It was Mother’s Day this past weekend – uhoh you forgot! Well, it’s always a good time to thank your mother. And in doing so, take a little time to jot down what you’ve learned from your mother. Here is my list (really, the tip of the iceberg).
- Always start with a sensible haircut.
- You can (almost) always get away with black shoes.
- As you age, you are even more capable of trying new things.
- When in doubt, balance your checkbook.
- When frantic, clean and organize a drawer.
- When hungry and tired, roast a chicken.
- Take detailed notes when dealing with any doctors or nurses. You can hold them accountable and YOU need to know the details.
- If you have the luxury to plan a funeral in advance of needing the plans, do it. It’s far better to have a plan you can just say “Go!” to than to have to formulate plans when dealing with the shock of death.
- You are never too old to attend a wedding in Vegas.
- Always assume today may be your last day but that you should care for your body and soul assuming you might live forever.
- Sometimes friends are mean. And you need to be able to move away from them.
- Build your own resources and capabilities. Never rely solely on someone else for credit, practical knowledge or all of your money.
- Pick your time to leave and then leave five minutes earlier. Being on time and avoiding inevitable delays causes more stress than it’s worth.
- Expect your kids to do well. Expect them to act right and make good choices. Use this as a guiding light when raising them.
- Don’t be fussy.
- Less is more.
- Good humor is of the utmost importance – in general, AND in the form of ice cream bars in your freezer.
You’ve gotta love a mom who prioritizes ice cream as a great elixir.
What a great mom I have
I have a love hate relationship with my birthday. What a cliché. It’s not that I am all torn up about getting older. I still feel pretty young but with a relatively solid sense of self (usually). I like cake. I love seeing friends and hearing from people. But no matter what I do, there is a part of me every year that is tempted to stay at home. By myself. In bed. Watching movies and taking naps. Let’s start again on May 4th.
It’s the nostalgia. That’s what it is. On a normal day I am present with work, family, friends. But on a birthday you are reminded of everywhere you have been, everything you have done, everyone you’ve met. You hear from a lot of people. For me that is a bumpy ride. I start with feeling the tussle of wanting more time to see people who mean a lot to me. And then I am transported to Hyattsville, Scarsdale, Greenbelt, Georgetown, London, New York City, Boston. Even Sodus. It’s a marker. I have trouble thinking about many of these places (people) and not becoming deeply emotional. It’s too much.
I tend to get very emotional. And quiet. How am I 41? How am I a college graduate? Better yet, how do I have an MBA earned many years ago at this point? Two kids, two cats and a house? Oh forget it. We own a car, for Christ’s sake. How does that even happen? I am old enough to have taken bike trips around Europe by myself. We make arrangements for schooling…for our five year old. I shop for my own groceries and my mom has no involvement in scheduling my dentist appointments. My little sister has a job, and a house and drives a minivan. My father is gone and has been for almost five years.
It doesn’t help that I work with a lot of young people. When I mention Depeche Mode half my office thinks I am talking about a flavor of ice cream.
How did this happen.
I miss parents on my birthday. I still have one. But what I mean is I miss the parents who decorated the dining room with streamers and sang happy birthday after giving me a ten-speed bike.
I miss being little.
I like where I am – I do – but on birthdays I miss being a kid. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe that is why birthdays are quiet for me. I feel ungrounded. I am out of control and I am amazed at what is behind me.
I need to turn present and forward. Birthdays though – they tug me backwards. All of a sudden I have a desire to read everything Joan Didion has written.
Maybe that is why you get flaming cake on birthdays. Take too long to be in the moment – linger too long in the past – and your whole cake melts away.
I hope it’s chocolate
I try to live in the moment. I work hard to be present. But sometimes living in the moment means accepting that THAT moment happens to be filled with memories of the past…and all of the emotions that come with it.
Things like heading to your hometown on a train and spotting the very place on the Amtrak platform where you stood 19 years ago with two suitcases and said teary goodbyes to your parents as you left for good and moved to Manhattan. And then getting to DC and walking the very same walk you walked for a year from your job up to your school. And to make matters more nostalgic, on that walk to pass your father’s favorite French restaurant where you happily recall a family dinner watching your now gone grandmother eat her three course meal enjoying every bite (and the next night to meet your mother there for a quick drink and smell the same smells and see the same fabric that’s been there since you ate there as a whole alive multi-generational family!). And then walking past the house you lived in with seven other girls your senior year. The house where there were laughs, tears, parties, career victories, and lifelong friendships solidified. Then you get to campus and you walk across remembering how mixed your feelings were about a school with such privilege and less diversity and your own crushing feelings of inferiority and jealousy and yet, a deep desire to make it work. And then to sit in a room dedicated to an on campus group you were so happy to get in to and to see your name on the dedication wall and to meet extraordinary current students, now members of the same group. And to leave and miss your train and spend an hour in Union Station remembering watching your grandparents dance there at your senior ball on graduation weekend, and the Sunday afternoon lunches your family used to have there when we decided after church to “take a drive” into the city.
There is no neat bow here to wrap this up and package it away. There is though gratitude, happiness and excitement to be getting home soon knowing these moments too will rush back in later years and overwhelm any of us that remember the baths, the dinners, the special places, the walks and all of those things that make up every current moment – being present and taking it all in.
There has been a lot of talk about Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I suspect it’s no surprise I am a huge fan and no, I don’t think she is saying all women need to strive to be Jack Welch, family be damned! But it raised a few other thoughts in my mind about that often used phrase “Life Balance” which I’ve always thought was a misnomer. Have it all at once? Strive for a killer job that requires 70+ hour work weeks while having kids and making dinner at the same time with no help all in heels and perfectly blown-out hair? Please. Didn’t we give up that “Bring Home The Bacon” ad in the 80s? Did anyone wear Enjoli?
So as time marches on and women become Secretaries of State, CEOs and COOs, men improve their diapers skills and having a family and a job becomes a Society Issue not just a Women’s Issue, I thought it time to take stock of what Life Balance means in my life. Turns out, it’s a lot of the little things. Maybe it will be policy, but right now for me and many of my friends, working and not, life balance manifests itself in the building blocks of the day-to-day.
Here goes…Life Balance, for me, is:
- Very liberal use of the dishwasher. Better GE than me.
- It’s doing lunges in the elevator and drinking an evening wind-down beer between sets of sit ups.
- It’s dressing for work in the morning following the “If It Zips, It Fits” rule, only to notice at the office that the pants that fit (because they ZIP) are two inches too long.
- It’s grapes and leftover thai food while standing before an open fridge for dinner at 9pm.
- It’s carrying a workhorse work bag that is big enough for a laptop AND a stuffed elephant. Really, you never know.
- And back to that bag, life balance is pulling out said laptop only to scatter glitter all over the conference table as you set up for a very important meeting. Everyone could use a little sparkle.
- It’s chicken nuggets or a fried egg over pasta and thank you, that’s dinner.
- It’s telling your partners “no I can’t do a call at 10am on Saturday but how about 1pm?” Naptime.
- It’s appreciating how challenging it might be for men who are expected to follow 1950s norms like opening doors (which I like) AND 2013 standards which suggest “hey I don’t need your help.” Sorry honey!
- It’s the iPad in a restaurant, Dora while making dinner and giving yourself a break. They will be educated. They will know how to read. They will not be hopeless screen addicts who cannot carry a conversation with another human being over dinner.
It’s managing logistics every day, it’s lists and calendars and communicating and not being afraid to say “hey can you do this I am fried.” I am learning how to do this every day and for every failure there is a success. It’s also living in the moment and doing one thing at a time. If life balance is like a see-saw, I would rather be on one end at a time, enjoying the ups and down rather than sitting in the middle, trying to be in two places at once and realizing that in that space, you don’t end up really going anywhere.
And if you don’t write like this (maybe you do), at least we can try to live like this:
From Derek Walcott:
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
There I am on the subway, unwinding from the day listening to my favorite Buddhist podcaster, Tara Brach. And all of a sudden I notice that while listening to a talk on mindfulness I’m also texting my husband about dinner for the kids and glancing at the NYTimes. Will I ever learn? The task switching defeats the purpose but is the very reason I keep listening.
And then I noticed the sunset over the East River. And the Wall Street area building where I used to work.
And then an older lady who got on the train with her older husband. And two of us stood to offer our seats. They smiled. We smiled.
A hectic day ended with mindful kindness.
It’s been a month – time for a check in on those pesky resolutions. Overall I am totally failing. This is a good thing. I always like having something to look forward to and really it’s all upside from here.
I am reading but not more than before. We have had more dinners with friends, check one. I’ve called more friends rather than waiting for their Facebook updates, so now the phone tag begins. I still buy coffee and am having trouble living in a state of disaster which all the parenting blogs say is good for my childrens’ creativity. I’ve been pretty kind though I cut off an old lady at the subway the other day. My frugal fashion strategy of closet shopping has been foiled by my mid-section which demands ambiguous waistlines. That 15K is still out there in April. I need to get started on training for that. The other night I was having an unhealthy day (ramen, swiss cake rolls, brad pitt) so I did what any rational person would do – I downloaded a couple of fitness apps, told myself how great it will be to start on that workout plan tomorrow, finished my beer and went to bed.
In other news I almost walked outside last night in just a shirt and pantyhose (Black opaque. Don’t think I’ve gone all crazy wearing nude hose. Self-respect.). This is what happens after five years of sleep deprivation so really SLEEP needs to be added to the list of personal initiatives.
I’ve found that in these cold winter days when the kids are asleep I am tormented by thoughts of perfect steamed pork buns, how many years we will need to live off of retirement funds and what a friend’s dedication to flossing tells you about their personality (turns out a lot, btw).
Since February is the only month of the calendar that once every six years and twice every 11 years has only four full 7-day weeks, I figure it’s a great time to start again, and I am not going to let the fact that February is also Canned Food Month stop me.
On that note, tomorrow I will run in the morning, I will iron that shirt that hasn’t been worn in more than a year and give it some love, I will call a friend back (she will be IT if I don’t get her), and I won’t cut off any old ladies. Wish me luck.