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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I love my kid more than you love yours

“Slept two in a bed with Lana last night,” Madge messaged during our early-morning Words with Friends game.

“Are you kidding me?” I responded. “My daughter would rather die than sleep in a bed with me. Especially a hospital bed. A single-sized hospital bed!”

Poor Madge got word that her daughter had gone to the ER with a horribly high-fever and nausea-inducing infection. Without thinking twice, Madge got in the car and drove the hundred miles to be with her. Lana is a soon-to-be 25 year-old. She is a college graduate. She has a boyfriend who lives in the same city. She has a job. And she has managed to successfully navigate the perils of North Philadelphia. On her own.

Yet, her mother dropped everything to be with her. And then, went so far as to sleep in the same bed with her in the hospital.

I would never.

My friend Jean loves having her three kids around. She cooks dinner every single night and thinks I’m absolutely crazy to have allowed my offspring to go to colleges in North Carolina and California. She was baffled over my qualmless approval of my daughter traveling alone through Thailand last summer. And wondered how I could sleep at night when she went to Cuba, leaving me no itinerary, staying with random families along the way. With no phone service for a week. 

She doesn’t have to say it out loud. I know what Jean’s thinking. What kind of mother would actually encourage that kind of precarious wanderlust?

She would never.

My friend Claire raised four boys who never knew what it was like to go without. She put her kids before everything else in the whole wide world. She made their beds, packed their snacks and sorted their smelly sports equipment for years and years. She gave them the shirt off her back, the first and last licks of her ice cream cone and the keys to her Mercedes. She traipsed through Disney World dozens of times, set up dozens of dorm rooms and washed dozens of bath towels on a daily basis. She never ended a phone call without saying, “I love you.”

I would never.

Theresa rolls her eyes when my friend Karen and I admit we do our grown kids’ laundry when they’re home. She cringes when we make them lunch and mocked me for years as I drove the old minivan around in circles for hours, picking up wayward kids and depositing them on different fields in different towns. Sometimes in different states.

She would never.

On Easter Sunday, I yelled at my friend, Michelle, because she was insisting that her daughter attend a job fair. Going to the job fair would mean that poor, deprived Alyssa, who will be graduating in May, would miss one of the last big college shindigs. Of. Her. Life.

I would never.

“Mom!” the daughter wrote in one of her inane texts after the series finale of Girls. We watched together, a time zone apart, as the main character, Hannah, tried to get a grip on motherhood. “You didn’t even try to breastfeed me?”

“Nope. Didn’t love you enough.”

“Haha!” she answered, thinking I was kidding.

I’ve never been anything but completely honest about my parental limitations. I’ve experienced great surges of pride only to have them plummet into overwhelming feelings of guilt. I’ve believed I was absolutely, without-a-doubt right and found out I was so incredibly wrong. I’ve picked my battles and lost, and chosen not to fight and won.

But, so has every other mother out there. 

Yet, throughout this long and grueling parenting process, I’ve known many a mother who gets a sick sense of satisfaction when someone else's child receives an Ivy League rejection, is cut from the cheerleading squad or lands themselves on the local police blotter.

“It’s no wonder,” they say. “That mother would never …”

And then there's Madge. Ever since our daughters were born six months apart, I knew I could count on her to pull me from the depths of my doubts. She always told me what a great job I was doing, how much my kids loved me and how much I seemed to love being a mom. Of course, she never witnessed my day-to-day undoing, but hey, everyone needs a Madge in their life.
My friend Madge knows how dumbfounded I was over the two-in-a-bed incident last week, and that I was surely internalizing the guilt-filled question of whether I loved any one of my children enough to ever cuddle up with them in a single-sized hospital bed.

"It's just different," she assured me. "After all, your kids grew up with a mom who didn't like her feet being touched."

Which, naturally, opened up a whole other level of guilt.

But still, it got me to thinking.

While Lana has returned to work and is surely back to ignoring her mother's annoying texts, snapping at her healthy living suggestions and rolling her eyes over her totally bogus relationship advice, they will always and forever have that night in the hospital. 

And as good as a mother as that makes Madge, it doesn't make me a worse one.

Even if I would never.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Whatever Happened to the Generation Gap?

“Would you please remind my father to buy Gov Ball tickets?” the daughter pleaded on a recent phone call.

“You going again?” I asked, recalling last year when her soggy self conned the father into driving to Randall’s Island to pick her and her friend Lindsay up after a  day of dancing in a deluge.

“Uh, duh,” she responded.  “Pops is going with me.”

Of course she was going. A mere 1,300 miles wouldn’t deter her from a three-day music festival. Especially one to which she could convince her father to accompany her. And pay for.

Unlike me, my spouse would go to a music show every day of his life. His tastes are wide-ranging and indiscriminate, though he just might draw the line at paying to see Justin Bieber. Still, as hip as he is for an old man, it’s hard for me to picture him in a sea of youth chanting along with Chance the Rapper or the Wu-Tang Clan.

But, what really gives me pause is thinking about the music festivals of my youth and trying to imagine being there with my father. 

I'll never forget Stompin’ 76, a bluegrass festival in Galax, Virginia, to which my friend Ann and I drove through the night to get to. We had two consecutive blow outs in the Smoky Mountains and hitched a ride with a truck driver to a service station to buy a new tire. We slept under the stars, or in the back seat of the car, or both. We walked across a little bridge to the fairgrounds that was lined with Pagans and Hells Angels who intimidated us by making visual displays of their naked women.

In the cow pasture where tons of tents were pitched, the hooch and highs flowed free and easy. As did the urine. Seventy-thousand of us peed in porta-potties. Seventy-thousand of us went three days without a shower -- in the heat and humidity of August, so far south in Virginia we could throw a rock to North Carolina.  But, we got to see Bonnie Raitt and John Prine and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and it was simply heaven for the young and adventurous.

But, my dad at Stompin’ 76? Just can’t see it.

My parents were pretty hands-on for parents back in the day. My mother and Mrs. Sommerville were two of the few moms who never missed a field hockey game. My father coached all his daughters through years and years of Oreland Girls’ Softball. My parents taught us to golf. To rake leaves correctly. And to make homemade fudge. We had family dinner every single night at 5:30. We had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for lunch on snow days. My parents signed our report cards. Went to our graduations. Drove us to college freshman year. But never, ever, hung out with us and our peers.

When friends came over to our house on Woods Road, I would whisk them past the den where my father sat in the green leather chair watching the Phillies with our Great Dane, Ludwig on his lap. My mother would be perched at the end of the coordinating couch, stitching a needlepoint sampler. With all my might I willed my friends to not engage my parents in conversation. Because they would surely ask ridiculous questions like, “How’s school going?” or “Where are you working this summer?” And my friends would answer with a simple shrug, grunt, or glassy-eyed smile.

Fast forward a lifetime to my house on Grove Street. Kids walk in and out of my house without knocking. They seek me out as I sit in the living room watching the Mets on TV while my spouse is perched over his laptop writing about the latest greatest white-collar crime. These friends won’t say hello without giving me a hug. I hug back. They sit on the sofa and let me ask them ridiculous questions like, “Who’s your new girlfriend?” or “Did you hear about Nicky Ruscingno’s hitting streak?”  They answer me. Articulately. And often, a little too honestly.

And then, when I remind myself that they’re here to see one of my kids, not me, I release them, sending them up the stairs to the attic where they hang out and do whatever it is I think they’re not doing.

My kids never asked me to drop them at the corner so their peers wouldn’t see them get out of a minivan. Because there was no shame in that. Unlike in our day, where we’d rather walk a mile, or two, than be seen in a car with a parent.

When I was a junior in high school, we had a Creative Writing Night at which we shared the stories we had written in class. I told my parents about it, knowing they had bowling on Tuesday night and they wouldn’t come. Had it been any other night, I wouldn’t have mentioned it for fear that I’d be the only loser whose parents showed up. A couple years ago, my middle son wrote me a Mother’s Day blog thanking me for being the only loser in the football stands.

Once I hit puberty, there was no way, ever, that I’d be seen in a movie theater with my parents.

And I actually liked my parents.

My kids go to the movies with their father. All. The. Time.

Last summer, the father decided he wanted to go on a boys-only trip to Colorado. Though I was initially invited, we all knew it would change the entire dynamic of the vacation, not to mention the cost, since my comfort requirements way exceed any of theirs. I fully expected my 22 and 20 year-old sons to come to me for help squashing the plans. But, that never happened. They actually wanted to go. And they had a great time.

Every year, my daughter, her four college roommates and all of us parents descend on Stephen and Sandra, (who are not only parents, but grandparents!) in Chapel Hill for a multi-generational reunion. My parents wished my freshman roommate good luck, shook hands with her father and that was the extent of it.

The lines between generations have blurred. Girls post on their mothers’ Facebook pages, “Happy Birthday to my best friend!”  Boys bond with their fathers in ways we would have considered creepy. These days, there are no old folk clothes. Everyone dresses the same, in ugly Uggs, memed T-shirts and leggings some of us have no business wearing. Parents have Instagram accounts and the first people they “friend” are their very own kids. Though, being way wiser than our parents ever were, we know they're posting their real selves somewhere to which we have no access.

Sometimes I envy my parents. They knew less. They worried less. They knew their role was to raise their children and get them out. We raise our children and keep them home.

But, despite the many mistakes we mothers of millennials have made, we've all made them together. And while we know it's not our job to be our kids' friends, when you have created kids you actually like, there's something kind of nice about not having to wait until they're all grown up to learn they like you back.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Randomness of Life

Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.

I often marvel at the randomness of life. Had I not made that last-minute pit stop at TV Guide magazine to drop off my resume, I would never have met my ever-loving spouse and would quite likely have lived my life out as a spinster. Or at the very least, be married to a man who didn’t understand my need for a yearly bender with my friend, Patty, whom I never would have met had Seven Dolars not suddenly shut its doors, propelling all those not-so-innocent Catholic girls into the parentally-perceived perils of public high school.

And had Patty and I chosen any other week to vacation last year, we never would have met Danny and Hans who convinced us that our future as cruisers lay beyond the Hairy Chest contest on the Lido deck and that we should try our luck on a slightly more refined cruise ship.
While I will never deny my highfalutin tastes, much of the trouble I’ve made in life has been with friends in low places. And so, I was somewhat fearful that we had classed ourselves out of a good time. I worried that the people we’d meet wouldn’t respond to my friendly interrogations. That they’d cower from my brazen bravado. Cringe as I scarfed down my seventh piece of bread at dinner.  And, that they simply wouldn’t get the whole Polaroid picture taking frenzy we’d put them through. (See last year's rendition of Every Picture Tells a Story, Don't It.)

But, as it turned out, once again, the randomness of life worked in our favor.

“Would you mind moving your bag so we can sit down?” the lovely-looking woman with hair as white-as-the-driven-snow asked, having successfully juggled a plate full of epicurean delights through a sea of starving gluttons. Shortly thereafter, her partner sauntered up to the table and suggested they take the table-for-two that had just opened up.

“You can’t change tables!” I exclaimed. “It will hurt our feelings!”

And, so it began.

Connie and Laurie, our Boca-buddies-by-way-of-Chicago, became our go-to gals with whom we shared tidbits of our lives over lunch and later through the NCAA semi-final game – both thrilled with the final match-up because one had money on Gonzaga, the other on UNC. We ran into them the whole week long, whether it was when we were getting our steps in on the walking deck, trying our luck in the casino or sipping umbrella drinks by the pool. They were fun, happy human beings, who if they indeed had any, were kind enough to keep their judgments to themselves.

And then there was Susan and her husband, Phil who we met on our first night at sea. We connected over their love story that began at the raucously-renowned Mummer’s Parade, knowing that it was entirely possible that Patty and I had been there ourselves that very New Year’s Day. We learned that before migrating to Fort Myers, Phil had been a Philadelphia cop. Six or seven bourbons later, we couldn’t help but wonder if we’d need his protection as the week progressed.

Much to Patty’s chagrin, the only thing I insisted upon (except for getting into the shower first because of my aversion to a steamy bathroom, going to the gym every morning before breakfast, eating both chocolates left on our pillows and getting to cocktail hour three hours before dinner), was that I absolutely had to watch the NCAA finals on Monday night. And, it was imperative that I watch with like-minded folk, rather than alone in the stateroom. After all, UNC had made it to the chip and with all the time, money and energy I’d invested in that school, I wasn’t going to risk not celebrating this year’s redemption victory. And so, Patty deposited me on a bar stool and went off to lose money in the slot machines. As luck would have it, I got a Canadian on the very stool next to me. Don't get me wrong, I love Canadians, but hey, what do they care about our March Madness? Well, Derek ended up being the most competent of drinking companions. He hailed from Vancouver and was on the ship for a work-related travel convention, without his wife. His wife, who just happened to be a Tar Heel. What, I wondered, were the chances of bellying up to the bar on a night like that with someone from Canada with a Carolina connection as strong as mine?
Late, late one night, we met Mike and Dave from sunny California. Their partner-proclaimed trophy wives and above average children had long since retired and we were closing up the casino. In the off chance that you guys remembered us in the morning, please note that I chose not to publically out you for the late night crimes committed.
Michelle and Jeff became our bosom buddies. Seasoned travelers, experienced drinkers and daylong sun worshippers, they never once snapped at each other, at least not when anyone was looking. They're the funnest of fun, so clearly proud of each other, their marriage and the three children they left at home to fend for themselves. Quick on the draw, they matched Patty wit-for-wit and never once shied away from my personal cross-examinations or chided either of us for our many  indiscretions.
Then we befriended the mother-daughter tag team of Julie and Kate. Julie goes on as many cruises as she can muster in a year -- one with one daughter, one with another and one with the guy she married. I couldn't get her to admit who her favorite cruise partner was, but she alluded to the fact that both Maggie and Ken are just as much fun as Kate. Kate is a refreshing burst of mid-twenties energy and Julie, sweet as she is, has a really fun edge to her. Julie walks dogs for a living, so you know she's got a big heart. And Kate crunches numbers, so you know she's going to get her fair share of the shipboard credit.
At the Sunset Bar we sidled right up to Aymen and Maddy, two adorably amiable 30-somethings. Besides having job envy over Maddy’s career in which she counsels and coaches high school kids, we fell in love with her and her quick-smiling spouse for talking and laughing with us as if we were their peers, rather than the little old ladies that we are.

And then there was the happiest couple on board. We picked them up one night at dinner, swept them into the fold of our friendships and bombarded them with wedding, babymaking and all other kinds of personal questions. The lovely Lori and her mate-to-be Mike just laughed and laughed, bringing genuine love and joy to the table.

Speaking of Joy, we can’t forget her and her husband, Don. They were given absolutely no choice but to break bread with us that night as we dined on grilled lobster and steak under the stars. And though we never saw them again, we know we're deeply imbedded in their memories.

And we can't forget the handsomest couple on board, Michael and Matthew who came from Atlanta-by-way-of-Connecticut. We didn’t meet them until the second-to-last night but once we did, quickly discovered what we had been missing. Open and honest and funny they put it all out there, offering up details on the making and rearing of their wonderfully smart, happy and independent six year-old son, Jacob, who happened to love the Kids' Club more than any other kid in the history of cruises.

Of course there were more. Jimmie (with an ie), the couple from Charlotte to whom I offered a daughter-in-law, Theresa and her tuxedoed husband, Maggie (aka Rachel) and the Yeti dude, Rick from Kentucky who stood me up for the championship game and the older couple from Oregon who took their team’s loss as a vacationer should. There were room stewards and butlers and servers and bartenders who showered us with way more attention than we deserved.

When I got home to real life and my ever-loving spouse, he naturally asked about St. Kitts and St. Maarten and San Juan. But I didn’t have much to say. Sure, the scenery was breathtaking, the weather perfect, the food delicious, the islanders friendly, the drinks strong.

But all I could think about were the friends that we had made. The pure, unadulterated randomness of who and how we all met. And that of all the cruise ships in all the ports, in all the world, these are the people who walked into mine.

Here’s looking at you kids, here’s looking at you.