Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Xmasochism

Every year, about this time, I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Just hearing the words, “Christmas list” makes my skin crawl. With four kids to shop for, things can get a little dicey, and by dicey, I mean brimming with self-inflicted pain. The first hurdle is deciding on our per-kid budget; this number serves as both a shining beacon and a source of intense disagreement, not to mention a fair amount of makeup sex.

Once we have the per-kid budget set, we pencil in the budget of the relatives who prefer to give us money to do the shopping for them. This assures two things: The children get everything they want, and we get migraines. The internal conflict results from the double-edged sword nature of this arrangement. We’re very lucky to have generous relatives. So what if we do the shopping for them? Easy, right? After all, they do so much for us, all year long. At least, that’s what I say every year when they hand me the money. Then, on December 24, at around second-bottle o’clock, I change my tune. That’s the time when we pull out our tattered list of gifts and gift-givers, which by now looks like a Cowboys defense, littered with numbers and arrows and cross-outs, and begin our final tally of who is getting what from whom. This usually takes place in our custom-designed wrap room (closet), where I’m sitting on the floor, in my pajamas, sobbing. Just kidding. I don’t wear pajamas.

“This is the last year I’m going to do this! Why do I agree to this? Why can’t I just say NO!”

“Because the kids get lots of great stuff that they really want and doesn’t that feel good?”

“Right. I keep forgetting. But I’m going to need another glass of wine, STAT.”

So what happens between the time well-intentioned relatives hand me the money and my Xmess Eve meltdown? A number of things, starting with the timing of the envelope hand-off. If I receive it too soon in advance of the hellidays, I haven’t had any time to get really stressed out, which means I can’t be trusted to make any decisions, about anything. For example, here’s how it goes down on December 1:

Anonymous relative #1: “I’ve got the kids’ money for you.”

Me: “Cool.”

Here’s how it goes down on December 24, in my closet, I mean, custom wrap room:

Me: “F-word!” Hiccup.

Husband: “There, there. It’s going to be fine. Pass me your glass.”

The other thing that throws a monkey wrench into the theoretically perfect plan for child satisfaction is the logistics, which includes the math. We spend hours upon hours crunching the numbers.

“$20 for that?”

“But it’s 14.8%” I plead, showing my husband the fine print on the bottle of Zinfandel I’m holding in the wine aisle of the grocery store. “Please?”

“Fine. Put it in the basket.”

What causes the most stress is making not only the children happy, but the gift givers. We want them to feel good about the things we are buying with the money they gave us.  Who gets to give the big ticket item? Why is it never us? Then, we try to match up the importance of the giver’s gift to each child. After all, we can’t very well allow aunty to give one of them a new bedspread and another one a flat screen TV, can we? I don’t care if they cost about the same, that’s not fair to the kid or aunty! It’s either got to be all business or all fun, from the same person, for all four. Doesn’t it? And some years, I try to round down the tax, or suggest we absorb it.

 “Why would we do that?”

“Because they don’t have jobs and shouldn’t have to pay taxes?”

We all know what happens next: the head tilt, one eyebrow raised.

Speaking of numbers, I never understand them. This confuses my husband, which can make for a little tension. I start re-adding the totals on my original shopping list with the amounts and cross-outs and arithmetic and by now a little blood and probably some wine. For some reason, I always think we’ve missed something. Sometimes we have. I usually find that in the back of the closet in March.

In the final analysis, when the big morning rolls around, and the kids open their presents, relatives sitting nearby, it’s all worth it. That is, until this:

Relative: “Oh, wow! What’s that?”

Kid: “It’s a PlayStation! It plays video games!”

Relative: “Who gave you that?”

Kid: “You did.”

And another Chrismuchtoorushed is on the books.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Happy Thanksgivememore

I’m thankful it’s over. Thanksgiving. I’m so bored with people who are thankful for the stuff that’s easy. It’s easy to sit around and dreamily think up universal, corny sounding things to be thankful for, like nature’s bounty or family. Even worse: giving someone else the credit for what you have (I’m thankful to [insert favorite deity here], for bringing [insert name of special person] into my life.) Those drive me crazy. Are those same people thanking their favorite deity for the first spouse he or she brought into their life? The one they divorced for blowing the rent money every month on strippers? This guy God gets the credit for the winning moments, but not the crushing defeats? Sorry, but I’m taking the credit for the wins and the losses, thank you very much. I’m thankful that I finally got myself together enough to attract the greatest husband in history. I did that. Thanks, Me.
But I digress.
I’m sure all of the “I’m thankful-for…” posts that people throw up (no pun intended) on Facebook are heartfelt, but are they honest and revealing? Are they representative of how we’re feeling on any given day when we’re in the weeds of life, amid the confusion, frustration, anger and resentment that knocks on our mental door when we’re out of beer? Sure, these feelings are fleeting, with a shelf-life of about two seconds, but that doesn’t make them any less exhausting, which makes them being lifted from our shoulders something we truly should feel gratitude for—right there in the moment, when it counts the most.

I had one of these real thankful moments just the other day, when the kids were all off from school for the holiday. I certainly was not thankful about that, but I was thankful for open floor plans, so that I could boss everyone around while working in my home office. As I was pointing out that I had gone shopping the day before and that there was plenty of soup in the cupboard and leftover breadsticks, and that they didn’t have to have the soup, because there was also ham in the fridge and pizza in the garage freezer and…my husband cut me off! At that moment, I checked myself and acknowledged my gratitude for having a husband who knows where the kitchen is and isn’t afraid to use it. Later, when I found out they had crackers and butter for lunch, I was thankful for duct tape, so I could finish reciting the entire contents of the cupboards and the fridge to him, without interruption, just like my mom taught me to do. Thanks, Mom.
Just a little while later, I was thankful that my husband cracked a beer because his brother told him via text that it’s ok to do so the day before a major holiday, thereby justifying the Irish I’d snuck into my coffee earlier that morning. Thanks, interfamilial co-dependency.
I’m thankful for the death penalty, because I’d have to spend the rest of my life in prison if I acted on impulse and offed one of my kids. Like, just yesterday, when my 16-year old son grumpily sat down to write thank-you notes for his birthday presents. Among the hard-hitting questions he asked me were, “How do you do this?” and “What’s Grandpa’s last name?” So thanks, penal system.
I am always thankful for solitude. On any given day, especially when I’m cooking dinner, I am thankful for long sports practices. No complaining here. Go ahead and keep them through dinner; just make sure practice starts before I start reading a recipe. Thanks, coaches.
I’m constantly thanking the unknown force in the universe that makes working from home a reality. In my pajamas recently, I was thankful that I could hit the sack during a conference call with my boss and not have any explaining to do. And that very same day, I was thankful that the co-worker I was instant messaging couldn’t see me rolling my eyes at her dumb idea. And almost every day I’m thankful for the ‘microphone mute’ button that allows me to pee during a company meeting. Thanks, Internet.
No doubt, being thankful is easy when you want to impress people with mindless gratitude platitudes. But it takes active participation to notice the truly deserving things you should be thankful for.

Try it today, even though the turkey carcass, not to be confused with the houseguests, are finally gone: Acknowledge your gratitude for the little moments of clarity that keep you in the moment and out of prison for another day. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Working from Home: The Ultimate Oxymoron

Perhaps working from home isn’t the ultimate oxymoron, but on certain days, it’s close, right up there with “mom time” (if it’s about mom, there is no time) and “organized religion,” (in case you are wondering, I got 905,000 results when I Googled, “Is organized religion an oxymoron?”)

As oxymoronic as it may seem at times, working from home has far more benefits than drawbacks. Give or take a handful of days a month when I’m on deadline, I can come and go as people need me to, take care of sick kids, and go to appointments without having to ask for time off. As a disclaimer, I’d like to point out that I wouldn’t trade working outside the home for a paycheck for any of what you are about to read. I prefer things just the way they are. But there are a few things I need to get off my chest, starting with my bra.

One of the major advantages of working from home is the time saved by not getting dressed in the morning. Jammies? Check. Robe and slippers? Check. Underwear? Not so much. Why bother?  When I’m occasionally roped into driving the girls the 200 yards to the jr. high school, it’s like a game of white trash chicken: in what type of wardrobe disarray am I willing to leave the house? Sweatshirt over the jammies, or do I go for it in my robe? Fuzzy slippers or flip-flops? Just in case I’m pulled over and the cop takes one look at my attire and decides a field sobriety test is warranted, I always take my cell phone. He’d let me phone a friend for some real clothes, right?

The downside of staying in my nightwear while working from home all day: the rest of humanity. Some part of it occasionally shows up on my doorstep: Knock-knock. I usually do a quick scan of what I’m wearing and then tip-toe to the window to see if it’s friend or foe (those who would assume, upon seeing my attire, that I’m an aging, unemployed lingerie model.) Either way, I never open the door. Sometimes I don’t even bother looking. After all, I’m working!

Another downside: distractions. With no boss lurking, it happens now and then that I can be up against a deadline with the clock tick-tocking, when I hear a sound that compels me away from my machine. It happened just the other day. As I toiled, editing an article while co-workers all over the country waited for me to finish, I heard something. After fifteen minutes of trying to tune it out, I realized it was a pathetic “Meooooow, meooooow,” from behind a bedroom door. I opened it and out ran the cat, which reminded me that there was a fishbowl in the room, so I had to walk over and examine that. I noticed the murky state of the water; it was a no-brainer that the fish was wallowing in his own watery grave, so I of course had to take it downstairs and clean it. But I couldn’t find the anti-chlorine drops. I decided to call my husband to see if he knew where they were. (We call him The Finder. I’m just The Looker.) While I’m looking for the phone, I decided that I might as well load the dishwasher, which naturally led me to making applesauce. Once I got the apples stewing, I remembered the fish! And then the phone! I raced upstairs to find my cell. Entering my bedroom, I noticed the unmade bed. This typically wouldn’t bother me. But because I was working, and on deadline, that bed had to be made! I finished that and glanced in the mirror, which was a mistake. Into the shower I went. A few minutes later, I exited the shower, and noticed an odd smell in the air. The applesauce! I grabbed my robe, raced down the stairs and turned off the stove. Turning around, I saw the fish! It was barely hanging on. The drops! The phone!

I had come full circle: I was looking for the phone that I had started searching for almost an hour ago, when I got distracted by everything within a five foot radius. Finally locating an extension, I called my husband—at work—in a building with people who aren’t wearing robes. That’s when I noticed I was back in mine.

“Have you seen the fish stuff?”


“The fish drops for the fish’s water!”

“No. What are you doing?”

“I’m working!”

I found the drops and changed the water and sprinkled some food into the fish bowl. I put away the applesauce and started the dishwasher.

I ask you: How many people can claim such a productive day at home while they’re at work?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Ex Factor

Sometimes things catch my eye, or my ear, and in an instant, a blog moment is born. For example, I was just thinking about the events of a recent evening, when my husband and I joined my husband’s ex-wife and her boyfriend for a beer at the local pub. That’s not the interesting part, though to some it might be. To others, it should be a lesson, which I’ll get to in a moment. The interesting part was the look, and what it meant.

The look was on the face of the bartender when the four of us walked through the door together. It being a small town we live in, and the fact that we’ve been in that bar once before, our bartender knew all the players. She’s also an ex-wife herself, and at the time, was engaged to a guy who has both children and an ex-wife, so it’s a topic she knows a little bit about. (She’s since married him, and for purely selfish reasons that have to do with the world’s best Margarita, she better not get knocked-up and quit her night job.)

Being an ex-wife myself, as is my husband’s ex, I guess it was a little like a bloody ex-wife convention, which I think is what prompted the look, because those are two groups that (unfortunately) do not go out drinking together nearly enough.

So anyway, as we sat down at one of the high bar tables, I looked across the room and caught the bartender’s eye. She was facing me, about to set down a couple pitchers of beer. I saw the almost undetectable smile slither across the lower half of her face. At the same time, one eyebrow lifted just a fraction of a millimeter, and her left boob twitched. Just kidding. Her eyebrow didn’t move. Regardless, there was no mistaking the non-verbal message shooting across the room to me: “Well, well, well, what do we have here?”

Which brings me to my main point: What did we have here?

Well, we had four people. That we know. We had exes. We had a new spouse. We had a boyfriend. We had loving parents and step-parents. We also had what is missing in so many ex-relationship situations around our little town, and the world: trust. I need most of the fingers on both hands to count the number of local families that I know personally who are embroiled in nasty push-pull wars in which the children are losing ground rapidly. Yes, we could have stayed married, say all of you divorce-phobes. To that I say nothing. I take that back. I say this: I know plenty of fucked up, “intact” families with miserable children. Regardless of the marital status or flavor of a family’s dysfunction, if everyone concentrates on what the children need (loving, happy, supportive adults regardless of configuration) the room for nonsense diminishes to nothing. We are all stronger together than we are separate.

I know the bartender loves her step-children, because I see them engaged in loving, happy conversation and interactions; I see her rooting them on at sporting events, picking them up and dropping them off at school, attending back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences. I see her sheltering and defending them, wiping tears, taking them shopping, showing them how to eat right and helping them to become better athletes. I see a mom. Why is it so hard for the ex to see that?

Conversely, many of us mothers and stepmothers, me included, don’t know the anxiety of knowing another woman will tuck our babies in at night. Will she be there in the middle of the night for them if they have a nightmare, or a tummy ache? Will they be comforted the way we would comfort them? Even a weekend is a long time for moms or dads and kids to be apart. If they feel sad, will she be responsive? I’ve never been put in the position to feel this anxiety because my ex has never remarried. It’s got to be very difficult.

My interaction with my step-daughters’ mom started when I came into her children’s lives, nearly ten years ago, so our history begins there. But our relationship began when we both stopped pushing the other one away and raised the white flag. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight, but my husband’s ex and I can call, e-mail or text when we need to share information so that the kids have what they need. We also help each other out as human beings, too, just because. Being supportive of one another makes the kids healthier.

In my opinion, our story stayed in the “mild zone” compared to some of the craziness I’ve been hearing about that’s going on in the lives of my children’s friends, among their divorced parents, but craziness is relative. A little bit can go a long way. All I know is that we can walk into a bar and have a beer together. Turns out, exes go great with beer.

My point is this: Go get some beer. Wait, that’s not it. Divorce is painful. Yes, that’s it. Divorce is painful for everyone—especially the children. Whether you are a new spouse dealing with an ex, or an ex-spouse dealing with a new wife or husband, (and this goes for you ex-husbands out there, too; check the ego and be happy that there is a man who wants to help), your job is to lessen the sting of divorce for your children and/or step-children. If you want less pain for your children, embrace the ex. Encourage your spouse to embrace the ex. Trust the new wife or husband, unless he or she is a dangerous criminal, or watches Fox News. Just kidding. Criminals can often be rehabilitated.

If you think your child could not benefit from having one more loving presence in his or her life, regardless of title, please let me know. If you can honestly say that your child or children love hearing you bitch about the ex, or the new spouse, do me a favor: Sit down, look them in the eye and ask them how it feels in the pit of their stomach when you fight with or criticize their parent, someone they love unconditionally, or the people their parent chooses to love.

When you bash the person a child loves, you are bashing the child. You are bashing their feelings for another human being. You are bashing love.

Today’s a perfect day to drop all the instruments of destruction, whether it’s your words or facial expressions at a weekend soccer game, Facebook posts, or nasty text messages. Wipe the slate clean, for your children. If you know someone who might benefit from this, share it with her (or him).

Someday, maybe you’ll be having a beer with the exes, who don’t all live in Texas.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Surreal Shorts

Whilst scanning the fridge for ingredients to put in my smoothie a few mornings ago, after not discovering yogurt, my gaze fell upon a bottle of white wine….and lingered there for just a few seconds more than I was comfortable with. Did I just visualize myself adding wine to the mangos, banana, and hemp powder, and then drinking it? Shaking it off, I quickly closed the fridge, self-promising that if I ever took the advice of the little voice in my mind saying, “It’s grape juice…do it…do it…do it,” I would immediately confess to my husband so that he could either help, or join me. Time will tell.

Speaking of Confessions
My uncle died recently and we traveled to Denver for the services, and to spend time with my aunt and cousins. My four cousins are wonderful people – four unique individuals who love, cry, work and play with passion. Even under the worst of circumstances, I enjoy seeing them and their children and spouses and spending time together.

Staying with the Catholic theme of the services, I have a few confessions of my own to make, even though I myself am not of the Pope. During the rosary, I confess that I lost count at around the 29th Hail Mary. My husband later informed me that there had been exactly five miracles and fifty Hail Marys. I called him a show-off and told him he was wrong. There were six miracles, if you count the fact that I was in a church and it didn’t spontaneously combust upon my arrival. As much as I don’t relate to organized religion, I find it soothing to watch the faithful practice their rituals. Still, a cocktail waitress checking in from time to time would have been nice.

Mother’s Day Dingle Dangle
Soon it will be Mother’s Day again. I remember last Mother’s Day clearly. There we were, my son, daughter, and me, watching the best show never, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, when my son reached up behind his head and over toward the top of my pillow, while trying to adjust his own. I felt his fingers lightly grip the back of my upper arm, which was propped up behind me. Then, he said this:

“Is that the pillow, or is that you?”

I turned slowly, as a tear welled up in my eye.

“That is the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

“No, I didn’t mean it like that! I didn’t know what it was!”

“If I knew any gypsies, I’d sell you to them and wish you luck with your teen bride and camper full of children!”


Conversations, deconstructed
Some mornings, it’s all I can do to not grab the dog by the throat with one hand, wield a greasy spatula in the other and remind everyone that if even one more syllable is uttered in my general direction, the family hound gets it.

The problem is this: We moms are not just expected to give one answer per question, but two, because children and husbands need you to acknowledge the fact that they are about to need you, before they actually share why they need you. To do this, they state your name in the form of a question, just to make sure you are ready to help them, thereby doubling the number of responses we must supply in a given day. And as Lewis Black says, “That’s fucked up.”

I’ve gone ahead and devised some generic responses that I can use during peak question traffic time, because I simply cannot be expected to provide an original answer every time someone needs a thing.

There are several moving parts to keep straight: the preliminary alerts, my acknowledgements of the alerts, the actual questions, and my “generic responses.” Like parking regulations, my generic responses will be given between 6:30 and 8 a.m., then again between 5 and 7 p.m., when I’m trying very, very hard to cook dinner without murdering someone or myself, whichever burns more calories.

Of course, questions that express general discontent or status announcements aren’t questions at all (“Bras are dumb.” “I’m tired.” “Jackson is farting.” “My (insert body part here) is hurting/bleeding/missing). Still, these expressions deserve a response. Not really.

To give you an idea why I’ve invented my generic responses, here’s just a portion of the transcript from a recent school-day morning in my house. The following 90-second hail of verbal shrapnel in the form of preliminary alerts, acknowledgements, questions and general expressions occurred in the time it took me to commando-crawl the distance between my bedroom and my office, which happens to be a totally vulnerable, WWI-like no man’s land loft area right outside/above the kids’ bedroom doors:

Hey, Mom?




Hey, Lisa?




My well crafted acknowledgements:



“Talk to me.”




“I said, ‘WHAT!?’”

And now for the actual “questions”:

“Where’s the picture of me with the duck?”

“My eye hurts.”

“Why is it raining?”

“Can you do my laundry before my game tonight?”

“I need my laundry done too!”

“Am I eating today?” (Husband, upon not finding his lunch on the counter)

“Are you going to Dad’s game?”

“Can you pick me up?”

“Where’s the bullets for my duck story?”

“What’s the weather today?”

“Do you have a Hawaiian shirt?”

“Where’s the dog?”

“Did you know there’s only 25 school days left?”

I’ve categorized my generic responses by type of grenade being tossed over the fence to me: Whys, wills and wheres. Henceforth, the following generic responses will be delivered with the utmost motherly sincerity and compassion:

All questions beginning with “Why…” get this:


All questions beginning with “Will you…,” or more commonly, “Can you…,” get this:


All questions beginning with “Where is/are…” get this:

“Up my butt and around the corner.”

All expressions of discontent or general status announcements get this:


Any questions?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Just Can't Win

Thumbing through my thpring folder, I found this gem that I scratched out one day last spring, after the last little pickle-puss was safely out of my world, for the next seven hours anyway. It’s an actual moment-by-moment transcript of the last day of school almost one year ago. I don’t know why I never posted it. Or maybe I do.

6:45 a.m.: Roll out of bed. Unpack joints, one at a time, until I am a fully upright hominid.

6:50: Wonder why an alarm beeping angrily from one of the bedrooms is being ignored.

6:51: Move laundry containing P.E. clothes, handed to me at 9 p.m. the night before, into the dryer. Put next load into the washer, but not my clothes that have been sitting there for a week; bump kids clothes to the front of the line, again, to keep Laundry Gestapo off my back.

6:55: Head downstairs and get bombarded with the first hard-hitting question of the day by my husband, Mike “The Lunchmaker” Wallace:

“Honey, who likes Munchies and who likes BBQ Twists?”

Staring at the two bags, I realize my eyes aren’t open yet.

6:56: Head back upstairs to get reading glasses.

6:57: Feel blood pressure rise slightly as I notice that the alarm beeping angrily from one of the bedrooms is still being ignored.

7:00: Head back downstairs. Take vitamins, look longingly at the wine rack, and reach for the coffee. Give husband answer to his question, which I’ve had plenty of time to think about:

“I don’t know.”

7:05: Feed cats, pet the dog.

7:10: Begin slicing strawberries.

7:13: Stop slicing long enough for husband to take all the slices out of the bowl that I’m presently slicing them into.

7:14: Resume slicing strawberries.

7:15: Stop slicing long enough for first kid to take all the remaining slices out of the bowl.

7:16: Resume slicing.

7:17: Stop slicing as second kid interrupts my progress. Place knife and strawberries on the kitchen table and walk away.

7:17 – 7:44: Make husband’s lunch; look for various missing things (books, socks, belts); make several key admonishments, including, “Get moving,” “Get moving now,” and “I said, ‘Get moving!’”

7:45: Begin wrapping son’s broken toe with waterproof tape in preparation for his field trip to water slide park.

7:50: Stop wrapping after being told I’m doing it wrong.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“The other stuff.”

“That?” I say, pointing to the non-waterproof tape we’d been using on non water park days.

“Yeah. That goes underneath and then the waterproof tape on top.”

“What’s the point of using non-waterproof anything? Remember last night at WalMart, when I bought waterproof tape and bandages? It was for this moment.”

“Well…I just think…I don’t know. Whatever.”

“Well, I do know, and I just think that waterproof is the best thing to wear when one plans to go in, well, the water, frankly.”


7:58: “Okay, load up, we’re leaving,”

7:59: “Okay, let’s go.”

8:01: “Okay, we’re outta here.”

8:02: Begin looking for car keys.

8:03: Fail to restrain myself from dropping a truth bomb on daughter who is getting over nasty chest cold.

“Do you have water?”

“No, why?”

“Well, no reason, really; I just thought that a person getting over a nasty chest cold on hot day might find it helpful to have some water with her.”

“I’ll use the drinking fountain.”

“Suit yourself.”

“Of course I’ve got my suit on, we’re going swimming!”

Friday, February 8, 2013

Take a Number, Pal!

Mom! It’s a simple, one-syllable word, yet approximately 50% of the time I hear it, I nearly bite my own tongue in half — intentionally. Why? Because there’s one of me, and four of them. Now, I’m no Jimmie the Greek, but that’s some shit odds. And odds are, they need something, and they need it now. Or at least, they think they do. Nevertheless, chances are I’ll be in the middle of meeting one child’s needs when another one of my hormone-infested roommates makes his or her desperate situation known to this hormone-receding mom from all the way across the house, give or take a level.

“Do not yell at me from across the house!” I yell, from across the house, followed by a four-step recommendation on how to solve their problem, while the kid in front of me stares blankly, as if to say, “I can’t wait to go to college,” to which I want to reply, “Same here.”

Trying to stay in the moment is exhausting when two or three other people want you in their moments. How come there’s no book for that? Maybe I’ll write it. I’ll call it Mindfulness for Mommies: My Ass.

I really do try to practice mindfulness in my daily life, which takes conscious effort. Like most things, it gets easier the more one does it. When you meditate, you remain mindful of your breathing. But you can be mindful when you're doing other things and it can be just as relaxing as meditating. Here’s how it works: Do, and think, about one thing at a time. It’s like a game. When I’m winning, it’s noticeably relaxing and calming. It’s pretty easy when I’m working at my computer during the day, all alone in the house. When I’m editing an article, and I get to a particularly riveting sentence describing solderable finishes, and my mind tries to plan dinner, I gently guide it back to where it’s supposed to be. So I recognize that I’m mentally wandering, and then I return my thoughts to their proper place: the article. When it wanders again a few minutes later, I nudge it back to where it belongs. Rinse, repeat.

It feels good to give oneself permission to just think about the task at hand. Over time, the mind veers less frequently, and it’s easier to catch it and return it to its rightful moment – this one – the only one that actually exists. That’s all there really is to mindfulness. Do what you’re doing with your body and your mind. Easy, right?

Enter children.

Inevitably, a minute into a task, I get my marching orders, beckoning me in another direction. Which way should I go? If I go mentally and not physically, hollering suggestions across the house, the person in front of me suffers. I suffer.

The thing about getting interrupted when I am helping one of my kids with something is that I feel bad that he or she can’t get help with a knot, a tricky paragraph in a homework assignment, or a gaping flesh wound without having to share my attention. So, it really comes back to me. It’s about how it makes me feel when I can’t complete one simple mission without saying, “Let me see what’s going on. I’ll be right back.” I mean, what if the thing upstairs, or in the garage, or in the bathroom really is more important than what I’m currently helping another one of them with? What takes precedent, a hairy spider in the shower, or the lid on a jar of nacho cheese sauce that won’t budge? Which moment wins? These are judgment calls I am not comfortable making.

That’s why I’m installing one of those “take a number” machines that spit out little pieces of paper to people in delis, butcher shops and customer service counters in department stores. It’s going to take the anxiety out of my moments, mainly because I’ll have total freedom to stay in the one that’s currently happening until it’s all the way over, and guess who gets to decide when it's over: me. I'm the decider.

“Mom, I need you to – “

“Take a number.”

“Oh, ok.”


“Right here!”

“How can I help you?”

“I’ve got a knot in my shoelace.”

“Ok, let’s see….”

“Honey, have you seen my –“

“Take a number.”

“What the hell? Oh, fine!”

“Thirty-siiiiiix? Thirty-six!”


“Wait! I’m thirty-six!” my husband says, skidding back into the room. “Right here! I need—“

“Sorry, pal, ya gotta pay attention.”

“Thirty seven!!”

If my kids don’t like it, I’ll just tell them what I usually tell them when they look at me like I’m a total moron:

“Call me when you have four kids.”

“I will!”

“Don’t bother. I’ll be busy lying on a beach, thinking only about the coconut I’m drinking out of.”

Friday, January 4, 2013

Serbian Christmas...Deconstructed

Back by popular demand, much to the dismay of some local Serbian Church officials, are the cherry-picked cultural traditions that many of the quarter- and half-breeds (I’ll call them Slivers of Serb, or SoS’s) have taken upon themselves to continue. That’s right: Some of us are keeping the stuff we like and at least for now, and maybe forever, ignoring some of the stuff we don’t—but rumor has it that may be changing—that something’s afoot, in the form of a re-cleaving of the flock. In other words, be patient, Father, for some of the young guns’ sins are coming a little less frequently these days.

Many of the young Serbs and SoSs have regularly or semi-regularly attended church through the years, while others have opted out completely. Personally, I had a short run of about six years when I accompanied my elderly Great Aunt (Tete), a total Serb (TS), to Christmas Eve and sometimes Christmas Day service. Not having grown up as a churchgoer, I’m one of those who pick up after church service ends (more on that later), and I’m raising my children the same way.

My Tete’s sister, my Baba (grandmother) had no use for church. I never bothered to find out why and she never discussed it. Personally, I suspect it was like a few other things in her life, from her pot roast to her lemon pies to her 62-year marriage to my Jedo: We didn’t always understand how things worked, they just did and we didn’t question her about it. Most likely, if we had, she would have just smiled and said, “I don’t know, honey” and that would have been the truth.

Post-church Traditions
A handful of years ago, I wrote an article chock-full of inaccuracies, according to the local Serb priest, about the cultural traditions of Serbian Christmas, especially the shooting of guns on Christmas Day. At the end of an exhausting phone conversation in which we picked apart the article point-by-Serbian-priest-perspective-point, I officially took responsibility for two factual errors and apologized for not checking my resources more thoroughly. I did not apologize for describing the cultural traditions outlined in the article, stood firm in their accuracy because I was either present, or had been given pictures to prove it, (long-dead church officials shooting guns on Christmas and judging by the images, it wasn’t against their will). Bottom line, I grew up doing what was described, I did not dream it all up, and I don’t apologize for the behavior modeled by my grandparents and their friends, who would lay an egg at the very mention of that word, by the way. Right after they reloaded their black powder blanks. Still, at the end of the day, I understood the priest’s position. I'm not so sure he understood mine.

But we didn’t all sign up to be priests. We didn’t even all sign up to be Christian. Those are choices we make when we become adults. I was lucky enough to be born to the son of a total Serb, and my quarter-Serb status gained my entry to some great parties. Even at 8 or 9 years old, I picked up on the fact that the adults in the room were having one helluva time. Now, it’s my turn.

Some of the cultural traditions in question seem to get a little too much attention, in the eyes of the local church officials. And especially right now, I can understand it. I don’t own a gun, and if gun laws changed tomorrow it would be fine with me. But who doesn’t like to shoot a shotgun now and then? (Well, a few people I know, including my husband, but he gives me a long leash on Serb Christmas. As evidenced last year when he suggested that perhaps it wasn’t exactly on his list of favorite things to look across the room and see a slobbering SoS (or was that an SOB?) “draped across my shoulders like a blanket.” It was harmless, I assure you, until an hour later when the same SOB accidentally caught my son’s cheekbone with his fist during a little three-teenage-boys-on-one-grown-man wrestling match.)

Yes, Serbian Christmas is just one of those magical times when it makes sense to let it all hang out. Or, maybe it makes no sense at all, but people still do and then tend to the cleanup later. With a little help from Brother Slivovitz, grievances can be aired, repaired or deepened; if it’s the latter, just remember that it ain’t a knife fight you’re going to.

The point is this: The cultural traditions that we kids and grandkids of total Serbs, religious or not, choose to partake in mean something to us. They connect us to another dimension of our loved ones—their long gone, but not forgotten big personalities— which often matched their big Serb feet. Even the quieter among them may have blossomed on that one day a year. I’ve seen the grainy reel-to-reel films, in which faithful, churchgoing total Serbs of yore could occasionally be seen with a hand on the wrong -ich’s ass at the last house party of the evening, or within the hallowed walls of the Wells Fargo Club. 

On that one day a year, the cultural traditions, cherry-picked as they may be, remind us that we are one, and of our common thread, be it TS, SoS or SOB.

In fact, I suspect that it is not today’s young SoSs who invented the idea of embracing the fun stuff as passionately as the religious stuff. It just might be possible that some of those same old-country Serbs carried forward not every aspect of the religious habits of their forefathers, but plenty of the midnight coin-throwing, gun-toting rituals they witnessed as children for the same reason we do—because it made them feel closer to their own, long-dead loved ones. So there’s nothing new here. There’s nothing new about a flock whose members aren’t always headed in the same direction. Sometimes they even bump into each other and fall down. People are many things, but they aren’t everything.

We’ve all got a job to do. God bless the priests for doing theirs. God help the rest of us for doing ours.