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Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Sofa Full of Memories: A Curbside Send-Off to a Dear Friend

It was roughly ten years ago that my husband and I fell in love - well, at least deep liking. Oh, not with each other - we'd already done THAT! No, the object of our affection was a golden tweed sofa, with threads of hunter green and burgundy. We built a living room and a color scheme around that sofa, and we planned a life on that sofa, sitting together on its, then, youthful and springy cushions. So it was with a great mix of emotions that we hauled the sofa out to the curb and sent it on its way. After a barrage of attacks by the claws of our house cats had exposed the fluffy white innards, it was decided that maybe it was time for something new. I had my reservations, though, and on the day when Newbie (a.k.a. the new sofa) arrived at my front door, instead of letting the delivery men haul away my old friend, I, instead, had them take the old sofa up two flights of stairs and put her down in one of the guest rooms. Sure, I had some misgivings, and sure my husband wasn't thrilled that the cat's scratching post was now taking up valuable real estate in a guest room, but I figured he come around and realize just how important this sofa had been in our lives.

It was on that sofa that we shared our first Christmas morning as husband and wife, and onto which I sank when I came home from work with the flu one terrible winter day. That ratty old sofa was the site of lazy post-church Sunday afternoon naps and marathon crossword puzzle and Sudoku sessions. It was where we shared quiet New Year's Eve dinners and entertained family for boisterous Easter Sunday feasts. From that sofa, we watched epic snowstorms and torrential downpours. The cats had established a watchtower on the back of the sofa, a perch from which they noted our arrivals and departures. Our sofa was our nexus of family life.

Letting go of this sofa's been really difficult for me, and, well, the cats. I've been trying to get at the root of my issue. Full disclosure - I've always had a problem with letting go of everything from old clothes to old cars. I've tried to be better about this, I mean, I don't want to turn into one of those people in "Hoarders"!! But, seriously, letting go of an old sofa obviously means more than the sum of its threads. That sofa is a piece of our history and it will never exist again, only the memories we have with it. This is the dilemma of existence, I suppose, the end of things. But the end of one thing can mean the beginning of new things, wondrous things!!! I think I just had my a-ha moment!?? Things end but new things begin and our memories live on - I feel like Oprah, or a Jedi.

So, dear old sofa, my overstuffed friend, I bid you goodbye. I wish you calm seas and prosperous voyage as you sail into the mystic - OK, I've had way too much Van Morrison today! I'm just saying:)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Old Age: A Field Guide

This week, between my parents' celebration of their 49th wedding anniversary and a visit from my mother-in-law, I had to finally face up to all of my fears about aging. When I was a little girl, in single-digits, I couldn't wait to be older, well, by older, I meant somewhere between old enough to live on my own, but young enough to look fabulous - so, 21 years old, or somewhere in that neighborhood.

Being young, well, you just can't beat it, at least for some things. When you're young and say something moderately intelligent, you're a genius. You're all potential - untapped, raw, and powerful. You are clever, but not in that cold and calculating way that us older people are. And if it seems like I'm raining on the Young People parade, well, I am, but that's only because I've caught a glimpse of the future and it's a bit scary. For all that I've read and experienced in the years before I was thirty, for all of the places I've been and people I've seen in this great big world, I'm scared that as I enter the seventh and eighth decades of my life, my world will only get much smaller. Out there, at a point in the future, concerns about the cab ride over to Gatwick from Heathrow for that trip to the Canary Islands will be replaced with a vague feeling that I can't remember my name or what year it is or which house is mine. Old age is some deeply scary &%#*!!

And so this week, as I found myself listening as Mom and Dad related the wonders of the 4:30pm seating at the Borgata dinner buffet, I started thinking about growing old. Will my husband and I be as thrilled at getting the first seating at some casino buffet somewhere in the future as we are now about getting the 8:00pm seating at Restaurant Eve? Will we be as giddy at a dollar store as we are now scanning the racks of Nordstrom? Will we keep our home at 75 degrees Fahrenheit and complain about how cold it feels?

We spend such an awful lot of energy just trying to make it to old age, but I don't think that we've ever really thought about what we'll do when we get to that magical, aged "there."  So, I'm doing just that right now. Here is the I'm Just Saying Field Guide for Old Age, Or Those Contemplating Old Age:

  1. Don't retire - What do people most like to talk about when you first meet? Their jobs and their families. From CEOs to stay-at-home moms, we are what we do, and we love to talk about what we do. It defines us, for better or worse, so why stop? Also, it's a great way to pass the time, stay social, and keep your mental batteries charged.
  2. Forget Florida and Think NYC - Unless you lived in Florida or Arizona or Nevada or whatever other Old People Mecca before you reached retirement age, then don't move there NOW!! Go where there's stuff to do, and people to meet, like the city that never sleeps, New York, New York. At some point, when you no longer want to/should drive a car, you'll want to have easy access to public transportation and there's no better place than a major metropolitan area. You'll also have access to museums, restaurants, and other attractions that will just make life more fun.
  3. Stay High-Tech -  In the winter of 2011 my mom sent her first text message. It would also be her last. She'd been signed up for a free text messaging trial by her mobile phone company, but little did they know that my mom had a strange tech immunity which started when she retired from work some 15 years ago. Mom doesn't send emails (probably because she doesn't have an email account), Mom doesn't do online banking, and Mom doesn't surf the web on her PDA (and no, she doesn't know what a PDA is, or even the 1990s meaning of PDA). Strive to be that granny listening to your iPod while you're taking your Seniors Zumba class. Whip out your iPad while you're in the waiting room prior to your cataract surgery.
  4. Ditch the Socks and Sandals - Staying stylish is a challenge for most seniors. You may be on a fixed income and can't afford Seven for All Mankind jeans. Or you may have developed certain physical conditions which preclude trucking around in a pair of Jimmy Choo's. So while you're sipping on that coffee or tea at the Barnes and Noble at 8:00am, pick up a Vogue or a GQ to see the latest styles and then head over to Target for a less expensive alternative.
Now, I know some of these may seem unrealistic. My mother in law thought I'd lost it when I told her my brilliant New York City retirement plan - there was some mention of rent and expenses, or something along those lines. But if life is for the living, then why not live it from edge to edge, being busy and vital at every stage?? Not too many years ago I met a lovely woman named Marguerite. She was in her 90s, and after a life of marriage and children and photography, she was almost blind and living in a high rise senior apartment, but she was far from done when it came to her creative self. As her eyesight began to fail, she learned pottery and ceramics, creating a new outpouring of work. Marguerite refused to let go of the creative spark that had propelled her through her first 90 years.

But maybe Marguerite's case highlights why a lot of us really fear joining the senior citizen brigade. There are quite a few of us walking around in our 30- and 40-something bodies living smack in the middle and not along those glorious, thrilling edges. Aging forces us to confront opportunities missed and opportunities wasted and sends us out to either make it up or make peace. Old age may be scary, but I can think of something even scarier! I'm just saying:)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Make It Stop: The Attack of the Stick Figure Family Car Stickers!!

It started innocently enough - a Christmas card from some distant family relation arrived in our mailbox, and in the top left corner of the envelope there it was, actually, there THEY were - 4 stick figures - one shaped like "mom", the other like "dad", and a boy and a girl. The name of the family appeared underneath in jolly Comic font, along with their address, so that I could know just where to find the merriment. And thus, I was thrust into the world of Family Stickers - a multi-million dollar business with various sales outlets. On a typical car ride from my home, I spy dozens of mini-vans, steroidal SUVs, and station wagons with a trio, quartet, or quintet of stick figure family members in their rear windows. And you know something - it's annoying the hell out of me!

I know, I'm raining on someone's parade, but these stick figures are as irritating an addition to the backsides of cars as are those "my child is an honor roll student" bumper stickers that shot to fame in the '90s! When a few people had them, I'll admit, they were quirky, a bit off-beat, but now, they've become like a battering ram, like a requirement for the well-adjusted, all-American, nuclear family. 

I guess in this age of the over-share, letting complete strangers waiting at the traffic light know the size and make-up of your family seems a harmless indulgence, but seriously, I'm just waiting at the traffic light, not trying to strike up a friendship! I mean, what do you need all of the attention for, anyway?? Why do you require windshield validation for your life choices??

If you're proud of your family, then awesome, post their cute pics on Facebook, start a blog for your closest friends and family members. Oh, you're already doing that?? So then why the stick figure family?

I've seen one car in the grocery store parking lot for the past four years. They began with 3 stick figures - mom, dad, baby. Then they upped it to 4 - mom, dad, baby, dog. Then the 4 became 6 - yep, you guessed it - TWINS!!! So - mom, dad, 2 new babies, son, dog. But, I guess that wasn't enough because the last time I saw that car it had a new figure - number 7 if you're having a hard time keeping up. This latest figure - a cat, yes, that's just what that family needed, one more life form in need of care and upkeep, and ordering more damn stickers!!

So, look, I'm going to try to be a bit less bitter about this whole thing, and to do this, I propose a line of stick figure stickers for people in single and non-traditional lifestyles. There's the female stick figure with a briefcase and a cat. Or maybe the two dads, their two babies, and the surrogate.  What about the single guy who's a serial monogamer - this stick figure would come with a dozen female stick figures and big red "Xs" to delineate a break-up. What? You find that too extreme and a bit TMI - well, welcome to my world! I'm just saying:)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Love and Marriage and Race

The month of June is always a special time for my husband and I because it was it was on June 12, 1967 that the Supreme Court made the landmark decision that would make interracial marriage legal. The couple at the center of the case was a white man named Richard Loving and his black wife, Mildred Loving. Many celebrate Loving Day every June 12 in honor of this brave couple who paved the way for that "post racial" society every poet has longed for, and in 2011, in a country whose President is the product of a black and white union, and where blended celebrity couples like Heidi Klum and Seal or Ice-T and Coco, regularly strut the red carpet, it would seem that our country's come a long way from its segregationist past. But I have to say, "not so fast!"

The reality is that for every Kardashian sister crossing the color line, there are still vast sections of the American public who aren't as race-neutral as they think they are when it comes to dating and romance. While surveys, such as the Pew Research Center's study that showed an 83% approval rate for interracial dating in the U.S., have been trotted out in recent years to show how far we've come, mainstream dating website eHarmony vigorously defended its policies against interracial matches. It seems there's a disconnect between what we say and what we do.

Even among my own friends and family, there is a wide gap between theory and practice. While they have been nothing but supportive of my marriage, they've never entertained the thought of crossing the color line. For my parents and their generation, it simply wasn't done. But for my contemporaries, who, like me, grew up watching Tom and Helen Willis hold their own against George Jefferson every week on CBS, race and dating is a complicated affair. No one wants to think that they harbor racist thoughts, but I do wonder if the foul-mouthed puppets of "Avenue Q" were right when they sang, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist", well, at least when it comes to dating.

We tend to date who we know and people with whom we share common ties - music, favorite films, and other cultural references. These same rules often apply to our friendships, too. So take a look at your friends and your friends' friends - what do you see? Is it more United Colors of Benetton or the runways of Fashion Week Milan??  Is it more NBA or PGA and less FIFA??  Have you ever asked your friends of different races if they'd ever considered dating someone who's your race?

I must admit that I've asked that question, with varying degrees of success. One former black friend gave me a scathing rebuke for daring to become a "checkerboard chick" given this country's history of slavery, and one former white friend said there was no way he could bring a black woman home to his family. The reactions of both of these people really hurt me, truth be told, because the one challenged my blackness and the other rejected my blackness. And yes, I used the word rejected because if you can be friends with someone of a different race, why wouldn't you be open to dating or marrying someone of that different race? If you're lucky enough to find someone who loves you and wants to spend their life with you, then why should their race be the reason to reject them? From what I've seen, religion seems more divisive than race.

Love in a post-Loving world is an interesting and strange thing, and my hope is that once we really open ourselves to the depths of each other, that the strange won't seem so strange at all. I'm just saying:)

Friday, June 10, 2011

And the Prize for Worst Birth Announcement Goes To...

So, I guess it wasn't enough that Congressman Underpants' online activities have been made public and that the Weiner name has been defiled! Now, it seems, the unruly Rep. has taken it to the fetus with the news of his wife's pregnancy being leaked to the press. That's one HELL of a birth announcement, don't you think?? Most people invite their close friends and family members over for a nice dinner party or brunch and, somewhere around dessert and with their arms tightly wound 'round each other, say the words, "we're pregnant" to which those gathered surround them with hugs and kisses and musings as to which parent the little one will resemble most. For us ordinary people, this seems to be how it goes, and I imagine it's much the same for those in the public eye, albeit with some additional flourishes - you know, the press speculation when a starlet suddenly trades in her tight, bandage Herve Leger dress for something loose and baggie, and then, the inevitable announcement on Dave Letterman or on Conan followed by a spread in People magazine or US Weekly on pregnancy style and fitness. I wonder if the little Weiner kid is cursing his dad, in-utero, for stealing his thunder!

OK, I know it's been a tough week for the Weiner family, but I have to wonder if the thought of reporters using Anthony Weiner's sexting as a segue to talk about his child may finally put the brakes on Weiner's XXX extra-curricular photography.  Granted, the humiliation and subsequent resignation of his fellow New York Congressman, Christopher Lee, for his shirtless pics didn't seem to affect Weiner's appetite. And his engagement and marriage to a smart woman who dated George Clooney - let me repeat that - GEORGE CLOONEY - didn't curb Weiner's enthusiasm. Oh, and the fact that Congressional Democrats have been in the middle of the legislative equivalent of a knife-fight with House Republicans so it's probably not a great idea to do something stupid!!! You know what, maybe Baby Weiner won't have any impact at all on Daddy Weiner's behavior.

I know, I sound hopeless, but I've been wronged!! It used to be that when a so-so guy got the hot girl, he treated her like a queen, you know, like in "The Revenge of the Nerds" when the nerd hooks up with the object of his desire and then, in "Nerds" Sequel land, they marry each other. This is the myth that has become nature's great equalizer - pretty girls date the hot guys, and marry the nice guys. The Weiners of the world are the nice guys the hot girls have children with and grow families with - they're solid, dependable and loyal. So now, we ladies can't trust the nice guys anymore??!!!

Look, I hope I'm wrong and I'm also hoping that once another scandal bubbles up and Weiner's on the back-burner  that he and his wife can spend the next nine months arguing over baby names and figuring out the color of the nursery. I wish them three-trimesters of car-seat installation classes and pre-natal yoga and funky food cravings, and baby-proofing their home, specifically the family computer and daddy's Blackberry, as those areas can be quite dangerous...I'm just saying:)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Weiner-gate's Shocking End!

So, it seems that the wiener was Weiner's!! Oh, like I'm the only one who thought of this! But, late this afternoon, Representative Weiner finally copped to the cheesy Twitter pics that have made the rounds of every media outlet, and, in a shocking twist, fessed up to having phone sex and other "encounters" with other women he met online. What the wha???  At the obligatory press conference/feeding frenzy, Rep. Weiner teared up as he expressed his deep regret, and, of course, his intention not to resign. While I applaud him for not inviting his wife to stand by his side, I'm not thrilled that he admitted that his wife, who works for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, knew of his predilection for inappropriate online activities before they were married. Wow, I can already hear the GOP staffers booking the committee rooms for their hearings!

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, and not because his last name is Weiner, but because politics seems to be perpetually populated by slightly nerdy/semi-attractive guys who confuse the power of their political office with personal sexual pulchritude. Good grief, guys! I mean, you don't see Nancy Pelosi or Senator Olympia Snowe Tweeting topless pics of themselves!! And it'll be a cold day in hell before you see the fearless Senator Barbara Mikulski seated between two house cats and describing the two felines using an alternate, smutty term that I won't write (for a hint, fill in the blanks of this song title: "What's New -----cat!" Still stumped, how about this James Bond film, "Octo-----"). But, oddly enough, Rep. Weiner engaged in both of the above behaviors. I tell you, this ranks somewhere between the discovery of a sex tape starring Screech from "Saved by the Bell" and...sorry, I lost my train of thought thinking about Screech and that sex tape.

You know, maybe Weiner is the victim of all of this. In the smash Broadway hit, "Avenue Q", the characters sing a little ditty called, "The Internet is for Porn." It's a rollicking little tune in a catchy 4/4 time with a chorus that goes like this:

The Internet is for porn,
The Internet is for porn,
Why do you think the net was born?
Porn, porn, porn!

How can you expect a busy Congressman to avoid the lure of the double-click? And  heck, he was aided and abetted by the House of Representatives when they issued him a Blackberry, thus, putting the tools of his destruction in a portable device, although Rep. Weiner doesn't remember if he used his government issued B-Berry to do the deed, so we'll have to continue to speculate on that one!

So, as Weiner-gate draws to a close, and the media start the countdown to the resignation announcement press conference, followed by the press statement announcing Weiner's voluntary enrollment in a private treatment facility for his sex addiction, then the special election for his replacement, the congressional hearings on his alleged mis-use of government property, etc., ad nauseum, there will be one man sleeping quite well tonight and his name is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I'm just saying!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Year of Yes: The Chronicles of a Church Volunteer

This month marks the completion of a year-long experiment in my spiritual life to engage more deeply with my church. It began last June when I accepted Rev. Erika's (that's right, I'm naming names!) invitation to participate in my church's annual Vacation Bible School program - a one-week religious day camp filled with daily worship, classroom instruction, and fun activities for children 4 years old and up. It seems my ADD was a good match with the high-energy demands of the pre-school set, and so Rev. Erika asked me to continue on, this time as a Sunday school teacher for the September through May cycle of classes. Well this I really had to think about. I mean one week during summer was easy-peasy, but the thought of having to turn up every Sunday morning was a challenge to me. And while I'm not a serial church-skipper (among my group of friends, I've definitely logged more in-church hours than most!), I have that Gen-X Existentialist streak which makes "obligation" a four-letter word. Saying yes would mean having to consistently think up something to do, something interesting and educational.

And did I mention that the class would consist of 3-year-olds?

That's right, toddlers - the most feared group of children, well, other than teens. Known for their cunning and guile, 3-year-olds (known in the Sunday school biz as "3s") were notorious for their short attention spans, pre-verbal run-on sentences, and their inability to color inside of the lines and use scissors. It would be like entering into the lions' den, you know, if all of the lions were just above your knees. But Rev. Erika offered me some assurances - the kids would be potty-trained (check!), I'd be part of a team of teachers for my class (check, check!!), and, I wouldn't be responsible for planning a lesson every week (check, check, check!). So, I said yes.

Any good journey into uncharted territory begins with, of course, the right accessories, and so a series of shopping trips was in order. I found a wonderful religious bookstore in my neighborhood. I'd been there before on a mission to find birthday cards for some of my born-again relatives, but I'd never really hung out there. I found the children's section and hit the jackpot, scoring Bible story coloring books, as well as a book on creative projects for toddlers. I found a children's Bible with a cartoon Moses and cartoon Jesus, and an interactive, magnetic big book that told the Advent and Christmas stories. The next stop was the craft store where I went hog-wild in the felt department, and found sheets of construction paper featuring every color under the rainbow. By the time I finished, my shopping cart was full and I was on my way.

I quickly met with the other two teachers in my team and we set about planning for the first part of the Sunday school year. It was then that I realized that, oh my God, I just signed up to teach Sunday school - what the hell was I thinking??

Soon the first day of class arrived and in a brightly lit carpeted room in my church's parish house, the 3s started to arrive. One by one, they arrived, clutching their mommy or daddy's hand, bottom lip quivering and then, you guessed it, the crying began! I wanted to be like Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own" and tell these kids, "there's no crying in Sunday school!", but, instead, I sat down on the floor and started to talk to them, and I knew I was hooked. I felt such empathy for these little ones, I mean, here they were on a Sunday morning, and instead of just being able to play and watch TV, they were forced to get dressed and go sit in a building with a bunch of adults, oh, and they had to be quiet AND not pee their pants. And, to top it all off, they had to go to another room and pay attention, (whatever THAT means!) and be separated from mommy and daddy!!! It was almost inhuman.

Soon, we were getting to know each other and we developed a routine that consisted of free play and coloring, then group clean-up, an opening prayer and story time, a craftivity (my word!), snack time with a closing story, and then the arrival of mommies and daddies. Some days, it felt like "Daddy Daycare" when the kids were especially revved up and suffering from a case of the "can't-sit-downs". On other days, I felt like "Auntie Mame", a pied piper with unconventional ideas and a dedicated following.

In this Year of Yes, I learned a lot - like the finer points of glitter application and I also (hopefully) settled the debate between glue stick vs. liquid glue. I learned that 3-year-olds are a handful, but they're also honest and bright and yearning to understand how this world I take for granted fits together. I learned that on days when I felt overwhelmed and feared that I wasn't perfect, that 3-year-olds don't care about perfection, they care about moments and consistency and commitment. I also learned that when a 3-year-old refers to "yesterday", they mean last week, but let's not quibble:)

Anyway, with the completion of my Year of Yes, I'm keen to find another project. While I'm not term-limited to one year of the Year of Yes, I have a lot to consider. But, I must admit, I'm going through a weird Pepperidge Farm Goldfish withdrawal, so you never know...I'm just saying:)