Sunday, December 28, 2014

Crush

So I was 10 when that Tears for Fears song "Head Over Heels" came out. And I had a relatively literal view of semantics then, as I do to a lesser degree now, so I remember thinking the first line was silly. But I heard it the other day for the first time in a very long time and discovered that it's one of my favorite first lines ever:

I wanted to be with you alone
and talk about the weather.

It's so perfect, isn't it? It just encapsulates the irrational, painful, obliterating desire of a crush. That you want that person to yourself, but that you could never talk about more because that could lead to talking about More and you might accidentally reveal something. It just knocked me on my butt, that line, and took me back to every crush I'd ever had. And that list is really long.

Monday, October 27, 2014

And I swear ...

(You know you're singing now.)
(Also it works because, like in the cheesy '90s song, I do swear by pretty much any celestial configuration.)

So, it's no secret that a lot of stuff has been happening lately in the newsroom. And because of my natural predilection for hyperbole and my love for words, I feel a strong desire to use words like "harrowing" and "bloodletting" to describe it. But the thing is: There really are harrowing bloodlettings, and they go on all of the time. I've never been near one or had to even really consider it. They're things that other people experience. Even in this latest round of what I might consider harrowing, I'm one of the people least affected. So it's made me consider my evolving relationship with language. I think I'm losing a lot of nuance. I go straight from adjective to expletive, with hardly any gray area. I mean, I don't think I'm the only one; I think the constant buzz of media, social or otherwise, exaggerates the need for exaggeration. Still, one thing I'm proud of is my precision, and I'm clearly losing it.


Also because of said stuff going on in the newsroom, I've been swearing a lot more. Which, I know, is hard to believe. So since last week I've been considering quitting. It's not the first time; in college I stopped saying "bitch" and "son of a bitch" because of the terms' misogyny. Around 2000 I quit using the sex-based swears because I'm sex-positive; things like f*ck, s*ck, blow, those things should be positive unless they're not, in which case they're likely a different word, like felony. At any rate, that's not something to just throw around. 

Predictably, that non-sex-based-swear time did not last long. It doesn't leave much, and I'm pretty literal, so the scatological ones kinda gross me out. So I fell back into old habits. And I am using bitch again, though almost exclusively about men and to their faces. Still, not a great habit. 

Also, there's this weird thing where people show genuine (but shocking) surprise when they discover my penchant for profanity. It happens mostly when I meet people at work. A couple weeks in, when I first let loose a swear word, I always hear, "Wait. You swear?" I have no idea why this is, but it happens fairly consistently. And, you know, maybe I should live up to whatever non-profane potential they see in me. 

So, in thinking about it again, I've chatted with a few people. One friend seemed shocked that I would even consider it. He strongly urged against it, saying that swearing is cathartic, a great emotional release. And I get that. But this weekend, when I started counting my reps on the weight machine "One m*therf*cker, two m*therf*cker," I knew that the words didn't mean that much to me anymore.

So I'm going to try. I've been pretty quitty lately, what with the Facebook and the Amazon (Super Walmart In The Sky, really). I like these little hiatuses; they help me consider my habits. We'll see how long this one lasts.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Complete list of musicians who can pull off talking in a pop song

1. Prince
2. The Artist Formerly Known As Prince
3. Yep, Prince again

Everyone else: Thanks for your interest.

Friday, October 24, 2014

You win, Mark Zuckerberg. You win!

OK, so I just got my one-month chip for Facebook, and I already know that I'll be going back next month. It turns out I can't stay in touch as well without it for people I don't see every day, and there is about to be a large group of people I'm not going to see every day. And I have to admit that it is a very useful tool for such relations. So OK!

Friday, October 17, 2014

If Wolfram Alpha could actually read ...

It would know that this is the breakdown of my social media presence:

1. Universal trivial outrage slash the passive-aggressive calling out of douchebaggery
2. Song lyrics
3. Math/word nerdism
    3 a. Charts of same
4. Treacly gratitude
5. Parenting whuh-fuhs

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Music

I'm starting to think that my steady diet of Van Hagar (Right now! Is your tomorrow! ... Working so hard to make it easy! Come on, turn this thing around!) and the Floyd (We're just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year! Running over the same old ground, what have we found? The same old fears.) is starting to lead me into existential crisis. In addition to, of course, the crisis of existence.

Oh, also Matthew Sweet. Damn, Matthew. How did I even finish college with you in my ears all the time?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Let me eat cake

So, many years ago, Harris Teeter used to sell these amazing little personal-sized Tuxedo cakes that had chocolate mousse and white chocolate and ganache and basically everything that I love in a dessert item. I was a little sad when they up and stopped selling them. But that sadness abated the day I discovered that Costco also sells them. Two problems that day, though: 1. It's Costco sized, which is ridiculous even for me, and 2. I wasn't eating dairy because of Abbott's allergy. So I always thought my big treat when I started eating dairy again would be one of these Tuxedo cakes. 

But seriously, no one can eat a whole Tuxedo cake. So I never got one. 

Until this week, which has been a little rough. We're going through a lot of changes at work, with a lot of very talented and dedicated people leaving and a high degree of uncertainty and more than a little infighting. On Tuesday and Friday we had two big bombshells hit the newsroom that are still reverberating. Alongside that anxiety, I was out for a couple days with the shingles (or as I'm now calling it, pox de deux), and I returned to two photo shoots, which I already don't love, and which included one with me in a leotard (!). So, a lot's been going on. And I thought to myself, you know what? After these shoots, I'm going to finally get myself one of those Tuxedo cakes, expletive it. My plan was to cut a tiny bit off for myself and then bring the rest in for the night desk. 

But even as I was thinking that, I was a little iffy. I try to not eat emotionally, or at least I try to be aware of it. And I was aware of it this morning at Costco. So I was half and half on buying the cake but finally decided that I would.

So I get home, and I have this enormous confection that I'm trying to get into the refrigerator, and Abbott asks what it's for, and if it's for him. I tell him, no, buddy, it's got a lot of milk in it. It's for me. Sorry. And then he asks why I bought it. And I start to try to defend it, to say, "Well, bud, it's been a rough week, and you know, I was sick, and I've been working a lot." And even as I'm saying it, mentally exhausted from the illness and all the other stuff going on, I know that what I'm saying is not healthy or right. So I'm feeling irritated with myself, and thinking, I am not modeling good behavior here. And I only barely wanted this cake. Dammit! 

And then he cuts me off, having waited long enough for the answer he was expecting, and says, "And because you're hungry!" I burst out laughing because I'd have to be *really* hungry to eat this thing, and also because I am just so grateful that he so graciously cut me down from the hook. And I say, "Yes, buddy, I got it because I was hungry."

And I am so thankful that he's healthy. And I really, really hope he stays that way.

Monday, October 06, 2014

A little background

I grew up on stand-up comedy. It helped that it was everywhere; when I was 12, MTV started its Half-Hour Comedy Hour. I stayed up late to watch Carson and Letterman every night -- back when they featured comedians -- laughing at things I only vaguely understood. There were also shows on A&E (remember when it was Arts and Entertainment?); I watched all of it religiously. I followed comedians like other children follow sports figures. When I was in high school, I fantasized that in college I'd write bits for Letterman's monologue and Top Ten list in the morning, which would give me time to go to class all day and front a rock band at night. That fantasy came after I decided that fantasizing I would marry him was just a little too unrealistic for me -- if even Merrill Markoe couldn't make it work, I had no damn chance.

Of course, none of that happened. But in my last semester of college, I got it in me to finally try stand-up comedy. My roommate Marc and I went down to a little comedy club in Chicago and did their open-mic night competition. I had what I will generously call a 4-minute set, after which I pretty much ran from the stage. And I won! It surprised me most of all. After that I did it one or two more times, as part of a group at my school. I got caught up in the intoxication of writing bits and decided, as a 21-year-old will, that I was going to quit journalism to become a stand-up comedian. I actually stopped sending out resumes. I even went so far as to tell my dad one day on the phone. He said, "Good. You're funny." Beat. "Need money for the rent?" I can tell you that I learned everything I know about timing from him.

Anyway, it was the end of my senior year, and I was heading down to Miami for a design and graphics internship at The Herald. That was a big deal to me, and I like to keep my word, so I figured I'd go down there, do my internship, and then make my life as a comedian. 

So, a few weeks into my internship, I was at a 4th of July party with some of the designers. I was talking about my plans, and I did my little set. Mark, the husband of one of the designers, said, "Yes, you're funny. But what are you really saying?" 

It hit me like a brick (one's enough, don't you think?). I thought, what *am* I saying? Is there truth? Is there voice? Is there meaning? Or is it just funny? 

I decided it was just funny. And you know, maybe it wasn't even that funny. So I stopped. And I became a serial journalist.

In the intervening couple decades, I've thought about doing it again, just for fun. Periodically I'll carry around a little notebook for any bits I might have. And I often think of Mark's words when I write anything; sure, I'm not a bad writer. But is there truth to what I'm saying? Not reality, but actual truth? Is there meaning? Or is it just fun? It makes writing very, very hard for me.

Part of me thinks of course I should hold myself to this standard! All writing should be held to this standard, or it's frivolous!

But part of me wonders whether, if I let go of the standard, I could hit it anyway, more often, and more relaxed.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

White Palace

I don't have talents in this area, so I'm going to have to ask: Can someone please re-engineer "White Palace" without all the lilting sax? It mars an otherwise pretty perfect romantic 1990 movie. Thanks.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Open letter

To the man in the sky blue minivan stopped at the red light on Hampton this afternoon,

I was not laughing at you. I was truly delighted by the enthusiasm with which you were singing. It made me smile, and I'm sorry that you caught glimpse of that smile and felt you had to stop. I wasn't mocking you. I really was enjoying it. Thanks for the smile.

Sincerely,
the woman in the white Civic

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Time to call it

I just don't think I have it in me to watch a Brad Pitt movie ever again.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Songs I Do Not Want To Encounter on Dark Mornings

1. Brain Damage/Eclipse. I don't want the lunatic in my head belly-laughing all day. That shit is legitimately creepy.
2. Thriller. I was eight when MTV started playing the long version of this video at appointed times throughout the day. Scared me then. Scares me now.
3. Tears in Heaven. Mostly this is because "morning" falls into the category of "any time, ever." But especially in the morning. No thanks.
Here are some alternatives:
1. Hey You. I kinda feel like this is a battle cry for the morning. Hey you, don't help them to bury the light. Don't give in without a fight!
2. Wanna Be Starting Something. No one does not sing along with this song.
3. Layla. I like that little piano part at the end that everyone else seems to hate on. It's kind of nice for the morning.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

OK, I'm two weeks into my Facebook fast ...

and I've already written my first status update back. This can't be a good sign.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

'Book break

Last week I took a break from The Facebook. I fled in the night after seeing a post that irritated me. I looked through my inbox and messaged everyone who didn't have my email address that I was leaving. Everyone else, I figured, could come find me somewhere else. I hit send, found deactivate and vanished.

I don't think Facebook is some great evil necessarily; I just think that the way I was coming at it was not great. Just like in any dynamic, all of the parties involved contribute. Anyway, I'm on Day 8. I didn't set a minimum time or anything, and I don't know how long I'll last. But here's what I'd love to work on during this little sabbatical. 

1. Moment presence. I'd love to stop anecdotalizing my life into chewable bits as I sail through each minute. I've been telling stories for as long as I could talk; my poor sister knew everything going on in my third grade class on the daily. So I'm already predisposed to removing myself from moments in order to begin writing them in my head (and hardly ever committing them to paper). And I'm already predisposed to sharing those bits with people. And Facebook gave me great feedback nearly instantaneously that made me crave it more. Miss more moments, get more feedback. Again, again, again. 

2. Less-careful (and less careful) communication. Because of professional constraints, I edited very carefully what I put on Facebook. And yet I was posting all of the time. But with so many topics I couldn't talk about, I often felt left with frivolity. The person who I was on there was some strange version of myself. Nothing that I ever said was untrue, but there was so little of it that it didn't feel real. I would talk to people in real life, Facebook friends, and we would not even reference anything that was on there. So then what made it so important to say in the first place?  

3. More real communication. It's easy to tell myself that I was communicating with people as I kept up with whatever they chose to tell all of their Facebook communities (and whatever Facebook chose for me to see out of all that) but knowing how much I edit, I must have been seeing very little of what they were going through, too. When I step back, I see it's just not a forum for that. But in the day-to-day, that was getting lost. Since I've been off, I've had good exchanges with people. Sure, it's only the first week, but I've at least felt real in all of them.

4. More interior monologue. My urge to say things is strong. And frankly, I think being in an office at the other end of the building from most of my co-workers doesn't help. I stay in there all day by myself, craving communication. Facebook helped me get some of that, but I think what I really need is to be able to control that urge better. To have a thought, and keep it to see if it goes away, or if something grows from it.

5. More tolerance for boredom. When I was a kid, we'd go on long car trips and I would cherish the opportunity to stare out the window and daydream. I lived a Walter Mitty-ish existence, excited for every moment that I could get lost in an alternate reality. I never felt bored because I always had my brain with me. And if not, I had a book. But my ability to battle tedium is almost completely gone. I can't really blame this on Facebook, but I definitely used it to make things worse. It was getting to the point where I had it with me a lot of the time in some form or another. I couldn't even watch a television show without checking during the boring parts. But *everything* was boring to me. I would tell myself that my brain worked at a certain frequency, able to appreciate what was going on but also check Facebook at the same time. But what I think was really happening was that I was losing the ability to appreciate anything, including mental quiet.

So, those all seem pretty big now that I type them out. And there's a lot more I'm not even including yet because it's not fully formed. But I'm hopeful that I can gain some of this back.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pivot, pivot, pivot

This week, a loved one found out that she did not get a job for which she'd applied. I feel terrible for her, and I told her what my brother told me in the winter of 1998. I had interviewed for a design residency at The Chicago Tribune. I had tanked that little event so badly that they reposted the job without telling me. In a final act of self-humiliation, I phone-stalked the AME, calling from different numbers until I finally got him (by calling another number and getting an inside-line transfer). It was clear he had been dodging my calls. 
I can remember sitting there on my single futon mattress on the floor of my little apartment, just crying and crying. And I called my brother, who asked me, "Is there any chance you could end up in prison over this? Well, then it can't be so bad." 
As I was thinking of that incident, it occurred to me that it led to a pivotal moment in my life. I've always thought of just two such moments as the full list: when I skipped fourth grade, and when I couldn't get into Dr. McMann's third-period philosophy class in tenth grade. Because of the former, I had already graduated college by the time my mom got cancer. If I hadn't, I'd have been a senior when she got sick, and I can't imagine I'd have been able to pull it together to graduate. I was having a tough enough time as it was. And because of the latter, I ended up in Mrs. Ecker's journalism class, which I was not even considering. And, you know, here I still am. 
But when I think about the crying and crying, I remember that there was a little bit more to how I got here. The editor where I worked knew I was ready to leave, and he knew that I had been crushed by The Trib. So he called up the news editor of his old paper and handed the phone to me. The first thing he asked was why I hadn't applied for the open position. I told him the truth: I never believed I could get a job here. It was one of the premier design papers in the country. But we talked, and I sent my stuff, and they invited me out for an interview.
The day before I was set to fly out, I found out that my mom's cancer had metastasized. I called the news editor and told him I wasn't in the right frame and couldn't come. He told me to come anyway. So I did. And while I was out here, I made the decision to come home and take care of my mom. I remember telling her and the rest of the family on a conference call. I thought she'd be thrilled, but she seemed kind of cold to the idea. It kind of hurt my feelings. I asked her later, "Mom, aren't you happy I'm coming home?" She said, "Are you crazy? Of course I am." But now that I'm a mother myself, I get it. She didn't want me to have to.
So I went back, quit my job, and hauled home. And the news editor kept in touch with me periodically to see how I was doing. And as it turns out, the day that my mom died, there was a position open. Someone had come to interview and had gotten an offer but turned it down at the last minute. 
And more than 15 years later, here I still am. I could never have imagined, when I was feeling humiliated and horrible, that it was going to be OK. That I would do the things that I needed to do and -- with help -- find my way.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

No resolution

TMBG comes up on pretty heavy rotation on my iPod. I've been a fan since my friend Brian played me Lincoln after a boy broke my heart freshman year. I sing along every time. 

So when I heard "Road Movie To Berlin" last week, it was probably the 500th time I'd heard it. And like every other time, I sang along:

Time won't find the lost; it'll sweep up our skeleton bones.
So take the wheel and I will take the pedals.

I really have no idea what that song is about, but those lyrics really hit me on that day. Time won't find the lost. It'll sweep up our skeleton bones.

It made me think of the billions upon billions of people who were born, and lived their entire lives and then died, and the people who remembered them who then lived *their* entire lives and died. It made me wonder, what does it matter what we do in this time? We will be gone. All the people to whom we're meaningful will be gone. It's not morose, I don't think. It's just a fact of time and reality.

I don't have anything particularly revelatory to say about that; I don't have any neat resolutions. It's just something that's been eating away at me. All of my life I have just wanted to do good. I wonder if that will change.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Trust

These past few weeks have been kind of rough, work-wise. There's been a lot of change, and it's throwing me. And yet even as I write that, I know that one day I will look back on this time and see how good it was. I know this because I am constantly looking back and seeing how rich we were -- emotionally and materially. So I know that it's inevitable that I will look back on this time with a better understanding and perspective. Still, I'm kind of off.

That all said, I wanted to revisit something that happened a few months ago that had a big positive impact on me. A woman I love dearly posted a Roz Chast cartoon from The New Yorker that I took to be making fun of people with food allergies and calling them jerks. It could be interpreted other ways, surely, but that was how I took it. I became upset, because I already know that allergies will always set Abbott apart from other kids. So I immediately hid it from my news feed.

In therapy, my doc talks about my faulty assumption that keeping my emotions in is somehow beneficial for me or puts me in a powerful position. That the way for people to really know me (which is something that I want) is for me to be emotionally honest. And it's been a year, so it's starting to take hold. So I did what I would never have done before: I told her. I told her that I love her, and that the cartoon really upset me because it's something that I know Abbott will have to deal with. 

And then she did an amazing thing: She genuinely thanked me in the most beautiful and gracious way, for trusting her to care. It brought tears to my eyes because I realized what I had been doing all this time: withholding my trust from nearly everyone I know. And I know how I would feel if I thought people didn't trust me. It made me at once profoundly grateful for her enlightening reaction and incredibly sad for the opportunities I had shied away from.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Open letter

A couple people have been really keeping an eye on me this week, asking me how I'm doing, how my headspace is. Here's what I have to say to you people:

Thank you very much!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

People

I've been thinking about people a lot lately. Not so much specific ones; more just the general idea of us. It started a couple weeks ago at Toys Backward-R Us. The guy in front of me at the checkout was maybe 20 and buying a handful of LEGO packs. They were these little opaque packets that each included one minifig character from The Movie, but you couldn't tell which character it was until you opened it. This guy was with his mom, and he had some kind of apparent developmental disability. It seemed very real but relatively minor, though I only saw him for a brief time. 

Anyway, he was really excited to see which characters he had gotten, so the cashier rang him up and then took the time to cut his packets open for him. She was super nice, really genuine, and it seemed like maybe this had happened before. Two of the three characters that he got were ones he already had, but that didn't dampen his excitement one bit. 

I mean, I have no idea what his mom was thinking, or anything else about his day or life. But from my perspective, those few moments were just a really beautiful interaction to watch. 

I was still smiling about it in the car when I had a realization. The most personal offense I ever take (and it's a lot) is when someone thinks I'm stupid. Or I suppose, more precisely, when someone appears to think I'm not as smart as I think I am. But you know? That's not benign. Intelligence doesn't exist on its own, just as an entity. Every level of intelligence, including whatever level I think people think I have, if it exists, exists in a person. 

So all this time, I've been getting ragey at the possibility that in someone's eyes I have the intelligence of someone else. A real, live, whole person -- at least. It made me feel really ashamed. What the hell gave me the right?

So I've been revisiting this little revelation for a couple weeks, thinking about how traits cannot exist outside their exhibitors. And in those couple weeks, there has been a wave of bad news in my chosen field, including the layoffs of a full quarter of the journalists at the Star-Ledger in Newark and bad-looking operational changes at other papers. It's not a surprise, of course; It's been going on for years. But 2014 seems to have been particularly bad. And I was talking to someone about these changes, what I called the death of newspapers. No, this guy said; it's the death of journalism. And I thought about those words: Is journalism something that can even die? What does that even mean?

But I realized that he was right. As papers close, as fewer and fewer people are paid to (as an old editor put it) commit journalism, it's very possible. Just as intelligence cannot exist on its own, journalism cannot exist outside journalists. It's certainly a scary thought.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

PS

The reason I've been blogging so much more prolifically is because I, for the first time in maybe 4 years, have a working laptop that actually can go on my lap. No more botulism batteries for me! 

Hatebait and the Cupcake Wars, or How To Rankle For Fun And Profit

A few weeks back, someone blogged about how much it annoyed her to have to keep celebratory food out of the classroom because of food allergies. It's not a necessarily uncommon sentiment, but it was written in a particularly incendiary way, so HuffPo picked it up. Then it was everywhere. And it worked. Members of the food-allergy community were properly incensed. Responses were crafted, graphics were drawn, a pithy name was given to the faux conflict: The Cupcake Wars. 

Now, my son won't be able to eat any random cupcakes in class. So, by simple fact of demography, I'd be in with the food-allergy folks. And I *was* pissed, but not for the sentiment expressed. 

I was pissed because I knew that none of the responses, no matter how eloquent and heartfelt, would change the writer's mind. Not because of how strongly she holds her beliefs, but because I would bet a large amount of money that she doesn't even believe them at all. And I'm tired of that nonsense. Don't waste my time if you're not even going to be sincere. If you're already relatively anonymous (and I would argue that signing just your name -- even if it's real -- in a country of 313 million is still relatively anonymous), why not tell the truth?

I mean, I know why. Bloggers need the clicks. And they'll prey on the pervasive fear of the unknown (ie: other people! and their scary possible viewpoints! aiee!) to get them.

It's the same with blog posts with perfectly illustrative narratives. Parenting blogs are teeming with them. But you know what hardly ever happens in real life? Perfectly illustrative narratives. Oh, a nameless man at my son's sports practice said something mean! And I had such a comeback! The blogger always happens to be the hero of such parables. And you know? Even if I agree with the basic sentiment, I just don't believe them. If your argument is strong enough, let it stand on its own merits. Don't try to sell me some magical story.

Now, I get it. I'm making this very point on an ostensibly anonymous blog. But I would bet that both readers of this blog know me, and would say, yeah, this sounds just like her. 

Look, I like stories. I tell stories. But if you're going to tell ones that both involve you and aren't true, call them what they are: your own personal fan fiction. Just don't try to James Frey me.

Family Ties

A couple years ago we took A for some swimming lessons. They were a shrieky debacle, but he often asks about his teacher, Mr. Josh. So he was pretty excited when the gym put up headshots of all the staffers, including his favorite aquatics instructor. I hoisted him up to see it and said, "Hey, buddy, it's Mr. Josh!" He just asked, "Where's his mom?" 

This happens pretty often; when he sees an adult, he wonders where his or her parents are, or will say that the person is "sad because he doesn't have his dad with him." It's like he's from another time -- a time before sons and daughters left their families to make lives on their own. Sons and daughters like his mom and dad -- a thousand miles away from their hometown. Something about his perspective is so simple and sweet. Even though I went as far away as I could, as quickly as I could, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the closeness of family, that I didn't wish it was just as he thinks -- that people grow with their families forever. I don't know how my parents felt when I left, but I know karma will come for me soon enough.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tongue twisters

My stupid human trick is that I can flip my tongue all the way over. I don't know how uncommon it is; I do know that the extremely small sample size of people I asked -- my sister and Jeffrey -- can't. Heck, I didn't even know that I could do it myself until I caught myself in the mirror doing it sometime after college. 

Well, turns out, Abbott does it, too. Also unknowingly, until I showed it to him in the mirror. Now he does it every night, looking straight at me. Like a little gang sign to me. He says, "Is this what you and I have together, Mom? We can flip our tongues over?" 

I would never have been able to predict how much this delights me. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mirror, Mirror

One of A's favorite books is called Not A Box. It's a super fun book about an imaginative little bunny, whose plain cardboard box is anything but a box. It's a space ship, a race car, a mountain, et cetera. We read it all the time. So when I looked in our Question-a-Day book and saw today's question, What would you do with a great big box? I knew I was in for something good.
His answer? "Open it." Completely serious.
I imagine this is what it's like to ask me a question.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Our food-allergy journey, part 1

Today for breakfast, Abbott had blackberries and a toaster waffle with almond butter and powdered sugar on top. It was a meal three years in the making.
I'll start at the beginning.

<insert gauzy b/w flashback sequence, with obligatory bangs to make me look younger>

When he was four months old, Abbott got a little pink rash on his cheek. I can pinpoint the month because Jeffrey's parents were visiting, and I immediately blamed them, with their commercial cleansers and scents (we'd been using soap nuts and no fabric softeners for years). But they cleaned up, and it still got steadily worse until it spread to his chin and his skin basically started to disintegrate. It wasn't every day, but it was a lot of them.


February, 2011. The skin seemed to bother us more than it bothered him. Buddy.

Our pediatrician was hesitant to put him on topical steroids, so we switched to another one in the practice who had no such hesitation.
As we were trying to get the skin condition under control, we noticed that he was also having gastrointestinal problems and getting skinnier and skinnier. I cut dairy and soy out of my diet, and tried cutting other things out, too, but it was like fixing an old pipe -- tighten one connection and another one would spring a leak. It took weeks for everything I tried eliminating to clear from my system, and I was impatient. That was a bad combination for sussing out the problems.

So at about 8 months, our pediatrician referred us to a pediatric allergist. He tested positive for milk and tree nut allergies, both of which I suspected. So began our journey of extreme care and heightened anxiety. I read and asked questions voraciously, and cried just as much, wondering if I should quit my job to stay home with him. It wasn't realistic, but I tortured myself with the guilt of it anyway, wondering if he would die at day care because he and another kid mouthed the same toy. For the first year, we were able to keep him home with a nanny, but then we put him in a center. We packed all his food every night, and he was eating an extremely limited diet. Looking back, I can see that it wasn't the best, but it was the only thing we felt comfortable with. 

That place worked out well until I came to pick him up one day after about five months to find the left side of his face red and puffy -- and no one noticed until I got there. I dosed him with Benadryl and yanked him from the center. We looked and looked for a place that understood his allergies (no one seems to know what tree nuts are) and finally found a place we loved. The director's daughter has peanut allergies, and when he mentioned "tree nuts vs. ground nuts" on my walkthrough, I was sold.

That year at his allergy appointment, he tested negative for tree nuts but positive for milk and additionally positive for eggs (I thought he might). Since he had already tested positive for tree nuts, we stayed away from them. One night the next year I made some shrimp, which he loved and enthusiastically and happily downed. About 20 minutes later he had huge welts and was vomiting, so we stayed away from that, too. To this day I can't eat shrimp; just thinking about it reminds me of how heartbreaking it was for him to enjoy it so much and then have a terrible reaction.  

We settled into a routine that was never quite comfortable: Check every label, curse the companies (it seemed like all of them) that combine production lines with allergens; make the vast majority of your food yourself; bring food everywhere you go; keep treats at school so he doesn't get crackers when other kids get cake; inform people when you can; be grateful as heck for vegans, without whom we wouldn't have so many great dairy- and egg-free options; read up and worry, worry, worry. Road trips -- hell, any trips out of the house -- were a challenge, because we didn't know what we'd be able to eat, where. So they involved weeks of research and plotting. Thank goodness for Chipotle.
Then last May, at 2 1/2, we had a breakthrough. We did a baked milk food challenge (baked egg we'd discovered was OK before he tested positive for it) -- a square of regular cornbread at the allergist's office. Jeffrey and I were both nervous as hell to knowingly give him something that we had gone to great lengths to keep him away from, but we had to be calm in front of Abbott. He needed to eat the cornbread so that we could see the results, and he wasn't going to if he sniffed any nerves from us. So he ate, and we and the medical staff watched him carefully for hours. 

He passed. A couple weeks later he ate a hot dog, complete with bun, at a festival. If he saw me crying that day, he didn't let on. And damn if I don't get a little teary every time he's able to eat something out -- just like a normal kid would. 

For a year we've been eating baked milk and egg -- Goldfish and Goldfish knockoffs, homemade Cheddar Bay Biscuits, cookies, muffins, cakes. I still introduce each new thing very carefully, with at least 4 hours of time afterward to watch him for reactions. We still bring our own cupcakes to parties, since many frostings have unbaked milk in them, and we still order dairy-free pizza since that's not quite baked enough (but again, thank goodness for the vegans!). We've home-tested the toaster waffles and pancakes they serve at school, which he now asks for all the time. 

It's revolutionized our lives and eased a lot of fears, but the spectre of his tree nut allergies has always hung over us. Those are the severe anaphylactic reactions we read about -- the tragically young deaths. Even though he hadn't tested positive for that allergy since that very first time, we religiously stayed away, at our allergist's urging. I'd asked her about  studies about desensitizing allergies -- whatever was getting press that month. She looked me in the eyes and said, "that has resulted in dead babies. Dead. Babies." That was the end of that. 

We also knew the numbers, that a majority of children outgrow dairy and egg allergies, while a majority of people never outgrow tree nut and peanut allergies. We knew that we were in for a lifetime of worry.

But this week we went in for his third annual allergy exam. After consecutive negative tree nut tests, she tested for two specific ones -- almond and cashew. Both came up clean. I came prepared to ask for a clinical food challenge for tree nuts, but before I could, she told us to just give him tree nuts. At home. With our hands. He's not allergic to tree nuts, she said. Just like that. For a day, I walked around incredulous, untrusting. But this morning I casually pulled both of our downstairs EpiPen Jrs. out of their holders and served him the waffle with almond butter. I watched him eat, then watched the clock as 4 hours ticked by extremely slowly. Nothing.

I'm not quite ready to declare that I feel comfortable with him eating all tree nuts. I'm still blocking out 4-hour chunks in which I can try him on different nut products. I'm still waiting for a shoe to drop (whichever one, doesn't matter). But I never expected to serve him almond butter on purpose. It's huge. 
As I write this, I'm keenly aware of those who deal with far worse allergies, who have struggled more, who have lost loved ones. My heart goes out to them. Food allergies have always been part of my family, but I never understood them until they came into my home. It's made me ever more understanding. I am, and will always be, a strong ally.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Scenes from the dinner table

A's teacher mentioned today that he talks a lot now, but still goes silent if he doesn't think he knows the answer to a question. So I broached the topic with him.

Me: Hey, buddy, what do you think would happen if you answered a question wrong?
A: I would go to jail?
Me: No, buddy, you wouldn't go to jail.
A: Yes I would! I would go to jail!


Damn, that shit starts early.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Nothing gold can stay

I didn't know who Kim Novak was when she rolled up on the Oscars stage last weekend; Hitchcock is generally too scary for my tastes. But I of course recognized the look -- the extensive plastic surgery, the cartoonish face. And as always, I judged her. Why do beautiful people get plastic surgery, I thought. They're already so beautiful; to age gracefully would be much more beautiful than what seems inevitable under the knife. Why must they be so vain? I would never get plastic surgery.

There was some history there for me. I'd never been a pretty child; I knew it. But people always told me I was smart. And I thought that that somehow was more important and more meaningful than physical beauty. It made me more special than the pretty people. Of course, that was my defense. I really wanted to be pretty.

But this week, as people alternately mocked and defended Kim Novak, I realized: We're actually a lot alike. That's not to say that I think I'm as smart as Kim Novak (or any other person who feels the need to get plastic surgery) was beautiful. It's to say that we all have gifts in the truest sense of the term: We did absolutely nothing to deserve them. Genetics handed us these things -- musical talent, athletic ability, intellectual ability, physical beauty. As much as we identify with these traits, it's just fortune. Sure, we choose whether we use and develop them (if we have those opportunities), but we have no say in any of it. And they diminish without our control; cells break down in our skin, in our muscles, in our brains. For years I've felt my mind diminishing. Words don't come as quickly as they used to, and when they do, they're just close to what I want. I work with words every day, and I'm losing the verbal precision I once enjoyed. 

But here's the big difference between me and the Kim Novaks of the world: My vanity has never been tested. There's no surgery that promises to take 10 years off my brain. If something like that existed, who knows what I would choose. What would I risk for the promise of more intelligence? My luck is that I won't have to carry that decision around on my face for the rest of my life.

It's funny to me how much we value the things we have no control over. Little of it has to do with character, and all of it fades. But there are things we can control; the kindness, the understanding, the forgiveness we offer -- the capacity for these things does not diminish as we grow older. If anything, they grow with us. I never valued these when I was younger. But I'm glad to see the error of my ways.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Someone Like You

I've always really identified with that Adele song, "Someone Like You."  Not because I have that character in my life as such, but because I am someone who turns up out of the blue, uninvited. Life is short, I figure.

I always reinterpret the refrain, however. And by that I mean I won't allow myself to look up the lyrics and prove myself wrong. The way I think she intended it is this:

"Don't forget me," I begged.
"I'll remember," you said. 
Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead. 

In my head, I see that as Adele on the front step, her ex in the doorway, giving her the tiniest bit of generosity in saying that he'll remember her. It's a shared moment, but she is definitely more vulnerable. But the way I choose to think of it is this:

"Don't forget me, I beg," I'll remember you said. 
"Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead."

To me, that means that he has just as much vulnerability as she does; he's moved on but also doesn't want to be forgotten. I like that version better, of course. I guess I like to think that there are some people -- friends or lovers -- who will always have importance in our lives, no matter the number of years that have passed.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Revelations

Last week I listened to a parenting podcast that told the story of an expectant mother losing her mother to suicide. It threw me into an introspective sadness, and, weeping, I wrote a letter to my mom. I'd been avoiding writing it for 15 years; the first draft of the letter was written in ink in a note pad and, I think, had maybe 3 words.

Losing my mom has been sort of a defining sadness for me -- a terrible rite of passage at the very start of my adulthood. I've spent whole weeks crying in my office every day, lost countless sentences in my throat that had very unexpectedly brought up her memory. 

But after I wrote the letter, an amazing thing happened: I began to see from a larger perspective. It's not so much amazing that I opened my eyes, really. I guess the amazing thing was that I had never seen this before.

What I realized is that no matter how terrible the pain of losing my mom was, it was the natural order of things. 

When I was 16, I lost a dear childhood friend. At his wake, his grandmother said to me, "No one should ever have to bury her own grandson." I thought of her last week, and how unimaginable it would be for me to have to bury my son. And then it clicked into place: The parents care for the children, then the children care for the parents, and then the children lose the parents. I knew the first two parts, but I had never connected the third until this week. I know now that as much as I miss her, it was the way things should happen. I know this must seem terribly obvious, but I swear, it was a revelation to me. And it gave me a peace that I hadn't felt since she passed.

The second realization I had was that since she died, I had never considered her loss. I had always felt cheated for having lost her as a mother. It was 15 years ago; I feel like I have lived a whole lifetime since then, and she hasn't gotten to see any of it. And I finally thought of it as a mom. I lost her -- but she lost me, too, and all of her children at once. How terrible that must have been for her. And once I finally considered that, for the first time in my selfish brain, I was less concerned with my own loss. 

From the perspective of this moment, I think that I will miss my mom forever. But I think that it maybe won't always have to hurt so much. And I am really grateful for that.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Motherless mother

I've been thinking a lot about my mom today. More than a decade ago, my therapist suggested I write her a letter. Today seems as good a day as any. I'm posting it because when I started getting so sad this afternoon thinking of her, I googled "motherless mothers," to see how other people were handling it, to feel a tiny bit less alone. Well, if you're here because you did the same thing, you're not alone.

Dear Mom,
It's been 15 years since I thanked you at your bedside. You were floating in and out of consciousness; I don't know if you heard me. I'm sorry that I waited so long.
I'm sorry for so many things, of course. Every time I lost patience when I was taking care of you, every moment I was selfish, impatient for you to get better. 
I miss you, of course. I miss talking to you and cuddling with you. But I really ache for you to see who I am now.
I'm married, and I'm a mother. We have a boy, Abbott, who is three. Mom, he's so much like me. I remember Dad talking about how if anything new entered the house, I'd know immediately. He's the exact same way. Last week, I put two miniature Play-dohs into his big bin of Play-doh equipment, where he doesn't even play that often, and he noticed it within a minute of coming down the stairs. He's like you, too: He's so sweet, and very thoughtful. Oh, and I know that he's your grandson because every time he has gas, he looks up and frantically says, "I don't have to poop!" 
I wish you could see him, but more than that, I wish he could see you. We talk about you, and I show him pictures, and I try not to get sad. But it's hard. 
I wish I were more like you as a mom. I wish I were more patient and kind. But I have always been a lot more like Dad, haven't I? But I have become so much more compassionate. I like to think you'd be so surprised and delighted, Mom. 
I'm still working at the paper. I'm an editor now. I dress up, even. 
I get sad sometimes when I think of you. It's an emptiness that's nearly always there. But you know when I miss you the most? When something great is happening. I want so badly to share it with you, so that you can be proud of me. I'm respected, and loved, and you worked so hard for me to be able to have these things. I just want you to see what I've
become.
I would never have become an atheist if I'd known it would take you away from me, again, for good. It's a lonely reality.
You will always be one of the most important forces in my life. Thank you for everything.
Your Judy

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Memory Full Error

At the end of January, my sister texted me that she was missing our mom. That was normal, I thought, with the anniversary of her death coming up in 2 days.
But I was wrong. It *was* the anniversary of her death. And it revealed a secret I've been keeping for 15 years: I can never remember the date that my mom died. Even though for 10 years my whole family gathered for a memorial ceremony on that date, I can't ever know for certain whether it's the 24th or the 26th. This year, I was on the wrong side of the coin. I know I'll forget again by this time next year.
Then last week, a good friend told me that he and his wife are expecting a baby. He told me the date, in early August. I looked at the calendar on the wall and said, "Oh, you guys have plenty of time!" He looked at me kind of strangely but we kept talking baby. So exciting.
So. A couple days later I heard that dmb song "What Would You Say" on the radio. As he sings, "Every day has its way of being forgotten -- Mom, it's my birthday!" I thought, well, I guess I could see that happening. And then it hit me: That due date, in early August? It's Abbott's birthday. Not close. Not nearby. It IS Abbott's birthday.
I called my friend and said, hey, she's due on Abbott's birthday, isn't she? And he said, yeah, I thought it was kind of strange that you didn't say anything.
I don't know how I could have forgotten that. It's as though somehow in the past couple decades I have stopped taking in new information. And it's not like dates even take up that much room! 5 bytes, at most. I can't tell you for sure, but I think I miss being able to remember things.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The secret life of editors

Yesterday, someone mentioned on Facebook that she feels a tiny bit of grammar-related anxiety when she comments on my posts. I know there's probably something from our shared past that led to that; she and I went to school together from 7th grade through graduation. Surely I made some sort of semantic argument to or near her, or said something shitty and judgmental about someone else's speech. But no, she said, it's because I work with words for a living. This has come up with a few other friends, too; mostly the way it manifests is that they'll type something into the instant messaging box, edit or delete, and go again. I always tell people not to; I type strokey all the time in instant messaging. I am in no position to judge.

So I let this FB friend in on the secret that I often look words up before I post, just to be sure. But here's the bigger truth: Editors don't know all of the language.

I mean, I can't speak for all editors. But the editors I know? Don't know everything. Especially me. I'm a line editor. I think copy editors -- even those who really like me -- would tell you that there's a metric TON I don't know. Like, I'll never know lay and lie. That's just never going to stick. But I for sure know someone who does know it. If I find myself looking at a structure I don't know, I just follow these two rules. It always works.

1. Ask around.
2. Write around the problem.

And frankly, most times I just skip to No. 2. I recreate sentences like nobody's business.

I don't even live by the rules I do know. I know I'm on the wrong side of "hopefully." I use singular they. And I think it's funny to write conversationally and make up words.

So worry not, friends! I am never, ever judging what you write. I'm too busy looking up words and rewriting sentences of my own.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Scenes from the dinner table

Mom: Hey, Buddy, when you play around at the dinner table and don't eat your dinner, I'm not very happy.
Son: (considers for a moment, then gets upbeat) Oh, but I am, Mom! I am!
Mom: (tries to ignore)
Son: Mom! I am! I am!