Caving in to peer pressure

March 30, 2010

0005200032868_LG It just wasn’t worth the fight.

I didn’t want to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. I really didn’t. I’m not Irish, I grew up at a time when wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day was a way to identify yourself as Irish, specifically Irish Catholic, so I didn’t. I’d go to the parties, sure, and celebrate with my Irish friends, but I didn’t make an effort to wear green.

But this St. Patrick’s day I wore green. My kids are of the “you have to wear green or you will be pinched” school, and weren’t going to let me out without green (I tried to explain that the only possible folks that would pinch me would be them, and they’d better not, but I finally gave up and put on a mint-green shirt. Which, they told me later,  was actually blue. But I counted it.) Anyway, it wasn’t worth the fight.

Then there’s the Gatorade. I think Gatorade is evil stuff; the artificial color alone is reason for me to leave it on the shelf, when I pick it up to read the rest of the ingredients, I shudder. And face it, while my kids are active, they aren’t stressing themselves to the point of needing a salt infusion.

But, as beverage mom for basketball last week, I bought Gatorade. Because that’s what all the other parents do, and that’s what the kids, used to seeing the Gatorade barrel at sporting events live or televised, think they should be drinking when they are involved in a sport. Water is boring, juice boxes are baby stuff—bringing either apparently would have branded me as the lame mom and caused an immediate drop in social status for my kid. So I bought the Gatorade. It wasn’t worth the fight. (Of course, now I have three leftover bottles of Gatorade in the pantry. I’m not going to drink it, I’m not going to put it in my kids’ lunches—but I can’t just throw it out….arrgh!)

I wasn’t always this way. Pregnant, I thought everything was worth a fight (hormones, I guess; I even called the painter who had painted my cabinets a year earlier—badly–and made him come and redo them). As my kids grew older, I learned to pick my battles, but tended to fight back more often than sit back. These days, it seems, I’m resisting less and less. Weak? Caving to peer pressure? Or just worn out? I’d try to figure that out, but it’s just not worth it.

The “shock” of menopause

March 17, 2010

My doctor has been bringing it up at every annual checkup for years now. How’s that perimenopause thing going? She’d ask me if I had hot flashes, bouts of extreme irritability, headaches–it seemed like we were covering it all. I also googled and pretty much memorized that basic symptoms list. And I even went to see Menopause the Musical.

So I keep thinking I’m prepared.

And I keep finding out that I’m wrong. Menopause is turning out to be like that classic dream of showing up for the exam and realizing you know nothing because you had never gone to class.

Oh, it’s not as bad as it used to be, I guess; my aunt told me recently that when her older sister had what turned out to be a hot flash they took her to the E.R. because they had no idea what was going on. I do know a little more than that. The operative word being little.

The weirdest thing to me, after being in pregnancy groups and post partum support groups and baby playgroups in which every weird symptom of pregnancy and the aftermath were discussed in complete detail, is that there’s not much talking going on about menopause. Maybe because it’s not so obvious as pregnancy; and because menopause ties in with aging, so asking a casual acquaintance how her menopause is going might be insulting. But I think it’s more than that. It almost feels like that first year when you got your period and were feeling too private about it to buy your frickin’ tampons yourself and instead had to send your mother to the store. You just don’t want anyone to know. (And by the time we all get over that feeling, perhaps we’re past it and no longer interested in talking about it.)

I’ve looked at those books out there that purport to lay it all out. But they seem all so “tippy”: they advise you to dress in layers and exercise regularly; they lay out the pros and cons of hormone therapy. But that’s not the information I need when I wake up in the middle of the night wondering, “what the hell was that?”

Like last night. The whole hot flash thing has kicked up from once or twice a month, which was more entertaining than annoying, to four or five times a night. I’m staggering around during the day in the sleep-deprived state I inhabited when my kids were babies. But OK, I get that hot flashes happen, and that they happen at night, and they won’t last forever. Hot flashes and night sweats are on all the checklists of menopause symptoms. (Another question—why do they call them symptoms? It’s not a disease. I think they should be called effects.)

So hot flashes weren’t my “what the hell’ moment. That came at some point during the night when the buzzing started. An unpleasant buzzing that felt like an electrostim device cranked on too high—or maybe a bug-zapper. It started around my belly button and worked its nasty way out, slowly, through my body, arms and legs, and eventually out my fingers and toes. It hurt.

I knew instinctively that this was one of those secret menopause symptoms that no one had warned me about—did they think I’d be scared? That maybe I’d someone chicken out of menopause, as if that were a real option?

First thing in the morning, I googled “buzzing electric shock sensation menopause”.  And on a few of the longer symptom lists on sites that are fronts for herbal remedy pushers, I did find “electric shock sensation under the skin and in the head, like a rubber band being snapped” or “a mild tingling sensation.” But mostly, the references to buzzing, to electric shocks, came in the occasional question tossed up on a discussion board, like “anybody getting intense electric buzzing before a hot flash?” that kind of thing.

These questions came up enough for me to figure out that yeah, waking up in the middle of a bug zapper at random times is just one more fun thing I’ll be doing for the next year, or two years, or three years. And that it’s just one more thing that no one ever told me.

The census wants to shrink my family

March 16, 2010

Media I have a husband and three kids. That makes us a family of five. Or so I thought.

Even when my older son left for college in the fall, I continued to think of myself having a family of five. I completely freaked out when I came home one day soon after my son’s departure to find that my husband had taken a leaf out of the dining room table and moved a chair off to the side; that leaf and chair went back immediately, and it remains there today. I need to see five chairs at the table or it looks weird.

When I buy little treats for the kids, I still buy three. One may have to be delivered by the mailman, but my college kid is not getting left out. I tried just buying two of something recently, I couldn’t do it; I left
the cart in line and went back for a third.

But today the census form arrived. And right there, just a few lines down after the start arrow, it states bluntly, “Do not count anyone living away at college. Leave these people off your form, even if they will return to live here after they leave college.”

Then comes question number one. “How many people were living in this house on April 1.”

The answer it wants is four.

So far, the form sits on the table, blank. Because it feels like the minute I fill it out I will have cut our family down by one, that I will no longer be able to think of myself as having a family of five, because, officially, according to the U.S. Government, we’ll be a family of four. And I’m just not ready.

About that rabid conservative putting right-wing stuff on my Facebook wall

September 28, 2009

800px-AwesomePossum-AmericanOpossumI’ve got a Facebook “friend” who is a rabid conservative to the extreme. He gets his news—all his news—from conservative commentators and web sites. He would never read the New York Times, it’s part of the liberal media conspiracy and is full of lies, you see. He basically disagrees with everything I believe in, and he’s not shy about posting his rants—against universal healthcare, in favor of torture, in favor of the war in Iraq–on my wall if I put up anything, and I mean anything, related to politics or current events.

“Who is this wacko?” my other Facebook friends are asking me. “Can’t you see he’s completely nuts?” “Why haven’t you defriended him?”

Oh, believe me, I’ve considered it, particularly when he flames all over what I see as an innocuous link. But, for now, I’m keeping him around.

It started a few months ago. I got a friend request from a guy I went to middle school and part of high school with (I moved my sophomore year.) I didn’t remember him, but I looked him up in an old yearbook and realized that I probably did know him at one time; he at least had been in my homeroom. Since very few former high school classmates of mine had yet found Facebook, I was happy to make the connection. I accepted the request and looked at his page.

And then I emailed him to tell him that while it was nice of him to friend me, he probably didn’t really want me as a friend, because I was a California liberal who voted for Obama (the anti-Christ, it seems) and had just the night before made a donation in support of the campaign to allow gay marriage, so if he wanted to defriend me, I’d understand.

He said that as long as I was someone who at least knew what the issues were and put some effort into understanding them, that was good enough for him. And an extremely weird Facebook friendship was born.

As I expected, we disagree on everything. I’m stunned by the conservative blather he spouts, horrified at how cruel and selfish the conservative take, particularly on the national healthcare debate, can be. But I haven’t defriended him. For one, while he is against everything I am for, he has never once made the debate personal, he sticks to the issues, so while our online debates get pretty aggressive, they never get hurtful.

For another, he has definitely opened my eyes to a new reality. I truly had no idea what kinds disinformation is being spread by the conservative media. And I didn’t realize that in our increasingly fragmented society that there is a growing group of people that never reads anything written by a journalist bound by ethics and facts, so “commentators” who simply lie when it suits them can have a huge influence. It scares me, and makes me worry about the future of our country, but I should know about it.

He also acts as an early warning system to the next big conservative firestorm—because he reads lots and lots of right-wing material, and if there’s a new attack on Obama brewing, he’ll be posting about it long before I read it anywhere else.

And while I doubt that I’ll ever change his point of view on health care, immigration, or the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, I’m hoping maybe, just maybe, I’m occasionally putting just a little dent in his armor of certainty.

So that’s why my Facebook wall occasionally gets hijacked by a rabid conservative. Sorry for those of my Facebook friends that have gotten sucked into the debates, and others that have to scroll past them, but I’m letting it go on, for now, anyway.

Photo credit: PiccoloNamek

One by one they leave

September 13, 2009

741px-Pied_Piper2 The kids are leaving. The college kids, that is. Every time I see a friend with a child my son’s age, a recent high school graduate, we greet each other with the same set of questions. Is he gone? Has she left? When is he going? How are you doing?

Even though I have younger kids, and I am tripping over their friends in the house after school and meeting new parents at back to school nights and soccer practices, it feels like the town is getting emptier by the moment, like some Pied Piper is coming during the night and leading our children away. “I took her last Thursday.” “He leaves on Sunday.” “We just got back yesterday from dropping her off.” The Facebook status updates echo these conversations: “She’s gone.” “He left.” “We moved her in.”

I talked to my mother on the phone last week, and for the first time since she put me on a plane to college 34 years ago, she hinted at what it was like. “It’s much harder for the parent than the child,” she said. “It’s just….hard.”

A mother who has done it three times—and now has a completely empty nest—told me to call her if I needed support; that it is a big deal, but that I would get through it. This particular mother understood something that many of my friends don’t—that I can’t soothe myself, as they do, with the idea that my son will be back next summer. All summer. Many of their children will indeed come back, settling into their rooms like they’d never left. But I’m not kidding myself, comforting as that might be. It’s not likely that my son will ever really live at home again, will completely unpack his suitcase. Oh, he’ll come for visits of a week or two, but summers, he’ll be looking to live and work somewhere different, perhaps not even on this continent. He’s going to college on a one-way ticket; from now on, his round trips will be anchored somewhere else.

Of course, I want him to have adventures, I want him to take advantage of his college summers, to go where his passions take him—but the thought that he will never really live with me again brings tears to my eyes. (And yes, I did the same thing to my mother.)

Mostly, I hide the wet eyes. I focus on the to-do list; getting him boxes to pack, making sure he has copies of medical documents, paying that first bill. I’m not taking him to campus on move-in day—it’s just too far, and I’m not sure going would make it any easier. But since I won’t be able to run out to the local CVS to get him shampoo and laundry soap and other things I think he needs, I’m getting him ready in my own way. I’m just about done with the blanket I’ve been knitting since February or so, I’ll give it to him the day before he leaves. I’m obsessed with putting together the perfect emergency medical kit, as if a little box with bandaids and a thermometer and ibuprofen will be able keep him safe. I’m also looking at new cell phones for myself—I think if I want to hear from him regularly I’d better get a phone on which it’s easier to text.

I’m also forcing myself to let go of little annoyances; when I have to nag him about something, I don’t stay irritated, it wastes precious time (how come it took me so long to figure that out?)

Of course, the one thing I really want to do is just impossible—to put off that one-way flight just a little bit longer.

Flashing back to my college days

September 12, 2009

56184913_ef546925ce This past month or two I’ve thought more about my college days than I
have in the past 30 years. It’s a rogue wave of memories, two
individual waves of activity coming together—getting my firstborn ready
to go off to college himself, and my former college classmates suddenly
discovering Facebook (most are in the Midwest, not quite so accustomed
to living their lives online as those of us in Silicon Valley.). So I
find I’m thinking about college, about those former classmates, about
what it was like then (since I have no idea of what it’s like now).

An example. Like me, my son is going to college in the Midwest, in a place that’s going to be really really cold for the winter. I haven’t taken him shopping for a new wardrobe; I thought about it, but at this point it would be somewhat pointless—not having experienced cold (except on the ski slopes, wearing goggles and a neck warmer), he’d be looking at winter coats with style in mind, not pure warmth. And as I thought about that—flashback—sometime in October, maybe late October. A Saturday night. Walking back to my dorm late at night from a party at another dorm some distance away. A party I dressed up a bit for, so was wearing pants of a slightly thinner fabric than my usual painter’s pants (that dates me). It was cold, but I didn’t get how cold it was until about half an hour after I got back to my room—because it took so long to warm up, wrapped in blankets, boiling water in my little hot pot for hot chocolate—I was still cold for a long time.

Another—I pull into my driveway and see my son sitting on the stoop, playing his guitar. I just added a former classmate, Dave, as a Facebook friend—hadn’t thought about Dave in 30 years, but when I picture him it’s always sitting on the stoop of his fraternity house, playing his guitar. For a minute, looking at my son on the stoop, I’m not sure where I am or what decade it is.

I’m dreaming about college almost every night; the dreams are all mixed up, people I knew then, people I know now, some the age they were then, some now, all suddenly back on campus. But I don’t see my son in those dreams, because I just can’t picture him living on a college campus—yet, anyway.

And, since I’m not taking him to college myself, I’m thinking this feeling of being lost in time and space is going continue until parent weekend in late October, when I finally see my new college student at his school, in his time, in his space, and it all begins to make sense again.

Photo: My old dorm

Failing at shopping

July 6, 2009

H25061_994_D01 It’s been a long time since I shopped for a dress. I wear jeans for casual, an assortment of black pants for business. I’ve bought t-shirts and blazers over the past year or so, but that’s about it.
But I really wanted a new dress, something looking at least remotely like it was designed after 1995 to wear to my son’s baccalaureate.

(1995 was probably the last time I bought a dress; I think I had a high school reunion just after my daughter was born.)

So I went dress shopping. It was a rude awakening.

OK, I will place part of the blame on this year’s styles. These baby doll jersey knits: baby doll didn’t work for me when I was 15; it definitely doesn’t work for me over 50. The just-below-the-butt-length styles looked mom-trying-to-dress-like-a-teenager freaky, and I have no idea how you walk in them without flashing your underwear. The just-above-the-knee dresses the nice saleswoman at Nordstrom kept handing me drew the eye right to the knees and—oh my gawd what happened to my knees? Last time I looked, OK, they weren’t great, a little knobby, but where did all that saggy stuff come from? When was the last time I looked at my knees in a mirror anyway? I dumped the just-above-the-knee pile of dresses back in the saleswoman’s arms.

Then there were ankle-length summer dresses, a style I’ve always loved to wear at beach resorts that seems to be style for normal streetwear this season. No need to worry about sitting properly to avoid flashing your crotch or holding your skirt down in a breeze, the cotton soft against your ankles. They looked, however, like nightwear. And, frankly, I’ve got plenty long cotton dresses—every time we go on vacation to someplace warm I can’t resist them. I wanted something a little more polished for this occasion.

I wasn’t getting anywhere.

On a business trip several weeks before the bacc, I passed a Coldwater Creek store. Actually, I passed it multiple times; it was right next to my hotel. And I looked in the window at the full skirts and long loose tops and thought, oh, so not my style, I’m a much more streamlined kind of person.

Finally, bored one evening after dinner, I went in. I stifled my objections to big floral prints and grabbed a couple of skirts and matching tops. I tried one on. It fit. It fit perfectly, a wide band just around my waist, cinching nicely above my stomach, where it wouldn’t risk generating a muffin top. This actually freaked me out, because I don’t own anything that sits on my waist—I’ve never really had a waist, I’ve always been pretty straight up and down. But it looks like as gravity dragged things down these past few years, it left me with a waist.

I might have bought the skirt and tried to get used to the waist thing, but the big lavender flowers just screamed old lady at me. I like the color lavender, I like it on my daughter, I like it in pens, notebooks—but on me, it pushes some button in my brain that says “old”. I just couldn’t see myself wearing that skirt. And, of course, all the other colors were sold out in my size.

In the end, I failed. I didn’t buy a new dress for bacc. I wore one of those long cotton dresses from my resort wear collection, and felt a little too casual. But it’s over, and I’ve got four years to adjust to this body before my next child’s bacc.

What summer is all about

July 2, 2009

J0432703 “Mom,” my 10-year-old said to me the other day, “for the first time I know what summer is all about.”

I knew exactly what he meant. And I felt both glad—he should know what summer is all about—and guilty. Did it really have to wait until he was ten—almost eleven?

Well, yeah, actually, it did. Because what he’s talking about is freedom, and hanging out with friends, and playing outside and sometimes losing track of the time and being late for dinner. And until this summer, that option just wasn’t available.

Until this summer, as a mom who works full-time for a salary (there is no good buzzword for any of this. WOHM just doesn’t work for me), I put the kid in camps. I had an amazingly complicated multicolor calendar representing a patched-together summer of sports camps and art camps and drama camps and carpools.

Last summer, I left one week open as an experiment. It was a week during which I had no business travel plans, and he had siblings around to keep an eye on him in case I had meetings; otherwise, I’d be working in my home office. I thought we’d fill it with playdates. It was a disaster; all his friends were fully booked or out of town; he was bored and miserable and spent way too much time on the computer.

This summer, things have changed. For one, he’s going into sixth grade. That means I regularly leave him home alone for bits and pieces of time without worrying that he’ll wreck the house or starve to death. It also means he has a longer leash—he’s now allowed to go to a nearby playground on his own and to go downtown on occasion (during daylight and with a friend; and yes, I know not everyone agrees with this long a leash). (Of course, that usually means a stop on the Apple store where, again, he spends too much time on the computer.)

He can also get himself to and from places on his bicycle. That means when he schedules a playdate or is attending a local camp, he can get himself to and from it and I don’t have to schedule his transportation into my work day. With transportation not an issue, I was able to sign him up for half-day camps; enough to keep him from being bored but still have plenty of time to figure out what summer is all about.

And, perhaps because the camp options for 11-year-olds start getting pretty limited (the camps they’ve done for years are suddenly feeling too young, they’re too young to do volunteer work without a parent, and there’s very little targeted at the 11-12 year old demographic), or perhaps because of the economy, this summer, there are lots of kids around looking for something to do. So when he goes to the playground, he finds his friends there looking to play as well. When he calls a friend, there’s a 50-50 shot he or she will be home. When he finishes his morning tennis camp and heads downtown for lunch, there are kids eager to join him. And I’ve simply stopped looking up when the doorbell rings, this summer, it’s usually a neighbor kid looking to see if he wants to come out ride skateboards or bikes or throw water balloons.

So I’m thrilled that my youngest finally knows what summer is all about. Meanwhile, I’m coming up with a new definition of summer for myself—one that isn’t about confusing camp schedules and carpools and making bag lunches every morning.

Graduating into a mad world

June 19, 2009

J0427709 Last week I attended four graduation ceremonies for three kids (two for the highschooler, the baccalaureate and the commencement; one each for the middle schooler and the elementary schooler). I watched 821 kids cross stages to shake with the right and take with the left. I heard something around 30 speakers, and at least a dozen songs. I learned that middle school administrators and counselors should not give speeches, but elementary school kids can be darned eloquent. I loved the influence of the Pacific Islander community; many graduates, Islander or not, marched down the aisles wearing colorful leis—of flowers, candy, or money—from family and friends. And I got a little teary when our former nanny—who I’d lost touch with several years ago so hadn’t been able to send a grad announcement—showed up anyway at all the graduations with leis in hand, but didn’t recognize my eldest, he’d just changed so much.

The speeches, the songs, and the ceremonies kept coming back to the same theme—these kids, these new graduates, are living in a messed up world that somehow they’re going to have to fix. It’s a heavy message for what is normally a jubilant season, but it is unavoidably in the air. Some kids lost friends to recent suicides; some lost college options to the economy. And they’re all watching their older friends and siblings come home from college and find they can’t get a summer job anywhere, not even at McDonald’s.

Kavita Ramdas, head of the Global Fund for Women and speaker at the high school bacc, went right at the bittersweet mood, talking about the mad world these kids have been living in.

Said Kavita, “Most of you graduating seniors were about 10 years old when two planes full of people flew into and destroyed the tallest buildings on the planet.  You grew up in a United States that was irreversibly connected to the rest of the globe, whether it liked it or not.  You grew up in a nation at war, so you grew familiar with people and places far away from the quiet tree-lined streets of Palo Alto. The radio and TV news dropped names like Osama Bin Laden and Sadaam Hussein, Iraq and Afghanistan, Basra and Baghdad, Kabul and Peshawar.  You grew up thinking it was normal to take off your shoes at airport check points and to hear automated voices announce threat levels code orange or red.  You grew up in a United States that sent (and still sends) young people your age to risk their lives in places where they neither speak the language or understand the culture, but are nonetheless expected to find and destroy the “bad guys”.  Your “mad world” has included Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the United States; and the subsequent televised failure of the wealthiest nation on earth to rescue its poorest citizens; it has included learning about torture being inflicted on prisoners in places Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” She charged the graduates with nothing more than remaking the world, in big and little ways.

It’s a big responsibility. It seems heavier than the one I had when I graduated high school in the midst of the feminist revolution, which was to prove that women could have it all, to have the career and the family, to not just go to college for the M.r.s. degree, and to never to give up, no matter how hard it got, because that would simply prove that women were indeed not meant to be equal. My personal goal was to distance myself as far as possible from my classmate who announced when school started that her goal was to graduate pregnant (she didn’t quite make it, she went into labor during graduation rehearsal).

Hard as having it all turned out to be, it didn’t feel quite so daunting at graduation time; we were entering a world with every path open. At this year’s graduations, there’s a fog in front of the paths, and no one is sure what will remain when it lifts.

But the hats went into the air on cue, and the graduates went off to celebrate. And celebrate they should. They have a few years left before they have to save the world, and maybe the rest of us can fix at least a few of the problems before then.

The birds must be crazy

April 28, 2009

J0239597 Edgar Allan Poe’s raven rapping at his chamber door seemed like a literary device to me, nothing more.

Until this spring. Because both my teen son and I are being tortured by birds. Not the same birds, oh no, we each have our own feathered nemesis.

I’ve never actually seen mine. I just hear it. Most mornings, just before 5 a.m. It’s got a short, high pitched, and steady chirp, kind of like a smoke alarm with a dying battery, but more constant. It is impossible for me to sleep through, and, even more frustrating, my husband doesn’t hear it, at all; I’m thinking it’s out of his frequency range. It goes on for about an hour, or long enough so it’s not worth attempting to go back to sleep when it’s over. I’ve been staggering around for days as sleep deprivation accumulates.

Meanwhile, around the side of the house, a male robin has decided that he wants to build a nest inside my son’s room. He, too, is an early riser. He carefully gathers strands of grasses and tiny sticks, and, beak full of them, flies into my son’s screen and beats his wings against it. This is not a case of a bird slamming into a window by accident; he knows the window is there, he just wants it open. He, too, carries on for an hour or more most mornings, hanging on to those sticks, flying to a nearby tree branch to rest and then attacking the window once more. His mate sits on the ground, watching him. The sidewalk below is turning white from his droppings. And my son isn’t getting much sleep either.

Ahh, spring…