Those Big Questions….

Becoming a parent is like joining a club. We become responsible for another human being in a way that’s different from most other relationships- and for moms, these kids really are part of us- science even shows that part of their DNA ends up in our bodies forever. That club means moms will often talk to each other about their kids, the good stuff and the bad, looking for tips, a shoulder to cry on, and just the understanding that comes with having this life-changing experience in common.

As our kids get older and become young adults, parenting evolves as well. We try to give them advice and get them to avoid our own mistakes. We learn, the hard way, that they will often have to get their own set of bruises that life dishes out, and we can’t protect them from these. I will tell my kids “Make all new mistakes- not the same ones I made- trust me!” but they need the lessons these bumps and bruises teach them, even when it’s surrounded by parent frustration and the choking back of words like “I told you so.”

As my kids are transitioning into adulthood, I often find myself trying to provide guidance, but also trying to remember to just shut up sometimes. I provide extra warnings and precautions, not just because I worry about them, but somehow, I believe that these warnings and precautions act like a shield, or a blessing over them, to prevent harm from coming their way.  Silly and superstitious, yes. But I have to say these things sometimes, so if anything horrible does happen, I won’t regret forever having not said the “I love you!  Be careful, drive safe” as they leave the house. I want to keep them safe and happy as much as I can, even though more and more, they are responsible for themselves and what the rest of the world dishes out.

When I found out about a friend’s child dying this week, a child sandwiched right between the ages of my two boys, I was gobsmacked. It makes me worry about the vulnerability of my kids, just at the point in time when we are letting go of the last vestiges of control we think we still have as parents.

Transitioning to Adulthood

When I was that age, I remember feeling really insecure about just about everything.  Of not knowing my place in the world, and only having an inkling of where I thought I should be, only to have life dish up its own surprises and learning that I could be, and should be, on a different track.

I remember confessing to a mentor, worried I would be such a disappointment, about wanting to change fields, and being told “Seriously- if your choices in this life are between getting a PhD in Biology or going to law school, you have no problems.” He was right.  But I needed someone to tell me it was okay to change, to make new choices, to find a better fit, to live my own life and not a life I thought I wanted and conjured for myself at age 11. (That’s a story for another time.) I wonder who those mentors will be for my kids, and I also know that seldom do we get to be those significant adults for our very own children.

There’s a serious temptation, every day, to run away from being a grown up.  The consequences are real.  They’re big. You will have to deal with them a very long time. The thing no one ever tells you is that you stop feeling any older, on the inside, at about age 25 or so.  You get a lot more experience and can make better decisions as a result, but that person is still in there, just trying to figure out the next thing, the next opportunity or responsibility or problem, and hoping people won’t figure out that they handed the reigns to someone who doesn’t always have a clear path or goal in mind from the very beginning.

I remember clearly, as a young person, thinking adults not only had all the power but they just knew stuff and had everything figured out, a plan and agenda in place. When I had my own kids, they did not come with a manual. I had to make all the rules, and I didn’t write them down, either.

I had to learn that so much in life, for me, anyway, is about preparation and improv. I need to be as prepared as I can be, or know where to source information if I need it, but I’m making it up as I go, trying to make the best decisions I can, doing the best I can, I also know I’m going to make mistakes, say something stupid, be awkward, be wrong, and I still have to move forward.

The hardest lesson for me has been to learn to allow myself to make mistakes, to forgive myself for being stupid and awkward, and move on as gracefully as possible. Humility. Life serves up a lot of it, and the key is that admitting mistakes is so much better than trying to cover them up or pretend they never happen at all.

Those Grownup Secrets

I don’t know how to teach these grown-up secrets to my kids. How do you give them a great foundation and trust you have good advice and know stuff when you are also admitting how much you don’t know at the same time? How do I let them know that there is no perfect other than pushing yourself to do your best, without also feeling like I didn’t figure out what it was like to really work hard until some time in law school? How do I tell them that I know what I can do to grind out a big project, but that I also struggle with balancing hard work and the joy of goofing off and enjoying life?

The hardest words to say are often I Don’t Know. I don’t know if it will turn out ok. I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know if they’ll make it. I don’t know how to fix it, or if it can be fixed.

My kids once recorded me saying “Honey, I was Wrong” and turned it into a ringtone for my husband’s phone, making fun of the fact that I was annoyingly, often right and rarely wrong, but I actually pride myself on saying things like “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry”. They aren’t always easy to say, but I try to apologize after I fly off the handle about something or make something a bigger deal than it really is.

The lesson of adulthood may be, in the end, learning to accept imperfection, even when folks are trying their best, and it turns out to fall short. It’s to accept what we have control over and what we don’t, and finding a way to become comfortable with that, even when it deals us huge blows.

 

It’s time to brush off the blues and to get on with it.  2017 will be a year full of its own challenges, but facing it with a positive face will take us mich farther than looking at a glass half full. There’s lots of potential for joy and good out there, and it’s time to revel in as much of it as possible.

I hope your 2017 is magical. We need it.

Uncategorized

GOODBYE 2016!

It’s Tuesday, December 27th 2016, and I just found out Carrie Fisher, who we all know and love as Princess Leia, passed away.

This ends a year where many famous people have passed away that played a role in the pop culture that makes up my childhood and young adulthood.

I loved David Bowie and his music, and I will always remember his performance of Dancing In the Streets with Mic Jagger at the opening of Live Aid in Philadelphia.

I also remember him in the weird and wonderful movie Labyrinth. Bowie was always cool, mysterious, and inaccessible in some ways. But his music was part of the pop culture backdrop for many of us whose “formative years” were in the 80’s.

Then we lost Prince.  Who was suffering from hip pain (just when we’re all feeling older ourselves). Prince was the cool cat of the 80’s and 90’s. who had songs you danced to, wondering what 1999 would ever be like, when it seemed so far away.

Just a few days ago, George Michael joined the list, one of those folks whose music made us happy and want to dance, and also taught us a lot about tolerance at the same time.

Then we lost Gene Wilder, who I loved from Willie Wonka and from Blazing Saddles equally, not to mention The Producers and Young Frankenstein.

We lost Alan Rickman, who my kids appreciate as Snape in the Harry Potter movies, but I loved him in Truly, Madly Deeply and the January Man long before I had ever heard of the Boy Wizard.

We lost Florence Henderson and Alan Thicke, who played the TV parents we all kinda wished we had, particularly when in the middle of teen angst, we thought our parents were the worst and didn’t understand us a lick.  Now that we’re parents ourselves, these family sitcoms are no longer the norm, so our kids don’t see parenting and family in the same rosy bubble as we did watching The Brady Bunch, Growing Pains, or Family Ties.

Bill Cosby hasn’t passed away, but the wheels came off his perfect Dad image last year and he’s been in court locally this year, so it’s the death knell to those memories of fatherly perfection as well.

Then there’s Gary Marshall, who made half the TV shows I grew up with- from Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy to sappy rom-coms I love, ranging from The Princess Diaries, to Pretty Woman to Overboard and even Beaches.

Leonard Cohen died- there’s not enough to be said about his music.

And eve the wacky Zsa Zsa Gabor died, who we basically knew from Green Acres (or was that her sister?) and being center square on game shows we watched while home sick.

And now Carrie Fisher and even the guy who played R2-D2 passed away this year, making Star Wars, which I saw when I was around 10, seem so very long ago. But Star Wars is something my whole generation is getting to relive and reshare with our kids with the new movies coming out, making it feel like a bridge from our childhoods to those of our kids.

All of this is making me feel old today.  It makes me feel like my childhood is REALLY over now, and I’m really an adult. I’ve always felt a little younger than everyone else, in part to being the youngest in my class all through school. But now the folks who helped really mold the Gen-X culture are passing away.  The folks who were perhaps not our contemporaries, but certainly the influences in fashion, attitude and everything are ebbing away one by one.

2016 feels like a watershed moment in many ways.

The MTV generation has finally had to grow up.  Our heroes are breaking hips and having heart attacks, and no longer just dying in the tragic but fundamentally reckless way that we would perhaps expect to happen, like when John Belushi passed away.

I want to go hide under a blanket.

But instead, we’ll get up and do the grown up thing.

But how I wish I could stop adulting for just a few hours, and go back to sometime around 1984, when I first met my now husband, and experience that carefree joy that wasn’t interrupted constantly by texts, emails and calls, and the need to be available 24 x 7.

Goodbye 2016.  May 2017 be better in just about every way.

Uncategorized

Nine Things My Dog has in Common with Donald Trump

DarwinMy husband and I took the dog for a walk this afternoon, and we started thinking about how much our furry kid had in common with The Donald.

Both require a handler (or two.) Darwin is 18 months old – a Bernedoodle- and weighs north of 85 pounds, so controlling him can be a challenge, especially with outsized enthusiasm.  It seems he and Donald require handlers most of the time rather than running free,otherwise, who knows who they might bowl over?

 

Spade & DiamondBoth seem to enjoy chasing pussy (cats). Our two maine coon cats certainly hold their own and basically give the bouncy boy a run for his money.  He always seems playful, but the cats much prefer staying out of reach, much like many women in Donald’s sphere.

Both look for a surprise advantage, without thinking of the consequences.  In the case of the dog, it’s taking advantage of food left too close to the edge of the counter, never considering the consequences of this, even when he has a training collar on.  Remind you of anyone?

img_6149Both are Surprised They’ve Done Anything Wrong. Darwin will give you a look that says “Huh?  That wasn’t ok?  Since when?  I never got that memo!” Also sound too familiar when thinking of Donald.

Both Can Be Single-Minded in their Pursuits. At least when Darwin decides he’s going to chase a squirrel or eat the cat food, the consequences don’t have international fallout.

Both Look a Little Guilty for a Few Minutes, But Then, It’s All Over- For Them.  At least when a dog misbehaves, he can get over it- but it still makes us rethink our strategies for everything from storage of shoes to where we keep the dog treats. Donald likewise leaves wreckage in his wake, but similarly does not seem to care or remember it’s even happened.

We continually Hope Both will Grow Up.  Having a big dog means understanding that he will be a rambunctious puppy, but that it’s imperative to train him and help him learn manners. We know age will help calm darwin down a bit, but at 70, when will Donald finally grow up?

Both seem immune to Consequences- from time to time- and we make excuses for them.  At least when Darwin was a puppy, if he peed on the run, it was sort of expected, and we understood this was part of being a dog. I’ve seen people tying themselves in knots trying to explain Mr. Trump’s behavior- and frankly, my excuses for the dog, as a puppy, were more convincing.

img_6757

We hope their behavior will improve with experience and training- but sometimes, it doesn’t seem to stick.  We had to get a trainer and a training collar to help Darwin learn all the rules- a little shock can do wonders- but sometimes, he decides he just doesn’t want to listen, regardless of the consequences.  Trump likewise seems to go off and chase his own version of squirrels, even if his advisors have told him how wrong this is.

In the end, someone will still love him, no matter how bad he’s been.  I hate to admit it, but even after Darwin chewed my favorite shoes, I was mad for a while, but I forgave him. No matter what Trump does, there will always be some people who will love him and make excuses for him, no matter how egregious the behavior.

I just hope we’re smart enough to elect someone with a better and more consistent character than my 18 mo old Bernedoodle.

 

 

Uncategorized

Lessons Of The Empty Nest

Both of my kids are off at college for the first time.  It means there’s a lot more quiet, and a lot less laundry at home. That sounds great, but it’s an adjustment to a different sort of lifestyle, and I know it’s going to take a bit of time to find a new normal. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. You need even fewer groceries than you think. I’ve been shopping for the appetite of teen boys, so I am used to milk, eggs and bread flying out of here in a few days.  I need much less fruit than I think, which is causing me to have more smoothies than I thought possible, in order to avoid wasting it.
  2. The quiet is awesome, but it’s also loud.  I remember wanting to have a little quiet to just think- but now, the quiet is almost lonely, especially at night. Being home alone without anything that has to get done seems like a dream for moms in a busy household, but the sudden silence can seem empty. The antidote to this will be found in friends and projects- and of course, the endless need to entertain the dog.
  3. Timing is different. Having uninterrupted time to get projects done is terrific, but there are fewer “timed stops” in the day, like when the kids would come home from school, signaling time to start getting dinner ready, etc. Now when my husband is late, it’s no longer about eating dinner in two shifts, but potentially either cooking later or putting things away and letting him heat things up when he comes home.  We will need to find a new pattern that works- I suspect there will be more soups and stews that are easily reheated in our future.
  4. There’s no real backup. Over the past few years, my kids have taken on more of the household responsibilities, from running grocery errands, to taking out the trash. When no one is home but me, it’s on me to take care of it.  There’s less to do, but no one to share the responsibility.  With a recent bout of bronchitis, being home alone seemed lonely and even a little scary after a particularly bad coughing fit.
  5. It’s made me more sensitive to people living alone. My husband has had a couple of business trips lately, so I have really been home alone, with no one else other than the pets to worry about. Time seems to stretch in ways it did not with so much more activity in the house. Developing a schedule and a list of things to accomplish will hopefully structure this time,especially on weekends, so it doesn’t seem so daunting. I know I’ll get used to this, but it makes me sensitive to what it’s got to be like when you live 100% alone.

I’m so glad I have my day job as well as my job as an elected official.  Keeping busy is what I have been doing for so long, I don’t really remember very well what it was like to have nothing to do. And surprisingly, it’s a bigger adjustment than I thought it was going to be.

I’ll find a new groove, but this is a time of flux, and it’s a little weird.  If you see me roaming the park with the dog more often than before, you’ll know why!

Uncategorized ,

The Problem With Politics in 2016

When you turn on the TV, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s easy to find examples of people behaving badly. I have been mystified for a long time about the dramatic change in the tone, especially on the national level, where the emphasis seems to be on obstructionism rather than working towards a solution together.  People are always willing to give you a superficial reason, based on race, religion or other convenient labelling factors. I think the problem is a bit deeper than that, and it’s something I’m learning now that I’ve finally become an elected official myself, albeit at a local level.

We have managed to conflate respect for the office someone holds and respect for them personally, their ideas and positions. 

This would be okay in any other day and age. We have long agreed that if we elect someone to high office, we have to give deference to their opinions and viewpoints, because, after all, a majority of our fellow citizens put their faith in them and pulled the lever on election day. Even if we thought they were a bit crazy, we assumed they had enough other people around them acting as advisors and quashing the crazy before it went public.

The Great Evening of the Playing Field

Now we have the internet, where everyone has a voice.  Everyone is potentially a great novelist or the unibomber- and we’re never quite sure how to evaluate the veracity of what we see and read. But society has told us for years that if it’s written down, and it’s not labelled fiction, it’s truth, or as Steven Colbert one said, it has “truthiness” to it.

Entrepreneurs and successful businessmen used to have to work a lifetime to build something. Now we laud the 20 something entrepreneur who has instant success instead, which devalues all the steps that the “old-fashioned” business person went to in order to build their business, brick by brick. It doesn’t seem to matter, at least in the media, that there are as many failures and successes in both these realms- it’s just too much fun to laud the successful and make it all seem easy.

I’ve had ongoing arguments for years with friends who have said things along the lines of “traditional education is no longer relevant, my experience is all that matters” only for some of them to run into a wall later on when a job they want requires a degree, or advanced degree.

Transfer this to the political season this year, and we see the “establishment” candidates who believe in the traditional way of working your way up to the top in politics, versus Mr. Trump, who worked his way up in the business world, and through an ivy-league education as well. Trump seems to upend the “one path to power” rule in politics, and the Establishment isn’t quite sure how to react or respond.

My point here is that people always use certain credentials as proxies for how smart or talented you are, and whether you should be trusted with real power.

What qualifies as credentials and experience worthy of respect and qualification for the job at hand has changed dramatically.

What People Respect:

  1. Hard work and success in business or academia or both.
  2. Good communication skills and likability.
  3. The ability to be organized, set a goal and meet it, in any aspect of life.
  4. Street smarts AND Book smarts.
  5. Experience, as long as you can talk about it and connect it to the present situation at hand, quickly and cogently.
  6. Authenticity. Speaking from the heart and telling people the truth as you see it, even if you are hyperbolic in your assessments, plays better than scripted and tested.
  7. Honesty.
  8. Truth.
  9. Vulnerability mixed with Strength of convictions.
  10. Taking one for the team. We like people who take risks and are willing to give things a try we never would, and we both root for them and console them afterwards. We may not always love the loser, but we respect that they had more guts to give it a go than we did.

What People Don’t Respect:

  1. Acting like a know it all. You can be smart, but not smug.
  2. No one wants a lecture- it brings up too many childhood memories. We know Mom was right, but it doesn’t mean we ever really want to admit it out loud.
  3. Meanness. You can be hard on those who seem like slackers, but don’t pick on the vulnerable who never had a chance. Kids and puppies always get a pass. Anyone over 15 making a mistake that looks like meanness or bullying can become a pariah.
  4. Not Working, however that is defined. It’s the reason stay at home moms and dads have such a hard time when they go back to the workplace. It’s not that we don’t know how hard a job being a parent is- I know four year olds that could out-negotiate people in the State Department- but somehow, the lack of money and doing something that involves investing in the future- in the lives of our kids and our communities, doesn’t have that immediate tangible outcome the wider world seems to value more.
  5. Volunteer work. We give lip-service to respecting volunteer work, and we know how vital it is. But during a debate, my opponent sneered at my community service in a way that truly shocked me, and drove this point home- that not everyone thinks giving back to the community is a proxy for moral and ethical commitment, but simply as a waste of your time.  That was eye opening. Volunteerism is largely undervalued by our politics except when it looks like a photo op.  This annoys me to no end.

How This Plays Out

I’ve heard people high up in party politics not to tell people if you have graduated from an Ivy League college. In most of life, this fact acts as a proxy for people assuming you are smart, or smart enough. It says you were bright and hard working in high school, and stuck with the whole program long enough to earn a degree, and everything that went into that process. However, on TV each morning, I see commercials saying a degree is a degree. That may or may not be true, but I know a lot of alumni associations and brand name schools that will be in serious trouble if their brand for excellence is equivalent with any online school out there. Somehow, we do still buy in that Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Wharton mean something. At least for now.

Likewise, we’ve had a popular culture that gives massive amounts of attention to people who are largely famous for being famous or from famous families- The Kardashians and Paris Hilton come to mind.We’re removing the filters and proxies we’ve traditionally used to qualify someone for a position or job in public life, and instead use mere fame as a metric.  Which brings us back to the rise of Mr. Trump, someone with traditional qualification from education and the business world, jumping in and upsetting Establishment politics.

He is the poster child for someone exploiting our frustrations with the grownups we thought we put in charge- the traditional establishment folks who played things by the traditional pathway to public office, with the possible exception of Fred Gandy, a.k.a. Gopher from the Love Boat and Al Franken.

When I see Mitch McConnell giving the President a hard time and refusing to even talk to him, I see that as not only being disrespectful to Mr. Obama, but to the Office of President. You don’t have to like Barry Obama, Mr. McConnell, but you do have to listen and respect President Obama, just like he needs to respect Senator McConnell. Both of you were elected and entrusted by millions of people with forging a future and making decisions on our behalf, and you need to both act like adults, regardless of what the other one has said about your mother. But as long as our officials are conflating the personal with the office they hold, they end up denigrating the respect the rest of us have traditionally given to high office.

Now, as a result, we’re willing to listen to just about anyone. Common sense versus rhetoric is in demand, and your brand of political tantrum has left the Country distrustful of the system as a whole, no matter who is holding office.  And we wonder why the traditional political parties are in chaos? It’s hard to remain respectful of adults who are acting like children, and I have said, and heard friends say, what they need are a bunch of moms to go down there, ground these guys and put them in time out until they decide they can play nicely with others.

The electorate looks like they have decided to step up and put the warring toddlers in time out. It’s like a Mom who is frustrated after hours of arguing and cajoling her kids saying “Well, then, I guess we’ll just have to wait until your father gets home.  Then you’ll see what happens.” Voters are desperately looking for the adult in the room, and we can’t see to find one.  Then why should we be at all surprised when they support someone like Mr. Trump who looks like that “Take a Stand” dad?

I don’t think he’s the right guy, but I do understand why lots of people think so, and it’s largely because we no longer respect the traditional rules that have shaped our society. Too many people who have followed the rules and end up downsized in their late 50’s without  a lot of prospects are angry and distrustful. It’s an angry ocean of disaffected people, looking for a life ring, and there aren’t a lot of people offering a return to that sense of security we all really want. The difference is some folks think we have to find a new normal, and others still think we can just “fix it” and return to the early 90’s, if not way earlier, to a time when things seemed to be pretty awesome, even if there was an ugly underbelly there as well. (There is no more clear example of this than the recent Bill Cosby scandal. We want the Cosby show values and mystique, without out the philandering on the side)

The difference between the candidates and political parties is that some folks think we have to find a new normal, and others still think we can just “fix it”, Let’s just return to the early 90’s, if not way earlier, to a time when things seemed to be pretty awesome, even if there was an ugly underbelly there as well. (There is no more clear example of this than the recent Bill Cosby scandal. We want the Cosby show values and mystique, without out the philandering on the side) On the other hand, people are struggling with the fact that things are different, and want leadership to take us into a new future, but we still want more security and less disruption.

It’s the allure of Nostalgia versus people willing to take the lead in cutting the brush into a new, but uncertain future. It’s scary, and everyone is looking for someone they can have faith in, someone they feel they can trust.

It’s a tough choice, but we’re going to have to make one in November.

 

Uncategorized , , ,