Thursday, September 22, 2016

How Do You Say...?

I do not like voids in my life, therefore, when the opportunity arose to fill Ian's spot, I took it. Within days of Ian moving to Villanova, I moved Gautier into his room. Gautier or Got (pronounced "Gote") is a 16-year-old exchange student from Tours, France. I took "exchange" quite literally, trading in one teenage boy for a new model. Not that Gautier is a French model. I wouldn't want a gaggle of teen girls showing up at the house with misinformation.

You may recall that I attempted this exchange student thing before, about four years ago. Jess, however, was from Quebec, which doesn't really count, plus she had already graduated from high school in Canada, which means she had no skin in the game. What I'm trying to say is that it didn't work out with Jess. She left us a couple months early. Boyfriend troubles, apparently, though there were rumblings of dissatisfaction around a certain family member's bathroom habits. We won't go there. No pun intended.

Filling the empty hole in my soul from Ian's leaving was not the only reason we ordered an exchange student. I also was looking for free labor, someone to empty the dishwasher and wash the cars, much like Long Duk Dong’s host parents in "Sixteen Candles." Abby also wanted an exchange student from France. She's taking French and figured it'd be like having a free, live-in tutor. Unfortunately, she didn't count on having to tutor him in English, and let's just say patience isn't her strong suit.

Got’s English is passable, but there are definitely conversations where I’m lucky if I understand half of what he says. While it can be difficult, personally, I’ve found much of the language barrier to be charming and/or amusing. For example:

“What was your day?” (translated: How was your day?)

“They don’t have bus for to go home. I will work.” (translated: I missed the bus. I will walk)

“Thank you for your helping.” (translated: thank you for your help)

“I past the first test. I don’t understand all the answer.” (translated: I finished the first test. I didn’t understand any of the questions)

“I work outsider with lily.” (translated: I took Lily for a walk)

“For this moment I don’t really have hungry.” (translated: I’m not hungry right now)

I also love the way Got describes nearly everything as “big,” which is certainly appropriate in America where everything from meals to our vehicles are overly large. He noted that the only thing small around here are teenage girls’ jeans. Actually, that was me. He hasn't mentioned girls' jeans. Got also refers to many things as “funny,” when I’m pretty sure he means nice or good.

While I pick up a decent amount of what he’s trying to communicate, I’m pretty sure Got gets about 10 percent of what I throw at him. I’ve learned that if he gives me a straight "yes" or "no" answer it means he doesn't understand what I’ve said and is trying to fake it. There have been some alarming examples of this. For instance, he responded “yes” to questions like "Will you try to kill me in my sleep?" and "Do you have any intention of hitting on my daughter?" And he replied "no" when asked "Do you like my cooking?" and "Do you think we’re a nice, normal family that you’ll enjoy living with?" Clearly these were not the responses I was looking for, nor the answers I believe he meant to give. Although, to be fair, he probably doesn't like my cooking, as evidenced by the fact that he keeps offering to make meals for us.

The most important thing to know about Got (besides his potentially murderous intentions) is that he’s very polite, respectful and eager to help. Kinda like I imagine my children are when they’re with anyone but me. He’s also a big fan of the way Americans treat our flag. Apparently that level of respect and display is unheard of in France, or many countries for that matter. It’s pretty cool to hear him talk about it.

Overall, I’d have to say things are going well. When I asked Got about his next host family (he moves to a new family in January), he informed me that he’s planning on staying with us. I told him that's fine, as long as he takes over all the cooking. Anyone interested in a nice French meal?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Empty Nest Symptoms?

Someone once said she appreciated how "real" I am.
I told her I'd prefer to be a little less real.
Last week I had one of my worst emotional breakdowns in 15 years. For anyone who's struggled with depression, you know that these episodes are terrifying. You can't breath, you can't stop crying, and you're paralyzed with the fear that you're never going to get better. Suffice it to say that depression sucks.

I've been in a pretty lousy place for about six months now and I'm starting to wonder if I'm ever going to feel like my old self again. It's not that my old self was anything awesome, but I liked her better. She laughed more easily. She made others laugh. She cried at happy things. She wrote funny blog posts and Vacation Bible School skits.

I'm not entirely sure what prompted last week's meltdown, but my guess is that it had something to do with being lonely. Honestly, loneliness has taken me by complete surprise. I craved alone time for most of the past 15 years, and now that I have it, I'm miserable. I never thought I'd be the mom who falls apart when the kids leave the house. I thought the whole empty nest syndrome was a bit ridiculous and only applied to moms whose entire lives were their kids. But here I am, the mom who paid as little attention to the kids as possible, now hates the thought of them leaving. And it's not like Ian's going to college across the country, for crying out loud (no pun intended), and I still have Abby for a few more years (though she's constantly busy). Woe is me! I've turned into my mom. Time to stock up on those guilt-inducing comments.

What concerns me most about this loneliness thing is that it's not as if I have nothing else to do with my life. I go to the gym (and as an aside, a meltdown post-workout is truly adding insult to injury. I exercise because the freakin' endorphins are supposed to help my mental health. It's totally uncool for them to not hold up their end of the bargain); I make dinner (it's been known to happen when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars); I play with the dog; I watch two episodes of my new favorite show Jane the Virgin (no more than two, because I want to make them last); I write, read, or pay bills or practice an audition piece for a play I may or may not have the nerve to try out for; I drink wine; and then I have mini panic attacks when I allow my mind to wander for more than a minute.

Most likely I'm overreacting. It's only the calm before the storm. Life will pick back up again and I won't have time to be looney lonely. Soon school will resume and I'll be chauffeuring Abby to and from soccer practices and games.  And did I mention we're taking in an exchange student from France? (His name is Gautier; he's 16. What could go wrong?) And I'm taking a Voice & Movement class at Villanova, returning to the theatre program. I also think I'm going to try out for a play, which would keep me busy six nights a week, at which point I'll have a breakdown because I'm overwhelmed. There's no keeping me happy. Aren't you glad you're not Rob?

Thanks for listening/reading. I know this isn't a particularly uplifting post, but I figured someone out there would be able to relate and might have something to say to make me feel better. Or, I'll make you feel better knowing that you're not half as crazy, lonely, sad, etc. as the girl who writes the Freakin' Angel blog!

Monday, July 18, 2016

To Be Extraordinary

A couple weeks ago the news reported the death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace. Lovelace drowned during Navy Seal training exercises. He was 21. Did you know that since 2012 more Seals have died in training than have died in combat or from combat-related injuries? A sad fact, sadder still because these men were extraordinary.

When I witness individuals doing extraordinary things, I feel really crappy about myself and my decidedly ordinary life. I'm in awe of those who tackle military training, or attempt American Ninja Warrior, or the Spartan races. I am beyond impressed by those who complete Ironman/Woman triathlons. I tip my hat to marathon runners and mountain climbers because there's nothing in me that wants to attempt any of those things. I hear the term "boot camp" at the gym, and I head to the yoga mat. Combine the word "extreme" with anything, and I run in the opposite direction. How is it there are people like Seaman Lovelace in the world and then there are people like me?

And it's not just those who accomplish heroic physical feats. What about hospice nurses like my girl Theresa, and teachers like my friends Cathy, Karen, Mindy, Dave, Dan and Susan? Put me in their shoes and you'd find the dying comforting me, and children running the classroom. And then there are those who make a difference in the world through their selfless acts. Like my friend Dave Powell whose organization Wells for Relief brings water to people in Ghana. Personally, I'd like to bring a dog  park to Media, Pa., and even that seems like too much work (and it's totally selfish since I could really use a dog park nearby).

Hell, even politicians, one or two of them, deserve our applause. Most of us bitch about the state of our country, but how many of us are doing anything to improve it? Current presidential candidates excluded, there are actual American citizens who put their district, state, and/or country first. I can't name any of them, but I'm sure they exist. This is just another category in which I would say, "Not a chance." I'm embarrassed to admit that I would probably fail a test on exactly how our political system works, and that's because I spend my time on the latest movies and best selling books instead of picking up Time magazine.

Wow. This is depressing. The problem with this thinking, and as a result this blog post, is that it stymies us. We're understandably daunted by aiming for extraordinary, convinced we can never achieve it, but I recently was given the advice to "Do one thing different" and that helps, really. Because if you think about it, neither the Navy seal nor the marathon runner, nor the teacher or the politician got out of bed one morning and said "today I'm going to accomplish something extraordinary." They built up to it with a run, or a course of study or, in the case of the politician, a bribe. Baby steps.

I'm not sure what my extraordinary could look like, but today and tomorrow, too, I'm going to do one thing different and see where it takes me. How about you? What would extraordinary mean to you? And what's the one thing you could do differently to get you there?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It's Been Curiously Entertaining!

Rob and I have been talking about our 10-year plan and for some time now it's included retiring to Wrightsville Beach, NC. I even get Zillow updates on properties for sale in our price range. This year when choosing where to vacation we decided we should visit the place we want to retire, you know, before actually purchasing a property and moving there. So here we are in Carolina Beach, NC. We couldn't afford find a place to rent in Wrightsville.

Located just south of Wrightsville, Carolina Beach is billed as "a family-friendly, extraordinary beach town that's curiously entertaining!" The "curiously entertaining" part should have been a clue. I'm pretty sure it's synonymous with "uncomfortably amusing" or "freak show." Carolina Beach is also described as "North Carolina's most authentic beach town," which means "America's yahoos vacation here." Allow me to share the top 10 things I've seen this week (and the week is only half over):
  1. A tee that read "Cool story, babe, now get me a beer."
  2. A sign for a "Gun & Tattoo" show.
  3. A visit from the paramedics. Despite the fact that we were hanging on the front porch enjoying ourselves, she walked past us to the front door and when we looked at her strangely stopped and said "Didn't you call 911?" We hadn't. 
  4. Fishing charter boats so skanky I'd be afraid to eat anything they caught.
  5. Abby and Hope almost hit by a car and Rob giving the guy an earful.
  6. An absurd amount of vaping...
  7. A preponderance of Willie Nelson look-a-likes.
  8. An alligator.
  9. A bar with no public restrooms and a sign forbidding "club colors." Forgive my naivety, but I really didn't know Carolina beach towns were havens for gang violence.
  10. A brand new boardwalk all of three blocks long on which there is nothing but swings overlooking the dunes. Not a glimpse of the ocean to be found. And the boardwalk shops aren't actually on the boardwalk. Nor is there anything remotely worth shopping for. This place makes Seaside Heights look impressive. Almost. 
And now that I've gotten my elitist comments out of the way, allow me to add that bringing Lily on vacation was a mistake. We've had one escape in which she took off across the street, through parking lots, over the dunes and onto the beach. Some guy caught her by the collar and she dragged him several feet before he wisely let go. We haven't been able to leave her alone for fear she'll either die of a stress-related heart attack or destroy the house. We're going to the beach in shifts. 

Now, none of this is to say we're not having fun. The beach is lovely and the water is about the warmest I've ever felt the Atlantic. Yesterday we took a ferry to Oak Island and found a dog friendly beach that Lily enjoyed. We've played several rousing games of Polish poker, I finished a good book (Tana French's Broken Harbor), and we experienced hair raising thunderstorms. 

Still, I'd say there's an excellent chance we'll be home early. I prefer my yahoos without a southern accent. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

14 Things I Learned from the Elementary and Middle School Years

I am the mother of a high school graduate.Woo hoo! You'll be shocked to learn that I did not weep during Ian's commemoration or graduation last week. I have this weird ability to stay relatively chill during experiences that make unemotional people cry. It's silly stuff like the sunrise that get me choked up.

I have heard from many people one person that I did a good job of raising my son, and therefore I figured I should share my wisdom so others can benefit.  I have broken the marketing/ communication rule that says you should never write from the negative perspective, but given my glass half empty tendencies, I've decided to do just that. Here are two lists of what not to do during both the elementary and middle school years.

Soon, I'll write specifically about senior year. It's deserving of its own post.

See what happens to moms who volunteer? It's not easy being green.

  1. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be elementary school super mom. You don’t need to be the homeroom parent. You don’t need to make food for class parties. You don’t need to lead craft activities. As my daughter would say, “You do you.” In my case, that meant donating bottled water. Or cash. 
  2. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be a super mom at home. You don’t need to make meals. You don’t need to bake cookies. You don’t need to decorate the windows and door for holidays. You don’t need to visit Pintrest or read Better Homes & Gardens. In fact, delete the “need to” and simply DON’T do either of those things. Trust me, you’ll be happier. 
  3. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be an at-home mom. Been there. Hated it. Cried a lot. I was a much better mom the minute I took a job and left the house.
  4. Don’t help your kids with their homework. Trust me, after 1st grade you won’t know how to do it anyway, and by telling your kids you can’t do it in those early years, you’ll get out of helping in the future.
  5. Don’t drink too much in front of the kids, or else they’ll draw pictures and write short stories about how much mommy likes wine. 
  6. If you’re not comfortable with being public school enemy No. 1, don’t write a note to the principal questioning the appropriateness of wasting spending a month preparing for an extravaganza that involves less than 10% of the class. This will only lead to your child’s teacher never speaking to you again, and may actually sound the death knell for said event.  
  7. Don’t let your child quit a sport or a musical instrument without first having them sign a legal document absolving you of any wrongdoing when they change their mind five years later and it’s now too late to make the varsity team or first chair in the orchestra.


  1. Don’t drink alcohol or eat poorly in front of the kids. Their teachers are brainwashing them to believe one bottle glass of wine, and a bag handful of chips mean you’re a bad parent. 
  2. Don’t get involved in your child’s every issue. And if your child is having issues with a friend (and they will, guaranteed), don’t involve the friend’s parents. They’ll think you need to chill the f out. 
  3. Don’t panic when you hear your child has a significant other. This only means they’re holding hands while walking around the school track at lunchtime. They aren’t actually speaking to one another. That doesn’t happen until marriage, and for some, not even then.
  4. Don’t waste money on an actual bouquet for your son’s middle school dance date(s).  Pick up a Trader Joe’s flower bunch for $5, cut the stems short and tie a ribbon around them. Voila. 
  5. Don’t assume your child needs therapy. They might, but they might also just be a middle school age kid. That explains nearly everything. 
  6. Give up trying to find shorts that actually cover your daughter's tush. They don't exist.
  7. Sing loudly when you have your child’s friends in the car. Part of your job as a parent is to embarrass them and you want to stay consistent in this regard. Breaking into song at the hair salon is also good, as is chaperoning a school dance. And if you really want to leave a mark, shout, "I love you!" out the car window when dropping them off at school. They appreciate that.

Next up: What I learned about Senior Year.  Stay tuned!

Monday, June 6, 2016

On a Scale from 1 to 10

It was Friday evening when this email showed up in my inbox:
It's okay to rate them if they're famous.

Dear Parent of the Class of 2019:

Last evening I was made aware of a posting on a googledocs spreadsheet being circulated among students in the ninth grade.  The author(s) of the spreadsheet have rated and ranked members of the freshman class in a manner that objectifies female students and may be viewed as a form of sexual harassment.

I have interviewed several students today in an attempt to determine the source of the posting and to do what I can to insure that that list does not exist on school district computers and is not continuing to be spread over technology for which we bear responsibility.  Our investigation leads us to believe the list appears on student phones, and not on district computers, and so we will need the help of parents to eradicate the list from the possession of students.

I have also referred the matter to the Nether Providence Police Department as a case involving possible sexual harassment.  Given that we cannot determine the source of the list, we are unable to issue school discipline in this matter at this point.  If we do identify the source, consequences would fall under our harassment policy, including police notification, school suspension, and parent notification.

Any parent with information regarding the list is asked to contact me via email or phone at your earliest convenience.  All parents are asked to speak with your student about the damaging personal consequences of misuse of social media and technology, the proper and respectful treatment of young females, and the potential legal consequences for those who engage in this type of behavior.

Thank you.

MaryJo Yannacone, Ed.D.

As the mother of a 9th grade girl, I had a number of reactions to this news:
  1. Huh. Interesting.
  2. Involving police and harassment charges seems a bit extreme.
  3. Those boys are in a heap of shit.
  4. I wonder how Abby did.
  5. I better burn my 8th grade yearbook in which I "starred" the cute guys. If that gets out, I'll never be able to run for political office.
Frankly, that's about as much thought as I gave to the matter. Until the doorbell rang.

"Mom, apparently, one of the boys who made the list is going house to house to apologize to the girls. So if the doorbell rings..."

It rang, and there stood a tall, classically awkward teenage boy with his mom. He confessed to being one of the boys responsible and apologized for what he'd done. His mom noted that many lessons had been learned. When they left, Abby said, "I actually feel bad for him." And Brooke and Ian, who'd answered the door and then listened in from the kitchen, called it one of the most awkward things they'd ever experienced. I give the boy's mom two thumbs way up for handling it the way she did. All you hear of are parents who do everything they can to keep their kids from having to take responsibility for their actions, and here was this guy, facing 50 female classmates (they ranked the top 50) with his mom at his side. Bravo, mom. Bravo. I'd say the punishment fit the crime, but will the school agree? 

Based on the principal's letter, school suspension, police involvement and sexual harassment charges may be forthcoming. And, despite being the mom of a girl on the list (who was significantly under-ranked, by the way), I want to say, "Isn't that going a bit too far?"

Let's face it, we are hardwired to find each other attractive. It's what keeps the species alive. And males and females have been making these kinds of lists for decades, probably centuries. Somewhere I imagine there's a cave drawing with stick figures of various women ranked in order of attractiveness, hunter/gatherer ability, fertility, dinosaur escape skills, and fire making know-how. And I wasn't kidding about my yearbook. It may not have been 8th grade, but at some point I definitely placed stars next to the boys I thought were cute. I may have even given them scores. If a teen girl did that today and her yearbook was passed around and she was caught, would she risk the same punishment as these boys? Knowing our school district, she very likely would, which makes me sigh and shake my head a bit.

I get it, really, I do. For centuries women have been treated as nothing more than objects in a male-dominated society. It's cost us in innumerable ways--emotionally, mentally, physically, professionally, financially. And because we can't allow women to continue to be undervalued, there have to be repercussions for this type of behavior. But somewhere in this mistake lies one hell of a learning experience that I believe can be achieved without the involvement of our criminal justice system.

Yes, the behavior was wrong. It was wrong to come up with a list of categories on which to rate a grade's worth of 15 year-old girls. It was wrong to put the list online and make it available for input. It was wrong to hurt these girls by deciding their worth in physical terms. But, it is forgivable. And a boy who takes the time to apologize to each and every girl on this list deserves to be forgiven. Lesson learned. Let's leave it at that.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Lobster's Look at Relationships

"If this had been our first date, it would have also been our last," said my friend Johanna. 
Fair enough. You'd think that starting Memorial Day weekend with the lobster would have been a good idea, but it turned into a simply bizarre experience that felt considerably longer than its actual two hours. All either of us could say afterward was "What the hell?" There might have been a "WTF" thrown in there, too. Interestingly, however, as the days have passed, I've spent more time thinking about the lobster and trying to get to the root of its message.

If you haven't heard of The Lobster, allow me to provide a quick summary before diving in for a closer look (diving for lobster, get it?).

In The Lobster, the surprisingly versatile Colin Farrell, best known for so-so action adventure flicks before hitting a home run in In Bruges, plays David, a guy whose wife has fallen in love with someone else. Within moments of having his heart broken, we see him being escorted away by two guys dressed like waiters at a fine restaurant. They're there to take him to a Catskills-like hotel where he'll have 45 days to fall in love with one of the other guests. If it doesn't work out, he'll be turned into the animal of his choice. His brother, a dog, accompanies him. David decides he'd like to be a lobster because they live 100-years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and are extremely fertile.

Varying wildly between laugh-out loud absurdity and grim, disturbing and painful implications, The Lobster makes a harsh statement about the sins of being alone in our society. On his first night at the hotel, for example, David has one hand handcuffed behind his back. A reminder that we are not complete without another. Throughout his stay, scenes are performed for the guests that drive home the inherent dangers of being alone. Eating without a partner leads to choking to death. A woman walking without a man is raped.

The Lobster also comments on the differentiators that draw us to one another.
The ability to fall in love and get married may hinge on nothing more than a similar proclivity for nosebleeds, or the same physical defects, such as a limp or shortsightedness. Then there's the "survival of the fittest" aspect that comes into play with regular hunts in which the single guests are given a stun gun with which to take out the competition. For each fellow guest you put down, you're given an extra day in which to find love.

In another slap to society's face, we're rudely reminded how many of us will pretend to be someone we're not just to avoid being alone. Choosing to take up with a cruel woman, David plays the part of someone equally heartless until the illusion is shattered in one of the movie's most disturbing scenes (I won't spoil it for you in case you plan on seeing the film).

Meeting someone who's only a day away from becoming her animal of choice, we learn that, on that last day, guests are permitted to do anything they want. It is strongly suggested, however, that they don't choose a walk in the fields or having sex since those are things you can do as an animal. Yes, The Lobster is about as subtle as dropping an anvil on the head.

And did I mention that if one of the hotel's lucky new couples begins to fight or have issues they throw a child into the mix since that usually takes some of the attention away from the problem? No commentary being made there.

Now, lest the audience think that all of society believes in the necessity of love and partnerships, The Lobster introduces the loners. When David decides to flee from this dystopian nightmare, he takes off into the woods where he meets a counterculture group of individuals who refuse to play by society's rules. But rather than offering a humane, enlightened view of human relationships, the loners have equally morbid and disturbing rules of their own. Conversations with other loners are permitted, but anyone caught flirting or falling in love may have their lips slashed or tongues cut out. Seriously, this movie is not for the faint of heart.

Without giving away the ending, which frankly, I'm not entirely sure I understand, I will say that David meets someone. And that shortsightedness plays a role, both literally and figuratively.

The Lobster is one of those rare movies that I can neither recommend nor tell you to avoid at all costs. While I wasn't particularly happy to have spent the first couple hours of my Memorial Day weekend watching this absurd/painful commentary, I must say it's certainly stuck with me and that it continues to offer revelations and insights that are worth pondering. If nothing else, I would encourage you to see it so I have someone else to ponder it with me.