Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Powerless on Plum

6:42 last night marked our one week anniversary of no power…in many, many ways, but most specifically the kind that comes through a mysterious labyrinthine set of wires fondly remembered as electricity that we never think about…for one minute, until we get the enormous bill each month. And yet we count ourselves as among the fortunate. Catastrophic, unprecedented total devastation…these are some of the terms used to describe what a lot of us on the East Coast are experiencing right now.  Hurricane Sandy chewed up and spit out most of the seaside from Maine to New York and a lot of real estate in between. And even if we can all agree that the destruction is no laughing matter, humor, and looking on the bright side is what will get us through the days ahead. Except of course for the corny jokes that started several days before the storm made landfall. Interestingly enough, my husband bore the brunt of them through silly emails. 
Your wife, heh, heh, when she lets it rip, look out...I always thought Sandy was so sweet, let’s see what she has in store…
“Did you remind them I spell my name with an i….” I snapped. If the jokes were funny I would have laughed along, I think.  Apparently people become hard of hearing when they are looking to lay blame at your doorstep, to which I say I’m grateful I have a doorstep. It’s a cold, dark, doorstep, but my home is still standing.
“I think we should book two rooms at a hotel, you know, just in case,” I told my husband last Sunday morning.
“You don’t think we should?”  
“If you want to…”
I frowned, “You weren’t here during the Halloween storm; you were in China. We were without power for four days. It was nuts.” When the lights went out Monday night I looked at him accusingly.
“Fine, I’ll make some calls.” Turns out most of the hotels in our area and beyond had no power and those that did were already booked. I was careful to keep the judgment from my voice. We pulled out candles, turned on flashlights, donned our winter coats and huddled. My son quickly bought a month of 3G service for his iPad and we sat glued around the dark kitchen table hanging on Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie’s words as the live feed kept us informed. The next morning I pulled out a trimline phone I had bought years ago at Radio Shack during a power outage and plugged it into the wall. We didn’t have phone service until Wednesday and when it rang shrilly we all jumped.
“What was that?” my eighteen year old asked.
“A telephone,” I said, pointing at the wall.
Wrinkling his nose as he looked at the alien object attached to the wall, “Really?” he said as he ran to pick up the novelty item. He must have been fascinated because the phone could sit three inches from his hand as he watches the Giants game and he still wouldn’t answer it. This phone (without a caller ID display) was the black version of the white one I got as a teenager for my own room…several years ago.
Wednesday morning I opened the fridge, pulled over the garbage and started dumping things in.
“What are you doing?” my husband asked.
“The…Power…Is…Not…Going…Back…On,” I said, gesturing at Bloomberg’s overly enthusiastic deaf translator who stayed stalwartly by his side even through his mangled Spanish, offering us the few moments of comic relief we desperately needed in what was clearly an escalating situation. I looked at my usually take charge husband, whose biggest fault right then was his optimism and saw it register.
“I’m going to get a generator.”
“Finally,” I muttered, not believing that any generators still existed within a six hour driving range, but held my tongue.
He called me two hours later. “I called that guy I know upstate who knows a guy that owes him a favor. It will be here this afternoon.”
I let out a shriek. The power was back on Plum.
Then we became slaves to the beast. It ate more than my sons, made more noise than them, and spewed more noxious fumes. But we were grateful. My take charge husband had a goal—making sure it never ran out of gas—quite a challenge since we had four cars to keep filling up as well and lines rivaling the gas shortage of the Carter administration. First World problems, my sons told me, still recovering from their forty-hour loss of internet.
By Friday the whole neighborhood was up and running except for Plum Road. We had gone to Queens to our daughter for the weekend and met many other displaced people. My brother called from the block on Sunday.
“There’s a truck here, I think the guys are from Ohio, or maybe the moon.”
“What do they say?” I asked eagerly.
“We have no electricity.”
Geniuses. Maybe they’ll be able to predict who will be the next president.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

If we only knew...

I got my aerobic exercise for the morning trying to change the sheet in my granddaughter’s crib. Due to new safety regulations, the cribs no longer have a drop down latch that allow you to change a sheet without breaking a rib or two. In addition, mattresses are made to be very close to the railing allowing so no precious head can get caught there, but also allowing for only a contortionist who is part of the Cirque de Soleil troupe easy access to it. Since babies have a tendency to spit up and poop at least three times a day in their cribs, that makes for a lot of inept maneuvering by parents and grandparents. Yet, this is something we gladly do, anything to protect our children. We urge them to wear elbow/knee pads and helmets when careening down hills on their skateboards and bikes (although we survived without the cumbersome safety devices), and we are grateful for them. Many safety measures in place now, whether crib, toy or clothing related are a result of tragic, preventable deaths.

But what to do after the children have survived their childhood and have become teens? They are under siege by digital sexual predators looking to strip them of their vulnerability and much worse, as well as other scary temptations. One in five teens will be solicited unknowingly by a predator through the internet or an innocent-looking text message.  Gone are the halcyon days when we told our kids don’t accept candy from a stranger, or if a stranger rolls down the window of his car, run like hell in the other direction. Now, the danger waltzes right into our homes. Progress is a double-edged sword and being a parent today is more challenging than it ever was.  An aware and present parent goes a long way to keeping one’s child safe—unless all that awareness and hanging around makes you want to strangle your teen, but that’s for another blog.

It’s a balancing act, this thing we call parenting. We want our children to grow into independent, thinking adults and we wrestle daily with how much freedom is too much.  We throw up our hands in frustration, and then we throw them around our kids and tell them how terrific they are and how much we love them, even if we have to grit our teeth doing it. Has anyone noticed how INCREDIBLY SMART the eighteen-year olds are today? In addition to solving the crisis in the Middle East, they have solutions for the economy and world hunger.  But don’t forget , as much as your teenager has evolved from that  tiny, mewling, slippery eight pound baby the doctor handed you  many years ago, he stills needs to be parented. He still needs direction and focus and that gentle admonition from time to time. And maybe, with any luck, by the time he turns twenty-five, he may just realize how smart YOU have actually become.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Where Are The Lions?

My first grandson was born last week, and we are all delighted except for one small issue. After two granddaughters, I have to say that baby boy clothing is in need of a real fashion makeover. I'm suffering from powder-blue blindness and overexposure to zoo animals. Yes, there are a few yellow or green layette items, but those clearly mean that you just didn't know the sex of the child and purchased the items ahead of time. Since most parents know the sex of their child nowadays, even if they choose NOT to share this information with the anxious grandparents, the unisex colors are unnecessary. There are a few tan/khaki items sprinkled around, but they make the baby look like an early recruit for the army or a future sanitation worker.

My daughter got some gifts in bigger sizes for her baby and those did come in navy blue, accompanied by sail boats--do we want him to join the navy when he gets older or the Southampton Beach Club? There was a smattering of tools on a couple of outfits, hammers, shovels, ditch diggers--hm, subliminal message to become a teamster? I'd rather bet on his becoming a doctor like his Dad, but time will tell.  Giraffes and elephants are de rigueur for the baby under three months. These are deemed friendly and harmless, I've actually never seen such a conglomeration of elephants and giraffes printed on soft blue cotton in my life. Peeking at the clothing in the next size, I spotted a couple of monkeys. Apparently six  months is old enough to allow for mischief and curiosity.

When my now twenty four year old son was a baby, there were all sorts of animals on his baby clothes--zebras, bears and lions. I especially remember the lions because his name in Hebrew means lion and it connotes strength and leadership, an appropriate message I feel for a male (or female) child. But it appears as if the lions have gone the way of winning sports trophies based on skill and achievement and fairy tales in their original form. There is no end to sanitizing experiences for our young children that previously were considered acceptable and necessary for problem-solving and emotional growth--the chief one being allowing them to fail. Failure is vital for success.

If we change the raw and admittedly offensive language of the classic, Tom Sawyer, our children will never truly know the struggles other children faced growing up. If we give the losing team a trophy just for trying then where is the incentive to try harder the next time? Our children are a lot sturdier and more malleable than we realize and by spoon feeding every activity and weeding out every potential pitfall that may come their way we are depriving them of the right to figure things out for themselves. Of course we as parents want to protect our children, but stripping their stretchies of lions isn't the way. In the feel good era we are living in too many messages have been reduced to their least threatening image so as not to offend anyone. Well, guess what? I'm offended. Who decided that my grandson can't wear a lion or a bear on his outfit lest he exhibit aggressive behavior a few years from now? Have we "wussied" our children to the point that we have to worry what zoo animals are allowed on their clothing?

I think it's time for parents to take a giant step back and allow their children to fall and fail. As long as you're there to kiss a scraped knee or lend a supportive shoulder, you're doing your job. Let's give our children a little more credit and allow them to step in the mud, splash in the rain, and make a couple of mistakes. And for goodness sakes, bring back the lions!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pretty Woman

I've written on previous blogs about attending singles events, not for myself, since I'm married, but as a coordinator/matchmaker/facilitator/therapist, and I've just come back from another one. The group this time was primarily in their thirties and forties and for a number of them, it was a second time around. Married ladies, if you have a good guy, try  to hold onto him, and vice versa, because the pickins' are slight. Every man, regardless of his appearance, told me  I want a pretty woman--and their list of other qualities was nonexistent. They admitted in varying degrees to being shallow--some sheepishly, others defiantly. I wondered what they would be offering in the deal. Because lest anyone forget it, marriage is a deal, with each side bringing something valuable to the table.

I'm a huge fan of the ABC show, The Bachelorette. I love it because it gives the woman the power to decide while the men fall over each other to win her over. Their tactics become increasingly juvenile and bizarre as they compete gladiator-style with each other, only occasionally remembering the woman they are competing for. And it is the exact reason why I find The Bachelor unwatchable.

This is the first time a Bachelorette is a mom. Emily Maynard, a real beauty hailing from North Carolina, has an adorable blond haired daughter, Ricki, named after the child's father, Ricky Hendrick, a well-known Nascar driver and Emily's fiancee who died in a plane crash before he knew he was to become a father! I'll give you a moment to dry your eyes. The current bachelorette is more than a pretty woman, she is a fierce mama bear, and heaven help any bachelor who doesn't fully comprehend that Emily and Ricki are a package deal. I point this out for a reason. This steely-eyed magnolia doesn't wither under intense heat. She was on a date with one very good-looking suitor and over dinner she asked him where he saw her daughter and herself fitting into his life. He stammered his answer, "Uh, duh, I mean, I'll go wherever you go." She fixed him with a laser-look as she got up from her chair and escorted him out the door and off the show. As she stood on the veranda and looked out, dramatic fireworks appeared in the midnight sky. Apparently the show's producer had overconfidently decided the bachelor had been a keeper. Emily hadn't. The bachelor's simple miscalculation? Pretty doesn't equal stupid.

So you guys looking for that pretty woman, here's a piece of advice. You may be able to get her on a date, but if you don't have something more than, "Uh, duh," to contribute, you may just be sent packing before you have the chance to enjoy the fireworks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's Just A Little Trip

We had a couple of extremely hectic weeks recently due to the Passover holiday. There was lots and lots of family time, a new infant granddaughter, a jealous two-year old granddaughter who suddenly had to share the spotlight, a pregnant daughter, two sons-in-laws, two sons and lots of Matzoh--way, way too much. I shopped, I cooked, I nurtured, I changed more diapers that I can possibly count--for eight days. When it was all over, my husband turned to me and said he needed a couple of days off, you know, "to clear my head...just me and the road, take a drive to some mountains, somewhere."

Seriously? I had been the one on constant kp duty (he was very helpful, but still) and he needed the break? He must have seen the look in my eyes. "You, uh, you did book your after-the-holiday spa appointment, right?" he asked. "I mean, you could come with me," was  the feebly extended invitation.

I nodded. I understood his need, I actually felt the same way, but having given birth to four children, a long road trip was akin to touring every bathroom between here and the Kentucky mountains. It's really fine, and I'm glad he feels that after thirty-one years of marriage he can go off by himself for two days with my blessing. He often travels for business, so I have to admit I have grown accustomed to the totally snore-free (sorry to overshare) environment that his travels often afford me.

Two weeks ago, during the Passover chaos, we dashed out one afternoon to see a Broadway show called The Lyons. I share the name of the play in warning--it's really not worth the effort, and besides, I'm about to tell you how it ends. The premise is a tired one, a dysfunctional family gathers around the dying father, the deathbed scene is laced with revelations, backstabbing and candor all delivered with gleeful aplomb by the long suffering wife in the form of Linda Lavin who, should you not heed my warning, is well worth the ticket price. Her voice and delivery crackle in the Broadway version of a master class in acting. But here's the point I've been distracting myself from getting to, after an unhappy marriage and two worthless adult kids with whom she has hardly any relationship, Rita Lyons (Linda) decides to run off to Bermuda indefinitely, a couple days after burying her husband,with her grandchild's tutor, that she just met a couple of days prior.

Huh? You might say, as did I. Seriously, Rita (Linda), if you were that unhappy, why didn't you leave--at any point? Her children, although they barely have a thread of warmth or real love toward their mother are aghast, astonished,appalled, any "A" word you can think of. It made me wonder about the playwright, so I looked up Nicky Silver. At first I thought him a her, because I wondered that a man could accurately feel that kind of trapped, helpless feeling that could only warrant the extreme behavior of leaving one's home of forty years with a complete stranger. I hate how sexist that sounds, but lately I've been hearing of men who have had enough and are simply heading out the door. I digress.

But really, secretly, everyone (most likely) has had a moment or two (or five) when they wonder about that feeling. That incredible freedom of JUST LEAVING, consequences be damned. The reason it's a fleeting moment (for the sane amongst us) is that we are aware of the terrible ramifications of acting irresponsibly and we really love our spouses and children, although sometimes...  I'm not talking about a situation where something is truly not working or is harmful. I'm talking about a moment, a consequence-free moment when you keep driving past your exit on the highway, when you aren't immediately accessible on the cell, when you are only taking yourself into consideration. It's connecting to your selfish
inner-child, to a simpler time and it is allowed--as long as you come back before anyone realizes you were missing.

My husband asked permission to take a two day break. It never occurred to me for a minute to say anything but "have a wonderful time--bring me a mug." And I know he would say the  same to me--he did in fact, when he sent me (pregnant with number four) to Paris with a friend. "Go now, or you will NEVER see it. I'll stay with the kids," was the generous offer. 

I'm still thinking about the bizarre end of the play I'm urging you not to see. It makes absolutely no sense, unless it makes absolute sense. It all depends on where you're standing; how desperate you're feeling. We've all stood there, for a moment, but then we realized how blessed we truly were and smiled through the chaos and the stress and focused on the good that comes after sticking around to long enough to see the rewards.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Service but No Smile

Recently there was an article in the Lifestyle section of the WSJ delineating the traits of  successful salespeople at an upscale department store. These star sales assistants kept impeccable records of their clients needs and preferences and these clients, when interviewed, admitted that over time their shopping experience had morphed into counseling sessions and time spent with a good friend who understood them. Another article, sharing front page space, recounted the perfect work attendance of a doorman at the Hyatt Regency in Tampa who has never called in sick in twenty-six years. In a similar vein, the doorman  had developed a relationship with repeat hotel guests, remembering their faces and significant events in their lives. In short, these workers turned an uninspiring, possibly under-appreciated job into something meaningful and long lasting.

Being attentive to a customer's needs would seem obvious in a service industry, but unfortunately, that kind of personal attention is becoming more and more rare. Last week I set out to spruce up my spring wardrobe and stepped into a well-known chain store at an upscale mall near my home. I walked the store, arms laden, looking desperately for a sales attendant to unlock a fitting room for me. What do they keep locked up in there, anyway? Finally, a sales associate observed my distress, offered to start a room for me, but didn't offer to help unload my overburdened arms or arrange the clothing on the racks inside. When I did finally end up at the checkout, I wasn't even greeted. You can bet when the computer spit out a little survey for me to fill out online about my shopping experience, rather than chucking it like I normally do, I clung to it like a life preserver and  filled it out with a vengeance. 

I attend writing classes each week in the city and there is a doorman who sits at the entrance running roughshod over every person who dares to enter the building. At any time of day there will be a queue of people scrambling through bags and back pockets searching for forms of ID. I smile at him every week and there is absolutely no flicker of acknowledgemnt that he has ever seen me before. One time I decided to hold a bit of an experiment. I fished out my ID, forced eye contact, then doubled-back to get a coffee and came back just to test him to see if he would actually try to remember me. He waved me in--Triumph! The next week I started sailing past him with a silent head nod and I was once again treated to an oblique stare as if he were laying eyes on me for the first time. It was unbelievable.

As New Yorkers, we sit on the train, fastiduously avoiding eye contact while we listen to our iPods, check our Facebook friends' statuses, and answer text messages. Mom and Pop stores have gone the way of the Zepellin (the what?--check wikipedia). We have insulated ourselves in our technology to such a degree that even shopping at a mega store, like Barnes and Noble and brushing past a fellow shopper is too much contact, it's much easier to click on Amazon and have it tell us, if you like this... then you might like that...rather than engage a clerk at a brick and mortar establishment.

We have allowed technology to de-personalize a lot of our simple experiences. We hide behind our emails where subtle innuendo can land as heavily as an elephant's foot, and use them to send messages better delivered on the phone, or heaven forbid in person.

We are missing what that doorman in Tampa and the salesperson at Nordstrom's have--simple pride in a job well done, in whatever it is we are doing and most importantly, in ourselves. I believe lack of quality face time with one another has contributed to this laziness. We don't have to see real disappointment flicker across a co-worker's face when we tell them their idea wasn't good enough for the project, we can always attach an emoticon to our message so the recipient will know how we feel.   

Don't get me wrong--mind-boggling strides have occurred through technology, and most of us can't live without it, myself included. Let's just not mistake it for the last word in progress. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Look in the Mirror--Please!

I was speaking to a friend a couple weeks ago and she told me, "I never make the same thing for dinner, that's how I express my creativity."
Really? I thought to myself, you're stuck in the seventies and are one of the least creative people I know.

Why is there such a disconnect between the way we view ourselves and the way others see us? Remember what you thought the first time you heard your voice played back to you? That couldn't possibly be what I sound like! Uh, yeah, that's kinda how you sound...and how you look in pictures? Well, pictures don't lie, maybe it's time to lay off the chips and maybe get a new hairstyle.

I remember the first time a friend described me to me. "Well, you know, you're kinda aloof."
"Me? I'm so friendly!"
"Hm, nah, but you're very nice once you get to know you."
Ouch. But I did see her point and have made great strides (I think) in keeping a smile pasted on my face. Oh, and we're still friends.

A week ago a matchmaker friend of mine held a mixer for singles in their early thirties in her home. She's quite successful, and a few of us joined her to act as facilitators. We mingled, pulled wallflowers into conversations and made introductions when people were looking awkward. Some of the men had game...others, not so much. It was a mob of of 150 singles, but all of us (married) assistant matchmakers noticed one guy. He was wearing a velvet blazer, and pants that fit very snugly. Instead of his full name on his nametag, he had the letter "Z." 

"Did you see...?" my friend asked. "Zorro?" I answered. Yup, you got the idea... and every woman there was interested in him.  
One woman was wearing a very short skirt and had long flowing blond tresses (Paris Hilton wants her hair extensions back)... and every guy wanted her.
"Did you see...?" my friend asked. "Lady Godiva?" I answered. This pair might as well had I'm not husband/wife material tattooed on their foreheads. I think they left together.

As the evening wound down, we did one final circuit of the room. My friend walked up to a nebbishy accountant, but super nice guy--perfect husband material. "Is there anyone here you haven't met? Can you pick out someone that I can introduce you to?" He pointed at Lady Godiva. "Listen, why don't you pick someone else?" He seemed bewildered, but after much prodding he selected a sweet dental hygienist with a toothy smile. "Great, stay right here, I'll bring her right over."

 I walked up to a nicely-dressed man who had seemed shy during the party...I wanted to be certain he had enjoyed himself. He assured me he had. "So, how about Sarah? She's a molecular biologist and visits sick people in the hospital on the weekends," I offered.
"Hm," he said, whipping out his BlackBerry. "Someone mentioned her to me...yes, here she is, Book 12."

"Excuse me, do you...is that...did you download your little black book?" I stammered.
"Sure, what's wrong? She's not for me. But it was a nice thought."

At least I knew where I stood with "Z." 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

People I Hope We Said Good-bye to in 2011

No, this is not an "In Memoriam" posting, but rather the hope that certain people who make our days that much more challenging have taken a spaceship to mars--where all the annoying people should live in peaceful harmony.

The Energy Sappers:
This group possesses the unique ability to make every situation about them. You might be at a cocktail party, sharing an anecdote about your oppressive boss when this person hijacks the conversation and treats everyone within shouting distance to his unreasonable boss story. Any sentence you begin to say to this person (you're never actually allowed to finish your thought) has a direct correlation to an event in his life. He's an energy sapper because he shows you that you are not unique. Everything that has ever happened to you has already happened to him--only better. 

One level above this buffoon is the friend who has no idea that you too, have a family, a home, a life. She will never ask how you're doing--you simply serve as a warm-blooded listening device. If people like that would be satisfied with talking to a mirror (they're talking to themselves anyway), mars would already be full. 

The Energy Suckers:
This is a subcategory, but worthy of its own paragraph, and here's why. These people are recognizable from the moment they enter a room.  ALL of the attention,even if you have a legitimate reason for being the center of attention, i.e. you're the bride, immediately is drawn to them. Their dramatics and perfectly-honed self-centeredness make any pseudo-crisis of yours, i.e. your house was flooded by the latest hurricane and your insurance lapsed, play second fiddle to their missing out on the last good parking spot. 
An honorable mention goes to the shopper who commands all the attention from the salesperson that's supposed to be helping you because you've actually make the trip to the store, while the energy-sucker is literally calling it in.

The Person Who Can't Take No for an Answer:
When someone says to you they're not taking "No" for an answer you will either be flattered or annoyed depending on your own comfort level with the concept of insisting. 
Most of us weigh each social function that we're invited to carefully. Do we need to go? Do we want to go? Who are we insulting if don't go, is a busy week coming up, etc. There are factors that go into making the decision, an adult, considered decision. The person "'who isn't taking No for an answer" has exactly one consideration. They want you at their event and they will pressure you until they get their way.

You don't have a date? My cousin is in town for the wedding--she's single. You don't have a suit? Surely you can borrow one. Your car is in the shop? I'll get you a ride. Every excuse that's offered that seems as if its about to clear the net is lobbed back in a perfect arc that lands just in bounds. It's an exhausting volley between two unfairly matched opponents. They've been insisting for years, not taking a No under any circumstances and you've been livng your life careful to take others' feelings into account to a great enough degree that you've probably never insisted on anything, even something very important to you.  Actually, there's a small lesson to be learned there.

The Oblivious Person:
They have no idea they took up two parking spots.
They have no idea they're talking on their cell at the day spa.
They have no idea their shopping cart is blocking every single person trying to pass down the crowded aisle.
They are walking slowly in Times Square, on Fifth avenue, on Broadway.
They have no idea they're taking up two seats on the train, commuter bus, bench at The Met.
They have no idea we have no interest in their opinion, actually haven't even asked for it.
They never say thank you, just assume everything is coming their way.
The list is endless, feel free to add yours.

Let's keep our space program alive.