Aces: spades and hearts

My amazing big guy is now Eight. And my dear little man has turned Four.

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We all made it alive, mostly, through Three, that year that lives as a specter on the psyche of every parent, that year emblazoned with red, dripping letters that cry, “Why does everyone say that Two is such a big deal? Three is the year that leaves no family unscathed!”

And just a few days into Four, I can say…it’s a tiny bit better. So far. Not holding my breath or anything. This isn’t my first time to the rodeo and I know phases last just long enough to get used to them, and then all techniques become invalid and parenting permit is up for renewal again, just a week after you finally passed the test for Extreme Tantrums, age Three Years and Fifty Weeks. Probably. If phases get too predictably unpredictable, then they stay for a while. Whatever it takes to maximize digiposture among human parental units.

The part I find most amusing about Four this time around is the bipolar self-awareness. Last week, he said to me, “Mommy, I’m a bad guy. No…I’m a good guy. That makes me a wild card, right?”

Oh good gawd, boy, it sure does. I laughed, which makes him giddy. He now tells me that lunch is a sandwich, no it’s yogurt, no it’s a wild card. And his travel backpack has trucks and ninja because…you guessed it…the backpack is a wild card.

Family game night is obviously having an effect on the lens through which he views the world. But little Wild Card is a big change for our family. We’re a group of persevering gamespeople. We open a game and we’re in it for the night. Butter, though, ceases all engagement after one round. No matter how long the endeavor takes, once a single full game finishes, he collects the pieces, drops them in the box, replaces the lid, and drags out something new. This has completely upended the whole way of life for our tenacious crew. Peanut, Spouse, and I could play 700 rounds of Yahtzee and not think it’s time to be done. We can get through an hour of Indigo, get some water, and start again. Done? What do you mean you’re done? There’ve only been ten games! Challenge the winner. Reject your current strategies and test some new tricks. Hope for better letters next time.

And while I’m not in my element with someone who feels he’s done after one round, he is a refreshing change from the sweet older guy whose attention span rivals a doctoral thesis advisor’s. Peanut can take a task and work on it for hours. Genuinely hours. Meticulous, careful work.

Such care and attention make hanging out with him quite enjoyable.

They’re both lovely fun and I enjoy them enormously.

Here’s the catch (for you know there is one…I’ve been blogging here for six years and you know darned well that fewer than a handful of posts exist without a catch): my children are amazing company with one-on-one. But that arrangement is rare. More often, they’re sharing physical space (poor stereotypical siblings: younger wants to do everything older does, and older wants younger really, really far away). Each boy is almost always seeking exactly the opposite of what his sibling offers. Peanut wants to do something intensely and for hours on end, and Butter is done after five minutes. He gets frustrated with Peanut for lingering, Peanut gets frustrated at Butter for ruining his concentration/picture/building/project/flow and loud, acrimonious, physical battles ensue.

And my job is to interrupt the fight, explain how they each need to talk about their needs and feelings, and how they each need to respect their differences. But they’re four and eight. They love fighting. Butter doesn’t want to articulate that he’s done and would like company on his next adventure. Peanut doesn’t want to explain, again, that he’d like to finish what he started.

And so games, art, reading, play, potion-making, and crafts are all punctuated by raucous, adrenaline-provoking frustrations. I intercede. They don’t want to hear me. I try to reason with them. I try emotion, I try logic. I either give up or separate them.

Usually.

But not at the beach.

 

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At the beach there is no end to the compromises they’re willing to make or the personality flaws they’re willing to overlook.

I think we’ll just move to the beach.

Neurotics on parade

When a friend raved about her favorite cookbook, I hoped it would be the answer to my food rut. For a while I resisted buying it, since it’s  not in paperback yet. Mama is cheap, even when it comes to books.

But I couldn’t stand the meal stagnation or the lack of inspiration, so I splurged.

I flipped through, drooling at the possibilities. I hopped to the table of contents, browsing for a direct path to dinner. I scanned the introduction, which is full of wonderful advice and ideas and…

The options so overwhelmed me I started to freak out. The pages on cooking tools reminded me that some of my measuring cups are missing, some of my spoons ought to be replaced, I have been lax in eliminating all plastic from my kitchen, and I’ve been misusing my pastry scraper for years…and I began to panic.

Deep breath. We’re just skimming. Next page.

The thoughtful section of having a well-stocked pantry had me thinking I should rearrange my cabinets, toss my spices, make lists for the next visit to the bulk bins. Of course I should! How have I not revisited the backbone of my pantry lately? I flushed with the tasks inherent in perfecting the cupboards. How exciting! Flawless cupboards! Goodness gravy, how daunting! This will take weeks! When the hell am I supposed to do all this? A five-second glance became, in my imagination, the beginning of a path up Everest, a thrilling but terrifyingly involved journey that I need to begin and complete rightthisveryminutebeforethekidsgethome.

Deep breath. I reminded myself that I didn’t have to read the whole book in one sitting, and this should be fun. The untapped potential of a new cook book. The possibilities, the excitement in preparing meals for an eager audience…and still I freaked out.

Which recipe first? If I just flip and find one I like but nobody eats, will I begin to resent the book?  Will my enthusiasm for exposing my family to new flavors and creating family favorites wane, leaving only perma-quesadilla-mentality? Will all this money be wasted? Will my previous time be wasted trying to recreate someone’s art only to find that I am alone in my appreciation? Will we get to a point where we eat nothing but burritos every night because they’re easy and cheap?

Wait, a minute. What happens if they like what I make? If I look at each page and choose an ideal recipe based on more than twenty-four collective years cooking for my three guys, and I wow my family and re-inspire my culinary passions, will I set the bar so impractically high that I’m spending hours every day making meals that are increasingly awesome and insanely challenging? Will I become one of those people who doesn’t laugh at Martha Stewart’s recipes? Will I—things are getting really scary now—actually mix the dry ingredients then the wet ingredients and combine rather than refusing to dirty more than one bowl? If I spend more than 3 hours a day on food, that’s a whole day of every week just on these recipes. My family deserves a meal spark, not a freaking full-time chef.

I rode the waves of panic, excitement, fear, hope, indignation, and exhaustion until I closed the book and took another breath.

Geez. Seems I made skimming a new cookbook into a feat of terror, obligation, and insurmountable tasks.

Why am I not surprised?

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Public Service Announcement

It’s time for a boring and important post.

hug

Would you please make sure you have an emergency bag packed and easily accessible by your front door? Backup glasses, credit card, cash, copies of important documents including prescriptions, thumb drive with your most treasured photos. Please. Now.

Would you please make sure that you have emergency supplies ready in your car? Water, snacks, flares, reflective blankets, signal mirror, matches, first aid including ice packs, bandages, and scissors. Please. Now.

Would you please make sure your legal documents are in order? Power of attorney, will, directives for what happens to your children in case of your sudden incapacitation or death. Copies of passwords, important phone numbers, list of companies to call so your executor has an easier time?

Would you please make sure you’ve signed up for your city’s emergency notification system? They’ll text you in an emergency, and you can forward to your distant relatives so if phones get overwhelmed in an emergency your family can let people know you’re okay.

Would you please make sure you tell your children and friends and family every day something you love about them? Some reason your life is better because they’re in it?

Emergency bag. Car emergency kit. Legal paperwork. Emergency notification. Love.

Do it.
Now.
Please.

Is that manic or depressive?

Today felt good. I think. I’m not sure.  I either interacted with the world in a deeply engaged way or I’m developing nervous tics to handle stress. Or both.

It's not bipolar. It's chimera!

It’s not bipolar. It’s chimera!

Butter and I dropped Peanut at school and went for a walk in the rain. I felt sunshine through the thin, grey, stacked clouds that snotted on us all day. Butter clung to me in the backpack, randomly snuggly today in ways that Almost Four resists in its developmental Need to Be Independent and Competent and Separate.

I liked it.

We wandered through the throngs of difference in downtown Berkeley—old and young, punk and granola, homeless and wealthy, tidy and filthy. I bought my little guy a bagel and a homeless woman some orange juice. I helped my Butterbean understand when he pointed out a man’s brightly colored, patchwork pocketed pants that no, those weren’t dirty and old pants, those are art. The young man wearing those carefully-crafted and well-worn pants (and the shirt with the large hole and the many face piercings and the giant chip on his shoulder) smiled at me and thanked me. I explained quietly to Butter that we can always talk later about what we see, but that talking about how somebody looks isn’t polite because it might make them feel bad even if we’re just curious. Then the impeccably-groomed college student getting Butter his bagel asked if I was aware that I had a small child on my back and I made them both laugh by trying to look behind me, asking, “Where?! Where?!” with great concern.

I carried my little carbohydrate fiend past a police barricade because I never saw it, focused instead on humanity today, making eye contact and noticing how simultaneously disjointed and alive the city felt. A stocky  man with a small face moved into my path and gently gestured, “stop, head back, cross, and go around” as he told me softly that the street was closed and he’d prefer that I please head back to an intersection and cross. I barely noticed his neon yellow vest and police uniform but I clearly saw his shiny apple cheeks and his wide brown eyes. I spun around and headed back, passing the barricade I’d missed. A few feet away from the barrier an unshaven man dressed all in black slumped into a corner and ran his hand through his unwashed grey hair as he said to me, “dead person.”

I looked at him and he looked at his fingernails.

Oh.

And I thought about that choice of words. Not “body.” Person. I thought about that reality and the half a block of thick public concrete and red curbs and parking meters and tall, caged trees blocked off for private police use. I noticed that the homeless were clustered in groups of four on every corner for blocks in both directions. This might have been a suicide or a homicide but was likely the routine expiration of a homeless neighbor from exposure or malnutrition or unresolved medical issues.

And they were aware—the police and the acquaintances. And I was now vaguely aware, but not really. And my preschooler was not aware. That’s true of much of life, isn’t it, that there’s a spectrum of connection and awareness. The circle of those you know and the wider circle of those you know less well overlap the circles of awareness borne of age and experience. Exposed lives versus sheltered lives versus young lives? That’s not the right way to define awareness. Because we know a homeless family with two small children. Do their kids know all the things these homeless adults do? Probably not. Are they witness to the street version of life or the child version of life or something in between?

My friend’s impending death won’t attract yellow police tape or the private use of a public space or gawking passersby. But his friends are gathered, too, communing. Huddled in support, not on street corners and not out of curiosity.

Today was a process of going, not unlike other days. Movement, journey, development. The day progressed and everything with a heartbeat did, too, whether the breathing and blinking felt like progress or not. And for some reason my progress today involved connection. Looking into eyes, gently touching arms as I passed, smiling. And asking questions. I stopped to ask the work crew what their truck was called (never seen a drilling rig with a mud rotor and never knew soil samples were taken this way). I asked the Goodwill clerk why they don’t sell baby gates to keep kittens out of handi-accessible bathrooms and whether she had enough help keeping the store as nice as she does (liability, and no, but she’s glad I noticed how hard she works). I asked the security guard outside Bank of America if there was actually any threat to BofA or if they were still making a statement about the lengthy Occupy Wall Street protests (not allowed to talk about security issues but have a nice day). I asked my back-bound lump of Butter what he thought about the varied art we saw in store windows.

I talked to my son who was still patiently snuggling me and his bagel, four miles into the walk, about the typewriter store and the traffic patterns and the balloon animals we were going to make when we got home.

Maybe constant verbal patter is my shield. Maybe what keeps me from noticing the dead persons and dying persons is nervous chatter. Perhaps I’m particularly engaged today because I’m anxious.

But what’s there to be anxious about? Death and homelessness and illness and loneliness and the thin threads that keep us from becoming unrecognizable to ourselves?

Well, that’s just silly. Why should that make me nervous?

Allow me to leave you with today’s soothing balloon giraffes.

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If those freakishly disproportionate bubble creatures don’t fix existential panic, I don’t know what will.

Remedy for a long day

At the end of a long day, during which I went without stopping from 5am-10pm, thirteen hours of which involved preschoolers (plural) and four hours involved careful negotiations with people whom I’m convinced get twice as much sleep as me, I called Spouse.

Me: The meeting’s  finally over and I’ll be home soon so will you please fill the kettle and turn it on? Fill it just to the spout line inside, and make sure the whistle is on or it’ll boil dry. I just want some tea before bed because my throat is sore from talking all day and my body is achy from chasing 30 preschoolers and my brain is achy from budget talks and early morning writing and I just want some tea. Okay?

Spouse: Who is this?

And between the full-belly laugh and the hot cup of tea waiting for me when I got home, I made it through another day I swore might kill me.

 

Midlife realities

When I marked the new year in 2012, I was excited about having a whole year in which to contemplate turning forty. There is so much excitement and hope in that number, I thought. I planned for several months how I would celebrate and what intentional shift of priorities I could orchestrate to begin the second half of my life.

I remember my mom’s friends celebrating her fortieth with black balloons and over-the-hill nonsense. Baby Boomers are not known for either perspective or subtlety and over-the-hill parties were very chic. Also the life expectancy was much lower back then and people really thought that 40 was more than halfway to dead.

Now, we are told by dreadful checkout-line magazines and gerontologists alike: fifty is the new forty.

Well I happily anticipated forty, hoping with the milestone that I’d get my life together, get a few more adorable grey hairs, and finally think of myself as adult. I thought a midlife crisis was impossible for me, not just because of this delightfully plucky attitude, but because I have at least three midlife crises a year, and my brain must certainly have hit all the low points of existential crisis by now.

What I didn’t foresee about 40, what I didn’t appreciate about midlife until I got there, is this: the inescapable and rude reality is forty isn’t about goals and perspective and living your best life for the rest of your life.

Forty is about everyone around you slowly dying.

Parents. Friends. Colleagues. The people I care about are having surgeries and tumors and divorces and memorials, not babies and graduations and new jobs. The downward slide of forty isn’t about “oh, boo-hoo I’m not vital anymore.” That’s ridiculous. The reason behind many midlife crises, I’m now finding, is that forty seems tips life from waxing to waning.

We all know mortality as a fundamental truth of the human condition. But we don’t know it as intimately as we will. I remember when my grandparents were in their seventies. Three of four died.  And their friends died. And to me, in my twenties, that was something that old people did.

And they do. Don’t get me wrong. Old people do, in fact, die.

But the shock of forty was that grandparents aren’t the reason we’re at funerals any more. Parents are dying. Contemporaries are dying. Forty is a slap in the face that says, “Guess what? There is very little distance any more between you, those you love, and death. We’re going to fall off this cliff together, and soon.”

Forty is about certainty and camaraderie falling away as one by one the people we know intimately, not the loved ones removed by several generations but the people we need and enjoy and talk to every day, get divorced and sick and sad and angry and, eventually, dead.

Forty means everyone gets dead? Certainly that’s not what I’m saying, and not just because it’s grammatically clunky.  There are still graduations and births and marriages and joy and life left in life after forty.

But we’re not having those moments. We’re watching younger generations have those moments. We’re bystanders. We’re wise, knowing, grey, and wonderful. And we’re attending other people’s joys while engaging in our contemporaries’ decline.

It’s a long march, this life. And there’s a sharp turn at forty after which we must choose to constantly pivot one way to support those we love as they struggle and age and die, then the other to watch those we love grow and become adults and choose their own way and then age and die.

Being the sandwich generation makes it sound as though we’re smothered and gooey and limited on two sides. The reality is much more like standing at the top of the diving platform. To one side there are people climbing and progressing and anticipating. To the other there is an exhilarating plunge into darkness. Forty is standing on that high dive and looking right then left then right then left thenrightthenleftthenrightthenleft and knowing there is limited time to choose. There is no option of climbing back down. The only choices are to enjoy the leap or to clench everything and hit way too hard.

Please don’t tell me that there is plenty of life left after forty. I know that. I’m genuinely happy with the priority shifts I architected before my milestone birthday, the progress I’m making toward goals, the willingness with which I’m ditching expectations and emotional detritus from my life, and the care I’m showing friends and family who are sick or dying. Of course there’s time left for some of us. Lots, in fact.

Somehow I thought rounding that corner of forty would make me grownup.

It did. But not in the way I’d hoped for.

Now that I have glimpsed the reality of growing up, I am watching through tiny cracks between my fingers as we all slide, slowly at first and then more quickly, to the craggy rocks and alligators and piranha and icy waters below.

 

Missing: brain

Someone hit fast forward on my life and this month is flying by as though someone is playing a 33 at 45. (I’m reasonably sure that 85% of my readers know what that would do, which we can all pretend means we’re cultured not old.)

I have three new clients this week. Three. They all need something right away, which excites me and also makes we want to cry wee little baby tears. There is a fair number of gifts and donations and cards and foodstuffs to handle this month, as most of your know from your own experience with MP3s becoming MP8s. I also have a set of reviews to write, research to summarize, surveys to analyze, emails to compose, packages to mail, and four small creatures to keep off the table.

Shall we take a kitten break after all that? Let’s.

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kittens in Peanut’s lap

 

 

kittens in Butter's lap

kittens in Butter’s lap

kittens in my lap!

kittens in my lap!

And in this sped up world where voices are veering toward the chipmunk end of the spectrum, I’m not doing so well.

A week ago, when one kid threw up all over the jogging stroller and killed my rare opportunity to exercise, I took him home and promptly forgot that I was substituting for a colleague for an hour, completely spaced a conference call, and blanked on my promise to bring something for the elementary school teachers’ lunch. Totally forgot my whole day because one kid barfed. Rookie move.

This week, I rushed home from dropping off at school to make a lunchtime conference call. Still in my coat I set up what I needed, plugged in all video call whozits and whatsits, tidied a bit, and nervously checked the fridge. After I shut the door I pushed the button in my pocket to lock and set the alarm. And then I actually paused for a moment to figure out why the fridge didn’t respond to the car’s key-fob lock button.

That’s more than operating on autopilot. That’s operating on autospacecase.

This weekend, when I was taking my son and his friend to fencing, I missed an interchange and went 15 miles out of our way on the wrong freeway. Thirty miles extra driving because I was so oblivious to the world and so lost in my head (one kid was telling me about arrowheads and I was brainstorming with him what type of stone it must have been made of) that I totally forgot where we were going. Signs pointing towards brain dead.

I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but maybe I need to slow down a bit. Fewer clients? Lower expectations? More kitten time? Because we did have one heavenly moment, the boys and I, where we all cuddled up on a couch and let the kittens walk from lap, trying to decide who has the warmest place for a nap. I never win that game. Something about always wearing my coat, just in case I need to lock the car. Or the fridge.

Christmas fight

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To be honest, it’s the same silly fight, more or less, every year. But being predictable isn’t the most ridiculous part of this debate.

“This can’t be all the lights. We’re, like, a foot from the top of the tree!”

“This can be all the lights because it is all the lights.”

“No way. They worked last year.”

“Smaller tree.”

“No way. Same size tree.”

“Are you going to fix the lights?”

“No. There’s no way…”

“Just fix them.”

“Easy for you to say. I always do the lights.”

“So shouldn’t you be better at putting them on right?”

“They are on right, smartass. They just don’t go all the way up.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Fine. I’ll finesse them a bit. But it’s going to drop even more needles if I go around and around taking the slack out of the lights.”

“So move the tree away from the wall.”

“You. It’s too hard to move.”

“Then why would I do it?”

“Because I said so.”

“Please fix the lights.”

“Fine.” Takes ten minutes to rewrap the tree. “Is that good?”

“If by good you mean closer to the top.”

“I do.”

“Then, yes, it’s ‘good.’”

“Don’t finger-quote. Just…fine. You do it.”

“I’m not doing it. You’re the lights person.”

“But why? Why do I do this every year?”

“Because you do it wrong every year then want someone else to fix it. So if you have to fix it yourself, nobody has to listen to you control-freak all over them.”

“I don’t ‘control freak all over…’. Damn it. I want to rewrap this.”

“Go ahead.”

“This is the last time, though.” Fixes lights on tree, which is still against the wall. Lights are perfect, tree is perfect, life is perfect.

“That looks great.”

“It does, doesn’t it. Thank you. Now you sweep up the needles.”

“No way.”

“Why not?”

“Because you made the mess and you have to clean it up.”

As ridiculous and childish as this fight is, I find it more ridiculous and childish that I’m having it with myself. Because my husband won’t get within 50 feet of the tree when I’m stringing the lights.

Mostly because he knows I’ll have this fight with or without him, and he prefers…greatly prefers…that I have it without him.

Kittens

I’m being outvoted. Right here, right now.

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The kids want kittens.

Spouse wants kittens.

I’m having nightmares about Black Friday emails and Cyber Monday emails and Last Night of Hanukkah emails about KITTENS.

We’re dog people. And when our cat died earlier this year we were heartbroken. And it took about a week for someone to say, quietly, “time for a dog.”

But I’m not training a puppy. And I’m not socializing an older dog. And I’m not paying a fortune for the medical bills of a senior dog. All of those statements are heartless and cruel, and I don’t care. I don’t need another child, and let’s face it: adding a dog to our family would be as much work as having another child.

It already takes everything I have to keep my boys from killing each other. Every other minute. I’m not going to tell them to stop wrestling the dog, too.

It already takes half an hour to leave the freaking house, trying to keep calm while the fiascos and the fights and the “oh, I forgot!” and the “wait for me!” and the “hey, I want to be first” nonsense ricochets all around me. I’m not adding a leash and a poop bag to that stressful chaos.

So I warmed, a bit, to the idea of cats. It’s been nice not having a litter box. Not worrying about keeping the door closed. Not paying for food and litter and toys and vet bills. Not watching where I step, being awakened by someone other than the three who already wake me, and not worrying about anyone or anything’s poop.

But we already know about cats. We have the stuff. The kids want something small to love.

And who can blame them?

Well, me. I can, if this turns out to be a horrible idea.

We’ve talked about how kittens don’t know the rules, and might fight with feet and hands and backpacks and LEGOs.

They say that’s okay.

We’ve talked about how, if a kitten tries to wrestle your hand or foot you have to say, “uh-oh” and remove that body part from their grasp. And how you have to get a toy as an alternative, but not so quickly that they think they’re being rewarded for clawing and gnawing on human flesh.

They say that’s okay.

We’ve talked about keeping items away from the edges of shelves and about gently removing kittens who jump on counters or tables.

They say that’s okay.

I’m running out of ammunition, people.

Because kittens.

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Sugar Finale

I set Thanksgiving as the closing date for my experiment in cutting sugar and processed food from my frenzied life. Exhausted from late nights of work fueled by cases of gummy widgets, I wanted to find another way.

gummy-cola-bottles

So I vowed to ditch sugar, processed grains, and packaged foods. And it was rough at first. Painful, annoying, frustrating, and almost impossible.

Almost.

But over the past five weeks I’ve cut my sugar intake more than 90%. I no longer crave sweets, and I’ve replaced some of my worse habits with better choices. I’ve tried several new foods and found new favorites. Because I forced myself to replace sugar in my coffee, my snacks, my meals, my late night energy crutch, I’m fueling smarter. I’m choosing to put food into my body when it needs food energy, but trying to use exercise energy and sleep energy and breathing energy, too, as part of an attempt to slow down the trainwreck of my eighteen-hour days.

When I first started this experiment, I would crave candy and stare in frustration at the forbidden candy cabinet. (Yup. Whole cabinet. Love candy. Always have. Fifth food group. Or first, really.) Now when I crave candy, I ask myself what I really want, and I think it over while drinking a glass of water. Not because it’s a trick or because I’m supposed to, but because it makes sense. I’ve always known sugar cravings stem from thirst and exhaustion. But sugar is delicious and easy, so it was hard to choose water first. But now I hydrate and ponder going to bed. And most of the time I rearrange my to-do list, whittle only the most important items, and go to bed, on average, an hour earlier than I did before the sugar-avoidance experiment.

Processed grains were a harder part of my experiment, and after a week, honestly, I gave up. I like bread. There’s nothing inherently bad about bread, especially since we eat whole grain, crunchy-granola-Berkeley bread. Eating thoughtlessly, on autopilot, and from packages was my problem. So I kept the bread and ditched other forms of processing.

The packages were forbidden for a while, and now I don’t want them. Crackers, cookies, and pasta don’t call to me. I know there’s something delicious, quick, and healthy in the fridge that takes longer but feels better.

My habits are different, my choices are better, and I’m thoughtful about what I’m eating. Minimal sugar, minimal processing, more water, more sleep, and many compromises.

Sounds like success to me. Not perfect, not 100%. But success.

Full of thanks

I’m grateful, eternally, for my two healthy, happy boys.

And I remember that every day and every night, including last night when my eldest woke me with the scared yelp of a child just before he throws up. Poor guy. Puked all night, thanks to a fever that hit after he went to sleep. No Thanksgiving gathering for him today. But lots of chess and cards and movies with his dad, who also missed the family gathering. My poor little Peanut.

The little guy accompanied me to my favorite holiday, a huge family potluck in which we catch up and celebrate family for half the day. Butterbean didn’t celebrate as much as I did, likely due to the gash in his chin from a fall just after our early dinner.  He’s bled through several bandages, and though I’m grateful for family with better first aid kits than I have in the car, my preschooler is thankful perhaps only for the frozen fun-size chocolate bar that his auntie used as an impromptu ice pack when she saw the blood.

I’m grateful that there are more discussions lately about the nuanced legacy of the first Thanksgiving, coloring the fable of glorious perseverance to reveal, too, the harm caused by European exploration and colonization of North America. I’m glad we’re talking about the terrible ways in which our ancestors treated the tribal peoples native to the place we are so thankful for, because if we can’t talk honestly about the nasty blemishes in our history, we’re not what we claim we are.

I’m grateful for the friends and family in our lives this year, because I know next year will be different. I miss the friends we lost this year and I’m glad I got to meet them. I’m sad for the friends and family who aren’t doing well, but I’m glad that I met them and got to share lovely bits of their lives. I’m grateful for those recovering, and I’m grateful to be able to help, even in small ways, those who aren’t.

I’m grateful for the clients who pay me to write and to the readers who graciously read what I write.

I’m grateful for living in a place with amazing weather and fabulous food.

I’m grateful for the opportunities still open, even as I check my panic at those that have closed.

I’m grateful that tonight we’re safe, we’re warm, we’re fed, and we’re healthy.

Not many can say the same.

What are you grateful for?

Descriptive linguistics FTW!

Last night after a Board meeting, I was talking with friends and one expressed shock bordering on horror that I text using abbreviations and conventions created and commonly accepted within that linguistic space.

“I’m rather surprised to find out you’re an LOL and OMG and emoticon person.”

Well, I’m a linguistically adaptable person, actually. I don’t use those conventions outside texts and social media, in which characters are constrained and, generally, keyboarding is limited. I don’t say “LOL” in conversation, nor when using a keyboard. I do, though, use LOL where it is a standard part of the lexicon, because I’m speaking in a colloquial language and don’t feel the need, surrounded by LOLers, to destroy my reputation and thumbs with “oh, wow, that is truly funny.”  Recall David Foster Wallace’s review of Bryan Gardner’s Modern American Usage (which review appears in the nonfiction essay collection Consider the Lobster, and which review reiterated the annoying grammatical tic in which Wallace uses “which” in ways that make me itch ), in which Wallace explains that, when talking with Midwestern friends he uses expressions like “where you at?” because conditional, situational lexical conformity performs significant social functions including masking an erudite prescriptivist snobbery amongst those who disdain such ridiculousness. You know the type…for instance, the raised eyebrow of disdain arched toward a friend who fully embraces emoticons in text messages.

My friend last night seemed to believe that my using LOL and winky emoticons made me shockingly deviant in my linguistic standards. But am I actually failing the language because I OMG when I reply to a text about how awful I am at karaoke? Of course not. (I am, however, failing both George Michael and Rick Springfield when I belt their songs in a key somewhere between those singers’ ranges and my own. Said performances deserved several horrified OMGs.)

The older I get, the more I tend toward descriptivist linguistics. I have been out of academia long enough to know we can’t stem the tide of language shifts, texting enough that I appreciate the culture’s willingness to embrace an abbreviated language parallel to government employees’ acronym dialect, and old enough to know that my pedantic “kids these days are ruining the language” tendencies unveil a knowledge that kids these days are actually going to rule the world. And I, for one, I don’t want to be railing against their language from my rocking chair, cane aloft, countering every miscast objective who with “it’s whom, you linguistic hoodlums!”

Okay, yes, I do.

But I am in my old age moving toward the point of linguistic early adoption, at least within technological theaters.  I gleefully read the Atlantic’s piece about the new preposition, used in online English. Though I was late to OMG and LOL and LMAO, I have jumped on the prepositional-because trend, thanks to my social-media bestie, Twitter.

I love Twitter. I don’t read my feed as much as I used to, for in the land of “may your days be merry and bright starting next week with a rare Thanksgivukkah,” I don’t have time to get my Twitter fix. But I’m quite fond of the prepositional-because.

I do plan, however, on shaking my cane from my rocking chair and bellowing, “it’s not a ‘because-noun!’ Because grammatical naming conventions!”

Go check out the article, whether you find my texts irritatingly colloquial or not. The Atlantic has posted as pleasant a read on descriptive-linguistic developments as possible, and that’s saying a lot.

Which language deviances do you commit in limited settings? Do you eschew LOL unless you’re actually laughing out loud? Will you text a “K” to avoid all those messy characters in “okay”? Do you reject all emoticons or employ them with reckless abandon? Have you crossed into “srsly” and “pls” to save characters or do you share Steve Martin’s insistence on proper spelling in Tweets?

Batkid’s Mom

Oh how I cried today following the escapades of the miraculous little boy whose leukemia is in remission and who asked the Make a Wish Foundation to make him Batman.

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San Francisco complied in muthafugging spades, y’all. Told they could make a dream come true, the best city in the world said, “oh, we can do better than that.” The red carpet was rolled out for the caped crusader, and his family watched as more than 12,000 of our desperately kind residents played along and cheered for mocked up superhero situations.

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The Department of Justice joined in. The FBI. The S.F. Giants. The President of the United States. All cheering for a boy who pretend-saved the city, because we all knew that he actually made it through a terrible, life-threatening disease.

And in every photo, I sobbed at two particular images: his family and the crowds.

I started crying when I saw Batkid’s brother, dressed as Robin, because leukemia is hard on siblings, too. Like all major illness it puts parents in a precarious position of needing to give one child 150% and needing to find another 100% for the healthy sibling. So I cried for Batkid’s brother, whom I’m positive is loved and doted upon, but who also went through family turmoil with that leukemia.

I wept for Batkid’s father. The guy who wanted to be Batman all along, to have superpowers and carry his family away from the pain and the fear and the chemo and the private life lived publicly in a hospital. I cried for how powerless they probably felt during the whole, terrible, awful ordeal. And for how fear probably creeps in at night, reminding both of the adults that remission is a wonderful but terrifying word.

And how I sobbed for Batkid’s mother. Just as powerless as dad and just as hopeful for a superhero miracle. Full of love and fear and anger and hope and exhaustion and sadness from the moment of diagnosis. Oh, I can’t imagine. Batkid was diagnosed with leukemia at 20 months and just finished his last round of chemo. One single minute of your child with cancer is too much. Even one minute of waiting for test results and waiting for donors and waiting as hospital takes blood from your kid to tell you if he’s going to live is just too many minutes. One is far too many for anyone to endure. So I cried for Batkid’s mom and for all the moms.

And I cried for our friend who went through a similar diagnosis and terrifying year of medical upheaval, too. And who now has a wonderful, healthy family and for whom I can’t even articulate my joy and sorrow and pride because it’s all just too big.

Yes, it’s glorious that a whole city put aside business to cheer for a child. We have heard so much of bickering and governments paralyzed with petulance, death and destruction and famine and global weather catastrophes…it was heavenly to just cheer. And cheer and cheer and cheer for a classic triumph of good over evil.

But damn I cried for Batkid’s mother and father and brother. And for him. I cried for Miles. I’m so glad Make a Wish executed this amazing feat. I’m so proud of San Francisco for transforming from a warm, welcoming city to the model of compassion and heart. I’m so thrilled for Miles and his family that he’s healthy.

I’m just so grateful for something to cheer for.

Go donate to Make a Wish. And to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And to the typhoon victims. And contribute to every bit of kindness you can in this world, because gawd it was nice to have Batkid Day today.

Wise, wise women

A group of friends, sharing cheese, wine, sourdough, roasted garlic, and kale the other night asked each other what they remembered from childhood.

After we all answered, one woman said, “But what do you remember most, the good or the bad?”

In unison, we all answered “bad.”

My friend then explained her theory that if we remember moments of bad from our childhood, it’s because the bad was shocking and abnormal. That most of our childhood was kind and calm and uneventful because we were loved and supported and able to do the play and learning and exploration of childhood. This is not the reality of many children in the world.

The bad bits we remember, she argued, are anomalies. And that’s why we remember them. So, too, our children will remember the stuff we agonize over: the moments of short temper, the unreasonable “no,” and the time we’re too busy to play. But they’ll remember that because their lives are full of patient “yes”es when we do whatever they need.

When I got home that night I had a link to this post from another friend. In it, a mother discusses how doing her best is exactly enough for her children, who need her more than they need perfection.

It’s a good read and I recommend you click over, because remembering to cut ourselves some slack is a really good idea.

Earlier this week someone asserted that my best wasn’t good enough. A friend who knew about my effort and about the criticism emailed me, “You’re doing so much, and fuck perfect.”

Do you think we can get this month National ‘Fuck Perfect’ Month? It’s just the right time of year for kicking should to the curb, I think.

Would you choose another month for Fuck Perfect or is November okay with you?