Friday, May 29, 2009

Who Do I Call To Complain?

I put this picture up because 1. it's cool looking, 2. my daughter took it, which makes it a bit more cool to me personally and 3. i'm too damn fat to put a picture of myself up today. (Thinking positive, I could be way thinner tomorrow so...)
My question is, who do I call? I need a roving complaint department. If I only had complaints in one or two areas, I could have a stationary department. I'd go to that department with my occasional query or concern and let them deal with it on their own timetable. But that's not the scenario here.
As it stands, I need a team of people to follow me around so I can complain about everything that bugs me and then have it dealt with by people with headsets, matching vests and sickly sweet voices. In fact, scratch that. I need a team of people to follow me around with headsets, any kind of vests and some basic competence, because it's the competence that's sorely lacking everywhere I go. In the interest of fairness in this tough job-market, I'm willing to negotiate the head pieces and vest-wear but any lack of competence would be a deal breaker.
What the heck happened to simple competence? The ability to smoothly, in one try - two -maximum - do things as simple as answer a phone or schedule an appointment or remember that a mom is waiting five panic-inducing days for a call to determine if her child's blood test revealed diabetes. It didn't but I had to call six times to get that answer in a very casual tone from a doctor who seemed mildly unaware that this was even an issue of concern. What happened to getting an intelligible answer from a clerk - wearing the vest, mind you - at a store about a product they sell? If another kid says 'umm' to me for more than five seconds when I ask a question about a product in a store they work in, I'm going to do bad things that will land me on the flippin nightly news - where, I might suggest, someone finally admit that they don't know a damn thing about the weather or politics or the economy and openly assert that they're just putting on a nice variety show with a 'newsy' theme. Jon Stewart's making quite a nice living at that, thank you very much, and I watch his show getting exactly what I'm supposed to get - a good laugh out of all the nonsense that we pass off as importance.
Sadly, the things that are important are falling victim to the epidemic of incompetence that is running rampant through our lives. And everyone's just merrily plodding along, bumping into the incompetence all the time like electrons pinging off each other in a whatever-it-is-they-ping-around-in. The crazy thing is, if the chronic lack of competence we suffer manifested itself as a cough, we would name it after a farm animal and then in the ultimate act of stupidity-gone-wild, we'd put it on the news! It'd play right after the segment on me shoving some hapless Home Depot kid into a lawn-mower's side bag! That bugs me to no end. So who do I call?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Stealing my boy's poem (is it a haiku?) to share a little smile with you... it's called


I am happy. Isn't that rad?

I am grinning like someone not sad.

I grin all day.

There's nothing else to say.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Ways Both Great and Small

Meet Lucy. Trying to be grown-up-ish but still too young to avoid squinting in the sun, not yet vain enough to remove glasses when being photographed, half-laughing at her own attempt at a more mature pose. She's a baby. But. Nonetheless, there it is. Indisputably. Conspicuously. Irrevocably. My baby is growing up. I love it. But I hate it.
Lucy is my first, my 'original baby' as we put it in our house. The twins are copies, Lucy likes to say, of the real thing. I don't always disagree - at least about the real thing part. Lucy is it. All of it. She is, in fact, the reason, my husband and I became convinced just a year into parenting that we were born to make babies. The next year when we had three children in diapers we decided we were both born with brain damage and should never be allowed to make such critically important decisions again. We haven't since and I think we all agree its for the best.
I don't have the vocabulary to tell you how I feel about Lucy, because the words haven't been invented yet. So I'll use the meager contents of Webster's to try. Lucy is the beauty in beautiful and the wonder in wonderful. She is sweetness walking, all grace and glow. What I have in temper and tantrum, Lucy has in patience and forethought. When other moms come over with their small children, they happily hand them over to Lucy without batting an eye - even the hyper-neurotic ones (and I was one, so I can say that) feel perfectly confident with their children in Lucy's care. She is mature without being overbearing about it, and she is kind without being annoyingly so. She is playful and silly, and has an uncanny ear for accents and characters. She's not the kind of person who you would think could make you laugh, but she can - until you pee - because she's so damn funny. Her good friends now will be friends for life, because that is the kind of friend she is. Whatever God put into the sun and water to make it glisten, he put into Lucy. She is aptly named as she brightens every space she occupies, even when she's dark beyond reason.
I like to tell myself that some of her gifts are owed to our careful parenting and outstanding genetics. I'd actually like to take credit for the whole thing, but I took that bio class and I know about the DNA thing so I say 'our' but I mean 'my'. All of that is hogwash, of course, because the truth is that what Lucy has can only be received from a much higher place. In fact, when I'm in my right mind (stop it) I pray that she influences me more than I influence her because I think there's a cost benefit ratio there that works better if you switch the natural order.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll say that my chair-tipping, gum-smacking, back-talking, sass-a-frass of a tween has her moments. I particularly love when she uses my own vernacular against me, "Say 'swear to God'". Or slams me with my own logic, "why are you challenging me on that?" remembering stuff I don't remember saying, but sounding so much like me that I agree I must have said it and then reverse what I'm saying in the present to agree with what she says I said in the past. What's more, she sounds alot like me on the phone now too, lending an element of creepy to the whole thing. I'd be afraid if I wasn't so madly convinced that she probably knows better than I do.
I'm not sure how many moms would say that about their soon-to-be-teen girls. I'm also trying hard to figure out how I managed to raise such a calm, reassuring child amidst the tropical storm that has been her upbringing. I seriously look around sometimes, waiting for the Nutty Patrol to come pick me up. "You there, in the mom outfit! Halt! What do you think you're doing??" In my nightmares, neighbors line the streets and shake their heads in disbelief as I'm carted off for impersonating a woman who could ever have such a lovely, amazing and magical daughter. "Wait!" I trail off, desperate to get back to my baby so I can hug her and smell her hair and be needed by her and wanted by her because she and my Sam and Sara are all I can ever think of. The shock of it all catapults me out of bed some nights and I rush into the kids' room to make sure everyone's there. I re-tuck Sara, who always flings off her covers and then shivers away the night. I smooth Sam's hair in a losing battle to restyle it the way I like it - even in his sleep (what a loon I am!). And then I lean over my beloved Lucy, touch her face and whisper in her ear. I can't tell you what I say... it's between us... and even she is asleep when I say it... although sometimes I could swear she's just pretending...
But what I mean by it is this: from the moment I felt the flutter of you inside me, through the time I first held your tiny little self in my hands, past the time when you told me, hands-on-hips, "I will NEVER play toys with you again," through all the times I had to tell you "Not now" and you walked away so sadly, to the times I have comforted you because I was the only one that would do, and through everything that has and will come, you are the reason I am here. You are why God made me and because of you, I am changed forever, in ways both great and small. What else could I say?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Living In The Spirit

What an incredibly potent and impossible mission. Regardless of your religious educational background, we can all admit to a certain level of spirituality, right? We all have our own senses of morality, goodness, rightness, unless we are laboring under the anvil of some terrible disorder. And I've always thought that the commonality of our senses is what binds us across geographic barriers, languages, sexes - everything. We are, on some level, a community of humans with intuitive feelings about, not just survival but, the truth of our existence.

Whether we come to define these senses because they are insinuated upon us by leather-bound books and years of rote instruction or by familial tradition and tribal practice, we have them. Thus, we all live with a measuring tool applied to our actions, our words. How often have you lamented, "I should have called so and so" or exalted, "I totally nailed that!" Your reasons for having those thoughts can be pared down to their simplest form and then measured against your tool for ascribing value: 'The Bible says...' or 'Rabbi told me...' or whatever your method is.

But now ask yourself how often you have thought "Someone should do something about X". And how often have you been that someone? Of course, the reason for thinking that "someone" should do something is not because you want some action taken to protect yourself. In order to protect yourself, you do something without declaring it. It should be done, it affects you, so you do it. But how often do you see something affecting someone else and then do something to correct it? And for purposes of this conversation, let's eliminate the obvious like pulling your 8-year-old son off of your 8-year-old daughter during a dispute about a glow-in-the-dark rubber bug. When do you see injustice, pain, cruelty - even simple inadequacy - and do something about it?

I just read an excerpt from a book I'm definitely going to buy - The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah and was completely blown away. Just about everything I read struck a chord with me, but this, in particular, was very interesting:
The American church, in taking its cues from Western, white culture, has placed at the center of its theology and ecclesiology the primacy of the individual. The cultural captivity of the church has meant that the church is more likely to reflect the individualism of Western philosophy than the value of community found in Scripture. The individualistic philosophy that has shaped Western society, and consequently shaped the American church, reduces Christian faith to a personal, private and individual faith.

I've had people ask me a million times why I'm so 'involved' in my neighborhood, my children's lives, etc. Truth is, I'm probably over-involved, so it's a fair question. But my answer is simple: I don't have it in me to be self-protective to the detriment of my community. I consider a lack of involvement in one's community to be a failure of morality - even of humanity - because my faith and my culture (not completely Western) have taught me so. If I see a need at my local park, and I attend that park, take my children to that park, smell the air and take in the greenery, I owe that park my care, my time, my consideration. If my child's school is lacking in something, then all the children are lacking, and they are all my children because we all belong to the same universe. There're a million different scenarios for this and obviously, I can't be involved in every single thing. I'm not going to be.

But I can strive. I can choose to remember that I am a 'we' and an 'us'. I can live in the Spirit - a Spirit that lives within us, in a million ways, with a million names - across all barriers. I can, and I will. Will you?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mixed Feelings On Mother's Day

As the weather warms and bright colors bring out the best in us, cheer creeps into our daily dulls and reasons to celebrate abound. It's Easter - break out the yellow! It's spring - let's plant some flowers! It's Mother's Day - let's....ooohhh... ummm.... lemme see.... uhhhh.... Blink. Blink.
On the one hand, I'd like to spend the whole day hugging and loving all the moms I know, showing them kindness and making them laugh. On the other hand, I'd like to get lost in a spa somewhere and have to get massaged and pedicured to near-death before I can leave. And on the other hand (I have three children, hence the extra hand.) I'd like to spend at least that day making my own mother as happy as she could possibly be.
I'd have to work extra hard at that, first to make up for all the mean terrible things I do to my poor mother all year long and then to compensate for her self-admitted tendency to be a Greek chorus about everything imaginable. I often joke with a friend that if I ever told my mother I'd won millions in the lottery the first thing she'd say would be "Oh dear, the taxes are going to kill you," in as concerned and motherly a voice as possible.
But, with all her faults, my mother so dearly and desperately deserves to be happy. She's the most deserving person I know, mostly because she never gets the recognition she is owed. If I had to list the things I think she should be recognized for, I'd go on and on (surprise!). But if I had to list just a few, I'd likely have to include these:
- having me and keeping me, when it wasn't the easy thing to do. Whatever good qualities I have, I have learned them from her. Now, seeing in my own children some of those same qualities, I am doubly proud and gratified;
- being a person of great care in ways large and small. While it's easy to dismiss little acts of kindness, the gentle touches, sincere smiles and handwritten notes in your life are exactly what make it worth living. My mother loves in the verb tense of the word, with amazing grace;
- being a thinker and a learner, always. It's the hardest thing to do to assert to your own self that you don't know something and then to go learn it, even if you have to learn it from someone you used to teach. There's an inherent innocence and goodness that comes with that which I so admire; and
- making me feel safe. Of course, my mother's years of fending off attacks and wearing the armor of a single parent are well behind us. The years of protecting me and carrying us both have worn her down and there are days when the tire of long days long gone catch up and she must rest. She couldn't catch me three steps away from her if she tried (although she's gotten pretty creative use out of that cane). But my mother has a way of making you feel that everything will be alright. She's convincing, I think, because she is convinced.
Whether by practice or pride, my mother will not allow the idea that goodness will not prevail and your best will not see you through. It's the simplest thing, really. The more I parent, the more I realize that those two things - believing in goodness and working hard for it - are just about the most important tools in the arsenal. They allow you to carry on with every day, rejoicing in the best of times and smiling through your worst, knowing that goodness reigns and the road ahead will bring more of it.
My mother always tells me the best thing she ever did was have me. I certainly feel the same way about my children. Mostly, though, I am able to love my children so deeply and truly because I myself was loved so well. I was loved with a story and a soft song before bed, and a warm embrace when sad, and a firm hand when needed. I was loved with food and music and dance. I was loved with color and joy and discipline and pride. I was loved with a healthy dose of fear and an even greater quantity of laughter and silliness. I was loved the very best I could be loved and, in return, I love the very best I can back.
I guess, when I think about it, my feelings aren't so mixed after all.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

When All Else Fails, Be Happy

Ever notice that a flurry of bad news can make it seem like its snowing sad? I was feeling a little bombarded this week with news of friends who'd just lost jobs, the revelation that a file at work was failing after over a year of work, and the return of a friend who'd just come back from the second of two funerals in her daughter's family in less than two years. Of late, I've been doing my best to stay upbeat with a new focus on my own health and well-being but, since my self-diagnosis of obsessive making-people-happy-itis was recently revealed, it will be no surprise that all this news of others' sadness was bringing me down, down, down.
Then this morning, after I came home from my early-day walk, I crept upstairs to the babies to see if I could steal some snuggling time before they woke up. Sam, my boy, who has always been as regular as a fine Swiss timepiece, was already up. He was diligently going through his drawers looking for the right shirt to wear to his first of several choir performances today. He'd already made his bed and brushed his teeth and was trying to be extra quiet so as not to wake up the girls, with whom he shares a room. In that moment, as has happened to me many times, I was overwhelmed with what a good boy he is. I could barely keep myself together.
What a good, good boy my Sam is. He is the very definition of goodness. He is noble and kind, loving and thoughtful, so sweet he makes you want to smile even when you're not in a smiling kind of mood. He is earnest in all things, genuine to a fault, and seriously sincere. I wish everyone in the world would get a few moments to know my little boy because I think just about everyone he comes in contact with must be the better for having met him. If I didn't selifshly want him to be (and know he'll be great at being) a dad, I'd say he's exactly the kind of person the church needs to draw people into the faith. And don't take my word for it - his teachers actually tear up when they tell me how much they love having him in the class. That'd border on the weird if I didn't tear up myself when I describe him to other people. He's just that kind of kid.
Don't get me wrong. The boy can annoy with the best of them. He is 8 and has been growing up with sisters so there's no end to the use of plastic snakes, rubber spiders, and real live worms he has invented. (I'm particularly impressed in a 'that is so disgusting' kind of way with the planting of worms in the laundry room, a long-term investment in the inevitable squeal, usually from me.) He is a fresh-air addict and is completely nonplussed by the insistance that a child must remain indoors during blizzards or thunderstorms. His father has taken to buying him only velcro-strap shoes because he has tired of ranting about the need to tie shoes. (The boy can do it, he just knows now that it gets a rise out of his dad when he doesn't so... velcro it is!) Sam's chronic teasing has brought everyone in the family to tears, or tearing out hair, depending on the occasion. And if I have to tell him one more time that 'neatness counts' when he does his homework I may have to stab myself in the pupils with sharp #2 pencils just to release the stress.
But, oh my good Lord, the love that boy generates is like sunshine all around you on a perfect summer day. When Julie Andrews sings 'the hills are alive' and twirls around on that mountaintop, she's feeling that feeling that I get when I see my baby boy, I just know it. And on the worst of my days, when I'm as low as I can be, I can look at that face, that face that had to be in an incubator when first born because it was so so tiny, that face that smiles broadly all the time for no good reason at all, that face that looks just like my face, but exactly like my husband's face too, I can look at that face and know I haven't a care in the world.

When all else fails, I can look at that face and be happy. And no amount of snow can dampen that kind of happiness.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I just love that song

Channel your best Jimmy Durante -that's the only way to do it - and then 'doon doon' the piano parts and away you go....

It's so important to make someone happy. Make just one someone happy. Make just one heart to heart you, you sing to. One smile that cheers you. One face that lights when it nears you. One girl you're - you're everything to.

Fame, if you win it, comes and goes in a minute. Where's the real stuff in life, to cling to? Love is the answer. Someone to love is the answer. Once you've found her, build your world around her. Make someone happy. Make just one someone happy. And you will be happy too.

Here's the thing, though. I'm not knockin' it. I love the tune, I truly do. But man, oh, man. It's not that easy, is it? It sounds swell, to use the vernacular of the original penner, but the execution is just near-impossible. I'm trying and I can tell you - but you already know - to make someone happy is some serious business.

I suppose it would be exponentially less difficult if you only had one person to make happy. Ever. That, I probably could do. But the thing is, I think I'm addicted to trying to make others happy. Not others like, my immediate family. Or even others, like, my extended family. I've spread myself out beyond the family and friends circle into the wider community and, when I've had that extra cup, the world at large! Verizon got that whole idea from me.

When I visualize it, I feel like I'm like a bad wind-up toy that doesn't run out. Bzzzzzzzz.... Time to wake up babies......bzzzzzzzz.... Here are your lunches, no mayo for you Sara, no crust for you Lucy, double of everything for you Sam....bzzzzzzzz.... Here's your coffee, honey......bzzzzzzzz.... Forgot your book, sweetheart ....bzzzzzzzz.... PTA needs volunteers? I'll get right on that ....bzzzzzzzz.... You need me to cover phones at work? I'm your gal ....bzzzzzzzz.... What mom? Not getting enough attention. I'm on that too ....bzzzzzzzz.... You need a gift for your husband and can't afford to get him what he wants? Let me see what I can do! ....bzzzzzzzz....

Is all that really necessary?

Of course not. My husband doesn't even drink coffee, really. I just make it every day and hand him a cup. He's tired of telling me he doesn't want any, so he just takes it, savors one sip for my benefit, then leaves it on the counter. I've even manufactured a way of making his cup different from mine, so I can say 'Made it just the way you like it.' Seriously? What kind of crazy is that?

What's worse is, I have these episodes (like today) where I sense I'm going overboard and try to self-correct. But then I lurch backward in such awkward fashion that I end up offending someone or causing myself some sort of real physical injury. (I cut my toe once trying to avoid someone on the street so I wouldn't have to say 'no' to her. It hurt. Alot.) The fact is, the trauma of separating myself from my obsessive 'helping' is almost as, if not moreso, damaging than the OCD assistance itself.

Even worse than that? My husband has gotten ratcheted so far down on the list he's taken to reading self-awareness books to figure out how he can recapture my attention. The truth is - and this is the real truth, not some Seinfeld gag - it's not him - it's me! And even worse than that? I love him. Love him love him love him. Want to be a good wife, be interested, be affectionate and romantic. But by the time its 'our time' at 9 p.m. and I spend an extra few minutes writing this self-indulgent drivel, I'm so used up you'd just as well put a wax 'as is' tag on my forehead and trot me out of the showroom to the corner of the outdoor lot.

And all the while, I'm not so sure the manic 'making people happy' thing is actually having the desired effect. My tweenie is never quite happy anymore because she's... well... tweenie. My son is never quite happy because he is the human incarnation of Charlie Brown. Good grief. And my youngest daughter is always happy and always will be no matter what I do because... she doesn't know any better. My neighborhood is what it is either with or without me. My community knows me and, if it sees me coming, smiles wanly and walks briskly by. The people at work are afraid of me because of my chronic niceness. (Realtors think its a sign of mental disorder or evidence of KGB-like tactical planning. Either way it's bad in Realtorland.) People at the kids' school are avoiding me, literally averting their eyes. It'd be funny if I wasn't so busy chasing them down to insist on their attention. On second thought, that probably is funny for others.

So when I reflect, I feel like the human equivalent of a silly string party after everyone's spent. Fun while it lasts, but afterwards, the whole thing is a mess. I wish I could stop trying to please. I wish I could leave the dishes and ignore the call for help and act like a moron when they try to show me how to put a call on hold. I wish I could leave my kids with a sitter and flutter out like a butterfly for an evening out with my husband and never look back. I wish I could.

The thing is, it is so important to make someone happy. Doon Doon. Doon Doon.