Sunday, November 30, 2014

Young men and the swamp.

After our big day in Orlando, we headed to New Orleans to visit our friend Guy (who the boys now call Uncle Guy). It was kind of a funny place to go right after Universal Studios where everything is fake but looks real. New Orleans might look fake but everything you see is real. Like, the most real you've ever seen. That place is legit.

Walking around the French Quarter felt not unlike walking around Disneyland. The architecture is interesting, people watching is at an all time high and parades spontaneously break out right in front of you.

We had to keep reminding the boys to keep their hands to themselves. They had gotten accustomed to everything being staged for their entertainment so it was kind of a mind trip to step into a place that looked pretend but was not.

Cool to see but a little loud and grown up for the boys.

Not that they let that stop them...

Plus, the real reason we had come to New Orleans was the swamp.

We always talk about taking the boys fishing and camping, but we're just not very good at it. We could certainly just do it and figure it out as we go along but when we have awesome uncles who have all the gear and expertise? Why not outsource?

It was an uncharacteristically cold day but we didn't care. We loaded up our supplies, stopped off at Walmart for a few provisions and then drove straight out of civilization. Picture Beasts of the Southern Wild then dial it back a notch.

Or maybe half a notch.

It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. So beautiful and peaceful and otherworldly. The boys took to it immediately and before we knew it we were out on the swamp, opening beer bottles with old propellers, fishing live shrimp out of the bait bucket, and casting away.

It didn't take long for the fish to start biting, an experience I've never had no matter how many times I've gone fishing. It was really cool to be able to tell when I'd caught a fish (sort of wiggly) versus a plant or a crab.

Yes, I caught a crab with a fishing pole! A kid-sized Anakin Skywalker fishing pole no less. I reeled it in thinking I had something and when I pulled my hook out of the water there was a crab hanging onto the shrimp with his claw. It was so cute! I swung my line over the boat quickly so he wouldn't get away and let him drop off into the boat. This seemed like a great idea but it immediately sent both boys into tears. Apparently crabs are way freakier than fish which are not too creepy as long as they're far away. We learned this the hard way when Liam reeled in his fish and we made him do the classic "look what I caught" photo.

Fish in a net = exciting

Fish next to me = uhhhhh


I'm outta here.

Let me show you how the pros do it, buddy.

Super thankful for our village.


Remember that thing I wrote a few days ago about feeling uncomfortable about over-sharing on the Internet? I think I might have been having a sensitive day. Like I stepped in a big pile of self-consciousness and, rather than shaking it off Taylor Swift style, I decided to wear it like an unflattering jumpsuit for all to see.

Then, as if that wasn't enough, I thought I'd better DO something about it. I mean, I can't just get all publicly insecure and declare something isn't working for me and not DO something, right? So I went on Instagram and blocked/unfollowed every single person. Every. Single. Person. Like a take back the night rally over pictures of my kids.

I immediately regretted it.

Not just because it made me see that I actually do like the social aspect of Instagram most of the time (it forces you to be more creative if you know someone else will see your work - and by work I'm talking clever emoji use, and seeing your friend's pictures is fun) but also because it made me feel sort of like a drama queen. If I hadn't been at my sister's house with zero responsibility and a long ass parade to sort of watch, I never would have taken the time to do something so lame.

It's pretty embarrassing that while people were writing thought-provoking essays in response to the Ferguson verdict and weaving tales of gratitude for Thanksgiving, the only thing I found the time to write was about little ole me. Blech. And now I'm doing it again! But this weekend with my family made me realize I come by it honestly. Man, do we love to over analyze ourselves! I'm not saying it's a problem but when it coincides with a blog and a speedy Internet connection, it can create a bit of a self consciousness hangover.

Because once it's out there, it's out there. No take backs, you know? How thankful am I that none of this was around when I was an (even more) awkward kid?!

I promise I will quit talking about this now but I can't promise I won't be insecure or awkward in the future. It happens. I'm sincerely thankful for all of you who check in here now and then and let me share my story, no matter how thoughtless or self serving it might happen to be. It's a journey I am honored to share with all of you.

And now? Some photos from Thanksgiving at my sister's house! We had a few fallen soldiers (Erick quarantined himself in the cellar, Finn rallied after only barfing once...) but all in all it was an awesome time. My sister did a fantastic job hosting and cooking and we were so thankful to be able to celebrate together with good food, freezing cold walks, all the card games, Capture the Flag with her new neighbors, a mint julep and some Christmassy stuff downtown, a past bedtime walk to the ice cream shop and, of course, lots and lots of talking. So much to be thankful for...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Post vacation overshare.

I feel like I'm walking a tightrope at the moment. On the one hand I'm so grateful for all the wonderful things that happen in our life and all the fun things we get to do. On the other hand? I feel like a jerk for splashing it around the Internet and rubbing peoples faces in it.

"Oh, you're at work today? That's nice. I'm at Universal Studios. For free. In the middle of the week!"

I know I'd hate me.

Because I get jealous of people I know or kinda know or don't know on the Internet all the time. I think it's the way of social media. It connects us, yes, but it also pits us against each other. It used to be that we had to buy a People Magazine to see just how much better the beautiful people had it. Now we can do that with everyone we know.

I think the whole celebrity culture thing is really unhealthy (and now we're ALL celebrities...). It's not good for us to look outside ourselves to find out how we're doing. And yet, it has become almost second nature. There's no quicker way to stop enjoying what is than to take a look around to see what else there is.

But I think the opposite might also true. If we're enjoying what is but also kind of worrying about how our life might look to someone else, being careful not to be too much better or worse than the next guy, aren't we robbing ourselves of joy?

And if the Internet didn't come into play, would any of this even matter? I mean, think about it. Why do we share what we share online? I can only speak for myself here but I know I only share things I want to share. Which usually means good things, right? I'm not talking about this blog (I like to think there's more going on here than that...) but definitely Instagram and Facebook. If I'm not putting something up there to brag, why am I doing it? I have considered getting rid of all of it but haven't been able to bring myself to do it just yet. I've found a way to use Facebook in a way that works for me but I'm really struggling with Instagram. I used to use it just for editing and storing my favorite photos and that's what got me hooked. I still love it for that but the social media aspect is not working for me anymore. The boys and I love to scroll through and see all of our favorite pics but I feel really gross when I share too much or about too many good things (which, again, why would I put photos in an album if I didn't think they were great?). And when I get in the trap of looking at all the other beautiful people's lives and my head starts to swirl with everything that isn't in my life, I feel even worse about my sharing.

I'm telling you - it's not good.

But I don't know what to do. I hate the thought of deleting my account and not having access to my little online photo album but I don't feel good about things as they are. Anyone techy out there have a good solution?

In the meantime I will share here that our impromptu trip to Orlando (and New Orleans!) was a total blast. Bill has some awesome clients down there (Universal, Cirque du Soleil) who hooked us up with a very magical couple of days. Liam was pretty much in heaven at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Finn was, well, mostly freaked out.

Our very first stop in Diagon Alley was Olivander's Wand Shop. There were no lines so we were immediately whisked to the back of the shop where a very convincing witch used some magic to help a wand choose a wizard. Two seconds into her spiel Finn broke the hushed amazement of the crowd by saying loudly, "Why did we come here?" He then spent the rest of the day asking when we could go home.

He was a little trooper though and hung in there a good part of the day. He may have even enjoyed himself a little!

I think Harry Liam maybe had the time of his life.

They do such a good job. I mean, I actually got choked up when we came around the brick wall and found ourselves in Diagon Alley. I felt just like Harry Potter must have felt when he discovered the Wizarding World! Everything was magical and the Muggle World was just a distant memory.

With the wands we bought (we promised ourselves we wouldn't and yet it turned out to be everyone's favorite part...) the boys could actually perform magic inside the park. There were secret medallions on the ground here and there and when you stood on one and followed the spells on your map, magical things would happen.

And if you had trouble getting your spell to work right away, a witch or wizard would appear out of nowhere and ask if you needed a little help practicing your magic.

It was good to the last drop of Butterbeer!

Once we left the Wizarding World, Finn sort of came alive again (I think he was really scared, poor buddy). So we headed to the Dr. Seuss area and rode a couple of rides and hung out for a bit.

It was awesome to look around at this whole world that is so real to so many of us and think, "Man, one guy came up with all this. One guy!" If Theodore Geisel hadn't let his imagination run wild (and chased after it with a pen and paper and lots of hard work), we wouldn't have any Sneetches or Truffula Trees in our lives at all. A whole chapter of our childhoods just wouldn't exist! Same with J.K. Rowling and a million amazing details of the Wizarding World. It's awesome to see entire worlds that literally would not exist if not for one person's imagination. I hope my kids were as inspired as I was.

On our way out we decided to make a quick stop at E.T. which is awesome because it means I got the best souvenir ever ever ever.

I know that in and of itself is pretty great. But when you see that it's actually a recreation of a photo taken 25 years ago? Priceless.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Help me help you help me etc.

I was schlepping Finn through the Costco parking lot when an older woman stopped us and asked for help. She had locked her keys in her car and was wondering if I could fit my arm through the partially open window to unlock her door.

"Of course," I said, walking right up to her car. "No problem at all." But my arm was no smaller than hers so there was really nothing I could do. Well, darn. I thought. What am I supposed to do now? I couldn't exactly leave her standing there with her groceries in her cart and her little dog looking at her expectedly from the front seat. But there was no real point in hanging around either. I offered a handful of dumb suggestions ("Do you have a coat hanger?" "Something sticky?" "A spare key?") until she stopped me and looked at Finn.

"Will you unlock my door for me, honey? I'll give you a dollar."

It was one of those hand to forehead duh moments. Of course he could do it! Who else had small but long arms? Who was being held at the perfect height for optimum window access? If anyone could help save the day, it was Finn!

Only, he didn't want to.

"C'mon, buddy!" I pleaded. "You're the only one who can help! Just reach your arm in there and pull up on the lock. You can do this. It's just the right job for you!"

He shook his head and held his perfectly sized arms close to his body.

"Finny, please!" I said growing embarrassed. "This is the job you were made for. You have to at least try..." I lead his hand up to the opening and helped guide his whole arm into the car. It was literally the perfect fit. But as soon as his hand touched the lock and he could have grabbed it and pulled up, he took his arm out of the car.

"I don't want to," he said, shaking his head.

"Oh, buddy! You were so close. Please just try again. Please?" I lead his hand again and again he stopped right before he could have saved the day. I could tell he was done.

"I'm so sorry," I said to the woman. "But I can't force him to do it." Now I was really stuck. I could help - at least my son could - but it wasn't going to happen. I didn't want to just leave her but staying was growing more awkward by the moment. Luckily she spotted another kid (whose arms were just as big as mine...) and wandered off to ask him for help.

I apologized again and we went into the store. I felt terrible. How could my kid be so unhelpful? I honestly thought this was going to be his morality tale moment. You know, like when the lion thinks he's so great because he's big and strong but when he gets a thorn stuck in his paw and the mouse is the only one who can help, he realizes that sometimes being small is where it's at. I thought he was going to be the little guy who saved the day! Instead he was kind of a jerk.

I know my kids are their own people. That their successes and failures are theirs and not mine. I want them to be themselves and most of the time their choices don't have any affect on me whatsoever. But sometimes I have to draw the line. Being unkind is not okay. And it's not just because it has a negative reflection on me. I don't want to hang out with anyone who isn't kind. That includes my family.

We talked about it a lot. While we picked up the few things we needed, as we stood in line to pay, and all the way back out to the parking lot. I told him I hoped he would change his mind and help her if she was still in the parking lot.

"I'm really sorry, Mama," he said, and I could tell that he meant it.

"Thanks for saying so, bud. But it's not so much about being sorry as it is about doing the right thing next time. We all make mistakes. It's what we do about them that's important."

When we got out to the parking lot, the woman was gone.

"At least we know she got some help," Finn said hopefully.

"That's true," I said. And then because I couldn't help myself I added, "I really wish you would have helped her."

Later that day, we were in the car when I asked the boys if they would go to the YMCA with me so I could go to a dance class with a friend. Liam was on board but Finn immediately said no. I wasn't surprised - he's only gone once and, even though he was there with a friend, he still cried half the time. But as we drove, I started to feel like that poor old lady and her dog.

"So...let me get this straight," I said, turning down the music. "I want to go to a dance class tonight but I can't because you won't help me? Seriously? This feels a lot like what happened earlier..." We told Liam all about it and then I made my case again. "I really want to go to the Y tonight and I need your help. Will you please go with me?"

He was quiet for a bit and then I don't know what happened. Perhaps the planets aligned or we drove through a random patch of magic or he recognized he was getting a second chance to make the right choice. Hard to say. But all of a sudden from the backseat he piped up. "I changed my mind," he said. "Mama? I want you to dance."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Part of me.

Have you ever talked to your kid on the phone? What am I saying, of course you have. So you know what I'm talking about here. In person they are clear as a bell, perfectly easy to understand. But on the phone? They may as well be talking muppet.

I think this must be how people other than us hear our children all the time. It's why they listen to what our kid is telling them then turn to us with big eyes like, "I got nothing." We're like, "Really? How did you not get that? He was telling you in great detail about the part in Battle of the Heroes when Obi Wan gets choked by Anakin. It sounded perfectly clear to me."

But it's easy for us. We're fluent in whatever lispy mumbles our own kids happen to make. Everything they say makes perfect sense. Even when their mouths are full of food or they're telling us something while mid stream. It has to! Otherwise we'd spend all our time asking, "What?" while a frustrated kid spit nonsense at us.

And speaking of what. I'm not sure if Finn has too much wax in his ears or he doesn't pay attention or he has a weird tic or something but I swear to you, after almost everything I say he responds with, "What?" It got to the point where he was saying what almost as much as he was saying Mama. Which is a LOT. It was starting to drive me nuts so I told him he had to say, "Pardon me?" instead. It has definitely cut down on his auto-whatting. And now when he really needs me to repeat something he thinks for a second and asks sweetly, "Part of me?"

We went on a weekend trip with friends recently and it made me keenly aware just how accustomed to Finn's voice I've become. Everything he said - especially chocolate milk - made them giggle.

"Hey Finn, you want some more SHAKA MILLLL?"

It's true. He does say chocolate milk like a 70's DJ introducing a new disco song. Like Chaka Khan with a little more oomph.

And now that I'm paying attention, I see that he says lots of things like this. Frankly, he's adorable. His voice and intonation but also the things he says. For instance, the other night we went to ice cream and he said to the girl behind the counter, "May I please try the one that looks like poo?"

Then on the way home, I thanked him for being such a good date and he said, without missing a beat, "Does this mean we're gonna kiss?"

We laughed the whole way home.

Four is a really great age on this kid.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Missed opportunities.

Today is one of those days. I guess you could call it post-election let down. Like a hangover that you didn't drink enough to deserve and now you can't chase it away with a fountain Coke.

Total injustice.

Women have less rights, Republicans have more control, Millenials didn't get the memo that it was election day and people on my side of the aisle are having a really bad day.

The whole thing feels like a bad example of too little, too late. Now that we've lost our rights and control of our bodies we are up in arms, flooding the Internet with our vitriol and committed defiance. WE WILL OVERCOME. But where we were yesterday? And before that? Besides the "I voted" sticker selfies, I didn't see a whole lot of activism.

I am, of course, speaking for myself. I voted yesterday and received about a billion emails from various DNC committees which I complained about (and occasionally contributed $10 to) but that's about it. I did as little as I could to be involved while not stepping one inch out of my comfort zone.

And now? I want to complain and rant and rave about the lunacy and injustice but how can I when I did so little with the opportunity I'd been given?

the opportunity that women before me fought so hard for...

I am feeling particularly sensitive to this at the moment because last night a friend passed away and death has a way of making everything feel like so much more. And the two situations are feeling all wrapped up in each other.

We met Alan in 2004, right after we moved to Nashville. I remember being so surprised that he had recently had a heart transplant. He was so warm and full of life - not at all sickly or fragile like I would have imagined. He exuded positivity and had a way of making you feel like he saw you for you and he liked what he saw. The kind of guy who seemed to make everyone in a room feel a little bit brighter.

He threw a party for his one year anniversary with his new heart. Partly to celebrate his new lease on life; party to thank all the nurses that made his recovery possible.

Over the years we didn't lose touch so much as we just carried on. We would occasionally run into each other at a party or comment on one another's posts on Facebook but that pretty much became the extent of our relationship.

Which is how most casual friendships go. You meet, you hit it off, you maybe hang out a few times, you realize your lives are pretty different and full and making room for a real friendship is probably not going to happen, you stay friendly but disconnected and simply move on with your life.

So this morning when Bill texted me - so sad about Alan - it was easy to guess what had happened. Facebook kept us connected enough that I knew he was having complications. I knew his heart was not as strong as it had once been. I knew hew was struggling - with his health as well as just in general. And yet, I knew this text had nothing to do with any of that. I knew it meant he had passed away.

The outpouring of love and loss and sadness on Facebook confirmed my hunch. I wanted to join in - to say how great he had been and how much he'd be missed - but I felt like a total sham. Like too little, too late in the worst possible way. Reaching out now felt easy. But when he was alive and hurting and could have really used a friend? I guess that was too much to ask.

My sister called right when all of this hit me. I sat down to write with a vague notion that there were some things here worth digging into but, to be honest, I wasn't really feeling it. I wasn't feeling sad or disappointed or angry or anything except maybe a little guilty. But as soon as I started to write, all I could think was, "We're all such assholes."

"Hey Moose," I said, trying to pretend like I hadn't been crying.

"What's up?"

I told her about Amendment 1 passing and how it means that a woman's right to choose has been taken away and given to the state. How everyone is so upset NOW but didn't really seem to care much before it passed. How it feels like all elections are being bought and yet I don't even care enough to get upset about it. How the amendments are worded in a way that most people couldn't begin to understand them and we're just like, "Well, I guess that's how it is..."

How is our anger justified if we don't take action when we have the chance?

And then I told her why I was really sad.

We knew Alan was going to die. It sounds harsh but it's true (if not from this, from something, right?). And yet I just sat back, waiting, wondering, doing NOTHING. I hadn't reached out or brought him dinner or dropped him a comment to let him know we were thinking about him. I honestly hadn't done one single thing. I know we were not close. But I also knew he was hurting and did nothing.

How many of the people flooding his Facebook page this morning had done the same? I have no way of knowing, of course, but I'm willing to bet I was not the only one. We do this. Let opportunities pass us by then regret that we didn't do more. We pay our respects. We commiserate in the aftermath. We choose regret over action. Why?

My sister reminded me that none of us can do it all. "You can't go making casseroles for EVERYONE. You take really good care of the people you DO take care of. Maybe that's enough?" Then she said she hoped she didn't make me feel too much better because writing about this kind of stuff is something I can do. "We all have different strengths," she said. "Maybe yours is to make people think about things in a different light."


But I also don't want to let myself off the hook that easy.

In the movie Alive Inside, one of the things that blew my mind was that no matter how easy or effective or available or inexpensive bringing music to people in nursing homes with Alzheimer's and Dementia was, it wasn't until a video of a 90 year old man coming alive once he heard his music went viral that anyone cared. Nursing homes were saying no to the program left and right. Not for any other reason than it was just more work than they wanted to do. Sure it changes lives But once millions of people commented on how amazing this video was on YouTube, suddenly everyone wanted in. All the nays turned to yays. And it only took ALL OF US to make it happen.

I think it's the same with politics. With everything. Public opinion matters. Tides can be changed. But it takes a lot more than a vote or a $10 donation to make things happen (although, that's better than nothing). I have no idea where to start or what to do. I just know that I'd rather take action NOW than wish I had later.