Thursday, August 27, 2009

I need to know if this is me. But no one thinks it's them, right?

I admit I am mostly unskilled when it comes to "social networking," including something seemingly as simple as Facebook. I have mental block about which tab is my home page and which one is the public page people see. No matter how many times my boys try to tell me, I don't absorb the information.

I find my way around, albeit with little confidence. And then, just as I started to feel a tiny bit comfortable, I read this.

Honestly, it sums up what I've felt for a while about Twitter, less so about Facebook but still. I don't update my Twitter feed because I have never really felt the need to inform the world at large about one single thing I'm doing at any given time. In fact, I don't think I've ever done one single thing worth recording for posterity in my entire life, even if that record appears only via a Twitter 'tweet.'

But according to the WSJ article, some of us are treating our Facebook pages like Twitter feeds and posting pointless updates that inexplicably draw "comments" from friends and the cycle continues. I've often read posts of friends that are followed by dozens of comments that make little sense to me. And I wonder, why was the update posted in the first place and more important, why did so many people find it fascinating and worth a comment? It wasn't.

My favorite line in the article comes from Patricia Wallace, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. As she poetically puts it, "Online, people can't see the yawn." That's just about perfect. Maybe Facebook needs a yawning icon. Would anyone be bold enough to use it???

Like the author of the article, I love my Facebook connections. Some are quite a bit more active than others though. Some of them may even be guilty of the kind of mindless posting that leaves me wondering, why would anyone want to know that?

I like to read posts that make me laugh or make me think. Plenty of friends post that sort of news and I'm grateful. I also like the real life updates, but not all of them. Life changes, major events, good news, bad news and family updates all work for me. But I'm not particularly fond of reading messages about waking up, oversleeping, going to sleep, taking a nap, wanting to take nap, heading out to an appointment, coming home from an appointment, doing laundry, not doing laundry, writing out checks, buying stamps to mail out bills, or any number of everyday events not one of us felt compelled to share before we all had Facebook accounts.

So maybe this makes me cranky and not the sort of person who does well in a Facebook environment. It's very likely that my posts are as prosaic as any and people reading them rightly think: yes, your posts are pointless. You are exactly like the people profiled in the WSJ piece. Welcome to the world.

But like boring people around the universe, no one recognizes when they're boring right? The worst that can happen in that case is that I unknowingly find myself boring a room full of people. In a forum like Facebook, I have the opportunity to bore possibly hundreds of people at once.

There's just no end to the delights of the Internet.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I think this is getting out of hand. There's probably an official name for that.

I can't quite explain why, but somehow I've become a fan of other people's misfortune. It's not exactly schadenfreud because I don't take pleasure in it; I just don't mind witnessing it.

There's no other way to understand why I watch Intervention and Obsessed on A&E TV. If you haven't seen them, the shows are exactly what they sound like. Intervention follows the addictions of one or more subjects over the course of an hour, including interviews with his or her family and friends, and glimpses into their daily lives. (Subjects believe they are participating in a documentary about addiction.) Each episode concludes with an intervention, and the person profiled faces a choice about going to some sort of rehabilitation facility or rejecting the offer for help. The closing minutes usually feel a little too game-show-ish for such a serious problem but I watch it anyway.

Obsessed follows a similar formula, but instead of someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, the show profiles someone dealing with an addictive behavior that is debilitating and often bizarre. Unlike Addiction, the people profiled on Obsessed receive counseling throughout the episode. The effectiveness of that counseling is debatable from show to show and person to person.

A&E must believe they're onto something. They've just launched a new show called Hoarders. According to their website, "Each 60-minute episode of Hoarders is a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis."

I've watched this show a few times and have a one word review to share: wow. The episode that showed the clean up crew removing something like 40 + cat skeletons they discovered in a woman's home and in her garage just about did me in. A number of the live cats they removed from her "care" suffered from fatal illnesses and other were poorly nourished and in questionable health.

Okay, let's recap then. Addicts of different kinds, people dealing with some kind of OCD and people who have a problem letting go of possessions. What's next? What's the next "disorder du jour" that can attract a national audience?

Personally, I think it's time for A&E to lighten up a bit, or at least take this in a new direction. Here are some suggestions for a couple of new shows:

Walk Away from Facebook: This show profiles people who can't seem to stop updating their Facebook pages on at least a twice-an-hour basis. On the show, experts will explain to those suffering from this affliction that not one of their friends or acquaintences has spent so much as one minute wondering what they ate for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Other topics explored include: how many Facebook quizzes can you take before it starts to feel like too many? How many "status updates" can you cut and paste into your own profile in the name of solidarity without looking like a mindless automaton?

Apology Wednesday: An unending series of apologies coming from an unending stream of prominent people who should know better but don't. This show may actually need to air twice a week, once on Tuesday (to gather up all the weekend mayhem and put it to rest) and again on Friday to clean up the bad behavior that took place all week. Viewers can vote of who gave the lamest apology that week and who gave the most heartfelt, with the "winners" from each week continuing on to an apology faceoff at the end of the season. There could also be a regular segment called "Great Apologies in History," and include John Lennon explaining his "more popular than Jesus" comment, Jimmy Swaggert's tearful admission of adultery, and the complete Oprah episode featuring writer James Frey.

Blogger's Block: In a series of interviews, this show will profile several bloggers, whose readership is questionable at best, and uncover the many ideas they scribbled down, the articles they've saved, and the web links they've bookmarked all in the name of "writing about them tonight."

I have one more show idea to pitch, I just need to figure out a title for the condition that combines soaring confidence with relentless self-doubt, spurts of energy with bouts of inertia and inexplicable optimism with brooding discontent. A perfect description of my daily life.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Revisiting some emotions - with an update to come.

** For readers of now defunct column in The Morning Call, this post may feel familiar. The departure (in six days) of my younger sons for college started me thinking about how this experience felt a year ago. What follows is the piece I wrote last September. For all parents sending someone off to school for the first time, I hope it speaks to you. **

One of our annual rituals during our summer vacation is kite-flying on the beach. We arrive just as dusk is on its way out and nightfall is on its way in. For years, we guide the kites our boys held in anticipation. Sometimes we found the perfect mix of wind, string and nylon that resulted in soaring specks of color in the night sky. Other times, we couldn't seem to catch the wind, or we pulled too tightly on the string and crashed the kite into the sand, or we somehow lost the string altogether and watched it drift away.

We still carry on that ritual, mostly for my niece who is younger than her cousins and enjoys our mini-kite festival every year. (Lately, my boys, their dad and their uncles toss around a football while my sister and I wrestle the kites into the air.) The thing is, even when we’re successful, and one or more of our kites have reached a high point, we turn to each other and ask: now what? Hold that thought.

Last week, we moved our oldest child into college. Because I can’t seem to relax about managing all the details about situations like this, I spent a lot of time leading up to moving day checking off lists and times and logistics about the process. I spent almost no time checking on myself and the new place I would move into once our son left home.

So we packed and then unpacked. Plugged in and wired up everything, made a bed, hung up clothes and found a new place for the bits and pieces of his life that he carried with him. We met the young man - the stranger - who would share the dorm room and possibly share a lifelong friendship with him. We met his parents, too, and tried to answer, in a matter of twenty minutes, these questions: who they were, what they believed, how they raised their son and whether or not they were people of character and principles. (I told you I couldn't relax about stuff like this.)

Thankfully, my first impressions told me the following: friendly, approachable, bright people, who held the same values in terms of education and love of the arts. They raised a polite young man, who was clearly dedicated to his studies, and they were committed to supporting him to help him succeed.

As the moving in ended and the moving on began, my son and I hugged goodbye – and spent an extra couple of seconds hanging on while we did. Then, just eighteen and half years after he arrived, my oldest son walked away in one direction and I in another.

A few months ago, I received an email from a friend who read a column I wrote about my children growing up. In it, Joanne artfully expressed the challenge we all face in raising our children. She reminded me that raising children is kind of like flying a kite: hold on too tightly, and a kite doesn’t get very far. Give it too much slack too soon, before the wind has really caught hold and it can move freely without danger, and it comes crashing to the ground. But when you can find that perfect ratio of give and take while holding the string that connects you and the kite, it soars effortlessly into the sky.

I experienced the “too much slack vs. too tight” ratio last week during the move into college. In fact, it almost felt like I dropped the string. I gave my son a generous amount of freedom. He was ready for it; it was the right time to set him on his own path. He took off; maybe with a bit of shakiness at first, but he’s soaring now.

The kite is airborne. Which brings the inevitable question: now what? I don’t have that answer yet. Maybe we just enjoy the flight. We watch the kite flutter, even dive a bit from time to time, help keep it moving ever higher, and let that string out even more, more than I would have believed was possible. But never let it go.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are there really people waiting to read this?

** NOTE: I realize I'm writing a blog and therefore probably guilty of exactly what I'm about to discuss here but so be it. I prefer to think of it as being complex, not contradictory. **

I admit I have a completely irrational streak about publishing. I LOVE great writing, both fiction and non-fiction, but I HATE what feels like indulgent, pretentious, entitled, annoying writing and publishing of same. I suppose that has been going on forever but over the past few years, its feels like this whole "listen to me, I've discovered myself and now I want you to discover me, too" genre has taken on a new level of aggravating. It also seems inordinately populated by women who simply must tell their stories to the rest of us.

Make no mistake: I don't loathe first person writing that's clever, surprising, different or engaging. To slice this even thinner, I don't hate memoirs as a class of writing. But I am opposed to memoirs that make the reader [me, in my case] feel like a loser. I guess the difference between an enjoyable first person memoir and a painful one is just that: how the reader feels during and after reading the book. When I read a good one, I find the storyteller interesting, oftentimes admirable, but even if they're less than likable, they're never condescending. When I read one I end up hating as I finish the last page, it usually comes down to the fact that the writer makes me feel like a failure.

Which brings us, almost inevitably, to this. Several years ago I wrote a column that questioned the appeal and popularity of a best-selling memoir titled Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Without reiterating the column here, suffice it to say I couldn't figure out the point of the book. It depressed me because I am about seven lifetimes away from being able to escape my life to spend time - in Italy, India and Indonesia - discovering myself. And getting an advance from a publisher to do it and then write about it by the way.

Whatever. Plenty of women seemed to take some joy and comfort and inspiration from Gilbert's memoir about her own personal growth and the lessons she learned about herself as she traveled around the world for one full year. That's super. God bless. Couldn't that be the end of it?

Well, no, it couldn't be. At least not if you think like a publisher. One successful book deserves/requires a sequel (another reason I love Salinger). So Gilbert's upcoming book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage will give us all a glimpse into the courtship and events that led to Gilbert's seemingly blissful second marriage to the man she feel in love with while they both were living in Bali. The story behind the story is that Gilbert wrote her follow-up to EPL, then couldn't even read through it, because she realized it was all wrong. Now what? Well, like most of us do when faced with a problem that needs a solution, she took six months off, and then decided she could write again.

I don't know about you, but lots of times when I don't know how to solve a problem, I take six months off. To think about things. Six months. Off. To think about what to do next and decide whether or not I can do it.

God help me how can any of us relate to this? Despite my tirade up until this point, I don't begrudge anyone happiness. I wish Elizabeth and her husband nothing but a lifetime of joy and fulfillment in each other's company. But at the rate we're going here, in about 24 months we'll be reading about something as unique and astonishing as Gilbert's pregnancy, followed by a delightful and heart-felt book about her whirlwind experiences as a mother, and if everything plays out beautifully, stories about her amazing grandchildren.

Please, please, please. One of my favorite aphorisms goes something like this: "Never miss the opportunity to shut up." How I wish more people followed that advice.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reason # 576 that baby boomers are needy, pathetic losers.

I know. I AM a baby boomer but that doesn't stop me from realizing we are a generation of whiny, entitled brats. That has to be true; otherwise there is no explanation for something like this.

Yes, I've been posting several pieces about my own misgivings and fears about having all my sons out of the house this fall for the first time. But that doesn't mean I'm inclined to sign up for an "empty nest workshop." How is it that our parents were able to send their children off without the "benefit" of counselors who promised to help them cope? Were they just that much smarter or just that much more sensible?

There are choices here. You can attend a seminar in person; you can take a course on how to overcome your angst. One of the couples teaching a course just happens to have a book ready to sell you, one conveniently titled 10 Great Dates for Empty Nesters. It gives a couple helpful little exercises to do together in what I'm guessing is an effort to reclaim their couplehood. Fun, right? Sure, if confronting each other about money, sex and anger is your idea of a good time. And if that doesn't sound like quite enough fun packed into a date for you, you can spend time reassigning the tasks that seem to be going undone since your children left home. Sounds like a dream date to me.

This entire article is aggravating on a lot of levels but one of my favorite parts discusses a phone service empty nest moms (particularly "stay-at-home empty nest" moms, the most tragic figures in this scenario) can call for some help. Please don't misunderstand me. I am not opposed to therapy; I am opposed to elitist, exclusionary therapy that seems directed toward a certain demographic (women with considerable disposable income.) Their pain must be more acute than the loss and anxiety experienced by other women. If you take this article at face value, it would seem that lower middle class or women living right on the poverty line do not seem to experience a moment or two of the empty nest syndrome. And if they do, they're out of luck. I guess they don't have the resources to take advantage of this "counseling." After all, this is how the service is described (bold my own):

Empty Nest Support Services offers private phone sessions and seminars that rely on art therapy and journaling. "This is a grieving process for some parents," says Caine, who in October will counsel empty nesters at a spa retreat in California. "They can't just 'get over it.' " (One suggestion for moms in mourning: throw a party and ask the guests to bring a card on which they've written what their empty-nester pal would be "fabulous at giving the world now.")

I'm almost speechless. Turning to artistic pursuits sometimes helps people navigate a new chapter in their lives. (I'm threatening my own "Mommy's ceramic period" to distract and engage me this fall. Everyone will get a lopsided candy dish for Christmas. They'll look at it fondly years many from now and remark: Remember when Mommy took those art classes when we all moved out, bless her heart? And remember when she gave us each one of us these?") As far as "journaling" - well, it's called blogging. You get no argument from me about putting your feelings down to try to understand them. But the rest? Honestly, you have to be living on another planet in order to even conceive the idea of throwing a party where women gather to hand each other cards about what each one of the would be "fabulous at giving the world right now."

Here's my very favorite headline from the article. Take a moment before you read it because it may shock you. Here it is: turns out, parents who "feel good about the way their children have turned out" are less inclined to get all worked up about the whole idea of an empty nest. ('Turned out?' Kind of like they're a room being redecorated or a backyard deck being completed?) Parents with a little less confidence in their children are a little more worried. I'm stunned. That's very, very surprising, isn't it?

Who researches this stuff? Who writes it with such conviction? Fact: I'm having a hard time about my boys leaving because I'll miss them! Fact: I really like them! Fact: I think they "turned out" pretty darn well but that doesn't stop me from feeling sad.

Headline to anyone even thinking about taking one of these courses: not everything requires a support group. Not everything is a seminar for God's sake, complete with a workbook and exercises. I can't say exactly how I'll move through this stage but ultimately, I feel like it will all be okay. I'll turn to friends and family, and yes, I'll call the boys once in a while, and we'll all be okay. You can do the same, in your own way, with your own circle of friends and family. Without having even one private phone counseling session.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

and another musical light flickers out....

I can't quite explain why I feel so sad about the death of Willy DeVille, who passed away of pancreatic cancer at the age of 58. If you don't know who he is (like me, you may have missed the defining acts and a couple of the future legends who played at CBGB's circa 1978), or think you're unfamiliar with his music, you may be wrong about that.

If you're a fan of Mickey Rourke, you may recall one of his earliest movies, The Pope of Greenwich Village. One of my favorite scenes in that movie - in a film full of favorite scenes and memorable dialog - shows two characters, Charlie and Diane, enjoying a balmy summer night in a New York City park, dancing lovingly in each other's arms to the soft alluring music coming from the local band playing nearby, who was none other than Mink DeVille featuring Willy. They played "Just to Walk that Little Girl Home" and as I watched the scene for the first time - and every time ever since - it struck me as such a gorgeous, simple, sweet little melody full of desire and love.

It's possibly the perfect combination of piano, accordian, guitar, violin, harmony and lyrics. As a woman, you want to be the woman in the song because she sounds confident, loving, and approachable. As a listener, you want the guy singing to "get the girl" and walk off into the night, arm and arm with the woman he loves.

Skip ahead a few years. The Princess Bride? A little film that may just be a touchstone for a generation? While Mark Knopfler may have performed the song that has become synonymous with ROUS's, six-fingered men, vengeful Spaniards, vile Sicilians and kind-hearted giants - and oh yes, true love - Storybook Love, the title song was another of Willy DeVille's masterpieces. Who doesn't love this song??? Who doesn't find himself or herself at least humming along, at least during the chorus???

I know. This post makes me sound like the least committed fan ever since I have almost no reference points beyond DeVille's music in films. No, I don't own his catalog and I can't claim I danced to his punk songs in the late '70s. If that prevents me from being a true DeVille fan, so be it.

His music brought me joy. Isn't that enough?

Somehow, my sense of the man and his music is that everyone is welcome, that all that mattered were the songs. That he never missed nor craved the enormous fame and everything that accompanied it; the kind of fame that found its way to contemporaries of his during his lifetime.

Just weeks after the world nearly stopped on its axis to mark the death of Michael Jackson, we have another extremely talented musician leave us with barely a minor chord struck in the media. So celebrate DeVille's life and work more quietly. Listen to "Storybook Love" or "Just to Walk That Little Girl Home" and sway in the dark with someone you love tonight. Now that's a real tribute.

Well, I guess I can earn a living titling things.

After the NYT story on Sunday that nearly drove me into a deep depression, I open the paper to read this today.

Just in case you missed it, here's the title of Lily's new CD: It's not me, it's you.

Shoot me now.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Q: When is a triangle not a triangle? A: When it becomes another way to question yourself.

I spend a lot of time on the phone every day. Not only do I work very closely with colleagues in another location, I also speak to clients in different parts of the country all day. Many times I'm actually involved in a conversation; but almost as often, I'm on a conference call with the mute button activated. And while I'm sitting, listening and trying to stay alert, I often find myself doodling in pencil (always in pencil) in my spiral notebook.

I've done this for years and years, mostly to pass the time and keep myself awake during sometimes tedious calls that I'm positive mean almost nothing to me, professionally or personally. Always - always! - I doodle triangles. The other day, because I like to torture myself with information that will likely cause me anxiety, I had to look up the meaning of doodling, particularly doodling triangles.

I checked out

You ready for this? Here's how the site describes the personality of someone who doodles triangles: an aggressive personality; highly competitive. That's just super. Then I wondered: is there something inherently wrong with this definition? Is there something absolutely negative about the word "aggressive?" And what about the phrase "highly competitive?" In the following context, you would call the person being described as admirable and praiseworthy: "Her aggressive approach to pursuing those who commit crimes against children is legendary." Or what about this? "Her highly competitive streak consistently served her clients well as she aggressively pursued a fair deal for them."

Sure, those sound positive. But I was still not all that pleased. Maybe it's the idea of an "aggressive personality" that was so off-putting. Does that sound like code for a nasty, in-your-face person? And does "highly competitive" really describe someone who is an ambitious climber who kicks you out of the way as she climbs the corporate ladder? Maybe that's me being too sensitive to nothing but words.

But if I were really someone who is too sensitive to stuff like this, wouldn't I be doodling something other than triangles? Like hearts or flowers or circles? Seems to me, the proper response to an assessment like this would be "You said it! That's exactly what I am!" And since I didn't react that way, I'd guess that maybe I'm doodling triangles under false pretenses. Maybe I used to be aggressive and highly competitive and the triangles are lingering from that point of my life. Maybe I hit a certain age and all the aggression in me disappeared as completely as my original hair color.

So what do your doodles say about you? I'd love to know, But I'll bet mine are better than yours. (Can't help myself. That competitive streak, you now?)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

In this case, is you.

Unlike Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, I am not an alcoholic, or a "drunk" as Joe Queenan so perfectly terms it.

Stefanie is the celebrated mom blogger (I never head of) who apparently developed quite a following among mothers who can't wait to pop that cork or unscrew that cap everyday around cocktail hour, even with the care of their young children still front and center in their lives. Today's article in the Times informed me that there are plenty of mostly stay-at-home women out there who find motherhood dull or boring or stressful or ceaselessly repetitive and without that daily fix from a bottle, they couldn't quite bear it.

I don't know what makes me more aggravated - the fact that these poor women are acting like victims, or the fact that the title of Wilder-Taylor's upcoming book, It's Not Me, I's You, is also the title of this blog, and also the book I wrote many years ago that unfortunately remains unsold.

I'm not completely heartless about problem drinking. In fact, I'm more attuned to it than many, having grown up with too many demons and too much alcohol in my house and in my life. I have girlhood memories I prefer not to dredge up because about forty years later, they are still very painful.

But poor Stefanie. She found success writing about her motherhood angst, celebrated her "I'm me..I'm more than my children's mother!!" outlook with her online happy hour blog, surrounded by like-minded women, and now she has had her come-to-Jesus moment and confessed she has a problem with alcohol. And, like all good moralistic tales, her loyal readers are now writing to her, thanking her for inspiring them to quit, too.

God help me I can't stand this. As noted in the article, her blog "now includes passages of her sobriety related tenderness." That's just charming, isn't it? In other words, "Whoops kids! I guess it's no fun to have mommy laying around with a hangover or passing out for the night in the living room." Excerpt: "On May 23, I awoke on the couch dressed. [Note: I interpret 'awoke on the couch dressed' as 'passed out the night before.'] I thought, 'I have these kids who are depending on me," she said, weeping on the phone, 'and I have a bad problem...' "

Well, thank god. Just in time for her third book to be published, she figured it out. But won't that put her in the category of every other mother on the planet who publishes a book [and it is every other mother on the planet, except me] about just how darn fun and rewarding it is to be a mother, sans alcohol? Wasn't her belief in the sanctity of 'mommy and merlot' the platform upon which she built her printed and virtual empire? What now?

She admits as much. "It's embarrassing to be all rah Rah Rah! Goooo BOOZE! only to zip off with my tail between my legs saying, 'never mind, I've joined the other team,' but that's what I had to do."

Excuse me? It's embarrassing? That's what it is? I'd call it pathetic. Or self-indulgent and narcissistic. Or entitled and selfish. You're 'embarrassed' because you've realized that drinking and being a mom are probably not a great combination? (I'm sure you still cash those royalty checks from your publisher, though, right? Or is that embarrassing, too?)

And what do you mean: the other team? The team of moms who don't get drunk every night to ease the idea of staying home with their children by having "cocktail play dates?" The ones who don't cheer each other on and have their own private jokes about the stupifying yet uplifting effects of alcohol?

If I know publishing, which I probably don't, given my unpublished book, we can count on a follow up where she slips back into her former celebrated bad habits and how she deals with that whole episode in her life.

I don't have the stamina to actually go online and read her blog. I'm too aggravated right now. But I wonder how her kids are doing. I wonder what they thought about their mother and how what they did factored into her daily drinking and the panic she felt if she didn't have chilled bottle waiting for her every night and instead she "had to grit her teeth and wait until [her] husband came home at 8..."

I have a guess: maybe it wasn't so fun for them. Maybe leaving play dates with a mommy who is a little less attentive than when they arrived was slightly disconcerting. Maybe they've started to equate a wine bottle sitting on the kitchen counter at 4 pm with an evening that's not going to end well. I don't know, as I said, I'm guessing.

Maybe "It's Not Me, It's You" will find the perfect audience. Assuming they're all sober enough to crack it open and read it one night.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

and another thing....

On Sunday, I met up with a friend of the family after Church and we chatted on our walk down the center aisle as we left. Like our family, he and his wife have children leaving for college this fall, children that are only one year apart in age. Their older daughter started last fall; their younger girl starts in a few weeks.

We joked about our kids being gone and I couldn't help it; I admitted I was brooding about it and would soon begin a deep depression. Without missing a beat, he said, "That's because you have sons. Every mother of daughters I know is absolutely ready for them to leave."

Hmmm. As the mother of not one daughter, I have no idea if that's true. I do know many women who have confirmed that as their daughters trudged through that horror show called adolescence, they drove them "spare," to borrow a word favored by British a colleague of mine. I do think that despite their own unique challenges - like when they claim that they've been showering for weeks and weeks but the bar of soap in their shower never seems to get any smaller, like the incomprehensible fact that the same boys who can see a flash of light lasting one millisecond and indicates an enemy about to attack in Halo 3 are blind to a single, unblinking green "finished" light on the dishwasher, and like having no clue about things like checking in with prospective roommates to see who has a mini fridge and who has a TV - boys seem much less complicated than girls. (The girls I know who are about to leave for college have color-coordinated their dorm rooms with the roommates they haven't yet met.) These kind of quirks make me crazy. Can you imagine what I'd be like if I had daughters? Exactly. That's why I was positive I'd never make a good mother for girls and have endless admiration for mothers who have raised delightful young women. God bless.

But I wonder: could what Tom said be true? Are most mothers of daughters absolutely ready to give them a hug and then kick them out the door? Are most mothers of sons quietly weeping into the towels they find in heaps all over the bathroom floor?

How could that possibly be true if you believe in that sad old saying: "A son is a son until he takes a wife; a daughter is your daughter all her life." Believe me, that also gives me pause. I picture scenes ten years from now. Some woman - okay, my daughter-in-law - somewhere is sitting next to one of my sons while he gives me a call: "We're going to ___'s mom's house for the Thanksgiving...we'll see you soon though, alright?" My friend Mary and I joke about spending holidays together in the years ahead - she also has a son. Just bracing for the inevitable, I guess.

That's the thing about parenthood. It promises to delight you but mostly confounds you. You read about breast-feeding, and end up expressing milk into the bathroom sink one night to relieve the pressure and then live through thrush. You get over three rounds of chicken pox in a matter twelve weeks and then face something called Fifth Disease, whatever that is. Yesterday's banged up skateboard turns into the car with a dented front end that will run about $1800 to straighten out.

So now what? You spend almost two decades raising your kids and they make you nuts and make you cry and make you proud and then all of a sudden they're moving out. You're staring into space, trying to remember that this is all good, it's all as it should be, it's all just super.

Maybe. Ask me in about ten years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the myth of the empty nest

We're at T-minus something like 18 days until my younger sons leave for college. (My older son started at a university last fall and I'm still not quite over that but I took enormous comfort in continuing daily hugs with my younger boys who remained under our roof for one more year of high school.)

Part of the problem I'm having is the age difference in our children. Our older son is only 16 months older than his twin brothers. Even to us, it feels almost like all three of them have always been around. As a result, I have no "buffer," no adjustment period and no "new normal" we all live for several years before the next life stage change takes place under our roof. The closeness of our children's ages means we covered a lot of baby and toddler stages in a matter of only a few years, not a decade, before moving onto the next stage with all our children at once. Sure, we had a lot of diapers for a few years but the good news was that almost all at once, that same closet of diapers was empty, never to get refilled.

That kind of "speed-parenting" worked nicely when it came to Amoxicillin, training wheels and Tiger Cubs. It doesn't work so well right about now, when it feels like the boys are "speed-growing" out of my life. Their impending departure for college this fall means that in something like T-minus 19 days, I will very likely find myself in a coma. I know I'm not the first mother to experience the "empty nest" - a title I despise by the way - it just feels like I am.

Empty nests conjure up images of determined mother birds nudging their tiny birds over the edge and into flight, encouraging them to soar into a welcoming sky. Wonderful; good for them. I guess they know what they're doing but what if they don't? How many baby birds just fall to their death because they weren't ready to fly? I'll bet we never read that statistic in Nat Geo.

I looked up the story on Mourning Doves - plentiful in our backyard - and found that the baby birds spend all of 12 - 15 days in their nests. Newly hatched Robins spend 13 days in their nests before taking off. Crows are much more inclined to hang around home, for something like 20 - 40 days.

I also found this little snippet on All About "People tend to think of nests as safe, cozy little homes. But predators have a pretty easy time finding a nest full of loud baby birds, and nests can be hotbeds of parasites. So parent birds work from sunrise to sunset every day to get their young grown and out of the nest as quickly as possible."

Honest to god: "...from sunrise to sunset to get their young grown and out of the nest as quickly as possible."

So much for security and warmth and togetherness. Turns out that birds aren't encouraging bravery and self-reliance when they push their offspring to fly away. They're trying to offload their babies as quickly as possible to protect them and help live longer lives. Exactly why most mothers I know try to keep their children close to home.

I guess I wouldn't make a good mother bird. I don't want to nudge my boys "out of the nest" as quickly as possible. I can't imagine them not being here. But I will admit that I'm confused. Theoretically anyway, I love the concept of their self-reliance and confidence, but wow it's really difficult to watch myself become irrelevant.

Okay, even I know that's a harsh way to view this whole thing but in my worst moments, it feels very true. (More to come on this as I try to find the positive in it.) Sure, I'm hopeful this new stage will lead to wonderful and rewarding new experiences for the boys. The last thing I want for them is regret and disappointment. And yes, it's easy to conjure up images of a bathroom that never has towels scattered on the floor; bedrooms that remain fresh and clean and a sink that stays empty of a dozen juice glasses at once.

Tonight, those moments of order feel insignificant. What feels much more significant tonight are those flapping wings around me. They're beating just a little stronger, and sound just a little louder than they did just yesterday.