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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Burden of Being a Parent

I deposited my youngest child back at college last week. He’s the least demanding and least expensive of all my children so I was a little bit sad to see him go. I always have fleeting moments of emotion when I say goodbye to my kids. But I’ve been doing this for six years and have found that every goodbye is followed by an overwhelming sense of freedom.

I used to have that same feeling when I was a college student. I’d get into my army-green Ford Pinto, wave goodbye to my parents, light up a blunt (just kidding, kids) and drive away into the great beyond.

I loved my parents, I loved my house. I loved my sisters. And back then, I even loved my dog. But, I couldn’t wait to leave them all and get back to college. 

Because there were rules at home. I had to tell my parents what I was doing and where I was going. And even if I didn’t tell them the truth, I had to come up with a believable story. I had to eat the meatloaf my mother put on the table, or go hungry. I had to rake the leaves and shovel the snow and take walks around the block with my father. I had to sneak in late at night and make excuses for why I stayed in bed until noon.

But, in the grand scheme of life, I had it really pretty good. My parents didn’t ask too many questions and when they did I just said that the cigarette stench on my clothes was from Penny (aka Patty) or Debbie or Rachel or Madge. But I didn’t share my stories of picking up those hitchhikers or driving to Florida one night on a whim or running from the police after a party gone bad.

Something switched between then and now. The purpose of parents is no longer to instill fear. Somewhere along the line, parents became confidantes and kids became friends. The last point of contact became the first. I would no more have called my mother about a flat tire than I would have asked my father to post my bail. I would have exhausted every single sister, acquaintance and best friend’s brother before I would succumb to the wrath of my very reasonable, but very parental parents.

But my kids. My kids tell me everything. And while I’m not foolhardy enough to believe that they’re not hiding some secrets from me, the expensive ones, the upsetting ones and the life-altering ones, I’m told about.

So far, not one of them has outdone me. But, because I know what’s in their DNA, and in their not-fully-developed-young-adult-brains, (because they tell me) – I worry. I worry that they’re going to trip and fall. I worry that they’re going to crash and burn. I worry that they’re going to take one of their harebrained ideas and run with it. I worry that they won’t. I worry that they won’t fall in love. Or out of it. I worry that they’ll quit their jobs. Or worse.

I’m pretty good with the out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing. I don’t worry about my kids when they’re not giving me something to worry about. I don’t think about my daughter walking the streets of New Orleans alone late at night or my middle son getting mugged in South Central LA or my little one walking a mile-and-a-half to school in the snow with no boots. But when their numbers show up on my phone, that’s when I start to worry. Because I know it’s going to cost me. Financially or emotionally. And usually both.

But what really keeps me up at night is when I start to worry about my own future. And my freedom. And what would happen if they move back home and live with me until they're 26 years-old. 

Just like I did to my parents. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Tinder for Dummies

“Hey! Do you know how to set up a Tinder account?” I texted the daughter on Saturday night.

Now, my son in California, he only answers when I Venmo him money. The younger one responds only if he’s home from school and I message him at 2 pm to say I’ve made him waffles for breakfast.  And he doesn’t even text back.  He just clumps down the stairs and greets me with a grunt.

But the daughter, she always answers me.

Which is why, when my text asking about an online dating site was met with radio silence, I had to wonder if I had finally crossed the line.  

It wasn’t for me. Honest. It was for my friend, who for Tinder’s sake, I’ll call Tina. Now, Tina has every right to be on Tinder. She has been separated for well over a year, her soon-to-be first husband has been dating someone for several months and it’s just a matter of time (and money) until they are legally divorced.

With apologies to all the runner-ups, Tina is hands-down the prettiest friend I have. If I were given a bowl of DNA and told to create the face I wanted to wear for life, it would be Tina’s. She is universally beautiful. She’s a head-turner. But, sadly, a little bit of a head case as well.

I say that with all due respect, lots of love and to her face as well as behind her back. She doesn’t believe she is attractive. She doesn’t think she will ever find love again. And worst of all, there’s a part of her who doesn’t believe she deserves to.

On Saturday night, another friend, who we’ll call Maria, and I descended on a down-in-the-dumps Tina. After watching Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton in The Other Woman on a huge screen TV, we felt so good about ourselves that we downed an entire pizza pie, a full bag of Doritos and scarfed through the cabinets until we found a bag of mini marshmallows to satisfy our sweet teeth. Oh, yeah. And drank a bottle of wine.

And that’s when I grabbed the iPad.

“We’re putting you on Tinder,” I said.

“What the Hell is Tinder?” Tina asked.

“Not Tinder!” Maria gasped. “Tinder’s that hook-up site for 20 year-olds.”

“Not anymore,” I assured them. “Old people go on it, too.”

Old people who aren’t technologically-challenge that is. Which I am, and is why I had to send the text to the daughter when we couldn’t create the account.

We eventually figured it out for ourselves and spent the evening left and right swiping eligible and ineligible bachelors and cracking ourselves up to the tune of Tina’s protests.

We soon got bored with Tinder and moved on to Plenty of Fish, a dating site that Maria had used back in the day when she was in the market for a man.

“I’m not going to get any matches. No one is going to click on me!” Tina whined.

“You will get tons of matches,” Maria assured her.

And sure enough, in five minutes flat, plenty of fish had come to the surface.

“A message! We got a message!” I shrieked.

“Don’t you dare respond!” Tina said.

“You’re so beautiful!” the message read. “I’m just hot!” Followed by a string of non-sequitur emojis.

“Don’t do it!” Tina warned.

“Tell me about yourself,” I responded benignly.

“Oh my God!” Maria shrieked. “That guy was on here five years ago!”

“Loser,” I typed. And hit send.

“Whoa! What was that all about?” the loser wrote back.

And then I felt bad because after all, the poor guy’s been on the same dating site for five years. He was clueless to the fact that we were mocking him mercilessly and that undoubtedly, so were hundreds of other women who were looking for love in all the wrong fish ponds.

“Sorry,” I amended. “Some other guy said something inappropriate. I sent it to the wrong person.”

And then we X’d him out.

We laughed until our stomachs hurt as we swiped through the site, reading profiles with horrendous typos, profiles clearly written by women and profiles that under different circumstances would have made us swoon.

At the end of the night we deleted all the dating site apps off of the iPad and left Tina feeling a little happier than she was when we arrived. If nothing else, we gave her a little self-esteem boost. We proved to her that she’d have no problem meeting a man when she was ready and promised that when she was, we’d write a real profile, take a pretty picture and help her weed out the losers. And if online dating didn’t pan out, we’d be willing to accompany her on an upscale singles cruise to help her cause.

Maria and I chortled the whole way home about the matches we had made behind Tina’s back. We right-swiped the ones with no teeth, the ones who were twenty years older than they professed to be and the ones who rented Ferrari’s for the profile photo. I’m not sure we left swiped anyone. Because after all, who are we to judge a person by a picture?

On Sunday afternoon I got a text from Tina.

“Help! How do I get rid of all these messages from Plenty of Fish?”

“Thought we deleted the app!” I responded.

“Well I keep getting messages! What’s my log in?”

And I laughed again. Because I really wasn’t sure.

While slicing and dicing for dinner later that day my spouse breezed through the kitchen.

“What’s Tinder?” he asked.

“Why?” I said hesitantly.

“Because you texted me last night asking how to open an account.”


Monday, January 11, 2016

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I validate my life through signs. My dear, deceased mother-in-law flits from tree to tree in the form of a bright red cardinal as I sit at my desk on the verge of writing something nasty to someone who may or may not deserve it. More than once I’ve looked out my window and seen Sally who was, at her meanest, kinder than I’ll ever be. I take it as a sign and push delete instead of send.

I find pennies, so many pennies on my walks. One day I found a quarter. Followed by a dime. And a few steps later, three pennies. I knew they came from my father because years and years ago, on a walk around the neighborhood, we found a similar configuration of cents. True to character, he made some remark about how foolish and careless the person was who dropped all that money. And so, I took my newfound coins as a sign that what I was thinking about on my walk was indeed foolish and careless. I canceled my order for that Louis Vuitton tote bag that I had coveted for so long.

When I hear about accidents on roads not taken, scandals in schools not chosen, food poisoning on cruise ships not sailed upon, I consider them signs. 

I believe in everything happening for a reason, being in the right place at the right time and getting what you deserve. I also believe in four-leaf clovers, wedding rings and rainbows.  

But I didn’t see the rainbow yesterday.

Because I believe in doing what I believe to be the right thing, I've spent a lot of time building my resume as a good Christian. I go to church almost every Sunday (except of course in the summer). I had all my children baptized and raised them to go to church (unless of course there was a Sunday baseball game). I have taught Sunday School. I make tuna fish sandwiches for the Holiday Fair. I have served as a Deacon (though am almost positive I would have been impeached had my term not expired first). I am on both the Outreach and Membership and the Mission and Stewardship Committees (though I'm not sure I know the difference between the two). I go to Bible Study every single week (though I rarely confess my whereabouts unless I'm trying to impress a random church-goer). 

On paper, I’m a pretty good Presbyterian. But out in the world, boy, am I a heathen. 

Ask me in public what I think about religion and I denounce the bejesus out of the whole crazy concept. Because heaven forbid I be one of the fools who's left believing in the resurrection and some omnipresent supreme being if the whole theory is shot to Hell. 

Despite my efforts to keep the Holy Spirit at bay, I grew very close to the pastor at our multi-cultural church. Debra Given came to The Presbyterian Church in Leonia in 2000 and I've been a challenging project for her ever since. She's a hard and fast ex-Jesus freak liberal who accepts everyone, no matter what they believe or where they are in their journey of faith. She does not cower when I say to her holy face,"You really think this Jesus stuff is true?”

She smiles and promises me that I'm holier than I think. 

We talk about signs a lot in Bible Study. Debra believes that certain signs just may be divine coincidences. It sounds good, but not quite good enough to believe.

We’ve known since November that Debra was retiring this week and of course I was recruited to be on the Party Planning Committee. After all, everyone knows I'm looking for a couple more kudos from God. Just in case. 

Losing a pastor is not an easy thing. It's worse than losing a boss or a principal or a child to college. There's a whole protocol to be followed which, for some strange reason, includes actually letting the pastor retire. And, for us, that kind of means severing our relationship with Debra and her family. There's no meeting for lunch next week or guest appearances at Bible Study or coming back to baptize a baby. There will be a period of uncertainty while we search for a new pastor and certain personalities will surely rear their ugly heads as we battle for who we consider to be the best of the bunch to take over the helm. 

But, at the party we made Debra a promise that we would be good. We would survive. And we would make her proud. One of my very favorite people in the whole church, and maybe the whole wide world, came up to me at the end of the very moving and lovely party. Because she is as private as I am public, though perhaps equally as holy, I won't call her by name, but here's a hint. She's young and pretty and sings like an angel. We both had tears in our eyes as we started talking about the changes we were facing and how much we were going to miss Debra.
“As sad as it is, all this makes me feel like we’re a church again,” she said.

And I knew exactly what she meant.

In Debra’s final sermon, I was called out, not by name because she's way too kind for that.

“I’ve heard that some of you,” she said in her jokingly chiding way. “Have said once I’m gone you’re not coming back to church.”

And I have said that. Out loud. To many. Because that's the kind of thing all good heathens say. But I’ve always amended it by saying that because I love my spouse and he loves the church, I’ll continue to come.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the church after her goodbye sermon which was filled with many messages, including these words:

If you are one of those people who wants or needs to know God's love in your life, you can pray and ask God to show it to you. God answers those kinds of prayers. But also pray that your eyes may be open to see, because sometimes God's love comes in unexpected ways. So if you decide to pray, you also need to pay attention.

Well, that wouldn't be me. Cause I don't pray. And I'm not real good at paying attention either.

When church let out, it was pouring down rain. Teeming. Monsooning.

Another sign, I thought wryly. Another sign.

And, just like that, the sun burst through the clouds and lit up those rain drops on the barren tree branches. My buddy Suzanne and I dashed to the doors, certain we'd see a rainbow.

But it wasn’t there.

I cried the whole way home.

Later when I was flipping through Facebook, pictures of the double rainbow that spanned across the Hudson River popped up all over my page. I smiled. So, there was a rainbow after all.

Funny thing is, I didn't pray for a sign. But maybe, just maybe, Debra did it for me.