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.


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?


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Can I Have a Minute?

The summer is over. It’s a good thing, because somewhere around last week I hit the wall.

It’s funny how the wall changes depending on how long summer has been. It’s not a static point of time, this term that precedes wall-hitting. For me it changes according to the number of balls I am juggling and the innate annoyance level of people in my home, which fluctuates wildly.

Take, for example, the two teens in my house. Their annoyance level is usually low, but around Tuesday of last week they suddenly seemed to multiply and took on the space and need requirements of six to eight infants and an equal number of large dogs.

My husband, whose annoyance level is medium to high, was home a lot and this means we got a lot of face time with each other, which is good for reconnecting but bad for my need for personal space. My husband is a champion Personal Space Invader.

And the noise. Oh, the noise.

Every TV in the house was in an on-only mode, backed by the chirp of all the electronics and the hum of air-conditioning. Conversations, questions, doors opening and closing, asking for rides and phone calls saying where-are-you-you’re-one-minute-late and plan-making and general breathing. The breathing, you guys. EVERBODY WAS BREATHING AT THE SAME TIME.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

I barely made it. It’s a good thing summer is over.

When the kids went back to school, I decided to get organized and spent the better part of their first day furiously updating our family calendar with practices and games and back to school nights. It was a labor-intensive job that set my nerves on edge a little bit. I could feel the frantic rush of the school year closing in.

One day into the school year, I started to miss summer a little bit.

I found myself missing the slow days, never-ending sleepovers that end in no sleep at all, stepping outside and hitting a wall of heat, looking forward to vacations at the shore and summer camp. Reading books and binge-watching Netflix and old Disney movies that surface on lazy days. Hanging out on the patio and chatting about everything and nothing in particular until the bugs started to bite.

I wish we had more time to do this stuff.

But of course we will again. There’s always next summer.

You know, 277 days from now.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #1: What did not get accomplished this summer that you wish you had time for?