My Beanie Baby (A Lesson in Parenting)

If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.” _ Frank Zappa

This quote makes me laugh (and cringe) at myself a bit today. Yesterday, as my son was heading off to shadow at School of the Arts (a public high school which he hopes to attend for technical theater), I called out to him to remember to take his beanie off before getting there. “Take my beanie off?”, he yelled back to me in complete confusion. Then he asked “Why?” and I said “Just because!”. The truth is I had no good reason to say that, other than it was drilled into me as a child, in the Detroit Public schools, you take your hat off in school. In fact, I have a horrifying memory of my best friend having her hat yanked off her head by the principal and thrown across the hallway (but I digress).  I knew instantly my comment was purely an automatic, totally meaningless, knee-jerk of a comment triggered from my own memories of being told how to do my shit… a desperate cry as a mom to tell her kid how to do his shit, so she looks good. He ran off to catch his carpool wearing his beanie (probably thinking ‘yep, she’s crazy’).

When I got to the school to pick him up later in the day, I noticed he’d listened to me (or maybe the hot weather got to him?). He took off his beanie, but I also noticed at least half, if not more, of the kids were wearing theirs. I felt like such an idiot having mentioned his beanie. I know better than that.

I’m so proud of my guy. I don’t know if he’ll get into this school (he did- yay!) but I know he is off to really exciting wonderful things in his life, partly because he has listened to me over the years sure, but partly because I’ve (mostly) allowed him to listen to himself and I’ve made a point of letting him make his own choices about his likes and dislikes. I won’t beat myself up over the beanie comment, but I’m glad I’m aware I made it and how meaningless it was.

Age 13 is a critical time of self expression and I must let him listen to himself– particularly in choices of what to wear on his head! I mean really, if an art school in the Bay Area can’t handle beanies, then what kind of art school is it anyway? And why would I want my son to go there?

I’m looking forward to talking with my son about this and what triggered my beanie comment. One thing I’ve come to realize about parenting is that it’s a process. Sometimes it means you have to circle back to things you wish you didn’t do or say and think about how you might do or say them differently next time.

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Say What?

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A woman on the beach just asked me “Is your dog’s tail real?”. I thought for sure she was joking but it was clear she was not. So, I said “Yes she’s 100% real dog”.  Then she said, “Well you never know these days so I thought I’d ask. You know cause I thought maybe you had a stick holding it up or something”. Then (while I stood looking stunned probably with my mouth open) she went on to explain how upside down the world is by saying her daughter and her son-in-law came home with scented bowling balls (like GO figure?) hers is bubblegum…his is vanilla.” And I was like oh now your tail comment makes so much more sense. Not. LOL. Actually I just stood there looking over at my dog’s tail.

What God Made

I see him out jogging along the beach pretty often. He’s a tall man with very dark skin that contrasts sharply with the white running suit he wears with the hood tightly cinched around his face. He has a slow steady gait. This morning, as he caught up with me on the path, he jogged backwards alongside me for a short bit smiling. He stayed there only long enough to tell me he’d “seen what God made”.

Flashback to Prom Night

As he was changing my tire, he looked up at me smiling and shared a story about the first time he ever changed one. It was prom night, one of those super hot nights in June in the Midwest. The kind that makes you sticky. He was wearing a white tux and borrowed his dad’s car to pick up the girl he really loved, when his tire blew. “Yeah” he laughed, shaking his head “I fixed the flat…and the white tux survived the ordeal. But, at the end of the night, the girl let me know she didn’t feel the same way”. Suddenly he looked kinda sad, as if this rejection were happening all over again, 50 years later. I wondered (to myself) where is this girl now? What ever happened to her? I couldn’t help thinking I bet she’s wishing she had him now.  He is a total keeper, sitting here on the curb fixing my flat because he wanted to, because he wasn’t doing anything much. “I’m just out walking my dogs” he said when he stopped and offered to fix it.

One Night Hand

Two Tweets

I had a boyfriend for a short while today on my flight from San Francisco to Detroit. He was funny and smart, a techie who loved his job. He wore a light grey t-shirt with the classic blue Twitter bird printed on the front and jeans. He was good-looking with smooth brown skin, a well-groomed beard and mustache, perfect white teeth, and an easy smile.

We chatted away on the runway and through take off…laughing, comparing notes on stuff, like where to get the best burritos in the Mission. He was on his way home to New York after two weeks working in the San Francisco office. He told me about his work. I was impressed with his example of why it was meaningful to him: “It connects people in ways unimaginable a few years ago. People really depend on it to transmit critical information during times of political unrest for instance or storms”. He asked about my work too. I told him about my work advocating for babies, birth to 3. We discussed how far behind the U.S. lags in social policies, things like paid parental leave and quality affordable infant care. He seemed genuinely interested, like he “got it”, without much need for explanation. Younger people usually do get my work.

That’s when we established he was, in fact, exactly half my age (23 years old)… which, other than the fact that he understood why investing in babies matters, came as a total surprise to me. Coincidentally, my aunt recently explained to me over the phone, in reference to this phenomenon I’ve noticed lately of talking to men and being suddenly surprised that I could be their grandmother, “I’m afraid it always does (come as a surprise) Jul”.

We shifted our discussion to matters of parenting and family. I was thinking if I couldn’t date him, I wanted to know how someone raises a child like him? Was I doing it already with my two children OR were there secret ingredients I might learn from him that I could add to my parenting mix? He told me about his mother – how she shared my love of hot yoga and healthy eating, having no shame in calling him on a business trip to ask what he was eating and if he was taking care of himself? He said it was sweet not meddling, and he added that she has always been this way. He said, in fact, her interest in conscious living was so deep-seated, she and his father were currently in Nepal on a “healing retreat”. (Time out: Married people in their 50’s together on a healing retreat? I was already in love with them and didn’t even know their names.) He went on to tell me about his sister who just graduated from Juilliard as a ballerina. I think he told me about other siblings as there were 5 and he was the youngest, but some of this is a blur. I started to go into my own little Fantasyland at Nepal. I do remember he talked about his love of all things nerdy and how I should continue to support my son’s interest in coding in particular and my daughter’s gift for the performing arts. He said it sounded like I was doing everything right as a mom. I was getting a pep talk from a 23 year old and it felt good. By now I was ready to sit down to dinner with his family and ask them more questions… “How did you do it?” I’d begin, while sipping hot tea.

I really admired what a confident and alive young man he was…well, until the turbulence started and suddenly, without any warning, he grabbed my hand with his, which was cold and clammy. With a look of shock (at himself I think or maybe in reaction to my look of shock at his grabbing my hand so unexpectedly?) but not letting go, he said “I’m scared. Can I keep holding your hand?” At this point the whole left side of his body was pressed against the right side of mine. I hadn’t noticed it before but the armrest was up. His thighs were bigger than I expected. His body was strong and warm other than his hand, like I mentioned, which was clammy and cold. It seemed a little forward and odd of him to want to keep holding my hand…but i said sure, of course. I mean what else could a good person say? That’s when I noticed he was holding his breath. I suggested he close his eyes, try to think about something relaxing and breathe with me. He did and we breathed together. I told him to concentrate on breathing out (I know from consulting my best friend who happens to be a therapist, the problem lies not in breathing in, the problem lies in not breathing out.). We breathed together…in… and out… in… and out…in…and out. Eventually, his breath calmed down and was in sync with mine. We kept breathing like that until, well, I finally had the nerve to look over at his face (before this point, I didn’t want to look directly at him and hold his hand and breathe with him. It all felt just way to intimate somehow) and that’s when I realized he had fallen asleep… holding my hand!

The really awkward thing was my sister was sitting several rows up. I kept wondering what she would think if she walked by and saw me holding a random guy’s hand, someone I met just twenty minutes ago. She’s too nice to say anything—plus I’m going through a divorce and while she has historically been exceptionally generous and patient with me, she has been particularly so lately, as I’ve begun to navigate the dating world. Would she think it was all prearranged on-line? I couldn’t help but imagine her look of total disbelief. At the very least, she’d give me a “WTF?” with her eyes. His grip was strong and I worried if I pried his hand loose to avoid all that embarrassment with my sister, I’d disturb him and he did look awfully peaceful. So, I just decided to enjoy it…because really, WTF?

So I closed my eyes too and pretended that I was on my way to Paris for the weekend holding hands with a new lover (instead of on my way to a memorial service in Detroit, holding hands with a stranger). When he woke up (what seemed like a really long time later), the turbulence was gone. He thanked me and smiled and we unpeeled our hands. The rest of the flight I felt a little cheated somehow…like that was it?

And that’s the story of the boyfriend I had for a short while on a flight from San Francisco to Detroit.

A New Challenge in Chinatown

While waiting for a guy to squeeze his Suburban into a compact space, I wondered why he wasn’t just taking the space three up from him that was for bigger cars like his? Then I noticed the white lettering on the pavement of this particular space “YOU ARE ONE OF THE GREAT LOVERS” .

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Sitting there trapped until he got it all sorted out, I started to notice that every single space had a different fortune.  Hahaha! His efforts started to make sense. Several minutes later, after he was awkwardly wedged in (and don’t ask me how he opened the door to get out), I drove on.

First I passed up one that read  “YOU KNOW MORE THAN THE NEXT GUY” (I’m like duh and that’s exactly why I’m not parking THERE). Then I passed up “HAPPINESS IS TRYING TO CATCH YOU” (trying to catch me? no thanks) “GOOD THINGS ARE BEING SAID ABOUT YOU” (yeah right)… I kept passing up… and passing up… really getting into thinking about whether or not I wanted a particular message attached to me all night and thinking I know I can do better.

But after driving up three more floors than necessary and getting later and later for where I was going, I finally settled on my last option before having to return down again and start my search all over from the bottom “YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR IS ENJOYED BY ALL”.

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(Maybe it’s not be true but I thought to myself… I can live with that). And that’s what started all the laughing that night… and it just got better with my friends celebrating their 40th birthdays together with all their fun funny friends, including me. Good times.

Mom? Why Do People Have Eyebrows?

As my daughter was drifting off to sleep she said “you know what it feels like when you really get into your dreams mom? it feels like… like… you’re falling” and she was out like a light. That was right after she asked a very serious question that took most of our brain power “Mom? Why do people have eyelashes and eyebrows?” I explained the protection factor of eyelashes but was stumped about eyebrows– hadn’t really ever thought about it really… I guessed something vague about how eyebrows can sort of help you communicate feelings to other people without words– like looking surprised or sad- but I admitted I wasn’t really sure. After talking over some possibilities she concluded, “Well, I think eyebrows are just so we’re all fancy and our faces look different from each other but I’m going to ask my doctor next time i see her”. Sounded good to me.