Respite

The last time I slept really well was in January, 2008 in my mother’s hospital room, a few days before she died.

At that time, she was on the mend, ready to go home.  It was a Saturday morning and I had worked out, showered.  I had on my cozy lime green fleece.  I’m not proud to remember that I felt put out that I had to take time out of a Saturday when I had a “million things to do” to be with my mother in the hospital.  In hindsight, my deep selfishness is glaringly apparent.  But, my mother was happy.  She was happy I was there and happy she felt better.  She had been talking on the phone with my cousin and telling him how much she’d enjoyed the book Loving Frank, and what a great artist Frank Lloyd Wright must have been.  From the end of the conversation I heard, the energy in her voice, her enthusiasm for her topic, you’d never have known that she was an 87 year- old, sitting up in a hospital bed, going to leave us in a stingy number of days.

While she was talking on the phone, I found myself getting sleepy in that pretzel-forming chair hospitals provide for someone who wants to stay over night.  It was a dull green, plastic.  The whole room seemed dull – white, green, gray, ready to do absolutely nothing to make anyone get better or feel better; it’s only purpose seemed to be to appear to be clean with machines that beeped to make everyone feel as if she had control, safe.  My mother, the life force, was the only bright spot in that room.

Her voice, the beeping of the machine, the quiet, lulled me into a profound sleep.

The memory of the rest of the story is obviously not accurate as there are two versions.

In the first version, when I wake up, I’m surprised to find that I’m tucked under the dreary white blanket that had been on the hospital bed with my mom.  It’s warm.  I’m totally relaxed, a feeling I hadn’t had for a long time.

“I fell asleep,” I say.

“You must have needed it,” my mom says – what she always says when she knows I’ve slept well.  It’s her way of acknowledging that I work hard, that she’s proud of me for working hard, but worries that I don’t take good enough care of myself.

I say something about how she shouldn’t have gotten out of bed.  She scoffs.  She’s fine, she says, gesturing with her hand as if staying in bed is the most ridiculous thing she could do.  She’s ready to get out of that numbing place.

In the second version, my perspective is from out of myself, a fly on the wall, and I watch as my mother finishes her phone conversation and notices that I’ve fallen asleep.  She swings her girlish ankles from out of the covers, gets her bearings on the cold linoleum floor, and with some effort, tugs the blanket from its tightly tucked corners of the bed until it comes loose and she carries her bundle over to me.  Her normally quick movements slow down at this point in the story, as she’s being careful not to wake me.  With her gnarly arthritic hands, she makes sure the blanket covers every inch of my slightly fetal form, even the corner of my shoulder that’s tight against my ear, periodically, standing back to assess her work.  She leans down to kiss my cheek, but must think better of it.  With her hand, she makes a cross in the air instead.  She looks pleased as she always does when she’s doing something for someone else instead of the other way around.  She gets back into bed as if she’s breaking a rule by standing up, by feeling well.  Then, her new book is in her hands and she’s reading with her one good eye, but keeps looking over to check on me.  It clearly gives her pleasure that her third child, me, the whirling dervish of activity, has grown calm enough to sleep so well.  She alternately reads and checks on me for a good while and then I wake up.

“I fell asleep,” I say.

“You must have needed it,” my mom says.

The story ends abruptly.  If you’re looking for a denouement, you won’t find one.  That’s just the way life is sometimes.  But I can tell you that I slept great.  And the memory of it has nourished me on many occasions – even if I don’t deserve it.

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Room For Dessert

Wonder and awe are the desserts of life.

The sweet and satisfying rush of an idea, a place, that is more than we had imagined, that we couldn’t have imagined – is just delicious.    It makes slogging through the good-for-you work, the brussell sprouts, if you will – all worthwhile.

But, as I get older, it’s seems harder to find those incredible moments since so much of life is a repeat of past experiences – as in, yippee – another mountain.

Fortunately, there are two phenomena that never get old, where wonder abounds.

Phenomenon #1 – The brilliance of a Netflix DVD arriving in the mailbox after you had just moved it to the top of your queue the day before. I know that Netflix is trying to move away from home delivery to streaming their own productions, but I beg them to reconsider.  For any given day – except Sunday…and, soon to come, except Saturday… I can put my viewed DVD out for my friendly postal carrier to whisk away and the NEXT DAY, there’s my number 1 choice.  As Butch Cassidy would say, “Who are those guys, anyway?!”

Phenomenon #2 – Equally as impressive is Zappos delivery –do these people live in the trees with their laptops where they read my request for brand-spankin’ new shoes – size 8, often wide (before pregnancies and standing in front of a class all day, they were a mere 7, regular, but now my feet are pods that sound like this as I walk – “slap, slap” – but I digress…) and drop them onto the front porch the very next day?!! I never get tired of this great trick and order shoes that I don’t need just to experience the rush again.

And there’s more – the time I ran over the foot of the nice young man at Heinen’s who puts the groceries in my trunk and his foot didn’t break. Or my sister-in-law’s husband who left his ipad somewhere only to have it returned years later.  Or another ipad that fell off a car on a major road, was found with multiple tire tracks on it, but was returned to its owner and now, except that it acts a bit like a person with early symptoms of dementia, is still working  (which goes to show that what you pay for those protective cases probably really is worth it).

As I said, wonder and awe.

Most people still find the natural world worthy of this high-level status as did I… until recently.  As I write this, Robert Frost’s “Nature’s first green is gold” is fully evident.  However, don’t forget the “so Eden sank to grief” line in that poem because that’s how I feel about the herd of deer in our backyard.

Initially, when builders destroyed the woods behind us and more and more deer appeared to nibble on this and that, their lanky grace beautiful and inspiring, we cooed over their Bambi-like offspring and marveled at the rack on the big daddy.  We were thrilled that, of all the lots on our street, the deer family appeared to live behind our garage – how honored we were!!

But that was then and this is now.

Our high-spirited dog Rigby – may she rest in peace – went through the bay window, not once, but twice, trying her best to keep us safe from these interlopers.  We should have paid more attention to Rigby. We shouldn’t have ignored the first signs of a lack of respect – like bad graffiti on a previously spotless bridge – from these third cousins of the moose.

Because now that Rigby’s gone, the deer have taken over.  The deer are no longer adorable.  In fact, there’s no loping.  No leaping. There’s swagger.  The herd has turned into a posse.

When Annie first got her driver’s license, she had a close encounter with one of the pack on the road, almost landing him on the windshield as he jumped unexpectedly across the road.  It scared her, but as she pulled around behind the house to the garage, the fear was just beginning – for there was the same deer peering at her from under his “eyebrows,” trying to stare her down as she got out of the car. It looked as if he would pick up his dainty hooves and knock her in the nose or slip a switchblade out from under his fur.  He did that thing they do – we all know it – he picked up his head and turned it perpendicular to his body and stared – her – down.  It was clear that he would have said – if deer could talk –  “Hey, I’m talkin’ to YOU!”

Recently, as a little kindergartener got off the school bus, I saw a couple of deer tokin it up, chuckling as they blew a slow exhale of smoke in the terrified little one’s face.  There are deer deals on the corner – selling hydrangea buds from my bushes.  The neighborhood is turning into a deer ghet-to.  Where will it end?  Bringing down the resale value of our home?!

But maybe the real wonder and awe is the interconnectedness of the universe. Think about it.

The deer live behind our garage…along with the Netflix distributor…and the show maker from Zappos.

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Hindsight

We live on a street where stately old oak trees are the norm.  When we bought our house in 1996, we had two such oaks in our front yard.  Unfortunately, two storms, one a thunderstorm that took out one tree with a bolt of lightening that sent sprays of pointed shards of our beloved tree around the neighborhood took the first tree.  It looked as if a medieval war had been fought.   

The next storm a few years later, was an ice storm where one sizable branch sheared off a gutter, missed the house itself, but split the tree down the middle so that a previously nurturing, enormous, protective branch became a looming threat. On a recent walk, admiring the many remaining trees on our street, many of which are younger than our trees, it occurred to me that if we had cut off part of the tree when it was younger, that maybe we could’ve saved our tree.

Ah, hindsight.  It’s so darn smart. 

Or, is it?

Now that my progeny are, mostly, grown, I find myself doing little accountings of what I did right and what I did wrong. What part of them could I have “cut off” and, therefore, saved the whole? Fortunately, since Harold and I are mostly home by ourselves these days, I only rub my nose in this issue during my little darlings’ visits.

Don’t get me wrong – our children are, in many ways, perfect – kind to others, show up for their respective responsibilities on time, pay their bills, respect their parents, and can really make me laugh. I love who they are – the whole package.

But, little things irk me, probably because my children’s behaviors remind me of what I didn’t accomplish.  Trivial, inconsequential dealings, perpetrated by my progeny whom I was sure I had trained correctly, whose behaviors were my duty to mold, drive me insane. 

Here are a few of the highlights:

1.  The practice of getting the dirty dish from whomever’s hand it was in, into the dishwasher, has not gelled. Thus, a living history of what was eaten on a given day lines the kitchen counters, and too often, the coffee table in the family room – a glass with a smidge of juice, another glass one quarter full of water, a mug with a tea bag hanging out, a knife with crumbs sticking to the butter left on its tip, a plate (yeah, he/she used a plate!!) with a tiny bit of oil and bread crusts, an empty mixing bowl with a few popcorn kernels in the bottom, another bowl that must have held a salad, with the remains of the scrupulously avoided green peppers, and…let’s not forget, the dirty napkin.

2. Eating standing up.  When food appears, it’s as if a plane has materialized, carrying rations to a malnourished nation.  The natives cannot wait another moment to ingest the cure for their distended stomachs and exposed ribs.  Must eat NOW.  Saying grace usually happens about one-third of the way through the meal after all food is tasted.  Standing while eating is a big Weight Watchers no-no, so I’m surprised they don’t each weigh 2000 pounds and have to be transported from place to place on a cart.

3. Eating cookie dough, out of the bowl as I’m trying to stir the dough – or put it on the cookie sheet, or… a good case of salmonella would have nipped this habit in the bud long ago, but, apparently, the eggs we’re eating now are pretty safe. Darn.

4. Although I’ve managed to get them to take off their shoes as they enter the house, the shoes, one in front of the other, look as if the wearer were vaporized in mid-step, before getting the chance to move his/her footwear out of the way.  Of course, anyone walking in or out of the house has to walk around/through the abandoned shoes.  My son’s size 12’s are particularly problematic. 

5.  Not making their beds – I don’t know this for sure, but I’m pretty sure I’m right when I say they don’t make their beds.  No, I don’t want to go to their respective homes and look.  That would just be too depressing. 

So, I’m a big believer in learning from one’s mistakes.  Let’s analyze. 

  1. Harold comes home everyday and puts his travel coffee mug on the counter, right on top of the dishwasher.  Clearly, his mother – God rest her sweet soul – should take the hit on this one.
  2. Especially when I’m home alone, I eat standing at the counter – whole meals.  I had no idea anyone ever saw me.  This proclivity must have been passed on genetically.  Nothing I could have done about that.

    3. Harold and I both dip into the cookie dough, Harold making a big deal out of its      deliciousness with expressions of “Yum!” and “Can’t beat the dough!” etc. I, however, in an attempt to protect my young, sneak my dough and, to others, pretend it’s a disgusting habit.  Therefore, it’s Harold’s fault.

4.  I’ve been able to trace Harold’s movements throughout the house by the trail of dirt or freshly cut grass that has come off his shoes which trumps anything our kids are doing.  His mother, again?

5.  I admit to having given up on ensuring their beds were made and their rooms were clean, somewhere around 1999.  I plead partial insanity.

Conclusions: 

Clearly, I am–ahem-innocent of all charges. And, I am not alone.

If you give my friend Lisa enough to drink, she slams a mean poem on her family’s penchant for leaving dirty socks in the middle of the living room showing, once again, that great art speaks to us all.

When Harold was hospitalized a few years ago, I found myself sobbing in the kitchen when I realized his partially-drunk diet Pepsi bottle wasn’t where it usually is – on the counter – proving, without a doubt, that I may not have trained my family, but my family has sure trained me. 

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Travels

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he travels.  Take someone I live with.  I’ll call him Harold.

Let’s start with the positives.  He can find his way anywhere. I’m pretty sure the GPS is structured on his brain that I imagine to be an immense grid with points A and B clearly marked.  Kind of like the ending shot of The Matrix when Neo jumps up from the street and the streets become a map that then becomes a computer matrix.

This makes Harold, in some ways, a terrific traveling companion.  After landing at Fiumicino Airport recently, catching the Leonard Express into Rome, and making our way through the gauntlet that is Termini Station, I suggested we shake off the dust of the road in an air conditioned taxi to our hotel.  Harold wouldn’t hear of it.  He looked at the map.  He pointed straight.  We zigzagged through the crowded streets.  We arrived at our hotel.  Amazing.

I used to whine a lot about asking directions, but I’ve learned that when Harold puts his snout to the sky and sniffs, he knows what he’s doing.  The only thing you have to watch out for is when he stops suddenly, either on foot or in the car, and mutters mysteriously, “Oh, I see” and you know he’s gone the wrong way, possibly by as much as ten miles, but he’s figured out what he’s done wrong and, therefore, is incredibly pleased with himself and is ready to get back on track.  Tired feet or a sore seat, Harold will deliver you to your destination…eventually.  If you complain, he looks at you, at your shallow, impatient self, and never says, but you know he’s thinking, ”It’s not the destination; it’s the journey,” or some similar Zen like bon mot.

Most Clevelanders have never driven the entire length of Central Ave.  But I have, with Harold, his completely open Howdy Doody face turning this way and that, taking in all the wildly different cultural opportunities offered by the urban landscape.

But even Harold’s not perfect.  Once he has a destination in mind and convinces himself that he knows how to get there, it’s like pulling gum out of hair to get him to reconsider. His grandmother owned an old car that wouldn’t go into reverse.  So, grandma only parked where she could go forward.  Harold must have inherited this gene.  Once the car is going north, for example, it’s going to stay north, by golly.  Even if the better way is, say, south.

This happened the other night.  Even though I’m the one who spent three years driving our daughter back and forth to cello lessons with a teacher at a college 15 miles away, Harold was sure he knew the better way to go there when our nephew, a student at said college, had a recital.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal if I hadn’t already spent five hours in the car that day, in an ice storm, driving to Columbus and back to pick up our daughter.  Maybe, as Harold ridiculously claimed, he had no control over the immense traffic jam at 8:30 that night, clogging the onramp to the freeway that we shouldn’t have been trying to get on, that wound around the curve like the insides of a hair-and-yuck-stuffed drain.   But at the pivotal moment, when I said, “left” and he said “right,” dear ol’ grandma’s spirit took possession of Harold… and the car… and jammed us into 30 minutes of traffic-stalled hell.  Because, after all, who knew the car could be turned around and go back the other way – not Harold, apparently.

There’s something about the men in my life.  For example, my father’s myth-making driving blunder when my parents decided to take seven of their eight children (my sister managed to miss this) to Washington D.C. for a sweltering Memorial Day weekend in 1968.  You know those great big roomy truck-like things that you can buy now to transport many people from place to place?  We didn’t have one of those.  We had a wood-paneled station wagon.  It fit all ten of us – uncomfortably.

As someone who has lived in D.C. as an adult, I can tell you that our founding fathers missed the idea of streets that connect to each other in a grid.  Or, the idea that if you’re going to have disjointed roadways, it might be wise to give them different names.

So, it’s no wonder that our poor father was confused.  Not to mention the aforementioned sweaty, sardine-packed offspring teasing each other all the way back to the third row of seats.

But when Dad took the turn and started up the one-way ramp – the wrong way – he trumped any travel faux pas you could ever imagine Harold committing.  The sight of three lanes of traffic coming full force at you is a vivid memory.  And it just makes me laugh.  Probably because my father’s response to our screams of “Dad!! “ “Watch out!!” and to someone’s hysterical screech, an ominous baseline to this wacky scene, was his usual understatement – “Oops.”  There were some nice people in D.C. at that point in history – they’re the ones who stopped while my discombobulated dad did a u-turn to get us the hell out of there.

John Steinbeck who knew a bit about travel, having driven across the country with his dog Charlie, wrote that “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike” and when thinking about D.C., I say thank God.  And when thinking about Harold, it’s clear that we can be on the same journey, but different trips.

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Ostensibly Oscar

Image

There are two veins in our rich cultural body that are worth noting.

First, dysfunctional relationships make great fiction. This is nothing new.  After all, how could the plots move forward if Oedipus realizes his lover is his mother, if Ophelia does what she wants to do, or if Daisy Buchanan chooses Gatsby and not that brute Tom?  Dysfunction is a powerful fictional tool, reflected today in my latest obsessions Homeland and House of Cards.

Second, there’s our inordinate praise of those who portray these flawed characters that we can’t get enough of in marketing ploys like the Academy Awards and the Emmys that are so entertaining, especially when somebody famous does something stupid like stick her scrawny leg out of her dress or tell a joke that is so inappropriate that the entire audience blushes, that the whole world is riveted.

But most of us live in the real world and, what some might call boring lives, where making sure there’s enough money in the bank and healthy food on the table are the focuses of each day.  But aren’t we the real heroes?  Isn’t keeping a relationship together and raising children who become contributing citizens essential to our society? Aren’t people who go to work everyday, love, or at least, put up with, their neighbors, and keep their sidewalk clear worth something, too?

Obviously, we have a marketing opportunity here where we promote everyday life as the Academy Awards so successfully promotes the wonder that is movies.   Let’s look at what it might be like if we adapted the awards ceremony to long-term partnerships. It might go something like this:

Fight Friendly Award – to a couple who follow the rules of argument, don’t dredge up past problems, don’t be hostile – you know, all the things that make fighting fun.  Interesting article on this topic at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/a-valentines-day-gift-to-save-a-marriage.html?_r=0

Hormones Can Hurt Award – This goes to the man who knows how to duck when his wife’s hormonal death rays erupt, when his once lovely wife’s mascara-smudged eyes glaze over, searing him with such irrational jibes as “Of course you don’t love me – look at your shoes!!” This guy understands that, of course, what she’s really saying is “I need a hug.”

Waiting by the Cave Door Award – It’s documented that, at one time or another,  most men go into their caves.  This award is for the good woman who waits – patiently, and often, for long periods of time – for her husband to emerge.

Frolicking Fiscals Award – both partners know where the money is and how it got there and where the money’s going and how it’s going to get there.

Mr. & Ms. Conjugality Award- no explanation necessary

Outstanding Male Spouse – a true example would be a friend of ours who would get up in the middle of the night when the baby started crying, deliver the baby to his wife in bed, sit in the rocking chair while the baby nursed, and then returned the baby to her crib.  Wow.

Outstanding Female Spouse – another true example would be a friend whose husband’s dream was to sail his own boat.  She went along even to the point that on an extended trip on the Great Lakes, she was his first mate on an eight-hour deluge of thunder, lightening, and rain.  When I think of my little friend in her little yellow rain slicker, well – you’ve seen The Perfect Storm.  You know what I mean.

So, ladies and gentlemen – the envelope, please.

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Damned Lies

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Mark Twain, adapted from Benjamin Disraeli

Today the weather report tells me that it’s 19 degrees, but feels like 15.  Tomorrow, it tells me it’ll be 25 degrees, but feel like 20.

I laugh at these “statistics,” although they’re probably a more accurate depiction of the very human, immeasurable, immense and complex world in which we live that we try to so hard to corral into reasonable dimensions.

When Martha Stewart was just coming into her fame, a journalist posited that Martha was catching on because people craved order in a chaotic world. If your laundry was sorted into color-coded baskets, your hydrangeas were set at just the right angle to your boxwoods, and your hors d’oeuvre was the perfect blend of colors and shapes, then you could believe, for a moment at least, that you had control in the universe.  There’s truth in the journalist’s theory.

Our society rewards control.  It rewards a plan with specific outcomes – more points on the scoreboard, better standardized test scores, more billable hours – all pretty unnatural outcomes for humans because, instead of the number, it’s the “feels like” that is most human.   In my brief, wondrous role as a school leader, I realized that, if you’re a woman, any “feels like” statements were interpreted as “hormonal.”  Whereas, men in my school who used “feel like” statements were interpreted as “passionate.”  I learned a simple lesson:  men are allowed to feel; women are not.

The documentary Happy explains the research on happiness; what makes people happy are positive relationships, doing something well, helping others, and having new experiences.  The research shows that external circumstances, e.g., making a lot of money, living in a big house, etc., fail to contribute to happiness.  So, all of the rewarding we do, is fattening the bottom line, but not necessarily increasing our national happiness.  No wonder the crazies get an assault rifle and shoot it up.

On the one hand, the “feels like” measure for weather is ridiculous.  Will you feel the temperature as 10 degrees or will only those skeletal people who wear wool sweaters on the hottest day of July?   And why do they only use this measure for extreme temperatures?  Have you ever heard a report that said, “It’ll be 60 degrees tomorrow, but feel like 63”????

But, I can see how the “feels like” measurement has so many more applications than just the weather.  It would give a truer measure to the world.  Children have already caught on to this.  Parent: “It’s time to do your homework.” Child:  “I don’t feel like it.” There you go.  Let’s face it.  We’ve all used the “feels like” measurement in our heads.  As in, “I’m 58, but feel like 88.”  Or, on that rare, glorious day – stay away from mirrors on this one- “I’m 58, but feel like 25.” Or, “I’ve eaten a chicken, five pounds of potatoes, a loaf of bread, and a dozen cookies, but feel like eating that quart of ice cream in the freezer.” Or, saying aloud to your spouse, “That’s okay, honey.  You deserve to sleep in while I get up with the five children, feed them breakfast, do the laundry, empty the dishwasher, and deliver them to eight different soccer games, three piano lessons, and buy groceries for the week” when in your head you’re thinking, “I feel like you are an ungrateful louse.”

Applied to the national and international arenas, there’s all kinds of fun ways to use this measurement.  For example, the stock market:  “The Dow Jones Industrial was up today to close at 10,500.  But in Detroit, it feels like the year 1929.” Or, our relationship with China:  “American corporations are getting rich from manufacturing in China.  But, for the average Chinese citizen, it feels like Mao is still on the prowl.”

So, for a true reading of the weather, I offer this video, taken on a 19-degree day that felt like…bliss.

http://youtu.be/xMMi6Q04sjw

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Send. Receive.

Send a message.  Receive a message.  These two steps are the essentials of communication.  If one step breaks down, the communication fails.  But, as any FOT knows, then or now, it ain’t that simple.  I hear a lot of griping from my generation about the failure of modern communication, but let’s look back for a moment to where the “failure to communicate” took various forms.

In childhood, our family shared a party line. Not political ideologies, but a telephone landline with several other families so that when you picked up the phone, you took the chance of hearing your neighbor Mrs. Schnarkley talking to her sister.  Although you might glean a juicy morsel about Mr. Schnarkley’s drinking problem, you had to wait to use the phone.

When we, blessedly, got rid of the party line, the phone, as one of only two conveyances of personal messages in and out of the house (the other being mail), was often “tapped” by one or another of my siblings.  I can still hear my brother’s devious voice imitating poor Larry Denzling’s speech impediment – Larry had called to ask me if he could kiss me backstage in our grade school play.  My brother had listened in.  The humiliation was overwhelming.

There was also the overly efficient communication that every teenager dreads.  Somehow my father figured out how to place a call to the downstairs extension from the phone extension upstairs.  Usually, around 11:30 when he’d had too much of the noise my friends and I were making downstairs, the phone would ring.  “Jane, tell your friends they have to leave now.”  It was a great trick and my father’s deep, authoritative voice made one wonder if it were God calling you in for the night.

However, I’m not particularly nostalgic for old-fashioned forms of communication and know that it’s healthy to remember that they were not without their flaws. 

Today, however, if you want the second part of the communication process to work, you have to carefully think through which mode of communication is the one that a particular person will respond to.  For example, if I send a group text to my contemporaries, I have to remember who doesn’t have a Smartphone because it’s unlikely they’ll receive the text.  Then there’s the quandary over text or email – often, the person who doesn’t text also only reads email a few times a week. Clearly, those with adult children have been much quicker to embrace texting as they know that it’s absolutely the best way to reach their children.

I love texting.   But, I’m not sure I believe anyone who says they text because it’s more expedient.  I may be projecting here but admit that I often look forward to the absence of an audience at the end of my sent message and I ‘m pretty sure everyone else does, too.  Let’s face it – we’re – and by “we” I mean “me” – are a wee bit shy.  Texting is the best because you can sound so confidant and sure and sort of “Hey, look at me – I’m texting!” when behind the fingers, is a crumbling mass of neurosis and insecurity.

My siblings and I continue to use voicemail because it’s hard to reach each other in person. We tend to leave long, newsy, one-sided messages.  One day, I was listening to one of these messages and I realized I was talking back to it – “Um-hmm,”  “I know what you mean,” “You can say that again!” –21st century communication is so confusing!

Of course, the ol’ man vs. machine dilemma plays out in this modern potpourri of communication options.  My friend Sandy is a good example.  Hands down, Sandy gets the award for the longest voicemails in the history of voicemails.  More often than not, her messages require two deliveries, a fact that usually, doesn’t seem to faze her – the second delivery seamlessly picks up where the other left off, a tiny pebble in the communication highway.  I often play her messages on speakerphone so that I can mop the floor or wait for bread to rise while I listen. Once, I was with her as she was leaving a message for her husband.  In her usual form, she had a lot to say – what had happened that day, an update on what he could find in the fridge for dinner, a list of things he needed to do, etc., and then, suddenly, she was shouting at the phone, “Darn – it cut me off again – I hate it when it does that!” Inside, I laughed.

So, adding to our complex communication challenges– email, voicemail, text, facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and yes, the ol’ landline – comes another challenge for FOTs, a challenge that was clear the other day as my husband and I were driving somewhere.  I heard him say, “Did you know bugs got started in men’s boots?” 

???

“In men’s boots?”  My mind was awhirl – bedbugs?  Lice?  Ladybugs? 

“Yes – I read that,” he confirmed.

What was he talking about?  Was this the first sign of dementia? But, as I tell my children, what I think I hear is always better than what was said and this was no exception.  After much wrangling and spelling of words, we finally worked out that he had said “UGGs” not “bugs.” 

E.M. Forster famously wrote, “Only connect.”   We’ll keep trying.

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