The New Normal

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My son forwarded an email to me the other day. It read,

“Dear Andrew and Roommate,

Congratulations, your applications for rental have been approved.  Thank you for choosing XXX for your new home!”

Your new home address is….”

Could the email be any clearer, putting into words what we already understood to be true? Our eldest son, soon to be a college graduate is moving on, not in a temporary, “I’ll be home for the summer” kind of way but in an “I no longer live in your house, and if all goes well, never will again,” kind of way. He’s moving to a new city in a new state to do exciting things with his life and this development, while joyful and thrilling is also a bit heart-stopping for me.

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It is not startling because our son is not ready to make his world debut. He is. He is as prepared for this transition as any young man his age can be. More prepared than many, I would even say. Often the most responsible person in the room, he is THAT kid, the one who at sixteen made copies of his teen tour itinerary for his group of friends before they set out on their journey. We moms laughingly reminisce that his friends had no worries as they fully expected Andrew to have copies available for everyone on the trip.

There is much written about the angst of sending your children off to college and indeed college is a huge step in a young adults first foray into independence but truth be told, when kids go off to college their home address is still your home address. Family vacations are planned around school breaks. Certainly college affords parents a break from daily hands-on parenting but in reality even though your children may be physically away from you they continue to be “all yours.” When someone asks a college student where he/she lives most will still give their parents’ address.

This post graduation move feels palpably different. It is different. This strikes me as a “Wonder Years” moment: a moment beyond which the new normal lies. The problem with all of these “milestone” moments is that while they happen bit by bit, they come upon you suddenly and leave you not knowing quite what to make of them.

When my son was barely bigger than a babe in arms we had a bedtime routine. I would place him in his crib and then I would sit in his rocking chair and I would prompt him, “Let’s talk about your day.” He would begin with, “I woke up this morning…” and often would get no further than that before he would digress and eventually chatter himself to sleep as I slipped away. As he got a little older, in a classic bedtime stalling tactic, he would beg, “Don’t go yet. Talk about my day.” He knew that I was a sucker for developing “communication skills” and his plea would always get me to stay at his bedside for just a little while longer.

I’m glad I stayed those extra moments. Perhaps he and I have always known that the hardest part of our relationship would be the letting go.

Public Enemy Number One-Not Me

About a month ago, with husband and kids in tow, I was returning to frigid New Jersey from balmy Palm Beach, Florida. I was already in a funk when a TSA agent pulled me out of an airport security line for “extra screening.” The agent pointed at me and said “palms up.” With my usual smooth eloquence I said, “huh” so the TSA agent repeated, “palms up,” at which point I complied and she swabbed my hands with some device and told me I needed to wait for the results before proceeding. It was neither humiliating nor terrifying but it was, and here’s the understatement of the decade, preposterous.

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Security is a serious business. I understand that sometimes it can be inconvenient, intrusive and seemingly arbitrary and really I’m down for all that. In light of the fact that TSA doesn’t know me I thought I should let them know that when it comes to extra screening they are not only barking up the wrong tree when it comes to me, they are not even in the right forest.

Here are the top five reasons why TSA need never again swab my hands for traces of explosives.

5) As a child I cried and begged for a chemistry set because I thought that they looked like such fun but when I got one as a gift I cried all over again because that chemistry set was, without exception, the most disappointing gift I’d ever gotten. It was not even a little fun. You see chemistry has never been my ish, leading inexorably to the conclusion that my fate as a person incapable of making a bomb was sealed long ago. 

4) I am a fifty-year old woman whose perpetual state of being is drop-dead exhaustion. Removing my shoes in a security line while standing and at the same time getting my coat off, my electronics out of their cases and onto the conveyer belt and my pockets emptied with people breathing down my neck is the stuff of my nightmares. By the time I’ve done all that, I’m all in. Doing all of the above whilst simultaneously master minding criminal activity…for goodness sake, I can’t even remember where I packed the toothpaste.

3) I can’t even maintain a lie about my Starbucks alias (see previous blog posts). If I were up to no good would I be waltzing through security without breaking a sweat? When the Israeli security agents for El Al Airlines ask me if I packed my own suitcases, even though I did I get so nervous I feel like I’m going to vomit.

2) I travel with my children, the very children whom I’ve spent the last 22 years cherishing and nurturing. I take care of every last detail of their lives. From years of sleepless nights, loose braces, badly broken out skin to hellish school projects, I have poured body and soul into these children. I have given them my life’s blood and I can assure the TSA I am most certainly not building explosives and stewarding my children onto an airplane with those explosives. When I decide to take these kids out they will know it. There will be no ambiguity and there will be no trace of explosives on my fingers because I will be ripping their hearts out, as any self-respecting Jewish mother would do, not blowing them up on an airplane. Common sense, people, common sense!!!

1) To be perfectly honest, loud noises followed by puffs of smoke terrify me.

TSA, you have my admiration, respect and thanks but you can just go ahead and cross me off the list of people you need to worry about because, trust me; you’ve got bigger fish to fry.

I am not now, nor will I ever be #publicenemynumberoneorevennumbertwo.

 

 

To Blog or not to Blog

To those who think blogging is easy, I’m here to tell you it’s not.

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In blogging, as in life, I try to live by the adage “know your audience.” It’s never my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings but trying to get it right makes writing a tougher gig than I thought it would be.

There was the hilarious post I wrote about airport security. After being stopped by security I listed several cogent reasons why the TSA need never pull me aside for extra screening because I promised that I had no intention of ever skyjacking a jet or blowing one up mid-flight. Unfortunately, five minutes before I went to hit the “publish” button on that particular post, Malaysian Airlines 370 went missing rendering my post perfectly inappropriate. I mean the whole situation was probably a tad worse for the passengers of 370 than for me but you have to admit the timing was awful.

Then, there was the blog post about the sixth grade state report and that one had me chuckling the whole time I was writing it. But when I showed it to the hubby who likes to ask me questions he already knows the answers to, maybe because he thinks I’ll have an easier time answering them, he asked, “Are you on the Board of Trustees of the school?”  “Yes.” “Do you think it’s appropriate to mock the teachers who are trying to teach your child?” “Well, I guess not.” And then, the sad realization that, crap, another blog post bites the dust.

The blog post burial ground is starting to look like a landfill in Staten Island without the seagulls.  Don’t be offended Staten Islanders. First there are the nascent ideas which I often get while driving or in the shower and those ideas are frequently brilliant. Yet as soon as my hair is dry or I reach my destination the kernel of brilliance has disappeared deep into the recesses of my fifty year old brain. There are the posts that tried to be funny and utterly failed, the ones that started off promisingly and two sentences in forgot where they were going and never found their way back.  Then there were those posts that even for an open person were a bit reminiscent of a gaping cesspool and were fortunately subject to the family veto for over sharing.

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And, while we’re on the subject, there are the friends and family who periodically read over a blog post for me. Thank you, I adore your feedback and I love you but sometimes…The feedback often goes like this, “I would flesh that out…” You would?” I ask.  “What would you write?” “I don’t know but I would just…you know…beef it up a little bit.” Hmmmm. Or my middle son shrugging his shoulders, “just not that good mom.” “What would you do?” I ask plaintively  “Make it better,” he says helpfully. The hubby’s feedback is often my favorite because of it’s startling lack of nuance and complexity and he can’t be bothered with the flesh it out concept…his response is often just “NO.” It’s hard to misunderstand that comment.

And, then there are the critics. It’s amazing how easy it is to be cruel on the Internet.  I wrote a post that if I had to raise my eldest child again I’d be less of a jerk. Someone commented something to the effect of you certainly seem like a jerk or once a jerk always a jerk. Was that really necessary? I’m actually surprised that there haven’t been more of those types of comments but I do wonder why people bother posting nasty comments. Seems somewhat pointless.

So during the weeks when it seems that there is no post, rest assured blog fans there really is one and it’s quite clever and ingenious but alas it did not pass the smell test.

It’s making friends in the landfill.

Slip of the Tongue

Kindness matters.

I’m not a huge Oscar fan but I was watching with half an eye on Sunday night when I heard Lupita Nyong’o’s brilliant acceptance speech and I was touched when Jared Leto looked directly at his mom and spoke about her struggles as a single mother in his acceptance speech. A little later I squirmed in my seat when John Travolta mangled Idina Menzel’s name. Correction, he didn’t just mangle it he chewed it up and spit it out, rendering it unrecognizable. It was a cringe worthy moment.  I’ve never liked slapstick comedy and this reminded me of slapstick, watching people humiliate themselves has never struck me as entertaining or funny. It was an unpleasant moment which should have been allowed to pass into history, but never in my wildest imagination did I think that that moment would become the most talked about moment of the evening.

The following day I woke to a Facebook wall with a smattering of people wanting to know what their names would sound like if John Travolta had an opportunity to mutilate them. Use this widget “to Travoltify your name,” was the line used to encourage others to participate.  And as the day wore on more and more people hopped on board that bandwagon. Isn’t it everyone’s worst nightmare to be onstage with a billion people watching and you flub your line?  Have we no compassion?

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That night on the national news they showed a clip of Travolta’s error.  Was it really national newsworthy? With everything going on in the Ukraine it hardly seemed worth a mention that John Travolta screwed up his line on the Oscars.

Granted Travolta is no ordinary humanoid.  And I know there are those who will argue that he’s a highly paid professional who has put himself out there but that doesn’t mean he’s not a person and I’m less concerned about Travolta than I am with the lesson we are teaching our children.  From a very young age we teach our children not to make fun of each other.  We tell them it’s wrong to mock other children.  Can you imagine if we told our kids it’s okay to make fun of children with speech impediments? If we truly believe that it’s not okay to mock others, how can we, as adults, be okay with this?

It hardly matters whether or not Travolta has Dyslexia, what matters is that we, as a collective are being cruel and we are being cruel for shits and gigs and because it’s easy. We can be cruel without seeing the hurt we’re causing which doesn’t make it any less hurtful. Come on, we are better than this.

Kindness matters.

What’s In A Name?

ImageMy name is Helene.

Once upon a time I lived in a nice little town with a Starbucks. I visited almost every day and ordered my usual. They knew me so well that after I gave birth to my third child my husband went in and ordered my drink and based solely on what he ordered they asked, “Did Helene have the baby? How is she?” They cared or I thought they did. Then in an ironic twist, one day they began to ask customers for their names to put on their coffee orders. It was ostensibly a move that would help the baristas get to know their customers better and distribute the drinks more efficiently but in fact the new methods proved to me that they didn’t know me at all. It was a new company policy they said. Well, none of us liked the new policy but what were we at the store level, consumer or employee to do? In the words of Yul Brynner’s Pharaoh, “so it is written, so it shall be done.”

The first time they butchered my name on a cup I was deeply disappointed but not enough to correct the barista. They had enough problems keeping up with the drink orders, didn’t they? Deeply disappointed, you ask? Over a misspelled name?  What, after all, is in a name? Just everything; identity, belonging, all that you are.  It’s the first thing your parents do, they name you. And, as it turns out the number of ways you can misspell Helene are as limitless as the stars in the sky and many of the ways were so creative that I wish I had kept all of the cups with my misspelled name just for a hoot.

Time moved on and so did we, to a new town and a new Starbucks and I had the opportunity for a clean slate. So at the new Starbucks when they asked for my name, before I could stop myself I said, Pam. You can’t get Pam wrong. It just can’t be done. And, each time thereafter when they asked for my name I said Pam because once you’ve fallen into a hole unless someone hands you a ladder it’s hard to climb out. They never ever misspelled Pam but I never for one second felt good about this foolish, petty deception. A friend saw Pam on my cup and asked why my coffee cup said Pam? And I was compelled to launch into the whole asinine explanation of my Starbucks alias and then in yoga class they saw my cup and begin to call me Pam. The effort to avoid spelling H E L E N E has ended in long explanations of why my coffee cup said Pam. What in the end have I gained?

Then after three years of frequenting this new Starbucks the workers there start to become familiar with me and after a three-day absence the barista says, “I’ve missed you Pam.”  That’s when I crack. I’ve never been a good liar so I lean across the counter, “My name is really Helene I whisper. “What?” she asks. “My name is not Pam,” I say a little louder this time, “Pam is my Starbucks alias. My real name is Helene.” Oh she says looking at me oddly.

But, no matter, because I feel lighter, no longer burdened by my alias.

Make that a tall, skim mocha, no whip for H E L E N E

Let P A M  get her own damn drink.

My Facebook Montage

imagesA few days ago I started seeing Facebook posts that said, “Here’s my Facebook movie. Find yours at…” followed by a hot link. And I was determined to just ignore the whole thing and not be a lemming. But by yesterday almost my entire Facebook wall was filled with peoples’ movies.

Let me just put it out there that I am the original bar/bat mitzvah montage curmudgeon. I think generally that the photomontages shown at bar mitzvahs are way too long, too personal (too many pictures of just the child and their immediate family) and hence painfully dull for anyone not in the celebrant’s immediate circle. So, my first reaction to the Facebook movies was I don’t need to watch another photomontage, even if it’s about me, or especially if it’s about me.

Alas, I couldn’t hold out so I clicked on my movie and I have to say Facebook’s sixty-two second wrap up of our relationship had a surprisingly strong emotional impact. From the melodic music and my beginning to my most liked posts and finally to the iconic Facebook final thumbs up…well done, Facebook. Well done.

How did they know how to hit me directly in the kishkas? It’s all an algorithm I’ve been told. But, tell that to my heart and my eyes which are suspiciously damp. Are we really the sum of our likes, others say and I don’t necessarily disagree with them.  It’s a good point. If I post something and not a lot of people “liked” it, but it mattered greatly to me, doesn’t it still belong in my narrative? Maybe, but we’ve only got sixty-two seconds folks. Something had to wind up on the cutting floor.

And to Facebook, I say, “It doesn’t change a thing but even so after 6 years it’s nice to know…”

Bar Mitzvah Boy

DHW_Party_Share-5On the Gregorian calendar tomorrow is my youngest son’s thirteenth birthday.

Three weeks ago according to the Hebrew calendar my son became a man but two days after becoming a man he returned to seventh grade and took up largely where he left off. At dinner last week to a chorus of groans he announced that we should reinstitute family game night. Two nights ago he announced that he was quitting piano. And, last night he wandered the house looking for a willing victim for some card trick he was attempting to learn as I tried without success to work my own magic by disappearing beneath an avalanche of covers. It’s not really fair to him.  I know that but I’m fifty and I’m done with unilateral pronouncements, board games and card tricks.

I had to chuckle as David rose to lead us in prayer on the day of his bar mitzvah.  The cantor pulled out a stool for him to stand on so that he could reach the lectern.  I kept thinking about the phrase from Isaiah,  “…and a little child shall lead them.”  I have no idea what the theological underpinnings of that phrase are but nonetheless it kept rolling around in my brain. And there is wisdom in the old customs because within the child who rose to lead his congregation that day I saw a glimpse of the man he will, God willing, someday become, not today, not tomorrow but someday. Through all the lessons and the practicing and the run-throughs I worried because your baby is always your baby and you wonder what they are really made of. And, then on that day for a moment you see something that you’ve never seen before. You see potential and maturity and the ability to rise to the occasion.

And last night as I gazed upon his baby soft, whiskerless face I knew that these days of high voices and smooth faces are fleeting and we are on the cusp of something big.  Before the bar mitzvah album is complete he will morph into something between a boy and a man, awkward and incomplete but on a trajectory toward manhood that cannot be stopped.

And so, I pull the covers off my head, beckon him and pull a card from the deck he holds in fanned out fashion.

Happy Birthday my beautiful bar mitzvah boy.