Sunday, June 12, 2016

Letting The Alien Go

In seven hours my daughter will finally graduate from high school.

Seven hours.

We're all going to be a little needy today. 

Between now and then, I need to get her up (always a delightful experience). She needs to go to the stable to clean the trailer and tack she used at a big event yesterday (tremendous showing, she qualified for regional championships: happy girl, proud mama). 

She needs to get home by 11:00 because I still need to touch up her manicure. She needs to be dressed and pressed — although the bright red gown can't actually be "pressed" because, apparently, it's made out of the material so enthusiastically recommended to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate: "One word: plastics." 

We all need to be at the high school by 1:00 so she can queue up for the processional and we can fight the other parents for the best seats in the gym.

(I'm serious. Don't mess with me. I'm from New York and I will hurt you.)

Last night, we spent more time than we expected covering her mortarboard in black rhinestones. Due to its aforementioned substrate ("One word: plastics."), the adhesive backing of the stones wouldn't ... well ... adhere. We tried "tacky glue" from the craft store and finally resorted to "liquid nails."

She isn't exactly thrilled with the result. But, she's done.

Those two words ... "She's done." 

Twelve years of public school (not even including preschool, pre-kindergarten or kindergarten). 2,160 days of reading, writing and arithmetic. Countless hours of studying, papers, tests, field trips, science fairs and winter concerts. 

And, somehow, in between all of that, she found the time to grow up from an adorable little thing in blonde pigtails, pink dresses and sparkly "Dorothy" shoes to the young woman who lives her own life, her own way, out of our house.

And today, she's done.

Why do they call graduation "Commencement" when it's really the end of something? 

It's a common question, and the most common answer is that it also marks the beginning of something new.  "Real life."

Going further back, though, its roots can be traced to the Latin word "commensa," which means a common table for all. Upon completion of their studies and graduation, students were invited to dine with their instructors at a table on a raised platform at one end of the long tables where the students sat. They were now full-fledged members of the university and welcomed as equals of their faculty.

My daughter has been a full-fledged member of our family since the day she arrived. We may have helped her along the way, but she was ever her own person — sometimes alien but always remarkable. I admire her bravery in the face of 1,200 pound horses and 120 pound mean girls. I admire her resilience and her determination; her street smarts and her silliness.

When I left for maternity leave so many moons ago, my boss's sweet wife asked me to express one thing I wished for my baby. Without a pause, I said "The capacity for joy." My wish came true; my daughter has a boundless capacity for joy. 

But, what I maybe didn't expect was that she has increased my own capacity for joy too. Exponentially.

Thank you, Madison Ava.

And thank you, gentle readers, for joining me on the journey. "Happy Graduation."

Let the commencement commence.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Living With The Alien

I began Lovin' the Alien in March of 2011. 

I'd made a living as a writer my entire adult life, and considered myself one as long as I could remember. Even though I knew a handful of professional bloggers through my day job as a marketer, I hadn't really thought about it much. Then two special people encouraged me. 

First, a high school classmate, an excellent writer and editor, asked me to review a movie for Women's Voices for Change. I've joked that the assignment "saved my life." It didn't really. But, I think it saved my voice. After 25 years of writing as IBM or Bank of America or Chevrolet or NYNEX, I'd forgotten what I sounded like. And, how much I love writing. I've contributed close to 200 stories since, and now have a weekly cultural column.

The second was the encouragement of a former client, another wonderful writer, who was living a bit of a fairy tale life in Monaco. We had reconnected via social media and were having fun emailing each other about the trials and tribulations of raising tweens. (Unbearable Monegasque PTA mothers are shockingly similar to the ones here.) This friend had just started a blog to share her adventures and keep in touch with friends and family in the U.S. She talked me into setting up my own blog and was always one of my biggest fans.

The feedback to Lovin' the Alien was immediate and gratifying. (I definitely struck a chord or two or ... let's see ... 598 so far with other parents.) But, the response I got most often was this ... 

"OMG, what does your daughter think about it?"

I can't imagine that Lovin' the Alien would be on any of my daughter's "Top Ten" lists (unless it was maybe "The Top Ten things my mom has done to embarrass me"). In reality, she knows that I would never write about anything truly painful or humiliating. She thought it was a little "AWK-WARD" at first; then started enjoying minor-league celebrity when some of her friends became readers. Once in a while, she'll express a teeny tiny bit of (dare I say it?) appreciation when I use a post to stand up against something like high school administration tyranny.

Mostly, she just ignores it.

I hope that someday, she'll look back at it and understand that — more than anything else — it's a love letter. 

Being a mother, specifically her mother, has been the greatest chapter of my life. It has been at once joyful, heartbreaking, frustrating, fulfilling and very educational. My daughter has taught me about what really matters (and what doesn't so much).

She taught me that when you fall, you have to get back up. (She's an equestrienne; when she falls, she doesn't just get back up, she gets back up and back on a horse!)

She taught me about the immeasurable value of free time.

She taught me that the world won't end if you leave a dirty dish on the counter or a bed unmade for a day or two (or forty).

She taught me an easier way to parallel park.

She taught me about justice, about determination, about staying true to what you believe. 

She taught me how to close the background apps of my iPhone so my battery will last longer.

She taught me to be braver than I thought I was.

She taught me about the breadth and depth of love — boundless love, unconditional love, even, I'm sorry to say, unrequited love. 

And, I have loved. I've loved every minute — well, all the minutes I can remember right now, at any rate.

Thank you, my beautiful little alien

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Myth Of The Family Meeting

With graduation less than a week away, I've been taking a lot of stock. (And Tylenol, actually; I've been taking a lot of Tylenol.) Eighteen and a half years of parenting behind me. 

For the record, that's the longest I've ever stayed at any job. 

What did I do particularly well? What did I screw up?

Becoming a mother is the greatest act of faith we can undertake. It can also be a huge slap in the face. It rocks our inner vision and is at once a source of great pride and the most humbling experience in the world.

My husband and I were a little late to the game and we had already watched most of our closest friends deal with transitioning from being happy-go-lucky "DINKs" (dual-income, no kids) to sleep-deprived, car-pooling zombies. We weren't ready yet, but we were very self-satisfied. If and when we were ever parents, we assured ourselves, we wouldn't make this or that mistake. We would never raise our voices. Or let our offspring walk all over us. We would do everything perfectly.

As my favorite classics professor Dr. Zarker would have remonstrated, "Hubris, hubris, hubris!"

Raised in the 1960s and 70s, I had a wonderful weekly example of perfect parenting: Carol and Mike Brady. Their six (count 'em, six) children were respectful and remarkably well-groomed. Their house was orderly; their dinners were on time.

And, Mr. and Mrs. Brady never lost their sh*t.

If there was ever an issue in the Brady household, they simply had a family meeting in that tiny little room off the kitchen. Crisis averted.

Last week, I insisted on a family meeting in our house. I was feeling stressed over our packed schedule of school events (white water rafting, graduation rehearsal, awards banquet and the big day itself), out of town visitors, horse shows, theatre tickets, work deadlines, business trips, and more. And, yes, I was ready to lose my sh*t.

Lest you think I'm just an anxious person (I am, but that's beside the point), let me give you a couple of examples ...

So far, I'd rescheduled my daughter's tuberculosis test three times. (No, she doesn't have tuberculosis. Well, I assume she doesn't have tuberculosis. But, she has to have the test for college.) I can practically hear the receptionist cringing every time I call the doctor's office.

Apparently, my daughter needs polypropylene long underwear for the rafting trip. This is not something I had on hand (or had time to run to the mall for), so we ended up using my sister-in-law's Amazon Prime account to get it here in two days.

We gave my husband a flying lesson for his recent birthday. But, finding a day when all three of us can take a few hours to drive up to New Hampshire and watch him fly a Cessna 172, take pictures (or, in my case, pray) was anything but clear skies.

Add to all this year-end activity the arrangements we still need to make to actually transport our little freshman and all her gear to her out-of-state university, and I think you can appreciate why I'm having trouble sleeping.

So, we had a family meeting, but it wasn't as peaceful or productive as the Bradys'. It required more than a little bullying on my part — before, during and after. We walked through the next nine weeks and took notes. I gave out some assignments (and ignored the eye-rolling). 

And, for a full five minutes after the meeting, I actually felt better. Even if things still slip through the cracks — and they will — I can smugly say, "See? That's why I wanted to have a family meeting."

At this point, I'll take what I can get.

Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Brady.
If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.  

Friday, June 3, 2016

Gifts For The Grad

According to Time magazine, Americans spend almost $5 billion on graduation gifts every year. Yes, that's a "b."


I suddenly don't feel so bad about the shopping list I'm carrying around. Graduation is ten days away, and we're invited to a small handful of parties. My own soon-to-be grad declined a party of her own, but we've found a very special  — perfect, actually — gift for her. 

(Sorry, I can't go into it here ... it's a surprise. But, I'll post a picture after the big day.)

For those of you still looking, here are half a dozen Hollywood-inspired graduation gift ideas.

My Beautiful Laundrette
Choose a cute clothes hamper or laundry bag, then fill it with detergent pods, stain stick, fabric softener, a roll of quarters, and a copy of Linda Cobb's Talking Dirty Laundry with the Queen of Clean.

Million Dollar Baby
Time estimates that cash accounts for 58% of the $5 billion spent. Money is practical — and appreciated — and it doesn't have to be boring. Slip it in a CD jewel case with a favorite disc or, if you're crafty, make an origami money menagerie.

House of Cards
Here's a nice way to make the money idea a little less mercenary. Contact the college your graduate will be going to and order an ID holder. Then, fill it with handy gift cards for online or local retailers: Amazon, Target, Starbucks.

A cozy fleece blanket is a great idea for studying on chilly nights. But, even cooler is a cozy fleece blanket that doubles as a mermaid tail! (I wish I'd found these when my daughter was three years old.) You can see and/or order one here.

Send them something sweet every four weeks. Sign them up for a 3-, 6- or 12-month Chocolate-of-the-Month subscription. (Some freshmen might prefer a more alcoholic version of this gift, but we really don't want to encourage that, do we?)

Home for the Holidays
This is a good idea if you're concerned your daughter may experience a little homesickness. Find a nice luggage set (something that nests is probably a good idea for storage), and attach a roundtrip ticket for Thanksgiving.

The best thing about this last idea is that it's a gift for the mom as well as the grad. And super useful too. After all, Thanksgiving will be here very soon.

But, not soon enough for me.
If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.   

Monday, May 30, 2016

Mother of Inventions

A couple of things happen when you wait until you're 35 to have a baby. 

First of all, for nine months (through eight OB/GYN visits, three ultrasounds, one amniocentesis and an unforgettable stay in the birthing center) you get to see a big orange sticker on your folder that reads "Advanced Maternal Age."

Second, since most of your friends have already been there, done that, you get great advice.

"You have to ask for a Diaper Genie," we were told prior to my baby shower. We heard this over and over, from mother after mother (except for the one mother who assumed we would eschew disposable landfill-fillers and sign up for an organic diaper delivery service like she did ... um, not).

Diaper Genies were news to us. What an amazing invention! Manufactured by Playtex, it was a tall thin, lidded pail that you line with a long, thin tube of plastic. You put a used diaper in, shut it, twist it, then repeat as long as your baby is producing used diapers and until the pail is full. A few extra twists and the whole thing can be removed, so you can start over. The byproduct of all this diaper disposing and twisting is a long string of plastic wrapped diapers, sort of like an old-fashioned string of sausages. 

The upside is no mess and no fuss and, most important, no smell.

The downside, of course (just ask the aforementioned friend), is that you take something that's basically bad for the environment and encase it in plastic, making it that much badder for the environment.

Um ... guilty as charged.

Other miracles of modern motherhood soon filled our happy home. My Snugli (where "comfort meets cool") gave way to collapsible strollers, melamine dishes, microwave macaroni and cheese, and juice boxes. (What did our moms do without juice boxes?) All of these inventions made motherhood so much easier. And, while my daughter is no longer a baby, a toddler or even a child (she's eighteen, omg!), I still rely on fairly new technology to get through our days together. And, I'm not even talking about smartphones or texts or the GPS system.

This time of year, my two favorite wonders of modernity are: suitcases with wheels and spray-on sunscreen.

In the early 1970s, a gentleman named Bernard Sadow created the first suitcase on wheels, which was sold at Macy's. To this day, the inventive but unfortunate Mr. Sadow doesn't get any money for his brainchild. Nearly twenty years later, a Northwest pilot named Robert Plath updated the design so that cases were rolled upright (Sadow's were rolled flat like a steamer trunk). Originally sold to other airline employees, the "Rollaboard" eventually became the norm we all use today.

Whenever we travel, I marvel at memories of my mother taking three kids and wheel-less luggage to Missouri every summer. (Thank goodness for airport porters and chivalrous fellow passengers.)

The other advance that brings me joy is spray-on sunscreen. Remember that goopy white cream? Ugh! But, my daughter is fair-skinned and easily burned. In fact, after twelve years of horses, she has pretty much perfected the farmer's tan — or in her case, the equestrienne's tan. (She's dark brown below the sleeves of her polo shirts and above the line of her gloves; below her shorts but above her boots.) Each day, before she leaves for the stable, we go out onto the patio. She spreads out her arms and stands in an "X" while I simply spray her with Coppertone Sport SPF 50. What an improvement!

In two and a half months, my daughter will leave for college. I'll send her off with plenty of spray sunscreen in her wheeled luggage. And, I'll look forward to enjoying another mother of an invention.

Our weekly Skype.
If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.   

Friday, May 27, 2016

Promises, Promises, Prom

I have a dream. Someday, when I'm long gone, my daughter will look back and count her blessings that she had me for a mother. I mean, I didn't get anything terribly wrong, right? She's already told me (and I'll be happy to remind her in years to come) that I didn't push my opinions on her too much during the college search process. And (get this!) she "appreciates it." I've been there beside her through wrapping paper fundraisers, standardized test prep, polo lessons, science fair projects, social media predicaments, mean girl encounters. I've stocked our pantry with cheese poofs and cookie dough, orange soda and mozzarella sticks.

For heaven's sake, I bought her a pony!

But, the thing I think I'm most satisfied about is that I set a good example in terms of what women can and should be allowed to achieve. She knows that she comes first but she also knows that my work is a very close second. I'm proud to say that she has never seen me take on less than a leadership role in business. I promised myself that I would not raise a pretty little girly-girl — unless, of course, she turned out to be a pretty little girly-girl who could kick some serious butt in whatever endeavor she pursues.

None of this though will matter one bit if she looks back on my talents for — I should say my utter ineptitude at — the traditionally girly-girl business of prom. 

Yes, it's that time again. The P-word. Prom. 

Here is how we have spent the past few days (and yes, I'm still running an ad agency before, during, and after all this) ...getting her legs waxed, getting her dress shortened, finding an elusive, adhesive, strapless, backless push-up bra (Saks Fifth Avenue and they don't come cheap), scheduling an up-do, choosing rhinestone jewelry, administering a rather sketchy mani-pedi, and coordinating a photographer friend so she can have a portrait taken — in full regalia prom attire — with her horse.

This morning, we had the extra-fun bonus of trying to remove a henna tattoo (compliments of EarthFest, Boston, last week). For the record, toothpaste, baby oil, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and nail polish remover don't work; bleach does. Yes, I soaked my daughter's hand in bleach. 

Quick, call Social Services. 

But, suddenly, she's off! A quick stop at the stable to get her trusty steed ready for tomorrow's two-phase equestrian event — good-bye mani-pedi — and she'll be in countdown prom prep mode in earnest. 

We expect her back here at 4:00. (That gives me about half an hour for any last-minute repairs, pins, duct tape, prayers.)

Pictures with friends at the beach are on for 5:00. (Last year, we forgot the camera battery. We have already checked it twice.)

The red carpet is at 6:00. (She is walking with a last-minute girl-friend. The last-minute boy-friend she was supposed to walk with is on another bus and the prison guards — er, I mean, school administrators — won't let them switch buses so they can walk together. Sorry, but WTF?)

Buses leave at 6:30. (After they administer mandatory breathalyzers. I'm not kidding. I wish I was kidding. But, I'm not kidding.)

Drinks with another prom mom at 7:00. (I'll be the exhausted one at the bar with no make-up, sweats and red nail polish stains, nursing the pinot grigio.)

Hopefully, the high school won't send in the breathalyzers. 

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.   

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Insta, Rinsta, Finsta

If you, like me, thought you were on top of tween and teen things because you knew what Instagram was, I have one thing to say to you ...

Get over yourself.

Unless, of course, you happen to also know what rinstagram and finstagram are. Then, I will gladly bow to you and concede that you are way hipper than I am.

I just found out about them this week.

According to Urban Dictionary (one of my favorite, if often eye-popping, places to hang out online):

Finstagram, finsta for short, is a mixture of Fake & Instagram. People, usually girls, get a second Instagram account along with their real Instagrams, rinstagrams, to post any pictures or videos they desire. The photos or videos posted are usually funny or embarrassing. Only your closest friends follow this account.
Then, in case you just landed a contract writing scripts for The CW or FreeForm (formerly) ABC Family, Urban Dictionary offers some simple, sample usage:
"Hey that picture you posted on your finstagram was so funny."

"That picture is so funny you should finsta it."

"Finsta that sh*t nowwwww!"

"Oh let's take a picture for my finstagram."

A rinstagram, meanwhile, is the "real" account, probably the one your daughter set up at first. This is her public persona, the face she shows the world. And, probably more to the point, this is the Instagram account that her parents know about.
Being perfect and popular is paramount on Instagram. This can lead to endless editing in a neverending quest for followers. 

What's interesting though, is that (despite the naming convention going on here) for a lot of girls, their finsta is realer than their rinsta.

Are you following?
Pretty pictures? Rinsta. Not so pretty? Finsta.
Happy thoughts about life? Rinsta. Darker thoughts about ... well ... the dark stuff? Finsta.
If you've had a particularly horrible week, you don't elaborate on it on your rinsta. You bare your soul (not to mention your zits) on your finsta. That's all good. But, maintaining two accounts can be time-consuming. And, we all complain that our kids are overcommitted already. 
Still, it's probably worth it. Tweens and teens, especially girls, are under so much pressure to look good. And, social media is all about revisionism and retouching. A finsta is a chance to stand up and say "I know the rest of it is bull. Here's my real life."

So the question of the day ... Should you ask to see your daughter's finsta?
C'mon. Get real.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.