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Friday, September 26, 2014

8 Things I Took Away from My Weekend with Oprah and 1 I Did Not

There she is, from the plebe seats.

Monday. Returned late last night from my Oprah weekend in Washington. To find nothing had changed. Literally. The freshly folded clean towels were still sitting on the coffee table, along with an empty glass and an opened but empty padded envelope that were there when I left. The clean laundry I’d folded and carried upstairs was still in the basket, no longer folded. Etc.

Ok, to be fair, I must say that there were groceries. But there were also piles of unwashed laundry, the stuff that usually gets done because I either do it, or tell someone else to do it. Why is this? Because I’m the mother. And I was away. Did I leave the offspring to fend for themselves? No, I did not. The husband was there. So there’s pizza wrapped up in the fridge. Ok, shut up. Stop complaining. My point here is really not that the husband didn’t do the chores. It’s that the husband didn’t do the chores. But in a different way. He took the kids on a hike, for example. He took advantage of the good weather and did something fun. Ain’t that the way with dads? The result is that I go away and return to semi-disaster, and the kids don’t even miss me.

Maybe I should be grateful. I was talking to someone who told me that when her kids were little, and she went away, they would punish her when she returned. They would act out, refuse to speak to her, misbehave. Anything to let her know they were not happy.

Weds. Both children have had emotional breakdowns over different topics, birds among them. So perhaps they are punishing me after all.

But I digress. I guess it’s not a digression, since I haven’t even gotten to the topic yet. It’s a delay. I delay. I withhold.

Okay, Readers, yes, I went to Oprah’s The Life You Want traveling revival event in Washington last weekend. How did it happen? Groupon, through a friend of a friend, and a “what the hell” moment. Most anyone I told that I was going to Oprah’s The Life You Want reacted with disbelief and ridicule. Yes, ridicule. You thought you were veiling it, friends. It was unveiled. But whatever. I went in an anthropological mood. And, since you won’t admit you’d like to know what I learned, I’ll give you a few highlights. Because I am transformed and enlightened now, and am no longer petty.

1. Oprah: Put on your oxygen mask first. Also, airlines tell you to do this. They mean it literally.

2. Elizabeth Gilbert: Listen for the whispers of your calling/quest.  Slow down so you can hear. And when you hear it, you’ll feel afraid, but don’t make your fear precious. It doesn’t need special handling. It’s just fear. Everyone has it.

3. Mark Nepo: There’s a Sioux saying that the longest journey is from your head to your heart.
This one resonated so much with me while I was in the arena; but when I related it to someone who wasn’t there, she asked, “What does that mean? How do you do it?”
 Damned if I know. It’s pretty typical of my moments of inspiration that when I examine them more closely, their impact dissipates, like a hologram, maybe.

4. Soul Cycle: Change your body, change your mind, change your life. We had a 15 minute aerobic exercise session in our arena seats, and it was a great reminder of how fun it is to move to loud music, pump your arms, and scream.

5. Oprah: you are the master of your life. Create a vision of what you need and want, and put it out There. If you’re clear about it, the universe will give you back clarity. This, by the way, is another hologrammatic saying, I find. Or a tautology. Yes, I think that’s it.

6. Iyanla Vanzant: Friends tell you what you might not wanna hear. Life is your friend. Life teaches you lessons all the time. Have a spiritual practice – praise life, be grateful for it. And drink something that looks like champagne in front of a large arena crowd, ‘cuz they like it that you’re rich. Manage to be also homey and comfy sounding.

7. Also Oprah: Make a paradigm shift in your thoughts, because what you say and think is who you are. For example, go from “I’m tired” to “I’m waiting on my second wind.”
8. The whole event was like a 19th century revival meeting with Oprah as the preacher. She travels around and offers spiritual uplift. People get carried away by the group feeling. The language was incantatory, repetitive, and spiritual, although mostly religiously nonspecific.

Oprah is one hard-working woman.
Dots of light from cool wristbands we all got with our tickets

After the Oprah event, I spent much wonderful, close time hugging and playing with my niece and nephew. Real quality time having my eyeball and my tongue photographed on my sister-the-psychoanalyst’s phone, reading aloud, heads together. Stuff like that. Stuff you love. Until you discover that they have lice.

Then we all spent several hours with Janice, of Lice Happens, while she checked us for nits and critters and did her delousing. I was declared free of lice, and headed home. And now I have a nasty cold.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Annals of Successful Parenting: Scout the Parakeet

One of my intermittent fantasies is that I’m an animal-loving, root-chakra, earth-mother with an open-door, anything goes, seat-of-the-pants approach to life. A woman equally comfortable in a put-together outfit and the unnaturally natural make-up look AND with a bird on my shoulder, a dog at my feet, and a steady stream of children revolving in and out of the house while I grind flax and chia seeds in my mortar and pestle for delicious, homemade food.

Then I remember about germs and therapy. But a fantasy’s a fantasy, right? So, the 12-year old wanted a pet. She’s wanted a pet, besides the dog, for a long time. And we’ve had many words and explorations about what kind. A couple years ago, she wanted a chinchilla. I considered this, until I learned that chinchillas live 25 years or more, and require cool slabs of marble for sleep, as well as specially imported volcanic dust for bathing. So she settled for crayfish. Two. Then one ate the other. Then, eventually, the survivor, who had not only eaten his only companion but also had regenerated his own claw, the survivor went caput.

I stopped the husband on his way to flushing Shrimpy. The child, who was 11 at the time, was wet-eyed and red-nostrilled.
"You cannot flush Shrimpy," I said. "She’s upset. She loved him."
"What am I supposed to do?"
"Be a father. Bury the crayfish."

And that was it, for a while. However, recently, the 12-year old began agitating for a pet. Fish seemed good, until she found out that they require work. Suddenly they were too boring. Eventually we settled on maybe a bird, one that doesn’t live 80 years, one that doesn’t squawk. One that can’t peck out my eyes. A parakeet.

At that point, I realized I had a real Parenting Lesson in front of me. You see, the 12-year old wanted that bird. Wanted, wanted, wanted that bird. Asked every day. Multiple times a day. Yes, this corresponded to the build up to the start of school. I was aware of that. I was aware that possibly hyperfocusing on this want of bird was much more pleasant than focusing on starting school, especially the challenging math class she’d be doing. But, if my pop psych is too fascile to be true, there is this truth: She wanted something. That something cost money. Therefore, here was an opportunity. Because I wanted something, too. Weeding done. So she had to weed for a certain number of hours at $10 per hour, to pay for the bird. This felt like Good Parenting.

I know I developed a feel for the value of a dollar on the late side. Like around 45, when we bought a house and two cars and had to cancel cable and limit eating out to pizza once a month and I had a mini nervous breakdown. I want my children to do better, but haven’t usually got a clue how to teach them. 90 percent of the time we forget to give them their allowance. So telling them to save 10 percent of their allowance isn’t particularly useful. What usually happens is that when the children want something, we work out some kind of arrangement based on how much allowance they’ve forgotten to collect and I’ve forgotten to distribute. This makes money an even more abstract concept than it already is. And contributes to my conviction that we are raising two grasshoppers, not industrious ants, and since the husband and I seem more grasshopper than ant, I’m going to end up dribbling onto a bib in a shabby nursing home somewhere. State run, if the state runs anything anymore; otherwise, run by some kind of half-assed Samaritan agency.  

So for $10 an hour, the 12-year old weeded. She did a thorough job:

Anyway, three hundred dollars later, we had a parakeet. Scout the Parakeet, the bird paid for by the child, everything else paid for by VISA.

The dog was thrilled. 

Very thrilled. So we borrowed a fence to put around the cage, and worked on finding things even more thrilling for the dog than watching the bird. It was working. We’d gotten to a certain level of calm. That is, when we ignored the bird, the dog did, too. The minute we approached Scout, however, or if Scout got a little flappy, Milo was nosing up to the gate and whining.

So everyone was learning.

And this is what I typed for you readers, last Friday afternoon, one week after we obtained Scout, shortly before I left to drive the ballet carpool, shortly before I left the 12-year old home with Scout the Parakeet. And Milo the dog:

Currently, I am typing to the gentle sound of Scout cracking seeds in her food dish. This is a positive development, since Milo is sleeping under the table, right by my chair, and not whining and obsessively peering at her from behind the fence around her cage, his tail quivering on high alert. So that’s promising. Next step is to be able to approach the cage and talk to the bird without having him rush up as well. It’s mellowed here, so that he only pays attention to the bird when we do.

Unfortunately, while I was driving the ballet carpool, this learning experience turned into one of those learning experiences parents don’t want their children to have. Of course I take some responsibility. I stifled my last minute warning to leave the bird in the cage until I returned home. She wouldn’t do it, I thought.

Alas, poor Scout is no more. Now the 12-year old has learned a terrible lesson of responsibility and guilt. And regret. Let’s not forget that one. And I had to learn a lesson, too. I had to practice just being there, with the arm out, saying nothing much, listening to the child learning remorse.  

This time, the husband knew what to do. After he dug the perfect grave, we placed the bird in it and said a few words: You were loved; I am sorry; Your life was too short, but it was good.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

7 Tips for Success

7 Tips for Success.
That’s a good title for a post. Did it get your attention? The number 7, and the word “tips” are meant to do that. I’ve learned that they are considered “Click bait.” Post titles with numbers – particularly 7 –are more likely to get people to click on them than other titles. That’s what I gather from the social networks. I have no real proof – and, I’m afraid, no real tips, either. 

I was unsure what to call this post. Maybe 7 Ways I’ve Spent My Time (since my last post). Maybe it should be 7 Ways I’ve Frittered Away My Life, or 7 Habits I Failed to Develop and 1 I solidified. Since last I wrote. Or perhaps the best title would be, Cranberry Juice and Ocean Spray, since this week I returned from the beach and was felled by a UTI. (That’s urinary tract infection, in case you wanted to know, and even if you didn’t, because, as Chaucer said, “Thing that is seyd is seyd; and forth it goeth.” I put that quotation on my high school yearbook page, by the way. It hasn’t stopped me from blurting out private information for public consumption. Apparently.)

At least the UTI gave me an excuse to lie on the couch and watch three episodes in a row of “Pretty Little Liars,” with the 12-year old. Guilt-free, I must add. The 15-year old got us hooked on this drama about trendy high school students involved in a bullying mystery, and we’ve been trying to catch up with her. Perhaps it’s surprising, but I find this type of vegging out by my children (and me, from time to time – ahem – thus the relief of the guilt-free UTI binge) comforting. Compared to hunching over an iPhone, watching TV feels downright old fashioned and wholesome. After all, I spent much of my youth doing so, and look how I turned out.

Well. Don’t look too closely.

Anyhoo, where have I been, you may have wondered, Readers? I hope so. I hope you’re still there. Am I back to my seven readers? I’ve been away on the annual trip to the beach with my sister the psychoanalyst, her husband the psychoanalyst, and my niece and nephew the spawn of psychoanalysts. This year my father joined us, as did his special lady friend, for part of the week. 

This annual beach trip comes with the usual family stuff. There you are, sharing a rental kitchen with inadequate utensils, prewashing everything, and performing that awkward morning gymnastics routine around one another. Your kids want to eat what they’re making for their kids. Their kids want to eat what you got for yours. This sister is skinnier than that sister. Whose sunscreen is whose? And then, Lear like, the white haired father is there, bringing along those undertones of which sister is the favorite?

Actually, this trip was fairly stress-free, I must say. Except for driving there. Traffic on the eastern seaboard is relentless, in case you didn’t know it, so as usual, I arrived at the beach ready to blame everyone in my family of origin for making me drive so much farther than they do.

But nobody made me, I had to admit, so I was forced to stifle my impulse to blame in a lot of cappuccino crunch ice cream. .

The bad part of the trip was that one of my wonderful uncles died, after a long illness. My sister and I drove back to Washington for his funeral. That was obviously sad. On the other hand, I got to spend time with my sister the psychoanalyst, who suggested that being a therapist might not be the best outlet for my creativity. When she said that, I had an insight that perhaps my recent mania for French chic and wardrobe, make-up, and hair was my current expression of creativity during my (also) current drift away from creative writing. Hmmmm. Strokes chin with Freudian flair. Peut être. Perhaps.

Other highlights of the past few weeks, in no particular order, include the following:

1. I lay on a bed of nails in Charlotte, NC.  We were down south to retrieve the 15-year old from her ballet intensive and stopped off at the Discovery Center, a hands-on science museum. The bed of nails was kind of freaky. I recommend it. The Discovery Center, that is. If you don’t want to go inside, you can use the outside whisper tube and measure yourself with the invisible measurer that announces your height to everyone at the bus stop. I was glad to find I’m still half an inch up on the 12-year old. I’m rooting for her to top me, though. Why else would I mate with a man a foot taller than I, if not to provide my daughters with a chance to move out of the Petite department? There are really so many fewer options in Petites.

2. Had a haircut. I know, this is momentous. My more serious-minded readers might just skip ahead now. Ahead to something serious, I mean. Like the New York Review of Books. Or the Financial Times. Something substantial. Because I am not. Or I am. I mean, I care about my hair. And this is a big deal for me. I had a second haircut by a new stylist, Donna. Why is this news? Well, it means I’ve left my old stylist. I feel guilty about it. I may have mentioned that he walked out on his old salon, which he supposedly co-owned with his sister, and now he’s got big dreams to start a new one. And I followed him, and listened to his dreams, and was loyal. And got a couple of terrible haircuts. So I turned to a recommendation from someone else, who took me out to lunch, bought me a glass of wine, and drove me to her stylist for a consultation. So I’m leaving my guy, who has rented a chair at some random salon, and is dreaming of starting a hair school. Maybe he will. And maybe I’ll go back to him one day. But right now, I’m loving Donna.

3. Saw the 12 year old perform in her end of summer theater camp production. Krazy Kamp involved several subplots that went nowhere, and a main plot that I can’t recall. There were delicious baked goods at intermission, some of which I had baked. Then I paid to eat them. Support the arts!

4. Got a little education on Israel's history from my mother-in-law. I’ve been assiduous in avoiding knowing too much about this current war, because it’s so distressing; but now I know more. Knowledge is power, according to Auntie Mame. I’m not so sure, in this case.

6. Purchased new sunglasses. I’ll let them speak for themselves in all their awesomeness.

And, lastly, I ate French candy that looks like olives.