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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cutting off your kids

I recently lost a dependent.

Sadly, it wasn’t the dog.

It was the daughter.

Happily, she is still alive.

And gainfully employed.

She just completed the first full year of her life that she was not a full-time student, not living at home and not supported by her overly-generous parents.

That makes her no longer a dependent.

Which is, theoretically, a good thing.

Until tax time.

I love my children fiercely. But I’m the first to admit that though I crave love, I am not big on dependency. Which is kind of a problem when you decide to have three children in rapid succession.

From their very first wails out of the womb I started counting down the days until they’d no longer be dependent on me. I couldn’t wait for them to make their own grilled cheese sandwiches, pick up their own messes and tie their own shoelaces. I prayed for strength through the interminable days of messy diapers, spilled sippy cups and forgotten-at-the-park blankies. I grimaced and bore it through untimely temper tantrums, inconvenient cocksackie outbreaks and embarrassing trips to the emergency room.

But, because I fully understood the implications of having three children who depended on me for their very survival, success and ultimate happiness, I hunkered down and got it done. I fed them as nutritiously as possible given their finicky eating habits, nurtured them as best as I could given my innate nurturing aversion and transported them in as much style as the old minivan, that has yet to die, would allow. From place to place, game to game, competition to competition. School to field. Field to friends. Friends to fun. Fun to work. Around and around and around we went.

Throughout those child-rearing years, no matter how hard my head was spinning, my heart was pounding or my insides were shaking, I did everything in my power to encourage the development of those proverbial wings that would allow my kids to fly freely into their independent lives.

Which, of course, was more for my sake than theirs.

Oh, how I yearned to watch TV in the living room at eight-o-clock at night. Alone. Without hearing, “Where are my cleats?” or “I need a ride to Heather’s” or “The white shirt that I need for the show tomorrow has an ink stain on it.”

I envisioned eating an entire meal without interruption, going to the grocery store without grubby little hands grabbing at Chips Ahoy cookies and doing laundry once a week and only once a week.

I dreamed of clean bathrooms, well-stocked refrigerators and friend-free basements on Saturday nights.

And then, in a blink of an eye, those endless days ended. One by one they left the house. They went so far and wide that they all ended up in different time zones.

And because I have a very independent, ever-loving spouse who has never made a single demand on me in our whole live-long life together, my house is peaceful and happy and dependent free.

At least until the phone rings.

I love hearing from the daughter. Every. Single. Day.

I love knowing what she is doing, how she is feeling and how she is viewing the world. I love asking her what books to read. What she’s teaching her students. And what bands she’s discovered. She sends me posts of liberal rants, video clips of Roy Williams in the UNC locker room and you tube clips links that “capture the pure essence of my being,” as Ellen Pompeo lies frozen in heartache in a Grey’s Anatomy episode.

I find myself somewhat (gulp) depending on my daily interaction with the daughter.

Conversely, I rarely hear from the boys. They don’t call. They don’t write. They barely send a birthday emoji. But I’ve come to count on them as well.

I don’t get much more than a shrug from the middle son when I ask about his life, zipped lips when I ask about the girl, and clipped responses if I dare offer the wrong advice. But I do get affirmations on Mother’s Day (read it and weep) and I depend on him to remind me why I did this in the first place.

And my youngest. He’s the one who keeps me grounded. He’s the one with whom I share my deepest thoughts and for whom my heart breaks the hardest. I cherish our conversations questioning the meaning of life and depend on him to one day have the answer.

It wasn’t until I filed our taxes this year that I started thinking about what it means to be a dependent. I realized that somewhere along the line, things shifted. It’s no longer about physical demands and overpowering responsibilities. Rather, it’s about connections and relationships. That somehow I managed to make in spite of myself.

And while it’s all financial when it comes to the IRS, I’ve learned that’s the easy part. The government can take away your deductions. You can cut off funds for the cell phone, the car insurance and the occasional haircut. But you can’t cut off your dependents. Ever.

Especially when you've become co-dependent.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Going Mad



I watch basketball like a girl.

With all due respect to my feminist friends and favorite girl basketball player, Milan Johnson, of course. But it’s true.

I love college basketball more than many boys I know, but I watch it like a girl.

First of all, I sit in a sagging chair in the corner of my living room with a rolled-up pillow tied into a bolster with a bungee cord as a makeshift lumbar support. I watch a 19-inch television screen that sits on a $19 IKEA table with multiple cords and cables snaking across the room. I watch from two-and-a-half feet away, any farther and I wouldn’t be able to see the screen.

I set up with my laptop to do my freelance writing. A pad of paper and three pens because I always walk away with one, to jot down notes of things I’ll forget, like to make a dentist appointment or get the dog a rabies shot. I have my cell phone plugged into the charger and the house phone on the table for easy access when the daughter makes her daily call. I have an endless glass of Diet Coke with plenty of ice and a straw. I usually have a bowl of pretzels by my side for a little fun and crunch to bolster my boring spring mix and spinach lunch salad. And of course, I have my pile of pools and game schedules and master sheets and an index card that tells me which channels (there are four) my favorite teams will be on.

Hands down, my favorite time of year is March Madness. Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups have nothing on the NCAA Tournament. I don’t go to parties or watch with friends. I can do it all alone.

And I did. For twelve hours straight yesterday. I really did. I watched every single one of the sixteen games yesterday. While it’s impossible to watch every single second of every single game because they are multiple games on at a time, I mastered the remote control and flipped from CBS to TBS to TNT to TRU with the precision of a point guard.

It’s not like I neglected my duties for 12 hours straight. I worked while I watched. I cooked while I watched. I communicated with the child while I watched. And I did laundry while I watched. I made sure I got up and moved every 15 minutes to save my aching back and rapidly crossing eyes. And I even interacted with my ever-loving spouse for a couple of games.

He prefers watching on the big screen in the basement, preferably with the home-from-college-boy by his side, I like being twenty steps from the kitchen, twenty steps from my desk and twenty steps from the door that I can open for a reprieve from the dog that follows me from room to room to room. All day long. These are the things I have to think about. After all, I'm a girl.

For the past ten years I've been in a tournament pool that’s organized by a guy I have never met from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And I spent a lot of time making my picks. I do three pools in my name, one in my blog’s name and one in the dog’s name.

I have to do multiple pools because I have multiple teams I have to root for. I have to pick UConn for Jaelin and Megan, and because the one year I did win the pool was the year the Huskies took the crown. I can’t in good conscience choose Iowa for Daniella over Jamal, Lana and the Forman boys at Temple, so I have to add another pool. I can’t go against St. Joe’s because my son used to play with Shavar at Riverside Church. I circle Oklahoma for Ruby and West Virginia because it’s my alma mater. Or was. Until they lost to Stephen F. Austin. I pick any team that’s up against Duke. I go with UVA because Ty’s going to play there next year and Iona for Tony Hargraves. I cheer for Notre Dame for Brandon and Seton Hall just because they’re Seton Hall. I pick USC over Providence for my son who I wish never gave up the game and of course, Pitt for Chris Jones.

And while I watch, I watch like a girl. I don't watch how Shavar handles the ball, but instead scan the stands for a glimpse of his dad. I don't worry that Chris Jones will miss a bucket, but rather that he'll choke on the gum that he insists on chewing while on the court. I fall prey to the human interest stories, the walk-ons gone good and the bad boys who've risen from adversity. I watch the coaches’ wives cry and shake my head at the lumberjack beards. My throat constricts when a middling school like Middle Tennessee takes a final four favorite to task. And I scream out loud when some guy from Northern Iowa sink a half-court buzzer beater for the win.

But no matter how I watch, who I root for, or how many pools I enter, in the end, there’s only one team that matters.

And that’s the one team I won’t watch like a girl. I won’t let my underdog heart feel sorry for Providence because I have to keep it beating for when the Heels take on Indiana, or God forbid, Kentucky. Instead I’ll watch with the same heart thumping passion that will match any guy out there.

We sent our daughter to UNC fully intending to celebrate an NCAA championship or two in the four years she was there. And while it didn't happen, we never stopped hoping. Because, after all, we've invested a lot of money in that school. And I don't mean the $10 pool.

It's time. Let’s get it done.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Perils of Being the Third Child



“Coming home tomorrow,” the third and youngest child responded to my bi-monthly hand-wave emoji.

Ever the loving parent I responded, “What for?” As opposed to “Great! Can’t wait to see you, oh favorite child of mine.”

“Spring break,” he responded.

I gulped and wrote back, “Great! Can’t wait to see you, oh favorite child of mine.”

I had NO. IDEA. 

But that’s what happens with the third child. Somewhere along the line you just stop worrying about things like spring break. And grades. And curfews. 

When the daughter was in college, I always knew precisely when spring break was. After all, it usually involved a personal loan for something like a plane ticket to Jamaica. And the middle kid, well, when he made the full-court press to go to school in California, we had to set some limits. If you want to come home for spring break, you’re paying. And that was that. We never saw him again. Though, no need to feel sorry for him. He too, has gotten his fair share of Venmo "loans."

When the daughter started kindergarten, it was my first time through the school system and I didn’t know I should launch the parental helicopter by sniffing out the top teachers. But I learned my lesson quickly and became PTA president when Child Number Two entered the ranks. I’m not saying I was granted any favors, but let’s just say he got the teacher I would have chosen had I been allowed to choose. And then when the last one got to school and his perfect teacher was transferred to a different grade just two days into the year and a classroom aide (certified though she may have been) took the job as her teaching debut, I didn’t squawk, I didn’t talk. Because I really didn't care.

When the oldest was in high school, she had to be home at 10:30 on weekend nights. I kid you not. The next was allowed out until midnight. And the third usually went out about then. 

The daughter applied to seven or eight colleges and when one offered her a spot in the honors program with a pretty decent scholarship to boot, there wasn’t a part of me that thought it would be a good idea for her to pass on her dream school (that didn’t give her a dime) to avoid something as trivial as lifelong college debt.

I, along with half the town, was totally immersed in Number Two’s college decision. His debate was whether or not to play football and could not make up his mind, nor did he, until 30 seconds before the midnight acceptance deadline. It was an all-consuming, life-or-death decision. He chose to play football and then chose academics over athletics and transferred to his dream school which just happens to one of the most expensive colleges in the country. 

The third child never had a dream school. His dream was to play collegiate baseball and when he was offered a spot on a Division 1 roster, he grabbed it. Of course, he decided that playing baseball wasn’t a dream come true after all and is now at a college he doesn’t particularly like. But I don’t particularly care.  

Because, after all, he’s the third kid. I know he’s going to come out OK. I know it’s all a crap shoot. You can major in Peace, War and Defense and end up teaching in the trenches of New Orleans. You can go to school in 75 and sunny California and wish you were shoveling snow in Teaneck. You can play baseball for 14 years of your life and then spend the next 14 discovering what other kinds of diamonds the world has to offer. 

Which isn’t to say I don’t worry, don’t nag, don’t obsess, don’t sneak my strong convictions into every conversation and emoji I send.

Which brings us up to now, the second week in March. Instead of sitting peacefully at my desk writing my little ditties, chopping vegetables for my ever-loving spouse’s carnivore-free dinner salads and then sliding into my chair in the living room to watch Scandal and American Crime and The Voice and Girls and Love and Billions and American Idol and every other show I’ve learned to DVR in my empty nest year-and a half, I’m spending spring break frying filthy dirty slabs of chicken, providing perfectly beautiful overpriced fruit, filling gas tanks, making penne vodka with ricotta cheese every other day, falling into the toilet and nodding my head enthusiastically in late-night conversations filled with harebrained schemes and impossible dreams.

Because though I may have been totally oblivious that it was spring break, I also realized that there's a part of me that will never forget how to parent. All it takes is getting back on the bike, kicking yourself into low gear and pedaling slow and steady, up one hill and then another until you get to the point where even poor Child Number Three is convinced that your world still revolves around him.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Spinning Out of Control



Sometimes I do things just so I can say I did them. I’m not talking about bucket list type things like cliff diving at Ka Lae or parachuting from a plane or climbing the Eiffel Tower step by step.  Though if I did any of those things, I’m fairly confident the whole world would know. I’m referring to the mundane things I do as I meander through life that no one, with the possible exception of my sister Emily, cares about. And yet, I insist on droning on and on about my accomplishments, obsessions and foolhardiness.

For instance, many people know that I worked at TV Guide Magazine for over nine years and never called in sick. Not once. Not even when I had pneumonia.

And what exactly did that do for me? Nothing. No thank you. No promotion. No Perfect Attendance pin. But, I’ve been able to slip it into conversations with my children whenever they threaten to miss work. Or school. Or practice.

And what exactly does that do for me? Nothing. An eye roll. A slammed door. A “Well, I’m not you, now am I?” smirk.

And, just so I can talk about it, I have an Excel spread sheet on which I have recorded my workout regime every single day since February of 2011. That’s five years. In five years I have never missed two consecutive days of exercise. I have never taken more than three days off in a month. And I often will go six weeks straight exercising Every. Single. Day.

And what exactly has that done for me? Well, I'm still not skinny. My bone-on-bone knees still throb. My arthritic back still aches. But, hey. I’m fit.

Or so I thought.

I have a whole conglomeration of workouts that make their way into my life and subsequently, onto my computer. I walk. A lot. I have different routes I take around town. Once a week I walk with my friend Grace at the park. Or we go round and round at the mall if it's raining. Sometimes I change things up and do the old lady shuffle where I replicate the motions of jogging without actually pounding the pavement. 

I joined a gym with a pool and started swimming laps until I got waterlogged and switched over to Aqua Fit classes, where I feel young and limber and energetic.  I lift weights and glide on the elliptical machine. I tread on the treadmill and simulate hills on Level 10. I row, I climb, I throw weighted balls at sideways trampolines. I’ve taken Zumba class. I even had a personal trainer until our personal rapport got in the way of my crunches. I’ll do just about anything my limbs will allow, except of course for yoga. Because God forbid, I do anything to calm my muddled mind.

But, I’m bored. I’m weary of walking in circles. I’m tired of doing jumping jacks in the water. I’m sick of free weights and kettle balls. It's time for something new.

My friend Theresa was a master Spinner in her heydey. She used to rave about her Spin classes and how fit she got and how many friends she made. I’ve been tempted, but really, I’d rather ride a real bike. In the warm weather I routinely pedal 20 or 30 miles at a pop. I’ve ridden upwards of 80 miles in a day and wondered just how taxing riding a stationary bicycle could possibly be. I mean, I’m in pretty good bike shape for my age and ailments.

Or so I thought.

I slinked into the back row of the Spin studio ten minutes early. I watched the toned and tanned 30-somethings in front of me adjust their seats, secure their filtered water bottles and clip their SPIN SHOES into the pedals. I scoffed at my Nikes in shame. I raised my seat, mounted my bike and spun the creaks out of my knees, waiting for class to begin.

In came Andy. Short, stocky, donned in bicycling shorts, touring jersey and wireless head mic. After some perfunctory instruction for a class that clearly didn’t need it, he turned off the lights, turned up the music, hopped on his bike and we were off.

I loved it.

“Fourteen!” Andy bellowed after three very short minutes.

Fourteen? 

 “Move that little red lever! Gear up! Put it in fourteen. Not six. Not ten. Fourteen. Let’s go! Keep the RPMs between 80 and 90. Sprint!”

And I did. It was easy. For about seven seconds.

I looked slyly to my left and pulled my little red lever down to five.

I vowed to stay for 30 minutes. And if Andy called me out as I tried to skulk out of class, I’d just chirp back that I had a cardiologist appointment.

“Up!” he commanded.

Up?

The class rose in solidarity and start pedaling standing up.

Nothing to it. For about 12 seconds.

Then came the ten-times-in-a-row, fifteen-seconds-up, fifteen-seconds-down intervals.

If standing’s too hard, stay seated,” Andy advised.

You talking to me?

I hoisted myself back up. 

The big clock on the wall ticked oh, so slowly. Twenty-nine minutes down. I decided to hang in for another 10.

“Climb! We’re in eighteen now.”

Are you kidding me?

I flipped the little red lever up to twelve. For ten seconds. Then dropped it down to eight. Then five.

The torture went on and on and on. Up and down. Gear up. Up. Up! Faster. Faster. Faster! And, recover. For a nano-second. Then Up! Eighteen! Position three! Which I gathered had something to do with hand-on-handlebar position. Position two! 100 RPMs. Let’s go! It’s called exercise for a reason! Boom. Boom. Boom. Music booming to the tune of my beating heart. Sweat flinging. Palms stinging. Legs aching. Back breaking.

And yet, I toughed it out, way too embarrassed to get off and go. So I just kept pedaling. And pedaling. And standing up. And sitting down. Until I made it through the full hour of spin class.

The first thing I did when I got home was add SPIN to my Excel sheet, knowing full well I'd never, ever do anything that strenuous ever again. But then, just for laughs, I went on Amazon and searched for Spin shoes. I really did.

Because maybe, just maybe, I'll go back again. And maybe, just maybe, droning on about all my recorded accomplishments, obsessions and foolhardiness will end up doing something for me one day.

And if not, at least I've kept myself entertained in the process.