Monday, September 8, 2014

Egyptian Rat Screw and Sister Sightings

"As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be." The doxology or a statement about mothers and daughters?

My sister Dawn.
I mean my daughter Abby.
I am the mother of a daughter. An incredibly bright, ambitious and talented 13 year-old. I am thankful that my relationship with Abby has been pretty darn good to this point. And, if I can avoid becoming competitive with my own child, we might just get along fine for the foreseeable future.

I have been envious of Abby's superior athletic ability since she was about five. Her math skills have impressed me since elementary school. The cool confidence and drama-free nature she possesses have been a pleasant surprise, particularly given her mother's dramatic tendencies. She knows her way around baked goods. And her desire to work hard and make a good impression are a source of pride. More recently, I've become aware with more than a little jealousy of Abby's cute teenage figure, which takes me back 30 years to when I was a stick-shaped dork, resenting girls like her.

While all of her qualities are enough to make anyone sick envious want to take her down a peg feel the need to strive to compete, what most gets to me about Abby is her resemblance to my sister Dawn. It's not so much a physical resemblance, but more about personality, attitude and character. It scares me how often I look at her and see my sister. The facial expressions are the same. The things she says and the way she says them is frighteningly similar. Where this causes me particular concern is with regard to their corresponding level of competitiveness. And this just happens to be one of the few things I have in common with my sister. So, if A = D and D = K, what must be true of A and K? Hey look! It's your first math problem of the new school year!

Being four years apart, Dawn and I didn't compete so much in school, but in any setting where we did interact, there was an unspoken desire to kick each others' asses outperform the other. The problem was is that I had have a soft spot that my sister didn't doesn't possess, which means she was is always able to get the better of me. The perfect example of when/where this competition reared its ugly head? The Monopoly board. Dawn was is vicious and ruthless and always had has to have the ship. She would will sucker me into making lousy deals. And, I don't think she ever lost loses.

The first indication that Abby and I might have issues? A game of cards. Not just any game of cards, but a game with the eyebrow-raising name "Egyptian Rat Screw." This is a game of memory and response time, requiring a heightened level of awareness and an above average ability to slap cards. Skills which have weakened in me with each passing year. Skills which Abby has in abundance. And did I mention we're both competitive?

It started out civilly enough. Abby taught me the rules of the game, and for about 10 minutes I behaved as an adult/parent. But then my child transformed before my very eyes and I saw Dawn sitting across from me with that confident smirk that said loud and clear, "You're going down!" And all hell broke loose. I refused to take any more beatings and I let it all out. Yelling. Aggressive card slapping. Profanities. Insults. It was when I told her "I'm surprised you have any friends; you're so mean!" that Abby brought me back to reality with "Mom! I can't believe you said that!" Oops. My bad.

You would think that would have been enough to snap me out of it, but the ugly continued, ultimately reaching its pinnacle when I demanded an impartial judge to make rulings on whose hand hit the deck first. Rob and Ian wisely declined to enter into our melee, leaving only one option: videotaping. We set up the iPad to record, and within minutes were in another disagreement as to who had won a hand. We turned to the iPad for answers. We watched the recording. And went back and watched the recording. And slowed it down frame by frame and watched the recording. And we still couldn't agree on who had won. We abandoned the videotaping. Abby won the game. I had a small tantrum, and that was that. I am happy to report that I have behaved much more appropriately during subsequent games, except when I won that one time. Then I did a little whooping and hollerin' and happy dance and told Abby she was a loser. Just kidding. I didn't do a happy dance. That's just immature.

I'll admit that I still see the ghost of my sister every now and then. Occasionally in my cat who is either aloof or nasty, but most often in Abby. I try to ward off the panic that results at these sightings by reminding myself that I am an adult and no matter how successful she is or how much she resembles Dawn, Abby is my child. This means I will always delude myself into believing have the upper hand...

...As long as I don't challenge her in baking, soccer, softball, clarinet, guitar, math or card games. From now on, I think we'll stick to Scrabble and Boggle. I can beat my sister daughter at those.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Has Anyone Seen My Mind? It Seems to Be Missing.

Have you ever wondered if you're losing your mind? I certainly have, and on more than one occasion. Last night being one of them. As I seriously consider the possibilities that this is happening to me, I find myself wondering if people who lose their minds actually realize it, or, does the fact that I'm asking mean that I'm not. And what does it mean to lose ones mind anyway?

On one hand I have real concerns that I'm headed for early onset dementia. Sure, everyone forgets what they walked into a certain room for, and forgotten names of folks you don't see that often is normal, but it's worse than that for me. I will completely blank on the names of people I'm close to. I  can't recall the title of that book, movie, or TV show to save my life (there goes my trivia game show dream). I remember dates and times wrong. My "brain farts" happen so frequently that I'm getting used to the smell.

Then there's the "crazy" side of losing ones mind. While I feel like my depression symptoms are, for the most part, under control, lately I'm wondering if I'm bipolar or just ridiculously moody. It's like my teenage and young adult years all over again. Come to think of it, I should call my college roommates to apologize. Anyway, last night I went from having a grand ole time with friends to walking a mile home at 11 p.m. because I was angry for no particularly good reason. (Though you'd think by now that husbands would know not to ask their wives, "What's your problem?" in that tone of voice. At least when the kids ask why I'm in a bad mood it's an innocent, albeit foolish, mistake.)

So what is my problem exactly? Well, that's the thing. Looking at the big picture, I have no problems. I have a job, a home, my health, my parents' health, my kids' health, a good great husband, and food for the table (when I actually go grocery shopping). But close up, everything is a problem. I have moments (they last no more than an hour, tops) where I try to be adult and not complain about life to my friends (whom I will be lucky to still call "friends" after my increasingly bad behavior), but ultimately I succumb to all the sh*t that's dragging me down:

Missed deadlines
Divorce news
Diagnoses
Family obligations
To do lists
Job searches
Aging
Cancer treatments
Parenting

Some of that has nothing to do with me personally. But it's affecting people I care about and that affects me. I'm well aware that this is the same sh*t that's dragging down nearly everyone I know, but it's just that I feel everything so much more acutely. I recently asked Rob if he thinks everyone experiences the world like I do (albeit without talking/blogging about it), and his immediate answer was "No." No thoughtful consideration required before responding. Isn't he the lucky one to have married me!

You're probably (hopefully) thinking that I'm normal and that this is life. You might say that every mom of a teenager goes through this crap, but I think it'd be so much easier if I didn't jump on the roller coaster with them. I can literally go from happy to bitch in 3.5 seconds. One minute I'll be dreaming of the day when the kids are out of the house and Rob and I can downsize and move somewhere warm and live happily ever after. The next minute I'm seriously doubting that I can stand even one more day together, listening to him pass gas breathe. The poor guy never knows who he's coming home to and a spouse can only be patient for so long. Hence, my walk home last night.

I realize that this post is probably better suited for my personal journal (yes, can you believe there are things I actually keep personal!), but these worries kept me tossing and turning last night and I guess I'm hoping someone will say that they get it, that they've been there, too.

That I'm not losing my mind.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

So a Celebrity Died and People Wept

I'll be honest. I've always thought that people who are dumbstruck ("dumb" being the operative word) by celebrities are pretty sad. Is your life so pathetic that you need to keep up with the Kardashians or keep it "real" with the Housewives of Name-that-Place? Even if you are not personally supporting this sickness, there clearly are too many Americans who are fascinated with the lives of the rich and famous. How else would we end up with these ridiculous people on our TV and movie screens?

Need further proof that we are way too interested in the world of celebrities? People is the top selling magazine in this country. There are 46.6 million so-called adults who choose People as a source of reading material. That subscription costs over $100 a year. I know, because I've priced it. I'll admit that I enjoy an occasional issue, but I only look at it for the pictures. I swear.

Then there are those who go well beyond checking out Tinseltown's awards ceremony gowns. Some will search for celebrity homes, stalk them for photos and autographs, and even visit their grave sites. Our reaction to the death of celebrities is especially disconcerting to me. I have never understood the wailing, weeping and homage paid at the death of someone famous. Folks leaving flowers, candles, stuffed animals and photos at meaningful sites? I don't get it. Unless you knew John Lennon, Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix or Marilyn Monroe personally, why would you react this way? There are reports of fans committing suicide when Michael Jackson died. Why do you mourn those whom you have never loved and in most cases, never met? You may have been touched by their performances, but is that enough to justify the tears? I see the irony in that statement -- me suggesting that tears need to be justified.

Part of the reason I am turned off by our reaction to the deaths of famous people is that it seems to speak volumes about what matters to us. We cry over lost lives in Hollywood and read every tribute and bit of gossip about those lost souls, but we're quick to turn the page or change the channel when we see photos and hear the stories of hundreds and thousands who are dying from disease and violence in countries we can't find on a map.

But then Robin Williams died.

I did not know him personally, but I still cried when I heard the news. And the more I read about his death, the more tears I shed. I cried because he was still in his prime and had much more to give. I cried because he made me laugh and it hurts to lose someone who gives us the gift of laughter. But perhaps the main reason I cried is because, as a friend of mine said, if Robin Williams couldn't fight the demons of depression, even with every resource at his disposal, what chance do the rest of us have?

If anything good can come from the loss of one of the world's comic geniuses, let it be that the conversation about mental illness continues and that in our darkest moments we recall this line from the Walt Whitman poem "O Me! O Life!" spoken by Robin Williams in one of his most extraordinary movies, The Dead Poet's Society:

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;  
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

So, this is how it's going to be

The summer of 2014 will be remembered as the season in which I lost my children. I think in my very last post, just two short weeks ago, I said something about really liking my kids, and as a result missing them when they're gone, which was the case for the first half of the summer. Well, Ian returned home on Saturday night and I spent a week on a mission trip with Abby, and I can now say that I don't like them nearly as much. Okay, that was a little harsh. Perhaps I should put it this way -- they both turned into teenagers this summer. Just putting that in writing makes my skin crawl.

Perhaps you think I'm lucky that Ian didn't hit this evil stage until now, but maybe in some ways that makes it harder to accept. I really thought that if my 16-year-old was still fairly likable that I was in the clear, that I'd made it past go and could collect $200. I had been patting myself on the back for being such an exceptional parent, having raised a kid who never rolled his eyes or gave me major attitude. Oh, how very foolish I've been.

When picking him up at the airport, after being gone for two weeks, my son's reaction to seeing me was "Hey." And no, it wasn't an upbeat, happy, let-me-give-you-a-hug "Hey!" In his first 24-hours at home I spent maybe three hours with him (he ran off to a friend's house), and in that short amount of time he gave me "the look" and the attitude to go with it. He actually had the cojones to attempt to "decline" a volunteer assignment for the following day that benefited an organization of which he's a member. He seriously thought that by stating, "I don't want to," he would get out of doing the job at hand. I don't know what kinds of kids he spent the past two weeks with, but I'm holding them responsible for this metamorphosis.

And then there's my daughter. Abby also deserted me, physically and emotionally, for most of July. The good news is that I know she felt some degree of guilt because of it. Case in point: Last week, Abby and I worked on Habitat for Humanity houses that were just a few hundred yards apart. During a lull in my work, I walked down to check on my girl (who, by the way, won the tool belt award for hardest worker on the first day of our trip). While visiting, I expressed concern for her safety with regard to something she was doing. She scolded me, in essence telling me to return to my own job site. I realized she was right and so I sulked and with my tail between my legs made my way back. Feeling melancholy over the distinct lack of interaction I'd had with Abby since the trip began, I sat myself down in a quiet place outside and contemplated the increasing gulf between me and my children. And I ate some Swedish Fish. And while I was wallowing in self pity and trying to get the candy out of my teeth, Abby came up to me and expressed concern for my well-being. She asked whether she'd done something wrong and apologized for upsetting me. I got teary-eyed telling her everything was fine and sent her on her way. Guilt is an invaluable tool.

Three days after returning home, Ian is ignoring my repeated requests to put away his clothing, groans when asked to do most any household chore, and feigns illness when he doesn't want to do something. In other words, things have somewhat returned to normal. At least he has stopped rolling his eyes and seems to like me a bit more. Of course, that could be because he again relies on me for food and lodging.

Abby, too, seems to have rediscovered me. When she was away on Monday, she texted to say goodnight and tell me she loves me. It was like the good ole days.

Today, Ian woke early to tell me he was heading to the shore with Noah for the day, asking if that was okay at the same time that Noah's dad was pulling into the driveway to pick him up. Sure, it's okay. Thanks for asking. Maybe 10 minutes notice next time instead of five? I believe that, starting tomorrow, Ian and Abby will both be home, together, for the rest of the summer. Which makes me think it's an excellent time for Rob and me to get out town.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My New Reality: A Preview

It's been a strange summer thus far and it's going to remain strange right up until the first of August. It began in June with Ian heading off to a church youth group retreat in the Poconos the Monday after school let out. He returned home on a Friday afternoon and declined to join his family at the Phillies game and fireworks that evening. The next morning, Rob took Ian and his friend Keaton to the airport at 4:15 a.m. for a flight to Atlanta, where Keaton's parents would pick the boys up and take them to Lake Burton, Georgia. Their stay in Georgia lasted 10 days. On the day they returned, we dropped Abby and her friend Maddie off at Immaculata University for soccer camp. They spent four days there. Three days later Abby left for the Poconos for the middle schoolers' week-long church youth group retreat. That same day Rob and I flew to Minneapolis for the All Star Game. We left Ian home alone, paying one of Rob's coworkers to spend the nights with him.

Rob and I returned from Minnesota last Wednesday afternoon; Abby got home on Thursday. On Saturday, Rob and Ian headed out on their road trip to Oxford, Ohio where Ian is spending two weeks in Miami University's Summer Scholars program.

At the parent meeting for Abby's soccer camp, the leaders told us this would be a good first step toward college for the girls. They were responsible for getting themselves where they needed to be, when they needed to be there. They had to remember their gear and their water, and be sure to change their socks and clothes frequently enough that they didn't develop any strange rashes. They ate in the dining hall and slept in the dormitory and if they had lost their keys it would have cost us them $75. Naturally, Abby and Maddie were just fine. Those two could run the camp.

Ian's two week experience at Miami will be an even greater pre-college test. The question is, who will perform better, him or me?

While I usually welcome the opportunity to have a few days away from my children, I have to confess that this June-July anomaly has me a bit freaked out. Let's face it, these exoduses away from home are just harbingers of things to come. And those things to come will be here before I know it. And quite frankly, I'm not sure I'm ready. Me. The one who started counting down the days till they left for college when they were three. Me. The one who thought this motherhood thing might have been a poor (and irreversible) job choice. Me. The one with the 10-year plan that includes no one except me and Rob on a beach somewhere. How has this happened? How is it that I actually have a small ache in my heart?

I think what happened is that I've grown to really like my kids. Loving your children is pretty much a given, but liking them? Not always. As they've gotten older, we actually have meaningful conversations (as long as Ian's not sitting in front of a screen of some sort), and I find I truly enjoy their company. Ian's bright, quick wit never fails to amuse and impress, and Abby's observations, intelligence and competitive spirit provide a challenge.

I'm amazed at the way they've both changed in the past year or so; Ian, in particular. Last summer he couldn't wait to come home from two camp experiences right here at Villanova, 15 minutes from home. He was miserable. This year he's nine hours away for two weeks, spending his days with complete strangers. And he loves it. He's made friends, enjoys his classes (The Business of Sports), and finds the whole experience "great." "Great" is high praise indeed from a 16-year-old boy. On day one it was only "good."

Knowing that Ian's doing well has eased that small ache, but I do miss his sense of humor. I suppose I better get used to it.

This Saturday, while Ian's still in Ohio, Rob, Abby, my mom and I will drive 10 hours to Banner Elk, NC for our church mission trip. We'll leave a day early, Friday, August 1, in order to pick up Ian at the Baltimore airport where he'll fly in from Cincinnati at the conclusion of his Miami U. experience. We'll return home that night where we will begin the month of August with nothing more than Vacation Bible School on the calendar.

It'll be weird, being together like that. I just hope the kids don't get on my nerves.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Midwestern Meditations

There's nothing better than getting away for a few days. It doesn't even matter how far you go, as long as you're not in your own home with your never-ending to do list in plain sight. I swear I become a different person. Almost pleasant to be around. It's delightful!

Summer presents the most opportunities for these bits of respite from reality. In the past couple months, I've enjoyed an overnight to Cape May with my family; a visit with my parents, sister and nephew near Barnegat Bay; and most recently, I traveled to Minneapolis with my husband for the MLB All Star Game. On this little jaunt I made several observations that I'd like to share with you. This top 10 list isn't particularly meaty (except for the steak and BBQ) or deep, but it's all I've got time for. Seems these little getaways get in the way of getting stuff done and now I'm behind in my job, my home life, my volunteer obligations, yada, yada, yada. The good news is that I actually have a couple of ideas for more substantial posts in the near future. So you have that to look forward to. I seriously hope, however, that you have more to look forward to than a blog post. But I digress. Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation (in no particular order).
  1. Pepsi, popcorn, donuts and beer can bring a person to their knees. Literally.
  2. You can't help but feel a tremendous sense of pride and patriotism when six U.S. Air Force Thunderbird jets do a flyover in a flat delta formation at about 400 mph just as Idina Menzel hits the final note of the national anthem.
  3. Somewhere over the rainbow, skies, indeed, are blue.
  4. Some people over-pack clothes when they travel. I over-pack reading material (and never have enough clothes).
  5. You hear some memorable stuff when you visit new places, like "Can you pass me my cheese curds? I left them under your seat."
  6. Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you one hell of a steak. 
  7. People in Minnesota are just nice. TSA folks in the airport there actually appeared to like their jobs. Just can't imagine seeing that in the City of so-called Brotherly Love. 
  8. Every state believes it's the master of BBQ.  
  9. I don't know what it is, but elderly black men have some of the most beautiful faces I've ever seen. I saw Hank Aaron at a pre-game event over the weekend, and his distinguished face reminded me of the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, one of the greatest elder statesmen (96!) of the black church (and a Judson Press author).  
    Mr. Hank Aaron
    Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor
  10. It's awesome to see people you love as others see them. Over the weekend, I was able to watch my husband in his element, associating with colleagues from around the MLB. He's the same friendly, intelligent, engaging, real, humorous and well-respected guy I fell in love with. Now if only he could return to proper form at home. Ha! 
Here's hoping that wherever your travels take you this summer, you come home with your own top 10 list! And how about sharing it?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just a Cliche and a Decade Away from Being the It Girl

I am officially too old to ever again be an "It Girl." This painful realization hit me a couple of weeks ago when I learned of a much younger colleague's designation as the cat's meow, the cream of the crop, and the best thing since sliced bread. Okay, no one used those exact words, but the sentiment was communicated clearly enough.

While I will agree that this colleague is a terrific person and a hard working, competent and mature professional, I am not happy about all the chatter. My reasons for being envious concerned are completely rational:
  1. If this individual were to learn that she is so highly regarded, the ego boost could make her very difficult to work with.
  2. Those who think this individual is all that and a bag of chips may become blind to her weaknesses and willing to overlook her flaws.
  3. For leadership to heap the majority of praise on one employee can have disastrous affects on the self-esteem of others who may feel the need to retaliate.
While, none of this applies to me personally because I don't compete work that closely with this individual, I have become aware that older women like myself are clearly being discriminated against when it comes to being the bees knees. Simply put, It Girl status can only be bestowed upon those under the age of 30. This is evidenced by the fact that business journals publish lists of the "Top Professionals Under Age 30," or "40 to Watch Under Age 40," but you never see anything for "Fantastic in their Fifties" or "Successful in their Sixties." The reality is that, once you turn 41, you're expected to be a performer. There's no special recognition. No talk in the break room about the new superstar. No grumbling about the girl who thinks she's "all that."

This is a hard reality for me to face because in my 20s and 30s, I was an It Girl. I worked hard to make sure I was bringing the very best to whatever position I held so that the bar would forever be set at "Kim level" and my replacements would always have very big shoes to fill. Gave everything 110%, never content with the merely the old college try. Raised my hand for every new job responsibility. Kissed butt ad nauseum. And for what? The same Wawa gift card everyone else received. And more responsibility at the same salary. It Girl status doesn't really pay off in the non-profit sector. Ah, hindsight. The point is that I enjoyed the heady feeling of knowing I was appreciated and recognized, and now I'm being forced to rely on my self-confidence to get me through the day. This is why middle-aged people turn to drinking and prescription drugs. They're much more accessible than self-esteem. 

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming several years ago when I noticed that I was no longer the youngest employee in my department or organization. I remember being truly shocked to discover that not only was Susie Q not older than me, but in fact, she was a good decade younger. Clearly I was am in denial of my advancing age, and this new performance-based "reality" is adding insult to injury.

In trying to decide how to handle this delicate situation, I can think of only a few options:

  • Sabotage my colleague's work so her performance is of concern versus congratulations.
  • Find ways to highlight my own work in such a way that it overshadows hers.
  • Encourage her to find employment elsewhere and then recommend a clearly inferior individual to take her place.
  • Find a new job in which I likely am the youngest employee. Maybe the library or the school cafeteria?
  • Put on my big girl panties and deal with it.
I welcome your advice, really. I especially look forward to hearing from you if you've personally managed to maintain It Girl status into your 40s or 50s. I probably won't talk to you again, but I'm still eager to know how you did it.