Archive for February, 2008

Parallel tracks: female friendships

February 14, 2008

J0201797 Joy and I had our first conversation when we were 20 or so; she was living in Pennsylvania; I was in New York. We’d seen each other around, had summer jobs in the same New Jersey beach town, had mutual friends. I don’t remember where we were when we first talked, a New Jersey party or bar, most likely. I do remember one subject, however. We had both recently spent romantic weekends in Maryland. A week apart. With the same guy.

We briefly considered organizing another weekend trip to Maryland—together. But, while the look on the guy’s face would certainly have been entertaining, we quickly decided that he wasn’t worth the trouble, and really we had much more in common with each other than we ever did with him.

For the next decade we were single gals in New York, Washington, Texas, California; sometimes living in the same city, but never at the same time. We visited back and forth a few times a year, weekends of speed-talking as we took out all our disasters and triumphs and worries and crises and spread them all out in front of us in a game of conversational go-fish. “You’re feeling this or that about your job? Wow, I’ve been feeling exactly the same way.” “You’re sick of the whole dating thing? Yeah, me too.” And then

after all the cards had been dealt and turned over and talked at from every angle, we’d pack them all up again neatly and go back to our lives.

We stayed on parallel tracks, occasionally colliding unexpectedly. She moved to L.A. and met the guy that she would end up marrying through someone at her law firm; it took a few weeks before she found out that this was one of the guys I’d been scuba diving with in Mexico a month or two earlier. We got pregnant the same year, and spent most of our 30s in babyland. We both stopped at three kids.

Now we’re looking at 50. We have teenagers and middle schoolers and elementary schoolers.  I’m in California and she’s in Florida. Recently we had our first weekend talk-a-thon in more than a year; an uncharacteristically long gap.

We talked about our kids briefly, our husbands some, and then, mostly, ourselves. About greying hair and the hormonal craziness of perimenopause that makes us screaming maniacs several days a month. About our recent high-tech breast biopsies (“You had one? Wow, I had one of those too”) and the panic of waiting for results. (Both negative, thankfully.) She said had her results not been negative, she would have called in a plastic surgeon to do her eye bags at the same time as the breast surgery because no way was she going under a knife without something positive to look forward to. I hadn’t thought about that one, but she had a point. Which got us pulling at our faces and talking about whether we’d ever consider getting “work” done and what kind.

And we discussed our “ailments”, my neck, her knee, and realized that this is what old ladies do, talk about ailments, so we must seriously be getting old. But that since we’re still on those parallel tracks, going in the same direction, holding the same sets of cards (time to mix all my metaphors together for the big finish) I guess we’re both doing just fine.

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Supersizing Safeway

February 13, 2008

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Mostly, at home in California, I’m a Safeway shopper. I have a short list I regularly stock up on in Costco, buy my dairy and occasional fill-ins at Whole Foods, but the regular, every-two-week-or-so shopping happens at Safeway Menlo Park. I keep a list on the computer of every item I’ve ever been known to buy, organized by aisle; I just need to highlight the things I need for a particular trip. That list lasted for about 10 years without changing (OK, diapers hadn’t been highlighted seven years, but it still worked).

The renovation from hell at Safeway shot holes in my list, the opening of the new store finished destroying it, I had to start over from scratch. And it took multiple shopping trips to fine-tune that baby; product placement sometimes defies logic. But I did it, my list rules again. That, however, does not mean I’m back to my former speed-shopping self.

At first the new store seemed appealing; bright, nice signs, and similar to the giant A&P superstore near  our New Jersey summer rental. But it got old fast; I only shop at A&P once a year, I’m a tourist there.

Here, I don’t want to be a tourist, wandering aisles a little lost; I want to get in, do my shopping, and get out.

I gave myself a month or two to figure it out.

So I’ve given the new store a chance. I’ve got the optimal route figured out. And I’m still not happy. Supersized grocery stores are not my friend.

First, there’s the sheer distance you have to cover. Minimum, the size of the store adds 20 minutes to what is normally, for me, a 90 minute shopping trip. Twenty minutes that mean when I get home to put the groceries away, I have no energy left; nothing.

The layout makes that distance even worse. Frozen foods, which I try to do last thing before check-out, are split up; dairy is scattered, some on the back wall, some in aisle six. Produce is a cart-pushing nightmare; islands instead of aisles look lovely, but the “waterways” between them end up blocked with carts, and just getting a banana becomes an exercise in maze-solving.

Then, there are the “sand traps” to navigate. Jamba Juice. Starbucks. My kids used to be happy with a couple of apple slices handed over by the produce guy; now they plead for smoothies. I used to be happy with a dixie-cup of coffee from a sample lady; now latte grande’s beckon.

Finally, let’s talk about the parking lot. That’s the one thing that definitely was not supersized. Those spaces are tight, the aisles are tight, and there is absolutely no room to move around people backing, stopping, and trying to turn. You can’t swing easily in and out of a space, you block traffic, other cars block traffic, people with carts try to wind between the stopped car, gridlock happens, fender benders happen. I take my teen there for extreme driving lessons; that’s about the only thing it’s good for.

The fix for that last problem is easy. It’d take one night. Restripe the darn thing! Make the lanes one way, angle the parking places, nightmare over. (Safeway management, are you listening?) As for the rest of it, well, maybe it’s time to dust off my rollerblades.

I’m just calling to make you feel as guilty as possible

February 6, 2008

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I just got a call from a parent of a child in my 4th grader’s class, trying to round up volunteers to cover one hour shifts in the classroom during the next two weeks to help the kids do research projects. I said I couldn’t volunteer during the next two weeks; I’m swamped at work after too much business travel last month. And I’m losing this Friday from work as well, taking a vacation day to drive on a field trip for that same classroom.

I expected the response would be “OK, no problem, next time.” That’s what I would have said if I’d been making the call. It wasn’t. Instead I got high pressure sales tactics. This is a woman I like, and she’s usually pretty easy going, so I was surprised about how testy she got. I’m assuming, from her tone, that she was having a bad day and I was one on a long list of no’s. But when I told her that I couldn’t come in, she got angry.

And boy, did it tick me off. I stayed up late last night helping my daughter make crepes and baked apple slices for a French class event, and then I had to round up food for my older son to bring to his French

class as well. I spent way too long the night before trying to find a copy of my proof of car insurance to prepare to drive for the previously mentioned field trip. And meanwhile my work to-do list and should-have-been-done-already list grows and grows. I hugely appreciate the moms who do volunteer in the classroom (though I’m not entirely clear why a research project is structured so it needs huge amounts of volunteer help; I remember this project in other years going just fine with the kids working on their own). I enjoy my time in the classroom when I get there (loved the sheep’s heart dissection). But that’s not going to happen often.  (And definitely won’t be happening in the next few weeks, unless the teacher wants to hold class on Sunday afternoon. I’ve got two-to-four pm this Sunday afternoon wide open.)

I don’t need a guilt trip when I don’t volunteer.

Moms who volunteer: it’s great that you can and will help out. But that does not translate to I’m evil when I say no. I’m usually walking that narrow line between coping with my life and completely overwhelmed; everyone needs to know where that line is, even moms.

Teachers: set priorities. Some events (cow heart dissection, field trips) clearly need parental supervision and/or drivers. But do you really need parental help in the classroom every day for two weeks? Or is this something that would be nice, but not essential? Those of us with limited hours to give would like to give them where it really counts. Make that clear where it’ll be, at the beginning of the year, if possible.

Everyone: enough with the guilt trips.

The grammar police

February 3, 2008

J0239037 Fess up, haven’t all you readers who were also bloggers made a grammatical or spelling error in a blog post? Sometimes, as one of the folks who manage this blog, I catch them before a post goes up. (One of our writers is usually spot-on grammatically, but needs to work on exceptions to the i-before-e rule. You know who you are.) Sometimes I don’t; I’m reading quickly, it’s funny and timely and I’ve got a quick trigger finger on that post button. Sometimes I make mistakes of my own.

Which brings us smack dab into the debate about blogging, is it speech or literature or somewhere in between, and if between, where, exactly? For me, it varies. Somedays, it’s closer to literature, where I read and reread and try to craft clever sentences. Sometimes it’s like talking to a friend, and those days I may stumble over a phrase or my word choice could be better. I try going back and fixing things; sometimes I don’t catch everything. Sometimes people then blast me for making a correction.

And sometimes, it’s pure outraged stream of consciousness. And in spite of the occasional error, those posts are often the best ones.

This brings us to the grammar police (I recall a NY Times columnist used to call them the gotcha gang)

and their tendency to jump all over you when you slip. Folks, a polite pointing out of an error is much appreciated. Blog etiquette seems to be to fix the error but leave the comment pointing it out. I question that, I’d rather the error be fixed and the comment removed, it was helpful, but its job is done, and if it remains it’s just a distraction from the discussion. (Love to hear what you all think.) But when you’re tempted to dis someone for slipping up, think about having a conversation with your friend. Would you really interrupt an intense conversation to point out a malapropism (unless it were really really funny)?