Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Never Underestimate the Power of the Dark Side

Screens are evil. When they are on, my children are happy and calm. When they get turned off, my children totally lose their cool. The other night, at his usual bedtime, I asked my son to go up to bed and read for twenty minutes. It was halfway through "Cupcake Wars", with the winner far from certain, but I was not prepared for the reaction that followed: Darth Vader appeared in our family room.

Yes, I could go with the Jekyll and Hyde analogy, but Star Wars makes much more sense to an eight-year-old. With the exception of the entire year he was three, my son is 99% Anakin Skywalker and 1% Vader. He is a sweet boy who loves to invent machines, build Lego and cook but once in a while, usually when he is tired or coming down with something, he succumbs to the dark side where he is no less creative.

This particular night, after a foot-stomping tantrum that woke up Minx and some weird rustling noises on the stairs, he finally took himself up to bed. When I went up some time later I had to step carefully to avoid the tacks that had been planted on each stair then quietly remove an entire legion of miniature Nazi and Allied war tanks and troops that blocked the door to my bedroom. Crumpled atop a Panzer was a note expressing his hope that I had regretted my decision to send him up before the show had finished and letting me know that he hated me.

All that running around I did for him that day - searching for the Halloween costume he asked for, mailing in his iTouch to have the screen fixed, buying the ingredients for a recipe he wanted to make with me, and then making it - all gone with one flick of the TV remote.

The teen years should be fun.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Zen, baby!

I just finished reading this excellent book called, "Buddha's Brain." It's written by a neuropsychologist and a neurologist and it basically explains how thoughts can physically shape your brain. Apparently, breakthroughs in modern neuroscience support the insights of people who have spent their lives meditating (like Buddha)so that you can actually re-program your brain to have a greater sense of well-being. Cool, right?!

I know it sounds a bit hippy but I am tired of always being angry about something. I actually have permanent frown lines. I'm tired of not sleeping. I'm tired of feeling restless and worrying about everything. Maybe this will help.

So I'm trying very hard to be present, to take deep breathes, throw back my shoulders and mediate for 5 minutes each day on something that happened that made me feel happy: Talking to my mom on the phone, the spontaneous hug Minx gave me when I made her breakfast, laughing over coffee with Weaselsnark (at someone else's expense - does that count?), the smell of rain ... I don't want to become the next Dalai Lama, I just want some peace of mind.

If you see me at the airport wearing a saffron robe and waving a marigold, you'll know I've taken it too far.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Picture This

I'm a fairly critical person. That's probably sugarcoating it. I'm pretty tough-- both on myself and others (but always with humor!).

Like finds like, so I suppose it is no surprise that my closest friends have always matched me in observing, and noting, human foibles.

Not all transgressions are minor, though. Since high school, my best friend and I have used the term "stupid picture" as shorthand for that moment where you've seen someone do something that will forever change how you view them. The boyfriend that showed up one day wearing knee-high mocassin boots. The roommate who angrily insisted to the waitress that it's "pea-lime pie." Ugh. Even thinking about examples is making me uncomfortable.

And yet, as many stupid pictures as I've witnessed, I know I've committed more of them myself (and that's not including the slew that I've happily forgotten-- there's the downside of Marilu Henner's incredible memory gift right there). Last night I added another cringe-worthy moment to my long list.

A friend called after 8pm begging me to please get on the phone with her daughter and pretend to be the tooth fairy. Evidently Sue, the woman who usually plays that role, was out at her son's ball game or something. What?! Wouldn't the daughter recognize my voice?? What do I say?? Don't you have a million other friends who could do this? (I was already super uncomfortable). My friend pleaded with me, saying that her daughter lost two teeth that day and had been waiting by the phone for the tooth fairy to call. Sue, she added helpfully, always uses a high squeaky voice. Groan.

So, grudgingly, I hid myself away from my husband (who gleefully threatened to tape my discomfort) and made the call. So self-conscious I could barely speak, I could only hope that my friend wasn't listening in on the extension as I tried to make tooth small talk with a five year old in my best Minnie Mouse voice. Awful. It couldn't be over soon enough for me.

Although, I guess it worked. My friend called back ten minutes later and told me that her daughter practically flew from the phone to her bed. Small consolation for my stupid picture, a squeaky, goofy, over-acting self-portrait. Oof.

Friday, September 9, 2011

ER drama

I like few things less that sitting in an emergency room on a Sunday, during a holiday weekend, in the Hamptons. Possibly, an emergency room at 1am on the night after a hurricane might be worse. But stitches that go in also need to come out and it all needs to be done in five days or the skin starts to grow over the stitches. EW!

So I'm sitting in a surprisingly busy ER reception area surrounded by the strangest group of people ever to share a room (ok, Barnum and Bailey's mess tent aside). On the one side we had a Hispanic crowd whose ailments included a full-blown case of poison ivy and a screaming toddler with a pinky finger sticking out at right-angles to her hand. On the other side, a couple of social skeletons, dressed in whale-print trousers and wearing white sun-hats inside (to shade their immobile faces from what, I don't know. Maybe the Hispanics?), waiting to hear news on a heart-attack victim.

There was a kid who had been beaned in the head with a baseball and passed out. And then there was a family of four who had their son's friend for the weekend and had discovered a bat on the light fixture in the kids' room while the kids were sleeping, and failing to remove said bat, had left it til morning in the room WITH THE CHILDREN! So they were there for hours waiting to start a preventative rabies treatment. I'm guessing there won't be a second playdate anytime soon ...

We were just there to get the stitches out of my son's eyelid. We waited half an hour to check in, another half hour to see a nurse, an hour for the plastic surgeon to be paged (dotted with insults that ANY doctor could take out the stitches no matter what the surgeon who put them in said!), only to be told that the plastic surgeon was in surgery and, no, they couldn't say for how long.

"OK, but can you ballpark it? Is he re-attaching an earlobe or is he performing a full-facial transplant?" (medical staff LOVE sarcasm btw). We were sent back to the waiting room.

Ten minutes later, they called us back in to the same room (although there are now fresh sheets on the bed) to say the doctor has finished the amputation and will see my son now. GULP. Amputation?! Dear God, I am sorry I was such a bitch.

The eyebrow looks perfect though.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Miss-lead and Miss-direct

Last year I read The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin's account of her year-long attempt to be-- you guessed it-- happier. The cover art caught my eye when I walked into the library: a row of brownstones (Brooklyn maybe?) under a bright blue sky. I remember reading the jacket and deciding to check out the book to see what this "mom like me" had to say.

A lot of what Rubin came up with was pretty obvious: don't let yourself get cold, hungry, or tired and you'll be happier! One of the chapters was about ridding her apartment of clutter. I felt for Rubin. At the time, I happened to be knee-deep in weeding through all of our clothes, books, and toys and could only imagine how overwhelming the sheer volume of stuff would be in a NYC apartment. I remember how pleased Rubin was to be able to leave one shelf completely clear, how it represented control and calm and possibility. We only ever had one kid in our two-bedroom apartment when we lived in the city and the closets were packed to capacity. I was impressed.

The more I read, though, the more skeptical (and irritated) I became. How was Rubin, with her two young kids, 1) researching and writing historical works; 2) writing and blogging about her happiness project; 3) helping her friends clean out their closets; 4) attending book clubs about YA fiction; 5) meeting people for umpteen lunches and dinners out; and on and on. Where were her kids? How come she never mentioned rushing back for the sitter? How did the kids factor so little in her happiness or daily life? I read the dedication and acknowledgements looking for a shout-out to a nanny. Nothing.

So I hit google. Turns out Ms. Rubin is married to some serious money and lives in a triplex on Park Avenue. The clean shelf lost it's punch right there. I found no mention anywhere by Ms. Rubin of the huge role reliable childcare played in her (kind of ridiculous, considering the facts) pursuit of happiness. I felt seriously duped.

Cut to this year.

Shame on me, because I've been fooled again. I've been a casual fan of Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) for a couple of years. I read the cooking part of her blog and was always impressed that this "mom like me" could help run a ranch in Oklahoma while simultaneously raising and homeschooling her four kids and updating her website with her recipes, photos, essays and more. I marveled at her energy.

Turns out, Drummond, too, is married to some serious money. Her quaint ranch is the equivalent of at least a triplex on Park Avenue. And evidently she has a teacher for her kids. And a staff for her website.

I certainly don't begrudge these women their money or their nannies. I do, however, resent their lack of candor. It's kind of like the airbrushing out of fat and wrinkles in magazine spreads. Omitting pertinent facts is as bad as lying about them. And twice as aggravating.