La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for April 2012

I just turned 40 the other day. I was asked how it felt. Y’all, without being melodramatic, let me say this:  after my checkered history of almost checking out on various occasions, every birthday feels damn damn damn damn awesome. No one will ever rain on my birthday parade. I don’t require parties, ticker tape parades or greetings on the jumbotron. I just like getting older, year by precious year. Even this year, when Baby Sister shared her RSV and pneumonia with me; I was still happy as Larry even though I felt like I had slept under a car in the rain for a week. All birthdays are good, even if you are older, fatter or not where you pictured yourself when you were 15 and going to become Mrs. Jon Bon Jovi. It’s all good. Of course, I’ve learned a few things along the way (including the fact that nice people will indulge your propensity for authoring hectoring lists of their shortcomings).  🙂

10.  Shut up about your problems.

Scottish Grandma always warned me that people do want to help you, but after the first week or so with no progress they naturally get tired of listening to you gripe. So if you really want help, ask. If you really need to vent,ask. But if you just want to bitch about the same person, situation, perceived injustice or thing that happened to you 20 years ago, recognize that the clock is, quite rightly, ticking even among those who love you.

9.  You are responsible for your own happiness.

I know Oprah says this weekly, but it’s true. You cannot expect your husband, mama, kids, friends, boyfriends, whomever to make you happy. If you are a miserable person, as the cheesy 80s saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” Besides the fact that all grown ups are responsible for their own feelings, consider the terrible burden it is to place on a loved one, to be THE thing that makes or keeps you happy. It’s a job no one should have or want. Your husband isn’t the funniest guy alive? That’s why funny guy friends were invented. Your sister don’t love you the exact way you need to be loved? That’s why girl friends were invented. Your parents disappointed you in so many ways? That’s why the tiniest violin was invented.

8.  When it comes to your kids, love them and ACCEPT them just the way they are.

Some parents love them the way they are but want them to be “better,” which generally means you want them to be something more in line with your expectations.    I have learned that accepting your kid for who she is–exactly the way she is–makes her better. I agonized over Bambina’s shyness and anxiety for years, pushing her to do things, say things, join things, until I read The Words That Changed It All: “Shyness is not a character flaw.”. It is who my girl is and my constant end runs around her to mold her into…well, me…was damaging her. And so I let go. If she didn’t want to say hi to Great Aunt Flossie she didn’t have to. She could nod and smile instead. If she hated birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese she brought the kid a gift to school and we sent our regrets for the party itself. If she hated being singled out, even for praise, we began to do it quietly. And guess what, chickadees? If you met Bambina now you would never guess she had ever NOT wanted to talk. Why? Because in giving her the freedom to be who she was, we gave her the freedom and confidence to grow into the person she is becoming. Love your kids, but more importantly, accept and celebrate them just the way they are.

7.  Stop caring what random people think of you, especially people you don’t even like.

Obviously I don’t want to embarrass my kids or husband by being a nasty, disheveled bag lady. But beyond hygiene and manners, I simply don’t give a shit what you think of me. I’ve been hugely fat and borderline anorexic. I’ve been enormously self-involved and self-sacrificing. I’ve been tremendously healthy and within hours of dying. I’ve had long feathered Def Leppard hair and been damn near bald. I’ve stared down the barrel of an unfair, youthful death more times than I care to recount. So you’ll pardon me if your opinion about any aspect of my life is simply not on my radar. What is on my radar? Dada Jones, the one-the only. The Jones Girls, without whom I’d gladly die. The Scots and the Jews (and the Scottish Jews) who surround me with their own “special” kinds of love. The friends who have loved me even when I have been less than lovable. These things matter. With no offense intended, and I mean this in the kindest, tenderest way: your opinion of my house, car, shoes, weight or hair doesn’t matter at all, and I can’t believe I spent actual YEARS thinking it did.

6.  Your life is either an example or a warning.

Sometimes mine has been a simultaneous mixture of both. But the choice is always there. Before you do that thing, ask yourself if you would be proud to stand behind it in public. If someone you love saw you do or say that thing, would you genuinely feel like you were setting an example for them? I once knew a guy who had, to put it kindly, challenges in determining appropriate behavior. I finally boiled it down for him: if you die in a fiery crash today and your loved ones go through your things, will their grief be compounded by these choices you have made? If so, don’t be that guy. Just decide today that you are not going to be that guy. All of us can decide the same thing today and every day…and it’s never too late.

5.  Trust your friends to see you vulnerable.

I spent a lot of time pre-transplant playing the role of Monty Python’s Black Knight. Can we help you, Mama? No! It’s a flesh wound! Tis but a scratch! I’ve had worse! I simply could not bring myself to avail myself of the help being offered. Maybe I felt like it was weakness, maybe I felt guilty for troubling people. Who knows? But I look back and cannot believe the stuff I did myself when I should have been all over that lasagna delivery or that ride to Baltimore. Which is to say, I was a moron. Don’t be a moron. 

4.  Keep on the sunny side.

The Jones Girls love to belt out that song in the car because it’s fun and because it’s our entire life philosophy. “The storm in its fury broke today, crushing hopes that we cherished so dear. Storm and clouds will in time pass away, the sun again will shine so bright and clear.” To be fair, I’m pretty sure I was Born This Way. But even for me, some days require a decision about whether you’re going to wallow in the shit or “get on your goddamn bike” as my Dad used to say. Most of the time, I choose the goddamn bike. You should too, because whatever shitstorm is in the mail for you is coming whether you wallow or not. Best to get out in front of it.

3.  Never try to convince someone to love you or stay with you.

Walk the Eff away. Don’t look back. Staying with someone who doesn’t, can’t or won’t love you means you are missing all the ways that the right person is being brought into your life. You deserve love and you should never, ever wait around for another person to bestow it.

2.  Always find farts funny.

The day you stop laughing at farts is the day you become an old one.

1. And finally, distrust all glib lists authored by random bloggers purporting to offer sage advice. Such lists are often self-congratulatory, contradictory, incomplete and 

Newish Jewish

Posted on: April 8, 2012

Passover is and always has been my favorite Jewish holiday, even with its lack of bread and Atkins Diet-level constipation. Its message of social justice resonates with me year in and year out. But this year has been more of a challenge due to changes made at Baby Sister’s preschool. She attends a JCC-type preschool where many kids are Jewish and many are not. The school has always had a wonderful community feel to it, rich with Jewish education but leaving room for each family’s personal beliefs. It has always felt welcoming and warm.

Until this Passover. The Director decided that the school needed to become “more Jewish.” fair enough. But she, in my opinion, took the most reductive definition of “more Jewish” and set policies designed to increase observance. Observance refers to how closely one follows Jewish law and tradition, such as keeping kosher, keeping the Sabbath, eschewing pork, etc. In Christianity it would involve things like not eating meat on Fridays, giving up something for Lent, refusing to work on a Sunday or wearing a crucifix.

Now, this has been an age-old debate in all religions, Judaism no exception. Can one be religious if one is not observant? Can one be fully Jewish and less-fully observant? My opinion is ABSOLUTELY. I affirm that people of good faith can differ on this point, but I am offering my thoughts as a person of good faith. I genuinely do not believe that God cares whether I have a BLT. He does not care if a morsel of leaven passes my preschooler’s lips on Passover. He does not spend a nanosecond judging me for flipping my light switch on a Friday night. I believe with all my heart that God, instead, cares about whether I’m an embarrassment to the Jewish religion and the human race. That said, I completely support others who believe in their hearts that the bacon, the leaven and the light switch DO matter to God. Everyone should have the right and the ability to worship and live according to their own religious beliefs, insofar as they do not harm others.

The issue with the school is that it is NOT a religious school; it is a community center with a mission of bringing Jews (and others too) together in a supportive environment. So when dictates about how the ever-increasing standards of observance were being handed down, it rankled me. If another family’s level of observance does not allow for MY family’s level of observance, then that becomes a problem in our community, does it not? Why must I purchase a new lunchbox for my child during Passover when at home I simply wash it out and don’t put bread in it? How does my child’s lunchbox–on any rational level–impact another child? It’s foolery, straight up. And it indicates that perhaps families requiring the highest level of observance might benefit from attending a religious school in line with their beliefs, rather than a community center that caters to ALL Jewish people–and many non-Jews as well.

More specifically my concerns go beyond lunchbox inspections and nonsense food edicts to the real heart of the matter: what does it mean to be More Jewish? And how desperately sad is it that Orthodox-level observance would be the first, out of the gate, go-to method for becoming so? I argue that making the school More Jewish would be better served by refocusing on the multitude of values that are uniquely definitive of Judaism across the board, rather than on the elements of practice that matter only to some.

Tikkun Olam. Repairing/Healing The World
Tzedakah. Justice and Charity
Teshuvah. Repentance
Caring for the Widow and Orphan
Welcoming the Stranger

You get my point. There are so many ways to lead an organization, a school and individuals toward a deeper understanding of and commitment to Judaism or even just Jewishness. That the first idea for doing so was More Rules simply reveals the poverty of imagination and inspiration at the top. I understand that the practice of observance has the purpose of putting God first in our lives, of making the mundane sacred. And if that’s the result that works for you, please continue with my blessing and support. But for me, furiously cleaning my home of all chametz (leaven) before Passover doesn’t serve God, or anyone. But teaching my girls the meaning of Passover does. I don’t want them to miss the point of the holiday because I am caught up in my observant commandment checklist. Passover is all about gratitude and seeing “the other” as oneself, for we “were once slaves in the land of Egypt.” It is all about “all who are hungry, come and eat.” It is all about understanding our obligation to oppose slavery anywhere and in all its forms. It is a message of gratitude and hope and freedom; and if my girls take that from the Seder and nothing else, that is Jewish enough for me.

ADDENDUM: To be clear, our family keeps kosher for Passover. We light candles for Shabbat. We go to temple. There are traditions in Judaism, such as keeping kosher for Passover, that are intended to create mindfulness, and we practice those because they are universal to Judaism. My concern focuses on the divisions created when the micro details of HOW to practice these traditions are imposed in a community setting. Especially, as is the case, when they are imposed with no warning, no explanation, and no input from the community affected.

Be Here Now

Posted on: April 1, 2012

 

One of the BBDD’s hot buttons is when people ask him if he’s “babysitting” when he’s out with the girls. It completely irritates him because it implies—no, it actually states—that he is not a legitimate parent. He’s the substitute teacher. The non-union scab. The LaToya when you really wanted Janet.  I often wondered why people insisted on asking this ludicrous question—until the past few weeks when I have seen too many dads acting like babysitters. And worse, babysitters who’d rather be at The Hunger Games or texting with their BFFs LOL OMG.

We often take the kids to a family gym where they can run around and tumble and have fun with other kids they know. Every single freaking time we go there is at least one, if not five, fathers sitting on the bench intently playing on their IPhone, talking on their IPhone, or doing that fake “I’m so involved in my IPhone” foolery we all do when someone leaves us at the restaurant table to go to the bathroom.  Anything but monitoring, interacting with or even noticing their kids. And you know who those kids are: they are the ones so OUT OF CONTROL that other parents have to step in and stop them from breaking stuff, including other kids’ bones. Then the dad finally notices, saunters over, and does that ineffectuaI-semiwhiny-I-want-to-slap-him, “Tyler, buddy. Can you share the balance beam?” And Tyler is like, “Fuck you” and Ineffectual Whiny Dad is like, “Buddy, why don’t you get off the beam and let the other kids have a turn?” Tyler is, once again, like, “Fuck you. Do I know you?” And we see the issue. Dad wants to be here doing this about as much as I want to be here watching him.

Same at an arts and crafts thing we go to semi-regularly. Four moms interacting with their kids, managing public behavior, ensuring pro-social habits like sharing, waiting turns, etc.  Three dads, two extremely engrossed in…wait for it…their IPhones.  One actively doing the Ineffectual Dad routine I have come to know and despise so much. Another mom and I said plainly, “Two more minutes and then we’re getting up to give another kid a chance. We’ve been here for many minutes.”  Ineffectual Dad, so not used to the rough and tumble of public discipline, trying to convince his three year old to think about sharing. Hello? Three year olds do not share unless forced to. End of story. They don’t miraculously think, “I love this red crayon so much. Hey! I think I’ll share it!” The adults in the room have to make it happen and only then does it become a habit. You can’t convince a preschooler to act like a normal human. You have to make it so they can choose This Reasonable Option OR That Reasonable Option. You can’t leave it up to them to dream up the choices, because NEWS FLASH they are always going to pick “I’ll keep this crayon while I sit in this seat doing this project with these stickers that are MINE even though they belong to someone else.” Not because they are rotten kids but because they are preschoolers. It all has to be taught. All of it. Empathy, sympathy, fairness. It does not come naturally to the average 3 year old, which is why it has to come from you, the parent. Even if you are the Dad stuck with the kids for 4 hours while you wife does whatever she is doing.

Because, Ineffectual Dads, here’s the news flash of the century: I’m a mom and some days I don’t love sitting around gluing puffy shapes to paper either. In fact, some days I think I might just poke my fucking eye out with a pair of safety scissors just to make the tedium go away. Do you think I get up in the morning percolating with frosty excitement to sing Wheels on the fucking Bus 100 million times before noon? Please let me guarantee you that I don’t. But you know what, gentlemen? This is the goddamn gig. This is the job. And you do it because it, in the end, matters. You think your kids are having fun in the gym while you play Angry Birds or look at p*rn (hey, I don’t know your tastes, bud)? What you fail to notice is them aching for your attention. Which is why they are acting like goddamn maniacs. They want your attention, but failing that, they want anyone’s attention. The BBDD has had to politely refuse to push little girls on swings so many times because a) no grown man with half a brain touches a little girl not his own anywhere unless he wants to do a perp walk, and b) her dad is sitting 10 feet away from her on his phone!! And I’m standing there trying to do ESP with the guy, “Look up from your phone. Look up from your phone. See your child. See your child. She wants to be with you. WITH you, not just in the same park.”  And nothing.  It makes me equal parts angry and sad. You think you’re doing your job because you are physically present in the same zip code. But you are phoning it in all the way. And please don’t tell me how “letting the kids play” is your guiding principle. We both know that’s your way of excusing your lack of interest in playing with your kids.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that every minute of our time at the gym is spent with the adults. But it is to the extent that the girls want it to be. They don’t see the BBDD as much as they see me, so for them it really is super fun and super happy-making to have him there lifting them, chasing them and cheering for them. They play with their friends all week, and on the weekends they really want to hang out with their Dad who, god bless and love him, wants to hang out with them too. Again, would he rather be doing something other than giving horsey rides for a full half hour on the hardwood floor of the dining room? Believe it. Would he rather watch the basketball game or talk to his buddies on the phone than pretend he’s a prince in need of rescue by the unicorn Pegasus and her sidekick, Stinky Cat? Take that to the bank. But you know why he does it (besides his super secret obsession with My Little Pony, of course)? Because THIS IS THE GIG. You love your kids, you do embarrassing and boring and tedious and irritating and sometimes flat-out brain cell-killing things simply because they need you to. You would rather watch cooking shows on PBS while napping on the couch, but you bake super special sparkly cookies instead. You would rather level up in any game available as an app, but you sit in public and you share glue sticks and you pick shiny butterfly stickers and you marvel—marvel!—over the fabulousness of this ladybug masterpiece created by your very own Jackson Pollock instead. Would the Baby Daddy and I rather have been at a restaurant right now having a fabulous dinner wherein we finished actual sentences without interruption? Hell yeah. But we stayed home with the 102 fevered kid instead. And you can bitch and you can moan and you can find 100 ways under the sun to justify not doing it, but the truth is that you do it.  Yes, because this is the gig.  But also, if you’re doing it right, because you want to.

I don’t remember a single specific instance of my mom sitting with me late at night while I was sick as a kid. But I know she did. I don’t remember each individual spelling bee, award banquet or sporting event that my parents attended. But I know they did.  I don’t remember every time my parents told me they were proud of me. But I know they were. Why? Because they did the daily, shitty, boring, tiring, tedious work to create that inner core of love within me. They put in the time but more importantly, they put in the effort. They did the job in a way that developed in me the muscle memory, the soul-deep knowledge that I was loved, valued and valuable. Even now at 40, I can conjure up that feeling at will, the comfort and security that my parents were 100% there, no matter how many jobs my dad had and how many other kids my mom had to raise as well. I knew I mattered, even if I couldn’t put my finger on how I knew.  

So if you’re one of those Dads (or moms) on the IPhone, zoning out, bitching about this gig that you yourself signed up for, wishing you were anywhere but here: put down the phone, put down the attitude, put down the inhibitions and just do the thing you hate. Try it for a minute, then two. See your kid light up. Or not. See you kid love your presence. Or not. See your kid bask in the warm glow of your attention. Or not. (Kids can be assholes sometimes). 😉  But, whatever you do, and however it goes, SEE YOUR KID and know that you are building something here, brick by sometimes boring brick, step by sometimes painfully disappointing step, rung by sometimes irritating rung. Why? Because that’s the gig, my fellow mamas and dadas. That’s the gig.