Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hello, Muddah...

This summer, my 12-year-old went to Skateboard Camp for a week, an institution that should have its own Parent Support Group.  There’s a 100-page waiver you need to sign before they’ll accept your child and every time you call the camp, the person answering your questions sounds like she’s 15. 

“The counselors are all 16-year-old skaters that drink Red Bull all day,” my friend told me after I sent in my deposit.  Her son went there last year.  “He said it was the best week of his life.”

I thought she was exaggerating, but when I told a neighbor where my son was going, she said, “Oh, is that the place that serves Coco-Puffs and Red Bull for breakfast?”

My 12-year-old had never been to sleep-away camp, indeed he rarely leaves the house altogether.  Like me, I think he does a quick cost/benefit analysis of the types of compromises necessary once you step out your front door and opts for the only sane choice: stay home.  So when he told me he wanted to go to this camp – begged me, actually – I felt almost morally obligated to say yes.  This could break the agoraphobia chain, I thought, ever hopeful that my offspring do not end up like me.

It’s not as if I keep my family on lockdown, but I do feel more at ease when everyone is in the house.  The 12-year-old, usually happy to oblige, was really throwing me with this newfound adventurism of his.  In the weeks leading up to his departure, I managed my anxiety in my usual way – denial.  I simply pretended he wasn’t going anywhere.  Then, the night before he left, I quickly wrote his name on all his clothes, jammed them into a bag and fanatically began to hope for the best. 

The camp was three-and-a-half hours away, and he and his friends arranged to take the chartered camp bus from a nearby shopping mall.  We arrived at the designated spot in the parking lot – Area 8 between Sears and Macy’s – and I stood, slack-jawed, as my 4’11” skater boarded the bus with all manner of riffraff and ne’er-do-wells, many of them hovering near 6’ tall.

As it happened, my best friend’s son was also at his first time sleep-away experience at a different camp that same week.  That boy is younger than my 12-year-old and he went to a Jewish camp that my friend attended when she was a girl.  Aside from receiving incessant online postings of photographs and emails throughout the week, my friend also managed to extract specific information about her son’s experience through several calls to the camp’s main office. 

“He’s having a great time,” she reported to me.  I envied not only her information gathering skills, but also that she was able to sleep easily at night, knowing that her son was being well cared for.

I was a part of no such info-loop.  I called the camp to check on him.  "I'm sure he's doing fine," said the 15-year-old. 

"I didn't even tell you his name," I said.

"If he'd gotten hurt, you would have been contacted."  Click.

I had let my son take his cell phone to camp with the promise that he’d text me each night and let me know he was ok.  “If you could let me know whether you like it there, too, I'd be grateful,” I’d said, knowing he was a man of few words when it comes to texting.

I received one text from him on his second night at camp (“I’m still alive”).  Then, another, days later (“Not dead”), but only after I’d called the camp office again and beseeched them to have my son contact me.

After seven days had elapsed, I returned to the Area 8 drop off spot at the mall.  The first kid off the bus had his casted arm in a blue sling.  I was prepared for the rest of the passengers to look like the walking wounded, but they didn’t…they just looked scrappy and tired.

I never did learn much about my son’s first week away from home (I guess, what happens at skateboard camp stays at skateboard camp), but what I did learn was this:
•    Save for a few eating breaks, all they did was skate from 9 in the morning until 10 at night.
•    There was only one counselor for a bunk of 15 boys.  He was 18 years old and the boys considered him “an adult.”
•    The highly touted air-conditioning in the cabins barely worked.
•    The highly touted swimming pool was “gross.”
•    No one showered.
•    My son wore a single pair of socks all week long.
•    The toilet in the cabin didn’t work, yet that didn’t stop most of the boys from taking a dump in it anyway.

And, yes…it was the best week he’d ever had.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Teenager

As a tribute to The Teenager's 18th birthday, I am reposting what might be my favorite blog post about him.  It was my 10th blog post, written way back in 2009, and even though Facebook has gone through a half dozen redesigns and incarnations since then, he still refuses to re-accept me as a Facebook Friend.  Which is probably for the best.

This was written during what I consider Facebook's heyday, when all status updates appeared in the third person:

I was just banned from Facebook. Not from the whole site, but from anything even remotely interesting on my son’s page. I didn’t even know he could do that, but he did, right before my eyes, and he narrated his withholdings in an onscreen chat.

It started when he took issue with my Status Line. Jessica was just mocked by her 14-year-old for not knowing the name of The Immigrant Song, I wrote.

He said that event wasn’t a big enough deal to warrant a “stat.”

“Oh? Since when are you the boss of my status lines?” I typed to him.
“Since now,” he typed. And then, “I’m blocking you from all of my stat lines.”
“AND I’m blocking you from all of my Wall Notes.”
“Because you don’t like my status line?”
“I just blocked you from seeing anything about me,” he typed. Then added this:

And then the remarkable happened. He left the screen of his laptop and came marching in to my office to have an actual face-to-face conversation. “Your status lines are SO STUPID!” he said, nudging me out of the way of my own keyboard. He scrolled down my Profile Page. “Look! Look at this!”

Jessica experiences an inexplicable glee when she sees the geese just standing on top of a frozen Edgemont Pond.
“Why don’t you just say: Jessica likes geese?”

Jessica is taking the new popcorn maker for a test drive.
“This should say: Jessica is eating popcorn.”

Jessica is worried that the gecko is depressed.
“This is so stupid it shouldn’t even be up there at all!”

I guess I’d have to agree with that.

Jessica loves discussing is her downfall.
"Just write, 'Jessica loves to use words that no one can pronounce,'” he said. "That’s what you’re really saying."

Is this my comeuppance for making my mother walk three car lengths behind me for my entire adolescence? (Everyone can pronounce minutiae – it’s just hard to spell.)

Have I mentioned that I was in labor with him for 23 hours and it ended in a C-Section?

Finally, he cut me a little slack.

Jessica hates wind.

“This one’s ok,” he said. “But it’s still stupid.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why I Chant

I lost my sunglasses on a Tuesday morning.

I remember the day because I’d been invited to chant that morning even though the group I chant with usually meets on Wednesdays and Fridays.  But this week they changed the schedule because Wednesday was Independence Day.

It was only two of us that Tuesday morning, and if I’d known that in advance, I’d probably not have gone in the first place.  I’m new to chanting and I feel very self-conscious without the usually substantial number of chanters to carry me along.

The day was overcast and I took my sunglasses off as I walked up to the house where we chant.  I remember sticking the glasses into a shallow pocket inside my purse, noticing that they didn’t really fit well in the space but leaving them there because my host was on her porch watering her impatiens and once we started talking I just couldn’t be bothered moving them into their proper case. 

After the two of us chanted, she offered me a bouquet of white Hydrangeas – maddeningly big ones – and also a piece of her homemade mixed berry tart that was red, white and blue for July 4th.  I slung my purse onto my shoulder, grabbed my goodies, walked to my car, loaded everything onto the passenger seat and then drove the two minutes home. 

I realized my sunglasses were missing before I walked through my own front door.  I went back to the car to see if they’d dropped on the floor (they hadn’t) and then called my host to see if they’d fallen out when I’d scooped up the flowers and dessert.  She couldn’t find them in the house and even went out to the sidewalk to look for them.  “I don’t see them anywhere,” she said.

So I looked around my own house again, looked in the car more thoroughly, sat down and concentrated very hard on whether I really did have them with me that morning or whether I just imagined it, and, finally, decided to shelve the whole thing for a while, go for my daily walk and clear my head.  I loved my sunglasses and would typically wear them to walk, even on a cloudy day like this.  I missed them already. 

The chanting I do is a Buddhist prayer ritual that I’ve been doing for a few months and about which I know very little.  Out of the blue, a friend called and invited me to a meeting and it was one of those odd moments where I happened to say yes to something I would typically say no to.  Two days later, I found myself in a stranger’s living room, sitting before an altar, attempting to recite the Lotus Sutra, which is written in some foreign tongue and broken down for English speakers into a series of syllables and punctuation marks. Thirty-two pages of syllables and punctuation marks, few of which I could wrap my tongue around, that left me feeling very incompetent and about as far away from enlightened as a soul could possibly be. 

My husband has been studying Buddhism for a few years now as part of his yoga practice.  What I know from him is that Buddhism is based on the laws of cause and effect.  Some people refer to this as Karma, and it appears pretty simple: whatever you put out into the world is what you’ll get back.  Many teachers regard this phenomenon almost literally.  They say, if you want good health, spend your time ministering to sick people.  If you want wealth, give your money away to people who need it.  It’s never made the least bit of sense to me, but my husband insists this is how the world works.

Perhaps it was for that reason that I found myself a little mystified by my missing sunglasses.  Just days before, I’d been at the beach, walking along the shoreline, when I saw a pair of black sunglasses bobbing up and down in the surf.  I walked out into the water and snatched them up.  They were big, stylish, Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and I imagined how happy their owner might be to get them back.  So I took them to the lifeguard and he hung them on his stand.  “It’s a long shot, but maybe someone will claim them,” he said.

According to the laws of cause and effect, I figured that act alone should be enough to get me my sunglasses back.  But even as I paced my kitchen again, they were not materializing. 

Finally, I got in the car and drove back to the chanting house. 

Because of my beach experience, I wasn’t surprised to find my sunglasses lying in the street right next to my car. But when I picked them up, I was confounded; they’d been run over and mangled.  As I turned them over in my hand and assessed the damage, I cursed the thoughtless driver who ran them over and I decided unequivocally that the whole Cause and Effect thing was bullshit. 

However, unlike all my many calamities that have come before, I did not spend even two minutes feeling sorry for myself about this loss.  Nor did I ruminate about how I might get the sunglasses fixed for free – my typical mental calisthenics on how to cash in on what the world surely owes me.

Instead, I drove directly to Sunglass Hut, bought a new pair of the exact same glasses and felt instantly happy that I didn’t waste any time stewing about my sad misfortune. 

Later, much later, I felt grateful for the opportunity to see clearly that this was a little problem with an easy solution.  And even later still, it occurred to me that I may have been the one to run the sunglasses over in the first place. 

I had expected my chanting to provide me with my sunglasses back, like magic.  But instead, what I got was an inexplicable will and desire to move quickly from sadness to joy, rather than to sit in sadness indefinitely – a desire I hope emerges again in the face of events much more important than broken sunglasses. 

The mangled glasses now sit in a drawer in the kitchen where I keep my car keys.  I can’t bear to throw them away, even though they are completely unwearable.  My yogi husband says I’m still missing the real essence of karma: Letting go of what’s broken and moving on.  Obviously, I’m not there yet.  In the meantime, I chant.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Haven't Been Around Much Lately

Twenty years ago, my third psychologist gave me a diagnosis of Clinical Depression.  Therapists #4, 5 and 6 always wrote me up as Anxiety Disorder, but I'm pretty sure it was just to be polite.  (My first psychologist never diagnosed me. Plus, she only wore purple, so I feel like she doesn’t count. And my second psychologist wasn’t actually degreed – she was sort of a yogi/shaman type who sometimes practiced talk therapy.  Before you roll your eyes, please know that she has passed from this life and was one of the most helpful of the bunch.)

The first time I went to my Medical Intuit (I don’t really know what to call her – Energy Healer sounds so 1970s) she said that the “information” she was getting for me was that I should start taking antidepressants.  This was jarring counsel for her to pass on and she said so.  “Usually my work with people involves helping them get off of antidepressants.  I’ve never had this kind of advice come up for a client before,” she said.  And to drive her point home, she wouldn’t accept payment for the session.

Despite years (decades, really) of professionals and paraprofessionals all suggesting that drug therapy might be just what I need, I have not ever – not even once – tried antidepressants.  One reason is that I’m a hypochondriac.  If there are any known side effects associated with a drug, I will surely manifest them.

Another reason is that antidepressants are known to make you gain weight and suppress your sex drive, two conditions that I am absolutely positive will never help my supposed depression.

Finally, (and this might be the clincher), I was afraid of who I’d become if I were stripped of my sadness.  Or my cynicism.  Or even once-removed from my negativity.  These characteristics feel like my calling card.  I was afraid that the friends that I have liked me because I was gloomy, not in spite of it.  I was afraid I would lose my sense of humor.  I believed I’d no longer be able to write.

This is the point in the story where it seems natural for me to confess that I have started antidepressants and that none of those fears materialized.  But that’s not at all what happened.

I remain drug-free, but I joined a chanting group about five months ago and, almost instantaneously, everything changed.  I felt my sadness and my cynicism fall away and my knee jerk reaction in almost every situation is to now see my glass full and brimming.  I joke with my friend Ann that it feels like I’ve turned into her mother.

The other change is that I don’t write.  I was about to say, “I can’t write,” but here I am typing away, so I know that’s not true.  And it’s not so much that I don’t want to write.  I couldn't be happier at this moment.

I think it’s that I don’t feel like I need to write. 

Which is sad to me.  But in a joyous, bubbly, brimming glass kind of way.

This blog has been a great place for me to hang out for a long time; I hope I can find my way back here again soon.