Archive for February, 2010

Go To Bed Angry

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Hold on tight, dear readers, I may lose you with this one. 

GAP and I are coming up on our sixth wedding anniversary this spring.  And anniversaries remind me of our wedding.  And our wedding reminds me of the showers that preceded it.  And those showers remind me of the unending guidance for a successful marriage that was happily dropped in our laps by our well-wishing elders.  Of course their intentions were innocent enough, but much as we may try, marital strategy cannot (and should not!) be boiled down into anything that can be embroidered on a pillow.  As you may suspect from my not-the-least-bit-subtle title, I have a favorite offender.

Of all the trite advice that is hurled at engaged couples I think the most worthless adage is: Never go to bed angry.

Right off the top: Never.  Any piece of advice beginning in never or always could probably stand to have a bit of reality injected into it.  We are complex people.  We have moods and temperaments.  We have schedules and logistics.  We find pleasant surprises and harsh realizations scattered throughout our days.  Our lives are not filled with absolutes; with blacks or whites.  We make our way through this world subsisting on greys and nuance.  I question any piece of advice that has the audacity to come at me with never.

And then there’s the rest of it; the part about going to bed angry.  That’s the part of the saying that I believe makes a critical miscalculation about anger.  The miscalculation is that anger only grows and festers with time.  This little saying presupposes that if we go to bed angry 1) we are not communicating in the first place, 2) this “not communicating” will result in bottled-up feelings, and 3) those bottled-up feelings will swell with neglect and eat away at our insides until nothing but pure resentment is left in their place.  But in my experience only sometimes is this potent cocktail of interpersonal missteps the case.

I’ve found that more frequently anger, like anything else, benefits from rest, from down time, and from the cooling of emotions that a break provides.  And it is for these reasons that when GAP and I have a disagreement that springs up in the evening, any issues that remain unresolved at bedtime stay that way until morning.  We are both self-aware, verbal, and articulate.  We are also both stubborn.  When arguments linger it is not because things are left unsaid.  It is because they have already been said multiple times in multiple ways and with nearly countless variations in tone, slant, and interpretation.  Continuing to hash it out, as energy fades and emotions wear thin, accomplishes nothing.  Sometimes sleep, and the silence that comes with it, is the only productive course of action.        

I will concede that I don’t particularly like going to bed with anger or frustration hanging in the air.  It feels lonely and isolating.  I much prefer for issues to be sorted out into tidy conclusions before we tuck in for the night.  But that isn’t always realistic.  I have learned over time to accept that going to bed angry can be the lesser, and more prudent, of two evils.

In the morning we are rested and fresh.  We are more inclined to forgive or to compromise.  We think more clearly and speak more rationally.  And if the aborted argument is resumed when the sun comes up, all of those things bode well for the outcome.  However, we also have a baby to wake up, feed, and get dressed.  We have jobs to go to.  We have a day in front of us.  So the previous night’s conflict usually goes unaddressed, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for the day, and sometimes forever. 

Usually there is an apology – at least for the disagreement in general, if not for the positions we took within it – and usually that is enough.  We’ve each said our piece (isn’t being heard half the battle anyway?) and there’s frequently no need to resurrect what could just as easily be buried.  We love each other deeply for many reasons.  Two of those reasons are sharpness of intellect and strength of spirit.  Juxtaposing those traits with a difference of opinion could spell frequent and unmitigated disaster if we didn’t know when to walk away. 

This isn’t easy to do.  It takes trust in your partner and faith in your relationship.  It takes the knowledge that this partnership can weather an overnight storm.  No, going to bed angry isn’t for the faint of heart.  It is, however, for the tired, the bull headed, and the road-tested survivors of confident marriages.

Yes, and?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Like everyone else in the world, I am imperfect.  I have many faults.  I confess them and deny them.  I dance around them and obscure them.  I own them and explore them.  I overcome them and resign myself to them.  Some of them are obvious (inability to put away laundry that GAP has dutifully folded; propensity for letting receipts pile up before entering them into the check register; general procrastination; etc).  Others make themselves scarce.  They lurk in shadows and underneath strengths.  They come out when I think no one is looking.  They are shy, but they are there.   

Two of these subtler faults are insecurity and judgment, and they are an especially potent pair.  In my experience they tend to masquerade together.  For me, and probably many other people, the former begets the latter.  Because I lack supreme confidence about many aspects of myself I make comparisons to people around me and key in on faults of theirs to relieve my own self-doubts. 

Standing in line at the grocery store on a bad hair day I may look at the woman in front of me and think, “Would it kill her to get those highlights touched up?” 

Self-conscious about the crack that has been growing in my windshield since November I look at the dented car next to mine in the parking lot and think, “Well at least I’m not letting body damage go unrepaired.”

It’s not pretty.  In fact, it’s all rather ugly.  If it were done out loud, this behavior – this beating you down to pick myself up – would be called bullying.  That’s right, bullying.  I’ve never bullied anyone in my life.  I’m the nice girl who wants everyone to like me.  I don’t bully.  Except that I do, quite silently in my mind.    

I’ve been thinking about this ugliness of mine because I was recently reminded of a saying that is a divine antidote to such tacky behavior.  One of the ministers at a former church of mine used to respond to judgmental gripes with, “Yes, and?”  These simple words convey profound truth.  At first they are light and airy.  But after some consideration they become heavy with meaning.  When extrapolated out to their full significance they mean, “You are right.  But there’s more to the story, isn’t there?”

Yes, because there is always more to the story.  No one can be fully explained by his or her circumstances or behavior in one specific moment.  The woman who just cut you off in traffic also just returned from a long business trip and is rushing home to see her kids before bedtime.  The guy who played hard ball just a little too hard during a business negotiation is also fiercely devoted to his family and active in multiple charities.  The neighbor who talks your ear off when you’re running late is painfully lonely and in need of any conversation she can scrape together. 

Indeed, there is always more to the story.    

My favorite thing about these two little words is that they simultaneously validate and invalidate the judgments we offer.  Yes – Technically you are right about whatever tasteless, unnecessary, and critical comment you are making.  And? – But the fact of the matter is that in the larger scheme of things what you’re pointing out is probably also petty and irrelevant.   (This is then followed by the implied, “So cut it out, would you?”)

Insecurities are tricky things.  We have them about our looks, intelligence, income, athletic ability, social class, worldliness, popularity, and myriad other topics.  And for the most part, we keep them private.  Sometimes we confess them to spouses, friends, and other confidantes.  We expose them to light and dispute in the hopes that they may be dispelled by an objective (or at least sympathetic) counterpart.  But largely they live in the damp darkness of our minds – conditions perfect for growing insecurities and mildew.  We feed them with our doubts and then let them fester for months and years, unchecked by reality.

We permit this rampant growth of insecurity because we know what it does to us.  It makes us judge.  And we do not want to find ourselves on the receiving end of someone else’s judgment.  It’s ugly and hurtful and we know it.  We can’t have our vulnerabilities running around in broad daylight where anyone having a bad hair day can silently shoot them down.

But what if we broke the cycle?  What if we thought Yes, and? instead of the insecure judgments that probably spring to mind first?  What if I gave you a break and you gave me one?  What if we looked at each other with empathy?  What if we didn’t take everyone else’s success as a referendum on our own failures?  What if we didn’t see everyone else’s frailties as a stinging reminder of our own faults?  What if we said Yes, and? and then moved along?  We don’t know the whole story.  So why bother trying to judge based only on what we can see?

Damaged or Destined?

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Young Ted Kennedy and his father.

For the past several weeks I have been (slowly) making my way through Ted Kennedy’s autobiography, True Compass.  He was a man about whom I knew precious little as a child; only by his family name as a young adult; and increasingly by his own reputation into my adulthood.  When his brain tumor was diagnosed in the spring of 2008 I started paying more attention to his history and influence.  My attention span increased further when he endorsed and, throughout his illness, actively campaigned for then-Senator Obama.  When he passed away last August I had significantly made up for my prior ignorance.  But it wasn’t until I read his book that I realized how woefully uninformed I still was. 

As a Kennedy there is clearly a big story to tell.  The wealth and privilege.  The fabled family.  The tragic loss of three brothers and a sister at ages far too young.  The life of public service.  The scandals.  The legacy.  But despite all these things, it was a passage on the 40th page of this 500+ page book that made the deepest imprint on my mind. 

My father’s voice was paramount.  He was never abusive, never wounding toward any of his children, but he had a way of letting us know exactly what he expected of us.  Once, when I was thirteen or fourteen years old Dad called me into his room for a chat.  I must have done something that prompted the conversation, but I don’t remember what it was.  But he used phrases so concise and vivid that I can remember them word for word nearly sixty-five years later: “You can have a serious life or a nonserious life, Teddy.  I’ll still love you whichever choice you make.  But if you decide to have a nonserious life, I won’t have much time for you.  You make up your mind.  There are too many children here who are doing things that are interesting for me to do much with you.”

I returned to that passage multiple times as I made my way through the rest of the book.  I noted the page number on my bookmark so I could easily find it.  I became mildly obsessed with it.  I cannot fathom what it must have been like to hear words like those as a teenaged kid just trying to find some sunlight in the shadow of your overwhelmingly impressive family.  And now, as a parent, I cannot fathom saying those words to any child of mine; particularly at such a tender and impressionable age. 

However, whether or not you agree with their politics, it is difficult to deny that the Kennedys set an unparalleled example of public service in this country.  Given that there have been many wealthier families who did not enter the public sector in droves, I believe it is fair to surmise that it was more than the financial edge afforded by family money that buoyed the Kennedys into these positions.  Clearly there was something about the way they were raised that spurred them to lives of service.  And statements such as the one above made by the senator’s father solidify that suspicion.

Throughout the book Senator Kennedy writes with sincere affection for his father.  But beyond that he writes with admiration that borders on reverence.  His father, along with his brothers, was a pillar in his life whose approval he worked ceaselessly to earn.  And despite the fondness that his words convey, I can’t help but wonder what frailties his relationship with his father suffered due to such profound expectations.     

Ted Kennedy is not the only man to achieve “greatness” whose relationship with his father was strained, distant, or altogether absent.  Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, both George Bushes, and Barack Obama all fit this bill.  And so I am prone to wonder what it was about the way that these relationships affected this collection of men that served as a catalyst for achievement rather than dereliction.  Federal penitentiaries are filled with men whose paternal relationships were equally strained and didn’t take the high road in response.  Where does the fine line reside that separates the damaged from the destined?

I believe in many of the principles that the Kennedy family has stood for, service being foremost among them.  As GAP and I raise our family I would be proud to see any of our children choose such a path.  But at what cost?  Could I bring myself to tell my son that my interest in his life survives only to the extent that I find his choices sufficiently “serious”?  And even if I could bring myself to speak such words (which I proudly doubt), would I want to?  Twenty years from now, as he enters adulthood and the parent-child power dynamic begins to soften, do I want IEP to see me as a dominant figure whose approval he covets?  Or would I rather our adult relationship be closer to friendship; something comfortable we can share and enjoy?

I find Ted Kennedy’s relationship with his father troubling.  I certainly would not be comfortable in it, and I don’t intend to parent in that way.  But I admire Joe Kennedy’s ability to impart the value of service on his children to such a profound extent.  (As an aside, I do not mean to shortchange the Kennedy daughters by omission.  Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics.  And Jean Kennedy Smith founded an arts foundation for mentally and physically challenged children and also served as the US Ambassador to Ireland.)  However, I aim to find a kinder, gentler mechanism for fostering such values than the blunt instrument of ultimatum. 

As for these men who’ve risen to political peaks (I’m sure comparable examples are plentiful in the business, sports, and entertainment industries as well) I will continue to wonder what aspects of their relationships with their parents drove them to achievement versus failure versus something in between.  And I will wonder if it is possible to find a hybrid version of the same; an emphasis on service and philanthropy, but absent the cost of a dysfunctional relationship.  Is this too much to ask?  Surely these qualities are not mutually exclusive.  Perhaps my naïveté betrays me?  Check in with me in twenty years and I’ll tell you how things panned out.

A Sense of Conviction

Friday, February 19th, 2010

This is the part of the blog where I tell you that IEP was a NICU baby.
Because it was painful and because it is private, I will not provide many details except to offer this:  After 39 weeks of the world’s most routine pregnancy, IEP suffered head trauma during the final stages of his delivery.  That head trauma resulted in a follow-up CT scan, which resulted in a frightening diagnosis, which resulted in his transfer (by helicopter) from the hospital where he was delivered to a local children’s hospital when he was just hours old, so that he could be treated by teams of neuro specialists. 
Our experience was not nearly as dire or dramatic as many other NICU families’.  But it is ours.  And for that reason it has affected GAP and me every day since our son was born.  Some its effects are obvious and tangible, like the months of follow up appointments IEP has had since he came home.  Other effects are subtler and more discrete, like the way in which moments from that day creep into our minds unannounced and remind us of how terrifying it all was. 
I tell you all of this now because this experience is rolling back into our lives in a concrete way and on a regular basis. 
Last fall I spent many weeks grappling with the orbit of my life.  More specifically, I felt that the orbit was too local; local to me, my family, and my friends.  Not to discount their place in my life – they are my biggest priorities.  But I am fortunate.  I have a happy and healthy family (both nuclear and extended).  I have a lovely home and good job.  I want for nothing.  And in living a life that is so blessed, I felt remiss that its benefits so rarely reached beyond the circle of my own people.  I felt that everything I did had a very short radius back to me. 
I spent a great deal of time soul searching over this topic.  I shared my frustrations and concerns with my husband, sister, parents, and a couple of bloggy friends.  I didn’t want to just “pick a cause” so that I could go through the motions of filling a void.  I wanted to add something to my life that was both valuable to others and meaningful to me.  After several weeks it finally occurred to me.  Children’s Hospital is a place very dear to me.  It is the place that healed my son.  It is the place that gave us comfort and confidence when his new and fragile life was in its capable hands.  And it is a place where I can offer a unique perspective as a woman who has walked its hallways as a mother.

This is how it came to be that in November, after a relatively rigorous application process, I was accepted as a volunteer at Children’s Hospital.  On Wednesday night I spent three hours there participating in Volunteer Orientation.  And sometime in early March I will work my first volunteer shift.

During the orientation session we went through important but dry topics like HIPAA compliance.  We learned about the scope of our responsibilities.  We learned how to properly put on a gown, mask, and gloves if we are called to visit a patient in isolation.  We walked past patient rooms where some kids were being rocked by their parents, but others were alone in their beds. 

One boy in particular is burned in my mind.  He is probably slightly older than IEP.  He was sitting in his crib in hospital pajamas, playing with a rattle, and his cheeks were flushed bright pink.  His family wasn’t there.  He watched intently as our tour group passed by and I felt an ache deep in my gut as I was forced to keep walking, rather than turn on my heels back to his bedside.         

The evening concluded with a placement assessment wherein I met with the volunteer coordinator to discuss my interests within the hospital.  She asked why I wanted to volunteer and I told her about our experiences there and my desire to help others whose paths I’d once walked myself. 

I left the hospital with a strong sense of conviction.  I feel good about this.  Not eager.  Not excited.  Not happy.  But good.  In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever started something new in my life with so few doubts or questions.  I know this will be hard.  I know it will break my heart.  But I know that I can help and that this is the right thing for me to do.    

When I got home Wednesday night GAP and I ate dinner together and I told him all the details from my evening.  Then I made a new batch of baby food for my sweet boy.  Then I walked up to his room and leaned over the side of his crib, watching his curled-up body sigh with sleep.  I laid a blanket over him, ran my hand along the back of his head, and walked out. 

When I got in bed I started my prayer and gratitude journal for Lent.  There are many things I am thankful for.  The first two things on the list were:

Children’s Hospital
The fact that IEP isn’t there

Observance, Forgiveness, and Redemption

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

I’ll go ahead and say it:  I’m religious. 

Now don’t go painting me with your Pat Robertson brush.  I’m not that kind of religious.  Just because I’m religious doesn’t mean I think you should be too. 

But my faith is something that matters a great deal to me.  It always has.  I have attended church weekly (for the most part) during every stage of my life – childhood, college, 20-something singleton, newlywed, and today.  (Also, in case you were wondering, no, I don’t believe that regular church attendance is the only way to have an active faith life.  But that’s a topic for another day.)  I frequently fail at my faith.  I sin every day.  I drift from God periodically.  There are times when my faith is more at the periphery than the center of my life.  But it is always there.

I say all this because today is Ash Wednesday.  Today begins the 40-day journey of Lent that marks Jesus’ period of wandering in the wilderness and leading up to His crucifixion.  Within some Christian denominations (Catholic, particularly) it is common practice to give up something for Lent.  As a nod to Christ’s suffering, we forego something that provides us pleasure or comfort so that we may be reminded of said suffering on a daily basis. 

As a child I was Presbyterian (to some extent I still am) and Lenten sacrifice was not a part of my upbringing.  When I began attending Catholic prep school in junior high I became more familiar with the practice.  And having had many Catholic friends over the years I’ve become well acquainted with the tradition of Lenten sacrifice. 

Here’s my problem with it.  At least as I have seen it practiced, it tends to be more about the technicalities and not so much about Christ.  People give up chocolate candy but still eat chocolate chip cookies because when hidden inside the cookie the chips “don’t count” as candy.  Or they give up cheese except on Sundays because technically Sundays are God’s day and aren’t part of Lent.  Or they give up meat on Fridays (a tradition derived from Middle Eastern fishing cultures where meat was considered a luxury) and instead (ironically) go out for lobster tail or Alaskan halibut topped with a port wine demi glace.  Or, they stick with their chosen sacrifice for a few days, fall off the wagon, and then blow off the rest of the season altogether.

And I’m not quite sure what any of that accomplishes.  For me to go 40 days without sweets would make me cranky, unpleasant, and more focused on planning an Easter menu geared toward saying “stick it!” to Lent than on really observing Christ.  This prospect leaves me cold.  Today, as an Episcopalian (the halfway point between my Presbyterian upbringing and my husband’s Catholic one), I am inclined to bring the observance of Lent into my daily life, but uninspired by the mere eradication of vices.     

[Sidebar: If you are an observer of Lenten sacrifice and feel that 40 days without alcohol or red meat really does bring you closer to God, then more power to you.  I certainly don’t mean to insult.  And I’ll be the first to admit that what doesn’t work for one person may be quite successful for someone else.]

There is an alternative, though.  That alternative is to do the opposite.  Rather than take something out of your life to mimic suffering, you add something to your life.  Perhaps you might carve out more prayer time.  Or volunteer at a homeless shelter.  Or become involved with a charity.  It is this path which I will travel for Lent this year.

Taking a page from my sister’s play book, I am going to adopt the practice of recording my gratitude and my prayers in a daily journal.  Through this practice I hope to become more aware of the many blessings in my life, and more mindful of those in need of my prayers.  I think on these topics frequently, but not regularly.  And I hope that ritualizing the acknowledgement of them will make me more aware of both.  (And if I’m being truly honest, I was very excited to shop for the perfect journal.)

The second Lenten observance does not relate so much to my faith as to my family; and I struggle with this one a bit for that reason.  I will tell you why I’m moving forward with it in spite of these concerns in a moment.  This is a step that GAP and I have decided to take together.  For the season of Lent we will eat dinner at our dining room table.  We eat dinner together every night; and almost every night it is something I have cooked from scratch.  But we almost always eat on trays in front of the television.  Now while we are a couple that communicates well and often, I can’t help but believe there are aspects of our lives getting lost in the shuffle for want of dinnertime conversation.  As for my aforementioned concerns?  It is my hope that through these dinners spent facing each other, instead of the cast of Entourage, we will spend some time discussing our journey through Lent, as well as the ups and downs of our days.    

To be sure, like so many aspects of my faith, I will fail at these too.  There will be nights when I’m dog tired and cannot bring myself to journal before my head hits the pillow.  There will be nights when we say, “But March Madness is in full swing.  Let’s just order carry-out and watch the game.”  But one thing I will commit to is bouncing back from those failures, rather than allowing them to sabotage my Lenten observance altogether.  Because if there’s one thing that the Christian faith offers, it’s forgiveness.  And if there’s a second thing, it’s redemption.

Pleased to Meet You

Monday, February 15th, 2010

I know that I will not post photos.
Or use names.
I will not reveal any identifying details about
where I live.
Perhaps you could find out
if you really wanted to.
You could find out where I am
who I am.
But you probably wouldn’t know me any better.
Even if we met for coffee.

These words were written by Jen of Momalom a little over a month ago.  That’s how long they’ve been swimming in my head; diving deep and swirling around the depths, and then popping back up for air every now and then. 

I too abide by these bloggy rules: no last name; no family names, no cities; no alma maters; no employment details.  You don’t “know” me, so I keep these things private. 

And yet, you do know me.  Some of you know me better than others.  But you do know me, at least a little bit.  You know where my mind wanders.  You know about my goals for this year.  You know of my beliefs about friendship.  You know about some of my insecurities.  You know pieces of advice my mother handed down to me as a child.  You know about some of my hobbies.  And you know bits and pieces about my childhood and family.

The paradox of blogging is that many people who know my last name, place of employment, social security number, and other identifying details of my life don’t know any of these, arguably more substantive, things.  They don’t know that I blog.  They don’t know much about my personality.  But they know my address, what car I drive, when I walk my dogs, what my son looks like, and when I’m out of town. 

And so this begs the question… what is it to know someone?  To “know” me must you know my e-mail address or cell phone number; my shoe size or jeans size; my date of birth or home town?  Or must you know the murky things that lie beneath the surface; the quirks and idiosyncrasies; the fears and vulnerabilities; the pride and affections; the interests and passions?

As I think about the people who know both data sets, it’s not a large group.  My family.  GAP’s family.  A few friends from home.  A few friends from college.  A few friends from graduate school.  And one or two former coworkers.  It’s actually a surprisingly small group.  And I’m not sure how this makes me feel.

Is this isolating?  Do I wish a broader range of people knew the full version of me?  Or do I feel protected by the fact that the number is so small?  Does it mean that I struggle to develop meaningful relationships?  Or does it mean that I am selective?  Is this number something of which to be proud or ashamed?

In spite of a month of wondering, searching, and pondering over Jen’s words, I don’t have answers.  What is it to know me?  I don’t know.  I believe that you know me a little bit.  You know some very important things about me.  Do my neighbors know me?  Yes, a little bit, but not in the same way.  Is one way, at its core, superior to the other?  I’m beginning to think not. 

It is you who respond to my writing with thoughtful comments and affirming perspective.  But it was my neighbor who stored a few hundred ounces of frozen breast milk when our side of the street lost power for a day last summer (a bachelor, no less!).  It is the payroll clerk at my company who knows exactly how much money I make.  But it is my sister who reaches out when life’s transitions wear me down. 

Knowing me – really knowing me – is not a part-time job.  I am complex and layered.  I am not a quick read, despite the illusions of transparency I give.  And I suppose that this makes me happy.  I don’t want to be simple or uncomplicated.  I want to be known; but only by people who really want to know me.  Only by the people who are committed. 

But you probably wouldn’t know me any better.
Even if we met for coffee.

I hope you’ll get to know me better over time.  I hope I’ll get to know you better over time.  But just as a heads up, I don’t drink coffee.

Five Dollar Post: Date Night Reviewed

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Because a couple of people have asked for a follow-up; and because I am enjoying a pleasant and quiet afternoon while IEP naps and GAP attends Mardi Gras festivities; and because it was so much fun to begin with, I am adding a bonus post today.  This is not of my typical ten-dollar variety.  It is just for fun and because I want to.  (Look at me breaking my own M-W-F posting rules!)

So, last night was wonderful.  I arrived at the theatre a bit early, having hit all green lights en route (must have been a good omen!).  When Robert arrived he opened his arms wide to offer me a big hug, and we then collected our pre-purchased tickets from the kiosk.  We debated on soda size and popcorn size.  I confessed my movie-theatre-exclusive addiction to Milk Duds.  Robert showed me his personal technique for evenly distributing butter amongst the lower layers of popcorn.  And we made our way into “theatre number seven on your right.” 

We elbowed our way through all the lovebirds to perfect seats in the first row of the stadium section of the theatre; built-in footrest for me and larger-than-life views of Jessica Biel for Robert.  With about 15 minutes before show time we chatted.  Blackberry vs. iPhone?  Should Robert get a new car, and if so which model?  Cast as a sports agent in this movie would Jessica Biel be even hotter than usual?  And sundry other topics.  It was fun sitting there with my friend, no romantic pretexts, chatting about odds and ends and laughing intermittently.

The movie was… better than I expected.  Granted, my expectations were low.  I thought last year’s Valentine’s Day, ensemble-cast flick He’s Just Not That Into You was depressing, tried too hard, didn’t flow, and generally, um, er, sucked.  So I wasn’t about to walk into disappointment unprepared again.  And yet… the star wattage wasn’t too distracting.  The plot, while wholly predictable was still enjoyable.  The dialogue contained a few dud lines, but not too many.  Several scenes were genuinely funny.  Bradley Cooper was hot.  Oh, and so was Jessica Biel.  Everybody wins!  I thought the whole thing was a lot of fun and I’m very glad I went.

The whole evening was further evidence that my mother’s theory on relationships holds true.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Multiple Valentines

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Like most people, during my childhood I didn’t fully appreciate the wisdom my mother had to offer.  I was quite confident that the thirty years that transpired between her childhood and mine had seen the world change in sizeable enough ways that she could not possibly relate to my tortured adolescent soul.  In retrospect I realize that… I was wrong.

This is a week ripe with advice from my mother.  On Wednesday I told you about her philosophies on trying new foods (which I conveniently extrapolated out to an application to life in general).  Today I bring you her philosophy on relationships.  That philosophy is:

We have different people in our lives for different reasons.  No single person can fulfill all your needs.

She went on to explain to teen-aged me that we are multi-faceted.  We are complex.  We are nuanced.  And we change over time.  It is unrealistic and unfair to expect that any single person would fulfill all of our emotional and companionship needs.

Most of us live this philosophy out on a daily basis without thinking about it.  If I need career advice I go to GAP or my girlfriends from business school.  If I need recipe recommendations I go to my mother, sister, or Aunt B.  If I have parenting questions I go to my group of mommy friends (coincidentally also the MBA friends – we are smart mommies).  If I’m feeling overwhelmed and need perspective and objectivity, I go to my father.  If I need a laugh, or affirmation, or to be challenged I go to GAP.  And if I need to see an unapologetically overcast romantic comedy on opening night, I have someone for that too.

Tonight, which is for much of the world behaving as Valentine’s Day, I have a date.  But it is not with GAP.  GAP has a date with IEP wherein they will stay at home, babble loudly at each other, wrestle on the bed, make big splashes in the bath, and read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? for the 478th time.  They are both quite jazzed about the whole affair.

My date, on the other hand, is with our friend Robert (not his real name).  Robert loves a good romantic comedy.  Robert loves seeing movies on opening night.  And Robert LOVES anything featuring Jessica Biel.  Tonight’s date was meant to be. 

I am excited for this date for a number of reasons.  I am excited that I don’t have to drag GAP to a movie that does not interest him whatsoever (and then listen to him chortle sarcastically at what I’m certain will be a silly plot with even sillier dialogue).  I am excited for a big fountain Coke and box of Milk Duds.  I am excited to hang out with Robert, who is fun and funny and one of my favorite buddies.  I am excited that I don’t have to go alone.  (Going to movies alone is a wonderful experience.  But seeing “Valentine’s Day” alone is too much, even for me.)  I am excited to be doing something fun and festive on a Friday night.  And perhaps most importantly, I am excited that GAP and I are confident enough in each other and comfortable enough in our marriage that we are happy to see each other’s needs met fully, even when we are not the ones to meet them.

On Saturday night GAP and I will have our own Valentine’s Day celebration.  The tentative plan is to dust off the fondue pot that we purchased years ago and have used roughly twice.  We will sip red wine.  We will talk about books and politics and upcoming travel plans.  We will pop in a movie.  And we will curl up on the couch and feel happy to be at home together on a cold winter night.

I am not typically a big fan of Valentine’s Day.  But this year I’m quite looking forward to it.  I have two dates with two people who serve completely different purposes in my life.  It is a blessing and relief to have multiple Valentines.

You Don’t Have to Like It

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Earlier this week I posted a video on my private family blog.  It is a video of IEP sitting in his highchair and crying miserably in the face of… cauliflower.  Usually he is amenable to dietary negotiations.  (“Eat this bite of cauliflower and then you can have another bite of ravioli.”)  But the other night he was not in the mood to barter.  We ended up taking a break to collect ourselves and then returned to the table for a fresh start wherein he did eat his cauliflower. 

I am adamant about picky eating.  I’m sure there are bigger things to worry about in this adventure of parenting.  But this is a battle I choose.  I was raised not to be a picky eater.  “You don’t have to like it, but you have to try it,” were some of my mother’s most famous words.  Those words got me to eat certain things that I loved (bread pudding!) and certain things that I didn’t (stewed zucchini?).   So today there are very few foods that I simply won’t eat.  And I’m very thankful that culinary breadth was foisted upon me without the opportunity to appeal. 

As a rule I think that attitudes about food can be (somewhat) reasonably extrapolated out into the larger picture of life.  And so recently I’ve been thinking about this philosophy as it applies to life in general.  The older we get the easier it is to define ourselves as a defined set of interests and activities.  Childhood finds us constantly trying new things – piano lessons, Girl Scouts, softball, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, horseback riding, ice skating, and ballet.  (Sorry guys, I don’t have any brothers, so I don’t really know what you did as kids… besides torment your sisters.)  But as adults we are no longer signing up for summer camp activities, electives, and various kinds of lessons.  We know what we like and what we don’t like, and we stick with it. 

But what if we were a bit more adventuresome?  What if we tried new things every now and then?  Sure, we might not like them.  Sure, we might regret time or money wasted on a dud.  But we might find something we love.  Or, we might at least get a good story out of it.

Better yet, why do we limit ourselves as adults?  What is about adulthood that makes us cling to our safety nets so dearly.  Elizabeth from Life in Pencil explored the relationship aspect of this question in her guest post over at Motherese the other day.  She insightfully pointed out that with age we are more inclined to dig our heels in than to tap dance our way into a paradigm shift, which, to me, is just plain sad.

We may not be ten years old anymore.  We may no longer thirst for the next new experience the way we once did.  We may find that the familiar suits us just fine.  But how did we find our way to the familiar?  At some point, it was new!  At some point it was strange and maybe uncomfortable.  As I think about some of the things that I cherish most in my life – going to college, living on my own, traveling alone, speaking another language, mothering – my first experiences with each were exhilarating.  But they were also frightening and overwhelming.   

I am as guilty of this rut as the next person.  It’s so easy to stick to your routine.  And there is real value in routine.  It allows us to let our guard down.  We can focus on the little things that bring us pleasure and joy when we aren’t spending our days fielding new and unwieldy circumstances.  But over time our routines can come to own us, rather than the other way around.  We come to rely on them so fiercely that we never venture beyond their bounds.

Like many of us, IEP would gladly eat nothing but his favorite foods day after day.  But I will continue to push him out of his comfort zone.  Some days there will be cauliflower in my hands.  But some day there will be bread pudding.  And when the bread pudding day comes, I hope he will be happy that he learned to try new things. 

In the meantime, I will try to live by my mother’s words more broadly.

Super Brawl?

Monday, February 8th, 2010

As I’m sure you’re aware, yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday.  Perhaps you, like I, went to a Super Bowl party wherein you watched the commercials the game, snacked unabashedly daintily, and generally had a good time.  For most of America that is about how the evening transpired.

Now, in the interest of integrity, this post was supposed to be something entirely different.  I had intended to write a thoughtful post about the sordid underbelly of the Super Bowl; an underbelly of domestic violence.  I was going to write about the “fact” of increased domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday. 

It is a “fact” that is well-known to many of us.  It was widely reported in the media a few years back and has been handed down since then via a dedicated grass-roots effort.  And it is a “fact” that we all easily acknowledged because it so effortlessly blends with our perception of angry and drunken football fans. 

But here’s the thing about this “fact.”  I looked it up and… It is not at all true.  (See? My quotes weren’t just errant over-punctuation.)   
It certainly rings true.  We think of oafish drunks growing hostile over their team’s loss and smacking their wives or girlfriends around and we can envision it perfectly.  But they don’t.  Well, some of them probably do.  But on Super Bowl Sunday and the following Monday domestic violence support and call centers don’t report any higher victim volumes than any other day. 
And so I was disappointed. 
WHAT?  Disappointed?  Disappointed that a perceived escalation in domestic abuse is nothing more than urban legend?  And all because it foiled my plans for a POST? 
Once I got to thinking about it I realized that the reason for my disappointment was not really about “normal” levels of domestic abuse, but on the lost opportunity to shed a wee amount of light on a critical problem in our society.

But my little blog is still here.  And this problem still exists.  And just because Super Bowl Sunday can’t serve as a convenient entrée into this topic doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still raise it.  So here I go. 

So what is true about domestic violence?  Here are a few statistics:

  • One in four women will experience domestic violence in her life.
  • Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
  • Only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.
  • Less than one-fifth of victims reporting an injury from intimate partner violence sought medical treatment following the injury.

I recently stumbled across the blog Violence UnSilenced, which left me, well, silenced.  Stunned.  Quiet.  Shocked into submission.  It is an astounding website.  Founded about a year ago by Maggie, Dammit it is a blog that seeks to shed light within the blogging community on the epidemics of domestic violence and sexual abuse/assault–by giving survivors a voice.  And the voice that it gives them is heart rending and inspiring.  Their stories are brave and raw and powerful and frightening.  I feel soft and coddled and spoiled in the shadows of these women.

But as my husband is inclined to ask me in situations like these, what does that accomplish?  What does it accomplish for me to sit at my desk reading hideous stories of manipulation and abuse and not act?  Big. Fat. Nothing.           

I have chosen to write.  While that alone does not change the life of an abused person, there are other things I can do.  There are things you can do.  We can learn the factsDonate a carDonate a phone.  Donate moneyDonate your time
There were many stories told on Sunday.  There was the story of how it was bittersweet for Peyton Manning to go up against his dad’s old team.  There was the story of how this Super Bowl victory is a glimmer of hope for the residents of New Orleans, many of whom are still fighting against the lingering ravages of hurricane Katrina. 
But there are stories that won’t be told.  In fact, there are stories that will be hidden.  Stories of black eyes and bruised ribs.  Stories of insults hurled and venom spewed.  Stories of bullying and terrorizing. 

These are the stories that matter more.  Matter most.