Friday, December 30, 2011

Everything is Just Right Now

Like everyone else, I’ve been busy these past few weeks tending to Everything. Recently I got a call which made me think about Everything Else. The timing was perfect. I didn’t want to come back empty-handed and now I have gifts.

The call came from one of the few people who knew my husband and me before we were married. He has stayed in touch with my husband. This call was to catch up with me. It was like running under water to compose my thoughts after hearing his voice but while I did that, he filled me in.

In the two years that have just passed, he was diagnosed with, and treated for, a type of cancer that could have killed him in months. After he completed treatment, his wife asked him for a divorce.

Fate can be a python.

Instead of allowing himself to be swallowed whole, my friend decided to prepare for the ironman competition – a quest that would require of him, the very things jeopardized by his illness: strength, focus, heart and spirit ++++. He only wanted to participate, he said, maybe finish. A week before the competition, he moved out of his house.

“There were trials and tribulations,” he said, “but that’s what life is.”

If I was troubled about anything before that call, I can’t remember what it was.

Later, I went to my vault of Everything Life Is to add my friend’s observation. While I was in there, I poked through my other Everythings and realized – my stash is damn impressive, even if it didn't come free.

And then I thought about Everyone on my list who I love, for whom I would do anything, and to whom I might offer something I’ve learned the hard way. Something that might fit perfectly, might last, and which, Someday, might be passed on to someone else.

Here are your gifts.

It’s just right now.
No matter what you feel or experience, no matter how wonderful or awful, it’s just right now. Sooner or later, what you feel or have experienced will be eclipsed by something else. Wait out the bad days, savor the good ones. Neither will last, they are just right now.  And, of course, be glad you’re not an Eeyore who can’t tell the difference between 
a good day and a bad one.

Respect trying times.
We become the things we should be when we cope with what we didn’t ask for. Sometimes there’s no other way. Appreciate your occasional trials, and unwrap them gently.They come with rewards in the middle.

Regrets are useless. 
If you get mired in guilt and regret from time to time, remember that vision improves with time, while reasons and motives disappear with age. You’ve made mistakes, you’ve learned from them, and probably you’ve become a more understanding person, parent, friend, sibling or spouse because of them. Now imagine your regrets are big colorful balloons. Open your imaginary window, open your imaginary hand and let them go into the imaginary sky.  The world needs you the way you are.

Banish jealousy.
Allow yourself to be happy for someone who accomplishes something that you can’t, haven’t, won’t, or just won’t right now.  Your own moment will come. It might not look like you thought it would, but it will be worth showing off, and the timing will make sense.  Beautiful, brilliant people often get the things you wish you could have yourself, but not necessarily the things that would make them complete. Be happy for them.

Be the Neighbor.
This is part two of  "Never miss an opportunity to shut up." Don't factor your own feelings into things which have nothing to do with you. If you feel affected  - disappointed, or surprised, or frustrated or worried – by something your husband, child, friend, parent, sibling or co-worker did (but didn’t do to you) think about how you would react if you were a neighbor, with nothing at stake emotionally.  It might make your brain tired to accept without approving, but it's worth it if it keeps you from being a person around whom others edit themselves. Don't personalize. Be the neighbor.

Take on something bigger.
Kick the crap out of your little problems by solving a bigger one. Like This.

Dream, don’t escape.
Some people want things and get them and that’s good. Some people need to want things and that’s bad. Station-changing is a way to keep moving until it prevents attachment. You brought yourself to where you are. Give something to it, take something from it and when you need something else, know what it is and slowly, but with determination, make it happen.

My friend did participate in the competition, and did finish. And then he fell in love. From what I can glean after scrutinizing his Facebook photos (stop it, you do it too) she is a ridiculously beautiful woman who, from his description, is equally accomplished, kind, wise and savvy. And while I think its wonderful that she speaks five languages, has travelled the world, and wants for little, mostly, I am grateful that she appears to be gentle.  He’s flown high and deserves a soft landing.

A happy, peaceful New Year to all. May you have Everything for which you have mustered the heart and courage to ask, may you know you deserve that and more, and may you appreciate your time on this planet and make it count +++.  It is just right now.

Love, Susan

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Godspeed, teenager.

If it’s hard to live with, understand, communicate with, provide for, and know a teenager, there’s one thing that I believe is harder still, and that is to be one.

I’m not talking about all teenagers of course. There are the outliers who blow through peacefully, who visit the elderly, floss regularly, volunteer at crisis centers, and remember our birthdays. And there are teenagers who are raising themselves because their own parents can’t grow up and take the wheel. 

I’m talking about the other kind. The ones who respond to your smile with a look in the other direction, who deal with a question like “what time will you be home?” as though they can’t possibly be expected to know that, who make a show of trying to comprehend you, who leave the room when you appear, and who talk to you with such obvious patience you wonder when you became dense. Those teenagers.

About ten years ago, when we were all at different stages in teenager-parenting, a friend said to me about his own fifteen-year-old daughter (and may I pause here to say, few things are as fearsome as a fifteen year old girl):
“She acts like it’s the worse thing in the world to be part of this family.” 
“Put yourself in her shoes,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, “You’re right. It’s hard to live in a nice house, have parents who care about you, send you to study abroad, buy you all the clothes you want, give you an allowance. That must be awful.”
Before he could add the equally irrelevant, “When I was fifteen, (hardship here)…” I said, “It’s still easier to be you.”

Those of us who remember our younger years as the easiest, forget that teenagers had younger and easier years too, when life was scripted for them and solving a problem was a matter of finding someone in the house who was older and taller.

Then they hit middle school and lose the map. And then, because they want to and also, because if they don’t, they will become Dwight from The Office, teenagers begin to shed those carefully structured lives while we wonder what is bothering them.

They deserve our sympathy.

For a teenager – and I don’t mean the outliers who walk dogs at the SPCA, or sell drugs behind the grocery store – every day is a fill in the blank quiz:  who to talk to, what to say, how to act, what their friends will think, who they like but must shun, who they don’t like but must appease, what they lose by being honorable, what they gain by being cruel. They cling to their values and dissect them at the same time.They assess themselves not on the basis of accomplishment, but in the headlight of a single bad day.

They become secretive. They become sullen. They become  unreasonable and defensive and indignant and fickle and abominably shallow. They know how to keep us at bay, but behind our backs, they monitor and supervise their progress on the new path, chastising themselves mercilessly for missteps and scrutinizing their failures in ways so harsh it would make us cry.

They deserve our compassion.

We try to help because we think we remember being fifteen but really, we only remember selectively, because we offer the same advice we never used: “If she’s that mean, don’t be her friend anymore.”  Or, the equally useless, “Bullies want attention. Ignore them and they’ll leave you alone.” Teenagers don’t want to be alone.

If we’re new at this, we wonder two things here: what we did to drive them away, and what we can do to bring them back. It took me a child or two to realize that a teenager’s behavior is not a direct product of our influence, or some measure of our skills. Skills have nothing to do with it because teenagers don’t drift away. They leave in the night and send in replacements. We get up in the morning and there they are with their “why are you looking at me like that” faces. Meanwhile, their siblings, little hidden cameras that they are, watch and think this is “awesome” – a teacher’s copy of where the holes lie in the terrain.

"We used to be us," said a friend of mine once, about her teenager's refusal to be who he was.

I have raised four children I enjoy being around, and around whom, others like to be.  They laugh, they cry, they text me with funny observations, they stop to pet the cat when they’re busy. They tell me a lot about their lives but not everything. They use expressions which I purposely butcher so they will always have cause to mock me.  They miss each other, they love their friends, they look forward to the future.

But at some point in each of their lives, after some row in which one of us said something painful, regrettable, desperate, I watched them leave the room, finally understanding that the “someday” when they will begin to leave me, had arrived. 

By the time we were down to one and I was being friended on Facebook by our three former teenagers, I had come to see these years as a tunnel.

“You know, you’re almost fifteen,” I said to our last teenager, a while back. “Any day now, you’ll be in the tunnel. Please empty the dishwasher and pick up your room while you still like me. Thank you.”

Take heart, parents of tunnel dwellers. It is a short journey, even if it seems endless. They hear and see you out there at the entrance but it stays in sight for a brief time. Then, for what seems like a chilly, gray eternity they see neither the beginning nor the end, and your voice will be muted and hard to place. But sometime in the senior year, they will emerge like miners. They will discover that somewhere in the long silence you scrambled ahead to wait for them. And when they hit college, where they will have their independence handed to them like a dorm room key, it will not be a path too overwhelming to navigate, but a test they’re ready to take, because we will have let them prepare. 

And that’s what they deserve, most of all. Time to prepare.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When I Grandmummy, it will be Serious

God willing, it won’t happen sooner than it should, but when the time comes I have this to say about grand-mummying:
I will be kick-ass. 

First of all, I won’t make them call me “Grandma,” or “Nana,” or “Grammy.”  They’ll call me whatever they can manage at six-months-old, even if it is more like a noise, like “Gam.” And it will stick. It won’t change with coaching. 

They will learn trot-trot-to-Boston before they’re feeding themselves, followed by Pattycake, and Miss Mary Mack when they are more coordinated. We will have contests. The winner will get a milkshake.

I’ll wear super-hip glasses which they’ll want to try on. They’ll bump into the furniture and say, “Wow, you are like, blind.”

I will teach them sophisticated words from their Uncle Sam’s SAT prep books which they will remember because I will feature them in compliments: “The thing I like so much about you is that you are eloquent without being loquacious.” 

I’ll wear false eyelashes sometime and ask them what’s different about (whatever my name is). The winner will get a milkshake.

I’ll take care of them overnight, and we will do whatever they want, no matter what the cost, with the following exceptions:
  • No restaurants, or visits to the grocery store before six years old unless we are buying something for them.
  • No restaurants on Loudon Road or any restaurant where there is an hour + wait at 5:15.
  • No trips to Toys R Us or Chuck E. Cheese unless they are at least fifteen because then they’ll want to go as much as I do.
I’ll wear small amounts of elegantly applied make up. 

Possibly hats.

If they don’t appreciate me, I’ll come to the house wearing knee-highs with a skirt to show them what kind of a grandmummy I’m not. 

I’ll show up sometime wearing a fake tattoo and see who notices first. The winner will get a milkshake. 

I will take them to Boston on a regular basis and we will go wherever they want, with the following exceptions:
  • The Museum of Science
  • The Aquarium
We will eat in restaurants where celebrities have been spotted and we’ll talk in our nice-restaurant voices about when they’re famous. 

I’ll keep my hair up every day and nobody will know how long it is.  

I’ll employ swear words in exactly the right places and wink at them after I use one. 

When they’re a little older, I’ll tell them stories of their parents which will make them feel better about their mistakes: “Your mother once coated the toilet seat with Vaseline and waited for someone to fall in.” They will think this is hilarious.

When they’re older still, I will be an ally but not an accomplice. If they tell me things they don’t want to tell their parents, I will tell them that parents are many people all wrapped into one like they are, and need to be discovered, like they do.

God willing, it won’t happen sooner than it should, but when the time comes, I won’t just be a good grandmummy, I will be the grand-mummiest.

I didn’t mummy all these years for nothing.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

At times, one, more than the rest.

Our seats on Mummy Mountain
Occasionally, like we did last Tuesday night, my mother and I gather at the summit of Mummy Mountain for a glass of wine and a discussion about all things life, work, happiness, and grown children.

“How are you, Mummy?” I asked when we were settled.
“I’m fine, thank you,” she said. “And how are you?”
“My children are abandoning me,” I said.
She sipped her wine and made a cracker, and encouraged me to go on in that mummy-therapist way we mothers of grown children acquire.
Lovely Courtney
as seen from the
summit of Mummy
Last week I went to Cleveland to visit the lovely Courtney. Like always, I spent the first half hour of our visit staring at her and thinking about how lucky I am to have this smart, beautiful, competent, wise, funny girl for a daughter. If she were a cat, this would be when I’d give her a little scratch behind the ears and say, “Yesh. Who’sha a good girl? Who’sha a good, good girl.” But she’s a grown woman with bills and a landlord so I just stare at her and let her update me on all things life, work, happiness, and John.

“John will be here at Christmas because he has a singing commitment," she said twenty minutes from the airport. "He basically always will on Christmas. And we know we really want to be together on Christmas, so I probably won’t be home. But then I would definitely be home for Thanksgiving.”

It gave me pause, as any declaration does if it means I will be forced to spend time with moody Transition and its sad-sack cohort, Coping.  But we had only two days, with things to talk about, and places to go back to and new places to visit, and so I said to Transition, “Get lost, I’m busy,” and I said to Courtney, “You should do what you want to.” Because there are times, when one person needs one other, more than the rest, to understand them.

We had dinner at an outside bistro where a young couple sat with their seven or eight-month-old baby. Next to them was an animated, boorish man, 25 or so, who wore oversized dark glasses, and who, with his entire body, carried on  a shrill, melodramatic cell phone conversation with someone I only hoped would have to hang up soon. The infant watched him, hunched and still with fascination. When the call ended, the man turned, and seeing how he’d captivated her, lifted his giant black glasses quickly and gasped in a peek-a-boo fashion. The baby reared back in surprise, and wailed. The man laughed. Frightened, arms outstretched, the baby reached for her mother who smiled a reassuring “It’s okay,” at the man and lifted her sobbing daughter to her, cooing little things until she settled. The father, though aware, hadn’t stopped eating. The baby never looked at him. There are times, when one person needs one other, more than the rest, to make them feel safe.

We had been talking about what I want to be called when I’m a grandmother. After the scared-baby moment we talked about what I might have done had my future grandinfant been scared by a man like that. I said that not only would I not have smiled reassuringly at him, I might, in fact, have told him he and his giant glasses were both (bad word

Later when I was alone, I thought about the “when I grow up,” conversations we have with small children in which they imagine what they might do with their lives. You know their minds will change a thousand times but still, you help them. You talk very seriously about where they might locate their mansions when they become famous performing artists, what kind of clothes they’ll wear, what kind of dog they’ll keep in their purse. There are times, when one person needs one other, more than the rest, to make them feel the best things are possible.

Hello Transition, where do you want me?

Like always, the visit ended too soon and before I knew it, I was dropping my shoes and purse in the bins at security, distracted and blue, so that when the woman snapped at me for walking through the security arch too quickly, I wanted to sit down on the little feet imprints to weep.

At my gate, I saw, sitting by herself with a Kindle and a Vitamin Water, someone who looked exactly like my own mother who I promptly texted.

“Wine,” I said.
She penciled me in for Tuesday.

“First, it’s Christmas,” I said looking out over the land of grown children which, on a clear day, is visible from the summit of Mummy Mountain. “One doesn’t come home,” I said, “and the next thing you know, nobody comes home. It’s just like when someone leaves the party and then everybody does.”

“That’s not going to happen," said my mother.

“Yes it will and then they’ll be too busy to call at Christmas time and I'll be by myself staring out the window and listening to the Rat Pack and there will be nobody to call because all my friends will be with their grown children who still come home and Tom and Christine will be family-ing somewhere with Ross and Collin and so it will just be me and the tree which I will have started talking to (Yesh! Who'sha good tree? Who'sha good, good tree?) and on the floor there will be a box of ornaments that nobody came to hang which will still be there on January 3 because I will have become too depressed to move it and it will stay there for eleven more months along with the tree which I will be too depressed to disassemble and put back in the basement. So that's it. It’s ending,” I said.

I didn't believe it of course, this Eeyore version of "When I grow up." But one should not let worry skitter away like an ant. If worry is to be addressed, it must be increased by several zoom levels first, so that all flaws may be examined before resizing is attempted. This applies to just about everything in life.  You're welcome.

“This is not ending,” she said. “This is changing. This is how it begins. They change first, and you change with them. If they have to stop coming to you, because they have jobs, or small children, or unforgiving in-laws or whatever it is they have, you’ll pack your bag and go to them. That’s what we do. I did it. You'll do it.” 

I knew that, of course. I’ve always known it. But there are times, when I need my own mother, more than the rest, to remind me that the worst things aren't probable, and that what I hope is true, probably is.

And so, Courtney, if you're reading this, you know by now that you'll need many people and things and experiences in life to remain independent and strong and beautiful and competent and wise and funny. Two of those things are seats on Mummy Mountain.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Welcome to America. Would you like trains for dinner?

It occurred to me the other day that Sam is possibly, God willing, going to make it through high school without asking if we can host an exchange student. It’s not that I don’t love the idea. I love the idea very much if other people have it.

Courtney asked if we could host an exchange student somewhere in the first half of her high school career. She framed her argument well, and had I been a person who cared what everybody else did, or craved a vicarious cultural experience, I would have been sold right away. But it was her suggestion that it would really help her early French skills to be communicating with our student non-stop for two weeks that made me say “Okay, let’s do it."

Like anyone, I like to believe that if I care enough, am determined enough, put my whole heart into something – aerobics, preparing fish, what have you – I will succeed. I’ve been proven wrong twice: I look like I am running from bees in an aerobics class. When I have finished preparing fish, it looks exactly like it did under the sickly lights at Hannaford. Much as I tried to retain more in college, my foreign language skills end with “Where is the library” in Italian and Spanish, and “How did you sleep last night?” in German. I worried about the language barrier but shrugged it off, and we wound up with Audrey, whose English was not nearly as good as my French.

We got the room ready. We got Audrey’s profile information. I bought a French-English dictionary. I contacted the circle of parents who did this all the time and asked for advice. We picked up Audrey and I gave her a big welcome-to-America hug.

On the way home, I apologized to Audrey for the very bumpy condition of the road.
“Ehhh?” she said.
“Tell her what I said, Courtney.”
“About what?”
“About the bumpy road.”
She said a few things I didn't understand, and gestured.
Audrey shook her head and said several things in Fren-glish.
“What did she say?” I asked.
“I’m not really sure,” Courtney said. She smiled encouragingly at Audrey who smiled back and probably wondered if it was too late to go back to France.

Later that night, Courtney was asked to work extra shifts at the GAP for the next several days. "Go," I said, "We'll do this." 

It's not like it was Aerobics.

I took Audrey food shopping the next day. French-English dictionary in hand I brought her to the meat department where I asked if she would like some of “these potatoes?” She pointed to the correct word in the dictionary and I said, with much gesturing, page turning, and many hopeful facial expressions, "Take whatever you want and put it in the cart,"  which she did.

Thankfully, exchange students have an agenda which I learned to understand, and Audrey was soon among other exchange students, touring the sights, eating the food, learning the language, and gossiping about the host-parents which is probably when Audrey said in French, “Yeah, but I’ll bet your host mother knows the word for steak.”

But this was not aerobics or fish-grilling. Dictionary at the ready, I asked and learned about Audrey’s family, her boyfriend, her upbringing, her hometown and what she wanted to do when she graduated. Courtney was eventually released from the GAP in time to have a conversation with Audrey before she went back to France. When she did leave, she was not relieved but sad. And, okay, we were too. A little.

I have new appreciation for people who bring in exchange students over and over again, and make it a worthwhile experience for the entire family each time. If I were asked, I’d probably allow myself to be talked into it the way I’ll probably give halibut-wrapped-in-foil another shot on the grill. But the senior year is already here and I haven’t heard a peep from Sam. I’m hoping it stays that way, as much as I hope Audrey finally became a veterinarian or vegetarian or valedictorian the way she wanted to.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The last SAT

I do not heart the SAT. It’s making me fight with myself and before it’s over, it will make Sam think bad words about me, even if those words are five years long.

It’s not because I’m tired of nagging Sam to do his SAT homework when he’d rather be at Frankie’s house. It’s not because it’s college application time in general, which is all about timelines and checklists. It’s not because we’re all getting nervous about what hinges on those three little categories: Math, Critical Reading and Writing.

I do not heart the SAT because for all its aim to gauge academic aptitude, it is a test of test-taking, with the power to rule out promising candidates even as it nets the highly qualified. 

Sam’s personal readiness to leave home has been his work in progress for seventeen years and his academic potential has been demonstrated. In five very short years, he'll be up there at the top of College Mountain with a little flag that says  "Thanks Mom and Dad" like his siblings were.  But on October 1, when he takes the last available SAT before the application deadline, he will be like every other bleary-eyed teenager sitting in a big room for four hours, tired, anxious, eventually hungry, pencil hovering over his choices, knowing what's at stake while he tries to recall if he loses or doesn’t lose points for blanks, and what to do if he runs out of time.  There's your test.

Most colleges – the ones who require high six or seven hundreds to begin with – claim to factor in, but not rely too heavily on SAT scores, though I imagine the pile of marginal candidates awaiting a “closer look” is pretty impressive. And many smart, qualified teenagers score well on the SAT, go to wonderful colleges, and become productive human beings. I raised three of them. But an ambitious quest has evolved among parents of college-bound teenagers to “crack the SAT code.” On coffee tables and kitchen counters throughout the land sits the three-inch Princeton Review which boasts from the cover: practice questions and explanations in every chapter!

I was never the parent who believed in prepping for the test, other than to make our kids take it a couple of times. Now I am the parent who has hired a tutor, is making her teenager use words like “Perspicacious” in a sentence, and is asking “have you signed up for word-of-the-day yet?” I am the parent I used to judge in not very understanding terms for their vicarious, or, that which is experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another, ambition. So, now, on top of everything else, my personal integrity will not take calls from my parental motives, even though they used to talk all the time and wear each other’s clothes.

Oh, if we could have type-appropriate versions of the SAT– aligned with the “person” category into which the test taker fits. Maybe name the SAT after famous humanitarians and billionaire philanthropists the way burgers are named after famous actors in diners: The Bill Gates SAT, the Warren Buffett ACT. For the ones who don’t have memories like vaults, but possess savvy and personality that are in the high seven hundreds, we could have the Ferris Bueller SAT.

Will he crack the code? Sure, he will. But I can’t shake the cognitive dissonance, or, an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously when I realize how I view, yet have bought into, the process of SAT prep.

So I do not heart the SAT, and I will be happy to see October 1 come and go. I will no longer start every sentence with “did you get a chance to,” and I will sit my personal integrity down in the same room as my parental motives, tell them to use their “I” statements and remember, during conflict, how they felt about each other when they first met.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Peace of mind on demand

Oh, when all I worried about was making sure my children had nice friends, good grades, great health, solid self-esteem and regular dental appointments.

Done, done, done, done and done.

It strikes me that as parents of (young) adult children, our worry doesn’t cease, but only takes new forms between 1:50 and 3:05 a.m.

What if this one or that one doesn’t get the job he/she really wants? What if that one over there doesn’t get into the college he’s fallen in love with? What if the one with everything going her way gets mugged walking to the T? What if, what if, what if. Worry is worse than a bad song that lodges itself in your head, like “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago.

So I call Jane about some of these. I call Christine about others. I talk to my mother about most of them. In few cases do I talk to my children directly. And why? Because for so long we absorbed their worries like giant parent-sponges and reassured them that fear is a feeling, not information. Now that they are their own sponges, it would be wrong to ask them to absorb ours. But sometimes the advice we get – about our children, or other things – doesn’t quite hit the target.

Then we must become our own counsel. Here’s how. Sit yourself in an imaginary chair across from yourself (don’t do this at work or in the kitchen when everyone’s around). Listen to yourself tell the story of your worry. It is important to take the time you need to hear yourself out and not leave the self-counsel unfinished (unless of course, your brother sends you a hilarious text or FedEx arrives with a box that says Pottery Barn in the upper left corner).

When you’ve heard the whole thing, you will be surprised at the simple truths that emerge from the snarl of circular thinking. When you get to the point of wanting to offer advice, you’re on the way to a better night’s sleep.

It works. If you’re basically happy and optimistic, it is like wearing shoes on the wrong feet to be at odds with life. A little imagination, and you can produce a new view of your tangled thoughts and bring yourself closer to your own counsel. And because you can carry your new therapist around with you day and night, it’s peace of mind on demand!

If it doesn’t work, you can always go to, where they now have free shipping on all pillows.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Peacekeepers and face-punchers

I am going to say a thing or two about confrontation. Not only because I love and consider communication an art form, but because I will finally be able to use the word “heretofore.” Watch for it.

Hello. My name is Susan and I am a confrontationalist.
Hello, Susan. 

Here is my story. I never wanted to be a confrontationalist, in fact I wasn’t particularly good at it. I just wanted like hell to never be passive-aggressive like that man down there by the door, a couple of paragraphs from now.

But – this just in from the file of things my children learned twenty or thirty years before I did: Confrontation and communication are not the same thing, like Lancome day and night moisturizer (which yes they are, save your money). They are as similar as birds and plants.

If confrontation leads to communication – a mutual understanding of one another – it’s only a nice accident because confrontation says “you’re a jackass and here’s why.” Communication says “we’re both jackasses – let’s get past it” and ends with – a mutual understanding of one another. One who wishes only to confront should just write an email and not wait for a response. I’ve done that. It solves nothing, and can leave wrinkles in a relationship too deep for even Lancome to fix. Better to take your gripe into the shower where the acoustics are good, you can say what you want, and it won't make you wince five or six years later.

For good reason, there is someone with whom I have clashed and with whom I should probably communicate soon. I’m frustrated, not angry – angry happens when there is a threat to my person or to my family’s collective person. And though I am less frustrated-not angry than I was, if I were not frustrated-not angry, I would communicate with my confrontee now. If I were not frustrated-not angry, I would remember that this is a person I basically like and just let it blow over. (In my thirties and sometimes in my forties I would have confronted my confrontee while I was angry-not frustrated and be apologizing by now).

Instead, I’ve decided to let time take the wheel.

While I’ve been thinking things over, I’ve noticed that I rather like this pre-communication state in which I can envision an outcome because I haven’t sabotaged it yet. And we all know it’s better than the post-communication state when one has decided not to communicate at all, because one “hates confrontation,” and so resolves to peck the whole world to death. You know this guy?
Unfortunately, the person with whom I wish to communicate is usually, to some degree, angry-not frustrated, which is part of the reason we need to talk. When the time comes, I, a peacekeeper, will be interested in – a mutual understanding of one another - while my confrontee, a face-puncher, will be interested in unfurling a scroll of heretofore unexpressed complaints. Somewhere on my confrontee’s person is probably a notebook with a page that says "Susan" at the top.

In the meantime, I’ve been considering the way my children communicate; how they are able to accept their own part in a conflict without accepting all the blame for it. That’s a fine line, but they know where it is and how to walk it. It’s a line worth seeking, even if you have to travel a bit to find it.

So a little more time will pass, and then if frustration-not-anger, hasn’t given way to acceptance-not-avoidance, I will invite my confrontee to clear the air. I will have it on record in my mind that I was more interested in reaching agreement than hearing the sound of my own words, which heretofore have already softened with time.

Update 9/30/11:  Found the line, had the talk, gained and became a better friend, and kept my face.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011


In 1986, when I became a new mother and had few “skills” but ideals and assumptions that numbered in the hundreds, I took an approach to raising children that I take today when a gigantic project awaits: think of an outcome, and work backwards. More than anything I wanted to raise children who would trust themselves in the future as much as they trusted me in the beginning. To that end, I told them often, and usually in the wake of a particularly bad parenting moment, “I’m no better at this than you are.”

These years later, I love my children for countless reasons, but here is a big one: They took me at my word when I told them they were better experts on themselves than I was. They are still that way, experts all.

It isn’t that my parenting has been hands-off – I’ve had my face-offs against the bad teacher here, the bad coach there, the bad parent of a bad kid elsewhere, but only when my protective instincts have taken over and sent my judgement out for an ice cream. For the most part, my young adult children have developed and followed their own user manuals, with only editing suggestions from me and my husband.

Now, as three of the four draft budgets and prepare to pay rent and car insurance and cell phone bills on their own, and the fourth closes in on his last SAT exam, I am in full awe of how naturally it comes to them to be honest, courageous, kind, industrious people, and, as I knew all along, how little help they needed from anyone else to be those things.

Thank you Courtney, Drew, Jacqueline and Sam, for making it as easy as breathing to adore you.

I love you all. And oh, not just for this.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Theft - squared

Almost twelve years ago, my husband gave me a diamond solitaire necklace for Christmas that took my breath away. Simple and sparkling, it was the most elegant piece of jewelry I’d ever owned, much less found in my stocking on Christmas morning. Judging from his face while he waited for me to open the gift, he'd had the idea for awhile. When I forget that love is not about always knowing what to give,  but with all your heart, giving what you can, I remember that face. 

And the necklace was outstanding, or, as my sister put it a few years ago, “kick-ass.”

Always, I knew where it was. But stupid, trusting me, did I take special pains to lock up this piece when cleaners or repair people came through the house? No, I did not. Is there a reason? No there is not, except with all my heart, I've always believed that unless they rob strangers for a living, few people have it in them to go into the personal things of someone they know, rummage through, examine something so valuable, and then pocket it like a quarter they found in the parking lot at Hannaford. And even if they do steal for a living, I've always believed people would rather not.

Stupid, trusting me – squared.

Worse than discovering the diamond was missing last Saturday, was the feeling of dread that it would never be found. When I discovered yesterday that other pieces were missing as well, I knew none of them would be. And yet, even as my brain was running downstairs to tell my heart what had happened, where was I?  In the bedroom closet, opening every suitcase, purse, and dust-covered shoebox thinking I'd placed the items out of view, but more than that, hoping I would no longer have to suspect anyone of anything.

It takes forever for people like me to understand we've been robbed. We're so used to believing we get what we deserve, that intuition, the first responder in such a situation, has to punch our guiding beliefs in the face to make it clear. After a while, I realized the worst possibility was the likely one. The jewelry wasn’t lost, or vacuumed up, or left in a hotel room. I had not dropped the pieces down a vent, left them in the car, or done some other careless thing. Everything had been stolen. 

It’s bad that whoever did this had likely been allowed into my home by me. It’s bad that they explored places where they knew they didn’t belong in order to find the necklace. It’s bad that because I will never know who did it, I suspect everyone. Worse is the lingering feeling that I should have known better, and would have, if I had managed over the years to become a little more jaded.

I'm getting used to it. I've stopped looking under the kitchen appliances, and inside the pockets of clothing I haven't worn in five years.  But theft, however large or small, leaves a stain. It has far-reaching effects which yield other effects until eventually, you’re not only suspicious, but prejudiced, and not just cautious, but fearful.

I’ll keep a light on for the return of my trusting nature while I consider the best way to lock up my valuables. In the meantime, I’m realizing that it feels smarter to be a more suspicious person.

But not happier. Stupid and trusting was happier. 


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What with the Economy

Every so often, I find myself on a field trip, where I can observe the business of strangers without being obvious. I heart these times because it's how I meet my characters and it's why I am never, ever, bored.

My favorite: long lines. Because oh, the things you can see while not reaching the places you’re trying to go. And, “what with the economy,” that little sentence fragment which is now the explanation for everything, I’ve noticed two things about customers and customer service. The first is that, with the exception of all things Verizon, customer service has improved everywhere. The second is that because we’re a coveted bunch now, customer behavior has worsened right along with it. It’s not pretty to see what happens to people when they think they deserve to be tolerated, even when they’re being a (bad word here).

And do I have an example? Of course I do, because this is the What-You-Missed-While-You-Were-Texting-Behind-Me-In-Line blog. You're welcome.

I braved the snow last week to go out for my lunch. I stood in line at a deli holding my Sandwich Special! with chips, soda and cookie for 5.95. I was fourth and it was taking forever, what with the economy, and, lottery tickets for sale at the check-outs. The man in front of me told the cashier to add up his order again because she did it wrong. While she checked her math, and three more people joined the line, he waited, annoyed, and asked why there was a difference in price for a chef salad over one with chicken or tuna or whatever. This pricing system was flawed, he pointed out, because it meant she had to remember the price when it would be easier to have one sticker for all salads.

“Right?” he said.
“I guess,” she said.

She gave him his total which was no different from the first, while the owner of the deli looked over at the line and frowned. When it was my turn, she sighed, and punched in the order. She told me the amount and I told her she was wrong and would she please add it up again. It took a second, but then she looked at me and laughed out loud.

Maybe the guy in front of me just lost his job as a person in charge of adding things up, and hasn’t figured out a more appropriate outlet for his anger. Or maybe the person behind the counter is grateful enough to be employed that she has figured out an appropriate response to a (bad word here).

What with the economy, both could be true.

So if you yourself have been a (bad word here) go anywhere (but Verizon) at quarter past twelve in the afternoon and stand in line. You’ll get your chance to make up for it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Snow Day

I passed a tiny house in a snowstorm last week. In the very small front yard, dressed like four-year-olds with scarves, hats, quilted parkas and fat mittens were a man and a woman, probably late twenties, building a snowman. Maybe it was for their child, or maybe their child had already built it and they were finishing it, but I don’t think so because they were sitting on the ground laughing and talking like people do in the yards of their little starter houses before the kids come.Probably one of them took off a mitten to photograph it on the cell and send it off to friends. “Look who followed us here!” they maybe said, or something more clever. I smiled to think of that.

Later in the day, I thought of the people who would never do this. Wouldn’t take the time, wouldn’t want the mess of snowy clothes to deal with, wouldn’t want to be cold, or fall down, or spend the time looking for long underwear. I won’t be one of them. Before the winter is over, I will make a snowman with my husband. I will do it for two reasons: because we’ll have fun, and because we now have children who will wonder what the hell got into us when they get the photos from my cell.