Friday, September 13, 2013

Kiss me again with your Barbasol face



Number of toiletry products taking up space on our bathroom counter: 32.

Number of toiletry items belonging to me: 12.

Number of toiletry items belonging to my husband: 17 (with the remaining three being shared items like toothpaste).

My husband has not taken up female impersonation nor has he fallen victim to this depressing trend.  He is far from being a metrosexual--unless metrosexuals are now wearing old t-shirts with logos of defunct start-ups on them and habitually losing gift cards to clothing stores because they waited two years to use them.

For the last few years Mike has been accumulating shaving products. It started with some "classic" razors (old) and a couple of matchbook-sized boxes of new blades. Then it was a moss scuttle from a pottery-maker in Nova Scotia. That led to quests to find and obtain this and this and this.

It's not like him to just dabble in a hobby--no, he dives right in. He joins online forums. He recruits: several co-workers are now his compatriots in the art of shaving. They order shaving creams together and sample each other's soaps. They text each other when they buy a new badger brush or mug. They catch each other mindlessly caressing their own chins (or, in slightly cruder terms, faceterbating, as in "I'm sitting here rocking on the screened porch, faceterbating after a lime shave.")

I can't recall the last time I shared a beauty product with a friend, much less texted someone after a trip to Sephora. If I find a product I like I might pin it or mention it in conversation if the topic comes up. I haven't converted anyone to using my brand of dry shampoo.

He likes the ritual of shaving the way that I enjoy the ritual of coffee and the newspaper (another dying pastime). The Mach 5 is purely a marketing gimmick in his eyes. If his father didn't use it, it's not worth it. If it's sold in an antique shop, it's a winner.

He's mentioned wanting his own shelf for all his shaving products. After looking at how many of his new products are squeezing out my assorted bottles like a man taking up all the space on a subway bench, I tend to agree.

I'm not complaining, mind you. Despite an aversion to changing his sneaker style (which is mid-80's black high-top Reeboks) my husband pays careful attention to hygiene. He wears an appropriate amount of cologne and/or after-shave so as not to smell like a college boy who hasn't showered in a week but douses himself in CK One (what they wore in the 90's when I was in college--not sure what the kids are wearing now). Instead he smells very clean and masculine, sort of what I imagine a man in the 1950's smelled like as he headed out the door mornings in suit and hat. There's something to be said for that man of old--it partly explains all the Baby Boomers.







Saturday, August 10, 2013

The most hotly-debated topic on the Internet is...



I read this entry on Huffington Post written by a dad giving advice to parents about what NOT to say to non-parents (or the childless or the child-free or DINKS.) I thought the article made some good points and it was refreshing to hear from a parent who was sensitive to the fact that relationships between parents and non-parents can be strengthened by a little empathy and understanding on both sides.

Of course articles like this almost always incite a comments war.  The decision to have children (or not) seems to rile people up like no other subject--except maybe politics, race, or religion. There are people on both sides of the issue who seem to feel that their decision is the only valid one. Ignorance of the other side is rampant. Some over-zealous parents (usually mothers, but sometimes dads) feel the need to defend parenthood as the most self-sacrificing and meaningful decision an adult can make. They accuse the child-free of being selfish and immature and put fear in their hearts about missing out on life and growing old and lonely. Meanwhile, defensive non-parents accuse parents of being egomaniacs who are just looking to replicate their wonderful genes. Or that parents are pod people who can only talk about their children's accomplishments. Of course the fact that these non-parents owe their existence to their own self-sacrificing "pod parents" is rarely mentioned. I've read comments from both perspectives that I hope have never been aired out loud because they're so petty and mean. These are comments that lack empathy and would end most friendships.

As a non-parent in the minority, let me share my experience thusfar. All of my friends who are around the same age as me have children now. One of my friends is delivering this week, in fact. It has been an adjustment getting used to the idea that my friends have a different focus now--perhaps even more so for me because most of my friends waited to have kids until their late thirties so I'm accustomed to thinking of them without kids. I won't lie--it can be lonely sometimes to be the only one without children. While they're adjusting to life with a baby on their hip, I'm fighting a chip on my shoulder. I worry, do they think I'm weird? Do they judge me? Will they want to stay friends? How involved do they want me to be with their kids? Is it OK if I want to occasionally spend some "girl time" with them that doesn't include their children, or should I consider it a package deal from now on?

Most of these questions were resolved fairly early on between me and my girlfriends, which makes me feel lucky to have chosen wisely in the friend department. The women who know me best appreciate me for who I am and aren't looking for another friend to trade diaper jokes with--they have enough of those, thank you. There was one incidence when a friend of mine mentioned that having her son gave her a reason to wake up in the morning, and I recall feeling stung at first. Was she intimating that I, by contrast, did not have a reason to wake up? But I caught myself before upchucking my insecurity all over her. She was sharing her joy at being a mom, a joy that she didn't realize she could feel. It had nothing to do with me. It's not always about me, and if I want to be a good friend I need to keep that in mind.

There are times when I'm around my friends when I feel like the only stories I have to share when relating to their parenting challenges are stories about my own childhood.

"Joey is afraid of the dark? So was I as a kid!"

"Lizzy insists on sleeping in your bed? I used to drag a sleeping bag and sleep in the hall outside of my parents' bedroom. I'm sure that must have gotten old PDQ!"

There is also the effort of trying to avoid comparing my dog to their child. In fact, I'm super-aware of falling into that trap, especially since my dog shares a lot of the tendencies of an infant or toddler: namely copious outputs of poo to which I must attend, needy barks I must answer, and the desire to press my face close to hers and sniff her little head because I love her so much. I do not refer to myself as "Mommy" to Carmelita, or at least not in any parents' earshot.

Ultimately my feeling about having kids versus not having them has evolved into this: both decisions, like any other choice in life, come with benefits and drawbacks. We can't even predict what they might be before they happen. Some parents are able to balance having children with doing pretty much everything they did before having kids. Some non-parents who thought they would have a lot of extra money to travel the world and stay at four-star hotels are realizing that in this day and age the cost of living is expensive without kids and exorbitant with them. Whatever choice you make (or whatever happens to you even if you do not choose it), you will adapt to those circumstances and it will be OK. If you have kids you will love and care for them and be happy that you had them. If you don't have kids, you will appreciate your abundant time alone and your independence.

Defending our personal choices as better than someone else's is not just insulting--it's nonsensical. You never know what's going to happen in life. You might fall in love with someone who doesn't want children. You might find yourself pregnant before you think you're ready. You might be physically unable to have children. You may have one child thinking that is all you want, and then decide you really like being a parent so you have another. In the end, what does it matter if my choice is different from your choice? That's life. That's what makes us all interesting.






Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Don't Sweat It

 Photo from Esquire.com

We're having a heat wave in the Boston area (it's affecting the entire eastern seaboard), and I am living the life of the anxious person in an anti-perspirant ad.

When I take the "T" I am afraid to lift my arms to hold the strap lest I reveal the spreading patches of wetness under my arms. I don't hug or kiss friends and family because I don't want them to have to towel themselves off after.  I am spending as much time as possible in the only room in my apartment that has air conditioning, the blinds drawn, and even post-cold shower and with the air blasting, I'm STILL sweating.

What makes my sweating differ from the run-of-the-mill sweating that anyone in 90+ degree heat would experience is the sheer volume of it. I begin sweating almost immediately after walking into a hot room, and in addition to the unsightly wet patches and the sheen of moisture I leave in my wake, my face turns as red as someone holding their breath until they pass out. A little color in the face is becoming, but I'm talking full-out, flushed face, like an incensed Elmer Fudd.

This has caused me more than a little embarrassment. It has also made me wary of engaging in activities that would otherwise be unequivocally positive: exercising, getting outdoors, leaving the bedroom more than twice a day to walk the dog (I've actually thought of going back to puppy pads, but that might confuse her and it took a year just to get her to stop peeing in the kitchen.) One particularly hot weekend in June I spent both days in my bedroom, entertaining myself with streaming Netflix on my iPad and ordering takeout which I also proceeded to eat while sitting on my bed.  Sadly, it was not as fun as it sounds.

I work from home now so I don't get the benefit of corporate central air. But I do get to type articles in my summer nightie--so there are tradeoffs. Still, I find myself having difficulty carrying on intelligent conversations with real, live humans because I spend so much time alone, holed up in my bedroom, which is currently littered with empty tubs of Whole Foods olives, dirty napkins, and scattered sesame seeds from my morning bagel. Writing is a very solitary pursuit, sure, but one needs some interaction with people, otherwise who are you going to talk to about that brilliant, DOMA-inspired New Yorker cover or even nonsensical stuff like what kind of mouth bling Amanda Bynes wants to get before she launches her "rap career?" This reminds me of one of my favorite online comic strips by an artist who is wiser than he may appear if you just judge him by his more crass cartoons.

This morning I went for a fitness walk that ended at the new Whole Foods location on Beacon Street near St. Mary's. I wore my Indiana Jones-like Tilley, shorts that were probably a little TOO short for a 40 year-old who has been spending an inordinate amount of time lying around trying not to sweat, and an old AMC t-shirt that misleads people who see me wearing it into thinking that I'm a crunchy, outdoorsy type (silly people!) 

It was good to get out because it meant I was leaving my comfort zone, even for an hour, all for the good cause of not turning into a Goth teenager. I was out and about among other people who had places to go and people to see. I stretched my dormant leg muscles. And I dared to sweat profusely in front of the Whole Foods barista, who thankfully refrained from burying her face in her arm at the sight of me as I ordered an iced latte.

Since probably the sixth grade, worrying about what other people think of me has kept me from doing a fair number of things--big and small--that I'd like to do.  My hope is that every time I come up against embarrassment I get a little more skilled at shrugging it off, like it's an extra layer of clothing on a very hot day.





Thursday, June 13, 2013

Camping for Sissies



As you get older you try to accept things about yourself that you know are not going to change.  I will always have fine hair (I don't go in for extensions--too expensive and scary-looking), I will always be just a little bit too gullible, and I will always hate camping.

I know they say not to try to change yourself to please your man, and in principle I completely agree with this. But when my husband starts talking about backpacking with some guy friends, and how his good friend Greg's wife Genoa wants to come along, I start to feel like the stick-in-the-mud, high maintenance wife he would be better off without. Mike loves hiking and camping and doesn't care a fig what his hair looks like after a couple of days of not showering.

Unfortunately, I do care.  Plus the thought of trudging up a mountain and getting sticky-sweaty-dirty and not being able to shower afterward is as appealing to me as eating fried crickets as an appetizer--no matter how on trend it might seem to other people.  I have no interest in fishing an insect leg from between my teeth and I doubt I ever will.

"I wish we liked doing more things together," my husband said, not realizing that his words were causing my interior alarm to start buzzing off the hook.  I recently read that women measure their life satisfaction by how well their relationships are going. I liked to think that my primary relationship--my marriage--was Ashford and Simpson-esque. But then I remembered a CBS Sunday Morning interview with the husband-and-wife songwriters and how they fell in love in part because of their shared love of music. I quickly did a brain scan of the activities that Mike and I both enjoyed.

"We both like to go to nice restaurants," I said, which was probably more true of me than him, but it's not like he DIDN'T like nice restaurants, right?

Then I added, "And we both like books."

"But not the same books," my husband said. It was true that if you looked at our bookshelves you would see the dividing line pretty quick. My books tend to be novels about women in urban locales trying to manage careers and find love. Or they're about the perils of consumerism (I continue to believe if I read enough of these anti-materialistic tomes I will transform myself into an ascetic. So far it hasn't worked.) My books have colorful spines with interesting fonts. His spines are all grey or black and profile World War II heroes and accomplished scientists who would never write about their personal relationships because they're too busy BEING BRILLIANT.

"I liked In Harm's Way," I countered, referring to the book I just finished about the true story of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis right before the end of World War II. But then I think, of course you did! The book was chock-full of I Shouldn't Be Alive-type moments, including passages about crazed, marauding sharks who crunch-crunched on the lower extremities of numerous unlucky survivors and the desperate fools who gave in to their thirst and drank the salt water, then decided that they could swim to shore even though they were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

So maybe on paper my husband and I don't have a ton of common interests. But we could still do things to make the other person happy, even if it's not our first choice for a rockin' Saturday night.

This weekend I agreed to go camping with Mike. Well, not exactly CAMPING camping. We'll be sleeping in a tent all right, but it will be on my parents' property in Manchester, Vermont, a tony New England town known for its upscale outlet stores. My parents own a small cabin that can sleep two people comfortably. Usually when we visit them in Manchester we stay at a hotel, but since I'm currently bringing in just a fraction of my salary in weekly unemployment checks (plus the occasional $150 I earn for freelance assignments) we're trying to keep discretionary spending to a minimum.

Mike started packing for our one-night car camping adventure last night. He fired up his twenty-year old Coleman lantern to make sure it still worked, dusted off our wicker picnic set--complete with silverware, a tablecloth, and two wine glasses (OK, the wine glasses will come in handy), and asked me where we kept the long matches. He advised me to bring something warm to sleep in. He asked me to come over and look at his computer because he was thinking of buying me this.

"I'm glad my period will be over by this weekend," I muttered.

"That's OK, they have something for that, too!" he said, as if he was telling me that if I acted now, they'd throw in what those clever REI marketers decided to call The Diva Cup.

I have to admit, though, that I'm excited about this weekend, and not just because Mike is bribing me with a small stipend for outlet shopping. I will get to spend time with my parents, whom I miss, and for the first time sleep under the night sky with the man I love. That's worth skipping a shower and a continental breakfast.





Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Spring Inspiration Board

My vision of Spring
 
 
I'm not a visual artist like my mother, but I do like assembling found images, like collages and mood boards. It's very relaxing, actually. It's important when you're making a collage/inspiration board not to aim for the perfect aesthetic, but to go with whatever comes to you. I know that sounds airy-fairy, but it works. Since it's your idea of inspiration, your mood, you can't do it wrong. I like projects where I don't have to worry about the potential for failure. More of  life's tasks should be approached this way, but unfortunately we often second guess ourselves.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

At least you're not Jodi Arias

 It could be worse, you could be one of these two people

Whenever I feel like I've been stood up by Luck, who decided to take out another woman with longer hair and tighter abs, I reflect on those who have it worse than me. That may sound harsh, but it's not like you don't do it, too.  In fact, if you need to feel better about your situation, just keep reading this blog post.

Anyway, if you're sizing up where you fit on the social hierarchy, isn't it better to look down below you, like someone standing on a long line intermittently turning around to see the poor schmo in back of them? That's certainly preferable to focusing on the smug jerk who's way up in front of the line, who is in fact getting what he wants RIGHT NOW.

I'm unemployed, but am currently trying to establish a freelance writing career that, should my dream job materialize, I can do in my spare time for extra cute bag money. While I try to spend at least half of my day at home being productive, I find that around 1:30 or so my energy starts to lag, and I think, there isn't much that's good about this whole "no job, no money situation" so I may as well take a nap. Or eat a cookie. Or eat another cookie. Or switch over to Huffington Post to read the latest on the Jodi Arias trial.

For those of you who don't know who Jodi Arias is (and be glad if you're in that camp because it means you likely have a good job and a busier social life than me), she is the 32 year-old comely Arizona woman who murdered her boyfriend Travis Alexander and is now on trial claiming she acted in self-defense because he was abusive. I first came across the case when I saw a picture of the defendant and thought, she looks very normal--in fact she's pretty and her glasses make me think she's probably smart, too. How could this fortunate-in-the-looks-and-brains-department woman be on trial for her life? 

Yes, I judge a book by its cover. That's why in publishing they should let the marketing people like me, and not the editor, choose the cover art. 

So I start looking at the crime scene photos (and this case is perfect visual fodder for the web because Jodi is an amateur photographer and was snapping pictures right before she knifed the guy), juxtaposed with the happy photos of the two lovebirds in front of various cliche backgrounds, like a waterfall and a sunset. Then I watch the interrogation video where Jodi lies about the murder, claiming two intruders killed Alexander, and then when the interrogator leaves the room, decides it's time she did a headstand. Perhaps she was just attempting to get the truth to flow to her brain. And because I was now a few hours into my own personal investigation of the case, I listened to the phone conversation Jodi taped with Alexander when they were still seeing each other but not "in a relationship" (if you're a woman that probably sounds a little too familiar.)

My assessment, along with everyone else who is not on jodiariasisinnocent.com, is she's guilty. She's already established herself as a liar with the two intruders story. She later changed that to confess that she killed him, but only because he had done abusive things like swat her possessively on the derriere when he noticed other guys checking her out, and take her to a hot air balloon festival while secretly phoning another girl.  I know this guy--I have unfortunately dated this guy in my 20's--and telling him off and never seeing him again seems a much smarter alternative than setting up the shower scene from Psycho.

My fascination with the case is hard to explain. But I knew I had a problem when I started watching the trial on HLN, home of Nancy Grace-less, while folding laundry. They show a snippet of the courtroom drama, then cut away for more eye-rolling-she's-totally-guilty commentary by anchors who look like they would otherwise be forecasting the weather. A half hour of after-lunch testimony drags into rush hour.

There are people who are more engrossed (read: sadder) in this trial than me. On the Huffington Post Jodi Arias discussion board, one woman was complaining that she had "made pasta sauce, did my laundry, took a shower and got dressed, all so I would be free to watch this trial, and now they're postponing it because that Jodi wench has a migraine?  Oh boo hoo, honey. At least you're not lying in a pool of your own blood like Travis!!!!!!"

Jodi, like the rest of us, should at least be grateful for that.








Monday, March 18, 2013

Paging Cesar Millan

 Carmelita sort of, kind of listening to me

I have a bad dog. I don't mean she's an aspiring Cujo. She's actually a very sweet pup. But she doesn't interact well with others, in particular the ones we'd most like her to be on her best behavior around--namely small children and other dogs.

It's all our fault, really.

You can tell a lot about a person by their dog's behavior. Carmelita speaks volumes about our inconsistency. Sure, we took her to the requisite Puppy Play and Learn classes at the MSPCA. But she spent a lot of time huddled under us on our plastic chairs, like a child sticking close to Mama on the first day of school.  Like that wary child, however, she eventually did join the other dogs in her size range for an extended game of tag. But when she was ready to go to the next level and we learned the multiple-week meeting was on a weeknight in Jamaica Plain, we balked. At the time we figured, she'll get socialized at the dog park. No problem. After all, we had spent $75 to get her a Green Dog license, a yearly program you pay into if you want your dog to be admitted to Brookline's exclusive dog parks.

My husband took her once. She was a bit intimidated by the bigger dogs, which meant she was loudly obnoxious, "talking trash like Kevin Garnett," as my husband likes to put it. Her usual approach when she feels threatened.

But then I was at my in-laws, where I got the chance to catch up on the latest Reader's Digest, the right-wing's answer to my beloved New Yorker. I noticed an article listing veterinarian's advice that "you won't hear at your pet's next exam."  Why they're keeping secrets from their patients, most of whom love their pets so much that they're willing to wipe their dog's little behind with baby wipes after they do their business (oh, is that only me? Awkward...), well I can't say. But one of the advisories was about the dog park. The vet maintained he would not bring his own dog to one because he had seen too many dogs come into his practice with various injuries, some serious.

I imagined Carmelita having to wear a little eye patch because some neighborhood toughie--likely a Husky, I've known at least one that was a total jerk--took her eye out for sassing him. If Brookline had a small dog park I think it would be OK, but as far as I know they don't. They just throw them all together and hope for the best--like public high school, but with claws and teeth.

Kids in our neighborhood have said under their breath, "There goes the BAD dog." And I wince, like I'm escorting a delinquent. The problem with training Carmelita was I didn't want to cap her enthusiasm.  She gets so excited about romping around outside. She loves rolling in grass; no matter how often she does it I always laugh. I admire and envy her unabashed joy.  I don't want a dog that just walks next to me with a blase look on its snout. I want a dog that shows me what it is to live in the moment without fear of being admonished.

Of course, people will say it's actually kinder to discipline the dog--that they look for leadership and authority in their owner. If you don't teach your dog to listen, you could end up with a nippy, high-strung pup who doesn't want to be out of your sight. When our cousins watched Carm for the weekend, they remarked afterward "she's a needy dog."

My consolation was that she didn't pee on their furniture or on them. Much.





Monday, March 4, 2013

Easter comes to Pinterest

Tired of displaying the same holiday decorations year after year? Looking for some new ideas? Own a glue gun or have a dollar store near you? Then forget Martha Stewart--for new seasonal accents go straight to Pinterest, the social media site that allows users to create and share "pinboards" of visuals under categories ranging from the popular New Recipes to the more obscure Felt Creations.

Pinterest goes beyond the traditional (and prissy) ideas we're used to from Ms. Stewart. The visual media site offers ideas from the sublime to the silly to the what the F%&k?.

Take an upcoming holiday as an example. Easter is on March 31. You could decorate with ho-hum peace lilies and PAAS egg coloring kits. Or you can spend an afternoon (or three) creating a wreath using Marshmallow Peeps Yellow Chicks!

  Why eat Peeps when you can make them part of your home decor?

If you were planning to shop at Target or Walmart for new Easter decorations, you might consider a stop at a local thrift store or antiques shop instead. There you might find the sorts of hare-raising vintage tchotchkes that at one time drove children to tears when they went to grandma's house. These kitschy chicks and bunnies are all the rage with some Pinterest followers.

This poor chick has had the top of its head removed 

Speaking of eggs in egg cups, another popular craft project on Pinterest are handmade egg cup cozies. Make one or a dozen--you never know when you're going to need egg cup cozies to keep your guests soft-boiled eggs warm and snuggly!

This is the Carmen Miranda egg cozy

If you don't have time to crochet, you can still get ideas from the Pinterest crowd--like this project, a Sweet Bath Pouf Chick. All you need is a yellow bath pouf, orange craft foam, scissors, and that hot glue gun and you have yourself, well, something vaguely related to the Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Quack Quack

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hey Cutie

Me with my first Valentine, my dad


I like Valentine's Day. I don't care about the naysayers, the scoffers, the "let's-stick-it-to-Valentine's-Day-by-reading-our-essays-about-bad-breakups" people. Hey, not everyone gets to be feted on other made-up holidays, like Mother's Day or Secretary's Day, but I'm not complaining about that.

Valentine's Day has all the elements I favor: pink, flowers, chocolate, fancy restaurant meals, champagne, "presents for pretty girls," as Lucy Van Pelt would say. Too bad Schroeder was too young to be interested in girls.

Sure, I have had some lonely Valentine's Days, especially as a teenager. On Valentine's Day in my high school you could buy carnations to give to your girlfriend/boyfriend or to your best friend. Pink carnations were for friendship and red were for love. That moment when they're giving out flowers at the front of the room was always one of mixed emotions for me. I was fairly certain I would get one from my best friend, Donna, who always had a boyfriend and thought that sending me a carnation signed "Your Secret Admirer" would cheer me up and assure I wouldn't leave the classroom dejected and empty-handed. As sweet at she was to do that, it only made me feel pitiable. But despite my frizzy hair and flat chest and general gawkiness, I also held out a small but unspoken hope that I would get a red carnation from someone I was crushing on.

In my Junior year I got a pink carnation from a guy who I had suspected had a crush on me. He was a shy and quiet towheaded boy whose pale hair and skin seemed to erase him from sight. If I had been smart I would have sent him a carnation, too, thereby assuring myself a date to Prom. But I was holding out for sparks, and there was only weak static between this boy and me.

My elementary school years were much more successful. I remember writing on the backs of dozens of diecuts of Pepe Le Pew and Bugs Bunny to give to my cadre of girlfriends and to any boys I had my eye on. At that age I was outgoing and full of myself, and I hadn't yet mastered the art of subtlety (I would in fact not learn that lesson until much, much later in life.) Most little boys were more interested in the Dukes of Hazzard poster I was giving away from the latest issue of Dynamite! magazine than in receiving valentines from girls.

I remember one Valentine I got in second or third grade. It was a piece of notebook paper, folded over into the shape of one half of a heart, and hastily scribbled red. On the front in black crayon someone had wrote "Hey Cutie" and inside "?" It was the most intriguing Valentine I had ever received. Who thought I was cute? Who was "?" I kept that Valentine hidden away (I didn't want my parents to see it and think I was having sex). I still have it and the mystery remains unsolved. I had my eye on a few suspects: there were two Tonys in my class (I went to school in New Jersey so most of my classmates were Anthony or Dominic or Joey) and unlike the other boys they both liked to flirt with girls.

I had a brief relationship with one of the Tonys--a relationship that lasted from the time he picked me as his partner to sit next to on the bus going on a field trip (that morning my mother had braided my hair and pinned both braids to the top of my head so I looked like a dairy maid in a yogurt commercial--he thought I looked like Princess Leia) to the time when we got off the bus and he started holding hands with another girl.

The other Tony had thick golden blond hair like Ricky Schroeder and used to make semi-obscene comments to me about the Vienna Sausages his mother had packed for his lunch. I didn't understand what he was talking about, but I had enough feminine intuition to suspect he liked me.

Now that I'm married I have a guaranteed Valentine's date for as long as we're together (which I hope is a lifetime). Still, I kind of miss the suspense of wondering who will be my Valentine this year. Who will surprise me this time with a flower or a crudely-folded paper heart?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Becoming my parents

Photo from avonbytheseanj.com

There was an interesting interview on On Point yesterday about people in their thirties and forties realizing that, unlike the independent and unique adults they thought they were, they're actually becoming their parents. The interviewee was James Wood, whose article "Becoming Them: Our Parents, Our Selves" appears in the January 21 issue of The New Yorker. I went and read that essay today and was really moved by it.

Growing up as an only child, I spent most of my childhood idolizing my parents. They were my first and only world for a while. My calm, patient, lovely mother and my handsome, industrious, and outgoing father. It would not be so bad if I was more like them. Sure, I went through some teenage rebellion when I felt my parents were impossibly old-fashioned: my mother warning me against trips to New York City though she traveled alone to Sweden when she was just a girl, and likely rode the subway when she was growing up in Brooklyn; my father disapproving of the short skirts I wore when I was in my early twenties, when my mother had worn skirts of the same length when she was a young woman and he hadn't seemed to mind.

As I got older I also saw shortcomings in my parents that I didn't see when I was younger. As I was realizing what a self-centered little brat I was around them (and still am, at times) when I was growing up, I also saw my mother's irrational fear of traveling alone, something that she wouldn't have given a thought to when she was younger. I saw how my father was taken in by outside appearances, and how when he described a woman--any woman--he would almost always mention her looks. Meanwhile when asked about someone or when telling a story about a new acquaintance, I immediately mentioned their age or what I guessed was their age. I didn't realize I was doing this (and likely my father doesn't, either) until my husband pointed it out to me. How odd, I thought. For years I felt indirectly judged by my father's assessment of people's looks, but here I was doing almost the exact same thing!

I have those wow, I'm becoming them moments more now. When I'm entertaining a guest, even a good friend, I try to outdo myself with the presentation--I overbuy imported cheeses and berries and make a signature cocktail for a crowd of two or at most four people. When a friend of mine came over for tea recently, it was supposed to be a little catch-up time over a cup of tea and maybe some store-bought cookies. Instead I took it as an opportunity to throw a tea party, going as far as to look up ideas on Pinterest for tea sandwiches and table settings and appropriate fruit spreads. This is not unlike what my mother does when she has guests over and what her book group used to admire in her when it was her turn to host meetings. She wanted her guests to feel special--even, or especially, if they were good friends. It wasn't necessarily about impressing people, but treating them with kindness. The amount and quality of food I like to purchase is really a nod to my father, who, on Christmas Eve of this past year, waited on line for 3 1/2 hours outside of Villabate in Brooklyn to get us pounds of fresh cookies and cannolis from the famed bakery. It made the dinner my parents hosted extra-special.

Wood writes in his essay about how in becoming our parents we're also mourning our inevitable loss of them. I have tried to fathom a world that doesn't include my parents' physical presence. I have been lucky to have them in my life for 39 years now. But I also get superstitous about such luck because the longer I have them, the more attached I feel. This might be because I don't have any children of my own, but from reading accounts of other people who do have children, the fear of being orphaned is no different. It's a universal dread.

Wood tells how his father used to like to listen to Beethoven's sonatas on Sundays. He finds himself doing the same thing when he's middle-aged, and he finds it comforting. But when Wood discovers that his now elderly father doesn't listen to classical music on Sundays anymore because of a broken CD player he hasn't replaced, Wood writes, "This idea of him is an old memory of mine, and thus a picture of a younger man's habits--he is the middle-aged father of my childhood, not the rather different old man whom I don't see often enough because I live three-thousand miles away, a man who doesn't care too much whether he listens to music or not. So, even as I become him, he becomes someone else."

I see my husband experiencing some of these moments when he thinks of his own parents, who are twenty years older than mine. But I've been noticing differences, too, in my sixty-ish parents.

When I was visiting them last December without my husband, we had a spontaneous and distressing (to me) talk about what would happen when they die. They wanted me to know that they both preferred cremation, and that they would like their ashes to be scattered over my mother's brother and sister-in-law's horse farm in Jonkoping, Sweden. As much as I had allowed myself to imagine the specifics of their funerals, I had hoped they would ask for side-by-side burial plots so at least when they were gone I could have a visiting place that I could decorate with flowers and mementos of their lives. When they said they wanted their ashes scattered over Lalleryd, I started to cry. I had no problem with my Swedish relatives or their farm--they're good people and it's a beautiful setting. But this was not how the narrative was supposed to go. I grew up with them in New Jersey, a short drive to the Jersey Shore. That is where I wanted to scatter their ashes--over the dunes in Avon-By-The-Sea where we visited as a family and where we walked the boardwalk, my mother taking picture after picture of seagulls and cement benches painted aqua, and the pavilion with windows on all sides. I assumed they felt the same as I did about staying close to where they had spent their years raising me. Again I was displaying the arrogance of children believing they are the center of their parents' universe. It had not occurred to me that they might have other ideas.

Of course, Hurricane Sandy worked its own schism in my plan for my parents' final resting place. Sandy came along and hit and lifted up and slammed down Avon's boardwalk and sand and the white-washed pavilion of my memory. I had convinced my parents to let me spread some of their ashes in the Atlantic Ocean. What I could not do was keep them frozen in time, the same parents I had known and idolized when I was growing up. I had moved on, without fully realizing that they (and my hometown) would too.