Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Just Social

Social media has been less social and more media recently.

I don’t even know what that means exactly, but there’s a difference. I prefer social.

Before, I could depend on social media to inform me of goings-on, but it has escalated into something that I can’t understand. In the name of being heard people are at each other’s throats, shouting over each other and drowning everything out. Opinions fly; tempers flare. Everyone says the same thing, but throw in a misused word or the whisper of judgment and intolerance reigns. Nobody communicates as well on the internet as they do in real conversation, and never is that so apparent as in social media.

My online haven was filling with impulsive talk of hatred, judgment, anger and outrage. Attacking became the daily fare there, and after just enough time tolerating the fighting, I grew tired of its uselessness.

So I cut back.

The result was that I stopped hearing the arguing and the judgments against judgments that insist that judgments are wrong. In effect, I changed the channel.

When hate and outrage against hate and pointing fingers at what’s wrong and who’s wrong was the name of the game, I stopped being a spectator. I know what’s right and wrong and feel awful about some things I see in the world and I do what I can to live my life and stay my course.

When my son was a baby, four planes crashed into three buildings and a field and thousands of people were killed. My husband and I watched the news about this event around the clock. We couldn’t do anything about it but watch and live our lives and be conscientious of how we were living.

In the years that followed we read the newspaper and watched the evening news to inform ourselves of current events. I usually skipped the Op-Ed section of the newspaper because while I know that people are free to voice their opinions in this country, mine - like most people’s - are rarely swayed by another person’s opinion. Plus, there was usually ranting, and I experienced enough ranting from my toddlers at home.

I’m on social media a little bit these days, spending most of my time on Facebook in fun groups and chatting with friends and checking out pictures of friends’ kids and wishing people Happy Birthday, often a day late, because that’s how I roll socially.

I still get my news from the news and not from my friends’ opinions. That rule of manners that says to stay away from hot button issues like politics and religion in conversations may be old fashioned and unpracticed, but there is a thread of politeness that can be sustained. 

I can listen to your views. You can listen to mine. We agree on most things, but I believe in x, y and z, and you believe in a, b, and c. I like you. You like me. We don’t have to convince each other of anything, do we? This is a free country. We can believe in some different things and not hack each other up. But we both have to agree to do that for it to work. Let’s try it.

After all, the news will come and go, but you’re my neighbor, and we might need to depend on each other more than anyone else in the world at some point.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Just A Phase

Both calendars are loaded. The expectations whisper:

If I don’t keep the calendar current, if I miss updating even one event, the only thing that makes sense is to trash them and start over. There is no room for error. Showing up somewhere for something that was canceled weeks before and missing commitments – all of which are mandatory, on which certain success is precariously perched – are to be avoided.

It’s the old story, repeated a thousand times a day by anyone who does anything: we are busy busy busy and we’re going crazy crazy crazy keeping up.

I’m not so special. Everyone has tons of stuff going on. It’s the nature of our society, anyway. I’m tired of hearing about it, feeling it, saying it.

As phases go, I’m in the mom/taxi one. I go somewhere every afternoon, every night, sometimes out until ten or eleven o’clock with our kids. The pick-up and drop-off times conflict most days. On days I am organized, I coordinate carpooling. On days I am not, I text “Find a ride” to one of my children and cross my fingers.

My son is in the not-yet-driving high school phase. He has stuff going on all the time – sports, social life, school work, various other downtime activities – and he is independent except for transportation and certain life management and problem-solving skills. He could probably handle most of it if pressed, but not well. Sort of like me in college. And last week.

My daughter is younger and needs more looking after, but not much. I still do more for her because of her age and her femaleness and my inability to treat my children equally, to their dismay. It’s too hard and time moves too fast to figure out how to divide responsibility evenly, and I no longer apologize or make excuses for my inconsistency. It’s just how it is. If my children learn one thing about me, it’s that I am unfair.

The encompassing truth is that once you get used to the current phase, another one begins. Keeping up is hard, and not just with the stuff on the calendar. Fluidity is the nature of everything – just go with it. Move on and adapt or get left behind. Among the worst things that can happen if you fail to be fluid as a parent is that you treat your kids like they’re six when they’re sixteen and you miss out on what they’re experiencing now.

If you fail to go with the flow, you miss more than a practice or previous commitment. You miss the next phase, and you lose touch.

Raising kids is the job of putting yourself out of a job. Their growth requires constant reshuffling of priorities and if you ever finish, these people you’ve raised will fly on their own without much regular input from you. Making our best work stick with our children is the goal, so that we will always be relevant no matter what phase they’re in. When we’re long gone we hope they will pass this relevance onto their own kids.

This is concerning because when we’ve spent so much time keeping up with their phases, we may have ignored our own.

Might as well accept that we’ll always be trying to keep up.

photo via unsplash


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Bells

She kept a collection of china bells for years and I had no idea.

There they were, in plain sight, arranged in a curio cabinet for guests to see and appreciate for years and years. I’d walked through her house countless times and never noticed them. The date on the oldest bell was over forty years ago, and as I walked through her house for the last time after her funeral, I saw those bells for the very first time.

When I asked about them, my mother told me how Grandma would stop by mid-morning after her annual bell purchase, announcing that she got this year’s offering. “Got my Christmas bell today,” she’d say.

I didn’t even know they were there, I said. Such a small thing, but they must have meant something to her, we agreed. She collected for no one but herself. What else did she treasure that we didn’t know about?

My mom told me she kept letters, wedding invitations, keepsakes from trips abroad, albums full of pictures – the stuff of a life of a person who loved to look back. We all knew she was sentimental; we all can remember stories that she told over and over. I get my own sentimentality from her. I acknowledge this readily, accept this character trait as a gift passed down through the generations, reference my grandmother as the head of our own particular clan of romantics when I’m caught in a cloud of memories.

“I’m a sentimental fool,” I say. “I love to look back. It’s in my blood – my Grandma was the same way. I can’t help it.”

I’m not so special – lots of people recall times gone by. My memories are mostly rose-colored. And why not? The past can’t be changed. Why not remember the good things and bring them into the present? Goodness and love, the passing of time: all of these things have healing powers.

Those bells, like the rest of her things that marked her time on earth, are gone now, mementos of a life so quickly scattered, a few things saved by family members and friends to remember her. I often wonder about the things that kept my loved ones company in life, what other things like amassing a collection of pretty bells brought them joy.

And I look around at my own things, collected and saved to commemorate a date or an event. I think of this stuff I’ve accumulated, and wonder which trinkets and memories are overlooked today but which my loved ones might discover later.

What memories do we hold dear when our loved ones are gone?

photo via unsplash