Rote Route

I drive the same route to and from our daughters’ school at least twice a day. Five right turns, four left; eight traffic lights, five stop signs each way, plus a brief salute to the policeman directing traffic at Jefferson and Van Buren. I can drive the route in my sleep and given my affinity for multitasking, likely have. This route is as ingrained in my memory as my daily brush and floss routine; the auto pilot of my mind. As of this writing, mental cruise control is neither illegal nor regulated. But perhaps it should be.

While driving home this morning, I witnessed a horrifying car accident. The black sedan in front of me changed lanes and collided with a white delivery van. The force of the impact sheared the front end off of the sedan and flipped the van onto its passenger side with awe-inspiring ease.

Minus a camera and a beaming director screaming “cut,” the scene was movie perfect. Miraculously, the two drivers and their passengers exited the cars unaided, visibly shaken but moving all their limbs. Several drivers from nearby cars and a group of young pedestrians ran over to check on the victims. Someone called 911.

I joined the group of good samaritans and offered my assistance, consisting of a gaping mouth and careful avoidance of the fluids leaking from the sedan’s engine. Within minutes, the police arrived and began directing traffic. I returned to my car and joined the procession of other cars inching away from the scene.

Although I was driving mere feet behind the black sedan, I can’t describe exactly what I witnessed. I can replay the moment of impact in my head in dramatic, slow motion detail, but can’t visualize what happened in the moments before the accident.

I wasn’t talking on my cell phone (though I often do) or texting while I drive (which I don’t) or even picking Raisin Bran detritus out of my teeth. Instead I was mentally plotting the myriad tasks I wanted to accomplish today, down to the phone calls to return and the ingredients needed for a cheesecake I’m baking for my husband’s birthday. My driving was on auto-pilot; my mind everywhere except in the moment.

The sound of screeching tires and crunching metal broke my reverie. If it hadn’t, today would be like any other day, and I wouldn’t remember a single detail about my drive home. I don’t need drugs or alcohol or texting to impair my driving. The scattered daily machinations of my brain impair me enough to be a danger to myself and others.

I’m sure I’m not alone. With our busy lives and multitasking superpowers, I’m confident many of us aren’t as present as we could be while operating heavy machinery. Our brains are racing down the German autobahn while our bodies are stuck in rush hour traffic.

This auto pilot mode scares me, especially when we’re transporting precious cargo, but also in more mundane ways.

When I’m wielding a sharp knife to chop vegetables later today, I’ll likely be thinking about the dress I keep forgetting to return to Bluefly. When I’m playing my requisite seven minutes of Barbies this afternoon with my daughters, I’ll likely be thinking about all the Yeah Write posts I could be catching up on. Harmless? Perhaps. But I’d like the ability to be where my body is and take in what’s offered in the moment. For someone who hates to be left out of anything, I may be missing out on a boatload of joy. At the very least I’m at risk of losing my fingertips to a merciless Ginsu knife.

I guarantee that for the next day or so I’ll be more present while I’m driving, forcing extraneous thoughts from my monkey mind. I also guarantee that before long, I’ll slip back into my auto-pilot pattern. Perhaps the next generation of auto safety features can address this issue. I’m thinking a haunting, disembodied voice that periodically reminds me to pay attention and zaps me with an electric current would work well.

The best I can promise is that today I’ll be grateful for all the times I’ve driven safely and pray my guardian angels keep up the good work. However, if you see me on the road, please consider honking or throwing a rock at my window – anything to jolt me back to my life.

Linking up again with the supportive community of bloggers who write and the writers who blog over at Yeah Write. Click on the badge to read some great writing and come back on Thursday to vote for your favorites. And be sure to say Happy Birthday to Flood!

Do You Pursue Friendships with the Opposite Sex?

Photo courtesy of Pictures88.com

Photo courtesy of Pictures88.com

Cuddling and reading Harry Potter in bed with our daughter is one of the highlights of my evenings. Our nine year old is often talkative and revealing at bedtime, especially as we’re giggling about Ron and Hermione’s constant bickering. Little did I know these beloved characters’ mutual crush would provide fertile ground for an eye-opening, painful conversation.

After a juicy discussion of Ron and Hermione’s flirtatious antics, I playfully broached the subject of crushes, asking if my daughter had a crush on any kids in her class.

“I don’t have a crush on anyone,” she answered, avoiding my gaze.

Certain she was on the verge of opening up to me, I pressed on. “When I picked you up from school this afternoon, I thought I saw you staring at Joe, but not talking with him. Are your feelings for him similar to Hermione’s feelings for Ron?”

“No, mom, not at all,” she said. “I am nervous around him. But I’m nervous around all boys. I’m scared to talk to them, and I don’t know why.”

As tears flooded her lashes, Ava explained that she didn’t understand why she was so uncomfortable when all the other girls seemed to interact well with boys.

So much for my maternal instincts. Where I perceived an innocent first crush, my daughter was experiencing real discomfort. As I held her and brushed the hair out of her eyes, I realized I had little experience-based wisdom to impart on this topic. My own lack of male friends throughout my school years and beyond was not a formula I’d want my daughters to emulate.

The best I could offer in the moment was tell her she wasn’t alone, that I remembered being scared to talk with boys too, and was open to talking more about her fears whenever she wanted.

Sated by my response, she fell asleep in my arms, leaving me to review my own history of interacting with boys.

As one of three sisters with protective parents, I never spent much time around boys. I never made friends with them or really got to know them. For me, boys felt magical from afar; terrifying up close.

My past is littered with experiences of ignoring boys who were nice to me and wanted to be my friend in favor of longing for those who ignored me, wishing they would choose me for relationships. Although I had little actual experience interacting with boys, my obsession with them taught me lessons I don’t want to pass on to my children.

In kindergarten, my rogue classmate Devon grabbed me by the arms after school and attempted to plant a rough kiss on my cheek. I, in turn, hit him with my blue Barbie lunchbox, winning his devotion for the rest of the school year. Lesson:  play hard to get, the boys will love you.

In second grade, I eagerly tried to win over Edward, a scrawny, tow-headed boy who repeatedly ignored me and my offerings of the dry Stella D’oro anise cookies my mom packed in my lunch. Lesson:  Keep chasing, sooner or later you’ll win his affection. Or bring better cookies.

In fourth grade, I graduated to Donald, the tough neighborhood kid who rode his bicycle to my house and threw rotted green apples at my legs to win my affection. After several days of this mating ritual, my younger sister sprayed Donald with our garden hose, ending his infatuation. Lesson:  keep your smarter, braver sister away so you can enjoy the attention.

In sixth grade, my undying devotion to Michael, the nearsighted boy who never acknowledged my existence, led me to commit the first of many fashion don’ts – octagon shaped, wire-framed glasses to match his. Lesson:  do whatever it takes to make a boy notice you.

My high school and college years, with their mix of hormones and unrequited love, offered similar lessons; the more uninterested the male, the better. My motto:  completely ignore me, I’ll follow you forever. Be nice to me, want to be my friend, I’ll look through you to the unavailable guy in the corner.

While my relationships with men have blossomed with time, maturity and therapy, I don’t pursue male friendships. If I’m going to model healthy interactions with the opposite sex for my kids, I need to get some male friends. Stat.

I wonder what Devon, Edward, Donald and Michael are doing these days?

Linking up once again with Yeah Write. Click on the badge to check it out and join us!

Joy In The Tiny Things

I’m excited to link up for the first time with Stasha at The Good Life for her Monday Listicles feature. This week’s prompt is:  List ten tiny (or secret) things that bring you joy. While I work on finding some secret pleasures, here’s my list of tiny joys:

  • Half-Priced Play Dates:  I took myself to see a matinee of the play Other Desert Cities yesterday and was thrilled to combine two of my favorite activities:  watching great theatre and snagging deep bargains! This funny, heart-wrenching play, about a writer about to publish a memoir unflattering to her family, was half off for day-of matinee tickets. Joy for taking advantage of a perk of living in a big city.
  • Texts from Ava (9 yo) during the play:  “Mom I miss you so much. I think I’m gone too much. I love you.”
  • Getting Away with Something:  Specifically, not getting a parking ticket even though my meter had run out twenty minutes earlier. Joy and gratitude for the parking angels watching over me yesterday.
  • Being Woken Up by this Face: Her delight at surprising me warmed my heart. (After we replayed the moment 12 times, my joy waned; hers did not.)

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  • Daddy Daughter Dances:  Incomparable bonding time for my husband and daughters; three hours of blissful alone time for me!

January-February 2013 110 (640x480)

  • Fancy Red Coats & Grandparents:  I never would have spent the money on these coats that the girls will only wear twice, but seeing them dressed up like this – priceless. Thank you, Grandma & Pa!

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  • Rhys-isms:  Every time we park in a parking garage, our daughter Rhys (4 yo) excitedly reminds me to get my ticket validated before we leave the store. She yells at everyone within earshot, “Get your card ‘reviolated’! Don’t forget to get your card ‘reviolated’!”
  • Our Neighbor, Giovanni:  Though we rarely exchange more than simple pleasantries, every time it snows, he snowblows a path to our cars for us. Every time. Better than parking angels.
  • Secret Hobbies/Self Portraits:  I find our 4 yo’s photos on the camera regularly yet never see her playing with the camera. She’s has a good eye, no?

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  • Handmade Valentine’s Day Cards:  From my husband. On my pillow. Still smiling!

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My Valentine’s Day Post

Don't You Forget About MeI hate to be left out of anything. Whether that something is anything I really want to do is beside the point. Everyone in blogland is posting something about Valentine’s Day today. I don’t have any surefire libido-revving recipes, any devastatingly romantic plans for the day or any genius tips for surviving as a single person on this emotionally-fraught holiday.

Instead, today I have a raging head cold and the focusing-ability of a gnat. And a husband who is out of town. So what will I do? I’ll write something Valentine’s Day related anyway. Cause I hate to be left out.

My need to be included in all things is causing me trouble today. Apparently, my sense of self is fragile. If I’m not included in every party or outing or get together, I get itchy and scratchy and anxious. Anxiety is like bed bugs – nipping at you when you’re most vulnerable and expensive to eradicate. (And what could be more romantic in a Valentine’s Day post than mentioning bed bugs?)

But when I am included in everything, I more often than not feel overwhelmed and anxious (see a pattern here? If not, I’ll draw you a diagram.) I get resentful and ornery when I have too many commitments.

The flip side to my need to be included is that I feel guilty if I plan or attend something and other friends aren’t included. And I believe I have to protect their feelings by not mentioning the plans that I do have. For example, my family gets together every six weeks with two other families for something we lovingly call Suppa Club. I love Suppa Club and wouldn’t change a thing about it other than my guilt.

Every time we have one scheduled and a non-Suppa-Club friend asks what we’re doing, I try to avoid the question and feel guilty that we haven’t included non-Suppa-Club friend in Suppa Club. (If your head is now throbbing after reading that last paragraph, maybe you too can take a sick day? You’re welcome.)

When I am included, I feel sad for those who are not. When I’m not, I feel suicidal. How’s that for a win-win for everyone?

I could understand this anxiety better if I were nine or ten years old and juggling a variety of social plans like our pre-tween daughter, Ava. She has more social plans than Lindsay Lohan has citations. She doesn’t enjoy not being included, but she sure doesn’t feel guilty if someone is excluded. She moves on and enjoys whatever is in front of her.

Last weekend she hopped from play date with friend A to playdate with friend B and told both of them about her plans. (Horrors! What if their feelings get hurt? I can’t even write their names in the unlikely event either of them/their moms will read this post!)

Of course I realize everyone can’t be included in everything. Nor would I want everyone to be. (Other than me.)

BUT, I want everyone to want me to be part of everything. Is that wrong? Even if I don’t want to go and would feel resentful having to show up, I want to be asked.

How old am I you ask? Exactly. My brain gets it, but my vulnerable ego hasn’t quite caught up.

Last week, I asked a dear friend to join a writing group that she’s been part of for the past several months. I wasn’t clear in my own mind whether or not I really wanted to be part of it; I just knew I didn’t want to be excluded.

She lovingly and honestly said “no.” She admitted she didn’t want me to be part of that group, but was willing and interested in doing something separate with me. I initially felt devastated and ashamed; the message in my head that I wasn’t good enough to be part of her group. After processing those fun-for-everyone feelings, I moved on to a different point of view.

Her bravery rocked my world. I am so fucking lucky to have grownups in my life, people who will tell me the truth so they won’t have to resent me and distance themselves from me later on. I feel closer to this friend than ever and grateful she’s modeling sane, honest behavior for me.

Fragile ego? Check. Thankfully, I’m aware of my narcissism  and am willing to embrace it by telling everyone who will listen.

So, if you’re having a dinner party or going to an event without me, please make sure I know about it so I can feel crappy and jealous and loser-ish. It will be our version of Immersion Therapy (and infinitely quicker and cheaper than the regular kind).

What marvelous plans are you withholding from me?

Parental Redemption: The Coach Mike Version

Walking into the gym last Friday for our daughter’s weekly gymnastics lesson, I anticipated an hour of uninterrupted time with free WiFi while our four year old somersaulted herself into a state of delighted exhaustion. I did not expect to hear that voice – deep, melodic yet unequivocally shrill.

“Put your feet apart and stop talking so much,” he yelled at a pint-sized tumbler.

Coach Mike, my one-time nemesis, was substitute teaching Rhys’s class. Five years earlier the same voice provided the soundtrack to one of my earliest parenting regrets, lovingly referred to as “The One with Coach Mike.”

In early 2008, our daughter Ava was a student at the same gym. After several months of lessons with an instructor she adored, we met her new teacher, Coach Mike, he of the wiry build and gruff countenance reminiscent of my own childhood gymnastics coaches.

Ava was wary of her new coach but went along for the first few lessons under his tutelage. At week four’s lesson, she went on strike, complaining to me before class that she was scared of Coach Mike because he was mean and yelled too much.

Eager to escape into the latest issue of People magazine, I ignored her complaints and encouraged Ava to relax, assuring her she was there to have fun. No pressure.

Twenty minutes into the lesson, Coach Mike interrupted my celebrity reverie.

“Ma’am, your daughter is refusing to walk on the balance beam,” he said. “If she won’t try, she’ll have to leave. She’s setting a bad example for the other kids.”

Ava, reminding me of my earlier canned encouragement, said, “Mommy, I don’t want to do the balance beam. You said I get to have fun here and the balance beam isn’t fun. It’s scary.”

As I looked between Coach Mike’s firm stare and my daughter’s expectant gaze, visions of the $35 per class we’d prepaid danced in my head. I realized I had a choice and knew instinctively I wasn’t brave enough to choose wisely.

“Ava, you need to listen to Coach Mike. He’s the teacher, and you have to listen.”

The look on Ava’s face said it all. Surprise, despair, defeat. I had sold her up the river, and we both knew it.

The following week, after getting support from friends, I resolved to redeem myself as a parent. Ava agreed to one more class; I promised to talk with Coach Mike.

“Coach Mike,” I began. “Here’s the deal. My daughter is scared of you. Hell, I’m scared of you. I appreciate your position as the coach, and Ava knows she needs to listen to you. But I’m not going to force her to do anything here. She has my permission to take it slow and participate only as much as she’s comfortable.”

“I think you are making a mistake,” he said. “And you’re making my job harder.”

As I held his gaze, I grew two inches and replied, “I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

No balance beam for my kid!Photo via Flickr Commons

No balance beam for my kid!
Photo via Flickr Commons

I froze momentarily upon hearing that voice again after all these years, but I’ve grown as a parent and as a woman since I last tussled with Coach Mike. I would stand up for my kid to the death. Bring it on, Coach.

To my surprise, Rhys took to Coach Mike immediately, playfully poking him and correcting his pronunciation of her name.  “My name is Rhys,” she yelled, not a drop of fear in her voice.

Apparently, someone’s changed.

Linking up with the supportive writing community over at Yeah Write. Click on the badge to check out some great writers, then come back on Thursday to vote for your favorites. Enjoy!

Turns Out, Winning Is Everything!

After last weekend’s Super Bowl, while everyone else is talking about the implications of Beyonce’s pole dancing performance, I’m left wondering if the San Francisco 49ers knew they weren’t only competing for money, fame and a gaudy, bedazzled ring, but for their very lives.

Research shows that Nobel Prize winners live an average of two years longer than their equally brilliant fellow nominees. Similarly, Academy Award winners live nearly four years longer than other actors. (Hmmm, perhaps the added longevity has something to do with walking across a stage?)

I'll take two!Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I’ll take two!
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Winners outlive losers. Had the 49ers known this fact, would they have played differently? Granted, available research says nothing about Super Bowl winners.  And with the advanced dementia so many football players will have to live with as they age, perhaps they don’t want extra years. But I do!

I’m getting old. Four extra years could make all the difference in my life. I want to be alive (and moderately alert) to meet my grandkids without my daughters having to get knocked up in high school.

So far I’ve been a winner in life. I have a loving, hard-headed husband, two amazing, healthy children, a nearly fully-functioning mind, and the financial means to afford therapy for those parts of my brain predisposed to short circuiting. These wins should buy me a couple of years at least. But what if that’s not enough?

Just when I was beginning to believe that winning isn’t everything, that it’s worth it to show up, play my heart out and contribute, win or not, I find out nope, winning not only feels better, it adds years to your life.

I’m in search of some extra years, stat!  If winning will bring ‘em, get out of my way.

Does it matter if my opponents are formidable or would any wins work? I’m not above getting a win off of a child or a friend. If major award winners live up to four extra years, how long would I get if I beat my kids at Twister? What about Chess? Would my extra time if I won a Yeah Write competition be measured in days? Weeks? Oh, the glory of life!

Yes, winning these contests would mean I’d be stealing years away from my less fortunate family and friends. But those losers have more time to spare. Mine is a life or death mission. Now that I know winning imparts the benefit of extra life, move over people. You’re on notice.

What’s going to give me the most life for my effort?

The chances of me winning a Nobel Prize or Academy Award are slim at this point. (Though I am open to embracing either of those distinctions. And I’ve already found the perfect dress.) In lieu of a Pulitzer Prize jackpot, I’ll have to piece together additional life by winning smaller competitions. Here’s my plan:

  • Secure Publishing Contract = 6 months per book
  • Conduct Media Tours for my books:  National Media Outlets = 1 month per; Local Media Outlets = 1 week per
  • Publish Magazine/Online Articles =  1 week per
  • Win “Freshly Pressed” Distinction =  1.5 days per
  • Win at anything against my husband =  10 hours per
  • Win at board games and hide ‘n seek against children =  2 hours per

Am I not thinking grand enough? National Book Award? Oprah Book Club 2.0? New York Times Bestseller List? I’m feeling younger already!

Seeing that my life depends on it, perhaps I should start writing my award-winning novel … In the meantime, anyone up for a friendly game of tag?

 

PTSD By Proxy

Ever since we built the staircase in our house, I’ve been afraid one of our daughters would fall and get hurt. I never envisioned Mike would fall. I’d rather it was me. Mike is supposed to be invincible. Thankfully, at least he has a hard head.

I’m scared for his brain, his lovely, thoughtful, warm, loving brain, and I want to be up his ass about resting and recuperating. I’ve flip flopped between telling him what to do, policing his activities and leaving him be.

I’ve had no shortage of opinions on Mike’s recovery, and I’ve been willing to share my hard won medical knowledge, gleaned from too many years of watching medical dramas. I feel like a doctor, but as far as I know no one has bestowed on me a medical degree, and Mike is less likely to listen to the wisdom I’ve collected trolling the Internet than he is to his doctors. (The ones who actually completed medical school. As far as I know.)

If I were in his shoes, what would I like? To live my life. To make my own choices. More pain meds.

Mike isn’t a child, and I may want to consider not treating him like one. Perhaps it is time to back off and focus on my own recovery from the trauma of seeing him so vulnerable and hurt.

My emotions don’t match up to Mike’s current state. My husband is fine, getting stronger every day. Can you say “delayed reaction?”

Our daughters have been extra emotional lately (and that’s saying a lot), and I have the patience of a gnat (one in need of more antidepressants). I firmly believe every spouse or partner of an injured person should be given a prescription for the same level of pain medication that the patient is taking. An automatic partner prescription. I’ll take some valium too.

Who knew a loved one’s accident would give me PTSD? I have many of the symptoms (pieced together from every crack website I could find):

  • Reliving the Event – Every time Mike moans or coughs, I think he’s dying. If he’s too quiet, I think he’s dead. Isn’t that normal?
  • Avoiding Situations that Remind You of the Event – Well, I don’t want our girls anywhere near the staircase and I want to move to a nice, flat ranch house. Stat. Does that count?
  • Feeling Numb – no luck on this one – I’m feeling plenty thankyouverymuch.
  • Feeling Overly Emotional – Define “overly.” My crying jags feel so refreshing, even though they come over me in inconvenient places (read grocery stores and preschool classrooms) and often scare small children and animals.
I wish I looked like this crying ...

I wish I looked like this crying …

Instead I look more like this. Scare any small children lately?

Instead I look more like this.

  • Feeling Keyed Up – ding, ding, ding – I am on the lookout for danger and am feeling on guard and easily startled (See “Reliving the Event” above). My daughters are taking advantage of my over-reactivity by making loud noises just to see me jump. Thus my unrequited need for valium. Apparently, deep breathing exercises are all I get.
  • Impulsive or Self-Destructive Behavior – I’m obsessed with finding a new pair of sunglasses. But that’s pretty standard for me. Does shopping for hours on Bluefly for a new party dress and shoes I don’t need count? How about my new found big screen TV obsession?
  • Diminished Appetite – Ok, here’s the problem. Why is it I never get the diminished appetite symptom? Of any illness? Even when I have the stomach flu, I want to eat. What does a girl have to go through to get a diminished appetite?

I’m not making light of PTSD, please believe me. Whether or not witnessing an accident like my husband’s contributes to a PTSD response, I am not qualified to say (though at times I convince myself I am).  However, I am struck by the backlash of emotions I’ve felt over the past several days after holding it together for my family during and in the days following Mike’s accident.

I’m grateful for the friends and family who have offered me a safe and comfortable place to fall while I’ve fallen apart. After several days of feeling the weight of my emotions, I am feeling more and more like my regular crotchety old self. For this, we’re all blessed.

And if I don’t have PTSD now, just wait until we get the shopping medical bills from this little shenanigan! I’ll especially appreciate paying for all those $15 boxes of tissues I snotted up in the hospital. I better go order another pair of shoes.

Be well!