Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Once Upon a Time, I Held the World's Greatest Job

Yep, for three weeks back in the winter of 1995, I held THE greatest job ever. Even better I received 3 college credits AND I was paid for it!

Are you ready? For three hours a day, for five days a week ,for three blessed weeks, I listened to Elvis Presley.

I know! Can you believe it? God is good.

Backtracking, I was in Tempe, Arizona from 1995-1997. My then-husband had taken a leave of absence from his job in Madison to enroll in ASU's graduate school. I tagged along, thinking I'd just "get a job."  Shortly after arrival, we decided since we were already going into debt, I would enroll at ASU to finish up my bachelor's degree in something, really anything.

I stuck a tentative toe in the collegiate waters when I enrolled in a Popular Music class. Hey, don't judge. I was short on Humanities credits, and I wanted to find out if this returning 28-year old student could handle college again. It was a condensed winter session course; ie all of a semester's work was packed into a 3-week class meeting 5 days per week for THREE hours a day.

The Popular Music course's subject changes from semester to semester, with the previous semester focusing on The Beatles. I was thrilled to find out the winter session class would study Elvis Presley and his music.

I arrived for the first day of class, looked around at the vacant faces, and decided I was the only one excited to be there during winter break. The professor led us through the syllabus, and informed us the entire class grade would be based on 100 points in the form of four multiple choice quizzes each worth 25 points. During our sojourn together we would follow Elvis from birth to death, and all of the glorious in between goodies. Yes, we spent 95% of the time listening, just listening to all of Elvis' musical genres of rock & roll, gospel, ballads. Leaving class on the first day, I picked up a flyer advertising for a note taker for this class. This company would pay $350 for a student of adequate writing talent to type up notes for each class. This company then sold a subscription to students who were "unable" to attend classes regularly, or at all. My paycheck for taking notes (notes I would have had to take anyway), paid for my tuition for the class. So yeah, I was paid to listen to Elvis. Best. Job. Ever.

Unlike the whippersnappers in my class, I loved Elvis. I'd grown listening to him on our radio, on our television.  My beloved grandma, pious, Christian woman she was...oh, she had it bad for Elvis. I recall watching concerts with her during his later years when he was fairly rotund and drug-addled, but he still had the deep hypnotic voice that could get you right there in the lady parts. (Not that I realized it, since I was 10.) In my mind's eye I can still see him with pulling hundreds of scarves from around his sweaty neck to hand them off one-by-one to his admiring, swooning legion of fans. I can see the gyrations, the pelvic thrusts, the sexy snarl. And, best yet, I can see my Grandma's satisfied, happy smile.

I still listen to Elvis. During the holidays, I listen to his Christmas and gospel songs which remain some of the best out there. My thirteen year old daughter knows the lyrics to many of his songs, and may have uttered once he was "kinda hot," but doesn't get the jumpsuits...or the sideburns...or the rhinestones.

Viva Las Elvis!

Monday, December 17, 2012

911 to CT: A Timeline of Tragedy from Toddler to Teen

“The planes flew into the buildings, Mommy!” she said excitedly.

The date was September 11, 2001. Those were the first words my 2 year old baby girl said to me when I picked her up from daycare that horrific and tragic day.

I stopped in my tracks, because I was not prepared for the comment. Of course she had heard adults talking about the terrorist attacks. Perhaps she even saw the frightening images on television. I can’t be sure, and because she was so little, I couldn’t have a full-fledged conversation with her.  I optimistically prayed she was too young, her intellect too limited to know exactly what had happened. I hoped she thought it was just Bob the Builder gone bad. And as I watched parents with older children struggle with the hard conversations, I secretly felt relieved I did not have to do it.

She was just two, so these were the days when her eyes, mouth, entire face lit up upon seeing me. She ran with free abandon into my beckoning arms and she held my hand for safety. She implicitly  trusted me to care for her.

Today, she’s 13, and I’m more often watching her back as she walks away from me yet again, out into a scary world, where killers might be hiding in a movie theatre or in her school or on a street corner.

My heart nearly seizes up at the realization.

Following 9/11, I knew one thing for certain.  I realized, then and there, I could no longer fully protect her. Too often she was out of my sight, my reach, my heart, and I had to trust the greater village to care for her. The thought held little comfort.

In the subsequent years, there have been other travesties, more horrors, and more mass shootings.  As they mount with greater frequency, I find them harder and harder to try to explain. One of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had as a Mom was to look into my daughter’s cherubic face, she of innocence and relative ignorance, and pop her bubble with the words, “There are mean people and there are mentally sick people in the world. Sometimes innocent people get killed.”

Now, eleven years later, there’s another mass shooting, and this time, it’s different because the majority of the victims are young children - shot to death at school - a place generally considered a safe place.

Following the Sandy Hook massacre on December 14, I struggled with the urge to go pick my daughter up from school. Not because she’s not safe in our little white bread, affluent community, but because I needed to see her with my own eyes, to hold her like she was a 2 year old again. I fight my need to do this, because I don’t want her to think she is unsafe at her school. In fact, I want the day’s normalcy to continue as long as possible.

The hours slowly tick down, and when I do finally retrieve her after school, she greets me with a small smile. I roughly grab her into my arms and squeeze her with all my might. She looks confused askance of me without saying a word. I reply, “I just needed to do that,” and then, I asked if she’d heard about the school shooting in CT. She replied nonchalantly, “Oh yeah. We discussed it in Social Studies.” Period.

And, Poof! The onus of having the initial discussion had been stripped from me. Her teachers had already discussed it with her class, and she didn’t really have much commentary.  In fact, my teenage daughter was more concerned with going to the library book club with her friends.

I expected tears and sadness and questions. What I got instead was easy acceptance and a bit of apathetic shoulder shrugs which cut my heart to ribbons. Somewhere in the growing up process, I realized my sensitive, caring daughter had become hardened and immune to real-world violence and senseless death.

I can easily find many things to blame it on. Her friends play violent video games. She names “Die Hard” and its sequels her all-time favorite movies. She reads books like “The Hunger Games,” in which violence is a central theme. Truth is, just like other young people, she’s been exposed to so much simulated violence and death through various media, she is numb to real death.

To me, this is not acceptable. In this situation, and considering my daughter’s age (13 ½), I cannot subscribe to the notion that ignorance is bliss. I will not shield her from this evil.

She doesn’t know it yet, but tonight, she and I have a date, and it’s not going to be “fun.”

In fact, tonight, it is my mission to make her cry, to make her think, and make her pound her fists in rage.

I want to her to feel this grief. I want her to be outraged at our archaic, asinine gun-worshipping culture. I want her to know these deaths are real, that these were living people who had dreams and families and futures.

On the agenda? We’re going to watch President Obama’s memorial speech. We look at pictures beholding the sweet faces of the children who died. Together, we will read the stories of heroic teachers like 27 year old, Victoria Sota, who lost her life to save those of her students.

And yes, we’re going to talk about the shooter, and about mental illness, and the failures of our “system.” And, hopefully, we’ll discuss ways we/she/others can help find ways to make all children safer in the future. We need my daughter and her generation to feel this tragedy, to ask the hard questions, to be the change in the world. We gain nothing by burying their heads in the sand.

I hope, I pray, I plead that maybe this time is different...because this time there are twenty tiny caskets holding the most innocent of the innocent. Let’s honor them by doing something meaningful to affect change. I’m starting with my kid.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Morning After Listen to Your Mother - Madison

Best. Mom's. Day. Ever.

I am still floating on a cloud of euphoria and pride from yesterday's Listen to Your Mother show.

I thought nothing could top last year's experience of being IN  the cast of Listen to Your Mother. I was so wrong. Even more amazing was being in the audience this year. What a relief to sit and just enjoy the stories of motherhood without the constant worry of "will I throw up in public?"

I laughed. I cried. I was moved as pieces of each story resonated in my own life. I enjoyed watching my family and friends watching the show, soaking in the motherhood stories.

Above all else, it was so rewarding to watch my nearly-13 year old daughter perform again at The Barrymore Theatre. However, this time she appeared as herself, instead of a dragon tail. Even while she roasted my "weirdness," I had tears in my eyes from the pride I feel for the young woman she has become. (Wasn't she just in diapers??)

She. Slayed. It.

And, that's not just my mother-biased-rose-colored report, either. Several audience members, current cast, and former cast members sought me out after the show to tell me "congrats" (which is weird to respond to, since I didn't do anything) and tell me they loved her piece.

The words that touched me deepest, though, were from 2011 cast mate and friend, Sara Santiago, mom of two beautiful, sweet girls. She touched my arm, and said, "I want to have the kind of mother-daughter relationship you and Hannah have, with my own daughters." Wow...if you know my past, you know how much this compliment means to me.

And Hannah? Well, she wore that self-contented, "I conquered LTYM," smile right into bed last night. As I looked at her glowing face, I asked her, "So, in the entire day, what was the best part?" She grinned and replied, "Oh Mom, the laughter. Making people laugh!"

I hear you, baby. And, so did Madison.

Kudos to you and the 2012 Listen to Your Mother cast, and especially, Ann and Darcy!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wanted: Parent Portal Support Group

To some degree, I guess I've always been a helicopter parent. However, when my daughter entered 7th grade, I made a conscious decision to step back and let her spread her wings. I promised to no longer micromanage her education, but rather, I would simply remain Bette-Midler-esque as "the wind beneath her wings."

It was a good plan, but I was set up for failure by the school. They enabled me and my obsessive personality by placing the "drug" right into my eager smothering hands. They gave me a password and access to information about my daughter's school life with just a click of a button.

It's name? Infinite Campus Parent Portal, aka the latest in designer street drugs. It should be called "Portal to Hell," and contain the warning, "Enter at risk of annihilating your relationship with your child."

It started innocently enough. I logged in and looked around the site to see what information was available. A few days after school started, I logged in again. Oh my gosh! I discovered I had access to my daughter's grades. In real-time, people.

And, that's when my obsession began...and grew...and became a major part of my life.

Sure, the name sounds somewhat innocuous, until you break the words apart. "Infinite?" Yes, the knowledge I can glean from this data (crack) base includes grades, tardiness occurrences, lunch reports, test results, and more. Here, "infinite" means "Mom knows all." The term "portal," when used in Harry Potter's world, implies a secret entrance to all things good and mysterious. However, when the word "parent" is added to the word "portal," let me tell you, nothing good can come from this access. Parents shouldn't have this kind of power because we don't know how to use it for good.

I fell hard; first victim of the most addictive and dangerous narcotic ever invented.

Hook, link, and sinker.

Experts say that the first step in healing is to admit you have a problem.
Here goes: I. Have. A. Problem.

This portal into my daughter's world gives me too much power. When I was a kid, my grades were a secret, a revelation on report card day. My parents had absolutely no idea what I ate for lunch or how well I did on my English test. They had to actually ask, "How was your day?"  Sometimes I answered, but I still had the luxury of either editing or complete omission. Because today's parents have this online portal, children no longer have secret school lives.

If you don't think that this is nearly as awful as having a nanny cam on my daughter throughout the school day, listen up.

I know my daughter's grades, usually the same day they're given, even before she does. Within seconds, I am unhappily aware she ate french fries for lunch three days last week. Instantaneously, I am appalled to see that she not only has a library fine, but she also has three missing assignments.

Big Brother? Oh yeah. When she gets into the car after school, my verbal assault awaits, readied with extra clips of ammo. "Why were you late to Math today?" "Please don't tell me you got a 70% on your science assignment because you (again) forgot to write your name on the paper." It wasn't pretty, and it was destroying our mother-daughter relationship.

I am not alone. Several friends also admit to the same portal obsession. I've been told, "I can't stop looking." I know people (ok, it's me) who have graphed their child's grades...daily...with a graph that started not at 0%, but rather 90%. (It may seem if the start point is 90%, there's really no need for this graph.) *ahem*

I'm told that there are applications to block time-sucking websites like Facebook and Pinterest. These apps will only allow a predesignated amount of access to the offending website. I've thought about getting an app, but I don't need one that limits my time to the Portal. The portal is actually quick to quick that I can log in and view it nearly 327 times a day in only a few minutes time.

What I truly need is a website blocker. I have proven that I cannot use this "tool" wisely, so I should be banned. At the least, I'm thinking of entering my password incorrectly three times, which would serve to block my access...or it would, until I beg to have my access restored by the school administrators.

Recently, I noticed that my daughter would greet me with a deer-in-the-headlights-what's-
coming-from-her-now look when I retrieved her from school. It dawned on me that perhaps we (I) had a problem. I staged an intervention for me. I enrolled in a self-help group of one for me.

After discussing our options, we mutually decided that she would take responsibility for monitoring the portal for missing or late assignments. For my part, I agreed to remain silent about the offending grades unless a full week has passed.

I can still look. I just cannot use the power for bad. That seems fair.
(This essay is (mostly) written as a tongue-in-cheek satire, grounded in some reality.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

There's Always time to "be nice"

There's a well-known book, or is it an embroidered pillow case, that famously states, "I want to be the person my dog thinks I am." Well, if I look at *me* from his perspective, I don't really think I should aspire to be "that" person. From where he sits and judges, I know he believes I can be much better. I ignore his accusatory look  as I eat yet another snack.  His face has that unspoken question, "Hey, why do I only get food morning and night?" I am the person who scolds him when he awakens me with his continual OCD licking fetish. I am the ogress who shoves medicine down his gullet, and the one who recently delivered him to the vet for surgery. My standing in Darby's eyes is not too high these days.

And, after this morning, I think I've tumbled from the Mom pedestal, too, as my darling daughter thrust yet another humbling, life lesson upon my unwilling soul early this morning.

(Before we go any further, I must clear up this misconception that Hannah is thoroughly "good." She is definitely NOT perfect, just like the rest of us. For goodness sake, I just told you that after eight years of formal education, she is still nearly incapable of writing her name on the top of school papers. We argue, or rather "heatedly discuss," many topics. But just as humans are prone to apple-polishing and bragging, I usually only tell you the good things.)

Hannah used to say to me, "I want to be just like you when I grow up." Sure, I have a few good qualities. I think there are ...three. Yeah, that's right. After this morning's life lesson, I'm going to embroider a pillowcase that says, "I want to be like my daughter when I grow up."

Cue: this morning. As usual, we were running late for one of her numerous oh-dark-thirty extracurricular activities, because I seem to lack the be-on-time gene.

It was a frigidly cold morning, so Hannah waited in the warm car with me until I could deliver her to the front door of the school. We inched along behind other parents who were dropping off their kids. I grumbled under my breath, as a boy in the car in front of us searched for something in the trunk.  He was holding us up! Eventually, the boy stepped away and his dad drove ahead.

As I pulled forward, Hannah said, "Stop," but I didn't pay any attention because I was still trying to save her five steps and frostbite. I thought she just wanted to get out of the car sooner. As she leaped from the car, she threw me a mild look of disdain over her shoulder, and turned to walk in the opposite direction from the school entrance.

I stopped her to ask, "What are you doing???" I pointed to the school.

She replied, "That boy dropped one of his shoes on the sidewalk and he didn't realize it. I'm walking back to grab it, and then I'll run into school and give it to him."

I looked at the dropsy boy who had just put his hand on the door. "Why don't you yell to him that he dropped it and he can run back and pick it up?"

And, then, I uttered those words reminiscent of the scariest Tiger Mom, "You don't have time to "be nice!"

Wow, did I say that? "You don't have time to be nice??"

Yeah, I sure did, and I am filled with shame. But, she was going to be late for...Comedy Academy. (not school)

Hannah, to her credit, just looked at me and shook her head in disappointment. She couldn't believe I'd failed to engage my filter, either.

She jogged back, retrieved the boy's shoe, and then ran ahead and gave it to him. He smiled with gratitude at my loving, KIND, and sweet daughter, and I felt exactly like hot excrement.

When I say that Hannah is still teaching me to be a better person, I am not kidding, and I'm certainly not embellishing.

Today's life lesson for those of you who may have missed it..."There's always time to be nice."

I might just go get a treat for Darby.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How Can She Be 12?

At Hannah's birthday celebration last night, I thought to myself, "How can she be 12?"

I look at my daughter and really see her. As I gaze at her and try to see her as the world sees her, I nearly gasp aloud at the young woman that she is becoming. Beyond the new physical curves of her maturing body, I see the strong, courageous and assertive spirit that will take her into a successful future. But, in my mind's eye, she is still that little peanut who lay on my chest so long ago. As I rocked her and she drifted into sleep, I would repeat the whispered mantra, "Stay little...stay little...stay little." Now that she's surpassed me in height, I must confess that I don't think that my pleas worked.

Last night, as I watched her goof around with her two dining companions, I couldn't help but wonder how we got to this place - this place that is 12 years old - so very fast. Inside, I choke on the knowledge that two-thirds of her layover with us has passed. As activities and friends consume more and more of her waking hours, I know that these last six years will zoom by in a blink of an eye. And, before I know it, we'll be celebrating her 18th birthday, and shortly after that, she'll be off to college. The thought of this future "missing her" brings me to my knees, and a sense of foreboding makes my heart constrict with the impending loss...and I almost forget to be in this moment, here. Right now.

I know in my head that looming separation and her pursuit of autonomy is a natural part of growing up - and away - from me. It doesn't mean that I have to like it.

For now, I still revel in the glimpses of a younger Hannah, such as her request for a Play-Doh set this birthday, and I am secretly delighted and grateful when she still needs me. Within the walls of our home, I am still called "Mommy," but I've noticed recently that I've "graduated" to either "Mom" or "Mother" when she's among her friends. When we're alone, my daughter is still the outwardly demonstrative child I've always known; quick with a hug or a casual "I love you" thrown back over her shoulder as she leaves for school. But out in the world, I sense the slightest bitter taste of her pulling away from me.

Friends have begun to warn me that this is "just the beginning." I am told frightening things like,"Oh, just you wait for the teen years!" To date, my response has been, "Every age so far has been my favorite." Just because she'll enter teen-dom next year, I don't have reason (yet) to believe that Hannah is suddenly going to morph into the anti-Christ. Through the years, she has only become more interesting, kinder, smarter, and funnier.

I can only foresee this trend continuing.

Happy Birthday, my 12-year old.
I (continue to) beseech you - "stay little."


Monday, May 9, 2011

Listen To Your Mother - The episode in which I am tired, but proud

The episode in which I am tired, but proud.

I have work to do this morning, but I’m ignoring it. Rather, I have chosen to bask in the after glow of yesterday’s Listen to Your Mother show. I find that I don’t want to leave that place just yet, but rather I am content to revel in the memories made before, during and after the show.

As a bit of background, I stumbled upon the LTYM website surfing the web, and I watched the video of the 2010 LTYM show. I was captivated by the woman that everyone calls, “Ding Dong;” a mom of chronic door-ringing children.

“Ding Dong” completely cracked me up, and I thought, “I bet I could do that.” I then discovered that auditions for the 2011 show were but a month away. I got down to business. I reread all of the pieces I’d ever written about motherhood. Should I submit a funny one or a serious one? I decided that I was more comfortable with the funny route, so I collected a bunch of snippets of conversations between my daughter and me about puberty. I smushed them around, sliced and diced, and made them into an essay that I felt rolled right along.

Despite a public speaking phobia, I auditioned and I was chosen to be one of the 13 Madison Mamas to read at the 2011 Listen to Your Mother show! I am so grateful to have shared this amazing experience with 13 beautiful, wonderful, generous, giving and loving women: Elizabeth Katt Reinders; Darcy Dederich; Suzy Grindrod; Jessie Loeb; Amy Miles; Stacie Rieder; Alexandra Rosas Schultze; Jennifer Rosen Heinz; Sara Santiago; Laura McNeill; Erika Wagner-Martin; Sara Ward-Cassidy and Ann Imig.

They have made me a better Mom and a better person. Because of this briefly shared time in our lives, they are my friends for life.

I was blessed to have my daughter, partner, her mom and my best friend sitting in the front row on show day. I could feel their smiles and their good wishes being sent my way, even though it was impossible to see them after the lights went down. But I knew they were there, and that’s all that mattered.

As I listened to the three amazing women speak before me, I concentrated on breathing and calmness. I could hear my heart racing and pounding within my chest, and kept chanting to myself, “It will be fine. It will be great. It will be……….over……..soon.” I mildly cursed my daughter for “making me” do this thing. I berated the directors for picking my piece. Yeah, it was a busy place in my head.

As I walked to the podium, I repeated the word “pre-pubescence, pre-pubescence” over and over again. It was the word that would make me stumble, and dang it, I did later misspeak it. But you know what? I nailed every other damn word in that essay, and I was so proud of myself. When the first laugh from the audience came, I was so grateful. I actually wanted to pause and say, “thank you.”

They laughed…and I laughed…and I thought, “I am actually doing this, and I am going to survive it.” Hey, I’m sitting down now, and they’re clapping. Holy crap! It’s over. Yea for MEEEEEEE!  

Hannah told me later that she was laughing so hard that she cried during my entire reading.  I was confused. “But honey, you’ve read it and heard it 100+ times?” She said, “But Mommy, you are so funny when you read it out loud!”

The best part of the day to me was listening to and observing the audience members as they filtered out of the Barrymore Theatre. The lobby was ALIVE with the energy of smiling women, crying women, women hugging women. The women, young and old, of all shapes and sizes, they shared their stories with friends, and family, and yes, with strangers. Many took our hands and said, “Thank you.” They thanked us for being brave and for telling our stories.

For a few minutes, I felt like a Rock Star.

And in an ironic twist of karma coming around to slap my face, I hear from across the room, “Hey, there’s the “Puberty Woman.” Oh dear, “Ding Dong” sounded so much cuter.

I had a cape on my back…one that unfortunately said, “Puberty Woman,” but it’s a cape nonetheless. And, damn it, that’s all that matters.

P.S. Deb Nies’ make-up yesterday – Elizabeth Katt Reinders. (Thank you for making my eyes “pop,” in a good way!)