Catching Up, Part 7

November 3, 2017

Another event while I was away was Burrito’s emergency hospitalization for several days. It was a bizarre thing, out of nowhere, and it’s totally fine now, but it was really scary at the time (even for me, and you know me, notoriously hard to fluster). As in, when I took him to the pediatrician she said go to the emergency room immediately, you can stop at the house to get a couple of things but only for 5 minutes. As in, life potentially in danger (it wasn’t actually, but they didn’t figure that out for a few hours).

One thing Burrito’s sudden illness brought up is the difficulty of living in a city with no family within a thousand miles. We very purposefully chose, long ago, not to live near anyone from our families. It was on purpose. Even so, when one child is in the midst of a literal emergency and would never let you out of his sight, and the other child is about to be let out from school but the other parent is away on business, it brings home the difficulty of being isolated.

Which, in part, was why we got the au pair.

Which, as I mentioned, really didn’t work out.

So once again we remain isolated. Certain relatives or friends can be called upon to swoop in for a true emergency, but I’ve also been working on building our local network, slowly, slowly. A babysitter picked up Tamale from school when I was stuck at the hospital and kept her until my husband could fly back. There are a couple of friends that I can ask in a pinch; they may or may not be able to say yes, but I’m able to ask. But honestly, for someone like me who is wired to be profoundly self-sufficient (sometimes a strength, sometimes to my detriment), it’s a real effort to even think of asking. Even when I know people want to help, I don’t like to ask. I don’t like to burn social capital (though if I can’t use some capital when a child is in genuine danger, I don’t know when I’m supposed to use all of the capital I build). I also don’t like to depend on anyone else.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get any help. But, if you don’t ask, you can’t get turned down.

I still haven’t figured that one out, but I’m getting there.

Thoughtful ThursdayBack to the series of questions that I like to ask Burrito and Tamale about their preschool classmates…

“Is she friendly or unfriendly?”

Burrito and Tamale readily answer this question, but I don’t think their answers are always accurate. If a kid is usually friendly but has ever wronged one of them, the child gets declared unfriendly. Other kids that I have observed to be unfriendly get labeled friendly. The default label seems to be friendly.

This is clearly not the case for adults. Most people are fine, but not as many seem to be genuinely friendly. I am decidedly not friendly. I am extremely helpful, but I do not come across to strangers as friendly. I’m not unfriendly either, just neutral, at least I think so.

I think part of the problem is my smile. I have a small smile, and my natural “how are you” smile is really barely a smile. Burrito also has a small smile, but his exciting personality means that he’s often beaming rather than smiling. DH and Tamale have giant smiles, and not coincidentally they are both perceived as very friendly. It’s not only the smile that makes them seem friendly, but it definitely helps.

DH has a friend whose smile lights up the room. He is calm and quiet (to use the descriptors from earlier in this series), but his huge, warm smile makes you feel like he is truly happy to see you.

As much as I enjoy dazzling smiles, I am also drawn to people who are amusingly unfriendly. Sarcastic curmudgeons. They can be a lot of fun. They can also be annoying and draining. But at least they’re genuine.

DH’s closest-in-age sister (Murphy‘s mom) is extremely friendly, but in a totally fake way. She used to work at the front desk of a spa, and she’d totally pour it on with customers. “Oh you are going to have such a wonderful time today! Mitzi is the best, you will be sooo relaxed.” Ugh. My mother was always dubious of her: “Why is she so friendly? I don’t like it.” I think I care less about friendliness than genuineness.

Burrito and Tamale aren’t old enough to detect genuineness. I guess when they get older, though, I’ll have to change the question from “Is she friendly or unfriendly?” to “Is she genuine or fake?”

What kind of friendliness do you like? How friendly do you seem to others?

Thoughtful Thursday

Welcome to the May/June Intelligentsia.

#43: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#37: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#35: Strongblonde from Strong Blonde
#25: St. Elsewhere
#23: Lori from Write Mind Open Heart
#18: Sara from Aryanhwy

Thoughtful ThursdayIn light of Father’s Day this weekend (at least in the U.S., I know that Father’s Day falls on a different part of the calendar for a few of you) and our efforts last time to describe our mothers in a couple of sentences…

My father is a thinker, a creator, a talker, a peacemaker, a charmer. He has big, wonderful ideas but his greatest fault is inconsistent follow-through. When I was a kid, instead of meeting me on my level, he always expected me to come up to his… which meant that I was the only 3 year old in town playing backgammon, but also the only 3 year old in the theatre watching Apocalypse Now. He is incapable of being ordinary.

How would you sum up your father?

Thoughtful ThursdaySince this is the first and only TT of May (yeah, uh, sorry), we’ll combine May and June Intelligentsias.

A few weeks ago I had the tremendous pleasure of seeing Lori, radiant and eloquent, deliver a speech at the Listen to Your Mother show. As good at she is at writing, she is even better on stage. Some of the speakers, like Lori, talked about their experiences as mothers. Other speakers talked about experiences as children. Several of those started their speeches with a one- or two-sentence synopsis of their mother. Which, as I sat in the audience, got my own gears turning about how I’d describe my mother.

Once I met someone who described her mother in a single word: “My mother is… magical.” I’ve known several people who needed only a single sound: “My mother… (sigh).” I asked my husband to sum up his mother, and he flat out refused, which tells you all that you need to know.

My mother was tremendously generous, the most extroverted person I’ve ever known, bizarrely secretive, worldly yet preferred to stick to a few places she knew well, an easy person to like but sometimes a hard person to love. She was a product of three cultures but never fully belonged to any of them. No matter what you might need, she probably had it in her purse.

How would you sum up your mother?

Thoughtful Thursday

Welcome to the July Intelligentsia.

#33: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#28: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#25: Strongblonde from Strong Blonde
#18: Ernessa from Fierce and Nerdy
#17: Tara from Turkey In My Oven
#15: St. Elsewhere
#13: Lori from Write Mind Open Heart
#12: Ana from Ana Begins
#12: Mel from Stirrup Queens
#10: Cat
#8: Sara from Aryanhwy

Thoughtful ThursdayThe coworker who sits next to me left her cell phone on her desk the other day. It rang. When I glanced at it to see if it was something urgent for which I should run and fetch her, I was surprised to see the full name of her husband: both first and last.

A couple of days later, my boss accidentally left her phone on my desk. I was even more surprised than the time before to see her husband’s name when he called: his last name only, no capital letters. She and I are very different. I would never list someone in my phone with only a last name, let alone my husband. I would certainly never put anyone’s name in my address book with no capital letters, let alone my husband. C’mon, the iPhone capitalizes the first letter by default — she had to do make it all lower case on purpose. Bizarre.

My husband is only listed by his first name in my phone (with the first letter capitalized!). If I thought I’d be the only person ever to look at my phone, I’d use a nickname instead. But Boopsie or Rumpshaker or whatever would be pretty embarrassing if anyone ever glanced at my phone when I left it near their desk. Actually maybe Rumpshaker would be awesome instead of embarrassing. Hmm, maybe I need to change it…

Parents are another funny case for address books. My dad is listed by his first name in my phone; my mother used to appear as Mom. My husband does the opposite with his parents: his father is Dad, and his mother is listed by her name. Websites like provide a window into the variety of cell names that people use for their parents beyond Mom and Dad — Mommy, Daddy-O, Mamma, Old Man, Mother Dearest, Papa Smurf…

What names do you use in your address book for your nearest and dearest?

Thoughtful ThursdayThis year as I’ve sent out our holiday cards, I’ve taken a different tactic than usual for updating the list.

In the past, with these types of lists, address books, or birthday calendars, I would delete people who had become obsolete — either because they’d moved out of our lives, or because they died.

This year, I instead hid those lines on the spreadsheet. I did this for a couple of reasons: first, there are a couple of people whom DH has had me remove from the list at some point only to request that they be added in a subsequent year; hiding allows me to restore their address rather than having to contact them. Second, it’s hard to know what to do with people who have died. I remember reading a blog post from Mel several years saying that when people die, she leaves them in her address book untouched. At that point in life, her approach was very different from mine: I made a dramatic point of deleting them, a symbolic goodbye. But, I don’t think deleting works for me anymore, nor do I want to look at a potentially painful entry without warning. Hence, hiding the row.

Past deletion has come back to bite me: for example, a relative died last year, and I deleted his birthday from my list. Now, I couldn’t tell you his exact birthday. I know the month, but not the date. And so, when his daughter was suddenly sad on that day, I had no idea why, and I didn’t treat her as gently as I would have until someone else filled me in. Even if the deceased person can’t celebrate anymore, others might want to honor them — or mourn them — on that day, and it’s handy to have some kind of reminder.

There are some entries that I won’t forget, whether or not they appear on a list. I will never forget my mother’s birthday, for example, nor her address, nor the fact that she used to be at the top of my list and she isn’t there any more.

What do you do with obsolete entries in your address book, birthday calendar, etc.?

Thoughtful Thursday

Somewhat related to my last couple of Thoughtful Thursdays about where you live now and where you’d want to try living for a little while

I keep thinking about this article I read about the medium chill, also known as satisficing: “abandoning the quest for the ideal in favor of the good-enough.” It’s about making a choice to live with less “money/stuff/status” in exchange for more time, freedom, and happiness.

That tradeoff became especially apparent for me as we recently spent time with two of DH’s lifelong chums: a guy with a fine-paying, skilled job who chooses to work at that job part time so that he can spend more time with his kids as well as on his hobbies; and Mr. Moneybags, whose moniker says it all. One is the embodiment of satisficing; the other relentlessly accumulates wealth and prestige.

I was raised in a rich/poor family: one parent came from a poor family, and one came from a very rich family. My own upbringing was sometimes rich and sometimes poor. There was no satisficing when I was growing up: you never knew when lean times were coming, so you made the most of the fat times. My father recently spoke about the choices he made, to pursue big things even though it sometimes meant failure because working at a normal steady job would “kill his soul.”

My husband also came from a rich/poor family, but to a more moderate degree than my family. Also more moderate: the big things and the failure.

We both ended up with the good/terrible sense to choose a career that was fulfilling intellectually rather than financially.

Neither of us currently lives a satisficing life at all, working much harder than we should, but we are both pursuing accomplishment more than money. To the extent that we (esp. DH) have pursued money, to a large extent it was to pay for all of those fertility treatments and, now, sustain the results of the fertility treatments.

We both think every day about going somewhere exciting and satisficing for a few months — but only a few months. We both like having some extra money in the bank in case of emergency, or in case we suddenly need to go get some gelato — in Italy. I guess we’d both rather work very hard then relax very hard in a marvelous place than live a balanced but frugal life in a regular place.

How much do you pursue money/stuff/status? Have you made conscious decisions to follow a certain path, or just ended up there?

(Sorry to my RSS subscribers about the truncated feed — battling a fucknut blog scraper.)

Day 20 of blog summer camp at Creating Motherhood.

Today’s prompt: What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you? Did you repay the kindness? Did you blog about it?

Due to a confluence of ongoing limbo, the most hated person in my life pulling her same shit, and having to spend most of my time doing things that are neither enjoyable nor beneficial, I’m in a bad mood today. Then I saw the Summer Camp topic and thought, “Oh good, this will lift my spirits.”

And then I couldn’t think of anything.

I racked my brain and couldn’t think of any big kindness anyone has ever done for me.

Little ones, sure, but nothing extraordinary.

Which is pretty sad considering that I try very hard to be kind to others.

On an earlier day of camp I talked about birthday cakes. I have baked literally dozens — I’m sure well over 100 — birthday cakes for others, and in my whole life no one has ever baked me a birthday cake. Unless you count the ones I’ve baked for myself, which really shouldn’t count. Boo hoo, poor me. There’s no shortage of cake in my life, but still.

I don’t bake cakes so that others will bake them for me. I don’t perform kindnesses so that others will be kind. I do it because I do it. But when all I can recall are mediocre store-bought sheet cakes and some extraordinary unkindnesses, it makes me sad.

Finally I thought of a set of true kindnesses I’ve received: the relatives and friends who came to stay with us when Burrito and Tamale were tiny.

And several people who drove an hour or two to visit when I was in the hospital trying to prevent Burrito and Tamale from being born too early — including my massage therapist, who not only drove far but didn’t even charge me for my hospital bed massage.

Or the neighbor who left me flowers on the day that my mother died, the note unsigned and saying nothing except a little heart. Which normally would be a small kindness, but on that day was huge.

Or today when I glumly asked, “Who wants to give Mommy a hug?” and Burrito ran over as he usually does and threw his arms around my neck. Then immediately after Burrito finished his hug, Tamale, who loves to give kisses and does hug back but never initiates hugs, for the first time ever, came over and hugged me.

I would gladly exchange a lifetime of sheet cake for those hugs.

Summer Camp Day 5

July 5, 2011

Day 5 of blog summer camp at Creating Motherhood!

Today’s prompt: What do you prefer to do on your birthday?

When this gray world crumbles like a cake
I’ll be hanging from the hope
That I’ll never see that recipe again
It’s not my birthday
It’s not today
It’s not my birthday, so why do you lunge out at me?
–It’s Not My Birthday, They Might Be Giants

Birthdays were all about duality when I was a kid. As an only child, I was very much the center of attention any day of the year, but on birthdays it was over the top. At the same time, my mother so often seemed to pick my birthday to be miserable to me. I don’t know what baggage my birthday stirred up in her, but especially as I made my way through the teen years, I could count on my mother supplying an unnerving combination of hundreds of dollars of presents and endless hostile harangue.

My first year at college, there was a startling change. There was no drama from my mother. There was also no fanfare. Actually, there wasn’t really any acknowledgement. My RAs had decided to combine my birthday with two other birthdays in that month, at the time of the other hallmates’ birthdays, 3 weeks after mine. My parents didn’t send me any presents, maybe assuming that we’d go shopping the next time I saw them, or that I’d treat myself on their dime. I received zero presents. There was no drama from my mother, but there was plenty of drama from me. Oh, the fit I threw to them on the phone.

Then there was the year I had to work at the Worst Job Ever on my birthday. Special highlight: I finished my shift covered in bruises.

My snubbing continued further when I got my first job after college. I became the in-house baker, and for everyone’s birthday I baked a fabulous cake, exactly the kind they liked best (angel food cake for the dairy-free girl, Black Forest cake for the German, a rum cake for the boozer, etc.). Each person got their own cake, even when it fell the week after someone else’s. I lugged every one of those cakes on the subway! When my birthday came, just like in college it got combined — with three other birthdays. Three others! Spanning two months! Since I couldn’t bake my own cake, the secretary purchased… a sheet cake from the grocery store… a yellow sheet cake with disgusting white icing and inedible flowers. Not only was it horrible cake, but it wasn’t even a flavor of horrible cake I like! Outrageous! “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”

Since then, my birthdays have thankfully been free of drama and filled with proper cake. There’s a shirt I like to wear on my birthday; nothing special about it, except that I’ve worn it on almost every birthday for almost 20 years. I often seek out marvelous desserts, sometimes beloved favorites and sometimes exotic new treats. I don’t care about presents or balloons or fanfare. Just don’t make me cry or beat me up, and give me some good damn cake.

I don’t know if it’s anyone’s birthday, but I bet the other campers will share some cake with you!

Mothers’ Day

May 8, 2011

From my birth until 2001, I only thought of Mothers’ Day from the perspective of a daughter.

From 2002-2008, Mothers’ Day primarily called attention to my status as a non-mother.

In 2009, I was a hopeful almost-mother, toward the end of my first trimester with Burrito and Tamale.

Last year, I celebrated the day with my babies, and I sent the appropriate greetings to my mother, grandmother, MILs, grand-MILs, et al.

This year, I celebrated the day with my toddlers, and only almost burst out crying once when I thought of my own mother being gone.

At the time, I had no idea that 2010 would be the only Mothers’ Day of my life that I’d both be a mother and have a mother.

At least it happened once.