 


Bonus Peeves offered by readers!!

1. People who don't leave a message after the beep but don't hang up either so that you're tricked into listening to the message of nothing, when you could be watching a YouTube video or cleaning the counter in your man-shirt.

2. People who are requested on your outgoing phone message to leave a name and number but instead, leave you a full discussion of their issue, and follow it with a phone number too quickly for you to write it down. You are then left with no choice but to replay the entire message, which is so long you zone out and miss the phone number again. 

Thank you for visiting. It's been yummy. If I've missed anything, send it along for #6.



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Improve your parenting: work with teens you didn't raise.

This is not me or a teen I work
 with, but it's what our conversations often
look like. 
I belong to a couple of online communities where (mostly) women discuss their changing relationships with grown children after they leave for college. 


There is worry about staying close, of course, about losing a pulse. There is worry about what we won't know by feel anymore. 

Who will offer all those helpful, crisis-dodging comments that start with  "Why don't you..."?

How will they know if we don't tell them? 

May I offer a little something from my "been there" files?

Distance not only won't stop a good relationship in progress, distance will likely hasten the growth of a healthy relationship as you lose your opportunities to make suggestions and your son or daughter gains the chance to make decisions. 

Relationships don't stop when that happens. If we let them, relationships evolve like people do. 

We do judge. We have been the boss of them since they were in onesies. We call it other things when they're older - directing, suggesting, coaching - and we know enough to "let them handle" non-life threatening matters, but when kids live at home, there is no end to the things they could probably be doing or doing better to make their lives nicer. 

How will they know if you don't tell them? 

After our nest emptied, I began to work with teens at our local  Boys and Girls club helping them write their life stories. I love it because the things they share, and say and really want to tell me are not treated or organized to avoid judgment. They want to be heard, I want to know what they think. There is no stake in it beyond that. They don't worry about my opinion of them and I don't worry about their grades.

And, nothing is better than listening to a teen who does not expect to be judged. Indeed, if I had to pick a single moment that makes me look forward to working with these kids every year, it's the one when I say something to a teen that surprises them, and a look crosses their face that makes me know what they looked like when they were four, and they say very slowly, "that is so true."

I remember well, those years when our kids were moving away and I worried that the state of our relationships - up or down - would freeze in place.

Were we really done already, I wondered?

What I know now, what all my new empty-nest friends will  know I hope, is the lovely paradox: that the further apart we allow ourselves to be, the closer we become as we are less guided by our old roles in each other's lives and grow to simply like each other as people.

Today, my relationships with my grown kids are much like those I cherish with the Boys and Girls kids. I want to know what they think, and they want to tell me about their lives and they want to hear about mine.
And even now, every so often, I throw out an observation, and I get this: "That is so true."

And it makes me feel like we all turned out just fine.


What the hell happened.

King of the deplorables
Two years ago, when we had to purchase private health insurance for a brief period, I had my first brush with the Affordable Care Act. I learned that I would be required to purchase a plan swollen with benefits that I wouldn't use. Then I learned that I would pay thousands in monthly premiums and even higher deductibles before I would experience one dime of coverage.

Our alternative while we waited for new employer coverage was to purchase a slimmer, but non-compliant plan, and be taxed 1% of income for each month that we carried it. 

Did I resent this requirement? I did. Did I resent the ACA? I did. Did I offset the feeling of having something forced down my throat with gratitude for the sake of others who would not otherwise be covered? Eventually. Not at first, I didn't. 

When Trump came along and said that five minutes after taking office he'd dump the ACA, did I vote for him?

I did not.

My disgust with Trump's mindset, temperament, attitude toward anyone not like him, poor self-control and frat-boy maturity reminded me of my compassion for others who struggle, which was greater than my disgust at being forced to purchase something I didn't need.  

I went to bed on election night before Trump won, but not before I saw Hillary lose the election one state at a time, and realized that we were seeing for the first time, the real number of Americans who had found some voice in Trump's.

At 5:40 yesterday morning, before I read a text, a tweet, an email or column, I pulled up the Washington Post for the headline, and there it was: 

TRUMP TRIUMPH. 

I expected that at least some of this would be laid at the feet of FBI director James Comey. It was.

I expected the population that voted for Trump would be eviscerated in the media. It was.

Finally, now, one day and a better night's sleep later, we appear to be shutting up long enough to understand what we've done to create the population we didn't see coming.

We could have seen it coming back in September, when Hillary Clinton, face and voice of the liberal elite, made her "deplorables" comment, a horribly considered, "them and us" message meant to liken those drawn to any part of Trump's message to the worst of his supporters. 

If Trump did irreparable damage to his campaign with his raunchy Access Hollywood expose, Hillary did maybe as much when she characterized the dilemma of people not like her in such dismissive terms. 

Her followers included fence-walkers – the once-loyal but now conflicted Obama supporter, crushed by economic strain, unwilling to look away from a Clinton presidency quite yet, but repelled by the elitist rhetoric. She could have alienated more people with that comment only if she'd pushed them off the fence herself. 

Right out loud, I said, "Oh God, you shouldn't have said that." Because while I hated Trump's comments, I wasn't surprised by them. But that spray of bullets from Hillary, was more than upsetting, it was honest, and not in a good way. 

I felt manipulated and used by the ACA. Was I a "deplorable"? No, but did any campaign language from that side try hard enough to make the distinction?

When you screw with people's money or futures or economic viability or feeling of safety and assume they will continue to be other-focused, and not self-preserving in their ideals, you get unhappily surprised when the way to protect their interests presents itself on election day. .

What's more, I don't think Trump, in the beginning even expected to do more than make a point. I think he stumbled upon his base of frustrated, marginalized, fed-up Americans more than he cultivated it. But there they were, all those "deplorables," misunderstood and forgotten by everyone and what Trump, king of the deplorables did about this was say, "Hand me that ladle and bullhorn."

Stir the pot he did, enraging his supporters – from the infantile to the mature – with his own big fat messages of "them and us": 

"We're losing our homes, our identity, our jobs, our country. Are we going to let them get away with that?" 

Storms of outrage and  ridicule rained down on Trump and his supporters, and he only dug in further. His signature bombast became dangerous, his polarizing style threatening.  He had his gang, and his gang had gangs and they powered through, not only willing  to offend protesters, but delighting in it when they did.

There were comparisons to Hitler. There were seething characterizations of Trump supporters that only drew them closer to their leader for solace. They were all in it together. 

On Tuesday night, "they" hopped into their camo-wear and pick up trucks, and plowed through "us." 

Except that they didn't. 

A bunch of profane, crass guys with obscene t-shirts and guts and mud flaps with pole dancers on them didn't do this to us. 

We did this to us. 

We loathed a public Trump, vocally, viciously, but we ignored that many, many people were in the kind of straits that would allow them to find agreement with the softer ideas of a dialed-down Trump.

And as we've seen, in the minds of some deplorables, Hillary's transgressions were as morally difficult to reconcile as Trump's comments about women were sickening to listen to.  

I know that most of us had no question about the candidate who was best for us. I didn't reject Hillary for her flaws, nor did I give her my vote because I thought it was expected of me as an "adorable." I voted for Hillary because I wanted a kick-ass, competent, savvy woman in the white house, AND because I loathed Donald Trump for the truly awful things he's said, and has said he'd do.

I agree with those who have attributed this wildly unexpected turn to the Trumpets Anonymous, shamed away from showing themselves in the pre-election numbers, but who quietly closed the curtain, took out their anonymity, and voted against Hillary. 

If that's true, and it was certainly true when we elected cowboy George, what does it say about us, that we intimidate others or are intimidated by them into hiding our politics? 

Trump didn't win the people as much as he carried their bullhorn. It was loud enough to be heard through that closet door, where the other Trump supporters gathered, to choose the best of the bad. 

I can  soothe my soul by remembering in the future: while we differ out loud, we often agree in the privacy of our hearts. May all our hearts open to the possibility of a presidency that will not hurt us, but unite us. We have that one thing to hope for, in common, finally.

May that be what the hell happens now. 


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pet Peeves #4: Featuring the worst hold music EVER

On the way to a Boston restaurant recently, my husband and I sat in the kind of traffic that stalls more than it crawls and I'll tell you what, we sat through at least two cycles of lights at a complete standstill.

In Boston, people are very respectful of their signal to stop and wait if it's convenient. 
When we reached the intersection with only a few seconds left on the yellow, a man in headphones loped into the street and leisurely crossed while he studied his phone. The light turned red and well, there were some frustrated drivers, I'll tell you what. 
My husband said some bad words. 
But not me. Because I have a new monthly blog feature called Pet Peeves and this was the perfect way to kick off the ones most worth mentioning this month. 
Herewith:
1. People who wander into an intersection just as traffic begins to move and don't hurry up.  This kind of behavior doesn't deserve a label, because it's not as off-putting as "arrogance," or "entitlement," or, "elitism." But I'm pretty sure this person will be in line at Panera during the lunch rush where they will be one of the... 
2. ...people in long lines at Panera during the lunch rush who finally reach the counter and say, "I don't know. I'm torn between the pick-two and a whole sandwich. Or a salad. I could get a pick-two with a salad and a soup right? (pause) I can't read what it says up there. If I get a pick-two, can I substitute an apple with a smoothie? Wait, are drink refills free? I forget..."  

The only thing that makes this situation happier than an airport security line is that if you're bored, you can start a conversation with anyone around you because you're all hangry and want to complain about it.    
3. Misuse of serious labels for behaviors that are just annoying. A person who is self-centered is not a "narcissist."  A person who is moody is not "bi-polar." And a person who is super-organized is not "OCD." I've known people who have these disorders for real. Most would love to have annoying behaviors instead of debilitating anxiety or personality disorders. Except narcissists. Narcissists have no idea that there's anything wrong with them at all. 
4. Hold Music. Some people believe hold music is used to irritate a customer off the phone when the average wait time to speak to a customer service rep doesn't get rid of them. But this isn't good for anyone. Most people who do hang on, have to. Then, not only are they exponentially more agitated with every new exposure to the "St. Elmo's Fire love theme,"  they've become too flustered to remember the question they spent all morning organizing. 
5. Passwords or user names that are not "found in the database," because who can  remember all the configurations of birthdays and maiden names and high school graduation dates we use to differentiate them?  Did we use an uppercase or a lowercase letter in the cat's name? Did we use a "!" or a "?" for that symbol that is required to make the password  security-compliant? And was it the password or the user name that wasn't found? It just makes me miss "Susan1." 
6. It's me, not you, but I'm surprised to see how many of us still misuse the word "literally" to mean "really." Because, if you were literally "climbing the walls," e.g., it would mean you aren't a human, but a tree frog with little suction cup feet, like the one Gus found clinging to the wall in the living room last week and literally scared into motionless terror by staring at it from four inches away.  
7. Restaurants that not only don't offer an online reservation service, but also don't open to take your call for another few hours. Sure as my name is Susan1, I will forget to call back but also will have forgotten to choose an option B. And, is there anything worse than not knowing at 4:30 on a Friday, what your Friday evening plans are? Yes, literally, there are worse things, but not really.  
8. I love older people, but I really don't love the term, "old fart." I know everyone uses it with affection, and self-deprecating comments can be charming, but it still makes me wince, for two reasons:  I don't think of people as out of touch, or clueless or saggy or slow or bad-smelling  until they refer to themselves that way. And, it's never good to describe yourself in terms of bodily functions that you try to be private about.  Look at millennials. Do they call themselves "new farts?" No, they literally don't. 
9. Televisions in places where you'd rather not be, that are tuned to cooking or talk shows and feature very gregarious people laughing very hard at not-at-all-funny banter. It's not just that these bubbly shows usually argue with the setting (dentist, eye doctor, tire store, emergency room); it's also that they hurt your ears and eyes when your mood is becoming a hungry, tired toddler who's been refused a snack at the supermarket check-out at 4:15 in the afternoon. 

And with that, I give you the least peevey music I saw on the internet this month. That is some talent on one stage, I'll tell you what.