Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Big Difficult

I fell in love with the idea of New Orleans over the summer of 1977, when I read Anne Rice's classic Interview With The Vampire. More than ten years later, I finally went there with my then boyfriend (now husband).

We were enthralled.

Multiple trips followed. In addition to our usual visits to the French Quarter and Garden District, we spent days out in the bayou, toured plantations, attended Anne Rice's halloween balls, visited with friends. Always enjoying the sensual gumbo of sights and sounds and smells (some sweeter than others) that make New Orleans so unique.

The first time our daughter joined us, she was four-years-old and we were there for a cousin's wedding. On that trip, we stayed in a bigger hotel in the CBD, the Central Business District, a few blocks from the Quarter. In between family festivities, my mother, daughter and I went to the Audubon Zoo and had a ladies' lunch at the old world Hotel Pontchartrain. The wedding itself was in an historic cathedral, after which we "second lined" to a gala reception at the Ritz.

Our family's favorite anecdote from that trip is the story of my daughter twirling in the lobby of the hotel on our last day. "I love New Orleans," she announced. The sweet clerk behind the front desk responded without missing a beat, "And New Orleans loves you, shuggah."

When Katrina crippled our adopted city, we headed back down again, working together at a relief station in the flooded suburb of Aribe. We met amazing people and felt so fortunate to be able to help. Since then, we've enjoyed two "Papa Noel" weekends, which included historic home tours and multicourse reveillon meals at famous venues like Antoine's.

This winter, with February break looming, we decided it was time for another visit. We longed for NOLA's warm weather and the even warmer reception we always find there. Although my daughter has been there four times before, this would be her first trip as a full-fledged teenager. 

And, it was ... different.

"You're so pretty." "You're so pretty." She was told this countless times in the five days we stayed. It was nice to hear it from my childhood friend who teaches at Loyola and from the ninety-year old queen of soul food, Leah Chase. It was downright creepy to hear it from grown men on the street. For the first time, I felt as though I had to be on guard, gauging the level of (or lack of) sobriety of the people we passed and blocking any physical access they might have to my "so pretty" girl.

By and large, we avoided Bourbon Street. If you haven't been, there's about a four block stretch of strip clubs in the otherwise dignified French Quarter, and my daughter didn't like it. 'Can't say that I blame her. Rude tee shirts in windows, mardi gras beads with large plastic genitals dangling from them. Eww.

At one point, a stripper — oh, I'm sorry, an exotic dancer — passed in front of us on her way to the Barely Legal Gentleman's Club. She was only a few years older than my teen and made up to look like a high schooler herself. We moved along more quickly. I repeat, eww.

On the way back to the hotel, I wanted to take a picture of two giant mardi gras masks on the corner of Royal and St. Ann. A bunch of drunk fraternity boys were loitering there. From years of experience, I steeled myself, but what happened next was new for me.

"Mom!" one of them yelled to me across the intersection. His buddies snickered. "Mom!" he hollared again. "Don't ignore me, mom!" This was worse than anything I'd expected. It's one thing to be the target of unwanted attention. It's another to be mistaken for someone's mother

We went up to our hotel room where my husband took a post-lunch, pre-dinner nap, and my daughter read her Seventeen magazines. I offered to go and get us some popcorn at a neighborhood grocery. Upon my return, I opened the front door to the hotel and out came a large group of older couples, dressed up and in good spirits as they set out for a night on the town. They were maybe 65- or 70-years-old.

"Aren't you sweet?" cooed one woman as I held the door.

"What are you doing tonight, honey?" teased her male companion, for his wife's benefit as much as mine. "Join us," he said ...

"You're so pretty."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Not Your Children

While my husband, teenage daughter and I were on vacation this week, my sister forwarded this wonderful poem to me. It came at a particularly apt time, as I enjoyed my daughter's company far from the stresses of everyday work and school and life. We shared many things over the past few days, but it was very clear that she is her own person. 

She is with me, but does not belong to me.

She dwells in the house of tomorrow. And I don't. 

But, sometimes she lets me visit. Enjoy ...

Our Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughter's of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


It's snowing. Just over a week ago, we had more than thirty inches fall. After a few days of mild weather, the roads were pretty clear, but the sidewalks were not. In fact, there were many places where there were no sidewalks at all, which necessitated walking in the already pinched road. Now, everything is white again.

Yes, I know it's February and this is Massachusetts. In fact, I was recently heard arguing with my teenage daughter about whether or not she had to wear winter boots and my very words were "This is New England. We have weather." The issue, actually, was not about boots, per se. She was perfectly happy to wear the tall leather fashion boots her aunt gave her for her birthday last year. My concern was that said tall leather fashion boots would not look so very fashionable caked in slush and salt. I insisted she wear her "fuggs" (fake Uggs) and received rolled eyes and loud guttural sound effects of extreme exasperation for my troubles.

This is New England. We have weather. "Oh I could never live in Florida. I'd miss the seasons." Blah blah blah.

But, I am so tired of it. Not just the monotony and the cold and the layers of outerwear and the road salt on everything. I am tired of injuring myself.

As a (sophisticated, if I do say so myself) fifty-year-old woman, I am now walking around with knees that look like they should be on a kindergartener. Two different slips on two different mornings are responsible for my new youthful appearance.

May I digress a moment? For the record, I think I should get lots of cosmic extra credit for my continued dedication to my morning walks, don't you? I do not think I deserve scabs and bumps and bruises. Apparently, somebody up there isn't paying attention.

Regardless, my left knee was skinned when I stepped onto a patch of black ice on the pavement outside Ace Hardware on Atlantic Ave. I am aware of black ice as a driver (I can credit it for my first automobile accident back in 1991 when I spun around several times and went through a fence), but I had never encountered it as a pedestrian. My knee stung but I was happy that my yoga pants hadn't ripped. Only when I returned home and stripped down for my shower did I see the bloody mess underneath the pants. Ouch!

My right knee was the casualty of an icy little spot at the foot of a hill only about a tenth of a mile from our front door. In this case, it was more of a bang than a scrape. My knee is swollen like a softball and a lovely shade of blue. Again, my yoga pants survived unscathed. And again ... ouch!

Since my two falls, I have bravely soldiered on with my life. Working, mothering my teen, preparing for a family vacation, and going to the gym. (Did you ever stop and think about how many yoga postures take place from a kneeling position? I have now.) And, despite my recent brushes with death (or, at least, asphalt), I've continued to walk, which brings me to the theme of this post: purchase.

Purchase. I'm not referring to a new Coach bag (which, I need, if a particular spouse is reading) or jewelry or shoes or even riding breeches for my daughter. I'm referring to a tertiary definition of the noun: (1) a mechanical hold or advantage applied to the raising or moving of heavy bodies (2) an advantage (as a firm hold or position) used in applying one's power. 

As I trek through our frosted town these days, it's difficult to establish a purchase, scaling snow banks at curbs and entrances to parks, testing my footing, trying to find a grip that will hold my weight as I go up and over an icy obstacle. 

My quest is for security (I'm out of knees, folks), not grace.

But I've realized on my solitary, ill-advised tours that gaining a purchase is a metaphor for life as a teenager as well as life as the mother of one. We are in such a new place this year, my daughter and I. We don't quite know the rules or how to move forward safely.

My daughter is negotiating a big new school with a tougher curriculum. Having glided through her elementary and junior high years, she faces almost daily anxiety about studying enough, figuring out what certain teachers want and how to juggle old and new friends. Meanwhile, I'm suddenly unsure of how much freedom is too much, when to push and when to let go. Do I step in or let her fall down sometimes? (And, do we have enough band-aids?) 

I'd like to think that we're climbing these hills together, but more often than not, we're in adversarial positions. My hope is that through the arguments and edicts, slammed doors and shoulder shrugging, she knows in her heart that I am on her side.

So, I guess this stage of our life together is much like my morning walks through the snow. It's time to proceed with caution.

And watch my step.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Funny Valentine

Roses are red, 
Violets are blue,
If it has sentimental value,
I'm keeping it too.

I'm a notorious pack rat (although, for the record, I prefer the term "archivist"). I have every English paper I ever wrote from seventh grade on. I have my Girl Scout badge sash. I have dozens of photo albums, postcards and love letters (most of them are from my husband). 

And, being a devoted mother, I have all of the valentines my daughter has ever given me.

These include many one-of-a-kind masterpieces of the homemade grade school variety. Some are cut-outs, some have pictures, some have doilies glued on, many have spelling ... um ... imperfections. There were a couple of years in preschool when my daughter wrote in perfect mirror writing. At a conference with her teacher, I asked about it.

"Is it because she's left-handed?"

The teacher looked puzzled for a minute. "Is what because she's left-handed?"

"The mirror writing."

"She writes backwards?" the teacher asked.

I pulled out everything (I mean everything!) my daughter had done in class for the past year and showed her. The woman laughed.

"Oh, I don't even notice that anymore. They all do it."

Let me digress for a moment and point out that writing backwards is no easy task. (Unless you're Stanley Kubrick. Redrum, redrum.) For the record, my daughter who is nearly fifteen-and-a-half now, did outgrow that particular gift. 

But she is happy to be a nonconformist in other areas.

One year (second grade maybe?), the teacher had the kids create individual mailboxes in which they would collect valentines from their classmates. The assignment was to build them out of different geometric shapes. My daughter was going through a horse phase at the time (oh wait! that wasn't a phase ...), and she was quite determined to create a horse mailbox. We used an up-ended shoe box (rectangle) for the equine's neck and taped an oatmeal box (cylinder) to the top for the head. We cut a slit in the circular bottom of the oatmeal container so that kids could sort of "feed" the horse their cards. Then we covered the whole thing in kraft paper, glued on folded ears, googly eyes and a yarn mane. It was a great success, and it's on display in her bedroom today with that year's valentines still in it. (Now that I think about it, I should probably check inside. There may have been some lollipops and conversation hearts in there. Hmmm ... Wonder what the statute of edible limitations is on those?)

It's been a while since I've had a homemade card, but in honor of Valentine's Day, I'm creating something special for my sweetheart of a daughter. A poem. 

Here it is:

Roses are red, violets are blue,
Someday, you'll have a teenager too.
Pansies are pink, carnations are white,
Once in a while, you'll probably fight.
Daisies are yellow, grasses are green,
You'll come and say, "Mom, now I know what you mean!"
Marigolds are orange, planted in a row,
And I'll try not to say, "I told you so."

Happy Valentine's Day to you and your alien.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Grammy Dress Code

What do my daughter's high school and the Grammy Awards have in common? 

A dress code.

According to the school's handbook (available only online to save trees — or more likely to save a commodity even more endangered, the school's nearly extinct budget), the code is based on the presumption that "all students are young adults who wish to dress and groom themselves appropriately with due consideration to popular convention."

The specific "required standards of dress" include the following:

1. Hooded garments may be worn, but the hood may not be on the wearer's head nor cover the ears or face. Hats or head coverings must be removed upon the request of a staff member.

2. Short-shorts and very short skirts will not be worn.

3. Footwear laces will be tied.

4. Torn and cut clothing will not be worn.

5. Clothing will be neat and appropriately buttoned or zipped at all times.

6. Tube-tops, halters, camisole tops, spaghetti strap (sic) and bare midriffs are unacceptable.

7. Chain wallets and other clothing with chains are not allowed.

8. Underwear that is visible is not allowed.

9. Pajamas are not allowed.

And, last but not least.

10. Sunglasses are not allowed to be worn during the school day in the building.

Apparently, the future's not as bright as we've been led to believe. Especially if you're a girl.

Compare this now to the official memorandum that went out to Grammy Awards attendees from CBS. Desperate to avoid a "wardrobe malfunction," the powers that be at the network were specific and explicit. (A little too explicit if you ask me.) This being the age of the Internet, the memo was — of course — leaked.

"Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered. Thong type costumes are problematic. Please avoid exposing bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks and buttock crack. Bare sides or under curvature of the breasts is also problematic. Please avoid sheer see-through clothing that could possibly expose female breast nipples. Please be sure the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible “puffy” bare skin exposure."

What strikes me here (aside from the writer's obvious love for the word "buttock") is its focus on female bits. I'd just as soon avoid male breast nipples too, thank you very much. And what exactly is "visible "puffy" bare skin?" Eeek.

Not to worry though. This is the music industry after all, a group of non-conformists if there ever was one. So, memo or no memo, we were entertained by some pretty extravagant outfits — and some rather creative interpretations of the new rules.

"As you can see, I read the memo," joked Jennifer Lopez to her co-presenter Pitbull. Indeed, there were no buttocks to be seen. Just leg, plenty o' leg. (BTW, if you like the look, you might want to try J-Lo's leg workout, available via Marie Claire here.)

Katy Perry, on the other hand, avoided the "bare side or under curvature of the breasts" dictate by putting it all up front, showcasing her rather buxom bosom with a bejeweled keyhole neckline.

Then there were all the "peek-a-boo" gowns, virtually transparent with the exception of those specific areas (in some cases, only those specific areas) that were so articulately outlined in the memo. This category included dresses worn by Rihanna, Kelly Rowland, Ashanti, D'manti (who is D'manti???) and Alicia Keys. 

On the other hand, Beyonce was tailored and Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood were fairly demure, but that speaks more to their youth and personalities. 

I dare say the infamous memo had nothing to do with it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snow Day

Well, gentle readers, I'm happy to report that we weathered the weather.

It's still snowing here, but Nemo, the "historic blizzard of 2013" has pretty much passed. Overnight, we had record-breaking winds (greatly amplified inside our two-hundred-year-old home — the entire place shuddered) and about thirty inches of snow. I say "about," because it's nearly impossible to measure. Cars and shrubbery and lawn ornaments have virtually disappeared under massive drifts. 

Yes, it was a big storm. But, the level of anxiety (nearly panic) that we witnessed was just a bit ... um ... exaggerated.

My yoga teacher said it best on Friday morning (to our half-empty class). "This is New England. It snows."

The night before, I tried to do some grocery shopping while my daughter was at the stable. After more than twenty-five minutes circling the parking lot at a local Market Basket — and fearing for my very life every time a spot opened up and some bigger, faster driver nabbed it — I gave up. An endless stream of heartier customers poured out of the store with their carts piled high. Bottled water, milk, bread, toilet paper, Duraflame logs. You would think we were out in the wilderness somewhere, and not in suburban Boston. Or that we were facing a nuclear holocaust or a zombie apocalypse at the very least.

As I retreated, I decided that my family could subsist on frozen bagels, canned soup, ramen noodles and tap water for the next day or so. But, just in case I was wrong, I baked a batch of cupcakes. I also have boxes of Valentine's chocolate if things get really desperate. (If only the Girl Scout cookies we ordered had been delivered sooner!)

Snow emergencies are a not a time to worry about a balanced diet. 

I can joke about it, but we have many friends without power this morning. That would certainly not be fun. Our biggest disappointment is a cancelled trip to New York to see my sister in a show. (We will try to reschedule.) Otherwise, as long as my husband's back holds out, we should emerge unscathed.

One nice thing about the storm (besides the hushed sugar coated views from all our windows), is that it turns the typical surly teenager into a wide-eyed child. My daughter who, unable to go to the stable today, would otherwise be sulking around the house is outside with an old friend, sledding. She gladly put on layers, snowpants, a ski parka and even a neck warmer (okay, not so glad about that one, but trust me there was an admirably minimal amount of eye-rolling).

The hill they've chosen is behind the antique elementary school where they went to kindergarten together. So not only will their excursion include some wintry fun, but they will probably be reminiscing a bit too.

Meanwhile, we've turned off the TV. How much non-stop storm coverage can we really take? I'm heating up some soup, and we'll spend the afternoon in front of the fireplace. I have some copywriting to do and my daughter, once she returns, has homework. We are safe and warm and dry, and very grateful for all of the above.

Later, I think we'll bundle up and take a walk through town while the roads are still clean and car-free. If I get lost in a drift, please send a St. Bernard with supplies.

You can skip the barrel of brandy and send a box of Thin Mints instead.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ain't It a Shame

When your child is a baby, there are these wonderful moments of sheer bliss, utter calm, pure love. Of course, there are all kinds of frustrations too. These typically revolve around such issues as sleep deprivation, fussiness, sleep deprivation, monotony and, yes, sleep deprivation.

As your tiny tyke begins to grow, the frustrations change. Tantrums take over. Or school brings a whole new set of worries. Bullies, un-understanding teachers, new feelings of disappointment, exclusion, anxiety. But I still look back on all those years through decidedly rose colored glasses.

Basically, you don't realize how easy any of these times are because they feel anything but easy while you're going through them.

But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the frustration of trying to control a teenager. Control? Ha. Try fathom. It is simply impossible. Simply. Impossible.

Make a concerted effort to give clear, consistent direction? It doesn't matter. Here's an example from last night in my own happy home:

What I said: "Go put your clean clothes away and come right back down so we can talk about your English essay."

What she heard: "Meander upstairs, browse the latest issue of Seventeen; Instagram your fifty closest friends; try on your new green nail polish. Only come down again when your parents yell up at you. Oh, and forget to put away the laundry."

If only there was a Babelfish.com to translate parent into teen and back again.

The good news, I guess, is that she seems to talk back less than she did. But, if blank looks could kill, I'd be one majorly murdered mamma. I swear, sometimes I think I must be speaking (let's face it, yelling in) another language altogether. 

My point, I guess, is this. YES, I get it. Teens can frequently frustrate the hell out of us. That's why I kinda sorta understand why there seems to be a trend emerging in which parents punish their wayward offspring through public humiliation. I do understand it. But, I don't agree with it.

The news stories are funny (and, I can only imagine that there are millions of moms and dads nodding in recognition every time one comes on). There was the ill-fated tween shoplifter who had to wear a tee shirt that read "Hide your money. Hide your clothes. Hide everything. Cuz I'm A Thief." There was a slightly older girl who was forced to stand on a street corner with a sign that said "I sneak boys in at 3 a.m. and disrespect my parents and grandparents."

The most recent story was a dad who had a tee shirt made with his angry face on it and the dare "Try me!!" His daughter had to wear the shirt to school for a week after breaking curfew. The father also posted a picture (he's smiling; she's not) and full explanation on social media.

The posting part of the story is certainly the most timely (and well may be the most embarrassing for the teenage perps involved). Today, we all "live out loud" online. No one more so than teens. The idea that the Internet exists solely for their benefit — to share their successes and (apparently) their defeats — feels true to our kids. In fact, I sometimes wonder if anything that happens in their analog lives feels real until it's also out for the world (and world wide web) to see.

So, I get the frustration and I even get the effectiveness of the communications channel. But, I disagree with the bigger concept. Does shaming really work? Does it dissuade bad behavior? Or does it simply plant and nurture an acute sense of rage and helplessness? 

My gut tells me it's the latter. But, I wouldn't know because my parents never publicly shamed me. And I never will my daughter.

Quick. Someone find Hester Prynne and ask her. She'll tell you.

Friday, February 1, 2013


They say that America is the land of opportunity. Indeed, as the mother of an American teenager, I have myriad opportunities to annoy, embarrass, dare I say ... humiliate that offspring.

One of the sure-fire ways to make adolescent eyes roll is to try to use au courant text acronyms. I understand this, which is why my texts to my daughter don't typically include ttyl (talk to you later), kk (okay), lol (laughing out loud), lmao (laughing my ass off) or the more descriptive — if off-color — lmfao. This presents very little hardship, because my texts are seldom about laughing matters.

Nevertheless, even with all my astute astuteness, I just came across an acronym that sparked my imagination: yolo.

I apologize to anyone particularly with it (or under twenty). I know that yolo is yesterday's news. But, for me, it was literally that; I found out about it yesterday.

yolo = you only live once

Like so much of the English language, this James Bond-inspired acronym has different shades of meaning. On the upside, it means "carpe diem," seize the day (because yolo). In sort of the middle ground, it means "don't sweat the small stuff" (because yolo). Then there's the downside: "don't sweat anything, don't care, act like a jerk" because yolo.

According to my daughter, the yolo 'tude gives people permission to behave badly. Putting yourself first? Yolo. Cutting class to smoke dope on the path next to the high school? Yolo. Telling someone what you really think (even if it hurts their feelings)? Yolo. This has created a yolo backlash. So, not only am I behind the times apparently, but the trend I'm tuning into has already reversed itself.

Still, I like my first, more positive interpretation. As far as we know, we do only live once. And even at the not quite ripe old age of fifty, my regrets center around opportunities I passed over. Y'know, the things I didn't do, rather than the things I did. A good friend has a quote on his mantelpiece that reads, "What would you try if you knew you couldn't fail?" That's my idea of yolo.

A few years ago, my husband, then tween daughter and I were spending April vacation in Mexico. I had seen a story on the Travel Channel about zip-lining and thought it looked amazing. So, as we were planning the trip, I told my family that I wanted to zip-line.

Let me tell you, if you took all the laughs ever offered up to Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Joan Rivers, and Kathy Griffin ... combined, they wouldn't hold a candle to the guffaws, disbelief and general merriment that ensued. My beloved child and spouse were rolling on the ground.


"No way!"

"You would never!"

I was hurt. Sure, I'm not what you would call an "outdoorswoman." My idea of camping is a hotel that doesn't have pay channels. But, it's not like I'm a big scaredy cat. I do brave things. Just generally not brave things that require a helmet and a harness. Nevertheless, their reaction made me all the more determined and once we arrived in Playacar, we found an outfitter and booked our "extreme canopy adventure."

The next day, we arrived at Selvatica, which means "citizen of the jungle," along with about a dozen other gringos. After mandatory pictures taken with parrots (really) and some brief safety training, we were escorted by guides up into the trees. High, high, high up in the trees. We would do about twenty lines, then swim in a cenote (an enchanted fresh water sinkhole), have lunch and head back to our resort. We watched the first couple of people go and it was our turn. My husband and daughter were giving each other knowing looks all the while; they still thought I was going to bail.

And, so did I. As a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I suddenly pushed ahead of them. I knew that if I didn't take that first run right then, I'd be doing the climb of shame back down to base camp. A guide clipped my harness to the line; I held my breath and let go.

In the most ubiquitous text acronym of all ... OMG!!!!!

The ninety minutes and twenty lines were over way too fast. I loved every white-knuckled minute of it. The wind, the speed, the views. It was amazing. Honestly one of the most fantastic things I have ever done. (So there, you guys!)

That feeling of exhilaration is something that I want my daughter to know and embrace. She is more naturally fearless than her mother (I'm more anxious watching her jump in horse shows than she is actually jumping). But, I hope I taught her a good lesson that day.

My brother once told me, "Leap and the net will appear." 

What can I say? Yolo.