Wednesday, November 25, 2009


There seem to have been more newspaper articles than usual this year about insufferable relatives during the holidays. They have made me especially thankful. Across my extended families (mine and the Man's), you will find difficult people, the occasional inappropriate or ill considered comment, some misunderstandings, moments of tension. Not everyone is close. But there is a general feeling of good will and affection, and these things overcome most bad family behavior.

Still, I find myself expecting the worse when the holidays come and it's time to visit the relatives. It's like taking out insurance: If you assume the worst will happen, you're often happily surprised, and if the worse does happen, you're prepared. You came bearing no Norman Rockwell visions, and so aren't disappointed when the turkey is still raw after four hours in the oven and Uncle Pete is drunk and telling the same dirty jokes he told last year.

If you expect a certain passive-aggressive relative to drop some seemingly innocuous comment ("I think your face looks younger when you have a little extra weight on you"), and she doesn't, well, isn't that nice? And if she does, you were expecting it and it's funny. One of my favorite anecdotes I read this week was about two friends who played a kind of holiday family bingo. They had a list of comments they expected to hear ("Why aren't you married?" "That skirt makes your bottom look big"), and the first one who heard all of them called her friend and yelled, "Bingo!" That's a good way to survive with your sense of humor in tact.

One thing I've come to expect when visiting our older relatives is that they will get tired after twenty-four hours, and once they get tired, they have a much harder time not telling it like it is. My mother, when tired, will often remember comments I made about life and how to live it when I was seventeen. It is the rare seventeen-year-old who isn't an idiot, at least when it comes to the meaning of life, and I don't think it's nice to remind us what imbecilic things we've said in the past.

Here's how I disarm her: I say, "You're right, Mom, I was an idiot. Thank you for remembering."

Tomorrow we're going to Cousin Jane's for Thanksgiving, which is our tradition. I'll enjoy it, because no one there knows what an idiot I was when I was seventeen. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Man. Sadly for him, his mother was fond of recording her children during their more philosophical moments, and you never known when she'll break out the tapes. This is why we're coming home on Friday. And on Saturday we'll roast a turkey, raise a glass to family and friends, and turn off all recording devices.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Report

I made it back from Scarsdale alive. Now how many people can say that?

I will admit to you how pathetic I was at the airport last Thursday. I'd woken up that morning filled with vim and vigor, prepared to stare Nature in the eye and say, "You don't scare me." But by the time I'd dragged my suitcase from my car to the Delta desk, I was very much scared. The winds were whipping up, blowing folks sideways as they crossed from the parking deck to the terminal. I wondered why flights weren't being cancelled.

By the time I'd gotten through security and found my gate, I was starting to get upset. I was not helped at all by the announcement that those of us on Delta Flight 6349 should be sure to use the restroom and get something to eat, because given today's winds, there would be no in-flight service. We'd all be chained to our seats.

This is the point I started to have a mild freakout. Why am I doing this, I wondered. Why am I willing to die for money? Is it really worth the risk, flying in Gale Force 8 winds? I considered turning around and heading home. I tried not to cry. I prayed for courage, but didn't feel the least bit courageous.

(Here is the benefit of being a wimp and a writer--you often have occasion to take notes for future efforts, should you live. For instance, when one is trying very hard not to cry, it is an interesting exercise to stand back from oneself and observe how it feels to try not to cry, as it may come in handy later when describing a character who herself is trying hard not to cry, which pretty much sums up my entire childhood--the girl who tried hard not to cry and always failed.)

So then I did cry, but comforted myself that a middle-aged woman crying in the airport is not a shocking sight. Women cry at the airport all the time. No one would automatically assume I was crying because I was a wimp.

And then, something happened. Or more to the point, someone happened. A man took a seat two spots over from me and pulled out some chicken fingers from a KFC bag. I looked over at him and saw he wore silver wings on his shirt pocket and a tie covered with tiny airplanes.

I leaned toward him. "Excuse me," I said. "Are you a pilot?"

He nodded. "American Airlines."

"Should I be scared about flying today?" I asked, sniffing and wiping my eyes. "Because I am."

The pilot, whose name turned out to be Jeff, laughed in a booming, friendly sort of way. He preceded to tell me why I shouldn't be the least bit scared. Only thing to fear in the air is thunderstorms, he said. He'd flown in winds twice as strong as the ones we were experiencing, nothing too it. Oh, some bumps, sure, but overall flying in big wind was safe as houses.

A man and woman sitting behind the pilot leaned over their seats toward me. The man said, "We fly all the time for our jobs. It's going to be fine today." The woman said, "We swear to you if we thought it wasn't safe, we wouldn't get on the plane."

Then the pilot asked me where I was going and why, and I told him I was making an author's visit to a middle school, and he asked if any of my books were available on Kindle, and I said, yes, I thought so, and then he bought one of my books. So, not only did I survive my flight to Scarsdale, I made a sale!

My flights to and from New York were fine, with minimal turbulence, by the way. All that fear for naught! Except that I felt taken care of. I'd prayed for courage, and what do you know? It came to me via a guy with wings. Go figure.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Not So Friendly Skies

Tomorrow I'm flying to Scarsdale, New York, to speak with the middle schoolers there about writing and being an author. You can tell this is a rich school district: They're paying me a full day's fee for half a day's work. I'm not complaining, though I do feel a bit guilty about taking their nice money for work I won't be doing.

Here's the thing that's really on my mind: It seems like every time I fly the weather conditions deteriorate to the point where no one's quite sure that the plane will take off until the very last minute (and the decision always seems to be preceded by the air traffic controllers saying, "What the hey, let's give it a go--you only live once, right?"). This time around, we're picking up the tail end of a hurricane, so when my plane takes off tomorrow at noon, we should be experiencing gusts of up to 38 m.p.h. Whee!

How is it possible that on the three times a year I get on a plane, the weather is nigh catastrophic? After an issue with big winds a couple of years ago in February, I stopped booking school visits in the spring until mid-March; of course, when I flew to Michigan last March, the weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms, the very worst weather conditions you can fly in.

If I were carrying body organs on ice to wounded soldiers in Scarsdale, NY, I could be brave. The idea of flying in horrible, death-defying conditions for a cause--well, you could justify the trip. I keep pretending this is a test from God. Do I trust Him enough to get on a plane in bad weather? Trust that I'm in His hands? Maybe if I felt God were calling me to get on the plane during a tornado, I would feel better about the situation. But what's actually calling me is the tuition bill from Our Fine School that demands to be paid by January 15th.

Anyway, what this is about: Say a prayer for me, would you? It can be for good weather or courage or a winning lottery ticket that will take care of tuition once and for all so I never have to leave home for money again.

Oh, and say another prayer for me on Friday, when I return in the afternoon. Because, yep, more big wind, this time in New York. Just my luck.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Crankpots

On Friday morning, I was over at church helping Donna set up for Saturday's bazaar. We were putting price tags on Christmas ornaments and hand-crafted notecards when I asked Donna how Marcy, her three-year-old adopted daughter, was doing. She seems like a happy, gregarious little girl, so I assumed the answer would be "great!"

And in some ways it was. Marcy is happy and healthy and well-adjusted. Donna's concerns were more with her parenting abilities. Marcy is an extrovert, loves to be with other people, loves to be the center of attention. Donna is quiet and low key. Her son, Mark, who is six, is at the stage where he needs to be taken here and there for his various activities, and, as do a lot of second-born children, Marcy spends a good deal of time in the car while her brother is being dropped off and picked up, dropped off and picked up.

The conversation evolved into one of free-floating parental guilt. Donna wishes she had more time and energy to spend with Marcy; I wish we lived in a neighborhood that had more kids for the boys to play with. Donna wishes Mark had a brother to play with; I wish Will had been born a year earlier so that he and Jack might get along better.

We both felt vaguely guilty that we don't want more children (and since I'm 45, I really, really don't want more children--I mean, it's late, I'm tired). But when you're cranky people to begin with (and frankly I was surprised that Donna characterized herself that way; she doesn't seem all that cranky to me, but sometimes it takes your family to bring out the worst in you) and highly irritable, it seems unfair to impose yourself on more than two children at a time.

It was, to be honest, an enjoyable discussion. Maybe because we felt guilty about many of the same things, and maybe because our parenting personalities are similar--cranky, irritable, not really enamored of toddlers in any significant way, prone to boredom when playing board games--we didn't feel any urge to be annoyingly supportive of one another--"Oh, I'm sure the children don't notice how irritated you get!"--but instead just affirmed that yes, we are flawed as parents, yes, we wish were better parents, yes, we suppose saying "At least we don't beat them" is setting the bar awfully low.

I left the church feeling refreshed. As it turns out, confession is good for what ails you--as is any conversation about how we really live and think and feel, which you don't always get at church, but should. And on Saturday, the church doors opened at nine, and people from all over town streamed in, women mostly, most of whom probably feel guilty and inadequate about their own parenting skills. I wish they could have been there Friday. It would have been good for their soul.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dribs and Drabs

I tried writing here yesterday, but it was uninspiring. How I don't like decorating. Not for Halloween, not even for Christmas. I like a decorated house, I just don't enjoy being the one struggling with the lights and the tinsel and all the little doodads. It always ends in tears--mine, the boys', the dog's.

But it came out blah. I deleted.

Then yesterday afternoon, I saw the woman at Our Fine School whose clothing always goes beyond fashionable into the realm of stylish. Clearly she spends a bundle on shoes, but what shoes! She looks European, wears scarves and funky, chunky jewelry. Great hair, of course. So I thought about writing about her, but I don't have anything to write about, other than how unusual it is to see anybody stylish at afternoon pick-up. You see lots of young moms in skinny jeans and flats--the latest look in these parts--all very fashionable, but no one with flair, other than this woman. Who drives the biggest SUV in the world, by the way. Maybe that's why I can't get worked up enough to write about her. What's with the SUV? Why not an Audi, a Peugeot, something with a little class?

Really, she disappoints me.

I could write about the Halloween party in Will's class last week. I was one of the moms signed up to help. Actually, I was the the Head Mom, the mom in charge of e-mailing all the other moms who had signed up and telling them what to do. And guess what? They did it. They did it all. I didn't get a chance to do anything.

This always happens at the parties at Our Fine School. Typically there are four moms to a hot lunch or a class party, and typically one mom is completely out of control, bringing in twenty more things than she signed up to bring, "just a few extra decorations," and constructing snacks out of pomegranates and chocolate covered pretzel sticks imported from France.

Two of the other moms get very serious about distributing napkins and paper cups. That leaves the fourth mom--me, inevitably--standing there making small talk with the teacher's assistant. Every time I try to help, the other three moms insist no, no, there's nothing else that needs doing.

There's a trick to being one of the three moms that gets to do stuff, but I haven't figured it out yet.

So I could write about that, but I just wrote about that, and that's all there is to say about it.

Finally, I could write about Jack getting glasses. Jack has been complaining about his right eye since last spring and asking if I would take him to the eye doctor. Sure, sure, I told him. I'll make an appointment. But making an appointment entailed getting all sorts of insurance information and finding out which eye doctors I could make an appointment with, and it also entailed me actually remembering to make an appointment. Which I finally did--in September. It took two months to get in, so the appointment itself was last week.

And guess what? Jack's nearsighted, very much so in his right eye, the eye he was complaining about. So give me the Bad Mom award. Jack is very excited about getting glasses. He keeps going around saying stuff like, "Hard to believe I'll be getting glasses next week." He doesn't seem to hold it against me that he should have had glasses last May. Bless his heart.

More soon--when I have something to write about.