Saturday, December 14, 2013

Seven Words

Many years ago, on our tenth anniversary, Larry gave me an anniversary band. At the time, a "Diamonds are Forever" campaign was underway, urging men to "give her something that says you'd marry her all over again".  During a tight financial year, this  gift was especially meaningful,  and I've taken good care of it.

The other day, while I was shopping for groceries, between ice cream and frozen vegetables, I heard a "clink". It was barely audible. I looked at the floor around me for something I might have dropped.  An old man noticed. "Lose something?" he asked, and started looking around with me.

But we found nothing.

That night, when I took off my rings, I discovered that my anniversary band was missing. I remembered that little "clink", realized that the metal had broken, and the ring had fallen from my finger.

The sadness at losing this was numbing.  More than missing the ring itself, was to remember what it symbolized: that at a time when it wasn't easy for him to do it, my husband had found this extravagant way to tell me, he'd marry me all over again.

You've probably had that sinking feeling when, even as you realize where you dropped or forgot something, even as you're placing the call to ask about it, you know the person at the other end will be of no help whatsoever. I've called hotels about forgotten jackets, restaurants about glasses, etc.  You wait while they open the door to the office, glance left and right and come back to tell you, "nope, not here." In the meantime,  you've already decided to shop for a replacement.

But there was no replacement for this  piece of jewelry and the statement it made after ten years of marriage, when normal pressures of raising small children, managing finances, negotiating schedules had  allowed us to show each other both the best and worst of ourselves.  And though we have since assured each other of our commitment without a gift or campaign to make the point, this ring represented  an important message at a time that is pivotal in any marriage.

So, my hopes were not high when I called Hannaford at nine-thirty that night to ask a tired, overworked part-timer if he or she would mind searching the floor in Frozen Foods, but that's what I did.

After a ten minute wait on hold, during which two other employees picked up to ask who I was holding for, Kathy from Customer Service was back.

"I have it," she said.
"You do not," I said.
"It's right here. I'm putting it in the safe until you get here."

I've thought about that campaign since, the symbolic importance of this lost and found ring.

It strikes me that of the things we feel for each other, the things we should say, I would marry you all over again, has more sway, more healing power than any other message.   It is not a message that  loses substance with time. It is not the "I love you" we toss out when we hang up the phone or leave the house.

It is also a message that can be as easily lost, forgotten, misplaced, broken as a piece of jewelry.

When it falls off, it may not be with more than a tiny clink , you may not notice right away, but when you discover it's gone, your first regret will be your failure to notice the crack and do something about it. And there won't always be a Hannaford employee to help you get it back when that happens.

So, do that.  Fuse those cracks. If you mean them, say those words:

I would marry you all over again.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

First love

When I was a young child I lived near an open field where sometimes, under the black night sky, I would stretch out to study the expanse of sparkly stars and wonder, what's beyond you? What comes after you? It was  incomprehensible to imagine anything bigger.

"Heaven," I decided. "That's where Heaven is."  Lacking any better description of Heaven, it made sense to me.

A week ago, sad over new and  lingering memories of my brother as a younger and younger person, happy and healthy, I looked to the sky again.



"A little help here, please."


"Fine. Tell God I need him then."

Heaven is a busy place during the holidays, apparently, because God was tied up as well. I put those memories of retro-Bill away, reasoning that this stage of the goodbye process, was probably the last.

"Gone, then," I decided.

More than thirty-five years ago, when he was in high school, my brother fell in love with Robin, a girl nobody ever forgot - especially my brother.  She was small and lively,  with a laugh in her voice and joyful eyes that  made people feel lucky to know her - particularly my brother. It changed his life to find her, and they were inseparable. They shared interests, had the same friends, lived big, lived in full, like there was no tomorrow, also known as, today.

Eventually, life happened, distance happened, time passed. They went their separate ways, took different paths. Nobody saw or heard from her again - including my brother. For as long as I knew him, until he met his son years later, no other relationship lit him up like that.

He never did show up for our meeting last week, and for the first time since we lost him, I could not sense his presence. Gone, then.

The next day, Robin found me on Facebook.

She'd learned of his death in a high school newsletter and she was crushed. Not because she'd harbored hopes of reuniting - she hadn't. And not because she isn't happy in her life now - she is. But, was she the love of his life, as he was hers? Yes, I told her. Nothing else came close.   

Because, however great are the loves that follow, however lasting, or fateful  or tried and true - none will do to our lives and hearts what the first one does.

It comes with a life span, first love does; a beginning and an end. Its memory is perfect and intact, it occupies a special place  in our histories forever,  a bright, high sun over everything that follows. It is the end of a diving board, when taking a little risk to go further is first required and then becomes involuntary.

First love is proof that at least once, you possessed the capacity to connect without a thought for the why, how long, and "if" of it.  There is longing without reservation, adventure without caution and communication that is pure and not parsed.  There is knowing you may reach the end of the ride someday without believing it for a second.

First love is the cleanest thing in the world.

I don't believe anyone forgets, or doesn't love, their first love, a little bit, for the lifelong memory it creates of who we were and of what we can mean to someone else.   

For anyone who laments that it came, and then went without the right send off, take heart. If you were ever lucky enough to experience this starter-love, and wise enough to let it go while it still had the power to shape your future, you did it right.   

If you haven't fallen in love yet, take heart.  It can't be rushed, there's no deadline, and you can't ask for it. No serious love - whether it's the first or the last - responds to invitations.  

And then, one night, one day, one afternoon, you will suddenly realize that without  meaning to, trying to, or even wanting to, you've already opened your heart to someone who wants to be nowhere else.

There is only one  thing that will come of this company which is to answer  all your questions about everything in the world that matters.

If you've already experienced this, you're better for it.

If you haven't,  lucky you, it waits.

Thank you Bill, and Robin, for showing up.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The algebra of happiness - giving up stuff I'm just not good at

Life is a lot of things, but mostly,  life is a a big algebra equation.

I am bad at a few things. I'm bad at cooking fish. I'm bad at "fast" dancing. I'm bad at giving speeches.

I gave fish a shot but it never took on its cookbook image, all browned and seasoned next to a scrumptious side. No. Fish that I prepare just looks tired and sick, and practically begs to be put out of its misery. A while back I  thought about the algebra of this: Even if I could perfect fish cooking it wouldn't matter because I don't particularly like fish. So, I don't do it anymore.

"Fast" dancing is required infrequently enough to fake it when I have to.  And, where I would have to, would be in a setting where people are thinking too much about their own dancing to notice. So I do it, do it badly, and don't really care.  That algebra works.

The  speech thing has always been my hill to conquer, something I've created a little space for in my skill set but can't seem to fill.  

Ironically, one of the things I do very, very well is coach teenagers at the Boys and Girls club to speak in public, requested as they often are to tell their stories before all kinds of audiences.  It works because I draw from my expertise as an audience member, not a speaker. As a speaker, I myself could use a coach.

I follow this simple prep route when I've been asked to give a speech or present myself as a specialist of any kind:  I organize what I'm going to say, edit out the fillers,  practice in the car, in the shower, in my head, out loud before the mirror, and think about absolutely nothing else until it's over.

That can take days. But that's how I deal with it. By dealing with nothing else.

Speech giving is my  crook in the alley; the thing I can't always see coming. While I certainly avoid those bad neighborhoods, "opportunities" to speak still pop up and, even knowing how worked up I get, do I politely decline?  No.  When I'm asked to speak, I think about that space in the skill set and accept the challenge to hone and polish and lay this skill alongside the others. Perfect it even. Bake it to a delicious, golden brown and season to taste.

Seven or eight times out of ten, I nail  it. Then, I enjoy a half day or so of euphoria when I return to my other neglected duties, and love with all my heart that no other such challenge looms in the foreseeable future.

That algebra doesn't work:  days of obsessing in return for a half a day of euphoria. I really can't adjust either side of that equation - half a day of obsessing, or days of euphoria, so I am thinking that speech giving should go the way of fish making.

I would be nervous about this if I were thirty. When you're thirty, you just know, in all those years that remain, you're going to have to face your crook in the alley more than once. Maybe several times.

But one of the ever joyous benefits of not being in my thirties is that I make decisions quickly about how to spend my time and do little that doesn't keep that equation in balance.

So, most of the time, it's like this:  Effort and expectation = Benefit and happiness

However, when it comes to public speaking,


See what I mean?

So, with that, I am embracing one of the quickest decisions ever: done with speeches, something I will miss as much I look forward to it.

That algebra works.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hit Submit

Foreword:  In the crazy October days leading up to the college-bound student's early decision application deadline, there is little time to think about what lies ahead. That's what November is for.  

I've reposted our experience, because it's as true today as it was two years ago:  October is about the trip to the post office. November is about everything else.

Our son, Sam, has applied early decision to Elon. “We” have not applied early decision to Elon, as I recently heard myself say, like couples who say, "we're pregnant."

Sam has applied early decision to Elon. We haven’t.

But we’re hoping we get in.

The good thing about the abbreviated, early decision application timeline – a semi-frantic period that squeezes September and swallows October whole, and requires the ED applicant to gather transcripts, sit for the last SAT, line up letters of recommendation and craft the most significant experience of their seventeen years into (all hail) The Essay – is that there is little time to think about what comes next, which is November. 

That is not what October is for.
October is about getting ready for college while the month passes at double the speed of any other, until the only thing left to do is hit “submit” and heave a huge sigh of relief.  It is not about shorter grocery lists, or empty laundry hampers, or the day ten months from now, when you will hug your ED applicant goodbye, go to the airport, and sit at the gate where you will point to the child of stranger-parents and say, "Sure, now they're having tantrums and spilling juice on my suitcase, but blink and you'll be dropping them off at college."

No, October is about nagging and follow through, setting up tutors, waiting for scores, reading and editing the resume. It is about saying at least once a week, “If I have to bug you to (tedious task here), what will happen when I’m not there to bug you?” as if the ED Applicant will lose your contact information right after you hug him goodbye and go to the airport, where a teenager sitting next to you will look so much like your ED applicant, you'll want to give him money for lunch and ask him if he’s okay on gas. 

October gets you ready for college.

November gets you ready for the airport. 

November is for musing over the path that has led you here, where you have learned that, flawed as it turns out you each are, you are perfect in the roles you occupy for each other. 

November is for the moments when, on your own, in the breezy dark, you look into the sky and say to God, “If you keep him safe next year, I will never, ever drive in the left lane again.”  

November is for letting your eyes rest on your ED applicant’s face a little longer than necessary, maybe even to the point where he says, “What? What’s wrong? What are you doing? Is there something on my face?” while you smile and say, “Of course not, you’re wonderful,” and finish memorizing the moment. 

November is for making very sure that the next nine months are like the ones before you met your ED applicant- joyful and not stressful, full of trepidation and anticipation, both. November is for making sure that every conversation, even the candid, not-so-nice ones, are valued because they all reflect the honesty of your relationship.
“So, tonight, we hit submit,” I said to Sam over lunch at Uno’s recently.
He looked startled.
“It’s done,” I said.
“I should look at it one more time,” he said.
“You can if you want.”
“There might be something missing,” he said.
“There’s nothing missing,” I said.
There was a beat. A blink.
“You’re ready,” I said.
He nodded. “You’re right,” he said, “I am.”

There was a time last year when I felt, but tried not to show, impatience with parents who anticipated the absence of their college-bound children with melancholy. I almost said, but didn’t, how unfair it is to complicate a teenager’s already mixed feelings about separating with worry over how their parents are handling it.  

Something stopped me from being that snarky, maybe it was God (who has pulled me back to the curb more than once) but more likely, it had something to do with Octobers past, and Novembers future and what happens to us in airports. 

We’re ready. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Before and after the times of your life

My twenties
Foreword:   If you blog with regularity like I do, sooner or later you'll talk about "before" parts of your life which weren't the times you're fondest of.  One great thing about "after", which is now, is that you don't care because you have a point to make.  

Late in the fall of his freshman year,  our son Sam said to me: "I am already almost halfway through twenty-five percent of what everyone says are the best years of my life that I'm going to have. That freaks me out."

I know the feeling.

Every so often, usually in connection with a milestone, or major family event, or a big birthday, I wake up and think,  "What? Over already?"

It's a melancholy little pothole to find yourself in,  brooding over all that has happened and what has gone by.

When I am completely on my own nerves, I come around to this: I am not just okay with what has happened already, I am better off  because of what is over, like my twenties, one of those other times of life that people tell you are your best. I think not.

Youth isn't free.

If I looked better and needed less sleep to be nice, I also worried constantly about the impression I made on people, how respected I was, how I was regarded  at work, and whether I would ever stop feeling competitive with "er" people -  the smarter, prettier, richer, funnier ones - enough to forge a real friendship with them.    

I was a salad of insecurities.

In my twenties, I wore great clothes and turned heads. I was also divorced after eighteen months and  wondered how I would ever love one person for the rest of my life.  How I would ever learn to talk to children, who I found frightening. Why my nemesis, Katie-in-Benefits, was able to endear herself to the senior management without wearing perfume and tossing her hair around. Members of senior management asked Katie to meetings. They asked me out for drinks.

People in young and transitional years  can't imagine themselves or their lives as different, much less better. When I was in my young and transitional years,  I couldn't either. I imagined  life would always be a roller coaster of up and down days, with moods that came and went like weather, and hoped I'd just learn to keep up.  The future was shapeless and murky, but the present was no bargain either.  I had the opposite, traumatic thought:  These? These are the times of my life?

Had a future me been able to appear at the side of salad me on one of those daunting, misty pre-dawn mornings when I worried about what I would worry about later,  I would have said : Take heart. Some people invest for a long time before they see a return.   

I reminded Sam last year that the times of a person's life don't happen the same way or at the same time for everyone. And I reminded him of  the things that wait - college, career, relationships, friends, travel - all times that he is "before" right now, but which only look like "after" to a person who is not yet twenty and is, yes, having the time of his life - to date.

If this sounds like the tired, I'd-rather-be happy-than-young rationale it isn't. That just sounds mournful and desperate to me. In my book, if the last couple of decades are any indication, anything worth doing gets better with time, not age.


Every relationship means something to me 
I have friends I cherish for the times of life we've shared
I attune to children - young and grown - as easily as I breathe
I have discovered beauty and resilience in marriage like a secret room in the house.
Happiness feels earned and deserved and not serendipitous.
Fear and worry come with revelations in the middle, like expensive candy

There is a choice to make on those days when you wake up and think "Already?"  Freak out over what's over, or, focus on what waits.

I have plans, big plans. And I know this:

Before I published my first novel, and thought I never would, and kept trying...
Before we moved to Boston to experience  urban life...
Before we started renting an ocean home each August for family drop-ins...
Before our last child graduated college....
Before the rest of our children fell in love and got married...
Before our first grandchild was born...
Before I celebrated dozens more life milestones with my closest friends...

It was now.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Looking for a way to keep the homeless in their place? Here's how it's done.

I have a bee in my bonnet. A year from now it will probably have turned into a cause which makes me sigh, because I have a lot going on. 

But this is one noisy bee.

A while back, a journalist in our community documented the lives of panhandlers who stand at intersections in our town "flying" signs that say "Homeless Vet", or, "No job. Anything will help," or things along those lines, in hopes that a sympathetic driver will hand over some cash before the light turns green.

Those who shared their stories were candid. Some have drug issues, some have jail in their history, most have bounced from one shelter to the next, some suffer untreated mental illnesses. All of the individuals interviewed revealed a sad but firm resignation to this place in life - more driven to feed their demons than conquer them. Some will die trying. 

I saw a sign flyer at an intersection recently.  He was pacing, ranting into a cell phone and waving his sign around as he gestured so that it was impossible to see if he was a vet, or out of work, or what.  As I watched, I wondered how much damage he was doing to the public perception of his situation. 

Not much, I don't think. There isn't a lot of give in public perception when that perception is already rooted in very narrow minds where one is, or one isn't homeless. There is no room in such minds for "could be" or, "once wasn't."

It was this simple perception which led a nearby community to hear one man's proposal to help the homeless, and then send him packing.

He is the director of a resource center for the homeless in nearby Concord, and he wanted to start a transitional facility for homeless men. His proposal was to purchase a former bed and breakfast and turn it into a working farm where a dozen homeless men would be housed. It is an eight-acre property.

Resident-applicants, all known to the center, would be screened in and screened out based on their drive to return to stable lives. Sex offenders would be banned, as would those with a violent criminal past. Residents would spend their days working on the farm and be required to submit to random drug and alcohol testing. The director would live on the property himself, with his family, to oversee things. Transportation would be provided into Concord, twelve minutes away,  where they would attend substance abuse support groups, receive medical attention, attend interviews. 

All in exchange for an address.

Townspeople gathered to hear about the plan and pose questions to the director of the center.   

"My job as a parent, as a mother, is to protect the safety of my children, does that make me prejudiced?" asked one resident.
"Why here?" asked another. 
"It would be a revolving door for 12 homeless men...we don't know who they are."
"They get bored and they like to wander."
"There’s no way this isn’t going to affect the neighborhood,”
"What it could possibly do to the property values."
"I didn't move to a rural area to have proven substance abusers in a family community."
“I am talking about my backyard, which is 1,000 feet of my property line, where my horses graze, where my kids sleep at night – a property line that is wooded and secluded.”

And more.

Their questions - will extra police be required to respond to problems? Who will enforce the rules? Who will determine who's fit to be included and who's not? - were valid. But with the director's attempts to quell their fears with information, residents grew more hostile, more defensive, and more determined not to live in close proximity to "those people".

“The meeting was clearly more of an ambush than anything else,” the director said afterwards. “We weren’t allowed to give full answers to the questions. . . . It was more of an opportunity for them to tell us that they didn’t want us there. And I understand that.”

Two days later, the town's zoning board unanimously rejected the zoning exception that would have allowed the project to move forward.

Says my bee:  How many people do anything about the homeless other than complain about them, or say things like, "There but for the Grace of God go I," when they couldn't believe anything less? 

Do the sign flyers featured in that article belong in that twelve-bed shelter?  Does the sign flyer on the phone? Maybe not, given their self-described, even growing acclimation to the harbor of the street.    

But there are others, those who might rise above their circumstances with help, but surely won't without it. Those with whom we may share more in ways that connect us as human beings - grief when a loved one dies, joy when a child is born, heartbreak when a fragile being is exploited or abused - than we don't.  

And there are those of noble standing today, who weren't always that way. In an editorialJohn Duval, Concord's former chief of police, described his experience of being one of six children growing up in Manchester when a string of family crises cost his family everything, including their home. Until he left the force, Chief Duval served on the mayor's task force to end homelessness.

But relatability, the "could be," or, "once wasn't" of it,  is not a pretty thing to ponder if we intend to keep our distance.  And many have shown they intend to do exactly that.,

I'm ashamed of the people who rejected the director's proposal. Not for posing provocative questions, but because they welcomed no true debate, offered no interest in a tighter proposal. I suspect, had they not assembled in large enough numbers to squash the plan early on, they would have searched hard for each other until they could. 

"My job as a parent, as a mother, is to protect the safety of my children, does that make me prejudiced?"

Yes, meeting-goer, it does. Absent probable cause for fear, prejudice is the next best thing.

Judgment is not free.  It is costly to cling to the illusion that distancing ourselves from the unluckiest people around will protect us from our own lives. But it is most costly to employ fear and ignorance to derail a compassionate, potentially successful plan to pull twelve homeless men up and over. 

We pay with our humanity and the fee is steep.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why it was easier to separate from college-bound daughters than sons

My group. All done with me, but not really.
Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Bernice, whose last two children, fraternal twins, will leave for college in a week. We talked about the difference in how we separate from girls and boys.  To us, maybe to you, there is one.

Last year, after Sam left for his freshman year at Elon, I grappled with the same realization I had when our oldest son left and it was this: I would never again, know him as well as I did living with him every day.

Without the adhesive of daily interaction,  and without the intuitive advantages of shared gender, I would know him less and less. Our communication, always real and spontaneous, might become  something to locate now, like a pulse. Without those  daily glimpses into who he was becoming, I would have to understand him again from a distance.

But how?

If Sam and I spoke a single cross word to each other last August as the weeks closed in on his departure, I wouldn't be able to describe the exchange. I wanted the shortening period with him at home to be harmonious, and it was.  

In contrast, when our daughters were preparing to leave for college a few years ago, despite our close relationships, prickly tension developed between us in early August and didn't abate until after the drop off. Arguments were frequent and pointless, conversations were awkward, doors were closed - hard.  They separated the only way they knew how, which was to force the break. And they did us both a favor.

But, it was just that. Separation.

As my friend and I discussed,  it's easier to separate from a daughter, but not because we aren't close. It's easier because we are both women.  

In the work of getting daughters ready for the world, we're not just supportive, we're coaches. We've played this game.  We've done the girl's life already,  we can commiserate with the myriad emotions of a growing up a girl.

Unique as the events of their lives are to them - getting their ears pierced, finding a first friend, falling in love, getting a job, being accepted at their target college, being accepted everywhere - they are not strange or unfamiliar to us.  They are things we've done, and imagined them doing since the days of baby teeth and first haircuts. Even if we're not alike, we have gender in common. We know our daughters like our own voices.

We can relate to their journey, while we can only observe a boy's. We work harder to align our expectations with who she is and not who we were. We suppress judgement as she does things her way, not ours. We contain the urge to warn her away from things that she must encounter to learn who she is. We allow her time that we ourselves needed to cultivate grace and wisdom. We trust. We believe. We know. We've seen this movie.

It is an entirely exhausting and exhilarating work in progress that lasts for eighteen years before it's over. But when it is, it's not goodbye. Not really.

As chilly as things were leading up to their drop off days years ago,  I knew looking into the faces of my daughters that only one of my roles in their lives was ending. I was not hanging up my mother-of-a-daughter hat, but merely trading it for one better suited to the mother of a woman. With their looming freedom and growth, would come experiences we'd discuss as women who could relate to, and possibly learn from each other. 

But boys? 

"We already don't talk as much," said my friend about the son she'll launch next week. 

I shared two stories with her.

Ally me with my grown up girls
A month ago I invited my oldest son, a journalist, over for tacos and advice. I was to appear on a radio show where I'd talk about something I'd experienced in the community. I was nervous about appearing and knowing he'd understand this first-hand, I asked what he'd done to quell his nerves before his own radio appearances. He had some suggestions that were truly helpful. "Can I listen?" he asked. "Oh, I don't think you have to." I said. "Gotcha," he said, understanding completely.

Two weeks ago, my daughter, a bride-to-be, came home for several days.  We planned her reception seating, we picked up her dress, we had pedicures. We talked about relationships, about marriage, about learning to make decisions as a couple and defending them to others. I asked how I could be her ally and not her critic in her coming life as a new bride. She told me she never wanted to defend herself to me, and I nodded. It wasn't because we're both women that I understood this. I understood because I respect her as a person.

This week, our son will leave for his sophomore year at college.He will likely not be back next summer. There will be internships, chances to work and room with a friend in another city, opportunities to travel, etc.  "I don't know where I'll be," he said, in complete honesty.

It feels like goodbye this time. But the takeaway after a year in the empty nest is this: It's different to mother girls over boys, and it's different to separate from each. But with the distance that follows, and only after they find their independent footing comes an opportunity to be people in their lives as they will be in ours, who understand each other.  It trumps every other role we've had to date, and if we let it, it thins out the weight of goodbye. 

And that, Bernice, is where the difference ends.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A little something

Somebody said that no book is written once, or words to that effect. This is true,  I'm finishing my book for the fourth time. Finally, it's a keeper.

While I wrap up,  here is a little something that will make you smile.  It's about gossip and if you don't see yourself in it, you'll see someone you know.  

I'll be back in a week with a bigger something.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The man from the cereal aisle

People find each other, if they need to.

Several years ago I saw a man  in the cereal aisle at the supermarket. He was darting from one brand to another, reading the side panel information, trying to decide.  He rushed, like he had to be someplace else, soon.

He looked like he took care of himself. He was neatly dressed,  wearing a golf shirt tucked into jeans, and out-of- the-box white sneakers. Probably late fifties.   

"Excuse me," he said to me as I passed.

He held up two boxes of cereal. "Do you think there's a difference between these Raisin Brans? I mean, have you tried both? Because, you know that if it looks healthier," he indicated the side panel, "it's not always worth it, because healthy things don't always taste so good, right?" He paused. "What kind of cereal do you like?"

He wore no wedding ring. I remember thinking, divorced.

I said, "I like the Kellogg's, but I don't think there's a big difference. You'll be okay either way, I think,"  and I moved on. Before I rounded the  corner, I heard behind me, "Excuse me." When I turned, he was approaching a man around his own age. "Do you think there's a difference between the Post Grape Nuts and the store brand?"

At the check-out next to mine he chatted  with a woman behind him who struggled to soothe her fussy baby and seemed seconds away from a meltdown herself.

"I used to use the coupons," he was saying while he loaded the belt. "But I just didn't like being forced to buy what was on sale, do you know what I mean?"  She responded politely, "I guess, yeah."  He placed the last item on the belt and turned to the baby.  "This is a busy place for a little guy like you, isn't it? It certainly is."  He was still moving in that hurried way, like he was late for something else.

I shopped every Wednesday when I had children at home and he was there half the time. Same type of behavior...scrutinizing bread, cleaning products, batteries, chips, one product after another in the aisles, finger moving back and forth while he searched, rushing  in that quick, quick, quick, pick it out way. Straightening when a stranger passed, "Excuse me."

Once he came up behind me in line.  "You know," he said, "I thought it would be a lot busier today, with the storm coming. I was really, really surprised to see so few people here, weren't you?"  I said something like, "I know, hard to predict."

I remember thinking, lonely.

After I went back to work, I didn't see him again.

Two weeks ago, I entered the supermarket parking lot behind a driver who couldn't select from four spaces that were all close to the entrance. Turn, stop, start. Turn, stop, start. While he crawled along, trying  to pick one, I crawled along behind him, blocked from the spaces he wasn't selecting.  

I remember thinking, decide.

A few moments later, I walked into the store behind this driver and his companion.  She used a cane and limped along while  he darted ahead, then fell back to keep pace, then rushed ahead, etc. He was everywhere, circling her like a mosquito, it was like being behind six people.  They reached the carriages, he placed her cane inside and she said, "No. I'll push." He agreed and they moved on. She moved carefully, while he bounced around like a pinball.

I could not get away from these people. I went left, they veered left. I went right, so did they. They stood in the middle of aisles, talking to each other across displays,  scrutinizing their selections . Stopping, starting, stopping, starting.  "No wait!" she'd say, "Look at this one, it's better."

In the Crackers aisle a man in a Duck Dynasty t-shirt stood halfway between us, looking at the Triscuits display. The man left his companion and approached him.
"Hey!" he said to the t-shirt man, as if he knew him.
The t-shirt man turned.
"I love your shirt!" said the other man. "Duck Dynasty! I love that show!" He turned to his companion, "Look at his shirt!"
"Oh my God," she said, "We love that show! We just bought the floor mats!"
The t-shirt man, glanced down at himself, "Yeah," he said, "Friend got this for me."
"We love that show!"  said the other man, again.
"We watch it all the time," said his companion.
"Yeah, it's a good show," said the t-shirt man. "Take it easy," he said, walking away. 

The man said to his companion, "I should get a shirt like that," and she said, "Or a mug. They have mugs, too," and now I recognized him. The man from the cereal aisle, five or six years later. 

He was  exactly the same,  darting this way and that, bringing his companion a product, saying, "What do you think?"

When I passed them in the aisle, I slowed enough to check. Sure enough, they wore matching wedding bands.  I wonder how long it took for them to find each other, but I like to think that she had choices, and picked him,  before he was late for something else.

People find each other, if they need to. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trolls in the forest

 The average troll

Last night, I was to have the house to myself. Larry was traveling and Sam, who plays Sunset League baseball, had a game. I had a new movie to watch as well as a new novel to start and would prepare my favorite "me" dinner of steak and tater tots (it used to be tacos before I made tacos half a million times for my children).

We were in the middle of a heat wave. It would be over 90 degrees when Sam threw the first pitch.Frankly, I didn't think he should play, but he's 18, he's a college sophomore, and does this for fun. 

Mid-morning, Larry texted me "suggesting" I try and catch Sam's game. He had been looking forward to it himself before his trip came up, maybe I could go instead.  

Well, no, I thought. I will not be Mommy and Daddy tonight. Tonight I will be Mommy handing Sam his water and sunscreen as he leaves, and making him his own dinner of steak and tater tots when he gets back. 

I was fine with this. Until my troll showed up.  Her name is "Selfish Mother."  

Selfish Mother reminded me of how life is short and that Sam will probably be too busy next summer to even come home and while he is on the field, doesn't he deserve to see someone cheering him on from the stands? Does it even matter that he had to explain to you in (embarrassingly) recent years that in baseball you have to be up to score?  Of course not. Was it your happy, proud face that mattered? Yes, it was. With all the opportunities I have to do exactly what I want, asked Selfish Mother, couldn't I just eek out a few hours for the sake of my son's happiness? 

In comparison, asked Selfish Mother, would this be my last opportunity to have steak and tater tots? 

As promised, today I will discuss trolls.   

First, a word about Mood Therapy (est 1980-ish) ) which is about changing our view of reality by changing what we tell ourselves about it. It is based on scrutinizing self-talk. Anyone who has even flipped through a self-help book knows that self-talk goes on every minute of the day, and not always in silence if you can drive and pretend to be on the phone.

Every now and then, like everyone does, I get hung up on a negative thought, or a social stumble, or a mistake that might have hurt someone's feelings.  Sometimes my "self-talk" leads me to sulking or dwelling, or feeling guilty, etc. Other times my self-talk leads me to the drive-thru at McDonald's, where it is very supportive of cheeseburgers, as long as I don't have fries.

When we're fragile, or feeling insecure, or overwhelmed, or unloved, or not popular, or haven't published our novels yet, self-talk can be very unfriendly.  

I call this "Trolls in the Forest-talk" and as crazy as it sounds, (that's"Crazy Troll" talking) I've shared my thoughts about troll-talk with people I respect who have responded with, "That's. So.True."  When someone says "That's. So.True," a blog post is born.


Susan's Trolls in the Forest Philosophy for all Ages

 Life is a forest.  It is a magical, sunlit, dense-with-meaning, occasionally gloomy, but overall mystical place of beauty. There will be paths, of course, some which exist and some which may need to be forged. The length and depth of the forest is not known, but it's not your job to know. It's your job to travel, take in the surroundings and rest when you need to.

In every forest are trolls. They vary in shape and size, some are fierce and frightening, some are big and annoying. None of them are attractive. They will stop you. They will tell you things. They will make you sit with them. They aren't pleasant, yet they seem truthful so you listen.

As you listen to troll-talk, the forest grows gloomy. The path looks different and difficult now, shrouded in shadows from overhead, gnarly branches.  Your troll ignores this and continues to advise you of your mistakes, your failures and your shortcomings. You wonder: could  such an ugly troll be right? But there you sit, listening.

When you realize you need to move on, your troll leaves you and you resume your travel but now you're thinking about how tired you are, how hungry, how hard this journey really is. You think about this instead of things you should be thinking about and the forest darkens around you. You suspend travel for another day. 

Your troll meanwhile, has moved down the path to wait for you.

The thing to remember about trolls is that they are there to challenge your confidence and attitudes. They thrive on making you question yourself. It's their job. When a troll has done its job, it's good for another visit.  The only way to deal with a troll is to look right at it and call it what it is. 

If you're a visual type (and by now in this post, I hope you are) look at the troll . Talk to it. Say, "Troll" and move on.  If another troll pops up further along do the same thing. Have fun. Punch your troll, push your troll over, maybe refer your troll to the forest of someone who done you wrong. But keep moving.

Some people can't see the forest for the trolls, but with all my heart, I believe we would like to. Keep your reasonable mind open and clear because it casts light on the path and trolls don't enjoy a well-lit path. They lose their power, they shrink. Eventually they become too small to see and get stepped on which is how many trolls meet their end.

The End

My troll wanted me to attend the game out of guilt. I told my troll that guilt as a motive is more selfish than anything, and then I pushed my troll over. 

Then, I kind of wanted to change my plans. 
I kind of wanted to see an inning or two. 
Maybe three. 
I kind of wanted to wring another nice memory out of the summer.

Sam smiled at me from the mound.
He pitched a shut-out. 
Later,we had steak and tater tots together, and he explained what "shut-out" means.

All is well in the forest.