- Years ago we were eating dinner and I glanced at my 10-year-old daughter’s plate. “Eat your vegetables, Michele,” I said, and she replied “Corn is a grain, Mom.” When we have children we get to be humbled and corrected by pint-sized authorities.
- We get to have primitive hand-drawn artwork to affix to our refrigerators with magnets.
- We acquire a collection of crude, primary-color ceramics to hold our keys and loose change.
- We support the magnet industry. (see #2 above)
- We learn what Hell is like, in time to change our ways so we don’t have to experience eternity at Chuck E. Cheese.
- We get to experience premature graying and recurring nightmares teaching a 16-year-old to drive.
- We learn humility. When Michele was in high school I told her, “If you do your homework and get a good education you’ll get a great job that pays good money.” To this priceless wisdom, she replied “Oh duh, Mom.” Mothers everywhere were hearing “Oh duh, Mom.”
- We learn that we are not as smart as we think we are. That in fact we’re not smart at all. After we struggle and click everywhere for hours when our computer misbehaves, our kid comes in, turns it off, unplugs the modem for a minute, plugs it back in and it works like a charm.
- We get to go to movies we secretly long to see when we go with our children. I loved the Goonies, swear words and all. My daughter is 35, and doesn’t have kids. I wish she did, I really want to see Captain Underpants.
- We learn how to qualify for the Indy 500 when we speed like Mario Andretti, scanning 360 degrees for cops as we race to pick up our kids at the daycare before it closes. At six they start charging $10 a minute. I exaggerate but only slightly.
- Yes, I know I said 10 reasons but I had forgotten the most important one. We learn that life is not fair. You’re diligent for a long, long time and then you forget about your birth control one time. Just ONE. That’s all it takes, and your life is changed forever. And when the fruit of your lapse is born, you fall more hopelessly and completely in love than you ever dreamed it was possible, for the rest of your life, which by the way is no longer yours.
You made your family observe No Tech Day and your kids secretly checked and saw those sneaky calls and texts on your iPhone. Or they found the chocolate gelato you cleverly hid in the mixed-veggies box in the freezer. The worst part is that you will be outed in an embarrassing manner about these misdeeds when you least expect it.
It’s nothing new. In 1930 my grandmother couldn’t go to the bathroom without the world knowing all the details. Family legend has it that her son, my Uncle Orlin who was then 10 years old, answered the phone one morning when Grandma was in the bathroom. The caller asked to speak to Margaret Rice. “Mother can’t come to the phone,” Orlin said. “She’s grunting.”
About 30 years ago, my daughter Michele and I went camping with the Girl Scouts. We were all sitting around the campfire after dinner, roasting marshmallows, scaring the girls with ghost stories, and generally chatting. I told about Michele’s paternal grandmother going out on a tourist crab boat in Alaska. A large, speedy crab made a beeline for her (crabline, I guess I should say) and clamped a claw down on her glove. Fortunately the glove was way too large for her so the crab got no fingers, only the glove.
“But you should see the photo,” I said. “It looks like this huge crab has chomped down on my mother-in-law’s hand.”
“Grandma Myrl isn’t your mother-in-law, Mom,” Michele corrected matter-of-factly. “You and Dad never married.”
Time stood still. I was horrified. For all these respectable Girl Scout moms to learn about my impropriety…OMG. Then good-natured and infectious laughter broke out around the campfire from kids and Moms alike. It calmed my nerves. And then the troop leader said, “Selena’s dad and I aren’t married either.” I relaxed even more.
There will always be something for kids to out their parents on. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, get ready. It will. Maybe you’ll be caught in the act of rewinding and rewatching Harvey Keitel’s full-frontal-nudity scene in The Piano. (Don’t ask me how I thought that up.) Maybe you’ll be caught drinking a can of Red Bull right before your tennis tournament match, which is surely a moral, if not technical, violation of the club’s no-drug rule.
There will always be something for kids to out their parents on. It’s one of the things that make being a parent so interesting.
Trust me, if I survived it, anyone can. If you’re a working parent, or a single parent, or both rolled into one, I have some great tips for you. The challenges I faced 30 years ago weren’t so different from what they are today.
There was the familiar eternal struggle on workday mornings, trying to get Michele to her elementary school and myself to work on time. My boss was totally unreasonable and inflexible. She demanded consistent punctuality, imagine. And I had to come through because I needed that job so I could buy food and pay rent and get medical insurance. And pay for Happy Meals at McDonald’s, and for Saturday nights at the local pizza place where they had Pac-Man, and for My Little Pony videos. I couldn’t afford a DVD player, but my employer lent me an extra one from the conference room. That was the real reason why I needed the job.
Weekday mornings were brutal as we struggled over what to eat, what to wear, finding the homework…. I put my problem-solving skills to work, starting with getting Michele dressed. I decided she would choose the outfit she wanted to wear the night before, and made it clear that there was NO MIND CHANGING in the morning. Her decision was final.
I had her figure out what she wanted for breakfast the night before too, and we saved time with a little advance set up. If she wanted cereal she poured it into the bowl in the evening and covered it with plastic wrap, and put a piece of whatever fruit she wanted next to the milk so no time was wasted hunting for it in the morning. She poured her apple or orange or whatever juice she wanted into a plastic glass that had a lid. Every minute counted!
One evening I had a flash of brilliance. Why not have her EAT breakfast the night before? That would really save some time. The only hitch was making sure she ate breakfast AFTER dinner. And she could get dressed the night before, too. Alas, I couldn’t figure out a way for her to sleep and not get wrinkled. As innovative as these brainstorms seemed, they were nonstarters. Something that did work was a firm rule, and I mean FIRM, that if she waffled in the morning about wearing what she had picked out the night before, there would be no McDonald’s Happy Meal on Saturday. It worked like a charm. The thought of not having the Papa Bear figure from the latest Berenstein Bears set, or missing Gobo in the Fraggle Rock collection, was a powerful motivator.
I’ve got more helpful hints about single working parenthood and I guarantee they’re as effective as they were back in the olden days of the eighties. Stay tuned.
One summer I signed up for six weeks of guided meditation. During the third-week session, I went deeper and deeper into the plumbless depths of my subconscious and became a bird. It was quite a shock. To top it off, I received instructions for living from another bird.
This all took place while I listened to music with delta waves, which are thought to bring on the deepest levels of sleep, relaxation and peace of mind during meditation. As I went deeper into my meditative state under the influence of the guide’s words and the delta waves, I found my befeathered self sitting in a tree that borders a fence in our backyard. Across from me, staring at me relentlessly, eyes boring into me, was a confident young bird also perched in a tree.
I was riveted by the power of our eye contact and telepathic connection across the yard from each other. The young bird then spoke to me. It was a profound, mystical, spiritual message:
“Back off, Mom.”
It was clear the young bird was my then 20-year-old daughter, Michele. She and I had relationship problems, largely because in my chronic anxiety I was always fearing for her safety. At the time, I was unconscious of it. But after this experience, I realized I did her no favors with my overprotectiveness and anxious hovering.
What her eloquent message relayed was that, emotionally and spiritually, she had her own tree separate from mine, and that I was to stay in my tree, and visit hers only when invited.
It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
“Love is patient and kind….It does not insist on its own way….”-1 Corinthians 13.4-7
I’ve wanted to be a famous writer since I was a teenager. It hasn’t happened yet and I’m seventy, so the outlook is bleak.
Some of my humorous articles were published in magazines about 30 years ago. My target audience was single working parents—SWOPs, I called them. I actually was a SWOP, so I knew what I was talking about. For instance, one article covered the challenge of getting kids to school on time and yourself to work on time on weekday mornings. If you are, or ever were, a SWOP, you know how tricky this can be.
I shared my solutions with readers. For instance, I had my second-grader pick out the clothes she wanted to wear to school the night before, and lay them out on her chair. And she had to stick to her decision in the morning, or there would be a consequence. Threatening not to buy her a McDonald’s Happy Meal was usually effective, especially if she needed a piece in a set, like Papa of the Berenstein Bear figures. I had her decide what she wanted for breakfast the night before too, and set the table, maybe even pour the cereal and cover with Saran wrap, pour the juice…. Every saved step helped. Then in a flash of brilliance I suggested why not eat breakfast the night before too? That really saved a lot of time. The important thing was to make sure she ate breakfast after dinner.
And so forth. People enjoyed my columns. But after a year or so my SWOP life got so busy I ran out of time for writing and marketing my articles and gave it up. The need to focus on salaried work that covered rent money, medical insurance, and the like, and have time for my daughter, trumped having fun writing.
I retired a few years ago and thought about trying to write for publication again, but the market in our digital age is even more saturated with aspiring writers than it was in my magazine days.
So I thought…why not blog? It sounded like fun. But I also admit to a secret hope my blog would go viral, and be so wildly popular and attract such a following that some publisher somewhere would be interested in putting out a collection of my brilliant posts.
That hasn’t happened yet either. Things with my blog have been pretty quiet. Quite the opposite of viral, and that’s putting it mildly. The other day I was feeling like a failure, pitifully unsuccessful, painfully discouraged. What’s the use? I thought. On my way out to the garden to eat worms, I vowed to quit blogging, to find something else to do with my talent, modest though it is.
But I gave it some serious thought, and what I decided was that rather than quit blogging, I would redefine success.
What is success, anyway? I had to take a long, hard look at that question and define what it looks like for me. Not for somebody else. Success means different things to different people. And I decided that if I’m having fun when I’m writing, I’m successful. After all, what is more important than enjoying life? And if I’m enjoying myself, I am a successful blogger. If I had 10,000 followers but hated the process of writing, I would be unsuccessful. If I had one follower but was enjoying myself, then I’m successful. Well, maybe two followers.
I do enjoy blogging. Sometimes I laugh out loud while I’m blogging away on the PC in our minuscule office. While I may have a tiny office, I have a big LOL. It booms out of the room and reverberates around our home, and my husband hears it wherever he is—in the living room, the garage, out in the yard…around the block if he’s jogging. He says it sometimes sounds like there’s more than one person in the room, like I’m having a party I didn’t invite him to.
I get a lot of ideas for my blog when I’m grocery shopping or jogging or whatever. Sometimes they make me LOL. At first people stared at me and so I started wearing ear buds to make them think I’m talking to someone on my iPhone. I don’t want them to think I’m just some crazy senior. Anyway, let them laugh. I’m being a success. By enjoying myself and laughing I am stimulating chemicals in my brain called endorphins, which have been proven to reduce pain and stress and promote health. I’m making myself healthier. So I don’t mind so much if people stare at me when I laugh, but I do try not to fart.
One day I was squeezing and sniffing cantaloupes in Safeway and suddenly burst out laughing because I remembered my Victoria’s Secret misadventure. I walked in to all that pink and black silky-soft sexiness, feeling like a big old hippo in a pool full of dainty minnows. I was there because a friend told me they would measure me properly so I could find the correct size for my newly expanded senior body. A young svelte thing measured me in the dressing room. My band size was 44. I thanked her and told her I was going to go find a couple of bras, and she said “Oh, ma’am, the largest size we carry is 38.” I laughed, so I wouldn’t cry. I was humiliated, but eventually I wrote my popular post, “A Victoria’s Secret Reject.” No silky, naughty, X-rated lingerie for me. Back to Sears. (Sears might not be around for much longer. Then what?)
In the Tea and Coffee aisle I remembered the time I was in Kohl’s trying on sweaters, and brought a turtle neck on the sale rack into the dressing room. I put it on and when I looked in the mirror was shocked to see the neck of a bullfrog. My neck skin was being pushed up by the high, snug collar and hanging over it like a spare tire. I stifled a scream, but not quite totally, and heard the salesgirl outside ask “Are you all right in there, ma’am?” It was a depressing day for me, but in the end I laughed and wrote “Terror in the Dressing Room.”
Standing in the Pharmacy line I recalled a Girl Scout campout my daughter and I went to about 30 years ago, when she was five. We were all sitting around the campfire at night, and I related some little anecdote about my “ex-mother-in-law.” My daughter said, “Myrl wasn’t your mother-in-law, Mom. You and dad were never married.” I felt embarrassed and ashamed, but lightened up when delighted laughter burst out around the campfire. My resulting blog post was “Mother-Daughter Secret, Not.”
Standing in the checkout line, I remembered phone pranks my friends and I played when I was a kid, back in the Stone Age, before cell phones, when you had to be home to answer your phone, which was what we now call a “landline.” We would call and ask people if their refrigerator was running, and if they said yes we said “better go catch it.” Or we’d ask them to blow into the phone and then tell them “thanks, you just blew the bird turds off the line.” Those were the days.
It certainly makes grocery shopping more fun, thinking about funny things that have happened. I spend a lot of time pulling my cart out of the flow of traffic and writing ideas in my iPhone notes. And laughing. It makes jogging more fun, driving more fun, vacuuming more fun… I’m laughing right now, in fact, writing this very post. My husband just shouted from the living room, “Who the hell is in there with you?”
Now I have a difficult confession to make. Here comes the naked truth. The blog that you are reading right now (thank you!) has 60 followers. That’s an amazing number. Amazingly small, that is. There are millions of bloggers and readers in the WordPress blogosphere and only 60 of them follow my blog. Most of them are my friends, whose arms I twisted. I tell myself my work is good, but I’m just not much for social networking. That’s what you need to do to drum up blog followers. I know absolutely zip about SEO. (SEO is search engine optimization, by the way, the highly technical art of getting Google and Yahoo to direct searchers to your articles.) I don’t tie my blog in to Facebook, in fact I rarely post anything on my page. I don’t tie it into Instagram because I don’t have an Instagram account, I don’t tweet about it because I’m not on Twitter.
I don’t do any of those things. I just write and enjoy myself and laugh in the grocery store and other inappropriate places. I will blog bravely on in obscurity, in the vastness of the blogosphere, like the humor-blogger version of John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness. Why stop, when I’m having so much fun?
Scripture: What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? To gain 10,000 blog followers yet not have fun?
I’ll always remember the night my daughter outed me while we were on a Girl Scout camping trip. Michele was eight when she joined Girl Scouts. I should say when we joined: I resolved to be involved. It was a big step for shy, self-conscious, anxious me. But I was a single working mother, without a lot of friends or extended family nearby, and Michele and I spent an awful lot of time with just each other. I knew I had to find more friendship and support, for both of us.
When Michele brought home a flyer that the Girl Scouts would be at her school to answer questions and enroll new members it seemed like a miracle. We went, read the flyers, walked around talking to leaders of various groups, and signed up. The two young moms who led our group were friendly and energetic and arranged for a lot of great activities. It was the right move.
We signed up for a summer camping trip at the beach. I was pretty nervous. I’m a recovering alcoholic, with thirty-two years of sobriety, but back then I had been sober for just a few years. Sobriety was still a new state of being for me and things got stressful and bumpy at times. They were smoothing out, but still I found the thought of hanging out with Girl Scouts daunting. I felt deep down that I was different from the other moms. I didn’t’ quite belong in respectable society. And worse, I was afraid they would find out who I really was and reject me…and my daughter.
But we went. We carpooled and I really enjoyed Bev, the woman driving the van Michele and I rode in. I knew nothing about camping, but Bev was an expert. I followed her around and she told me what to do and I did it. It was a great system. She could set up a tent and cooking area and all the rest of it with her eyes closed.
After an afternoon swim for the girls and then dinner, we sat around the campfire roasting marshmallows and talking in the flickering firelight. After a while I screwed up my courage and told a story. It was about Michele’s Grandma Myrl, on her father’s side, and a huge crab.
Myrl was on a tourist crabbing boat in Alaska. A crab escaped confinement somehow and was crawling on the boat floor when it speeded up suddenly and raced straight toward Myrl. Somehow it ended up latching on to her glove. “It was scary,” I told everyone. “In the photo it looked like it was dangling from my mother-in-law’s hand. But actually it was only latched onto her glove. Thank God the tour guide had given her gloves that were way too big!” You couldn’t see it in the photo, but there were inches of empty space between the tips of Myrl’s fingers and the huge claw.
Chuckles and murmurs and OMGs rose up around the campfire, and then Michele’s clear young voice rang out. “Grandma isn’t your mother-in-law,” she said matter-of-factly from her perch across the fire from me. “You and Dad were never married.”
I froze. Then I did what I always did, I focused on the negative, and from there I launched into my familiar, habitual catastrophic thinking. Now they knew, I thought, and they would reject me. I would be ostracized. Maybe I would be expelled from Girl Scouts. I wondered, do they even accept unwed mothers as members? I didn’t remember seeing anything about that on the form. Then my anxiety thoughts, that were gaining momentum and increasing in speed, were interrupted by a hearty, long-lasting group belly laugh that rang out around the fire, coming from moms and kids.
I relaxed. “Thanks for letting us know that, sweetie,” I said, to more laughter. And then the troop leader, a single mother like me, said, “I was never married to Lydia’s father either.” There was yet more laughter, and I laughed too, with great relief. I looked across and saw Michele laughing, and talking with her new friends. I leaned into an unfamiliar but very pleasant feeling that all was well.
That’s the night I learned that “normal” society is not uptight and boring and judgmental, as I had thought for years. It isn’t even normal, because normal doesn’t exist, except as a setting on a dryer. And I knew I was right where I belonged. With the Girl Scouts, and these awesome mothers and daughters.