Sunday, August 30, 2009

Scheduling Playdates in the 21st Century

I have always been a reluctant phone texter. I had an old phone, I texted by accessing letters on the number pad, and within two back-and-forth exchanges I would just type: Call me.

But now I have a new phone. And this phone has a qwerty keyboard. I can text almost as fast as I can think. (Ok, faster.)

Not only do I now answer incoming texts in full, properly punctuated sentences, I even initiate contact on matters both big and small. This text exchange took place last week with a local dad whose son is often playdate candidate for my own. I’ve transcribed it practically verbatim. (Well, I changed his son’s name -- not so much for privacy, but because he is named after a popular month and I was worried that might make the dialogue unnecessarily confusing.)

Me: is Ashton available to play today?

Dad Around Town: No tomorrow though?

Me: tomorrow is good.

Dad Around Town: Ok great. Will touch base later. Must teach tomorrow morning otherwise he’s around.

Me: do u want me to take him while u teach?

Dad Around Town: would have to drop him off by nine though

Me: thats ok.

Dad Around Town: Btw. Who is this

Me: lol. serious? its Jessica.

Dad Around Town: Semi serious. It was either you or a pedophile. Not charming enough for a pedophile so my money was on you.

Me: I lack the charm of a pedophile? this what you’re saying?

Dad Around Town: Exactly. Consider that a compliment

Friday, August 28, 2009

Molly and Company...

My oldest son is starting High School in about a week. The sole purpose of middle school seemed to be preparing him for this next step; that has been accomplished. Nonetheless, I thought it might be a good time for us all to watch The Breakfast Club.

How much do I love that movie? I’ve probably seen it four times but not once in the last decade. I realize now that those kids achieved some kind of artistic perfection in that film. I can’t remember enjoying any of them as much in anything they’ve done since. Well, except for Ally Sheedy in Single White Female. Oh wait…that was Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Unlike other coming of age movies, there’s something about The Breakfast Club that makes the actors and their characters indistinguishable. Meaning, I never thought of Judd Nelson as his character, “Bender.” Or Molly Ringwald as “Claire.” The movie doesn’t really have a “Ferris Bueller.” Or a “Baby.” Or a “Spicoli.” So in my mind, The Breakfast Club actors have never really moved out of those roles from 1985.

Tonight I’m going to a reunion of sorts. I reconnected with an old friend from high school who is visiting the old neighborhood and in his honor there will be a gathering of old schoolmates. It’s different from a regular high school reunion in that most of the guests are not from my graduating class. So unlike my ex-classmates, these are not people that I’ve been in interim touch with in the last 30 years. Like the cast of The Breakfast Club, they have truly been frozen in time.

This became so clear to me last week when I had a small meltdown after reading the guest list. There was one name that made my blood boil. “Why is he invited?” I started asking anyone who would listen to me. “He was such a jerk!”

He really was a jerk, a perfect storm of every negative trait of each of my Breakfast Club buddies – pompous and cruel being the two frontrunners. But that was thirty years ago. Of course he may still be. He may be a card-carrying, BMW-driving schmuck.

Or maybe, like some of us, he’s changed.

The first time I saw The Breakfast Club, I was convinced I was Ally Sheedy. Upon later viewings, I believed I was “Ally Sheedy without the grossness.” Then, “Ally Sheedy, without the weirdness” (which, face it, leaves very little to that character at all). But when I watched it the other night, I had an epiphany. I don’t think I was ever Ally Sheedy. Sadly, I think I’ve always been Anthony Michael Hall.

As for my son – I’m not really sure where he’ll net out. He doesn’t seem like any of the Breakfast Clubbers to me. But I did have to take a deep breath the other day when he slid into the foyer, air guitar in hand, belting out the first few bars of “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

(“Joel, I don’t’ remember saying anything about a party…”)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The New Rules

One of my many parenting shortfalls is that I’m vague. I make wishy washy rules like, “Food needs to stay in the kitchen.” So it’s no surprise that when I go down into the basement, I find it littered with plastic Squeeze Pop wrappers.

“Well, they’re not exactly food,” my son will say to me.

Technically that’s true. But it is clearly not in the spirit of the House Rules that you would serve your friends Squeeze Pops anywhere other than the kitchen, I tell him.

He’s all taken aback. How dare I call him out on something when he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong in the first place?

“Squeeze Pops are not food,” he hisses. “You tell me that all the time.”

Perhaps the rule must be revised: “No eating (or licking, slurping, tasting, or in any way ingesting anything that has been procured for the purpose of consumption – that is, traveling through the mouth, down the throat and ultimately ending up in the stomach – even those things that are no more than food coloring, sugar and water frozen into a ruler-shaped ice-cube) except in the kitchen.”

I take a moment to reflect on all the many unspoken rules that have been broken in my community, and realize that we, as parents, are to blame. In a fit of conscientiousness, I begin to develop some new, more specific Rules:

Don’t try to “evaporate” gasoline that has been spilled on the driveway by lighting a match to it.

Don’t sell the lock code to your garage door to high school students while your family goes away on a cruise.

Don’t jump off a pergola into your friend’s swimming pool.

Don’t dig up the bulbs and rhizomes in other people’s yards, and please don’t dig them up in the illustrious town garden.

Don’t ride the laundry basket down a full flight of stairs – not even if you’ve positioned an air mattress at the bottom and are wearing elbow pads and a bike helmet.

Don’t beat anyone about the arms and legs with any type of stick or long-handled sports equipment. Unless you’re playing Lacrosse. Then it’s ok.

My house is filling up with post-its, reminders of all the rules that yet need formalizing. Notes about eggs, and wicker porch furniture, and playhouse windows, and lacrosse balls. Sometimes, I’m accused of being a nag. I know, I know, I know, I know. So now, with all of it tidy and written down, I will finally be able to just sit back, relax, and watch my kids behave themselves.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Makes Us Tic

When my husband pointed out The Sniff, I told him he was crazy. “That’s not a tic,” I said. “I’m clearing my nose.”

He corrected himself. Not a tic, but a tell. Like in poker. An unconscious gesture or movement that inadvertently provides information to the other players about what’s going on in your hand. Or in my case, my head.

My tell is The Sniff. Scott says I do it whenever I am disapproving of something. It usually accompanies a sentence that declares the exact opposite of what I’m really feeling:

“Listen, you should do whatever you want.” [sniff] or “I’m happy to have your mom come visit.” [sniff]

I began to pay more attention to how and when I sniffed and I had to admit, my husband was right. Once I became more comfortable with the concept I confessed The Sniff to my tennis group. It was during a Monday clinic and I guess on some level I felt like we all needed to be closer. So I decided to offer up something revealing.

“My husband just told me I sniff when I’m really disapproving,” I shared. We were taking a water break at the time and everyone stopped drinking. “He says it’s like a ‘tell’ in poker – something I do unconsciously. But whenever I sniff, he can tell I’m feeling negative about something.”

This is the sort of information that nobody really needs to know. Not your husband. Certainly not your tennis mates. Maybe your therapist, but even that is dicey. Yet I never felt more liberated than I did after sharing it.

One thing became apparent very quickly. The Sniff was not at all relegated to disapproval directed toward my husband. My partner would hit a ball out and I would turn to her immediately and say, “No worries.” [sniff].

She would double fault three times in a row and apologize each time. “It’s fine,” I’d say. [sniff].

“No, really – really – it is fine. I think I have a sinus infection.” [sniff].

We all have our little tells in tennis. A gesture or remark that we make after we (or our partners) make a stupid mistake. They are our secret and private messages to the universe that, although we are not racquet throwers, we care a lot about winning – much more than might be seemly to let on. That as supportive as we are of each other – and we are that – we also really relish those times when we can rip a ball that someone else has no chance of returning. And when we do, we can turn on our heels, resume our positions and listen to our opponents over the net mutter, “Nice shot!” [sniff]

Sunday, August 16, 2009

True Concessions

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that when you buy food at, say, a water park, the actual place that sells the food is referred to as a “concession stand.” Because it is quite a compromise when all you have to choose from is burgers, dogs, pizza and chicken fingers. I would have brought a yogurt with me, but the website declares, page after page, that absolutely no outside food or beverages are allowed.

We paid for our wristbands and lined up at the entryway. I thought the men in the hut were going to check our wrists, but they couldn’t have cared less about admissions. They were there to search our bags for food.

An oversized woman pushing a stroller directly in front of us was busted for a package of Chips Ahoys. She and her small brood moved over toward the wall and ate each and every cookie, then strode in.

My son and his friend took off right away toward rides called High Anxiety and Kamikaze. We met two hours later for lunch.

I conceded to have two chicken fingers, even though they’re breaded and fried and constitute nearly two-thirds of my Weight Watcher Points for the entire day. The boys found a table in the shade and my son gave his friend a detailed account of his recent rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho. It was during this conversation that I learned for the first time that my son’s kayak had overturned and landed on top of him, and that he needed to be “rescued” by the river guides. It was also during this conversation that my son told his friend that this trip was one he’d gone on with his uncle.

“Whose brother?” the friend asked.

“My mom’s,” said my son. “But he’s really cool. He and my mom are like complete opposites.”

I then made a further concession: to smile at his witticism. Even though the real truth is, I taught my brother everything he knows.

The boys went off again, waiting on lines bound for terror. I sat in a blissfully shady corner and read The Atlantic Monthly’s 2009 Fiction Issue. Most of the families surrounding me had smuggled in cut fruit and pita chips, like contraband.

I didn’t end up going on any of the rides or in any of the pools. The lines were long and hot and I don’t really like being wet. The boys tried to move me off my position, and they almost did, but the attractions I was interested in were far too tame for them. They are boys, adrenaline coursing through their veins. They are always hungry, not just for food but for adventure. They like it when The Mom is amused, but not if it means spending a precious hour on line for The Lazy River. They can’t even conceive of making those kinds of concessions.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Secrets from the Dead Sea

Here’s one of the few ways to get me to buy something:

Be cute; have big dark eyes. Speak with an accent (Middle Eastern works best). Tell me I look like I’m 32. Lower the price five times.

This almost worked like a charm at the mall kiosk the other day, where I came this close to buying a two-year supply of Dead Sea Salt Scrub and the accompanying Secret Mineral Lotion. I was instantly transported back to my days in Jerusalem, where Israeli boys will flirt with you no matter how much older you are and the only way to be sure you’ve gotten the absolute lowest price is to declare a firm, unequivocal “no” and stride purposefully away from the merchant.

After exfoliating and lotioning at the kiosk, my hands really were soft and rejuvenated. My new Israeli friend showed me the residue floating in the basin. Dead skin cells, he declared. He sounded almost wistful.

“How much would you pay to go to a spa?” he asked me.

I don’t go to spas.

“What do you do for a living?”

I told him I write and I wondered how he could possibly use that information to further his cause.

“Oh, a writer. So you wash your hands often, yes?”

Are writers supposed to wash their hands a lot? Is this why I’m not more successful?

I ultimately passed up deal after deal and left the mall empty handed. I told my husband that I loved the way my hands felt (and smelled) after the Dead Sea treatment, but sloughing and creaming once a week just felt like another chore to do. Besides, my husband thinks my skin is plenty soft, and the only other time I’m touched is when my kids want to infuriate me by playing with the fat on my upper arms.

“If the Dead Sea salt makes that little activity more appealing, I don’t want any part of it,” I told my husband.

“Maybe you can invent a product that actually makes your upper arms rough and sandpapery,” he said, always trying to help me think of ways to improve my life.

Or maybe I should just wash my hands more.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Beautiful Beverly

One would think, after a certain age, that a woman would not feel intimidated by another woman’s appearance. That if a woman were on a tennis court, and another woman strode up to play, the first woman would welcome her with an open mind and an open heart. That she would not think, “Oh, this woman is blond and has perfectly tanned, perfectly shaped legs, so she must be a witch.”

Ms. Perfect Tan was a good, but not great tennis player. That was somewhat of a relief. But as the clinic wore on I discovered a few other things. Ms. Perfect Tan was totally charming and completely gracious on the court. She was just the right amount of self-effacing and holding-her-own; she didn’t pout and she didn’t gloat.

Point after point, I liked her more and more. If I were a GPS system, I would have been in a constant state of recalculating – reviewing and revising my opinion of her as the game went on. (This often happens in tennis, but usually not in the positive direction.)

Later that week, I was with my regular tennis group and somehow the conversation turned to the anxiety of playing with people you don’t know. I started talking about my recent clinic experience.

“There was a new woman there. Her name was Beverly,” I said.

“Beautiful Beverly?” Cornelia asked.

“Well, yeah, I guess,” I said. “She was beautiful. Who is she?”

“Oh, I don’t really know her,” said Cornelia. “I just played with her once at the club and she was so nice.”

“Yes! That’s her! She is so nice!” Is it lost on anyone that this is considered a real anomaly in women’s tennis?

“She’s a minister,” reported Cornelia. “And she’s really well read.”

(Of course she is.)

Cornelia and I began to describe her to the other women present. We kvelled a bit over what she wore and what precisely made her so likeable. I was particularly taken with the way she’d call out “Stinker!” anytime she missed a shot.

Then one of us – maybe even both of us – bestowed the single nicest sentiment possible about a player you’ve just met, a sentence that perhaps none of us women have said enough since we were seven- or eight-year-olds: “I would definitely play with her again.”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcome to Middle Age

One of my tennis pals once described to me what she wears to bed: “I have an arm brace for my carpal tunnel, two booties that keep my feet flexed for my plantar fasciitis, and a special pillow between my legs for my back.” I can’t remember if she also used a mouth guard for TMJ, but she painted an entertaining picture of the armor her husband needed to overcome if they were ever to become intimate.

I chuckle at this image as I start my morning routine. I have a lot of time to recount conversations and anecdotes while I do the nine daily stretches prescribed by my physical therapist to ward off some recently developed hamstring issues, ankle pain, rotator cuff maladies and my own plantar fasciitis. After those stretches, I do a short, 12-minute yoga routine that was suggested to me by my chiropractor a few years ago when I complained of morning stiffness. I do another 10 minutes of weight work, so my muscles won’t atrophy and to avoid osteoporosis. Then I go out for a 2-3 mile walk to get my chi moving and also to keep my weight down.

When I return, I have a tall glass of warm water with fresh cut lime, which I’ve boiled then cooled, because an Ayurvedic healer once told me that it would be an especially beneficial morning drink for my Doshas. I mix a separate glass of boiled water (also cooled) with a small packet of Sinu-Cleanse, which I then pour into my Netti Pot and subsequently pour through my nostrils – a recommendation from my beloved Dr. K. to keep me off sinus medication.

After that I make myself oatmeal with warmed apples and cinnamon, which I eat every single morning (another Dosha thing) and then take the series of vitamins and supplements that ostensibly fortify my intestines, bladder and immune system, as well as lower my Real Age from 49 to probably, I don’t know, 46 or 47. Then I floss, brush, shower, embark on the complex hair care routine that keeps me curly, not frizzy, and apply the pricey dermatologist cream to the precancerous cells on my face and viola, I’m ready to start my day.

I’m embarrassed to tell you the exact amount of time spent on all this, but I will say that I don’t have time to make the beds and I regularly blow off my book group book all in the name of staving off decrepitude.

The last time I was with my chiropractor, I was complaining about my psoas muscle feeling weak when I walked. He started to suggest a daily stretch I could do and I cut him right off. “Please, just fix me," I begged him. "I don’t have any more time in the day.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Commandment #11: Don’t Blame Me

For better or for worse, I am rarely commanded by my husband to do anything. So when he showed up in the kitchen a few weeks ago with his Little Sport Buzzer in hand, I was under the mistaken impression that he was about to lodge a request.

He told me he needed me to cut his hair and at first I thought he meant just redefine the hairline at the back of his neck, a task I am somewhat competent at. But he meant so much more than that.

He wanted me to “take a lot off the back and sides, and leave it long on the top.” He’s speaking to me like I’m a barber, I thought.

“I can’t do that,” I said. “I’m really bad at cutting hair.”

He pushed the buzzer into my palm and closed my fingers around it. “Just do it,” he said.

I’m making it sound like there was some urgency about it – as if he were leaving moments later for the Witness Protection Program – but that’s not how it was. He was unhurried, yet insistent.

The Little Sport Buzzer is cute. It’s cream colored with a little red logo and, just like a real barber’s buzzer, it has several clip-on heads, each numbered to denote how close a cut it provides. The smaller the number, the shorter the shearing. The only head Scott could find that day was a #1.

Number ones give you a haircut like a Marine. There’s no margin for error. The only way to “fix” a mistake is to go shorter, which is to say, bald.

“I can’t,” I said, still unable to believe he even suggested my doing this in the first place.

He settled himself on a chair in front of me. “It’s just like editing,” he said. “Just take some of the bulk away.”

Buzzing someone’s hair is nothing like editing. For one very important thing, if you take a sentence out of a paragraph and realize you’ve made things worse by doing so, you can return it to its rightful place in a matter of seconds. There are probably a dozen other ways buzzing and editing differ, and maybe another dozen that they’re alike, and much as I tried to engage Scott in a diverting dialogue about it, he wouldn’t bite.

“C’mon,” he said. “Just cut.”

So I cut. And it was awful. I ended up calling Tracey The Friend Who Can Do Anything and, to the best of her ability, she fixed my husband’s hair.

Two weeks later, Scott found the other buzzer attachments, numbers two through four. He talked me into cutting his hair again, and then again a few weeks after that. In some ways things got better and in some ways they got worse. By my third cut, I managed to avoid shaving out big holes of hair. But ultimately, he ended up looking like Alfalfa from The Little Rascals; every time he pushed the long top hair away from his face, pieces of it would stick straight up toward heaven.

Finally, this past Saturday, I insisted he get a proper and professional haircut.

“Do not tell her I was the one who did that to you,” I said as he left the house.

“Your wish is my command.”

Sunday, August 2, 2009

OMG, Jessica...Just Stop Judging Everyone!

Claudine told me a story the other morning about a guy tailgating her the whole way down one of our town’s long, straight roads. When they came to a traffic light, she walked over to his car and motioned for him to roll down the window. She proceeded to tell him how she’d recently gotten a ticket on this road and that, for his information, she would not be driving any faster than the 30 miles per hour she’d just been doing. She added that she felt this was a reasonable speed to be driving, and intimated that his perilously close proximity wasn’t likely to change her point of view on the matter.

His response? “Well, I guess I’ll just have to do it more then.”

The first (and only) question that came into my mind at that moment was one I’m a little ashamed of. “Was he driving a BMW?” I asked.

Yes. He was.

I’m really sorry about this, but I just have to understand: What is it about BMWs that turn people into colossal a-holes? Is there something protruding from the driver’s seat that becomes somehow embedded into an orifice making it physically and psychically impossible to remain courteous to humanity while on the road?

I live in an affluent town. Lots of people drive Beemers. I know some of them personally and can vouch for their affability terra firma. Does some transformation take place once you step inside the Ultimate Driving Machine? Is there some struggle that goes on between good and evil that a mere mortal cannot hope to overcome?

We talked about what might be the appropriate yogic response. To forgive him his folly? Or to perhaps pity his hurried and harried existence? The Buddha might weep for him, we mused.

But more likely still, the Buddha would giggle – at the fanciful idea that I might consider myself and Mr. BMW as two separate entities in the first place.