Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Way to go! We knew you could do it!! You're on your way!!!! [Insert generic, ultimately meaningless platitude here!!!!!]

The older I get, the more I respect my parents and people of their generation who seemed to not only have common sense; they used it daily. Which is why they never ever had to come across something like this. My ff (facebook friend) Debbie mentioned something on her wall today that mystified me so of course I had to hop on line this evening to look around.

I’m sorry to tell you that there was an assortment of cards with this message. Who could have imagined this? Honestly, the only correct inside message on this card should read: "… and congratulations on learning to read as a toddler!"

I have questions. Of course I have questions. Who sends these? Grandparents or aunts and uncles who are insane? Condescending "friends" from the moms club who just can’t help themselves? The local furniture store soliciting business for families in the youth bed market? Nannies who are tired of changing diapers?

Well, if you’re like me, you immediately start to list other occasions that have belied any card-giving status. Until now, that is. But before we go there, let me also tell you that an enormous selection of cards already exists for the following occasions:

Getting your braces on

Getting your braces off

Getting your contacts

Getting your first period

Getting your ears pierced

Earning a first chair position

Becoming a Big Brother, Big Sister, Aunt or Uncle

Congrats on your recital

I could go on, but I won’t. Greeting Card Universe (“any card imaginable”) offers 1,083 congratulations cards, fifteen in potty-training alone. (Fifteen. Fifteen messages about peeing and pooping on a potty chair. People have spent less time thinking about the text in eulogies or wedding vows.) Far be it from me to intrude on their already fertile field of greetings.

But let’s try to inaugurate a few more, shall we?

You lost your first tooth! Grammy and Grandpa are so proud of you!!! (Wait a minute. Just checked. These cards exist.)

Let’s try again:

No training wheels? WOW!!

What a big girl you are! You feel asleep all by yourself five nights in a row!!

Awesome!! You’ve eaten all your vegetables!!

Thanks for biking to practice once a week! So proud of your carbon-footprint awareness!!!!

Good job! Your geography diorama is amazing!!!

Congrats to our Science Fair participant!!

All our best wishes to the Chess Club second alternate!!!

But why limit this to the joys of early childhood and school highlights. Surely there are lifelong moments that don’t get their due as we linger in the card aisle. How about these:

Way to go! Heard you purchased your burial plot!

Congratulations on finding that loose change in the sofa!

Great news! You read nine complete New Yorker's this year!

Wow! Super pedicure!

World's Best Junk Drawer Organizer!!! Way to go!!

To my dearest friend: I could barely tell about your Botox. Nice!!

And my favorite:

So happy for you! You’ve had your last period!!!

Once again, I'm falling back on my fallback. There are two kinds of people in the world: people who buy "we're so happy for you and your potty" cards and people who are endlessly amused by people who buy "we're so happy for you and your potty" cards.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If only there were an escape from this. (Read on. See what I did there?)

You can’t make this up.

Well, you could but no one would believe you. This, I promise you, is entirely true.

As I drove home from work today, I thought: “Wow! I guess I don’t remember falling down and hitting my head very, very hard during the earthquake this afternoon. Because there is no way what I’m hearing on the radio could be true.” Through the magic of technology and satellite radio, I pulled over, replayed it a few times, and jotted down every word.

You may recall the song, Escape, the inexplicable number one pop hit from Rupert Holmes that told the lovely little story of an adorable couple who were bored and unhappy together. The man discovers a classified ad – for the twentieth century – from a woman looking for love; a woman who sounds like she just may be the answer to his dreary, mundane relationship. He writes his own horrifying little response to her and suggests they meet in a bar where – surprise!!!!! – he encounters his wife instead. And no, it doesn’t turn ugly and accusatory. Instead, they’re equally amused by each other’s deception and rediscover that they simply love each other to pieces. (Please. I just read the lyrics again and it’s even more horrible than I remember. Detested it in 1979 and I detest it still.)

In a moment of marketing genius, I have to admit this: Ashley could not have chosen a more appropriate tune than Escape to deliver its singular message of cheating, deception and the right approach to attracting someone other than your spouse. It’s the perfect subconscious musical cue to forty, fifty and sixty-somethings, committed to having an affair. So without further ado, I give you: the new Ashley jingle, sung (sort of) to the tune of “Escape.”

My wife’s on Ashley Madison, looking hot as hell.

And I would totally hit that, if I didn’t know her so well.

My wife’s on Ashley Madison, I guess it’s something she needs to do.

I’d be a lot more bothered, if I weren’t there, too.

“ ______.”

To quote a favorite colleague: Christ on a bike.

If you’ve read this blog even occasionally in the past, you may recall how I feel about and her detractors. If you want to catch up, try this and this.

All that said, and all those prior posts notwithstanding, I’m kind of stunned by this jingle. Let’s review, shall we?

Leaving aside the fact that a man finds his wife’s profile on a website dedicated to matching up one cheating spouse with someone else also in a committed relationship, and his first reaction is that she looks “hot as hell”…

Leaving aside his charming expression of his own attraction to her – “I would totally hit that” - before he disparages her personality…

Leaving aside the fact that after finding her profile and then dismissing her, his only additional reaction is little more than a virtual shrug: “I guess it’s something she needs to do.”…

Leaving aside the idea that he isn’t going to cast the first stone since he is also featured there…

I am almost speechless that the text includes the correct use of the subjunctive mood: “…if I weren’t there, too.” You just don’t find that construction very often in advertising.

You also rarely find this: a promise you can take to the bank. Ashley Madison doesn’t quibble: Where affairs are guaranteed. Finally. A company with some integrity.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I keep telling myself that more than halfway counts as almost there. Right?

Fully seven months into the year, I haven’t yet given up on the run. (For first-time readers, I’ve committed to making a virtual run from my home in Pennsylvania to Toronto, Canada, a total of about 450 miles, this calendar year.) I’m on track to make it to my destination – sort of – by the end of December. In fact, I’ll probably overshoot it to some degree. All of this defies any rational explanation since my running history up until about a year ago was non-existent and my form, style and ability as a runner are not only severely limited, they too, are basically non-existent.

So where am I? As of the end of July, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of Smith’s Corner, NY, approximately 288 miles from home. In case you haven’t been there, Smith’s Corner is near Griffith Corners, NY. It’s also just more than eight miles from Frink’s Corner, NY. And, why yes, it’s just about ten miles from Plants Corner, NY. What exactly makes up all these corners and what they’re on the corner of is beyond me but they sound charming, don’t they? Wasn’t the name of the place in ‘Our Town’ a corner??? Grover’s Corner, maybe? I love the Americana, the small town charm, the Andy-of- Mayberry of it all.

I also learned that there are no less than seven mobile home parks in the area. I’m not sure if these corners and the nearly housing developments are related.

All I can say for myself is that I really can’t give it up now and I don’t think I will. I’m more than halfway in every way!!! Only five months left to the end of the year with only 161 miles left to go. That sounds so reasonable. Although even imagining that sounds like a reasonable distance and a reasonable amount of time still sounds unreasonable to (non-runner) me.

I’ve tried to figure out why this seems to be the time of my life when I’ve finally committed to running for fitness and health. The expected answers don’t quite get to the truth of the matter. Sure, I want a healthier cholesterol level and a reasonable blood pressure reading. I want to avoid the diabetes that my mother encountered in her fifties and has lived with for the past thirty years. I want to lose some weight (always.) But none of those goals or reasons are particularly new.

No, the more the miles add up, the more I realize the purpose for this year’s run. Although to be honest, the purpose behind it is an illusion, really: An illusion of control. More and more, it feels like there is so little I can control in my life. Even more disturbing: could I ever? Was it all an illusion?

But this is true: I do control the numbers I put on my running log. I control the intensity of the run. To a large degree, I control the frequency and the distance of each run. I say “to a large degree” because even when I say I’m going to quit, I never do; and I almost always make the minimum I’ve set for myself for that day. I’m largely in control of my own mind as I rack up the miles and stay committed to this number and virtual trip.

And thank God for it. Control over my running feels like all I have these days.

More on this – on a related but different topic – to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On kites, kids and college: Hold on. Let go. The perfect combination.

For every parent packing up their own personal BBBBB (Best Buy / Bed Bath Beyond) for a son or daughter about to move out and begin a college career: hang in there. You did your best - most of the time anyway - and now you need to step away.

What follows is a piece that may speak to you. It's been a few years since I published it but maybe it will give you a little something to think about as you make the transition. So if I could offer a word or two, it would be these: Hold tight. Let go.


For many years, one of our annual summer vacation rituals was kite-flying on the beach. We’d arrive just as dusk was on its way out and nightfall on its way in. For years, we guided the kites our boys held in anticipation of the perfect breeze. Some nights, we found that perfect combination of air, 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 kites into the sand, or we somehow lost the string altogether and watched our kites drift away and out of reach.

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 almost 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, and even dive a bit from time to time. We help it move ever higher, and keep letting that string out even more, more than I would have ever believed would be possible. We watch it climb and dance and create its own path as it crosses the universe – and are amazed.

But we never quite let it go.