Monday, February 18, 2013

Teenagers, it's hard for us too.

A teenager who was
 nice to me
I am grateful for a lot of things but I am deeply grateful for this: with few exceptions, my teenagers were nice to me.

I wish I didn't know how unusual my experience was, but reminders like this are everywhere:

Across from me in a restaurant, a woman was seated with two boys, around nine and fifteen. From the way one, but not the other, interacted with her, and from the way each behaved as though the other weren't there,  I'm assuming they were her sons.

The younger boy, clearly relishing her attention, engaged his mother with jokes and chatter and stories. The older boy, slumped in the corner of the booth like a crumpled shirt, said nothing. 
While the younger boy chatted, the woman sat forward in her seat smiling, nodding, listening, smiling, nodding, listening... During pauses in the conversation, she turned to the older boy and made polite attempts to include him all to which he responded with long looks at his phone, impatient shrugs and a very irritated look of "How would I know?"  

I wanted to slip her a note: "It gets better." But that would have been presumptuous. For all I knew the behavior of her fifteen-year-old was an improvement over the way he normally punched his brother in restaurants.

To be  scorned by a child who has adored you for years is the hardest, most bewildering experience parents describe in the parenting years. It's expected and it's expected to be hard. But like labor itself, it hurts more than you think it should.

"How would I know?"
It starts suddenly, with the  whatever stage. It evolves into the later What?? Nothing! Nothing's wrong! Stop asking me that. Just leave me alone. Why are you like that all the time? stage which lasts another year or so but feels like longer. Finally, in the last stages, convinced of how little they want from us, we find other things to do and other children to talk to, and try to remain silent while they negotiate life without us.

We  have been told to let the rope out, that they are entitled to their growth, their distance, their isolation. Still, it ages us, wakes us in the night, makes us cry. We know we'll live through it,  and so we brace, we accept, and above all, we wait.

Why are you like that? they ask us with that squint.

I love teenagers, they are mighty and mystifying and with rare exceptions, I've not looked into a teenage face and failed to see traces of the little person they once were behind that squint. But it is their parents, with their fixed, neutral expressions and hidden hurt and unwavering resolve to stay near, who have my heart.

And I wish
if only for a few moments
that a teenager...

...could view their separation through the eyes of the parent who - with no warning -  has been shown the door but instead, moves to the other side of the room like a quiet child who still wants to see what's going on.

...who feels powerless in a world of influences beyond the home - could know their power to hurt a parent with a single look, a single, scornful statement: Why are you like that?

...who feels insignificant without a circle of friends - could know the way their single bad day will - instantly - reverse the most wonderful day in the life of a parent.

...who should be allowed to make a bad decision, to act like a jackass - would remember that it isn't possible to act in any way that will change the way a parent loves them.

...who would be crushed if a peer were to treat them with the contempt and disrespect that they inflict on a parent, could know it hurts just that much. 

...could remember that there are other teenagers who experience the reverse - parents who have given up on them, taken back their own freedom, ceased their communication - and would trade places with a luckier teenager in a heartbeat.

But most of all, I wish that teenagers, who need more than the air they breathe to be loved for who they are, could see that equal to their efforts to journey away, is the parent's determination to walk with them, even if at enough distance  to avoid getting stepped on.

All four of my teenagers evolved into adults I admire and adore. Today I enjoy relationships with them that are among my most rewarding, energizing, inspiring - and loving.

It does get better. It is worth the wait. But for some parents, it isn't free. 

Teenagers, I wish you knew, it's hard for us too.

Monday, February 11, 2013


My schedule for the week

Recently, I saw an announcement that Dave Barry, "Legendary Humorist", would be speaking/performing/signing a book somewhere. I appreciate Dave Barry (and his friend Carl Hiaasen) but I don't remember the details.  I just thought: I would hate to be billed as a legendary humorist.

What pressure. What if you're tired? Or coming down with a cold? Or hungover? What if for any other reason, you just don't feel funny?  What if you're scheduled to be funny on stage that night, but wake feeling anxious and can't shake it? What if you're just having an insecure day? We all have insecure days.

What pressure.

I'm sensitive to this. I fret if  there's high expectation attached to something I said I'd do, or if I'm rushed to produce something without adequate time to prepare, or, apparently, if I have just enough time to prepare, because as of last night, Sunday, after I literally had a week to prepare today's post, well...

It's not performance-anxiety as much as time-management anxiety. I'm not preoccupied with doing something well enough, I'm preoccupied with not doing it on time which makes no sense, because I have complete control over my schedule. And yet, it seems the way I manage deadlines best is to give myself plenty of time in advance, and almost no time right before a deadline so that I can strike a comfortably pressing environment without creating a pressured one.  You know who else does this? Children who are potty training, and every college freshman I ever knew.

Am I on my own nerves with this behavior? Yes, I am. But I understand it. As I've said before, the magic thing about fifties is that you figure things out quickly and take action. All that staring out the window, thinking about why, who and what we "are" is what they're doing over at the kid table.

I love writing - book, blog or whatever - but I love it most when I have plenty of time to delete and start over and delete and start over again.  For example, in addition to finishing my novel, I post to this blog on Mondays.  The minute I hit "send," I start writing for the following Monday. It's my fun day. When I-don't-have-to-run day.  It's what I call the "paint on the page day".  I write, write, write, knowing most of it is crap, but also knowing I have days to slice and dice, and lots of time for distractions discoveries:  Facebook updates, Google searching, blog trotting. Then, as the stretch between Mondays shortens, by Sunday, I have the basic post and I finish it off by becoming that twenty-five-year old who says in interviews,  "I thrive on pressure" (spare me) when what they really mean is "I procrastinate like crazy,  but know how to pull my ass out of the fire at the last minute every time," (a far more impressive skill) and that's what I do. I meet my Monday deadline and have interesting discoveries to bring up at dinner .

Last week, however, after being pulled repeatedly from my writing schedule for one reason or another I was left with only time for last minute writing, and no time at all for discoveries. And yet, on that abbreviated schedule, didn't I have to look up why Yanni divorced Linda Evans, what the expression "Come to Jesus" really means, where I would find the mother-of-the-bride dress of my dreams, why the chat list on Facebook changes so often, and pictures of Chopin so I could ask my violist daughter if she ever noticed how much he  looks like Al Pacino? ("No," she said, "But I will now. Thanks.")

Early last night, when I would usually be picking a good graphic to go with my post, and discussing where to go for dinner with Larry, I was still in my socks and ponytail, looking at a post that had six or seven different points embedded in it.  

Give it up, I thought, and so I fixed myself up and went for dinner.  

So I apologize for offering only a post about not posting this week, but I'll bet some of you can relate. And, even as you read, I am splashing about in my stream of consciousness and eyeing my editorial calendar, in preparation for next Monday's post.

Because it's Monday, my fun day. I'll be ready for Sunday, which is another story.

P.S. The line "I-don't-have-to-run-day" comes from The Bangles "Manic Monday" a song that was probably written in it's entirety on a late Sunday evening and yet performed very well on the charts. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pet sitters and other marchers

Don't worry, this post is long, but only some of it is about my empty nest kitten, Gus. 

Empty nest Gus
Long ago, when I was between the ages of 8 and 11 and my teeth were too big for my face and I never got picked for kickball and I was discovered talking to myself - often - I remember a tired old teacher telling me that I was "someone who marched to a different drummer." 

It's been years of course, but I can still spot another marcher - my refrigerator repair guy for example - a mile away. But I've been at ease socially for a long time, so when a marcher and I communicate, provided they are peaceful, I am always happy  to carry the conversational kickball. Then, if my marcher and I confront an awkward  pause  - waiting for a supervisor to call back with a price for example, we won't have conversations like these:

Appliance repair person: 

But more like these:

Me:  "So how did you decide to be an appliance repair person?"
Appliance repair person  "My father told me to get a job and I answered their ad."
Appliance repair person :


Courtney is getting married in September. She is not, as I've mentioned, willing to relocate to New England. I will, therefore, be making monthly visits to Cleveland to take over help with the planning. Because Gus is unaccustomed to being alone for more than a few hours at a time, and because he gets sick when he travels, and because boarding is out of the question, and because none of my friends or relatives are willing to move in while I'm gone, my only choice was to hire a pet sitter.

I had mixed feelings. My experience with marchers who prefer non-human company is that they don't always love actual humans. They can be snarky. They can have off-putting bumper stickers that say things like: "The more I know about people, the more I like my (non-human)".  

We'd have to interview, and how would that go?

Me:  So, how long have you been in this business?
Pet Sitter:  I'm not sure what you mean.
Pet Sitter:  

But I asked around, found the perfect candidate and went to her website. Did I care about testimonials? Not really. Did I care about years in the business? Not really. What I wanted was a picture which I would scrutinize for signs that she was a happy person who would be compatible with docile, affectionate Gus, or a disgruntled, surly person who might drive him under the bed where he would wonder why I stopped loving him.

But my marcher had a smile and eyes that said, "I also cry at sad movies" and so I clicked "contact".

From the kitchen window Gus and I watched her arrive, not in a crumpled van in need of cosmetic repair or covered with hostile bumper stickers but in a late model Honda that looked freshly washed. Out of the car did not step a person stealing furtive glances at the woods and chatting with herself, but an energetic young woman who marched to the door with confidence. When she knocked, Gus leaped like a gazelle from my arms and raced to the door as though he'd been waiting all eleven months of his life to meet her.   

Here would have been a good time to pull out a couple of chairs, discuss Gus's habits, her rates, what they included, when she'd be at the house, and conduct a tour.

Instead, I shared my  research of the Ragdoll breed and explained more about them than even I had wanted to know as a prospective buyer. Then I asked ten or eleven questions about her experience. Then I offered a few "let's say" hypotheticals to gauge her judgment.  Then I asked if she would prefer to email me each day with reports or leave written ones.  And how would they spend their time? And what about emergency vet trips? Where would she go and would they treat him without my authorization? Should I sign a release?  Then, so that there was no question about the unique drummer to which I march, I spent several minutes trying to figure out where to leave her a key. Mailbox? Under the mat? In an envelope under the tire of my son's car? Under a rock in the back yard?  For the second time,  I asked if she would take Gus to the vet if he was sick.  Her answers were thorough and polite and probably she wondered if I'd left the house since bringing Gus home.

"So food is here." She  pointed with her pen at his dishes.
"Yes, and the water, as you can see is next to it."
"In the bowl," she nodded.
"He never drinks it but if I had to eat kibble, and the same kind all the time, I'd definitely want to have water with it. But Gus loves the fountain I bought for him. He drinks from it all the time."  I called Gus to his fountain to demonstrate, and he responded by staying where he was. 

Pet sitter:

After a tour and a few more "what ifs" and even more discussion about where to leave the key, we agreed to talk again soon, and the interview ended.

I hoped we made a good impression, but I wondered where exactly I'd gone for that half hour while my inner marcher was in charge.  Maybe, I concluded, we try harder to relate to those in whom we see a little of our hidden selves. Or maybe, we make our most awkward attempts at relating when relating is most important.  

Outside, the pet sitter sat in her car making notes. Probably while the visit was fresh in her mind, she wanted to get her thoughts down on paper.  

Probably they included something like this:
Cat: sweet and social.
Owner:  not used to interaction with humans others.

In any case, I was charmed. In addition to being equally skilled at communicating with humans and non-humans,  the pet sitter clearly adored Gus. I hired her to visit the following week when I would make my  first visit to Cleveland  to take over help with the wedding planning. 

Gus, clearly thrilled, responded to the news by having a drink at his fountain.